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.

The expedition triggered an early breach between the kingly brothers. The details are meager, of course, but the sources record that Charles appealed for assistance to Carloman, but was rebuffed. He “even went so far as to ask his brother for help. Carloman did not give him the promised support,” according to Einhard’s Life. The Royal Annals note that Charles “met his brother Carloman at the place called Duasdives (Moncontour). [But] Carloman left there abruptly, to return to Francia.” The Revised Annals provide some detail, as long as you remember that it was written decades later. “[H]e could not gain the help of his brother, who was prevented from giving it by the evil counsel of his proceres.”4.Revised Annals, year 769, in King, pp.108-109.5.I will cover that fascinating household scrap in the near future. Nonetheless, Charles advanced against Hunald.

So who was this Hunald, popping up at the last moment like some eighth century Joan of Arc? No one knows. Scholz believed this was the same Hunald who had abdicated the dukedom in 745 in favor of his son Waifar.6.RFA, year 679, n.1, p.182 That makes for an intriguing story – the old lord, who was driven to a monastic life by the pressures of kingly life, returns in his old age in a last attempt to drive out the king who had killed his son. But no one else believes this Hunald to be the older Hunald, and scholars will refer to a Hunald II, to differentiate between the two. As noted in my post on earlier Aquitanian history, the Liber Pontificalis says that Hunald “died by stoning” when he joined the Lombards against the Papal forces.7.Liber Pontificalis, b.94, ch.4, p.54. The balance of the evidence only allows us to say that another Hunald appeared, and tried to arouse popular support.

How much support Hunald garnered cannot be known. We have to believe the sources when they say there was an uprising which provoked a Frankish response, but nothing more than that. Charles went to Angouleme to gather his troops, and from there he pursued Hunald into Gascony. Note that Angouleme is in the area of Saintes, one of the last places Pepin knew of to search for Waifar. Perhaps that area was a hotbed of anti-Frankish fervor, or perhaps where the royal family was from. Neither the Royal Annals nor Fredegar record any actual battles, so it is difficult to gauge whether or not Hunald raised forces of any consequence.

Pursued by Charles, Hunald “left Aquitaine and moved into Gascony, thinking that he would be safe there. The duke of the Gascons at this time was named Lupus, and Hunald had no doubts about entrusting himself to his assurance of protection.”8.Revised RFA in King, year 769, pp.108-109. Up to this point we have not heard of duke Lupus. He could have been a duke of Gascony for some time, or perhaps he appointed himself to the role of Gascon duke in the wake of Waifar’s death.

At this point Royal Annals and Einhard differ slightly. Einhard says that Charles advanced directly to the river Garonne, the traditional border of Gascony. The Royal Annals state that Charles advanced to the Dordogne river, and started to build a fortress called Fronsac while he figured out what to do about Hunald.

The king sent legates to Lupus, ordering him to yield up the fugitive and charging him to realise that, should he not heed what he was told, he would march into Gascony, make war and not depart until he had put an end to his disobedience. Terrified by the king’s threats Lupus lost no time in surrendering Hunald and his wife and also promised to carry out any and every command.9.Revised RFA in King, year 769, pp.108-109.

The fate of Hunald and his wife is not revealed, but he is certainly never heard from again. Lupus, who is also never heard from again, presumably bent the knee and ruled his land in the king’s name. With the threat of an armed insurrection now irrelevant, Charles now had to consolidate his political legitimacy over Aquitaine. To do so he formalized and restated some of Pepin’s recent enactments (none of which are preserved) in the form of a capitulary. It opens, “Here begin the provisions which our father Pippin, of noble memory, enacted in council and which it is our will should be maintained by all men.”10.King, Capitularies, pp.202-203.

The capitulary includes several chapters that speak to a land ravaged by war. “[T]hose churches of God which have been abandoned are to be restored”… “no more is to be exacted from poor men that they ought lawfully to give”… “bishops, abbots and abbesses are to live under a holy rule”… The region must have been ruined. To begin to rebuild, Charles reiterated the rule of law, a theme he would return to again and again during his rule.

Chapter 7.   Let any man who appropriates something or takes something by force from his fellow while the latter is with us pay threefold composition according to his law.

Chapter 8.   If a man has appealed to us he is to have the right to come to us and no one is to hold him back by force.

Chapter 10.   That all men, Romans as well as Salians are to enjoy the use of their laws; and if a man arrives from another region he is to live according to the law of that territory.

While merely issuing the law doesn’t make the law enforced, at least the people of Aquitaine were released from their years of uncertainty. There was but one king, and his name was Charles. Now, at last, the war was over.

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.
4. Revised Annals, year 769, in King, pp.108-109.
5. I will cover that fascinating household scrap in the near future.
6. RFA, year 679, n.1, p.182
7. Liber Pontificalis, b.94, ch.4, p.54.
8, 9. Revised RFA in King, year 769, pp.108-109.
10. King, Capitularies, pp.202-203.

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