Aquitaine tries to rebuild

The Aquitanian defeat in 732 was a crushing blow to the region’s ambitions to true independence. As recently as 718 Duke Odo had challenged Charles Martel directly, with a naked offer of assistance to Martel’s opponents in the Frankish civil war. Martel’s seemingly effortless swatting away of the Duke’s defiance should be seen for what it was: the realization by two unequal opponents just how unequal they are. The final denouement of this confrontation took another forty years to unfold, but the beginnings are clear to see.

Before we attempt to discern too much about what happened in Aquitaine prior to 760, let us bear in mind what Paul Fouracre noted, that “we can find out very little about Aquitaine in the period 675 – 750. Remarkably few charters have survived, and narrative material from the region is equally scarce.”1.Fouracre, Charles Martel, pp.83-84. But we can try.

The first casualty after Poiters was the great Duke Odo. After at least thirty years of rule, but capped by defeat and humiliation, he died in 735, and left the kingdom to his sons Hunald and Hatto. The brothers, however, barely had time to warm their chairs before Charles made his presence known. “Prince Charles consulted with his chieftains, crossed the Loire and went to the city of Bordeaux and to the stronghold of Blaye on the Garonne. Then he proceeded to occupy the whole area including the cities and strongholds. Then he returned in peace…”2.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.15, p.91. Hunald and Hatto were forced to meet Charles and pledge their fealty before the Frank would leave Aquitaine.3.Riche, The Carolingians, p.44.

Despite this oath Hunald and Hatto took up arms again in 736, but again Charles fought them down, and even captured Hatto. Hatto was taken to Auxerre and held captive by bishop Ainmar, but later escaped, an error for which Ainmar paid dearly. Hatto himself fared no better. He met Hunald at Poitiers, who promptly blinded him and sent him to a monastery. Perhaps Martel insisted on this, or perhaps Hunald took the opportunity to eliminate a nettlesome sibling. 4.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, pp.32-33, and notes on pp.278-279.

Relations between the two powers remained quiet until the death of Martel in 741, when the traditional post-death-of-a-ruler mayhem broke out. “The death of Charles Martel inevitably triggered a crisis within the Frankish kingdom. Local magnates in Germany and Aquitaine exploited the seeming vacuum of authority to revolt; the Frankish nobility focused on its own interests, and partisans of the Merovingian family grew restive. For six years, Carloman and Pippin struggled to maintain and consolidate the work of their father.”5.Riche, The Carolingians, p.51. It is important to note that this “crisis” was not merely the forces of entropy at work. Conspiracy was in the air.

Duke Hunald had formed an alliance with Bavaria and Allamannia to throw off Frankish rule,6.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.39. and Hunald struck as soon as he deemed the moment ripe. Alas for him, the fruit resisting plucking.

[T]he 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 divided out the booty among themselves and took off the local inhabitants to captivity.7.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98.

This must have been been an incredibly demoralizing setback. In 735 Charles had marched all the way to Bordeaux, down the western edge of Aquitaine, apparently without much opposition. After sitting and seething for more than five years, waiting for the old man in the north to die, Hunald made his big move, only to be crushed. Not just crushed, but walked over. Hunald could tell himself that the first invasion was not his fault, that he had not had time to ready his forces after his father died. But after five years to prepare he had failed utterly, and Charles’ sons had ripped apart his northern frontier, and even taken captives.

Hunald’s need for retribution must have been fierce. He gathered himself for another blow, and attacked in 745. We have no way of knowing if he and his leading men considered this a carefully thought out strike, whether this was a desperate gamble of a desperate man, or something else entirely. But again Pepin and Carloman united their efforts to crush an uprising at the edge of the realm. “In the year following their return [745], the famous pair of brothers once more made an expedition to the Loire; for the Gascons were provoking them. When they saw this, the Gascons 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.”8.Fredegar, Continuations, ch.28, p.100.

Interestingly the Frankish Annals not only omit any reference to this punitive expedition, but explicitly state that “[t]hey undertook no campaign that year.”9.RFA, year 745, p.38. While the Frankish response may not have merited a mention in the Annals, it seems to have broken Hunald’s spirit. “Soon thereafter he retired to a monastery on the Isle of Re and left the task of continuing resistance to his son Waifar.”10.Riche, The Carolingians, p.51. One of the unfortunate realities of this era is an almost complete lack of knowledge of birth dates and ages.11.Remember that we don’t even known when Charlemagne himself was born. I would love to know how old Waifar was when his father left him the keys to the kingdom, after more or less breaking the army in two fruitless assaults in three years. “Here kid, it’s all yours.”

The next few years are hazy. The revised Royal Annals say that in 748 Pepin and Carloman’s half-brother Grifo fled Neustria and joined Waifar in Gascony.12.RFA, year 748, p.38. Note that the Frankish sources often refer to all of Aquitaine as ‘Gascony.’ Riche, however, says this was in 751.13.Riche, The Carolingians, p.74. The historian of Spain Roger Collins says that “The Aquitanian duke Waiofar had been able to sack Narbonne in 751…”,14.Collins, Arab Conquest of Spain, p.173. but Collins’ citation is another secondary source, in French, and I can’t find any primary source or other historian who relates this incident.

Hunald gets one more mention, in the life of Stephen II in the Liber Pontificalis. “In his time Hunald duke of Aquitania came to the home of the apostles and undertook to remain there. Afterwards with devilish cunning and cheating, and in breach of his deceitful vow, he went out to join the Lombards and urged them on in their wickedness. He got his just desserts and died by stoning.”15.Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes, Stephen II, 94:4, p.54. That would have been around 752 or 754, as Pepin, now sole ruler, was beginning his plan to support the pope against the Lombards in exchange for papal sanction of his impending coup.

After that the rest of the decade is silent. The thoughts and plans of Waifar are completely unknown. What we do is that in 760 king Pepin laid down an unanswerable ultimatum before Waifar, and then started a ferocious war for Aquitaine that would last eight years. We’ll pick up that topic next time.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fouracre, Charles Martel, pp.83-84.
2. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.15, p.91.
3. Riche, The Carolingians, p.44.
4. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, pp.32-33, and notes on pp.278-279.
5, 10. Riche, The Carolingians, p.51.
6. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.39.
7. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.25, p.98.
8. Fredegar, Continuations, ch.28, p.100.
9. RFA, year 745, p.38.
11. Remember that we don’t even known when Charlemagne himself was born.
12. RFA, year 748, p.38. Note that the Frankish sources often refer to all of Aquitaine as ‘Gascony.’
13. Riche, The Carolingians, p.74.
14. Collins, Arab Conquest of Spain, p.173.
15. Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes, Stephen II, 94:4, p.54.

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