Frankish travelogue – Frisia, under the Lamb

While spiritual battles raged in Frisia, secular affairs were no less intense. King Radbod and Pippin came to some kind of a peace agreement, and Radbod’s daughter Theudesinda married Pippin’s son Grimoald in 711. The new in-laws, however, did not make peace in their hearts. When Pippin fell deathly ill early in 714, “his son Grimoald hastened to visit him and, as he proceeded to prayer in the basilica of St Lambert the Martyr, and as he persisted a long while lying face down in his prayer, he was run through with a sword by a most evil man named Rantgar and he died.”1.Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.364. Other sources tell us that Rantgar was a Frisian.

Upon Pippin’s death later that year civil war broke out in Francia, and the Neustrian nobility made common cause with Radbod against Pippin’s Austrasian family. Radbod battled and defeated Pippin’s son Charles Martel, but that was Charles’ last defeat in the civil war (and, for that matter, in his life), and Radbod’s plan to recover his lost territory was destroyed. After that most of Frisia was considered a province or county of Francia, but it cannot be said that everything was peaceful.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.364.

Frankish travelogue – Frisia, untamed

Frisia is the area that is today called Holland, part of the Netherlands, but north of the Rhine River. It is flat, marshy, and at the sea land and water blur together, as befits an area also known as the Low Countries. Frisia is notably mentioned in Beowulf, when a bard sings of Finn, the Frisian king, and his battle with the Danes at Finnsburg.1.Heaney, trans., Beowulf, lines 1070-1157.

In the 7th century Frisia was a trading center, particularly the town of Duurstede, south of Utrecht. Duurstede was the port where gathered and traded the merchants of Paris, London, Cologne, and up towards the Danes. Frisian coins have been found near London, and as far south as Lake Constance. As Frankish trading patterns grew the Frisians became a people of interest.2.Geary, Before France and Germany, p.177-78. Not all of the trade was of the most beneficent kind. In 679 Imma, a thegn of the Mercian king, was captured after a battle by another Englishman, who later “sold him to a Frisian in London.”3.Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk.4, ch.22, p.242.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Heaney, trans., Beowulf, lines 1070-1157.
2. Geary, Before France and Germany, p.177-78.
3. Bede, Ecclesiastical History, bk.4, ch.22, p.242.

Charles in charge

When we last left Charles he had been defeated by the Frisian king Radbod and retreated to the hills of the Eifel, south of Cologne. After that stumble it would have been easy for the Austrasian elite to simply accept the new order of things. But Charles was the oldest male Pippinid, and that family had come to mean something over the decades. Charles himself, if his later career is any indication, must have been an extraordinary personality, and the Austrasian nobility flocked to his banner in the forest. As the Neustrian forces passed by, heading back to Paris after their successful siege of Cologne, he struck.

The Battle of Ambleve was the first of an unbroken string of victories for Charles that lasted until his death twenty-five years later. He used unconventional tactics, such as attacking at noonday, which was traditionally a time of rest, and most famously, a feigned retreat that drew Ragenfrid’s booty-crazed forces into a disorganized dash for loot before he turned and counterattacked. Charles recovered much of the treasure Plectrude had given over to Ragenfrid to relieve the siege of Cologne, but he did not stop with that. He cleaned up opposition by the lesser nobility in the realm as well.

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Civil war!

“At this time Pippin was struck down by a high fever and died. He had held the chief position under the king for twenty-seven and one half years. Plectrude governed everything discreetly with her grandchildren and with the king.”1.Liber Historiae Francorum, ch.51, p.111. With the characteristic understatement of the early medieval chronicler, everything that is wrong is laid out in three simple sentences. Another chronicler ably lays out what happened next. “When Pippin died, the greatest disorder grew up among the people of the Franks.”2.Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.365.

Late in the year 714 Pippin of Herstal, Charlemagne’s great-grandfather, was almost eighty years old, and he was dying. He was the latest and most powerful member of the Pippinid family (also called the Arnulfings), who had first been noticed in the early 7th century. After waging wars of unification he had held the positions of both Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia and Neustria for more than twenty-five years, and had seen kings come and kings go. Most recently King Childebert III, the last strong Merovingian, had died in 711, after a reign of sixteen years. His son, Dagobert III, succeeded him, but the boy was only twelve at his ascension. It fell to Pippin to run the kingdom for the child monarch, which he did until he felt his end was near.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Liber Historiae Francorum, ch.51, p.111.
2. Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.365.