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PLECTRUDIS (died Cologne, after 717), wife of Pippin II. Daughter of Hugobert and Irmina (?), abbess of Oeren. Plectrudis married Pippin II (the Middle) (died 714), Mayor of the Palace (major-domo) of Austrasia and later also of Neustria, probably between 670 and 675. The couple had at least 2 sons.

Plectrudis came from a noble family that owned land in the Eifel and near Cologne. In the Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, her family was certainly as distinguished as the Arnulfingen/Pippiniden family to which her husband belonged. Thanks to her support for Willibrord’s work and her determined behaviour after the death of her husband, we know more about Plectrudis than about most of her female contemporaries.

In all probability Plectrudis was of royal blood. There is a text referring to one Plectrudis, sister of Adela, abbess and founder of the convent at Pfalzel (died c. 735), who was related to the Merovingian royal house. If this identification is correct, Plectrudis would have brought to her marriage not only extensive lands but also blood royal.


Plectrudis married Pippin, ‘hofmeier’ (major-domo) in Austrasia and later also in Neustria, the two most important regions within the Frankish kingdom. Neustria comprised more or less the area between the rivers Loire and Scheldt, while Austrasia covered the basins of the rivers Moselle, Meuse, and the Middle and Lower Rhine. Neustria had long been the most powerful part of the kingdom, but with the rise of Pippin, Austrasia became more important. The date of their marriage is not recorded, but if we consider that Drogo, the eldest son of Plectrudis and Pippin, married shortly after 690 – by which time he must have come of age – we may deduce that their marriage took place some time between 670 and 675. His marriage to Plectrudis was of great importance to Pippin, who thereby allied himself with an influential family who could support him in his position within Austrasia and subsequently within the entire Frankish kingdom.

Plectrudis played an important part in Pippin’s policies. She appears as joint signatory in every legal instrument of Pippin II of which we have the entire text; evidently, she was involved in drawing up these documents. They record transactions of property that Plectrudis had brought to the marriage, as well as property that had been in the possession of Pippin’s family for years. In the seventh and eighth centuries, participating in the administration of property and influencing the policies of one’s husband was not unusual for aristocratic Frankish women, but we know of no other case in which it was so apparent. Interestingly, such political commitment on the part of wives in the upper echelons of the Frankish kingdom seems to have disappeared after Pippin II.

Plectrudis’s great involvement in political affairs has been neglected in the narrative sources dating from the time of Charles Martel (died 714) and later Carolingians. Those texts suggest that Plectrudis became politically active only after the death of her husband, when she was trying to thwart Charles Martel.

Charles Martel

Charles Martel was a son of Pippin II by another wife. Little is known of Martel’s mother except that her name was Alpaida. Presumably Pippin’s other marriage also served to strengthen his position, since marriages were an effective way of cementing ties between important families. Political expediency led not only to the repudiation of wives but also to the practice of polygamy. The latter was probably the case with Pippin: Charles Martel was younger than Plectrudis’s sons, so presumably Pippin married Alpaida later. In this context it seems likely that Charles Martel’s contemporaries saw him as a legitimate son of Pippin, and not as the illegitimate son that later authors made him out to be.

Plectrudis’s involvement in Pippin’s affairs is apparent from the material support they gave to Willibrord. Plectrudis and Pippin supported Willibrord in many ways, such as giving him land in the Meuse Valley (the convent of Susteren), the province of Brabant, the area between the great rivers (Meuse and Waal/Rhine) and Utrecht. This support was connected with political power struggles motivated by the desire to expand and consolidate the status and influence of the family through ties with ecclesiastical institutions.

The expansion of power to the north that is apparent from Pippin’s gift of land to Willibrord resulted in clashes with the Frisian sovereign Radbod. After at least one armed conflict, Radbod and Pippin reached an agreement that was concluded with the marriage (in 712?) of Grimoald, Plectrudis and Pippin’s only surviving son, to Radbod’s daughter Theudesinda.

In 714 – shortly before Pippin’s death – Grimoald was murdered in Liège, which sparked a crisis of succession. Grimoald’s underage son Theudoald was named ‘hofmeier’ (major-domo) of Neustria. When Pippin died later that year, Plectrudis assumed the position of regent. Another grandson – Arnulf, probably the son of Drogo – appears to have acquired a leading position in Austrasia. Charles Martel, a possible successor to Pippin, was imprisoned on the orders of Plectrudis.

Pippin’s treasure

After Pippin’s death, the Neustrian nobles attempted to regain their former position within the Frankish kingdom, to which end they formed an alliance with Radbod of Friesland. On 26 September 715 the army of Theudoald and Plectrudis suffered a crushing defeat near Compiègne at the hands of the Neustrians. Plectrudis fled to Cologne, where she could count on the support of her relatives. There she still had at her disposal ‘Pippin’s treasure’, no doubt a great store of gold and valuables with which she could buy the allegiance of allies.

In the meantime, Charles Martel had escaped from prison and launched his own war of succession, probably supported at first only by his mother’s family. However, after a successful attack on Neustrian forces at Amblève near Liège in April 716, the tide began to turn. This and subsequent victories won growing support for Charles among the Austrasian nobles. In the following decades he steadily expanded his base of power within the Frankish kingdom, thereby laying the foundations for the success of later Carolingian rulers.

Plectrudis and Charles were reconciled, although she was obliged to relinquish Pippin’s treasure, thereby losing her last trump card. She retired to a religious community attached to a church she herself had founded, Sankta Maria im Kapitol in Cologne. The date of her death there is unrecorded.

Reference work(s)

Lexikon des Mittelalters;Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche; Neue deutsche Biographie.


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  • Liber Historiae Francorum, B. Krusch ed., in: Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores rerum Merovingicarum 2 (Hannover 1888) 238-328.
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  • Ingrid Heidrich, ‘Von Plectrud zu Hildegard. Beobachtungen zum Besitzrecht adliger Frauen im Frankenreich des 7. und 8. Jahrhunderts und zur politischen Rolle der Frauen der frühen Karolinger’, Rheinische Vierteljahrsblätter 52 (1988) 1-15.
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  • Die Urkunden der Arnulfinger, Ingrid Heidrich ed. (Bad Münstereifel 2001).


Gravestone of Plectrudis in the church of  Sankt Maria im Kapitol in Cologne.

Author: Wolfert S. van Egmond

last updated: 13/01/2014