Battles of a troubled soul, part 3

When Carloman decided to lay down his worldly cares and take up the contemplative life, he wasn’t able to simply pick up and walk to Rome. He was a duke of the Franks, one of the two Mayors of the Palace that ruled the realm, as well as a father. He, even more than most of us today, had many affairs to put in order first. We should remember that he probably felt that he was leaving in a pretty strong position.

There is a brief, shadowy indication that Carloman, as the older of the two brothers, wielded more power than Pepin. Paul Fouracre quotes a charter from 744 (the year after Childeric III was raised to the throne), in which “Childeric addressed Carloman as the one ‘who placed us upon the throne of the kingdom.’ “1.Fouracre, The Long Shadow of the Merovingians, p.14, in Charlemagne: Empire and Society, ed. Joanna Story. In addition he had demography on his side. Carloman had a son, Drogo, who was probably of age in 747. Pepin was married, but had no children. Their half-brother Grifo was still alive, and we can say, based on later events, that he commanded some significant amount of political support in the kingdom, despite being under a virtual house arrest in Austrasia.

Carloman left for Rome in August of 747, leaving Drogo as Mayor of Austrasia, under Childeric. There is at least one charter (although I am having trouble tracking down the source) that identifies Drogo as the Mayor of Austrasia after Carloman departed. Since we don’t know when Drogo was born we can’t say how hold he was in 747, but perhaps Carloman waited until Drogo was “of majority age” before he left. We know nothing of any other support that Carloman may have put in place prior to his political renunciation.

The Continuations of Fredegar put it somewhat differently, saying “Carloman, burning for the contemplative life, handed over his rule together with his Drogo to his brother Pippin and went to the threshold of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul in Rome, in order to become a monk. This succession strengthened Pippin’s rule.”2.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.30, p.100. Keep in mind that the Continuations were written years after the fact, with an eye toward shaping a particular historical view.

Everything changed in 748, the year Charlemagne was born.3.In an earlier post I pointed out some of the conflicting dates that have been ascribed to Charlemagne’s birth. The year 748 is becoming more accepted, per Paul Fouracre. Once Charles was on the scene the balance of power shifted dramatically. No longer was Drogo the only son who might reasonably be expected to inherit power. Pepin could begin to lay the groundwork to obtain full power for he and his descendants.

Unfortunately virtually nothing certain can be described during this tumultuous time. Grifo was suddenly on the loose – did Carloman free him (somehow exerting his rule in Austrasia) to destabilize Drogo’s rule, or did Grifo escape in the uncertainty following Carloman’s absence? Did Carloman hear about the unstable situation in Austrasia? Did he move the monastery at Mounte Soracte to the monastery at Monte Cassino because he wished to avoid those “noblemen… were loath to miss visiting the man who had once been their lord,”4.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, ch.2, p.57. or to get out from under the rule of Pope Zacharias and instead move to the lands of his old friend, the Lombard King Aistulf?

We don’t know what Carloman thought as Childeric III, the man who, as noted above, Carloman may have personally raised to the throne, was deposed. Perhaps Carloman was proud to see has brother ascend the Frankish throne, or perhaps he was disgusted as three centuries of Merovingian rule, the longest reign in European history, came to an end.

There’s just no way to know the details. In the end Drogo was tonsured and sent to a monastery. Grifo, a more determined man, was killed while on his way to Lombardy. Carloman, perhaps under the urging of Aistulf, and/or perhaps in hopes of salvaging Drogo’s situation, traveled to see Pepin in 754. Whatever he had hoped to achieve, he ended up with nothing, but under virtual house arrest, under the watchful eye of his mother Bertrada. Unsurprisingly (to me, at least), he died the next year.

I find Carloman to be one of the more tragic characters of the 8th century. Unable to reconcile his spiritual and political duties, he ended up with nothing. His immediate family was marginalized and powerless, his king shorn and deposed, his allies defeated. He had left the family fold, and paid the price. Perhaps that is the real lesson of Carloman’s life.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fouracre, The Long Shadow of the Merovingians, p.14, in Charlemagne: Empire and Society, ed. Joanna Story.
2. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.30, p.100.
3. In an earlier post I pointed out some of the conflicting dates that have been ascribed to Charlemagne’s birth. The year 748 is becoming more accepted, per Paul Fouracre.
4. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, ch.2, p.57.

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