Page images

Now for the third time the unhappy Brunhildis was left alone, with a helpless child as her only stay. Once more she steeled her heart and faced the situation; she led her greatgrandson Sigibert, the eldest son of Theuderich, before the assembly of the East Franks, and bade them do homage to him as king of Austrasia and Burgundy. For a moment they bent before her, and Sigibert II. was acknowledged as ruler of the East Franks. But the Austrasians were determined to have no more of Brunhildis' rule; they sent secretly to Chlothar, king of Neustria, and bade him arm and invade his cousin's realm, for no hand should be raised against him. When the Neustrian king marched into Austrasia, Warnachar, the mayor of the palace, and most of the nobles of the land took arms and joined him. Brunhildis with her great-grandson fled to Burgundy, and raised an army there, with which she faced the Neustrians near the headwaters of the Aisne. But when Chlothar's army came in sight, the Burgundian patrician Aletheus and the dukes Rocco and Sigvald led off their troops, and joined the invader. In a moment the whole of Sigibert's army had deserted or dispersed. Brunhildis and the little king fled away as far as Orbe, hard by the lake of Neuchatel, where the emissaries of Chlothar overtook and Death of captured them. They were led before the king Brunhildis, of Neustria, the worthy son of Fredegundis. 614. ‘Here is the woman,’ he cried, “by whose intrigues and wars ten princes of the Franks have come to their deaths,” and he bade his soldiers scourge the old queen, and then bind her by hands and feet to the heels of a wild horse, who dragged her among stones and rocks till her body was torn limb from limb. The boy Sigibert and his younger brother Corbo were strangled.

* We can reckon Theudebert, son of Chilperich, and Theudebert, son of Childebert, slain in battle; Chilperich, whose murder was sometimes put down to Brunhildis by her enemies; Sigibert, who was murdered in a war to which Brunhildis had urged him ; Merovech, who was murdered for marrying her. But who were the other five 2

Thus perished Brunhildis, and with her the greatness of the house of the Merovings. For the future it was the counts and the mayors of the palace who were to exercise real power among the Franks, and not the kings. Chlothar, who had conquered only by the treachery of the nobles, was, with all his descendants, to be their servant, not their master. Considering that she was a woman and a foreigner, it is wonderful that Brunhildis continued for so long to sway the councils of Austrasia. Save her abilities and her force of character, she had no advantage, yet she not only dominated in succession her husband, her son, and her grandson, but held down the unruly counts and dukes, who were neither allied to her by blood nor constantly under her eye and influence. The tale of her life has sufficiently shown her qualities and defects. That she was something more than a fury stirring up war and strife from personal revenge for the character of blood of her sister and her husband is clear Brunhildis. enough. She was an administrator of marked ability. Almost alone among the rulers of the Franks, she is noted as a builder and a founder. Churches, hospitals, and monasteries she erected in great numbers. The old Roman fortresses and military roads were also her care. To this day some of the high roads of Belgium still bear her name, and as the ‘Chaussées de Brunehaute’ preserve her memory as the first potentate who cared for them after the Franks came into the land. That she was a sincerely religious woman would seem to be vouched for by the series of her letters to Gregory the Great, which moved the good pontiff's admiration. But sincere piety was not in those days, any more than in our own, inconsistent with a headstrong impatience of opposition, and an unscrupulous readiness to sweep obstacles out of the way. There is no doubt that Brunhildis struck down the Austrasian counts by the dagger, as well as by the sword, when they intrigued against her. She never forgave her own grandson Theudebert II. for allowing her to be driven out of his realm, and was not satisfied till, ten years after his offence, she caught him, and forced him to become a monk. Her enmity pursued not only Fredegundis and Chilperich, the murderers of her sister and husband, but their young son and their subjects long years after they themselves were dead. Yet, if she was relentless and unforgiving, we must remember that few rulers in history have suffered such wrongs and faced such odds. Compared with her contemporaries, Brunhildis might almost pass for a heroine and a saint. Chlothar II., though he became king of all the Frankish realms by the murder of Brunhildis and her great-grandchildren, acquired little real power thereby. The Austrasians and Burgundians, who had combined with him to destroy the old queen, wrung terms from him which deprived him of many undoubted regal rights. The dukes Warnachar and Ratho, who were made mayors of the palace of the two realms, Decay of stipulated that they were to hold their offices for Royal power life, not at the king's pleasure. For the future the mayorship became an office of far greater importance than it had yet been. Another step in the weakening of the kingship is shown by the fact that the legislation of the Franks from this time forward is always noted as being done by the king, with the counsel and consent of his bishops, counts, and dukes. A code of laws which Chlothar II. put forth for the Suabians, somewhere about the year 62o, is indorsed not merely with his own authority, but with that of thirty-three bishops, thirty-four dukes, and sixty-five counts. The fact that the reign of Chlothar was exceptionally fertile in legislation is probably to be accounted for by the fact that he was compelled to listen to the demands of his nobles, and grant redress to their grievances, rather than by any particular taste of his own for the enacting of laws. When, for example, we hear that he ‘met the mayor Warnachar, and all the bishops, and great men of Burgundy at Bonneuil, and there assented to all their just petitions,’ we must remember that he was facing an irremovable mayor of the palace, and a nation who had freely given themselves into his hands on stated terms, and had no longer over them the unlimited authority that a Chlodovech or a Theuderich had owned a hundred years before Nothing can show more clearly the growing weakness of Troubles of the king than an incident which occurred at a chlothar II. great national gathering of Neustrians and Burgundians, at Clichy, towards the end of his reign. In the midst of the council a brawl arose, and the followers of a duke named AEgyna, slew Ermenhar, the steward of the palace of the king's son. At once all the Neustrians seized their arms, and drew apart into two bands. While Ægyna and his friends seized the hill of Montmartre, and formed their array on its brow, the larger party, headed by Brodulf, a kinsman of the slain man, started off to storm the position. The king was only able to keep the peace by inducing the Burgundians, who were not interested in the quarrel, to follow him, and to promise to attack whichever of the two sides should strike the first blow. He dismissed the assembly, and was unable to punish any one, either for the murder or for the riot which had ensued. Chlothar, with his diminished royal prerogative, seems to have had neither the opportunity nor the power to engage in wars of conquest beyond the bounds of his realm. He had to look on, without stirring, while a great, if ephemeral, kingdom was built up beyond his eastern frontier. Behind samo and the Thuringians and Bavarians, on the Elbe and the Slavs. Oder, there had dwelt for the last two hundred years, since the German races had migrated westward, a group of small and disunited Slavonic tribes, calling themselves Wiltzes, Sorbes, Abotrites, and Czechs. Their dissensions had kept them from being dangerous neighbours till the time of Chlothar. But about 62o a Frankish adventurer, named Samo, who had gone eastward, half as trader half as buccaneer, united many of the Slavonic tribes, and became their king. He gradually extended his power all down the valley of the Elbe, on both sides of the Bohemian mountains, and was soon to prove himself a serious trouble to the realm of the Merovings. PERIOD I. M

Towards the end of his reign, Chlothar II. 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 amour church and state, won the name of saint by layand Pippin ing down his crozier and ring and retiring to a ** 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 II. 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 the last of the 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

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »