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.

The issue with Tassilo was mentioned in 763, when the Bavarian duke decided that he had other things to do than put down a rebellious Aquitanian duke, hundreds of miles from Bavaria. Perhaps he had a pressing domestic matter to attend to, perhaps he was tired of the battlefield losses (although that is pure conjecture, as he is never mentioned as being part of the Frankish army prior to this), or maybe he was sick of taking orders. We get nothing else about this family squabble, but we know he was not deposed, as he is mentioned in the RFA again in 781, when papal emissaries reminded him to “remember his former oaths” to the kings of the Franks.

The next year the RFA is even more terse. “King Pepin then held his assembly at Attigny and launched no further campaign. He celebrated Christmas at the villa of Aachen and also Easter.” What are we to make of that? Not much, unfortunately, besides another record of his holiday travels. Even though Waifar and Aquitaine didn’t make the list in 765, it is important to remember the absence of an event in a source should in no way be taken to mean the event did not occur.

Now, “the matter of Waifar” from 764 could mean almost anything. At the very least it means that Pepin had in no way forgotten his foe. It might, however, refer to an offer Pepin received from Waifar, as described by Fredegar.

Waiofar now sent an embassy to the king, begging him to restore Bourges and the other Aquitanian cities which the king had taken from him; and then he would submit to him. He undertook to send annually to King Pippin whatever tribute and gifts earlier Frankish kings had been accustomed to receive from the province of Aquitaine.”2.Fredegar, ch.47, p.116.

At this point all Waifar had to offer was submission, although note that he expected to maintain some residual power for that submission. While Fredegar has no interest in presenting a balanced account of the ‘negotiations’, it appears that Waifar was proposing a status quo ante, with the inclusion of annual tributes and gifts. It is not clear if he offered full acknowledgement of Pepin’s status as king, or something more limited.

The question of the timing of this offer is debatable. The chapter in Fredegar that closes with Waifar’s offer opens with events of 763. But the Continuator’s next chapter begins with “A year later”, and then flows pretty clearly into a description of the events of 766, so the chapter must cover the years 763, 764, and 765. During which of those years did Waifar make his offer? At least the RFA mentions Waifar in 764. The question of dating the offer doesn’t matter that much anyway, except to gain a little insight into Waifar’s thinking.

Unfortunately for Waifar, he was not the one whose thinking counted. “However, the king took the advice of the Franks and nobles: he spurned the offer.” That makes sense – why should Pepin have accepted, or even entered into talks? He controlled Waifar’s land, had scattered his army, and had no reason to engage in a tedious exchange of broken promises and sacrificial hostages. He had done that dance with Waifar already, in 760. As we’ve seen he apparently had almost nabbed the Aquitanian lord in 763, missing him only due to the setting of the sun.

Personally I believe that a couple of things were going on during this two year “lull.” First, despite protestations to the contrary, Pepin’s strikes into Aquitaine from 760 – 763 were not the casualty-free cakewalks described in the narratives. If it was truly that easy, the Franks would have simply walked down to the Pyrenees and taken the whole province in the first year. Aquitaine was rich, and wealth enabled magnates and counts to raise armies. Whatever issues the Aquitanian nobility may have had organizing a coherent defense, they definitely would have fought back. After four years of war, including the withdrawal of his Bavarian nephew, Pepin needed time to regroup. I think of him like a boxer, staggering back to his corner, winning on points, but bruised and bloodied, telling his cornerman through swollen lips, “He never laid a glove on me.”

Second, just to stretch the analogy, Waifar seemed truly to be on the ropes. Even though we only get the Frankish view of the war, unless both the writer of the Annals and Fredegar’s Continuator were flat out lying, Waifar was in sad shape. He had pulled down the walls of his own fortresses, in acknowledgement of Pepin’s prowess at siege warfare, and the hope that Pepin could be prevented from using those fortresses as sortie stations. Waifar’s army had apparently dissolved in the field in 763, and he must have faced fierce internal dissension and threats to his rule. At least one magnate, Remistanius (who also his uncle), had betrayed him and gone over to Pepin’s side. Finally, he had barely escaped capture after the last battle. While Pepin rebuilt his forces, Waifar was fighting for bare survival.

His offer of submission came after the cold battlefield realities of 763 had sunk in, once he and whomever was still loyal to him had pondered their options. Offering submission in exchange for some kind of restoration must have been their last throw. If the offer was made in 765, as Fredegar’s loose chronology may lead us to believe, it came too late. Pepin was ready to strike again.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Royal Annals, year 764, p.44.
2. Fredegar, ch.47, p.116.

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