The Germans

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The Rise Of The Carolingian Dynasty

   The Merovingian King of the Franks, Clovis died in the year 511 after defeating the Visigoths at Vouille, and extending the Frankish Kingdom to the Garonne River. The succession of the Frankish kings was not from the father to a single son. The rule of the kingdom went from the father to each of his sons to jointly hold power. Each son would rule over a particular territory, or realm, within the kingdom. Clovis had remedied the situation of having to rule the kingdom jointly with his three brothers by having each of them murdered. In so doing, he had been able to unite all the territories under one (his) rule.

   Despite being united in aim and purpose, the Frankish Kingdom again came under joint rule when Clovis died. Clovis had four sons of his own, and upon his death, the united Frankish Kingdom was divided into realms among those four sons. They remained divided until 558, when upon the death of his last brother, Chlotair I became king and united the four realms once more. But Chlotair I's reign lasted only a few years. He died in 561. Upon the death of Chlotair I, the Kingdom of the Franks was once more divided between his own four sons.

   The partitioning of the Kingdom of the Franks after the death of Chlotair I took on a more permanent aspect than previously. It is a relatively easy thing, in spite of the cost in lives and blood shed, to conquer a land and her people in terms of taking control. On the surface, such control is translated into the performance of certain new codes of conduct and etiquette. But under the surface, the age-old customs and beliefs of the people continue to thrive, at time surfacing, at times being concealed under polite obedience.

   By the time that Chlotair I died, the Kingdom of the Franks had expanded, through conquest and acquisition, to include the kingdoms of the Alemanni, the Bavarians, and the Burgundians. Despite the fact that those kingdoms now were ruled by the Frankish king(s), the 'native' cultures of the people remained unique and distinct. The northeastern region was named Austrasia, and corresponded with the region that is modern-day Germany, having the Rhine and Danube Rivers as its west and south boundaries. The region that lay to the west of Austrasia, and encompassed the northern half of modern-day France, was named Neustria. The Loire River and the Rhone River served as the north and east boundaries of the region that occupied what is the southern half of modern-day France; it was given the name of Aquitania. The region that had been occupied by the Burgundian tribe remained intact and under the name of Burgundy. Of the four kingdoms, Austrasia and Neustria were still predominantly Germanic in culture; but the kingdoms of Aquitania and Burgundy, where the Germanic people had interbred more heavily with the indigenous Romans, were mostly Latin in culture.

   From the year 561 to 687 the Kingdom of the Franks was embroiled in a series of civil wars. A class of noblemen had come into existence that rebelled against the authority of the Merovingian dynasty. In 614 the Peace of Paris accorded the Austrasian nobles certain rights over the king, which included the indisputable possession of their own lands. A primary result of the civil wars, therefore, was the loss of power and authority of the king; he became, in effect, simply a figurehead. The leader of the nobles, in their clash with the Merovingian ruling family, was a man from Landen by the name of Pepin. In order to assure that the newly won rights of the nobles were protected, Pepin assumed a position within the royal court as "mayor of the palace". It was the mayor of the palace in whom the real power now came to be vested. The Frankish Kingdom was ruled by successive mayors of the palace, or the Sluggard Kings, as they were known. Following Pepin's death in 639, the office of mayor of the palace went to his son-in-law, Anselgesil, and upon his death it was passed on to his son, Grimwald, who declared his own son to be the rightful king of the Franks. The fact that Anselgesil had established his own hereditary succession for the office of the mayor of the palace, which was no different than the Merovingian dynasty, angered the nobles. The nobles chose Pepin of Herstal, a grandson of the first Pepin, as their leader. They rose up in armed rebellion against Grimwald and murdered him and his son. They also defeated the Neustrian nobles at the Battle of Testry in 687.

   Pepin of Herstal ruled the Kingdom of the Franks as the Austrasian mayor until his death in 714, at which time his son, Charles Martel took control. Charles Martel embarked on a reign of conquest of neighboring Germanic kingdoms and the confiscation of church property within the Frankish Kingdom. On his death in 741, the kingdom was divided between his three sons, Grifo, Carloman and Pepin the Short. Pepin the Short was ambitious and wanted to rule the Frankish Kingdom on his own. Grifo came to no account and was soon set aside. Carloman lost interest in competing with his brother and entered a monastery. Pepin the Short assumed power and promptly set out on a course of reconciliation with the Church. But he wanted more than just power. He wanted the royal title of King. He appealed to the Pope with the argument that if he were to shoulder the responsibility of the rule of the kingdom, he should have the title to go with it. The reconciliatory measures Pepin the Short had enacted (which included the acknowledgement of Papal influence over the Franks) were no doubt taken into consideration by the Pope, who granted Pepin's request. Pepin the Short was crowned King of the Franks in 751. The Merovingian dynasty came to an end and the Carolingian dynasty was begun.

   Pepin the Short's reign as King of the Franks came to an end in 768. His death brought the Frankish Kingdom into turmoil once more as his two sons vied for power. Charles became heir to Austrasia and part of Aquitaine; Carloman inherited Neustria and the rest of Aquitaine. Each son, though, desired to be the sole ruler. Charles got his desire three years later when Carloman died. He assumed control of his brother's kingdom, once more united the kingdom's partitioned realms into one, and took the name of Charles the Great. In 800, he would be crowned Emperor of the Romans and take the name of Charlemagne.