Guide THE FRANKS, From their First Appearance in History to the Death of King Pepin

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Pepin's only male descendants at his death are legitimate grandsons and an illegitimate son, Charles. Civil war results, by , in victory for Charles. His military prowess brings him the title Charles Martel 'the Hammer'. And from his Christian name Carolus in Latin his descendants become known to history as the Carolingians. After asserting his rule over the traditional territories of the Frankish realm, Charles wages long campaigns against the pagan Germanic tribes who constantly raid his northern and eastern borders - Frisians, Saxons and Bavarians.

He also lends strong support to the missionary activities of St Boniface , hoping that conversion to Christianity will tame the heathens. Barbarians on these frontiers have been a constant threat for centuries to settled Gaul. But in recent decades there has also been a new and powerful group of intruders pressing in from the south - the Arabs in Spain. They have advanced rapidly northwards through Spain in the few years since their arrival in They are soon beyond the Pyrenees.

Narbonne is taken in An extended raid in brings the Arabs briefly into Burgundy. There is then a lull until , when a Muslim army takes Bordeaux, destroys a church near Poitiers and rides on towards Tours.

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Here the Arabs are confronted by an army of Franks led by Charles Martel. It is not known precisely where the battle known either as Poitiers or Tours takes place, but it is won by the Franks. It marks the end, in the west, of the apparently inexorable advance of the Arabs. A few years later they withdraw to Spain and never again threaten Gaul.

It is a significant turning point. Even so, an uprising by the Berbers of mercenaries in Spain in causes the eventual Arab retreat from Gaul, rather than this one defeat on the battlefield.

Kingdoms of France - Franks

The turning back of the Muslims is what assures Charles Martel his place in popular history. But his family's supplanting of the Merovingian rulers is an achievement of equal significance. Charles himself maintains the fiction of Merovingian power. He appoints a new puppet king, Childeric III, in But in he decides to replace him on the throne himself. Before doing so he secures the approval of the pope. Such direct involvement in the dynastic politics of Europe is a significant departure for the papacy.

The only empire which has ever united France and Germany apart from a few years under Napoleon is the one established in the 8th century by Charlemagne, the grandson of Charles Martel and son of Pepin III. On the death of his father in , Charles - whose name Charlemagne is a version of the Latin Carolus Magnus Charles the Great - inherits the western part of the Frankish empire, a coastal strip from southwest France up through the Netherlands into northern Germany.

Three years later his brother Carloman dies. Charlemagne annexes Carloman's inheritance - central France and southwest Germany. By the time of his own death, in , he rules much of the rest of Germany together with northern Italy. Charlemagne's campaign in northern Italy, in the first years of his reign, is carried out in alliance with the pope. From his boyhood his family has maintained a strong link with Rome. Charlemagne is twelve when he is annointed by the pope Stephen II , together with his father and brother, at St Denis in - an event which prompts his father to undertake two Italian campaigns against the Lombards.

Now in another pope, Adrian I, asks for a repeat of the same favour. Charlemagne, like his father, invades the Lombards twice, in and The result is a major extension of his empire and a new title for himself - king of the Lombards. North of the Alps Charlemagne extends his territory eastwards to include Bavaria, but his main efforts within Germany are directed against the Saxons. The Saxons, restless Germanic tribesmen, have long plagued the settled Frankish territories by raiding from their forest sanctuaries.

Charlemagne the emperor is harmed by their depredations; Charlemagne the Christian is outraged by their pagan practices. From he wages ferocious war against them, beginning with the destruction of one of their great shrines and its sacred central feature - the Irminsul or 'pillar of the world', a massive wooden column believed to support the universe. It takes Charlemagne thirty years to subdue the Saxons; not until are they finally transformed into settled Christians within his empire. It has been a brutal process. Charlemagne's method is military conquest followed by forced conversion and the planting of missionary outposts, usually in the form of bishoprics.

In his book of rules, the official punishment for refusing to be baptized is death. The chronicles record that on one day some reluctant Saxons are executed for not worshipping the right god. One of Charlemagne's few unsuccessful campaigns is his first attempt to liberate northern Spain from the Muslims.

His intervention is invited by Muslim opponents of the caliph in Cordoba. And his imagination is no doubt fired by his grandfather's famous success near Tours in Charlemagne marches south in , besieges and takes the town of Pamplona, is frustrated in his attempt to take Saragossa and then - with nothing achieved - retreats northwards. An incident of some kind takes place at a pass traditionally identified as the pass of Roncesvalles , where either Basques or Gascons attack the rearguard of his army. Paradoxically, in the heroic fantasy of the Chanson de Roland , this minor failure becomes the most famous moment in the whole Charlemagne legend.

In , for the third time in half a century, a pope is in need of help from the Frankish king.

After being physically attacked by his enemies in the streets of Rome their stated intention is to blind him and cut out his tongue, to make him incapable of office , Leo III makes his way through the Alps to visit Charlemagne at Paderborn. It is not known what is agreed, but Charlemagne travels to Rome in to support the pope. But unexpectedly it is maintained , as Charlemagne rises from prayer, the pope places a crown on his head and acclaims him emperor. Charlemagne expresses displeasure but accepts the honour. The displeasure is probably diplomatic, for the legal emperor is undoubtedly the one in Constantinople.

Nevertheless this public alliance between the pope and the ruler of a confederation of Germanic tribes now reflects the reality of political power in the west. And it launches the concept of the new Holy Roman Empire which will play an important role throughout the Middle Ages. The Holy Roman Empire only becomes formally established in the next century.

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But it is implicit in the title adopted by Charlemagne in 'Charles, most serene Augustus, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor, governing the Roman empire. But this time it is in Germany.

He is consecrating Charlemagne's spectacular new church in Aachen, begun just nine years previously in The French name of Aachen, Aix-la-Chapelle, specifically features this famous building - a small but richly decorated octagonal chapel which Charlemagne has consciously modelled on another famous imperial church, Justinian's San Vitale in Ravenna. Much is significant about the choice of Aachen as Charlemagne's seat of power. It is in the north of his empire, at the opposite extreme from Rome.

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The pope's journey north in makes it plain that Rome cannot assume precedence in this new Christian partnership; and when Charlemagne decides to crown his only surviving son, Louis, as co-emperor in , the ceremony takes place in the imperial chapel at Aachen without the pope. The site of Aachen is also ideal in terms of Charlemagne's united Frankish empire.

It lies exactly between the west and east Frankish kingdoms, a fact reflected in its modern position at the intersection between the borders of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. A centre of Christian learning After a concerted campaign to become ruler, Pepin finally became king in , and three years later was officially anointed by the pope, who at the same time anointed Pepin's sons Carloman and Charles the future Charlemagne with the holy oil that demonstrated their special status.

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Pepin III served until It wasn't a smoothly shared reign, however, as evidenced by a episode in which Carloman seemed to undermine Charlemagne's authority by refusing to assist in quashing a revolt in Aquitane. Then, Carloman suddenly died in Exactly how Carloman perished so conveniently is mysterious.

The most common account is that he died of a nosebleed, though what caused it is a matter of debate, with one historian proposing a peptic ulcer as the underlying issue. As the King of the Franks, Charlemagne set out on an ambitious and bloody campaign to expand his territory. By the time of his death in , this kingdom included the majority of what is now considered Western, and some of Central, Europe. Not since the Roman Empire had this much of the continent been controlled by one ruler. Because of this albeit fragile unification, Charlemagne is sometimes called the father of Europe.

Over the centuries, the name Charlemagne became associated with European unification, whether through peaceful initiatives such as the European Union or war. Charlemagne had arrived in Rome a few weeks earlier at the request of the pope, but by many accounts, including that of his court scholar Einhard, he was not expecting his new role, and only realized what was happening when the pope put the imperial crown upon his head. Since the crowning was advantageous to both parties, it's likely there was some partnership behind the event it's also possible Einhard may have wanted his friend Charlemagne to appear more humble in his biography.

Importantly, the coronation recognized Charlemagne as ruler of a Holy Roman Empire, which carried an associated ambition of outdoing the military and cultural achievements of the pagan Roman Empire.


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It also served to notify Charlemagne's enemies that his domination of Western Europe was sanctioned by the Church. Charlemagne loved church music, particularly the liturgical music of Rome.


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At his request, Pope Hadrian I sent monks from Rome to the court of Aachen to instruct his chapel's choir in This event helped spark the spread of traditional Gregorian chant through the Frankish churches. In , Charlemagne also issued a decree to his empire's clergy, instructing them to learn and sing properly the Cantus Romanus , or Roman chant.

Music schools were also founded under Charlemagne's reign, and monks transcribing music helped preserve the Gregorian chant into the present day. Charlemagne was a fierce proponent of Christianity, yet he had great respect for the culture of pagan antiquity. He also saw his empire as a direct successor to the glory of the Roman world. The scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance discovered and preserved as much of antiquity as possible, and its survival into the modern day is largely thanks to their efforts.

On Frankish campaigns, soldiers would bring back ancient Latin literature alongside other loot. Carolingian monks meticulously copied these old texts into new volumes, helping preserve Cicero, Pliny the Younger, Ovid, and Ammianus Marcellinus. As Charlemagne conquered Western Europe, he recognized the need for a standard currency. Instead of a variety of different gold coins, his government produced and disseminated silver coinage that could be traded across the empire—the first common currency on the continent since the Roman era.