France under the Merovingians (Between 481 and 715) Part III

France under the Merovingians 3

Only outwardly did the vast territories that Clovis and his sons had reduced to the sovereignty of the Franks had political unity. Faced with the old Roman or Romanized populations, there were various Germanic nuclei, some already masked by a Roman paint, the others still close to their original character. The alliance made by Clovis with the Christian episcopate not only facilitated the work of Romanization for the king, but then gave the state a certain spiritual unity. Clovis showed skill in favoring churches with buildings and gifts; he proclaimed that he wanted war with the Visigoths in defense of orthodoxy against the Arian heresy. In 511 a council met in Orléans under the direction of the king himself. The Frankish king already appeared as the protector of the French church, using it as a system of political government. Indeed it can be said that the Merovingian church was strictly dependent on the prince, while it had a certain independence from the Roman papacy. Only the episcopate of the southern provinces appears in regular relations with the papacy; the vicariate of Arles fades during the century. VI and the pope either addresses the bishops directly or uses the king as an intermediary. The national councils, in which all the bishops of the kingdom take part, are political rather than religious institutions: the king convenes them, consults them. Little is said about dogmatic things. Because Frankish countries are Christians in name only: religion is conceived as a web of gross superstitions. Because the struggle against the complex polytheism of Celtic, Germanic and Roman residues is harsh: the populations have the habit of old sanctuaries, places consecrated by the devotion of the ancestors and it is necessary that the new Christian rites intertwine with the pagan ones before replacing them. But in the meantime Christianity is recovering the Rhenish regions and episcopal see. In 614 Cologne reappears as an archbishopric; thus Trier, Metz, Toul, Verdun reappear; Arras and Cambrai are merged into one location.

According to, the episcopate dominates the church and society: the populations gather around the bishops, rather than around the royal officials. The bishop is by right appointed by the clergy and the people, but in reality too often the king intervenes not to approve, but to impose as bishop whoever has money to shell out. In the century VI the episcopate is inevitably the privilege of the old Gallo-Roman aristocracy; but in time the kings tried to replace it with Frankish elements. The bishop protects the city populations in wars and calamities, defends them with the king, distributes supplies, often repairs the walls, opposes the violence of the Franks and their counts, imposes respect for the right of asylum. The Salic law assigns to the bishop a wigild nine times higher than that of the simple free man, while the royal official has only a triple wizard. Terror, on the other hand, arouses in the populations the count, that is the royal representative who extorts taxes with violence, which persecutes, which cruels. The subjects bow only before the weapons. They also rebel. Thus in 532 a great uprising broke out in the Auvergne led by a Gallo-Roman patrician, Arcadio. Later, again in the Auvergne, there was another insurrection against Clotaire, by his own son Cramno.

The Merovingian kings are truly a bad example for their people. The court of the Merovingian kings is wandering: each king moves from villa to villa with his procession of courtiers and servants and with the coffers in which the treasures are accumulated. Like Clovis, so his children and grandchildren have wives and concubines: murder and perfidy are intertwined with lust. Chilperico di Soissons repudiates his wife because the vile infantryman, who has become his concubine, Fredegonda, dominates him, who also manages to have the Spanish Gabwintha, married by Chilperico, killed. And there follows a period of fratricidal struggles, of horrors, of barbaric barbarities that are barely credible (see fradegonda) which ends only in 612, when Clotaire II collects again in his hands all the Frankish states, after having massacred the sons of Theodoric (613).

In this period of fratricidal struggles, the dynasty had unwittingly inflicted a fatal blow on itself. The dignitaries, who surrounded the various princes and caressed their passions and whims, exploited the situation. The civil wars created the power of the new aristocracy in which the Gallo-Roman elements were united with the Germanic elements. Thus the dynastic wars had capital importance in the history of the people. Consequence not of ethnic or regional contrasts, but of passions of principles, they created or strengthened an aristocratic class arbitrator of principles; they created regional nuclei of interest, Austrasia, Burgundy, Neustria, in which the political life of the Franks became polarized in the following two centuries.

The Merovingian aristocracy is made up of court dignitaries, administrative officials, city governors. The king chooses his officials according to personal esteem from a small circle of courtiers, the anthrustions, bound by a special oath. All those who serve the king form a special class, the leudi of the king, rich in the lands that come from the bad use of their offices as well as from royal goodwill. In the officials the absolute will of the king is revived; in fact they form interest groups to which kings must adhere and by which they are motivated. The triumph of Clotaire II was also the triumph of the aristocracy, although not yet definitive. On the other hand, the break between the three territorial masses was definitive: Neustria, Austrasia, Burgundy. Accustomed to having particular administrations, bureaucratic organizations corresponding to the interests of the regional aristocracies, they could no longer live fused together. Garnieri was master of the palace in Burgundy, Radon in Austrasia, Landri in Neustria. The master of the palace was now the head of the administration. And also to the church Clotaire had to make serious concessions.

France under the Merovingians 3