Wednesday 6 September 2017

Kingdom of the Franks After 561

In 561 CE, when Chlothar I died, the Kingdom of Franks was divided amongst his four sons in a replay of the events of fifty years prior. The kingdom was divided between Charibert, Guntram, Sigebert and Chilperic. This second fourfold division was quickly ruined by fratricidal wars, waged largely over the murder of Galswintha, the wife of Chilperic.

Reconstructed Frankish House

Internecine feuding occurred during the reigns of the brothers Sigebert I and Chilperic I, which was largely fuelled by the rivalry of their queens, Brunhilda and Fredegunda, and which continued during the reigns of their sons and their grandsons.

Marriage of Sigebert I and Brunhilda 

In 587, the Treaty of Andelot signed between Brunhilda and Guntram secured his protection of her son Childebert II, who had succeeded the assassinated Sigebert (575). Together the territory of Guntram and Childebert was well over thrice as large as the small realm of Chilperic's successor, Chlothar II. Three distinct sub kingdoms emerged: Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy, each of which developed independently and sought to exert influence over the others.

Guntram and Childbert II

When Guntram died in 592, Burgundy went to Childebert in its entirety, but he died in 595. His two sons divided the kingdom, with the elder Theudebert II taking Austrasia plus Childebert's portion of Aquitaine, while his younger brother Theuderic II inherited Burgundy and Guntram's Aquitaine. United, the brothers sought to remove their father's cousin Chlothar II from power and they did succeed in conquering most of his kingdom, reducing him to only a few cities, but they failed to capture him.

An abbey in Burgundy region

In 612 Theuderic unseated and killed his brother Theudebert and the whole realm of his father Childebert was once again ruled by one man. This was short-lived, however, as he died on the eve of preparing an expedition against Chlothar in 613, leaving a young son named Sigebert II. Immediately after his successful coup over Sigbert II, Chlothar II promulgated the Edict of Paris (614). The Edict primarily sought to guarantee justice and end corruption in government.

Chlothar II

By 623 the Austrasians had begun to clamour for a king of their own, since Chlothar was so often absent from the kingdom. Chlothar thus granted that his son Dagobert I would be their king. Though Dagobert exercised true authority in his realm, Chlothar maintained ultimate control over the whole Frankish kingdom. When Chlothar died in 628, Dagobert, in accordance with his father's wishes, granted a subkingdom to his younger brother Charibert II.

Throne of Dagobert I

Charibert II's realm included Toulouse, Cahors, Agen, PĂ©rigueux, and Saintes, to which he added his possessions in Gascony. His fighting force subdued the resistance of the Basques, until the whole Novempopulania (become Duchy of Vasconia) was under his control but after his death they revolted again (632). Dagobert had Charibert's infant successor Chilperic assassinated and reunited the entire Frankish realm again (632), though he was forced by the strong Austrasian aristocracy to grant his own son Sigebert III to them as a subking in 633.


As king, Dagobert made Paris his capital. During his reign, he built the Altes Schloss in Meersburg (in modern Germany), which today is the oldest inhabited castle in that country. Devoutly religious, Dagobert was also responsible for the construction of the Saint Denis Basilica, at the site of a Benedictine monastery in Paris. He also appointed St. Arbogast bishop of Strasbourg. Dagobert died in the abbey of Saint-Denis on 19 January 639 CE and was the first Frankish king to be buried in the Saint Denis Basilica, Paris.

Saint Denis Basilica

After Dagobert's death in 639, the duke of Thuringia, Radulf, rebelled and tried to make himself king. He defeated Sigebert in what was a serious reversal for the ruling dynasty (640). Clovis II (634 – 658 CE) succeeded his father Dagobert I in 639 as King of Neustria and Burgundy. He was initially under the regency of his mother Nanthild until her death in her early thirties in 642. This death allowed him to fall under the influence of the secular magnates, who reduced the royal power in their own favour led by  the mayor of the Neustrian palace, Erchinoald.

Clovis II by Emile Signol(1804 - 1892)

Erchinoald's successor, Ebroin, dominated the kingdom for the next fifteen years of near-constant civil war. On his death (656), Sigbert's son was shipped off to Ireland, while Grimoald's son Childebert reigned in Austrasia. Ebroin eventually reunited the entire Frankish kingdom for Clovis's successor Chlothar III by killing Grimoald and removing Childebert in 661. However, the Austrasians demanded a king of their own again and Chlothar installed his younger brother Childeric II who ruled until 675 CE.

6th century Frankish artifect

In 673, Chlothar III died and some Neustrian and Burgundian magnates invited Childeric to become king of the whole realm, but he soon upset some Neustrian magnates and he was assassinated (675). The reign of Theuderic III,who was king of Neustria (including Burgundy)(675–691) and king of Austrasia from 679 to his death in 691, was to prove the end of the Merovingian dynasty's power. He was succeeded by his son Clovis IV who reigned from 691 to 695 CE. He assumed the throne at the age of nine and died when he was only thirteen.

Theuderic III

Clovis IV was succeeded by Childebert III who was the king of Franks from 695 to 711 CE. During his reign Pepin of Herstal was the mayor of the palace. It was during his reign of sixteen years, in 708, that the bishop of Avranches, Saint Aubert, at the urging of the Archangel Michael, founded the monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel. When Pepin died in 714, however, the Frankish realm plunged into civil war and the dukes of the outlying provinces became de facto independent.

Mont St. Michel at present

During the final century of Merovingian rule, the kings were increasingly pushed into a ceremonial role. The real power was held by the mayor of the palace. During 711 CE until 751 CE Franks were ruled by Dagobert III, Chilperic II, Chlothar IV and Theuderic IV. The Merovingian rule ended in March 752 when Pope Zachary formally deposed Childeric III. Zachary's successor, Pope Stephen II, confirmed and anointed Pepin the Short in 754, beginning the Carolingian monarchy.

Statue of Pepin the Short

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