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IT is known that the expedition conducted by Charles and his son Pepin made a halt of only one week at Ravenna and proceeded to Ancona, whence Pepin, by command of his father, led it through the duchy of Spoleto and invaded Benevento, while Charles, with whom we are now concerned, continued the journey in the direction of Rome. On the twenty-third day of November he was met at Nomentum (the modern Mentana), situated at the fourteenth mile-stone from the city, by Leo and the Roman Senate, who received him with great humility and honor. After a joint meal the pope returned to the city in order to make the necessary preparations for the reception due to the illustrious visitor, who spent the night at Nomentum.
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Copyright © 2016 by J.I. Mombert
Published by Jovian Press
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BOOK I: ANCESTRAL PERIOD, A.D., 680—A.D., 768.
BOOK II: ROYAL PERIOD, A.D., 768—A.D., 800.
CHARLES AND CARLOMAN.
FALL OF THE LOMBARDS.
SAXON WAR, TO CONVERSION OF WITTEKIND.
SAXON WAR, TO ITS CLOSE.
INVASION OF SPAIN.
SEQUEL TO FALL OF THE LOMBARDS.
CONQUEST OF THE AVARS.
CONSPIRACIES.—QUEENS AND DAUGHTERS OF CHARLES.
THE PALACE SCHOOL.—CHARLES AND ALCUIN.
FAMOUS MEN.—LITERATURE.—LIBRARIES.—ARCHITECTURE.—PUBLIC WORKS.
BOHEMIAN WAR.—THE ROYAL SONS AND THEIR KINGDOMS.—EXTRANEA.
CHARLES AND THE CHURCH, TO THE DEATH OF HADRIAN I.
CHARLES AND LEO III.
BOOK III: THE IMPERIAL PERIOD.
THE DIET AND THE CAPITULARIES.
THE NEW ERA.
EVENTS FROM THE DIVISION OF THE EMPIRE TO THE DEATH OF PEPIN.
LAST YEARS OF CHARLES.
THE MAN CHARLES.
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS.— PEPIN OF HERISTAL’S mistake.—Charles obtains the mastery of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy.—Aggressive warfare.— He aids Eudo, duke of Aquitaine, against the Saracens.—The deadly battle of Tours.—Reduction of Aquitaine, and suppression of revolt in Burgundy.—Renewed and successful contests with the Saracens.—Charles chastises in the same summer, the Saxons, Provencals, and Saracens.— His relations to the Church.—Division of his dominions.—His death.
THE three grandest names of Carlovingian lineage are so closely connected, and so nearly contemporary, that the history of one of their number necessarily involves that of the others. For this reason a sketch of the memorable career of the first Charles, surnamed “the Hammer,” may not be an inappropriate introduction to the life of his grandson, and namesake, called “the Great.”
Pepin of Heristal, the father of Charles Martel, and conqueror of Testry, presided, for a period of twenty-seven years, with singular ability and energy over the affairs of the Frankish dominions in the capacities of duke of Austrasia, and mayor of the palace of Neustria. By his authority not less than four puppet-kings maintained a phantom royalty in Neustria and Burgundy. So abject was their estate that the annals of the period record events in such significant phrase as: “In such a year of the sovereignty of Pepin over Theoderic,” and designate his reign as that of “Pepin with the kings subject to his rule.”
His was unquestionably the master intellect of his age, which held in check the fierce nations encroaching upon Frankish territory in the East and the South, devised and enforced necessary and wholesome legislation, and befriended in powerful protection and liberal donations the Christian missionaries from England, Ireland, and Rome.
Unfortunately he was not free from the polygamy of the Frankish sovereigns and their license of repudiation. He had two wives, Plectrud and Alpais, but, his sons by the former being dead, committed the grand mistake of designating, at the instance of their imperious mother, his grandson Theodoald, only six years of age, his successor in the throne, to the exclusion of Charles and Hildebrand, his sons by Alpais.
At his death Plectrud assumed the government, and imprisoned Charles at Cologne.
A struggle was inevitable. Charles soon succeeded in the recovery of liberty, and aided by Austrasian nobles, who scorned the rule of a woman, attempted to wrest it from her hands.
The situation was complicated. The Neustrians, with their phantom king Dagobert III., revolted from Austrasian rule, and marched against the youthful Theodoald, whom Plectrud, under escort of a strong force, had sent to Neustria. An engagement took place in the forest of Cuise, in which the Austrasians were defeated, while Theodoald barely escaped with his life.
They then chose Ragenfrid mayor of the palace, and, under his lead, invaded Austrasia and devastated the country to the Meuse.
In the mean time Dagobert died, and they found his successor in the person of the cleric Daniel, whom they elevated to the throne under the name of Chilperic II.
This new king made an alliance with the Frisians, and marched upon Cologne, where Plectrud had established herself, and was glad to purchase the departure of the enemy at a high price. The Neustrians left, but on the march were overtaken and defeated by Charles at Amblève.
Fruitless negotiations ensued, and Charles, the year following, at the head of a powerful army, entered Neustria, met and defeated the enemy in the decisive battle of Vincy, south of Cambray. Chilperic and Ragenfrid fled to Paris, while Charles, laden with spoil, retraced his steps to Cologne, and compelled Plectrud not only to open the city, but to surrender the treasure of Pepin, and submit to his authority.
In the lull of war which followed Charles satisfied the clamor of the populace for a king, and presented to them an obscure Merovingian prince of the name of Clothair, as their puppet-king, while he himself ruled the Frankish dominions under the title of duke of Austrasia.
On the other hand, the king of the Neustrians, and his mayor of the palace had not been idle. They opened negotiations and concluded an alliance with Eudo, the rebellious duke of Aquitaine, in virtue of which he joined them with an army at Paris, and enabled them to resume offensive operations against Charles. The opposing hosts met at Soissons, and in the battle which they fought, the arms of Charles were again victorious. He pursued the flying foe first to Paris, and thence to the Loire, but though he moved by forced marches, such was the speed of the fugitives, that Eudo, with Chilperic and the royal treasure, crossed that river before Charles was able to overtake them.
The contest was brought to a close soon afterward.
A peace was concluded in virtue of which Eudo surrendered the person and treasure of Chilperic, and Charles, taking advantage of the opportune death of his shadow king Clothair, set up Chilperic in his stead, and treated him honorably to his dying day. This happened in the same year, and necessitated the appointment of a new king. Charles discovered another Merovingian scion in the abbey of Chelles, summoned him forth, and launched him upon his career of royal indolence under the name of Theoderic, or Thierry IV.
Thus established in the undisputed rule of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, Charles felt at liberty to undertake a series of expeditions against the Frisians and Saxons, which though sometimes aggressive and attended by temporary success, appear to have resulted only in bloodshed, widespread desolation, and invincible antipathy. In one instance we read of a stinging defeat which he inflicted upon a most savage Saxon tribe, and not only made it tributary but took hostages; on another occasion he overran Frisia with war and punished the rebels with indiscriminate devastation and extermination. The causes of the revolt seem to be unknown.
Military expeditions against the Suabians and Bavarians also were aggressive and led to territorial acquisitions. Charles crossed the Rhine, traversed Suabia to the Danube, passed that river, occupied the frontier of Bavaria and subdued the country. Besides great spoil, he returned with Bilitrud the widow of Grimoald, duke of Bavaria, and Swanahild her daughter. The latter he married, but it is doubtful if she enjoyed the full rights of a lawful wife. At any rate he did not, in the subsequent partition of his dominions, treat Grifo, his son by Swanahild, on equal terms with his other sons by Rotrud.
Thus far the military achievements of Charles had been directed to the consolidation of the Frankish monarchy, which his genius had raised to the first rank in the family of European nations. He was unquestionably the ablest ruler and best soldier of his time. The fine discipline and undoubted valor of the Franks in the hands of such a leader had quelled domestic insurrection, and terrified the undisciplined and unorganized pagan tribes, which held the vast territory eastward of the Rhine to beyond the Oder, and, with only few exceptions, from the Alps to the northern seas. But now there appeared another foe, the equal of those fierce pagans in cruel ferocity, but superior to them in military skill, numerical strength, and enthusiastic perseverance. He moved in vast masses essential to the gigantic dimensions of his undertaking, which at this time was nothing less than the subjugation of Europe.
The Arab warriors, who had swept like a whirlwind to the heart of Asia and subdued Persia and Syria, and with the same impetuous velocity had conquered Egypt, Africa and Spain, were thundering at the gates of Constantinople in the East, and forcing the Pyrenees in the West. Twice already Moslem hosts had penetrated into southern Gaul, but, though repulsed at Toulouse and in the Provence, the duke of Aquitaine lacked the power of dislodging them from Septimania.
Nor could he stem the tide of a fresh irruption which burst upon him from an opposite direction, when Abdel- Rhaman, who had won his laurels in the conquest of Africa and Spain, suddenly appeared in Gallic Vasconia, at the head of an army, which Arab writers estimate at eighty thousand strong. Duke Eudo hastily collected his forces and essayed to dispute the progress of the Saracens, but in vain, for they compelled him to cross the Garonne, fall back on Bordeaux, and give them battle. He sustained a crushing defeat, but escaped; while the victors carried Bordeaux by assault, sacked it, and laden with spoil, followed up their advantage.
They overran the whole of Aquitaine, crossed the Loire, and carried fire and sword into Burgun as far as Autun and Sens. All Gaul and Western Europe seemed to lie open to them. In his extremity the intrepid but perfidious Eudo hastened to Charles and invoked his aid; Charles granted it and forthwith summoned his heerbann. The best soldiery of the Franks and Burgundians, with Suabians, Bavarians and Thuringians from beyond the Rhine, flocked to his standard, and at his bidding marched westward to the rendezvous on the Loire.
The Arab leader, in the mean time advanced to Poitiers, which had closed its gates and prepared for defence, laid siege to the place, and attempted to carry it by assault, but failed. Believing it unwise to waste time under the walls of a city which in wealth could not compare with Tours, he raised the siege and marched upon that place.
Under the walls of Tours he heard that the Franks were coming, and ordering a retreat, pitched his camp either at a place called Cenon (formerly Sesone) and situated at the confluence of the Clain and Vienne near Poitiers, or at Miré, nearer to Tours, in a plain known as the Landes de Charlemagne.
The Franks arrived late in September or early in October. The numbers of the opposing armies are, as usual, greatly exaggerated. An Arab authority says that the Christian hosts “could not be numbered,” and a Christian writer fables of a Moslem loss in slain, which he sets down at the incredible number of three hundred and seventy-five thousand. Leaving alone the actual numbers, those engaged on both sides were doubtless of considerable magnitude, and probably of equal strength, for they lay in comparative inactivity in sight of each other for the space of an entire week.
On the morning of the seventh or eighth day the Arab leader began the fight, which soon became general. Again and again the fierce Moslem horse charged upon the Frankish army, whose serried ranks stood “firm as a wall, and impenetrable as an iceberg,” and were repulsed with great loss. In consequence of a report, called by the Arab historian, “a false alarm,” that the Franks were in the rear of the Moslems, and plundering their camp, several squadrons of their horse rode from the main line to protect the rear. The movement was misunderstood as one of retreat; confusion ensued; the whole Arab host gave way, and suffered terribly at the hands of the Franks, whose spears, falchions, and battle-axes dealt destruction in their scattered ranks.
Abdel-Rhaman tried in vain to rally them, and was slain in the attempt. The fall of their leader was the signal of general flight, in which multitudes of the Moslems were slain.
The personal valor of Charles, the terrible and deadly effect of his blows, inspired his host to heroic efforts, and earned for him, but not until much later, the surname “Martel,” that is, the hammer.
When night set in, both armies withdrew to their camps.
The Arab account of the battle is most interesting. It runs as follows: “Near the river Owar (Loire?) the two great hosts of the two languages and the two creeds were set in array against each other.
“The hearts of Abderrahman, his captains, and his men, were filled with wrath and pride, and they were the first to begin the fight. The Moslem horsemen dashed fierce and frequent forward against the battalions of the Franks, who resisted manfully, and many fell dead on either side, until the going down of the sun. Night parted the two armies; but in the gray of the morning the Moslems returned to the battle. Their cavaliers had soon hewn their way into the centre of the Christian host. But many of the Moslems were fearful for the safety of the spoils which they had stored in their tents, and a false cry arose in their ranks that some of the enemy were plundering the camp; whereupon several squadron of the Moslem horsemen rode on to protect their tents. But it seemed as if they fled: and all the host was troubled. And while Abderrahman strove to check their tumult, and to lead them back to battle, the warriors of the Franks came around him, and he was pierced through with many spears, so that he died. Then all the host fled before the enemy, and many died in the flight. This deadly defeat of the Moslems, and the loss of the great leader and good cavalier Abderrahman, took place in the hundred and fifteenth year.” The account differs in some respects from that recorded by Christian chroniclers, but the main point of a “deadly defeat” is fully corroborated.
The Frankish warriors slept in their camp, but, unless all the Christian records are at fault, the disorder and confusion incident upon the disaster of the defeat, the loss of their commander, and the dread of the expected pursuit, must have banished sleep from the eyes of the Moslems. It is said, or surmised, that the recriminations of the emirs led to armed conflict, that for want of a competent leader, the several commands acted for themselves, and under shelter of the night stealthily but hastily made good their escape. At break of day the Franks stood under arms prepared to renew the fight; but there was no sign of the presence of the dusky foe; the unwonted stillness of the hostile camp caused surprise, and could only mean stratagem or flight. To solve the matter some Franks were despatched to reconnoitre; they entered the camp without opposition and found it deserted; the Arabs had fled and left the bulk of their booty behind. It is known that their flight was precipitate and unchecked, until they reached Septimania and felt safe within the fortifications of Narbonne. It is also known that Charles Martel, doubtless on prudential grounds, forbore to pursue the flying enemy, and disbanded his army; his course seems to justify the reflection that “the inactivity of a conqueror betrays the loss of strength and blood, and the most cruel execution is inflicted, not in the ranks of battle, but on the backs of a flying enemy.” Had he ordered a pursuit, he might have annihilated the Moslems, and crushed at one blow, or at least in one campaign, a foe against whom he had to march in two subsequent campaigns, and who maintained himself in Narbonne twenty-seven years longer, until he was finally dislodged by his son Pepin in 759.
The great victory of the battle of Tours, in which the genius of Charles Martel directed the stout hearts and iron hands of his Teuton warriors to the utter discomfiture of the Arabs, and bade them abandon all hope of lifting the victorious Crescent in Central Europe, cannot be overestimated.
“It was a struggle between the East and West, South and North, Asia and Europe, the Gospel and the Koran, and we now say, on a general consideration of events, peoples, and ages, that the civilization of the world depended upon it.”
An English writer thinks that the victory of Charles Martel deserves to rank higher than that of Arminius “among those signal deliverances which have affected for centuries the happiness of mankind;” while a German historian indicates as “one of the most important epochs in the history of the world, the beginning of the eighth century, when on the one side Mohammedanism threatened to overspread Italy and Gaul, and on the other, the ancient idolatry of Saxony and Frisia once more forced its way across the Rhine. In this peril of Christian institutions, a youthful prince of Germanic race, Charles Martel, arose as their champion, maintained them with all the energy which the necessity of self-defence calls forth, and finally extended them into new regions.”
The lesson he taught the Moslems has never been forgotten; their writers constantly advert to the “deadly battle of Tours,” call it a “disgraceful overthrow,” and even now, after the lapse of more than eleven centuries, the reminiscence of that trial of strength, in which the splendid army of the redoubtable Abdel-Rhaman gave way under the iron strength of the Frankish host, the first they had ever met, lives in the designation of “Frank,” by which Orientals of Mohammedan faith are wont to speak of European Christians. It was the “Frank” who taught them to respect the Cross.
After the battle of Tours, Eudo, as the vassal of Charles, had enough to do with repairing the damage done to his duchy, while Charles was busy with the work of recovering and reuniting to the Frankish monarchy the kingdom of Burgundy and the rich Provence. He retook Lyons, Vienne, Valence, and the country as far as the Durance, and appointed local governors charged with the double duty of keeping his involuntary subjects in order, and of protecting the country from further Arab incursions. They failed in both respects, promoted disaffection, and, thanks to the treasonable overtures of Maurontius, patrician of Arles, the Moslems returned, overran and occupied the whole country on the left bank of the Rhone for the space of two years.
The death of Eudo occasioned fresh trouble in Aquitaine; Charles, who had hastened thither and thrown Frankish garrisons into Bordeaux and Blaye, subdued the country, overcame the resistance of Eudo’s sons, and took Hatto, one of them, prisoner, but confirmed Hunold, the other, who swore fealty, in the possession of the duchy under Frankish suzerainty. Then followed the day of reckoning in Burgundy and Gothia, or Septimania.
He sent his brother Hildebrand with an army to Avignon to lay siege to it, soon after followed in person with a second army, and took the city by storm; crossed the Rhone, entered Septimania, and marched upon Narbonne, the stronghold to which the Saracens had retired. A fresh body of Arabs, sent to the relief of the beleaguered city, arrived, and effected a landing at a point between Narbonne and the modern Cap de la Franqui. The movement was discovered, and its object defeated, for Charles, leaving part of his army before the city, marched against the new-comers and almost annihilated them within sight of their brethren. An attempt to carry the city by storm failed, while news of a fresh revolt of the Saxons compelled him to leave the seat of war. His march lay through the Septimanian towns of Nîmes, Agde, Beziers, and Maguelonne, which he set on fire; and he also destroyed all the strongholds of the country.
But this wholesale devastation of an inimical religion only incensed the people to renewed revolt, and provoked a fresh incursion of the Arabs. Charles, with his wonted energy, hastened to chastise the Saxons, and in the same season, at the head of a large army, retraced his steps with the greatest speed to the south of France. He retook Avignon, crossed the Durance, and subdued the whole country to the sea; then swept with his conquering legions through the Provence, drove out the Moslems, made himself master of Marseilles and Arles, and added the whole of Southern Gaul on the left bank of the Rhone to his dominions.
Such is, in brief outline, the military career of Charles Martel. It remains to speak of him in other respects. His relations to the Church were peculiar. The Gallican clergy saw in him a sacrilegious and tyrannical spoiler of the Church, while Boniface the apostle of Germany and Willibrord the apostle of Frisia, and last, not least, the pope, regarded him as the saviour of Christendom, the zealous and invincible champion alike against the fierce pagans of the North, and the fanatical miscreants of the South. Without his patronage, writes Boniface, he would not have been able to guide the people or defend his clergy, or without his express command and the fear of his displeasure, forbid in Germany the practice of pagan rites and the sacrilegious worship of idols.
But why was he so obnoxious to the Gallican clergy?
The matter is easily explained. His wars were costly, his revenue was small, and the Church was rich. He followed the example of the Merovingian kings and former mayors of the palace, and applied the possessions of the Church to the conduct of his military expeditions and the reward of the powerful chiefs who enabled him to conduct them. This he did on a large scale and in various ways. He gave the domains of the Church, “with the title of benefices in temporary holding, often converted into proprietorship and under the style of precarious tenure, to the chiefs in his service,” and even rewarded them with the highest ecclesiastical dignities, such as abbacies and bishoprics.
The measure, which under constitutional governments, and by legislative enactments, has, in principle at least, been often adopted, was not a tyrannical spoliation, but a necessity, and had the express approbation of an ecclesiastical synod at which Boniface was present. “The impending wars,” the Synod declared, “and the persecution of the pagan nations surrounding us, move us, under the advice of the servants of God and the Christian people, to resolve that certain portions of the possessions of the Church be applied, for some time to come, to the maintenance and support of the army, yet so that their tenure be precarious and subject to the payment of an annual rent.”
The Gallican clergy, nevertheless, loathed the measure as the unpardonable sin in this world and the next, not only during the lifetime of the high criminal, but for generations after his death. The true sentiment of the Frankish bishops may be read in the famous letter, which those assembled at Rheims in 858 addressed to Louis the Germanic, in which they say that “St. Eucherius, bishop of Orleans, who now reposeth in the monastery of St. Trudon, was ravished to the realms of eternity and saw there Charles Martel delivered over to the torments of the damned in the nethermost hell, by sentence of the saints who, at the last day of judgment, will sit with Jesus Christ to judge the world; that then St. Eucherius, having demanded the reason thereof, was told by the angel his guide, that he was sentenced to this punishment for having robbed the churches of God of their possessions, by which act he had become guilty of the sins of all those who had endowed them,” etc., etc.
Charles Martel’s relations to the pope were friendly but not intimate. Towards the close of his reign pope Gregory III. invoked his aid against the Lombards; he sent a formal embassy of two nuncios with great presents, among which, the keys of St. Peter’s tomb and the filings of his chains are specially mentioned, and begged him to accept the vague dignity of a Roman Consul. Charles received the nuncios with distinguished honor, returned the civility by ambassadors of his own, the bearers of still more precious gifts, but declined to be drawn into the dispute. He was on terms of amity with the Lombards, and could not forget the invaluable service which Liutprand at the head of an auxiliary force had recently rendered him in the campaign against the Saracens; but promised to use his influence with the king in the direction of a more pacific policy. Such was the extent of the negotiations between Charles and Gregory when both died within a month of each other. Charles died October 22d, and the pope in November, 741. Charles was buried in the Church of St. Denis.
The last act of Charles Martel has been censured as unwise; he divided the dominion, to whose reconstruction and defence he had devoted so many years of toilsome and heroic effort, between his two sons Carloman and Pepin, and made certain provision for Grifo, his youngest son by Swanahild, a princess of Bavaria, to whom he was married morganatically.
In the division Carloman received Austrasia, Suavia (or Alemannia, as the latter province or duchy was then called), and Thuringia; while to Pepin was assigned the rule of Burgundy, Neustria, and the Provence. The provision for Grifo was restricted to sundry estates in, or portions of, Neustria, Austrasia, and Burgundy, which were given to him as vassal of his brothers, not as an independent sovereign.
FRATERNAL CONCORD OF CARLOMAN AND Pepin.—Carloman abdicates and turns monk.-Pepin sole ruler.—PopeZacharias.—Childeric III. deposed.— Pepin, king of the Franks.-Grifo slain.-Astolf and Pope Stephen.— Stephen visits Pepin.-Astolf humbled.-His death.—Division of the kingdom.—Death of Pepin.
PEPIN and Carloman entered upon their inheritance as mayors of the palace, probably under the title of dukes.
The evil consequences of the injudicious partition became soon apparent. Insurrections broke out among the Saxons, Alemannians and Bavarians; Hunold, the new duke of Aquitaine, attempted to recover his independence, and the restive Arabs of Septimania renewed their predatory and vexatious incursions.
The German notables, moreover, disliked and viewed with suspicion the prolonged vacancy in the nominal royal throne. This difficulty was easily overcome, for the brothers discovered the last descendant of Clovis, and in due course, probably at the next March-field (743 ?), effected his elevation.
Their brother Grifo, also, at the instigation of his mother,; the Bavarian princess Swanahild, rose in arms and claimed the inheritance. They marched against him, took Laon which he had seized, and placed him in close confinement in the fortress of Neufchâteau in the Ardennes.
Fortunately they had the good sense of clinging together in cordial union, with the result that their authority was acknowledged at home, and its recognition speedily enforced in the outlying provinces and dependencies of the Frankish empire.
Their energy was remarkable; in one year they undertook two successful expeditions against the Aquita’nians and Alemannians, and in the next, jointly defeated and routed the army of their rebellious brother-in-law, Odilo, duke of the Bavarians; then they separated, and while Carloman chastised the Saxon Theoderic, Pepin stamped out a revolt in Alsatia.
This harmonious co-operation continued two years longer, and was followed by the mysterious and still unexplained abdication of Carloman in favor of Pepin. It was a strange act, and although we may take our choice among the reasons which have been given, and speculate on the extent of his “devotion,” “predilection for the contemplative life,” or “remorse for cruelty in war,” we cannot understand how any or all of them could justify it in so far as it affected the future of his sons. The spontaneous character of his abdication may be true in his own case, but few thinking people will believe that it was unaccompanied by pressure in the case of the sons who, though he commended them to Pepin, lost their inheritance, and practically vanished out of existence. His case, though the most conspicuous, is not the first example of the kind. Ceolwulf was the eighth Anglo-Saxon prince who turned monk, and Hunold, duke of Aquitaine, after an act of atrocious cruelty, donned the monastic garb in the island of Rhé, where his father was buried. His case was singular. He lured his brother Hatto from the city of Poitiers, had his eyes put out, abdicated in favor of his son Waifre, turned monk, and remained in that monastery until his son died, a quarter of a century later. Then he returned to his duchy, and to his wife, I but not to stay, as the sequel will show.
Carloman soon executed his purpose, went to Italy, took the monastic vows, and built a monastery on Mount Soracte, where he “enjoyed, for several years, the seclusion he desired; but so many Franks made the pilgrimage to Rome to fulfil their vows, and, on the way, insisted upon paying their respects to him, as their former lord, that the repose he so much loved was broken by these frequent visits, and he was compelled to change his abode. Accordingly . . . he abandoned the mountain, withdrew to the monastery of St. Benedict, near the castle of Monte Casino, in the province of Samnium,” and remained there, until, in an access of political aspiration, he returned to the world, to the indignation alike of the pope and his brother, and to his own unspeakable sorrow.
His abdication left Pepin sole ruler of the Franks. Pepin, though short of stature, was a man of prodigious strength, and his physical endowment a fair exponent of his will power and intellectual calibre.
About this time Grifo effected his escape. He fled first into Saxony, then into Bavaria, collected a large army, seized the government, and constrained Tassilo, duke of Bavaria, to make his submission. This course angered Pepin, who marched against him, took him prisoner, restored Tassilo, but, in token of his fraternal good feeling, and with a view to reconciliation, set Grifo over twelve counties in Neustria. His unruly step-brother, however, disliked the arrangement, soon broke loose again, and fled to Waifre, duke of Aquitaine.
Retracing the course of events to the time of the accession of Pepin and Carloman, the situation in Italy now claims attention.
The imperilled fortunes of the Church of Rome passed bout the same time into the able hands of Zacharias, who entered upon the duties of the pontificate without the formality of its confirmation by the Greek emperor, or his representative, the exarch; and concluding that neither of these, nor the Frankish princes, were likely to espouse his cause against the Lombards, established amicable relations with Liutprand, and, maintained them with growing cordiality until he died.
Liutprand was succeeded by his nephew Hildebrand, for nine years past his associate in the throne; but his reign was of short duration, for after only seven months the people deposed him and elevated Rachis, duke of Friuli, to his place.
With him also Zacharias lived on pleasant terms—and, strange to tell, such was the magic of his presence, that Rachis, at his bidding, not only gave up all hostile designs upon the city of Perugia, which he had invested, but abdicated the throne, turned monk, and joined the whilom duke of Austrasia in the cloister of Monte Casino. Nor was the conversion confined to the person of the king, for his wife and daughter also gave up the pomp and glory of the world, and withdrew to the retirement of the neighboring convent of Piombaruola.
The presence of two royal converts in a monastery within his call added lustre to the fame for sagacity which the successful intervention of Zacharias in public affairs had spread throughout Europe. And so it came to pass that Boniface, who was a warm admirer and earnest partisan of the pontiff, and had the ear of Pepin, suggested the expedient of submitting to his decision the vexed question of the Frankish kings.
The mockery of that phantom royalty, so long maintained, was universally felt, and its utter uselessness as universally acknowledged. Charles Martel reasoned, if he did not say so, that it were better to have no king at all than the contemptible puppets who disgraced their ancestry and the royal office. It was his policy, and indeed that of all the mayors of the palace, to lessen respect for the effete Merovingian race, and prepare the nations united in the Frankish confederation for the accession of a new dynasty. This is doubtless the true reason why he allowed the throne to remain vacant for the space of four years.
Pepin, now sole ruler of the Franks, thought the time had come for a radical change, and had the mettle and tact to accomplish it.
He designated Burchard, bishop of Wüdrzburg, and Folrad, his priest-chaplain, ambassadors to Rome, and instructed them to submit the whole case to the wise judgment of Zacharias. The story of their mission and of the coup d’état, for such it was, of contemporary record, reads as follows:
“A.D. 750.—Pepin sent ambassadors to Pope Zacharias to ask his opinion in the matter of the kings of the Franks, who, though of the line royal, and bearing the regal title, took no part in the conduct of the government except that official documents were issued in their name; they were destitute of power, and only did what the mayor of the palace told them.
“When upon the set day of the March Assembly the gifts of the people according to ancient usage, were presented to the sovereign, the king, surrounded by the military, sat in his chair, the mayor of the palace standing before him, and proclaimed such laws as had been established by the Franks. When this was done he returned home, and stayed there during the remainder of the year.
“PopeZacharias, therefore, in virtue of apostolic authority, told the ambassadors that he judged it better and more advantageous that the regal title and office should inhere in the person already clothed with executive power, and not in that of one who was falsely called king.
“The said pontiff accordingly enjoined the king and the people of the Franks, that Pepin, already clothed with regal power, should be duly called king and raised to the throne.
“And this was done by St. Boniface, archbishop, who anointed him king in the city of Soissons. Pepin was called king, and Childeric, falsely called king, was shaven, and sent to the monastery.”
The story of this revolutionary change of dynasty is adroitly placed by Einhard, or Eginhard, the biographer of Charles the Great, at the beginning of his work, composed after the death of his patron. It reads as follows:
“The Merovingian family, from which the Franks used to choose their kings, is commonly said to have lasted until the time of Childeric, who was deposed, shaven, and thrust into the cloister by command of the Roman pontiff Stephen. But although, to all outward appearance, it ended with him, it had long since been devoid of vital strength, and conspicuous only from bearing the empty epithet royal; the real power and authority in the kingdom lay in the hand of the chief officer of the court, the so-called mayor of the palace, and he was at the head of affairs. There was nothing left the king to do but to be content with his name of king, his flowing hair, and long beard; to sit on his throne and play the ruler; to give ear to the ambassadors that came from all quarters, and to dismiss them as if on his own responsibility, in words that were, in fact, suggested to him, or even imposed upon him. He had nothing that he could call his own beyond this vain title of king, and the precarious support allowed by the mayor of the palace in his discretion, except a single country-seat, that brought him a very small income. There was a dwellinhouse upon this, and a small number of servants attached to it, sufficient to perform the necessary offices. When he had to go abroad he used to ride in a cart, drawn by a yoke of oxen, driven, peasant fashion, by a ploughman; he rode in this way to the palace and general assembly of the people, that met once a year for the welfare of the kingdom, and he returned home in like manner. The mayor of the palace took charge of the government, and of everything that had to be planned or executed at home or abroad.
“At the time of Childeric’s deposition, Pepin, the father of King Charles, held this office of mayor of the palace, one might almost say, by hereditary right; for Pepin’s father, Charles, had received it at the hands of his father, Pepin, and filled it with distinction.”
The instructions given to Burchard and Folrad were doubtless precise and minute, and Zacharias could have no hesitation as to the answer he was expected to give, and gave.
It was published far and near, in preparation of the coming event, in the year following, when, in the presence and by consent of the General Assembly of the hierarchy, nobility, and people, was enacted the formal deposition of Childeric III., and the proclamation of Pepin as king of the Franks.
There was the customary and time-honored acclamation, the impressive clash of arms, the significant elevation on the buckler, and the grand ceremonial of the Church, administered by the venerable Boniface, who poured holy oil on the head of the first king of the Franks of Carlovingian lineage.
The ecclesiastical fiction of unction being the seal of divine authority, or conferring the same right as that divinely bestowed on the kings of Israel, was probably an unction to the soul and uneasy conscience of Pepin, and served the purpose of salving over his dubious title to the throne.
In plain speech, the deposition of Childeric was a political necessity, the coronation of Pepin perhaps a necessary usurpation, and the reference of the case to papal decision a precedent as dangerous to the prince and his successors, as salutary to the aspirations of Zacharias and the pretensions of his successors.
Common sense and even-handed justice demanded the important preliminary inquiries, if the alleged powers of the mayors of the palace had been rightfully acquired, if the proposed change in the dynasty was founded in justice, and if the pope had any vested right enabling him to dispose of what did not belong to him and adjudicate a case in which only one side was heard. Possession, it seems, was even then nine points of the law, might was right, and beyond this the will of the Franks was the most valid title to the elevation of Pepin, who, perhaps because of the defective character of that title, added, it is believed, for the first time the words “by the grace of God” to his official designation.
Volumes have been written on the subject that Pepin became king by authority of the pope. It is doubtful if the words “authority,” “injunction,” “commandment,” etc., designated at the time more than simple approbation, but certain that thenceforth arose the opinion that the vested right of deposing or appointing kings at will inhered in the pontifical office. Gregory VII. cited this cage as a precedent establishing his indubitable right of deposing emperors.
Impartiality imposes the duty of a parting word on behalf of the last Merovingian kings, who are so constantly mentioned by the annalists in contemptuous phrase. They wrote under the new dynasty, and felt that representing their shortcomings in the most odious light was the best way of gilding those of their successors. They describe them as cowardly and imbecile sluggards, but also record the fact that the craft and machinations of the mayors of the palace made them such. If a man is bound hand and foot, locked up in a monastery or on a farm, it is difficult to tell if he is industrious or lazy, courageous or craven, quick or slow in his movements.
But be this as it may, Pepin became king, and poor Childeric, shorn of his royal beard and locks, found a living tomb in the monastery of St. Sithiu at St. Omer. Pope Zacharias died soon after, and was succeeded by Stephen, the second or third pontiff of that name.
One of the first military acts of King Pepin was the suppression of an almost annual revolt of the Saxons; he devastated their country, took many prisoners and great spoil, and bound them by oaths to the punctual payment of an annual tribute of three hundred horses, to fidelity, and the reception of Christian missionaries.
Upon his return he heard, probably at Bonn, that Grifo, his brother, was dead. On his flight to the Lombards, he had an encounter with Theodoin, count of Vienne, and Frederic, count of Burgundy, in the valley of Maurienne, on the southern declivity of the Jura range, in which he was slain.
About the same time alarming intelligence was received from Italy. King Astolf, true to the aggressive policy of his predecessors, had entered the exarchate and possessed himself of Ravenna, in direct and flagrant violation of the provisions of a treaty of amity recently entered into by the pope and himself. The treaty had been concluded for forty years, but did not last more than four months. Stephen protested, but in vain, for Astolf was imperious, menacing, and exacting. He proposed the alternative of war, or instant submission of Rome and the payment of tribute.
All remonstrance was in vain; an imperial representative protested against the invasion of the exarchate, but his protest was not heeded. The king, at the head of an army, marched upon Rome, and was approaching the city.
Great was the consternation of the pope and the Roman people. He appointed a solemn procession, in which he walked barefooted, and the Romans, with ashes on their heads, made the round of all the sacred places; he carried the famous picture of Christ, called the Antecopsita, fastened a copy of the broken treaty to the holy cross, and invoked the aid and vengeance of Heaven against the perfidious and sacrilegious Lombards. But the times were not favorable to a miraculous deliverance by means of litanies and comminations; neither the prayers nor the curses arrested the progress of the enemy; and in the extremity of his despair the pope appealed to Pepin, the patrician of Rome.
The king of the Franks had his hands full with domestic troubles, especially with the refractory duke of Aquitaine, and the Moslems, who still held Narbonne, and could not, so late in the year, undertake an expedition into Italy. But the pressure was great, and Stephen now proposed a visit to the king. The matter was discussed in a national assembly of the Franks, and Chrodegang, bishop of Metz, together with duke Autchar, were commissioned to set out for Italy and escort the pope.
Stephen nerved himself to undergo the fatigue and peril of so long a journey, but though miracles attended his progress, he neither disdained to make an attempt of plundering the treasures of the Church at Ravenna, nor shrunk from that of entreating or awing the king of the Lombards into compliance with his demands, which were the immediate restoration of all the Lombard conquests. Astolf would fain have diverted him from his journey and retained him, but the ambassadors of Pepin protected him, and enabled him to leave Pavia unhurt. At the convent of St. Maurice, where he hoped to find Pepin, he was met by duke Rothard and abbot Folrad, with a message from the king, and orders to conduct him to the court.
The king’s eldest son, Prince Charles, then only in his twelfth year, at the head of a cavalcade, met him at a distance of a hundred miles from Ponthion; at a distance of three miles from the palace Pepin himself, with Queen Berthrada and the royal family, and attended by a glittering assemblage of courtiers, gave him greeting. The papal biographer reports that the king at his approach dismounted, and, together with the queen, his sons, and the nobility present, fell prostrate on the ground before him, and that the king walked by his side and held his stirrup.
The pope and his clergy gave vent to their feelings in hymns of thanksgiving, and proceeded chanting to the palace, where, if the Frankish records are true, the pope and his clergy, clad in sackcloth and with ashes on their heads, returned the compliment of prostration and refused to rise until the king had promised his aid against Astolf.
He passed his royal word under oath to do as the pope requested, and bade him take up his abode in the abbey of St. Denis.
Meanwhile an embassy was sent to Astolf requiring him to give assurance of not further molesting the patrimony of St. Peter. This he refused to do, and thereupon the Annual Assembly of the Franks resolved to go to war.
This national act indicates the pope’s personal influence. The general sentiment of the Franks was opposed to armed intervention, but the persuasion of his eloquence and judicious attentions in the form of presents, together with the halo of sanctity attached to his person, overcame it. For he was the first pope who had ever crossed the Alps, and the distinguished honors which Pepin lavished upon him, as well as the impassioned earnestness of his appeal, evoked the hearty sympathy and unanimous support of the estates of the realm.
Astolf, for his part, remained not idle and tried to prevent the war by every means in his power. As a last resort he despatched an envoy in the person of Carloman, the king’s own brother, thinking his influence sufficient to break the new alliance between Pepin and the pope. The choice was unfortunate, for the relations of the two brothers were not happy. Carloman doubtless grieved over the harsh treatment of his family, and may have thought the juncture favorable to the reassertion of his rights. At any rate his appearance on the scene strengthened the papal cause, and hurt his own.
The clergy explained his course by diabolical influence; Pepin saw in it a peril and a menace, and the pope denounced it as an unjustifiable breach of his vows. The result was, that the unfortunate and deluded monk-prince was imprisoned for life in the monastery at Vienne, and that his sons were shaven, and thus disqualified in the succession.
The imprisonment of Carloman was not of long duration; he took a fever, was nursed by queen Berthrada, and died Dec. 9, 754, before Pepin returned from Italy. His remains, by order of the king, were taken to Monte Casino, where he had assumed the monastic garb.
Both Pepin and Stephen again exhorted and entreated Astolf to surrender peaceably the possessions of the Church and of the Roman Commonwealth, but he was deaf to entreaty or menace, and prepared to dispute the progress of the Frankish army on its descent from the Alps. He attacked the vanguard of the Franks and was defeated; Pepin with the bulk of his troops pursued him to Pavia, invested the city, and compelled him to accept the terms of an ignominious peace, according to which he pledged himself on oath to restore the territory of Rome, and never at any future time vex it with hostile incursions. He also gave hostages, and, according to one authority, not only paid Pepin an indemnity of thirty thousand gold solidi, but promised the payment of an annual tribute of five thousand more.
Stephen would fain have persuaded Pepin to prolong his stay in Italy until the terms of the peace had been fulfilled, but the king took the hostages and returned to Francia. He had no sooner passed the Alps than Astolf voided the solemn engagement, and a month later marched with an army upon Rome, ravaged the country, blockaded the city, and demanded the surrender of the pope. Nothing short of that would satisfy him. He stood under the walls, and harangued the Romans, saying: “Open to me the Salarian gate that I may enter the city, and deliver to me your pontiff.” In case of refusal he threatened to destroy the city, and avowed his purpose not to restore so much as a foot of land to St. Peter or the Roman Commonwealth.
In the extremity of his distress, Stephen despatched messengers by sea to Pepin, with letters urging his speedy return. In a first letter, he wrote that his royal ally “hazarded eternal damnation if he did not complete the donation which he had vowed to St. Peter, and St. Peter had promised him eternal life. If the king was not faithful to his word, the apostle had his handwriting to the grant, which he would produce against him in the day of judgment.” A second letter, which was placed in the hands of the Frankish envoy, the martial abbot Warnerius, came on the heels of the first. It depicted the terror of the situation, the menace of Astolf, that unless the pope were surrendered he would put the whole city to the sword. He had already burned all the villas and suburbs, plundered and defiled the altars; his soldiers had laid violent hands on nuns and matrons; all the horrors of war were about to burst on the devoted city, which had endured a siege of fifty-five days. He adjured Pepin, by all that was sacred, to hasten to the rescue, and promised him, as the guerdon of his deliverance, “victory over all the barbarian nations, and eternal life.”
Still a third letter followed, the most extraordinary of all, written, indeed, by the hand of Stephen, but composed in heaven by no less a personage than St. Peter, who delivers messages from the Mother of God, the thrones and dominions and all the host of heaven, adjuring the tardy Pepin and his Franks to hasten to the rescue of Rome, informing him that, as of all nations under heaven the Franks are highest in the esteem of St. Peter, and that, as they owe to him all their past victories, so he promises them thereafter long life, happiness and triumphal success on earth, and the richest felicity in heaven, in recompense of their swift obedience, yet threatening them with exclusion from the kingdom of heaven, and the loss of eternal life, as the just retribution of their disregard of his exhortation.
Among the most striking passages of this unique epistle are the following:
“ Peter called to be an apostle by Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, who reigning from everlasting with the Father in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, was in these last days incarnate and became man for the salvation of us all, and has redeemed us with His precious blood through the will of the paternal glory, as He has determined in the Holy Scriptures through His holy prophets; and through me [Peter], all the Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome, the head of all the Churches of God, founded through the blood of our Redeemer on the firm rock (petram), with Stephen, chief (prœsul) of that gracious Church, pray: that grace, peace, and power for plucking the said Holy Church of God, and the people of Rome to me committed, out of the hands of her persecutors, may be abundantly ministered from the Lord our God unto you most excellent men, Pepin, Charles, and Carloman, three princes, and to the most holy bishops, abbots, presbyters, and all the religious monks, as well as to the dukes, counts, and people in France.
“I, Peter the Apostle, even as I have been called by Christ the Son of the Living God, after the counsel of clemency supernal, so I have through His power been preordained illuminator of the whole world by the express sanction of the Lord our God, to wit, ‘Go ye, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew, xxviii.); and again, ‘Receive ye the Holy Spirit, whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them’ (John, xxi.), and to me His poor servant and called an apostle, He severally did commit all His sheep, when He said: ‘Feed my sheep; feed my lambs,’ and again, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.’ (Matthew, xvi.)
“Wherefore, all who hearing my words (prœdicationem) shall fulfil the same, will assuredly believe that by divine appointment their sins are loosed in this world, and that they shall enter the life to come pure and immaculate. . . .
“Under no circumstances, most dearly beloved, think otherwise, but most assuredly believe that I myself, as if I were in the flesh, and stood alive in your presence before you, through this exhortation bind and oblige you by valid adjurations, because according to the promise given unto us by the same Lord God and our Redeemer, we hold you, even all the people of the Franks in peculiar favor and higher than all other nations. For which reason I Peter, the Apostle of God, protest, admonish and conjure spiritually (tanquam in œmigmate) and by this valid obligation, you, the Most Christian Kings, Pepin, Charles, and Carloman, with all the priests, bishops, abbots and presbyters, and all religious monks, as well as all judges, dukes, counts, and all the people of the kingdom of the Franks, even as if I were bodily in the flesh, and alive present before you, firmly to believe that the words of this exhortation are addressed to you, and that though I be bodily absent, I am spiritually present, even as it is written: ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, receiveth a prophet’s reward.’ (Matthew, x. 41.)
“Our Lady, also, the Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, with us adjures, protests, admonishes and commands you by most solemn obligations, she as well as the thrones and dominions, and all the hosts of heaven, together with all the martyrs and confessors of Christ, and all who in any way are pleasing to God, even all these unite in this our solemn exhortation, protestation, and adjuration.
“That you may tenderly grieve for this city of Rome, to us divinely committed, and for the flock of Christ there abiding, and for the Holy Church of God, to me commended by the Lord;
“That you will defend and deliver her without unnecessary delay from the persecuting hands of the Lombards;
“Lest, God forbid, my body which for the Lord did suffer cruel torments, and my house, where by divine appointment it is laid to rest, be by them defiled, and my peculiar people be yet more lacerated and massacred by the wicked race of the Lombards, infamous for flagrant perjury, and notorious for their transgressions of the Sacred Scriptures;
“Extend, then, by the aid of God and with all the power at your command, your mighty help to my people of Rome, your brethren, to me of God committed in this life, that I, Peter, called an apostle of God, may protect you in this life and in the day of judgment, preparing for you the most glorious mansions in the kingdom of heaven, and promising to you the richest prize of eternal reward, as well as the infinite delights of Paradise, if as quickly as you may be able you will hasten to the defence of this my city and own people of Rome, your brethren, from the hands of the wicked Lombards.
“Hasten, oh, hasten, I exhort and adjure you by the living and true God, hasten and assist us, before the living fountain of your spiritual life and renovation is dried up; before the residue of the glimmering spark of the burning flame from which your light has been drawn is wholly extinct; before your spiritual mother, the Holy Church of God, wherein you hope to find eternal life, is humbled, invaded, violated, and defiled by impious hands. . . .
“I adjure you, I adjure you, most dearly beloved, as aforesaid, by the living God, and without reserve protest, that ye will not in any, not the least wise allow this, my city of Rome and the people therein abiding, to be any longer lacerated by the race of the Lombards, lest your own bodies and souls be lacerated and tormented in everlasting and inextinguishable hell fire, with the devil and his pestilential angels, and the sheep of the Lord’s flock (to me by God committed), that is to say, the Roman people, to be any longer scattered.
“May the Lord not scatter and cast you forth, as He has scattered the people of Israel. . . .
“Behold, most dearly beloved sons, I have charged and admonished you, that if you obey speedily great will be your reward, and, by my suffrage, you shall in this life be crowned with victory over all your enemies, blessed with length of days, and filled with all the good things of earth, and made partakers of the bliss of eternal life in the world to come.
“If, however, as we do not believe, by reason of any delay or pretext whatsoever, you linger in giving effect to this our exhortation, that is to say, if you do not hasten to deliver this my city of Rome, and the people there abiding, as well as the Holy Apostolic Church (to me by the Lord committed), together with the Head (præsulem) of the same, know ye, by authority of the Holy and Sole Trinity, through the apostolic grace to me by Christ the Lord committed, that for such transgression of our exhortation you shall be alienated from the Kingdom of God, and from eternal life.
“But God and our Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed us with His precious blood, brought us to the light of the truth, and appointed us to be preachers and enlighteners of the whole world, grant you to know, understand, and provide all things necessary to your speedy arrival for the deliverance of this city of Rome, and of all the people, or the Holy Church of God (to me by the Lord committed), and of His infinite mercy, and by my suffrage, deign to enrich you with length of days, security, and victory in this life, and in the life to come multiply to you the blessings of His reward in the company of His saints and chosen. Fare ye well.”
The reader may well pause and take breath, after perusing so daring and impious a forgery. What shall we think of it? Stephen knew Pepin and his sons, as well as their councillors, and unless he had believed them capable of being influenced by such means, would hardly have hazarded so perilous and audacious an experiment. On the other hand, it seems incredible that Pepin and his court could be thus duped, and more probable that he acted from policy or resentment. But all speculation on the subject is idle, for the fact remains that he hastened, with a large army, to the relief of Stephen and the further punishment of Astolf.
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