Pepin the Hunchback

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Pepin (Pippin) the Hunchback (b. before 770, d. 813) was the first son of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) and his first wife (or concubine) Himiltrude. Accounts describe Pepin as normally proportioned with attractive features. However, his looks were marred by a spinal deformity from which his nickname is derived.

Due to his disability, Pepin was never a strong contender to succeed his father to the Frankish throne. Nevertheless, Charles treated his son well, giving him precedence over his younger brothers as was appropriate for his age. Pepin was an amiable fellow, and he grew to be a well-liked member of Charles' court. The hunchbacked prince probably held some hope for succession from his father. In addition, Pepin was an easy target for discontented nobles, who lavished sympathies on him and lamented the treatment his mother had received when Charles had divorced her in favor of a Lombard princess. Thus, in 780, Charles formally disinherited Pepin and had the pope baptize his third son, Carloman, as Pepin. This move may have been prompted by Charles' third wife and the mother of Carloman, Hildegarde. The hunchbacked prince was a threat to her sons' succession, both due to Charles' doting attitude toward him and his name (Frankish succession had alternated between Charleses and Pepins for the last four generations).

Pepin was allowed to remain at court, and Charles continued to give the boy precedence over his younger brothers. Pepin also remained a popular "friend" of discontented nobles, and in 792, several counts played upon Pepin's dislike for his brothers to convince the deformed prince to play the figurehead in their rebellion. The conspirators planned to kill Charles, his wife Hildegarde, and his three sons by her. Pepin the Hunchback would then be set upon the throne as a more sympathetic (and more easily manipulated) king. The day of the assassination, Pepin pretended to be ill in order to meet with the plotters. The scheme nearly succeeded, but a Lombard deacon named Fardulf ultimately exposed it.

King Charles held an assembly at Regensburg to try the conspirators, and all were found guilty of high treason and ordered executed. Charles seems still to have held fond feelings for his first son, however, for Pepin's sentence was commuted. Instead, Pepin was forced to enter the monastery of Prüm to live out the rest of his life as a monk. Pepin died there some twenty years later.


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