Pepin donates Aistulf’s toys

“Concerning all the cities received, he [Pepin] issued a donation in writing for their possession by St Peter, the holy Roman church and all the apostolic see’s pontiffs forever; it is kept safe even till now in our holy church’s archive.”1.Book of the Popes, bk.94, ch.46, p.72. Thus did the eighth century church issue yet another claim to a spiritual authority so powerful and unique in the western world, that the greatest king of the age forgo his Lombard conquests, but rather donated the lands to the budding Papal States.

As we saw in last week’s post, this idea of granting land to the papacy was not a new one. The Lombard king Liutprand had done so several times earlier in the century (if you can call giving back land you conquered and then were paid dozens of pounds of gold to return a ‘donation’). Pepin’s donation was the culmination of decades of conflict between the Lombards, the weakening presence of the Byzantine empire in Italy, and the popes. The Lombards would launch various territorial incursions to grab what lands they could. The pope would then beg and plead and bribe to get some of it back, and the Byzantines, generally otherwise embroiled in the Iconoclast controversy far to the east, would not do much. But the general trend was of a gradual separation of the papacy from the eastern emperor, while the Lombards continued to expand their territorial holdings. To the north and across the Alps, the Franks looked on Italian affairs with a benign neglect, while wrestling with Muslim incursions, secession issues, and other family matters.

Read morePepin donates Aistulf’s toys

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Book of the Popes, bk.94, ch.46, p.72.

Battles of a troubled soul, part 3

When Carloman decided to lay down his worldly cares and take up the contemplative life, he wasn’t able to simply pick up and walk to Rome. He was a duke of the Franks, one of the two Mayors of the Palace that ruled the realm, as well as a father. He, even more than most of us today, had many affairs to put in order first. We should remember that he probably felt that he was leaving in a pretty strong position.

There is a brief, shadowy indication that Carloman, as the older of the two brothers, wielded more power than Pepin. Paul Fouracre quotes a charter from 744 (the year after Childeric III was raised to the throne), in which “Childeric addressed Carloman as the one ‘who placed us upon the throne of the kingdom.’ “1.Fouracre, The Long Shadow of the Merovingians, p.14, in Charlemagne: Empire and Society, ed. Joanna Story. In addition he had demography on his side. Carloman had a son, Drogo, who was probably of age in 747. Pepin was married, but had no children. Their half-brother Grifo was still alive, and we can say, based on later events, that he commanded some significant amount of political support in the kingdom, despite being under a virtual house arrest in Austrasia.

Read moreBattles of a troubled soul, part 3

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fouracre, The Long Shadow of the Merovingians, p.14, in Charlemagne: Empire and Society, ed. Joanna Story.

Aistulf plays the odds… and loses

In November of 753 Pope Stephen and King Aistulf met for last ditch face-to-face talks. The negotiations, which lasted for perhaps ten days, went nowhere, to no one’s surprise. When Stephen announced his intent to continue on to Francia to meet with Pepin, Aistulf did his best to dissuade Stephen, but when the pontiff insisted, Aistulf allowed he and the other ambassadors to proceed. This must have been another example of diplomatic form being observed.1.This must have galled Aistulf, forced by circumstance to allow papal envoys through his territory, knowing their intent, but not able to break protocol with the pope, which would put him in the wrong. One could, perhaps, speak of Lombard honor, but that claim is frankly belied by Aistulf’s record of treaty and oath-breaking.

One interesting, unknowable question about these final talks is whether or not Aistulf knew of the death of Grifo, Pepin’s half-brother, in a battle with Pepin’s men. The Carolingian chroniclers maintain that Grifo was going to Lombardy “to stir up trouble,” but there is no way to know Grifo’s real intent. The timing is also circumspect, as the sources don’t indicated when Grifo was killed, except that it was probably in the fall. It is fun (if feckless) to wonder if Aistulf knew of Grifo’s coming, or had even invited him. We shall see in a moment that Aistulf had yet another card to play in his efforts to dissuade the Franks, one that could be related to Grifo’s journey.

Read moreAistulf plays the odds… and loses

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This must have galled Aistulf, forced by circumstance to allow papal envoys through his territory, knowing their intent, but not able to break protocol with the pope, which would put him in the wrong.

Aistulf confronts the pope, the emperor, and the king

Poor Aistulf the Lombard. Apparently a man of great ambition, drive, and some level of cunning, virtually everything we know about him was written by his enemies. The biographer of Pope Stephen II called Aistulf “shameless,” “atrocious,” “criminal,” “pernicious,” and of course, just plain “evil.” We don’t know his birth date, place of birth, the name of his mother, or anything of his upbringing. But hey, we don’t even know Charlemagne’s birth date, and people have even heard of him!

Aistulf was born to Pemmo, Duke of Friuli, some time before 730, when Pemmo died. Aistulf had a brother named Ratchis, who was probably the elder, since Ratchis got the plum appointments before Aistulf did. The Lombard political system gave kingship by acclamation of the dukes and other leaders, not family inheritance. Ratchis, who had been named Duke of Friuli by King Liutprand in 739 when Pemmo fell out of favor, was proclaimed king of the Lombards in 745. Aistulf became the new Duke of Friuli, while Ratchis lasted as king for only four years.

“Ratchis, whose diplomatic character had been shown in his career under Liutprand, now concluded a twenty years’ truce with Rome, but from some cause unknown to us, difficulties afterwards arose, and he found himself constrained to attack the Pentapolis and to lay siege to Perugia. The Pope came from Rome with a train of followers, visited the camp of Ratchis, and in a personal interview induced him to desist from his undertaking. This subserviency to papal influence, however, aroused the contempt of his own nobles and followers, who in Milan, in June, 749, chose as their king his younger brother Aistulf, a man of headstrong and unyielding character, whereupon Ratchis became a monk in the cloister of Monte Cassino.”1.History of the Lombards, Edwards’ extensive note at the end of the narrative, p.311.

Clearly one of history’s great unrecorded conversations.

Read moreAistulf confronts the pope, the emperor, and the king

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. History of the Lombards, Edwards’ extensive note at the end of the narrative, p.311.

Pepin repays a favor, part 2

The King of the Franks knew, as the year 755 opened,  that he would have to bring force of arms to bear in order to fulfill a promise. Pope Stephen II had come to King Pepin in 753, begging for help against the threat posed by the Lombard King Aistulf, who had grabbed cities and territories in northern Italy that belonged to the papacy and the Byzantine empire. Pepin’s immediate territorial goals, however, focused on the restoration of lands once under the sway of his father, and the kings before him, not Italy. But five years earlier the papacy had done Pepin one huge favor, and supported his claim to the kingship of the Franks. In the face of that debt, he felt he had to act.

He did this in the face of strong opposition from his nobles, some of whom actually threatened to desert him.1.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.6, p.60. Franco-Lombard friendship extended back several generations, and Pepin himself had been made a ceremonial son of the great Lombard king Liutprand. But one does not refuse a plea from the man who helped make you king, and by whatever means Pepin overcame doubts and opposition. In the spring of 755 he marched for the Alps, along with Pope Stephen, who had been his guest for the last fifteen-odd months.2.There is a tale of Pepin facing down those supporters who did not wish to proceed under such a short ruler, by having a lion attack a bull, and then killing them both with one stroke of his sword. Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.15, p.160.

Read morePepin repays a favor, part 2

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.6, p.60.
2. There is a tale of Pepin facing down those supporters who did not wish to proceed under such a short ruler, by having a lion attack a bull, and then killing them both with one stroke of his sword. Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne, Two Lives of Charlemagne, c.15, p.160.