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.

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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.

764 and 765: a short lull

Up until now, in our war review, the primary sources have been pretty much in agreement. The Royal Frankish Annals and the Continuations of Fredegar, while occasionally disagreeing or, more often, including details the other omits, generally align with regards to chronology and events.

Then we get to 764 and 765. In a nutshell, the RFA records that nothing much happened during those two years, while Fredegar seems to simply slide over both years without much of a mention, although he does introduce one complication. Let’s start with the easy stuff, and see what the RFA says about Pepin and the war for Aquitaine.

The entry for 764 reads, in its entirety, “King Pepin then held his assembly at Worms and launched no further campaign but remained in Francia and occupied himself the matter of Waifar and Tassilo. He celebrated Christmas at his villa of Quierzy and also Easter.”1.Royal Annals, year 764, p.44. Fascinating. Worms is pretty far from the action in Aquitaine, and we don’t get much information besides that. Quierzy is northeast of Paris, so at least Pepin was getting a little closer to the action as 765 approached.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Royal Annals, year 764, p.44.

763: Waifar’s last chance

After the utter devastation wrought by Pepin’s full-on assault the previous year, in 763 the king was ready to consolidate his gains, both in land and morale, and press home the final blows to break the last Aquitanian resistance.

He decided to hold the annual Frankish Mayfield in the border city of Nevers.1.RFA, 763, p.44. Just a few years ago Nevers had been a frontier town on the Burgundian side of the Loire, the last stop before crossing over to ‘enemy’ territory. Now the town was considered central enough and safe enough a place for the king to hold the Frankish annual assembly there. Waifar, wherever he was, must have gritted his teeth to see the insolence and confidence of Pepin. But that was nothing to what Pepin unleashed next.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. RFA, 763, p.44.

762: Total war

In 762 Pepin broke the back of the Aquitanian resistance. While the war continued for another six or seven years, after 762 it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the final Frankish victory. The campaigns waged by each side during this pivotal year clearly illustrate both the strategy followed by the Franks, as well as the fatal flaw in the Aquitanian leadership.

The previous year Waifar, or more precisely, a couple of his dukes, had launched an unopposed assault into Burgundy, and returned with much plunder. But then king Pepin marched into eastern Aquitaine and burned several major fortresses. Clearly this was not an equation of exchange which would work out for Waifar in the long run. Waifar must have been pondering his options, none of them good, when Pepin came over the river in force, with a major siege train, heading for the de facto capital of northern Aquitaine.

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