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Book VIII
Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

by
Thomas Hodgkin


2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London
1896

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Book VIII
Chapter 4

Book VIII (continued)

Vol. VII
p41
Chapter III

Pippin of Heristal and Charles Martel

Sources: —

Continuer of Fredegarius. As previously1 stated, the original Burgundian chronicler, who goes under the name of Fredegarius, ended his chronicle with 642. The continuation of the work covers the period from that date to the death of King Pippin, 768, and the accession of Charles and Carloman. For the first eighty‑two years, however, it is little more than a transcript from the Liber Historiae Francorum. From 724 to 768, that is, for the greater part of the mayoralty of Charles Martel and the rule of Pippin and Carloman, it is an original and important authority. The history from the year 736 to 751 was written by the direction and from the information of Childebrand, uncle of Pippin,2 and that from 751 to 768 was similarly written by direction of his son Nibelung. Unlike the Burgundian 'Fredegarius,' these continuers of the history naturally take the Austrasian view of historical events, and write almost exclusively in the interest of the Arnulfing house. Their barbarous Latinity and utter lack of literary form indicate the low estate of learning in the time of Charles Martel and his sons.

Guides: —

'Die Zeit Karl Martells' by Theodor Breysig (Leipzig, 1869).

This book belongs (like Bonnell's 'Anfänge') to the valuable series of 'Jahrbücher der Deutschen Geschichte,' and is characterized by the same qualities of thoroughness and impartiality which belong to the rest of the series.

p42 Ascendancy of Ebroin, 656‑681. In the year 656, the same year which saw the death of Sigibert of Austrasia and the premature attempt of Grimwald to fill the vacant throne, Clovis II of Neustria died also. His sons, Merovingians of the usual imbecile type, were for the next thirty years the nominal rulers of the three Frankish kingdoms,3 at first under the regency of their mother, the sainted Balthildis, originally the slave of a Mayor of the Palace, afterwards wife of Clovis II. But the one figure which dominates the obscure and bloody history of the quarter of a century following the fall of Grimwald, is that of Ebroin, who was during the greater part of that time Mayor of the Palace in Neustria and Burgundy. He had more than one sharp struggle for power, especially with the turbulent Leodegarius, bishop of Autun, who figures in the ecclesiastical calendar as St. Leger; but from all these struggles, from the prison and the convent-cell, he emerged triumphant. A hard, cruel, and unscrupulous man he was, yet perhaps as good a ruler as the putrescent western Frankish kingdoms of that day deserved, and he did something to arrest the rapid process of disintegration which had set in.

Abortive attempt of Austrasian party under Pippin of Heristal, 678. Meanwhile in Austrasia a position somewhat similar to that of Ebroin had been held by a certain Mayor of the Palace named Wulfwald, who for eighteen years seems to have striven to uphold the royal power and the authority of the central government against the usurpations of the nobles. In 674, in order to avoid union with Neustria, the half-forgotten son of Sigibert  p43 was fetched from the Irish monastery to which, seventeen years before, Grimwald had banished him, and was raised to the Austrian throne under the title of Dagobert II. In five years, however, his troubled reign was at an end, and then it seemed inevitable that the Neustrian king,4 whose rule, as all men knew, meant simply the rule of the terrible Ebroin, must reign in Austrasia. To avert this danger, the nobles put an army in the field (678), and the leaders of that army were Pippin of Heristal and a confederate, possibly a kinsman named Martin. Battle was joined, probably in the neighbourhood of Laon, and the Austrasians were routed with terrible slaughter. Pippin escaped: Martin shut himself up in Laon, and was besieged there by Ebroin. He was summoned to surrender, and the messengers of Ebroin swore to him on certain boxes, which were believed to contain very holy relics of saints, that his life should be spared. Unfortunately for Martin the boxes when opened were found to be empty, and the tremendous oath could therefore be violated with impunity.5 He and his comrades were put to death, and Austrasia, like her sister kingdoms, came under the harsh rule of Ebroin.

Murder of Ebroin. Three years after this defeat of the Austrasians, Ebroin perished, a victim to private revenge. He was assassinated by a certain Frankish nobleman named Hermenfrid, whose property he had confiscated, and who, waiting by the door of his house in the grey of  p44 the morning, slew him as he was setting out for mass.6 The thought that he had thus been sent out of life 'unhousel'd, unannealed,' gave a keener edge to the joy of the avenger.

Neustrian Revolutions. The murderer of Ebroin fled to Pippin for refuge, and the successor of Ebroin in the Mayoralty of the Palace, who was named Waratto, made a treaty of peace, exchanging hostages with the same Austrasian chief, whose fortunes were evidently now beginning to recover from the effects of the great disaster of Laon. Moreover, there were dissensions in the family of Waratto. These Neustrian mayors lacked that instinct of family cohesion which was so strong in the early generations of the Arnulfings. Waratto's son Ghislemar, apparently an able but shifty person, intrigued against his father and thrust him out of the Major-domat (683). He carried on the perpetual feud of Neustria against Austrasia, fighting a hard battle against Pippin at Namur, and probably defeating him, for we are told that 'after swearing a false oath, he slew very many of the noble followers of Pippin.' Returning to his home, however, 'he was struck by the hand of God, and, as he deserved, yielded up his most wicked spirit' (684). Waratto hereupon recovered his dignity of Mayor of the Palace, which he held for two years, years of peace between him and the Austrasian chief.7

Battle of Textri. On the death of Waratto in 686, he was succeeded in the office of Major Domus by his son-in‑law Berchar,  p45 a man whose small stature and pitiable self-conceit earned for him the contempt of the Neustrian nobles. In the war which almost as a matter of course was waged between Neustria and Austrasia, the disaffection of the Neustrian nobility led to a momentous result. The armies met at Textri in Picardy (687). The puppet king Theodoric III was there as well as his insignificant Major Domus, but the best men in Neustria seem to have been in the opposite camp, and Pippin won a decisive victory. Berchar escaped from the field of battle, but only to die at home by the weapon of an assassin, instigated, it was said, by his mother-in‑law Ausfled. Pippin obtained possession of the person of the Merovingian king and of the royal hoard, arranged all things in the palace according to his good will and pleasure, and returned into Austrasia, now practically the unquestioned lord of all the three kingdoms.

The year 687, the date of the battle of Textri, is one of three, which are the most noteworthy steps in the ascent of the Arnulfing house to the headship of Western Europe.8 The dreary and chaotic period of miscellaneous mayoralties is over. From henceforward, with one very slight break, the supremacy of the great Austrasian family is unquestioned and incontestable.

Mayoralty of Pippin of Heristal. Of the twenty-seven years (687‑714) during which Pippin of Heristal was the virtual sovereign of France, we have very meagre accounts in the chronicles. Fainéant Merovingian kings, Theodoric III and his  p46 sons, come and go, but history refuses to take account of them save to notice that though they still receive the flattering titles 'renowned' and 'glorious,' they are actually spoken of as subject to their nominal servant the Mayor of the Palace.9 Ratbod the Frisian. The principal figure of this period, after Pippin's, seems to be that of Ratbod, chief or king of the Frisians, who remained obdurate in his Paganism, and with whom Pippin had more than one sharp encounter, and whom he at last decisively defeated at Durestede near Utrecht. We are somewhat surprised to find a daughter of this 'Gentile' chief given in marriage to Pippin's son Grimwald, but we may conjecture that she was received into the Christian Church before the espousals, and that the marriage was a pledge of the alliance between Pippin and the Frisians for the last twenty years of his Major-domat.

Pippin in Swabia. We hear of Pippin also as invading the country of the Alamanni, that is to say, the region afterwards known as Swabia. From this and other slight indications, we may infer that while ruling Neustria and Burgundy by the means either of a faithful adherent or of a son holding the office of Major Domus in those kingdoms, his own work was chiefly Austrasian, and consisted in re‑establishing the Frankish power in those lands east of the Rhine which, under the rule of  p47 the effete Merovingians, had been gradually dropping off from the monarchy.

Death of the two legitimate sons of Pippin. The last years of Pippin of Heristal were clouded by family bereavement. By his wife Plectrude, who is spoken of as a 'noble and very prudent woman,' but who seems to have been ambitious and perhaps somewhat intriguing, he had two sons, Drogo and Grimwald. In the year 708, Drogo died of fever and was laid in the basilica of his sainted ancestor Arnulf at Metz. In 714 the second son Grimwald, whom we have just met with as son-in‑law of the Frisian chief, and who was already Major Domus of Neustria, was on his way to visit his father who was lying sick at Jupille on the Meuse in the neighbourhood of Liège. Turning to pray at the basilica of St. Lambert in Liège,10 he was waylaid and slain by 'a certain most cruel man, a son of Belial, the heathen Rantgar.' The mention of the heathenism of Rantgar suggests the conjecture that he was a Frisian, and that the cause of quarrel may have been connected with Grimwald's marriage with the daughter of Ratbod.

Grimwald left one son, Theudwald, the offspring not of his marriage with the Frisian princess, but of a connection unblessed by the church. This boy11 appears to have been at once promoted to his father's Neustrian mayoralty, Death of Pippin, 16 Dec. 714.
Theudwald, his grandson, Mayor of the Palace under his grandmother Plectrude.
and on the death of his grandfather Pippin, which happened soon after (hastened very probably by the tragedy of Grimwald's murder),  p48 he was recognised as the heir to all his greatness. Of course the nominal rule of such a child implied a regency, and that regency was also of course wielded by the ambitious widow of Pippin. As the chronicler, who is somewhat an admirer of the new regent, tells us, 'Plectrude with her grandsons and the king governed all things with discreet rule.'12 The use of the word 'grandsons' in the plural probably points to the association in the government of a son of the deceased Drogo, named Hugo, who was at this time about eighteen years of age,13 but who had already entered the Church, and afterwards rose to be abbot of St. Wandril and archbishop of Rouen.

Absurdity of the position. The position of affairs, as indicated by the chronicler, was certainly a sufficiently absurd one. Here was this nominal king Dagobert III, now fifteen years of age. His Mayor of the Palace, that is, his confidential adviser and practical man of affairs, was a little child of perhaps six years old: but that child again was advised, and of course absolutely governed, by his grandmother, a 'very prudent' but not very popular person, and a young clerical cousin who was mounting the ladder of ecclesiastical preferment.

Pippin's illegitimate son Charles Martel. What made the situation more preposterous was that there was already in the Arnulfing house a man of full age, a son of the just deceased statesman, one in every way admirably qualified to hold the reins of power, and kept in the background only by a beldame's jealousy. This was Charles, ever after to be known as Charles Martel, son of Pippin of Heristal and Alpaida.  p49 Whether Alpaida were wife or concubine cannot be safely said, but as she was living at the same time as Plectrude, and as her son was younger than the sons of her rival, the legitimacy of Charles can only be maintained by resorting to an elaborate theory of divorces and remarriages for which there does not seem to be any warrant in the authorities. The Arnulfings, though not as outrageously profligate as the Merovingians, were notoriously lax in their marriage relations, which with them tended to assume the character of polygamy, and legitimacy or illegitimacy was not a matter of supreme importance.

The origin of the name Charles, which has since figured so prominently in the royal houses, not of France and Germany alone, but also of Spain, England, Sweden, and Naples, is thus told by an old Saga.14 At the time of his birth a messenger was sent to inform the child's father. Bursting into the presence of the great Austrasian, he found him sitting with Plectrude by his side; and, perhaps overawed by the presence of the rival princess, the messenger stammered out, 'Long live the king!15 It is a Karl,' using a colloquial term for a boy.16 'And a good name too,' laughed the delighted if somewhat embarrassed father. 'Let him be called Karl.'

Civil War, 715‑716. Fearing the obvious danger to her rule which existed in the person of this hated step‑son, Plectrude immediately on her husband's death shut up Charles in  p50 prison. Then burst forth a storm which very nearly shattered the Frankish monarchy. The Neustrians, who had no mind to accept the rule of a baby Mayor of the Palace from the hated Austrasians, proclaimed one of their own countrymen, Raginfrid, Mayor, and declared war upon Plectrude and her grandson. In a battle which was fought in the Cotian forest (near Compiègne), the Austrasians were utterly defeated, the boy‑mayor Theudwald fled from the field, and apparently the Merovingian king Dagobert III fell into the hands of Raginfrid (715). On Dagobert's death shortly after, a certain priest of Merovingian extraction named Daniel was fetched out of the church and proclaimed king under the title of Chilperic II. Here at last was a Merovingian king of full age, for this Daniel was a man of between forty and fifty; and when the long locks began to grow where the clerical tonsure had been, he was probably able to play the part with more dignity than the boy‑kings his predecessors. He even seems to have entered with some energy into the struggle with the Austrasian house, but in that struggle, however necessary it may have seemed for the preservation of Merovingian kingship, the far more important interests of the great Frankish monarchy which Pippin of Heristal had so assiduously promoted were like to have been utterly ruined. The Neustrian king and his Mayor joined hands with the old heathen Ratbod king of the Frisians, pressed on to the Meuse, besieged Plectrude in Cologne, and at last having received from the dismayed dowager a large part of the treasure accumulated by her husband, marched back into their own land (716).

 p51  Charles Martel escapes from prison. The one favourable symptom in this perilous conjuncture of affairs was, that in the confusion caused by the civil war, Charles Martel had escaped from his step-mother's keeping. Gradually the loyal followers, the leudes of his father, gathered round him. Defeated at first with great loss by Frisian Ratbod, and unsuccessful in his war against the Neustrians, he still held on his way, and now, falling on the triumphant invaders at a place called Amblava, he inflicted upon them a severe defeat and carried back the paternal treasure to Cologne. A still more crushing defeat which Chilperic and Raginfrid sustained next year (717) at Vincy near Cambrai was the crisis of Charles's fortunes. He visited Paris as a conqueror, and when he returned to Cologne Plectrude handed over to him the remaining treasures of his father and retired into obscurity. His nephew Theudwald appears to have taken orders as an ecclesiastic and to have died not many years after. Charles Martel supreme in Austrasia. Charles was now the admitted head of the Arnulfing house, the acknowledged Mayor of the Palace for Austrasia: and though the civil war with Neustria still lingered, chiefly owing to the powerful aid which Raginfrid received from Eudo, the virtually independent duke of Aquitaine, it was ended in 720 by a convenient compromise. Along with the Neustrian treasure Chilperic II was handed over to Charles, whose own puppet-king had just died, and who could therefore easily admit him to the vacant dignity. Raginfrid, whose opposition was obstinate and protracted, does not seem to have been finally subdued till 725, when he was allowed to retain the position of Count of Angers.17

 p52  Thus after our review of two centuries of Frankish history we have come down to the accession to power of the hero whose period of rule, as before stated,18 almost exactly coincided with that of the last great Lombard king, Liutprand.

Charles Martel and the Moors. The one event of world-historical importance in Charles Martel's leadership of the Franks was his victory over the Mussulman invaders of Gaul in the year 732. In 711 the Moors (as the Saracen conquerors were called owing to their having entered Europe from Mauretania) had crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and had in one battle overthrown the effete, priest-ridden monarchy of the Visigoths. Five years afterwards they entered Gaul: four years after that (720) they took Narbonne and made the old Gothic province of Septimania their own. Eudo of Aquitaine, who had just made his peace with Charles Martel, compelled them in that year to retreat from the unconquered city of Toulouse, and that ineffectual siege may be considered as the first sign of the reflux of the wave of Saracen invasion. But five years later (725) the Moors had actually penetrated as far as Autun in Burgundy. How little most students of modern history grasp the fact that the standard of the Crescent once floated within a hundred miles of the Lake of Geneva! During these years the opposition of Eudo to the Moorish advance was intermitted, and from the champion of Christianity he seemed in danger of  p53 becoming its betrayer. They were on his part years of revolt against Frankish supremacy, and of alliance, even matrimonial alliance, with the Mussulman, for Eudo's daughter Lampegia was given in marriage to a Berber chief named Munuza. In 731 there was war in earnest between Charles Martel and Eudo of Aquitaine. The Austrasian twice crossed the Loire, defeated Eudo, and returned home each time with great booty.

Moorish invasion of Aquitaine, 732. But in 732 these relations were suddenly changed. Eudo's son-in‑law the Berber chief had been put to death by the lawful Moorish governor of Spain, and now that governor, Abderrahman, crossed the Pyrenees with a mighty army, intent on punishing Eudo, but doubtless also intent on adding Gaul as well as Spain to the countries which professed the faith of Mohammed. Laying waste the land and burning the churches, the Saracens reached the Garonne and laid siege to Bordeaux. Eudo, striving to deliver the city, was defeated with terrible loss and fled to his late enemy Charles, imploring his succour. The invaders pressed on by the great Roman road which led northward from the Garonne to the Loire.19 They reached Poictiers, where they burned the church of St. Hilary: they were threatening the yet more venerated sanctuary of St. Martin at Tours. But Count Eudo had not reckoned in vain on the statesmanlike generosity of Charles Martel, who, forgetful of all the recent causes of quarrel between Austrasia and Aquitaine, determined at any cost to repel the onslaught of the Islamites. Having collected a large army, in which probably Frisians, Saxons and Alamanni served as well as Franks, he moved rapidly across the Loire and took up a strong  p54 position near the town of Old Poictiers between the rivers Elain and Vienne, barring the road to Tours.20

Battle of Poictiers. A terrible battle followed. The fervour of the sons of the desert, who perchance like the first warriors of Islam deemed that they already saw the flashing eyes of the houris waiting to receive them into Paradise, was met, was chilled, was broken by the stolid courage of the soldiers from Rhineland, who stood, says the historian, rigid and immovable as a wall of ice. Yet from that icy wall flashed forth countless swords wielded by strong arms and held as in the grasp of iron hands; and under their strokes Abderrahman himself and thousands of his bravest warriors fell prostrate.21 Grievous however were also the losses of the Frankish army, but with stout hearts they nerved themselves for the expected contest of the morrow. But when the morrow dawned the long rows of the tents of the Saracens were seen to be strangely solitary and unpeopled. The Franks feared a snare and an ambuscade,  p55 but gradually their scouts venturing into the hostile lines brought back word that the camp was indeed deserted, that there was an abundance of spoil in the tents, that the enemy, disheartened by the terrible slaughter of the previous day, had fled under cover of the night. The scene which followed must have been like that described by the Jewish historian after the flight of the Syrian host.22 The Austrasian soldiers peaceably divided among themselves the immense spoil of the Saracens, and returned with joy to their own land, where doubtless many barbarian fingers handled and barbarian eyes appraised with wonder the tissues woven in the looms of Damascus and the cunning work of the goldsmiths of Seville.

Thus was the great blow struck, and Europe, at least Europe north of the Pyrenees, was freed from the nightmare of Mussulman invasion. Charles Martel was hailed as the great deliverer of Christendom, and popular report, which 'lied like a bulletin,' so magnified his victory that barely half a century after the event an honest and sober historian like Paulus Diaconus could write, and could expect his readers to believe, that the Franks slew 375,000 Saracens, with a loss of only 1,500 of their own countrymen.23

Later operations against the Saracens, 737‑738. Three years after this great victory Count Eudo died (735), and a Frankish invasion of Aquitaine seems to have been necessary in order to reduce his son  p56 Hunold to the same degree of dependence on the central monarchy in which Eudo had acquiesced since the day of his great deliverance. Two years later (737) there was again war between the Saracens and Charles, but not apparently on the vast scale of the earlier campaign. The invaders were aided by disunion or treachery among the Christians. A certain duke Maurontus, in league with other rebel nobles of Provence who probably resented the pretensions of the Austrasian Mayor to rule their southern land, conspired with the Saracens of Septimania and enabled them to possess themselves of the strong city of Avignon as well as of the more exposed city of Arles. Charles, who was now growing old, and who was besides always more or less engaged in hostile operations against the Frisians and Saxons on his northern border, sent his brother, or half-brother, 'an industrious man, Childebrand,' with a large army and many dukes and counts under him to recover the lost territory. Our interest in this industrious kinsman or offshoot of the great Austrasian house is increased when we find that it is to him and his son Nibelung that we owe the order for the composition of those chronicles (the Continuation of Fredegarius) from which almost all our slender knowledge of the history of this period is derived.24 Avignon was blockaded: Charles himself appeared upon the scene: there were the sounding of trumpets and the shouting of  p57 warriors 'as at Jericho,' but there were also engines of war and ropes and cords before which ere long the defence fell powerless. The Franks streamed in at the breach, slaying and burning, and Avignon was recovered from the infidels.25

From Avignon Charles pressed on across the Rhone, defeated the Saracens in a great battle near the sea‑coast south of Narbonne, and slew their leader Omar, but failed to take Narbonne itself, though he took Nîmes and Agde and demolished their walls. Through the meagre sentences of the chronicler we seem dimly to discern that, as already hinted, there was something more in this campaign than the opposition between Christian and Moslem, that the Romanised and meridional children of Provence resented the domination of the rough Teutonic warriors from Rhine-land, and were even willing to join hands with the Saracens in order to break the Austrasian yoke from off their necks.

It was apparently at the time of this Saracen invasion that Charles Martel asked for and obtained that help from his brother-in‑law Liutprand king of the Lombards which has been described in a previous volume.26

Next year Charles again sent Childebrand to Provence  p58 to complete the work of subjugation, and again followed in his kinsman's footsteps. Though Narbonne was not taken and Septimania remained Saracen, all Provence was apparently won back and firmly united to the Frankish monarchy. The traitor Maurontus escaped 'by safest ways over inaccessible rocks,' doubtless, that is to say, by the narrow gorges and snow-blocked passes of the Maritime Alps.

Last years of Charles Martel. Charles Martel was now sole ruler of the great Frankish monarchy, for on the death of the fainéant king Theodoric IV in 737 he had not thought it necessary to put another puppet in his place. On his return from this last expedition to Provence (in 738) to his villa at Verimbria near Compiègne he began to sicken, and for the remaining three years of his life he was in feeble health. While he was in this condition came those two embassies which have been already described, from Pope Gregory III beseeching his assistance against the Lombard kings Liutprand and Hildeprand. They returned ineffectual, though they brought to the great Mayor, besides many other precious gifts, the chains of St. Peter, the keys of his sepulchre, and the honour (which it was not for the Pope to bestow) of a Roman consulship.27 But Charles, besides the  p59 natural dissuasions of enfeebled health and approaching old age, had no inclination to engage for the Pope's sake in a war with a kinsman, an ally, and the knightly godfather of his son Pippin.28 Any warlike deeds that had to be done in the few remaining years of his supremacy were done by his sons. He tarried peaceably at home, gave great gifts to the church of St. Denis at Paris in which his bones were to be laid, and then departing to his favourite villa29 of Cariciacum (now Quierzy-sur‑Oise) he was there seized with a fever of which His death, 741. he died on the 22nd of October, 741.

Character of his rule. In his reign (for such we may truly call his mayoralty) of nearly twenty-five years, Charles had accomplished great things. With many a warlike blow, corresponding to his surname the Hammer, he had welded the once-discordant kingdoms, Neustria, Austrasia, and Burgundy, into unity. He had done something towards the more difficult work of forcing Aquitaine to renounce its semi-independence and become a loyal member of the Frankish monarchy. In the north and in the south he had shown himself a valorous champion of the Christian Church militant, since not only had he repelled the Mussulman invasions of Gaul, but by his perpetual and in the main successful wars with the Frisians he had made possible those missionary expeditions by which our countryman Wynfrith, better known as Boniface, chastised the heathen, destroyed their idols, and with energy of arm as well as of tongue made  p60 Christianity triumphant along the whole course of the Rhine.

His relation to the Church. But all these valiant deeds on behalf of the Church availed not to save the memory of Charles Martel from the ecclesiastical ban to which he alone of all the early descendants of St. Arnulf is obnoxious. The ancestors of Charles in their upward struggle towards the supreme power had uniformly leant upon the arm of the church: but that Church in the disorganisation of the later Merovingian monarchy had grown so rich and so headstrong that probably any wise and statesmanlike ruler was bound to come into collision with its hierarchs. That Charles's acts in derogation of its power were all wise and statesmanlike it would be rash to assert. He was a great military chieftain, with a number of hungry followers to provide for. Not only the consolidation of his own power in Neustria and Austrasia, but his border wars with Frisians and Saxons, his tremendous struggle with the Saracens, all had to be carried on by the help of generals and officers versed in the arts of war, who assuredly were not backward in urging their claims to tangible rewards. But the great Crown lands, out of which in earlier days a Merovingian king might have appeased his hungry followers, were, there is reason to think, in large measure by this time alienated to ecclesiastical purposes. It is probable that a large part of the land of Gaul was now held of the Church under the name of beneficia by tenants who were bound to make a certain yearly payment to their ecclesiastical lords. What Charles Martel appears to have done in the difficult circumstances in which he found himself, was not indeed to order a general confiscation of Church property — of that he seems to be  p61 unjustly accused — but in many cases to use the right of resumption of grants which at least theoretically resided in the Crown, in order to take away lands from a bishopric here or a monastery there, and bestow them on some stout warrior whom he was sending as Count to rule a distant province or to fight the Frisian or the Saracen. In many such cases the actual occupation of the soil would not be changed, but the holder of the beneficium would be ordered to pay his rent (as we should call it) not to the Churchman but to the Count.

Of course these acts of spoliation, however necessary they may have been for the salvation of the state, were resented by the ecclesiastics at whose expense they were performed. A proceeding which looked less violent but which was really far more perilous to the best life of the Church, was the bestowal on Charles's own henchmen — mere warriors without any pretence to the religious character — of the prelacies and abbacies which were endowed for a very different purpose. Nor did he confine himself to bestowing one only at a time upon his favours. The pluralist abuse now also crept into the church. His follower Milo ('who was a clergyman only by his tonsure') received the headship of the convents of Trier and Rheims; and his nephew Hugo was actually crowned with the three mitres of Paris, Rouen, and Bayeux, and was at the same time abbot of Fontenelle and Jumièges.30

Such a high-handed policy towards the Church was certain to excite the anger of the ecclesiastics who had it in their power to bless or to curse, in this world at  p62 any rate, if not in the next. Possibly also Charles's refusal to aid the Pope against the Lombards may have added an article to the indictment against him. In the next century, Archbishop Hincmar, writing the life of St. Eucherius, bishop of Orleans, related that the saint, being one day engaged in prayer, was allowed to have a beatific vision of the other world, in the course of which by the gift of the Lord he was permitted to see Charles tormented in the lowest hell. Enquiring the cause of this punishment, Eucherius was told by an angel that in Charles's case the judgment of the last day was anticipated, and that he had to suffer the punishment not only of his own sins but of the sins of all those who had devised lands and houses for the support of the servants of Christ and for lighting candles in the churches, but whose pious intentions had been frustrated by his confiscations. On recovering consciousness the saint called to him St. Boniface and Fulrad abbot of St. Denis and bade them go to the church and open Charles's tomb. If they found that empty they would surely then believe that he had seen a true vision. They went; they opened the vault; a dragon issued forth, and all the interior of the vault was black and charred with fire. 'This is written,' says the chronicler, 'that all who read it may take note of the righteous damnation of him by whom the property of the Church has been unjustly taken away.'31

So wrote Hincmar about the middle of the ninth century. The story is hard to believe, since the bishop Eucherius died three years before Charles Martel.


The Author's Notes:

1 See vol. VI p149.

2 Probably a son of Alpaida and half-brother of Charles Martel (see Hahn, Jahrbuch des Fränkischen Reichs, 741‑752, p6).

3 Chlotochar III, 656‑670; Childeric II, 660‑673; Theodoric III, 673‑691; their cousin Dagobert II, son of Sigibert II, king of Austrasia, 674‑678.

4 Theodoric III.

5 This trick was therefore (as Dahn points out) just the opposite of that alleged to have been played on Harold by William the Norman. There the relics were more venerable than Harold supposed: here the pretended relics were no relics at all.

6 This detail is given in the second life of St. Leodegarius.

7 It is just in these years (685) that the Annales Mettenses insert the murder of Ansegisel by Gunduin, an almost impossible combination of events. The Annales Mettenses are a very untrustworthy authority, and if the event itself be not rejected, at any rate we must reject the date assigned to it.

8 The other two are 751, the coronation of the younger Pippin as king of the Franks, and 800, the coronation of Charles as Emperor of Rome.

9 'Pippinus obtinuit regnum Francorum . . . cum regibus sibi subiectis Hluduwigo, Hildeberto et Dagoberto' (Annales Laurissenses Minores). But 'Childebertus . . . vir inclytus in regno statutus est. Tunc enim bonae memoriae gloriosus domnus Childebertus rex iustus migravit ad Dominum' (Liber Hist. Francorum, 49, 50). Possibly Childebert was slightly less of a shadow than his father and brothers.

10 Leudico (Liber Historiae Francorum, c. 50).

11 He is called 'filius parvulus' and 'infantulus' by the continuer of 'Fredegarius.' The Liber Historiae Francorum makes his birth contemporary with the death of his uncle Drogo (708). Bonnell (p130) guesses him to have been a man of 25: surely an unwarranted deviation from the authorities.

12 'Plectrudis quoque cum nepotibus suis vel rege cuncta gubernabat sub discreto regimine' (Lib. Hist. Franc. c. 51).

13 His parents Drogo and Adaltrud were married before 697 (see Dahn, Urgeschichte, III.714, 746).

14 Quoted by Breysig (p8) from a medieval work by Jordanus of Osnabrück edited by Waitz.

15 Pippin of course was not king, but only Major Domus. This is perhaps a proof of the late origin of the Saga: but it may not be a conventional compliment to Merovingian royalty?

16 Karl = German Kerl: whence English churl.

17 Paulus Diaconus (Hist. Lang. VI.42) says, 'Cui [Raginfrido] unam hoc est Andegavensem civitatem ad habitandum concessit'; and Annales Mettenses (s. a. 725), 'Karolus Raginfridum in civitate Andegavis inclusit, filiumque ejus obsidem ducens ipsum comitatum sibi quamdiu vixit solitâ pietate habere concessit.'

18 Vol. VI p422.

19 This is well put by Dahn, Urgeschichte, III.792.

20 The site of the great battle of 732 is carefully discussed by Dahn (l.c.), following in some measure St. Hypolite (in the Spectateur Militaire, 1843), and is by him fixed as above. A little confusion has arisen from some of the authorities speaking of Abderrahman's march towards Tours, which he undoubtedly intended to capture; and hence the battle is sometimes called the battle of Tours; but it seems equally clear that he never reached that place, and that the battle was fought, as above stated, at Old Poictiers.

21 I paraphrase here the enthusiastic description of 'Isidorus Pacensis,' a writer as to whose personality there is some dispute, but who appears to be undoubtedly contemporary: 'Gentes septentrionales in ictu oculi ut paries immobiles permanentes sicut et zona rigoris glacialiter manent adstricti Arabes gladio enecant. Sed ubi gens Austriae mole membrorum praevalida et ferreâ manu perardua pectorabiliter ferientes regem inventum exanimant,' &c.

22 2 Kings vii.15.

23 'Carolus siquidem cum Eudone Aquitaniae principe tunc discordiam habebat. Qui tamen in unum se conjungentes contra eosdem Sarracenos pari consilio dimicarunt. Nam inruentes Franci super eos, trecenta septuaginta quinque millia Sarracenorum interemerunt: ex Francorum vero parte mille et quingenti tantum ibi ceciderunt' (Hist. Lang. VI.46).

24 Cont. Fredegarii, § 34: 'Usque nunc inluster vir Childebrandus comes avunculus praedicto rege Pippino hanc historiam vel gesta Francorum diligentissime scribere procuravit. Abhinc ab inlustre viro Nibelungo, filium ipsius Childebrando, itemque comite, succedat auctoritas.' (The grammar of these chroniclers as usual is slightly imperfect.)

25 'In modum Hiericho cum strepitu hostium et sonitum tubarum cum machinis et restium funibus super muros et edium moenia inruunt, urbem munitissimam ingredientes succendunt, hostes inimicos suorum capiunt, interficientes trucidant atque prosternent [sic] et in sua dicione efficaciter restituunt' (Fred. Cont. § 20).

26 See vol. VI p475. Paulus alone mentions this Lombard intervention, as to which the Continuer of Fredegarius is silent: 'Tunc Carolus legatos cum muneribus ad Liutprandum regem mittens, ab eo contra Sarracenos auxilium poposcit; qui nihil moratus cum omni Langobardorum exercitus in ejus adjutorium properavit' (Hist. Lang. VI.54).

27 This is apparently the meaning of the enigmatic words of the Continuer of Fredegarius: 'Eo etenim tempore bis a Româ sede sancti Petri apostoli beatus papa Gregorius claves venerandi sepulchri cum vincula sancti Petri et muneribus magnis et infinitis legationem, quod antea nullis auditis aut visis temporibus fuit, memorato principi destinavit, eo pacto patrato ut a partibus imperatoris recederet et Romano consulto praefato principe Carlo sanciret' (l.c. 22). Apparently Romano consultoRomanum consulatum. The chronicler speaks as if it was the Pope's chief object to detach Charles Martel from the Iconoclastic Emperor, but the letters in the Codex Carolinus speak only of the wickedness of the Lombards.

28 See vol. VI p474.

29 I use the word 'villa' of course in its Roman and medieval sense, signifying a great domain with houses for the lord and his domestic servants in the middle of it.

30 In this paragraph I endeavour to condense the statements on the subject which I find in Waitz's Verfassungs-Geschichte, III.12‑18.

31 Annales Fuldenses (here interpolated), A.D. 738 (Pertz's Monumenta Germaniae Historica, I.345).


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