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 Story of Pepin the Short
King of the Franks [751-768]

When Charles the Hammer died, the kingdom was divided between his three sons, Carloman, Pepin, and Grippo. But Grippo was only about fifteen and otherwise unfit to rule, so Carloman and Pepin fought against him. And having conquered him they shut him up in prison, and divided his part of the kingdom between themselves. They then found a Merovingian and set him upon the throne, giving him the usual empty honors while they ruled.

There were many of the nobles, however, who would not quietly bow to the rule of Charles the Hammer's sons, and so there was much fighting. However, the two brothers were united, they fought side by side, and at length were victorious. But after six years of strife, when the realm seemed assured to him at last, Carloman became weary of it. Tired of war and bloodshed, tired of the struggle to keep a tumultuous people in check, he longed for peace and rest. So he laid aside forever his sword and armor, and giving up all the glories and troubles of ruling, he shaved his long fair hair, and putting on the robe of a monk, he retired into a monastery. There, praying in his little cell or pacing the quiet cloisters with his brother monks, he perhaps found the peace he longed for, after his life of warfare.

When Carloman went into a monastery, Pepin was left to rule alone. At last he was master of all France, and there was peace in the land. And now the time had come, he felt, in which to make himself not only master but King. So Pepin sent messengers to Rome to ask the Pope if the man who had the power, should not also have the name, of King. He begged the Pope to decide which ought really to be called King, he who lived without thought or danger in his palace, or he who bore all the cares of the kingdom on his shoulders.

And the Pope replied, "He who possesses the royal power ought also to enjoy the honors and title of royalty."

So Pepin was crowned King of the Franks with solemn ceremony. He was no longer merely the chosen chief of a band of warriors. He was not simply raised upon his shield high on the shoulders of his nobles and acclaimed King by the shouting of the people. Clad in splendid robes he knelt with his Queen on the steps of the altar. Countless candles gleamed, and the smoke of incense filled the church, while the Bishop placed the crown upon his head, and anointed him with holy oil.

Then King Pepin took an oath to help and protect his people. 'With all my power and all my knowledge I swear to each of you that I will keep justice and right, so that each of you render to me the honor due to me, and give me your help to preserve and defend the kingdom which I hold from God with faithfulness, with justice, and with right."

Thus a new race of Kings came to the throne. They are called the Carolingians, or sons of Charles. We do not know whether the name means sons of Charles the Hammer or sons of Carloman, who, you remember, was the father of Pepin the Old.

The last of the Merovingians was taken from his palace. His long fair hair, the last sign of his kingship, was cut off, and he was sent to end his days in a monastery. So the long pretense was over. It had endured for more than a hundred years.

Almost as soon as Pepin was crowned, he had to fight to defend his crown. For many nobles who were willing to obey him as Mayor of the Palace were not willing to obey him as King, although the difference seemed one of name only. But Pepin fought and conquered, and the nobles one by one yielded to him.

The Lombards were still threatening Rome, and now the Pope (not the same Pope as appealed to Charles the Hammer but another) resolved to cross the Alps, and beg in person for the help of the mighty King of the Franks.

The Pope was already looked upon with great reverence by the Christian world, and the French King was looked upon as the champion of the Christian Church. So when it became known that the Pope was coming to visit Pepin, crowds of people flocked from every side to do him honor. Pepin received the Pope with every mark of reverence.

With tears in his eyes, with ashes upon his head and clad in sackcloth, the great Pontiff threw himself before the soldier King to beg his help. Pepin promised help, and in return the Pope crowned him and anointed him again as King of the Franks, and made the nobles swear never to elect a King except from the family of Pepin. The Pope also gave Pepin the title of Patrician of Rome. This was really only an empty honor. It gave him no power in Rome.

Pepin faithfully kept his promise, and when he had defeated the Lombards, he restored to the Pope the land he had taken. It was after his return from this war that a story is told of Pepin which shows his wonderful strength and courage. He was called Pepin le Bref, or the Short, for he was a little man, but he was very strong and of marvelous courage.

It was told to him one day that his soldiers laughed at him because he was so little, so he made up his mind to teach them a lesson. In those days fights between wild beasts were the chief amusements of the people. They went to see a wild beast combat as we might go to a pantomime. So Pepin ordered a very fierce bull, which was so large that it made people afraid even to look at it, to be brought into the arena. Against this bull there was let loose the most ferocious lion that could be found.

The arena was filled with roaring and bellowing as the two fierce creatures met. With lowered horns and lashing tail the bull rushed at the lion. With a low growl the lion sprang at the bull, seized him by the throat, and brought him to the ground. The struggle was fearful. In breathless silence the people watched, glad to think there was a strong barrier between them and the fighting beasts.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


Then Pepin spoke. "Go," he said to those around him, "go, tear the lion and the bull apart or kill them both."

The courtiers looked at each other in silence, their cheeks white with fear, their hearts cold with dread. Scarcely able to speak they stammered, "Lord Prince, there is no man under heaven who dare do such a deed."

Without a word Pepin rose from his throne, drew his sword, and jumped down into the arena. With one blow he cut off the lion's head, and with a second the null's. Then he put his sword back into the scabbard, and quietly returned to his seat.

"Does it seem to you now," he said, 'that I am fit to be your lord and master? Have you never heard how David as a boy vanquished the great Goliath? and how Alexander, in spite of his short stature, treated his generals?'

Then all his courtiers fell on their knees and prayed his forgiveness. 'We should be mad," they cried, "did we not acknowledge that you are born to be a leader of men."

At length, in 768, Pepin died and was buried in St. Denis. He had ruled France Tor eleven years as Mayor of the Palace, and for more than fifteen years as King. He was a great warrior King. But the fame of his father was so great, and the fame of the son who came after him was so great, that his own fame is almost lost sight of.

So true is this that, many years later, a King of France caused to be carved upon his tomb, "Pepin, the father of Charlemagne."