West Francia

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Kingdom of the West Franks
Francia occidentalis
Map of the division of Francia enacted at Verdun in 843. From Ridpath's Universal History (1895)
Capital Paris
Languages Gallo-Roman, Latin
Religion Catholic Church
Government Monarchy
King of the Franks
 •  840–877 Charles the Bald (first)
 •  986–987 Louis V of France
Historical era Middle Ages
 •  Treaty of Verdun 843
 •  Treaty of Meerssen 870
 •  Capetian dynasty established 987
Currency Denier
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of France
Today part of  Belgium

In medieval historiography, West Francia (Latin: Francia occidentalis) or the Kingdom of the West Franks (regnum Francorum occidentalium) was the western part of Francia, inhabited and ruled by the Germanic Franks, and forms the earliest stage of the Kingdom of France, lasting from about 840 until 987. West Francia was formed out of the division of the Carolingian Empire[1] after the death of Emperor Louis the Pious, but the east–west division "gradually hardened into the establishment of separate kingdoms".[2]

West Francia extended further south than modern France, but it did not extend as far east, and did not include Lorraine, Alsace and Provence. In Brittany and Catalonia (now mostly a part of Spain) the authority of the West Frankish king was barely felt. Initially, West Frankish kings were elected by the secular and ecclesiastic magnates, and for the half-century between 888 and 936 they chose alternatingly from the Carolingian and Robertian houses.[3]


In August 843, after three years of civil war following the death of Louis the Pious on 20 June 840, the Treaty of Verdun was signed by his three sons and heirs. The youngest, Charles the Bald, received the western portion. The contemporary West Frankish Annales Bertiniani describes Charles arriving at Verdun, "where the distribution of portions" took place. After describing the portions of his brothers, Lothair the Emperor (Middle Francia) and Louis the German (East Francia), he notes that "the rest as far as Spain they ceded to Charles".[4] The Annales Fuldenses of East Francia describe Charles as holding the western part after the kingdom was "divided in three".[5]

The last record in the Annales Bertiniani dates to 882, and so the only contemporary narrative source for the next eighteen years in West Francia is the Annales Vedastini. The next set of original annals from the West Frankish kingdom are those of Flodoard, who began his account with the year 919.[6]

Since the death of King Pippin I of Aquitaine in December 838, his son had been recognised by the Aquitainian nobility as King Pippin II, although the succession had not been recognised by the emperor. Charles the Bald was at war with Pippin II from the start of his reign in 840, and the Treaty of Verdun ignored the claimant and assigned Aquitaine to Charles.[7] Accordingly, in June 845, after several military defeats, Charles signed the Treaty of Benoît-sur-Loire and recognised his nephew's rule. This agreement lasted until 25 March 848, when the Aquitainian barons recognised Charles as king. Thereafter Charles's armies had the upper hand and by 849 had secured most of Aquitaine.[8] In May, Charles had himself crowned "King of the Franks and Aquitainians" in Orléans. The coronation was officiated by Archbishop Wenilo of Sens, and included the first instance of royal unction in West Francia. The idea of anointing Charles may be owed to Archbishop Hincmar of Reims, who composed no less than four ordines describing appropriate liturgies for a royal consecration. By the time of the Synod of Quierzy (858), Hincmar was claiming that Charles was anointed to the entire West Frankish kingdom.[9]

Reign of Charles the Fat

After the death of Charles's grandson, Carloman II, on 12 December 884, the West Frankish nobles elected his uncle, Charles the Fat, already king in East Francia and Italy, as their king. He was probably crowned "King in Gaul" (rex in Gallia) on 20 May 885 at Grand.[10] His reign was the only time after the death of Louis the Pious that all of Francia would be re-united under one ruler. In his capacity as king of West Francia, he seems to have granted the royal title and perhaps regalia to the semi-independent ruler of Brittany, Alan I.[11] His handling of the Viking siege of Paris in 885–86 greatly reduced his prestige and in November 887 he was deposed by some East Frankish nobles. He died shortly after in January 888, and it is unclear if the election of Odo as king in West Francia was a response to his deposition or death. In Aquitaine, Duke Ranulf II may have had himself recognised as king, but he only lived another two years.[12] Although Aquitaine did not become a separate kingdom, it was largely outside the control of the West Frankish kings.[3]


  1. The term "Francia", land of the Franks, was commonly used to refer to the empire. The ruling dynasty was Frankish, although its inhabitants were mostly non-Franks.
  2. Bradbury 2007, 21: "... division which gradually hardened into the establishment of separate kingdoms, notably East and West Francia, or what we can begin to call Germany and France."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Lewis 1965, 179–80.
  4. AB a. 843: ubi distributis portionibus ... cetera usque ad Hispaniam Carolo cesserunt.
  5. AF a. 843: in tres partes diviso ... Karolus vero occidentalem tenuit.
  6. Koziol 2006, 357.
  7. AF a. 843: Karolus Aquitaniam, quasi ad partem regni sui iure pertinentem, affectans ... ("Charles wanted Aquitaine, which belonged by right to a part of his kingdom").
  8. Coupland 1989, 200–202.
  9. Nelson 1977, 137–38.
  10. MacLean 2003, 127.
  11. Smith 1992, 192.
  12. Richard 1903, 37–38.


  • Jim Bradbury. The Capetians: Kings of France, 987–1328. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007.
  • Simon Coupland. "The Coinages of Pippin I and II of Aquitaine" Revue numismatique, 6th series, 31 (1989), 194–222.
  • Geoffrey Koziol. "Charles the Simple, Robert of Neustria, and the vexilla of Saint-Denis". Early Medieval Europe 14:4 (2006), 355–90.
  • Archibald R. Lewis. The Development of Southern French and Catalan Society, 718–1050. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1965.
  • Simon MacLean. Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the end of the Carolingian Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Janet L. Nelson. "Kingship, Law and Liturgy in the Political Thought of Hincmar of Rheims". English Historical Review 92 (1977), 241–79. Reprinted in Politics and Ritual in Early Medieval Europe (London: Hambledon, 1986), 133–72.
  • Alfred Richard. Histoire des Comtes de Poitou, vol. 1 Paris: Alphonse Picard, 1903.
  • Julia M. H. Smith. Province and Empire: Brittany and the Carolingians. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.