The Franks

The Franks
The Franks, as they are known today, were a Germanic tribe who
eventually became the French. The Germanic tribes often caused mayhem
and destruction in medieval Europe. However, it is important to also note
that some of the Germanic tribes were not barbarians, but instead settled in
homes, and tried to help build up civilization. They came to inhabit the
former wealthy Roman provinces of Gaul and became the most powerful of
the Germanic tribes. It was the Franks who created the strongest and most
stable barbarian kingdom in the days after the Western Roman Empire had
The early Franks were a loose confederation of
tribes who shared a similar culture. Tribal loyalty came
before loyalty to the confederation and because of this
the confederation was extremely weak. In A.D. 481 a
Merovingian King by the name of Clovis came to power.
He was a brutal warrior, who delighted in bloodshed on
the battlefield. He and his successors destroyed all
resistance within their empire. Fifteen years after taking
the throne, Clovis became converted to Christianity. The
conversion of Clovis was critical in European history. He
encouraged his people to also convert to this new faith. The Germanic tribes
would be critical in later years in defending Christianity against invading
By A.D. 700 the Merovingian kings had lost control of the region
inhabited by the Franks. Instead, power fell to a leader who was known as
the Mayor of the Palace. In A.D. 732 Islam
invaded Europe in an attempt to convert the
Christians to the Islam faith. They had already
conquered much of Europe, including almost
all of Spain. As the Muslims entered what is
now modern day France, a mayor of the
palace by the name of Charles Martel met
them with his forces in the city of Tours.
Martel and his forces were able to beat back
the Muslims, protecting the rest of Europe,
and insuring that the religion practiced by the
Europeans would remain Christianity. Charles Martel was succeeded as
mayor of the palace by his son Pepin. In A.D. 752 the Pope anointed Pepin
as king. This anointing by the Pope was important. To his subjects, it meant
that Pepin had the backing of God, or that he was God’s chosen ruler. In
exchange for the blessing of the Pope, Pepin promised to offer his protection
to the Church. At this time, the Church in Rome was under attack by another
Germanic tribe called the Lombards. Pepin successfully removed the
Lombards from Rome, and gave their lands to the Pope. This strengthened
the ties between the Catholic Church and the Franks.
Pepin was succeeded as king by his son Charlemagne. Charlemagne
was a tall, friendly ruler, and was also a skillful politician. He built up a
capable bureaucracy, a fair judicial system, and revived the arts. Under his
leadership, the kingdom controlled by the Franks doubled in size growing to
include France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. This kingdom became known as
the Frankish Empire. For the first time since
the fall of the Roman Empire, all the people
of Western Europe were ruled over by a
single government and by a single leader.
Charlemagne was one of Europe's most
successful monarchs.
He became the most powerful leader
in western Europe. He was a wise and just
ruler who instituted many new ideas.
Charlemagne did not think much of the
ordeal system of justice. He started a new
system - trial by panel. Under
Charlemagne's system, each accused person would be heard by a panel of
honorable men, men who had taken an oath to listen and to judge fairly
based on the evidence presented.
One of the most important things Charlemagne did for the world was
to turn his castle into a learning center - inviting scholars from all over the
world to take up residence there. Following his taking control of the Frankish
government, Charlemagne grew concerned
about the numbers of his people who could not
read or write. He sought to improve the
situation by opening schools around his
kingdom. Charlemagne also gathered together
the brightest scholars of his era, and had them
work to preserve ancient texts and records.
These scholars copied the writings of the
Romans, and others, preserving them for future
generations. He used his scholars to create
illuminated manuscripts that preserved
knowledge during the Dark Ages.
Charlemagne ruled his vast empire by using local officials called counts
to help him. Each count was responsible for solving local problems. These
counts were instructed in their duties and responsibilities personally by
Charlemagne, and they swore allegiance to him. Charlemagne then sent
loyal authorities known as Missi Dominici on annual tours of his empire to
observe how loyal his subjects were to him, and how closely the counts were
following the laws he had established. They also had the job of finding men
and raising armies for the kingdom. At least once a year, Charlemagne paid
surprise visits to his various counts to make sure they were managing fairly
and effectively.
After the death of Charlemagne in the year A.D. 814
his son Louise the Pious took the throne as emperor.
Louise was not as effective a leader as his father. Upon
the death of Louise, his three sons began fighting over
control of the empire. After several years of civil war,
which greatly weakened the empire, the three brothers
signed a treaty in A.D. 843, which divided the empire into
three equal pieces. Louis The German took control over
most of what is now present day Germany. Charles The
Bald took control of what is present day France, and
Lothair took the land in-between the two, stretching from the North Sea,
down into Italy. Lothair retained the title of emperor of the Holy Roman
Empire, since Rome laid within his territory.