After the reign of Louis the Pious, ruler of the late Charlemagne’s realm from 814 until 840 CE, the vast Carolingian empire split into three domains ruled by Louis’ surviving sons. The west of the empire went to Charles the Bald, the east fell to Louis the German and the center (known as Lotharangia) was controlled by Lothar I.
When Lothar arranged a marriage between his son, Lothar II (c. 835-869 CE) and a woman named Theutberga in 855, no one could have known just how scandalous the marriage would become. Almost immediately, Lothar II became unhappy with his position as a married man. As soon as 857 CE, after about two years of marriage, he was determined to divorce Theutberga.
Yet, divorce was, and remains, a controversial and taboo subject in the Catholic Church. Divorce was possible, but there were strict rules and regulations that a person needed to meet in order to successfully petition for a marriage to be nullified. Despite the poor odds, Lothar II decided to ruthlessly pursue the divorce.
In 857 CE, Lothar II unleashed a brutal, slanderous and shameless smear campaign against his wife that would even impress the best attack-ad politicians of today. He held nothing back—Theutberga was accused of incest with her brother, sodomy and even infanticide. Lothar II worked with local church officials to ensure that his wife’s guilt or innocence would be determined by a divine trial. If she, or a champion, could survive a trial of boiling water, then her innocence would be proven. If the wounds sustained in the trial festered and caused death, she would be deemed guilty. According to some reports, the trial may have involved scooping a rock from the bottom of a cauldron of boiling water, using only a bare hand. Whatever the case, Theutberga or her champion miraculously completed the trial without major injury and was found not guilty of Lothar II’s accusations. Suffice it to say, Lothar did not receive his divorce.
Nevertheless, the king of Lotharangia was determined to rid himself of Theutberga. His next major attempt to end his marriage occurred in 863 CE, when he was feeling strong after inheriting the regions around Vienne and Lyon, following the death of his brother, Charles of Provence. That year, Lothar II worked with the bishops of Lotharangia to secure a divorce from his wife. In particular, the synod of Metz (in 863 CE) gave their support to the king. Yet, not all churchmen condoned the divorce—in fact, the highest-ranking member of the clergy personally acted to make sure King Lothar II’s marriage would remain intact. Pope Nicholas I overturned the decision made by the synod of Metz and even removed two of the leading Lotharangian archbishops, named Günther and Theutgaud, from their positions in the church. Lothar II eventually bent under Papal pressure and was forced to resume his marriage with Theutberga.
When Pope Nicholas I died in 867 CE and was succeeded by Pope Adrian II, King Lothar II was still pressing for a divorce. Now he had a new tactic to end his marriage—he voiced his belief that Theutberga was barren and incapable of giving birth to heirs. In 869 CE, Lothar II personally traveled to Rome, hoping to win over the new pope to his cause. After receiving a fairly neutral response from the pope (the matter would be deliberated), King Lothar II left Rome and began his journey back to Lotharangia. Yet, he would never make it home. Lothar II died on the road, still without any legitimate heirs. In the end, his kingdom of Lotharangia was split between his relatives, Charles the Bald and Louis the German.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.