The Inheritance

Barrie Brill

Charles inherited a rather favourable situation that was the result of the policies pursued by his father Pippin II of Herstal. While Charles had difficulties establishing himself as the successor of his father, he quickly established his power on a new basis, pursuing the aim of extending the influence of his family throughout the Frankish lands.

The Role of Pippin II of Herstal

The Pippinids were the result of the marriage alliance around 620 of two powerful Austrasian lineages, that of Arnulf, the Bishop of Metz, who possessed extensive estates in the valleys of the Meuse, the Moselle, and the middle Rhine, and Pippin I, known as “of Landen”, whose family patrimony was situated farther north, essentially in Brabant and Namur. The union of these two families by the marriage of the children of Arnulf and Pippin, Ansegisel and Begga, led to the concentration of important domains situated between the Meuse and the Rhine, such as Landen, Herstal, and Thoinville. After his death, miracles were said to have taken place[1] at the tomb of Arnulf, who became a saint, and this only added to the later charisma of his family. It is also true that the Pippinids had established important monasteries on their lands, such as Nivelles and Stavelot. It was here that they recruited their clients, large landowners in the region who were willing to place themselves in their service in the hope of reaping benefits: the Widonids and Unrochids, in particular, were from this region. Pippin II further increased the power of his family by marrying Plectrude, daughter of Count Hugobert [also, Chugoberctus or Hociobercthus], which brought him new domains located at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle, in the basin of Trier and Cologne.

Due to these advantages, Pippin II was able to take control of all Austrasia in the period from 687 to 710. He also was able to conquer Neustria and thus had the two major parts of the Frankish kingdom in his hands. He was not the king but held the office of mayor of the palace. He governed in the name of a puppet king, a descendant of Clovis, who represented the legitimate authority, but who no longer exercised power in reality. When King Theuderic III died in 691, Pippin chose his successor from amongst the possible heirs.

Pippin also strengthened the position of the Franks in the north of Austrasia by successfully attacking the Kingdom of the Frisians and supporting the evangelization movement in Friesland and Alemannia. The conversion of these regions was undertaken by Anglo-Saxon missionaries. Many campaigns allowed the Franks to reconquer western Frisia, where the Northumbrian missionary Willibrord revived the church of St. Martin of Utrecht with the support of Pippin. Willibrord founded the monastery of Echternach, which became a major missionary center for Frisia, on land that belonged to the Pippinids. When Pippin and his wife Plectrude greatly increased the property of this monastery in 706, the foundation charter stated: “When Willibrord passes from this life, his brothers will freely choose an abbot. This man should show himself faithful in all things to us, to our son Grimoald, to his son, and to the sons of Drogo, our grandsons.”[2] Pippin had inaugurated an alliance between his family, the Anglo-Saxon missionaries and the papacy, a policy that would be perpetuated by his son Charles Martel.


Questions for Consideration

  1. What were the most important contributions of Pippen II of Herstal?
  2. Why would the alliance with the Anglo-Saxon missionaries prove so important?

  1. In 640, for example, it was said that an abundance of beer was mysteriously delivered to the party tasked with moving Arnulf's body for burial.
  2. Cited by Pierre RIché, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 33.


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The Ancient and Medieval World Copyright © by Barrie Brill is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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