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Charles III the Simple

Last Updated 31 January 2017


Charles III of France is a descendant of Charlemagne. His father is Louis II ‘the Stammerer’ and his mother Adelaide of Paris. He is also known as Charles ‘the Simple’ or ‘the Straightforward’. Born in 879, he reigns over West Francia by 898 until his death in 929. From 919 he also rules of Lotharingia. He marries twice. First to Frederuna and later to Eadgifu of Wessex, the granddaughter of Alfred the Great.1

Life & Viking Times

Charles is born after his father’s death. At that time, the Norsemen already raid and attack the French coastline. Not first in line for the throne, the French crown passes between his half-brothers and uncle. When the latter is deposed in 887 two contenders are left. The child, and Odo of France. Odo belongs to the important family of the counts of Anjou. He has already successfully defended Paris against the Viking sieges. A faction of powerful noblemen manages to crown Charles as king of France. A civil war eventually wrecks the country. And by his eighteenth birthday, he relinquishes the throne to Odo. Ironically, Odo dies just a year later and nothing stands in Charles’ way to become king again.2 

West Francia, however, is the proverbial wasp’s nest. Yet, Charles is not afraid to play a few political games of his own. He has his eye on Lotharingia and marries a local noblewoman to strengthen his claim. He even helps to defend the region from attacks of East Franks. In 911, King Louis ‘the Child’ of East Francia dies. Instead of choosing his heir, the local Lorraine nobles elect Charles as their new king.3 

In that same year, the Vikings reach Paris. They are defeated by Odo’s brother Robert of Neustria who leads Charles’ army. Robert baptises Rollo and lets him swear fealty to Charles in return for the duchy of Normandy. This clever deal ensures Rollo’s help to keep other Norsemen out of France and a fierce ally for France. It may even be that Rollo’s marriage to Charles’ daughter Gisela is part of this deal. But there is no confirmation.

Meanwhile, Robert of Neustria gains much prestige and power from his victory over Rollo. He accepts Charles as his overlord and becomes one of the most powerful nobles in West Francia.4 The king does not have the same grip on East Francia. He shows too much favour to a lowly Lotharingian count, who happens his wife’s family. Meanwhile, his wife Frederuna dies without leaving him with an heir. In 919 he marries Eadgifu of Wessex who bears him a son in 920. Charles, however, is imprisoned by rebellious nobles in Lotharingia who did not approve of his attention to the lowly count.

When he is freed and returns to France, the same happens there. The Frankish nobles feel their king has shown too much favouritism to the Lotharingian nobility. By 922, they elect Robert of Neustria, who has led the rebellion, as their king. Charles kills Robert in battle a year later but is captured himself. With this act, Robert’s son-in-law, Herbert II of Vermandois, ensures that Rober’s son Raoul is the next king of West Francia. Charles eventually dies in prison in 929.5


  1. Deutsche Biographie, ‘Karl III.’ Last Accessed 06 December 2015.  ↩
  2. Encyclopaedia Larousse en ligne. ‘Charles III le Simple.’ Last Accessed 06 December 2015.  ↩
  3. Michel Sot, ‘Charles III Le Simple (879–929) – Roi de France(893–923).’ Encyclopædia Universalis [en ligne]. Last accessed 06 December 2015.  ↩
  4. Durham World Heritage Site, ‘The Founding of Normandy.’ Last Accessed 06 December 2015.  ↩
  5. The Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Rollo.’ Last Accessed 26 November 2015.  ↩

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