The Royal Rundown on Charlemagne’s 20 Children

Charlemagne isn’t called the “father of Europe” for nothing.
Charlemagne gazes at his cathedral at Aachen, wondering how he’s going to divvy up his kingdom among 20 kids.
Charlemagne gazes at his cathedral at Aachen, wondering how he’s going to divvy up his kingdom among 20 kids. / Culture Club/Getty Images (Charlemagne); mikroman6/Moment/Getty Images (cathedral), TheresaTibbetts/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images (background)

The Frankish king Charlemagne, also known as Carolus Magnus and Charles I, is called the “father of Europe” for good reasons [PDF]. He had about 20 children who went on to establish Europe’s royal houses, and nearly all Europeans today can trace their lineages back to Charlemagne.

The king was born in 742 CE, the son of Pepin III, a.k.a Pepin the Short, who was the first king of the Carolingian dynasty in what is now France, Germany, and Italy. Charlemagne was crowned king of the Franks in 768 and appointed the first Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day in 800. He is best known for ushering Europe out of the “Dark Ages” and fostering art and culture; he converted nomadic peoples like the Saxons and Lombards to Christianity and served as the first monarch since the fall of Rome to rule Western and Central Europe. He died in 814.

Charlemagne fathered his 20 or so children with about 10 wives and concubines. He insisted that all of his sons and daughters receive the appropriate education befitting their noble status, and many went on to serve as royal figures, religious leaders, and scholars. Here they are in order, according to the lineages presented in Charlemagne by Derek Wilson, King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne by Janet L. Nelson, and Life of Charlemagne by the 7th-century historian Einhard [PDF].

Pepin the Hunchback (769-811)

Charlemagne’s first known partner was a Frankish noblewoman named Himiltrude. She gave birth to Charlemagne’s oldest child, a son named Pepin—the same name as that of previous Frankish kings, with the idea being that Charlemagne might choose him as his heir. (The eldest son did not automatically inherit the throne in Charlemagne’s day.) However, as Charlemagne had more children and signaled that another, younger son would be chosen as heir, Pepin became entwined in a conspiracy to overthrow his father as king in 792. While other conspirators were executed, Pepin the Hunchback was banished to a far-away monastery for rest of his life.

Charles the Younger (772 or 773-811)

Allegorical Illustration of the Empire of Charlemagne in 814 by Moreau le Jeune
An allegorical illustration of Charlemagne’s empire in 814. / Stefano Bianchetti/GettyImages

In 771, Charlemagne married Hildegard, the daughter of a Germanic count. She bore him about nine children beginning with Charles the Younger. He was raised in Charlemagne’s immediate household while his brothers, Carloman and Louis (more on them below), were sent to other parts of the realm to serve as kings. On the same day that his father was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 CE, Charles the Younger assumed the title King of the Franks. Charlemagne chose these three sons as his heirs, each of whom would inherit one-third of the kingdom—though it didn’t work out that way. Charles the Younger was married but had no children, and died in 811.

Adalhaid (773-774)

Charlemagne and Hildegard’s first daughter, whom Wilson suggests may have been Charles the Younger’s twin, died at only 11 months old while they were on a campaign in Italy.

Rotrude (775-810)

It was said Charlemagne loved his daughters so much that he forbade them to marry, but he most likely practiced this edict to protect his kingdom from any overzealous sons-in-law. Charlemagne and Hildegard’s second daughter, and first to live past infancy, was Rotrude (or Rotruda). She and her younger sisters were educated at their father’s court by Alcuin of York, whom Einhard called “the most learned man of his time.” Rotrude was allegedly betrothed to the Byzantine emperor Constantine VI but it never came to fruition. According to Wilson, Rotrude had a clandestine relationship with Rorgon, the count of Maine, and bore a son named Louis around the year 800. Louis eventually became the abbot of Saint-Denis, near Paris, and died in 867.

Carloman, a.k.a. Pepin of Italy (777-810)

While Charles the Younger was educated in Charlemagne’s court, his younger brother Carloman was sent to “rule” Italy as his father’s representative, maintaining Charlemagne’s presence by proxy—even though he was just a toddler at the time. Carloman was not baptized until 781, but when the ceremony took place, Charlemagne stunned the crowd by renaming him Pepin. Wilson writes that the name change was a public announcement that Charlemagne’s eldest son, Pepin the Hunchback, was no longer in the running to inherit the kingdom.

As one of Charlemagne’s heirs, Pepin of Italy would have inherited one-third of the kingdom along with Charles the Younger and Louis the Pious. Unfortunately, Pepin of Italy died in 810, four years before his father.

Louis the Pious (778-840)

Louis The Pious Divides The Kingdom Among His Children
Louis The Pious divides the kingdom among his children. / adoc-photos/GettyImages

Charlemagne appointed Louis, his third son with Hildegarde, sovereign of Aquitaine in 781. Like Charles the Younger and Pepin of Italy, he was expected to defend his father’s interests in the French territories. As a young ruler, Louis was less focused on statecraft and military campaigns than his brothers and more concerned with religion, which earned him the nickname Louis the Pious. But by the time Charlemagne made Louis co-emperor in 813—after the deaths of his other sons, leaving Louis the last heir standing—Louis had grown into his role. When Charlemagne died in 814 and Louis became sole emperor of most of Europe, he implemented a series of reforms (sending his sisters to nunneries was one part of the plan) and instituted new laws based on Christian philosophy. Before his death in 840, he divided his kingdom among his three sons and heirs.

Lothair (778- 779)

Lothair, who may have been born the same year as Louis the Pious, died in infancy.

Bertha (779-824)

Bertha (sometimes spelled Berta or Bertrada) was named after Charlemagne’s mother, Bertrada of Laon. She was just as spirited as her older sister Rotrude, educated in the same way, and nothing came of her engagement to Offa, the king of Mercia. By her teens, Bertha was locked in a passionate affair with Angilbert, Charlemagne’s closest advisor, who was more than 30 years older than she. They never married but had two sons together, Nithard and Hartuid, before the year 800. Nithard took after his father, who served the court as a poet, military strategist, diplomat, and historian, and wrote histories of the Carolingian empire under the rule of his cousins, Louis the Pious’s sons.

Gisela (781-?)

Gisela (or Gisla) was the third of Charlemagne’s daughters with Hildegard to live past infancy. Gisela was educated at Aachen, the capital of the Frankish kingdom, and served as abbess of Notre-Dame de Soissons, according to Rosamond McKitterick’s The Frankish Kingdoms Under the Carolingians, 751-987.

Hildegard (783-783)

She was the ninth and last child Charlemagne had with Hildegard but died in infancy. Her mother died the same year.

Chrotais (784-after 800)

After his wife Hildegard’s death, Charlemagne shacked up with several women who bore him additional children. His daughter Chrotais (also spelled Hruodhaid), whose mother remains unidentified, shares a name with the mistress of the Frankish ruler Charles Martel, Charlemagne’s grandfather.

Theodrada (784-after 844)

Map Of The Kingdom Of The Franks Under Charlemagne
A map of the kingdom of the Franks under Charlemagne. / Print Collector/GettyImages

Theodrada was the elder of two daughters of Charlemagne and his third wife, Fastrada, another Frankish noblewoman. By the time of her father’s death, Theodrada had become abbess of Notre-Dame d’Argenteuil, a monastery northwest of Paris.

Hildrud (787-after 800)

Born in 787, Hildrud was the younger daughter of Charlemagne and Fastrada.

Ruodaid (790-852)

The only child of Charlemagne and a woman named Madelgard, Ruodaid (also spelled Ruothild) became the abbess of the Faremoutiers monastery in 840.

Adaltrud (after 800-?)

Adaltrud (or Adolthrud) was the daughter of Charlemagne and a Saxon woman named Gersuinda, according to the Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne.

Drogo (801-855)

The Godescalc Gospels, an illustrated manuscript created during Charlemagne’s reign, at an exhibition in Germany in 2014.
The Godescalc Gospels, an illustrated manuscript created during Charlemagne’s reign, at a museum exhibition in Germany in 2014. / Sascha Schuermann/GettyImages

Once Louis the Pious became the sole emperor after Charlemagne’s death, he took steps to ensure no challenges to his rule, including doing away with his nephew Bernard, the son of Charles the Younger. Louis also had his two younger half-brothers, Drogo and Hugh (a.k.a. Hugo), the sons of Charlemagne and a concubine named Regina, forcibly tonsured and sent to monasteries, a popular way for rulers to exclude relatives from the line of succession. Drogo was sent to the abbey at Luxeuil until 818, when Louis had a change of heart and made Drogo the bishop of Metz in eastern France in 823. Drogo was later elevated to archbishop of Metz in 827 and then made the “papal vicar for the whole Frankish kingdom” in 844, according to the scholar Johannes Fried in The New Cambridge Medieval History.

Hugh (802-844)

Louis the Pious banished his half-brother Hugh (or Hugo) to the monastery at Saint-Quentin at the same time Drogo was sent to Luxeuil. Hugo was then made abbot of Saint-Quentin and of two other monasteries. In 834, Louis made Hugh the archchancellor, a kind of executive administrator, of the Frankish empire.

Richbod (800 or 805–844)

The son of Charlemagne and an unknown partner, Richbod became abbot of Saint-Riquier near modern-day Abbeville, France, in 840. He died four years later.

Bernard (?-?)

Bernard was the son of Charlemagne and another unnamed partner. He became the abbot of Moutier-Saint-Jean in Burgundy in 843, but the years of his birth and death are unknown.

Theuderic (807-after 818)

Charlemagne’s youngest child, a son named Theuderic (or Theodoric), was the issue from his relationship with a woman named Abalind.

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