Arnulf of Carinthia

Arnulf of Carinthia
Holy Roman Emperor
Reign 22 February 896 – 8 December 899
Predecessor Lambert
Successor Louis the Blind
King of Italy
Reign 894–899
Predecessor Lambert
Successor Louis the Blind
King of East Francia
Reign 887–899
Predecessor Charles the Fat
Successor Louis the Child
Born c. 850
Died 8 December 899
Ratisbon, Duchy of Bavaria, East Francia (now Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany)[1]
Burial St. Emmeram's Basilica, Ratisbon
Spouse Ota
Oda of West Francia
Issue Louis the Child
Ratold of Italy
Glismut of Carinthia
Hedwig of Carinthia
House Carolingian
Father Carloman of Bavaria
Mother Liutswind
signum manus (890)

Arnulf of Carinthia (c. 850 – December 8, 899) was the duke of Carinthia who overthrew his uncle, Emperor Charles the Fat, became the Carolingian king of East Francia[2] from 887, the disputed King of Italy from 894 and the disputed Holy Roman Emperor from February 22, 896 until his death at Regensburg, Bavaria.

Early life

Illegitimacy and early life

Arnulf was the illegitimate son of Carloman, King of Bavaria,[3] and his wife Liutswind,[4] who maybe was the sister of Ernst, Count of the Bavarian Nordgau Margraviate in the area of the Upper Palatinate, or perhaps the burgrave of Passau, according to other sources. After Arnulf's birth, Carloman married, before 861, a daughter of that same Count Ernst, who died after 8 August 879. As it is mainly West-Franconian historiography[5] that speaks of Arnulf's illegitimacy, it is quite possible that the two females are actually one and the same person and that Carloman married Arnulf's mother, thus legitimizing his son.[6]

Arnulf was granted the rule over Duchy of Carinthia, a Frankish vassal state and successor of the ancient Principality of Carantania by his father Carloman, after Carloman reconciled with his own father, king Louis the German and was made king in Duchy of Bavaria.

Arnulf spent his childhood in Mosaburch or Mosapurc, which is widely believed to be Moosburg in Carinthia, a few miles away from one of the Imperial residences, the Carolingian Kaiserpfalz at Karnburg (Krnski grad), which had been the residence of the Carantanian princes. Arnulf kept his seat here and from later events it may be inferred that the Carantanians, from an early time, treated him as their own Duke. Later, after he had been crowned King of East Francia, Arnulf turned his old territory of Carinthia into the March of Carinthia, a part of the Duchy of Bavaria.

Regional ruler

After king Carloman was incapacitated by a stroke in 879, Louis the Younger inherited Bavaria, Charles the Fat was given the Kingdom of Italy and Arnulf was confirmed in Carinthia by an agreement with Carloman. However, Bavaria was more or less ruled by Arnulf.[7] Arnulf already ruled Bavaria during the summer and autumn of 879 while his father arranged his succession and he himself was granted "Pannonia," in the words of the Annales Fuldenses,[8] or "Carantanum," in the words of Regino of Prüm.[9] The division of the realm was confirmed in 880 after Carloman’s death.

WhenEngelschalk II of Pannonia in 882 rebelled against Aribo, Margrave of Pannonia and ignited the Wilhelminer War, Arnulf supported him and accepted his and his brother's homage. This ruined Arnulf's relationship with his uncle the Emperor and put him at war with Svatopluk of Moravia. Pannonia was invaded, but Arnulf refused to give up the young Wilhelminers. Arnulf did not make peace with Svatopluk until late 885, by which time Moravian ruler was loyal to the emperor. Some scholars see this war as destroying Arnulf's hopes at succeeding Charles the Fat.

King of East Francia

Arnulf took the leading role in the deposition of his uncle, Emperor Charles the Fat. With the support of the Frankish nobles, Arnulf called a Diet at Tribur and deposed Charles in November 887, under threat of military action.[10][11] Charles peacefully agreed to this involuntary retirement, but not without first chastising his nephew for his treachery and asking for a few royal villas in Swabia, which Arnulf mercifully granted him,[12] on which to live out his final months.[3] Arnulf, having distinguished himself in the war against the Slavs, was then elected king by the nobles of East Francia (only the eastern realm, though Charles had ruled the whole of the Frankish empire)[13] West Francia, Kingdom of Burgundy and Kingdom of Italy at this point elected their own kings from Carolingian family.

Like all early Germanic rulers, he was heavily involved in ecclesiastical disputes. In 895, at the Diet of Tribur, he presided over a dispute between the Episcopal sees of Bremen, Hamburg and Cologne over jurisdictional authority, which saw Bremen and Hamburg remain a combined see, independent of the see of Cologne.[14]

Arnulf was fighter, not a negotiator. In 890 he was successfully battling Slavs in Pannonia.[15] In 891 Danes invaded Lotharingia,[16] and crushed an East Frankish army at Maastricht.[17] At the decisive Battle of Leuven in September 891 in Lotharingia, Arnulf repelled an invasion by the Normans (Northmen or Vikings),[17] essentially ending their invasions on that front.[3] The Annales Fuldenses report that the bodies of dead Northmen blocked the run of the river. After this victory Arnulf built a new castle on an island in the Dijle river (Dutch: Dijle, English and French: Dyle).[18]

Intervention in West Francia

Arnulf took advantage of the problems in West Francia after the death of Charles the Fat to secure the territory of Lotharingia, which he converted into a kingdom for his son Zwentibold.[19] In 889 Arnulf supported the claim of Louis the Blind to the kingdom of Provence, after receiving a personal appeal from Louis’ mother, Ermengard, who came to see Arnulf at Forchheim in May 889.[20]

Recognising the superiority of Arnulf’s position, in 888 king Odo of France formally accepted the suzerainty of Arnulf.[21] In 893 Arnulf switched his support from Odo to Charles the Simple after being persuaded by Fulk (Archbishop of Reims) that it was in his best interests.[22] Arnulf then took advantage of the following fighting between Odo and Charles in 894, taking more territory from West Francia.[23] At one point, Charles the Simple was forced to flee to Arnulf and ask for his protection.[24] His intervention soon forced Pope Formosus to get involved, as he was worried that a divided and war weary West Francia would be easy prey for the Vikings.[23]

In 895 Arnulf summoned both Charles and Odo to his residence at Worms. Charles’s advisers convinced him not to go, and he sent a representative in his place. Odo, on the other hand, personally attended, together with a large retinue, bearing many gifts for Arnulf.[25] Angered by the non-appearance of Charles, he welcomed Odo at the Diet of Worms in May 895, and again supported Odo's claim to the throne of West Francia.[25] In the same assembly he crowned his illegitimate son Zwentibold as the king of Lotharingia.[25]

Wars with Moravia

As early as 880 Arnulf had designs on Great Moravia, and had the Frankish bishop Wiching of Nitra interfere with the missionary activities of Eastern Orthodox priest Methodius, with the aim of preventing any potential for creating a unified Moravian state.[26]

Arnulf failed to conquer the whole of Great Moravia in wars of 892, 893, and 899. Yet Arnulf did achieve some successes, in particular in 895, when Duchy of Bohemia broke away from Great Moravia and became his vassal state. An accord was reached between him and Duke of Bohemia Borivoj I (reigned 870-95). Bohemia was thus freed from the dangers of Frankish invasion. In 893 or 894 Great Moravia probably lost a part of its territory — present-day Western Hungary — to him. As a reward, Wiching became Arnulf’s chancellor in 892.[27] In his attempts to conquer Moravia, in 899 Arnulf reached out to Magyars who had settled in Pannonia, and with their help he imposed a measure of control over Moravia.[28][28][29]

King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor

Arnulf of Carinthia, 13c picture

In Italy Guy III of Spoleto and Berengar of Friuli fought over the Iron Crown of Lombardy. Berengar had been crowned king in 887, but Guy was then crowned in 889. While Pope Stephen V supported Guy, even crowning him Roman Emperor in 891, Arnulf threw his support behind Berengar.[30]

In 893 the new Pope Formosus, not trusting the newly crowned co-emperors Guy III of Spoleto and his son Lambert II of Spoleto, sent an embassy to Omuntesberch, where Arnulf was meeting with Svatopluk I of Moravia,[31] to request that Arnulf come and liberate Italy,[32] where he would be crowned emperor in Rome. Arnulf met the Primores of the Kingdom of Italy, dismissed them with gifts and promised to assist the pope.[33] Arnulf then sent his son Zwentibold with a Bavarian army to join Berengar of Friuli. They defeated Guy, but were bought off and left in autumn.

When pope Formosus again asked Arnulf to invade, he personally led an army across the Alps early in 894. In January 894 Bergamo fell, and Count Ambrose, Guy’s representative in the city, was hung from a tree by the city’s gates.[34] Conquering all of the territory north of the Po River, Arnulf forced the surrender of Milan and then drove Guy out of Pavia, where he was crowned King of Italy.[21] Arnulf went no further before Guy died suddenly in late autumn, and a fever incapacitated his troops.[33] His march northward through the Alps was interrupted by Rudolph I of Burgundy, and it was only with great difficulty that Arnulf crossed the mountain range.[34] In retaliation, Arnulf ordered his illegitimate son Zwentibold to ravage Rudolph's kingdom.[34] In the meantime, Lambert and his mother Ageltrude travelled to Rome to receive papal confirmation of his imperial succession, but when pope Formosus, still desiring to crown Arnulf, refused, he was imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo.

In September 895 a new papal embassy arrived in Regensburg beseeching Arnulf's aid. In October Arnulf undertook his second campaign into Italy.[33] He crossed the Alps quickly and again took Pavia, but then he continued slowly, garnering support among the nobility of Tuscany. First Maginulf, Count of Milan, and then Walfred of Friuli, joined him. Eventually even the Adalbert II of Tuscany abandoned Lambert. Finding Rome locked against him and held by Ageltrude,[33] Arnulf had to take the city by force on February 21, 896, freeing the pope.[35] Arnulf was then greeted at the Ponte Milvio by the Roman Senate who escorted him into the Leonine City, where he was received by Pope Formosus on the steps of the Santi Apostoli.[35]

On February 22, 896 Formosus led the king into the church of St.Peter, anointed and crowned him as emperor, and saluted him as Augustus.[36] Arnulf then proceeded to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, where he received the homage of the Roman people,[35] who swore "never to hand over the city to Lambert or his mother Ageltrude".[37] Arnulf then proceeded to exile to Bavaria two leading senators, Constantine and Stephen, who had helped Ageltrude to seize Rome.[38]

Leaving one of his vassals, Farold, to hold Rome, two weeks later Arnulf marched on Spoleto, where Ageltrude had fled to join Lambert,[37] but now Arnulf suffered a stroke, forcing him to call off the campaign and return to Bavaria.[3] Rumours of the time made Arnulf's condition to be a result of poisoning at the hand of Ageltrude.[37]

Arnulf retained power in Italy only as long as he was personally there.[39][40] On his way north, he stopped at Pavia where he crowned his illegitimate son Ratold, as sub-King of Italy, after which he left Ratold in Milan in an attempt to preserve his hold on Italy.[41] That same year pope Formosus died, leaving Lambert once again in power, and both he and Berengar proceeded to kill any officials who had been appointed by Arnulf, forcing Ratold to flee from Milan to Bavaria.[42] For the rest of his life Arnulf excersised very little control in Italy, and his agents in Rome did not prevent the accession of Pope Stephen VI in 896.[43] Pope initially gave his support to Arnulf, but eventually became a supporter of Lambert.[44]

Arnulf of Carinthia and Louis the Child by Johann Jakob Jung (19th century)

Final years

After 896 Arnulf's health - besides suffering a stroke he had morbus pediculosis, infestation of pubic lice of the eyelid – prevented him from effectively dealing with the problems besetting his reign. Italy was lost,[41] raiders from Moravia and Magyars were continually raiding his lands, and Lotharingia was in revolt against Zwentibold.[45] He was also plagued by escalating violence and power struggles between the lower Frankish nobility.[46]

On December 8, 899 Arnulf died at Ratisbonin present-day Bavaria.[1] He is entombed in St. Emmeram's Basilica at Regensburg, which is now known as Schloss Thurn und Taxis, the palace of the Princes of Thurn und Taxis.

He was succeeded as the king of East Francia by his only legitimate son from Ota (died 903), Louis the Child.[47] After his death in 911 at age 17 or 18, the east Frankish branch of Carolingian dynasty ceased to exist. Arnulf had had the nobility to recognize the rights of his illegitimate sons Zwentibold and Ratold as his successors. Zwentibold, whom he had made King of Lotharingia in 895, continued to rule there until his murder in 900.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Arnulf of Carinthia.


  1. 1 2 The Biographical Dictionary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Vol. III, Part II (page 623), printed by William Clowes and Sons, Stamford Street, London, 1844
  2. East Francia had been split from the rest of Frankish Realm by the Treaty of Verdun in 843. It evolved into Holy Roman Empire after end of Carolingian rule.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Canduci, pg. 222
  4. Also Litwinde or Litwindie
  5. Konecny Silvia: Die Frauen des karolingischen Königshauses. Die politische Bedeutung der Ehe und die Stellung der Frau in der fränkischen Herrscherfamilie vom 7. bis zum 10. Jahrhundert. PhD thesis Vienna 1976, p. 139
  6. Mediaeval Genealogy: Liutswind: Archived September 2, 2003, at the Wayback Machine. Various theories about her descent and her relation to Carloman (in German)
  7. Reuter, Timothy (trans.) The Annals of Fulda. (Manchester Medieval series, Ninth-Century Histories, Volume II.) Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992. 882 (p. 104 and n3)
  8. Reuter, Timothy (trans.) The Annals of Fulda. (Manchester Medieval series, Ninth-Century Histories, Volume II.) Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1992. 884 (pp 108–111)
  9. MacLean, Simon. Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the end of the Carolingian Empire. Cambridge University Press: 2003. pg. 135
  10. Comyn, pg. 78
  11. Mann III, pg. 376
  12. Duckett, pg. 12
  13. Comyn, pg. 80
  14. Mann IV, pg. 66
  15. Duckett, pg. 16
  16. Duckett, pg. 17
  17. 1 2 Duckett, pg. 20
  18. Latin Luvanium, local Lovon.
  19. Comyn, pg. 82
  20. Mann III, pg. 382
  21. 1 2 Bryce, pg. xxxv
  22. Mann IV, pg. 55
  23. 1 2 Mann IV, pg. 56
  24. Duckett, pg. 25
  25. 1 2 3 Duckett, pg. 26
  26. Mann III, pg. 243
  27. Mann, III, pg. 244
  28. 1 2 Comyn, pg. 83
  29. Mann IV, pg. 13
  30. Mann III, pg. 378
  31. Mann III, pg. 379
  32. Mann IV, pg. 50
  33. 1 2 3 4 Mann IV, pg. 51
  34. 1 2 3 Duckett, pg. 22
  35. 1 2 3 Mann IV, pg. 52
  36. Annals of Fulda, an. 896
  37. 1 2 3 Mann IV, pg. 53
  38. Duckett, pg. 28
  39. Bryce, pg. 79
  40. Mann IV, pg. 80
  41. 1 2 Duckett, pg. 30
  42. Mann IV, pg. 81
  43. Mann IV, pg. 77
  44. Mann IV, pg. 84 – Silver coins from the pontificate of Stephen VI show the transition from Arnulf (“Arnolfvs Imp. Roma”) to Lambert (“Lamverto Imp. Roma”)
  45. Duckett, pg. 33
  46. Duckett, pg. 36
  47. Mann IV, pg. 100


Emperor Arnulf of Carinthia
Died: 8 December 899
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles III
King of East Francia
Succeeded by
Louis the Child
Preceded by
(Holy) Roman Emperor
Disputed by: Lambert of Spoleto 896–898

Succeeded by
Louis III
King of Italy
With Ratold (896)
disputed by:
Lambert of Spoleto (896–898)
Berengar I (896–899)
Preceded by
Charles III the Fat
King of Lotharingia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Bořivoj I
rulers of Bohemia
Succeeded by
Spytihněv I
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