Half brother, all trouble, second half

When we last left Grifo, he had just gained his freedom after being imprisoned by his half-brother Pepin after the death of their father, Charles Martel. Pepin, in charge of the whole kingdom under the nominal rule of the last Merovingian king, Childeric III, had evidently decided to give his half-brother, now years wiser, a second chance. Perhaps Pepin had visited Grifo during his imprisonment, and in their talks together the younger man had convinced the older of his readiness to serve the man and the kingdom.

Pepin assigned Grifo twelve counties in western Neustria, with a capital at Le Mans. This was no mere sinecure, a backwater outpost of no value. Grifo’s lands would act as a bulwark to the Bretons to the west and the Aquitanians to the south. If need arose this duchy could be a springboard to invade either region. All in all a fine collection of lands, of strategic and political import, and the source of a lot of revenue.1.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.43. But as the Royal Frankish Annals note, “Grifo… did not want to be under the thumb of his brother Pepin, although he held an honorable place.”2.RFA, 747.

I should note here that the Royal Annals present a somewhat confusing picture of Grifo and Pepin’s actions over the next year. In a nutshell, Grifo runs to Saxony, is immediately blocked by Pepin, and then goes south to Bavaria, where he more or less takes over the duchy until Pepin again shows up to restore order. After all this mischief-making, according to the Royal Annals, Pepin hands Grifo the keys to the twelve-county region! Not very likely. What follows is the sequence as Bernard Bachrach outlines it, and which makes more sense to me.

Grifo abandoned his lands, mustered a small force of household men, and fled across the kingdom to join up with Theodoric of Saxony, a multiple oath breaker who had been a constant thorn in Pepin’s side. In response, “Pepin marched through Thuringia with the Frankish host, entered Saxony in spite of his brother’s machinations, and positioned himself on the River Meissau, near Schoningen. Nevertheless there was no battle between them; instead, they separated after making a treaty.”3.RFA, 747. The terms of the treaty are not related, nor the reasons behind Pepin’s leniency. Whatever transpired, Grifo was apparently not deterred from his goal of being a king in his own right.

He saw an opportunity to rule again in neighboring Bavaria. Duke Odilo had died in January of 748, leaving his widow Hiltrude and their six-year old son Tassilo. Remember that Hiltrude was Pepin and Carloman’s full sister, who married Odilo at the urging of Grifo’s mother Swanahild, and against the advice of her brothers. Grifo saw the tenuous state of Bavarian affairs, and as half-brother to the dead duke’s wife, “fleeing from Saxony Grifo came to Bavaria, subdued the duchy, and captured Hiltrude and Tassilo. Suidgar came to Grifo’s aid. When Pepin heard this, he hurried with his army to Bavaria, overcame all those mentioned above, took Grifo and Lantfrid away with him, and by his grace installed Tassilo as duke of the Bavarians.”4.RFA, 748. The RFA goes on to say, “He sent Grifo to Neustria and gave him twelve counties,” which like I said doesn’t make much sense. It is always worth remembering, however, that the Annals were written after the fact and always endeavored to put the Pepinids’ best face forward.

Fredegar agrees that the Bavarian uprising was Grifo’s fault. “It was not long before the Bavarians once again broke faith and, acting on bad advice [meaning Grifo], cast off their allegiance to the aforesaid prince [Pepin], who accordingly summoned his forces and marched in great strength upon their land. Terror-stricken, they fled with their wives and children beyond the river Inn.”5.Fredegar Continuations, ch. 32. As there as nothing to indicate that some kind of a battle ensued, to my mind this expedition has the feel more of a reminder to the counts and people of Bavaria. Whatever the truth about Grifo’s inheritance, there is little doubt that he did not have much left to stand on at this point.

Nothing more is heard of him for the next few years. Finally, in 753, his demise is mentioned in both the RFA and Fredegar’s Continuations, who gives the fullest account. “In the year following these events [753], news reached the king from Burgundy that his brother Grifo, who had recently fled to Waiofar, lord of Gascony, had been slain in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne on the river Arc by Counts Theudoenus of Vienne and Frederic of Transjura. He was on his way to Lombardy to stir up trouble against the said king. It so happened that the two counts mentioned were also killed in the fight.”6.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.35. There are no other circumstances of the battle. Did Grifo go straight to Waifar from Saxony in 748, and had been biding his time ever since? We have no way to know.

It would make sense that he was on his way to Lombardy when he was killed. Pepin had broken with the Lombards in exchange for papal sanction of his kingship, and there is no doubt that an “insider” would have been welcome in the Lombard camp. Burgundy sits astride the southern roads from Aquitaine to Lombardy, and if Pepin found out Grifo was on the move again, there is no doubt he would have wanted him killed before reaching his enemies across the Alps.

Paul Fouracre implies that Grifo’s death was part of a general “mopping up” operation against Pepin’s potential political adversaries, after he had been crowned in 751. He needed to wrap up any potential loose ends if he was to pull off a political coup of that magnitude. Carloman was put under some kind of house arrest under his mother’s care until his death in 755, and both of his sons tonsured and sent to a monastery.7.Fouracre, Charles Martel, p.172. Grifo, always the half-brother, the odd-man out, was killed, at the ripe of old of twenty-seven. As Fredegar notes, he did not go down without a fight.

Personally I feel sorry for Grifo. I do believe that his inheritance was genuine, if perhaps given by Charles when he knew he was dying. His brothers should have honored their father’s bequest, and made the best of the situation. Grifo was obviously a man full of energy, drive, and skill. They could have made good use of him, if he would have allowed himself to be part of a triumvirate.

In my last post we saw that Boniface had written to Grifo in 741, after the death of Charles Martel, when his position was not yet under assault. At the close of the letter Boniface gently admonished Grifo with a cautionary biblical quote. Boniface included a second quote, that serves as well as anything for Grifo’s epitaph. “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.”8.Boniface, Letters, XXXVIII.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.43.
2, 3. RFA, 747.
4. RFA, 748. The RFA goes on to say, “He sent Grifo to Neustria and gave him twelve counties,” which like I said doesn’t make much sense. It is always worth remembering, however, that the Annals were written after the fact and always endeavored to put the Pepinids’ best face forward.
5. Fredegar Continuations, ch. 32.
6. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.35.
7. Fouracre, Charles Martel, p.172.
8. Boniface, Letters, XXXVIII.

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