Redbad, The Last Pagan King of Frisia (Northern Netherlands)

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King Redbad refused to convert to Christianity because he, “preferred eternity in Hell with his pagan ancestors than in Heaven with his enemies.”

Redbad (also Redbod or Radbod) was the King of the Frisians from 680 AD until his death in 719 AD. He is often considered the last independent ruler and the last pagan ruler of Frisia before Frankish domination.

Map of the rise of Frankish Empire, from 481 to 814 AD.
Map of the rise of Frankish Empire, from the year 481 to 814 AD.

The previous ruler of Frisia, King Aldegisel, had welcomed Christianity into his realm.  Aldegisel harbored and protected Wilfrid, the deposed Archdiocese of York, who had just been exiled from Northumbria.  On his way to Rome to seek papal support, Wilfrid had been blown off course on his trip from England to the continent and landed in Frisia in the year 678.

The Frisian King Aldegisel welcomed Wilfird and entertained him for several months over the winter. King Aldegisel then encouraged Wilfrid to spread his effective evangelism upon his realm. The king had the Frisians accept Wilfrid’s Christian teaching and, with a few exceptions, all the chiefs were baptized in the name of the Lord, as well as many thousands of common Frisians.

Icon of Saint Wilfrid, who is also venerated in the Orthodox Church.
Icon of Saint Wilfrid, who is also venerated in the Orthodox Church.

However, Wilfird’s success in converting the Frisians was short-lived. Aldegisel’s successor, (and possibly son) the now King Radbod, followed the older pagan ways and was an enemy of the Frankish Kingdoms. He had no intention of being under Frankish Christian rule.

Radbod attempted to extirpate the Christian religion from his lands and free the Frisians from subjugation to the Kingdom of the Franks.

Nevertheless, King Radbod’s resistance to the Franks was quelled when he was defeated in 689 AD by Pippin of Herstal (Pepin II) in the Battle of Dorestad. Radbod was compelled to cede his lands of West Frisia (Frisia Citerior, meaning Nearer Frisia, from the Scheldt to the Vlie) to the Franks.

Between 690 and 692 AD, 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. In which, Utrecht would eventually become the center of Christianity in the Netherlands.

Following this defeat, Radbod is said to have retreated either to the island of Heligoland, or to the part of the Netherlands that is still known as Friesland.

On Pipin’s death in 714 AD, a civil war for the Frankish throne ensued and Redbad took advantage of the situation and seized the initiative to fight the Franks again.

During this time in 716 AD, Wulfram (or Vulfran), a monk and ex-archbishop of Sens, tried to convert Radbod, but did not succeed.

Embroidery depicting the legend in which the Frisian king Radbod is ready to be baptized by Wulfram (in this embroidery replaced by Willibrord), but at the last moment refuses. From the Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht
Embroidery depicting Frisian king Radbod ready to be baptized by Wulfram, but at the last moment refuses. Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht

It is said that Radbod was nearly baptized, but refused when he was told that he would not be able to find any of his ancestors in Heaven after his death, he said:

“he preferred spending eternity in Hell with his pagan ancestors than in Heaven with his enemies, especially the Franks.”

Wulfram was replaced by bishop Willibrord. who had come to assist Wilfird in his mission to convert Frisians. Redbad retook possession of Frisia and burned down churches and killed many missionaries. This forced Willibrord and his monks to flee.

Redbad advanced as far as Cologne, where he defeated Charles Martel.  But, eventually the armies of Charles Martel prevailed and compelled the Frisians to submit to Frankish rule.

Radbod died in 719, but for some years afterwards his successors continued to struggle against the Frankish power.

Article by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing

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