761: Waifar strikes back

As 761 dawned, two rulers faced each other across the Loire. To the north Pepin had delivered his ultimatum the year before, and then backed it up with a lightning strike down the eastern border of Aquitaine, looting the land and returning to Francia with minimal casualties. To the south Waifar was licking his wounds. Despite years of relative peace with which to prepare for a day he must have known was coming, his leadership and army were shoved aside when he refused to accede to Pepin’s demands. The fact that he later apparently caved on all counts could not have endeared him to his people or his commanders. He needed to take action, and so he did.

Waiofar in his wickedness started plotting against Pippin, King of the Franks. He made an alliance with Chunibert count of Bourges and Bladinus count of the Auvergne whom in the previous year he had sent with Bishop Bertelannus of Bourges to King Pippin, to the latter’s great indignation. With these and with other counts he secretly moved his entire army to Chalon, and he set fire to the whole region of Autun as far as Chalon. They laid waste the approaches to Chalon and destroyed whatever they found there. They burnt down the royal villa of Mailly. Then they went home with great spoils and plunder, there being no one to stop them. King Pippin was furious when he was told that Waiofar had plundered a large part of his kingdom and had broken his oaths that he had sworn to him.1.Fredegar, ch.42, pp.110-111.

As with all things we have no idea why Waifar decided on this theater of operations rather than somewhere else. Perhaps Bladinus of Auvergne demanded vengeance, and so he was included. Perhaps, as Bachrach believes, Pepin deliberately left Burgundy open to assault, thus to further enhance the king’s claim to a ‘just war’ against Waifar.2.Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.226. I will have more to say about the ‘Bachrach thesis’ and the Aquitanian war in a later post. Whatever the motivation, it made sense: a thrust to the enemy’s flank, enabled by the good Roman road that led directly from Bourges to Chalon. Burning a royal villa merely added a classic bras d’honneur in Pepin’s direction. No doubt, like the Doolittle raid after Pearl Harbor, it did much for morale. Did Waifar anticipate a reaction to his blow? If he did, the record does not reflect it.

In the meantime Pepin was holding a Mayfield in Duren, located between Cologne and Aachen, “to consider in assembly matters of national safety and welfare.” No doubt Aquitaine was on the agenda, and perhaps Pepin even anticipated that Waifar would make some kind of an attack in the spring. When Waifar did make his move, Pepin was quick to act, and “he gathered auxiliary forces from everywhere, together with his first born son Charles, [and] set out on a campaign.”3.Royal Frankish Annals, p.43. While there are plenty of examples of rapid deployment and marches during this time period, Pepin must have planned at least some of this. “He then set out with a large force to Troyes and from there went through Auxerre to the town of Nevers, where he crossed the Loire and reached the stronghold of Bourbon in the district of Bourges.”4.Fredegar, ch.42, pp.110-111.

In the first place, it is about 200 miles from Duren to Troyes. Many of the leaders of the army must have been at Duren, and they would have required time to spread the word to gather their forces, unless, of course, the word, as they say, had already been given. Once the army had assembled at Troyes they marched about fifty miles to Nevers, where they crossed the river. Then there was another eighty miles cross country (no roads directly linked the towns, although they could have taken the long way) to Bourbon. Clearly this was not an ad hoc exercise, because only then did the fighting begin!

Bourbon was besieged, broken, and burned, with prisoners taken. From there Pepin and Charles moved south. “He laid waste a large part of Aquitaine, advanced with his whole force to the town of Auvergne and took and burnt the fortress of Clermont. A great many men, women and children perished in the flames. Count Bladinus of Auvergne was taken prisoner and brought in chains to the king’s presence. Many Gascons were taken and slain in that engagement.”5.Fredegar, as above. This must have been sweet revenge, as count Bladinus had been among those who came begging for reduced terms the previous winter.

Up to this point both Fredegar and Royal Annals are pretty much in agreement. Fredegar gives more detail, but the RFA confirms the towns taken, the presence of the young Charles, and a couple of other details. However, after the burning of Clermont, Fredegar says that “now that the town was taken and the whole region devastated, King Pippin returned home a second time [meaning that he returned home last year, too], his army, by God’s help, unscathed, laden with much plunder.” Which is good news for Pepin, of course, but the RFA adds a couple of notes. “These [Bourbon, Chantelle, and Clermont] he took in battle, and in Auvergne he obtained by treaty many other castles, which submitted to his authority. He went as far as Limoges, devastating this province because of Duke Waifar’s slights.”6.RFA, year 761, p.44.

There are a couple of issues with the RFA account. While Bourbon, Chantelle, and Clermont are on a direct line of march, albeit cross-country, Limoges is fifty miles west of Clermont, but they are connected by a Roman road.7.Chevallier, Roman Roads, p.161. A quick sortie is not out of the question. What does seem odd is that, at least according to the wording, Pepin signed a treaty in Auvergne, and then went on a bit of an additional rampage. There is no reason to believe that such a thing could not happen, particularly if Pepin wanted to prove a point, but generally the signing of a treaty and the giving of hostages marked the end of hostilities. At least until the next year.

Both sides retired from the field at the end of this series of strike and counterstrike. The RFA records that Pepin spend the winter at his villa of Quierzy, northeast of Paris. Waifar, as always, remains in the shadows.

Next time we’ll review 762, as the war escalates on all fronts, and perfidy and treason abound.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1, 4. Fredegar, ch.42, pp.110-111.
2. Bachrach, Early Carolingian Warfare, p.226. I will have more to say about the ‘Bachrach thesis’ and the Aquitanian war in a later post.
3. Royal Frankish Annals, p.43.
5. Fredegar, as above.
6. RFA, year 761, p.44.
7. Chevallier, Roman Roads, p.161.

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