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

France under the Merovingians 4

Civil wars greatly halted the expanding force of the Frankish monarchy. Between 560 and 610 there was no lack of border wars with the Bretons, with the Basques of the Pyrenees, with the Visigoths of Settimania, but without a clear and favorable outcome. And since the Lombards immediately after their appearance in Italy had tried to occupy the Rhone valley, so it was decided to recognize the existence of the Lombard kings of Pavia, as long as they paid tribute and left the watershed line of the western Alps to the Franks.

Clotaire II reigned from 613 to 629 with the utmost tranquility. To keep Austrasia calm, which retained its separatist tendencies, in 622 he had sent his son Dagobert as special king of that region. Thus Dagobert in turn had to give Austrasia to his son Sigebert as early as 632, organizing a special government in Metz, and in 633 he established that in the event of his death, Sigebert would be entitled to Austrasia and Clodoveo, second son, Neustria and the Burgundy. Aquitaine had been ceded to the king’s brother, Cariberto, in a separate kingdom for life. And two child kings had the Franks on the death of Dagobert in 639. When Sigebert III died in 656, his brother Clovis II reunited the two kingdoms, but died in 657, leaving three sons, of whom Clotaire III reigned first, then from 673 Theodoric III, while the third brother Childeric II was sent to Austrasia. The monarchy was in continuous progressive decomposition. But in the meantime the magistracy of the butler had been formed.

According to, the Merovingian kings had conquered, but they had created neither a system of government nor an administration, leaving the old institutions, where they existed, to live. They viewed the Roman tax system as a tool for making money. Clotaire I raised the tax to one third of the income, Theodebert forced the Franks to do so, Chilperico abolished the exemptions and redesigned the land register. But the taxes were not considered by the kings as a participation of the subjects in the economic life of the state; instead of being a state obligation, they became a robbery. Thus the whole century. VI and VII are full of the struggle between those who try to escape the tribute and the king who tries to aggravate it. The bishops oppose the exactions and snatch exemptions for churches and monasteries. Then the Merovingians dropped the tax system and found themselves in a painful financial situation: the need to provide with the spoils of war, with the taxes of the vanquished peoples, with confiscations. The populations tried to escape the arbitrary and corrupt justice of the accounts. What triumphs is the episcopal tribunal, as Clotaire II recognizes in the edict of 614.

The Merovingian monarchy may also be strong and powerful, but the strength lies not in the institutions, but in the handful of kings. Thus Merovingian provincial officials strike terror with violence, not because they represent a political system. The accounts have in their hands all the state powers, they collect the taxes, they gather the free men; nobody controls them. The king can revoke them, but only for the more or less zealous way in which they serve him. After all, the civil wars have created a class of officials who pass on their office with a veiled inheritance.

Nothing more typical to understand the Merovingian monarchy than to observe a military expedition of the century. VI or VII. All the subjects must present themselves to the royal or heribannian convocation: in March the king calls them, for the March camp, which later will be the May camp. All free men obey the order of the count who marches at the head of the men of the district: no difference between Franks, Germans, Gallo-Romans. Everyone thinks about their own equipment; the sacking will provide for the provisioning. And the Frankish armies are not at the king’s disposal if he does not have the energy to impose himself on the accounts.

Nobody believes in the force of the law, in the superiority of the state: not even the accounts, not even the king. Everyone has faith only in the strength of weapons, everyone has recourse to the protection of a more powerful one. It is the most typical phenomenon of the disintegration of the civil organization within the borders of the Merovingian state. Society is complicated by a new living fabric, formed by these relationships that need and fear impose. The protector is called senior, sir; protected is said leudovasso: he offers protection, he promises the help of his forces. Temporary or life-long relationships that soon become hereditary in families. Concessions of land to be cultivated and enjoyed bind the two parties more closely. The king is served by those who have obtained a benefit from him, who are linked to the commendatio. The king has no functionaries and subjects except in name, in practice he has under his orders those who have received the beneficiaries.

The monarchy emerges from the civil wars heartbroken and incapable of vigorous action. Fortunately, no enemy seriously threatens this jumble of peoples which is the Frankish state. But the Franks cease to be feared in Europe. The Bretons repel attempts to subdue them with their weapons. The Avars in 562 advance into Thuringia; in 597 it is necessary to pay tribute to them to get them to withdraw. The Slavs threaten the Frankish kingdom in the age of Dagobert, who won a first time, once again does not dare to come to battle. And Thuringia regains independence. Even the Basques in 637 cut to pieces in their valleys a column sent by Dagobert to impose garments and taxes. Aquitaine also becomes an autonomous state; Bavari and Alamanni create their own dukes. The regnum Francorum of Dagoberto or, even worse, of fifty years later, it has the appearance of a state in disrepair.

France under the Merovingians 4