Aquitaine tries to rebuild

The Aquitanian defeat in 732 was a crushing blow to the region’s ambitions to true independence. As recently as 718 Duke Odo had challenged Charles Martel directly, with a naked offer of assistance to Martel’s opponents in the Frankish civil war. Martel’s seemingly effortless swatting away of the Duke’s defiance should be seen for what it was: the realization by two unequal opponents just how unequal they are. The final denouement of this confrontation took another forty years to unfold, but the beginnings are clear to see.

Before we attempt to discern too much about what happened in Aquitaine prior to 760, let us bear in mind what Paul Fouracre noted, that “we can find out very little about Aquitaine in the period 675 – 750. Remarkably few charters have survived, and narrative material from the region is equally scarce.”1.Fouracre, Charles Martel, pp.83-84. But we can try.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Fouracre, Charles Martel, pp.83-84.

Frankish Travelogue – Gascony

Gascony is the area bordered by the Pyrenees to the south, the Atlantic to the west, the Garonne river to the north, and a less defined boundary to the east. It has never included Toulouse. Those distinctions have stayed pretty firm over the centuries, except when the border of the “Duchy of Vasconia” extended as far south as Pamplona in the seventh century.

The early medieval histories of Aquitaine and Gascony are inextricably linked, in the same way the histories of Aquitaine and Francia are linked. The fortunes of one inevitably affected the fortunes of the other. The early history of Gascony is particularly hazy, even by ‘Dark Age’ standards.

In 670 or so a Duke Lupus came to power over Aquitaine and Gascony. The scholar Pierre Riche says, “Victorious over the Basques, Duke Lupus exploited the struggles between Ebroin and the Austrasians to carve out a new princedom for himself south of the Garonne.”1.Riche, Carolingians: Family Who Forged Europe, p.29. This was during a period of retrenchment in Francia, and the outlying areas found themselves able to purse greater independence. In 675 Lupus organized a church synod in Bordeaux, a sign of a rule both enlightened and powerful enough to pull it off. But that is the last we hear of Duke Lupus, despite his terrific name.

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Civil war!

“At this time Pippin was struck down by a high fever and died. He had held the chief position under the king for twenty-seven and one half years. Plectrude governed everything discreetly with her grandchildren and with the king.”1.Liber Historiae Francorum, ch.51, p.111. With the characteristic understatement of the early medieval chronicler, everything that is wrong is laid out in three simple sentences. Another chronicler ably lays out what happened next. “When Pippin died, the greatest disorder grew up among the people of the Franks.”2.Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.365.

Late in the year 714 Pippin of Herstal, Charlemagne’s great-grandfather, was almost eighty years old, and he was dying. He was the latest and most powerful member of the Pippinid family (also called the Arnulfings), who had first been noticed in the early 7th century. After waging wars of unification he had held the positions of both Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia and Neustria for more than twenty-five years, and had seen kings come and kings go. Most recently King Childebert III, the last strong Merovingian, had died in 711, after a reign of sixteen years. His son, Dagobert III, succeeded him, but the boy was only twelve at his ascension. It fell to Pippin to run the kingdom for the child monarch, which he did until he felt his end was near.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Liber Historiae Francorum, ch.51, p.111.
2. Late Merovingian France, Annals of Metz, p.365.