The war for Aquitaine – final thoughts

It took ten years, two kings of Francia, a duke and a pretender in Aquitaine, multiple betrayals, and numerous scorched earth raids across the countryside, but at last the war for Aquitaine was over.

Perhaps the result was foreordained, given the disparities in resources, organization, and military heritage between Francia and Aquitaine. But this war must have been much more of a match than the Frankish sources let on, for otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.

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769: Charlemagne’s first battle

Seldom can it be truly said that a new year heralded a new era, but it is true of the year 769. Charles, son Pepin, known to history as Charles the Great, Charlemagne, had taken the throne only a few months before. Europe would never be the same.1.At that point in time, it is true, he shared rule of Francia with his brother Carloman, but that didn’t last long.

As noted previously Pepin had allocated the kingdom between his two sons. In a nutshell, Pepin got Neustria, and Charles got Austrasia. In a curious move, the old king divided Aquitaine between the two of them. Unfortunately we don’t know if he gave them more guidance regarding the recently conquered province other than “figure it out.”

Fate gave the brothers an immediate opportunity to do just that, as Aquitaine gave up one last death rattle. The Royal Annals report some kind of an insurrection “since Hunald was intent on rousing the whole of Gascony as well as Aquitaine to rebellion.”2.RFA, year 769, p.74. Charles showed the initiative which was to mark the next thirty years of his life. “Of all the wars which Charlemagne waged, the first which he ever undertook was one against Aquitaine, which had been begun by his father but not brought to a proper conclusion.”3.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, bk.5, p.59.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. At that point in time, it is true, he shared rule of Francia with his brother Carloman, but that didn’t last long.
2. RFA, year 769, p.74.
3. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, bk.5, p.59.

768: Death of a king, end of a kingdom

A screenwriter would be hard pressed to sell a story ending more cliched than what actually happened in 768. After eight years of almost continuous war King Pepin mops up the last of the Aquitanian resistance, tidying up loose ends in the hinterlands. His forces capture Remistanius, the double-betrayer, and the man’s own former allies hang him in the town square. Then the king organizes a four-column sweep through the countryside to capture lord Waifar, but then receives word that Waifar’s own people have killed him! And then, with Aquitaine crushed and under control, with his wife queen Bertrada at his side, and the world at his feet, he catches a slight fever. His fever continues to worsen as he travels toward home. At the great and beloved monastery of Saint Denis in Paris, he divides the kingdom between his two sons, and breathes his last.

What an ending! I can almost hear the violins. Let’s unpack this eventful and dramatic year piece by piece.

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766 and 767: The beginning of the end

After two years of rebuilding and rearming (which is my opinion, remember, completely unbuttressed by anything in the sources) Pepin was ready to push the Aquitanian war to its conclusion. “[H]e summoned to Orleans the whole host of the Franks and the other peoples that dwelt in his kingdom.”1.Fredegar, ch.48, p.116. Then he again surged across the Loire and into Aquitaine.

The Royal Frankish Annals say that Pepin went as far as the fortress of Argenton, roughly midway between Poitiers and Bourges. Fredegar says he went all the way to Agen, which is much farther south, on the road between Bordeaux and Toulouse. Perhaps both are true, and the king stopped at Argenton to rebuild the castle there that Waifar had ordered destroyed in 763. Having put that work in motion he led the rest of the army more than two hundred miles south to Agen (probably close to 300 miles if he took the roads, which skirt the Massif Central of France) as he “laid waste the whole region” during the trek.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, ch.48, p.116.

764 and 765: a short lull

Up until now, in our war review, the primary sources have been pretty much in agreement. The Royal Frankish Annals and the Continuations of Fredegar, while occasionally disagreeing or, more often, including details the other omits, generally align with regards to chronology and events.

Then we get to 764 and 765. In a nutshell, the RFA records that nothing much happened during those two years, while Fredegar seems to simply slide over both years without much of a mention, although he does introduce one complication. Let’s start with the easy stuff, and see what the RFA says about Pepin and the war for Aquitaine.

The entry for 764 reads, in its entirety, “King Pepin then held his assembly at Worms and launched no further campaign but remained in Francia and occupied himself the matter of Waifar and Tassilo. He celebrated Christmas at his villa of Quierzy and also Easter.”1.Royal Annals, year 764, p.44. Fascinating. Worms is pretty far from the action in Aquitaine, and we don’t get much information besides that. Quierzy is northeast of Paris, so at least Pepin was getting a little closer to the action as 765 approached.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Royal Annals, year 764, p.44.