Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous chapter]
Book IX
Note A

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next chapter]
Book IX
Chapter 4

Book IX (continued)

Chapter III

Tassilo of Bavaria

Sources: —

The Annales Laurissenses are unusually full and detailed as to the events connected with the fall of Tassilo. It has been suggested by Giesebrecht (Die Fränkischen Königsannalen und ihr Ursprung), that this circumstance points to Arno, archbishop of Salzburg, as the author of these annals.

In order not to interrupt the current of Italian, and especially of Papal history, I have postponed to the present chapter all mention of one of the most important of Charles's enterprises, and one too which very closely concerned the fallen Lombard dynasty. I allude to his long duel with his rebellious vassal, Tassilo, duke of Bavaria.

In a previous chapter we have glanced at the history of the Agilolfings, the ducal house of Bavaria, during the seventh and eighth centuries. We have seen them drawing into closer and closer ecclesiastical connection with Rome, but at the same time we have seen their political connection with the Frankish monarchy growing weaker and weaker, and in spite of Charles Martel's intervention in their affairs, in spite of his marrying the daughter of one duke​1 and  p98 giving his own daughter​2 in marriage to another, we have seen the position of the great lord who reigned at Ratisbon approximating more and more nearly to absolute independence. Tassilo's refusal to follow Pippin into Aquitaine. This tendency towards independence manifested itself in the most audacious manner when, in 763, the young duke Tassilo flatly refused any longer to follow the standards of his uncle and over­lord Pippin in his campaign against Waifar of Aquitaine.​3 With the Teutonic ideas as to the obligation of military service, and especially as to the duty of the 'companion' to follow his lord to battle, and if nee were to die in his defence in the thickest of the war‑storm, this was to commit an almost unforgivable offence, the grievous crime of harisliz. Politically too such a desertion was of evil omen for the future unity of the widespread Frankish realm. Thereby the young duke of the Bavarians seemed to say, 'What is it to me whether the men of Aquitaine obey the rule of my Austrasian uncle at his palace in Champagne, or whether they set up for themselves as an independent kingdom? Perhaps they will do well if they can accomplish this. We too, I and my Bavarians, are not too deeply enamoured of the rule of these domineering Franks.'

But however insolent was the defiance thus thrown in the face of Pippin, that monarch, now waxing old and infirm, was too closely occupied by the long war with Aquitaine to have leisure to accept the challenge of Tassilo. At his death in 768, Bavaria under its Agilolfing duke must be considered as having been practically independent. Tassilo was probably already  p99 at that date married to Liutperga, daughter of Desiderius.4

Bertrada's journey of reconciliation. Then came the good queen Bertrada's journey to Ratisbon and to Pavia​5 (770), the marriage-treaty which she concluded for her son with the delicate daughter of Desiderius, the short-lived league of friendship between Frank, Lombard and Bavarian. Sturmi brings Charles and Tassilo into harmony with one another. It seems that, as far as Charles and Tassilo were concerned, the way had been prepared for this reconciliation by Sturmi, abbot of Fulda, successor of the great Boniface. Intent on his great work of the Christianisation of the Saxons, he desired that the energies of the Frankish king by whom that work had to be accomplished should not be frittered away on needless wars in the south of Germany. Himself a Bavarian by birth, 769 (?) he undertook a mission from Charles to his native prince, and was so successful in his diplomacy that he established a peace between the two cousins which lasted for many years, and which apparently was not shaken by the repudiation of Desiderata, perhaps not even by the overthrow and exile of Desiderius.​6 One evidence of the long continuance of this friendship is furnished by the fact that in 778 he sent a detachment of soldiers to serve under Charles in that Spanish campaign which ended in the disaster of Roncesvalles.7

 p100  Tassilo's airs of semi-sovereignty. But during all this time Tassilo was assuming the style of an independent sovereign. He summoned synods, over which he presided; he left out the name of Charles and inserted his own in public documents; he even ventured to speak in them of 'the year of my kingship.'​8 Through the whole of this period Bavaria seems to have been prospering under his wise and statesmanlike rule. In the East he subdued and converted to Christianity the rough Sclovenes of Carinthia; in the South he recovered, probably by friendly arrangement with Desiderius, the places in the valley of the Adige which had been taken from his ancestors by Liutprand.​9 As a reward for his acknowledged services to Christianity, Tassilo's son Theodo (whom he made the partner of his throne in 777) was in 770 baptized at Rome by Hadrian.10

Growing estrangement. On all this increase of reputation and territory, however, Charles was not likely to look with favouring eye, so long as he must entertain the painful thought that this fair Danubian land, which had owned the sovereignty of the weakest Merovings, was daily slipping from his grasp. Embassy from Charles and Hadrian to Tassilo, 781. On his second visit to Rome (781) he appears to have discussed Bavarian affairs with his Papal host, and the result of their conversation was the despatch of a joint embassy to Tassilo (two bishops sent by the Pope, a deacon and grand butler by the king),

'to remind Duke Tassilo of the oaths which he  p101 had sworn long ago, and to warn him not to act otherwise than as he had sworn to the lords Pippin and Charles. And when these ambassadors in pursuance of their instructions had spoken with the aforesaid duke, so greatly was his heart softened, that he declared his willingness at once to proceed to the presence of the king' (who had by this time returned to Frank-land), 'if such hostages could be given as would leave him no doubt of his safety. On receipt of these hostages he went promptly to the king at Worms, swore the prescribed oath, and gave the twelve hostages who were required at his hands for the fulfilment of his promises, and whom Sindbert, bishop of Ratisbon, brought into the king's presence. But the said duke returning to his home did not long remain in the faith which he had sworn.'​11

A hollow truce, 781‑787. The hollow truce thus concluded lasted for six years, till Charles's third visit to Rome. By this time he had, as he thought, thoroughly subdued the Saxons. Widukind had been baptized and for the time there was peace in North Germany. In Italy, too, Arichis of Benevento had without bloodshed been brought to his knees, nor had his brother-in‑law of Bavaria apparently stretched out a hand to help him. Yet Tassilo seems to have known that his position was insecure; he sent accordingly two envoys. Arno, bishop of Salzburg, and Hunric, abbot of Mond See, to beg the Pope to reconcile him with King Charles.

Papal mediation. The Pope seems to have honestly done his best to bring about the desired reconciliation. He earnestly besought Charles to renew friendly relations with his cousin of Bavaria. 'The very thing that I desire,' answered  p102 Charles: 'I have been long seeking for the re‑establishment of peace between us, but have not been able to accomplish it.' The envoys were called in, but when the Pope proceeded to examine them as to the conditions which Tassilo was willing to accept, it appeared that they were in no sense plenipotentiaries, and had no other commission than simply to hear and carry back to their master the words of the king and pontiff. At this Pope Hadrian, not without cause, lost his temper. 'Unstable and mendacious, false and fraudulent,' were the words which burst forth from his lips: and he proceeded to pronounce the anathema of the church on Tassilo and all his followers unless he fulfilled to the letter the promise of obedience which he had sworn to Pippin and his son. 'Warn Tassilo,' said he to the envoys, 'that he prevent effusion of blood and the ravage of his land by manifesting entire obedience to his lord King Charles and his sons. If otherwise, if with hardened heart he refuse to obey my apostolic words, then King Charles and his army will be absolved from all peril of punishment for sin, and whatever shall happen in that land, burning or homicide or any other evil that may light on Tassilo and his partisans, lord Charles and his Franks will remain thereafter innocent of all blame.'

Synod of Worms, July, 787. The annalist​12 then describes King Charles's return to his own land, his meeting with his queen Fastrada, and his convocation of a synod in Worms (July, 787), before which he declared all that had recently been done in the matter of the Bavarian duke. Once more an embassy was sent to remind Tassilo of the obligations of his oath and to summon him to the presence  p103 of his lord. On his refusal to obey the summons Charles prepared for the invasion of Bavaria, and according to his favourite system of strategy, divided his army into three parts. He himself entered the country from the west by way of the river Lech and the city of Augsburg. The united forces of the Austrasian Franks, the Thuringians and the Saxons (for Charles already ventured to employ Saxons in his army) entered from the north-west, by way of Ingolstadt. The boy‑king Pippin with his Italian forces came by way of the duchy of Trient and advanced as far as Botzen. Tassilo submits. Tassilo, seeing himself surrounded on all sides and conscious that many of his own nobles wavered in their fidelity (preferring doubtless the distant Frankish over­lord to the near Agilolfing duke), threw up the game, Oct. 3, 787. came into the presence of Charles, confessed that he had sinned grievously against him, resigned into his hands the ducal dignity which he had received from Pippin,​13 and received it back again on confessed terms of vassalage.​14 He again swore the oaths of fealty and gave thirteen hostages, his son Theodo being one of them, for the faithful performance of his promises. Satisfied herewith, King Charles returned to his  p104 palace at Ingelheim on the Rhine​15 787‑8 and there celebrated Christmas and Easter.

The accord between the two cousins, the lord and the vassal, was of short duration. It was again proved that

'Never can true reconcilement grow

Where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.'

Renewed trouble, 788. The early part of 788 was an anxious time for the Frankish king. War both with the Greeks and the Avars was evidently impending, and this was the time moreover when Hadrian was plying him with perpetual insinuations as to the hostile designs of Adelperga and her Beneventans and beseeching him not to surrender his hostage Grimwald. Tassilo it is true was humbled, but was not his very humiliation dangerous? Was he likely ever to forget that he came of an older and nobler line than that cousin who claimed him as his vassal; that his ancestors were dukes and all but kings of Bavaria, when the ancestors of Charles were but head-servants in Austrasia? And there were not only his own wrongs, but his wife's also, rankling in his mind. Liutperga's father had been dethroned and shut up in a monastery, her mother and sister had been forced to take the veil, her brother was wandering in hopeless exile; all these injuries cried aloud for vengeance, and smarting under their bitter memory she was — so men believed — even now urging on her husband to dangerous and treacherous designs.

Tassilo summoned to trial. Charles determined to deal first with the suspected rebel at home ere he struck at the enemy abroad. He called a general assembly of all his subjects, Franks and  p105 Bavarians, Lombards and Saxons, to meet him at Ingelheim. 788 Tassilo was summoned and did not dare to disobey the call. Sundry of his own Bavarian subjects appeared to bear witness against him. They accused him (1) of having opened treasonable communications with the Avars, (2) of having summoned to his court men who had 'commended' themselves as vassals to King Charles and then laid snares for their lives,​16 (3) of having ordered his men when they swore [oaths of fealty to Charles] to practise 'mental reservation' and swear deceitfully,​17 (4) of having said (doubtless with reference to the fact that his son Theodo was hostage for his fidelity), 'If I had ten sons, I would lose them all rather than stand by my sworn compact with the king. It is better for me to die than to live on these terms.' To none of these accusations, we are told, was Tassilo able to offer a denial, and in truth the gravest of them all, the accusation of treasonable correspondence with the Avars, was confirmed by an expedition of that barbarous people against Friuli and Bavaria, only a few months later. Pondering these charges, and taking account also of the old and never-atoned‑for crime of harisliz against King Pippin in 763, the assembled nations judged the Bavarian duke guilty of death. Tassilo condemned and sent into a convent. Charles however, 'for the love of God and because he was his kinsman,' commuted the sentence to deposition from his ducal rank and confinement in a monastery. Tassilo bowed to the inevitable doom: he is even  p106 represented by the chronicler as entreating permission to enter a convent that he might there repent of his many sins. This, however, is doubtless the invention of the courtly historian. A more natural and more probable turn is given to the narrative by another annalist,​18 who tells us that 'with many prayers he besought the king that he might not be shorn of his locks then and there in the palace, but might be spared the shame and humiliation of having this thing done to him in sight of all the Franks.' The king hearkened to his prayers, and he was sent to the place where the body of St. Goar reposes on the banks of the Rhine. There he was made a 'cleric,' and after that he was banished to the monastery of Jumièges.​19 His two sons, Theodo and Theotbert, his two daughters, and his wife, the Lombard Liutperga, were all sentenced to the same religious seclusion. Charles was averse, for the most part, to the shedding of blood, but he highly valued, for his enemies, the opportunities for meditation and prayer afforded by the monotonous stillness of the cloister. At the same time some persistently loyal adherents of Tassilo were banished from the realm.

Tassilo at the synod of Frankfurt, 794. Six years after these events the monk Tassilo was once more brought out into the light of day and obliged to face his victorious kinsman. At the synod of Frankfurt 'appeared that Tassilo who aforetime was duke of Bavaria, to pray for pardon for all the faults which he had committed whether in the time of King Pippin or King Charles, at the same time with pure mind laying aside all wrath and bitterness of spirit  p107 for the punishment which had been inflicted upon him. As to his claims to property in Bavaria which had belonged to him or to any of his children, he utterly renounced​20 them all, and declared that no demand in respect of them should ever be made in future. And he commended his sons and daughters to the compassion of the king. Upon this the king, moved with pity, freely forgave the aforesaid Tassilo for all the faults that he had committed against him, and promised him that he should live thenceforward in his favour and on his alms'; but did not apparently let him out of the monastery.​21 He had probably been brought forth from its seclusion only in order to cure some technical defect in the former acts of deposition and confiscation. Herewith the once magnificent Tassilo vanishes out of history, even the year of his death being unknown: and with him ends the great Agilolfing line which for two centuries had seen its fortunes so closely interwoven with those of the Lombard kings of Italy.

The Author's Notes:

1 Swanahild.

2 Hiltrudis, wife of Otilo.

3 See vol. VII p272.

4 'Probably in one of "sixty" years of the eighth century,' says Abel (I.58, n. 5), 'not earlier than 764 and not later than 769.'

5 See vol. VII p313.

6 'Vixit deinceps sanctus Sturmi in gratiâ venerandi regis Karoli omne tempus vitae suae. Illis quoque temporibus, susceptâ legatione inter Karolum regem Francorum et Thasilonem Noricae provinciae ducem, per plures annos inter iposº amicitiam statuit' (Vita S. Saturni, 22; ap. Pertz, II.376).

7 Annales Laurissenses, s. a. 778.

8 Abel, I.52, n. 1; Waitz, Verf.-Gesch. III.106, n. 1.

9 Abel, I.59, n. 6: who remarks that the fact of this retrocession of territory being one of the conditions of the marriage of Liutperga is often stated too positively.

10 Annales Admuntenses (apud Pertz, IX.572): only a twelfth-century authority (quoted by Abel, I.132).

11 Ann. Laurissensess. a., combined with Ann. Einhardi.

12 Annales Einhardi, s. a. 787.

13 From the Annales Guelferbytani (ap. Pertz, I.43) we obtain the curious fact that Tassilo resigned his 'country' into the hands of Charles by the symbol of 'a wand, the top of which was carved into the likeness of a man,' probably wearing the Bavarian garb: 'Et illuc venit dux Tassilo, et reddit ei ipsam patriam cum baculo, in cujus capite similitudo hominis erat scultum (sic).'

14 'Tradens se in manibus regis Caroli in vassaticum [a very early use of the word] et reddens ducatum sibi commissum a domino Pippino rege et recredidit se in omnibus peccasse et male egisse' (Ann. Laur. s. a. 787).

15 A little above Maintz.

16 This is apparently the meaning of the annalist: 'vassos supradicti domini regis ad se adortasse (sic) et in vitam eorum consiliasse' (Ann. Laur. ap. Pertz, I.172).

17 'Ut aliter in mente retinerent et sub dolo jurarent' (Ibid.).

18 Ann. Nazarian., Contin. (ap. Pertz, I.44).

19 On the Seine, about thirty miles below Rouen.

20 'Gurpivit atque projecit.' Gurpirewerfen, 'to throw away.'

21 The account of these proceedings is contained in the Acta of the Synod of Frankfurt (quoted by Simson, II.83).

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 24 Jul 20