Hugh the Great

Hugh (d. 956) was a transitional figure between his father Robert I and mother Beatrix (female descendant of Charlemagne) and his son Hugh Capet, after whom the Capetian dynasty is named. 

He was never proclaimed king, so he did not undergo an anointing or consecration.

Let’s start off with genealogical tables.


Here is Michael Idomir Allen’s Table 8, which he put together for his translation of Pierre Riché’s The Carolingians. This table offers an overview of the House of Vermandois and the Herbertines:

Charlemagne’s son Pippin died in 810, while his father died in 814, so Pippin did not get any of the empire, which means his line became collateral or less important than Louis’s line, Charlemagne’s surviving son (see him in Bouchard’s table below).

At first glance, one thing strange about Table 8 is that Herbert II appears to marry his niece, but the truth is that Adela was a daughter of Robert from another alliance (see Bouchard’s table, below).

Allen names Herbert’s wife Adela (Adele). Here is his Table 4:

Note Robert II, the Pious. It is his line that this series tracks down to the Plantagenets.

Let’s insert a genealogical table from historian W. L. Warren’s superb biography of Henry II, the first Plantagenet, to understand where we’re headed in this series:

On the left are the Capetian kings. Henry of Anjou is the same as King Henry II.

Let’s return to the main subject of this post (Herbert) and insert Medievalist Prof. (emeritus) Constance Bouchard’s table of kings, dukes and counts (T1), some of whom descend from Charlemagne. Her main point in the entire article at the American Historical Review is to show that new noble families emerged in the Medieval Age, who were not necessarily connected to long family lines.

For us, however, we focus on the Counts of Vermandois, who are indeed connected to Charlemagne:

Herbert I had two children: Beatrix and Herbert II. Beatrix married Robert I, and they are the parents of Hugh the Great, the father of Hugh Capet, the namesake of the Capetians.

Medievalist Constance Bouchard’s table of kings, dukes and counts (T1) show that he descends from Charlemagne. Her main point in the entire article at the American Historical Review is to show that new noble families emerged in the Medieval Age, who were not necessarily connected to long family lines.

For a discussion of Robert’s marriage to Beatrix and her ancestry, click on Herbert I, Count of Vermandois, and scroll down to the addendum.


It is important to realize that France as we know it today was not even close to being unified in the Medieval Age. It was broken up into a patchwork of duchies and counties, overseen by dukes and counts. They tirelessly competed with each other and the kings of “France.” The Capetians actually ruled over what is called Lesser France. It is the area around Paris and Orleans, including the Ile-de-France or Isle of France. The Ile or Isle of France was not a standard island as we think of it today, but a surrounding land area to Paris. It was the base of the Capetians.


Hugues (French) or Hugh English) was son of Robert I (r. 922-23) and nephew of King Eudes (Odo) (r. 888-98) and grandson of Robert le Fort (the Strong); he was Duke of Francia (reduced version of France we know today) and played a major role in the Frankish kingdom from 923 until his death.

He was called Capet because he wore a monastic hood (chape or capa) since he was a lay-abbot, or count-abbot of the Robertian monasteries, including St. Martin of Tours, Marmoutrier, St. Germain-des-Pres, and St. Denis. Being a lay-abbot was popular move by these early leaders. However, his son is known as Hugh Capet and is the namesake of the dynasty. This king is distinguished from his son by being called Hugh the Great. The elder Hugh was also called Hugh the White from his pale face.

One Medieval chronicler called Hugh “Prince of the Seine” River and Valley. Another one called him the “duke of the Gauls”; another one called him “the chief man of the whole kingdom.” The king (Louis IV) named him “duke of the Franks.”

Hugh was the count of Paris and held Neustria (roughly to the south of Normandy) with lands from the Loire to the Seine, except areas he lost to the Vikings. Land held: Paris, Etampes, Tours, Angers, Poitiers and Orléans; pagi of Blois, Chartres and Chateaudun. He was recognized as lord by the counts of Normandy, Vendome, Dreux, Leun, and Beauvais. He controlled lands in Berry and Maine.

Hugh’s sister Emma married Ralph of Burgundy, who was very powerful and wealthier than his competitor, Louis IV, a Carolingian, son of Charles the Simple (Straightforward, not simpleton), the great-great-grandson of Charlemagne by all males. So we have these rivals: Louis IV v. Ralph v. Hugh the Black from Burgundy (brother of Ralph I) v. Hugh v. Count Herbert II of Vermandois. The latter was a direct descendant of Charlemagne through the male line (three “greats” back).

One historian of the time says Hugh did not want to be king because he did not want to suffer the fate of his father Robert I who was killed in battle; the historian adds, “He died on account of his arrogance,” that is, fighting to become king. For this reason Hugh supported the move to recall his nephew Louis, fifteen years old, from exile in Aethelstan’s England. The other counts could not decide on which competitor should be king and would not support Hugh, so this is another reason that he settled on the Carolingian Louis.

Further, even though Hugh defeated the Carolingian King Charles III the Simple (r. 898-922), he was passed over by the rebel magnates (large landowners) who elected his brother-in-law Duke Ralph of Burgundy (r. 923-36) to succeed Hugh’s father Robert. Hugh remained loyal to Ralph throughout his reign and consolidated his power and land between the Loire and Seine Rivers.

When Ralph died, as noted, he supported Louis and met him at Boulogne, a port town, and swore fidelity to him. Louis was crowned at Laon on 19 June 936 by Artaud, archbishop of Reims, becoming Louis IV d’Outremer (from Overseas).

Louis and Hugh besieged Langres in Burgundy and captured it, so Louis rewarded Hugh with northern Burgundy. Later Hugh received the title duke of the Franks, that is, over Lesser France, with command in the west. Created by the king, it was seen as “viceregal”

However, this alliance between Hugh and Louis lasted only a year, for Hugh used his power to raise Louis to be king, but Louis refused to be a puppet king. A historian at the time said Hugh complained that Louis had left him nothing but Laon. Louis formed an alliance with William Longsword of Normandy (son of Rolf or Rollo, the lead Viking and both were ancestors of William the Conqueror), so Hugh had to form a new alliance to counter the royal coalition and did so with Herbert II and Otto the Great. After Hugh’s first second wife, Eadhild, sister of Aethelstan of England, died, Hugh married Otto’s sister Hadwige in 938.

Louis IV had taken Laon in 938, so Hugh moved against him, but the king successfully defended it. Louis also tried to regain Lotharingia, but this encroached on Otto’s land. During this distraction, Herbert and Hugh made their move against Reims in 940 and drove out Archbishop Artaud and restored Herbert’s son. Louis needed allies and turned to Otto, but Hugh defeated Louis in 941. Louis was forced to flee to Charles Constantine in Vienne. Louis had alienated allies by attempting to make Lotheringia his power base. The coalition against Louis, Herbert and Hugh, invaded Louis’ land and captured Attigny, the old Carolingian base. Louis and Otto met in Lotharingia four times between 942 and 965. At the same time, Louis married a widow, who happened to be Otto’s sister. Through Otto, Louis and Hugh reconciled at Visé in 942.

In 942 William Longsword of Normandy died, assassinated by men of Arnulf of Flanders, while William and Arnulf were meeting in a conference. In 943 Herbert died. Now what? In 944, Louis IV withdrew Bayeux from Hugh, who in retaliation forced Louis to retreat. The Vikings (Rolf’s descendants and their men) captured him near Rouen. Who rescued Louis? Hugh. But Hugh could only offer him to his own vassal, Theobald, count of Chartres. Under pressure from the church, he had to release Louis, but at a price, Laon. Louis blamed Hugh for his capture by pirates.

In 946 Louis recovered Laon and Reims with his father-in-law Otto. Hugh fled and Artaud was restored. But Hugh remained a thorn in Louis’s side. He besieged Reims in 947 and 948, though he was not successful. He devastated the surrounding area, however. And so a number of magnates went over to Louis. Hugh was summoned to two church councils at Verdun in 947 and Mouzon in 948, but he refused to come. Hugh was condemned and excommunicated by the Council of Ingelheim (June 948). Hugh finally submitted to Louis in 950, in obedience to the church.


First let’s talk about Hugh’s competitor / ally. Louis IV’s reign ended with a fall from a horse. He spotted a wolf and gave chase. His horse stumbled, and he fell awkwardly. He was taken to Reims, where his body bloated. He died on 9 Sep 954 and was buried in St Remy. He was only 33 and had been king for 18 years.

Hugh supported the succession of Louis’s son Lothar (Lothair). He paraded with the new king through Paris, Orleans, Chartres, Tours, Blois, and Aquitaine, just like he had toured with Louis IV. Hugh was rewarded with the name of Duke of Burgundy.

However, Hugh died at Dourdon in June 956, possibly from the plague. He was buried at St. Denis, near Paris.

From Lothar’s accession to his death, Hugh ruled France, but only with the title of Duke of the Franks and Duke of Burgundy and of Aquitaine.

Hugh left three minor sons:

1. Hugh Capet, Duke of Francia and future king;

2. Otto;

3. Eudes-Henri, successively Duke of Burgundy.

They were taken under protection of Richard I of Normandy and under Bruno, archbishop of Cologne and duke of Lotharingia, brother of Otto I and Hugh’s wife.


Robert I (r. 922-23) (House of Robertines)

Hugh the Great (r. 938-956)


Hugh Capet (r. 987-996)

Robert II (r. 996-1031)

Henri I (r. 1031-60)

Philip I (r. 1059 or 1060-1108)

Louis VI (r. 1108-1037)

Louis VII  (r. 1137-1180)

Philip II Augustus (r. 1180-1223)

Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226)

Louis IX, the Saintly King (r. 1226-1270)

Philip III (r. 1270-1285)

Philip IV (r. 1285-1314)

Louis X (r. 1314-1316)

Philip V (r. 1316-1322)

Charles IV (r 1322-1328) (last Capetian king)


These two dynasties lived before the Capetians.

Charlemagne: Interesting Facts and Stories

Pippin, Son of Charlemagne

Bernard, King of Italy

Pippin, Great-Grandson of Charlemagne (transition to the House of Vermandois)


Herbert I, Count of Vermandois

Herbert II, Count of Vermandois


Matthias Becher, Charlemagne, trans. David S. Bachrach (New Haven: Yale UP, 1999, 2003).

Constance B. Bouchard, “The Origins of the French Nobility: A Reassessment.” The American Historical Review vol. 86, no. 1, Feb 1981, 501-32.

—, Those of My Blood: Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia (U Penn P 2001)

Jim Bradbury, The Capetians: Kings of France (Continuum, 2007).

Ivan Gobry, Robert II: Fils de Hugues Capet, Histoire des Rois de France (Pygmalion, 2005).

Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, eds. William W. Kibler and Grover A. Zinn (New York: Garland, 1995).

Pierre Riché, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idormir Allen (U Penn P, 1993).

Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 5 volumes (Salt Lake: Published Privately, 2013). (It is worth noting that Richardson does not include Bouchard’s very helpful book in his bibliography.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s