Brothers, kings – and enemies

In December of 771 a Frankish king died, Carloman, second son of King Pepin. He was not yet twenty-one. His brother Charles, who would become known to us a Charlemagne, probably did not grieve. The two brothers had been in conflict and contention for years, and tensions had been so high that they had almost come to war just a year or two earlier. Their mother Bertrada, widow of the late king, at some point decided that her older son was the greater man, and threw her considerable diplomatic talents behind Charles. While no one has ever suggested foul play in the death of Carloman, his demise was a great convenience for Charles and his mother. Let’s see if we can untangle this twisted family tale.

At some point in the mid-740’s Pepin and his consort Bertrada had a son, whom they named Charles, after his grandfather Charles Martel. The date of this birth is a subject of some dispute, but we’ll settle on the year 747 for the purposes of this post. While to modern eyes this uncertain state of marriage between the parents would automatically render Charles illegitimate, Germanic concepts of marriage were more fluid in early medieval times. Charles was just as legitimate as Pepin and the nobles of the land wanted him to be. At any rate Pepin and Bertrada tied the knot in a formal public ceremony a few years after his birth. Then in 751 they had a second son, Carloman, named after his uncle, Pepin’s brother. Perhaps the choice of name was unfortunate, for the elder Carloman had led a troubled life, and died in somewhat mysterious circumstances.

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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.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fredegar, ch.48, p.116.

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.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

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

Uncertain birth of a king

Charlemagne’s death, funeral, tomb and will are described in great detail by Einhard. A couple of posts ago I talked about the bones in Charlemagne’s tomb, and how almost thirty years of study had finally come to the conclusion that the bones belonged, in fact, to the great man himself. The death of an emperor was an event of great import. Obviously the birth of the first son of a king, the grandson of a king-maker, was documented in as much detail, right?

Wrong. Even the date of Charlemagne’s birth was an unanswerable question in his own lifetime. “I believe it would be improper [for me] to write about Charles’s birth and infancy, or even his childhood, since nothing [about those periods of his life] was ever written down and there is no one still alive who claims to have knowledge of these things.”1.Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, ch.4, in Dutton, Charlemagne’s Courier, p.4.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, ch.4, in Dutton, Charlemagne’s Courier, p.4.

Bertrada of Laon – Not Mother of the Year

Bertrada of Laon is one of the very few women of the century about whom we can know anything more than just a name and a marital disposition. But from what we can see of her, particularly one series of events late in her life, she must have been a formidable lady.

She was born sometime between 710 and 727, in Laon, France, of noble parents. After that, we get nothing until she reappears as the wife of Pepin about 741, and the details immediately get fuzzy. No one is sure if she was Pepin’s first or second wife. In fact, it is hard to be sure just what a wife was back then, as the line between wife and concubine was not well defined. Also fuzzy were the rules on who could marry whom, based on how closely they were related. Always a problem when the 1% keep marrying each other.

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