Battles of a troubled soul, part 2

To the picture I drew last week of Carloman the pious purifier of the eastern Frankish church, we must add Carloman the triumphant, at times bloodthirsty, conqueror. After deposing and disposing of his half-brother Grifo in 741 (while Pepin dealt with their step-mother Swanahild), and supervising the first of the eastern church synods, Carloman must have had his horse waiting for him. In the spring of 742 he and Pepin undertook the first of several joint military operations to crush regional insurrections. “Aquitanians, Bretons, Frisians, Saxons, Alemannians, and Bavarians were a constant source of trouble for Pepin and Carlomann…. The survival of the Frankish kingdom itself was very much an open issue throughout the 740s.”1.Noble, Republic of St. Peter, pp.65-66. But the first to rise was the first to be crushed.

Meanwhile the Gascons of Aquitaine rose in rebellion under Duke Chunoald, son of the late Eudo. Thereupon the princely brothers Carloman and Pippin united their forces and crossed the Loire at the city of Orleans. Overwhelming the Romans they made for Bourges, the outskirts of which they set on fire; and as they pursued the fleeing Duke Chunoald they laid waste as they went. Their next objective, the stronghold of Loches, fell and was razed to the ground, the garrison being taken prisoner. Their victory was complete. Then they divied out the booty among themselves and took off the local inhabitants to captivity.2.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98.

Not only did the brothers swiftly crush the rebellious Aquitanians, but “On this campaign they divided the kingdom of the Franks among themselves at Vieux Poitiers.”3.Royal Annals, year 742, p.37. This probably formalized whatever agreement their father had arranged with them, prior to Swanahild’s insertion of Grifo into the inheritance. To recap, over the past twelve months their father had died, they had neutralized their half-brother, called a church synod, suppressed an incipient revolt, and agreed to a division of the kingdom more to their liking. Time to head home? Not even close.

The brothers then pulled out of Aquitaine, and marched more than 300 miles to the east. “Having got home about the autumn of the same year, they set out again with an army across the Rhine to fight the Alamans. They made their camp on the banks of the Danube at a place called ….4.According to Wallace-Hedrill, the place name has been deliberately erased in the manuscript. The Alamans belonging to those parts saw that they were beaten, and so they gave hostages, promised to observe their conquerors’ laws, presented gifts, begged for terms and submitted to Frankish overlordship.”5.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98. In a slight disagreement, the Royal Annals say that it was Carloman alone who faced down the Alamans.

The fight in Allemania was the last major event of 742, but the next year would be even busier. In addition to the church synod we reviewed in the last post, as soon as spring arrived the wars resumed. Odilo, Duke of Bavaria, had married the brothers’ half-sister Hiltrud (Grifo’s full sister) after the death of Martel, but against their brotherly advice. Now, a year later, perhaps Odlio thought that his marriage would protect him when he declared for Bavarian independence. He was wrong. The brothers raised a general levy in order to march into Bavaria with sufficient force. But to take this extraordinary step, the first time in a century, they took another extraordinary step.6.Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization, p.107.

The brothers elevated a king of true Merovingian blood to the throne that had been vacant since 737. While we don’t know of any legal requirement that required an actual king, instead of a Mayor, to raise the general levy, no doubt Childeric III represented an attempt by the Peppinids to consolidate and validate their hold on power. They didn’t have the decades of habitual rule to rely on, as their father did. Given the number and geographical variety of the uprisings they faced, perhaps they also hoped a figurehead king would allow them more security at home while they campaigned abroad.

The newly enlarged armies marched through recently subdued Allemania and faced the Bavarians.

Reaching the Lech the two forces camped on its banks and observed one another for a whole fortnight. Finally, stung by the tribesmen’s taunts the Franks were shamed into making their way through the marshy terrain, heedless of danger, in a place where there was no vestige of a causeway. They had divided their forces, and now at night fell upon the unsuspecting Bavarians. In the ensuing fight Duke Odilo’s army was slaughtered; and he himself had difficulty in slinking away with a handful of men beyond the river Inn. After which glories the victors made for home, triumphant despite heavy losses.7.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.26, p.99.

So far in 743 Carloman had conducted a synod, installed a king, and put down a rebellion. Time to relax? Not yet. “That year Carloman advanced alone into Saxony. By treaty he got possession of the castle called Hohenseeburg and made Theordoric the Saxon submit.”8.Royal Frankish Annals, year 743, p.37. What is not clear is the exact order of these operations and events. I assume that things like synods and political maneuvering took place during the late fall, winter, and early spring, and once the weather turned the fighting began. In the end it doesn’t really matter in exactly what order events occurred, as long as we get the proper sense of the march of history.

In 744 Carloman revisited familiar territory. “During their third year, Carloman again invaded Saxon marcher territory, where there was trouble. Fortunately, the Saxons who lived on the Frankish frontier submitted without a fight and were enslaved; and most of them, Christ being our leader, received baptism, and the sacraments began to be provided them.”9.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.27, p.100. Meanwhile Pepin went to the Swabian Alps to again put down a revolt by the Alaman Theudebald, son of Duke Godafred. Note that this was the second Alaman uprising.

The last sparks of rebellion were being quenched. In 745 the brothers made another expedition across the Loire, for the Aquitanians again showed signs of independence.10.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.28, p.100. Pepin would come to know Aquitaine very well, when he later waged a ten-year campaign to bring the region under Frankish rule, a topic I will discuss in a future post.

Pepin and Carloman must have breathed a great sigh of relief when they returned from their latest police action. The Bavarians were quiet, as were the Saxons, and the Aquitainians “lost no time in making overtures of peace, submitted in every particular to Pippin’s orders, and besought him with gifts and supplications to leave their land.” At last Carloman would be able to focus on church reform. But then…

“The year after these happenings, Carloman went in great wrath with his army to the territory of the Alamans, who had broken their oath of fidelity to him. Most of those who had rebelled were put to the sword.”11.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.29, p.101. This is the infamous Blood Court of Canstatt, the particulars of which you can review in my older post. I think it is most telling that the Continuator used the phrase “in great wrath” to describe Carloman’s mood at this time. To my mind he must have been a man in conflict with his inner demons (our modern demons, not 8th century demons). The third uprising of the Alamans triggered a rage in him that he could not control, and the result was a bloodbath.

This must have been the last straw for Carloman. He could no longer maintain the cognitive dissonance required to fight as a warrior prince while also fulfilling the needs of a pious soul. He told his brother that he would be retiring from public life, and would go to Rome to take up the habit. Pepin’s reaction is not recorded, but that isn’t going to stop me from guessing. In the next post we’ll take a look at what Carloman needed to do before he could leave, and what his brother may have thought about his decision.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Noble, Republic of St. Peter, pp.65-66.
2, 5. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98.
3. Royal Annals, year 742, p.37.
4. According to Wallace-Hedrill, the place name has been deliberately erased in the manuscript.
6. Bachrach, Merovingian Military Organization, p.107.
7. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.26, p.99.
8. Royal Frankish Annals, year 743, p.37.
9. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.27, p.100.
10. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.28, p.100.
11. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.29, p.101.

Leave a Comment

1,045 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments