I.-From the First Appearance of the Franks to the Death of Clovis (AD 240-511) 

II.-From the Death of Clovis to the Death of Clotaire I (a.d. 511—561)

III.-From the Death of Clotaire I to the Death of Brunhilda (AD. 561—618)

IV.-From the Death of Brunhilda to the Death of Charles Martel (AD. 618—741)

V.-From the death of Charles Martel to the death of Pepin the Short (AD. 741—768)






(AD. 240-511)


It is well known that the name of “Frank” is not to be found in the long list of German tribes preserved to us in the “Germania” of Tacitus. Little or nothing is heard of them before the reign of Gordian III. In AD 240 Aurelian, then a tribune of the sixth legion stationed on the Rhine, encountered a body of marauding Franks near Mainz, and drove them back into their marshes. The word “Francia” is also found at a still earlier date, in the old Roman chart called the Charta Peutingeria, and occupies on the map the right bank of the Rhine from opposite Coblentz to the sea. The origin of the Franks has been the subject of frequent debate, to which French patriotism has occasionally lent some asperity. At the time when they first appear in history, the Romans had neither the taste nor the means for historical research, and we are therefore obliged to depend in a great measure upon conjecture and combination. It has been disputed whether the word “Frank” was the original designation of a tribe, which by a change of habitation emerged at the period above mentioned into the light of history, or that of a new league, formed for some common object of aggression or defence, by nations hitherto familiar to us under other names.

We can in this place do little more than refer to a controversy, the value and interest of which has been rendered obsolete by the progress of historical investigation. The darkness and void of history have as usual been filled with spectral theories, which vanish at the challenge of criticism and before the gradually increasing light of knowledge.

We need hardly say that the origin of the Franks has been traced to fugitive colonists from Troy; for what nation under Heaven has not sought to connect itself, in some way or other, with the glorified heroes of the immortal song? Nor is it surprising that French writers, desirous of transferring from the Germans to themselves the honors of the Frankish name, should have made of them a tribe of Gauls, whom some unknown cause had induced to settle in Germany, and who afterwards sought to recover their ancient country from the Roman conquerors. At the present day, however, historians of every nation, including the French, are unanimous in considering the Franks as a powerful confederacy of German tribes, who in the time of Tacitus inhabited the north-western parts of Germany bordering on the Rhine. And this theory is so well supported by many scattered notices, slight in themselves, but powerful when combined, that we can only wonder that it should ever have been called in question. Nor was this aggregation of tribes under the new name of Franks a singular instance; the same took place in the case of the Alemanni and Saxons.

The actuating causes of these new unions are unknown. They may be sought for either in external circumstances, such as the pressure of powerful enemies from without, or in an extension of their own desires and plans, requiring the command of greater means, and inducing a wider co-operation of those, whose similarity of language and character rendered it most easy for them to unite. But perhaps we need look no farther for an efficient cause than the spirit of amalgamation which naturally arises among tribes of kindred race and language, when their growing numbers, and an increased facility of moving from place to place, bring them into more frequent contact. The same phenomenon may be observed at certain periods in the history of almost every nation, and the spirit which gives rise to it has generally been found strong enough to overcome the force of particular interests and petty nationalities.


The etymology of the name adopted by the new confederacy is also uncertain. The conjecture which has most probability in its favor is that adopted long ago by Gibbon, and confirmed in recent times by the authority of Grimm, which connects it with the German word Frank (free). The derivation preferred by Adelung from frak, with the inserted nasal, differ of Grimm only in appearance. No small countenance is given to this derivation by the constant recurrence in after times of the epithet “truces”, “feroces”, which the Franks were so fond of applying to themselves, and which they certainly did everything to deserve. Tacitus speaks of nearly all the tribes, whose various appellations were afterwards merged in that of Frank, as living in the neighborhood of the Rhine. Of these the principal were the Sicambri (the chief people of the old Iscaevonian tribe), who, as there is reason to believe, were identical with the Salian Franks. The confederation further comprised the Bructeri, the GhamaviAnsibariiTubantesMarsi, and Chasuarii, of whom the five last had formerly belonged to the celebrated Cheruscan league, which, under the hero Arminius, destroyed three Roman legions in the Teutoburgian Forest. The strongest evidence of the identity of these tribes with the Franks, is the fact that, long after their settlement in Gaul, the distinctive names of the original people were still occasionally used as synonymous with that of the confederation. The Sicambri are well known in the Roman history for their active and enterprising spirit, and the determined opposition which they offered to the greatest generals of Rome. It was on their account that Caesar bridged the Rhine in the neighborhood of Bonn, and spent eighteen days, as he informs us with significant minuteness, on the German side of that river. Drusus made a similar attempt against them with little better success. Tiberius was the first who obtained any decided advantage over them; and even he, by his own confession, was obliged to have recourse to treachery. An immense number of them were then transported by the command of Augustus to the left bank of the Rhine, “that”, as the Panegyrist expresses it, “they might be compelled to lay aside not only their arms but their ferocity”. That they were not, however, even then, so utterly destroyed or expatriated as the flatterers of the Emperor would have us believe, is evident from the fact that they appear again under the same name, in less than three centuries afterwards, as the most powerful tribe in the Frankish confederacy.

The league thus formed was subject to two strong motives, either of which might alone have been sufficient to impel a brave and active people into a career of migration and conquest. The first of these was necessity, the actual want of the necessaries of life for their increasing population, and the second desire, excited to the utmost by the spectacle of the wealth and civilization of the Gallic provinces.

As long as the Romans held firm possession of Gaul, the Germans could do little to gratify their longings; they could only obtain a settlement in that country by the consent of the Emperor and on certain conditions. Examples of such merely tolerated colonization were the Tribocci, the Vangiones, and the Ubii at Cologne. But when the Roman Empire began to feel the numbness of approaching dissolution, and, as is usually the case, first in its extremities, the Franks were amongst the most active and successful assailants of their enfeebled foe: and if they were attracted towards the West by the abundance they beheld of all that could relieve their necessities and gratify their lust of spoil, they were also impelled in the same direction by the Saxons, the rival league, a people as brave and perhaps more barbarous than themselves. A glance at the map of Germany of that period will do much to explain to us the migration of the Franks, and that long and bloody feud between them and the Saxons, which began with the Gatti and Cherusci and needed all the power and energy of a Charlemagne to bring to a successful close. The Saxons formed behind the Franks, and could only reach the provinces of Gaul by sea. It was natural therefore that they should look with the intensest hatred upon a people who barred their progress to a more genial climate and excluded them from their share in the spoils of the Roman world.

The Franks advanced upon Gaul from two different directions, and under the different names of Salians, and Ripuarians, the former of whom we have reason to connect more particularly with the Sicambrian tribe. The origin of the words Salian and Ripuarian, which are first used respectively by Ammianus Marcellinus and Jordanes, is very obscure, and has served to exercise the ingenuity of ethnographers. There are, however, no sufficient grounds for a decided opinion. At the same time it is by no means improbable that the river Yssel, Isala or Sal (for it has borne all these appellations), may have given its name to that portion of the Franks who lived along its course. With still greater probability may the name Ripuarii or Riparii, be derived from Ripa, a term used by the Romans to signify the Rhine. These dwellers on the Bank were those that remained in their ancient settlements while their Salian kinsmen were advancing into the heart of Gaul.

It would extend the introductory portion of this work beyond its proper limits to refer, however briefly, to all the successive efforts of the Franks to gain a permanent footing upon Roman ground. Though often defeated, they perpetually renewed the contest; and when Roman historians and panegyrists inform us that the whole nation was several times “utterly destroyed” the numbers and geographical position in which we find them a short time after every such annihilation, prove to us the vanity of such accounts. Aurelian, as we have seen, defeated them at Mainz, in AD 242, and drove them into the swamps of Holland. They were routed again about twelve years afterwards by Gallienus; but they quickly recovered from this blow, for in AD 276 we find them in possession of sixty Gallic cities, of which Probus is said to have deprived them, and to have destroyed 400,000 of them and their allies on Roman ground. In AD 280, they gave their aid to the usurper Proculus, who claimed to be of Frankish blood, but was nevertheless betrayed by them; and in AD 288, Carausius the Menapian was sent to clear the seas of their roving barks. But the latter found it more agreeable to shut his eyes to their piracies, in return for a share of the booty, and they afterwards aided in protecting him from the chastisement due to his treachery, and in investing him with the imperial purple in Britain.

In the reign of Maximian, we find a Frankish army, probably of Ripuarians, at Treves, where they were defeated by that emperor; and both he and Diocletian adopted the title of “Francicus”, which many succeeding emperors were proud to bear. The first appearance of the Salian Franks, with whom this history is chiefly concerned, is in the occupation of the Batavian Islands, in the Lower Rhine. They were attacked in that territory in ad 292, by Constantius Chlorus, who, as is said, not only drove them out of Batavia, but marched, triumphant and unopposed, through their own country as far as the Danube. The latter part of this story has little foundation either in history or probability.

The more determined and successful resistance to their progress was made by Constantine the Great, in the first part of the fourth century. We must, however, receive the extravagant accounts of the imperial annalists with considerable caution. It is evident, even from their own language, that the great emperor effected more by stratagem than by force. He found the Salians once more in Batavia, and, after defeating them in a great battle, carried off a large number of captives to Treves, the chief residence of the emperor, and a rival of Rome itself in the splendor of its public buildings.

It was in the circus of this city, and in the presence of Constantine, that the notorious “Ludi Franciciwere celebrated; at which several thousand Franks, including their kings Regaisus and Ascaricus, were compelled to fight with wild beasts, to the inexpressible delight of the Christian spectators. “Those of the Frankish prisoners”, says Eumenius, “whose perfidy unfitted them for military service, and their ferocity for servitude, were given to the wild beasts as a show, and wearied the raging monsters by their multitude”. “This magnificent spectacle” Nazarius praises, some twenty years after it had taken place, in the most enthusiastic terms, comparing Constantine to a youthful Hercules who had strangled two serpents in the cradle of his empire. Eumenius calls it a “daily and eternal victory”, and says that Constantine had erected terror as a bulwark against his barbarian enemies. This terror did not, however, prevent the Franks from taking up arms to revenge their butchered countrymen, nor the Alemanni from joining in the insurrection. The skill and fortune of Constantine generally prevailed; he destroyed great numbers of the Franks and the “innumeroe gentes” who fought on their side, and really appears for a time to have checked their progress.

It is impossible to read the brief yet confused account of these incessant encounters between the Romans and Barbarians, without coming to the conclusion that only half the truth is told; that while every advantage gained by the former is greatly exaggerated, the successes of the latter are passed over in silence. The most glorious victory of a Roman general procures him only a few months repose, and the destruction of “hundreds of thousands” of Franks and Alemanni seems but to increase their numbers. We may fairly say of the Franks, what Julian and Eutropius have said respecting the Goths, that they were not so utterly annihilated as the panegyrists pretend, and that many of the victories gained over them cost “more money than blood”.

The death of Constantine was the signal for a fresh advance on the part of the Franks. Libanius, the Greek rhetorician, when extolling the deeds of Constans, the youngest son of Constantine the Great, says that the emperor stemmed the impetuous torrent of barbarians “by a love of war even greater than their own”. He also says that they received overseers; but this was no doubt on Roman ground, which would account for their submission, as we know that the Franks were more solicitous about real than nominal possession. During the frequent struggles for the Purple which took place at this period, the aid of the Franks was sought for by the different pretenders, and rewarded, in case of success, by large grants of land within the limits of the empire. The barbarians consented, in fact, to receive as a gift what had really been won by their own valor, and could not have been withheld. Even previous to the reign of Constantine, some Frankish generals had risen to high posts in the service of Roman emperors. Magnentius, himself a German, endeavored to support his usurpation by Frankish and Saxon mercenaries; and Silvanus, who was driven into rebellion by the ingratitude of Constantius, whom he had faithfully served, was a Frank.

The state of confusion into which the empire was thrown by the turbulence and insolence of the Roman armies, and the selfish ambition of their leaders, was highly favorable to the progress of the Franks in Gaul. Their next great and general movement took place in ad 355, when, along the whole Roman frontier from Strasburg to the sea, they began to cross the Rhine, and to throw themselves in vast numbers upon the Gallic provinces, with the full determination of forming permanent settlements. But again the relenting fates of Rome raised up a hero in the person of the Emperor Julian, worthy to have lived in the most glorious period of her history. After one or two unsuccessful efforts, Julian succeeded in retaking Cologne and other places, which the Germans, true to their traditionary hatred of walled towns, had laid bare of all defenses.


In the last general advance of the Franks in ad 355, the Salians had not only once more recovered Batavia, but had spread into Toxandria, in which they firmly fixed themselves. It is important to mark the date of this event, because it was at this time that the Salians made their first permanent settlement on the left bank of the Rhine, and by the acquisition of Toxandria laid the foundation of the kingdom of Clovis. Julian indeed attacked them there in ad 358, but he had probably good reasons for not reducing them to despair, as we find that they were permitted to retain their newly acquired lands, on condition of acknowledging themselves subjects of the empire.

He was better pleased to have them as soldiers than as enemies, and they, having felt the weight of his arm, were by no means averse to serve in his ranks, and to enrich themselves by the plunder of the East. Once in undisputed possession of Toxandria, they gradually spread themselves further and further, until, at the beginning of the fifth century, we find them occupying the left bank of the Rhine; as may safely be inferred from the fact that Tongres, Arras, and Amiens are mentioned as the most northern of the Roman stations. At this time they reached Tournai, which became henceforth the chief town of the Salian Franks. The Ripuarians, meanwhile, were extending themselves from Andernach downwards along the middle Rhine, and gained possession of Cologne about the time of the conquest of Tournai by their Salian brethren. On the left of the river they held all that part of Germania Secunda which was not occupied by the Salians. In Belgica Secunda, they spread themselves as far as the Moselle, but were not yet in possession of Treves, as we gather from the frequent assaults made by them upon that city. The part of Gaul therefore now subject to the Ripuarians was bounded on the north-west by the Silva Carbonaria, or Kolhenwald; on the south-west by the Meuse and the forest of Ardennes; and on the south by the Moselle.

We shall be the less surprised that some of the fairest portions of the Roman Empire should thus fall an almost unresisting prey to barbarian invaders, when we remember that the defence of the empire itself was sometimes committed to the hands of Frankish soldiers. Those of the Franks who were already settled in Gaul, were often engaged in en­deavoring to drive back the ever-increasing multitude of fresh barbarians, who hurried across the Rhine to share in the bettered fortunes of their kinsmen, or even to plunder them of their newly-acquired riches. Thus Mallobaudes, who is called king of the Franks, and held the office of Domesticorum Comes under Gratian, commanded in the Imperial army which defeated the Alemanni at Argentaria. And, again, in the short reign of Maximus, who assumed the purple in Gaul, Spain, and Britain, near the end of the fourth century, we are told that three Frankish kings, GenobaudesMarcomeres, and Sunno, crossed the Lower Rhine, and plundered the country along the river as far as Cologne; although the whole of Northern Gaul was already in possession of their countrymen. The generals Nonnius and Quintinus, whom Maximus had left behind him at Treves, the seat of the Imperial government in Gaul, hastened to Cologne, from which the marauding Franks had already retired with their booty. Quintinus crossed the Rhine, in pursuit, at Neus, and, unmindful of the fate of Varus in the Teutoburgian wood, followed the retreating enemy into the morasses. The Franks, once more upon friendly and familiar ground, turned upon their pursuers, and are said to have destroyed nearly the whole Roman army with poisoned arrows.

The war continued, and was only brought to a successful conclusion for the Romans by the courage and conduct of Arbogastes, a Frank in the service of Theodosius. Unable to make peace with his barbarous countrymen, and sometimes defeated by them, this general crossed the Rhine when the woods were leafless, ravaged the country of the Chamavi, Bructeri, and Catti, and having slain two of their chiefs named Priam and Genobaudes, compelled Marcomeres and Sunno to give hostages. The submission of the Franks must have been of short continuance, for we read that in ad 398 these same kings, Marcomeres and Sunno, were again found ravaging the left bank of the Rhine by Stilicho. This famous warrior defeated them in a great battle, and sent the former, or perhaps both of them, in chains to Italy, where Marcomeres died in prison.

The first few years of the fifth century are occupied in the struggle between Alaric the Goth and Stilicho, which ended in the sacking of Rome by the former in the year 410 ad, the same in which he died.

While the Goths were inflicting deadly wounds on the very heart of the empire, the distant provinces of Germany and Gaul presented a scene of indescribable confusion. Innumerable hosts of Astingians, Vandals, Alani, Suevi, and Burgundians, threw themselves like robbers upon the prostrate body of Imperial Rome, and scrambled for the gems which fell from her costly diadem. In such a storm the Franks could no longer sustain the part of champions of the empire, but doubtless had enough to do to defend themselves and hold their own. We can only guess at the fortune which befell the nations in that dark period, from the state in which we find them when the glimmering light of history once more dawns upon the chaos.



Of the internal state of the Frankish league in these times, we learn from ancient authorities absolutely nothing on which we can safely depend. The blank is filled up by popular fable. It is in this period, about 417 ad, that the reign of Pharamond is placed, of whom we may more than doubt whether he ever existed at all. To this hero was afterwards ascribed, not only the permanent conquests made at this juncture by the various tribes of Franks, but the establishment of the monarchy, and the collection and publication of the well-known Salic laws. The sole foundation for this complete and harmonious fabric is a passage interpolated into an ancient chronicle of the fifth century; and, with this single exception, Pharamond’s name is never mentioned before the seventh century. The whole story is perfected and rounded off by the author of the “Gesta Francorum”, according to whom, Pharamond was the son of Marcomeres, the prince who ended his days in the Italian prison. The fact that nothing is known of him by Gregory of Tours or Fredegarius is sufficient to prevent our regarding him as an historical personage. To this may be added that he is not mentioned in the prologue of the Salic law, with which his name has been so intimately associated by later writers.

Though well authenticated names of persons and places fail us at this time, it is not difficult to conjecture what must have been the main facts of the case. Great changes took place among the Franks, in the first half of the fifth century, which did much to prepare them for their subsequent career. The greater portion of them had been mere marauders, like their German brethren of other nations: they now began to assume the character of settlers; and as the idea of founding an extensive empire was still far from their thoughts, they occupied in preference the lands which lay nearest to their ancient homes. There are many incidental reasons which make this change in their mode of life a natural and inevitable one. The country whose surface had once afforded a rich and easily collected booty, and well repaid the hasty foray of weeks, and even days, had been stripped of its movable wealth by repeated incursions of barbarians still fiercer than themselves. All that was above the surface the Alan and the Vandal had swept away, the treasures which remained had to be sought for with the plough. The Franks were compelled to turn their attention to that agriculture which their indolent and warlike fathers had hated; which required fixed settlements, and all the laws of property and person indissolubly connected therewith. Again, though there is no sufficient reason to connect the Salic laws with the mythical name of Pharamond, or to suppose that they were altogether the work of this age (since we know from Tacitus that the Germans had similar laws in their ancient forests), yet it is very probable was insufficiently defended, he advanced upon that city, and succeeded in taking it. After spending a few days within the walls of his new acquisition, he marched as far as the river Somme. His progress was checked by Aetius and Majorian, who surprised him in the neighborhood of Arras, at a place called Helena (Lens), while celebrating a marriage, and forced him to retire. Yet at the end of the war, the Franks remained in full possession of the country which Clodion had overrun; and the Somme became the boundary of the Salian land upon the south-west, as it continued to be until the time of Clovis.

Clodion died in AD 448, and was thus saved from the equally pernicious alliance or enmity of the ruthless conqueror Attila. This “Scourge of God”, as he delighted to be called, appeared in Gaul about the year 450 AD, at the head of an innumerable host of mounted Huns; a race so singular in their aspect and habits as to seem scarcely human, and compared with whom, the wildest Franks and Goths must have appeared rational and civilized beings.

The time of Attila’s descent upon the Rhine was well chosen for the prosecution of his scheme of universal dominion. Between the fragment of the Roman Empire, governed by Aetius, and the Franks under the successors of Clodion, there was either open war or a hollow truce. The succession to the chief power in the Salian tribe was the subject of a violent dispute between two Frankish princes, the elder of whom is supposed by some to have been called Merovaeus. We have seen reason to doubt the existence of a prince of this name; and there is no evidence that either of the rival candidates was a son of Clodion. Whatever their parentage or name may have been, the one took part with Attila, and the other with the Roman Aetius, on condition, no doubt, of having their respective claims allowed and supported by their allies. In the bloody and decisive battle of the Catalaunian Fields round Châlons, Franks, under the name of Leti and Ripuarii, served under the so-called Merovaeus in the army of Aetius, together with Theoderic and his Visigoths. Among the forces of Attila another body of Franks was arrayed, either by compulsion, or instigated to this unnatural course by the fierce hatred of party spirit. From the result of the battle of Châlons, we must suppose that the ally of Aetius succeeded to the throne of Clodion.

The effects of the invasion of Gaul by Attila were neither great nor lasting, and his retreat left the German and Roman parties in much the same condition as he found them. The Roman Empire indeed was at an end in that province, yet the valor and wisdom of Egidius enabled him to maintain, as an independent chief, the authority which he had faithfully exercised, as Master-General of Gaul, under the noble and virtuous Magorian. The extent of his territory is not clearly defined, but it must have been, in part at least, identical with that of which his son and successor, Syagrius, was deprived by Clovis. Common opinion limits this to the country between the Oise, the Marne, and the Seine, to which some writers have added Auxerre and Troyes. The respect in which Egidius was held by the Franks, as well as his own country­men, enabled him to set at defiance the threats and machinations of the barbarian Ricimer, who virtually ruled at Rome, though in another's name. The strongest proof of the high opinion they entertained of the merits of Egidius, is said to have been given by the Salians in the reign of their next king. The prince, to whom the name Merovaeus has been arbitrarily assigned, was succeeded by his son Childeric, in ad 456. The conduct of this licentious youth was such as to disgust and alienate his subjects, who had not yet ceased to value female honor, nor adopted the loose manners of the Romans and their Gallic imitators. The authority of the Salian kings over the fierce warriors of their tribe was held by a precarious tenure. The loyalty which distinguished the Franks in later times had not yet arisen in their minds, and they did not scruple to send the corrupter of their wives and daughters into ignominious exile. Childeric took refuge with Bissinus (or Bassinus), king of the Thuringians, a people dwelling on the river Unstrut. It was then that the Franks, according to the somewhat improbable account of Gregory, unanimously chose Egidius for their king, and actually submitted to his rule for the space of eight years. At the end of that period, returning affection for their native prince, the mere love of change, or the machinations of a party, induced the Franks to recall Childeric from exile, or, at all events, to allow him to return. Whatever may have been the cause of his restoration, it does not appear to have been the consequence of an improvement in his morals. The period of his exile had been characteristically employed in the seduction of Basina, the wife of his hospitable protector at the Thuringian Court. This royal lady, whose character may perhaps do something to diminish the guilt of Childeric in our eyes, was unwilling to be left behind on the restoration of her lover to his native country. Scarcely had he re-established his authority when he was unexpectedly followed by Basina, whom he immediately married. The offspring of this questionable alliance was Clovis, who was born in the year 466. The remainder of Childeric’s reign was chiefly spent in a struggle with the Visigoths, in which Franks and Romans, under their respective leaders, Childeric and Egidius, were amicably united against the common foe.


We hasten to the reign of Clovis, who, during a rule of about thirty years, not only united the various tribes of Franks under one powerful dynasty, and founded a kingdom in Gaul on a broad and enduring basis, but made his throne the centre of union to by far the greater portion of the whole German race.

When Clovis succeeded his father as king of the Salians, at the early age of fifteen, the extent of his territory and the number of his subjects were, as we know, extremely small; at his death, he left to his successors a kingdom more extensive than that of modern France.

The influence of the grateful partiality discernible in the works of Catholic historians and chroniclers towards “the Eldest Son of the Church”, who secured for them the victory over heathens on the one side, and heretics on the other, prevents us from looking to them for an unbiassed estimate of his character. Many of his crimes appeared to be committed in the cause of Catholicity itself, and these they could hardly see in their proper light. Pagans and Arians would have painted him in different colors; and had any of their works come down to us, we might have sought the truth between the positive of partiality and the negative of hatred. But fortunately, while the chroniclers praise his actions in the highest terms, they tell us what those actions were, and thus compel us to form a very different judgment from their own. It would not be easy to extract from the pages of his greatest admirers the slightest evidence of his possessing any qualities but those which are necessary to a conqueror. In the hands of Providence he was an instrument of the greatest good to the country he subdued, inasmuch as he freed it from the curse of division into petty states, and furthered the spread of Christianity in the very heart of Europe. But of any word or action that could make us admire or love the man, there is not a single trace in history. His undeniable courage is debased by a degree of cruelty unusual even in his times; and the consummate skill and prudence, which did more to raise him to his high position than even his military qualities, are rendered odious by the forms they take of unscrupulous falsehood, meanness, cunning and hypocrisy.

It will add to the perspicuity of our brief narrative of the conquests of Clovis, if we pause for a moment to consider the extent and situation of the different portions into which Gaul was divided at his accession.

There were in all six independent states: 1st, that of the Salians; 2nd, that of the Ripuarians; 3rd, that of the Visigoths; 4th, that of the Burgundians; 5th, the kingdom of Syagrius; and, 6th, Armorica (by which the whole sea-coast between Seine and Loire was then signified). Of the two first we have already spoken. The Visigoths held the whole of Southern Gaul. Their boundary to the north was the river Loire, and to the east the Pagus Vellavus (Auvergne).

The boundary of the Burgundians on the side of Roman Gaul, was the Pagus Lingonicus (Upper Marne); to the west they were bounded by the territory of the Visigoths, as above described.

The territory still held by the Romans was divided into two parts, of which the one was held by Syagrius, who, according to common opinion, only ruled the country between Oise, Marne, and Seine; to this some writers have added Auxerre, Troyes, and Orleans. The other — viz., that portion of Roman Gaul not subject to Syagrius—is of uncertain extent. Armorica (Bretagne and Maine), was an independent state, inhabited by Britons and Saxons; but what was its form of government is not exactly known. It is important to bear these geographical divisions in mind, because they coincide with the successive Frankish conquests made under Clovis and his sons.



It would be unphilosophical to ascribe to Clovis a preconceived plan of making himself master of these several independent states, and of not only overthrowing the sole remaining pillar of the Roman Empire in Gaul, but, what was far more difficult, of subduing other German tribes, as fierce and independent, and in some cases more numerous than his own. In what he did, he was merely gratifying a passion for the excitements of war and acquisition, and that desire of expanding itself to its utmost limits, which is natural to every active, powerful, and imperious mind. He must indeed have been more than human to foresee, through all the obstacles that lay in his path, the career he was destined by Providence to run. He was not even master of the whole Salian tribe; and besides the Salians, there were other Franks on the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Meuse, and the Moselle, in no way inferior to his own subjects, and governed by kings of the same family as himself. Nor was Syagrius, to whom the anomalous power of his father Egidius had descended, a despicable foe. His merits, indeed, were rather those of an able lawyer and a righteous judge than of a warrior; but he had acquired by his civil virtues a reputation which made him an object of envy to Clovis, who dreaded perhaps the permanent establishment of a Roman dynasty in Gaul. There were reasons for attacking Syagrius first, which can hardly have escaped the cunning of Clovis, and which doubtless guided him in the choice of his earliest victim. The very integrity of the noble Roman’s character was one of these reasons. Had Clovis commenced the work of destruction by attacking his kinsmen Sigebert of Cologne and Ragnachar of Cambrai, he would not only have received no aid from Syagrius in his unrighteous aggression, but might have found him ready to oppose it. But against Syagrius it was easy for Clovis to excite the national spirit of his brother Franks, both in and out of his own territory. In such an expedition, even had the kings declined to take an active part, he might reckon on crowds of volunteers from every Frankish gau.

As soon therefore as he had emerged from the forced inactivity of extreme youth (a period in which, fortunately for him, he was left undisturbed by his less grasping and unscrupulous neighbors), he determined to bring the question of pre-eminence between the Franks and Romans to as early an issue as possible. Without waiting for a plausible ground of quarrel, he challenged Syagrius, more Germanico, to the field, that their respective fates might be determined by the God of Battles. Ragnachar of Cambrai was solicited to accompany his treacherous relative on this expedition, and agreed to do so. Ghararich, another Frankish prince, whose alliance had been looked for, preferred waiting until fortune had decided, with the prudent intention of siding with the winner, and coming fresh into the field in time to spoil the vanquished.

Syagrius was at Soissons, which he had inherited from his father, when Clovis, with characteristic decision and rapidity, passed through the wood of Ardennes, and fell upon him with resistless force. The Roman was completely defeated, and the victor, having taken possession of Soissons, Rheims, and other Roman towns in the Belgica Secunda, extended his frontier to the river Loire, the boundary of the Visigoths. This battle took place in ad 486.

We know little or nothing of the materials of which the Roman army was composed. If it consisted entirely of Gauls, accustomed to depend on Roman aid, and destitute of the spirit of freemen, the ease with which Syagrius was defeated will cause us less surprise. Having lost all in a single battle, the unfortunate Roman fled for refuge to Toulouse, the court of Alaric, king of the Visigoths, who basely yielded him to the threats of the youthful conqueror. But one fate awaited those who stood in the way of Clovis: Syagrius was immediately put to death, less in anger, than from the calculating policy which guided all the movements of the Salian’s unfeeling heart.

During the next ten years after the death of Syagrius, there is less to relate of Clovis than might be expected from the commencement of his career. We cannot suppose that such a spirit was really at rest: he was probably nursing his strength, and watching his opportunities; for, with all his impetuosity, he was not a man to engage in an undertaking without good assurance of success. 

Almost the only expedition of this inactive period of his life, is one recorded in a doubtful passage by Gregory of Tours, as having been made against the Tongrians. This people lived in the ancient country of the Eburones, on the Elbe, and had formerly been subjects of his mother Basina. The Tongrians were defeated, and their territory was, nominally at least, incorporated with the kingdom of Clovis.



In the year 496 A.D. the Salians began that career of conquest, which they followed up with scarcely any intermission until the death of their warrior king.

The Alemanni, extending themselves from their original seats on the right bank of the Rhine, between the Main and the Danube, had pushed forward into Germanica Prima, where they came into collision with the Frankish subjects of King Sigebert of Cologne. Clovis flew to the assistance of his kinsman, and defeated the Alemanni in a great battle in the neighborhood of Zülpich. He then established a considerable number of his Franks in the territory of the Alamanni, the traces of whose residence are found in the names of Franconia and Frankfort.

The same year is rendered remarkable in ecclesiastical history by the conversion of Clovis to Christianity. In AD 493, he had married Clothildis, Chilperic the king of Burgundy’s daughter, who, being herself a Christian, was naturally anxious to turn away her warlike spouse from the rude faith of his forefathers. The real result of her endeavors it is impossible to estimate, but, at all events, she has not received from history the credit of success. The mere suggestions of an affectionate wife would be considered as too simple and prosaic a means of accounting for a change involving such mighty consequences. The conversion of Clovis was so vitally important to the interests of the Catholic Church, that the chroniclers of that wonder-loving age, profuse in the employment of extraordinary means for the smallest ends, could never be brought to believe that this great event was the result of anything but a miracle of the most public and striking character.

The way in which the convictions of Clovis were changed is unknown to us, but there were natural agencies at work, and his conversion is not, under the circumstances, a thing to excite surprise. According to the common belief, however, in the Roman Church, it was in the battle of Zülpich that the heart of Clovis, callous to the pious solicitude of his wife, and the powerful and alluring influence of the catholic ritual, was touched by a special interposition of Providence in his behalf. When the fortune of the battle seemed turning against him, he thought of the God whom his wife adored, of whose power and majesty he had heard so much, and vowed that if he escaped the present danger, and came off victorious, he would suffer himself to be baptized, and become the champion of the Christian Faith. Like another Constantine, he saw written on the face of Heaven that his prayer was heard; he conquered, and fulfilled his promise at Christmas in the same year, when Remigius at Rheims, with three thousand of his followers.

The sincerity of Clovis’s conversion has been called in question for many reasons, such as the unsuit ability of his subsequent life to Christian principles, but chiefly on the ground of the many political advantages to be derived from a public profession of the Catholic Faith. We are too ready with such explanations of the actions of distinguished characters, too apt to forget that politicians are also men, and to overlook the very powerful influences which lie nearer to their hearts than even political calculation. A spirit was abroad in the world, drawing men away from the graves of a dead faith to the life and light of the Gospel, a spirit which not even the coldest and sternest heart could altogether resist. There was something, too, peculiarly imposing in the attitude of the Christian Church at that period. All else in the Roman world seemed dying of mere weakness and old age—the Christian Church was still in the vigour of youth, and its professors were animated by indomitable perseverance and boundless zeal. All else fell down in terror before the Barbarian conqueror—the fabric of the Church seemed indestructible, and its ministers stood erect in his presence, as if depending for strength and aid upon a power, which was the more terrible, because indefinite in its nature and uncertain in its mode of operation.

Nor were there wanting to the Catholic Church, even at that stage of its development, those external means of influence which tell with peculiar force upon the barbarous and untutored mind. The emperors of the Roman world had reared its temples, adorned its shrines, and regulated its services, in a manner which seemed to them best suited to the majesty of Heaven and their own. Its altars were served by men distinguished by their learning, and by that indestructible dignity of deportment, which is derived from conscious superiority. The praises of God were chanted forth in well-chosen words and impressive tones, or sung in lofty strains by tutored voices; while incense rose to the vaulted aisle, as if to bear the prayers of the kneeling multitude to the very gates of Paradise.

And Clovis was as likely to be worked upon by such means as the meanest of his followers. We must not suppose that the discrepancy between his Christian profession and his public and private actions, which we discern so clearly, was equally evident to himself. How should it be so? His own conscience was not specially enlightened beyond the measure of his age. The bravest warriors of his nation hailed him as a patriot and hero, and the ministers of God assured him that his victories were won in the service of Truth and Heaven. It is always dangerous to judge of the sincerity of men’s religious—perhaps we should say theological—convictions by the tenor of their moral conduct, and this even in our own age and nation; but far more so in respect to men of other times and countries, at a different stage of civilization and religious development, at which the scale of morality was not only lower, but differently graduated from our own.

The conscience of a Clovis remained undisturbed in the midst of deeds whose enormity makes us shudder; and, on the other band, how trivial in our eyes are some of those offences which loaded him with the heaviest sense of guilt! The eternal laws of the God of justice and mercy might be broken with impunity; and what we should call the basest treachery and the most odious cruelty, employed to compass the destruction of an heretical or pagan enemy; but woe to him who offended St. Martin, or laid a finger on the property of the meanest of his servants! When Clovis was seeking to gratify his lust of power, he believed, no doubt, that he was at the same time fighting under the banner of Christ, and destroying the enemies of God. And no wonder, for many a priest and bishop thought the same, and told him what they thought.

We are, however, far from affirming that the political advantages to be gained from an open avowal of the Catholic Faith at this juncture escaped the notice of so astute a mind as that of Clovis. No one was more sensible of those advantages than he was. The immediate consequences were indeed apparently disastrous. He was himself fearful of the effect which his change of religion might have upon his Franks, and we are told that many of them left him and joined his kinsman Ragnarich. But the ill effects, though immediate, were slight and transient, while the good results went on accumulating from year to year. In the first place, his baptism into the Catholic Church conciliated for him the zealous affection of his Gallo-Roman subjects, whose number and wealth, and, above all, whose superior knowledge and intelligence, rendered their aid of the utmost value. With respect to his own Franks, we are justified in supposing that, removed as they were from the sacred localities with which their faith was intimately connected, they either viewed the change with indifference, or, wavering between old associations and present influences, needed only the example of the king to decide their choice, and induce them to enlist under the banner of the Cross.

The German neighbors of Clovis had either preserved their ancient faith or adopted the Arian heresy. His conversion therefore was advantageous or disadvantageous to him, as regarded them, according to the objects he had in view. Had he really desired to live with his compatriot kings on terms of equality and friendship, his reception into a hostile Church would certainly not have furthered his views. But nothing was more foreign to his thoughts than friendship and alliance with any of the neighboring tribes. His desire was to reduce them all to a state of subjection to himself. He had the genuine spirit of the conqueror, which cannot brook the sight of independence; and his keen intellect and unflinching boldness enabled him to see his advantages and to turn them to the best account.

Even in those countries in which Heathenism or Arian Christianity prevailed, there was generally a zealous and united community of Catholic Christians (including all the Romance inhabitants), who, being outnumbered and sometimes persecuted, were inclined to look for aid abroad. Clovis became by his conversion the object of hope and attachment to such a party in almost every country on the continent of Europe. He had the powerful support of the whole body of the Catholic clergy, in whose hearts the interests of their Church far outweighed all other considerations. In other times and lands (in our own for instance) the spirit of loyalty and the love of country have often sufficed to counteract the influence of theological opinions, and have made men patriots in the hour of trial, when their spiritual allegiance to an alien head tempted them to be traitors. But what patriotism could Gallo-Romans feel, who for ages had been the slaves of slaves? or what loyalty to barbarian oppressors, whom they despised as well as feared?

The happy effects of Clovis’s conversion were not long in showing themselves. In the very next year after that event (AD 497) the Armoricans, inhabiting the country between the Seine and Loire, who had stoutly defended themselves against the heathen Franks, submitted with the utmost readiness to the royal convert whom bishops delighted to honor; and in almost every succeeding struggle the advantages he derived from the strenuous support of the Catholic party become more and more clearly evident.



In A.D.d 500 Clovis reduced the Burgundians to a state of semi-dependence, after a fierce and bloody battle with Gundobald, their king, at Dijon on the Ousche. In this conflict, as in almost every other, Clovis attained his ends in a great measure by turning to account the dissensions of his enemies. Gundobald had called upon his brother Godegisil, who ruled over one division of their tribe, to aid him in repelling the attack of the Franks. The call was answered, in appearance at least; but in the decisive struggle Godegisil, according to a secret understanding, deserted with all his forces to the enemy. Gundobald was of course defeated, and submitted to conditions which, however galling to his pride and patriotism, could not have been very severe, since we find him immediately afterwards punishing the treachery of his brother, whom be besieged in the city of Vienne, and put to death in an Arian Church.

The circumstances of the times, rather than the moderation of Clovis, prevented him from calling Gundobald to account. A far more arduous struggle was at hand, which needed all the wily Salian’s resources of power and policy to bring to a successful issue—the struggle with the powerful king and people of the Visigoths, whose immediate neighbor he had become after the voluntary submission of the Armoricans in A.D. 497. The valor and conduct of their renowned king Euric had put the Western Goths in full possession of all that portion of Gaul which lay between the rivers Loire and Rhone, together with nearly the whole of Spain. That distinguished monarch had lately been succeeded by his son Alaric II, who was now in the flower of youth. It was in the war with this ill-starred prince—the most difficult and doubtful in which he had been engaged—that Clovis experienced the full advantages of his recent change of faith. King Euric, who was an Arian, wise and great as he appears to have been in many respects, had alienated the affections of multitudes of his people by persecuting the Catholic minority; and though the same charge does not appear to lie against Alaric, it is evident that the hearts of his orthodox subjects beat with no true allegiance towards their heretical king. The baptism of Clovis had turned their eyes towards him, as one who would not only free them from the persecution of their theological enemies, but procure for them and their Church a speedy victory and a secure predominance. The hopes they had formed, and the aid they were ready to afford him, were not unknown to Clovis, whose eager rapacity was only checked by the consideration of the part which his brother-in-law Theoderic, King of the Ostrogoths, was likely to take in the matter. This great and enlightened Goth, whose refined magnificence renders the contemptuous sense in which we use the term Gothic more than usually inappropriate, was ever ready to mediate between kindred tribes of Germans, whom on every suitable occasion he exhorted to live in unity, mindful of their common origin. He is said on this occasion to have brought about a meeting between Clovis and Alaric on a small island in the Loire in the neighborhood of Amboise. The story is very doubtful, to say the least. Had he done so much, he would probably have done more, and have shielded his youthful kinsman with his strong right arm. Whatever he did was done in vain. The Frankish conqueror knew his own advantages and determined to use them to the utmost. He received the aid not only of his kinsman Sigebert of Cologne, who sent an army to his support under Ghararich, but of the king of the Burgundians, who was also a Catholic. With an army thus united by a common faith, inspired by religious zeal, and no less so by the Frankish love of booty, Clovis marched to almost certain victory over an inexperienced leader and a kingdom divided against itself.

It is evident from the language of Gregory of Tours, that this conflict between the Franks and Visigoths was regarded by the orthodox party of his own and preceding ages as a religious war, on which, humanly speaking, the prevalence of the Catholic or the Arian creed in Western Europe depended. Clovis did everything in his power to deepen this impression. He could not, he said, endure the thought that “those Arians” held a part of his beautiful Gaul. As he passed through the territory of Tours, which was supposed to be under the peculiar protection of St. Martin, he was careful to preserve the strictest discipline among his soldiers, that he might further conciliate the Church and sanctify his undertaking. On his arrival at the city of Tours, he publicly displayed his reverence for the patron saint, and received the thanks and good wishes of a whole chorus of priests assembled in St. Martin’s Church. He was guided (according to one of the legends by which his progress has been so profusely adorned) through the swollen waters of the river Vienne by “a hind of wonderful magnitude”; and, as he approached the city of Poitiers, a pillar of fire (whose origin we may trace, as suits our views, to the favor of heaven or the treachery of man) shone forth from the cathedral, to give him the assurance of success, and to throw light upon his nocturnal march. The Catholic bishops in the kingdom of Alaric were universally favorable to the cause of Clovis, and several of them, who had not the patience to postpone the manifestation of their sympathies, were expelled by Alaric from their sees. The majority indeed made a virtue of necessity, and prayed continually and loudly, if not sincerely, for their lawful monarch. Perhaps they had even in that age learned to appreciate the efficacy of mental reservation.

Conscious of his own weakness, Alaric retired before his terrible and implacable foe, in the vain hope of receiving assistance from the Ostrogoths. He halted at last in the plains of Vouglé, behind Poitiers, but even then rather in compliance with the wishes of his soldiers than from his own deliberate judgment. His soldiers, drawn from a generation as yet unacquainted with war, and full of that overweening confidence which results from inexperience, were eager to meet the enemy. Treachery, also, was at work to prevent him from adopting the only means of safety, which lay in deferring as long as possible the too unequal contest. The Franks came on with their usual impetuosity, and with a well-founded confidence in their own prowess; and the issue of the battle was in accordance with the auspices on either side. Clovis, no less strenuous in actual fight than wise and cunning in council, exposed himself to every danger, and fought hand to hand with Alaric himself. Yet the latter was not slain in the field, but in the disorderly flight into which the Goths were quickly driven. The victorious Franks pursued them as far as Bordeaux, where Clovis passed the winter, while Theodoric, his son, was overrunning Auvergne, Quincy, and Rovergne. The Goths, whose new king was a minor, made no further resistance; and in the following year the Salian chief took possession of the royal treasure at Toulouse. He also took the town of Angouleme, at the capture of which he was doubly rewarded for his services to the Church, for not only did the inhabitants of that place rise in his favor against the Visigothic garrison, but the very walls, like those of Jericho, fell down at his approach!

A.D. 508.

A short time after these events, Clovis received the titles and dignity of Roman Patricius and Consul from the Greek Emperor Anastasius; who appears to have been prompted to this act more by motives of jealousy and hatred towards Theodoric the Ostrogoth, than by any love he bore the restless and encroaching Frank. The meaning of these obsolete titles, as applied to those who stood in no direct relation to either division of the Roman Empire, has never been sufficiently explained. We are at first surprised that successful warriors and powerful kings like Clovis, Pepin, and Charlemagne himself, should condescend to accept such empty honors at the hands of the miserable eunuch-ridden monarchs of the East. That the Byzantine Emperors should affect a superiority over contemporary sovereigns is intelligible enough; the weakest idiot among them, who lived at the mercy of his women and his slaves, had never resigned one title of his pretensions to that universal empire which an Augustus and a Trajan once possessed. But whence the acquiescence of Clovis and his great successors in this arrogant assumption? We may best account for it by remarking how long the prestige of power survives the strength that gave it. The sun of Rome was set, but the twilight of her greatness still rested on the world. The German kings and warriors received with pleasure, and wore with pride, a title which brought them into connection with that imperial city, of whose universal dominion, of whose skill in arms and arts, the traces lay everywhere around them.

Nor was it without some solid advantages in the circumstances in which Clovis was placed. He ruled over a vast population, which had not long ceased to be subjects of the Empire, and still rejoiced in the Roman name. He fully appreciated their intellectual superiority, and had already experienced the value of their assistance. Whatever, therefore, tended to increase his personal dignity in their eyes (and no doubt the solemn proclamation of his Roman titles had this tendency) was rightly deemed by him of no small importance.

In the same year that he was invested with the diadem and purple robe in the church of St. Martin at Tours the encroaching Franks had the southern and eastern limits of their kingdom marked out for them by the powerful hand of Theodoric the Great. The brave but peace-loving Goth had trusted too much to his influence with Clovis, and had hoped to the last to save the unhappy Alaric, by warning and mediation. The slaughter of the Visigoths, the death of Alaric himself, the fall of Angouleme and Toulouse, the advance of the Franks upon the Rhone, where they were now besieging Arles, had effectually undeceived him. He now prepared to bring forward the only arguments to which the ear of a Clovis is ever open, the battle-cry of a superior army. His faithful Ostrogoths were summoned to meet in the month of June, ad 508, and he placed a powerful army under the command of Eva (Ibba or Hebba), who led his forces into Gaul over the southern Alps. The Franks and Burgundians, who were investing Arles and Carcassonne, raised the siege and retired, but whether without or in consequence of a battle, is rendered doubtful by the conflicting testimony of the annalists. The subsequent territorial position of the combatants, however, favors the account that a battle did take place, in which Clovis and his allies received a most decided and bloody defeat.

The check thus given to the extension of his kingdom at the expense of other German nations, and the desire perhaps of collecting fresh strength for a more successful struggle hereafter, seem to have induced Clovis to turn his attention to the destruction of his Merovingian kindred. The manner in which he effected his purpose is related with a fullness which naturally excites suspicion. But though it is easy to detect both absurdity and inconsistency in many of the romantic details with which Gregory has furnished us, we see no reason to deny to his statements a foundation of historical truth.

Clovis was still but one of several Frankish kings; and of these Sigebert of Cologne, king of the Ripuarians, was little inferior to him in the extent of his dominions and the number of his subjects. But in other respects—in mental activity and bodily prowess—“the lame” Sigebert was no match for his Salian brother. The other Frankish rulers were, Chararich, of whom mention has been made in connection with Syagrius, and Ragnachar (or Ragnachas), who held his court at Cambrai. The kingdom of Sigebert extended along both banks of the Rhine, from Mainz down to Cologne; to the west along the Moselle as far as Treves; and on the east to the river Fulda and the borders of Thuringia. The Franks who occupied this country are supposed to have taken possession of it in the reign of Valentinian III, when Mainz, Cologne, and Treves, were conquered by a host of Ripuarians. Sigebert, as we have seen, had come to the aid of Clovis, in two very important battles with the Alemanni and the Visigoths, and had shown himself a ready and faithful friend whenever his co-operation was required. But gratitude was not included among the graces of the champion of Catholicity, who only waited for a suitable opportunity to deprive his ally of throne and life. The present juncture was favorable to his wishes, and enabled him to rid himself of his benefactor in a manner peculiarly suited to his taste. An attempt to conquer the kingdom of Cologne by force of arms would have been but feebly seconded by his own subjects, and would have met with a stout resistance from the Ripuarians, who were conscious of no inferiority to the Salian tribe. His efforts were therefore directed to the destruction of the royal house, the downfall of which was hastened by internal divisions. Clotaire (or Clotarich), the expectant heir of Sigebert, weary of hope deferred, gave a ready ear to the hellish suggestions of Clovis, who urged him, by the strongest appeals to his ambition and cupidity, to the murder of his father. Sigebert was slain by his own son in the Buchonian Forest near Fulda. The wretched parricide endeavored to secure the further connivance of his tempter, by offering him a share of the blood-stained treasure he had acquired. But Clovis, whose part in the transaction was probably unknown, affected a feeling of horror at the unnatural crime, and procured the immediate assassination of Clotaire; an act which rid him of a rival, silenced an embarrassing accomplice, and tended rather to raise than to lower him in the opinion of the Ripuarians. It is not surprising, therefore, that when Clovis proposed himself as the successor of Sigebert, and promised the full recognition of all existing rights, his offer should be joyfully accepted. In ad 509 he was elected king by the Ripuarians, and raised upon a shield in the city of Cologne, according to the Frankish custom, amid general acclamation.

“And thus”, says Gregory of Tours, in the same chapter in which he relates the twofold murder of his kindred, “God daily prostrated his enemies before him and increased his kingdom, because he walked before him with an upright heart, and did what was pleasing in his eyes!”—so completely did his services to the Catholic Church conceal his moral deformities from the eyes of even the best of the ecclesiastical historians.

To the destruction of his next victim, Chararich, whose power was far less formidable than that of Sigebert, he was impelled by vengeance as well as ambition. That cautious prince, instead of joining the other Franks in their attack upon Syagrius, had stood aloof and waited upon fortune. Yet we can hardly attribute the conduct of Clovis towards him chiefly to revenge, for his most faithful ally had been his earliest victim; and friend and foe were alike to him, if they did but cross the path of his ambition. After getting possession of Chararich and his son, by tampering with their followers, Clovis compelled them to cut off their royal locks and become priests; subsequently, however, he caused them to be put to death.

Ragnachar of Cambrai, whose kingdom lay to the north of the Somme, and extended through Flanders and Artois, might have proved a more formidable antagonist, had he not become unpopular among his own subjects by the disgusting licentiousness of his manners. The account which Gregory gives of the manner in which his ruin was effected is more curious than credible, and adds the charge of swindling to the black list of crimes recorded against the man who “walked before God with an upright heart”. According to the historian, Clovis bribed the followers of Ragnachar with armour of gilded iron, which they mistook, as he intended they should, for gold. Having thus crippled by treachery the strength of his enemy, Clovis led an army over the Somme, for the purpose of attacking him in his own territory. Ragnachar prepared to meet him, but was betrayed by his own soldiers and delivered into the hands of the invader. Clovis, with facetious cruelty, reproached the fallen monarch for having disgraced their common family by suffering himself to be bound, and then split his skull with an axe. The same absurd charge was brought against Richar, the brother of Ragnachar, and the same punishment inflicted on him. A third brother was put to death at Mans

Gregory refers, though not by name, to other kings of the same family, who were all destroyed by Clovis. “Having killed many other kings”, he says, “who were his kinsmen, because he feared they might deprive him of his power, he extended his kingdom through the whole of Gaul”. He also tells us that the royal hypocrite, having summoned a general assembly, complained before it, with tears in his eyes, that he was “alone in the world”. “Alas, for me!” he said, “I am left as an alien among strangers, and have no relations who can assist me”. This he did, according to Gregory, “not from any real love of his kindred, or from remorse at the thought of his crimes, but that he might find out any more relations and put them also to death”.

Clovis died at Paris, in AD 511, in the forty-fifth year of his age and the thirtieth of his active, bloodstained, and eventful reign. He lived therefore only five years after the decisive battle of Vouglé.

Did we not know, from the judgment he passes on other characters in his history, that Gregory of Tours was capable of appreciating the nobler and gentler qualities of our nature, we might easily imagine, as we read what he says of Clovis, that, Christian bishop as he was, he had an altogether different standard of right and wrong from ourselves. Not a single virtuous or generous action has the panegyrist found to record of his favored hero, while all that he does relate of him tends to deepen our conviction that this favorite of Heaven, in whose behalf miracles were freely worked, whom departed saints led on to victory, and living ministers of God delighted to honor, was quite a phenomenon of evil in the moral world, from his combining in himself the opposite and apparently incompatible vices of the meanest treachery, and the most audacious wickedness.

We can only account for this amazing obliquity of moral vision in such a man as Gregory, by ascribing it to the extraordinary value attached in those times (and would that we could say in those times only) to external acts of devotion, and to every service rendered to the Roman Church. If, in far happier ages than those of which we speak, the most polluted consciences have purchased consolation and even hope, by building churches, endowing monasteries, and paying reverential homage to the dispensers of God’s mercy, can we wonder that the extraordinary services of a Clovis to Catholic Christianity should cover even his foul sins as with a cloak of snow?

He had, indeed, without the slightest provocation, deprived a noble and peaceable neighbor of his power and life. He had treacherously murdered his royal kindred, and deprived their children of their birthright. He had on all occasions shown himself the heartless ruffian, the greedy conqueror, the blood­thirsty tyrant; but by his conversion he had led the Roman Church from the Scylla and Charybdis of Heresy and Paganism, planted it on a rock in the very centre of Europe, and fixed its doctrines and traditions in the hearts of the conquerors of the West.

Other reasons, again, may serve to reconcile the politician to his memory. The importance of the task which he performed (though from the basest motives), and the influence of his reign on the destinies of Europe can hardly be overrated. He founded the monarchy on a firm and enduring basis. He leveled, with a strong though bloody hand, the barriers which separated Franks from Franks, and consolidated a number of isolated and hostile tribes into a powerful and united nation. It is true, indeed, that this unity was soon disturbed by divisions of a different nature; yet the idea of its feasibility and desirableness was deeply fixed in the national mind; a return to it was often aimed at, and sometimes accomplished.





AD 511—561.



There can be no stronger evidence of the strength and consistency which the royal authority had attained in the hands of Clovis, than the peaceful and undisputed succession of his sons to the vacant throne. It would derogate from our opinion of the political sagacity of Clovis, were we to attribute to his personal wishes the partition of his kingdom among his four sons. We have no account, moreover, of any testamentary dispositions made by him to this effect, and are justified in concluding that the division took place in accordance with the general laws of inheritance which then prevailed among the Germans. However clearly he may have foreseen the disastrous consequences of destroying the unity which it had been one object of his life to effect, his posthumous influence would hardly have sufficed to reconcile his younger sons to their own exclusion, sup­ported as they would naturally be by the national sympathy in the unusual hardship of their lot.

Of the four sons of Clovis, Theoderic (Dietrich, Thierry), Clodomir, Childebert, and Clotar (Clotaire), the eldest, who was then probably about twenty-four years of age, was the son of an unknown mother, and the rest, the offspring of the Burgundian princess Clotilda. The first use they made of the royal power which had descended to them was to divide the empire into four parts; in which division, though Gregory describes them as sharing ‘aequa lance’, the eldest son appears to have had the lion’s share. We should in vain endeavor to understand the principles on which this partition was made, and it is no easy matter to mark the limits of the several kingdoms. Theodoric, King of Austrasia (or Metz), for example, obtained the whole of the Frankish territories which bordered on the Rhine, and also some provinces in the south of Gaul. His capital cities were Metz and Rheims, from the former of which his kingdom took its name. Clodomir had his residence at Orleans, Childebert at Paris, and Clotaire at Soissons; and these three cities were considered as the capitals of the three divisions of the empire over which they ruled.

The exact position and limits of their respective territories cannot be defined with any certainty, but we may fairly surmise, from the position of the towns above mentioned, that the middle part of Neustria belonged to the kingdom of Paris, the southern part to Orleans, and the north-eastern to Soissons.

The kingdom of Theodoric, as will be seen by a reference to the map, corresponded in a great measure with the region subsequently called Austrasia (Eastern Land) in contradistinction to Neustria, which included the more recently acquired possessions of the Franks. These terms are so frequently used in the subsequent history, and the distinction they denote was so strongly marked and has been so permanent, that an explanation of them cannot but be useful to the reader.

It is conjectured by Luden, with great probability, that the Ripuarians were originally called the Eastern people to distinguish them from the Salian Franks who lived to the west. But when the old home of the conquerors on the right bank of the Rhine was united with their new settlements in Gaul, the latter, as it would seem, were called Neustria or Neustrasia (New Lands); while the term Austrasia came to denote the original seats of the Franks, on what we now call the German bank of the Rhine. The most important difference between them (a difference so great as to lead to their permanent separation into the kingdoms of France and Germany by the treaty of Verdun) was this, that in Neustria the Frankish element was quickly absorbed by the mass of Gallo-Romanism by which it was surrounded; while in Austrasia, which included the ancient seats of the Frankish conquerors, the German element was wholly predominant.

The import of the word Austrasia (Austria, Austrifrancia) is very fluctuating. In its widest sense it was used to denote all the countries incorporated into the Frankish Empire, or even held in subjection to it, in which the German language and population prevailed; in this acceptation it included therefore the territory of the Alemanni, Bavarians, Thuringians, and even that of the Saxons and Frises. In its more common and proper sense it meant that part of the territory of the Franks themselves which was not included in Neustria. It was subdivided into Upper Austrasia on the Moselle, and Lower Austrasia on the Rhine and Meuse.

Neustria (or, in the fullness of the Monkish Latinity, Neustrasia) was bounded on the north by the ocean, on the south by the Loire, and on the south­west towards Burgundy by a line which, beginning below Gien on the Loire, ran through the rivers Loing and Yonne, not far from their sources, and passing north of Auxerre and south of Troyes, joined the river Aube above Arcis. The western boundary line again by which Neustria was separated from Austrasia, commencing at the river Aube, crossed the Marne to the east of Chateau Thierry, and passing through the rivers Aisne and Oise, and round the sources of the Somme, left Cambrai on the east, and reached the Scheldt, which it followed to its mouth.

The tide of conquest had not reached its height at the death of Clovis. Even in that marauding age the Franks were conspicuous among the German races for their love of warlike adventure; and the union of all their different tribes under one martial leader, who kept them almost perpetually in the field, gave them a strength which none of their neighbors were able to resist. The partition of the kingdom afforded indeed a favorable opportunity to the semi-dependent states of throwing off the yoke which Clovis had imposed; but neither the Burgundians nor the Visigoths were in a condition to make the attempt, and Theodoric, the powerful king of the Ostrogoths, was too much occupied by his quarrel with the Greek Emperor to take advantage of the death of Clovis. Under these circumstances the Franks, so far from losing ground, were enabled to extend the limits of their empire and more firmly to establish their supremacy.

The power of Theodoric the Great prevented Clovis from completing the conquest of Burgundy, and its rulers regained before his death a virtual independence of the Franks. The sons of Clovis only wanted a favorable opportunity for finishing the work which their father had begun, and for changing the merely nominal subjection of Burgundy into absolute dependence. And here again it was internal dissension which prepared the way for the admission of the foreign enemy.

Gundobald, King of Burgundy, died in 517, leaving two sons, Sigismund and Godomar, as joint successors to his throne. The former of these had married Ostrogotha, a daughter of Theodoric the Great, by whom he had one son, Sigeric. On the death of Ostrogotha, Sigismund took as his second wife a person of low and even menial condition, who pursued the son of the former queen with all the hatred popularly ascribed to stepmothers. Gregory relates that the boy increased the bitterness of her feelings against him by reproaching her for appearing on some solemn occasion in the robe and ornaments of his high-born mother. The new queen sought to revenge herself by exciting the jealousy of her husband against his son. She secretly accused Sigeric of engaging in a plot to obtain the crown for himself and represented him as having been moved to this dangerous and unnatural enterprise by the hopes he cherished of receiving aid from his mighty grandfather. This last suggestion found but too ready an entrance into the heart of Sigismund, and so completely poisoned for the time its natural springs, that he ordered Sigeric to be put to death. Inevitable remorse came quickly, yet too late, and the wretched king buried himself in the monastery of St. Maurice, and sought to atone for his fearful crime by saying masses day and night for the soul of his murdered son.

In the meantime Clotilda, the widow of Clovis, herself a Burgundian princess, who had lived in retirement at the church of St. Martin since her husband’s death, did all in her power to rouse her sons to take vengeance on her cousin Sigismund. It is difficult to conjecture the source of the feeling which thus disturbed her holy meditations in the cloisters of St. Martin’s, and filled her heart with schemes of revenge and bloodshed. We can hardly attribute her excitement on this occasion to a keen sense of the cruelty and injustice which Sigeric had suffered. The wife of Clovis must have been too well inured to treachery and blood to be greatly moved by the murder of her second cousin. Some writers have found sufficient explanation of her conduct in the fact that her own father and mother had been put to death in 492 by Gundobald, the father of Sigismund. But we know that when Gundobald was defeated by Clovis he obtained easy terms, nor was the murder of Clothilda’ parents brought against him on that occasion. It is not likely that a thirst for vengeance which such an injury might naturally excite, after remaining unslaked in the heart of Clothilda for nearly thirty years, should have revived with increased intensity on account of a murder committed by one of the hated race upon his own kinsman. A more probable motive is suggested by a passage in Gregory of Tours, in which he informs us that Theodoric of Metz had married Suavegotta a daughter of Sigismund of Burgundy. Theodoric, as we have said, was the eldest son of Clovis, by an unknown mother, and was evidently the most warlike and powerful of the four Frankish kings. A union between her stepson and the Burgundian dynasty might seem to Clotilda to threaten the welfare and safety of her own sons, to whom her summons to arms appears to have been most particularly addressed. Theodoric took no part in the present war; and on a subsequent occasion, when invited by Clodomir to join him in an expedition against the Burgundians, he positively refused.

The sons of Clotilda, happy in being able to obey their mother's wishes in a manner so gratifying to their own inclinations, made a combined attack upon Burgundy in 523. Sigismund and Godomar his brother, were defeated, and the former, having been given up to the conquerors by his own followers, was carried prisoner to Orleans; the latter escaped and assumed the reins of government in Burgundy. The Franks, like all barbarians of that age, found it more easy to conquer a province than to keep it. In the very same year, on the retreat of the Frankish army, Godomar was able to retake all the towns which had been surrendered to the Franks, and to possess himself of his late brother’s kingdom.

Clodomir renewed the invasion in the following year. Before his departure he determined to put the captive Sigismund, with his wife and children, to death; nor could the bold intercession of the Abbot Avitus, who threatened him with a like calamity, deter him from his bloody purpose. His answer to the abbot is highly naive. “It seems to me”, he said, “a foolish piece of advice to leave some enemies at home while I am marching against others, so that, with the former in the rear and the latter in front, I may rush between the two wedges of my enemies. Victory will be better and more easily obtained by separating one from the other”. In accordance with this better plan, he caused his captives to be put to death at Columna near Orleans, and thrown into a well. After thus securing “his rear”, he marched against the Burgundians. In the battle which took place on the plain of Veferonce near Vienne, Clodomir was deceived by a feigned retreat of the Burgundian army, and, having been carried in the impetuosity of his pursuit into the midst of the enemy, he was recognized by the royal length of his hair and slain on the field of battle.

The loss of their leader, however, instead of causing a panic among the Franks, inspired them with irresistible fury; they quickly routed the Burgundians, and, after devastating their country with indiscriminate slaughter, compelled them once more to submission. Yet it was not until after a third invasion that Burgundy was finally reduced to the condition of a Frankish province, and even then it retained its own laws and customs; the only marks of subjection consisting in an annual tribute and the liability to serve the Frankish king in his wars.

On the death of Clodomir, his territories were divided among the three remaining kings; and Clotaire, the youngest of them, married the widowed queen Guntheuca. The children of Clodomir, being still young, appear to have been taken no notice of in the partition: they found an asylum with their grandmother Clothilda.

While his half-brothers were enlarging the Frankish frontier towards the south-east, Theodoric, who had declined to join in the attack upon Burgundy, was directing his attention towards Thuringia, which he ultimately added to the kingdom of Austrasia. The accession of the Thuringians to the Frankish Empire was the more important because they inhabited those ancient seats from which the Franks themselves had gone forth to the conquest of Gaul, and because it served to give additional strength to the Austrasian kingdom, in which the German element prevailed.

The fall of Thuringia is traced by the historian to the ungovernable passions of one of the female sex, which plays so prominent a part in the history of these times.

About AD 528, this kingdom was governed by three princes, Baderic, Hermenfried and Berthar, the second of whom had the high honor, as it was naturally considered, of espousing Amalaberg, the niece of Theodoric the Great. The ‘happy Thuringia’, however, derived anything but advantage from the ‘inestimable treasure’ which, according to her uncle's account of her, it acquired in the Ostrogothic princess. This lady was not unconscious of the dignity she derived from her august relative, and fretted within the narrow limits of the fraction of a petty kingdom. Gregory tells us a singular story of the manner in which she marked her contempt of the possessions of her husband, and at the same time betrayed her ambitious desires. On returning home one day to a banquet, Hermenfried observed that a part of the table had no cloth upon it; and when he inquired of the queen the reason of this unusual state of things, she told him that it became a king who was despoiled of the centre of his kingdom to have the middle of his table bare. Excited by the suggestions of his queen, Hermenfried determined to destroy his brothers, and made secret overtures to Theoderic of Austrasia, to whom he promised a portion of his expected acquisitions on condition of receiving aid. Theodoric gladly consented, and, in conjunction with Hermenfried, defeated and slew both Baderic and Berthar (Werther).

A man who, to serve his ambition, had not shrunk from a double fratricide, was not likely to be very scrupulous in observing his engagements to a mere ally. He entirely forgot his promise to Theodoric and kept the whole of Thuringia to himself. He relied for impunity on his connection with the royal house of the Ostrogoths, his alliance with the Heruli and Warni, and the great increase of his strength in Thuringia itself. But with all these advantages he was no match for Theoderic of Austrasia and his warlike subjects. The death of the latter’s great namesake removed the only obstacle which had prevented the Franks from attacking Thuringia.

In 530 the Austrasian king summoned his war­like subjects to march against Hermenfried; and, in order to make the ground of quarrel as general as possible, he expatiated to them on some imaginary cruelties committed by the Thuringians upon their countrymen.

“Revenge”, said he, “I pray you, both the injury done to me, and the death of your own fathers; remembering that the Thuringians formerly fell with violence upon our ancestors, and inflicted many evils upon them, when they had given hostages and were desirous of making peace; but the Thuringians destroyed these hostages in various ways, and having invaded the territory of our forefathers, robbed them of all their property, hung up young men by the sinews of their legs, and destroyed more than 200 maidens by a most cruel death”. The enumeration of all these horrors ends with some degree of bathos: “But now Hermenfried has cheated me of what he promised”.

The Franks, who required no very powerful oratory to induce them to undertake an expedition in which there was prospect of plunder, unanimously declared for war; and Theodoric, in company with his son Theudebert and his brother Clotaire of Soissons, marched into Thuringia. The inhabitants endeavored to protect themselves from the superior cavalry of the invaders by a stratagem similar to that employed by Robert Bruce at Bannockburn, by digging small holes in front of their own line. They were, however, compelled to retreat to the river Unstrut in Saxon Prussia, where they made a stand, but were defeated with immense carnage, so that the river “was choked with dead bodies, which served as a bridge for the invaders”. The whole country was quickly reduced and permanently incorporated with Austrasia. And thus, after a long interval, the Franks repossessed themselves of the ancient homes of their tribe, and by one great victory established themselves in the very heart of Germany, which the Romans from the same quarter had often, but vainly, endeavored to do.

The growing separation between the German and Romance elements in the Frankish Empire, as represented by Theodoric, King of Metz, on the one side, and his half-brother, on the other, becomes more and more evident as our history proceeds. While the sons of Clothilda were associated in almost every undertaking, Theodoric frequently stood aloof, in a manner which shows that his connection with them was by no means of the same kind as theirs with each other. The conquest of the purely German Thuringia, was undertaken by Theodoric exclusively on his own account and in reliance on his own resources. Clotaire indeed accompanied him in his expedition against that country, but in all probability without any military force, nor does he appear to have put in any claim to a share of the conquered territory. The subjugation of Burgundy, on the other hand, in which the Romance language and manners had acquired the ascendancy, was the work of Clotaire and Childebert alone.

Theodoric was invited to join them, but refused on the ground of his connection with the King of Burgundy. Whatever may have been his reason for declining so tempting an invitation, it was certainly not want of support from his subjects, for we are told that they were highly irritated by his refusal, and mutinously declared that they would march without him. Yet he adhered to his determination not to join his brothers, and pacified the wrath of his soldiers by leading them against the Arverni, in whose country they committed the most frightful ravages, undismayed by several astounding miracles!

An inroad had been previously made upon the Arverni, by Childebert, while Theodoric was still in Thuringia. Childebert had suddenly broken off from the prosecution of this war, and turned his arms against Amalaric, King of the Visigoths, who still retained a portion of Southern Gaul. This monarch had married Clothildis, a daughter of Clovis, from motives of interest and dread of the Frankish power; but appears to have thrown aside his fears, and with them his conciliating policy, on the death of his great father-in-law. We are told that Clothildis suffered the greatest indignities at the hands of Amalaric and his Arian subjects for her faithful adherence to the Catholic Church. Where religious predilections are concerned, it is necessary to receive the accounts of the dealings between the Franks and their Arian neighbors with the utmost caution. Few will believe that the object of Childebert’s march was solely to avenge his sister’s wrongs; but the mention of them by the historian seems to indicate that the invasion was made in reliance upon Catholic support among the subjects of Amalaric himself. The sudden resolution of Childebert (taken probably on the receipt of important intelligence from the country of the Visigoths), the rapid progress and almost uniform success of the Franks, all point to the same conclusion, that the Catholic party in Southern Gaul was in secret understanding with the invaders. Amalaric was defeated and slain in the first encounter, and the whole of his Gallic possessions, with the exception of Septimania, was incorporated without further resistance with the Frankish Empire. The Visigoths, with their wives and children, retired into Spain under their new king Theudis.

Theoderic, King of Austrasia, died in 534, after having added largely to the Frankish dominions, and was succeeded by his son Theudebert. An attempt on the part of his uncles Childebert and Clotaire to deprive him of his kingdom and his life was frustrated by the fidelity of his Austrasian subjects. How venial and almost natural such a conspiracy appeared in that age, even to him who was to have been the victim of it, may be inferred from the fact that Theudebert and Childebert became soon afterwards close friends and allies. The latter, having no children, adopted his nephew, whose life he had so lately sought, as the heir to his dominions, and loaded him with the richest presents. In 537 these two princes made a combined attack upon Clotaire, who was only saved from destruction by the intercession of his mother. That pious princess passed a whole night in prayer at the sepulcher of St. Martin, and Gregory tells us that the result of her devotions—a miraculous shower of enormous hail­stones—brought his cruel kinsmen to reason!

The Empire of the Franks was soon after extended in a direction in which they had hitherto found an insurmountable barrier to their progress. On the death of Theodoric the Great, or, as he is called in song and legend, “Dietrich of Bern”, the scepter which he had borne with such grace and vigor passed into the hands of an infant and a woman. The young and beautiful Amalasuintha, daughter of Theodoric by the sister of Clovis, and widow of Eutharic, exercised the royal authority in the name of her son Athalaric; and when the latter, prematurely exhausted by vicious habits, followed his mighty grandfather to the grave in 532, she made Theodatus, son of Amalafrida, the sister of Theodoric, her associate in the royal power. The benefit was basely repaid. Theodatus procured the murder of the unhappy queen to whom he owed his advancement, and thus drew down upon himself and his country the vengeance of all who were desirous of dismembering the Empire of the Ostrogoths.

Religious animosities, which it had been the policy of the Arian but tolerant Theodoric to sooth by the even-handed justice of his administration, broke forth with destructive fury under his feeble successors. The Roman subjects of Theodoric’s empire had not lost the pride, although they had degenerated from the valor, of their ancestors, and had never ceased to think it shame and sin to be ruled by a barbarian monarch, and that monarch, too, a heretic. They would gladly have consented to forget their former jealousies, and to unite themselves with the Eastern Empire, especially when a temporary gleam of life was thrown over its corrupt and dying frame by the vigorous administration of Justinian. But, if it were the will of Heaven that they should yield to a new and more vigorous race, they wished at least to have an orthodox master, who would not merely protect their religious freedom, but agree with their theological opinions. Their choice therefore lay between Justinian and the Franks, who were ever watching their opportunity to turn the errors and divisions of their neighbors to their own account. Justinian was the first to move; and, under the pretext of avenging the death of Amalasuintha, he sent his celebrated general Belisarius to attack Theodatus. The Franks beheld with joy the approaching struggle between their two mightiest rivals, and prepared to take the advantageous position of umpires.

Both Justinian and Theodatus were aware that the Franks could turn the scale in favor of either party, and both made the greatest efforts to conciliate their aid. Justinian appealed to their natural enmity against heretics and Goths, but deemed it necessary to quicken their national and theological antipathies by a large present of money, and still larger promises. The Franks received the money and promised the desired assistance the more readily, as they felt themselves aggrieved by the murder of a niece of Clovis. Theodatus, on the other hand, hearing that Belisarius was already on his way to Sicily, endeavored to ward off the attack of the Franks by offering them the Gothic possessions in Gaul and 2000 pounds’ weight of gold. The Franks were dazzled by the splendor of the bribe, but Theodatus died before the bargain was completed. His general Vitisges, who was elected to succeed him, called a council of the chiefs of the Ostrogothic nation, and was strongly urged by them to fulfill the promises of Theodatus, and by sacrificing a portion of the empire to secure the rest. “In all other respects”, they said, “we are well prepared; but the Franks, our ancient enemies, are an obstacle in our path”.

The imminent peril in which Vitisges stood rendered the sacrifice inevitable, and the whole of the Ostrogothic possessions in Gaul which lay between the Rhone, the Alps, and the Mediterranean, as well as that part of Rhaetia which Theodoric the Great had given to the Alemanni after their defeat by Clovis, were transferred in full sovereignty to the Franks. The Merovingian kings, regardless of their former promises to Justinian, divided the land and money among themselves and promised their venal but efficient support to the king of Italy. They stipulated, however, out of delicacy to the Greek Emperor, that they should not march in person against Belisarius, but should be allowed to send the subject Burgundians, or at all events to permit them to go. This seasonable reinforcement enabled the Ostrogoths to sack and plunder Milan, in which exploit they received the willing assistance of the Burgundians.

In the following year, 539, Theudebert himself, excited perhaps by the alluring accounts he had heard of the booty taken by his subjects in Italy, marched across the Alps at the head of 100,000 men. Vitisges and his Goths had every reason to suppose that Theudebert came to succor them, but Belisarius on his part hoped much from the long feud between Goth and Frank. Theudebert determined in his own way to be impartial. He had promised to aid both parties, and he had promised to make war on both; and he kept his word by attacking both, driving them from the field of battle, and plundering their camps with the greatest impartiality. A letter of remonstrance from Belisarius would probably have had little weight in inducing Theudebert to return, as he did soon afterwards, had it not been backed by the murmurs of the Franks themselves, who were suffering from an insufficient supply of food, and had lost nearly one third of their numbers by dysentery.

Though our principal attention will be directed to the actions of the Austrasian king, we may briefly refer in this place to a hostile incursion into Spain, made by Childebert and Clotaire, in 542. On this occasion the town of Saragossa is represented by Gregory as having been taken, not by the sword and battle-axe of the Franks, but by the holy tunic of St. Vincentius, borne by an army of women, clothed in black mantles, with their hair disheveled and sprinkled with penitential ashes. The heretical Goths no sooner caught sight of the tunic, and heard the first notes of the holy hymns which were sung by the female besiegers, than they fled in terror from their city, and left it to be plundered by the advancing Franks.

As the object of this invasion was simply predatory, the Franks soon after retired into Gaul with immense booty, and the Goths resumed possession of their devastated country.

While Italy was distracted by war, and with diffi­culty defending itself from the attacks of Belisarius, Theudebert took possession of several towns which bordered upon Burgundy and Rhaetia. Bucelinus, the Duke of Alemannia, who fought in the army of Theudebert, is said by Gregory to have conquered Lesser Italy, by which he no doubt meant Liguria and Venetia. These provinces were added to the Frankish dominions, the Ostrogoths only retaining Brescia and Verona.

The cession of territory made to the Franks by Vitisges as described above, was ratified by the Emperor Justinian; and, as a further proof of the growing influence of the Merovingian kings, we may state, that in 540 they presided at the games which were celebrated in the circus of Aries, and caused coins of gold to be struck, bearing their own image instead of that of the Roman em­peror.



It is about this period that the Bavarians first become known in history as tributaries of the Franks; but at what time they became so is matter of dispute. From the previous silence of the annalists respecting this people, we may perhaps infer that both they and the Swabians remained independent until the fall of the Ostrogothic Empire in Italy. The Gothic dominions were bounded on the north by Rhaetia and Noricum; and between these countries and the Thuringians, who lived still further to the north, was the country of the Bavarians and Swabians. Thuringia had long been possessed by the Franks, Rhaetia was ceded by Vitisges, King of Italy, and Venetia was conquered by Theudebert. The Bavarians ere therefore, at this period, almost entirely surrounded by the Frankish territories, in which position, considering the relative strength of either party, and the aggressive and unscrupulous spirit of the stronger, it was not possible that the weaker should preserve its independence. Whenever they may have first submitted to the yoke, it is certain that at the time of Theudebert’s death, or shortly after that event, both Bavarians and Swabians (or Alemannians), had become subjects of the Merovingian kings. And thus, in the middle of the sixth century, and only sixty years from the time when Clovis sallied forth from his petty principality to attack Syagrius, the Frankish kingdom attained to its utmost territorial greatness, and was bounded by the Pyrenees and the Alps on the south, and on the north by the Saxons, more impassable than either.

Theudebert died in A.D. 547 and was succeeded by his son Theodebald, a sickly and weak-spirited boy, of whose brief and inglorious reign there is little to relate. He died in A.D. 553, of some disease inherent in his constitution, leaving no children behind him. His kingdom therefore reverted to his great uncles Childebert and Clotaire, the former of whom was a feeble and childless old man, while the latter, to use the language of Agathias, “had only contracted his first wrinkles”, and was blessed with four high-spirited and warlike sons. Under these circumstances, Clotaire considered it safe to claim the whole of his deceased nephew’s kingdom; and declared that it was useless to divide it with Childebert, whose own possessions must shortly fall to himself and his sons. To strengthen his claims still further, he married Vultetrada, the widow of Theodebald and daughter of Wacho, king of the Longobards. For some reason or other (but hardly from their objection to polygamy, since Clotaire had actually had at least five wives, not all of whom could be dead), the Christian bishops strongly opposed this marriage. It is not improbable that the fear of false doctrine may have influenced them more than the dread of immorality, and that their opposition in this case, as in many subsequent ones, was founded upon the fact that the new queen belonged to an Arian family.

In the same year in which Theodebald died, Clotaire, King of Soissons, was involved in serious hostilities with the Saxons, the only German tribe whom the Franks could neither conquer nor overawe. In AD 555, when forced into a battle with the Saxons at Deutz, by the overweening confidence of his followers, who even threatened him with death in case of noncompliance, he received a decisive and bloody defeat, and the Saxons freed themselves from a small tribute, which they had hitherto paid to the Austrasians. The kindred Merovingians never lost an opportunity of injuring one another, and Childebert, taking advantage of his brother’s distress, not only urged on the Saxons to repeat their incursions, but harbored and made common cause with Chramnus, the rebellious and exiled son of Clotaire. The war which was thus begun, continued till the death of Childebert in AD 558, when Clotaire took immediate possession of the kingdom of Paris.

Chramnus, having lost his powerful ally, was obliged to submit, and appears to have been in some sort forgiven. In a short time, however, he revolted again, and fled for refuge to Chonober, Count of the Britons, who, since their voluntary submission to Clovis, had remained in a state of semidependence on the Franks. Chonober received him with open arms, and raised an army to support his cause, forgetful, or regardless, of the obedience which he nominally owed to the Frankish king. Conscious of his inability to meet Clotaire in the open field, he proposed to Chramnus that they should attack his father in the night. To this, however, the rebellious son, half repentant perhaps, “virtute Dei proeventus” would by no means consent. Chonober had gone too far to recede, even had he wished to do so, and on the following morning the two armies engaged.



Clotaire, though cruel and licentious, even for a Merovingian, was evidently a favorite of Gregory of Tours, who represents him as marching to meet his son like another David against another Absalom. “Look down”, he prayed, “O Lord, from heaven, and judge my cause, for I am undeservedly suffering wrong at the hands of my son; pass the same judgment as of old between Absalom and his father David”. “Therefore”, continues the historian, “when the armies met, the Count of the Britons turned and fled, and was killed upon the field of battle”. Chramnus had prepared vessels to escape by sea; but in the delay occasioned by his desire to save his family he was overtaken by the troops of Clotaire, and, by his father’s orders, was burned alive with wife and children.

The perusal of that part of Gregory’s great work, from which we are now quoting, affords us another curious insight into the condition of the Christian Church in an age which some are found to look back to as one of peculiar purity and zeal. The historian has related to us in full and precise terms the several enormities of which Clotaire was guilty; how he slew with his own hand the children of his brother, in the presence of the weeping Clothildis, and under circumstances of peculiar atrocity; how he forced the wives of murdered kings into a hateful alliance with himself; how he not only put his own son to a cruel death, but extended his infernal malice to the latter unoffending wife and children. And yet the learned, and, as we have reason to believe, exemplary bishop of the Christian Church, in the very same chapter in which he relates the death of Chramnus, represents the monster as having gained a victory by the special aid of God! In the following chapter, he also relates to us the manner in which Clotaire made his peace with heaven before his death.

In the fifty-first year of his reign, he sought the threshold of the blessed Martin of Tours, bringing with him many gifts. Having approached the sepulcher of a certain priest, he made a full confession of “the acts of negligence” of which he had, perhaps, been guilty, and prayed with many groans that the blessed confessor would procure him the mercy of the Lord, and by his intercession obliterate the memory of all that he had done irrationally. He died of a fever at Compiegne in AD 561.

At the death of Childebert, in AD 558, Clotaire had become sole monarch of the Franks and Lord paramount of the several affiliated and dependent states, which, though subject to his military ban, maintained themselves in a great degree of independence of action, and required the constant application of force to keep them to their allegiance. This union of so vast an empire under a single head, the result of accidental circumstances conspiring to favor the efforts of personal ambition, was of no long continuance. Its importance to the nation at large was little understood, and the equal claim of all the sons in a family to succeed to the dignity, and share the possessions of the father was, as we have said, founded on the general customs of the nation.





A.D. 561-613



At the death of Clotaire, his vast empire was divided among his four sons in such a manner that two of them inherited kingdoms in which the population was chiefly German, and the other two received the states in which the Romance element very greatly predominated. Charibert succeeded to the kingdom of Paris, formerly held by Childebert; Guntram to that of Orleans with Burgundy, the former portion of Chlodomir; Chilperic, who at his father’s death had seized the royal treasures and endeavored to take possession of the whole empire, was compelled to rest satisfied with Soissons; and Sigebert received Austrasia, the least attractive and civilized, but certainly the soundest and most powerful division of the empire. His capital was Rheims or Metz.

The first-mentioned of these princes (Charibert), who is personally remarkable for little else than the number of his wives, is interesting to us as the father of Bertha or Adalberga, who married and converted Ethelbert, the King of Kent. Charibert died in A.D. 567; and when his dominions were partitioned among his three brothers, Sigebert received that portion which was most purely German in its population, and thus united all the German provinces under one head. It was agreed on this occasion that Paris, which was rising into great importance, should be held in common by all, but visited by none of the three kings without the consent of the others. Almost immediately after his accession to the throne of Rheims (or Metz), Sigebert, the most warlike of the three brothers, was obliged to lead his Franks into action with the Avars or Huns, who in A.D. 562 endeavored to force their way into Gaul. They appear to have ascended by the Danube; but leaving that river, they marched towards the Elbe, and fell with great fury upon Thuringia. It was on the latter river that Sigebert engaged and defeated them. In A.D. 566, they renewed their attacks, and, according to Gregory, deceived the Franks with magic arts and delusive appearances, by which we may be permitted to understand some kind of military stratagem. Whether by fair means or by foul, the Franks were defeated, and their brave leader fell into the hands of the enemy. He succeeded, however, in purchasing his own freedom and a lasting peace.

Sigebert seems also to have come into conflict with those universal troublers of the peace of Europe, the marauding Danes and Saxons. Reference is made by the poet Fortunatus to a victory gained over this people by Sigebert’s general Lupus, who is said to have driven them from the Wupper to the Lahn. The few records we possess of these encounters are, however, far too meager to afford us the means of watching the struggle with these new and terrible enemies.

Though Sigebert was an active and warlike prince, his name is far less prominent in the succeeding history than that of his queen Brunhilda,—a woman renowned for her beauty, talents, birth, and commanding influence, for the long and successful struggle carried on with her perfidious rival Fredegunda, and no less so for her intrigues, her extraordinary adventures, the cruel insults to which she was subjected at the hands of her enemies, and lastly for her most horrible death. Sigebert sought her hand from an honorable motive, and there was nothing in the auspices which attended her union with him which could have prepared her for a long life of unceasing conflict and suffering, and a painful and ignominious end.

The rude and violent character displayed by so many successive generations of the Merovingian race, the bloody feuds and unbridled licentiousness which disgraced their courts, had caused their alliance to be shunned by the more civilized rulers of the other leading German tribes. The practice of polygamy, common among the Frankish kings, also tended to diminish both the honor and advantage of an alliance with them. Charibert, as we have seen, chose several wives during his brief reign, from among the lowest of his people. The Franks themselves at last became impatient of the disgrace which was brought upon their nation by the low amours of their monarchs and the vulgar brawls of their plebeian consorts. It was from a desire to gratify his people, as well as his own better taste, that Sigebert looked abroad among the families of contemporary sovereigns for a partner worthy of his throne. Having made his choice, he sent ambassadors to the court of Athanagild, King of the Visigoths in Spain, and demanded his daughter Bruna in marriage.

Athanagild, fearing perhaps the consequences of a refusal, agreed to the proposed alliance, and sent back his daughter to Sigebert, with the ambassadors, whom he loaded with presents for his future son-in-law. The name of the bride was changed to Brunhilda on the occasion of her marriage. The graces of her person, the great and highly cultivated powers of her mind, are celebrated by all who have occasion to mention her in her earlier years. Gregory of Tours, in particular, speaks of her in glowing terms, describing her as a maiden of elegant accomplishments, of charming aspect, honorable and decorous in her character and manners, wise in counsel, and bland in speech. She belonged indeed to an Arian house, but quickly yielded to the preaching of the Catholic clergy, and the exhortations of her royal spouse. This noble and beautiful woman became one of the leading spirits in an age of intrigue and blood, and is charged by her enemies with having instigated so many murders as to have fulfilled the prophecy of Sibylla: “Bruna shall come from the parts of Spain, before whose face many nations shall perish”.


Her equally celebrated rival Fredegunda, the wife of Chilperic, rose to her lofty station from a very different sphere. The great éclat which attended the nuptials of Sigebert excited the emulation of Chilperic, the King of Soissons, who knew his own vile character so little as to suppose that he could live happily with one virtuous and high-born queen. He also sent ambassadors to the Visigothic court, and claimed the hand of Galsuintha, the sister of Brunhilda, solemnly engaging to dismiss his other wives and concubines, and to treat her as became her origin and character. To the great grief of the Royal maiden and her mother (for the worthlessness of Chilperic was known), his suit was successful; and the unwilling bride departed, with terrible forebodings and amid the lamentations of her family, to the court of her barbarous husband.

The principal among the concubines of Chilperic, was Fredegunda, a woman of the meanest birth, but fair, ingenious, and skilled in meretricious arts. For a short time she was thrown into the shade by the arrival of the royal bride; but having already supplanted a former queen of Chilperic’s, named Andovera, whose servant she had been, she did not despair of making the lascivious king forget his good intentions and his solemn vows.

Galsuintha, who had none of the terrible energy which distinguished her sister, was rendered so unhappy by the persecution of her victorious rival and the open infidelity of her husband, that she begged to be allowed to return to her old home and affectionate parents, offering at the same time to leave behind her the treasures she had brought. The king, who was not prepared for so open an exposure of his perfidy, temporized, and endeavored to soothe her. Whatever feeble emotions of repentance he may have felt were soon effaced by the suggestion of the fiendish spirit in whose power he was; and after a few days Galsuintha was strangled in her bed, by the command, or at least with the permission, of her husband. That no circumstance of atrocity might be wanting to this transaction, Chilperic publicly married Fredegunda a few days after the murder, to the great scandal of his subjects. This event, which took place about AD 567, confirmed and deepened the enmity which already existed between Sigebert and his brother, and kindled in the bosom of Brunhilda that feverish longing for revenge which poisoned her naturally noble nature, and spread its deadly influence over the whole of her subsequent career.



At the time when Austrasia was hard pressed by the invading Huns, Chilperic had embraced the opportunity of seizing Rheims and other towns in the kingdom of Sigebert. The latter, however, no sooner found his hands at liberty, than he attacked and defeated the army of his brother, regained the captured towns, and made Chilperic’s own son a prisoner. A hollow truce was then concluded, and the captive prince was restored to his father, enriched with gifts by his placable and generous uncle, who only stipulated that he should not bear arms against his liberator. But Chilperic was one of those natures which know no ties but the bonds of appetite and lust, and was as incapable of acknowledging an obligation as of keeping an oath.

We are told that in consequence of the foul murder of the Visigothic princess and the disgraceful union with the suspected murderess, Chilperic was driven from the throne of Soissons. We may infer from this that the war which began between the brothers, on his restoration, was the result, in part at least, of the enmity of the rival queens. The immediate cause of the renewal of the conflict was an attack made by Chilperic upon Poitou and Touraine, which had fallen to Sigebert on the death of Charibert. It was a great object with the contending parties to secure the co-operation of Guntram, King of Burgundy, who, though inferior to the others in power, could throw a decisive weight into either scale. The great superiority of the Austrasian army lay in its exclusively German character. Sigebert drew together large forces on the right bank of the Rhine from Suabia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Thuringia, and, evidently mistrusting Guntram, marched to the Seine, and threatened the Burgundians with the whole weight of his resentment should they refuse him a passage through their country. Chilperic on his part pointed out to the King of Burgundy the danger of allowing a “rude and heathen people” to enter the civilized and Christian Gaul. So marked had the distinctions between the population of Austrasia and that of the rest of the Frankish Empire become, that they regarded each other as aliens.

But if external civilization was on the side of Neustria and Burgundy, the strength and marrow of the Franks was represented by Sigebert and his Austrasians; and when the latter, more Germanorum, asked his perfidious enemy to fix a time and place for the battle, Chilperic sued for peace, and obtained it on condition of surrendering Poitou, Touraine, Limoges, and Quercy. He was also compelled to recall his son Theudebert, whom, in utter disregard of the promise made to Sigebert, he had sent with an army into Aquitaine.

In A.D. 575 Chilperic, incited as is supposed by the unsleeping malice of Fredegunda, and smarting under his recent loss of territory, determined once more to try the fortune of war against his generous conqueror. On this occasion he succeeded in persuading Guntram into an alliance against Sigebert, whom he called “our enemy”. Theudebert was sent with an army across the Loire, while Chilperic himself fell upon Champagne. The King of Burgundy appears to have given little more than his sympathy to the Romano-Gallic cause, and soon saw cogent reasons for concluding a separate peace with the Austrasians. The campaign ended as usual in the entire discomfiture of Chilperic, whose Frankish subjects, tired of following a treacherous and, still worse, an unsuccessful leader, offered the kingdom of Soissons to Sigebert, and actually raised him on the shield, and proclaimed him king at Vitry. The result of this election would appear to show that it was only the work of a party, perhaps the Austrasian or German party, against the wishes of the great mass of the nation. Chilperic in the meantime was closely besieged by Sigebert’s troops at Tournai, and everything seemed to threaten his utter downfall, when he was saved by the same bloody hand which had often led him into crime and danger. Fredegunda, maddened at the spectacle of her most hated foes sitting on the throne of her husband, and receiving the homage of those whom she herself had virtually ruled, sent two hired assassins to Vitry. Under the pretence of holding a secret conference with Sigebert, they gained access to his person, and stabbed him in the side with their knives. Thus died the warlike and high-minded King of Austrasia in A.D. 575. It is evident that the Neustrians were not sincere when they offered the crown to Sigebert, and that Fredegunda reckoned on the support at all events of the Gallo-Romans. The daggers of her myrmidons did the work of many victories. No inquiry appears to have been instituted to discover the originators of the crime; and Chilperic and his queen, instead of suffering in public opinion or incurring the vengeance of Sigebert’s former friends, appear to have been released by this foul deed from the most imminent peril, and at once to have regained their power.

No sooner had Sigebert fallen under the knives of Fredegunda’s assassins than Chilperic despatched messengers to his friends at Paris to secure the persons of Brunhilda and her son and daughter, who were residing at that city. In the consternation and confusion consequent on Sigebert’s sudden and unexpected death, no open resistance was offered by Brunhilda’s partisans, and she and her whole family were thrown into close confinement. Childebert, however, the heir to Sigebert’s crown, at this time about five years old, was saved by the fidelity and vigour of Gundobald, Duke of Campania, who caused him to be let down from the window of his prison in a sack, and escaped with him to Metz, where he was immediately pro­claimed king by the Austrasian seigniors. Chilperic himself appeared in Paris soon afterwards, and sent Brunhilda to Rouen and her daughter to Meaux, and kept them both under strict surveillance.

In order still further to improve the opportunity afforded by the removal of Sigebert, Chilperic sent part of his army under Roccolenus against Tours, which was speedily taken; and another division under his son Meroveus against Poitou.

The latter expedition terminated in a very unexpected manner. Meroveus was little inclined to carry out any designs of his stepmother, Fredegunda, whom he hated, and least of all to the injury of Brunhilda, to whose extraordinary personal charms and varied accomplishments, to which even bishops were not insensible, his heart had fallen a captive. Instead of executing his father’s orders at Poitou, he hastened to Rouen, and offered his hand in marriage to Brunhilda, whose forlorn condition inclined her to accept the homage and assistance thus proffered from the camp of her enemies. This strange turn of affairs appears greatly to have alarmed Fredegunda and Chilperic, who followed so quickly on the steps of his rebellious son, that the latter had barely time to escape into asylum in the church of St. Martin at Rouen; from which he could not be persuaded to come out until security was granted for his own life and that of Brunhilda. Chilperic, it is said, received them kindly, and invited them to his table. Meroveus was then transferred to Soissons, and carefully guarded; while Brunhilda, whether from a passing emotion of generosity in Chilperic’s mind or the fear of Guntram, who had espoused his nephew’s cause, was set at liberty and returned to Metz.

Whatever motives led to her liberation, it was not likely to be accepted by Brunhilda as a compensation for the murder of one husband and the imprisonment of another. Her first act after joining her son at Metz was to dispatch an army to Soissons, which in the first instance had nearly taken Fredegunda prisoner, but was afterwards defeated by the Neustrians; the latter, in their turn, received a check from the forces of Guntram, and retreated with a loss of 20,000 men.



Meroveus, in the meantime, was shorn of his royal locks and compelled to become a monk. In A.D. 577, he succeeded in escaping to the court of Brunhilda at Metz; but, though the queen received him gladly, he was compelled by a powerful faction of the Australian nobility, who were in close correspondence with Fredegunda, to quit the dominions of Childebert. After various adventures, he is said to have sought death at the hands of a faithful servant, to avoid falling into the power of his own father. Gregory of Tours, though he does not speak decidedly, evidently believes that he was treacherously ensnared by Egidius, Bishop of Rheims, Guntram-Boso, and other bitter enemies of Brunhilda, and murdered at the instigation of Fredegunda.

Nothing in the history of the joint reigns of Sigebert, Chilperic, and Guntram is more astonishing and perplexing to the reader, than the suddenness with which they form and dissolve alliances with one another,—the fickleness of their mutual friendships, and the placability of their enmities. Within the space often years we find Guntram and Childebert in league against Chilperic, Chilperic and Childebert against Guntram, and Guntram and Chilperic against Childebert; and the parts were changed more than once in this short period. After a bloody war with his nephew Childebert, the Burgundian king adopts him as heir to all his dominions. After protecting the same nephew and his mother Brunhilda against Fredegunda, the same Guntram defends Fredegunda against Childebert, and stands godfather to her son Clotaire, in utter defiance of the entreaties and threats of his adopted successor. At the death of Chilperic, too, no one wept more bitterly for his loss than his brother Guntram, though the greater part of their active manhood had been spent in plundering and laying waste each other’s towns and fields. “I am weary”, says Gregory of Tours, when speaking of the events which followed the death of Sigebert, “of relating the changeful events of the civil wars that wasted the Frankish nation and kingdoms, and in which, we behold the time predicted by our Lord as the ‘beginning of sorrows’, when ‘the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child’,” &c.

Yet it would be wrong to ascribe the internecine wars by which the Frankish Empire was harassed and wasted, solely or even chiefly to the covetousness, ambition, or malice of the brother kings; they were owing in a still greater degree to the intrigues of the rival queens, whose hatred never changed and never slept,—to the endless feuds of the factious seigniors against each other, and their constant endeavors, as individuals and as a class, to make themselves independent of the crown. Similar causes produced similar results in our own history during the wars of the Roses, to which, in their general characteristics, the struggles of which we have now to speak bear no small analogy.

One of the principal objects of Fredegunda in the persecution and murder of Meroveus—though his love for Brunhilda was alone sufficient to rouse her rival’s deadliest hatred—was to bring her own children nearer to the throne. This cherished purpose was signally and terribly frustrated. A fatal epidemic which raged in AD 580 through nearly the whole of Gaul, after attacking Chilperic himself, carried off both the sons whom Fredegunda had borne to him. The only symptoms of the better feelings of our nature recorded of Fredegunda were called forth, as might be expected, by this event. The death of her children touched the heart and stirred the conscience of this perjured, bloody-minded adulteress, who through life had been steeped in crime to the very lips. She called upon her husband to recognize with her the chastening hand of an offended God. She even sought, by burning the lists of those whom she had marked out as objects for an arbitrary and grinding taxation, to appease the wrath of Heaven. “Often”, she said to Chilperic, “has God afflicted us with fevers, and other mis­fortunes, but no amendment on our part has followed. Lo! now we have lost our children! The tears of the poor, the lamentations of the widow, have destroyed them”. Her repentance, however, soon gave way before her more habitual feelings. Clovis, the son of Chilperic’s first queen or concubine, Andovera, alone remained as heir to the Neustrian throne. Unable to endure the thought that others might cherish hopes which she herself had lost, Fredegunda accused this prince of having poisoned her children; and having induced the weak and wicked Chilperic to imprison him, she soon afterwards caused him to be murdered, together with Andovera herself.

Guntram of Burgundy, as we have seen, aided in establishing Childebert on his father’s throne; and in A.D. 576 checked the victorious advance of Chilperic’s troops. But in A.D. 581 the party of Austrasian seigniors which was favorable to the Neustrian alliance,—chiefly in consequence of their enmity to Brunhilda—obtained the upper hand, and induced or forced their young king to ally himself with Chilperic against Burgundy. As the price of this alliance—and he did nothing without being richly paid for it—Chilperic was allowed to take possession of Senlis, Poitou, and Meaux, while Childebert was amused with the shadowy prospect of succeeding to the kingdom of Paris. At the head of the faction above referred to, were Bishop Egidius, and the Dukes Ursio and Bertefried, the political and personal enemies of Brunhilda. The queen was ably though unsuccessfully supported by Duke Lupus, whose steady attachment to his royal mistress’s cause, even to his own destruction, inclines us to give more than usual credit to the eulogies of Fortunatus.

The anarchy into which the state had fallen after the death of Sigebert, the pride and insolence of the seigniors, and the rancorous feelings with which they regarded Brunhilda are portrayed in vivid colors in the pages of Gregory. “Lupus, Duke of Campania”, he says, “had for a long time been persecuted and plundered by his adversaries, especially by the two powerful dukes Ursio and Bertefried, who, determined to take his life, marched against him with an armed band of followers. Brunhilda, being informed of their intentions, and moved with pity by the persecutions to which her faithful adherent was subjected, rushed forth in male attire between the ranks of the enemy, crying out, ‘Refrain, refrain, from this evil deed, and do not persecute the innocent. Do not, on account of one man, commence a conflict by which the welfare of the country may be destroyed”. Ursio insolently answered the temperate words of the mother of his king : “Depart from us, 0 woman! Be content to have possessed the royal power under your husband. Your son now reigns, and his kingdom is preserved, not by your guardianship, but by ours. Retire from us, lest the hoofs of our horses should trample you under foot”.

In A.D. 583 Guntram found it necessary to sue for peace, and was obliged, in order to gain it, to leave his brother Chilperic in possession of all the territory he had conquered in the course of the war. In the same year, however, an attempt of the Burgundians to recover that part of Marseilles of which the Austrasians were in possession afforded Egidius an opportunity of forming a fresh alliance between Childebert and Chilperic; and he himself headed an embassy to the Neustrian court with this object. Chilperic gladly accepted his nephew’s overtures, and prepared to attack Guntram. The fortune of war, however, which had hitherto enabled him to make large additions to his own territory at the expense of his kinsmen, now deserted him. He besieged Bourges without success. His general Desiderius was beaten by the Burgundians; and when Chilperic hastened in person to meet his brother in the field, he suffered a reverse which greatly cooled his warlike and predatory ardor. Nor were his allies at all inclined to help him out of his difficulties. The great body of the Austrasians, and a party even among the seigniors, were averse to an alliance with Chilperic and Fredegunda, the real object of which they believed to be the increase of Neustrian—in other words Roman—influence in their own government. On the news of Chilperic’s discomfiture a violent mutiny broke out in the army of Childebert against the authors of the war, and especially against Egidius, who narrowly escaped the fury of the soldiers by the fleetness of his horse, leaving one of his slippers on the road in the hurry of his flight.

Brunhilda for the time regained her ascendancy; and Chilperic expecting, as a matter of course, to see his late enemy and his late ally unite for his destruction, made great preparations to meet them. The looked for attack was not made, but in the same year Chilperic himself died, or, as Gregory has it, “poured forth his wicked spirit” beneath the hand of an assassin, named Falca, as he was riding through a forest in the neighborhood of Paris.

Gregory of Tours appears to be ignorant of the instigators and perpetrators of this crime; but, according to a romantic story, the minuteness of which is very suspicious, Chilperic fell a victim to the treachery of her for whose sake he had dared and sinned so much. Among the numerous lovers of Fredegunda was the Majordomos Laudericus, whose intimate relation to his queen was accidentally discovered by Chilperic while on a hunting expedition at Chelles. Fredegunda quieted the fears of her lover by promising to send murderers to attack her husband as he was dismounting from his horse; which was done accordingly.

Brunhilda, very naturally, wished to take the opportunity afforded by Chilperic’s death of making reprisals in the enemy’s country, and of avenging herself on her implacable and now widowed rival Fredegunda. But Guntram, who had good reasons for desiring that neither Austrasia nor Neustria should become too powerful, came forward on this occasion to protect one, whom at another time he had called “the enemy of God and man”. Shortly before Chilperic’s death (in A.D. 584) Fredegunda had borne a son, whom, though the popular voice assigned him another father, Chilperic appears to have acknowledged as his heir. Her first endeavor therefore was to induce her brother-in-law to act as sponsor to this child, by which she thought that both his legitimacy would be established and his succession to the throne secured. Guntram did actually proceed, in the Christmas of A.D. 585, from Orleans to Paris, to fulfill her wishes in this respect. But, according to Gregory’s account, when Guntram was prepared to take part in the ceremony, the child was not forthcoming. Three times was the Burgundian king summoned to be present at the baptism of Clotaire, and three times was he obliged to leave Paris, without seeing his intended godchild; and under these circumstances he thought himself justified in suspecting the infant king’s legitimacy. As he uttered in the most public manner his complaints of Fredegunda’s conduct, and his unfavorable impressions concerning the child, the queen, in the presence of three bishops, three hundred of the chief men in her kingdom, and probably of the King of Burgundy himself, solemnly swore that Clotaire was the son of Chilperic. Yet Guntram’s suspicions were not altogether laid to rest, nor was the child baptized before A.D. 591. He immediately, however, assumed the office of the young king's guardian and administrator of the kingdom, and occupied Paris with his troops. Childebert, who hastened too late in the same direction, though grievously disappoint at the turn which things had taken, still hoped to induce his uncle to share the spoil that fortune had thrown in their way, and sent an embassy to Paris, which had become the Neustrian capital. He reminded Guntram through these envoys how much they had both suffered from the rapacity of Chilperic, and urged him at least to lend his aid in demanding back all that had been unjustly and violently taken from them. But Fredegunda in the meantime had not been idle. She had disclosed to Guntram the terms of a treaty which had no long time before been made between the seigniors of Childebert and the seigniors of Chilperic for the partition of Burgundy. He knew therefore the degree of confidence which could be placed in his nephew’s ambassadors. He was able to display before their astonished eyes the very document which proved them to be traitors to their own master, to himself, and in fact to the whole Merovingian Dynasty. They were dismissed with a decided refusal. Childebert sent the same persons back again to Paris to demand that “the murderess of his father, uncle, aunt”, and others, should be delivered up to him for punishment. To this message Guntram replied with more respect, but still refused compliance; declaring his intention of referring the matter to a grand council to be held at Paris. In the meantime Clotaire was proclaimed king, probably at Vitry.

The relations between Childebert and his uncle now became unfriendly, and actual hostilities were commenced, which appear to have resulted unfavorably for the former. The council which Guntram had summoned for A.D. 585 was eagerly looked forward to; and when it met, Egidius, Guntram-Boso, Sigewald and others,—who were now well known to be plotting the downfall of their own sovereign and of the King of Burgundy, and whose real object was to separate them as widely as possible,—appeared as the representatives of Childebert. They demanded, as before, the restoration of the territories which had belonged to Charibert, and the punishment of Fredegunda for her numerous crimes. As both parties had determined on their course beforehand, the discussion between Guntram and the Australian envoys soon degenerated into altercation and abuse; and when the latter left the court with threats of vengeance, the enraged king ordered them to be pelted with horse-dung, musty hay, and mud.

Fredegunda underwent a mock trial on this occasion, and was of coarse acquitted. Though the suspicions of the whole assembly rested on herself, she was asked to name the person whom she believed to be the murderer of her husband. She fixed on Chilperic’s chamberlain Eberulf, out of revenge, as Gregory tells us, because he had refused to live with her. The unhappy man escaped into sanctuary for a time, but was subsequently seized and put to death by order of Guntram.

It became evident at this time to the astute Burgundian, for reasons which we shall proceed to explain, that nothing but a real, hearty, and lasting alliance between himself and Childebert could save them from falling a prey to the machinations of the turbulent and aspiring seigniors.

The period at which we have now arrived is remarkable in Frankish history as that in which the rising Aristocracy began to try its strength against the Monarchy. The royal power of the Merovingians, forced, as will be seen hereafter, into rapid growth by peculiarly favorable circumstances, culminated in the joint reigns of Chilperic, Guntram, and Sigebert. The accumulation of property in the hands of a few, as described in a subsequent chapter, and the consequent loss of independence by the great mass of the poorer freemen, were fatal to the stability of the Merovingian throne. A privileged and powerful order of nobility was in process of formation, and was at this time strong enough to wage a doubtful war against both king and people. The latter were on the side of the monarchy; and, had the reins of government remained in able and energetic hands, the loyalty of the commons might have sustained the throne against all the attacks to which it was subjected. The murder of Sigebert had an extraordinary effect on the position of the contending parties, and did much to accelerate the downfall of the successors of Clovis.

The enemies of Sigebert’s infant successor were those of his own household, the great landowners, the dignified clergy, the high officials of the kingdom, who seized the opportunity—afforded by the minority of the crown—of taking the entire administration into their own hands. The chief opponent of their wishes, by whose extraordinary vigour the downfall of the throne was retarded, though not prevented, was the widow of the murdered king, Brunhilda. The misfortunes and sufferings of her checquered life, and the horrible death by which it was closed, were mainly owing to the intense hatred she excited by her opposition to the ambitious designs of the seigniors.



The deeply rooted attachment of the people to the long-haired Salian kings rendered it dangerous for any party, however powerful, to pursue openly their designs against the monarchy; and we find that in all the rebellions which broke out at this period, the malcontents were headed by some real or pretended scion of the Merovingian stock. The plan so frequently adopted by aristocracies in their struggle with royalty, of setting up a pretender to the crown, was resorted to during the minority of Sigebert’s son, Childebert II, and not without effect. The person fixed on this occasion was generally known by the name of Gundobald, though King Guntram asserted that his real name was Ballomer, and that he was the son of a miller or a woolcomber. The account which Gregory of Tours gives of him is interesting, and inspires a doubt, to say the least, whether he was not really, as he assumed to be, the son of Clotaire I by one of his numerous mistresses. The historian relates that Gundobald was born in Gaul, and carefully brought up according to the customs of the Merovingian family. His hair was allowed to grow long, as a mark of his royal descent; and, after he had received a literal education, he was presented by his mother to king Childebert I, with these words: “Behold, here is your nephew, the son of King Clotaire. Since he is hated by his father, do you receive him, for he is your flesh and blood”. Childebert, who was childless, received him kindly; but when Clotaire heard of it, he sent for the youth, and declaring that he had “never begotten him”, ordered him to be shorn.

After the death of Clotaire I, Gundobald was patronized by King Charibert. Sigebert, however, once more cut off his hair, and sent him into custody at Cologne. Escaping from that place, and allowing his hair to grow long again, Gundobald took refuge with the imperial general Narses, who then commanded in Italy. There he married and had children, and went subsequently to Constantinople, where, as it would appear, he was received by the Greek Emperor with every mark of respect and friendship. He was then, according to his own account, invited by Guntram-Boso to come to Gaul, and, having landed at Marseilles, was received by Bishop Theodore and the Patrician Mummolus.

Such was the person fixed on by the mutinous grandees of Austrasia as a tool for the furtherance of their designs against the monarchy. Nor could they have found one better suited to their purpose. It is evident in the first place that he was himself fully persuaded of the justice of his own claims; a conviction which gave him a greater power of inspiring faith in others than the most consummate art. He was entirely dependent on the aid of the rebellious nobles for his chance of success, and would therefore, had he succeeded in effecting his purpose, have been bound by gratitude, as well as forced by circumstances, to consult the interests of those who had raised him to the throne. The fact of his residence at Constantinople, and the sanction of his claims by the Greek Emperor, were not without their weight. The prestige of the Roman Empire, as we observed above, had not yet entirely perished, nor had the Franks altogether ceased to look on Rome and Constantinople as the great fountains of power and honor. The nobles indeed intended that no one should really rule but themselves; but as they could not do so in their own names, nothing would better have suited their views than to have a puppet king in nominal allegiance to a weak and distant emperor. Under such circumstances they alone, in the utter decay of the old German freedom and the popular institutions in which it lived, would have become possessors of the substantial power of the empire.

The cause of Gundobald was much aided by the miserable jealousies existing between the different Frankish kings, who, instead of uniting their forces against their common enemy—the rising aristocracy—were eager to employ the pretender as a weapon of annoyance against each other.

Among the chief actors in this conspiracy—though a secret one—was Guntram-Boso, a man whom Gregory quaintly describes as too much addicted to perjury; so that he never took an oath to any of his friends which he did not afterwards break. “In other respects”, adds the historian, he was “sane bonus!” Gundobald relates, with every appearance of probability, that he met with Guntram-Boso while at Constantinople,—that the wily plotter informed him that the race of the Merovingians consisted of only three persons, Guntram of Burgundy, and his two Nephews (Childebert II, and the little son of Chilperic), and invited him to Gaul with the assurance that he was eagerly expected by all the Australian magnates. “I gave him”, says Gundobald, “magnificent presents, and he swore at twelve holy places that I might safely go to Gaul”.

On his arrival at Marseilles in AD 582, Gundobald was received by Bishop Theodore, who furnished him with horses, and by the Patrician Mummolus, whose conduct in withdrawing from the Burgundian court, and throwing himself with all his followers and treasures into the fortress of Avignon, had excited the suspicions of King Guntram. 

Gundobald joined him in that place, and was there besieged by the very man who had first invited him to Gaul, viz. Guntram-Boso. This double traitor had endeavored to keep his treachery out of sight, and to stand well with both parties, until fortune should point out the stronger. His namesake Guntram of Burgundy, however, was not deceived, and took an opportunity of seizing Boso on his return from a journey to the court of Childebert. The Burgundian king openly charged him with having invited Gundobald to Gaul, and having gone to Constantinople for that very purpose. It now became necessary for Boso to take a decided part; and, as the king would listen to no mere protestations, he offered to leave his son as a hostage, and himself to lead an army to attack Mummolus and Gundobald in Avignon. The Pretender and the Patrician, however, defended themselves with so much skill and courage, that Guntram-Boso, with all his now sincere endeavors to storm the town, could make no progress; and the siege was, singularly enough, raised by the troops of king Childebert II.

This extraordinary interference of the youthful King of Austrasia in behalf of a pretender to his own crown, can hardly receive a satisfactory explanation; and the historian Gregory himself throws no light upon the mystery. It is not impossible that the Austrasian magnates, who were almost all more or less interested in the success of the conspiracy, may have blinded both the king and his mother Brunhilda to the real objects of Gundobald; and we see that any one of the royal kinsmen would have gladly aided Gundobald, if they could have been sure that his claims were confined to the throne of his neighbors. The want of common action between the courts became still more evident in the sequel, and, but for the wisdom and vigour of Guntram, would have proved the ruin of the whole royal house.

The murder of Chilperic in AD 584 renewed the hopes of Gundobald and his friends, by inflicting upon Neustria the same evils of a minority from which Austrasia had already suffered so severely.

A numerous party, including many of the ablest and boldest of the Austrasian seigniors, were openly or secretly attached to the Pretender's cause. He had gained possession of Angouleme, Perigord, Toulouse, and Bordeaux; and at Christmas AD 584 he was even raised on the shield at Brives (in Correze), and saluted with the royal title. The Burgundian king now plainly saw that not only the throne of Childebert, but the whole Merovingian Dynasty, and even Monarchy itself, were at stake, and that, if the suicidal feud between himself and his nephew continued much longer, the success of the Pretender was by no means an improbable result. His first object, therefore, was to conciliate Childebert, and to lessen the influence which Brunhilda, on the one hand, and the great party of Austrasian nobles, who secretly favored Gundobald, on the other, had hitherto exercised over his young and inexperienced mind. Fortune threw in Guntram’s way the means of accomplishing his purpose. Since the death of Chilperic, and the acquittal of Fredegunda which had so greatly offended Brunhilda and her son, the cause of the Pretender was evidently prospering, and the greater part of the Austrasian seigniors were only waiting for a fair assurance of success to declare themselves openly in his favor.

In AD 535 Gundobald was in a position to send to Guntram regular ambassadors, furnished, after the Frankish custom, with consecrated rods in token of inviolability, to demand of him a portion of the kingdom of their common father Clotaire. “Should this be refused”, they said, “Gundobald will invade these territories with a large army; for all the bravest men in Gaul beyond the Dordogne are in league with him”. “And then”, added Gundobald, by the mouth of his messengers, “when we meet on the field of battle, will God decide whether I am Clotaire’s son or not”.

Guntram, who was no less bold than cunning, and by no means scrupulous, put the envoys of Gundobald to the torture, and made them confess in their agony that all the grandees of Childebert’s kingdom were in secret understanding with the Pretender, and that Guntram-Boso had gone to Constantinople to invite him into Gaul. Nothing could be more opportune for Guntram’s purposes than this confession. He immediately reported it to his nephew, and begged him to come and hear it repeated by the unhappy envoys themselves. Childebert agreed to the proposed meeting, and heard, to his astonishment, the confirmation of his subjects’ treachery. With a well-timed generosity, Guntram not only gave up all the points on which he and Childebert had been divided, and restored important possessions to the Austrasian crown, but presented his nephew to the Burgundian people and army, as the future heir of his throne. Placing his spear, one of the ensigns of Frankish royalty, in the hand of the young king, “This”, said he, “is a sign that I have delivered my whole kingdom into your hands. Depart hence, and bring all my dominions under your sway, as if they were your own”.

In a private conference he gave his nephew sound advice with respect to the choice of counselors, warning him more particularly against Egidius, the traitorous bishop of Rheims, and against Brunhilda, his own mother. He also begged him to hold no communication of any kind with Gundobald.

This alliance was felt by the conspirators to be fatal to their cause. Many immediately deserted Gundobald, and those who still remained about his person, the chief of whom were Bishop Sagittarius, Dukes Mummolus and Bladastes, and Waddo the Majordomus, fled with him to a town called Convene, strongly situated on an isolated hill in the Pyrenees. The army of Guntram under Leudegisil, soon attacked the place with newly-constructed military engines, but with so little success, that, after a siege of some weeks, they found it necessary to offer terms to Mummolus and the other leaders, on condition of their betraying Gundobald. To this proposal no objection was raised by the conspirators, who thought only of their own safety.

They went to the unhappy Pretender, and advised him to throw himself on his brother’s mercy, by whom they assured him he would be well received. Gundobald was not deceived by their specious representations: bursting into tears, he said, “By your invitation I came into Gaul; but of my treasures, in which there is an immense weight of silver and gold and various costly rings, part is kept at Avignon and part has been stolen by Guntram-Boso. Next to God, I have based all my hopes upon you, and have always expected to reign by your means. If ye have spoken falsely to me now, make up your account with God, for He himself shall judge my cause”. Mummolus assured him with an oath that he should take no harm, and persuaded him to leave the city, at the gate of which, he told him, brave men were waiting to receive him. He was then handed over to Olio, Count of Bourges, and Guntram-Boso, who murdered him in cold blood as he descended the precipitous hill on which the city stood. The besieging army was soon after admitted into the town, the inhabitants were put to the sword, and even the priests were slain at the altars.

Nor did the traitors, who sought their own safety by sacrificing the victim of their arts, escape the punishment they deserved. Guntram paid no attention to the terms of their surrender, or the promise of pardon held out to them, but ordered them all to be put to death. Bishop Sagittarius and Mummolus suffered at once; the others met their fate at a later period.

We have thought it worthwhile to give a more detailed account of this conspiracy, because it was one of the most remarkable attempts of the nascent aristocracy to bring the crown into subserviency to themselves—an object in which, at a subsequent period, they fully succeeded. The account, too, of these transactions, as it stands in the pages of Gregory, gives us an insight into the state of society in that turbulent and chaotic period, when the bands of society were loosed, and treachery and violence were resorted to even by those who were engaged to a certain degree on the side of justice and legal authority. The degradation of the Church and its ministers is also brought painfully before us in the history of these times. Priests and bishops are among the conspirators, the perjurors, and the murderers; and so completely lose their sacerdotal character in the eyes both of king and people, that they are condemned to death by the one, and slaughtered at their altars by the other.

For the moment the cause of royalty was triumphant, and Brunhilda was enabled openly to take upon herself the guardianship of her still youthful son, and the administration of his kingdom. The spectacle of a woman reigning—and that woman Brunhilda, the energetic champion of royalty— soon gave rise to a renewal of the struggle in which she was engaged until her death.

Not more than two years after the death of Gundobald, the Austrasian and Neustrian nobles united in a new conspiracy, the object of which was to put Childebert to death, to deprive Guntram of his kingdom, and to place the infant sons of the former on the vacant thrones of Australia and Burgundy. The seigniors sought in fact to hasten that minority of the crown which afterwards occurred, and proved so advantageous to their cause. This fresh attempt was headed by RauchingUrsio, and Bertefried (of whom we have spoken above), who intended to share the chief authority among themselves, under the pretence of administering the kingdom for the sons of Childebert. The increasing power of Brunhilda, and her well-known desire of revenging the insults she had received at their hands, served to quicken their movements, and drove them prematurely into rebellion. In this case, too, a pretence of hereditary claims was set up, Rauching having given out that he also was a son of Clotaire. But the watchfulness of Guntram, who employed their own treacherous arts against themselves, completely frustrated their designs.

As soon as he had received secret intelligence of the plans of the conspirators, he sent a letter of warning to his nephew, who ordered Rauching to be summoned to the court, and had him killed as he left the royal chamber, where he had been received with treacherous kindness. The rebels appointed a new leader, but were unable to make head against Childebert’s army. Ursio and Bertefried were defeated and slain; Guntram-Boso also, who groveled at the feet of Brunhilda with the most abject entreaties for his life, received at last the reward of his crimes. The house in which he had taken refuge with Magneric, Bishop of Treves, as set on fire by the order of King Guntram, and as he sought to escape, he was pierced by such a shower of javelins that his body stood erect, supported by the bristling shafts. Egidius alone con­trived to buy impunity for his treason with costly presents.

It was the fear of this new conspiracy of the seigniors that induced Guntram to draw still closer the bonds of amity and common interest which had of late united him to his nephew Childebert. In AD 587 they met again at Anlau (Andely, near Chaumont), to which place the young king, who was then seventeen years old, brought his mother Brunhilda, his sister Chlodosuinth, his wife Faileuba, and two sons. After settling the long-pending disputes respecting the territory of Charibert, and other debatable points, the two monarchs and Brunhilda en­tered into a solemn compact of alliance and friendship.

The rebellious seigniors were for the time completely tamed by these numerous defeats and losses; and both Guntram and Childebert ruled their dominions, and disposed of the great offices of the State, with absolute authority. Summary punishment was inflicted on several of the rebellious seigniors, and especially on Ursio and Bertefried, who had made themselves conspicuous by their rancorous opposition to Brunhilda.

We return from the foregoing digression to the death of Chilperic, who fell, as we have seen, by the hand of an assassin in the forest of Chelles, in AD 584.


The Prince who thus miserably ended his life, though enslaved by his passions and unbridled lusts to a faithless and cruel woman, was not altogether wanting in qualities which, if well directed, might have procured for him a more honorable memory. From the ecclesiastical historians, indeed, he meets with little quarter; yet even their strongly biassed account of him shows that he possessed a more original and cultivated intellect than was common among the princes of his time. The bitter denunciations of Gregory of Tours are evidently prompted by personal feelings, which it will not be difficult in some degree to account for. Mild and forgiving as we have found the historian to be in his judgment of monsters like Clovis and Clotaire, we cannot but read with astonish­ment the unmeasured terms of invective with which he speaks of Chilperic; especially as it was open to him, had he been charitably inclined, to have ascribed the majority of his evil deeds to the influence of Fredegunda. He calls him “the Nero and Herod of our times”, and says that he devastated whole regions with fire and sword, and derived the same pleasure from the misery he caused as Nero from the flames of Rome. “He was given up to gluttony”, continues Gregory, “and his god was his belly; yet he maintained that no one was wiser than himself, and composed two books, in which he took the poet Sedulius as his model. His feeble verses accorded with no measure, since, from want of understanding, he put shorts for longs, and longs for shorts. He also wrote other works, as hymns and masses”.

The unpopularity of Chilperic among the ecclesiastical historians proceeded not entirely from the cruelty and lasciviousness of his character, but in a greater degree, perhaps, from the fact that he failed in the respect which the clergy exacted from the laity, and that he meddled with theological questions. Gregory himself came several times into direct collision with Chilperic, and certainly did not conceal his displeasure at the conduct and opinions of the king. “Against no one”, says Gregory, “did he direct so much ridicule and so many jokes, in his private hours, as the bishops; one of them he called proud, another frivolous, another luxurious—hating nothing so much as the churches. For he frequently said, 'Lo! our treasury remains empty. Lo! Our wealth is transferred to the churches. None really reign but the bishops”.

Contemptuously as the historian speaks of his royal master’s prosody, and his other literary labors, it is evident from Gregory’s own pages that Chilperic was possessed of considerable erudition for the age in which he lived. Amongst other things, he added four new letters to the alphabet, and gave orders that they should be taught to the children throughout the kingdom, and that all ancient manuscripts should be rewritten in accordance with the new system. When Gregory himself was charged with treason, and of having accused the queen of committing adultery with the Archbishop of Bordeaux, the king addressed the council in such a manner, “that all admired his wisdom and patience”.

Chilperic has been compared to Henry VIII of England, to whom, in many points of his character and life, he certainly bore a very remarkable resemblance. Like Henry, Chilperic, notwithstanding his cruelty, was evidently not unpopular with the great mass of his subjects. The Frankish king had indeed only three wives, and was directly concerned in the death of only one; but, like his English brother, he was eminently lascivious; and no one inferior in personal and mental gifts to Fredegunda, or less deeply versed in meretricious arts, could have retained so long a hold upon his affections. Both kings were sensible to mental as well as sensual pleasures, and desirous of literary fame. Though they lived in the daily violation of God’s law and every principle of our Redeemer’s religion, they were both extremely concerned about the purity of Christian doctrines, and wrote works in support of their opinions. The theological career of our own king is well known to have been a most successful one. He made himself for the time the fountain of pure doctrine as well as honor, and those who differed from him had the fear of Smithfield before their eyes. It was far otherwise with the Frankish king, who lived in a very different age. Chilperic wrote a work upon the Trinity, from Gregory’s description of which it would seem that the king was inclined to the Sabellian heresy. He denied the distinction of persons in the Godhead, and declared that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were the same person. He was naturally desirous of having his doctrines preached throughout his dominions; and after causing his dissertations to be read to Gregory of Tours, he said, “Thus I wish that you and the other teachers of the Church should believe”. The bishop, however, on this as on many other occasions, steadily resisted the king, and endeavored to confute him by argument. The king angrily declared that he would explain the matter to wiser men, who would, no doubt, agree with him. On which the bishop, with a freedom which is hardly consistent with his description of Chilperic as the Nero and Herod of his age, replied, “It will never be a wise man, but a fool, who is willing to assent to your proposition”. A few days afterwards, the king explained his opinions to Salvius, Bishop of Alby, who, so for from giving them a more favorable reception, declared that if he could but lay hands on the paper in which those writings were contained, he would tear them in pieces. “And so”, adds the historian, “the king desisted from his intentions”.

So powerful, brave, and turbulent a nation as the Franks could not remain long without making their influence felt beyond the limits of their own country; and the state of Italy and the Eastern Empire was eminently favorable to their aggressive tendencies. About three years before the Treaty of Anlau, the Greek emperor, Maurice, being hard pressed in Italy by the Arian Longobards, applied for aid to the Franks, as the most orthodox and powerful of all the German tribes. He knew them too well, however, to rely solely on their theological predilections, and offered them 50,000 solidi if they would cross the Alps and come to his assistance, which they readily promised to do.

There is something very exciting to the imagination in the account of the relation and intercourse between the pompous, formal, verbose, and over-civilized Byzantine emperors—with their high-sounding but unmeaning titles,—and the “rough and ready” kings of the Franks, whose actual power was far greater than its external insignia announced. Childebert addressed the gorgeous but feeble mon­arch whom he is called upon to save from a kindred tribe of Germans, as “Dominus gloriosus ac semper Augustus”. In still loftier style does the Greek emperor speak of himself, in the commencement of his letters, as “Imperator Caesar Flavius Mauritius Tiberius, Fidelis in ChristoMansuetus, Maximus, BeneficusPacificusAllemanicus, Gothicus, AnticusVandalicusErulicusGepidicus, Africanus, Felix, Inclitus, Victor ac Triumphator semper Augustus”, while Childebert is simply addressed “Childeberto viro glorioso regi Francorum”. Yet the position of these sublime Greek potentates was such that they were compelled to lean for support on a prop they affected to despise. The policy they were pursuing, in thus calling a warlike, ambitious, and unscrupulous people into Italy, was a critical one; but they had sufficient grounds for preferring the alliance of the Franks to that of the Lombards, both in the common Catholicity of the former, and in their distance from the imperial dominions, which made both their friendship and their enmity less dangerous.

In AD 584, when he was not above fourteen years of age, Childebert proceeded to perform his part in the contract with the Emperor Maurice, and led an army across the Alps with the intention of attacking the Longobards. The latter were no match for the Franks; nor did they imagine themselves to be so. They saw at once that they could only avoid destruction by bending to the storm, and disarming hostility by complete submission. Childebert and his followers were plied with magnificent gifts, to which the Franks, like all half-civilized nations, were peculiarly susceptible; and not only refrained from doing any injury to the Longobards, but contracted a friendly alliance with them. The Emperor Maurice heard, to his astonishment, that the Franks had retired into Gaul without striking a blow, enriched by presents from both parties. Incensed at their treachery, he applied for restitution of the 50,000 solidi paid in advance for the expulsion of the Longobards. To this application Childebert returned no answer at all,—a course which, under the circumstances, was perhaps not the worst he could have taken. In the following year, however, the Austrasian king, who was quite impartial in his bad faith, sent word to the emperor, that he was now ready to perform his promise. Accordingly, after a vain attempt to induce his uncle Guntram to take part in the expedition, he advanced alone against his newly-made friends, the Longobards, from whom he had so lately parted in perfect amity. The latter, however, far from giving themselves up to fancied security, had spent the interval in preparing for the attack of their venal and fickle friends. The Franks, on the other hand, had fallen into the error of despising an enemy who had so unresistingly yielded to them in the former year. They advanced with confidence into Italy, hoping, perhaps, to return as before laden with the price of their forbearance—but they were miserably deceived.

On their approach, King Autharis and his Longobards advanced to meet them in good order and with great alacrity, and gave the overconfident Austrasians a bloody and decisive defeat.

A fresh invasion of Italy by the Franks took place in AD 590, when Childebert is said to have sent twenty generals at the head of as many divisions of his army. Yet even this great effort, though at first apparently successful, was without any lasting results. After the greater part of the invading force had perished by famine and dysentery, a peace was made through the good offices of King Guntram, who had wisely kept himself aloof. In the same year in which this peace was concluded, Autharis, King of the Longobards, died, and was succeeded by Agilulf, whom the nation placed upon the throne on his marriage with the widowed Queen Theudelinda. The new king lost no time in confirming the treaty which his predecessor had made; and sent ambassadors for that purpose to the Austrasian court; directing them also to restore some captives whom Brunhilda had ransomed with her own money.


A considerable time elapsed before the Franks were again in a condition to carry on a distant war; but their attention was never afterwards wholly withdrawn from Italy—a land whose beauty has in all times roused the lust of conquest. They instinctively felt that it would not be safe to allow that country to fall under the dominion of the Greek emperors, whose traditions prompted them to constant efforts to change their empty titles into the realities of universal empire.

At the death of his uncle Guntram, in April AD 593, Childebert succeeded to the kingdom of Burgundy, according to the above-mentioned Treaty of Anlau. This new accession of territory appears to have awakened in him the desire and hope of obtaining the sole sovereignty of the Frankish empire; for we find him almost immediately afterwards attacking his cousin Clotaire II. His attempt to seize the city of Soissons was foiled by the skill and conduct of Fredegunda. A bloody engagement soon afterwards ensued between the two youthful kings, at the head of their respective forces, in which 30,000 men are said to have fallen without any decisive result.

The last great military event of the reign of Childebert was the defeat and almost complete destruction of the Varni; who, according to some accounts, lived among the Thuringians, but whom Procopius represents as inhabiting the country lying between the Elbe and the Rhine. In AD 595 they rebelled against the Franks, and received so terrible a chastisement, that from this time forward they altogether disappear from history.

In the following year Childebert died, at the age of twenty-six, by poison, together with his wife Faileuba. His elder son, Theudebert, though of illegitimate birth, succeeded peaceably to the kingdom of Austrasia; while Theoderic, the younger, who was but nine years old, received Burgundy and some territories hitherto attached to Austrasia, viz., Alsace, the Sundgau (about the sources of the Meuse), the Tulgau (about Toul and Bar le Duc), and part of Champagne, with Orleans as his capital. And thus, by a singular dispensation of Providence, Brunhilda, the guardian of the infant kings, became once more virtual ruler of the greater part of the Frankish Empire, while Neustria was still under the influence of her implacable enemy and hated rival Fredegunda. Brunhilda took up her residence at Metz, intrusting the administration of Burgundy to her friends.

Under such auspices, it was not likely that the two kingdoms should remain long at peace. Both sides prepared for war, and a great battle is said to have been fought at Latofaus (Liffou), which has been variously placed on the Seine in the diocese of Sens, and on the Meuse at Neufchateau, in the province of Lorraine. The battle was fierce and bloody, and, though not very decisive, appears to have been favorable to the Neustrians. But the hopes of triumph and long-desired vengeance which may have been kindled thereby in the bosom of Fredegunda were now chilled forever by the hand of death. In a.d. 597, her envious and restless spirit, which through life had been excited and tortured by every violent and wicked passion, was for the first time laid to rest.

Of the beauty, talent, and extraordinary energy of this remarkable woman, there can be no doubt; but if we are to believe one half the stories which her contemporary, Gregory of Tours, relates of her—as it were incidentally, and without any appearance of antipathy or passion—we must ascribe to Fredegunda a character unsurpassed by either sex in the annals of the world for cruelty and baseness.

In such a character, the sins which would consign the generality of women to infamy—incontinence before marriage and tenfold adultery after it—appear but trifling: we are astonished to find a touch even of guilty tenderness in a heart so black and stony. By the sacrifice of her honor to the irregular passions of Chilperic, she rose, if we may call it so, from the obscure position in which she was born, and gained an entrance into the palace. Through the blood of the ill-fated Galsuintha, Brunhilda’s sister, she waded to the throne. Having induced Chilperic—who, whatever he was to others, was certainly a gracious king and loving husband to her—to murder his royal bride, and publicly marry herself, she was continually at his ear suggesting and urging the commission of the crimes which have branded his name with infamy.

Her whole life, after her elevation to the throne, appears to have been passed in planning and executing murder. We have seen the means by which she succeeded in removing Sigebert from her path; and both Brunhilda and her children were the con­stant object of her secret machinations. In AD 584, when she was at the village of Rueil, grieved at the growing power of Brunhilda, “to whom she considered herself superior”, she sent a confidential priest to her with instructions to represent himself as a fugitive from the Neustrian court, and, after ingratiating himself with his intended victim, to take an opportunity of killing her. This artful scheme was nearly successful; but the intended assassin was accidentally detected, and dismissed to his patroness with no other punishment than a richly-deserved flagellation. Fredegunda, however, when she heard that his mission had failed, fully made up for the clemency of Brunhilda by ordering his hands and feet to be cut off.

In the following year she renewed her attempts, and prepared two knives, which she dipped in deadly poison and gave to two priests, with these instructions: “Take these weapons, and go with all possible speed to King Childebert, pretending that you are mendicants: and when you have thrown yourselves at his feet, as if demanding alms, stab him in both his sides, that Brunhilda, whose pride is founded upon him, may at length fall with him and be subordinate to me; but if there is so strong a guard about the boy that you cannot approach him, then kill my enemy herself”. Notwithstanding the great promises she made to themselves, should they escape, and to their families if they died in the attempt, the priests “began to tremble, thinking it very difficult to fulfill her commands”. Fredegunda then primed them with an intoxicating potion, under the influence of which they promised ail that she desired. She also gave them some of the liquor to take with them, directing them to use it just before the commission of the murder.

But it was not merely against what we may call her natural enemies that her murderous arts were directed. We have seen that she was charged with being the murderess of her husband; and though this may be doubtful, yet she certainly compassed the murder of Clovis, her stepson, by inventing the most horrible calumnies against him; and she endeavored to kill her own daughter Rigunthis, by forcing down the lid of an iron chest upon her neck. Her mode of settling a dispute, according to Gregory’s account, has in it something almost comically cruel. A feud having arisen between two families in Tournai, in consequence of an unfortunate matrimonial alliance, the contending parties were frequently admonished by Fredegunda to desist from their contention and live in concord. When her exhortations proved fruitless, she adopted a more effectual means of pacifying them. “Having invited a great number of persons to a banquet, she caused the three who were principally concerned in the feud to occupy the same couch at the table. When the feast had been prolonged till night­fall, the table was removed, according to the Frankish custom, and the three guests reclined on the seat on which they had been placed. Their servants as well as themselves had drunk to excess, and were sleeping wherever they happened to fall. Three men armed with axes were then placed behind the couch, and the three occupants struck dead by simultaneous blows”.

Her last crime appears to have been the murder of Pretextatus, Bishop of Rouen, who, on one occasion, sharply rebuked her for her evil life, and exhorted her to repentance and amendment. The Queen withdrew felle fervens and procured his murder on Easter Sunday, AD 590, when he was struck down by an assassin while engaged in the duties of his office. No sooner had he been removed, mortally wounded, to his bed, than Fredegunda came to visit him with hypocritical promises to avenge his death, if she could discover the murderer. But the bishop was not deceived, and when the treacherous queen begged permission to send a skilful physician to his aid, he replied, “God hath already ordered me to be summoned from the world; but thou who art found out to be the principal actor in these evil deeds wilt be accused for ever, and God will visit my blood upon your head”.

This daring as well as dreadful deed excited great indignation among the Frankish seigniors; and one of them, who was bold enough to denounce Fredegunda to her face and to threaten her with the consequences, was soon afterwards taken off by poison.

To say that she committed many other murders, which want of opportunity and power alone prevented her from doubling; that she brought false accusations against all who displeased her; that she ground the poor with intolerable taxes; that she attempted the life of her benefactor Guntram, who foolishly and wickedly maintained her cause when she was most in need of his assistance—will scarcely add one shade to the blackness of the character we have attempted to portray. A moiety of her crimes would be sufficient to stamp her as the Messalina and the Borgia of her age.


The traitorous faction of Austrasian seigniors, though for the time kept down by the vigour of Brunhilda and the prudence of Guntram, had never ceased from their intrigues, and succeeded at last, in AD 599, in persuading the youthful Theudebert to banish his grandmother from his court. The persecuted queen, like another Lear, took refuge with her other grandchild, Theoderic of Burgundy, and was courteously received by him. It is a remarkable fact, and speaks well for the young kings, and still better for the aged Brunhilda, that no breach of friendly intercourse between the two courts took place in consequence of this event.

The unity of the Frankish kings generally showed itself in joint undertakings against their neighbors. Theudebert and Theoderic manifested their mutual affection by attacking their cousin Clotaire, in AD 600, with their united forces; and they deprived him of all his dominions with the exception of the country which lies between the Seine, the Isere, and the ocean. They also directed their arms against the Wascones (or Gascons), a Spanish people living in the Pyrenees, whom the nature of their country and their own love of freedom had enabled to remain independent of the Gothic conquerors. We mention them here because we shall meet with them again in the time of Charlemagne himself, in whose history they play no unimportant part. These expeditions seem to prove that the warlike spirit of Clovis had not yet died out of his descendants, though the physical deterioration of the race had already proceeded to a great length.

Theudebert, who had banished his grandmother, and put his wife Bilichildis to death, that he might marry another woman, is described as being naturally a cruel prince; while the faults of Theoderic are ascribed to the evil counsels and influence of Brunhilda. She is accused of having prevented the young king from marrying, and of encouraging him in a course of vicious indulgences, in order to retain her influence at his court. Whether in consequence of the machinations of Brunhilda, or his own preference for promiscuous concubinage, it is certain that an attempt which the king made to live in lawful wedlock signally failed. In AD 607 he formed an alliance with Hermenberga, daughter of Viteric, king of the Spanish Visigoths, but sent her back into Spain within the year of their marriage despoiled of the treasures she had brought into Gaul. The young king’s conduct on this occasion, though quite in accordance with his character and habits, is ascribed to the influence of Brunhilda, who is represented as having purposely rendered Hermenberga odious in the eyes of her husband, that she might retain the position of which a lawful and beloved wife must inevitably deprive her. Without at all intending to exculpate Brunhilda from the sin of ambition and the lust of power (and without power, be it observed, her life would not have been safe for a moment), we confess that we receive with great suspicion all that the works of Fredegar and the other historici contain respecting her. No one can read these writers without observing the hostile spirit in which they speak of her, and the satisfaction they derived from minutely detailing all that can redound to her disadvantage. This malevolent spirit is the more remarkable when we compare the passages in which the rival queens are spoken of; for notwithstanding the extraordinary baseness of Fredegunda, she appears to be viewed by the historians with almost an indulgent feeling.

The expulsion of Brunhilda by the King of Austrasia and her favorable reception by his brother was followed, as we have seen, by no immediate breach of their good understanding.

Yet directly differences arose between them, they were ascribed to their unfortunate grandmother! Whatever part she may have played in the ensuing tragedy, it is plain that the main cause of their hostility was, as usual, mutual jealousy and covetousness. The ceded territory in Alsace and Lorraine, which Theudebert now wished to reunite to Austrasia, became an apple of discord between the brothers. Theoderic was compelled by a sudden inroad of the Austrasians to yield to their demands in AD 610; in revenge for which he spread a report that Theudebert was not the real son of Childebert, but a changeling. He also bought the neutrality of Clotaire, who was not ill-pleased to see his rivals exhausting themselves in their efforts to destroy one another. He then boldly marched into Austrasia, and was met by Theudebert at the head of all his forces in the neighborhood of Tull (or Toul), not far from Langres in Champagne. Theudebert was defeated in a great battle which ensued, and fled through the Vosges mountains to Cologne. He was quickly followed by his brother, who resolving, in accordance with the advice of Leonisius, Bishop of Mayence, “beatus et Apostolicus” to destroy him utterly, led his forces through the forest of Ardenne and took post at Zülpich. Theudebert, meanwhile, well aware that he could hope nothing even from entire submission, collected his scattered powers, and, having received reinforcements from the Saxon Thuringians, determined to hazard another battle. The conflict was long and doubtful, and bloody beyond the measure even of Frankish contests. Yet we can hardly receive literally the turgid expressions of Fredegar, who relates that the slaughter was so great, that the dying could not fall to the ground, but were propped up in an erect position between the heaps of slain. Theoderic, “Domino proecedente” was again victorious; and having taken his brother captive, and stripped him of all the insignia of royalty, sent him to Chalons, where he was shortly afterwards put to death by the order, as some say, of Brunhilda. Meroveus, the infant son of the defeated king, was at the same time dashed to pieces against a rock.

Theoderic now took full possession of Austrasia, and was meditating an attack, with the united forces of his two kingdoms, upon Clotaire, when his further progress was stayed and the aspect of affairs entirely changed, by his sudden decease at Metz, in AD 613, in the twenty-sixth year of his age.


Nothing could be more unpromising for the future peace and strength of the united kingdoms of Austrasia and Burgundy than the circumstances in which they were placed at the death of Theoderic. He left behind him four sons; Sigebert, Childebert, Corvus, and Meroveus, the eldest of whom was born when his father was only fourteen years of age. The power of the seigniors had greatly increased during the late reign, and they now felt themselves strong enough to come boldly forward in resistance to the royal power.

The extraordinary prolongation of the regency of Brunhilda, who now began to act as guardian of her great-grandchildren, was above all things hateful to the powerful and unscrupulous party, who knew her constancy and energy, and were ever on the watch for an opportunity to feed their vengeance on her ruin. They feared, or pretended to fear, that the young princes were but tools in the hands of the queen for the accomplishment of her own will, and the gratification of her cruelty and pride. They again accused her of purposely undermining the bodily and mental vigour of her youthful charges by making them early acquainted with every enervating vice. The state of anarchy into which the kingdom had gradually been falling was the more complete at this period, because, while the power of the Merovingians had been greatly weakened, that of the mayors of the palace was not sufficiently established to ensure the blessing of a strong government, and to make the personal character of the king a matter of small importance. The people at large, indeed, still clung with singular devotion to the Merovingian dynasty; and a long succession of royal weaklings and idiots, designedly paraded before them in all their imbecility, was needed to make them untrue to the house under whose earlier members their vast empire had been acquired, and their military glory spread throughout the world.

The wish of Brunhilda was to place the eldest of Theoderic’s sons upon the throne, but the party opposed to her was too strong, and too thoroughly roused into action by the prospect of a continuance of her regency, to allow her a chance of success. She had the mortification too, while she herself was declining in years and strength, of seeing her enemies united under the leadership of the ablest and most influential men in the empire, Bishop Arnulph and Pepin; both of whom held subsequently the office of majordomus. The fear and hatred which Brunhilda inspired among the seigniors were strong enough to overcome the antipathy existing between the Austrasians and Neustrians; and when the Austrasian seigniors found themselves unable to meet Brunhilda in the field with their own dependents alone, they did not scruple to call upon Clotaire II for aid, with the promise of making him monarch of the whole Frankish empire. Their objects in these traitorous measures are evident: they hoped, on the one hand, to weaken the monarchy by arraying the different branches of the royal family against each other; and, on the other, to acquire for themselves, under a ruler whose residence was in Neustria, the virtual possession of the government of Austrasia. The strong assurances of support which were made to Clotaire by Arnulph and Pepin, in the name of their party, were sufficient to induce him to lead his army to Andernach on the Rhine; Brunhilda and her great-grandchildren being then at Worms. The aged queen was not deceived as to the real state of things, and knew too well the strength which the invading army derived from the treachery of her own subjects. At first, therefore, she made an appeal to the enemy’s forbearance, and sending an embassy to the king at Andernach she besought him to retire from the territory which Theoderic had bequeathed to his children. But Clotaire was equally well informed with herself of the state of the Austrasian army, and was not likely to feel much compunction for the children of one who had threatened to dethrone him. His answer to Brunhilda’s message was a significant hint at her want of power to withstand him. “Whatever”, he sent word back, “the Franks themselves, by the guidance of God, shall determine upon, I am ready to abide by”. 

The answer was understood, and Brunhilda wasted no more time in negotiations useful only to her enemies. She felt that all was lost but her own indomitable spirit, which neither age, nor the enmity of foes, nor the treachery of friends, were able to subdue. She despatched Werner, the Australian Majordomus, with the young prince Sigebert, across the Rhine, to bring up the Thuringian Germans, in whose courage and fidelity she had reason to confide. But Werner himself had been tampered with, and purposely neglected to fulfill his mission. As a last resource, Brunhilda fled into Burgundy; but there, too, the chief men both of the Church and the laity, were banded together against her; and readily entered into a conspiracy with the traitor Werner for the destruction of the whole royal house of Austrasia. Sigebert, meantime, unconscious perhaps of the falsehood of those in whom he trusted for the protection of his helpless boyhood, advanced with his army against Clotaire, and encountered him between Chalons-sur-Marne and the river Aisne. Many of the Austrasian seigniors were at this time actually in the camp of the enemy, and of those who followed Sigebert multitudes were eager to desert. At the decisive moment, when an attempt was made to lead them into action, the Australians turned their backs without striking a blow, and, marching off the field, retreated to the Saône, closely followed by Clotaire, who had good reasons for not attacking them. On the river Saône the mutiny in the camp of Sigebert became open and declared. The boy-king and his brothers were delivered up by their own soldiers into the hands of their enemies. Sigebert and Corvus were immediately put to death; Childebert escaped, and disappears from the page of history; while Meroveus, on account of some religious scruples in the mind of Clotaire, who was his godfather, was spared, and educated in a manner befitting his rank.


Nothing, however, was effected in the eyes of the rebellious and now triumphant seigniors, while their hated enemy Brunhilda remained alive. Though she could not at this time have been much less than seventy years old, she was an object of fear as well as hatred to thousands of mail-clad warriors in the full flush of victory. While the tragic fate of the young king was being decided on the banks of the Saône, Brunhilda was at Urba in Burgundy, with her grand-daughter Theodelinda. The defection of Werner and the mutiny of Sigebert’s troops had left her without resources, and she was delivered up by the Constable Herpo into the hands of Clotaire and her numerous enemies; who, not content with simply putting her to death, glutted their eyes upon her agonies during three days of cruel torture. She was led round the camp upon a camel, and exposed to the derision of the multitude; and at last being bound hand and foot to a vicious horse, she was left to perish miserably.

We have already remarked upon the extreme difficulty of forming a fair judgment of the character of Brunhilda, arising from the unfavorable bias against her in the minds of the ecclesiastical writers of her day. We must remember that she had incurred the bitter hostility of the great dignitaries of the Church, no less than of the lay seigniors, by her endeavors to check the growth of their inordinate wealth, and to curb their rising spirit of insubordination. The account given by Fredegar of her conflict with Saint Columban, the Irish missionary, conveys to us a very clear idea of the feelings of the clergy towards her; and to offend the clergy, the only chroniclers of that age, was to ensure historical damnation and an infamous immortality. But in Brunhilda’s case, the zeal of her enemies outruns their discretion, and the very extravagance of their charges both excites suspicion and furnishes materials for their refutation.

Fredegar, in his chronicle, calls her “another Jezebel”, and says that Clotaire’s inordinate hatred of her arose from her having killed ten Frankish kings and princes. Fortunately for the reputation of the accused, Fredegar has mentioned the names of these ten royal victims; but of these there is not one whose murder has not been ascribed to some other and far more probable agent, by better authorities than Fredegar. “Clotaire”, says Montesquieu, “reproached her with the death of ten kings, two of whom he had put to death himself; the death of some others must be charged upon the fate or wickedness of another queen; and the nation which had allowed Fredegunda to die in her bed, and opposed the punishment of her flagrant crimes, should have beheld with the greatest calmness the sins of a Brunhilda”.

Amidst such palpable misrepresentations, it is difficult to know what to believe, and hazardous to fix upon her any of the specific crimes with which she has been charged. To say that she was guilty of intrigue and violence is to say that she lived and struggled in an age and in a court where these were the only means of self-preservation. We see that she was ambitious, and crime was at that period more peculiarly the companion and assessor of power.

Her desire of vengeance was roused at the very commencement of her career by injuries which only a saint could have forgiven. She had to struggle through her whole life with antagonists who beset her path with the dagger and the poison cup, and against whom she could not possibly have held her ground without sometimes turning their own detestable weapons against themselves. That she committed many crimes, therefore, which nothing can justify, though the circumstances of her life may in some degree palliate them, we cannot reasonably doubt. Yet even through the dark veil which hostile chroniclers have thrown over the character of Brunhilda, many traces may be discerned of what is noble, generous, and even tender, in her disposition. Nor can we, while we read her history, suppress the thought, that she who died a death of torture amidst exulting foes, had that within her which in better times would have made her the ornament and the blessing of the country over which she ruled, and ensured her a niche in the vast catacombs of history among the wise, the great, and good.

It is evident from the fact that the greatest possible publicity was given to the horrid spectacle of Brunhilda’s execution, that the hatred against her was not only intense but general; for otherwise her enemies would not have run the risk of exciting the sympathy of the multitude in her nameless sufferings. And yet she would seem to have had all the qualities calculated to excite the enthusiastic partiality of subjects towards their rulers. She was the daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother of kings; and had, moreover, beauty and intellect enough to raise a peasant to a throne.

Her indomitable courage, her ceaseless activity, and extraordinary skill in the conduct of affairs, enabled her to carry on with wonderful success a conflict with the powerful seigniors, and to postpone for many years the downfall of the monarchy. Her mental and personal graces attracted the attention and admiration of Pope Gregory the Great, who praises her for her Christian devotion, uprightness of heart, skill in government, and the careful education she bestowed upon her children. That the unhappy circumstances in which her life was passed had not excluded the feeling of mercy from her heart she proved by ransoming at her own expense some Longobardian prisoners, and still more by dismissing unhurt the wretched priest who was sent to betray and murder her. At a time when intrigue and plunder occupied the thoughts of all around her, she turned her attention to the erection of public works, which have been pronounced worthy of a Roman edile or proconsul; and yet thousands of her own countrymen rejoiced to see her torn limb from limb, and could not satisfy their rage until they had burned her lacerated body, and scattered her ashes to the dust!





AD 613—741.



And thus, after a long series of rebellions, the rising aristocracy gained their first great victory over the monarchy; we say the monarchy, for in the battle which made him king of the whole Frankish empire no one was more truly defeated than the nominal victor, Clotaire II himself. He was, in fact, an instrument in the hands of the seigniors for the humiliation of the royal power. It was not because Neustria was stronger than Austrasia and Burgundy, that the Neustrian king obtained a triple crown; but because the power of the seigniors was greater than that of the infant kings and their female guardian.

The chief advantage of every victory naturally falls to the leaders of the victorious party; and we find that on this occasion the mayors of the palace were the principal gainers by the change which had taken place. Clotaire II soon learned that the support he had received was sold, not given; and that, though he was the ruler of the united Frankish empire his position differed from, and was far less commanding than, that of Clovis or the first Clotaire. No sooner was the kingdom of Burgundy transferred to him, than Werner, the majordomus of that country, demanded, as the price of his treachery, that he should be confirmed in his mayoralty, and that Clotaire should bind himself by oath never to degrade him from that office. Arnulph and Pepin, the leaders of the revolution in Austrasia, were rewarded in a similar manner, and exercised all the substantial power of kings under the humble names of mayors of the palace. It was fortunate for the latter country, and indeed for the whole empire, that at such a crisis the reins of government had fallen into such able hands. The singular concord which existed between Arnulph and Pepin, who are peculiarly interesting to us as the progenitors of the Carolingian race, affords us evidence that they were actuated by patriotism as well as ambition. Yet they felt their power, and both used and endeavored to increase it. Anxious for the substance rather than the external trappings of authority, they wisely sought a nominal head, under the shadow of whose name they might be less exposed to the shafts of envy. It was with this view that they advised Clotaire to grant the greater portion of Austrasia during his own lifetime to Dagobert, his son by Queen Bertrudis, with the understanding that they should administer the kingdom for him.

If we could feel any doubts as to the nature and objects of the revolution effected at this period, the edicts published by Clotaire would be sufficient to dispel them. In many respects the provisions contained in these documents resemble those of our own Magna Charta. Their principal object is to protect the rich and powerful seigniors, both lay and clerical, from the arbitrary power of the king, and to establish them in the full possession of all the rights they had usurped, during the dark and troubled period of which we have been speaking. It is in such periods that a few grow great by the depression of the many, and it was from the union of the few, for mutual protection, that those formidable aristocracies of Europe arose which often proved strong enough to control in turn both king and people.

The Frankish empire, though at this time nominally reunited under one head, was in reality governed by four virtually independent rulers of whom Clotaire himself was not the most important.

Werner, as we have seen, was made Majordomus of Burgundy for life; and as such was both administrator of the royal fiscus and generalissimo of the army. Austrasia was governed by Arnulph and Pepin in the name of Dagobert; and even in Neustria, the original portion of Clotaire, and that in which he had the greatest personal influence, there was a majordomus, on whom the weight of government principally rested.

During the minority of Dagobert, Austrasia flourished under the wise administration of his two guardians, who pursued the same object—the welfare of the country—with a wonderful unanimity. “Even the nations”, says Fredegar, “on the borders of the Avars (Huns) and the Slaves” sought the aid of the Austrasian mayors against their savage neighbors. It is not wonderful, therefore, that Dagobert, or rather his advisers, should wish to extend their rule, and to recover that portion of Austrasia which Clotaire had retained, when, by the advice of the great seigniors, he had set apart a kingdom for his son. Dagobert, when summoned by his father to Clichy to marry Gomatrudis, the sister of Clotaire’s second queen Sichildis, took the opportunity of claiming those provinces which had belonged to the Austrasian kingdom. On his father’s refusal, a violent dispute arose between them, and the manner in which it was decided is another proof of the extraordinary power to which the new aristocracy had attained. The question was referred to twelve of the Frankish seigniors, among whom was Arnulph himself, the Bishop of Metz.

The decision, as might have been foreseen, was in favor of Dagobert, who regained the Vosges and Ardennes in the Netherlands; nor did Clotaire consider it prudent to oppose the change. The additional strength thus given to the German portion of the empire was in some degree counterbalanced by the stricter union of Burgundy and Neustria, (in both of which the Romance element predominated) consequent upon the death of Werner. By some temporary change in favor of the monarchy, the exact nature of which it is difficult to ascertain, but which may have been the result of Werner’s government, the Burgundian people, or rather the seigniors, consented to forego the right they had usurped, of choosing another mayor, and remained for a time more immediately under the government of the king.


In AD 628, about two years after the re-arrangement of territory by the twelve umpires, as above described, Clotaire II died, having reigned for nearly half a century. He left behind him another son, Charibert, by an unknown mother; but Dagobert aspired to reign alone, and summoned his warlike Austrasians to the field. The Burgundians, without a head, had little motive to resistance; nor do the Neustrians seem to have interested themselves in favor of Charibert, for they quickly paid their homage to King Dagobert at Soissons. The unfortunate Charibert, however, found a friend in his uncle Brodulf, who endeavored to influence the king in favor of his brother; and Dagobert, having obtained all that he aimed at without resistance, was induced to resign a portion of his vast dominions. “Moved with pity”, says the chronicler, “and following the counsel of the wise, he gave up to Charibert the territory which lies between the boundaries of the Visigoths and the river Loire (or Garonne ?)”. Nor had Dagobert any occasion to repent his generosity; Charibert, after extending his boundaries to the south at the expense of the Gascons, died in AD 631, leaving his brother in undisputed possession of the whole empire.

The influences to which Dagobert had hitherto been subjected were favorable both to virtue and good government. He had lived chiefly among the German Franks, whose habits and manners, though rough and even coarse, were far less corrupt than those of the Gallo-Romans of Neustria and Burgundy. He had enjoyed the society and counsel of the two wisest, most energetic, and honorable men of the day, Arnulph and Pepin; by whose skilful measures, and commanding influence in Church and State, he was firmly supported on the throne. If we may trust to the panegyrics of the chroniclers, respecting one who was dilator supra modum largissimus of the churches, the clergy, and the poor, Dagobert was not unworthy of the care bestowed upon him. He is represented as unwearied in his efforts for the happiness of his subjects, who were prosperous and grateful. Unfortunately, however, he was one of those whose character is at the mercy of immediately surrounding influences. From the wise and good he readily imbibed sentiments of honor and wisdom, but he was no less sensibly alive to the attractions of evil example and the allurements of vicious pleasure. On the death of Clotaire he removed the seat of his government to Paris, a city which, in a greater degree than any other, bore the distinguishing marks of a bastard Roman civilization.

The Neustrians, jealous of the Austrasians, whom they regarded as barbarians with mingled contempt and fear, exerted all their arts to captivate the affections of the young monarch, and to eradicate his German nationality. The first sign of their success was the dismissal, or rather abandonment, by the king of his queen Gomatrudis, whom he left at Reuilly in the neighborhood of Paris, and raised her servant Nanthildis to the throne. And now the artificial calmness of the royal mind, which had but reflected the purity and wisdom of noble associates, was quickly ruffled by a storm of ungovernable desires and passions. Nanthildis did not long maintain herself in the elevation from which she had thrust another. “Abandoned”, says Fredegar, “to immoderate luxury, like Solomon, Dagobert had three wives at one time, and a very great number of concubines”. The names of the contemporary queens were Nanthildis, Wulfegandis, and Berchildis; the concubines were so numerous that the chronicler declines to name them. The extravagant expenditure, rendered necessary by his new mode of life, was supplied by arbitrary exactions and imposts, which alienated the affections both of those who suffered, and those who feared to suffer.

Pepin, a man “prudent in all things, full of good counsel and honor, and esteemed by all for the love of justice which he had instilled into the mind of Dagobert”, saw and deplored, but could not prevent, the change. His very virtues, for which his royal pupil had once valued and loved him, were now regarded with dislike, as a tacit reproof on the immoderate self-indulgence of the king. Dagobert sought and found in Aega a minister better suited to his altered heart and life; and Pepin, who had first placed Dagobert on the throne, was for a time in personal danger from those who hated his virtues, and feared his ability and influence. “But the love of justice, and the fear of God, to whom he cleaved with steadfast heart, delivered him from all his troubles”.


It was in this adverse position of affairs, when the king was sunk in sensual luxury, and the people were murmuring at the ever increasing burdens which his folly and extravagance laid upon them, that the Franks became involved in a war with the Slavonic tribes on the eastern boundaries of the empire. The exact limits which divided the rude nations of antiquity (whose treaties, where they existed, were expressed in the most vague and general terms) can never be defined with any great degree of certainty. After the fall of the Thuringian kingdom, which had formed a barrier to their progress westward, the Slaves, formerly known by the name of Sarmatians, commenced a migration across the Elbe, and gradually spread themselves as far as the river Saale in Thuringia. In the beginning of the sixth century Bohemia was in possession of a tribe of Slaves called Czechs, who by the middle of the seventh century had occupied the country between the Culpa and the Mur, and extended themselves westward beyond the river Salza. A portion of these, under the name of Wends, who lived on the Baltic, retained their independence until a later period; those who occupied central Germany, between the Elbe and Saale, and were called Sorbs, were tributary to the Franks; while the Slaves (in the narrower sense of the word) of Bohemia, and on the north-west boundary of the Frankish empire, groaned beneath the intolerable tyranny of the Avars or Huns. This latter people lived among their more industrious and civilized subjects like freebooters; never fixing their residence in any one place, but roving to and fro, and compelling those among whom they happened to be to support them in idleness, and even to place their wives and daughters at their absolute disposal.

In war the Slavs are said to have been placed in the van of the battle, while their masters abstained from fighting until they saw their subjects defeated. Such intolerable oppression would have roused resistance even from the most timid; the subject Slaves continually rebelled, and their independent kinsmen, the Baltic Wends, were obliged to wage incessant wars for the maintenance of their freedom. The efforts of the former had been hitherto entirely unavailing, and had had no other result than that of fixing the yoke more firmly on their necks. But the time of their deliverance came at last. During the reigns of Clotaire and Dagobert a revolution took place among the Slavonian tribes, the exact nature of which cannot be ascertained from the confused and meager accounts of the chroniclers. All that we can gather with any degree of certainty is, that the Slaves and Wends succeeded in freeing themselves from their rapacious and insolent lords, and in establishing an independent kingdom; and that they came at this period into collision with the Franks on their respective borders. According to Fredegar, the Slavonic peoples owed their deliverance chiefly to a Frank of obscure origin, named Samo, who, when travelling (about AD 624) among the Slavs or Wends for the sake of commerce, found this people, and more especially the sons of the Huns by the Wendish women, in a state of open rebellion. Like our own glorious Clive in later times, he abandoned his commercial career for the more congenial pursuits of war and conquest; and having joined the Slaves, he soon enabled them by his skill and valor to defeat the Avars or Huns in a bloody and decisive battle. So sensible were the liberated Slaves of what they owed to Samo, and so grateful for his timely and voluntary service, that they unanimously elected him as their king, and remained faithful in their allegiance to him for a space of six and thirty years.

In AD 631, as Fredegar and others relate, some Frankish merchants were plundered and killed in the territory of Samo by some of his subjects. Dagobert immediately sent an ambassador, named Sicharius, to demand reparation; but Samo appears never to have admitted him to an audience. At last, however, Sicharius managed to get into the royal presence, by disguising himself and his attendants in the Slavonic dress, and he then delivered the message entrusted to him. Samo replied, and no doubt with truth, that injuries had been inflicted by both parties, and that many cases of the same kind must be inquired into, that mutual satisfaction might be given. This answer, though dignified and fair, was not what Sicharius expected to hear, and, losing the command of his temper, he began, “like a foolish ambassador, to utter words which were not contained in his instructions”. Amongst other things he said that both Samo and his subjects owed allegiance and service to the Frankish monarch; to which the King of the Slaves replied with calmness, “And the territory which we possess shall be Dagobert’s, and we will be his people, if he is disposed to be at peace with us”. This soft answer did not turn away the wrath of the emissary, who was very probably directed to promote the misunderstanding; and he insultingly replied that it was not possible for Christians, the servants of God, to contract an alliance with dogs. “If”, said Samo, with dignified sarcasm, “ye are the servants of God, and we his dogs, so long as ye act against Him we have received permission to tear you”.

On the return of his ambassadors, who had suffered so palpable a defeat in the preliminary war of words, Dagobert summoned his Austrasian troops and sent them against the Slaves in full assurance of success. Ariwald, King of the Longobards, sent an auxiliary force from Italy to serve with the Franks, who were also joined by the Alemannian or Swabian contingent, and were at first successful. But when the Austrasians were led up to attack a strong place called Wogatisburc, where a large army of Wends had been drawn together, they were miserably defeated and put to flight. This unexpected issue of the contest, is attributed by the chroniclers to the ill-will of the Austrasians, who went into the fight without any hearty zeal, on account of their dislike of Dagobert, and their jealousy of the Neustrians, with whom the king had so much identified himself. That the victory, however gained, was real and substantial, is evident from the fact that Derwan, Prince of the Sorbs, who had been in some degree subject to the Franks, transferred his homage to King Samo.

In the following year, AD 632, Dagobert again led an army from Metz to Mayence on the Rhine, with the intention of attacking the Wendish Slaves, but this expedition was abandoned without any apparent cause; unless we can believe that Dagobert, at the head of a formidable army, retired from the country without striking a blow, because ambassadors from the Saxons came to offer their assistance on condition of being excused from paying their yearly tribute of Five hundred cows.


The true reason of these repeated failures is to be sought in the disaffection of the Austrasian seigniors, who were not inclined to shed their blood in company with Neustrians, for one whom they now regarded exclusively in the light of a Neustrian King. The change from the dignified and advantageous position which they had occupied under the able administration of the chiefs of their own order, Pepin and Arnulph, to that of distant and little regarded subjects of a monarch who spent his life at Paris, was more than their proud and ambitious spirits could endure. They obeyed the royal ban unwillingly, when summoned to the field; they defended even their own territory in Thuringia with sullen feebleness; and the Slaves made continual accessions to their territory at the expense of the Frankish empire. The eyes of Dagobert or his advisers were at last forced open to the real condition of affairs, and to the danger which threatened them from the east. They saw that the Austrasian seigniors were determined to be ruled by their own order, though they still preferred to do so in the name of a Merovingian king. To disregard their wishes was to risk, not only the loss of Thuringia, but the dismemberment of the empire. In AD 632 therefore, just after the lesson he had received in the abortive expedition above described, Dagobert summoned the grandees of his empire both temporal and spiritual to Metz; and there, with the general consent of his council, appointed the infant Sigebert III his son by Ragnetruda—King of Austrasia. By this act, the royal authority was once more transferred to the hands of the seigniors, and the Merovingian dynasty tottered to its fall.

The natural and proper arrangement would have ken to make Pepin the guardian of the infant king and administrator of the kingdom; but the jealousy of the Parisian court was too strong to allow of this concession. While therefore Cunibert, Bishop of Cologne, was sent with Sigebert into Austrasia, Pepin was detained at the court of Dagobert, as a sort of hostage. From this time the Austrasians appear to have defended their borders against the Wends with energy and success.

This arrangement was unwillingly made by the Neustrian court, under a sense of the necessity of conciliating the German subjects of the empire. It had become evident that, of the Frankish kingdoms, Austrasia was by far the strongest; while the Neustrians therefore yielded on this occasion from necessity and fear, they were anxious to provide a counterpoise to the Germanism of Austrasia, by more closely and permanently uniting the countries in which Gallo-Romanism was predominant. The birth of Clovis (the second son of Dagobert by Nanthildis) appeared to afford the means of carrying out their views; in which Dagobert himself, from his predilection for Neustrian luxury and refinement, was inclined to sympathize. “By the counsel and advice of the Neustrians”, as the chronicler expressly relates, and the consent of the Austrasians (who had so lately carried their own point), Clovis II was declared heir of the united kingdoms of Neustria and Burgundy, while Sigebert III was confirmed in the possession of all that the former Kings of Austrasia had held, with one small exception. “This arrangement”, we are told, “the Austrasians were compelled by their fear of Dagobert to sanction, whether they would or no”. Nevertheless, it was strictly observed on the death of Dagobert, which took place in AD 638.


We may almost consider Dagobert as the last of the Merovingian monarchs, since he is the last who really exercised anything like independent royal authority. The name of king, indeed, was retained by his long­haired descendants for several generations, but the bearers of it were either children in years, or so weak in intellect from early debauchery and a neglected education, as to be the mere tools and puppets of their own servants. These shadowy forms, which excite in our minds both pity and contempt, are known in history as the Rois fainéans, a title which well expresses their inactivity and insignificance, and the merely nominal nature of their rule. While the storms of action rage around them, they are hidden from our gaze in the recesses of a court, half nursery, half harem.

The iron scepter of the first Clovis, which his degenerate successors had dropped from their listless hands to raise the wine-cup or caress the harlot, was seized with a vigorous grasp by men who exercised the loftiest functions under an almost menial name. At this period the real direction of affairs was left to the Majores-Domus, or Mayors of the Palace, whose power is seen continually to increase, till, in the hands of the Carolingians, it becomes imperial; while that of the Salian monarchs, already greatly weakened, declines from year to year, till they become the mere puppets of an annual show.

We shall therefore take this opportunity of giving a short account of the origin and nature of the office of Major-Domus—the parasitical growth which sapped the strength of the Merovingian throne. And in the subsequent portion of this preliminary history we shall transfer our chief attention from the nominal to the actual rulers, and endeavor to relate, with all possible conciseness, the civil and military transactions of the mayors; and more particularly of those among them who, great in themselves, enjoy additional fame as progenitors of Charlemagne.

That the successful Imperator of an army should grow into an Emperor, or ruler of the nation,—that a Caesar should become a Kaiser,—seems natural enough: but the humble and peaceful office originally designated by the words Major-Domus seems capable of no such development. The ideas connected with it are little suited to the proud and powerful Frankish warriors, who, under that simple title, performed the highest functions of government, achieved great conquests at the head of powerful armies, dethroned an ancient dynasty of kings, and in their posterity gave successors to the Emperors of the West. This discrepancy between the name and the thing it denotes has excited general remark, and given rise to many learned and ingenious theories.

In a former part of this work we have endeavored to trace the gradual progress of the royal power among the Franks, and the simultaneous decline of those popular institutions by which liberty is sustained; and which, at an earlier period, existed among the Franks in common with other German peoples. It is important to keep this development in view during the present inquiry, because, as we shall see, the power of the mayors first rose with that of the kings, and then upon it.

The domestic condition of the Franks was greatly changed by their conquests in Gaul during the sixth century. As the result of a few fortunate battles, they found themselves in possession of well-stocked houses and fertile lands; and though they were too warlike themselves to settle down as cultivators of the soil, they contrived, by means of others, to derive considerable wealth from their estates. The same conquests which brought rich booty to all the Franks, secured, as we have seen, to the kings an enormous increase both of wealth and power. They still, indeed, in times of peace, continued to lead the life of great landed proprietors, passing in their rude carriages drawn by oxen from one of their estates to another, and consuming in turn the fruits of each; but the sudden and enormous addition to their means naturally led to an increase in the number of their dependents and a greater degree of external splendor in their mode of life. Even in their simplest state, as described by Tacitus, they must, like other wealthy men, have had not only numerous menials and slaves, domestic and agricultural, but overseers of the various departments of their household to provide them with all things necessary for their dignity, convenience, and pleasure.

At the head of these, occupying the exact position of a house-steward in a nobleman’s family, was the majordomus, whose purely domestic character is proved by the fact that he is ranked after the Counts and the Domestici. The nature of the count’s office will be explained elsewhere; and the domestici, according to Loebell, were the more distinguished of the Comitatus, who fought about the person of the king. Besides the majordomus we find mentioned as members of the royal household, the Referendarius (Chancellor), the Comes Palatii(Judge at the Royal Tribunal), Cubicularius and Camerarii(Chamberlain and Overseers of the Treasury), and the Comes Stabuli (Master of the Horse). These officials, some of whom appear to have been appointed in imitation of the practice of the Byzantine court, were originally mere personal attendants on the king, who could dismiss them at pleasure. He was not even bound to select them from the free men, but could raise at will a freedman or a slave. It is an important consideration in this place that there was no class of hereditary nobility to limit the royal choice of servants. All history teaches us that the most sudden changes of fortune take place, not under a republic, or constitutional monarchy, but under arbitrary rulers, where the royal favor is the only recognized distinction—where a single word can shorten the long and toilsome path by which, under freer governments, merit seeks its appropriate reward.

The fact that the mayors of the palace are mentioned only three times by Gregory of Tours is a proof that in his age they had not acquired political importance. Yet when we come to inquire more particularly into their position and functions, we shall find in their lowly office a germ of power, which favorable circumstances might easily foster into luxuriant growth. As stewards of the king’s estates, and overseers of his personal attendants and servants, the dignity of their office would be in proportion to the extent of the former and the number of the latter.

The conquest of Gaul, which did so much for royalty, must have raised the majordomus from a rich man’s house-steward to a kind of chancellor of the exchequer; whose actual power was considerable, and whose indirect influence, as the immediate agent in the distribution of royal favors, was only limited by his ability to take advantage of his position. It was through him that money, lands, and offices were distributed among the numerous warriors, who in those unsettled times assembled round a rich and warlike king. To the provincials, more particularly, who had been accustomed to the low intrigues of a Roman court, and had learned to seek the favor of those who in any relation stood near the throne, the majordomus would appear a man of great importance. His means of influence would be further increased by the selfish liberality of those who sought his aid, or received advantages through his hands.

And thus, as the royal power increased, the position of the mayors continued to improve. As the popular assemblies on the Campus Martius declined in importance, no small share of the power they had once possessed was transferred to the attendants of the king. Energetic rulers needed not, and greatly disliked, the free discussions of the assembled people; and weak and bad ones naturally feared them. Yet all men shrink from the sole responsibility of important decisions; even a Xerxes summons his noble slaves and asks their counsel, though he lets them know that he is free to act against it. And the Frankish king was glad at times to consult the more dignified of his servants, his greatest captains, and his most holy and learned priests. From such elements a royal council was gradually formed, which soon obtained a kind of prescriptive right to be heard on great occasions, and played an important part in Frankish history. In this assembly the majordomus, as being nearest to the king’s person, and always on the spot, naturally took a leading part, when his character and abilities enabled him to do so. The importance of this royal council may be better estimated when we consider of whom it was composed.

There were, in the first place, the Courtiers, i.e., the holders of offices about the king, of whom the majordomus was the first. Secondly, the Antrustiones, whose character and position we have elsewhere defined. Thirdly, a great number of dependent rulers, as the hereditary Dukes of Bavaria and Alemannia, who were allowed to retain their power under the protection of the Frankish monarchs. Fourthly, the Patricii of Burgundy, Massilia, and Ripuaria. Fifthly, the Dukes, Counts, Thungini, of whom the last mentioned were appointed by the king as governors of provinces and gaus. And, in the last place, the great dignitaries of the Church; who, in proportion as they became more and more secularized by their wealth, went more frequently to court, and made themselves welcome and influential there, by their superior learning, splendor, and refinement.

In this great assembly of dependent governors, antrustiones, and bishops, which soon became a regularly constituted council, the majordomus presided as the representative, though a humble one, of the king. As such, a portion of the executive power fell at all times into his hands; and during a minority of the crown his influence was in exact proportion to his tact in making use of his favorable position, and his ability to maintain his ground amid the intrigues and struggles of opposing factions.

We need not be surprised to find that, to the civil duties of the majordomus, was added the command of the royal retinue. In the times of which we speak there were no civilians except ecclesiastics (and even these, as we know, were not entirely destitute of that military spirit which was a necessity and a characteristic of the age); and the mayors of the palace would have had but little chance of improving or even maintaining their position, of satisfying their royal master, or controlling his household, had they not been both able and willing to play a prominent part upon the battlefield.

The military duties of the mayoralty naturally became more arduous and important when the monarchs themselves were deficient in warlike qualities; and hence the office was generally bestowed upon some distinguished warrior. This was the case even while the mayors continued to be the nominees and servants of the king; for it was to their majordomus, and the more immediate dependents of the crown whom he commanded, that the monarch looked for support in his contests with the rising aristocracy. While the monarchy was strong, we find the mayors the steady upholders of the royal power. But in the anarchic period which followed the death of Sigebert I, the office of mayor, like every other honorable post, became the subject of a scramble, and fell into the hands of those great proprietors, whose encroachments on the royal prerogative it was designed to repel.

The importance of the position occupied by the mayor, and the great advantages he was able to bring to whatever side he espoused, were too evident to be overlooked by the enemies of the monarchy; and accordingly we find that one of the first uses made by the Austrasian seigniors of their victory over Brunhilda, was to make the mayoralty elective, and independent of the crown. This important change took place in both the great divisions of the Frankish empire, but many circumstances tended to render the development of the power of the mayors far more rapid and complete in Australia than in Neustria.

In the latter, kingdom the resistance which the seigniors could offer to the crown, was weaker, both because they were themselves in a less degree homogeneous than in the German portion of the empire, and because they could not reckon upon the sympathy and aid of the Romano-Gallic population. In Austrasia the case was different. Even there indeed, though the nation was mainly German, the tendencies of the court were decidedly Romance; and not unnaturally so, for among the Roman provincials was found the external civilization—the grace of manner, the decorative arts of life, the skill in the refined indulgence of the passions, which throw a brilliant light around a throne, and are calculated to engage the affections of its occupants. But the Romanizing leanings of the court were not shared in by the Austrasian seigniors, or the people at large; and the struggle between the monarchy and the nascent aristocracy in Austrasia was embittered by national antipathies.

We have already seen the issue of the contest in favor of the seigniors, and their victory must be regarded as another triumph of the Germans over the Gallo-Romans. The mayors of the palace, whose consequence had been greatly increased during frequent and long minorities, understood the crisis; and, placing themselves at the head of the great landed proprietors of Austrasia, succeeded in depriving the Merovingian kings of the realities of power, while they left them its external shows.

Yet, favorable as had hitherto been the circumstances of the times to the rising power of the mayors, it needed another remarkable coincidence to raise them to royal and imperial thrones. Notwithstanding the influence they had acquired at the end of the sixth century, and the powerful support they received from the great proprietors, banded together in resistance to the crown, the struggle was a long and doubtful one; though the champion of monarchy was a woman. Fear is the mother of cruelty; and bloody as were the dreadful times in which Brunhilda lived, her enemies would never have taken such a fiendish delight in her sufferings, had not their hatred been rendered more intense by previous doubts and fears—had they not been rendered delirious with the joy of an unlooked-for success. Had the Merovingian stock continued to produce a succession of able men—had it even sent forth one in whom the fire of Clovis burned—the steady though slumbering loyalty of the people might have been roused, the factious seigniors destroyed in detail, and the career of the king-making mayors brought to a bloody termination at another Barnet.

The actual state of things was, as we have seen, the very reverse of all this. Instead of a vigorous young warrior like our own Edward IV, the Frankish nobles had boys and women to contend with. For a long period the scepter was in the hands of a succession of minors, who met with the foulest play from those who should have been their guardians. Precocious by nature, and exposed to the allurements of every enfeebling indulgence and hurtful vice, they gladly yielded up the all too heavy scepter to the rude hands of their warlike keepers, and received in exchange the cap and bells of the jester and the fool. And while the Merovingian race in its decline is notorious in history as having produced an unexampled number of imbecile monarchs, the family which was destined to supplant them was no less wonderfully prolific in warriors and statesmen of the highest class. It is not often that great endowments are transmitted even from father to son, but the line from which Charlemagne sprang presents to our admiring gaze an almost uninterrupted succession of five remarkable men, within little more than a single century. Of these the first three held the mayoralty of Austrasia; and it was they who prevented the permanent establishment of absolute power on the Roman model, and secured to the German population of Austrasia an abiding victory over that amalgam of degraded Romans and corrupted Gauls, which threatened to leaven the European world. To them, under Providence, we owe it that the centre of Europe is at this day German, and not Gallo-Latin.

From this brief sketch of the origin and progress of the mayors of the palace, who play so important a part in the succeeding age, we return to the point in the general history from which the digression was made.

On the death of Dagobert, AD 638, his son, Clovis II, a child of six years old, succeeded him. During his minority the government of Neustria and Burgundy was carried on by his mother Nanthildis, and the Major-Domus Aega, while Pepin and others shared the supreme power in Austrasia. Pepin died AD 639 or 640, and a long and ferocious contest ensued for the vacant mayoralty, which was finally taken possession of by Pepin’s own son Grimoald.


So low had the power of the nominal monarchs already sunk, that, on the death of Sigebert III, in AD 656, Grimoald ventured to shear the locks of the rightful heir, Dagobert II, and, giving out that he was dead, sent him to Ireland; he then proposed his own son for the vacant throne, under the pretence that Sigebert had adopted him. But the time was not yet ripe for so daring an usurpation, nor does Grimoald appear to have been the man to take the lead in a revolution. Both the attempt itself, and its miserable issue, go to prove that the son of Pepin did not inherit the wisdom and energy of the illustrious stock to which he belonged. The King of Burgundy and Neustria, pretending to acquiesce in the accession of Grimoald’s son, summoned the father to Paris, and caused him to be seized during his journey by some Franks—who are represented as being highly indignant at his presumption—and put to death.

The whole Frankish empire was thus once more united, at least in name, under Clovis II (who also died in AD 656), and under his son and successor, Clotaire III, whose mother, Balthildis, an Anglo-Saxon by birth, administered the kingdom with great ability and success. But the interests and feelings of the German provinces were too distinct from those of Burgundy and Neustria to allow of their long remaining even nominally under one head. The Austrasians were eager to have a king of their own, and accordingly another son of Clovis was raised to the throne of Austrasia under the title of Childeric II, with Wulfoald as his majordomus.

At the death of Clotaire III in Neustria (in AD 670), the whole empire was thrown into confusion by the ambitious projects of Ebroin, his majordomus, who sought to place Theoderic III, Clotaire’s youngest brother, who was still a mere child, on the throne, that he might continue to reign in his name. Ebroin appears to have proceeded towards his object with too little regard for the opinions and feelings of the other seigniors, who rose against him and his puppet king, and drove them from the seat of power. The successful conspirators then offered the crown of Neustria to Childeric II, King of Austrasia, who immediately proceeded to take possession, while Ebroin sought refuge in a monastery.

Childeric ascended the Neustrian throne without opposition; but his attempts to control the seigniors, one of whom, named Badilo, he is said to have scourged, gave rise to a formidable conspiracy; and he was soon afterwards assassinated, together with his queen and son at Chelles. Wulfoald escaped with difficulty, and returned to Austrasia. Another son of Childeric, Childebert III, was then raised upon the shield by the seigniors, while the royal party brought forward Theoderic III from the monastery to which he had retired, and succeeded in making good his claim. The turbulent and unscrupulous but able Ebroin ventured once more to leave his place of refuge, and by a long series of the most treacherous murders, and by setting up a pretender—as Clovis, a son of Clotaire III—he succeeded (in AD 673 or 674) in forcing himself upon Theoderic as Major-Domus of Neustria.


In the meantime Dagobert II, whom Grimoald had sent as a child to Ireland, and who had subsequently found a faithful friend in the well-known St. Wilfrid, Bishop of York, was recalled and placed on the Austrasian throne. But the restored prince soon (in AD 678) fell a victim to the intrigues of Ebroin, and the Neustrian faction among the seigniors, who aimed at bringing the whole empire under their own arbitrary power. Nor does it seem at all improbable that the ability and audacity of Ebroin might have enabled them to carry out their designs, had not Austrasia possessed a leader fully equal to the emergency. Pepin, surnamed of Heristal from a castle belonging to his family in the neighborhood of Liege, was the son of Ansegisus by Begga, the illustrious daughter of Pepin of Landen. This great man, who proved himself worthy of his grandsire and his mother, was at this time associated with Duke Martin in the government of Austrasia, which up to AD 630 had been administered by Wulfoald. Martin and Pepin summoned their followers to arms to meet the expected attack of the Neustrians. In the first instance, however, the Austrasians were surprised by the activity of Ebroin, who fell upon them before they had completed their preparations, and totally defeated them in the neighborhood of Lucofaus. Martin fled to the town of Laon; and the artifices by which his enemies lured him from this retreat to his destruction are worthy of notice, as giving us a remarkable picture of the manners of the period in general, and of the sad state of the Church in particular. Ebroin, hearing that his intended victim had reached a place of safety, despatched Agilbert, Bishop of Paris, and Probus, Bishop of Rheims, to persuade Martin to repair to the Neustrian camp. In order to dispel the apprehensions with which he listened to them, these holy men went through the not unusual ceremony of swearing upon a receptacle containing sacred relics, that he should suffer no injury by following their advice. The bishops, however, to save themselves from the guilt of perjury, had taken care that the vessels, which were covered, should be left empty. Martin, whom they omitted to inform of this important fact, was satisfied with their oaths, and accompanied them to Ecri, where he and his followers were immediately assassinated, without, as was thought, any detriment to the faith of the envoys! Pepin, however, was neither to be cajoled nor frightened into submission, and soon found himself at the head of a powerful force, consisting in part of Neustrian exiles, whom the tyranny of Ebroin had ruined or offended.

A collision seemed inevitable, when the position of affairs was suddenly changed by the death of Ebroin, who was assassinated in AD 681 by Hermenfried, a distinguished Neustrian Frank. Waratto followed him in the mayoralty of Neustria, and seemed inclined to live on friendly terms with Pepin; but Gislemar, his son, who headed the party most hostile to Pepin, succeeded in getting possession of the government for a time, and renewed the war against the Austrasians.

Gislemar’s death (in AD 684), which the annalists attribute to the Divine anger, restored Waratto to his former power; and hostilities ceased for a time. When Waratto also died, about two years after his undutiful son, he was succeeded by Berchar, his son-in-law, whom the annalist pithily describes as “statura parvus, intellect modicus”. The insolent disregard which this man showed to the feelings and wishes of the most powerful Neustrians, induced many of them to make common cause with Pepin, to whom they are said to have bound themselves by hostages. In AD 687 Pepin was strong enough to assume the offensive; and, yielding to the entreaties of the Neustrian refugees, he sent an embassy to Theoderic III to demand the restoration of the exiles to their confiscated lands. The King of Neustria, prompted by Berchar, his majordomus, haughtily replied that he would come himself and fetch his runaway slaves. Pepin then prepared for war, with the unanimous consent of the Austrasian seigniors, whose wishes he scrupulously consulted. Marching through the Silva Carbonaria (in Belgium), he entered the Neustrian territory, and took post at Testri on the river Somme Theoderic and Berchar also collected a large army and marched to meet the invaders. The two armies encamped in sight of each other near the village of Testri, on opposite sides of the little river Daumignon, the Neustrians on the southern and the Austrasians on the northern bank. Whether from policy or a higher motive, Pepin displayed great unwillingness, even then, to bring the matter to extremities; and, sending emissaries into the camp of Theoderic, he once more endeavored to negotiate; demanding, amongst other things, that the property of which the churches had been “despoiled by wicked tyrants” should be restored to them. He promised that, if his conditions of peace were accepted and the effusion of kindred blood prevented, he would give the king a large amount of silver and gold.


The wise and humane reluctance of Pepin was naturally construed by Theoderic and his little-minded mayor into fear, and distrust of his army, which was inferior to their own in numbers: a haughty answer was returned, and all negotiations broken off. Both sides then prepared for the morrow’s battle. Pepin, having passed the night in forming his plans, crossed the river before daybreak and drew up his army to the east of Theoderic’s position, that the rising sun might blind the enemy. The spies of Theoderic reported that the Austrasian camp was deserted, on which the Neustrians were led out to pursue the flying foe. The mistake of the scouts was soon made clear by the vigorous onset of Pepin; and after a fierce but brief combat the Neustrians were totally defeated, and Theoderic and Berchar fled from the field. The latter was slain by his own followers: the king was taken prisoner, but his life was mercifully spared.

The battle of Testri is notable in Frankish history as that in which the death-stroke was given to the Merovingian dynasty, by an ancestor of a far more glorious race of monarchs. “From this time forward”, says the chronicler Erchambertus, “the kings began to have only the royal name, and not the royal dignity”. A very striking picture of the Rois Fainéans has been handed down to us by Einhard, the friend and secretary of Charlemagne, in his famous life of his royal master. “The race of the Merovingians”, he says, “from which the Franks were formerly accustomed to choose their kings, is generally considered to have ended with Chilperic; who, at the command of the Roman Pontiff Stephen, was deposed, shorn of his locks, and sent into a monastery. But although the stock died out with him, it had long been entirely without life and vigour, and had no distinction beyond the empty title of king; for the authority and government were in the hands of the highest officers of the palace, who were called majores-domus, and had the entire administration of affairs. Nothing was left to the king, except that, contenting himself with the mere royal name, he was allowed to sit on the throne with long hair and unshorn beard, to play the part of a ruler, to hear the ambassadors from whatever part they might come, and at their departure to communicate to them the answers which he had been taught or even commanded to make, as if by his own authority. Besides the worthless title of king, and a scanty maintenance, which the majordomus meted out according to his pleasure, the king possessed only one farm, and that by no lucrative one, on which he had a dwelling-house and a few servants, just sufficient to supply his most urgent necessities.

Wherever he had to go, he traveled in a carriage drawn by a yoke of oxen and driven by a cowherd in rustic fashion. It was thus that he went to the palace, to the public assembly of the people, which met every year for the good of the kingdom; after which he returned home. But the whole administration of the state, and everything which had to be regulated or executed, either at home or abroad, was carried on by the mayors”.


The whole power of the three kingdoms was thus suddenly thrown into the hands of Pepin, who showed in his subsequent career that he was equal to the far more difficult task of keeping, by his wisdom and moderation, what he had gained by the vigour of his intellect and his undaunted valor. He, too, was happily free from the little vanity which takes more delight in the pomp than in the realities of power, and, provided he possessed the substantial authority, was contented to leave the royal name to others. He must have felt himself strong enough to do what his uncle Grimoald had vainly attempted, and his grandson happily accomplished; but he saw that by grasping at the shadow he might lose the substance. He was surrounded by proud and suspicious seigniors, whose jealousy would have been more excited by his taking the title, than by his exercising the powers of a king; and, strange though it may seem, the reverence for the ancient race, and the notion of their exclusive and inalienable rights, were far from being extinguished in the breasts of the common people.

By keeping Theoderic upon the throne and ruling in his name, he united both reason and prejudice in support of his government. Yet some approach was made—though probably not by his own desire—towards acknowledged sovereignty in the case of Pepin. He was called Dux et Princeps Francorum, and the years of his office were reckoned, as well as those of the king, in all public documents. Having fixed the seat of his government in Austrasia, as the more German and warlike portion of his dominions, he named dependents of his own, and subsequently his two sons, Drogo and Grimoald, to rule as mayors in the two other divisions of the empire.

He gave the greatest proof of his power and popularity by restoring the assemblies of the Campus Martius, a purely German institution, which under the Romanising Merovingian monarchs had gradually declined. At these annual meetings, which were held on the 1st of March, the whole nation assembled for the purpose of discussing measures for the ensuing year. None but a ruler who was conscious of his own strength, and of an honest desire for the welfare of his people, would have voluntarily submitted himself and his actions to the chances of such an ordeal. As soon as he had firmly fixed himself in his seat, and secured the submission of the envious seigniors, and the love of the people, who looked to him as the only man who could save them from the evils of anarchy, he turned his attention to the re-establishment of the Frankish empire in its full extent. 

The neighboring tribes, which had with difficulty, and for the most part imperfectly, been subdued by Clovis and his successors, were ready to seize upon every favorable occasion of ridding themselves of the hated yoke. Nor were the poor imbecile boys who bore the name of kings, or the turbulent mayors and seigniors, who were wholly occupied with plotting and counterplotting, railing and fighting, against one another, at all in a position to call the subject states to account, or to excite in them the desire of being incorporated with an empire harassed and torn by intestine dissensions. The Frankish empire was in process of dissolution, and all the more distant tribes, as the Bavarians, the Alemannians, Frisians, Bretons, and Gascons, had virtually recovered their independence. But this partial decline of the Frankish power was simply the result of misgovernment, and the domestic feuds which absorbed the martial vigour of the nation; and by no means indicated the decline of a military spirit in the Frankish people. They only needed a centre of union and a leader worthy of them, both of which they found in Pepin, to give them once more the hegemony over all the German tribes, and prepare them for the conquest of Europe. The Frisians were subdued, or rather repressed for a time, in AD 697, after a gallant resistance under their king Ratbod; and about twelve years afterwards we find the son of Pepin, Grimoald, forming a matrimonial alliance with Theudelinda, daughter of the Frisian monarch; a fact which plainly implies that Pepin desired to cultivate the friendship of his warlike neighbors. The Suabians, or Alemanni, were also attacked and defeated by Pepin in their own territories; but their final subjection was completed by his son Carl Martel.

The wars carried on by Pepin with the above-mentioned nations, to which in this place we can only briefly allude, occupied him nearly twenty years; and were greatly instrumental in preserving peace at home, and consolidating the foundations of the Carolingian throne. The stubborn resistance he met with from the still heathen Germans, was animated with something of that zeal, against which his great descendant Charlemagne had to contend in his interminable Saxon wars; for the adoption of Christianity, which was hated, not only as being hostile to the superstitions of their forefathers, but on account of the heavy taxes by which it was accompanied, was always made by Pepin the indispensable condition of mercy and peace. But, happily for the cause of Gospel truth, other means were used for the spread of Christianity than the sword and the scourge; and the labors of many a zealous and self-sacrificing missionary from Ireland and England, served to convince the rude German tribes, that the warrior-priests whom they had met on the battlefield, and the greedy tax-gatherers who infested their homes, were not the true ambassadors of the Prince of Peace. And Pepin, who was by no means a mere warrior, was well aware of the value of these peaceful efforts; and afforded zealous aid to all who ventured their lives in the holy cause of human improvement and salvation. The civil governors whom he established in the conquered provinces were directed to do all in their power to promote the spread of Christianity by peaceful means; and, to give effect to his instructions, Pepin warned them that he should hold them responsible for the lives of his pious missionaries.

During these same twenty years, in which Pepin was playing the important and brilliant part assigned to him by Providence, the pale and bloodless shadows of four Merovingian kings flit gloomily across the scene. We know little or nothing of them except their names, and the order in which they followed each other. Theoderic III died AD 691, and was succeeded by Clovis III, who reigned till AD 695 and was followed by Childebert III. On the death of Childebert in AD 711, Pepin raised Dagobert III to the nominal throne, where he left him when he himself departed from the scene of his labors and triumphs; and this is really all that we feel called upon to say of the descendants of the conquerors of Gaul and founders of the Western Empire; “inclitum et notum olimnunc tantum auditur!”.


The extraordinary power which Pepin exercised at a period when law was weak, and authority extended no further than the sword could reach; when the struggles of the rising feudal aristocracy for independence had convulsed the empire and brought it to the verge of anarchy, sufficiently attests the ability and courage, the wisdom and moderation, with which he ruled. His triumphs over the ancient dynasty, and the Neustrian faction, were far from being the most difficult of his achievements. He had to control the very class to which he himself belonged; to curb the turbulent spirits of the very men who had raised him to his proud pre-eminence; and to establish regal authority over those by whose aid he had humbled the ancient kings: and all this he succeeded in doing by the extraordinary influence of his personal character.

So firmly indeed had he established his government, and subdued the wills of the envious seigniors by whom he was surrounded, that even when he showed his intention of making his power hereditary in his family, they dared not, at the time, oppose his will. On the death of Norbert, majordomus at the court of Childebert III, Pepin—in all probability without even consulting the seigniors, in whom the right of election rested—appointed his second son Grimoald to the vacant office. To his eldest son Drogo he had already given the Mayoralty of Burgundy, with the title of Duke of Campania. But though they dared not make any opposition at the time, it is evident from what followed that the fear of Pepin alone restrained the rage they felt at this open usurpation.

In AD 714, when Pepin’s life was drawing to a close, and he lay at Jopil near Liege upon a bed of sickness, awaiting patiently his approaching end, the great vassals took heart, and conspired to deprive his descendants of the mayoralty. They employed the usual means for effecting their purpose, treachery and murder. Grimoald was assassinated, while praying in the Church of St. Lambert at Jopil, by a Frisian of the name of Rantgar, who relied, no doubt, on the complicity of the seigniors and the weakness of Pepin for impunity. But the conspirators had miscalculated the waning sands of the old warrior’s life, and little knew the effect which the sight of his son’s blood would have upon him. He suddenly recovered from the sickness to which he seemed to be succumbing. Like another Priam, he once more seized his unaccustomed arms, though, unlike the royal Trojan, he used them with terrible effect. After taking an ample revenge upon the murderers of his son, and quenching the spirit of resistance in the blood of the conspirators, he was so far from giving up his purpose, or manifesting any consciousness of weakness, that he nominated the infant and illegitimate son of Grimoald, as if by hereditary right, to the joint mayoralty of Burgundy and Neustria—an office which the highest persons in the land would have been proud to exercise. By his very last act, therefore, he showed the absolute mastery he had obtained, not only over the “do-nothing” kings, but over the factious seigniors, who shrank in terror before the wrath of one who had, as it were, repassed the gates of death, to hurl destruction on their heads. His actual demise took place in the same year, on the 16th of December, AD 714.

Pepin had two wives, the first of whom, Plectrude, bore him two sons, Drogo and Grimoald, neither of whom survived their father. In AD 688 he married a second wife, the “noble and elegant” Alpais, though Plectrudis was still alive. From this second marriage sprang the real successor of the Pepins, whom his father named in his own language Carl, and who is renowned in history as Carl Martel, the bulwark of Christendom, the father of kings and emperors.

Our estimate of the personal greatness of the Carolingian mayors is greatly raised when we observe that each of them in turn, instead of taking quiet possession of what his predecessors had won, has to reconquer his position in the face of numerous, powerful and exasperated enemies. It was so with Pepin of Landen, with Pepin of Heristal, and most of all in the case of Carl Martel.

At the death of Pepin the storm which had long been gathering, and of which many forebodings had appeared in his lifetime, broke forth with tremendous fury. The bands of government were suddenly loosened, and the powers which Pepin had wielded with such strength and dexterity became the objects of a ferocious struggle.Plectrudis, his first wife, an ambitious and daring woman, had resolved to reign as the guardian of her grandchild, Theudoald, with whom she was at that time residing at Cologne. Theudoald had at least the advantage of being the only candidate for power installed by Pepin himself, and it was no doubt upon his quasi-hereditary claims that Plectrudis based her hopes. She manifested her foresight, discrimination, and energy, at the commencement of the contest which ensued by seizing the person of Carl, her stepson, and most formidable rival. But Carl and his party were not her only opponents. The Neustrians and Burgundians, whom their recollections of Brunhilda and Fredegunda by no means inclined to acquiesce in another female regency,refused obedience to her commands; and endeavored to excite the puppet-monarch Dagobert to an independent exercise of his authority. Their zeal as Neustrians too was quickened by the desire of throwing off the Australian or German yoke, which they considered to have been fixed upon them by the victories and energetic rule of Pepin. It was


owing to this hostile feeling between the Roman and the German portions of the empire that many even of Pepin’s partizans took side with Theudoald and Plectrudis, although the latter held their chief incarcerated. The revolted Neustrians and the army of Plectrudis encountered each other in the forest of Guise, near Compiegne; and, as far as one can conjecture from the confused and contradictory accounts of the annalistsPlectrudis and Theudoald suffered a defeat. The Neustrians having obtained the mastery over the hated Germans in their own country, prepared to extend their authority to Austrasia itself. Having chosen Raginfried as their majordomus, they suddenly marched into the Austrasian territory, and laid it waste with fire and sword as far as the river Meuse. In spite of their Christian profession they sought further to strengthen themselves by an alliance with Ratbod, the heathen King of the Frisians, who at the death of Pepin had recovered his independence, and the greater portion of his territory. In the meantime, the whole aspect of affairs was suddenly changed by the escape of Carl from custody. The defeated army of Plectrudis, and many of the Australian seigniors, who were unwilling to support her cause even against the Neustrians, now rallied with the greatest alacrity round the youthful hero, and proclaimed him Dux Francorum by the title of his glorious father. In a very short time after the recovery of his freedom, Carl found himself at the head of a very efficient, though not numerous army. He was still, however, surrounded by dangers and difficulties, under which a man of less extraordinary powers must inevitably have sunk.

Dagobert III died soon after the battle of Compiegne; and the Neustrians, who had felt the disadvantage of his imbecility, neglected the claims of his son, and raised a priest called Daniel, a reputed son of Childeric, to the throne, with the title of Chilperic II. This monarch, who appears to have had a greater degree of energy than his immediate predecessors, formed a plan with the Frisian king for a combined attack upon Cologne, by which he hoped at once to bring the war to a successful issue. Ratbod, true to his engagements, advanced with a numerous fleet of vessels up the Rhine, while Chil­peric and Raginfried were marching towards Cologne through the forest of Ardennes. To prevent this well-planned junction, Carl determined to fall upon the Frisians before they reached Cologne. His position must have been rendered still more critical by the failure of this attack. We read that after both parties had suffered considerable loss in a hard-fought battle, they retreated on equal terms.

The short time which elapsed before the arrival of the Neustrians was spent by Carl in summoning his friends from every quarter, to assist him in the desperate struggle in which he was engaged. In the meantime Chilperic came up, and, encamping in the neighborhood of Cologne, effected a junction with the Frisians. Contrary to expectation, however, no attack was made upon Plectrudis, who is said to have bribed the Frisians to retire. A better reason for the precipitate retreat of the Neustrians and Frisians (which now took place) was the danger which the former ran of having their retreat cut off by Carl, who had taken up a strong position in their rear, with continually increasing forces; as it was, they were not permitted to retire in safety. Carl attacked them at Ambleve, near Stablo, in the Ardennes, and gave them a total defeat. This victory put him in possession of Cologne, and the person of Plectrudis, who restored to him his father’s treasures.

In the following year, AD 717, Carl assumed the offensive, and, marching through the Silva Carbonaria, began to lay waste the Neustrian territory. Chilperic and Raginfried advanced to meet him, doubtless with far less confidence than before; and both armies encamped at Vinci, in the territory of Cambrai. Carl, with an hereditary moderation peculiarly admirable in a man of his warlike spirit, sent envoys to the Neustrian camp to offer conditions of peace; and to induce Chilperic to acknowledge his claim to the office of majordomus in Austrasia, “that the blood of so many noble Franks might not be shed”. Carl himself can have expected no other fruit from these overtures than the convincing of his own followers of the unreasonableness of their enemies. The Neustrian king and his evil adviser rejected the proffered terms with indignation, and declared their intention of taking from Carl even that portion of his inheritance which had already fallen into his hands. Both sides then prepared for battle; Carl, as we are expressly told, having first communicated to the chief men in his camp the haughty and threatening answer of the king. Chilperic relied on his great superiority in numbers, though his army was drawn, for the most part, from the dregs of the people: Carl prepared to meet him with a small but highly-disciplined force of well-armed and skilful warriors. In the battle which ensued on the 21st of March, the Neustrians were routed with tremendous loss, and pursued by the victors to the very gates of Paris. But Carl was not yet in a condition to keep possession of Neustria, and he therefore led his army back to Cologne, and ascended the “throne of his kingdom”, as the annalist already calls it, the dignissimus hoeres of his mighty father.

The unfortunate Chilperic, unequal as he must have felt himself to cope with a warrior like Carl, was once more induced by evil counselors to renew the war. With this view he sought the alliance of the imperfectly subjected neighboring states, whom the death of Pepin had awakened to dreams of independence. Of these the foremost was Aquitaine, which had completely emancipated itself from Frankish rule. The Aquitania of the Roman empire extended, as is well known, from the Pyrenees to the river Loire. This country, at the dissolution of the Western Empire, had fallen into the hands of the Visigoths, and was subsequently conquered, and to a certain extent subjugated, by the earlier Merovingians.

But, though nominally part of the Frankish empire, it continued to enjoy a semi-independence under its native dukes, and remained for many ages a stone of offence to the Frankish rulers. Its population, notwithstanding the admixture of German blood consequent on the Gothic conquest, had remained pre-eminently Roman in its character, and had attained in the seventh century to an unusual degree of wealth and civilization. The southern part of Aquitaine had been occupied by a people called Vascones or Gascons, who extended themselves as far as the Garonne, and had also submitted to the Frank­ish rule during the better days of the elder dynasty.

The temporary collapse of the Frankish power consequent upon the bloody feuds of the royal house, and the struggle between the seigniors and the crown, enabled Eudo, the Duke of Aquitaine, to establish himself as a perfectly independent Prince; and he and his sons ruled in full sovereignty over both Aquitaine and Gascony, and were called indifferently Aquitanioe or Vasconioe duces.


Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that Eudo should gladly receive the presents and overtures made to him by Chilperic; who agreed to leave him in quiet possession of the independence he had contumaciously asserted, on condition of his making cause against the Austrasian mayor. He lost no time in leading an army of Gascons to Paris, where he joined his forces to those of Chilperic, and prepared to meet the terrible foe. Carl advanced with his usual rapidity, and having laid waste a portion of Neustria, came upon the enemy in the neighborhood of Soissons. The new allies, who had scarcely had time to consolidate their union and mature their plans, appear to have made but a feeble resistance; and Chilperic, not considering himself safe even in Paris, fled with his treasures, in company with Eudo, into Aquitaine. Raginfried, the Neustrian majordomus, who with a division of the combined army had also made an attempt to check Carl’s progress, was likewise defeated and compelled to resign his mayoralty; as a compensation for which he received from the placable conqueror the countship of Anjou.

The victorious Austrasians pursued the fugitives as far as the river Loire and Orleans, from which place Carl sent an embassy to Eudo, and offered him terms of peace, on condition of his delivering up Chilperic and his treasures. It is difficult to say what answer Eudo, hemmed in as he was on all sides (for the Saracens were in his rear), might have given to this demand,—whether he would have consulted his own interests, or his duty to his ally and guest. But the opportune death of Clotaire, whom Carl had made king of Austrasia after the battle of Ambleve, relieved him from his dilemma. Carl, who was remarkably free from the evil spirit of revenge, declared his readiness to acknowledge Chilperic II as king, on condition of being himself appointed majordomus of the united kingdoms of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy. These terms, offered by the victor to one whose very life was at his mercy, could not but be eagerly accepted; and thus, in AD 719, Carl became nominally Mayor of the Palace to King Chilperic II, but, in fact, undisputed master of the king himself and the whole Frankish empire.

The temperate course pursued by Carl in these transactions, proceeded in a great measure from the natural moderation of his character; but it was a course which the coolest calculation would suggest. He was indeed victorious, but he was still surrounded by enemies who were rather beaten than subdued, and many of them were those of his own household.

After the death of Ratbod, the “cruel and pagan” king of the Frisians, in AD 719, Carl recovered the western portion of Friesland, and reduced the Frisians to their former state of uncertain subjection. About the same time he repelled the Saxons, those un­wearied and implacable enemies of the Frankish name, who had broken into the Frankish gaus on the right bank of the Rhine. We know little of the particulars of these campaigns, since the chroniclers content themselves with recording in general terms that the “invincible Carl” was always victorious, and his enemies utterly destroyed; a statement which is rendered suspicious by the fact that their annihilation has to be repeated frequently, and at no long intervals.

In the year after the Saxon campaign (the date of which is rather uncertain), Carl crossed the Rhine, and attacked the Alemanni (in Wirtemberg) in their own country, which he devastated without any serious opposition. Subsequently, about a.d. 725, he crossed the Danube, and entered the country of the Bavarians; and after two successful campaigns obliged that nation also to acknowledge their allegiance to the Franks. From this expedition, says the chronicler, “he returned by the Lord’s assistance to his own dominions with great treasures and a certain matron, by name Plectrude, and her niece Sonihilde”. This latter, who is called by Einhard “Swanahilde, the niece of Odilo”, subsequently became one of Carl’s wives, and the mother of the unfortunate Gripho.

It seems natural to conjecture, that Carl had an important ulterior object before his mind in these extraordinary and sustained exertions. They were but the prelude to the grand spectacle soon to be presented to an admiring world, in which this mighty monarch with the humble name was to play a conspicuous and glorious part. A contest awaited him, which he must long have foreseen with mingled feelings of eagerness and apprehension, and into which he dared not go unprepared; a contest which required the highest exercise of his own active genius, and the uncontrolled disposal of all the material resources of his empire. He had hitherto contended for his hereditary honors against his personal enemies—for the supremacy of the Germans over the Gallo Romans, of his own tribe over kindred German tribes—and finally, for order and good government against anarchy and faction. Hereafter he was to renew the old struggle between the West and East—to be the champion of Christianity and German Institutions, against the false and degrading faith of Mohammed, and all the corrupting and enervating habits of the oriental world.


The most sober history of the rise and progress of Islamism, and the Arabian empire, which was founded on it, has all the characteristics of an eastern fable. In the beginning of the seventh century, an Arabian of the priestly house of Haschem retired into a cave at Mecca, to brood over the visions of a powerful but morbid imagination. The suggestions of his own distempered mind, and the impulses of his own strong will, were mistaken for the inspiration and the commands of the Almighty, concerning whom his notions were in part adopted from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. He learned to regard himself as the chosen instrument of God, for the introduction of a new faith and the establishment of a power, before which all the nations of the earth should bow. When his meditations had assumed consistency, he shaped them into a system of faith and practice, which he confidently proposed for the acceptance of mankind, as the most perfect and glorious expression of the di­vine mind and will. His belief in himself, in his own infallibility, and the perfection of his system, was so absolute, that he regarded all other men in the light of children, who, if they cannot be persuaded, must be forced, into the right path. The sword was the only logic he considered suitable to the case; and death or the Koran was the sole alternative which his followers thought fit to offer.

For a time the lofty pretensions of the prophet were acknowledged only by a few, and those few belonged to his own family. But his system, springing as it did from an eminently oriental mind, was wonderfully adapted to the wants and tastes of oriental nations. The only true and valuable parts of it, indeed, are mutilated shreds from the covenants of Abraham and Moses and the Revelation of our blessed Savior; but while the sublimity of these afforded writable objects of contemplation to the nobler faculties of the soul, the strongest passions of fallen human nature, pride, revenge, and lust, were not denied their appropriate gratification. What could be more acceptable to the natural man than a system which quiets the conscience amidst the excesses of sensual love, which takes away the necessity for self-discipline by the doctrine of fatalism, which teaches men to look down with a lofty contempt upon all who think differently from themselves, and, lastly, holds out as a reward for the coercion and destruction of opponents an eternity of voluptuous enjoyment in the society of celestial courtesans? Much no doubt was done by the sword of the hardy and impetuous sons of Ishmael, but this could not alone have spread the Koran over half the world; the very faults which make it odious in Christian eyes, gave wings to its progress, and excited in its favor a deep and frenzied devotion.

In AD 622, Mohammed was obliged to flee to Medina, from the virulent opposition of the members of his own tribe. Within ninety years from that time his successors and disciples had conquered and converted, not Arabia alone, but Syria, Persia, Palestine, Phoenicia, Egypt, Asia Minor, Armenia, the country between the Black Sea and the Caspian, a portion of India, and the whole of the North of Africa from the Nile to the Atlantic Ocean.

The year AD 710 found them gazing with longing eyes across the straits of Gibraltar, eager for the time when they might plant upon the rock of Calpe the meteor standard of their prophet; and thence survey the beautiful and fertile country which was soon to be their own. Nor were their hopes deferred: their entrance into Spain, which might have proved difficult if not impossible to effect in the face of a brave and united people, was rendered safe and easy by treachery, cowardice, and theological dissensions.

The first collision, indeed, of the Arabian conquerors with the warriors of the West was rather calculated to damp their hopes of European conquest. The Visigothic kings of Spain possessed the town of Ceuta on the African coast, of which Count Julian, at the time of which we speak, was military governor. The skill and courage of this great warrior and his garrison, had hitherto frustrated all the attempts of Musa, the general of the Caliph Walid, to make himself master of the place. The Saracens were already beginning to despair of success, when they suddenly received overtures from Count Julian himself, who now offered, not merely to open the gates of Ceuta, but to procure for the Saracens a ready admittance into Spain. The grounds of this sudden treachery on the part of one who had risked his life at the post of honor, cannot be stated with any degree of certainty. By some it was ascribed to the desire of avenging himself upon Roderic, his king, who is said to have abused his daughter; and by others to the fact that he had espoused the cause of Witiza’s sons, at that time pretenders to the Spanish throne. The Saracen general Musa, delighted to have found the Achilles-heel of Europe, immediately despatched a few hundred Moslems across the strait, under the command of Tarik; from whom the modern Gibraltar (Gebel-al-Tarik) derives its name. These adventurers were well received in the town and castle of Count Julian at Algesiras, and soon returned to their expectant comrades, with rich booty and exciting tales of the fertility of the country, and the effeminacy of the degenerate Goths.


In the April of the following year, AD 711, a body of 5000 Saracens effected a landing on the coast of Spain, and entrenched themselves strongly near the Rock of Gibraltar. These were soon followed by other troops, until a considerable Moslem army was collected on the Spanish shores. The feeble resistance made to this descent was a fatal omen for the empire of the Visigoths. This once brave and hardy tribe of Germans had lost, during a long peace, the valor and endurance to which they owed the rich provinces of Spain; and, amidst the pleasures of that luxurious country, had grown so unaccustomed to the use of arms, that it was long before they could be roused to meet the foe. At length, however, the unwarlike Roderic, having collected an army four times as great as that of the enemy, but without confidence either in their leader or themselves, encamped at Xeres de la Frontera, in the neighbourhood of Cadiz. While awaiting at this place the approach of the enemy, the Gothic king is represented as sitting in an ivory chariot, arrayed in silken garments unworthy of a man even in time of peace, and wearing a golden crown upon his head. The battle which quickly followed was fought on the 26th of July, A. D. 731. It was of short duration and of no doubtful issue. The timid herd of Goths, scarcely awaiting the wild charge of the Saracens, turned and fled in irretrievable confusion. Roderic himself, fit leader of such an army, was among the first to leave the field on the back of a fleet racer, which had been placed, at his desire, in the neighborhood of his tent, as if his trembling heart had foreseen the issue.

The Visigothic empire in Spain fell by a single blow. Tarik advanced with his victorious army as far as Cordova, which immediately yielded at his summons ; and he would, without doubt, have overrun the whole of Spain, had he not been recalled by the jealousy of Musa, who reserved for himself the glory of completing the splendid conquest.

Of all the Spanish towns which were captured on this occasion, Seville and Merida alone appear to have upheld the ancient glories of the Gothic name; but even these were finally reduced, and the last remnants of the Visigoths were driven from the rich plains they had so long possessed into the mountains of Asturias. It was in these rugged solitudes, and amidst the hardships and privations which they there endured, that they regained their ancient vigour, and preserved their Christian faith. It was thence that at a later period they descended upon their Moorish foes, and in many a hard-fought battle, the frequent theme of ballad and romaunt, recovered, step by step, the fair possessions which their ancestors had won and lost.

And thus by a single victory Spain was added to the vast dominions of the Caliph, and the Cross once more retired before the Crescent. Nor did it seem that the Pyrenees, any more than the rock of Gibraltar, were to prove a barrier to the devastating flood of Islamism. About AD 718, Zama, the Arabian Viceroy of Spain, made himself master of that portion of Gaul, on the slopes of the Eastern Pyrenees, of which the Goths had hitherto retained possession. In AD 731 he stormed Narbonne, the capital of the province, and having put all the male inhabitants capable of bearing arms to the sword, he sent away the women and children into captivity. He then pushed forward into Aquitaine, and laid siege to Toulouse, which proved the limit of his progress; for it was there that he was defeated by Eudo, the duke of the country, who was roused to a desperate effort by the danger of his capital. The check thus given to the onward march of the Moslems was of short duration. Ambiza, the successor of Zama, about four years afterwards once more made a movement in advance. Taking a more easterly direction, he stormed and plundered Carcassonne and Nimes; and having devastated the country as far as the Rhone, returned laden with booty across the Pyrenees.

Duke Eudo of Aquitaine, deprived of the fruits of his single victory, resigned all hopes of successfully resisting the invaders, and endeavored to preserve himself from utter ruin by an alliance with his formidable foes. He is even said to have so far belied his character of Christian prince as to give his own daughter in marriage, or concubinage, to Munuz, the governor of the newly-made Gallic conquests.

It appears that the expeditions of the Saracens into Gaul had been hitherto made by individual generals on a comparatively small scale, and on their own responsibility. The unusually slow progress of their arms at this period, is to be ascribed less to any fear of opposition, than to inward dissensions in the Arabian empire, and a rapid succession of caliphs singularly unlike in their characters and views. Nine short years (AD 715—724,) had seen the cruel Soliman succeeded by the severe, yet just and upright Omar, the luxurious Epicurean Yesid, and the little-minded, calculating Hescham.


It is probable, therefore, that, amid more pressing anxieties and interests, the distant conquest of Spain was forgotten or neglected by the court at Damascus; and that the generals, who commanded in that country, were apt to indulge in ideas inconsistent with their real position as satraps and slaves of an imperial master. But a change was at hand, and the new actor Abderahman, who suddenly appeared upon the scene with an army of 400,000 men, was charged with a twofold commission,—to chastise the presumption of Munuz, whose alliance with Eudo was regarded with suspicion,—and to bring the whole of Gaul under the scepter of the Caliph and the law of Mohammed. Regarding Munuz as a rebel and a semi-apostate, Abderahman besieged him in the town of Cerdagnel, to which he fled for refuge, and, having driven him to commit suicide, sent his head, together with his wife, the daughter of Eudo, as a welcome present to the Caliph Hescham.

The victorious Saracens then marched on past Pampeluna, and, making their way through the narrow defiles on the western side of the Pyrenean chain, poured down upon the plains with their in­numerable hosts as far as the river Garonne. The city of Bordeaux was taken and sacked, and still they pressed on impetuously and without opposition, until they reached the river Dordogne, where Eudo, burning with rage at the treatment which his daughter had received, made a fruitless attempt to stop them. Irritated rather than checked by his feeble efforts, the overwhelming tide poured on. The standard of the Prophet soon floated from the towers of Poitiers, and even Tours, the city of the holy St. Martin, was in danger of being polluted by the presence of insulting infidels, when, in the hour of Europe’s greatest dread and danger, the champion of Christendom appeared at last, to do battle with the hitherto triumphant enemies of the Cross.

It seems strange at first sight that the danger, which had so long been threatening Europe from the side of Spain, should not have called forth an earlier and more effectual resistance from those whose national and religious existence was at stake. Abderahman had now made his way into the very centre of modern France; had taken and plundered some of the wealthiest towns in the Frankish empire; and, after burning or desecrating every Christian church he met with, was marching on the hallowed sanctuary of the patron saint, enriched by the offerings of ages; without encountering a single foe who could even hope to stay his progress. Where was the invincible and ubiquitous Carl, who was wont to fall like a thunderbolt upon his enemies? We might indeed be surprised at his seeming tardiness, did we not know the extraordinary difficulties with which he had to struggle, and the seemingly impossible task he had to perform. It was not with the modern superstition of Mohammed alone that he had to contend, but with the hoary heathenism of the North; not with the Saracens alone, but with his barbarous kinsmen—with nations as hardy and warlike as his own Austrasian warriors, and animated no less than the followers of Mohammed with an indomitable hatred of the Christian name. Enemies were ready to pour upon him from every side, from the green slopes of the Pyrenees and over the broad waters of the Rhine; nor could he reckon upon the fidelity of all who lay within these boundaries.

During the whole of the ten years in which the Saracens were crossing the Pyrenees and establishing themselves in Gaul, Carl was constantly engaged in wars with his German neighbors. In that short period he made campaigns against the Frisians, the Swabians, and the Bavarians, the last of whom (as we have seen) he even crossed the Danube to attack in their own country. As late as AD 728, when Abderahman must have been already meditating his desolating march, Carl had to turn his arms once more against the Saxons; and in AD 731, the very year before he met the Saracens at Poitiers, he marched an army into Aquitaine to quell the rebellion of Duke Eudo.

Such were some of the adverse circumstances under which Carl had to make his preparations, and under which he encamped with his veterans in the neighborhood of Poitiers, where, for the first time in his life, he beheld the white tents of the Moslem invaders, covering the land as far as the eye could reach.

We cannot doubt that he had long been looking forward to this hour with an anxious though intrepid heart, for all depended upon him; and that the wars in which he had lately been engaged, were the more important in his eyes, because their successful termination was necessary to secure his rear, and increase the limits of his war-ban when the time for action should arrive.

The hitherto unconquered Saracens, who had carried the banner of their Prophet in almost uninterrupted triumph from the deserts of Arabia to the banks of the Loire, were destined to find at last an insuperable barrier in the brave hearts of Carl and his Austrasian followers.


On a Sunday, in the month of October, AD 732, after trying each other’s strength in skirmishes of small importance during the whole of the previous week, the two armies, invoking respectively the aid of Christ and Mohammed, came to a general engagement on the plains between Poitiers and Tours. The rapid onslaught of the Ishmaelites, by which they were accustomed to bear everything before them, recoiled from the steady valor and iron front of the Franks, whose heavy swords made dreadful havoc among their lightly clad opponents. Repulsed, but unbroken in courage and determination, resolved to force their way through that wall of steel or to dash themselves to death against it, the gallant Moslems repeated their wild charges until sunset. At every repulse their blood flowed in torrents, and at the end of the day they found themselves farther than ever from the goal, and gazed upon far more dead upon the slippery field than remained alive in their ranks. Hopeless of being able to renew the contest, they retreated in the night, and, for the first time, fled before an enemy. On the following morning, when the Franks again drew up in battle-array, the camp of the foe was discovered to be empty, so that, instead of awaiting the attack, they had the more agreeable task of plundering the tents and pursuing the fugitives. Abderahman himself was found among the dead, and around him, according to the not very credible account of the chroniclers, lay 300,000 of his soldiers; while the Franks lost only 1500 men.

Eudo, who, after his defeat on the Dordogne, had taken refuge with his more merciful enemy Carl, was present in the battle and took part in the pursuit and plunder. It was after this glorious triumph over the most formidable enemies of his country and religion that Carl received the surname of Martel (the Hammer), by which he has since been known, in history.

The importance of this victory to all succeeding age has often been enlarged upon, and can hardly be exaggerated. The fate of Europe, humanly speaking, hung upon the sword of the Frankish mayor; and but for Carl, and the bold German warriors who had learned the art and practice of war under him and his glorious father, the heart of Europe might even now be in the possession of the Moslem; and the Mosque and the Harem might stand where now we see the spire of the Christian church, and the home of the Christian family.

Though an effective check had been given to the progress of the Saracen arms, and they themselves had been deprived of that chief support of fanatic valor— the belief in their own invincibility,—yet their power was by no means broken, nor was Carl in condition to improve his victory. The Neustrians and Burgundians were far from being reconciled to the supremacy which the German Franks had acquired over themselves under the mighty Carolingian mayores. Their jealousy of Carl Martel’s success and their hatred of his person, were so much stronger than their zeal in the cause of Christendom, that even while he was engaged in his desperate conflict with the Saracens they were raising a rebellion in his rear. But the indefatigable warrior was not sleeping on the laurels he had won. No sooner had he received intelligence of their treacherous designs, than he led his troops, fresh from the slaughter of the Infidels, into the very heart of Burgundy, and inflicted a terrible retribution on his domestic foes. He then removed all whom he had reason to suspect from their posts of emolument and honor, and be­stowed them upon men on whom he could depend in the hour of danger.

In the following year, AD 734, he made considerable progress in the subjugation and, what was even more difficult, the conversion of the Frisians, who hated Christianity the more because it was connected in their minds with a foreign yoke. The preaching of Boniface was powerfully seconded by the sword of Carl, who attacked them by land and sea, defeated their Duke, Poppo, destroyed their heathen altars, and, like our own Alfred in the case of the Danes, gave them the alternative of Christianity or death.

After the victory of Poitiers, Carl had entrusted the defence of the Pyrenean borders to Duke Eudo, whom he left in peaceable though dependent possession of his territories. Eudo had received a rough lesson from his former misfortunes, and passed the remainder of his life in friendly relations with his Frankish liege lord. At the death of Eudo, in AD 735, a dispute arose between his sons, Hunold and Hatto, respecting the succession; and it seems that in the course of their contest they had forgotten their common dependence upon Carl Martel. A feud of this nature at such a period, and in the immediate neighborhood of the Saracens, was highly dangerous to Aquitaine and the whole Frankish empire. Carl therefore lost no time in leading an army into the distracted province, to settle the disputes of the contending parties, and bring the population into a more complete state of subjection. Having advanced to the Garonne and taken the city of Bordeaux, he entered into negotiations with Hunold; and, “with his accustomed piety”, conferred the duchy upon him, on condition of his renewing his father’s oath of fealty to himself and his two sons, whom he thus distinctly pointed out to the Franks as their hereditary rulers.


In A.D. 737, the infidels were once more introduced into the south of Gaul by the treachery of Christians. A man of influence in Provence, called Maurontus, who probably aimed at an independent dukedom, formed a strong party among the Neustrian seigniors against the detested German mayor.1 As the Arabian alliance was the only one which could sustain them in a conflict with Carl, they made no scruple of inviting Ibn Yusuf, the new viceroy of Septimania (Languedoc), into their country and giving him the city of Avignon as a pledge of their sincerity. The Saracens, instructed by their strange allies, passed into Burgundy, where the party opposed to Carl was strongest: having taken Vienne, they covered the country as far as Lyons with their wild and rapid cavalry, which everywhere left its traces of fire and blood.

The advance of the Saracens was so sudden, and their progress so rapid, that Carl Martel was not immediately prepared to meet them. He therefore despatched his brother Childebrand and his principal seigniors, with such forces as were ready, to keep the enemy in check; determining himself to follow with a numerous and well appointed army. When the advanced guard of the Franks arrived near Avignon, the Saracens retreated into that place, and prepared to stand a siege. On the arrival of Carl the town, which had resisted Childebrand, was taken by storm, and the Arabian garrison put to the sword. The Franks then crossed the Rhone, and marched through Septimania to Narbonne—a place of great importance to the Saracens, who had made it a magazine for their arms. It was defended at this time by Athima, viceroy of the Caliph in Septimania, with a considerable force. The Saracens of Spain, fearing that the garrison might be insufficient to withstand the assault of the Franks (who had invested the town on every side), fitted out a fleet, and transported a body of troops to the mouth of the river Berre (near Narbonne), in hopes of raising the siege. This movement did not escape the quick eye of Carl; who, leaving his brother with a division of the besiegers, fell with the remainder on the newly landed force of the enemy, and routed them with dreadful slaughter. He failed, however, in his attempts upon Narbonne, which remained in the hands of the Saracens; while BezieresAgdeMegalone, and Nimes, together with all the territory on the north side of the river Aude (subsequently known as Languedoc), were reunited to the Frankish Empire.

According to Paullus Diaconus, Carl Martel was assisted on this occasion by Luitprand, king of the Longobards in Italy, with whom he had formed a close alliance and friendship. We have hardly sufficient grounds for believing that the Longobards took an active part in this war, but the mere ex­pectation of their approach may have exercised some influence in bringing about the results above described.

The activity of his enemies in the north again prevented Carl from pursuing his advantages against the Moslems, who might perhaps, had German Europe been united, have even then been driven back to the shores of Africa. In AD 737 we find the indefatigable warrior employed in repelling and avenging a fresh inroad of the Saxons, whom he defeated with great slaughter and drove along the river Lippe. In AD 739 he again appeared in Burgundy, where his presence had become necessary to stamp out the shouldering embers of the old conspiracy.


In the meantime a new theatre was preparing for the Franks, on which they were destined by Providence to play a very conspicuous and important part. The exertions and influence of Boniface the great apostle of Germany, and the intimate religious union he had effected between the Frankish Church and the Bishops of Rome, were to produce for both parties still richer fruits than had yet appeared. To understand the circumstances which brought them into closer external relations, corresponding to the increased intimacy of their spiritual union, it will be necessary to make ourselves acquainted with the state of Italy at this period; and more especially with the very singular and anomalous position of the Bishops of Rome.

That devoted land, as if in penance for the long and selfish tyranny it had exercised over the world, had become the prey, in turn, of almost every barbarous tribe of Europe; but was at this period nominally subject to the Emperors of the East. The victories of Narses, in AD 534, had destroyed the power of the Ostrogoths, which, under the great and good Theodoric, had seemed so firmly established; and Italy was now a province of the Roman Empire, instead of being, as formerly, its centre and head. It was governed for the Byzantine court by a viceroy styled Exarch, whose residence was at Ravenna, on the eastern coast. The court and people of Constantinople, however, were too feeble to retain for any length of time a conquest, which they owed solely to the genius of a fortunate general. About thirty years after the defeat of the Goths, when the valiant eunuch had ceased to defend what he had won, the Longobards and 20,000 Saxons, descending upon Italy from the Julian Alps; expelled the Ro­mans from the greater portion of their recent con­quests, and confined them to the narrow limits of the Exarchate. The empire which the Longobards at this time established was greatly weakened by its division into several Duchies, the rulers of which were in constant strife with one another and with the central government. We may judge of the extent and consequences of these internal dissensions from the fact that, after the assassination of King Eleph (ad 574), the Longobards in Italy remained without a king for ten years, and were subject to thirty-six dukes, each of whom “reigned in his own city”.

The most powerful of these were the Dukes of Benevento, Friuli, and Spoleto. At the end of this period the royalist party—favoured, no doubt, by the great mass of the people, to whom nothing is so hateful as a petty tyrant—once more obtained the ascendancy, and compelled the revolted dukes to swear fealty to Authari, surnamed Flavius, son of the murdered Kleph. The reunion of the Longobards under one head was naturally followed by a further extension of their borders at the expense of the Roman empire; and this extension was the immediate cause of a collision between the kings of the Longobards and the successors of St. Peter, which gave rise to the most important and lasting results.


The Bishops of Rome had, in the meantime, been adding to the spiritual influence they owed to their position as heads of the Church in the great capital of the West, the material resources of extensive possessions, and numerous and devoted vassals. Like all other dignified ecclesiastics within the imperial dominions, the Bishops of Rome were subject to the Greek Emperor; but, as it was mainly by their influence and exertions that the city and duchy of Rome were kept in allegiance to the Greek Emperor, the balance of obligation was generally in favor of the Pontiffs, who, on that account, were treated by the court at Constantinople in a far less arrogant manner than would have been congenial to the pompous sovereigns of the East.

The aggressive attitude of the Longobards, which threatened the Greek Emperors with the loss of the small remnant of their Italian possessions, was calculated to excite no less the apprehensions of the Roman Bishops. It was open to them, indeed, to throw themselves at once into the arms of the Longobardian monarchs, from whose reverence and gratitude they might, no doubt, have acquired a commanding position in Church and State; and it was this ever-present alternative which rendered them virtually independent of their nominal sovereigns. Many reasons, however, inclined them to preserve their allegiance to the Byzantine court, or at least to refrain from transferring it to any other potentate. Old associations, and the fear of change, would have their weight in determining the course pursued; but the circumstances which chiefly influenced the Popes in their decision were, in the first place, the distance of Constantinople from Rome, which was favorable to their independence; and, in the next, the declining power and feeble character of the Emperors, which rendered them convenient masters to aspiring vassals.

The evident intention of the Bishops of Rome, to play off the Longobards and the Byzantine court against each other, and to make their own career the resultant of these two opposing forces, seemed, for some time, likely to be entirely frustrated. The iconoclastic controversy, with all its horrible and ridiculous consequences, now began to agitate the Christian world, and gave rise to the bitterest hostility between the great capitals of the East and West, and their respective rulers. The Emperor Leo III, surnamed the Isaurian, disgusted at the idolatrous worship paid by his subjects to the images which filled the churches, issued, in AD 726, his famous decree for their destruction. It was then that the independence of thought and action to which the Roman bishops had accustomed themselves was clearly manifested.

The Emperor communicated his pleasure respecting the destruction of the images to the Pope, and claimed from him the same unanswering obedience which he was accustomed to meet with from the Patriarch of Constantinople. But Gregory II, encouraged by the unanimous support of the Italians, who looked to him as the champion of their beloved idols, not only refused, in a letter full of personal abuse, to carry out the wishes of the Emperor, but fulminated a threat of excommunication against all who should dare to lay violent hands upon the images.


After so public a renunciation of his allegiance, we might expect to see the Bishop of Rome avowedly siding with the Longobards, especially as they had forsaken the Arian heresy, and their King Luitprand himself had manifested a very high degree of veneration for St. Peter’s chair. But the motives suggested above retained their force, and no such change took place; on the contrary, we are told that when the Italians, “on hearing the wickedness of Leo, formed a plan of electing a new emperor and conducting him to Constantinople”, the Pope induced them to forego their purpose and adhere to their former allegiance.

Nor is his policy on this occasion difficult to understand. The Longobards were too near, and the absorption of Rome into their empire would have been too complete to allow the Bishops of Rome free scope for their lofty schemes of ambition. As subjects of King Luitprand, they would have run the risk of sinking from the rank of virtual rulers of the Roman duchy, to that of mere metropolitan bishops. And the danger of this degradation grew every day more urgent. Gregory II died in the midst of the perplexities arising from his critical position. But the same policy was pursued by his successor Gregory III with so much determination, that Luitprand, who, whatever may have been his reverence for the spiritual character of his opponent, and liberal as he was towards the Holy See, could not overlook his intrigues, and was determined to be sole master in Italy, found it necessary to advance upon Rome with a hostile army. The scruples which the pious Longobards may have felt in violating St Peter’s patrimony, must have been greatly relieved by the very secular conduct of Gregory in respect to the king’s rebellious vassals. Thrasamund, Duke of Spoleto, having incurred the displeasure of his sovereign, took refuge in Rome; and when Luitprand demanded that he should be given up, the Pope and the Patricians of the Romans united in giving a decided refusal. The opposition to Luitprand was further strengthened by the adhesion of Gottschalk, Duke of Benevento, who took up arms against his suzerain; and in an engagement which took place soon after, between the king and his mutinous vassals, Roman troops were seen fighting on the side of the rebels.

Contrary to the hopes and expectations of Gregory, Luitprand was completely victorious; and, justly irritated by the conduct of the Romans, to whom he had shown so much forbearance, immediately led his forces to the very gates of Rome, with the full intention of incorporating it with the rest of his Italian dominions3; and thus, with all his foresight, Gregory had brought the rising structure of the papacy into the greatest danger, and appeared to be himself at the mercy of his enemies.

In this extremity the holy father bethought him­self of the powerful and orthodox nation which had for so many ages been the faithful ally of the Catholic Church, and had lately been united in still closer bonds of reverence and amity to St. Peter’s chair. In AD 739, Pope Gregory III applied for aid against the Longobards “to his most excellent son, the Sub-king Carl”.

That this application was made unwillingly, and with considerable misgivings about the consequences, may be inferred from the extremities to which Gregory submitted before he made it.

His hesitation was owing, no doubt, in part to his instinctive dread of giving the papal chair a too powerful protector, who might easily become a master; and partly to his knowledge of the sincere friendship which existed between his opponent Luitprand and his desired ally. Of all the circumstances which threatened to prevent the realization of the papal dreams of temporal independence and spiritual domination, none were so greatly and so justly dreaded as an alliance between the Franks and Longobards; and we shall see that Gregory III and his successors spared no pains, and shrunk from no means however questionable, to excite jealousy and hatred between the Franks and their Lombard kinsmen.

While the Romans were trembling within their hastily-repaired walls, and awaiting the decisive assault of the Longobards, Carl Martel was resting from the fatigues of his late campaigns in Burgundy; and he was still in that country when the papal envoys reached him. They brought with them a piteous epistle from Gregory, in which he complains with bitterness of the persecutions of his enemies, who, he says, had robbed the very church of St Peter (which stood without the walls) of its candlesticks; and taken away the pious offerings of the Frankish princes. Carl received the communication of the afflicted Pontiff with the greatest reverence. The interests of the empire, and more especially of his own family, were too intimately connected with the existence and honor of the Bishops of Rome, to allow of his feeling indifferent to what was passing in Italy; and there is no reason to doubt that he entertained the highest veneration for the Head of the Church. Yet this first embassy seems to have justified the fears rather than the hopes of Gregory.

The incessant exertions which Carl’s enemies compelled him to make for the maintenance of his authority would long ago have destroyed a man of ordinary energy and endurance, and were beginning to tell even upon his iron frame. He was aware that the new order of things, of which he was the principal author, depended for its continuance and consolidation solely upon his presence and watchfulness. So far from being in a condition to lead his forces to a distant country, and to make enemies of brave and powerful friends, it was not long since he had sought the assistance of the Longobards themselves; and he knew not how soon he might stand in need of it again.

He therefore contented himself with opening friendly negotiations with Luitprand, who excused himself to Carl, and agreed to spare the Papal territory on condition that the Romans should cease to interfere between himself and his rebellious subjects. The exact terms of the agreement made between Gregory and Luitprand, by the mediation of Carl Martel, are of the less moment, as they were observed by neither party. In AD 740 the Longobards again appeared in arms before the gates of Rome; and the Pope was once more a suppliant at the Frankish court. In the letter which Carl Martel received on this occasion, Gregory bitterly complains that no effectual aid had been as yet afforded him; that more attention had been paid to the “lying” reports of the Lombard king than to his own statements, and he earnestly implores his “most Christian son” not to prefer the friendship of Luitprand to the love of the Prince of the Apostles. It is evident from the whole tenor of this second epistle, that the Frankish mayor had not altered his conduct towards the King of the Lombards, in consequence of Gregory’s charges and complaints; but had trusted rather to his own knowledge of his friend than to the invectives of the terrified and angry Pope.


To give additional weight to his written remonstrances and entreaties, Gregory sent the bishop Anastasius and the presbyter Sergius to Carl Martel, charged with more secret and important instructions, which he scrupled to commit to writing. The nature of their communications may be gathered from the symbolical actions by which they were accompanied. The envoys brought with them the keys of St. Peter’s sepulcher, which they offered to Carl, on whom they were also empowered to confer the title and dignity of Roman Patricius. By the former step, the offer of the keys (an honor never before conferred upon a Frankish ruler), Gregory expressed his desire to constitute the powerful mayor Protector of the Holy See; and by conferring the rank of Roman Patricius without, as seems probable, the sanction of the Greek Emperor, he in effect withdrew his allegiance from the latter, and acknowledged Carl Martel as liege lord of the Roman duchy and people. It was in this light that the whole transaction was regarded at the time, for we read in the chronicle of Moissiac, written in the beginning of the ninth century, that the letter of “the Pope was accompanied by a decree of the Roman Principes; and that the Roman people, having thrown off the rule of the Greek Emperor, desired to place themselves under the protection of the aforesaid prince, and his invincible clemency”.

Carl Martel received the ambassadors with the distinguished honor due to the dignity of the sender, and the importance of their mission; and willingly accepted at their hands the significant offerings they brought. When they were prepared to return, he loaded them with costly presents, and ordered Grimo, the Abbot of Corbey, and Sigebert, a monk of St. Denis, to accompany them to Rome, and bear his answer to Pope Gregory. Rome was once more delivered from destruction by the intervention of Carl, and his influence with Luitprand.


And thus were the last days of the great Frankish hero and Gregory III employed in marking out a line of policy respecting each other, and the great temporal and spiritual interests committed to them, which, being zealously followed up by their successors, led in the sequel to the most important and brilliant results. They both died nearly at the same time, in the same year (AD 741) in which the events above described took place. The restless activity of Carl Martel had prematurely worn him out. Conscious of the rapid decline of his powers, he began to set his house in order; and he had scarcely time to portion out his vast empire among his sons, and to make his peace with heaven in the church of the patron saint, when he was seized by a fever in his palace at Chiersy, on the Oise; where he died on the 15th (or 21st) of October, AD 741, at the early age of fifty. He was buried in the church of St. Denis.

Carl Martel may be reckoned in the number of those great men who have been deprived of more than half the glory due to them, “because they want the sacred poet”. Deeds which, in the full light of history, would have appeared sufficient to make a dozen warriors immortal, are despatched by the Frankish chroniclers in a few dry words. His greatness, indeed, shines forth even from their meager notices; but we feel, as we read them, that had a Caesar or a Livy unfolded his character and described his exploits,—instead of a poor pedantic monk like Fredegar,—a rival might be found for the Caesars, the Scipios, and the Hannibals.

We have seen that he inherited little from his father but the hereditary vigour of his race. He began life as the prisoner of an envious stepmother. When he escaped from his prison at Cologne, he was surrounded by powerful enemies; nor could he consider himself safe until, with a force which voluntarily joined his standard, he had defeated three armies larger than his own. His subsequent career was in accordance with the deeds of his early life. Every step in his onward progress was the result of a contest. He fought his way to the seat of his mighty father. He defeated the Neustrians, and compelled them to receive a sovereign at his hands. He attacked and defeated, in rapid succession, the warlike nation of the Frisians and the Saxons.; he refixed the Frankish yoke more firmly upon the necks of the Swabians, the Bavarians, the Aquitanians, and Gascons; and, above all, he stemmed the mighty tide of Moslemism which threatened to engulf the world.

Nor was it with external enemies alone that he had to contend. To the last days of his active life he was engaged in quelling the endless seditions of the great seigniors, who were as impatient of control from above as of opposition from below.

His mighty deeds are recorded; but of the manner in which he set about them; of the resources, internal and external, mental and physical, by which he was enabled to perform them; of his personal character and habits; of his usual dwelling-place; of his friends and servants, his occupations, tastes, and habits, we are left in the profoundest ignorance.

The great and important results of his activity were the predominance of the German element in the Frankish empire, the preservation of Europe from Mohammedanism, and the union of the principal German tribes into one powerful State. And all these mighty objects he effected, as far as we are able to judge, chiefly, though not entirely, by the sword. He beat down everything which barred his course; he crushed all those who dared to oppose him; he coerced the stubbornness of the independent German tribes, and welded them together by terrific and repeated blows. Our prevailing idea of him, therefore, is that of force—irresistible energy; and his popular surname of Martel, or the Hammer, appears a particularly happy one.

The task which he performed was in many respects similar to that of Clovis at an earlier period; but it is not difficult to see that it was performed in a very different spirit. “He is not”, says Guizot, “an ordinary usurper. He is the chief of a new people which has not renounced its ancient manners, and which holds more closely to Germany than to Gaul”. Though superior to Clovis, even as a warrior, we have no sufficient reason to accuse Carl Martel of being either treacherous or cruel. The incessant wars in which he was unavoidably engaged, necessarily imply a great amount of confusion in the State, and of sacrifice and suffering on the part of the people. And we have sufficient evidence of a direct nature, to show that the usual effects of long-continued wars were severely felt in the Frankish empire. The great mass of the people is seldom honored by the notice of the Chroniclers, and never except in their relation to those for whom they toil and bleed; and we might have been left in blissful ignorance of the cost of Carl Martel’s brilliant deeds, had not the coffers of the Church been heavily mulcted to defray it.


Ecclesiastical property, which, at the time we speak of, comprised a large proportion of the land, was exempted, by various immunities and privileges, from bearing its due share of the public burdens. Carl Martel, therefore, to whom a large and constant supply of money was indispensable, was accustomed to make a portion of the wealth of the Church available to the wants of the State. This he effected by bestowing bishoprics and rich benefices on his personal friends and trustiest followers, without much regard to their fitness for the clerical office. It was for this offence that, notwithstanding the support he gave to Boniface and his brother missionaries, and the number of churches which he founded and endowed, he was held up by ecclesiastical writers of a later age as a destroyer of monasteries, “who converted the property of the Church to his own use”, and on that account died “a fearful death”. More than a hundred years after Carl’s decease (in AD 858) Louis, the German, was reminded, by a synod held at Chiersy, of the sins committed by his great ancestor against the Church. “Prince Carl”, said the assembled fathers to the king, “the father of Pepin, who was the first among the Frankish kings and princes to alienate and distribute the goods of the Church, was solely on that account eternally damned”. They then proceeded to relate the well-known “Visio S. Eucherii”, a forgery of Archbishop Hincmar, according to which, Eucherius, bishop of Orleans, having been transported to the other world in a trance, beheld Carl Martel suffering the pains of hell. On his inquiring, of the angel who accompanied him, the reason of what he saw, he was told that the mighty majordomus was suffering the penalty of having seized and distributed the property of the Church. The astonished bishop related what had befallen him to Boniface, and Fulrad the abbot of St. Denis, and repaired in their company to the sepulcher of Carl Martel. On opening the coffin, which was charred on the inside and contained no corpse, a dragon rushed out and made its escape.

Against these and other harsh judgments of the great hero’s character (none of which are earlier than the ninth century), the acrimonious nature of which betrays their source, we may set the respect of his contemporaries, the friendship of Boniface and Pope Gregory, and the fact that he endowed and enriched a great number of religious houses, and was frequently applied to by the Pope to defend St. Peter’s chair. That his own necessities, and the excessive wealth and troublesome privileges of the Church, induced him to take measures which operated injuriously on the character of the clergy, cannot be denied; but he proved in many ways that he acted in no hostile spirit to religion or its ministers, but under the pressure of circumstances which he could not control. If he used a portion of the revenues of the Church to pay and equip his soldiers, he led those soldiers against the bitterest enemies of Christendom, the heathen and the Moslem. His lot was cast in the battlefield, but the part which he there performed was useful as well as brilliant. Though evidently a warrior of the highest class—great in the council as in the field—he was not that degraded being, a mere warrior. He never seems to have sought war for its own sake, or to have delighted in bloodshed. He was willing to negotiate with an enemy, even when he felt himself the stronger; and was placable and generous to his bitterest foes. The aid he afforded to Boniface and others in their efforts to convert the heathen, and the sympathy he showed in their success, sufficiently prove that he was not indifferent to religion; and that he could appreciate, not only the brave exploits of the gallant soldier, but the self-sacrificing labors of the zealous missionary.




AD 741—768


Carl Martel left two sons, Carloman and Pepin, by his first wife of whom nothing is known, and a third, Gripho, by the captive Bavarian princess Sunehild, who is sometimes called his second wife and sometimes his concubine. In the first partition of his dominions, which was made known before his death, he apportioned Austrasia, Swabia (Alemannia), and Thuringia, the German provinces, to his eldest son, Carloman; Neustria, Burgundy, and Provence, to Pepin, the chief inheritor of his glory. In this arrangement the son of Sunehild was wisely passed over; but the entreaties of his beautiful spouse induced Carl, at the very end of his life, to set apart a portion from each of the two kingdoms above mentioned for Gripho; an unfortunate step, which only brought destruction on him who received the fatal gift.

The mischievous effects of the new partition showed themselves immediately. The subjects of Gripho, among whom alone he could look for sympathy and support, were discontented at being arbitrarily separated from the rest of the empire; and the ill-feeling of the seigniors and people in all parts of the country appears to have been enhanced by the prejudice existing against Sunehild, both as a foreigner and on account of the great influence she exercised over the heart of Carl. So strong, indeed, was the feeling of the Franks upon the subject, that we may fairly doubt whether Carloman and Pepin themselves, had they been so inclined, would have been able to secure to their brother the possession of the territory allotted to him.

Whatever sentiments the two eldest brothers previously entertained towards Gripho, they were soon rendered openly hostile by the flight of their sister Hiltrude to the court of Bavaria, and her unauthorized marriage with Odilo, the duke of that country. Sunehild and Gripho, who were naturally looked upon as the instigators of this unwelcome alliance, shut themselves up in the fortress of Laon; but being entirely without resources, they yielded up the place and themselves as soon as Carloman and Pepin appeared with an army before its walls. The favorite wife of the mighty Carl Martel was sent into a nunnery at Chelles, and Gripho was imprisoned in the castle of Neufchateau, in the forest of Ardennes.

The great importance which the youthful rulers attached to the flight of Gripho and his mother, and the clandestine marriage of Hiltrude, was owing to their knowledge of the troubled state of Bavaria, where a rebellion broke out soon afterwards. Carloman and Pepin, like their forefathers, were called upon, at the very commencement of their reign, to show themselves worthy of the scepter they had inherited. No sooner was the heavy hand of Carl Martel withdrawn from their necks, than Swabians, Bavarians, and Aquitanians once more flew to arms for the recovery of their independence. Nor can we condemn the proceedings of these warlike tribes as unseasonable, or altogether rash and hopeless. They had no reason to suppose that, contrary to the usual course of nature, the Carolingian race would go on forever producing giants like the two first Pepins and Carl Martel; and they knew that it needed a giant’s grasp to hold the mighty empire of the Franks together. But the spirit of their father lived in both his sons, as their enemies had soon good reason to know; and any natural hopes the revolted nations may have founded on family dissensions were dispelled by the captivity of Gripho, and the lasting harmony which existed between Carloman and Pepin.

Having placed a Merovingian named Childeric on the throne, which their father for some time before his death had left unoccupied, the young princes marched an army towards Aquitaine; for Hunold the son of Eudo, the sworn vassal of Carl Martel, had manifested his rebellious intentions by throwing Lantfred, the Frankish ambassador, into prison. Crossing the Loire, they devastated Aquitania as far as Bourges; and were on the point of overrunning the whole country, when the intelligence of the still more serious rebellion of the Swabians compelled them suddenly to break off their campaign in the south, and return to the heart of their dominions. Preparations of unusual magnitude had been made for the war by the Dukes of Swabia and Bavaria, who had invited the Saxon and Slavonian tribes to make common cause against the Franks. The sudden return of the Frankish army, however, frustrated their half-completed plans. In the autumn of the same year, Carloman crossed the Rhine, fell upon the Swabian Duke Theobald before his Bavarian allies were ready to take the field, and compelled him to renew his oath of allegiance, and to give hostages for its observance.



In the meantime, Odilo, Duke of Bavaria, the husband of the fugitive Princess Hiltrude, was doing all in his power to strengthen himself against the expected attack of the Franks, and was evidently acting in concert with Duke Hunold of Aquitaine. The defeat of the Swabians was a heavy blow to his hopes; but he had gone too far to recede, and having united a body of Saxons and Slavonian mercenaries with his own subjects, he took up a position on the farther side of the river Lech, and stockaded the banks to prevent the enemy from crossing. The Franks came up soon afterwards, but found the Bavarians so strongly entrenched, that they lay fifteen days on the opposite bank without attempting anything. After a diligent search, however, they discovered a ford by which they crossed the river during the night, and, falling on the unsuspecting enemy, put them to flight, and drove them with great slaughter across the river Inn.

The Frankish princes are said to have remained for fifty-two days in the enemies’ country; but their expedition partook more of the nature of a foray than a conquest, and left the Bavarians in nearly the same condition of semi-independence in which it had found them. The activity of the revolted tribes rendered it dangerous for Carloman and Pepin to lead their forces too far in any one direction. As Hunold had been saved by the revolt of the Swabians, so Odilo was now relieved from the presence of the Franks by diversions made in his favor in two other quarters; by the Saxons, who had fallen upon Thuringia; and by Hunold, who, emboldened by impunity and the absence of the Franks, had crossed the Loire and was devastating the land as far as Chartres. The Saxons claimed the first attention of the Frankish leaders, since the latter dared not march towards the south with so dangerous an enemy in their rear. Carloman is said to have defeated the Saxon army, which consisted in all probability of undisciplined marauders, in two great battles, and to have carried off one of their leaders, named Theoderic, into Austrasia. Pepin was, in the meantime, engaged with the Swabians under Theobald, whom he soon reduced to obedience. Having thus, for the time, secured their rear, the brother-warriors marched (in AD 745), with united forces, against Hunold, who, conscious of his utter inability to resist their undivided power, laid down his arms without a contest, consented to give hostages, and to renew his brittle oaths of fealty. Disgusted with his ill success, he soon afterwards resigned the government in favor of his son Waifar, and retired into the monastery of St. Philibert, in the island of Rhé, on the coast of Aquitaine.

We cannot fairly number Hunold among the princes of Europe who have resigned their crowns from a real and settled conviction of the worthlessness of all but spiritual goods and honors. The precise motives which actuated him can only be guessed at; but the very last explanation of his conduct to which we should have recourse is that he sought in retirement a more undisturbed communion with God. The same chronicles which record his abdication inform us, that in order to secure the undisputed succession of the vacant throne to his son, he lured his own brother “by false oaths” from Poitiers, and, after putting out his eyes, kept him in strict confinement. Such was his preparation for the monastic life!

Though it is not easy to discover in what respect the Swabians were more in fault in the war just mentioned than the other revolted nations, it is evident that they incurred the special resentment of their Frankish conquerors. All had broken their allegiance, and had sought to regain by force the independence of which they had been forcibly deprived. Yet while the Bavarians and Aquitanians were merely compelled to renew their engagements on honorable terms, the treatment of the Swabians has left an indelible blot on the character of Carloman.

This brave and once powerful people had retired, after their defeat by Pepin, into the fastnesses of the Alps, but were soon compelled to make their submission, and to resume their former allegiance. In AD 746, however, they appear to have meditated a new revolt, and were accused of having incited the Bavarians to try once more the fortune of war. Rendered furious by the seemingly interminable nature of the contest, Carloman appears to have thought himself justified in repaying faithlessness by treachery of a far more heinous nature; and this is the only shadow of an excuse which can be offered for his conduct. Having led his army to Cannstadt in AD 746, he ordered Theobald, the Swabian duke, to join him with all his forces, in obedience to the military ban. Theobald obeyed without suspicion, supposing that he should be employed, in conjunction with the rest of Carloman’s forces, against some common enemy.

“And there”, says the chronicler of Metz, “a great prodigy took place, that one army seized and bound another without any of the perils of war!”. No sooner had the two armies met together in an apparently friendly manner, than Carloman ordered his Franks to surround the Alemannians (Swabians), and to disarm and bind them. He then instituted an inquiry respecting the aid afforded the Bavarians; and, having seized those chiefs who had assisted Odilo “against the invincible princes, Carloman and Pepin, he mercifully corrected each according to his deserts”. Lanfried II received the vacant throne of Theobald, who, in all probability, was one of those who lost their lives by Carloman’s merciful correction. In the following year, the connection between the Carolingian family and the Roman Church, which had grown continually closer, was still farther strengthened by the voluntary abdication of Carloman, and his admission into the monastic order. The reasons which induced this mighty prince and successful warrior to take so singular a step are quite unknown. Remorse for his recent treachery, disgust at the bloodshed he had caused and witnessed, the sense of inferiority to his brother Pepin, and doubts as to the continuance of fraternal harmony, a natural tendency to religious contemplation increased by the influence of Boniface, whose earnest faith and spotless life could not but make a deep impression upon all who knew him; these and other causes will occur to the mind of every one as being, singly or in different combinations, adequate to the result. Yet we can but guess at motives which were unknown to the generations immediately succeeding him, and which he himself perhaps would have found it difficult to define.

With the full concurrence of his brother Pepin, whose appetite for worldly honors was by no means sated, Carloman set out for Rome with a numerous retinue of the chief men in his kingdom, taking with him magnificent presents for the Pope. He was received by Zachary with great distinction; and by his advice Carloman vowed obedience to the rules of St. Benedict before Optatus, the Abbot of Monte Casino, and founded a monastery to St. Sylvester on the classic heights of Mount Soracte. But he was far too much in earnest in his desire of solitude to find the neighborhood of Rome a suitable or agreeable residence. The newly founded monastery was soon thronged with curious visitors, eager to behold the princely monk who had given up all to follow Christ. He therefore abandoned Mount Soracte, and, concealing as far as possible his name and rank, enrolled himself among the Benedictine monks of Monte Casino.


As no stipulation had been made in favor of Carloman’s son Drogo, Pepin now became sole ruler of the whole Frankish empire. It is a no less singular than pleasing fact that one of the very first uses which Pepin made of his undivided authority was to release his brother Gripho from his long imprisonment; singular, because it seems to imply that Carloman, whose susceptibility to religious influences cannot be doubted, was the only obstacle to this act of generosity and mercy. It is indeed open to us to suppose that Carloman foresaw more clearly than his brother the injurious consequences of Gripho’s restoration to freedom; for the policy of this step was certainly more questionable than its generosity. The liberated prince thought more of what was withheld than of what was granted, and had never ceased to consider himself entitled to an equal share of the dominions of his father.

In AD 748, not long after his release, while Pepin was holding a council of the bishops and seigniors at Düren, Gripho was forming a party among the younger men to support his pretensions to the throne. In company of some of these he fled to the Saxons, who were always ready to make common cause against the hated Franks. Pepin, well aware of the extremely inflammable materials by which his frontiers were surrounded, and dreading a renewal of the conflagration he had so lately quenched in blood, immediately took the field; marching through Thuringia, he attacked and defeated the Nordosquavi, a Saxon tribe who lived on the river Wipper, between the Bode and Saale. The Saxon leader Theoderic was taken prisoner for the third time, and a considerable number of the captives taken on this occasion were compelled to receive Christian baptism, according to the usual policy of that age.

After fruitless negotiations between the brothers, Gripho endeavored to make a stand at the river Oker; failing in this, he fled to the Bavarians, among whom an enemy of Pepin was sure to find a welcome. After devastating the Saxon territory for forty days, and reimposing the tribute formerly exacted by Clotaire, Pepin directed his march towards Bavaria, in pursuit of his brother. Odilo, the former duke of this country, was now dead, and had been succeeded by his son Tassilo, who ruled under the influence of the Frankish Princess Hiltrude. These inveterate enemies of Pepin were also joined by a mighty Bavarian chief, called Suitger, and the Swabian duke, Lanfried II.

If we understand rightly a passage in the annals of Metz, Gripho succeeded in depriving Tassilo and his mother of the reins of Government and making himself master of Bavaria. Gripho, Suitger, and Lanfried united their forces, but not venturing to await the attack of the Franks upon the Lech, as Odilo had done on a former occasion, they retreated at once behind the Inn, which had already proved so effectual a bulwark. Pepin, however, no longer embarrassed by a variety of enemies, determined to bring the matter to a final decision, and was already making preparations to cross the Inn, when the leaders of the allied army, convinced of the futility of braving the superior force of the Franks, voluntarily surrendered themselves prisoners of war. The leniency with which the Bavarians were treated seems to imply that favorable terms of surrender bad been granted, at any rate, to them. Tassilo received back his duchy, for which he had to swear fealty to the Frankish ruler; while Alemannia was finally incorporated with the Frankish dominions. The fate of Lanfried II, the last of the Swabian dukes, is not known; but the character and general policy of Pepin are a guarantee that he was not treated with unnecessary harshness. Gripho was once more indebted to his brother for life and liberty, and not only received a full pardon, but was endowed with twelve counties and the town of Mans—a fortune splendid enough to have satisfied the desires of anyone who had not dreamed too much of independence and royal authority.

The ill success which attended the efforts of Gripho, whose claims but a few years before would have rallied thousands of malcontents round his standard, and the rapid and easy suppression of the Swabian and Bavarian revolts, afford us evidence that the once bitter opposition of the seigniors, both lay and clerical, to the establishment of the Carolingian throne, was finally overcome; and that Pepin possessed a degree of settled authority which neither his father nor his grandfather had enjoyed. Many circumstances contributed to this superiority in the position of Pepin, even as compared with his immediate predecessor. He had, in the first place, the great advantage of a quiet and undisputed succession to his father’s dignities. His authority could not be regarded merely as that of a great officer of the crown or a successful warrior, but had already acquired an hereditary character, as founded on the mighty deeds of a series of noble ancestors: in the second place, the military constitution of the country had acquired consistency in the long and successful wars of Carl Martel. This constitution, as we shall show, was intimately connected with the seigniorship, now fully developed, and the system of beneficia, or non-hereditary grants, by which the Frankish rulers endeavored to secure the services of the powerful chieftains and their dependent followers; and lastly, we must attribute much of the tranquility enjoyed by Pepin to the vigour with which Carl Martel chastised his unruly subjects, and forced the boldest to succumb to the valor and fortune of his glorious race. And hence it was that Pepin found both strength and leisure to regulate by wise laws, the dominions which his father had only been able to overawe by his upraised sword. In this work he was ably seconded by Boniface, whose counsel he sought on all important occasions, and to whom, in turn, he gave material aid in the grand objects of the noble martyr's life—the extension of the Christian faith, and the regulation of the visible Church according to the Roman ritual.


It was during the mayoralty of Pepin, and not, as is generally assumed, in that of Carl Martel, that the famous and important act of ‘Secularization’ took place, which will again be spoken of in the chapter on the Church. The practice into which Carl Martel had been driven by his necessities, of bestowing ecclesiastical benefices on laymen who assumed the priesthood with purely secular views, was inconsistent with the peace and good order, and inimical to all the higher interests, of the Christian Church. As an exceptional state of things, however, even rigid disciplinarians and pious churchmen like Boniface had thought it expedient to yield a tacit assent to the employment of Church revenues for military purposes. But when, on the one hand, the consequences of these irregular and violent expedients had become, with the lapse of time, more clearly evident; and, on the other, a stricter discipline, and a more religious and ecclesiastical spirit had been diffused through the great body of the clergy by the labors of Boniface and his school, it became more and more repugnant to the feelings of all true friends of the Church to see its highest offices filled by masquerading laymen, who had nothing of the priest about them but the name and dress. In this repugnance we have every reason to believe that both Carloman and Pepin largely shared; and yet, though not engaged in an internecine struggle like their father, they carried on expensive wars, and needed large supplies of land and money. It was not therefore to be expected that they should ease the Church from all participation in the public burdens, especially at a time when it had absorbed a very large proportion of the national wealth. Under these circumstances, a compromise was effected by the influence of Boniface at the Synod of Lestines. In this important council the assembled bishops consented, in consideration of the urgent necessities of the State, to make a voluntary surrender of a portion of the funds of the Church; with the stipulation that the civil rulers should, on their part, abstain for the future from all arbitrary interference with its discipline and property.

Preparatory to the meeting of the Synod at Lestines, Carloman and Pepin summoned, on the 21st of April, AD 742 (at Saltz?), a council of the great seigniors, temporal and spiritual, to consider how the laws of God and of the Church, which had fallen into confusion and ruin under former rulers, might be best restored.”For more than eighty years”, says Boniface, in his epistle to the Pope on this occasion, “the Franks have neither held a synod, nor appointed an archbishop, nor enacted or renewed their canons; but most of the bishoprics are given to rapacious laymen or dissolute and avaricious priests for their own use; and though some of these profess to be chaste, yet they are either drunkards or followers of the chase; or they go armed into battle, and shed with their own hands the blood of Christians as well as heathens!”.

Before this first assembly, which was a council of state, and not an ecclesiastical synod, Boniface as papal legate brought forward his measures for the reform of the Church and the settlement of its relations to the State. Through the influence of Carloman many of these propositions received the sanction of the council, and they must be regarded as concessions made by the State to the Church. It was enacted that annual synods should be held; that the property of which the churches and monasteries had been violently deprived should be restored; that the counts and bishops in their respective jurisdictions should be directed to put down all heathen practices (to which the people in some parts of the country were still addicted); that the rules of St. Benedict should be reintroduced into the monasteries; and that the clergy should be prohibited from war and the chase, from sexual intercourse, and the use of military accoutrements.

In the following year (743), the Synod of Lestines itself was summoned for the final settlement of the points just mentioned; and it was here that the terms on which the consent of Carloman and Pepin to the proposition of Boniface had been given, were made public. “We also enact”, runs the decree of these princes, “by the counsel of God’s servants, and of the Christian people, that, in consideration of impending wars and the persecutions to which we are subject from surrounding nations, we be allowed, by the indulgence of God, to retain for some time sub precario et censu a portion of the Church’s property, for the support of our army; on these conditions, that a solidus (gold piece of 12 denarii) should be paid annually to the church or monastery for every estate, and that the church be reinvested with its property at the death of the present holder. Should, however, necessity compel, or the prince ordain it, the precarium (or life-interest) must be renewed and a new document drawn up; and, in every case, care must be taken that the churches and monasteries, of which the property is in precario (granted for a single life), suffer no want or poverty. But if poverty renders it necessary, the whole property must be restored to the church or house of God”.

It is not surprising that the remarkable document before us has been quoted, on the one hand, in evidence of the absolute power which the Carolingian mayors assumed over the Church; and, on the other, of the inviolability of Church property, and the disapprobation with which the conduct of Carl Martel was regarded even by his own sons. Our first impression, on reading this decree, is that the clergy had little reason to rejoice in the results of Boniface’s mediation between themselves and the civil power. Not only are the grants of ecclesiastical property, made to laymen for secular and warlike purposes, retained during the lives of the occupants, but express provision is made for the renewal of similar grants, “when necessity compels or the prince commands it”. The powers here given of employing the superfluous wealth of the Church for secular purposes could hardly be greater; yet such a relation between Church and State is quite consistent with the circumstances of the times.

Humanly speaking, the Frankish Church, surrounded as it was on either side by the still heathen Germans and the Mohammedan conquerors, owed its preservation to the sword of Carl Martel. Boniface himself emphatically declares that the success of his missionary efforts was to be ascribed in a great measure to the same potent instrument. The influence which the great ecclesiastical dignitaries derived from their sacred calling—the great extent and valuable immunities of their lands, and their skill in forming and leading parties in the State—had been greatly lessened by the bold inroads of the same vigorous prince upon their exclusive privileges, and his triumph over the factious nobles. The irresponsible power, too, of the bishops within the Church itself was also curtailed by the successful efforts of Boniface to restore the chain of subordination among the clergy, and to bring the whole body under the absolute supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. The important results of this change are sufficiently evident; for this head of the Western Church was himself an unwilling tributary to the Longobards, and a suppliant to the Frankish mayors for deliverance from triumphant enemies.

We cannot, then, be surprised that the ecclesiastical synods should submit to any terms which promised a settled state of things for the future. And on close examination of the acts of the Synod of Lestines, we shall find that, though much is conceded under the pressure of the moment, the future is carefully provided for. The State acknowledges, in the first place, that certain lands now held by laymen had belonged, and did still essentially belong, to the Church; and its claim, though held in abeyance, is effectually kept alive by the payment of a small fixed rent to the original owners; and, secondly, ecclesiastical property is spoken of as a whole; a point of very great importance—since the possessions of every religious body, however weak in itself, were thus placed under the protection of the universal Church.

The vast funds which the ‘Secularisation’ placed at the disposal of the Frankish princes contributed in no small degree to establish the Carolingian throne; for it enabled them to carry out to its full extent the system of beneficial (or non-hereditary) grants, and to secure the services of the powerful seigniors, who were bound to the Sovereign, not only by a sense of gratitude, but by the hope of future favors and the fear of deprivation.

A change took place at the period at which we have now arrived, which, though easily and noiselessly made, and apparently but nominal, forms an important era in Frankish history. It costs us an effort to remember that Carl Martel, Carloman and Pepin, were not kings, but officers of another, who still bore the royal title, and occasionally and exclusively wore the crown and sat upon the throne. Carloman and Pepin, when they were heading great armies, receiving oaths of allegiance from conquered princes, and giving away duchies, were mayors of the palace to Childeric III, a Merovingian king. Even they had thought the time not yet come for calling themselves by their proper name, and had placed Childeric on the throne. The king’s name was a tower of strength, which they who had met and defeated every other enemy seemed to shrink from attacking.

The foundations of the Merovingian throne, indeed, had been thoroughly, perhaps systematically, sapped. The king-making mayors had set up monarchs and deposed them at their pleasure; they had even left the throne vacant for a time, as if to prove whether the nation was yet cured of its inveterate notion that none but a Merovingian could wear a Frankish crown. This last experiment resulted, as we have said, in the placing of Childeric III upon the throne; an act by which Carloman and Pepin must have thought that some advantage would be gained, or some danger be avoided. At the commencement of their reign powerful tribes were in rebellion, and semi-dependent princes might think themselves absolved by a change of dynasty from their oaths and engagements, and regard revolt as a duty as well as a pleasure. The Franks themselves had not yet received sufficient proof that the sons were worthy of their sire; and the heathen among them naturally clung to the primeval race.

But circumstances changed. The mayors became more and more the heads of a great semi-feudal system, to the members of which they were the sole source of wealth, authority and honor. The intestine troubles of the kingdom had in great measure been healed; the revolted tribes were reduced to more complete obedience; Pepin himself acquired great military renown, and the limits of the empire were extended to the furthest point which they had ever reached. Pepin was already king indeed; and even towards the adoption of the royal name and style some gradual progress had been made. It had be­come customary to reckon in dates by the years of the mayor’s office as well as the king’s reign. The title of princeps and dux is freely given in the chronicles to Carl Martel and his sons, who regarded the royal palaces as their property, and conferred both lands and dignities in their own name. There was but one step more to the throne, and that step was taken at last, when there was scarcely a man in the empire who had either the power or the wish to prevent it.


In AD 750 Pepin assumed the name of king, with the full consent of the nation and the sanction of the Pope; and the last of the Merovingians was shorn of his royal locks, the emblems of his power, and sent to end his days in the monastery of St. Bertin, at Sithiu (St. Omer in Artois).

The immediate motive for the change is not apparent; and the remarkable absence of all impatience on the part of Pepin to assume the royal name seems to justify the notion that the coup-de-grâce was given to the Merovingian dynasty by another hand than his. It might perhaps have been still deferred, but for the growing intimacy of the relations between the Carolingians and the Pope.

The Bishops of Rome had by no means surmounted the difficulties and dangers by which they had been long surrounded. The Greek emperors, to whom they were nominally subject, were too weak either to afford them the necessary protection against their enemies, or to enforce obedience to themselves; and, in addition to this, the Eastern and Western Churches were continually diverging from each other, both in their theological views and secular objects.

The Longobards hung over the eternal city like a cloud which might at any moment send forth the destructive flash. Its only chance of safety for the moment, its only hope of independence and spiritual dominion in the nearer and more distant future, were founded upon a close alliance with the Carolingian dynasty. It was a cherished object, therefore, with the Popes to bind this illustrious family to themselves by the strongest of ties, the sense of common interest and mutual indispensability. It was probable that Pepin would one day ascend the Frankish throne, and it was of the highest moment to the Bishops of Rome to assume the initiative in this inevitable dy­nastic revolution; for thus they would acquire a title to the gratitude of the new king, and give him an in­terest in the preservation of the source from which his royal title seemed to spring. The part which Boniface took in this transaction is unknown; but his position as the most zealous supporter of the papacy, and the intimate friend and counselor of Pepin, leads to the conjecture that a change so much in accordance with his known views was not made without his co­operation. All that has been transmitted to us is the fact that, in AD 750 (or 751), an embassy, com­posed of Burchard Bishop of Würzburg, Fulrad Abbot of St. Denys, and Pepin’s own chaplain, appeared at Rome at the Papal Court, and laid the following question before Pope Zachary for his decision: “Whether it was expedient that one who was possessed of no authority in the land should continue to retain the name of king, or whether it should be transferred to him who really exercised the royal power”.

It is not to be imagined for a moment that Zachary was unprepared with his reply to this momentous question, which would certainly not have been proposed had there been any doubt respecting the answer. The Pope replied, that “he who really governed should also bear the royal name”; and the embassy returned to Pepin with this message, or, as some writers take a pleasure in calling it, this command. A grand council of the nation was assembled at Soissons in the same year, and the majordomus was unanimously elected sole king of the Franks, and soon afterwards anointed and crowned, with his wife Bertrada, by his old and faithful friend Boniface.

This solemn consecration by the use of holy oil, and other ceremonies, observed for the first time at the coronation of the Carolingian king, were not without their important significance. The sentiment of legitimacy was very strongly seated in the hearts of the Frankish people. The dethroned family had exclusively supplied the nation with their rulers from all time; no one could trace their origin, or point to a Merovingian who was not either a king, or the kinsman of a king. It was far otherwise with Pepin. He was the first of his race who had not fought for the office of majordomus with competitors as noble as himself. It was little more than a century since his namesake of Landen had been dismissed from his office by the arbitrary will of Dagobert. The extraordinary fertility of the Carolingian family in warriors and statesmen had hitherto enabled them to hold their own against all gainsayers. But if the new dynasty was to rest on something more certain and durable than the uninterrupted transmission of great bodily and mental powers in a single family, it was of vital importance to the Carolingians to rear their throne upon foun­dations the depth of which was beyond the ken of vulgar eyes. Such a foundation could be nothing else than the sanction of heaven, and was to be sought in the Christian Church, in the fiat of God’s representa­tive on earth, who could set apart the Carolingians as a chosen race, and bestow upon them a heavenly claim to the obedience of their countrymen.

We have already referred to the successful efforts of Boniface and his followers in the cause of Roman supremacy. The belief in the power of the Bishops of Rome, as successors of St. Peter, to bind and to loose, to set up and to set down, had already taken root in the popular mind, and rendered the sanction of the popes as efficacious a legitimiser as the cloud of mystery and fable which enveloped the origin of the fallen Merovingians.

So gradually was this change of dynasty effected, so skillfully was the new throne founded on well-consolidated authority, warlike renown, good government, and religious faith, that as far as we can learn from history, not a single voice was raised against the aspiring mayor, when his warriors, more majorum, raised him on the shield, and bore him thrice through the joyful throng; and when Boniface anointed him with holy oil, as King of the Franks “by the grace of God”, not a single champion was found throughout that mighty empire, to draw his sword in the cause of the last monarch of the house of Clovis.

Pepin was not long allowed to enjoy his new dignity in peace, but was quickly called upon to exchange the amenities of the royal palace for the toils and dangers of the battle-field.

The Saxons had already recovered from, and were desirous of avenging, the chastisement inflicted upon them; and having rebelled “in their way”, were now marching upon the Rhine. But Pepin, who had not ceased to be a general when he became a king, collected a large army, with which he crossed the Rhine, and entering the territory of the Saxons, wasted it with fire and sword, and carried back a large number of captives into his own dominions. “When the Saxons saw this”, says the chronicler, “they were moved by penitence; and, with their usual fear, begged for the king’s mercy, declaring that they would take an oath of fidelity, and pay more tribute than they had ever paid before, and never revolt again. King Pepin returned, by the aid of Christ, in great triumph to Bonn”.

It was on his return from this campaign that he received the news of his brother Gripho’s death. This restless and unhappy prince—whom the indelible notion of his right to a throne rendered incapable of enjoying the noble fortune allotted to him by his brother—had fled to Waifar, Duke of Gascony, in the hope of inducing him to take up arms. But Waifar was not in a condition to protect him; and when the ambassadors of Pepin demanded that he should be given up, Gripho was obliged to seek another asylum. The fugitive then directed his course to King Haistulph, foreseeing, probably, that Pepin would be drawn into the feud between the Pope and the Longobards, the subjects of Haistulph, and therefore think­ing that he might already regard the latter as the enemy of his brother. As he was passing the Alps, however, with a small retinue, he was set upon, in the valley of St. Jean de Maurienne, by Count Theodo of Vienne and the Transjuran Count Friedrich. Gripho was slain, but not until after a desperate struggle, in which both the counts above mentioned also lost their lives.

Pepin now retired to his royal residence at Dietenhoven, on the Moselle, and spent the few months of peace that followed the Saxon war in ordering the affairs of the Church; which he effected chiefly through the instrumentality of ecclesiastical synods. The influence of these assemblies had very much increased since Boniface first summoned them, and their jurisdiction extended itself beyond the sphere of merely ecclesiastical matters into the wide and undefined field of public morals.


King Pepin was now called upon to repay the obligations conferred upon him by the Papacy when it hallowed his usurpation of the Frankish crown. The influence of Carl Martel with his ally and friend Luitprand, and the reverence which the latter entertained for the Popes in their spiritual character, had caused a temporary lull in the affairs of Italy.But Luitprand died about two years after the accession of Pepin, and was succeeded, first by his grandson Hildebrand, who reigned seven months,and then by Ratchis Duke of Friuli, under whom the Longobards renewed the war against Rome. In this emergency, Zachary, who, like many other popes, trusted greatly and with good reason to his personal influence over the rude kings and warriors of the age, went himself to Perugia to beg a peace from Ratchis.

The result was favorable to a degree beyond his highest expectations. The Lombard monarch not only recalled his troops—which were already besieging the towns of the Pentapolis—and granted a peace of forty years, but was so deeply affected by the dignified demeanor and eloquent exhortations of the holy father, that, like another Carloman, he renounced his earthly crown, and sought a refuge from the cares of government in the quiet cloisters of Monte Casino.

Ratchis was succeeded in AD 749 by his brother Haistulph, a man by no means so sensible to spiritual influences, and remarkable for his energy and strength of purpose. In three years from his accession to the Lombard throne, he succeeded in driving out Eutychius, the last exarch of the Greek emperors, from the Exarchate of Ravenna, and made himself master of the city. Having thus secured the possession of the southern portion of the Roman territory, he marched upon Rome itself; and when Pope Zachary died, 15th March, in the year AD 752, it must have been with the melancholy conviction that all his efforts to preserve the independence of Rome, and to further the lofty claims of the Papacy, were about to prove fruitless. Once more was Hannibal at the gates; but, fortunately for the interest of the threatened city, the successor of Zachary, Stephen II, was a man in every way equal to the situation. By a well-timed embassy and costly presents, he stayed the uplifted arm of the Lombard for the moment, and, as often happens in human affairs, by gaining time he gained everything.

After remaining quiet for a few months, Haistulph again resumed his threatening attitude towards the Romans, and demanded a palpable proof of their subjection to himself, in the shape of a poll-tax of a gold solidus per head. A fresh embassy from the Pope, which the Lombard king received at Nepe (near Sutri, N. of Rome), met with no success, and the holy Abbots of St. Vincent and St. Benedict, who composed it, returned to their monasteries in despair.

Nor was any greater effect produced by the arrival of John, the imperial Silentiarius, who was sent by the Greek emperor from Constantinople. This pompous messenger brought letters for the Pope and King Haistulph, in which the latter was called upon to desist from his present undertaking and to restore the whole of the territory of which he had unjustly robbed the Grecian empire. The high-sounding language and haughty requirements of the Byzantians, unsupported as they were by any material power, could make no impression upon such a man as Haistulph, and he dismissed the imperial envoy with an unmeaning answer.

The danger of Rome had now reached its highest point, and no deliverance seemed nigh. “King Haistulph”, in the language of the chronicler, “was inflamed with rage, and, like a roaring lion, never ceased to utter the most dreadful threats against the Romans, declaring that he would slay them all with the sword, if they did not submit themselves to his rule”. An appeal which the Pope had made to the Byzantine emperors for protection was entirely fruitless, and the Romans were utterly unequal to sustain unaided a contest with the warlike Longobards. It was in this extremity that Stephen determined to test once more the value of that close relation which it had been the object of so many popes to form with the Frankish people, and more especially with the Carolingian family. He knew that it would be no easy matter to induce King Pepin or his Franks to undertake an expedition into Italy with a force sufficient for the object in view. He felt, too, that a mere letter from Pepin, such as Carl Martel had sent to his good friend Luitprand, would be of no avail to turn the ambitious Haistulph from his purpose. He therefore adopted the singular resolution of crossing the Alps, throwing himself at the feet of the Frankish monarch and thus giving him a convincing and affecting proof that the very existence of the Papacy was at stake.

With this view the holy father, seeing that all his entreaties “for the fold which had been entrusted to him (Rome), and the lost sheep” (Istria and the Exarchate of Ravenna), were fruitless, started from Rome on the 14th of October, AD 753, in company with the Abbot Rotdigang and Duke Autchar, whom Pepin had previously sent to Stephen with general promises of support. He was also followed by a considerable number of the Roman clergy and nobility. On his journey northwards he passed through the city of Pavia, where Haistulph then was; and though the latter had forbidden him to say a word about restoration of territory, he once more endeavored, by rich presents and earnest entreaties, to induce the king to give up his conquests and forego his hostile purposes. He was warmly seconded by Pepin’s envoys, and another epistle from the Greek emperor; but the mind of the fierce Longobards remained unchanged.

It is evident, indeed, that he would have prevented Stephen by force from continuing his journey but for the threats of the Frankish ambassadors. As it was he endeavored to intimidate the Pope in the presence of Rotdigang into a denial of his wish to proceed to the court of Pepin; and only then dismissed him when he saw that Stephen would yield to nothing but actual violence.


Pepin was still at his palace at Dietenhofen, when the intelligence reached him that the Pope, with a splendid retinue, had passed the Great St. Bernard, and was hastening, according to agreement, to the monastery of St. Maurice at Agaunum. It had been expected that the king himself would be there to receive the illustrious fugitive; but Stephen on his arrival found in his stead the Abbot Fulrad and Duke Rothard, who received the holy father with every mark of joy and reverence, and conducted him to the palace of Pontyon, near Châlons, where he arrived on the 6th of January, AD 754. As a still further mark of veneration, the young prince Carl was sent forward to welcome Stephen at a distance of about seventy miles from Pontyon; and Pepin himself is said to have gone out three miles on foot to meet him, and to have acted as his marshal, walking by the side of his palfrey. The extraordinary honors paid by Pepin to the aged exile proceeded partly, no doubt, from the reverence and sympathy which his character and circumstances called forth. But his conduct might also result from a wise regard to his own interests, and a desire of inspiring his subjects with a mysterious awe for the spiritual poten­tate at whose behest he had himself assumed the crown.

The decisive conference between Pepin and Stephen took place at Pontyon on the 16th January. The Pope appeared before the Frankish monarch in the garb and posture of a suppliant, and received a promise of protection, and the restoration of all the territory of which the Longobards had deprived him.

The winter, during which no military operations could be undertaken, was spent by Stephen at the monastery of Saint Denis at Paris. The spectacle of the harmony and friendship subsisting between the Roman Pontiff and King Pepin was calculated to produce a good effect on the Romance subjects of the latter; who, on account of his German origin and tendencies, was regarded with less attachment in Neustria and Burgundy than in his Austrasian dominions. This effect was increased by Stephen’s celebrating in person that solemn act of consecration which he had already performed by proxy. At the second coronation of Pepin, which took place with great solemnity and pomp in the church of St. Denis on the 28th July, AD 754, his Queen, Bertrada, and her two sons Carl and Carloman, were also anointed1 with the holy oil, and the two last were declared the rightful heirs of their father's empire. That nothing might be wanting on the part of the Church to set apart the Carolingian family as the chosen of God, Stephen laid a solemn obligation on the Franks, that “throughout all future ages neither they nor their posterity should ever presume to appoint a king over themselves from any other family”. The title of Patricius, which had first been worn by Clovis, was bestowed by the Pope upon the king and his sons. It is difficult to understand how this dignity could at this period be imparted to any one without the authority of the Byzantine emperor. Constantine (nicknamed Copronymus) may indeed have taken the opportunity of the Pope’s journey to offer the patriciate to Pepin; but it is more consistent with the circumstances we have described to suppose that Stephen was acting irregularly and without authority in conferring a Roman title on the Frankish king; and that he in­tended at the same time to give a palpable proof of his independence of the Emperor who had neglected to aid him, and to point out Pepin as his future ally and protector.

The task which Pepin had undertaken to perform was by no means an easy one, nor did the execution of it depend solely on himself. The empire indeed was enjoying an unwonted freedom from foreign wars and domestic broils; but the great vassals of the crown were averse to distant campaigns, both from the length of time they consumed, and the ruinous expense of maintaining followers far from home.

On the 1st of March, AD 755, however, he summoned his council of state at Bernacum (Braine), where the war against the Longobards was agreed to, provided no other means could be found to reinstate the Pope. In the meantime ambassadors were de­spatched to Haistulph, with terms which show that the Franks were by no means eager for the expedition. King Pepin on this occasion styles himself “Defender of the holy Roman Church by Divine appointment” and demands that the “territories and towns should be restored”—not to the Byzantine emperor, to whom they at any rate nominally belonged, but “to the blessed St. Peter and the Church and commonwealth of the Romans”. It is at this crisis of affairs that Carloman, the brother of Pepin, once more appears upon the stage, and in a singular character—viz. as opponent of the Pope. Haistulph, by what influence we are not informed, prevailed upon him to make a journey to the Frankish court, for the purpose of counteracting the effect of Stephen’s representations. He met of course with no success, and was sent by Pepin and Stephen into a monastery at Vienne, where he died in the same year.

Haistulph on his part was equally determined, and war became inevitable. He would make no promise concerning the conquered territory, but would grant a safe conduct to Stephen back to his own diocese. The lateness of the season allowed of no lengthened negotiations. Immediately after the receipt of Haistulph’s answer Pepin began his march towards Italy, accompanied by Stephen; and having sent forward a detachment to occupy the passes of the Alps, he fol­lowed it with the whole force of the empire. Passing through Lyons and Vienne, he made his way to Maurienne, with the intention of crossing the Alps by the valley of Susa, at the foot of Mont Cenis. This important pass, however, had been occupied by Haistulph, who had pitched his camp there and was prepared to dispute the passage. According to the chroniclers, he endeavored to strengthen his position by the same warlike machines which he had “wickedly designed for the destruction of the Roman state and the Apostolic Chair”. The onward march of the Franks was effectually checked for the moment, and Pepin pitched his camp on the river Arc. In a short time, however, a few of the more adventurous of his soldiers made their way through the mountains into the valley of Susa, where Haistulph lay. Their inferior numbers emboldened the Longobards, who immediately attacked them.

“The Franks”, says the chronicler, “seeing that their own strength and resources could not save them, invoked the aid of God and the holy Apostle Peter; whereupon the engagement began, and both sides fought bravely. But when King Haistulph beheld the loss which his men were suffering, he betook himself to flight, after having lost nearly the whole of his army, with the dukes, counts and chief men of the Longobards”. The main body of Pepin’s army then passed the Alps without resistance, and spread themselves over the plains of Italy as far as Pavia, in which the Lombard king had taken refuge. The terrible ravages of the invaders, who plundered and burnt all the towns and villages which lay along their route, and the imminent danger which threatened himself and his royal city, subdued for the moment the stubborn spirit of Haistulph, and he earnestly besought the Frankish prelates and nobles to intercede for him with their ‘merciful’ sovereign. He promised to restore Ravenna and all the other towns which he had taken “from the holy see” to keep faithfully to his allegiance to Pepin, and never again to inflict any injury on the Apostolic Chair or the Roman state. The Pope himself, who had no desire to see the Franks too powerful in Italy, earnestly begged his mighty protector “to shed no more Christian blood, but to put an end to the strife by peaceful means”. Pepin was by no means sorry to be spared the siege of Pavia, and having received forty hostages and caused Haistulph to ratify his promises by the most solemn oaths, he sent the Pope with a splendid retinue to Rome, and led his army homewards laden with booty.


But Haistulph was not the man to sit down quietly under a defeat, or to forego a long cherished purpose. In the following year he renewed the attack upon the Roman territory with a fury heightened by the desire of vengeance. Rome itself was besieged, and the church of St. Peter on the Vatican sacrilegiously defiled. Pope Stephen II, from whose life and letters we gain our knowledge of these circumstances, re­peatedly wrote to Pepin and his sons for aid, in the most urgent, and at times indignant terms. In one of his epistles, St. Peter himself is made to address them as “his adopted sons” and to chide the delay and indecision of the king. After assuring them that not he (the Apostle) only, but “the Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary”, and “thrones and dominions, and the whole army of Heaven, and the martyrs and confessors of Christ, and all who are pleasing to God”, earnestly sought and conjured them to save the holy see, the Apostle promises, in case of their compliance, that he will prepare for them “the highest and most glorious tabernacles" and bestow on them "the rewards of eternal recompense and the infinite joys of paradise”. “But if”, he adds, “which we do not expect, you should make any delay, know that, for your neglect of my exhortation, you are alienated from the kingdom of God and from eternal life”. When speaking in his own person Stephen says, “Know that the Apostle Peter holds firmly in his hand the deed of gift which was granted by your hands”. Nor does he neglect to remind the Frankish princes of their obligation to the Papacy and the return that they were expected to make. “Therefore”, he says, “has the Lord, at the intercession of the Apostle Peter and by means of our lowliness, consecrated you as kings, that through you the holy Church might be exalted and the prince of the Apostles regain his lawful possessions”.

The boundless promises and awful denunciations of the Pope might have been alike unavailing, had not other and stronger motives inclined the king to make a second expedition into Italy. The interests of his dynasty were so closely connected with those of the Roman Church, that he could not desert the Pope in this imminent peril without weakening the foundations of his throne; and his honor as a warrior and a king seemed to require that the Lombards should be punished for their breach of faith. The influence of Boniface, too (who was still alive, though he died before the end of the campaign), was no doubt exerted in behalf of the Papacy which he had done so much to raise. Pepin determined to save the Pope, but he did so at the imminent risk of causing a revolt among his own vassals, who openly and loudly expressed their disapproval of the war. “This war” (against the Longobards), says Einhard, “was undertaken with the greatest difficulty, for some of the chief men of the Franks with whom he (Pepin) was accustomed to take counsel were so strongly opposed to his wishes that they openly declared that they would desert the king and return home”. 

Pepin found means to pacify or overawe these turbulent dissentients, and persisted in his determination once more to save the head of the Church from the hands of his enemies. In this second expedition Pepin was accompanied by his nephew Tassilo, who, in obedience to the war-ban of his liege lord, joined him with the Bavarian troops. The Frankish army marched through Châlons and Geneva to the same valley of Maurienne and to the passes of Mont Cenis, which, as in the former year, were occupied by the troops of Haistulph. The Franks, however, in spite of all resistance, made their way into Italy, and took a fearful vengeance for the broken treaty, destroying and burning everything within their reach, and giv­ing no quarter to their perfidious enemies. They then closely invested Pavia; and Haistulph, convinced of his utter inability to cope with Pepin, again employed the willing services of the Frankish seigniors to negotiate a peace. Pepin on his side accepted the overtures made to him with singular facility, but obliged Haistulph to give fresh hostages, to renew his oaths, and, what was more to the purpose, to deliver up a third of the royal treasure in the city of Pavia. Haistulph also agreed to renew an annual tribute, which is said to have been paid for a long time previously to the Frankish monarchs.

And thus a second time was the Papacy delivered from a danger which went nigh to nip its budding greatness, and reduce it to the rank of a Lombard bishopric.

Haistulph died while hunting in a forest, before he had had time to forget the rough lessons he had received and to recover from his losses in blood and treasure. The fact that his life was preserved while he was besieging Rome and desecrating St. Peter’s church, and the consideration that good men too are sometimes killed while hunting, did not prevent the chroniclers from giving an unanimous verdict of “struck by Divine vengeance”. We know but little of him beyond this, that he was an ambitious man with a strong will, and not more scrupulous in keeping oaths than the other princes of his age. Unfortunately we cannot use the letters of the Roman pontiffs as sources for the biography of their opponents, on account of the exceeding vigour of their style. “The tyrant Haistulph” says Stephen II, “the child of the devil, who thirsted for the blood of Christians and destroyed churches, has been struck by the hand of God, and thrust into the abyss of hell in the same days in which a year before he had marched out to destroy Rome”.

A danger from another quarter, which threatened the development of the papal power, was also warded off by the power and steadfastness of Pepin. When the Exarchate of Ravenna was overrun by the Longobards, it was taken, not from the Pope, but from the Greek Emperor; and even the towns and territories which were virtually under the sway of the papal chair, were, nominally at least, portions of the Eastern Roman Empire. As Stephen had never formally renounced his allegiance to the Emperor, he could receive even the Roman duchy only as a representative of his sovereign, and to the other remains of the Roman Empire in Italy he had no claim whatever. The Longobards had dispossessed the Greeks, and the Franks had expelled the Longobards. It was therefore open to the conqueror to bestow his new acquisition where he pleased; but, at all events, the claim of the Greek Emperor was stronger than that of his vassal the Bishop of Rome. We cannot wonder, then, when we read, that ambassadors from Constantinople came to meet Pepin in the neighborhood of Pavia, and begged him to restore Ravenna and the other towns of the exarchate to the Roman Emperor. “But they did not succeed,” says the chronicler, “in moving the steadfast heart of the king; on the contrary, he declared that he would by no means allow these towns to be alienated from the rule of the Roman chair, and that nothing should turn him from his resolution”. Accordingly, he despatched the Abbot Fulrad, with the plenipotentiary of King Haistulph, to receive possession of the towns and strong places which the Lombard had agreed to resign. The abbot was further instructed to take with him a deputation of the most respectable inhabitants from these towns, and in their company to carry the keys of their gates to Rome, and lay them in St. Peters grave, together with a regular deed of gift to the Pope and his successors.


The independence of the holy see, as far as regarded the Greek Empire, was thus secured, and a solid foundation laid for the temporal power of the Popes, who may now be said to have taken their place for the first time among the sovereigns of Europe.

The rising fortunes of the Roman pontiffs were still further favored by a disputed succession to the Lombard throne. On the death of Haistulph, his brother Ratchis, who had formerly changed a crown for a cowl, was desirous of returning to his previous dignity, and appears to have been the popular candidate. Desiderius, Duke of Tuscia, Constable of Haistulph, obtained the support of the Pope. In order to secure this valuable alliance, he had promised “to comply with all the holy father’s wishes”, to deliver up other towns in Italy besides those mentioned in Pepin’s deed of gift, and to make him many other rich presents. “Upon this”, says the chronicle, “the Arch-shepherd took counsel with the venerable Abbot Fulrad, and sent his brothers, Diaconus Paulus and Primicerius Christopher, in company with Abbot Fulrad, to Desiderius, in Tuscia, who immediately confirmed his former promises with a deed and a most fearful oath”.

After this prudent precaution, it was agreed at Rome that the cause of Desiderius should be supported, even by force of arms if necessary, against Ratchis. “But Almighty God ordered matters in such a manner that Desiderius, with the aid of the Pope, ascended the throne without any further contest”. The promised towns, Faventia (Faenza), with the fortresses TiberiacumCavellum, and the whole duchy of Ferrara, were claimed, and, according to some accounts, received, by the papal envoys; though the next Pope complains that Desiderius had not kept his promises. Stephen II ended his eventful life on the 24th of April, AD 757.

With the exception of an unimportant expedition against the Saxons, in which Pepin gained a victory on the river Lippe, and again at Sithiu, near Dülmen on the Stever (in Westphalia), nothing of importance, in a military point of view, appears to have been undertaken before AD 760; when, according to some authors, Narbonne was taken from the Saracens, who were now driven from all their possessions on the Gallic side of the Pyrenees.


In AD 760, began a long series of annual expeditions against Aquitaine, a country which had asserted a degree of independence highly offensive to the Franks. The Aquitanian princes, too, are supposed to have been peculiarly odious to Pepin, as off­shoots from the Merovingian stock. Waifar, the reigning duke, the son of that Hunold who had retired from the world in disgust after his defeat by the Franks, inherited the restless and haughty spirit of his father, and was ready to renew the contest which Hunold had abandoned in despair. The ambitious desires of Pepin, quickened by a personal dislike of Waifar, were seconded by a strong mutual antipathy existing between his own subjects and the Aquitanians. German blood did not enter largely into the composition of the population of Aquitaine, and that small portion which did flow in their veins was sup­plied by the Ostrogoths, a German tribe, indeed, but one which differed very widely from their Frankish kinsmen. The Aquitanians appear at this time to have possessed a degree of civilization unknown to the Franks, whom they regarded as semi-barbarians; while the Franks, in turn, despised the delicacy and refinement of their weaker neighbors. Their mutual dislikes and jealousies were kept alive by a perpetual border warfare, which was carried on (as formerly between England and her neighbors on the north and west) by powerful individuals in either country, without regard to the relations existing between their respective rulers. It was from these causes that Pepin came to look upon the Aquitanians and their duke in the same light as the Welsh were regarded by our own Edward I. The affected independence of Waifar, and the continual inroads made by the Aquitanians into his dominions, exasperated his feelings in the highest degree; and he evidently sought the quarrel which occupied him for the re­mainder of his life.

In AD 760, Pepin sent an embassy to Waifar, with demands which betrayed his hostile intentions against that unfortunate prince. On this occasion, too, the Frankish monarch came forward as a protector of the Church. He demanded of Waifar that he should give up all the ecclesiastical property in his dominions which had been in any way alienated from the Church; restore the immunities which the lands of the clergy had formerly enjoyed; and cease for the future from sending into them his officers and tax-gatherers. Furthermore, he demanded that Waifar should pay a weregeld “for all the Goths whom he had lately put to death contrary to law”; and, lastly, that he should deliver up all fugitives from the dominions of Pepin who had sought refuge in Aquitaine.

Waifar had thus the option given him of submitting to become a mere lieutenant of Pepin, or of having the whole force of the Frankish empire employed for his destruction. He chose the latter alternative, as every high-spirited prince must have done under the circumstances; and the war began at once. “All this”, says the chronicler, “Waifar refused to do; and therefore Pepin collected an army from all quarters, although unwillingly, and, as it were, under compulsion”. The Frankish army marched through Troyes and Auxerre, and, crossing the Loire at the village of Masua, and passing through Berri and Auvergne, devastated the greater part of Aquitaine with fire and sword. Waifar, who was not sufficiently prepared for the attack, made an insincere profession of penitence which deceived no one; and, after taking the necessary oaths of fidelity and giving hostages, was relieved from his unwelcome visitors. That this was a mere marauding expedition, to which Waifar offered no serious resistance, is proved by the fact that “Pepin returned back without having suffered the slightest loss”.

In the following year Waifar, who had formed an alliance with Humbert, Count of Bourges, and Blandin, Count of Auvergne, considered himself strong enough to venture upon an inroad into the Frankish territory; and, in company with these allies, he led his army, plundering and burning, as far as Châlons on the Saône. Pepin’s rage at hearing that the Aquitanians had dared to take the initiative, and had ravaged a large portion of Neustria, and even burned his own palace at Melciacum, was further increased by the knowledge that some of his own counts were aiding the invaders. Hastily collecting his troops, he took a terrible revenge, and showed the unusual exasperation of his feelings by putting his prisoners to death, and allowing a great number of men, women, and children to perish in the flames of the conquered towns. As Waifar still continued contumacious, a similar expedition was undertaken by the Franks in the following year, and Bourges and Thouars were stormed and taken. Pepin, according to the chronicles, invariably returned from these campaigns victorious “by the aid of God”, or “under the guidance of Christ”, “laden with booty, and without the slightest loss”.

At the return of spring, in AD 763, Pepin held the Campus Mains at Nevers, at which it was resolved once more to carry fire and sword into the devoted land of Aquitaine, the inhabitants of which had already lost almost everything but their stubborn hatred of their Frankish oppressors. It is curious, when we consider that this war was undertaken by Pepin on behalf of the Church (which Waifar was accused of despoiling), to read the account of the destructive march of the Franks. “After desolating nearly the whole of the country about Limoges”, says the chronicler, “and plundering many monasteries, he marched to Issandon (near Limoges), and laid waste a great part of Aquitaine, which was chiefly covered with vineyards; for, in nearly the whole of Aquitania, the churches and monasteries, the rich and the poor, cultivated the vine, but he destroyed everything”. The campaign of this year is remarkable for the sudden defection of Tassilo, Duke of Bavaria and nephew of Pepin, who, during the march towards Aquitaine, suddenly withdrew with his troops under pretence of illness, with the firm resolve “never to see his uncle’s face again”. When about twenty-one years of age, Tassilo had been compelled to swear fealty to Pepin at the Campus Maius held at Compiegne in AD 757. Since that period he had been kept continually near his uncle’s person, as if the latter was not satisfied with the sincerity of his subservience. The defection of Tassilo, at a time when the Frankish power was engaged in this desperate and bitter contest with the Aquitanians, caused great anxiety to Pepin; and though the march was continued as far as Cahors, little of importance was effected.

The diet was held in the following year, AD 764, at Worms, where it was discussed whether the war should be proceeded with or the revolt of the Bavarians be first suppressed. It would appear, however, that Pepin found it impossible to induce his vassals to march in either direction, for we are told that he passed the whole year at home, and spent the winter at his palace at Chiersy. He endeavored, indeed, to plant a thorn in the side of Waifar by bestowing the lately conquered town of Argenton and the province of Berri on Remistan, the uncle of Waifar, who had voluntarily sworn allegiance to him. But this hope, too, failed; for Remistan was false to his own treachery, and soon reconciled himself to his nephew, and took up the national cause. To show his sincerity in this second change, Remistan devastated the territory of Bourges and Limoges in so terrible a manner that “not a farmer dared to till his fields or vineyards”.


The effect of the perpetual and harassing inroads of the Aquitanians upon the Franks was such as Pepin most desired. It exasperated them to such a degree that they were ready to make any sacrifice to destroy their troublesome enemy. In the campus Maius, therefore, which Pepin held at Orleans in AD 766, he found his vassals fully prepared to second his designs, and determined, at any cost, to finish the war. Considerable progress was made towards the subjugation of Waifar’s territory during this year, but still more in the two following; in the former of which the city of Toulouse and the fortresses Scoraille, Turenne, and Peiruce were taken, and in the latter the Frankish army pressed on as far as the Garonne, Perigueux, and Saintes.

Waifar and his people were by this time utterly exhausted by their exertions and calamities, and, being without the means of continuing the war, lay at the mercy of the conquerors. Embittered by the opposition he had met with, Pepin acted with unusual harshness. Taking his family with him to Saintes, and leaving them there, “he turned his whole mind to the destruction of Waifar, and determined never to rest till he had captured or killed the rebel”. Remistan was soon afterwards taken prisoner and hung as a traitor. The mother, sister, and niece of Waifar fell into the hands of the Franks, and were sent off into the interior of the kingdom. That unhappy prince himself, deprived of every hope, and every consolation in disaster, deserted by the great mass of the Gascons, and hunted from hiding-place to hiding-place like a wild beast, met with the common fate of unfortunate monarchs; he was betrayed and murdered by his own followers in the forest of Edobold in Perigord. The independence of Aquitaine fell with him, and the country was subsequently governed by Frankish counts like the rest of Pepin’s empire.

The victor returned in triumph to his queen Bertrada (who was awaiting him at Saintes), rejoicing, doubtless, in having at last attained the object of so many toilsome years. His implacable and hated foe was no more; the stiff-necked Aquitanians were at his feet; his southern border was secure; and the whole empire was in an unwonted state of peace. He had every reason to look forward with confidence to an interval at least of quiet, which he might spend in domestic pleasures and in the regulation of the internal affairs of the vast empire over which he ruled.

But where he had looked for repose and safety an enemy awaited him more terrible than any whom he had encountered in the field. A short time after he arrived at Saintes, he was attacked by a disease which is variously described as fever and dropsy. Convinced that his case was beyond all human aid, he set out with his wife and children to Tours, and, entering the church of St. Martin, earnestly prayed for the intercession of that patron saint of the Frankish kings. From thence he proceeded to Paris, and passed sometime in the monastery of St. Denis, invoking the aid of God through his chosen servants. But when he saw that it was the will of heaven that he should die, he provided for the future welfare of his subjects; summoning the dukes and counts, the bishops and clergy of his Frankish dominions, he divided the whole empire, with their concurrence, between his two sons, Carl and Carloman. He died a few days after the settlement of the succession, on the 24th of September, AD 768, in the twenty-fifth year of his prosperous reign, and was buried by his sons, with great pomp, in the church of St. Denis, at Paris.


Pepin was described by Alcuin, in the following generation, as an “energetic and honorable prince, distinguished alike by his victories and his virtues”; and although such epithets were used, more especially in that age, without sufficient discrimination, there is every reason in the present case to adopt them in their full significance. In the field, indeed, he had fewer difficulties to deal with than his warlike father. In all his military undertakings the odds were greatly in his favor; and he had not the same opportunities as Carl Martel of showing what he could effect by the mere force of superior genius. Yet, whatever he was called upon to do, he did with energy and success. He quickly brought the revolted German nations, the Bavarians and Swabians, to the obedience to which the hammering of his predecessor had reduced them; and he drove back the restless Saxons to their wild retreats. Twice he led an army across the Alps against a brave and active enemy, and twice returned victorious, after saving the distant city of Rome from imminent destruction and securing the independence of the Pope.

As a civil ruler he showed himself temperate and wise. Though greatly superior in every respect to his brother, he took no unfair advantage of him, but lived and acted with him in uninterrupted harmony. Though his ambition induced him to assume the name of king, he did so without haste or rashness, at a time and under circumstances in which the change of dynasty was likely to cause the least amount of ill-feeling or disturbance.

In his relations to the Church he displayed both reverence and self-respect. From conviction as well as policy, he was a staunch supporter of Christianity and the Roman Church: but he was no weak fanatic; he cherished and advanced the clergy, and availed himself of their superior learning in the conduct of his affairs; but he was by no means inclined to give way to immoderate pretensions on their part. He always remained their master, though a kind and considerate one; nor did he scruple to make use of their overflowing coffers for the general purposes of the State.

Of his private life we know scarcely anything at all; but we have no reason to suppose that it was inconsistent with that respect for religion, that love of order, justice, and moderation which he generally manifested in his public acts. In his last campaigns against Waifar and the Aquitanians alone does he seem, to have been betrayed into a cruel and vindictive line of conduct; and from them, as we have seen, he received the greatest provocation.

With such high qualities, important transactions, and glorious deeds, connected with his name, we might wonder that the fame of Pepin is not greater, did we not know the diminishing force of unfavorable contrast. Unfortunately, for his renown at least, he had a father and a son still greater than himself. Such a man would have risen like an alp from the level plain of ordinary kings: as it is, he forms but a link in a long chain of eminences, of which he is not the highest; and thus it has come to pass that the tomb of one who ruled a mighty empire for twenty-five years with invariable success, who founded a new dynasty of kings, and established the Popes on their earthly throne, is inscribed with the name of his still more glorious successor; and all his high qualities and glorious deeds appear to be forgotten in the fact that he was “Pater Caroli Magni!”