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DECLINE AND DECAY OF THE MEROVINGIANS
The sons of Chlothar divide the Frankish realm—Wars of Sigibert and Chilperich—The fortunes of Brunhildis–Continued wars of Neustria and Austrasia—Tyranny of Chilperich and Fredegundis–Decay of the Royal Power among the Franks—The House of St. Anulf and Pippin–Brunhildis regent in Austrasia – Wars of her grandsons—Her death— Chlothar II. sole king—His weakness—His successor Dagobert I, last free king of the Merovingian line—Rise of the Mayors of the Palace.
AFTER the first eighty years of its existence, the Frankish kingdom, which under three generations of warlike monarchs had continued to extend its borders so fast and so far, ceased suddenly to grow, and was given up for a century and a half to ruinous civil wars, as objectless as they were tedious and confused. In surrendering their primitive Teutonic freedom to their royal house, in return for the glory and aggrandisement which union under a single despotic hand gave to their hitherto weak and scattered tribes, the Franks had bartered away their future. As long as the house of Chlodovech were able and active, their subjects could console themselves for submitting to an autocrat by sharing in the power and plunder which a century of successful war brought in to them. But when the Merovings, though still retaining their despotic authority, grew weak and incapable, showing no trace of their
ancestor's qualities, save an inveterate tendency to treachery and fratricide, an evil time came upon the Frankish race. They paid for their early aggrandisement by being condemned to five generations of useless civil wars at home, and powerlessness abroad, while their hereditary monarchs sacrificed everything to their unending family feuds. Nothing more could be hoped for the Franks till they had rid themselves of the nightmare-incubus of this wicked house, whose repulsive annals are, on the whole, the most hopeless and depressing page in the history of Europe." From generation to generation their story reeks with blood; there is nothing that can be compared to it for horror in the records of any nation on this side of the Mediterranean. We have to search the histories of the courts of Mohammedan Asia to discover a parallel. The Franks only found salvation in the growth of checks on the royal power by the development of the great provincial governors, and by the final deposition of the Merovings in favour of the great house of the descendants of St. Arnulf, the Mayors of the Palace, whose strong hand at last stayed the fratricidal wars of the seventh century. And even when the new dynasty had mounted the throne, the Frankish reason showed fatal signs of the demoralisation it had suffered under the old royal house. The tendency of the race to acquiesce in the unwise habit of heritage-partition, and the unhappy grudge between the eastern and the western Franks, were direct legacies of the Merovings. We left the whole? Frankish realm concentrated in the hands of the aged Chlothar, last surviving son of Chlodovech. When, however, this hoary ruffian, fresh from the murder of his eldest son, sank into his grave, in the year 561, his four surviving
* In spite of the wickedness of the house of the Merovings, the Franks were very loyal, even in the days of the decay of the royal race. We find their chroniclers repeatedly contrasting the fidelity of the Franks with the fickleness of their Visigothic neighbours, who, having lost their ancient royal house, were continually making and unmaking sovereigns from among the ranks of their counts and dukes.
* For genealogy of the house of Chlodovech see page 166.
I6O European History, 476-918
children parted the kingdom once more among themselves, second parti- not without a preliminary fight, in which Chil...” perich, the youngest of the four, having laid Realm, 561, hands on his father's treasures, and raised an army with their aid, tried to put down his kinsmen, but failed. When he had been defeated and brought to submission, the realm was made into four shares. Charibert, the eldest son,
Sigibert the Ripuarian land on the Rhine, and the tributary
is only remembered because his daughter Bertha married Ethelbert, the king of Kei.t, and was, twenty years later, the protector of the mission of “t. Augustine. Charibert's lands on the Seine and Loire were parted among his three brothers, Guntram and Chilperich each taking the part that lay nearest to his own frontier, while their distant Ripuarian brother, Sigibert, had Tours, Poictiers, and Bordeaux, separated from his other dominions by the whole breadth of Burgundy. The tale of the wars and tumults which the three surviving sons of Chlothar I. raised against each other is a long recital of objectless strife and treachery. The uneasiest spirit of the three was the wicked Chilperich, “the Nero and Herod of his time,’ as Gregory of Tours very rightly styles him. The usual fraternal hatred of the Merovings was embittered between him and Sigibert by an additional grievance. While Sigibert was away beyond the Rhine striving with the wild Avars, who had pushed their incursions along the Danube into Bavaria and Suabia, his brother, the king of Soissons, invaded Ripuaria, and tried to seize it for himself. Sigibert returned in haste, and succeeded in driving Chilperich back beyond the Meuse, and preserving his eastern border. This would have been cause enough for revenge, but a worse was to follow. Chilperich and Sigibert had married two sisters, the daughters of the Visigothic king, Athanagild. Galswintha was the spouse of Chilperich, Brunhildis of Sigibert. They were princesses famed all over the Western world for their beauty and abilities no less than for the enormous dowries which their father had bestowed upon Murder of them. Before his marriage Chilperich had kept Galswintha, a perfect harem of concubines, though on the *7. arrival of Galswintha he had for the moment banished them. But Fredegundis, the chief among his former favourites, retained such an empire over him that after a few months he openly brought her back to the palace, and insulted the queen by her presence. When Galswintha indignantly declared that she should return to her father, the wicked king PERIOD I. L
had her murdered, and publicly married Fredegundis within a few days (567). . Brunhildis, the sister of the murdered queen, and the spouse of Chilperich's elder bro her the king of Ripuaria, devoted the rest of her life to the task of avenging Galswintha's death on the king of Soissons and his paramour. She was a strong-willed, fearless, able woman, and her influence over her husband was unbounded. For forty years the houses of Sigibert and Chilperich and their unhappy subjects were destined to shed their blood on the battle-field that the slaughter of Galswintha might be atoned for. It is in these wars that the final partition of the Frankish realm into its two permanent divisions took shape, and that new names for these divisions came into use. The Ripuarian realm of king Sigibert, from the borders of Bavaria and Thuringia as far as the Meuse and Scheldt, is for the future known as Austrasia—the Eastern kingdom ; Chilperich's less purely Teutonic realm, from the Meuse and Scheldt as far as the Loire, gets the name of Neustria, the New kingdom, or the New West kingdom, as others interpret it." The beginning of the wars of Neustria and Austrasia follows immediately on the death of Galswintha. As the avenger of blood, king Sigibert entered his brother's kingdom, and drove him westward. But the hostilities were suspended by a great Lombard invasion of Gaul. The new conquerors of Italy had passed the Alps, and thrown themselves upon the Frankish realm. Guntram of Burgundy, whose kingdom bore the brunt of the assault, prevailed upon his brothers to cease their struggles and unite to cast out the Lombards from Pro
* Neustria, Neuster, Neustrasia, Neutrasia, Niwistria are all found as forms of the name. It is disputed whether it means merely the realm of the ‘New Franks’ in Gaul as opposed to the “Old Franks’ on Meuse and Rhine, or whether New and West are compressed together in the word. The Annals of Metz say, ‘Occidentales Franci qui Niwistrii dicuntur.” Its boundaries were the Scheldt, the Silva Carbonaria, about Namur and Mons, and the Upper Meuse. Verdun is the westernmost Austrasian town; Langres the northernmost Burgundian town.