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.

At that point it was clear to the Aquitanian magnates that further resistance was futile.

The Gascons and the magnates of Aquitaine now saw that they had no option but to come to him: many there swore oaths to him and became his men. When the whole of Aquitaine had been thoroughly devastated and most of it subjugated, he marched back through the district of Perigueux and Angouleme, laden with spoils and plunder; and thus again that year he returned to Francia with the entire Frankish army and all his followers.2.Fredegar, ch.48, pp.116-117.

There is a slight clue to the extent of the summer’s campaigns, and that is the sentence in the Annals that Pepin “celebrated Christmas at Samoussy and Easter at Gentilly.”3.RFA, year 766, p.46. Samoussy is northeast of Paris, while Gentilly is just south of Paris. Perhaps Pepin couldn’t make it to one of his preferred Austrasian villas before winter set in, after his extensive travels of the summer.

The Royal Annals get a little confusing for 767, when Pepin is described as taking Narbonne and Toulouse before moving to Vienne for Easter. First, campaigning before Easter is virtually unheard of, for a variety of meteorological and logistical reasons. Second, if Pepin was on the move in March, it is a long way from Gentilly to Narbonne, particularly since he also hosted a church synod that winter. Fredegar does not mention the Narbonne expedition, so perhaps it was carried out by a lesser magnate based in the south, in Pepin’s name.

After Easter, both sources agree, Pepin held the Mayfield in the fortress city of Bourges, an act which both symbolized and cemented the defeat of the Aquitanian forces. Pepin even had a kingly residence built in the fortress, and left his wife queen Bertrada there, “with certain Franks and counts that he trusted,”4.I’m sure, like any ruler, there were magnates whom he did not trust, but it is surprising to find it stated so boldly. while he marched forth to find and capture Waifar. At this task he was unsuccessful, so he returned and spent the winter in Bourges, with Bertrada to keep him warm. The Annals add one odd detail, that on his expedition Pepin “captured many rocks and caves.” I have no idea what that might mean… Did he look in many rocks and caves for Waifar? Or perhaps he was having a Caligula-at-the-Channel moment.5.Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Caligula, b.46, pp.176-177.

Irrespective of the details, it is clear that by 766 and 767 Pepin’s forces traveled at will throughout Aquitaine. The former stronghold and keystone of Bourges was now, quite literally, the queen’s bedchamber. Scattered resistance still had to be dealt with, as when the Annals note that Pepin also captured “the castles of Ally, Turenne, and Peyrusse” (in addition to the aforementioned rocks and caves). Those three places are located in the Massif Central, a logical location for the last redoubts of Aquitanian resistance.

As with any war, the enemy could still throw a curve ball.

Meanwhile Remistanius, son of the late Eudo, uncle to Waifar, broke the oath of fealty that he had sworn to King Pippin. He went back to Waiofar and became his man. Waiofar was delighted to receive him and to make use of his men against the Franks and their king. The same Remistanius attacked the king and the Franks and the garrisons which the king had left in the cities, and he laid waste the districts of Berry and Limoges annexed by the king. He did this so effectively that not a peasant dared work in the fields and vineyards.6.Fredegar, ch.50, pp.117-118.

This is, to me, one of the most baffling incidents of the entire war. Why in the world would Remistanius re-defect, when the cause was so clearly lost? It is possible that the cause did not seem so lost to those in the moment. Even by the Frankish account Remistanius managed to inflict more damage on Pepin than any other Aquitanian, but it would have been easy to take advantage of his insider’s position to launch a surprise attack. Perhaps that was his intent from the beginning.

No doubt Pepin was irritated by this last spasm of pointless loyalty, but it seems not to have unduly burdened him. He sent the army to winter in Burgundy, while he and Bertrada “celebrated the twelve days from Christmas to Epiphany with all honour in the town of Bourges.”7.Fredegar, ch.50, p118. It was to be his last Christmas.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, ch.48, p.116.
2. Fredegar, ch.48, pp.116-117.
3. RFA, year 766, p.46.
4. I’m sure, like any ruler, there were magnates whom he did not trust, but it is surprising to find it stated so boldly.
5. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, Caligula, b.46, pp.176-177.
6. Fredegar, ch.50, pp.117-118.
7. Fredegar, ch.50, p118.

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