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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century


The Kingdom of the Franks



Under Clovis I of the House of the Merovingians, the Franks gained supremacy in Western Europe. After his death, a dispute that would characterize the social and political history of the Middle Ages—that between a central monarch and local princes—began. The nobility had to be pacified with concessions before they would recognize the king. Frequent divisions of the kingdom under the legitimate heirs so weakened the Merovingians that they were ultimately forced to relinquish their power to the Carolingians, the former mayors of the palace. After a series of successful Carolinyians came Charlemagne, the first emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

The Merovingians' Frankish Empire

Beginning with a small region south of the Rhine estuary, the Merovingians created the largest empire of the Germans of the early Middle Ages.

1 The Frankish Empire in the age of the Merovingians and Carolingians

The expansion of the 1 Franks 3 brought them into conflict with Syagrius, the last Roman governor of the region, who was defeated 4 by the Merovingian Clovis I in 486.


3 Frankish warrior armed for battle, wood engraving, 19th century

4 Victory of Clovis I over Syagrius in
the Battle of Soissons, embroidered tapestry,
15th century

Clovis enlarged his domain considerably and, by the time of his death in 511, he ruled an area encompassing present-day France, Belgium, the Rhineland, and southwestern Germany.

Clovis was baptized a Christian 5 by Bishop Remigius of Reims, facilitated the merging of the Franks with the indigenous Gallo-Romans, and also allied the rulers of the Frankish kingdom, and later those of the Holy Roman Empire, with the papacy.

5 The baptism of Clovis I by Bishop Remigius,
painting, 19th century

In his legal code, the Lex Salica, Clovis excluded female accession to the throne. This established the continuity of the Merovingian line and that of their successors— the Carolingians and Capetians— into the 19th century, but also led to major conflicts such as the Hundred Years' War between France and England in the 14th century.

Despite this new regulation of succession, after his death, Clovis's empire was parceled out among his four sons according to the old Frankish custom of drawing lots.



Merovingian dynasty

Merovingian dynasty, Frankish dynasty (ad 476–750) traditionally reckoned as the “first race” of the kings of France.

The name Merovingian derives from that of Merovech, of whom nothing is known except that he was the father of Childeric I, who ruled a tribe of Salian Franks from his capital at Tournai. Childeric was succeeded by his son Clovis I in 481 or 482. Clovis I extended his rule over all the Salian Franks, conquered or annexed the territories of the Ripuarian Franks and the Alemanni, and united nearly all of Gaul except for Burgundy and what is now Provence. Of equal importance, he was converted to Christianity in either 496 or 506. At Clovis I’s death in 511, his realm was divided among his four sons, Theuderic I, Chlodomir, Childebert I, and Chlotar I. Despite the frequently bloody competition between the brothers, they managed among them to extend Frankish rule over Thuringia in approximately 531 and Burgundy in 534 and to gain sway over, if not possession of, Septimania on the Mediterranean coast, Bavaria, and the lands of the Saxons to the north. By 558 Chlotar I was the last surviving son of Clovis I, and until his death in 561 the Frankish realm was once again united.

In 561 the realm was again divided between brothers—Charibert I, Guntram, Sigebert, and Chilperic I—and again family strife and intrigue ensued, particularly between Chilperic and his wife, Fredegund, in the northwest of Gaul and Sigebert and his wife, Brunhild, in the northeast. Dynastic struggles and increasing pressures exerted on the realm by neighbouring peoples—Bretons and Gascons in the west, Lombards in the southeast, Avars in the east—prompted a reorganization of the Frankish kingdoms. Several eastern regions were merged into the kingdom of Austrasia, with its capital at Metz; in the west Neustria emerged, with its capital first at Soissons and later at Paris; to the south was the enlarged kingdom of Burgundy, with its capital at Chalon-sur-Saône. Overall Frankish unity was again achieved in 613, when Chlotar II, son of Chilperic I and king of Neustria, inherited the other two kingdoms as well. On the death of Chlotar’s son Dagobert I in 639, the realm was divided yet again, but by that time the kings of the two regions, Neustria and Burgundy on the one hand and Austrasia on the other, had been forced to yield much of their power to household officials known as mayors of the palace. The later Merovingian kings were little more than puppets and were enthroned and deposed at will by powerful mayors of the palace. The last Merovingian, Childeric III, was deposed in 750 by Pippin III the Short, one of a line of Austrasian mayors of the palace who finally usurped the throne itself to establish the Carolingian dynasty.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Carolingian dynasty

Carolingian dynasty, family of Frankish aristocrats and the dynasty (ad 750–887) that they established to rule western Europe. The name derives from the large number of family members who bore the name Charles, most notably Charlemagne.

The family came to power as hereditary mayors of the palace of the Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, and, by the time of Pippin II of Herstal (French Héristal), who became mayor of the palace in 679, they had reduced their nominal Merovingian kings to mere figureheads. Indeed, in 687 Pippin II gained effective rule over the entire Frankish realm when he defeated his Neustrian rival, Ebroïn. At his death in 714 Pippin left a legitimate heir, a child of six, and an illegitimate son, Charles Martel. By 725 Charles Martel had established himself as ruler of the Franks, although he maintained the fiction of Merovingian sovereignty until 737, when following the death of Theuderic IV he let the throne remain vacant. Charles Martel died in 741, and his sons Pippin III the Short and Carloman divided the realm between themselves. Upon Carloman’s abdication in 747, Pippin III became the sole ruler. His position was so secure that in 750 he deposed the last of the Merovingians, Childeric III, and, with the support of Pope Zacharias, had himself elected king by an assembly of Frankish nobles and consecrated by a bishop of the Roman church.

The realm was again divided on Pippin III’s death in 768, but the death three years later of his younger son, Carloman, reunited all the territories in the hands of Pippin’s elder son, Charles, who became known as Charlemagne. Charlemagne extended Frankish power by conquest over virtually all of Gaul and into Germany and Italy, and he made tributaries of the Bohemians, Avars, Serbs, Croats, and other peoples of eastern Europe. He formed an alliance with the papacy and in 774 created a papal state in central Italy. On Christmas Day of 800, in the presence of Pope Leo III, he was crowned emperor of the restored Roman Empire. The unity that Charlemagne was able to impose on western Europe, however, fell victim to the ancient Frankish custom of dividing the realm among all a deceased king’s sons. On the death of Charlemagne’s sole surviving son and successor, Louis the Pious, in 840, three of his sons contested the succession. In the Treaty of Verdun in 843 they agreed to divide the empire into three kingdoms. Francia Occidentalis in the west went to Charles II the Bald, Francia Orientalis in the east went to Louis II the German, and Francia Media, including the Italian provinces and Rome, went to Lothar, who also inherited the title of emperor.

Subsequent partitions of the three kingdoms, together with the rise of such new powers as the Normans and the Saxons, whittled away at Carolingian authority. The imperial title passed from Lothar to his son Louis II in 855, from Louis II to his uncle Charles the Bald in 875, and, after an interregnum following Charles’s death in 877, to Charles III the Fat, the youngest son of Louis the German, in 881. By the time Charles III was deposed in 887, Carolingian power had all but dissolved in the empire, though Carolingian kings returned to power in France in 893/898–923 and 936–987.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Clovis I

Clovis I, (born c. 466—died November 27, 511, Paris, France), king of the Franks and ruler of much of Gaul from 481 to 511, a key period during the transformation of the Roman Empire into Europe. His dynasty, the Merovingians, survived more than 200 years, until the rise of the Carolingians in the 8th century. While he was not the first Frankish king, he was the kingdom’s political and religious founder.

Clovis was the son of the pagan Frankish king Childeric and the Thuringian queen Basina. He succeeded his father in 481 as the ruler of the Salian Franks and other Frankish groups around Tournai (now in Belgium). Although the chronology of his reign is imprecise, it is certain that by the time of his death in 511 he had consolidated the Franks and expanded his influence and rule to include the Roman province of Belgica Secunda in 486 and the territories of the Alemanni (in 496), the Burgundians (in 500), and the Visigoths (in 507). Clovis’s kingdom began in the region encompassing modern Belgium and northeastern France, expanded south and west, and became the most powerful in Gaul. He was the most important Western ally of the Byzantine emperor Anastasius I. The Pactus Legis Salicae (Law of the Salian Franks), a written code combining customary law, Roman written law, Christian ideals, and royal edicts, likely originated during Clovis’s reign and had a long history of emendation and influence. Clovis married the Catholic Burgundian princess Clotilda and had five children with her. A son, Theuderic, was born prior to the marriage; his mother is unknown.

Clovis, like his father, dealt politically and diplomatically with the Catholic bishops of Gaul. These powerful figures had no qualms about working with Germanic kings, as a letter to Clovis from Bishop Remigius of Reims, written early in the king’s reign, makes clear. The bishops saw themselves as the king’s natural advisers, and, even before his conversion to Catholic Christianity and his baptism at Reims (now in France) by Remigius, Clovis apparently recognized their rights and protected their property. In a letter written to Clovis at the time of his baptism, Avitus of Vienne (now in France) praises his faith, humility, and mercy. Significantly, in the year of his death, Clovis summoned the bishops to a church council at Orléans.

Much was written about Clovis by Gregory of Tours in his Histories (often called the History of the Franks), which appeared more than 50 years after Clovis’s death. Interpreting him from a Christian perspective, Gregory tells stirring stories about Clovis and portrays him as a single-minded warrior. He uses florid rhetoric to describe the arguments with which Clotilda attempted to persuade her husband to abandon paganism. When Clovis finally converted, he becomes for Gregory a “new Constantine,” the emperor who Christianized the Roman Empire in the early 4th century. In both cases, an unexpected victory in battle led a king to trust the power of the Christian God and to submit to baptism. Gregory places Clovis’s baptism in 496 and characterizes his subsequent battles as Christian victories, particularly the engagement with the Visigoths in 507 that has long been identified with Vouillé but now is believed to have occurred at Voulon near Poitiers, France. Gregory portrays the Visigothic war as a campaign against Arian heresy. His account indicates that prior to the battle, Clovis gave gifts to the church and made appeals to St. Martin of Tours, for which he was rewarded with victory, blessed with miracles, and honoured with an imperial consulship by Anastasius I.

Recent scholarship has revealed flaws in Gregory’s account of Clovis and raised questions about the ultimate purpose of the Histories. Gregory elevated the Franks to equivalency with the ancient Hebrews, the chosen people, and Clovis to the stature of their great king David. Even more important, he held Clovis up as a model for his own contemporary Frankish kings, Clovis’s grandsons. In Gregory’s estimation, unlike their grandfather, they did not maintain unity and peace within the kingdom nor adequately respect the advice of bishops. While the Histories provides broad background and engaging stories about the early Frankish world, the Clovis of the Histories is more a literary fiction than a historical reality.

However, Gregory and other contemporary authors were not wholly wrong in describing Clovis, a warrior king, as a religious figure. His life illustrates a crucial series of ideological and cultural transformations that took place throughout the Western Roman Empire as it gave way to Germanic kingdoms. Clovis’s father, Childeric, died a pagan and was buried in Tournai in a tomb surrounded by barbarian horse burials. Thirty years later Clovis was buried next to his contemporary St. Geneviève in the Church of the Holy Apostles that he built in Paris, and he was joined years later by his wife, St. Clotilda.

Over the centuries much has been made of Clovis’s conversion to Catholicism. One of the first Germanic kings to do so, he did, in fact, convert to Catholicism, but recent analysis of the contemporary sources that describe his reign—especially of a letter written by Avitus of Vienne congratulating him on his baptism—suggests that Clovis did not convert to Catholicism directly from paganism. Prior to accepting Catholicism, he was interested in the Christian heresy Arianism, sympathetic with it, and perhaps even leaning toward adopting it. According to Avitus, it is also likely that Clovis was baptized rather late in life, possibly at Christmas in 508, only three years before his death.

If this sequence of events is correct, it reflects the intellectual and religious climate of late 5th- and early 6th-century Gaul. The Arian heresy was the form of Christianity to which most Germanic peoples initially converted. It understood the godhead in hierarchical terms. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was a created being who did not share the eternal nature of God the Father but who was superior to God the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Catholicism understood the godhead as comprising three “coequal,” “coeternal” members. These two Christian belief systems represent a theological power struggle within the Christian community during the transformation period. The Catholics won by ecclesiastical and imperial decree in the 4th century, making Arianism a heresy, but Arianism remained an important force in parts of Europe as late as the 6th century.

Pagans, Arians, and Catholics shared the Gaul of Clovis and the Franks. Clovis personally illustrates the juxtaposition of these three belief systems. He was born into paganism, two of his sisters were Arians (one married the Arian Ostrogothic king Theodoric the Great), and his wife, Clotilda, like her sister, was Catholic but from a Burgundian royal family that included Arians. His conversion to Catholicism was that of one man and not of his kingdom, but it can be seen as pivotal in Frankish history.

Clovis’s life as a religious man illustrates the challenges then faced by the Catholic bishops and illuminates their concerns with evangelism. They combatted paganism and the ancient traditions that it embodied, stamped out heresy, and attempted to convert Gaul’s Jewish communities. The powerful advocacy of Catholicism that resonates in Gregory’s Histories is, perhaps, a response to the difficulty of conversions of those like Clovis, who was not baptized until at least 15 years into his reign. This advocacy may also reflect a deep-seated communal memory of a religiously diverse kingdom and the daunting task of converting it.

Upon Clovis’s death, he divided his kingdom among his four surviving sons. Only Chlotar, who outlived his brothers, ruled a united kingdom, but he in turn divided it among his sons. It was not until the reign of Clovis’s great-grandson Chlotar II in the early 7th century that the Merovingians experienced long-lasting political unity. The kingdom which Clovis established, however, superseded its occasional individual parts and remained intact for centuries.

The historical Clovis remains a shadowy figure: a warrior who solidified a kingdom, corresponded with bishops, and converted to Catholic Christianity. Within decades of his death, he had become a hero and was held up as a model king. A millennium and a half later he remains significant. For the French, he was the founder of France, and a derivation of his name, Louis, became the principal name of its kings. His baptism is considered one of the formative dates in French history. For Catholics, he was the first major Germanic Catholic king, and Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass in Reims in 1996 in honour of the 15th centenary of his baptism.

Kathleen Mitchell

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Education of the Children of Clovis


The baptism of the legendary first king of France, Clovis I


Statue depicting the baptism of Clovis by Saint Remigius.


Battle between Clovis and the Visigoths


Battle of Tolbiac


Three new kingdoms thus came into being—Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy—whose respective rulers attempted to 2 destroy each other.

Chlotarll managed reunification a century later, but at great political cost. In order to gain the support of the nobility, he was forced to agree to the Edictum Chlotharii of 614, which stipulated that the royal officials—the counts—were to be chosen from among the property owners of the counties, strengthening the local nobility at the expense of central authority. Furthermore, the three kingdoms were each to have a "mayor of the palace," who would represent the king and hold great authority. The last Merovingian to reign over a unified empire, from 629 to 639, was Dagobert I.

Discord within the dynasty made possible the ascent of the Carolingians.

2 The death of Queen Brunhild in 613
following family intrigues,
wood engraving, 19th century

6 King Dagobert I builds the church
of Saint-Denis, manuscript, 14th century

Dagobert's tomb at Saint-Denis,
remade in the thirteenth century



Dagobert I

Dagobert I, (born 605—died Jan. 19, 639, Saint-Denis, France), the last Frankish king of the Merovingian dynasty to rule a realm united in more than name only.

The son of Chlotar II, Dagobert became king of Austrasia in 623 and of the entire Frankish realm in 629. Dagobert secured his realm by making a friendship treaty with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, defeating the Gascons and Bretons, and campaigning against the Slavs on his eastern frontier. In 631 he sent an army to Spain to help the Visigothic usurper Swinthila (Svintila). He moved his capital from Austrasia to Paris, a central location from which the kingdom could be governed more effectively. He then appeased the Austrasians by making his three-year-old son Sigebert their king in 634. Famed for his love of justice, Dagobert was nevertheless greedy and dissolute. He was succeeded by Sigebert III and another son, Clovis II.

The prosperity of Dagobert’s reign, and the revival of the arts during this period, can be judged from the rich contents of the tombs of the period and from the goldsmiths’ work for the churches. Dagobert revised Frankish law, encouraged learning, patronized the arts, and founded the first great abbey of Saint-Denis, to which he made many gifts.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The death of Queen Brunhild




queen of Austrasia
also spelled Brunhilda, Brunhilde, or Brunechildis, French Brunehaut

born c. 534
died 613, Renève, Burgundy [now in France]

queen of the Frankish kingdom of Austrasia, daughter of the Visigothic king Athanagild, and one of the most forceful figures of the Merovingian Age.

In 567 Brunhild married Sigebert I, king of Austrasia, changing her religion from Arianism to Roman Catholicism. In the same year, her sister Galswintha married Sigebert’s half brother Chilperic I, king of the western part of the Frankish territory, but in 567 or 568, at the instigation of his concubine Fredegund, Chilperic had Galswintha murdered. Prompted by Brunhild, Sigebert then exacted Galswintha’s marriage settlement (Bordeaux, Limoges, Quercy, Béarn, and Bigorre) as retribution from Chilperic. When Chilperic tried to recover this territory, war broke out between him and Sigebert (573). At first it ran in Sigebert’s favour, but in 575 he was assassinated and Brunhild was imprisoned at Rouen. There, however, Merovech, one of Chilperic’s sons, went through a form of marriage with her (576). Chilperic soon had this union dissolved, but Brunhild was allowed to go to Metz in Austrasia, where her young son Childebert II had been proclaimed king. There she was to assert herself against the Austrasian magnates for the next 30 years.

After Childebert’s death (595 or 596), Brunhild failed to set herself up as guardian over Childebert’s elder son, Theodebert II of Austrasia, and thus stirred up against him his brother Theodoric II, who had succeeded to Burgundy. Theodebert was finally overthrown in 612, but Theodoric died soon afterward (613), whereupon Brunhild tried to make the latter’s eldest son, the 12-year-old Sigebert II, king of Austrasia. The Austrasian magnates, reluctant to endure her tyrannous regency, appealed to Chlotar II of Neustria against her. Brunhild tried in vain to enlist the help of the tribes east of the Rhine, then fled to Burgundy, but was handed over to Chlotar at Renève (northeast of Dijon). She was tortured for three days, bound on to a camel and exposed to the mockery of the army, and finally dragged to death at a horse’s tail (autumn 613).

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Rise of the Carolingians

The Carolingian mayors of the palace seized power in the Frankish kingdom

In Dagobert I's Austrasia, the office of mayor of the palace was held by Pepin I, who founded the Carolingian 9 line.

9 Pepin and Bega, first of the Carolingian line,
painting by Rubens, 17th century

While the Merovingians remained on the throne as puppet rulers, his grandson Pepin II acquired effective power throughout the Frankish kingdom after he defeated the mayor of the palace of Neustria at Tertry in 687.

When Pepin II died in 714, his son, 7 Charles Martel ("the Hammer"), came to power, though he also never laid claim to the crown.

7 Charles Martel slays an Arab,
bronze casting, 19th century

He defeated Germanic tribes such as the Thuringians, bound the Bavarians to the kingdom, and promoted the mission of St. Boniface 10 in Germany.

10 Bonifatius baptizes Teutons and then dies a martyr, book painting, 10th century

Most famously, he halted the advance of the Arabs into Western Europe, for which he was later celebrated as the "Savior of the West."

In 732, Charles defeated an Arab army in battle 8 at Tours, near Poitiers; seven years later, the Arabs were also driven out of Provence.

Charles assembled a heavily armed mounted army—a military innovation that laid the foundation for the European feudal system and chivalry. To pay for their armor, the cavalry were allotted fiefs and had to swear an oath to serve their king when called upon.

In 747 Charles Martel's son, Pepin III, took over the post of mayor of the palace in Austrasia from his brother Carloman, who, after a bloody fight against the Alemanni, retired to a monastery. In 751, Pepin III ended the nominal rule of the Merovingians by exiling the last king to a monastery. He assumed the title of king, the first of the Carolingian dynasty, and three years later he had himself confirmed by Pope Stephen II.



Pippin I

Pippin I, also spelled Pepin, byname Pippin of Landen or Pippin the Elder, French Pépin de Landen or Pépin le Vieux, German Pippin der Altere (died 639 or 640), councillor of the Merovingian king Chlotar II and mayor of the palace in Austrasia, whose lands lay in the part of the Frankish kingdom that forms part of present-day Belgium. The reference to Landen dates from the 13th century.

Through the marriage of his daughter Begga with Ansegisel, son of Arnulf (d. 641; bishop of Metz), Pippin was the founder of the Carolingian dynasty. Deprived of his mayoralty at the accession (629) of Dagobert I, he regained power in Austrasia after that king’s death (January 639) but did not long survive to enjoy it.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Pippin II

Pippin II, also spelled Pepin, byname Pippin of Herstal, French Pépin d’Héristal (died Dec. 16, 714, Jupille, near Liège [now in Belgium]), ruler of the Franks (687–714), the first of the great Carolingian mayors of the palace.

The son of Begga and Ansegisel, who were, respectively, the daughter of Pippin I and the son of Bishop Arnulf of Metz, Pippin established himself as mayor of the palace in Austrasia after the death of Dagobert II in 679 and defended its autonomy against Theuderic III of Neustria and Ebroïn, Theuderic’s mayor of the palace. Defeated by Ebroïn in 680 at Lucofao (near Laon), Pippin gained his revenge on the Neustrians in 687 at Tertry (near Péronne) and became sole effective ruler of the Franks. He nevertheless retained Theuderic III on the throne and after his death replaced him with three successive Merovingian kings. After several years of warfare Pippin defeated the Frisians on his northeastern border (689) and married his son Grimoald to Theodelind, daughter of the Frisian chief Radbod. He also forced the Alemanni to recognize Frankish authority again and encouraged Christian missionaries in Alemannia and Bavaria. Charles Martel was his son.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Charles Martel

Charles Martel, Latin Carolus Martellus, German Karl Martell (born c. 688—died Oct. 22, 741, Quierzy-sur-Oise [France]), mayor of the palace of Austrasia (the eastern part of the Frankish kingdom) from 715 to 741. He reunited and ruled the entire Frankish realm and stemmed the Muslim invasion at Poitiers in 732. His byname, Martel, means “the hammer.”

Charles was the illegitimate son of Pippin II of Herstal, the mayor of the palace of Austrasia. By this period the Merovingian kings of the Frankish realm were rulers in name only. The burden of rule lay upon the mayors of the palace, who governed Austrasia, the eastern part of the Frankish kingdom, and Neustria, its western portion. Neustria bitterly resented its conquest and annexation in 687 by Pippin, who, acting in the name of the king, had reorganized and reunified the Frankish realm.

The assassination of Pippin’s only surviving legitimate son in 714 was followed a few months later by the death of Pippin himself. Pippin left as heirs three grandsons, and, until they came of age, Plectrude, Pippin’s widow, was to hold power. As an illegitimate son, Charles Martel was entirely neglected in the will. But he was young, strong, and determined, and an intense struggle for power at once broke out in the Frankish kingdom.

Both Charles and Plectrude faced rebellion throughout the Frankish kingdom when Pippin’s will was made known. The king, Chilperic II, was in the power of Ragenfrid, mayor of the palace of Neustria, who joined forces with the Frisians in Holland in order to eliminate Charles. Plectrude imprisoned Charles and tried to govern in the name of her grandchildren, but Charles escaped, gathered an army, and defeated the Neustrians in battles at Amblève near Liège (716) and at Vincy near Cambrai (717). His success made resistance by Plectrude and the Austrasians useless; they submitted, and by 719 Charles alone governed the Franks as mayor.

Assured of Austrasia, Charles now attacked Neustria itself, finally subduing it in 724. This freed Charles to deal with hostile elements elsewhere. He attacked Aquitaine, whose ruler, Eudes (Odo), had been an ally of Ragenfrid, but Charles did not gain effective control of southern France until late in his reign. He also conducted long campaigns, some as late as the 730s, against the Frisians, Saxons, and Bavarians, whose brigandage endangered the eastern frontiers of his kingdom. In order to consolidate his military gains, Charles supported St. Boniface and other missionaries in their efforts to convert the German tribes on the eastern frontier to Christianity.

Ever since their arrival in Spain from Africa in 711, the Muslims had raided Frankish territory, threatening Gaul and on one occasion (725) reaching Burgundy and sacking Autun. In 732 ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān, the governor of Córdoba, marched into Bordeaux and defeated Eudes. The Muslims then proceeded north across Aquitaine to the city of Poitiers. Eudes appealed to Charles for assistance, and Charles’s cavalry managed to turn back the Muslim onslaught at the Battle of Tours. The battle itself may have been only a series of small engagements, but after it there were no more great Muslim invasions of Frankish territory.

In 733 Charles began his campaigns to force Burgundy to yield to his rule. In 735 word arrived that Eudes was dead, and Charles marched rapidly across the Loire River in order to make his power felt around Bordeaux. By 739 he had completely subdued the petty chieftains of Burgundy, and he continued to fend off Muslim advances into Gaul during the decade.

Charles’s health began to fail in the late 730s, and in 741 he retired to his palace at Quierzy-sur-Oise, where he died soon after. Before his death he divided the Merovingian kingdom between his two legitimate sons, Pippin III and Carloman. He continued to maintain the fiction of Merovingian rule, refraining from transferring the royal title to his own dynasty.

Eleanor Shipley Duckett

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Pippin III

Pippin III, also spelled Pepin, byname Pippin the Short, French Pépin le Bref, German Pippin der Kurze (born c. 714—died September 24, 768, Saint-Denis, Neustria [now in France]), the first king of the Frankish Carolingian dynasty and the father of Charlemagne. A son of Charles Martel, Pippin became sole de facto ruler of the Franks in 747 and then, on the deposition of Childeric III in 751, king of the Franks. He was the first Frankish king to be anointed—first by St. Boniface and later (754) by Pope Stephen II.

Background and kingship
For years the Merovingian kings had been unable to prevent power from slipping from their hands into those of the counts and other magnates. The kings were gradually eclipsed by the mayors of the palace, whose status developed from that of officer of the household to regent or viceroy. Among the mayors, a rich family descended from Pippin of Landen (Pippin I) held a position of especial importance. When Charles Martel, the scion of that family, died in 741, he left two sons: the elder, Carloman, mayor of Austrasia, Alemannia, and Thuringia, and Pippin III, mayor of Neustria, Burgundy, and Provence. No king had ruled over all the Franks since 737, but to maintain the fiction of Merovingian sovereignty, the two mayors gave the crown to Childeric III in 743.

Charles had had a third son, however—Grifo, who had been born to him by a Bavarian woman of high rank, probably his mistress. In 741, when his two brothers were declared mayors of the Franks, Grifo rebelled. He led a number of revolts in subsequent years and was several times imprisoned. In 753 he was killed amid the Alpine passes on his way to join the Lombards, at this time enemies of the Franks as well as of the papacy.

Numerous other rebellions broke out. In 742 men of Aquitaine and Alemannia were in revolt; in 743 Odilo, duke of Bavaria, led his men into battle; in 744 the Saxons rebelled, in 745 Aquitaine, and in 746 Alemannia, the latter two for the second time.

In 747, when Carloman decided to enter monastic life at Rome, a step he had been considering for years, Pippin became sole ruler of the Franks. But Pippin was ambitious to govern his people as king, not merely as mayor. Like his father, he had courage and resolution; unlike his father, he had a strong desire to unite the papacy with the Frankish realm. In 750 he sent two envoys to Pope Zacharias with a letter asking, “Is it wise to have kings who hold no power of control?” The pope answered, “It is better to have a king able to govern. By apostolic authority I bid that you be crowned King of the Franks.” Childeric III was deposed and sent to a monastery, and Pippin was anointed as king at Soissons in November 751 by Archbishop Boniface and other prelates.

Pippin and Pope Stephen II
The pope was in need of aid. Aistulf, king of the Lombards, had seized Ravenna with its lands, known as the exarchate. Soon, Lombard troops marched south, surrounded Rome, and prepared to lay siege to its walls. So matters stood when in 752 Zacharias died and Stephen II became pope. In November 753 Pope Stephen made his way over the stormy mountain passes to Frankish territory. He remained in France until the summer of 754, staying at the abbey of Saint-Denis, Paris. There he himself anointed Pippin and his sons, Charles and Carloman, as king and heirs of the crown.

The pope returned to Italy accompanied by Pippin and his army. A fierce battle was fought in the Alps against Aistulf and the Lombards. The Lombard king fled back to his capital, Pavia; Pippin and his men plundered the land around Pavia until Aistulf promised to restore to papal possession Ravenna and all the Roman properties claimed by the pope.

Aistulf broke his word. Again and again Pope Stephen wrote to Pippin of his difficulties. In 756 the Frankish king once more entered Italy. Aistulf was once more constrained to make promises, but the same year he died—of a fall from his horse—and in April 757 a new king, Desiderius, became ruler of the Lombards. That year Stephen II also died, and Paul I was elected pope. He, too, constantly wrote to Pippin asking for help.

But the king of the Franks had other concerns. He had to put down revolts in Saxony in 748 and 753 and a rising in Bavaria in 749. He was continually marching against rebellious Aquitaine. In 768 Pippin died at Saint-Denis, on his way back from one of his Aquitanian expeditions.

Pippin is remembered not only as the first of the Carolingians but also as a strong supporter of the Roman church. The papal claims to territory in Italy originated with Pippin’s campaigns against Aistulf and the latter’s pledge to return the Roman territories. His letters also show him calling for archbishoprics in Frankish territory, promoting synods of clergy and layfolk, and as deeply interested in theology.

Eleanor Shipley Duckett

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Pope Stephen II

Stephen II (or III), (born , Rome—died April 26, 757, Rome), pope from 752 to 757. He severed ties with the Byzantine Empire and thus became the first temporal sovereign of the newly founded Papal States.

He was a deacon when chosen on March 26, 752, as the second successor to Pope St. Zacharias (the first successor, Stephen II, had died on the previous day without being consecrated). The central act of his pontificate was to free the papacy from Byzantium and to ally it with the Franks against the Lombards, who, under the Lombardic king Aistulf, were threatening Rome and attempting to conquer all of Italy.

Following unsuccessful negotiations with Aistulf at Pavia in the fall of 753, Stephen became the first pope to make the trip across the Alps to Gaul. There he met (Jan. 6, 754) the Frankish king Pippin III the Short, who promised to restore to the church the lands taken by the Lombards. In July 754 at the abbey of Saint-Denis, France, Stephen anointed Pippin and his sons Charlemagne and Carloman, consecrating them kings of the Romans. Pippin then invaded Italy with his Frankish nobles, besieging Aistulf at Pavia; Stephen returned to Rome the following October. After Pippin’s army returned to Gaul, however, Aistulf resumed his war on Italy. By January 756 the Lombards had surrounded Rome, which they planned to make their capital.

After Stephen sent another appeal, Pippin, Charlemagne, and Carloman returned to Italy in 756, subduing the Lombards and conferring on Stephen territory in the exarchate of Ravenna, the duchy of Rome, and the districts of Venetia and Istria, thereby founding the Papal States under Stephen’s rule. Secured also was papal independence from the imperial regime at Constantinople, making the Frankish ruler protector of the papacy. Thus the pope became a sovereign prince.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


8 Charles Martel is primarily famous for his victory at the Battle of Tours,
his stopping the Umayyad invasions of Europe during the Muslim Expansion Era,
and his laying the foundation for the Carolingian Empire.
Painted by Charles de Steuben


Pepin III returned the favor by defending Rome 11 against the Lombard princes and offering their captured territories to the pope as the "Donation of Pepin"; These territories later became the basis of the Papal States.

Shortly before his death in 768, following the example of the Merovingians, Pepin divided the Frankish kingdom between his sons, Charlemagne and Carloman.

11 Pepin III and Pope Stephan II defeat the Lombards, copper engraving, 17th с


The Saracen Army outside Paris, 730-32 AD


The Mayors of the Palace

The mayor of the palace was initially responsible only for the running of the royal household.
However, once they began to take on military tasks their political influence increased.
The mayors of the palace were not only governors in their respective areas of the kingdom,
but under weak kings became the true rulers of these territories.
In the end, the Merovingian kings had a merely symbolic function until the Carolingian mayors of the
palace finally took the throne for themselves, in name as well as in practice.

King Clovis III, a minor, with the mayor of the palace,
Pippin II, wood engraving, 19th century