Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XXIV.: ON THE CHARACTER AND POLICY OF THE FRANKS. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XXIV.: ON THE CHARACTER AND POLICY OF THE FRANKS. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE CHARACTER AND POLICY OF THE FRANKS.
To correct in some measure the false versions of our modern historians, on what are called the first epochs of the French monarchy, it would be necessary to separate in idea the Frankish race from the other inhabitants of Gaul, and distinguish the facts peculiar to it from the mass of historical facts. This labour, which would remedy many errors, is too long to be made the subject of a letter; but I can endeavour to give you an idea of it, by hastily tracing a slight anecdotal history of the relations of the Frankish population with the other populations of Gaul, from the sixth to the tenth century.
When the Frankish tribes were only known in the land we inhabit by their incursions into the four Germanic and Belgic provinces, two nations of the Germanic race inhabited as a fixed residence the beautiful southern provinces between the Loire and the two seas. The Burgundians were established on the east; the Goths on the south and west. The entry of these barbaric nations had been violent and accompanied with ravages; but they soon acquired the love of repose: they daily became more like the natives, and tended to become their neighbours and friends.* The Goths especially showed a liking for Roman customs, which were those of all the Gallic cities. Their chiefs gloried in love of the arts, and affected the polished manners of Rome.† Thus the wounds of the invasion became gradually healed, the cities raised up their walls; industry and science revived once more; Roman genius reappeared in that country where the conquerors themselves seemed to abjure their conquest.
It was then that Chlodowig, chief of the Franks, appeared on the banks of the Loire. Terror preceded his army;* it was known that at their emigration from Germany into Gaul, the Franks had shown themselves cruel and vindictive towards the Gallo-Roman population; fear was so great at their approach, that in many places fearful prodigies were supposed to foretell their invasion and victory.† The ancient inhabitants of the two Aquitanias joined the troops of the Goths for the defence of the invaded territory. Those of the mountainous country, called in Latin Arvernia, and which we call Auvergne, engaged in the same cause. But the courage and efforts of these men of various races did not prevail against the axes of the Franks, nor the fanaticism of the northern Gauls incited by their bishops, the enemies of the Goths who were Arians. An avid and ferocious multitude spread itself as far as the Pyrenees, destroying and depopulating the cities.‡ It divided the treasures of the country, one of the richest in the world, and crossed the Loire again, leaving garrisons on the conquered territory.§
In the year 532, Theoderik, one of the sons and successors of Chlodowig, said to those Frankish warriors whom he commanded: “Follow me as far Auvergne, and I will make you enter a country where you will take as much gold and silver as you possibly can desire; where you can carry away in abundance flocks, slaves, and garments.”* The Franks took up arms, and once more crossing the Loire, they advanced on the territory of the Bituriges and Avernes. These paid with interest for the resistance they had dared to the first invasion. Every thing amongst them was devastated; the churches and monasteries were razed to their foundations.† The young men and women were dragged, their hands bound, after the luggage to be sold as slaves.‡ The inhabitants of this unfortunate country perished in large numbers or were ruined by the pillage. Nothing was left them of what they had possessed, says an ancient chronicle, except the land, which the barbarians could not carry away.§
Such were the neighbourly relations kept up by the Franks with the Gallic populations which had remained beyond their limits. Their conduct with respect to the natives of the northern provinces was hardly less hostile. When Hilperik, the son of Chlother, wished, in the year 584, to send his daughter in marriage to the king of the West Goths,∥ or Visigoths, settled in Spain, he came to Paris and carried away from the houses belonging to the fisc a great number of men and women, who were heaped up in chariots to accompany and serve the bride elect. Those who refused to depart, and wept, were put in prison: several strangled themselves in despair. Many people of the best families enlisted by force into this procession, made their will and gave their property to the churches. “The son,” says a cotemporary, “was separated from his father, the mother from her daughter; they departed sobbing, and pronouncing deep curses; so many persons in Paris were in tears that it might be compared to the desolation of Egypt.”¶
In their domestic misfortunes, the kings of the Franks sometimes felt remorse, and trembled at the evil they had done. Fredegonda, the wife of the Hilperik I have just mentioned, seeing her sons die one after the other, exclaimed, “It is the tears of the poor, the groans of the widows, and the sighs of the orphans that kill them. We amass and hoard up without knowing for whom. Our treasures remain without possessors, but are full of rapine and curses. Let us not hesitate to burn all these papers which serve to levy unjust taxes.”** But this momentary repentance soon yielded to the love of riches, the most violent passion of the Franks.
Their incursions into the south of Gaul recommenced as soon as that country, recovered from its terrors and defeats, no longer admitted their garrisons nor tax collectors. Karle, to whom the fear of his arms gave the surname of Marteau,* made an inroad as far as Marseilles; he took possession of Lyons, Arles and Vienne, and carried off an immense booty to the territory of the Franks.† When this same Karle, to insure his frontiers, went to fight the Saracens in Aquitania, he put the whole country to fire and sword; he burnt Bérgiers, Agde and Nùnes; the arenas of the latter city still bear traces of the fire. At death of Karle, his two sons, Karlemann and Peppin,‡ continued the great enterprise of replacing the inhabitants of the south, to whom the name of Roman was still given, under the yoke of the Franks.§ In 742, their army passed the Loire at Orleans, directed its march to Bourges, devastated the country as far as the castle of Loches, and divided on the spot the spoils of the vanquished, and the men themselves whom they brought away to sell. In the year 761, Peppin, having become King of the Franks, convoked their great annual assembly on the banks of the Loire; they came there with their arms and baggage, crossed the river, and ravaged Aquitania as far as the country of the Arvernes, where they burned the city of Clermont, causing a number of men, women, and children, to perish in the flames.∥ The principal city of the Arvernes was taken by storm, and the Franks, according to their custom, seized every thing that could be carried away. The following year they again came into the environs of Bourges to carry away men and horses. In 765, they extended their incursions to Limoges; in 766, they went as far as Agen, destroying vines and trees, burning and plundering houses. After this ravage of entire Aquitania, they departed for their own country, “full of joy,” as the chronicles say, “and praising God who guided them in this fortunate expedition.”¶
The southern Gaul was to the sons of the Franks what entire Gaul had been to their fathers; a country, the riches and climate of which attracted them incessantly, and saw them return as enemies, as soon as it did not purchase peace of them. Karle, son of Peppin, to whom we give the singular name of Charlemagne, in imitation of the romances of the middle ages, carried as far as the Pyrenees the devastation which his father had been unable to extend beyond the confines of Aquitania. He united entire Gaul and several of the neighbouring countries under a military government, which he endeavoured to render regular to insure its duration, but the dismemberment of which commenced almost immediately after his death. Then all the countries united by force to the empire of the Franks, and over which, in consequence of this union, the name of France had extended itself, made unheard-of efforts to reconquer their ancient names. Of all the Gallic provinces, none but the southern ones succeeded in this great enterprise; and after the wars of insurrection, which, under the sons of Karle the Great, suceeeded the wars of conquest, Aquitania and Provence became distinct states. Among the south-eastern provinces re-appeared even the ancient name of Gaul, which had for ever perished north of the Loire. The chiefs of the new kingdom of Arles, which extended from the Jura to the Alps, took the title of Kings of Gaul in opposition to the Kings of France.
[* ] . . . . . Non cum subjectis, sed cum fratribus Christianis. (Pauli Orosii Historia.)
[† ] Leges Wisigoth. passim.
[* ] Terror Francorum resonabat. (Greg. Turon. Hist. Franc. Ecclesiast.)
[† ] Sanguis erupit in medio Tolosæ civitatis et tota die fluxit, Francorum adveniente regno. (Idatii Chron., apud Script. Rerum Francic. tom. ii.)
[‡ ] Urbes subruens, municipia depopulans (Roriconis monachi Gesta Francorum.)
[§ ] Prædam innumerabilem . . . ad solum Proprium . . . . . (Script. Rer. Francic. tom. ii. and iii.)
[* ] . . . . Et ego vos inducam in patriam, ubi aurum et argentum accipiatis, quantum vestra potest desiderare cupiditas, de quâ pecora, de quâ mancipia, de quâ vestimenta in abundantiam adsumatis. (Greg. Turon. apud Script. Rer. Francic. t. ii.)
[† ] Solo tenùs adæquata. (Ibid.)
[‡ ] Scitisque vultibus puellas. (Vita sancti Fidoli, apud Script. Rer. Francic. tom. iii.)
[§ ] . . . . Præter terram solam quam barbari secum ferre non poterant. (Script. Rer. Francic. tom. iii. p. 356.)
[∥ ] This name signifies Western Goths; it proceeded from the reciprocal situation of the two great branches of the Gothic population in their native land to the north of the Danube. It was the invasion of the Huns which compelled this population to emigrate in large bodies to the Roman territory.
[¶ ] Tantusque planctus in urbe erat Parisiacâ, ut planctui compararetur Egyptio. (Greg. Turon. apud Script. Rer. Francic. tom. ii. p. 289.)
[** ] Ecce eos lachrymæ pauperum, lamenta viduarum, suspiria orphanorum interimunt . . . . Nunc, si placet, veni et incendamus omnes descriptiones iniquas. (Ibid. p. 253.)
[* ] Quia nulli parcere sciret. (Chron. Virdunense, apud Script Rerum Francic. tom. iii.)
[† ] In Francorum regnum, cum magnis thesauris remeavit. (Fredegarn Chronic, apud Script Rerum Francic. tom. ii.)
[‡ ] The word mann, which signifies man, is here joined to that of karl, which signifies robust man, to give it still more force. The signification of the name of Peppin is not easy to discover; this name seems formed of Pepp or Pipp, a familiar contraction of another name of two syllables, and of the Germanic diminutive, indicated by the addition of the syllables in, ien, or chen. Two names analogous to this one are found in Gregory of Tours: we find Pappolenus and Beppolenus, which, in the language of the Franks, must have been called Pappeleen and Beppeleen. It is still the same familiar name Bepp or Papp, followed by the diminutive leen or lein, as the Germans now pronounce it.
[§ ] Romanos proterunt. (Fredeg. Chronic. apud Script. Rer. Francic. tom. ii.)
[∥ ] Vivos concremaverunt. (Fredegarii Chronic.)
[¶ ] In Franciam læti . . . . Christo in omnibus præsule, Christo duce, Deo auxiliante. (Ibid. tom. ii.)