The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages: Texts, Resources and Artefacts

By Richard Corradini; Max Diesenberger et al. | Go to book overview

DECONSTRUCTING THE MEROVINGIAN FAMILY

Ian N. Wood

The Merovingians have some claim to being the most colourful family in early medieval history. Their origin, as recorded by Fredegar around 660, is well known:

It is said that while Chlodio was staying at the seaside with his wife
one summer, his wife went into the sea at midday to bathe, and a
beast of Neptune rather like a Quinotaur found her. In the event she
was made pregnant, either by the beast or by her husband, and she
gave birth to a son called Merovech, from whom the kings of the
Franks have subsequently been called Merovingians.1

Their final state is equally well-known from Einhard, writing in the early ninth century:

The Merovingian family, from whom the Franks used to create kings
for themselves, is thought to have lasted until the time of king Childeric,
who was deposed, tonsured and shut away in a monastery on the
order of the Roman pontiff Stephen. The end of the family may be
seen in that, but for a long time before there had been no vigour left,
nor could anyone reveal anything worthwhile in himself except the
useless name of king. For the wealth and the power of the kingdom
was held by the prefects of the palace, who were called maiores damns.
and to them fell the chief points of power. Neither was anything left
to the king, except that, content with the royal name, with long hair
and flowing beard, he might sit on his throne and create the image
of rule, and he might hear legates coming from all parts, and give
them as they left the replies which he had been taught and ordered
to give, as if by his own power; for, other than the useless name of
king and the besought wage for life, which the prefect of the palace
gave him as it seemed, he had nothing of his own, other than one
estate of very slight value, where he had a house and from which he
drew servants, very few in number, to provide what was necessary and
do him service. Wherever he travelled, he went by cart, which was

1 Fredegar, Chronicae III, 9, ed. B. Krusch, MGH SS rerum Merovingicarum 2
(Hannover 1888) pp. 94f. For the date and context of composition see I.N. Wood.
Tredegar's Fables”, Histariographie im frühen Mittelalter, ed. A. Scharer and G. Schei-
belreiter, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung
32 (Vienna 1994) pp. 359–366.

-149-

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