Plectrude and Charles Martell – The Rise of the Carolingians

At the beginning of the 8th century, the power of the Merovingian kings of the Frankish Empire has declined. The high officials at the royal court hold the real power. It is the rise of the Carolingians, who gradually worked their way up from the Merovingians as court officials. So powerful are they now that they even fight among themselves for power and who can continue to make the Merovingian king dance like a puppet to be the real ruler of the Frankish Empire. A bloody conflict arises between stepmother Plectrude in Cologne and her stepson Charles Martell, which has its beginning but also its end in Cologne.

How did the young Byzantine princess Theophanu become the richest woman in Europe at only 12 years old at the end of the 10th century? And how did she become the most powerful woman in Europe at the age of 24, with far-reaching effects on European history? In this episode, we will look at her breathtaking life and, of course, at the end, what all this actually has to do with Cologne itself.
  1. Theophanu
  2. How Archbishop Bruno changed the face of Cologne forever – until today
  3. Retrospective on Frankish Cologne
  4. The Archduke of Cologne
  5. From the Empire of the Franks to the Land of the Germans

Plectrude and Pepin of Herstal

Church Groß St. Martin, Cologne, Germany. capital column of the south western intersection, sculptures, maybe personating Pippin and his wife Plectrude. By Elke Wetzig (Elya) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

These two figures supposedly represent Plectrude and her husband Pepin.

The Frankish Empire in the year 714

The Frankish Empire at the death of Pepin of Herstal in 714. During this time Plectrude reigns from Cologne as a powerful regent of the Frankish Empire. Her stepson Charles Martell will soon take over the power in the whole Frankish Empire. And will take away his stepmom’s power.

Plectrude’s sarcophagus from 1185 in St. Maria im Kapitol (St. Mary in the Capitol)

After her death after the year 718, Plectrude was buried in the church of St. Mary in the Capitol, which she herself had endowed. In the 12th century, an elaborate tomb slab was designed for her sarcophagus, depicting her as a noble ruler. The tomb slab has survived the test of time, but her bones have been lost since the destruction in the Second World War. When the cleanup and reconstruction work began after the war, the stone sarcophagus was found amidst the rubble of the destroyed church.

Tomb Slab of Plectrude in 1285

Another tomb slab for Plectrude’s grave which shows her as the founder of the church with a corresponding model of the church in her hand.
St. Mary in the Capitol after WW2 in 1946

St. Maria im Kapitol (St. Mary in the Capitol)

Plectrude founded a church in Cologne. The church of St. Mary in the Capitol on the former Roman temple hill in Cologne, which was discussed in the last episode. The building materials of the Roman temple were generously reused. Due to its strategically favorable location, the area also served as a royal castle. The separation of church and state is still a little way off. 😉 And on such a hill it was also much safer than in the Praetorium. If it still existed intact at that time. Unfortunately, we don’t know that for sure.

What exactly the church looked like at that time is difficult to determine after all the extensive reconstruction work. Since they had probably built on the remains of the former Roman pagan temple, the church was probably 10 meters by 32 meters with a rectangular floor plan. The present church building is a new construction from the 11th century in Romanesque style. But this also makes the present church building almost a thousand years old. No less astonishing. Today, the church of St. Maria im Kapitol is a three-nave building with several apses and was the second most important church in the city in the later Middle Ages after Cologne Cathedral. Even more important than St. Gereon in terms of status.

Plectrude as a figur on the Historic City Hall Tower

Von © Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons), CC BY-SA 4.0,

Charles Martell

Statue of Charles Martell in Versailles.
Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours Painting by Charles de Steuben from 1837

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