1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Merovingians

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MEROVINGIANS, the name given to the first dynasty which reigned over the kingdom of the Franks. The name is taken from Merovech, one of the first kings of the Salian Franks, who succeeded to Clodio in the middle of the 5th century, and soon became the centre of many legends. The chronicler known as Fredegarius Scholasticus relates that a queen was once sitting by the seashore, when a monster came out of the sea, and by this monster she subsequently became the mother of Merovech, but this myth is due to an attempt to explain the hero’s name, which means “the sea-born.” At the great battle of Mauriac (the Catalaunian fields) in which Aetius checked the invasion of the Huns (451), there were present in the Roman army a number of Frankish foederati, and a later document, the Vita lupi, states that Merovech (Merovaeus) was their leader. Merovech was the father of Childeric I. (457–481), and grandfather of Clovis (481–511), under whom the Salian Franks conquered the whole of Gaul, except the kingdom of Burgundy, Provence and Septimania. The sons of Clovis divided the dominions of their father between them, made themselves masters of Burgundy (532), and in addition received Provence from the Ostrogoths (535); Septimania was not taken from the Arabs till the time of Pippin, the founder of the Carolingian dynasty. From the death of Clovis to that of Dagobert (639), the Merovingian kings displayed considerable energy, both in their foreign wars and in the numerous wars against one another in which they found an outlet for their barbarian instincts. After 639, however, the race began to decline, one after another the kings succeeded to the throne, but none of them reached more than the age of twenty or twenty-five; this was the age of the “rois fainéants.” Henceforth the real sovereign was the mayor of the palace. The mayors of the palace belonging to the Carolingian family were able to keep the throne vacant for long periods of time, and finally, in 751 the mayor Pippin, with the consent of the pope Zacharias, sent King Childeric III. to the monastery of St Omer, and shut up his young son Thierry in that of St Wandrille. The Merovingian race thus came to an end in the cloister.

Bibliography.—See Pétigny, Études sur l'époque mérovingienne (Paris, 1851); G. Richter, Annalen des fränkischen Reichs im Zeitalter der Merowinger (Halle, 1873); F. Dahn, Die Könige der Germanen, vii. (Leipzig, 1894); by the same author, Urgeschichte der germanischen und romanischen Völker, iii. (Berlin, 1883); W. Schultze, Deutsche Geschichte von der Urzeit bis zu den Karolingern, ii. (Stuttgart, 1896).

Merovingian Legend.—It has long been conceded that the great French national epics of the 11th and 12th centuries must ave been founded on a great fund of popular poetry, and that many of the episodes of the chansons de geste refer to historical events anterior to the Carolingian period., Floovant is obviously connected with the Gesta Dagaberti, and there are traces of the influence of popular songs on the Frankish heroes in Gregory of Tours and other chroniclers. See G. Kurth, Hist. poét. des Mérovingiens (Paris, Brussels and Leipzig, 1893); A. Darmesteter, De Floovante vetustiore gallico poemate (Paris, 1877); Floovant (Paris, 1859); ed. MM. F. Guessard and H. Michelant; P. Rajna, Delle Origine dell' epopea francese (Florence, 1884), with which cf. G. Paris in Romania, xiii. 602 seq.; F. Settegast, Quellenstudien zur gallo-romanischen Epik (Leipzig, 1904); C. Voretzsch, Epische Studien (Halle, 1900); H. Groeber, Grundriss d. roman. Phil. Bd. II., abt. i. pp. 7 seq.).  (C. Pf.)