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Towards the end of his reign, Chlothar n. made his son Dagobert king of Austrasia, while he was still a very young man. The chief councillors by whose aid Dagobert administered his realm were two men whose names form a landmark in Frankish history — Arnulf, bishop of Metz, and count Pippin the elder, the ancestors of the great house of the Karlings. Bishop Arnulf was the wisest and best of the prelates of Austrasia, and, after a long life of usefulness in St Amuif cnurcn and state, won the name of saint by layana Pippin ing down his crozier and ring and retiring to a the eider. hermitage, to spend his last fifteen years in the solitudes of the Vosges. Count Pippin, a noble from the land between Meuse and Mosel, whose ancestral abodes are said to have been the manors of Hersthal and Landen, was appointed mayor of the palace, and lived in the closest concord and amity with Arnulf. They cemented their alliance by a marriage, Begga, the daughter of Pippin, being wedded to Ansigisel, the son of the bishop; for Arnulf, like many of the Frankish clergy, lived in lawful wedlock. From these parents sprang the whole of the line of mayors, kings, and emperors whose mighty deeds were to make their comparatively unimportant ancestors famous in history.
King Chlothar n. died in 628, and his son, Dagobert I., became ruler of all the Frankish realms. He was, for a Meroving, a very creditable ruler, though he lived with three wives at once, and indulged in occasional outbursts of wrongheadedness. For the two first years of his reign he chose to share the sovereign power with his brother Charibert, whom he made king of Aquitaine out of pure fraternal affection. But when Charibert died, in 630, he resumed his southern dominions, disregarding Charibert's three sons. Dagobert
Reign of was ^ last o^ tne Merovings whose will was of Dagobert I., much importance in the ordering of the Frankish 628'38' realms; his successors were to be mere shadows.
Even in his own time the royal power was already of little force in Austrasia, where the king leant entirely upon the support of Pippin, who, with his son-in-law, Ansigisel, held the post of mayor of the palace for the whole sixteen years of Dagobert's reign. His loyalty to the king concealed the fact that he was far more powerful in the eastern kingdom than Dagobert himself. The king had several sharp quarrels with him, but never dared to depose him from his post lest trouble should ensue. In Neustria no great mayor of the palace had yet arisen, and there Dagobert was ruler in fact as well as name. Hence it is not surprising that he always dwelt west of the Meuse, and made Paris his favourite residence.
Dagobert was the last Meroving who took arms to extend the limits of the Frankish power. He supported the pretender Sisinand in Spain, by the aid of a Burgundian army, made an alliance with the emperor Heraclius against the Lombards, and entered into a protracted war with the Slavonic tribes of the East. On the Elbe, the kingdom of Samo the Frank was now at the height of its power. Dagobert took alarm at its rapid growth, and when the Wends plundered part of Thuringia, in 630, sent against them three great armies, comprising the whole military force of Austrasia. Two of these expeditions fared well, but the third suffered complete annihilation at Wogastisburg, in Bohemia, and the victorious Slavs ravaged Thuringia and Bavaria, from Saal to Danube, with fire and sword, till Radulf, duke of Thuringia, at last checked them, in 633.
Dagobert I. died in 638. He left two sons, Sigibert m., aged nine, and Chlodovech u., aged six. It was the long minority of these two boys which finally achieved the ruin of the Merovingian house. While Sigibert and Chlodovech were growing up to manhood, the future of the Frankish realms was being settled by the sword, the all-important issue at stake being the question whether the house of Pippin and Arnulf should retain permanent possession of the Austrasian mayorship of the palace or should sink out of sight. Pippin the Old died in 639, the second year of Sigibert's reign. His son Grimoald at once proclaimed himself heir to his father's office. But a great part of the Austrasian nobles, headed by Otto, the foster-father of the young king, refused to acknowGrimoaid ledge his right to the mayorship, and a fierce Mayor of' war of three years was required to settle the disthe Palace. pute ^t last ^ sQn Qf pippin conquered, and
for fourteen years (642-56) was undisputed master of Austrasia. King Sigibert, indeed, grew up to man's estate, but he was completely dominated by his servant, and never made any endeavour to take the power out of his hands. Hence he is known as the first of the Rois Faineants, or do-nothing kings, who were from henceforth to be the rule among the house of the Merovings.
In Neustria, meanwhile, the royal power was saved for a time by the cleverness of queen Nanthildis, a lady of great piety, the widow of Dagobert, who acted as guardian for her younger son Chlodovech. She enlisted in her cause the Neustrian mayor of the palace, Erchinoald, who was akin to the royal house himself,1 and therefore not unfavourable to its dominance. Not till these two passed away was the Western realm to sink into the same state as the Eastern. But the fall of royalty here, too, was now imminent.
1 He was brother of Dagobert's mother, it would appear, and therefore great-uncle to the little king.
THE LOMBARDS IN ITALY, AND THE
The Wanderings of the Lombards—Alboin conquers Northern Italy—His tragic end—Anarchy among the Lombard dukes—Reign of Authari, and Frankish wars—Conquest and conversion of Agilulf—Rothari the Lawgiver—State of Rome and Italy—Career of St. Gregory—He founds the temporal power of the Papacy.
In the third year of Justin n., and only fifteen years after Narses had swept the Goth and Frank out of Italy, a new horde of barbarians came pouring down on that unhappy land. The ravages of eighteen years of war, and a terrible pestilence which supervened, had left all the northern parts of the peninsula desolate, and well-nigh uninhabited, — ' the land seemed to have sunk back into primeval silence and solitude.'1 The imperial troops held a few strong places beyond the Po, such as Verona and Pavia, but had made no effort to restore the military frontier along the Alps, and the land lay open to the spoiler. Southern Italy had suffered less, and Ravenna was still strong and well guarded, but the Transpadane lowlands—destined ere long to change their name to the 'Lombard plain'—were as destitute of civil population as they were of military resources.
The new invaders of Italy were the Lombards (Langobardi), a Teutonic people, who, according to their ancient tribal
1 Paulus Diaconus. ii. 5
legends; had once dwelt in Scandinavia, but had descended ten generations before into northern Germany, and from thence had slowly worked their way down to the Danube. They had only come into touch with the frontier of the empire when Odoacer smote the Rugii, in 487. After that tribe had been scattered, they moved into its abiding place on the mid-Danube, and became the neighbours of the Ostrogoths and the Gepidae.
The Lombards were the least tinctured with civilisation of all the Teutonic tribes, even more barbarous, it would seem,
- The than our own Saxon forefathers. Living far back Lombards. in the darkness of the North, they had been kept from any knowledge of Roman culture, and did not even approach the boundaries of the empire till it had already been broken up and laid desolate. They were still heathen, and still living in the stage of primitive tribal life which Tacitus painted in the Germania. They were divided into many tribal families, or clans, which they called 'faras,'and their subdivisions were ruled by elective aldermen1 or dukes, but the whole nation chose its king from among the royal houses of the Lethings and Gungings, who claimed to descend from Gambara, the wise queen who had led the race across, the Baltic from Scandinavia ten generations back.
During the times of Justinian's Ostrogothic war the Lombards were under the rule of Audoin, whom Narses bribed with great gifts to aid him against Baduila. Five thousand warriors, under the command of their king himself, joined Narses in the invasion of Italy in 552, and took a distinguished part in the victory of Taginae. It must have been in this campaign that the Lombards learnt of the fertility and the weakness of Italy; but they were still engaged 'in wars with their neighbours on the Danube, and their king was an old man, wherefore we need not think it strange that they waited fifteen years before they turned their knowledge to account.
1 The Lombards seem to have called them 'Aldones'—cf. Ealderman in English antiquity.