Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Old France by H. A. Guerber
The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber

The End of the Merovingians

C HARLES MARTEL, having conquered such dreaded enemies as the Saracens, was the most powerful man in the country, and he exercised the royal power unhindered until his death in 741. He made kings at will, but the Merovingian princes were so weak and useless that for five years he actually left the throne vacant and ruled alone. When he died, the realm was divided between his two sons; but they were allies, and before long one of them entered a monastery to do penance for his sins, leaving the other—whose name was Pepin, like his famous grandfather—to rule alone. This Pepin, son of Charles the Hammer, was so small of stature that he is known in history as Pepin the Short (le Bref), but he was nevertheless very strong, brave, and ambitious. It seemed to him so ridiculous to set one idiotic Merovingian prince after another upon the throne that he decided it would be better to become king himself.

In those days, the clergy (priests and monks) were the only learned people in the land, and at their head was the Pope at Rome. Pepin, therefore, wishing to make sure that none of the clergy would oppose him, sent two men to the Pope to ask who should be king, the man who wore the crown or the man who ruled the people? The Pope sent back word, "That it were better that he should be king who really exercised the royal power."

Pepin was sure now of the approval of the priests and monks, and he had secured the good will of the nobles also by his wise and able government. But we are told that the Austrasians—who admired nothing so much as strength and courage—were rather inclined to look down upon him simply because he was so small. One day, it is said, when he and many of his followers were at the circus, watching a fierce fight between a lion and a wild bull, he suddenly asked who would dare to spring down into the pit, and go and rescue the bull, which was getting the worst in the fray. None of the warriors present stirred, so Pepin boldly jumped down in the arena, drew his sword, and with one strong, swift blow struck off the head of the raging lion. Then turning to the spectators, who were applauding him madly, he exclaimed, "There, am I not worthy to be your king?"

The people evidently thought he was, for soon after, when assembled at Soissons, they raised him on a shield, thus proclaiming him king over all the Franks. This was in 752. The hair of the last "do-nothing king" was cut off, and the rule of the Merocingians ended, after having family, descended from the Pepins, was to be known as the Carolingians (or Carlovingians), because its greatest men were Charles the Hammer and Charles the Great, and the Latin name for Charles is Carolus.

Pepin was so anxious that every one should consider him a lawful king, that he was actually crowned twice, the second ceremony being performed at Rheims, by the Pope himself.

This Pope had come to France to ask Pepin to fight the Lombards in Italy, with whom he had quarreled. Pepin, who had already won many victories over the Saxons,a nd compelled them to pay tribute and to receive the missionaries kindly, now led a large army southward. He defeated the Lombards and made them gfive up a tract of land in Italy near Ravenna. This land was bestowed upon the Holy See,—as the bishopric of Rome is called,—so for the next thousand years the Pope was head of a state, as well as head of the Church. He is therefore said to have had temporal as well as spiritual power.

Not satisfied with all these triumphs, Pepin next conquered southern France, and before he died his kingdom included nearly all the space between the Elbe and the Pyrenees, the ocean and the Alps.

Pepin was a good ruler as well as a brave general, and every year he carefully presided over the assembly, which was now held in May. It was different from the old Field of March, because the clergy were present as well as the warriors, and while the latter still decided all matters of war, the former gave the king good advice concerning the government of the country.

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