Extract from the History of the Bishops of Auxerre (ca. 715-720)

Barrie Brill

In the seventh century, bishops tended to impose themselves at the head of the public administration. The fact was that many bishops were from aristocratic families and they often acted like their lay brethren. This pre-eminence of bishops asserted itself particularly in Burgundy and Neustria where royal power weakened and struggles between aristocratic factions developed. In some places they were able to assume control of the lay administration and exercised the powers of the count so that they had an upper hand in taxation, justice, and the holding of public markets. Finally, some of them had an army, one example being Savaric, the Bishop of Auxerre and Orléans who set out the conquer the dioceses or neighbouring counties. After 687, the mayors of the palace of Austrasia now also governed Neustria and Burgundy and they endeavoured to destroy these ecclesiastical principalities. Both Pippin of Herstal and his son Charles Martel strove to make a clear distinction between episcopal power and the power of counts. They confiscated many ecclesiastical properties to distribute them not only amongst their vassals, but also to their counts. They attempted to wrest the judicial, fiscal, and military rights that the bishops had seized and invest these powers in the counts.

Gesta pontificum Autissiodorensium

Savaric[1] held the see for five years, four months. This man, as the public rumour affirms, began, due to the very great nobility of his family, to deviate somewhat from his state and condition to devote himself greedily to secular affairs, more than is appropriate for a bishop, to the point of invading with a troop of soldiers the regions of Orléans as well as Nevers, and also Tonnerre, as well as Avallon and Troyes, submitting them to his domination: at that time, in fact, the Franks, in disagreement with each other, started very many civil wars, rushing against each other in the forest of Cuise, [and] they were exterminated in gigantic carnage.[2] So, also this same bishop, neglecting the episcopal dignity, after having assembled a very large troop from all sides [and] headed for Lyon, was struck suddenly by divine anger, dying without delay, and here is how he was brought back to his own city and he was buried in the basilica of Saint-Germain next to his predecessors. This happened in the days of King Dagobert the Younger[3] and Daniel, who, after changing his name, was called Chilperic[4] and from that time became king, while Pippin[5], mayor of the palace with Plectrude[6], ruled the principality.


Questions for Consideration

  1. How does the author characterize the actions of Savaric?
  2. What do extracts such as this reveal about the balance of clerical and secular power in this time period?

  1. Savaric, bishop of Auxerre and of Orléans.
  2. In the course of this battle that took place on September 26, 715, in the forest of Cuise near Compiègne, the Neustrians defeated and put to flight Theudoald who had been imposed as mayor of the palace in Neustria by his grandmother Plectrude.
  3. Dagobert III, king of the Franks from 711 to 715/716.
  4. Chilperic II, King of the Franks 715/716-721.
  5. Pippin II, mayor of the place of Austrasia, who dominated Neustria-Burgundy from 687 through the intermediary Nordebert, then his own son Grimoald, and died in 714.
  6. Plectrude, wife of Pippin of Herstal.


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