Frisian Kingdom

Frisian Kingdom
Magna Frisia
The Frisian Realm
Capital Dorestad, Utrecht and others
Languages Old Frisian
Religion Germanic paganism
Government Monarchy
   c. 678 Aldgisl
  c. 680–719 Redbad
  719–734 Poppo
   Established 600
   Disestablished 734
Area 50,000 km² (19,305 sq mi)
Currency Sceat[1]
Succeeded by
Today part of  Netherlands

The Frisian Kingdom (Frisian: Fryske Keninkryk), also known as Magna Frisia, is a modern name for the Frisian realm in the period when it was at its largest (650-734). This empire was ruled by kings and emerged in the mid-7th century and probably ended with the Battle of the Boarn in 734 when the Frisians were defeated by the Frankish Empire. It lay mainly in what is now the Netherlands and - according to some 19th century authors - extended from the Zwin near Bruges in Belgium to the Weser in Germany. The center of power was the city of Utrecht. In medieval writings, the region is designated by the Latin term Frisia. There is a dispute among historians about the extent of this realm; There is no documentary evidence for the existence of a permanent central authority. Possibly Frisia consisted of multiple petty kingdoms, which transformed in time of war to a unit to resist invading powers, and then headed an elected leader, the primus inter pares. It is possible that Redbad established an administrative unit. Among the Frisians at that time there was no feudal system.[2]

Pre-Migration Period

The ancient Frisii were living in the low-lying region between the Zuiderzee and the River Ems. In the Germanic pre-Migration Period (i.e., before c. 300 AD) the Frisii and the related Chauci, Saxons, and Angles inhabited the Continental European coast from the Zuyder Zee to south Jutland.[3] All of these peoples shared a common material culture, and so cannot be defined archaeologically.[4] What little is known of the Frisii and their kings is provided by a few Roman accounts about two Frisian kings visiting Rome in the 1st century: Malorix and Verritus. By 400 AD the Frisii abandoned the land and disappeared from archeological records.

Migration Period

During the Migration Period "new" Frisians (probably a descended from merging of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Frisii) resettled in the north and the west of the Low Countries.[5](p792) The Frisians consisted of tribes with loose bonds, centered on war bands but without great power. In the second half of the 7th century the Frisian kingship reached its maximum geographic development.[6]

Social classes

The earliest Frisian records name four social classes, the ethelings (nobiles in Latin documents) and frilings, who together made up the "Free Frisians" who might bring suit at court, and the laten or liten with the slaves, who were absorbed into the laten during the Early Middle Ages, as slavery was not so much formally abolished, as evaporated.[lower-alpha 1] The laten were tenants of lands they did not own and might be tied to it in the manner of serfs, but in later times might buy their freedom.[7](p202)

History of wars

Main article: Frisian-Frankish Wars

The exact title of the Frisian rulers depends on the source. Frankish sources tend to call them dukes; other sources often call them kings. Only three Frisian rulers are named in written sources.


Under the rule of the king Aldgisl, the Frisians came in conflict with the Frankish mayor of the palace Ebroin, over the old Roman border fortifications. Aldgisl could keep the Franks at a distance with his army. In 678 he welcomed the English bishop Wilfrid, who, like him, was not a friend of the Franks.[5](p795)


Frisian sceattas c.710–735
Great fibula of Wijnaldum from the 7th century, found in 1953

Under Redbad, the tide turned in favour of the Franks: in 690 the Franks were victorious in the battle of Dorestad under the Austrasian mayor of the palace, Pepin of Herstal.[8] Though not all the consequences of this battle are clear, Dorestad became Frankish again, as did the castles of Utrecht and Vechten. It is presumed that the influence of the Franks now reached from south of the Oude Rijn to the coast, but this is not entirely clear because the influence of the Frisians over the central river area was not entirely lost. In any case there was a Catholic Church mission to pagan Frisia with a monastery and episcopal see in Utrecht from 695, founded for Willibrord,[9][10][11] and a marriage was arranged between Grimoald the Younger the oldest son of Pepin, and Thiadsvind, the daughter of Redbad, in 711.[5](p794)

After Pepin died, in 714, Redbad took advantage of the battle for succession in Francia and regained southern Frisia. He made a treaty with the Neustrasian mayor of the palace, Ragenfrid, so that in 716 his armies could enter the Frankish land as far as Cologne, where they were victorious in the Battle of Cologne.[12] The army returned to the north with a large war loot. Redbad made plans to invade Francia for the second time and mobilised a large army, but before he could do this he fell ill and died in the autumn of 719.[13](p90)

It is not certain who the successor of Redbad was. It is believed that there were troubles with the succession, because the Frankish opponent Charles Martel could easily invade Frisia and subjugate the land. The resistance was so weak that Charles Martel not only annexed Frisia Citerior ("nearer" Frisia south of the Rhine), but he also crossed the Rhine and annexed "farther" Frisia, to the banks of the river Vlie.[5](p795)


In 733 Charles Martel sent an army against the Frisians. The Frisian army was pushed back to Eastergoa. The next year the Battle of the Boarn took place. Charles ferried an army across the Almere with a fleet that enabled him to sail up to De Boarn. The Frisians were defeated in the ensuing battle,[5](p795) and their king Poppo was killed.[12] The victors began plundering and burning heathen sanctuaries. Charles Martel returned with much loot, and broke the power of the Frisian kings for good.

After the Frankish conquest

After the Battle of the Boarn in 734, the Franks annexed the Frisian lands between the Vlie and the Lauwers. They conquered the area east of the Lauwers in 785, when Charlemagne defeated Widukind. The Carolingians laid Frisia under the rule of grewan, a title that has been loosely related to count in its early sense of "governor" rather than "feudal overlord".[7](p205) The Lex Frisionum, the "Law Code of the Frisians" was recorded in Latin during the reign of Charlemagne.

Before 1101, sources talk about counts ruling over Frisia, west of the Vlie as Frisian counts. But in this year count Floris II is mentioned as Florentius comes de Hollant (Floris, Count of Holland). Holland is probably Old Dutch for holt lant, literally "wood land," describing the district around Dordrecht, the nucleus of the County of Holland.[14] The counts generally kept to this single title until 1291, when Floris V, Count of Holland decided to call himself Count of Holland and Zeeland, lord of Friesland. This title was also used after Holland was united with Hainault, Bavaria-Straubing, and the Duchy of Burgundy. The titles eventually lost their importance, and the last count, Philip II of Spain, only mentioned them halfway through his long list of titles.


  1. Homans describes Frisian social institutions, based on the summary by Siebs, Benno E. (1933). Grundlagen und Aufbau der altfriesischen Verfassung. Untersuchungen zur deutschen staats- und Rechtsgeschichte (in German). 144. Breslau: Marcus. OCLC 604057407. Siebs' synthesis was extrapolated from survivals detected in later medieval documents.[7]


  1. De eerste koningen van Nederland, p. 22, Aspekt útjouwerij, p. 205. ISBN 978-90-5911-323-7
  3. Haywood 1999:14, Dark Age Naval Power. Haywood uses the term 'North German' to distinguish them from the 'Rhine Germans' (the Caninnefates, Batavians, and "Frankish" tribes).
  4. Haywood 1999:17–19, Dark Age Naval Power. Haywood cites Todd's The Northern Barbarians 100 BCAD 300 (1987) for this conclusion.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Halbertsma, Herrius (1982). "Summary". Frieslands Oudheid (PDF) (Thesis) (in Dutch and English). Groningen: Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. pp. 791–798. OCLC 746889526.
  6. Es, Willem A. van; Hessing, Wilfried A. M., eds. (1994). Romeinen, Friezen en Franken in het hart van Nederland : van Traiectum tot Dorestad 50 v.c.-900 n.c. (in Dutch) (2nd ed.). Utrecht: Mathijs. pp. 90–91. ISBN 9789053450499.
  7. 1 2 3 Homans, George C. (1957). "The Frisians in East Anglia". The Economic History Review. New series. Wiley. 10 (2): 189–206. doi:10.2307/2590857. ISSN 0013-0117.
  8. Blok, Dirk P. (1968). De Franken : hun optreden in het licht der historie. Fibulareeks (in Dutch). 22. Bussum: Fibula-Van Dishoeck. pp. 32–34. OCLC 622919217. Retrieved 2014-09-17.
  9. it Liber Pontificalis (Corpus XXXVI 1, side 168) en Beda Venerabilis (Corpus XLVI9, page 218)
  10.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Lins, Joseph (1912). "Archdiocese of Utrecht". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton.
  11.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Mershman, Francis (1912). "St. Willibrord". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: Robert Appleton.
  12. 1 2 "Geschiedenis van het volk der Friezen". (in Dutch). 2003. Archived from the original on 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
  13. Halbertsma, Herrius (2000). Frieslands oudheid: het rijk van de Friese koningen, opkomst en ondergang (in Dutch and English) (New ed.). Utrecht: Matrijs. ISBN 9789053451670.

Further reading

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