From Francia to France (476-987 CE)

I bloody love history and I love bloody history. I’ve always been intrigued by the rise of different nations in the world, especially of those who have had a great history. In these serie I would like to indulge in the parts of their history, which are not very well known. The first in the serie to appear is France.
End of the Roman Empire (380-476 CE)

The Roman Empire officially came to its end in the 5th century, but the ending had been coming since the late 4th century. The beginning of the end was the year 380 CE when Christianity officially became the state religion under Theodosius I the Great. Following his death in 395 CE, the Roman Empire was divided in a western and eastern part. These empires are quite significant as well, because they mark the beginning and the end of the medieval period in Western society. The western part of the Roman empire ended in 476 CE and that’s where the medieval period starts.The eastern Roman Empire ended in 1453 CE, which we officially call the end of the Medieval period. But for this blogpost we’ll focus only on the western empire.

The Western Roman Empire came to its end due to the migrations of the different people all over Europe. It was like a chain-reaction, but the Huns definitely made the most impact. They penetrated the European soil around 450 CE and a direct consequence of that was the struggle for power in Rome, followed by the power insurgent of Odoaker in 476 CE which led to the end of the Western Roman Empire.
The country we now call France wasn’t even close to how we see it now. The north of France was under Roman influence. The land between the Somme en the Rhone was controlled by the Salic Francs, who played a huge part in the development of the country we now call France.
Merovingian Empire (481-751 CE)

Clovis I (466-511)
Now that we are concentrating on the Salic Francs, we can also focus on the first dynasty who had a great influence on the shape of what we now call France. The Merovingian dynasty is named after Merovech who died in 457 CE, but his son Childerik I (436-481 CE) is the first significant person in that dynasty. He had been a Roman governor and after the demise of the Western Roman Empire, he had been king of the Salic Francs. His son Clovis or Clodovech (466-511 CE) started to expand the lands of the Francs to the south. He conquered land that ended at the river the Loire and in doing so he defeated Syagrius, who had been the last Roman ruler of a territorium in Gaul. But this wasn’t the last victory for Clovis. In the years to come he also defeated the Alemmani and the Visigoths (Germanic tribes), where he got Aquitaine. He also made Paris his city of residence, and the relevance of the city has grown ever since.
The Merovingians were different to the other Germanic tribes on three fundamental aspects:
1. They hadn’t moved around, but remained on the same place as they always had. Instead, they had expanded their territory.
2. They not only expanded to the south, but also expanded to the East, to territories which had never been under Roman control.
3. Clovis was the first king who converted to Catholicism, and in doing so made it possible for Gallo-Romans and Francs grow closer to each other.
However, it’s considered a small miracle that the Salic Francs retained their big territory. After the death of a monarch, all children inherited an equal part of his territory. This normally led to lesser power for the new monarchs. Dagobert was the last one to rule over the entire territory. Austrasia, Neustria, Aquitaine and Burgundy fought endlessly with each other for the power over the entire territory. It seemed the territory was splintered in the late 7th century. But then came the influence of the Mayors of the Palace.
Carolingian Empire (751-987 CE)
The father of this dynasty is Mayor the Palace of Austrasia Pepin of Landen. He served under the ruling of Dagobert. The grandchild of Pepin of Landen, Pepin II of Herstal was the Mayor of the Palace of both Austrasia and Neustria. He was the first to call himself ‘monarch of the Franks’, although there was no title given to him. His son was Charles Martel and under his reign they reconquered lost territory. Not only that happened, they also managed to get control of the lands out of the river Loire. He waged war against the Saxons, Frisians, Alamanni and Bavarians, which further enhanced the family’s prestige. In 732 CE Charles Martel defeated a Muslim force near Poitiers in central France. For the Christians the Frankish victory was one of the great battles of history, halting Muslim expansion in Europe. The Carolingian monarch used this victory to portray themselves as defenders of Christendom. Mayor of the Palace Charles Martel laid the foundation for the first Frankish kings.
Charles Martel and the battle of Poitiers (732 CE)
While Charles Martel exercised the power of the King, he wasn’t the king in name. He didn’t have the title and Martel’s son Pippin III aspired to be king in title and in power. Pippin’s diplomats were able to convince an embattled Pope Zacharias to rule in his favor against the Merovingians in exchange for military support against the Lombards, who were threatening the papacy. Zacharias invoked his apolistic authority as pope, deposed the Merovingian ruler Chilperic in 752 CE, and declared that Pippin should be king in “order to prevent civil war between the Merovingians and Carolingians in Francia. An assembly of Frankish magnates elected Pippin king, and Boniface annointed him. This is something rather special because he is the first Frankish king that was annointed. Before that, this was only used for priests and bishops. He was the first to be anointed with the sacred souls and acknowledged as rex et sacerdom. (king and priest) The coalition between the pope and the monarch would prove to be very fruitful. Especially with Pippin’s son Charles, generally known as Charlemagne.
Charlemagne
If an ideal king was ‘strong against his enemies’ and ‘feared by pagans’, Charlemagne more than met the standard. In continuing the expansionist policies of his ancestors, his reigning was characterized by constant warfare; according to the chroniclers of the time, only seven years between 714 CE and 814 CE were peaceful. He became the greatest warrior of the early Middle Ages. He subdued all of the north of modern France, but his greatest successes were in today’s Germany, where he fought battles he justified as spreading christianity to pagan peoples. In the course of a bloody thirty year war against the Saxons, he added most of the north-western Germany peoples to the Frankish kingdom. Charlemagne also achieved spectacular results in the south, incorporating Lombardy into the Frankish kingdom. He ended Bavarian independence and defeated the nomadic Avars, opening eastern Germany for later settlement by Frank. He successfully fought the Byzantine Empire for Venetia, Istria and Dalmatia and temporarily annexed those areas to his kingdom. Charlemagne’s only defeat came at the hands of the Basques of northwestern Spain. By around 805 CE the Frankish kingdom included all of northwestern Europe except Scandinavia and Britain. Not since the Roman emperors of the third century C.E. had any ruler controlled so much of the Western world. Europe would never again see as large a unified state as it had under Charlemagne, which is one reason he has become an important symbol of European unity in the twenty-first century. From the year 800 CE  Charlemagne was elected emperor and so would be his successors.
Treaty of Verdun
Charlemagne had created a vast empire and his son Louis the Pious was the one to take over the whole empire. This was because he was the only son who survived his father. His attempts to keep his empire unified, failed when he died and his three sons agreed on a dividing of the empire. At the Treaty of Verdun (843 CE) the empire was divided in the Kingdom of Charles the Bald, the Kingdom of Lothair and the Kingdom of Louis the German. Later we would see that the Kingdom of Charles the Bald (West-Francia) would become what we now know as France.
House of Capet

In 987 CE the last Carolingian died and the Carolingian Dynasty came to an end. With the end of one dynasty, the next one started: the dynasty of House Capet. The unity that was lost would never come back like it had been under the reign of Charlemagne, but West-Francia became a different kingdom. From now on it was called the Kingdom of France and the House of Capet would rule until 1328 CE, after which the House of Valois would take over. The Kingdom of France was born!
Sources:
Een kennismaking met de middeleeuwse wereld. István Pieter Bejczy. (2001)
A history of Western Society. McKay (2011)

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