Redbad, King of the Frisians

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Redbad, King of the Frisians : biography

– 719

Radbod (or Redbad) (died 719) was the king (or duke) of Frisia from c. 680 until his death. He is often considered the last independent ruler of Frisia before Frankish domination. He defeated Charles Martel at Cologne. Eventually, however, Charles prevailed and compelled the Frisians to submit. Radbod died in 719, but for some years his successors struggled against the Frankish power.

King or Duke

What the exact title of the Frisian rulers was depends on the source. Frankish sources tend to call them dukes; other sources often call them kings. Being Germanic Pagans, it is likely that they would have been called kings by their followers, where as the Christianized Franks, who had inherited the Latin literary tradition, would have referred to them as dukes.

Relation with the Church

During the second journey of Saint Boniface to Rome, Wulfram (or Vulfran), a monk and ex-archbishop of Sens tried to convert Radbod, but not succeeding he returned to Fontenelle. It is said that Radbod was nearly baptised, but refused when he was told that he would not be able to find any of his ancestors in Heaven after his death, since he preferred spending eternity in Hell with his pagan ancestors than in Heaven with his enemies,Friese sagen & Terugkeer (2000), Conserve, Uitgeverij, Redbald en Wulfram. ISBN 978-90-5429-138-1 especially the Franks. This legend is also told with Wulfram being replaced with bishop Willibrord.

Willibrord tried this while on a Carolingian-sponsored mission into Frisia with the express purpose of trying to convert the pagan Frisians living there in the hope that, once they had converted to Christianity, the Franks could gain control of the important trade port Dorestad, which they had up to that point been unable to do.

In the arts

In Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin a certain "Radbod, ruler of the Frisians" is mentioned as Ortrud’s father. It is possible that Wagner was thinking of the historical Radbod, although he died more than 150 years before the birth of Henry the Fowler, another character in the opera, who could not, therefore, be contemporary of Radbod’s daughter.

In Harry Harrison’s The Hammer and the Cross series of novels, Radbod becomes the founder of "the Way", an organized pagan cult, created to combat the efforts of Christian missionaries.

Black metal band Ophidian Forest recorded a concept album in 2007.


While his predecessor and possible father, king Aldegisel (or Eadgils, Aldgisl which can be translated as ‘Old Whip’), had welcomed Christianity into his realm, Radbod attempted to extirpate the religion and free the Frisians from subjugation to the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks. In 689, Radbod was, however, defeated by Pippin of Herstal in the battle of Dorestad (1968), De Franken, hun optreden in het licht der historie, pages 32-34 and compelled to cede West Frisia (Frisia Citerior, meaning Nearer Frisia, from the Scheldt to the Vlie) to the Franks.

Between 690 and 692, Utrecht fell into the hands of Pippin of Herstal. This gave the Franks control of important trade routes on the Rhine to the North Sea. Some sources say that, following this defeat, Radbod retreated, in 697, to the island of Heligoland, others say he retreated to the part of the Netherlands that is still known as Friesland.

Around this time there was an Archbishopric or bishopric of the Frisians founded for Willibrord it Liber Pontificalis (Corpus XXXVI 1, side 168) en Beda Venerabilis (Corpus XLVI9, page 218) and a marriage was held between Grimoald the Younger, the oldest son of Pippin, and Thiadsvind, the daughter of Radbod in 711. (1982), Frieslands Oudheid , page 794.

On Pippin’s death in 714, Radbod took the initiative again. He forced Saint Willibrord and his monks to flee and advanced as far as Cologne, where he defeated Charles Martel, Pippin’s natural son, in 716. Eventually, however, Charles prevailed and compelled the Frisians to submit. Radbod died in 719, (2000), Het rijk van de Friese Koningen, opkomst en ondergang, page 90. but for some years his successors struggled against the Frankish power.

As an example of how powerful King Radbod still was at the end of his life, the news that he was engaged in assembling an army was enough to fill France with fear and trembling. (1982), Frieslands Oudheid , page 794.