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© Bob Denton 2014

Merovingian Dynasty

Salian Franks

The Salian Franks were a confederation of Germanic pagan warriors, warlike and piratical they inhabited an area north of the Roman Limes from the 3rd century (today’s Salland).

They were driven south by the expansionist Saxons. With the agreement of the then Roman emperor they were permitted to live among the Batavians from 297 CE.

But in 358 a new Roman emperor decided that their settlement was unacceptable to him and he attacked them. Ongoing Saxon pressure needed some sort of compromise so he agreed that they move instead to an area that was bounded by today’s Dutch and Belgian provinces of Antwerpen, Noord Brabant and Limburg. In return they agreed to serve with Roman army units against other Germanic tribes.

In the 5th century, led by Chlodio who had the sobriquet le Chevelu (the long-haired king), the Salian Franks progressively expanded their area of occupation.  His headquarters had been at Duisburg (Germany) but when they declared themselves as a full kingdom their capital became Tournai (Belgium).

The Romans had fortified an area stretching from Cologne to Boulogne to suppress the northern tribes, but they were still in decline. In 428 Chlodio attacked and defeated the Romans at the strategic location of Cambrai in northern Gaul (today France’s Nord département).

By 431 he had expanded their area of control up to the banks of the Somme. But his progress ran out when Chlodio was defeated and killed in 448 by Flavius Aëtius, the then commander of the Roman army in Gaul.

Merovingians  428 – 751

Chlodio is said to have been succeeded by Merovech, though many authorities suggest he is more a myth than a real person.  Whatever is the truth it was his name that was then applied to a new dynasty of Frankish kings, the Merovingians.

His origins are variously reported, one suggestion that he was the son of Chlodio’s wife, not sired by her husband, but from her mating with a sea-god. Hence his name starting with ‘mer’. Other explanations suggest that the sea-god was in fact a human invader from the sea who raped the king’s wife and the offspring used the legend to add to his claim to the throne.

Merovech’s legend includes the suggestion that in 451 he was part of the coalition that joined the Roman general Aetius at the Battle of Châlons to stand against Attila the Hun in the defence of Gaul. The coalition also gathered other Germanic tribes – the Visigoths and Burgundians.

The Huns had been pressing these Germanic tribes westward for some time but it was Attila who had managed to unify the Hun tribes into a formidable fighting force. They were horse-mounted archers that had originally been Steppes nomads.

He and his brother and co-leader, Bleda, had successfully attacked the East Roman Empire in 441 and then began to maraud westwards. He was unopposed as he swept through today’s Austria and Germany

The Romans and their allies arrived at Orléans just as Attila had breached its walls and was about to siege it. By nature nomadic he was not interested in following through with the siege only to then become the besieged themselves. They chose instead to meet the Romans on the Catalaunian Plains (probably near today’s Châlons-en-Champagne).

The 451 battle was a bloody one yet no side could claim it as a victory. Yet the outcome has been shown to be the very last major military undertaking of the ailing Western Roman Empire. It is also claimed by historians to be the battle that saved western civilization from the barbarian Hun.

In 452 CE, Attila changed his direction of attack and turned south towards Italy. He promptly took Verona and Milan and approached the gates of Rome. But following face-to-face negotiations with Pope Leo I Attila agreed to withdraw.

John Julius Norwich stated, ‘It should never be forgotten that in the summer of 451 and again in 452, the whole fate of western civilization hung in the balance. Had the Hunnish army not been halted in these two successive campaigns, had its leader toppled Valentinian from his throne and set up his own capital at Ravenna or Rome, there is little doubt that both Gaul and Italy would have been reduced to spiritual and cultural deserts.’

Nonetheless these results did nothing to recover the vigour or stature of Rome. Attila died rather mysteriously in 453 and the Huns were again defeated by an alliance of Germanic tribes. So it was the Vandal leader Geiseric who in fact sacked Rome from his Mediterranean bases in 455 CE, though as mentioned earlier the ‘Roman’ capital had been moved off to Ravenna.

The Visigoths having played their part in ridding the north of the Huns were of a mind to expand their territory up to the Loire valley from their original base in Aquitaine. To halt their progress, in 463 CE, the new Salian Frank king, Childeric, fought alongside Aegidus, the Northern Gaul Roman leader, and against the Visigoths.

But it was after the Roman Aegidus’s death that Childeric joined with Paul of Angers and other groups of Gauls and Franks finally to defeat the Visigoths.

The focus swung again, it was now the Saxons who invaded from the north and captured Angers. Childeric, Paul and the others recovered Angers by 469 CE. Childeric pursued the Saxon group to the Loire where they massacred them.

However the Salian Franks later exiled Childeric for his wandering eye and seduction of other leaders’ wives. He lived in exile for eight years before returning to take up his realm.

In the period of his second reign he sought to establish an alliance that would counter the latest Germanic invaders, the Alamanni who were invading Italy; Childeric died in 481 CE.

Childeric’s bees – the tomb of Childeric was discovered in 1653 in Belgium near Tournai. It held a number of precious artefacts and coins.  Among these was a cloak that held 300 bees fabricated in gold and adorned with garnets. Some describe them more as flies or cicadas, but the description that has stuck, is bees.

The area where it was discovered was under Habsburg rule at the time, so the finds were packed off to Vienna, but were later given to Louis XIV of France as a gift. Louis was not particularly grateful and stored them in a royal library, during the Revolution became the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

However somewhat more inspired by them, Napoleon used the bee as his heraldic symbol when he sought an alternative icon to set against the Bourbon monarchs’ fleur-de-lys.

In 1831 Childeric’s treasure was stolen, some 80 kilos of items, most of it was melted down for its gold content. Several pieces were recovered including two of the bees, but the bulk was lost.

Clovis I   481 – 511

Childeric’s son was crowned as Clovis I and he continued the discussions of alliance with the other Frankish groups. The Salian Franks came to dominate the others because of the strength of their close connection to Aegidus and the Romans.

In 486 Aegidus was dead and the Romans were commanded by his son Syagrius, he was the last vestige of Roman rule that was expected to protect the area between the Loire and the Somme. 

Clovis created an alliance of Franks that fought the Romans and defeated Syagrius at the Battle of Soissons. Syagrius escaped and fled to the lands of the Visigoths. Clovis threatened to attack them so the Visigoths promptly handed the Roman back for execution.

Vase of Soissons – the historian and bishop Gregory of Tours wrote of a large and beautiful vase that was held at the cathedral in Soissons. His tale, written a century after the event, suggests that this vase fabricated in either hardstone or precious metal was looted after the Battle of Soissons by Clovis’s troops.

The bishop of Reims pleaded with Clovis for its return. Clovis therefore claimed the vase to be part of his booty but a soldier, presumably the actual looter, was not minded to hand it over so destroyed it with his battle-axe. A year later Clovis had the man executed by his own axe declaring, ‘Just as you did to the vase at Soissons!’

At a stroke the territory ruled by the Franks had doubled in size. They were now pressing cheek-by-jowl against the lands of the Visigoth and inevitably they were to become the next target.

His wife Clotilde, a Burgundian princess, convinced Clovis to convert from his pagan beliefs to Catholicism, he was baptized at Reims in 496 CE.  She had been raised in a court that practised the Arian form of Christianity as did the Visigoths. The central issue between the two faiths was that Catholics believed in a holy trinity while Arians believed that Jesus was a separate being. Something that had been ruled as a heresy many years earlier at the 325 First Council of Nicea.

By declaring his conversion Clovis had stamped out his kingdom as being different to the other Germanic groups and cementing his support from the Gallo-Roman groups.

Despite his wife’s origins, in 500 Clovis tried his hand against the Burgundians in Dijon but failed. He did however create a valuable alliance with the Armoricans (Alans, Britons and Gallo-Romans) that would prove significant when he eventually turned his attention to the Visigoths.

The Visigoth King Alaric II had succeeded his father in 484 inheriting most of Iberia except the north-west, and the two old Roman provinces of Gallia Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis. His capital was established at Aire-sur-l’Adour in Aquitaine.

It is Alaric who was said to have handed back Syagrius to the Franks which suggested he was fearful of attack. Yet Alaric had raised an army that freed a fellow Goth, Theodoric of the Ostrogoths, from the siege of Pavia in Italy. He had also assisted the Burgundians against the Franks so he certainly was not without teeth.

Subsequently many of his troops had been seduced in to Iberia lured by the promise of land and the added benefit of avoiding being drafted in to the army.

In 502 Clovis and Alaric met near Amboise and agreed a peace between their two peoples. But Clovis all too soon breached this by crossing the Loire. The Franks defeated the Visigoths at the Battle of Vouillé in 507 CE, near Poitiers. Clovis personally killed Alaric and he captured the royal treasury in Toulouse, Gallia Aquitania was now controlled by the Franks (or Merovingians),

Clovis then set about brutally unifying the rest of the Franks. He urged Chlodoric of Strassburg to kill his father Sigismund the Lame then had Chlodoric killed. One Frankish king, Charaic, was said to have stood to one side during the battle of Vouillé waiting to support whoever emerged as the victor. Clovis deposed and captured king Chararic and then executed him. He then killed king Ragnachar and his two brothers. He also negotiated a peace with the Ostrogoths that was secured by his sister’s marriage to Theodoric.

As a result Clovis was declared as the first king of all the Franks in 509 CE. He is considered to be the creator of modern France. He promptly set about codifying the Salic Law in the style of Roman Law and maintaining many of the Roman influences. He decided that his capital would be Paris.

Salic Law – though Clovis is considered a Merovingian, he still practised the Salian Frankish laws. It was he that first wrote these down as a code between 507 and 511.

A confusion has come about down the years, we still have royal families that practice what they call Salic Law, but they mean primogeniture, that the firstborn male must inherit family property and territory, that females and those down a female line have no right of succession.

But Salic Law was originally about agnatic succession; where a realm or fief must pass first to a brother, then a son or to a nearest male relative (perhaps a distant cousin) down the male line. It was also more about the inheritance of ancestral land and not focused on other property or valuables.

But Clovis and the Carolingians interpreted it to mean that his land should be passed on equally to all sons and/or their sons. This would prove to be a major problem as hard-won unification of territories were torn apart at the end of each generation, routinely causing turmoil and war.

Clovis called a synod of bishops, thirty-three from all over Gaul, to the First Council of Orléans. This set out to cement the relationship between his Crown and the Church, setting out the disciplines and duties of all parties. This included the right of sanctuary.

Back ‘in the day’ the Franks had consisted of two main groups the Salian and the Ripuarian. Clovis now controlled all the Frankish lands other than the Ripuarian (or river people). These were Franks that remained in the north of today’s Germany living along the Rhine. Clovis had not conquered Brittany, Burgundy or yet wrested away the Mediterranean area from the Goths.

Alaric, the Visigoth king, had left two sons, the elder was the illegitimate Geiserac, the younger legitimate son was still a child.  Geiserac took the throne but proved inept. This instability allowed Clovis to push them back towards the Pyrenees where they would subsequently focus upon their Iberian possessions.

Taifals – this Germanic tribe probably originated on the steppes but had followed the other groups in moving progressively westward. They had based themselves on the banks of the Danube in the Carpathian mountains where they became involved in a knock-on effect. The Huns pushed against the Alans, the Alans pressed against the Goths, the Goths in turn assailed the Taifals.

They eventually found themselves in western Gaul around Poitou, the area was called after them as Thifalia, and they had their own duke (dux). They were capable horsemen and provided cavalry units for both the Romans and the Franks and Merovingians. They had proved decisive against the Visigoth cavalry.

Clovis died in 511 (or perhaps 513) and was buried in the Abbey of St Genevieve in Paris, his remains were moved to the Basilica of Saint-Denis in the mid to late 18th century.

Having unified the Franks it was strange that his own Salic rules meant that his kingdom had to be partitioned among his four sons.  His eldest Theuderic became king of Rheims (Metz and Rheims), Chlodomer king of Orléans (Orléans, Poitiers and Tours), Childebert became king of Paris and Clotaire (aka Clothar) king of Soissons (Amiens, Cambrai, Maastricht, Soissons and Tournai) and Aquitaine, (Agen and Périgueux). This partitioning led to an inevitable lack of unity that would continue until the end of the Merovingian dynasty in 751 CE.

The brothers, probably at their mother’s urging, did initially combine their resources to battle against the Burgundians.

Burgundians – were an east Germanic tribe that appears to have derived originally from Scandinavia. They moved to the Baltic island various referred to as Bornholm or Borgund’s holm or Burgenda land; the latter being the origin of their name.

By the 4th century BCE they had migrated to the Vistula basin, in today’s Poland, by the late 3rd century BCE they were on the east of the Rhine, today’s Swabia.

In the 4th century they were assisting the Romans in fighting the Alemanni, and they later moved to the west of the Rhine. They were granted the land as part of a truce with the Romans they had attacked in the company of the Alans, their capital was today’s Worms.

The Huns destruction of Worms in 437 is the subject of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. They moved to Savoy again granted foederati status, Vienne becoming its capital. Eight Burgundian kings ruled from here until the Franks took control.

When the Burgundian king Gundobad died in 516 the kingdom was split between his sons Godomar and Sigismund. Sigismund had adopted a very aggressive stance against Arianism. Under the assault of Clovis’s sons Godomar fled and Sigismund was captured.  Theuderic married Sigismund’s daughter to seek some sort of dynastic status in the territory.

But Godomar rallied the Burgundians and soon seized back his lands. Chlodomer had Sigismund and his sons assassinated as a reprisal. A subsequent engagement between the Franks and the Burgundians saw Chlodomer killed at the Battle of Vézeronce.

Chlodomer’s widow married his brother Clotaire who, suspecting potential intrigue in 524, ordered the rest of his brother’s family to be killed; he then annexed his brother’s realm of Poitiers and Tours.

One of Chlodomer’s sons managed to escape, this was Clodoaid who escaped to Provence and entered the Church as an abbot, renouncing all claims to his throne. Once rehabilitated he was able to move back to Paris and through his good works became known as Saint Cloud; the abbey he had worked in on the Seine was later named for him.

By 532 Clotaire and his brothers seized Autun while seeking Godomar. In 534 they succeeded in defeating the Burgundians. The kingdom as split between the three bothers Clotaire seized Die, Grenoble and other cities as part of the division of the spoils.

Childebert was king of Paris from 511 to 558 and king of Orléans from 524 to 558. He had annexed Orléans and Chartres after Chlodomer’s death. In subsequent battles he fought his other brother Clotaire and Theudebert (Theuderic’s son) and this won him control of Geneva, Lyons and Mâcon.

In 537 the Ostrogoths had a squabble with the Eastern Roman Empire and to keep the Franks out of the matter the Ostrogoth King Vitges handed over Provence to the three brothers. It was sectioned  with Childebert receiving Arles and Marseilles, Clotaire controlled Carpentras, Gap and Orange.

Childebert and Clotaire, with three of his sons, pursued the Visigoths in to Iberia seizing for a time both Pamplona and Zaragoza, they did not retain all the land they had occupied but were ceded lands to the west of the Pyrenees.

While there Childebert captured an important relic, the tunic of St Vincent. He founded a monastery to house it, originally called Sainte-Croix-et-Saint-Vincent, but this later became St-Germain-des-Prés. On his death in 558 he was buried there and it subsequently became the burial place for Neustrian kings until 675 CE.

In 555 Clotaire’s great-nephew Theudebald died childless and he swiftly moved to take his kingdom of Metz.

Clotaire while routinely fighting with his brothers also had to stand several times against invading Saxons. In 555 he defeated the Saxons and they agreed to give him annual tribute of 500 cows. The following year they rebelled and he was preparing to negotiate a new peace but his men eager for battle forced him to attack the Saxons, the outcome was bloody.

Though his own son Chram became an irritant when his father sent him to occupy Auvergne and he decided to break with his father. He expanded his area of influence so that Clotaire, tangled with the Saxons, sent two other sons Charibert and Guntram to bring him to heel.

The two armies met but a storm held back action, then Chram told his brothers their father had died in his battle with the Saxons, the two hustled off to Burgundy at this news. Chram celebrated his subterfuge by taking even more territory.

In 558 when Childebert had died childless, Clotaire was able finally to reunify the Frankish lands. His kingdom covered all of Gaul, except Septimania and Burgundy, and a large part of modern Germany, excluding Saxony.

Septimania – the western part of the old Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis, today’s Languedoc-Roussillon, was granted to the Visigoths by the Romans in 462 CE. The Ostrogoths in 508 had made their stand at Carcasonne and while the rest of their ‘French’ holdings were lost, they managed to keep control of Septimania. Narbonne was briefly taken by Burgundians, Theodoric regained it.

Childebert had attacked Septimania and effectively pushed the Visigoth focus across to Barcelona, but he did not choose to occupy the region, it never came under Frankish rule.

It is thought that the name Septimania was based upon the seven cities of Agde, Béziers, Elne, Lodève, Maguelonne, Narbonne and Nîmes.

Chram began to attack his father’s possessions supported by the Bretons. In 560 Clotaire responded eventually surrounding Chram and his family at a cottage. They were strangled and burned, but he was overwhelmed by guilt and prayed for forgiveness.

On Clotaire’s death from pneumonia in 561 CE, aged 60, his hard-won unified Frankish kingdom had to be split according to Salic Law between his sons. He had a number of marriages and other relationships that had delivered him seven sons, but only four shared out his kingdom.

Charibert was awarded the kingdom of Neustria that had Paris as its capital, the realm spreading from the Somme to the Pyrenees. Chilperic’s kingdom was the north with his capital at Soissons. Guntram was awarded Burgundy and part of the kingdom of Orleans, he moved his capital to Chalon. Sigebert received the kingdom of Austrasia that included his capital Metz and Reims.

When Charibert died in 567 the other three shared out his kingdom, most significantly Sigebert received Paris and Chilperic got Rouen. It was from this time that Sigebert’s realm became known as kingdom of Austrasia and Chilperic’s as the kingdom of Neustria.

Two strong women collide

Brunhilda was a Visigoth born in Toledo, their capital in the Iberian peninsula. She had been raised as an Arian Christian, her father becoming their king in 554.

Clotaire’s son Sigebert, now king of Austrasia, married Brunhilda. This broke with his family tradition of marrying low-born wives. His brother Chilperic responded by marrying Brunhilda’s sister, Galswintha, but much to his annoyance she insisted he clean up his court which had many mistresses and courtesans. She moved back to Toledo where she was strangled, Suspicions fell on both Chilperic and his favourite mistress, Fredegund, Certainly Chilperic wasted little time before marrying Fredegund.

Brunhilda and Fredegund despised each other and there feud wracked the Franks for thirty years. Initially they incited their husbands to war, but their brother Guntram was engaged to mediate and he proposed that Brunhilda should be awarded her sister’s territories, including Bordeaux, Cahors and Limoges.

Chilperic did not take this attempt at conciliation well and attacked Sigebert, but was defeated and fled to Tournai. He entered Paris victorious then set about sieging Tournai. But Fredegund hired two assassins who used poisoned daggers to kill Sigebert. Brunhilda was subsequently captured and imprisoned in Rouen.

Fredegund was a driven woman, she set about killing all of Chilperic’s sons by other women. However Merovech, Chilperic’s son by his first wife, managed to evade her and married Brunhilda to build a claim against his father. As she was his aunt this was a marriage that broke the Church rules. Chilperic captured his son and sent Merovech in to a monastery. He would emerge much later but failed to achieve his grab for power and had his servant kill him.

Undeterred Brunhilda sought to become the Regent of Austrasia in the name of her son Childebert II (these names are a tad confusing!). But her nobles were not supportive so she had initially to seek safety in the court of Guntram, king of Burgundy.

But she won her regency and returned to carry out a whole series of reforms building castles, churches and abbeys, repairing old Roman roads and creating a royal army.

Chilperic was murdered in 584 CE, Fredegund became the Regent of Neustria, for her son Clotaire II.

Guntram had no son so Brunhilda prompted him to adopt her son Childebert as his heir. By the Pact of Andelot they agreed to an alliance of Austrasia and Burgundy. Guntram was engaged in attacks of Septimania when he died in 592 CE. The two kingdoms were merged under Childebert.

Brunhilda also married her daughter back in to the Visigoth royal family, though the couple died in the religious wars there.

In 593 Childebert II declared war on Clotaire II who had taken his place at the head of the Neustrian realm and its army who had some success defending an attack by Austrasia, then he himself raided right up to outskirts of Paris.

Childebert died in 595 CE, Brunhilda once again tried to claim regency over the united kingdoms in the name of her grandsons Theudebert II and Theuderic II. Of course each received one of the kingdoms by Salic Law – Theudebert had Austrasia and Theuderic Burgundy. The former exiled Brunhilda from his court, she had Theuderic in her thrall so that he declared war on his brother.

Fredegund died in 597 but her son continued the campaign against Brunhilda and her grandsons.

In 610 Theudebert and Theuderic were again at war, when Theudebert had early success his brother approached Clotaire II to assist him. Two battles near Cologne defeated Theudebert. As promised Theuderic gave the northern part of Neustria back to Clotaire for his assistance, then he attacked Neustria.

Through the early years of the 7th century Brunhilda’s intrigues proved labyrinthine and bloody, eventually succeeding in getting Theuderic to be unopposed to take the throne of both kingdoms. Her success was only short-lived when Theuderic died at Metz in 613 of dysentry.

Now approaching her seventies Brunhilda manipulated that she was appointed Regent to her great-grandson, Sigebert II, in fact a bastard son of Theuderic II. But her constant use of intrigue had begun to alienate her nobles and churchmen. Eventually they declared Clotaire II, Fredegund’s son, was the rightful Regent of Sigebert.

When the two forces met Sigebert and Brunhilda were betrayed by her nobles and had to flee, Sigebert and his brother were caught and killed.

He accused Brunhilda of being responsible for the death of ten Frankish kings – Sigebert I, Chilperic I, Theudebert II, Theuderic II, Sigebert II, Merovech (Chilperic’s son), Merovech (Theuderic’s son), Corbo (Theuderic’s son), and Childebert (Theuderic’s son) and the sons of Theudebert.

Brunhilda, around seventy years old, was sentenced to death. Authorities differ, she was either pulled behind a horse then drawn-and-quartered or her limbs were tied to horses and she was pulled apart and her body burned to expunge all trace of her.

Third reunification  613

So it was in 613 that Clotaire II achieved a third reunification of the Frankish peoples and territories, moving his court to Paris.

The three kingdoms had separate administrations, each under the authority of a Mayor of the Palace. Originally this role was no more than a servant, but during the royal feud they had become aristocrats and gained much more power.

In 614 Clotaire agreed the Edict of Paris that has been described as the Frankish Magna Carta as it set out to establish peace and discipline throughout the kingdom.  It was agreed for all three kingdoms. It vested a raft of rights with the nobility. It established that education should be solely the responsibility of the church, essentially yet another right for the nobles as most senior churchmen were drawn from noble families too. It excluded Jews from any public office.

In 617 Clotaire allowed his power to decline even further when he agreed that the Mayoralties of the Palace were life-time appointments.  Most legislation thereafter was enacted by the nobles rather than the king.

This led to the use of the term roi fainéant to be applied to a number of his descendants, they had been reduced to having just a ceremonial role.

Roi fainéant – literally meaning ‘do-nothing’ or ‘lazy’ king. This epithet was applied to the Merovingians because they appeared to have run out of steam and allowed others to rule for them.

However this may have been unfair given the Salic Law’s routine fracturing of their power, the Edict of Paris constraining it and the growth of ambitious men serving as Mayors of the Palace usurping it. These events may have simply constrained any ability for them to act independently.

Historians suggest that Sigebert III was the first roi fainéant, the term was also applied to Clovis III and IV, to Clotaire III and IV, Theuderic III and IV. The last of their line Louis V had his own version being called Louis le Fainéant because he ruled just the area around Laon in Picardy.

In 623 Clotaire passed the kingdom of Austrasia to his son Dagobert I, though this was as much to appease the powerful local nobles (bishop Amulf of Metz and Pepin the Elder, the Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia), who wanted their own king and to have a wide degree of autonomy.

Unbeknown to him Amulf and Pepin were the founders of the Carolingian dynasty that would usurp the power and eventually replace the Merovingian line; it was done slowly and largely bloodlessly.

Dagobert I was the last powerful Merovingian king despatching his troops both westward into the Iberian peninsula and eastward against Slavs.

At a personal level he wished to be seen as a pious king, he was not polygamous for example having only one wife at a time. He died aged 45 having reduced the power of his throne considerably.

It was Salic Law time again and Dagobert controlled Austrasia and Burgundy, his half-brother Charibert was selected to rule Neustria. But Dagobert soon edged out Charibert to rule all three. Charibert and his supporters moved off to establish themselves as an independent kingdom of Aquitaine.

In 632 Charibert died and Dagobert killed his son to ensure that he ruled all of the Franks. He followed his father’s example and appeased the powerful Austrasians by putting his three-year-old son Sigebert III on that throne in 634 to maintain the illusion of autonomy.

Dagobert was a devout man, it was he who decreed the construction of the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris and became the first king to be buried there in 639 CE.

That same year Arnulf, bishop of Metz, and his Arnulfing line and Pepin the Elder’s Pippinid line arranged a ‘dynastic’ marriage between Ansegisel, son of Arnulf, with Begga, daughter of Pepin.

Dagobert’s son Clovis II became king of Burgundy and Neustria at just two years of age, his mother acting as his regent.

Sigebert III ruled Austrasia completely autonomously until his death in 656 CE, he is often referred to as the first of the roi fainéants. The two child-kings, and their Regents, did nothing to interfere with each other’s reign.

Sigebert’s Mayor of the Palace, Grimoald, son of Pepin the Elder, was as calculating as all of his line. He made the most direct bid for the throne by convincing Sigebert III to adopt his own son, Childebert, which he did, even though he had his own son, the future Dagobert II.

When Sigebert died, Grimoald promptly banished Dagobert to a monastery in Ireland and pronounced Childebert ‘the Adopted’ as king of Austrasia.

Clovis II (or some suggest his son Clovis III) reacted in 657 (or 661) and arrested and promptly executed Grimoald, Childebert and Ansegisel.

Clovis II had married an Anglo-Saxon noblewoman, Balthild, who had been sold in to slavery in the Frankish kingdom. Her master had been the Mayor of the Palace, Erchinoaid, who gave her to Clovis to curry favour. She gave him three sons each of whom would become kings after his death in 657.

One of these sons, Theuderic III, would once more reunify the Frankish kingdoms in 679 though he too was merely a roi fainéant who had been appointed and controlled by Ebroin, the Mayor of the Palace. 

Regular falling-outs between the Mayors would lead to much inter-realm strife, The mayor Ebroin did much of the early running until he was assassinated in 681 CE.  It was the battle of Tertry in 687 that saw Austrasia and its mayor, Pepin the Middle (aka Pepin of Herstal), take the Frankish reins. He was appointed the Mayor of the Palace of all three kingdoms.

Pepin further reduced the power of the king and adopted for himself the title ‘Duke and Prince of the Franks’.

He soon turned his attention outward and managed to defeat the Alemanni, the Frisians and the Franconians. He founded a dynasty and would prove to be great-grandfather of Charlemagne.

When he died in late 714 it would not be any of his legitimate children who would succeed him, instead a bastard child, Charles Martel, would establish himself as the power behind the throne and then found the Carolingian Dynasty, his reign is also considered by historians as the beginning of the European Middle Ages.

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© Bob Denton 2014