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Chapter 5

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

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.
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Chapter 7

Book VIII (continued)

Vol. VII
Chapter VI

The Anointing of Pippin

Sources: —

Hahn's 'Jahrbücher des Fränkischen Reichs,' 741‑752.

Pippin sole Mayor, 747‑751. On the abdication of Carloman the stream of events in the Frankish state flowed on for a few years with little change. If there was any thought of Carloman's sons succeeding to their father's inheritance, such thought was soon abandoned. Pippin is seen both in Austrasia and Neustria ruling with unquestioned power, nor do we hear any hint of his being a regent on behalf of his nephews.1 Grifo's liberation from prison and rebellion. The first act of his sole mayoralty was to release his half-brother Grifo from the captivity in which Carloman had kept him for six years. It proved to be an ill‑judged act of mercy, for Grifo, embittered no doubt by his long imprisonment, still refused to acquiesce in his exclusion from sovereign power. It was true that Pippin gave him an honourable seat in his palace, with countships and large revenues.2 These failed however to soothe his angry spirit. He gathered many of the nobles to his banner, but, unable  p121 apparently to conquer any strongholds within the Frankish realm, he fled from the land, and accompanied by a band of young noblemen he sought the country of the Saxons and the tribe of the Nordo-Squavi. These men were possibly descendants of those Swabians whose settlement in the country of the Saxons and wars with their predecessors returning from the conquest of Italy have been described in a previous volume.3 Pippin with his army pursued his brother into the Saxon territory. The two hosts encamped not far from the river Ocher in the duchy of Brunswick, but parted without a battle, the Saxons having apparently feared to trust the fortune of war against an adversary of superior strength. Grifo fled to Bavaria, the country of his mother Swanahild, where the opportune death of his cousin and brother-in‑law, duke Otilo, seemed to open a convenient field for his ambitious designs. He was at first successful. His sister Hiltrudis and her child, the little duke Tassilo, fell into his hands. For a short time Grifo, who received help both from Bavaria and from Alamannic rebels against the Frankish supremacy, succeeded in establishing himself at Ratisbon, but soon had to meet the irresistible Frankish army. The Bavarian rebels retreated to the further bank of the Inn; Pippin prepared to cross it with his ships, and the Bavarians, affrighted, renounced the combat. Grifo was taken prisoner and was carried back into Frank-land. His long-suffering brother gave him the lordship of twelve Neustrian counties, with Le Mans for his capital; but all was in vain to win back that rebellious soul.  p122 In Aquitaine, in Italy, wherever there was an enemy of Pippin, there was Grifo's friend. We will anticipate the course of events by five years in order to end the story of this often-pardoned Pretender. In 753, when a storm was already brewing between Pippin and the Lombard king, Grifo essayed to pass over Mont Cenis into Italy to join his brother's foes. He was stopped at S. Jean de Maurienne by two noblemen loyal to Pippin, Theudo, count of Vienne, and Frederic, count of Transjurane Burgundy. The skirmish which followed seems to have been a desperate one; for all three leaders, both Grifo and the Burgundian counts, were slain. 'Whose death, though he was a traitor to his country, was a cause of grief to Pippin.'4

Letter of St. Boniface. In these central years of the eighth century, where the annals give us such scanty historical details, our fullest source of information as to the thoughts which were passing through the minds of the leaders of the people is furnished by the copious correspondence of the Saxon apostle Boniface. His letters to Pope Zacharias and that Pope's answers are especially interesting, and give us on the whole a favourable impression of the character of both men. They are no doubt, as have already seen in the case of Aldebert and Clemens,5 too anxious to use the power of the state for the suppression of what they deem to be heresy, and they may have been too confident in the correctness of their own faculty of distinguishing between divinely inspired truth and dangerous error. For instance, the theory advanced by Virgil, bishop of  p123 Salzburg,6 that there is another world beneath our feet, with inhabitants of its own and lighted by its own sun and moon, does not appear to us such a wicked, atheistic and soul-destroying doctrine as it appeared to Zacharias and Boniface.7 But in the main, the energies of Pope and Archbishop were directed in the right channel. They laboured together for the eradication of the superstitious, sometimes impure or cruel practices of Teutonic heathendom, for the maintenance of the sanctity of the Christian family, for the restoration of discipline and the elevation of the standard of morals among the nominally Christian Franks of Western Gaul. Throughout this period we are impressed by the moral superiority of both the Saxons and the Germans to the Gallo-Roman inhabitants of Neustria and Burgundy. The 'transmarine Saxons' (as our countrymen are called) and the dwellers by the Rhine and in Thuringia remained much longer stiff and stubborn in their idolatry than the Burgundians or the Salian Franks, but when they did embrace Christianity they submitted to its moral restrains more loyally and aspired after holiness of life more ardently than the inhabitants of those western regions into whose life there had entered not only the softness but something also of the corruptness  p124 of the old Roman civilisation. It is true that this very same quality of whole-heartedness, as has been already pointed out, made the newly-converted nations much more enthusiastic champions than their Neustrian neighbours of the spiritual autocracy of Rome. The Anglo-Saxon missionary and his German disciples are the Ultramontanes of the eighth century, while even in the indiscipline of the Neustrian ecclesiastics we seem to perceive the germ of the famous Gallican liberties of a later age.

Shall Boniface 'be all things to all men'? One of the perplexities which pressed most heavily on the conscience of Boniface, and on which he sought the advice both of the Pope and of his brother bishops in England, was the doubt how far he could without sacrifice of his principles exchange the ordinary courtesies of social life with the demoralised and (as he deemed them) heretical prelates of the Frankish court. 'I swore,' he says, 'on the body of St. Peter to the venerable Pope Gregory II, when he sent me forth to preach the word of faith to the German nations, that I would help all true and regularly ordained bishops and presbyters in word and deed, and would abstain from the communion of false priests, hypocrites, and seducers of the people if I could not bring them back into the way of salvation. Now such men as these last do I find, when on account of the Church's necessities I visit the court of the prince of the Franks.8 I cannot avoid such visits, for without the patronage of that prince I can neither govern the Church itself, nor defend the presbyters and clergy, the monks and handmaidens of God; nor can I without his mandate and  p125 the terror of his name prohibit the rites of the pagans and the sacrilegious worship of idols which prevail in Germany. This being so, though I do not join with these men in the Holy Communion, and though I feel that I have in spirit fulfilled my vow, since my soul has not entered into their counsel, yet I have not been able to abstain from bodily contact with them. Thus on the other side I am pressed by the obligations of my oath, and on the other by the thought of the loss which will be sustained by my people if I should not visit the prince of the Franks.'9

In answer to this case of conscience the bishop of Winchester reminded Boniface of the words of St. Paul, 'for then must we needs go out of the world'; and with Zacharias assured him that for his conversations with these men, if he was not a sharer in their iniquity, he incurred no blame in the sight of God. If they hearkened to his voice and obeyed his preaching they would be saved, but if they continued in their sin they would perish, while he himself, according to the words of the prophet Ezekiel,10 would have delivered his own soul.

Milo, Archbishop of Rheims and of Trier. We obtain a glimpse of the kind of men, ecclesiastical courtiers of Pippin, with whom the zealous Boniface shrank from holding communion, when we read the story of Milo, archbishop of Rheims and of Trier. Son and nephew of bishops, but of bishops who had held also the dignities of duke and of count, and himself brother of a count, this man was an  p126 eminent example of that tendency to make the high places of the Church hereditary and to bestow them on members of the nobility, which was also noticeable in the Gaul of Sidonius and of Gregory of Tours. As a soldier he had shared the campaigns of Charles Martel, who, in jovial mood probably, tossed to his battle-comrade the mitre of Rheims. 'An ecclesiastic only in the tonsure' as the scandalised chronicler described him, he soon laid violent hands on the adjacent diocese of Trier. Both provinces seem to have groaned under his yoke, but we are specially told of the diocese of Rheims that he left many of the suffragan bishoprics vacant, handed over the episcopal residences to laymen, and turned the regions under his sway into a sort of ecclesiastical No‑man's-land into which flocked all the 'criminous clerks' who fled from the jurisdiction of their own bishops, and there with disorderly monks and nuns lived a life of licence and utter defiance of the Church's discipline. In order to remedy these disorders, Boniface procured the consecration of his countryman Abel as Archbishop of Rheims, and, as we have already seen, obtained for him from the Pope the grant of the coveted pallium. But Pope and apostle alike seem to have been powerless against the stout soldier and court-favourite Milo. The meek stranger Abel soon vanishes from the scene. Milo retains possession not only of one but of both metropolitan sees, and at last, 'after forty years' tyrannical invasion of the Church' (says the chronicler) he meets his death in the forest, not like his great namesake Milo of Crotona in a vain display of his mighty strength, but from the tusks of a wild boar which he has been chasing. The contrast of the lives  p127 of the two men, Milo and Boniface, brings forcibly before us the nature of the work which had to be done in demoralised Neustria, and which was at length accomplished by the mixed exertions of Austrasia and of Rome.11

Mysterious sentence in a letter of Boniface. In one of Boniface's letters to the Pope he alludes to 'certain secrets of my own which Lullus the bearer of this letter' (the friend and eventually the successor of Boniface) 'will communicate vivâ voce to your Piety.' In this mysterious sentence some commentators have seen an allusion to the approaching revolution in the Frankish kingdom. The conjecture is plausible; the time fits, for the letter must have been written in the autumn of 751, but it is after all nothing but a conjecture. It is, however, probable enough that during the years 749 to 751, of which little is heard in the chronicles, Pippin was preparing the minds of his subjects, and especially of the great churchmen of his court, for the momentous change which was approaching.

That change will be best told in the simple words of the monkish chronicler who wrote the Annales Laurissenses Minores.

Pippin's famous message to Pope Zacharias. 'In the year 750 of the Lord's incarnation Pippin sent ambassadors to Rome to Pope Zacharias, to ask concerning the kings of the Franks who were of the royal line and were called kings, but had no power in the kingdom, save only that charters and privileges were drawn up in their names, but they had absolutely no kingly power, but did whatever the Major Domus of the Franks desired. But on the [first] day of March in  p128 the Campus [Martius], according to ancient custom gifts were offered to these kings by the people, and the king himself sat in the royal seat with the army standing round him and the Major Domus in his presence, and he commanded on that day whatever was decreed by the Franks, but on all other days thenceforward he sat [quietly] at home. Pope Zacharias therefore in the exercise of his apostolical authority replied to their question that it seemed to him better and more expedient that the man who held power in the kingdom should be called king and be king, rather than he who falsely bore that name. Therefore the aforesaid Pope commanded the king and people of the Franks that Pippin who was using royal power should be called king, and should be settled in the royal seat. Which was therefore done by the anointing of the holy archbishop Boniface in the city of Soissons: Pippin is proclaimed king and [C]hilderic, who was falsely called king, is tonsured and sent into a monastery.'

The kindred chronicle, which is called simply Annales Laurissenses, with fewer words gives us some more particulars:

749 'Burchard, bishop of Würzburg, and Folrad the chaplain were sent to Pope Zacharias to ask concerning the kings in Frank-land who at that time had no royal power, whether this were good or no. And Pope Zacharias commanded Pippin that it would be better that he should be called king who had the power, rather than he who was remaining without any royal power. That order might not be disturbed, by his apostolic authority he ordered that Pippin should be made king.'

 p129  'Pippin, according to the manner of the Franks, was elected king, and anointed by the hand of archbishop Boniface of holy memory, and he was raised to the kingdom by the Franks in the city of Soissons. But Hilderic, who was falsely called king, was tonsured and sent into a monastery.'

One more entry, this time from the Continuer of 'Fredegarius,' completes the contemporary or nearly contemporary accounts of the great transaction: —

'At which time, by the advice and with the consent of all the Franks, a report was sent to the Apostolic See, and on the receipt of authority [from thence] the lofty Pippin, by the election of the whole Frankish nation into the seat of royalty, with consecration of the bishops and submission to the nobles, together with his queen Bertrada (as the order from of old requires), is raised on high in the kingdom.'

Pippin king. Thus then was the revolution, towards which the whole course of Frankish history had been tending for more than a century, at last consummated. The phantasm disappeared and the reality was hailed by its true name. The unfortunate Childeric, upon whom came the punishment for all the wasted lives of so many licentious Merovingian ancestors, had to end his days in the dreary solitude of his cell. But yesterday the deeds and charters which counted the years from his accession styled him 'gloriosus dominus noster Hildericus'; now he is simply known by some monastic name, brother Martin it may be or brother Felix, in the monastery of St. Medard at Soissons. His wife, according to some accounts, and in the following year his son, were each compelled into the same monastic seclusion. The race of Clovis and Meroveus, the  p130 descendants of the sea‑monster, disappear from history. Yet who knows? The Merovingian blood may have filtered down into the lowest strata of society. Among the fishwives who dragged Louis XVI in triumph back to Paris from Versailles, among the unwashed rabble who haunted the galleries of the Convention and shouted for the death of that innocent victim, there may have been some men and women who, if they had known the names of their progenitors, might have claimed descent from Dagobert and Chlotochar.

Elected by the people. Turning away from the grave of the Merovingian monarchy, let us contemplate the new monarchy which is installed in the person of the descendant of the sainted Arnulf. We observe that Pippin is 'exalted into the kingdom, according to the ancient manner of the Franks.'12 We also observe that there is a distinct statement that he was 'elected' to his new dignity.13 We may therefore assert that on this occasion, in the utter failure and decay of the hereditary principle, there was a reversion to the old Teutonic principle of elective royalty, and we may probably infer that, as the outward and visible sign of that election, Pippin was raised on a buckler amid the acclamations of the assembled warriors of his people, even as Alaric and Clovis had been raised in earlier centuries. It is to be noticed also that the  p131 ceremony took place at Soissons, a place which was not a royal residence, and which had not been frequently heard of in the later Merovingian time, but which, on account of its memories of Clovis and Syagrius, was evidently looked upon as one of the holy places of the Frankish monarchy.

Approved by the Pope. Far more important, however, for practical purposes than these sentimental reversions to the old Teutonic usages and associations was the emphatic sanction given by the Roman Church to the new order of things. It may be that the thought of a mission to Rome to enquire of Pope Zacharias was in the first place only an expedient for the quieting of troubled consciences, whether of Pippin himself or of some of his subjects, as to this step, which looked like a breach of trust on the part of the legitimate king's Prime Minister. Thus looked at, the embassy of one Austrasian and one Neustrian ecclesiastic to Rome — Burchardt, bishop of Würzburg, and Folrad, abbot of S. Denis and private chaplain to the king — may have been somewhat like those embassies which used to be sent to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi when one of the Grecian states was about to enter upon a course of action which strained the obligations of political morality. But with whatever notions undertaken, there can be no doubt that the appeal to Rome on such a subject and at such a crisis of the nation's history enormously increased the authority of St. Peter's representative with the Frankish nation. We have only to look at the language of the chroniclers to see for how much the papal sanction counted in the establishment of the new dynasty. 'The Pope commanded the king and people of the Franks that  p132 Pippin should be called king'; 'Pope Zacharias, . . . that order should not be disturbed by his apostolic authority, commanded that Pippin should become king'; 'According to the sanction of the Roman pontiff, Pippin was called king of the Franks'; and so on.14 The tone of the chroniclers seems to be that of men who are describing an event as to the moral colour of which they are not themselves fully satisfied, but they quiet their consciences with the reflection that it must after all have been right because it was sanctioned by the authority of the head of Western Christendom.

Anointed by Boniface. To emphasise this fact of the papal consent to the great revolution the chief actor in the religious part of the ceremony was Boniface, of whose untiring devotion to the Roman see so many examples have been given in the preceding pages. True, the other bishops were present, possibly some of them, especially sometimes of the Neustrian bishops, scowling at this officious Saxon who dared to oust the successor of Remigius from his rights and to take the foremost place in their own historical sanctuary of Soissons. But of any such growlings of discontent we have no historic evidence. The fact emphasised by chroniclers and most needlessly questioned by some modern historical sceptics was that Boniface, archbishop and soon to be martyr, performed the solemn ceremony of anointing, probably also  p133 the ceremony of crowning, for the new king of the Franks.15

By long habit we are so accustomed to the sound of the words 'an anointed king' that we hardly realise its full significance in the case before us. Speaking broadly, it may be said that to pour oil upon the head of the ruler and to anoint therewith his hands and his feet is not a Teutonic, nor even an Aryan, but essentially a Semitic rite. No German thiudans, no Greek or Roman basileus or rex, as far as we know, was ever anointed. The rite comes from the burning East, from that Hebrew people who named 'cornº and wine and oil' as the three great voices with which the earth praised Jehovah.16 'I have found David My servant, with My holy oil have I anointed him,' was the verse of the Psalms which was doubtless present to the mind of Boniface when he poured the consecrated oil upon the bowed head of the Frankish king. The Eastern emperors, though Christian, had not taken over this ceremony from Judaism. Late in the day, probably about the middle of the seventh century, it had been adopted by the Visigothic kings of Spain. In our own country it seems probable that the petty kings of Wales were anointed, before their Saxon rivals submitted to the rite. However this may be, it is clear that in imitation of Samuel and Zadok the Christian ecclesiastics of the eighth century were now magnifying their office by pouring the oil of  p134 consecration on the head that was about to receive a kingly crown. Possibly, as a German scholar suggests,17 the religious sanction which the Christian Church thus gave to the new dynasty was meant to compensate for the lost glamour of a descent from the gods of Walhalla to which the posterity of St. Arnulf could with no consistency lay claim.

Thus then the elevation of Pippin to the Frankish throne, dictated as it was by the inexorable logic of fact, and heartily acquiesced in by the nation, received the solemn sanction of the great Patriarch of Western Christendom. Such favours are not usually given by ecclesiastics gratuitously. The immediate result of the ceremony at Soissons was undoubtedly the consolidation of the power of Boniface as representing the Pope in Neustria and Burgundy. We may be sure that 'the Gallican liberties' (which in this century meant the Gallican anarchy) suffered a new constraint from the day when Pippin felt the anointing hand of the Apostle of Germany. But the king himself also, by invoking the aid of the bishop of Rome, had incurred an obligation which brought him, and that right speedily, into the troubled zone of Italian politics.18

The Author's Notes:

1 I make this statement with some hesitation, since Hahn asserts the contrary, 'Er regierte für seine Neffen' (p89), but he does not quote any authority.

2 'Et ipsum fraterna dilectione honoratum in palatio suo habuit, deditque illi comitatus et fiscos plurimos' (Annales Mettenses).

3 Vol. V p192. The suggestion is made by a writer quoted by Hahn, 93, n. 1.

4 This is the addition of ninth-century chronicler, Ado of Vienne, to the account given by the Continuer of 'Fredegarius.'

5 See p109.

6 A man of Irish extraction, whose true name was Ferghil. His theory as to the existence of Antipodes seems not to have been a mere guess, but the result of his mathematical and astronomical studies. He was surnamed the Geometer.

7 'De perversâ autem et iniquâ doctrinâ quae contra Deum et animam suam locutus est, si clarificatum fuerit ita eum confiteri, quod alius mundus et alii homines sub terra sint, seu sol et luna: hunc habito concilio ab aecclesia pelle, sacerdotii honore privatum' (Zacharias to Boniface, apud M. G. H., p360).

Thayer's Note: The Pope's verdict may seem odd, but there are several theological problems with the hollow-earth theory, the most important of which is that if there is another whole race of humans living inside the earth, they may not be descended from Adam, and therefore not in need of redemption by Christ. The same problem arises with intelligent extraterrestrial life; the position is a dangerous one because if ever such beings are found, the entire edifice of Christian theology as currently conceived comes crashing to earth. It's therefore not surprising that adumbrations of a way out of this corner are starting to appear in official Catholic circles, including the provocatively titled book Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? . . . and Other Questions from the Astronomers' In‑box at the Vatican Observatory (2014) by Guy Consolmagno, Director of the Vatican Observatory; and in the same year, a public statement from Pope Francis that the church stands ready to baptize aliens.

8 'Dum venissem ad principem Francorum' (Ep. 86, M. G. H. 368).

9 Epp. Bonifacii, 63 (to Daniel, bishop of Winchester), and 86 (to Pope Zacharias). I have combined some sentences in the two letters.

10 xxxiii.5, 6.

11 The materials for the story of Milo are collected by Hahn, 131‑133.

12 'Elevatus a Francis in regno' = [regnum] (Ann. Laur.); 'More Francorum elevatus in solium regni' (Einhardi Annales: which at this point follow Ann. Laurissenses pretty closely); 'in sedem regni . . . ut antiquitus ordo deposcit sublimatur in regno [= regnum]' (Fredegarii Contin.).

13 'Pippinus secundum morem electus est ad regem' (Ann. Laur.); 'praecelsus Pippinus electione totius (sic) Francorum in sedem regni . . . sublimatur' (Fredegar. Contin.).

14 'Mandavit itaque praefatus pontifex regi et populo Francorum ut Pippinus . . . rex appellaretur' (Ann. Laur. Minores); 'Zacharias Papa . . . ut non conturbaretur ordo, per auctoritatem apostolicam jussit Pippinum regem fieri' (Ann. Laur.); 'Secundum Romani pontificis sanctionem Pippinus rex Francorum appellatus est' (Einhardi Annales).

15 'Quod ita factum est per unctionem sancti Bonifacii archiepiscopi Suessionis civitati' (Ann. Laur. Min.); 'Pippinus unctus est per manum sancti Bonifacii archiepiscopi' (Ann. Laur.); 'et ad hujus dignitatem honoris unctus sacra unctione manu sanctae memoriae Bonifatii archiepiscopi et martiris' (Einhardi Annales).

16 Hosea ii.22.

17 I refer to Waitz (Verfassungs-Geschichte, III.64‑66, second edition), to whom I am indebted for most of the above remarks on the practice of regal anointing.

18 There is great discrepancy between the chroniclers as to the date of Pippin's coronation. 750 is the date assigned by Annales S. Emmerani, Laurissenses, Einhardi and Mettenses; 751 by Annales S. Amandi, Laubacenses, Alamannici, Guelferbytani and several others, some of which simply transcribe S. Amandi; 752 by Annales Petaviani and Sangallenses; and 753 by Annales Laurissenses Minores. Hahn (Jahrbücher, 229‑237) fights hard for 752, but Waitz (III.67) considers that Sickel (Forschungen, IV.441) has proved the true date to be November, 751.

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