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The early history of the German succession offers certain candidacies where throne-right is unclear. Some of the most interesting instances are where bastard Carolingians ascend the throne. Emperor Arnulf could probably make a case for quasi-legitimacy, yet he created a Lotharingian kingdom for his illegitimate son Zwentibold. He was therefore interested in establishing a right of agnatic Carolingians to ascend the throne despite illegitimate birth. The East kingdom nevertheless required a legitimate successor. These rudimentary observations give rise to an interesting cluster of juristic concerns, which deserve a finer focus than the literature currently offers, but which must be left aside here.

KONRAD I – In 911 Arnulf’s legitimate son, Louis the Child, was succeeded in the East by Konrad, the preeminent aristocrat of Franconia. Konrad’s ties with the East Carolingians were numerous, but consisted entirely of instances where both families had intermarried with another family. A lineal claim is unlikely to have existed, at least in descent from Charlemagne. Much more promising is the possibility of descent from one of the sisters of King Pepin. The reconstruction is complex, however, and the issue concerns not only Konrad but other post-Carolingians such as Odo in France (892). To interpret their throne-right one must also consider rights deriving from secondary consanguinity at the failure of the Carolingian dynasty. At present, a basis for discussing the problem of Konrad’s throne-right is not generally available.

OTTO OF HALDENSLEBEN – Though an infant, Henry IV received royal coronation before the death of his father, Emperor Henry III, in 1056. The succession of this infant king received several challenges. In the case of Duke Frederick of Lower Lorraine, the issue might have been limited to participation in the regency. The Saxon noble Otto of Haldensleben, however, marched on the throne. He was defeated in battle by Count Bruno of Brunswick, and both were killed in the engagement.

Explanations are available for Otto’s candidacy, but they are not closely attuned to normative conditions. We know that Otto’s mother was Russian, and it appears very likely that she was one of the daughters of Great Prince Vladimir’s marriage with a sister of Duke Hermann II of Swabia, the documentation for which is oblique yet convincing. This would make Otto a fifth-generation descendant of Otto the Great and would account well for the transmission of his name.

Such descent would represent a right, but by no means a competitive right. In the paternal line of ascent from Otto’s father, Margrave Bernhard of the Saxon Nordmark, there does not appear to be a possibility of deriving a further claim to the East Frankish throne. In the preceding generations, the wives of Margraves Dietrich I and II are not known, which allows some room for speculation, yet only one source of right can be reasonably be considered – descent from the early Brunonen, in particular from Liudolf (I), who appears to marry a daughter of Emperor Louis the Blind.

At present there are few clues regarding the manner of Otto of Haldensleben’s descent from the early Brunonen. Yet one can suggest that it probably did exist. Bruno of Brunswick clearly had personal motives for meeting Otto in battle, and it is often assumed that he was a candidate himself. In his case, agnatic descent from the Brunonen was complemented by descent from Emperor Otto I via the Konradiner. Otto’s advantage was having a reigning European monarch, Great Prince Vladimir, as his grandfather.

CHARLES OF FLANDERS – In the election of 1125, elaborate plans were made to draw electors and candidates from all four nations of the German kingdom. Count Charles of Flanders was proposed as the Lotharingian candidate but declined the honor, and the election proceeded without a Lotharingian or Frankish candidate. One reason for nominating Charles could also have served as a good reason for his refusal: Flanders was primarily a French county, with only a small part of its territory under German suzerainty.

Charles was a descendant of King Henry I of Germany via the Capetian kings of France, therefore not a close relative of the Salian emperors. His case could otherwise be argued on the basis of royal descent, not only from the French kings, but also in that his father was actually King Knut IV of Denmark. In addition, Charles is one of the earliest high aristocrats to receive the name Charles as an indication of descent from Charlemagne. The derivation was through King Robert II of France’s wife Constance of Arles, who descended from Emperor Louis the Blind’s son Charles Constantine of Vienne.

Charles thus presented an impressive assortment of lineal credentials, even though he was not a close relative of the Salians. In this he was not dissimilar to the successful candidate, the Saxon duke Lothar of Supplinburg. Unlike Lothar, however, he also was a member of a royal family, which allowed the possibility of expanding the empire, most readily perhaps to Denmark, but in theory ultimately to France.


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