To Depose A King, Part Two

By 750, nine years after his father’s death, Pepin’s grasp of Francia was strong, but not ironclad. He and his brother Carloman had reinstated the Merovingian kingship in 743 with the elevation of Childeric III, probably as a way to validate and legitimize their rule of the kingdom. They had quashed the various rebellions that had erupted once Martel left the scene. When Carloman decided to abdicate his rule in Austrasia in 746, Pepin was left in sole control, but there were rumblings through the land.

Pepin’s first son Charles (Charlemagne) had been born around 747 or 748, but he was illegitimate, as Pepin did not marry Bertrada until 749. Although Carloman had abdicated his share of the realm, he and Pepin had first agreed that Carloman’s son Drogo would eventually hold authority in his stead. This meant that there was a potential power struggle ahead, once Drogo claimed Austrasia. In addition there was the problem of Grifo, Pepin and Carloman’s half-brother who had been granted some territory on the death of Martel, but had been pushed out. Grifo was still around and making trouble, and even allied himself with Waifar of Aquitaine.

Pepin ruled under the Merovingian figurehead, dealing with his nephew and half-brother for five years, until he deposed Childeric and had himself anointed king in 751. Why did he act, and how did he accomplish this feat? The sources are completely silent on the why, and seem to strive to present the change as the most natural evolution in the kingship of the realm. But those sources were written after the fact, under Carolingian patronage, and labored to present events in the best light for the family.

I think the why is primarily a question of power politics. Pepin was faced with dissension in the realm, and sought a way to further legitimize his rule, and quiet a possible reason for dissent. But I also imagine it had something to do with a feeling that “the land needs a king,” and the king should truly represent his people. In my personal Department of Completely Unsubstantiated Thinking, his wife Bertrada was a fierce woman, and perhaps she was pushing him. Whatever the reasons, once he had decided to act there were obstacles to remove and allies to enlist.

Pepin needed to obtain the support of the other noble families in the realm, but again the sources are sadly silent on this crucial chapter. Change is never easy, and things get ever trickier when spiritual and political change is in the air. He knew he then had to go to the Pope. As God’s representative on earth, it was the Pope who could invoke the spiritual blessings and approval necessary to validate a change of this magnitude. Fortunately for Pepin there was a good reason why the Pope should support his efforts.1.<ahref=”http://www.8thcentury.com/bibliography/#CollinsBio” title=”Bibliography”>Collins, Charlemagne, pp.32 – 35, presents a compelling and succinct analysis of the political situation that led up to the deposition.

The papacy had been in long-standing conflict with the Lombards to the north of Rome. The Lombards were a constant menace – the Liber Pontificalis (Book of the Popes) refers to them as “the unspeakable race.” The papacy lacked an army2.As Stalin recently pointed out. and had to fall back on moral and spiritual influence. The Byzantine empire, long the defender of church interests in Italy, had given up sending troops. The Pope needed a strong ally, and in fact had reached out to Charles Martel, but no support was then forthcoming.

Pepin opened the papal discussion in 750 with what could almost be considered a hypothetical question. From the Annals:

Burchard, the bishop of Wurzburg, and the chaplain Fulrad were sent to Pope Zacarias to ask him whether it was good that at that time there were kings in Francia who had no royal power. Pope Zacharias informed Pepin that it was better for him who [really] had the royal power to be called king than the one who remained without [effective] royal power. By means of his apostolic authority, so that order might not be cast into confusion, he decreed that Pepin should be made king.3.Annals, year 750. Oddly enough the chapter on Zacharias in the Liber Pontificalis ignores this event. Perhaps the popes wanted to look like they faced down the Lombards on their own?

And so the very next year:

Pepin was elected king according to the custom of he Franks, anointed by the hand of Archbishop Boniface of saintly memory, and raised to the kingship by the Franks in the city of Soissons. But Childeric, who was falsely called king, was tonsured and sent into a monastery.4.Like the Book of the Popes, this event is not mentioned in the correspondence of Boniface.

Fredegar combines both negotiation and consecration in one chapter:

It now happened that with the consent and advice of all the Franks the most excellent Pippin submitted a proposition to the Apostolic See, and having first obtained its sanction, was made king, and Bertrada queen. In accordance with that order anciently required, he was chosen king by all the Franks, consecrated by the bishops and received the homage of the great men.5.Fredegar continuations, chapter 33

Note that while Pepin did not have the traditional long hair, he was anointed by a religious representative, which had not been part of earlier Frankish kingship elevation rituals.

Anointing is, according to Merriam-Webster, “to apply oil as a sacred rite especially for consecration.”6.“Anoint.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anoint>. It symbolizes the introduction of spiritual or divine influence on the person. As Pope Stephen III pointed out to Charlemagne in 770, “Recall and reflect that through the hands of the vicar of St. Peter you have been sanctified with celestial blessing by the holy oil of unction.”7.King, Translated Sources, Caroline Code 2, p.271. Anointing is also known as unction, and the oil is also known as chrism. It is possible that the intent of the ceremony was to replace the “magic” of the Merovingian long hair with the magic of Christianity. An anonymous chronicler writing in 767 offers a three-fold justification for the validity of the ritual in 751, “King Pepin had… been raised to the throne of the kingdom by the authority and commandment of the lord Pope Zacharias of holy memory, and by unction with the holy chrism at the hands of the blessed priests of Gaul, and election by all the Franks.”8.Dutton, Carolingian Civilization, document 4, The Reanointing of Pepin in 754, p.13.

Three years after Pepin’s initial coronation, Pope Stephen II himself came north to see Pepin, which was, incidentally, the first time a pope had ever crossed the Alps. Stephen conducted a second anointing of Pepin and Bertrada at the abbey of St. Denis, a ceremony that this time included Pepin’s sons Charlemagne and Carlomon. Stephen’s personal attentions did not go unrewarded. The new king’s first campaign was into Italy, where he crushed the Lombard king Aistulf. Pepin then bequeathed the Papacy the lands known as the Papal States, which were held by the church for the next twelve centuries. The Franks and the Papacy had cemented their partnership.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. <ahref=”http://www.8thcentury.com/bibliography/#CollinsBio” title=”Bibliography”>Collins, Charlemagne, pp.32 – 35, presents a compelling and succinct analysis of the political situation that led up to the deposition.
2. As Stalin recently pointed out.
3. Annals, year 750. Oddly enough the chapter on Zacharias in the Liber Pontificalis ignores this event. Perhaps the popes wanted to look like they faced down the Lombards on their own?
4. Like the Book of the Popes, this event is not mentioned in the correspondence of Boniface.
5. Fredegar continuations, chapter 33
6. “Anoint.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anoint>.
7. King, Translated Sources, Caroline Code 2, p.271. Anointing is also known as unction, and the oil is also known as chrism.
8. Dutton, Carolingian Civilization, document 4, The Reanointing of Pepin in 754, p.13.

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