The disintegration of the Carolingian Empire had serious consequences for the church. When the three surviving sons of Louis the Pious (d. 840) divided the so-called empire—it never did have a unified imperial structure—into three parts, it presaged further divisions. The holdings of one of these sons were soon divided into three parts, and so it went on. Internecine rivalries, outright civil war, Frankish inheritance customs—all contributed to the centrifugal force that destroyed the Carolingian political structure. Whatever there was of central government died with Louis the Pious. The title ‘emperor’ continued to be used by men with less and less power until it was held by such deservedly obscure petty Italian kings as Wido (891-94) and Berengar (915-24). With the death of the latter, the title ceased to be used, and almost no one noticed. The Carolingian dynasty that had produced great leaders such as Pepin, Charlemagne and even Louis the Pious was reduced to small men with embarrassing sobriquets: the Bald, the Stammerer, the Fat, the Simple and the Child, to which one is tempted to add ‘the Irrelevant’. In what was to become Germany real power rested in the duchies. In what was to become France real power was in the hands of local strongmen.
This atomization of political power was true not only in the Carolingian orbit but even beyond. England was little more than a geographical expression to describe where the Anglo-Saxons lived, themselves organized into many kingdoms, and the man called Alfred the Great (d. 899) was great only in the kingdom of Wessex, although it is true to add that by the 950s England appears as a fledgling political unit. Ireland, Scotland and the British parts of Britain continued to have tribal structures of government. Personal safety and security were not to be had from far-away men with titles but, rather, from local lords with local interest and, above all, with effective power. Europe was in pieces.
Local, too, was the governance of the Christian church. The overarching jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome as pope was not consciously challenged by local bishops. Yet, in the environment which saw the weakening of the power of the kings, the stressing of local connections and, indeed, the difficulties encountered in communications, the papacy, particularly after the death of Nicholas (d. 867),