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  • Writer's pictureFrans Riemersma

The battles of Redbad, unplugged

King Redbad died in 719. Some 1300 years later, as a tribute a movie about this Frisian king will hit the silver screen in the Dutch cinemas. Redbad repeatedly ended up fighting his neighbours, the Franks. Where and how often will be explored in this article.

As a hikers blog that follows the whereabouts of Frisian history, we are especially interested in specific battle locations in order to add them in our trail itinerary.

How often and where Redbad battled is pretty unclear looking at the history books, if covered at all. Time for a deep dive into the original sources of Redbad’s time. Time to go ‘unplugged’.

Redbad's date of birth and birth place are unknown, just like his place of death. For a fact we know he died in 719. Redbad is also known as: Radbod, Raedbed, Radbode and Radbodi. 

Redbad is the direct successor of Aldgisl. Read the unplugged biography of Aldgisl here.

In the sources we are about to explore, Redbad is called Duke and King. So what is he really? Richard Broome, from the University of Leeds, shows in his article, Rebel Duke and Pagan King, that it lies in the eyes of the beholder. If the author is describing the great deeds of a saint, then it is worth making Redbad to a king. If the author of the source is an enemy (read: Franks) who conquered the Frisian territory then the title of Duke seems more suited. But for sure, a duke of hazard...

The sources that mention Redbad’s battles We found are several sources, dating from different centuries, that cover the battles of Redbad.

  1. Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (V) - [727]

  2. Fredegarii Scholastici libri IV. cum Continuationibus - [736]

  3. Lex Frisionum - [785]

  4. Annales Mettenses priores [early 9th century]

  5. Vita S. Liudgeri [849]

  6. Annales, chronica et historiae aevi Carolini et Saxonici [1017]

  7. Annales aevi Suevici - [1101]

We tend to value the sources closest to the battle dates higher. Interestingly, the further away from the battles, the less accurate the descriptions of the battles and dates become. The only exception is Fredegarii Scholastici libri IV. cum Continuationibus. This early testimony is relatively vague.

Overview of Redbad’s battles Looking at the sources creating an overview of battles is very simple, but not at all places clear. A bit surprising.

This part of Dutch history deserves some attention. We challenge historians to explore this into further detail. We, simple hikers, expected that this part of history would have been researched in much more detail ;-)

In our humble opinion, there seem to have taken place at least two battles. One in 689 and one in 714. Here is the timeline we distilled from the 7 sources.

  • Dorestad 689 - Redbad vs Pepin (wins)

  • War and peace untill 714 - Redbad and Pepin

  • Dorestad and Cologne 714 - Redbad (wins) vs Charles Martel

Halbertsma, one of the most cited historian on the Frisian ancient history, distinguishes two main battles between Redbad and Pepin. Both took place at Dorestad and in both cases Redbad lost. One battle was in 692 and one in 697 (Halbertsma, Frieslands Oudheid, 2000, page 80 and 81). Strangely, we do not find the first date of 692 mentioned anywhere. His main source is Fredegarii Continuatorii, which does not even mention dates, but later interpretators added the date as a footnote.

There is another astonishing fact, the battle of 697 is mentioned only once, while two other sources mention that there was peace until 714. In other words, the battle of 697 never took place or was a mistake of the historians? Let's explore.

Dorestad 689 - Redbad vs Pepin (wins) In 727, the Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici mention the battle of 689 at Dorestad.

“when Pepin, the leader in power (a. 687), fought a battle between the Franks and Frisians (a. 689) over a part of Frisia near the Rhine, bordering to the Franks”

The Lex Frisionum of 785 mentions that Redbad’s predecessor, Aldgisl made Frisia free in 677. It continues to tell that according to the book Fredegario continuatore (736) “after a twelve year of impasse, Pepin Herestal won Durestadii, situated at the Rhine crossing and the boundary between Frisians and Franks, from the Frisian Radbode”. Twelve years from 677 is exactly 689.

“It caused the war between the principles in the year of 689, Pepin, who had received the government of the whole of the reign of the Franks in the year 687, and the Frisian Radbod, whom they say was the son of the king Aldgisl, of which we have no evidence, however mentioned by Bede in the history of the Church of England, results in the victory of Pepin who had subjected those of the western Frisia.”

Peace and battles between 689 - 714

The sources are very contradicting about the period between 689 and 714. According to the Lex Frisionum there was complete peace between the Frisian and Franks.

“From the year 689, when the Franks conquered Frisia Cisflevana (Cisfli = Vlie, vana = old, Oude Vlie or West Frisia), until the year of 714 the Franks and the Frisians and their children lived in the peace”

A more recent source also mentions peace between the Frisians and Franks until 713. However, “hostility from Redbad’s Frisians remained against this Frankish”. This is what it reads.

“The monastery was founded in the year he (Pepin?) died, 713. On the border of the kingdom of the Franks, which was enlarged in the meantime, by adding the crossing of Utrecht to its domains, hostility from Redbad’s Frisians remained against this Frankish refuge, peace between both was made by the marriage between the of Pepin’s son Grimoald and the daughter of Radbodi.”

This marriage between Grimoald and Theusinda (Redbad's daughter) to seal the peace is said to have taken place in 711. So small battles prior to that date could have taken place indeed. 

Redbad's hostilities are also discussed in another source. But this time a battle, as a result of the hostilities, is mentioned too. The battle of 697 is mentioned in one source, the Annales Mettenses priores dating from the early 9th century. This is what it says.

“In the year of our Lord 697, Pepin led an army against the Frisians, and their ruthless pagan ruler, Radbode, who challenged him with words and frequent invasion of their territories. So the army gathered at the castle, which was located at Dorestad. He met Redbad with a strong and superb hand, deploying them in alignment and a huge battle struck a big disaster on the Frisiones. Under leadership of Redbad they fled, leaving Pepin the winner. And so countless trophies were taken to the winner's own home”.

Finally there is a source dating from 1101-1184 which mentions a battle between Pepin and Redbad in 693, location unknown.

"In the year of 693, Pepin, the French leader is strong and directed a victorious campaign against the Frisian king Radbod. He who powerfully prevented Radbod, by God, disposed of the one he defeated."

The last two battles coincide with the dates Halbertsma mentions, but both do not derive from the source he refers to: Fredegarii Continuarii.

Dorestad and Cologne 714 - Redbad (wins) vs Charles Martel

In 714 Pepin died. It took the Franks two years to find a suitable successor. Redbad immediately took advantage of this power vacuum and won back his Frisian territories. 

“This very same year, Pepin died and the power of Franks crumbled due to internal wars. Redbad defeated the young Charles Martel and took once more possession of Frisia at the cost of the Franks and the English inhabitants, and possessed it until he died in 719. (..) In the description of Boniface’s life, it shows that in the year 717 pagan Redbad ruled Durestadii and Utrecht.” 

Redbad showed his pagan side and broke down the church in Utrecht in 714.

“All the work of Willibrord seem to break down, as the largest church was broken down by the Frisians, lifting the shrines, clergy were expelled, and Utrecht under control of Redbad.”

But that wasn’t enough for Redbad. He saw and took his chance now that the Franks had a weak rule. Redbad showed ambitious to expand his realm. Soon we find him far outside the traditional Frisian territories.

“In 716 Radbod when he arrived in Cologne in March.”

These is a lot more to tell about the campaign to Cologne. So much, that we will dedicate a separate blog post on it: Why was Redbad skinny dipping in eau de Cologne?

This is all there is to know about Redbad's battles in summary. All the fragments and their provisional translations can be found in this document with all the original Latin texts. The floor is yours.

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