I take a certain amount of pride in having no interest in the Brangelina divorce or that of any other celebrity, but I question whether today’s current obsession with celebrities is really that different to my own obsession with the love lives of people who lived over a thousand years ago! The ruling classes of the Dark Ages were the celebrities of their day and no doubt there was plenty of gossip surrounding their marriages and divorces.
We often think that marriages in the past were forever and divorces were a rarity. But divorce was not uncommon in the Dark Ages. The Anglo-Saxons had detailed laws surrounding them to guide the people through the process. But when the divorce involved ruling class it became a matter of national or even international importance.
Theudebert I of Austrasia is the ambitious Frankish king in The Girl from Brittia. In this story he is busy meddling in his sister’s marriage, but his own marital life could be a story of its own! He was betrothed to a Lombard princess called Wisigard, but while on campaign he fell in love with a married woman named Deuteria. As soon as he became King he broke off his betrothal to Wisigard and Deuteria left her husband. Theudebert and Deuteria were probably married at this point, but Theudebert’s subjects were angered by his treatment of Wisigard and put pressure on him to send Deuteria away. Theudebert was forced to abide by his original promise. He married Wisigard, but she did not live long after the wedding. Theudebert and Deuteria were not reconciled and Theudebert married for a third time!
This 9th century celebrity love triangle took up a lot of the time of three kings, numerous bishops, one emperor and two popes! The political marriage of Lothair II of Middle Francia and Teutburga was arranged by Lothair’s father, who died the following year. Teutburga was unable to have children and Lothair fell in love with Waldrada. From that point his reign was dominated by his need for a divorce. His uncle, Charles the Bald of West Francia was opposed to the divorce, while his other uncle Louis the German of East Francia was more supportive.
Lothair accused Teutburga of incest with her brother and rid himself of her. But she proved her innocence and to avoid conflict with her brother, Lothair was compelled to take her back.
Four years later, with the support of his brother, the Emperor Louis and the Frankish bishops, Lothair obtained an annulment and married Waldrada. But this decision was overturned by Pope Nicholas I and even an attack on Rome by the Emperor could not change his mind. Lothair was again forced to take Teutburga back.
In a strange twist – and who can blame her – Teutburga had by this time changed her mind about the marriage. Lothair travelled to Rome and at last obtained his divorce from Pope Adrian. But he did not get to enjoy it. He and his men died on their way back from Rome, his children by Waldrada were declared illegitimate and his kingdom was seized by his two uncles. The annals of the time considered this a judgement on him.
Today’s celebrity divorces seem rather tame by comparison!