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.

King Pepin started the year at Bourges, and got things started off early.

The Lord King Pepin launched a campaign and captured Remistagnus. He came as far as the city of Saintes, and taking Waifar’s mother, sister, and nieces prisoner, he pushed on to the Garonne. From there he continued to Mons, where Herwig came with the duke’s other sister. Having returned safely from Mons, he celebrated Easter in the castle of Sels [Chantoceaux].1.Royal Annals, year 768, p.46.2.I am fascinated that for the second year in a row the Royal Frankish Annals relate that Pepin launched campaigns before Easter. Frankly I don’t know what to make of this winter fighting, which is confirmed in Fredegar, ch.51: “In mid-February of the next year while he was still in Bourges, he ordered the whole army that he had sent to winter in Burgundy to come to him; and he laid plans for trapping Remistanius.” It is quite possible that western Europe enjoyed a couple of mild winters that enabled some early skirmishes and sorties.

Fredegar provides some details about the capture of Remistagnus. “[Pepin] laid plans for trapping Remistanius. First Hermenald, Berengar, Childerad and Count Chunibert of Bourges were secretly despatched with other counts and magnates to catch Remistanius, while King Pippin himself again set off with the main Frankish army after Waiofar.”3.Fredegar, ch.51, p.118. You may remember that Remistagnus had been given domain by Pepin over some part of Bourges and the surrounding county, when he first turned his coat. When Remistagnus was captured, the king ordered count Chunibert of Bourges to hang the traitor. Ironically Chunibert had himself switched sides in 762, when Pepin captured Bourges. The fate of Remistagnus’ wife, who was captured along with her husband, is not recorded. Pepin continued south while Chunibert carried out his grisly duty.

The RFA says that Pepin made a trip all the way down to Mons, north of Narbonne and east of Toulouse,4.Not to be confused with the location of the battle of Mons, in World War I, which was in Belgium. which seems a journey of unlikely distance, at least to me. The RFA and Fredegar do agree that Pepin traveled to the river Garonne, “where the Gascons who live beyond the Garonne came to his presence. They gave hostages and swore evermore to remain loyal to the king and to his sons, Charles and Carloman. Many more of Waiofar’s supporters came and submitted to his overlordship, King Pippin magnanimously accepting their allegiance.”5.Fredegar, ch.51, p.118-119. Einhard, writing decades later, mentions a “Lupus, Duke of the Gascons” who later negotiated with Charles in 769.

Pepin’s next stop was in Saintes, to meet queen Bertrada, who had traveled from Bourges. He celebrated Easter, and then set out in a last effort to get Waifar, first racing to Saintes with “a small company”, and then “despatched his counts with their troops and his own men in four columns to pursue Waiofar.” The chase was on, and it ended quickly and severely. “Waiofor, lord of Aquitaine, was assassinated by his own followers – allegedly with the king’s connivance.”6.Fredegar, ch.52, p.120.

Sadly we get no further details about Waifar’s death. I can find no reason not to believe that Waifar’s own people had some role in his death, to stop the bloodshed, if nothing else. Perhaps Pepin issued a bounty for Waifar’s head. Or had he let the word go forth that the death of Waifar would mean the end of the fighting? Either of those scenarios could point to what is meant by “with the king’s connivance.” What happened to Waifar’s body is not recorded. The Revised RFA says only that Pepin returned to Saintes with “the Aquitanian war, as it seemed to him, at an end.”

At last Pepin’s war was over.7.Although that bit about “seemed to him” is important because of the events of 769, which we will examine next time. “King Pippin had now won control of the whole of Aquitaine; all came to him, as in the old days, to become his men. And so, victorious and triumphant, he returned to Saintes, where Queen Bertrada was in residence.”8.Fredegar, ch.52, p.120. The king could rest.

Sadly, his respite was brief, or, if you prefer, about to get infinitely longer.

While the king was at Saintes, busying himself with affairs of national Frankish importance, he was troubled with a kind of fever and fell ill. He there appointed his counts and judges. Thence he traveled through Poitiers to the monastery of the blessed confessor Martin at the city of Tours, where he made many gifts to churches and monasteries as well as to the poor; and he sought the help of the blessed Martin as intercessor with the Lord, that He should deign to have mercy on his sins. He went on, with Queen Bertrada and his sons Charles and Carloman, to the monastery of the holy martyr Denis at Paris, and remained there some time. However, when he realised that recovery was impossible, he summoned to him all his great men, the Frankish dukes and counts, bishops and priests. Then, with the approval of the Frankish nobility and bishops, he divided the kingdom that he himself had inherited, and while he was yet living, equally between his sons Charles and Carloman. He made Charles, the elder, king over Austrasians, while the younger Carloman, was given the kingdom of Burgundy, Provence, Septimania, Alsace and Alamannia. Aquitaine, the province which he had himself conquered, he divided between them. A few days later, I grieve to say, King Pippin breathed his last. His sons, King Charles and King Carloman, buried him, as he had wished, with great honour in the monastery of the holy martyr Denis. He had reigned twenty-five years.9.Fredegar, ch.53, pp.120-121.

Pepin was fortunate in that he had the time and awareness to prepare for his passing. No doubt he remembered the turmoil in the years after 741 when his father Charles Martel had died, and left a somewhat ambiguous legacy between two or (perhaps) three sons. Note that when Fredegar says Pepin “appointed his counts and judges” the chronicler is probably referring to nobles appointed to positions in the newly annexed province of Aquitaine. The truly important task Pepin had to complete before his death was the official and sanctioned division of the kingdom between his sons, which he also accomplished.

It is probably well that the Frankish kingdom had new leadership as the year 769 dawned, because the province of Aquitaine offered up one last spasm of defiance.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Royal Annals, year 768, p.46.
2. I am fascinated that for the second year in a row the Royal Frankish Annals relate that Pepin launched campaigns before Easter. Frankly I don’t know what to make of this winter fighting, which is confirmed in Fredegar, ch.51: “In mid-February of the next year while he was still in Bourges, he ordered the whole army that he had sent to winter in Burgundy to come to him; and he laid plans for trapping Remistanius.” It is quite possible that western Europe enjoyed a couple of mild winters that enabled some early skirmishes and sorties.
3. Fredegar, ch.51, p.118.
4. Not to be confused with the location of the battle of Mons, in World War I, which was in Belgium.
5. Fredegar, ch.51, p.118-119. Einhard, writing decades later, mentions a “Lupus, Duke of the Gascons” who later negotiated with Charles in 769.
6. Fredegar, ch.52, p.120.
7. Although that bit about “seemed to him” is important because of the events of 769, which we will examine next time.
8. Fredegar, ch.52, p.120.
9. Fredegar, ch.53, pp.120-121.

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