Dagobert

(608-638/639)
   The son of Chlotar II and grandson of Fredegund, Dagobert was the last great and effective king of the Merovingian dynasty. Indeed, under Dagobert, the dynasty reached its high point, only to begin a gradual decline in the generation after his death. Despite the dynasty's misfortunes after his death, under Dagobert the kingdom enjoyed internal peace and prosperity and success against foreign foes. Like his father, Dagobert was active in the administration of law and may have promulgated two law codes for the Franks. He also, like Chlotar, maintained good relations with the church and its missionaries and also founded the important monastery of St. Denis in Paris, which came to serve as a royal tomb and the burial place of Dagobert himself.
   Dagobert benefited from the successes of his father, Chlotar II, who had restored the unity and peace of the kingdom after years of civil strife involving Brunhilde and Fredegund. Dagobert also played an important role in his father's efforts to preserve the authority of the dynasty over the entire kingdom. In 622, Dagobert was made subking of Austrasia, possibly as a concession to the local aristocracy and certainly at least to bind the Austrasian nobility closer to the ruling dynasty. Although it is slim, the evidence that exists suggests that Dagobert ruled the region well during his father's lifetime and was aided and greatly influenced by Chlotar's ally and mayor of the palace, Pippin of Landen, the ancestor of the Carolingian dynasty. At his father's death in 629, Dagobert assumed control of the entire kingdom. According to Fredegar, this was a poor time in Dagobert's reign, when the king sank into debauchery and avarice, exploiting particularly the resources of the church. It was Pippin, according to Fredegar, who reprimanded the king and turned him back on the proper path. Indeed, Pippin was one of Dagobert's most important and trusted advisors and joined the king when he moved his capital from Metz in Austrasia to Paris in Neustria. Dagobert moved in order to establish himself as the ruler of Neustria, and thus of the entire realm as well as Austrasia, which he had ruled since 622. Although he managed to secure his place in his father's kingdom in Neustria, Dagobert's move unsettled the nobility in Austrasia and forced Dagobert to address the concerns of the nobility, including perhaps the regionalism that may have motivated the nobles. As his father had done, Dagobert appointed his five- or six-year-old son Sigebert III (d. 656) as subking of Austrasia in 634. He also appointed his younger brother Charibert (d. 632) subking in Aquitaine, a very independent region that the Merovingians had yet to bring completely under their authority. Although he may have been making concessions to regionalism, Dagobert may also have intended the creation of subkings as a means to bind the kingdom more securely under his authority.
   Whatever his goal, Dagobert seems to have succeeded in binding the kingdom more fully together under his authority; he was also, like his father before him, an active lawgiver. The king took tours throughout his kingdom-itinerancy was a key to the success of most early medieval rulers-dispensing justice. Fredegar notes that Dagobert "struck terror" into the hearts of the people of Burgundy when he toured that region in the late 620s. He also toured Austrasia with similar effect in 630. He resolved legal disputes on these tours and dispensed high justice from the royal court, and the proceedings were guided by specific ritual and written texts. After 631, however, it seems that Dagobert ceased taking judicial tours and dispensed justice from his capital in Paris, a testimony to the sophistication of Merovingian legal practices and the peace and order of Dagobert's reign. Moreover, the king may also have codified Frankish legal codes. His name is associated with several legal codes of the early seventh century, including the Lex Ribuaria (Law of the Ripuarian Franks) for the Austrasian kingdom. He also may have been involved in the codification of the laws of the Alemanni and the Bavarians. Like his father before him, Dagobert's activities as a lawgiver were intended to enhance his stature as king and to set him apart from the nobility, which needed the king all the more because he dispensed justice.
   Dagobert also built upon his father's legacy of good relations with the church, an association important as a counterbalance to potential trouble from the nobility and as a support for his increasingly elevated conception of kingship. Like Chlotar, Dagobert consulted with the bishops and accepted their advice. He also, of course, oversaw the appointment of bishops and took steps to ensure the good quality of his appointments. The king promoted the activities of missionaries and, in general, oversaw the administration and well-being of the church in his kingdom. His most important relationship, however, was with the monasteries of his kingdom, especially the monastery of St. Denis near Paris. Dagobert developed a special relationship with the community, which he founded in 624, and he often made lavish donations to it. According to a late, and probably unreliable tradition, Dagobert felt especially indebted to St. Denis because the saint had protected him from Chlotar's anger during a quarrel Dagobert and his father had. According to Fredegar, Dagobert embellished the church at the monastery with gold and many precious stones. The king also made numerous grants of land to the monastery and in a charter granted the abbey the right to hold a fair on the saint's feast day, October 5. The fair brought great economic benefit to the monastery and attracted increasingly larger crowds as the saint's popularity grew. St. Denis gradually became the patron of the dynasty, and Dagobert and many of his descendants were buried at the monastery.
   At his death in 638/639, Dagobert was succeeded by his sons Sigebert III (d. 656), who had ruled as subking in Austrasia since 632, and Clovis II (d. 657). They inherited a kingdom that was at peace and enjoyed much prosperity, as well as close relations between the king and a very powerful church. The office of king had been greatly enhanced, and law and administration had been improved by Dagobert and Chlotar before him. Both Sigebert and Clovis enjoyed some success, and Clovis and his wife Balthild further strengthened ties with the church. But the growing power and ambition of the aristocracy was a bad omen, and signs of trouble began to emerge. Within a few generations of Dagobert's death, the dynasty began its irrevocable decline, and the so-called do-nothing kings (rois fainéants) began to assume the throne. Dagobert's reign, however, was the high point of the history of the Merovingian dynasty, and Dagobert was one of the greatest kings of the line.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S. Merovingian Military Organization, 481-751. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
 ♦ Bachrach, Bernard S., trans. Liber historiae Francorum. Lawrence, KS: Coronado, 1973.
 ♦ Fouracre, Paul, and Richard A. Gerberding. Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720. Manchester, UK: University of Manchester Press, 1996.
 ♦ Geary, Patrick. Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of the Merovingian World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
 ♦ James, Edward. The Franks. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
 ♦ Lasko, Peter. The Kingdom of the Franks: North-West Europe before Charlemagne. New York: McGraw Hill, 1971.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1982.
 ♦ ---. The Frankish Church. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., ed. and trans. The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar with Its Continuations. London: Nelson, 1960.
 ♦ Wemple, Suzanne. Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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