Prior to marrying his first wife, Desiderata, in the year 770, Charlemagne was known to have been in a relationship with a concubine known as Himiltrude. Not much information is known about Himiltrude and her background, but she bore Charlemagne a son named Pippin (or Pepin). This Pippin (not to be confused with a later son of Charlemagne by the same name) was reportedly the king’s oldest son, but his likelihood of inheritance was low, as, for one, he was born out of wedlock, and additionally, young Pippin had a physical abnormality that may have dissuaded Charlemagne from legitimizing the boy’s position in the royal family. As the title of the article gives away, Charlemagne and Himiltrude’s son was a hunchback, and the boy became known as Pippin the Hunchback even in his own time.
Despite his illegitimate status as compared to Charlemagne’s other sons, Pippin the Hunchback was still able to cobble together status and influence for himself. He became the acquaintance of leading noblemen in Charlemagne’s empire and forged a close-knit network of political allies. Yet, ironically, Pippin the Hunchback’s socialization and politicking eventually led to his own undoing, because Pippin was eventually caught up in, or accused of, a conspiracy or rebellion targeting Charlemagne in 792. The Royal Frankish Annals claimed Pippin the Hunchback had a leading role in the incident, writing, “While the king was spending the summer at Regensburg, a conspiracy was made against him by his oldest son Pepin and some Franks…Of the authors of the conspiracy some were executed by the sword for high treason and the others hanged on gallows…” (Royal Frankish Annals, entry for 792). As the quote conveyed, whatever was being plotted ended up being discovered, and the conspirators were evidently arrested with ease by Charlemagne and dealt with severely.
According to our next source, Einhard (c.770-840), Pippin was spared from execution and was instead condemned to live the rest of his life in a monastery. On this and other details about Pippin the Hunchback, Einhard wrote, “[Charlemagne] also had a son named Pippin by a concubine whom I put off mentioning with the others; he was fair of face but deformed by a hunchback. When his father, who had taken up the war against the Avars, was wintering in Bavaria, he pretended to be ill and plotted against his father with certain leading franks, who had won him over with the false promise of a kingdom. When their deceit was discovered and the conspirators condemned, he was tonsured and allowed to embrace the religious life in the monastery of Prüm” (Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, chapter 20). After being arrested, tonsured, and sent off to live the life of a monk, Pippin the Hunchback never again reappeared in the historical record.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled “Bossue, Borgne, Boiteuse,” by Luc-Olivier Merson (c. 1846–1920), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Paris Musees Collections).
- Two Lives of Charlemagne, by Einhard and Notker the Stammer, translated by David Ganz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.