HST3154/3155: Breaking up (in) the Carolingian Empire

40 credits (semesters 1 and 2)

Module Leader: Dr Charles West


Module Summary

In 858, an event took place that scandalised Europe. At a public assembly, a Frankish king, Lothar II, accused his wife Theutberga of the most outrageous crimes, in order to secure a divorce so he could marry his mistress Waldrada. Yet despite his best efforts, and to everyone's surprise, Lothar failed to get his way – and so his kingdom spiralled into crisis, exacerbated by Viking attacks, interfering popes and predatory uncles.

This Special Subject concentrates on this crisis, and the rich documentation it produced, to investigate the politics, society and culture of early medieval Europe under the Carolingian kings.


This module aims to familiarise you with the history of Carolingian Francia, using the kingdom of Lothar II (855-869) and the crisis caused by his failed attempts to secure a divorce as the point of entry into a field rich in sources and debates. The shocking nature of Lothar's allegations against his wife has led the divorce case to be described as revealing the 'dark side' of the Carolingian Renaissance, and contemporary chroniclers also saw it as the beginning of the decline of the Carolingian empire founded by Charlemagne. This module will address the cultural, political, social and economic themes arising from the case, ranging from innovations in the theory and practice of marriage to Viking raids and the assertion of papal authority north of the Alps. It situates these themes in the historiography and relates them to a wide range of available sources, including my own translation of a major source, On the Divorce of King Lothar and Queen Theutberga. The module begins by exploring a series of early medieval social roles through selected examples, before turning to a thematic approach to encourage students to make their own analytical connections.

Teaching and Assessment

Weekly seminars will enable you to acquire a broad knowledge of Carolingian Francia in the ninth century, particularly relating to King Lothar II’s divorce case, and to set that knowledge within a wider understanding of the early medieval context, relating to themes such as kingship, manuscript transmission, aristocratic power, etc. Through individual presentations and through tutor - and class discussions drawing on your reading, you will hone your capacity to engage with and critically evaluate current historiographical debates and gain confidence in evaluating, comparing and interpreting early medieval sources.

You are assessed by means of a three hour unseen examination testing their command of the secondary literature and your ability to contextualise and analyse primary source material. An informal record of their oral performance will be given. You also write essays and complete written gobbet exercises during the module as part of your personal preparation for the examination; although not included in the final assessment, the marks awarded for these, together with the tutor's comments, are recorded.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3


Selected Reading

  • M. Costambeys, M. Innes and S. MacLean, The Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2011)
  • R. Stone and C. West, The Divorce of King Lothar and Queen Theutberga (Manchester, 2016)
  • C. Wickham, The Inheritance of Rome: a history of Europe from 400 to 1000 (London, 2010)


Intended Learning Outcomes
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