763: Waifar’s last chance

After the utter devastation wrought by Pepin’s full-on assault the previous year, in 763 the king was ready to consolidate his gains, both in land and morale, and press home the final blows to break the last Aquitanian resistance.

He decided to hold the annual Frankish Mayfield in the border city of Nevers.1.RFA, 763, p.44. Just a few years ago Nevers had been a frontier town on the Burgundian side of the Loire, the last stop before crossing over to ‘enemy’ territory. Now the town was considered central enough and safe enough a place for the king to hold the Frankish annual assembly there. Waifar, wherever he was, must have gritted his teeth to see the insolence and confidence of Pepin. But that was nothing to what Pepin unleashed next.

The Frankish king, according to the Royal Annals, marched down the length of central Aquitaine, all the way to Cahors, several hundred miles south-southwest of Nevers, before coming back through Limoges. Fredegar does not mention Cahors (it does seem to be a bit of a stretch), but does describe quite a scene of devastation.

He [Pepin] then crossed the Loire into Aquitaine and reached Limoges, laying waste all that region. All royal villas that were held by Waiofar he ordered to be burnt. When most of the region had been devastated and its monasteries emptied, he proceeded to Issoudun, the principal centre of the Aquitanian vineyards; and this he took and destroyed. He tore up all the vineyards from which almost all Aquitaine, churches and monasteries, rich and poor, used to obtain wine.2.Fredegar, ch.47, p.115.

Consider the description of Pepin’s methods. It was summer, of course, the campaigning season, and so the fields and orchards were ripe. All of that must have been burned, and even the monks turned out and forced on the road, as refugees. The survivor’s tales must have been harrowing. And then, just when you reach for a cup of wine, for solace, comes news that the vineyards have all been destroyed, and that there will be no more wine anytime soon, no matter your station in life. Remember that wine was not just the stuff of celebrations and dinners that it has become today, it was more akin to coffee, and particularly vital in an age of rudimentary public hygiene.

While the campaign appeared to be an unalloyed success, the Frankish king had another problem to deal with. At some point during the summer his conquering army became significantly smaller at a stroke. “Tassilo brushed aside his oaths and all his promises and sneaked away on a wicked pretext, disregarding all the good things which King Pepin, his uncle, had done for him. Taking himself off, with lying excuses, he went to Bavaria and never again wanted to see the king face to face.”3.RFA, year 763, p.44. Just as duke Waifar is mentioned as having to build alliances with his erstwhile subject counts prior to taking action, so king Pepin had to deal with recalcitrant relatives ruling distant provinces.

Bavaria had always been a troublesome province. Even though Tassilo’s father duke Odilo had married Pepin’s sister Hiltrude in 741,4.So in fact, Pepin was Tassilo’s “uncle-in-law.” Odilo made a bid for independence following the death of Martel later that year. Pepin and Carloman quashed that idea in 743, but in 748 Pepin’s half-brother Grifo moved into Bavaria when Odilo died and had left young Tassilo in charge. Pepin and Carloman again imposed their will on the province, forced the surrender of Grifo, and put Bavaria firmly under the thumb of Pippinid rule. Obviously, however, the ensuing 23 years had not completely extinguished the Bavarian spirit.5.Riche, The Carolingians, p.59, has a nice summary of the action.

Whatever the stimulus, Waifar now used the forces that he had ‘liberated’ from his fortresses last year, when he abandoned his strategy of tactical defenses and ordered the fortress walls torn down. He mobilized the army and approached Pepin’s forces. Perhaps this is what Waifar was now hoping for, a battle on open ground. Perhaps he had received word of Tassilo’s departure from the battle space.

At this point Waiofar came to meet King Pippin with a big army and a host of those Gascons who live beyond the Garonne and were formerly called Vaceti. But straight away all the Gascons followed their usual practice and not a man of them but turned tail: and very many of them were killed there by the Franks. When the king saw what had happened he ordered that Waiofar should be pursued; and pursued he was, till nightfall. But he just got away with a handful of men still with him. In this battle was killed Count Bladinus of Auvergne, who had been arrested by the king and had subsequently fled to Waiofar. King Pippin won the day, God helping him.6.Fredegar, ch.47, pp.115-116.

There is no way of independently confirming any of the details. Did Waifar actually muster an army, only to see it dissolve once battle was joined? Was it only the Gascons who ran, or did everyone, or no one? Just how close was Waifar to capture, if at all? That detail about being pursued “till nightfall” is an unusual style of comment for a chronicle, which usually keep a pretty bird’s eye view of events. Whatever the details, this seems to be the last attempt by Waifar to mount a serious counter-attack on Pepin’s forces. Though the war would bubble like a simmering stew for another five years, the outcome was now never in doubt. If indeed, it ever had been.

Despite the Aquitanian collapse, Pepin’s army must have been in a tattered state after four years of war against a determined foe. Tassilo’s withdrawal would only have exacerbated the situation. Pepin needed a breather, and, as we’ll see next time, he took it.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. RFA, 763, p.44.
2. Fredegar, ch.47, p.115.
3. RFA, year 763, p.44.
4. So in fact, Pepin was Tassilo’s “uncle-in-law.”
5. Riche, The Carolingians, p.59, has a nice summary of the action.
6. Fredegar, ch.47, pp.115-116.

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