Pepin and his father Charles both were born and lived under the Merovingian dynasty. The line dated back to the reign of Childeric, who became king of the Salian Franks around 457. His father, Merovech, was said to be born of the union between his mother and a sea monster known as a quinotaur, in one of the dark ages’ most intriguing legends.
The Merovingians ruled the Franks for the next three hundred years. By the late 7th century, however, the palace office holder known as “the mayor of the palace”* came to hold more and more power. After Martel emerged victorious from a civil war in 718, he appointed Chilperic II as king. When Chilperic died Charles enthroned Theuderic IV. This was the era of the rois faineants, the do-nothing kings.
You can see where this is going. From exercising power, to sharing power, to becoming beholden to another’s power, and finally fading out altogether, the Merovingians were passing from the scene. When Theuderic died in 737, Charles didn’t even bother appointing a new king.
There is a subtlety here that should not go unnoticed. While Charles appointed (or decided not to appoint) kings at his leisure, at no point did he try to assume the kingship himself. The details are sketchy in the extreme, but apparently the royal family was believed imbued with some kind of spiritual or mystical powers. Somehow this power was tied to the king’s hair, because the Merovingians are also called “the long-haired kings.” In yet another mystery they also liked bees – when the tomb of Childeric I was found in the 17th century, among the objects were many golden bees.
For whatever reasons, Charles was not ready to assume the role of king of the Franks. He was, however, quite ready to perform the duties of the king near his death, and proceeded to divide the realm between his sons. In 741 Carlomon, the elder son, got Austrasia, and Pepin got Neustria. A third son, Grifo, received some lands as well, but that led to all kinds of family mischief, which we won’t go into here.
After a couple of years fighting internal enemies (like Grifo), Pepin and Carloman, as co-rulers of the realm, decided to reinstate the kingship in 743 and put Childeric III on the throne. In 747 Carloman decided to retire from public life and entered a monastery. Four years later, as the eighth century began its second half, Pepin was ready to act.
*The term “mayor” is really a misnomer, as the role was more akin to a prime minister. I’ll have more in a future post.