Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The Do-Nothing Kings and the
Mayors of the Palace

When Clotair died, the kingdom was once more divided into four as at the death of Clovis. And thereupon there followed a time of wild disorder and misrule, when brother fought against brother, father against son. They fought both in open battle and in secret, by treachery, by poison, and by dagger. There is nothing fine or noble about these wars; they are full of horrible cruelty and mean tricks. They brought famine, plague, and desolation in their train. The poor, driven from their ruined homes, took refuge in woods and desert places. There they became a terror to travelers, for they attacked and robbed all who passed, so that it was dangerous to travel except in large companies. It was a time of misery and degradation.

"Do you see anything over that roof?" said the Bishop of Albi one day to a friend, pointing to the roof of the King's palace.

"I see a dove cote which the King has caused to be built," replied the friend. "Do you see anything else?"

"I see," said the Bishop with a deep sigh, "the sword of divine wrath hanging over that house."

At length Dagobert, the great-great-grandson of Clovis, came to me throne. In him the Franks found a better ruler. Under him the kingdom was once more united. He was a wise king and tried to rule well. Every day he sat upon his throne to do justice. And it mattered not to him who was rich and who was poor, they were all alike before him. He was kind and gentle toward those who were good, and very stern toward those who were bad. No King of the Franks had ever been loved as Dagobert.

In governing, Dagobert was very much helped by Pepin, the Mayor of the Palace. The Mayor of the Palace was at first merely chief of the royal household, but gradually he became more and more powerful. He led the army, helped the King to rule, and was, indeed, after the King, the chief man in the kingdom. We know nothing about Pepin's father, except that his name was Carloman. He is called sometimes Pepin of Landen, from the town in which he lived, sometimes Pepin the Old to distinguish him from other Pepins who came after him. It is well to remember his name, for he is the first of a family which came to great power.

There were wars during Dagobert's reign. But they were chiefly with outside enemies, so that, compared with the times that had gone before, the days in which Dagobert reigned were peaceful. He died in 638. When it was known, a noise of mourning and tears was heard throughout the palace, and the whole people wept bitterly for his loss.

Dagobert was the last of the great Merovingians. He is still remembered as the Great King Dagobert. The Kings who followed him were called the Rois Faineants or Do-nothing Kings. They very often came to the throne mere children. They all died young. They were crowned as kings, but that was all; the real power was in the hands of the Mayor of the Palace.

As year by year the Mayors grew stronger, the Kings grew weaker. They sat in their palaces, carefully tending their long fair hair, which was their sign of royalty, and looking on with mild blue eyes and vacant faces while the Mayors ruled. Or sometimes they went among the people in a chariot drawn by oxen whose soft brown eyes were scarcely more mild and vacant than those of the King they drew.

Meanwhile the land was full of strife. The fighting was chiefly between the East and the West. The land of the eastern Franks was called Austrasia, and from that we have to-day the kingdom of Austria. The land of the western Franks was called Neustria. The eastern Franks and the western Franks had each a King and at last there was a great battle between the two. The Austrasians were led by Pepin of Heristal, the grandson of Pepin the Old. The Neustrians were led by King Theodoric and his Mayor of the Palace, Bertaire.

It was a very great host which met upon the field of battle, for both sides had gathered all their might. At the last minute Pepin offered to make peace. But Bertaire was so sure of victory that he refused.

So Pepin made ready to fight. During the night, he gathered all his camp baggage together and set fire to it, so as to make the enemy believe that he was retreating. Then, in the gray light of early dawn, without noise of trumpet or of drum, he quietly took possession of a hill to the east of the Neustrian camp. He did this so that the sun's rays should be behind him, and shine in the eyes of the enemy.

Very early the Neustrians were astir. They looked across the plain to the spot where the night before the enemy had lain. Lo! the whole camp was wrapped in flame! At once the Neustrians decided that Pepin and his army were in flight. They prepared to pursue. But suddenly they became aware of the grim lines of silent warriors posted on the hill above them.

The battle began and was very long and desperate. But the great army of the Neustrians was badly armed and badly drilled. Dazzled by the sun, they threw themselves blindly on the enemy, and were broken against their wall of steel. King Theodoric and Bertaire fled, leaving on the field the best of their knights and nobles.

This battle of Tertry really marks the end of the Merovingians. Pepin of Heristal was henceforward the chief man in all France, and we may say that, from now onward, the family of Pepin reigned. But he still kept up the pretence of a king. The King Do-nothing was still led out on feast days to be shown to the people. Clothed in royal robes, a golden crown on his long fair hair, he sat upon a golden throne, and spoke the words he had been taught to say. Then he was led back to his palace, and carefully guarded in idleness until he was needed once more to play at royalty. And thus we read in the old chronicles of the history of France such sentences as the following: "At this time the glorious King Childebert died. He was a just man of pure memory. Of his deeds nothing is known, for history does not speak of them."

Pepin of Heristal ruled France wisely and well for twenty-seven years. But although he had put an end to civil war, he still fought many battles. He fought with all the heathen folk who lived around the borders of France. And wherever the armies of Pepin conquered, teachers of Christianity followed. For, by the power of the Cross, Pepin hoped to keep what he had won by the sword.

Pepin of Heristal died in 714, and once more France was plunged into civil war. For, shortly before Pepin died, his son Grimoald had been killed. He had left a little boy of six who was now declared ruler by Plectrude, Pepin's wife. Plectrude hoped really to govern until her grandson was old enough. But the proud nobles would not be ruled by a woman and a little boy, and they rebelled. After a fierce battle, Plectrude and her little grandson fled, and the nobles chose one of their number to be Mayor of the Palace.

But Pepin of Heristal had left another son called Charles. He was not Plectrude's son, but the son of another wife, and Plectrude hated him. She had shut him up in prison so that he might have no chance of ruling. But now, when all the country was full of war and wild confusion, came the news that Charles had escaped and was gathering an army. Many of the nobles who had served his father now joined Charles, and battle after battle was fought.

At first, fortune went against Charles; but his name means "the strong one." In battle after battle he beat his enemies, until, at length, he overcame them. Plectrude, who had taken refuge in Cologne, yielded now to Charles, and gave up to him all his father's treasures; thus Charles became King of France in all but name. For he, too, thought it needful to have a phantom king. He found a Merovingian somewhere no one knows where and set him upon the throne. To him was given the empty honor of the crown, while Charles held both sword and scepter.