Against the Currents of His Day: Brittany, Louis the Pious, and Elite Insurrection

Louis the Pious, contemporary depiction from 826 as a miles Christi (soldier of Christ), with a poem of Rabanus Maurus overlaid.Against the Currents of His Day: Brittany, Louis the Pious, and Elite Insurrection

By Alexander Demeulenaere

Brown Journal of History, Vol.9 (2015)

Introduction: During Louis the Pious’s 36-year reign, he spent much of his time convening assemblies, securing his borders, and trying to govern his empire, rather than conquering and expanding aggressively as his father and grandfather, Charlemagne and Pepin, had done. Louis’s task was a difficult one since he had inherited long and autonomous frontier regions from Charlemagne. These regions were often flanked by lengthy marches, in which the emperor would install counts or dukes to oversee frontier governance and help suppress and integrate their people.

For the most part, Louis was successful in maintaining control over a vast empire that included most of modern day Western Europe and held significant influence over all former territories of the Holy Roman Empire. He effectively quelled rebellions and consolidated the empire’s power and scope of rule. He orchestrated major religious assemblies and spread a very specific view of Christianity based on monasteries throughout his empire and its frontiers, even converting pagans. Louis’s goals were clear with neighboring Muslim or pagan territories, but less so with the few Christian frontiers that did not acquiesce to his rule.


Brittany is a unique example of a Christian area that caused major issues for Louis and remained an insecure border to the Frankish heartlands in France and Germany throughout his reign. The territory emerged as an important frontier for Louis because of its disruption of his monastic view of empire. Furthermore, the Franks suffered numerous military defeats to these rebellious people. As a result, against the ideological currents of his court, Louis tried to deal with Brittany through force and military campaigns, leading to a series of revolts against him by the court nobility and family members

In 830 A.D., according to The Annals of St.-Bertin, Louis the Pious’s sons and members of his court revolted openly, because they opposed a campaign into Brittany that Louis endorsed. Although this rebellion was rather short-lived, the fact remains that the question of conquering Brittany, a region rarely spoken about in contemporary sources, caused enough internal strife to start an uprising. Because the sources concerning Brittany are scant and problematic, the importance of the region in The Annals of St.-Bertin raises questions about why this frontier was causing difficulties for Louis and why the court was so opposed to conquering it. Julia M.H. Smith does much work in uncovering how Bretons and Carolingians interacted and how these interactions changed the political and social nature of Brittany. How the relations changed the Franks, however, does not seem a topic that modern historians have broached extensively. Scholars like Wendy Davies and James McIlwain have done incisive work painting a picture of Carolingian Brittany as an entity in and of itself.


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