Rois Fainéants

(Do-Nothing Kings)
   Name traditionally applied to the last of the kings of the Merovingian dynasty. The so-called rois fainéants, or do-nothing kings, held the throne from the death of Dagobert in 638 to the deposition of the final Merovingian king, Childeric III, in 751 by Pippin III the Short. Although a fairly common designation, it is a misleading one; the decline of the Merovingian dynasty was neither as dramatic nor as rapid as the name implies. In fact, the Merovingians remained important figures in the Frankish kingdoms until the time of Charles Martel in the early eighth century.
   The impression of sudden and extreme Merovingian weakness is primarily the result of the eighth and ninth century sources that tell the tale of the last century of Merovingian rule. Most of these sources were written by those who supported the Carolingian dynasty that replaced the Merovingians in 751. These sources all portrayed the Carolingian kings in the most favorable light and the last of the descendants of the first great Frankish king, Clovis (r. 481-511), in the worst light. The most important of these sources is the life of Charlemagne written by Einhard, a member of Charlemagne's court. According to Einhard the last Merovingian king, Childeric, was a pathetic figure indeed. Childeric possessed little but the title of king, according to Einhard, and sat on the throne playing the role of king with his long hair and flowing beard. He had little wealth, only the income of a small estate and whatever the Carolingian mayors of the palace provided to support him. He would ride in an oxcart to attend the general assembly of the kingdom, at which whatever answers he gave to questions of state or to visiting ambassadors were initiated by the mayor of the palace. Although the real power of Childeric was quite limited, this portrayal clearly exaggerates the relative power of the Merovingian and Carolingian families, and it has cast an inaccurate shadow over the Merovingian kings of the previous century. Einhard and other pro-Carolingian writers developed this image to buttress the claims to the throne of a dynasty that only a generation or so before usurped royal power.
   Although the Carolingians exploited their power as mayors of the palace during the late seventh and early eighth centuries, they were not the sole aristocratic family seeking power, and the Merovingian dynasty remained an important part of the power structure in the Frankish kingdoms. The continued strength of the descendants of Clovis is demonstrated by a number of things. The failure of the coup of Grimoald, a Carolingian mayor, in the 650s shows that the Franks were not yet ready for a new royal dynasty. The various aristocratic factions in the three Frankish kingdoms-Austrasia, Burgundy, and Neustria-competed for control of the kingdoms and for access to the kings. The murders of the Merovingian kings Childeric II and Dagobert II in the 670s were due not to their weakness but rather to their strength and the opposition to their policies. As late as the 720s Merovingian kings issued charters and other royal enactments for the kingdoms that were effectively implemented. In fact, in the early eighth century, when the Carolingians were clearly in the ascendancy, Merovingian kings competed for the support of important monasteries. Perhaps the best example of the lingering prestige of the dynasty as late as the 740s is the appointment by Pippin and Carloman of Childeric III as king. Thus, although the later Merovingian kings were not the equals of Clovis, the founder of the dynasty, they were not the weak and ineffective kings of tradition.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Einhard and Notker the Stammerer. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1981.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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