SEMINAR V: Later Merovingian Politics (Michaelmas, Week 8)

In this seminar we begin to turn our attention to the later seventh century and the beginnings of the transition from the Merovingian to the Carolingian period. This period sees two crucial developments. The first is the rise of the mayors of the palace, the senior officials attached to the households of the various Merovingian kings. In the seventh century these men seem to have superceded their royal masters as the effective rulers of the various part-kingdoms. It was by controlling this office that the Pippinids (the ancestors of the Carolingians) would take over the government of the kingdom. The other key development is the emergence of a new types of saint's cult, cults which emerge out of the world of high politics: that is, we find that leading political figures are being identified as saints. We find that the victims of political assassinations are proclaimed as martyrs of the church and that other men, including living figures such as Eligius of Rouen, are regarded as saints in their own lifetimes. All of this raises three sets of questions:

  1. Why did the mayor become so important? What was the basis of mayoral authority? Why did the king and aristocracy acquiesce in and/or support this state of affairs?
  2. How and why did the cult of saints become a feature of high politics in the late seventh century?
  3. What effect did all of this have on the pattern of Merovingian politics? Did these developments promote or undermine political stability? Is it possible to speak, as Paul Fouracre does, of the emergence of a new and more stable political order in the seventh century?

An important hint: the key to answering these questions lies in looking closely at the relationship between royal and aristocratic power in the seventh century - in particular, what were the concerns and desires that governed the aristocracy's approach to central authority and to the politics of the kingdom?

Strongly Recommended Reading for All Students

  1. Fouracre, P., The Age of Charles Martel (London, 2000), chps. 1-2. MSC.* Provides a very clear overview.
  2. Geary, P. J., Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of Merovingian Gaul (Oxford, 1988), chps. 5-6. MSC.*
  3. Fouracre, P., 'Merovingian History and Merovingian Hagiography', Past and Present, 127 (1990), 3-38. Journals L6. JSTOR.
  4. The Life of St. Eligius, archbishop of Rouen (d. 660), a translation of which can be found online in the Medieval Sourcebook.

Other Reading

  • Althoff, G., Family, Friends and Followers: Political and Social Bonds in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 2003). MBS.* For the wider political context.
  • Brown, P. R. L., The Rise of Western Christendom, Triumph and Diversity, A.D, 200-1000 (2nd edn, Oxford, 2003), chps. 11, 18. PO.A.*
  • Fouracre, P. J., 'Conflict, Power and Political Legitimation in Francia in the Late Seventh and Eighth Centuries', in I. Alfonso, H. Kennedy and J. Escalona (eds.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimacy in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean: Peoples, Economies and Cultures, 400-1500, 53 (Leiden, 2004), pp. 3-26. MBS7.
  • Fouracre, P. J., 'Eternal Light and Earthly Needs: Practical Aspects of the Development of Frankish Immunities', in W. Davies and P. Fouracre (ed.), Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 53-81. DQBA.
  • Fouracre, P. J., 'Francia in the Seventh Century', in P. Fouracre (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 1, c.500-c.700 (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 371-96. MB.*
  • Fouracre, P. J., 'The Origins of the Nobility in Francia', in A. J. Duggan (ed.), Nobles and Nobility in Medieval Europe, Concepts, Origins, Transformations (Woodbridge, 2000). MBM.
  • Fouracre, P. J., 'The Origins of the Carolingian Attempt to Regulate the Cult of Saints', in P. A. Hayward and J. Howard-Johnston (eds.), The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown (Oxford, 1999), pp. 143-65. PN.C7.
  • Fouracre, P. J., 'The Nature of Frankish Political Institutions in the Seventh Century', in I. N. Wood (ed.), Franks and Alamans in the Merovingian Period, Studies in the History of Archaeoethnology 3 (Woodbridge, 1998), pp. 285-301. MSC7.
  • Fouracre, P. J., and R. A. Gerberding, Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720, Manchester Medieval Sources Series (Manchester and New York, 1996). MSC.
  • James, E., The Origins of France (London, 1982), esp. chp. 6. MSB.*
  • Lewis, A. R., 'The Dukes in the Regnum Francorum, A.D. 550-751', Speculum, 51 (1976), 381-410. Journals L6. JSTOR.
  • McKitterick, R., Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, 2008), esp. chp. 2, 'Pippinids, Arnulfings and Agilolfings: The Creation of Dynasty'. MSDC.
  • McKitterick, R., The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (London, 1983), chp. 2. MSD.*
  • Moss, H. St. L. B., The Birth of the Middle Ages, 395-814 (Oxford, 1935), chps. 11-13. MBD.
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., Early Germanic Kingship in England and on the Continent (Oxford, 1971), chp. 3. MVC.
  • Wickham, C. J., Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800 (Oxford, 2005). MBD.* For the general context.
  • Wood, I. N., The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751 (London, 1993), chps. 9-16. MSC.* Fundamental.
  • Wormald, P., 'Kings and Kingship', in P. Fouracre (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 1, c.500-c.700 (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 571-604. MB.*

Useful Comparative Reading

  • Some useful comparative material can also be found by looking at various studies of basis of noble power in the later Middle Ages such as J. R. Strayer, 'Feudalism in Western Europe', in his Medieval Statecraft and the Perspectives of History (Princeton, NJ, 1971) MVG.C; also in R. Coulborn (ed.), Feudalism in History (Princeton, NJ, 1965) MBT, and in F. L. Cheyette, Lordship and Community in Medieval Europe: Selected Readings (Huntingdon, NY, 1975) MBM7.
Frankia in the Eighth Century

Map: Frankia in the Seventh Century

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