The Divorce of Lothar II: Christian Marriage and Political Power in the Carolingian World

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The Divorce of Lothar II: Christian Marriage and Political Power in the Carolingian World. By Karl Heidecker. Translated from the Dutch byTanis M. Guest. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 227. $45.00. ISBN 978-0-801-43929-2.)

Christian marriage is now considered monogamous and indissoluble, but it was not always so. In this book Karl Heidecker argues convincingly that it was only with the highly publicized divorce of King Lothar ? (855-69) that a clear standard for Christian marriage became established in the West. Heidecker is certainly not the first to see this divorce case as a turning point; both medieval and modern writers on the development of marriage have always referred to it, and the outpouring of letters, conciliar rulings, annals, and legal briefs at the time was large enough to fill an entire volume of the modern Monumenta Germaniae Histórica. But Heidecker is the first to look at the case in all its complexity, as involving not just church law- which everyone at the time heatedly invoked, even though the existing law was often vague and inconsistent- but also secular law, the dicey question of who could pass judgment in cases like this, and especially political maneuvering, with all sides loudly adhering to and often indeed creating divergent principles to support their own positions.

Lothar II, great-grandson of Charlemagne, was king of the Middle Kingdom between France and Germany, later named Lotharingia in his memory. His problems began in 857 when he decided to divorce his wife,Theutberga, to marry Waldrada, his former mistress. Both the pope and Hincmar, the powerful archbishop of Reims, ruled such a divorce impossible. Immediately Theutberga found herself accused of incest with her brother, and incest in an unnatural position at that, meaning Lothar had to divorce her. She managed briefly to return to her position as queen by proving her innocence by an ordeal, conveniently undertaken by a substitute, but the reconciliation was short-lived. …


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