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  • Frans Riemersma

King Redbad’s last act


Not much is known about Redbad’s death. Many Frankish fragments use his year of death as a historical point of reference for many events. One story tells about his strong wish to make sure his heritage ends up with the rightful owners.

It is 719. Redbad has been ill for six years. He suffers from a never ending pain. What he suffers from is not told. The old king feels the end is coming. But he is not intending to die without sorting out his legacy.

In July 2012 the artist Candy Chang had an impressive TEDx speech. In her New Orleans neighbourhood, she turned an abandoned house into a giant chalkboard. The chalkboard asked the audience to fill-in-the-blank of a bone-chilling question.

"Before I die I want to ___."

Many neighbors' gave surprising, poignant and funny answers. It became an unexpected mirror for the community. It made a great difference in the community. Giving it a sense of purpose.

Redbad must have asked himself a similar question in 719. As a last act he wanted to straighten out some things in his life. For that we have to go back in time. To another person. And another place.

Once upon a time before the year 719...

"Charles (Martel) gave Wursing a loan bordering to Frisia and sent him back to his homeland (Frisia red.) to proclaim the faith. He came there, accepted his own heritage, lived in the place called Suabsna close to Traiectum and became helper of Saint Willibrordus, with his children and relatives he stood by him as much as he could."

“Dedit igitur Karolus memorato Wursingo benefitium in confinio Fresonum et direxit eum ad patriam suam causa fidei roborandae. Qui veniens, accepta heriditate propria, habitavit in loco qui dicitur Suabsna juxta Traiectum et coepit esse adjutor sancti Willibrordi cum filiis et propinquiis suis, in quibuscumque potuerat.”

Wursing is a relatively unknown historic person. He does not even have his own Wikipedia page. His grandson did a better job. Wursing is the grandfather of Liudger. This was the Frisian evangelist who finally succeeded in converting the Frisian people and lived to tell another day. Later on, when the Frankish king Pepin lost the coastal territory to the Frisians again, Wursing went to live at the Frankish court.

Suabsna is a village that has not been located. The fragment mentions it is near Traiectum. Traiectum is the current Utrecht, which was in those times becoming an important christian home base.

Wursings grandson, Liudger was born in the current Oud-Zuylen. Oud-Zuylen was known around 700 as Swesen. It requires further investigation to see if these two places are one and the same.

What is intriguing is that Charles Martel gave the loan. Charles Martel, son of Pepin, took the throne in 718. In 718 Redbad had reconquered the land that Charles Martel gave to Wursing. So this loan Charles must have given as heir to the throne, instead as king.

Time to go back to the dying king.

Fast forward to 719

“The king Radbodus fell sick and of his sickness of which he died. For six years of illness he suffered from a continual and dragging pain before the day of his death. During that time he began to fail his kingdom, allowing the Franks to extend their kingdom.”

When losing control over his kingdom, Redbad makes a remarkable move. Maybe, this was just one incident. One debt to settle. Or were there more? Maybe it was just one of the many acts he did to protect the land and legacy. This is what he did. He calls in an unexpected beneficiary to settle his heritage.

“While being ill he called for a man, the aforementioned Wursingum (granfather of Liudger, red.), to return to him, to receive his heritage, and, in addition many other things. He would give it to him and promised the desired peace that he had wanted.”

It is remarkable that Redbad is concerned with the properties of a christian evangelist who lives at the Frankish court. Two reasons to be enemies. And yet, Wursing was Frisian. Perhaps that was more important to Redbad than anything else. Mind you, when Wursing was given the property it was conquered land by Pepin. When Redbad was planning to give it back, it was Frisian ground.

Anyway, it seems Wursing did not trust the invitation. He was probably not convinced of Redbad’s good intentions.

“But when the Catholic man did not respond, then again Radbodus sent a message to him, asking that if he did not come, at least to send his son and swore that he would give whatever he had proposed. Finally, Wursingus listened to the entreaty and he sent to him his son, a younger man. He kindly took it and did honor to dwell with him and restored the estate of his father.”

Feeling he was losing control over his kingdom, Redbad might have thought to come up with a plan to protect it. As said, we found only one fragment that elaborates a bit on Redbad’s death. But this fragment has no intention to explain what moved Redbad. It is to explain from a Frankish standpoint why their realm was expanding at that time.

Who knows, Redbad repeated this act to ensure that after his death his kingdom would not fall apart and his people continued to live in peace.

My dear historians, the floor is yours.

P.S. Unfortunately for us hikers, it has not been highlighted in the fragments where Redbad died. The only thing we can assume is that he resided in Dorestad at that time.


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