Bertha of the Franks

The evidence for her parents and descendants

The slim evidence that Bertha, wife of Ethelbert, King of Kent, was the daughter of Charibert and Ingoberg, and a discussion of her supposed descendants.


This article should be cited as:
"Bertha of the Franks", by Will Johnson, at
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

Clovis, was King of all the Franks from 482 to 511.  Sometime ago, I had written up an article detailing his wives and children.  This article is only going to discuss the evidence, or lack, for one of Clovis' supposed great-granddaughters.

Among Clovis' children, his last surviving son Chlothar had a concubine Ingund.  Chlothar and Ingund had a son CharibertCharibert was King of Neustria from 561 to 567.  Gregory of Tours (HF IV.26) states : "King Charibert married a woman named Ingoberg.  He had by her a daughter, who eventually married a man from Kent and went to live there."  My edition of the Penguin Classics "The History of the Franks", here has a footnote stating, "This was Adelberg, known as Ethelberg and Bertha, who married Ethelbert, King of Kent."  Nothing more is said neither about Adelberg nor about Ethelbert in this work.  It seems a little odd to me that Gregory would dismiss the King or perhaps heir-apparent of Kent by only calling him a "man from Kent".  Another odd thing, is that she was sent off to marry someone so far removed from the politicis of the Merovingian kingdoms (which were in modern-day France).  Daughters were bargaining chips to form alliances.  Why make an alliance with a kingdom which could not help you?  Also notice that Gregory does not name this girl.  So how do we know her name and who exactly she married?

Bede is cited in Charles Cawley's discussion of Bertha at his Medlands Project here, quoting that King Ethelbert of Kent had a Christian wife, a Frankish princess named Bertha, whom he received from her parents on the condition that she be allowed to retain her religion. (Plummer, C. (1895) Venerabilis Bædæ opera historica, Tomus prior (Oxford) Bædæ Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum), Book I, Chapter XXV, p44)  Bede's work "The Ecclesiastical History of the English People" is online in a free edition at wikisource, so we can read what he does or doesn't say for ourselves.  The online edition is in Latin and also in English.  The English version is here.  The direct link to the cited passage is here.

If we assume that this "Frankish princess named Bertha" is the same person as the unnamed daughter of Charibert, and we assume that "...he received her from her parents" means that her father was then living, then the marriage must have occurred by 567, in which year Charibert died, according to Gregory of Tours.  Other writers however have commented that "from her parents" may also mean simply "from her relatives".  We can, but do not have to, assume that Bertha was married to
Ethelbert after he became King of Kent, Bede does not make this clear.  By the way, three contradictory primary-source passages make Ethelbert's accession in 560, 563 or 565, so we cannot be absolutely sure which year is correct.  Charles Cawley has an extensive write-up on the sources for the life of Ethelbert here.

Charles Cawley tells us that Bede knows that Bertha and
Ethelbert are buried in the same place (Bede Historia Ecclesiastica (Plummer), Book II, Chapter V, p. 90)  And using wikisource we can again read the passage for ourselves here.  Bede tells us that Eadbald succeeded his father Ethelbert and "kept his father's wife."  Since we can be certain that Eadbald did not marry his own mother, it must be that Ethelbert had a second wife, who was his widow.  Eadbald, then must be a son of Bertha, even though we have no direct statement to that effect.  The other alternative would be that Ethelbert had a prior wife, who was the mother of Eadbald, and that Bertha was his last wife and widow.  But if so, then Bede's silence on repeating her name at this crucial juncture is curious.  So we probably have to assume that Bertha was dead, and it was her who was Eadbald's mother.

Moving on, the name for this second wife of Ethelbert, and subsequently first wife of Eadbald, has not been recorded.  Bede tells us that Eadbald had periodic fits of madness and was possessed by an evil spirit because of this incestuous relationship.  The king later renounced this marriage and married a second time to a woman named Emma.  Although some would place Emma in the line of descent from Clovis, Charles Cawley's presents the various arguments here showing how conjectural such a placement would be.

Bede tells us in III.8 that "In the year of our Lord 640, Eadbald, king of Kent, departed this life, and left his kingdom to his son Eorcenberht", who reigned for 24 years.  When I tried to point out to the clueless fools at the Britannica Online Encyclopedia that Bede states that the next king Eorcenberht, was the son of the last one Eadbald, they rejected my observation without comment.  So I wrote an op-ed piece venting my spleen at such intellectual laziness here.  How can a work, which prides itself on being comprehensive, flatly ignore primary sources like this?  Well read my opinion piece and see if you agree.

The new edition of the Dictionary of National Biography has an article on Eorcenberht (this requires a paid subscription), although previous editions had not.  The new article was written by "S. E. Kelly".