History of the Frankish empire

The Frankish dominion was established over the Roman province of Gaul by Clovis at the opening of the sixth century. The Merovingian dynasty degenerated rapidly and the power passed into the hands of the Mayors of the Palace--an office which became hereditary with Pepin Heristal and Charles Martel. With the sanction of the pope, the Merovingian king was deposed by Pepin, the son of Charles Martel, who was crowned king and overthrew the Lombard power in Italy.

Pepin was succeeded by Charlemagne, who completed the conquest of the Lombards, carried his arms into Spain as far as the Ebro and extended his power eastwards over the Saxon as far as the Elbe. In his person the Roman Empire was revived, and he was crowned Emperor at Rome on Christmas Day, A.D. 800. The great empire he had built up fell to pieces under his successors, who adopted the disastrous plan of partition amongst brothers.

France fell to the share of one branch of the Carlovingians. The Northmen were allowed to establish themselves in Normandy, and Germany was completely separated from France. The Carlovingians were replaced by Hugh Capet. The actual royal domain was small, and the kings of the house of Capet exercised little control over their great feudatories until the reign of Philip Augustus. That crafty monarch drew into his own hands the greater part of the immense territories held by the kings of England as French feudatories.

After a brief interval the craft of Philip Augustus was succeeded by the idealism of St. Louis, whose admirable character enabled him to achieve an extraordinary ascendancy over the imagination of his people. In spite of the disastrous failure of his crusading expeditions, the aggrandisement of the crown continued, especially under Philip the Fair; but the failure of direct heirs after the successive reigns of his three sons placed Philip of Valois on the throne, according to the Salic law of succession, in 1328.

Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I