King Pepin of Francia had waged successful battles of conquest and intimidation ever since he had succeeded (along with his brother Carloman) to the leadership of the realm in 741. He had fought in Lombardy, Saxony, Aquitaine, Bavaria, and Burgundy. He had out-maneuvered family and allies and made himself king, with the help and blessing of the pope. The kingdom had expanded under his rule, the Arabs were in retreat, he was friendly with the Byzantines, his family had solidified their grip on power, and he had no reason to believe the future would hold anything different. His son Charles had already fulfilled delicate diplomatic missions, and no doubt showed great promise as a future leader. By the year 760 Pepin was in his mid-forties, at the height of his powers, and the kingdom was at peace.
In other words, it was time to “‘Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.”1.Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1. The dogs would be loosed on Aquitaine, the last of the great semi-independent kingdoms once ruled by the Merovingians. But even in the eighth century, a king couldn’t simply ride across the border, not a king devoted to Christendom. A casus belli had to be found. From the abduction of Helen in the dark ages of Greece, to Hitler’s invention of a violated radio post on the Polish border, rulers have always needed a reason to invade first.
Pepin reached back and found a couple of different reasons. First and foremost, monasteries and churches in Francia held land in Aquitaine that had been usurped over the years by the dukes of Aquitaine, for the direct revenue and also to give to magnates to ensure their loyalty. Charles Martel had done the same thing years ago, and the church had never forgiven him. Pepin demanded those lands returned, and a promise not to tax them in the future. “It was after this, when there had been no war for two years, that King Pippin sent an embassy to Waiofar, lord of Aquitaine, asking him to restore the ecclesiastical properties of his kingdom situation in Aquitaine, to conserve them under the title of immunities in the traditional manner, and not to send officials and tax-collectors into these properties contrary to established usage.”2.Continuations of Fredegar, ch.41, p.109.
But that wasn’t all. A second demand that is clear in its intent, if not its reference, concerned some men who had wronged Pepin and the Franks. “[Pepin] asked Waiofar to pay him the blood-price for the Goths whom, not long before, he had illegally killed and to surrender to him those of this men that had fled to the Frankish kingdom to find refuge with prince Waiofar.” Bachrach described the first part as a demand “that Waiofar pay the wergild of those Goths who had given their support to the Frankish king and whom the duke had subsequently executed.” The second part was a demand to return certain men of Pepin’s who had fled to Aquitaine, although Bachrach gives no source for his interpretation.3.Bachrach, Carolingian Warfare, p.219. To me it sounds like this was some kind of cross-border blood feud, and the last men alive were now on Aquitanian soil. The truth of the charge, and the circumstances, will never be known.
What is clear is that Pepin was throwing down the gauntlet. His envoys made Pepin’s demands known to the duke, and evidently insisted that Waifar accompany them to Francia to answer the ultimatum. Waifar refused, which merely ratcheted up Pepin’s righteous rage. “He disdained to hear the king himself in these matters when the king warned him through his envoys.”4.Royal Annals, year 760, p.43. “[Waifar] spurned every single request transmitted to him from the king.”5.Continuations of Fredegar, ch.41, p.109.
What’s a king to do when faced with what he styles as a disobedient vassal? That, too, is obvious, though, as Pepin would have said, regrettable. “By his defiance Waifar goaded the king into making war on him.”6.Royal Annals, year 760, p.43. “Unwillingly, therefore, and because no choice was left him, King Pippin raised a general force and marched towards the borders of Aquitaine.”7.Continuations of Fredegar, ch.41, p.109.
“See?!? It wasn’t my fault! I didn’t want to invade him, he MADE me invade!” Ah, the classic defense, “the whole thing started when he hit me back.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Pepin (obviously), as well as Realpolitik. I just think it’s funny to see it so nakedly displayed.
In any case, for whatever reasons, Pepin did indeed let slip the dogs of war. They would not be leashed in his lifetime.
When Waifar’s father Hunald rebelled against Pepin and Carloman in 742, on Martel’s death, the brothers made a swing through the north-central portion of Aquitaine to make their point. This time Pepin drove down the east side of the domain, moving fast and mercilessly. He fought “through the district of Troyes to the town of Auxerre; thence he continued with the whole Frankish army to the Loire, crossed the river at Mesves in the district of Auxerre, and proceeded through the district of Berry to the Auvergne. He ranged over this area and left most of Aquitaine burning.”8.Continuations of Fredegar, ch.41, p.110. This was an impressive feat of generalship and logistics. While the location of the last town to be reached (called Tedoad in the Royal Annals) is unknown, Pepin probably marched two-hundred miles, one way.
Waifar immediately begged for terms. “[H]e sent his emissaries Otbert and Dadin and handed over to King Pepin the hostages Adalgar and Either as assurance that he would return everything the king demanded in ecclesiastical disputes.”9.Royal Annals, year 760, p.43. While the Royal Annals refer only to the church lands, Fredegar’s Continuator paints this concession with a broader brush. “He gave oaths and hostages and undertook to restore, at a court of enquiry, all the rights that King Pippin’s messengers had demanded.”10.Continuations of Fredegar, ch.41, p.111.
These oaths and hostages satisfied Pepin, who “broke off his campaign and went home.” Fredegar goes so far as to state that the army returned “without casualties,” but obviously that has to be taken with a grain of salt. Pepin had marched through hostile territory for two hundred miles, burning as he went. There is no way that the people submitted meekly to these outrages, or that local magnates didn’t saddle up and challenge the army at least occasionally. The fact that the Carolingian sources didn’t record organized resistance doesn’t mean that none existed.
As with so many questions from the eighth century, the lack of information is fearsomely frustrating. What was Waifar’s response to Pepin’s envoys? What resistance did Waifar’s army offer? If Waifar had offered to remedy the demands, would Pepin have marched anyway? As always in history, the victors write the story.
The opening round of the war was a clear victory for the Franks, but it was only the start. That Waifar made an attempt to ameliorate his perhaps over-hasty promises to the king to the north, and sent an embassy of two counts and a bishop to Pepin. He was probably looking for a return of the hostages, more time, a reduction in the severity of the oaths he had sworn, or something similar. Pepin responded with “great indignation”, and so presumably the embassy was a failure. Which makes sense, if Pepin’s real goal was the forcible re-integration of Aquitaine into Francia? Why bargain to give your enemy more time?
Both sides spent the winter preparing their next strokes, and waited for spring.
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