As one historian commented Merovingian history is forgotten. It is forgotten by modern and ancient historians alike. When the Merovingians are referred to it is usually to their demise. And the demise of the Merovingians is usually shown to be because of ‘personal depravity’and ‘degeneracy’. Gibbon reported the following:
‘The descendants of Clovis had lost the inheritance – their misfortune has affixed the epithet of ‘lazy’ to the last kings ….. They ascended the throne without power and sunk into the grave without a name …. But each year in March or May they were conducted in a wagon drawn by oxen to the assembly of the Franks... To give audience... and to ratify the acts of the Mayor of the Palace’
The Merovingian kings here are ridiculed and represented to us as kings with no power at all. So why do the Mayors of the Palace have to have these Merovingian kings to ratify their Acts?
Presumably if the kings had wanted to they had the power to dispute any Act. Why would the Mayors of the Palace bother at all?
Wallace-Hadrill has drawn attention to the above passage by Gibbon. As Wallace-Hadrill said, the extract is based on Einhards Vita Karoli Magni which was written some eighty years after the fall of the Merovingians. Wallice-Hadrill concluded:
‘Here are the last Merovingians as the Carolingians saw them’
Why should we put so much store in a dynasty’s account when that same dynasty was trying to depose what went before them? This legitimate question was asked by Wallace-Hadrill and it is as well to ask that question ourselves. As Wallace-Hadrill says you would not expect the Carolingian account of the Merovingian dynasty to be flattering but should they be ridiculing them? When Einhard described the Merovingians being pulled in wagons by their oxen was this a slight at the ancestry of the Merovingians – that of a sea beast, a quinataur? [You can read more about this practice of being pulled in wagons HERE, a decidedly Gothic practice!].
The Merovingians appear to have been a migrating people who were separate from the Franks. However, these Merovingians somehow came to rule the Franks. These tribal duchies and affiliations, according to some historians, were creations of the Merovingians themselves. But French historians do not notice this fact and France with her ‘collective amnesia’ seems not to notice the importance of the Merovingians. Geary cited one of the most prominent reasons as for this was because of:
‘historians tend(ing) to accept in an uncritical manner the anti-Merovingian propaganda created and disseminated by the Carolingians & their supporters, which was intended to undermine the prestige of the Merovingian royal family’
How then, asks Geary, can this history be accepted ‘as an accurate assessment of the dynasty, and in particular its inglorious end?’
Geary goes on to suggest that these Carolingian portraits explain why later dynasties did not want to be associated with the Merovingian family (although by the time of King Louis XIII there was an interest in reviving the Merovingian ancestry history). The last so called 'effective’ Merovingian king was Dagobert II. In his life and death perhaps we can see vestiges of Carolingian ‘royalty’ making a concerted effort to rid themselves of the Merovingians. But alongside this effort the Carolingians also wanted to keep for themselves what the Merovingians had. And what they had was ‘sacred kingship’. As Wallice-Hadrill asserted, make no doubt about it, the incident regarding Dagobert II was not about power. Why? Because the Mayors of the Palace were well on their way to having the power and control of the kingdom of France. As Picard asserted:
"What was at stake was not POWER but KINGSHIP’
Why would the Carolingians need the Merovingian sacral kingship to be recognised as kings themselves? In fact to help their cause the Carolingians may have started to insist at this time that their early ancestor was Arnulf, Bishop of Metz. Why would Arnulf be of interest to them? There were plenty more illustrious holy men they could claim as antecedents. However if the Carolingians began to actively promote an association with ‘sacred kingship’ then Arnulf would have been important. He was related to Goeric and the Ansbertina family of the Aquitaine. What is important about this family? It is that they were of a line ultimately going back to the Sicambrian Franks to which the Merovingian line also issued. It must have seemed appropriate to the Carolingians to claim Arnulf as an ancestor! But it is by no means certain that Arnulf was a founder of the Carolingian line. Paul the Deacon reports it rather late in the history of Charlemagne. Whichever way we look at various scenarios –there is no getting away from the fact that the Carolingians wanted what the Merovingians had – sacred blood. That of the Sang Real.
SACRED KINGSHIP AND THE MEROVINGIANS
As Wallice-Hadrill pointed out the Kingship of the Franks involved a confederation of tribes and within these confederations were many tribes each with its own‘petty’ king. One tribe, the Salians, were for example based around Toxandria. Some of them had been exiled by Probus to the shores of the Black Sea and they were identified with the sea. This area is associated with Childeric I, whose father is thought to have been Merovee, and whose own son was Clovis. Their neighbours were the Sicambri who are said by Claudius to have had a fleet of ships. These tribal groups were ruled by the ‘long haired kings’, an epithet which was appended to the Merovingian family only. This is because the family, as distinct from others, wore their hair long. The members of this family seem to have been chosen because of their ‘nobilitas’. According to Wallice-Hadrill this made them different. He said:
‘Descent counted for something and they (the Merovingians) were meant to do more than fight’
Childeric was a Salian king and it was his grave which was found at Tournai (which included a cloak embroidered with 300 cicadas & a minature gold bulls head).
The Merovingians, as far as we know, did not claim to be descended from a God. However, some researchers posit that for the Merovingians to have achieved their ‘sacral’ character they must have worshipped Woden. Not so, argues Wallice-Hadrill, who comments that the Merovingians may have received their sacral character from some other source. Whichever scenario one accepts the origins of the Merovingians were not seen as ‘ordinary’. However, European kingship is descended from the ancient kingships of the Egyptians, the Ancient Near East and of course Old Testament kingship.
The sacred kingship of the Old Testament kings does not come from the fact that, for example, King David was a god incarnate. His sacral character comes from the fact that he was ‘sent’ by God. When one looks into the original basis of kingship in the sense that we understand it in the Merovingians – we do in fact have clear antecedents for this kind of kingship.
The Merovingians do not seem to have been an important family before the advent of Merovee. Merovee fought alongside Aeitius on the Catalaunian Fields in around 455. It was Merovee’s ancestry that was seen as supernatural in some way. It is his origins which are associated with the legend of the sea beast, a ‘quinataur’ – an animal said to resemble a beast of Neptune. Was it meant to resemble the legends regarding the Minotaur – an animal which was part human, and part beast of Neptune? In these stories some have seen the co-mingling of Merovee with another ‘bloodline’, that is, another important family. So – is it the Merovingians who are important or is it just Merovee's line because his mother’s ancestry involved another rather more prominent family? Merovee’s mother was apparently already pregnant with Merovee and while swimming in the sea she was ‘raped’ by the Quinataur.
This is a very strange story indeed. It does somehow seem to suggest that Merovee had something very important about him. Perhaps the symbolism of part human part sea beast is synonymous with the many gods all civilisations had, gods who came from the sea and who educated people. For European history the figure of Oannes may be evoked. Some other researchers have posited that Merovee’s name means ‘sea born’ and Merovee’s right to divine rulership was due to ‘divine origins’. Perhaps from across the sea?
What did the Merovingians say themselves about their own origins? Unfortunately we do not know. No records of the Merovingians’ own writings on their origins exist. However in the Origins of the Franks and their story we may glean some of beginnings of the Merovingians.
The sources on Frankish history are mostly Roman but we also have the reports of writers such as Gregory of Tours. There are two ways we can look at the Merovingian origins. There are the written histories and of course archaeology. We will look at the written histories first. Gerberding reported:
‘ … We can trace the origins of the Franks no earlier than to the period when the Romans began to establish and defend the Rhine as their border. The Franks were western Germans and as far back as we can see they had always lived in Germany. We find no evidence of a migration from Asia, the lands of the Danube, Scandinavia or elsewhere. This however was definitely not the view of the author of the LHF or of other authors’
There are three major authors who trace the origins of the Franks. They are the LHF author (he is otherwise unknown), Fredegar and Gregory of Tours. Although, as Gerberding points out, the three authors are very different in their treatment of Frankish origins there is enough overlap to suggest that they all ‘echo the same basic story’. This story, stripped of all its variants, tells us:
‘that the Franks were once Trojans who lived for a while near the Sea of Azov and then the lands of the lower Danube before coming to the lower Rhine, where through conflict with the Romans, they forced their way into Gaul ’
These stories include the Franks living in Pannonia and also being descended from Trojans they were in turn descended from Cetthin, a grandson of Noah. The first kings are also referred to, that of Priam, and also Francio. Fredegar tells us that the Franks;
‘Chose their kings from the original Trojan Royal family’
Here Fredegar named the descendants of Priam and Francio as Theudemar and Richemer. It is possible that the garbled stories of the Trojans, the Trojan royal family and the myth of a Quinataur could all be inter-related. The myth of the Minotaur/Quinataur is as follows. The Minotaur was the ‘monstrous’ son of a white bull, which was sent by the sea god Posiedon, and Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete. Pasiphae developed a passion for this white bull, and Daedalus made a cow, into which Pasiphae fitted so she could mate with the bull. The result was the Minotaur. When the child was born, it had the head of a bull and the body of a man. This is the story surely of the descendants of the Minoan royal house and that of Posiedon. Posiedon is said to be of the family of Theseus. Theseus was allegedly the heir of the Athenian throne. It was Theseus who overcame and killed the Minotaur.
If the Quinataur is some sort of ‘beast’ of Neptune then who is Neptune? Neptune was an ancient Italian water god whom the Romans identified with Posiedon. Was Neptune then Posiedon? Would the Quinataur origins of Merovee relate to a son of Posiedon? Or perhaps on his mother side from some sort of Trojan family? Some researchers have discussed the idea that there ‘are good reasons to believe that Greek mythology is an embellished version of real history. The so called ‘gods’ were just ordinary men and women whose deeds have been exaggerated so that they could be made into gods’
The Merovingians are said to have practiced polygamy and physical contact with them could heal the sick. The king himself was different from the nobility. As Gerberding pointed out –
‘There is an unbridgeable gap between the Merovingain king and their nobility. There is a remarkable commitment by the Franks to exclusive rule by their hereditary Merovingain kings’
He goes on to say: ‘The Merovingian staus was based not at all in anything as changeable or open to interpretation as law, but in their bodies. They were born royal’.
What does it all mean?
Gildas, a historian of English kingship suggested that kings and their nations had a destiny under god and that the prosperity of that nation ‘bore a direct relationship to its salvation and its declension to sin’. A Merovingian king depicted as a 'lazy king' - Einhard described the Merovingians being pulled in wagons by their oxen in a slight against their fabulous origins.