Bernard I (797-843), also known as Bernard of Italy, was the King of Italy during Pepin I's rule and the commander of the Frankish forces in the Unification Wars after Louis I's injury. In the late 820s, he retired from the war to take part in Byzantine politics and to stay with his wife, Juliana. When Pepin I died, he was next in line for the Byzantine throne. He held the throne for three years before passing away in 840.
Bernard I was the illegitimate son of Pepin I and an unknown mother. The details of his life before becoming king are shrouded in obscurity. What is known is that he stayed in Italy with his father until Charlemagne's death in 814. He is said to have participated in several battles in the Unification Wars under the command of his father in order to learn effective fighting and leadership styles. Most of his time, however, was spent in Italy, learning how to lead a nation.
Bernard also visited the Byzantine Empire several times. During his visits, he fell in love with Juliana, a Byzantine noble from Constantinople.
King of Italy
When Charlemagne died, Bernard was placed in charge of Italy by Louis I. He was responsible for overseeing the re-acquisition of Ravenna by the Byzantine Empire. When Louis I was injured in an ambush, he was unable to fight in the war. While Louis continued to oversee the war from afar, Bernard fought on his behalf, claiming honor and victory for Francia in many battles. When he was not fighting in the war, he was spending time in either Italy or Constantinople. In 819, he married Juliana.
Due to his time spent away from Italy, the subkingdom's economy began to suffer. Public opinion of Bernard began to falter quickly. Bernard was forced to return to Italy when Milan revolted. His performance as King of Italy was still unsatisfactory and he was removed from office by Louis I. The office remained vacant and Louis I remained in control of Italy.
Bernard moved to Constantinople in 825 to be with Juliana. The couple had already produced one child, Atticus, in 819. In 825, the couple gave birth to two more children: Damian, and Carloman. Bernard lived in Constantinople for the rest of his life. Pepin I granted Bernard an estate and a place as a strategos in the Byzantine Empire. He briefly saw action at the Battle of Ras, though he largely remained in Constantinople as a political figure. In politics, he was noted for being very cunning and motivated by a desire to recover his soiled reputation.
When Pepin I died of a stroke, Bernard became the Byzantine Emperor. He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor within a few weeks of his father's death, which may have been an attempt to bring the Eastern Roman Empire closer to the Franks and the Papacy. Bernard's rule was largely uneventful, though he carried on the work of improving relations with the Frankish Empire. It is said that he attempted to restore the title of King of Italy within the Frankish Empire by manipulating a number of Frankish nobles, but the attempts remained unsuccessful.
Bernard I was found dead in his chambers in 843. The cause of death is unknown, which led to the belief that he was poisoned. While this cannot be verified, it was the subject of many conspiracy theories regarding the rise of Atticus I to the Byzantine throne.
Despite Bernard's attempts to recover his reputation, his inaction in Italy that resulted in his expulsion from Italy led to ridicule among the other strategos in the Byzantine Empire. Atticus I, his heir, assumed the throne of Byzantine Emperor immediately following Bernard's death. His other children, Carloman and Damian, were named strategoi of the Byzantine Empire.