Pepin le Bref was a man with a conflicted soul. He yearned for God, but was forced to do terrible things in the name of order. When he did retire from worldly concerns he thought he would be done with politics and combat, but before the end he was dragged back into the fray, betrayed by family, and died far from his spiritual home. His story is one of the great epics of the 8th century.
On the death of his father Pepin was one of three sons to inherit the Frankish kingdom. He was immediately faced with two things he had to get done, and one thing he really wanted to get done. He performed all three duties very well, and then, at the peak of power, he put his affairs in order, rejected the secular, and became a monk. How he went about achieving what he did illustrates the man, and opens a window on why he made that last decision.
Charles Martel died in October of 741, after ruling Francia for more than twenty years. Though non-royal, his personality and his power were such that he had not bothered to seat a new king since the death of Theuderic IV in 737. A few years later Martel arranged for the kingdom to be divided between his three sons (by two mothers), Carloman, Pepin, and Grifo. Carloman got Austrasia, Martel’s old base of power, Pepin got Neustria, and Grifo received a share of land in the middle of the kingdom. Grifo’s territory may have been designed by Martel to empower his youngest son by assigning him land right in the middle, where he could not be marginalized by his older step-brothers. Despite his planning, When Martel died trouble almost immediately broke out, both in the family and the kingdom.
Carloman’s first order of business was to work with Pepin in order to remove their younger step-brother from power. The reasons for this move are not given in the sources, but probably had something to do with both Grifo’s mother, and the definition of the inheritance. Grifo’s mother Swanahild had been brought from Bavaria after Martel reconquered that kingdom in 725. He married her after the death of Carloman and Pepin’s mother Rotrude, which probably didn’t sit well. In addition Swanahild persuaded Martel to revise the planned partition fairly late in the game, when he was closer to death. The brothers probably thought that Grifo wasn’t supposed to be part of the plan, and was too young in any case.
Martel’s division of land may have invested Grifo with resources, but it also put him physically right between the two older brothers, and they wasted no time. There must have been rumors or some initial skirmishing, and Grifo fled to Laon, where he was promptly besieged and captured. Apparently he did not receive any support from other magnates in the kingdom. As brothers, Carloman and Pepin shared in the cleanup of the family laundry; Carloman took Grifo to Neufchateau in the Ardennes, while Pepin held Swanahild in the monastery at Chelles.
During the winter of 741/42 Carloman began working towards a goal that he must have been planning for a long time, the cleansing and reorganization of the church in his realm. With Grifo out of the way this was the second great task to which he set himself. To complete this difficult project he teamed up with the Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface. After several years in Frisia and the east Boniface had received official protection from Charles Martel in 723, and had been preaching and organizing in Germany ever since. Our first glimpse of Carloman’s endeavor comes in early 742, when Boniface wrote to Pope Zacharias asking for advice. “Karlmann, duke of the Franks, summoned me to him and requested me to bring together a council in the part of the Frankish kingdom which is under his rule. He promised that he would do something toward reforming and reestablishing the ecclesiastical discipline, which for a long, not less than sixty or seventy years, has been despoiled and trampled upon.”1.Boniface, Letters, XL.
We don’t have details, but “Archbishop Boniface presided, with the consent and support of Carloman.” This first gathering was held on April 21.2.Noble, Soldiers of Christ, Saint Boniface, p.131. Carloman probably supervised or participated in some fashion, but he wouldn’t have been able to do much. Spring, and the campaigning season, was just around the corner, and no doubt many details required his attention. I will talk about Carloman and Pepin’s campaigns in my next post. We also know that Carloman helped Boniface establish a new monastery at Fulda sometime during 742.3.Noble, Soldiers of Christ, Saint Sturm, pp.174-75.
Reform efforts continued in early 743, when there was another synod on March 1. The results of these first two synods were ‘published’ in a letter written sometime in 743 or 744. There is an interesting bit of political gamesmanship represented in the sources – Boniface’s vita says that he presided, but the collection of Boniface’s letters show that it was Carloman who sent out the instructions.
Both synods condemned laymen acting as bishops, and the debauched lifestyle these ‘clerics’ led. Carloman announced that he alone had the power to appoint bishops in his realm, and called on counts to assist the priests in stamping out paganism.
Carloman also announced a policy that both illustrates the intersection of the secular and the spiritual during this time, as well as some recent history. Early in his days as Mayor of the Palace Martel had begun a practice of using church lands to reward his followers, who in turn would use the income from those lands to equip and train forces for Martel’s army. This usurpation of church income was a constant irritant to Rome, and no doubt the church hoped that Carloman, a notably pious man, would begin to repatriate the lands. However, he wrote, “in view of imminent wars and attacks by the foreign populations which surround us, that a portion of the properties of the Church shall be used for some time longer, with God’s indulgence, for the benefit of our army.”4.Boniface, Letters, XLIV.
Church relations would have to take a back seat to the exigencies of military necessity.
Carloman’s military exploits are better represented in the sources than his spiritual endeavors, and we don’t hear much more about his efforts within the church. Boniface’s vita mentions four synods in total, but provides no details. While Pepin’s piousness seems to be beyond question, but I would also speculate that cleansing the church made for good politics. Martel faced a civil war before he emerged in full power, and it is reasonable to think that his sons probably faced at least some level of internal dissension.
It was… Karloman and Pippin who moved Boniface to the centre stage of church affairs, as they attempted to assert their authority over the church in the wake of the political instability which followed Charles Martel’s death. The two brothers sought a mandate for reform by stressing shortcomings in the behaviour of bishops and priests. Boniface’s stature as a veteran missionary backed by the popes, and his uncompromising views on how the clergy should behave, made him an ideal mouthpiece for a critique of the Frankish clergy.5.Fouracre, Charles Martel, p.132.
Carloman was clearly a man who got things done, and this post only covers a small part of his achievements during these years. Next time we’ll review his tremendous accomplishments on the battlefield.
Footnotes [ + ]