Charlemagne is one of history’s most famous emperors, creating an empire that would be succeeded by states such as France and Germany. His mother, Bertrada, also known as Bertrada Broadfoot, was just as fascinating. Bertrada’s exact date of birth is unknown, but we think she was born in the early 700s. Bertrada was the daughter of Caribert, Count of Laon, though her mother is unknown. We don’t even know for sure who her father’s parents may have been.
Bertrada was nicknamed Bertrada Broadfoot, but we don’t know exactly why. She was given the nickname centuries after her death, so it might not be a very accurate nickname. The other possibility is that Bertrada may have had a clubfoot. Bertrada married Pepin the Short in 741, and they were probably closely related. Pepin was just five years older than Bertrada.
There were, at the time, two parts of the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks: Austrasia and Neustria. At the time of their marriage, Pepin was Mayor of the Palace of Neustria. The Kings of Austrasia and Neustria were just figureheads, and the Mayor of the Palace ruled for them, so once Pepin also became Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, he was able to depose the current King and crown himself King of the Franks, making Bertrada a Queen.
Bertrada and Pepin had many children, though only three survived to adulthood. They were Charlemagne, Carloman, and Gisela. Gisela would become the Abbess of Chelles, while Carloman and Charlemagne would both rule parts of their father’s kingdom after Pepin’s death in 768. There were many arguments and disagreements between the brothers, and Bertrada was there to help calm them both down. Carloman died in 771, leaving their father’s entire kingdom to Charlemagne, who would have the Pope crown him Emperor a few decades later.
Bertrada did not live to see her son become Emperor, and left court following Carloman’s death. She herself died in 783, having lived a very long life by the standards of that time. Her beloved son, Charlemagne, had her buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.