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THE eighth century had hardly entered on its second half when the last of the long-haired Merovingians was thrust from the throne of the Franks, and Pepin the mayor of the palace hailed as king. The change seemed slight, for the new dynasty had served a long apprenticeship. For more than a century the descendants of Clovis had been mere puppets in a king’s seat, while the descendants of St Arnulf, though called only Mayors of the Palace or Dukes and Princes of the Franks, had managed, and with vigour and success, the affairs of the realm. Their neighbours, the scoffing Greeks, marvelled at the strange ways of the Franks, whose lord the king needed no quality save birth alone, and all the year through had nothing to do or plan, but only to eat and drink and sleep and stay shut up at home except on one spring day, when he must sit at gaze before his people, while his head servant ruled the State to suit himself. But it was one thing to rule the State and quite another to lay hand upon those sacred titles and prerogatives which the reverence of centuries had reserved for the race of the Salian sea-god; and the house of Arnulf was little likely to forget their kinsman Grimoald who in the seventh century had outraged that reverence by setting his own son upon the throne, and had paid the forfeit with his life and with his child's. Charles Martel (the Hammer), in the last years of his long rule, had found it possible, indeed, to get on with no king at all, dating his documents from the death of the latest do-nothing; but, if he hoped that thus the two sons between whom at his own death he divided France like a private farm might enter peacefully upon the fact of kingship without its name, a year of turbulence was enough to teach the sons that to rule the Franks a kingly title must back the kingly power. The shadowy Merovingian whom they dragged forth from obscurity to lend a royal sanction to their acts was doubtless from the first a makeshift. Through their surviving charters, especially those of Pepin, the younger and more statesmanly, who not only appended to his name the proud phrase “to whom the Lord hath entrusted the care of government” but used always the “we” and “our” employed hitherto by royalty alone, there glimmers already another purpose. But not Pepin himself, even after his brother’s abdication left him sole ruler, and when, all turbulence subdued, two years eventless in the annals had confirmed his sway, ventured the final step of revolution without a sanction from a higher power.

Pepin [751

To one reared, like Pepin, by the monks of St Denis and to the prelates who were his advisers, it could hardly be doubtful where such a sanction should be sought. Whatever veneration still attached to ancient blood or custom, Jesus Christ was now the national god of the Franks. “Long live Christ, who loves the Franks”, ran the prologue of their Salk Law; “may he guard their realm and fill their princes with the light of his grace”. And, if the public law of the Franks knew no procedure for a change of dynasty, the story of another chosen people, grown more familiar than the sagas of German or Roman or Trojan ancestors, told how, when a king once proved unworthy, the God of heaven himself sent his prophet to anoint with oil the subject who should take his throne. Nor could any Frank be at a loss whither to look for such a message from the skies. From the days of Clovis the glory of the Franks had been their Catholic orthodoxy; and to Catholic orthodoxy the mouthpiece of heaven, the vicar of Christ on earth, was the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome. Since the time when Pope Gregory the Great had by his letters guided the religious policy of Brunhild and her wards there had come, it is true, long interruption to the intimacy of Frankish rulers with the Roman bishop; but, with the rise of the mayors of the palace of the pious line of Arnulf, that intimacy had been resumed. Already to Charles Martel the Pope could plead the gifts of his ancestors and his own to Roman altars; and it was that rude warrior, however unchurchly at times his use of church preferment and church property, who had made possible a reform of the Frankish Church through which it was now, beyond even the dreams of a Gregory the Great, becoming a province of Rome. What, backed by his strong arm, the English zeal of the papal legate Boniface had begun, the sons of Charles had made their personal task. From the first they had turned for guidance to the Pope himself; and when, in 747, Carloman, the elder, laying down all earthly rule for the loftier service of heaven, had with lavish gifts betaken him to the tomb of Peter and under its shadow had chosen for his monastic home the cave which once had sheltered that saintly Pope to whom the despairing Constantine, as men believed, had turned for healing and for baptism, the Frankish pilgrims whose multitude disturbed his peace must have learned afresh the proper oracle for princes in doubt.

It can never be quite certain, indeed, so close were now the relations of the Franks with Rome, that the scruple of conscience which in the autumn of 751 two envoys of Pepin laid before Pope Zacharias—the question whether it were good or no that one man should bear the name of king while another really ruled—was not of Roman suggestion, or that the answer had not, in any case, been made sure in advance. But there were reasons enough why, without prearrangement, the papal verdict might be safely guessed. It was not Pepin the Frank alone who ruled while another reigned. For a century that had been as true of the bishop of Rome; and the Pope not less than the mayor of the palace needed an ally. Though the nominal sovereign at Rome was still the Byzantine monarch who called himself Emperor of the Romans, and though from Constantinople still came imperial edicts and imperial messengers, the actual control, now that the Lombards had narrowed to a thread the road from the Exarchate by the Adriatic to the Roman Duchy by the Mediterranean and now that the Saracens were not only tasking all the Empire's resources in the East but making hazardous the sea route to the West, had passed ever more and more into the hands of the Roman bishop. Even under the law of the Empire his civil functions were large—the nomination of local officers, the care of public works, the oversight of administration and of justice, the protection of the poor and the wea—and what survives of his official correspondence shews how vigorously these functions were exercised. But the growing poverty of the public purse, drained by the needs of the imperial court or the greed of the imperial agents, and on the other hand the vast estates of the Roman Church, scattered throughout Italy and beyond, whose revenues made the Roman bishop the richest proprietor in all the West, had little by little turned his oversight into control. From his own resources he at need had filled the storehouses, repaired the aqueducts, rebuilt the walls, salaried the magistrates, paid off the soldiery. At his own instance he had provisioned the people, ransomed captives, levied troops, bought off invaders, negotiated with the encroaching Lombards.

This beneficent activity the imperial government had welcomed. Making the Pope its own banker, it had formally entrusted him with the supply of the city, with the maintenance of the militia. To him, as to a Roman magistrate, it addressed its instructions. Meanwhile the needless civil magnates gradually vanished or became his creatures. The Roman senate quietly ceased to exist or existed so obscurely that for a century and a half it ceases to be heard of. The praefect of the city was the bishop's nominee. Even the military hierarchy, which elsewhere in Italy was now supplanting the civil, at Rome grew subordinate. The city and its district, separating from the Exarchate, had indeed become a duchy, and a duke still led its army; but before the middle of the eighth century the duke was taking his cue, if not his orders, from the Pope. So long as there remained that slender thread of road connecting Rome with Ravenna, the Exarch, as imperial governor of Italy, asserted a shadowy authority over both duke and Pope; but year by year the Exarch’s Adriatic lands narrowed before the Lombards, and with them his resources and prestige. In 751, a few months earlier than Pepin's embassy, the Lombards occupied Ravenna itself, and the Exarch was no more. The Roman pontiff was now the unquestioned head of what remained to the Empire in Italy.

Why should there be any question? Who could serve the Empire better than this unsalaried functionary whose duties to heaven seemed an abiding guarantee against the ambitions of earth? And what could the vicar of Peter more desire than thus unhampered to administer his province on behalf of that imperial Rome whose eternal dominion he so often had proclaimed? But imperial Rome did not leave unhampered that spiritual headship for whose sake he had proclaimed her eternal dominion. Neither the rising prestige of the Roman see nor the waning of imperial resources had restrained the emperors from asserting in the West that authority over religious belief and religious practice which they exercised unquestioned in the East. Upon the Roman bishop they had heaped honours and privileges, they had even recognised his primacy in the Church; yet at their will they still convened councils and promul­gated or proscribed dogmas, and, when the bishop of Rome presumed to discredit what they declared orthodox, they did not scruple, while their power was adequate, to arrest and depose him or to drag him off to Constantinople for trial and punishment. Their purpose may have been the political one of silencing religious dissension and so ending the quarrels which hazarded the unity of the Empire; but to the successor of Peter the peace and unity of the Empire had worth only for the maintenance and the diffusion of that divinely revealed truth whose responsible custodian he knew himself to be.

When, therefore, in the year 725, the Emperor Leo, having beaten off the besieging Saracens and restored order in his realm, addressed himself to religious reform, and, waiting for no consultation of the Church, forbade the use in worship of pictures and images of the Christ, the Virgin, and the saints—nay, began at once on their destruction—Pope Gregory the Second not only refused obedience, but rallied Italy to his defence against what he proclaimed to Christendom the Emperor's impiety and heresy. And now, after a quarter of a century, though Gregory the Second had been followed in 731 by Gregory the Third, and ten years later he by Zacharias, while on Leo’s throne since 740 sat Constantine the Fifth, his son, the schism was still unhealed. The Emperor, after the shipwreck of a fleet sent for the humbling of the rebels, had indeed contented himself with the transfer of Sicily and southern Italy from the jurisdiction of the Pope to that of the Patriarch of Constantinople; and, having thus begun that severance of the Greek south from the Latin north which (helped soon by the unintended flooding of south Italy with religious fugitives from the East) was to endure for centuries, he did not disturb the authority of Rome in the rest of the peninsula. The Pope, on his side, though he laid all Iconoclasts under the Church's ban, opposed the treasonous design to put a rival emperor on the throne, and scrupulously continued to date all his official acts by the sovereign’s regnal years. But clearly this was no more than armed neutrality. No emperor could feel safe while religious rebellion had such an example and such a nucleus ; and the Pope well knew that it was all over with his own safety and that of Roman orthodoxy the moment they could be attacked without danger of the loss of Italy.

Italian loyalty to Roman leadership there was no room to doubt. The alienation of the Latins from their Byzantine master had grounds older and deeper than their veneration for the pictures of the saints. Their consciousness of different blood and speech had for ages been increased by administrative separateness and by the favoured place of Italy in the imperial system; and, when division of the Empire had brought to her Hellenic neighbours equality of privilege and of prestige, there still remained to Italy the headship of the West. She had welcomed those who in the honoured name of Rome freed her from the Ostrogoth barbarians and heretics; but, when in their hands she found herself sunk to a mere frontier province, the officials of her absentee ruler had soon become unpopular. The growing extortion of the tax-gatherer was sweetened by no pride in the splendours it nourished. The one public boast of Italy, her one surviving claim to leadership, was now the religious pre-eminence of her Roman bishop. His patriarchate over all the West made Rome and Italy still a capital of nations. His primacy, if realised, meant for her a wider queenship. To Italy he was a natural leader. Directly or through her other bishops —nearly all confirmed and consecrated by him and bound to him by oaths of orthodoxy and of loyalty—he was the patron of all municipal liberties, the defender against all fiscal oppression. And when the imperial court, in its militant Hellenism, used its political power to dictate religious inno­vation, the Roman pontiff became yet more popular as the spokesman of Western conservatism. More than once before the iconoclastic schism had the sympathies of the Italians ranged themselves on the side of the Pope against the Emperor. When that quarrel came it found Italy already in a ferment. Imperial officials on every hand were driven out or put to death, and — what was more significant — their places filled by popular election.

But if, thus sure of popular support, Pope Gregory the Third, as there is reason to believe, already harboured the thought of breaking with the Byzantine authority, a nearer danger stared him in the face. The Empire’s Italy was, in fact, but a precarious remnant. There were the Lombards. Already masters of most of the peninsula, they were clearly minded to be masters of it all. The Lombards, of course, were Christians. They had long ceased to be heretics. Against the Iconoclasts they had even lent the Pope their aid. For the vicar of Peter they professed the deepest respect, and their bishops were suffragans of his see. There was no reason to suppose, should they even occupy Rome itself, that they would hamper or abridge the ecclesiastical functions of the Pope. But the Pope well knew what difference lay between a mere Lombard bishop, however venerated, and the all but independent sovereign of the capital of the Christian world. Already the temporal power had cast its spell. Should the Lombard king win Rome, there was much reason to fear that he would make it his own capital. Though orthodox now and deferential, he might not always be deferential or orthodox; and how short the step was from a deferential protector to a dictatorial master papal experience had amply shown. At Constantinople such a master was quite near enough. The Pope had no mind to exchange King Log for King Stork.

Against the Lombards, therefore, Pope and Emperor made common cause. The Emperor, needing every soldier against his Eastern foes, was only too glad to make the Pope his envoy. The Pope, needing every plea against the eager Lombard, was only too glad to urge the claims of the Empire. But, in spite of papal pleading and imperial claims, the Lombards took town after town. The desperate Pope intrigued with Lombard dukes against the Lombard king. Liutprand turned his arms on Rome itself. Then it was, in 739, that Gregory appealed to Charles the Frank.

It was by no means the first time the Frankish champions of orthodoxy had been called to the aid of Italy against the barbarian; not the first time a Pope was their petitioner. As sons of the Church and allies of the Empire they had crossed the Alps in the sixth century and in the seventh to fight Ostrogoth and Lombard. But the appeal of Gregory was couched in novel terms. Not for the Empire nor for the faith did he now implore protection, but for “the Church of St Peter” and “us his peculiar people”; and as return the Frankish chroniclers record that puzzling offer of allegiance.

The great Frankish “under-king”—so the Pope entitled him—did not lead his host against the Lombard king, his kinsman and ally ; but he answered courteously by embassy and gift, he treasured carefully the papal letters, the earliest in that precious file preserved us by his grandson, and it is not impossible that he interceded with the Lombards. In any case, they did not now press on toward Rome; and the mild and tactful Zacharias, who soon succeeded to the papal chair, not only won back by his prayers, for “the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles”, the towns seized from the Roman duchy, but staved off the advance of the Lombards upon Ravenna, and before long, when the pious Ratchis succeeded to the throne, he made with him a truce for twenty years. But the persistent Lombards would not so long be cheated of a manifest destiny. Ratchis in 749, retiring like Carloman into monastic life, gave place to the tempestuous Aistulf. By 751, as we have seen, Ravenna was his and the Exarchate had ceased to be. Then came Pepin's conundrum.

751-755] Pepin King

The precise terms of Zacharias’ reply are not preserved. What is left is only the oral tradition as to its substance. No letter of his can be found among the papal epistles to the Carolings. Errands so momentous often went then by word of mouth; and Pepin’s were trusty messengers. One, Bishop Burchard of Witrzburg, the new Franconian see so richly endowed by Pepin and by Carloman, was a loyal lieutenant of the legate Boniface, English like him by birth and as his messenger already known at Rome. The other, the Austrasian Fulrad, abbot of St Denis and arch-chaplain of the realm, owed to Pepin both those high preferments and was throughout his life his master's intimate and the Pope’s. If their message must in part be guessed at, its outcome is well known. The Merovingian and his son, rejected like Saul and Jonathan, went shorn into the cloister. The aged Boniface, in St Peter's name, anointed king the new David chosen by the Franks.

King Pepin was not ungrateful. That same November of 751 which saw his elevation to the throne saw the capstone put to the organizing work of Boniface by the lifting of his see of Mainz to metropolitan authority throughout all Germany, from the mountains to the coast. It saw, too, by papal grant soon royally confirmed (if we may trust two much-disputed documents), his beloved Fulda, his favourite home, the abbey of his heart, raised to a dignity elsewhere unknown in France by exemption from all ecclesiastical supervision save the Pope’s alone. As coadjutor in the heavy duties of his primacy Pepin gave the old man Lul, best loved of the disciples brought from his English home, and when, even thus stayed, he presently sighed beneath his task, the king released him from his functions to seek among the heathen Frisians the martyr’s crown for which he yearned. And Abbot Fulrad, now as royal chaplain the king’s minister of public worship, was not forgotten. The earliest of Pepin’s surviving royal charters (1 March 752) awards St Denis at Fulrad’s prayer a domain long unlawfully withheld; and many another from that year and those which follow bears witness to his constant zeal in the defence of churchly property and rights.

Even as king, indeed, Pepin never gave back into full ownership all those church lands appropriated by his father to the maintenance of a mounted soldiery; but the Church was assured her rents, and the right of the State to make such grants of church lands, though maintained, was carefully restricted. It was doubtless the growing importance of the mounted force, and its dependence on the pasturage of summer, which prompted Pepin early in his reign (755) to change, “for the advantage of the Franks”, the time-honoured assembly and muster of the host, the “Field of March”, into a “Field of May”. The faith itself had still need of swift champions. The Saracens yet had a foothold in Gaul. Septimania, the rich though narrow coastland stretching from Rhone to Pyrenees between the Mediterranean and the Cevennes—the Low Languedoc of later days—was not yet a possession of the Franks. A remnant of the old realm of the Visigoths and still peopled by their descendants, it had been overrun by the Arab conquerors of Spain, who remained its masters and made it a base for their raids. But in 752 a rising of the Gothic townsmen expelled them from Nimes and Maguelonne, Agde and Beziers, and offered their land to Pepin. Narbonne alone held out still against the Franks. Gaul thus all but redeemed to Christendom, Pepin in 753 led his host against the rebellious heathen of the north. Crossing the Rhine into the territory of the Saxons and laying it waste to the Weser, he subjected them once more to tribute and this time compelled them to open their doors to the missionaries of Christianity.

But while Pepin had thus been proving in France his worth to Church as well as State, there had not been wanting signs that the Church's head might need from him a more personal service. Since early in 752 the soft-spoken Zacharias was no more, and in his place sat Stephen II, a Roman born and of good Roman blood. An orphan, reared from boyhood in the Lateran itself, he was no stranger to its aims and policies. There was need at Rome of Roman pride and Roman self-assertion. Aistulf the Lombard was no man to be wheedled, and his eye was now upon the Roman duchy. From the Alps to the Vulturnus all was now Lombard except this stretch along the western coast. Rome was clearly at his mercy. Already in June the Pope had sent envoys—his brother Paul (later to succeed him as Pope) and another cleric—who made with the Lombard king, as they supposed, a forty years’ peace. But it was soon clear that Aistulf counted this no bar to the assertion of his sovereignty. Scarce four months later, claiming jurisdiction over Rome and the towns about it, he demanded an annual poll-tax from their inhabitants. What could it matter to the Roman bishop who was his temporal lord? Stephen, protesting against the breach of faith, showed his ecclesiastical power by sending as intercessors the abbots of the two most venerated of Lombard monasteries, Monte Cassino and San Vincenzo. The king, in turn, vindicated the royal authority by contumeliously sending them back to their convents. Again and again the Pope had begged for help from Constantinople, and now there appeared, not the soldiery for which he had asked, but, Byzantine-fashion, an imperial envoy—the silentiarius John—with letters of instruction for both Pope and king. The Pope obediently sent on the envoy to the king, escorted by a spokesman of his own—again his brother Paul. Aistulf listened to the imperial exhortations, but there his barbarian patience had an end. Yielding nothing, he packed off home the Byzantine functionary, and with him sent a Lombard with counter-propositions of his own; he then turned in rage on Rome, vowing to put every Roman to the sword unless his orders were forthwith obeyed. The Pope went through the idle form of sending by the returning Greek a fresh appeal to the Emperor to come himself with an army and rescue Italy; he calmed the panic-stricken Romans by public prayers and processions, himself marching barefoot in the ranks and carrying on his shoulder the sacred portrait of the Christ painted by St Luke and the angels; but he had not grown up in the household of the Gregories without learning of another source of help. By a returning pilgrim he sent a message to the new king of the Franks.

That unceasing stream of pilgrims—prelate and prince and humble sinner—which now from England and the farther isles as well as from all parts of Francia thronged the roads to the threshold of the apostles (Carloman to escape their visits had fled from his refuge on Mount Soracte to the remoter seclusion of Monte Cassino) must have kept Pepin and his advisers well informed of what was passing in Italy, and many messages lost to us had doubtless been exchanged by Pope and king; but what Stephen had next to offer and to ask was to be trusted to no go-between, not even to his diplomat brother. By the mouth of the unnamed pilgrim who early in 753 appeared at the court of Pepin he begged that envoys be sent to summon himself to the Frankish king. Two other pilgrims—one was this time the abbot of Jumieges—bore back to the Pope an urgent invitation, assuring him that the requested envoys should be sent. From the tenor of the Pope's still extant letter of reply it would appear that by word of mouth a more confidential message was returned through the abbot and his colleague. The written one briefly contents itself with pious wishes and with the assurance that “he who perseveres to the end shall be saved” and shall “receive an hundred fold and possess eternal life”; and a companion letter which the Pope, perhaps not unprompted, addressed to “all the leaders of the Frankish nation” adjures them, without defining what they are wished to do, to let nothing hinder them from aiding the king to further the interests of their patron, St Peter, that thus their sins may be wiped out and the key-bearer of heaven may admit them to eternal life. For the formal invitation of the Pope and for the sending of the escort the concurrence of the Frankish folk had been awaited, and it was autumn before the embassy reached Rome. Meanwhile Aistulf had shewn his seriousness by taking steps to cut off Rome from southern Italy, and the Emperor had sent, not troops, but once more the silentiary John, this time insisting that the Pope himself go with him to beseech the Lombard for the restoration of the Exarchate. Happily, with the arrival of the safe-conduct sought from Aistulf, arrived also the Frankish envoys —Duke Autchar (the Ogier of later legend) and the royal chancellor, Bishop Chrodegang of Metz, after Boniface the foremost prelate of the realm.

It was mid-October of 753 when, thus escorted, and in company with the imperial ambassador, Pope Stephen and a handful of his official household set out ostensibly for the Lombard court. King Aistulf, though notified, did not come to meet them. As they approached Pavia they met only his messengers, who forbade the Pope to plead before their master the cause of the conquered provinces. Defiant of this prohibition, he implored Aistulf to “give back the Lord’s sheep”, and the silentiary again laid before him an imperial letter; but to all appeals the barbarian was deaf. Then it was that the Frankish ambassadors asked his leave for the Pope to go on with them to France, and the pontiff added his own prayer to theirs. In vain the Lombard, gnashing his teeth, sought to dissuade him. A grudging permission was granted and promptly used. The Pope and his escort, leaving a portion of their party to return with the Greek to Rome, were before the end of November safe on Frankish soil. As they issued from the Alps they were met by another duke and by Abbot Fulrad, who guided them across Burgundy to a royal villa near the Marne. While yet many miles away there met them a retinue of nobles headed by the son of Pepin, the young prince Charles, who thus, a lad of eleven, first appears in history. Pepin himself, with all his court, came three miles to receive them. Dismounting and prostrating himself before the Pope, he for some distance humbly marched beside him, leading by the bridle the pontiff's horse (6 Jan. 754).

Such, in brief, is what is told by our one informant, the contemporary biographer of Pope Stephen, of that transalpine journey whose outcome was the temporal sovereignty of the popes, the severance of Latin Christendom from Greek, the Frankish conquest of Italy, the Holy Roman Empire. With the Pope’s arrival the Frankish sources, too, take up the tale. Yet only by clever patching can all these together be made to yield a connected story of what was done during the long months of that papal visit—of the Pope’s appeal for Frankish aid against the Lombard, of his sojourn through the winter as the guest of Fulrad at St Denis, of the futile embassies for the dissuasion of the Lombard king, of the appearance in Francia of the monk Carloman, sent by his abbot to intercede for the Lombard against the Pope, of a springtide assembly of the Franks and of reluctant consent to a campaign against the Lombard, of an Easter conference of king and Pope and Frankish leaders at the royal villa of Carisiacum (Kiersy, Quierzy), of a great midsummer gathering at St Denis, where in the abbey church Pope Stephen himself in the name of the holy Trinity anointed Pepin afresh, and with him his two sons Charles and Carloman, forbidding under pain of excommunication and interdict that henceforward forever any not sprung from the loins of these thus consecrated by God through the vicar of his apostles be chosen king of the Franks

Our most explicit account of this coronation, a memorandum jotted down a dozen years later at St Denis by a monkish copyist, adds a detail. Pepin and his sons were anointed not only kings of the Franks but “Patricians of the Romans”. Certain it is that this title, though Pepin himself seems never to have used it, is thenceforward invariably appended to his name and those of his sons in the letters of the Popes. Now, “Patrician” was a Byzantine title—a somewhat nondescript decoration, or title of courtesy, applied by the imperial court to sundry dignitaries (as to the Exarch of Italy and to the Duke of Rome) and not infrequently conferred upon barbarian princes—and there have not been wanting modern scholars who divine from its use that the Pope was in all this the envoy of the Emperor. No intimation of such a thing appears elsewhere in the sources. It is not hard to believe that the Pope may have persuaded the imperial government that his journey into France was an expedition in its interest, or that he may even have sought its authority for the gift of the patricial title; it is easy to see that the papal biographer might suppress a fact which by the time he wrote had grown uncomfortable; but, had the Pope in France posed as the representative of the Emperor, it is incomprehensible that a function so flattering both to him and to his Frankish hosts should escape all memory. And the title conferred on Pepin was not the familiar one of "Patrician," but the else unknown one Patrician of the Romans. Precisely what that may have meant has long been a problem; but it could hardly have been aught pleasing to Constantine Copronymus, who had just alienated anew his Italian subjects by an iconoclastic council, whose deference to the religious dictation of the Emperor might excuse almost any treason on the part of Western orthodoxy

Nor are we at a loss to guess what may have obscured for Pepin the Empire’s claim to Italy. For more than two centuries there had been growing current in the West a legend which strangely distorted the history of Church and Empire. Constantine, earliest and greatest of Christian emperors, while yet a pagan and at Rome—so ran the tale in that life of Pope Sylvester which gave it widest vogue—persecuted so cruelly the Christians that indignant Heaven smote him with leprosy. Physicians were in vain. The pagan priests in desperation prescribed a bath in the blood of new-born babes. The babes were brought; but, moved to pity by the mothers' cries, the Emperor preferred to suffer, whereat relenting Heaven, sending in a dream St Peter and St Paul, revealed to him Sylvester as his healer. The Pope was brought from his hiding-place on Mount Soracte, disclosed the identity of the gods seen in his dream, and not only cured but converted and baptised him. Thereupon the grateful monarch, proclaiming throughout the Empire his new faith, provided by edict for its safety and support, made all bishops subject to the Pope, even as are all magistrates to the Emperor, and, setting forth to found elsewhere a capital, first laid with his own hands the foundations of St Peter’s and the Lateran.

It was doubtless faith in this wild tale which led the rueful Carloman, fain to atone for his own deeds of violence, to choose Sylvester’s cave for his retreat and dedicate his convent to that saint. The legend must thereby have gained a wider currency among the Franks; and none could know this better than the papal court. Was it for use with them, and was it now, that there came into existence a document which made the myth a cornerstone of papal power—the so-called Donation of Constantine?

No extant manuscript of that famous forgery is older than the early ninth century, and what most scholars have believed a quotation from it by Pope Hadrian in 778 can possibly be otherwise explained; but minute study of the strange charter's diction seems now to have made sure its origin in the papal chancellery during the third quarter of the eighth century, and startling coincidences of phrase connect it in particular with the documents of Stephen II and of Paul, while to an ever-growing proportion of the students of this period the historical setting in which alone it can be made to fit is that of Stephen’s visit to the Franks or of the years which closely follow it.

The document makes Constantine first narrate at length the story of his healing, embodying in it an elaborate creed taught him by Pope Sylvester. Then, declaring St Peter and his successors worthy, as Christ’s vicars on earth, of power more than imperial, he chooses them as his patrons before God, decrees their supremacy over all the Christian church, relates his building of the Lateran and of St Peter’s and St Paul’s, and his endowing them “for the enkindling of the lights” with vast estates in East and West, grants to the Pope the rank and trappings of an Emperor and to the Roman clergy those of senators, tells how, when Sylvester had refused the Emperor's own crown of gold, Constantine placed upon his head the white tiara and in reverence for St Peter led his horse by the bridle as his groom, and now transfers to him, that the papal headship may forever keep its more than earthly glory, his Roman palace and city and all the provinces and towns of Italy. If this document or the traditions on which it rests were through Fulrad or Chrodegang or the Roman guests familiar to the Frankish king, neither his policy nor his phrases need longer puzzle us.

Even in this life Pepin, like Constantine, needed St Peter’s help. The dethroned Merovingians, indeed, had sunk without a ripple, and even while the Pope was on his way to Gaul that turbulent half-brother, Grifo, who had made for Carloman and Pepin such incessant trouble, met death at loyal hands as he was escaping through the Alps from his plotting-place in Aquitaine to a more disquieting plotting-place among the Lombards. But there still was Carloman himself—a gallant prince whose renunciation and monastic vows need bind no longer than the Church should will. There were still his growing sons, committed by him to Pepin’s care, but with no rights renounced. Was it in part, perhaps, to vindicate, for himself or for his sons, these rights of the elder line that Carloman had now appeared in France as advocate of the Lombard cause? Was his reward, perchance, to be the Lombard's backing of his own princely claims? In any case, what troubled waters these for Lombard fishing! Was the Pope himself only a timelier fisher, and may the reluctance of the Frankish nobles have been due in some part to friends of Carloman and of the Lombard alliance? All this is mere conjecture. But certain it is that Pepin made effective terms with Heaven's spokesman and that the outcome was the papal unction for himself and for his house. Carloman, sick, perhaps with disappointment or chagrin, was detained in a Burgundian monastery, where soon he died. His sons were, like the Merovingians, shorn as monks. Even the fellow-monks whom he had brought with him from Italy were held for years in Frankish durance.

Donation of Pepin [774

And what did Pepin in return assure the Pope? Stephen’s biographer speaks only of an oral promise to obey the Pope and to restore according to his wish the rights and territories of the Roman State. But, when twenty years later the son of Pepin, leaving his siege of the Lombard capital, went down to Rome for Easter, there was laid before him for confirmation, if we may trust the papal biographer of that later day, a written document, signed at Quierzy during Pope Stephen’s visit by Pepin, his sons, and all the Frankish leaders, which pledged to St Peter and to the Pope the whole peninsula of Italy from Parma and Mantua to the borders of Apulia, defining in detail the northern frontier of the tract, and including by express stipulation, not only all the Exarchate “as it was of old time” and the provinces of Venice and Istria, but the island of Corsica and the Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. May we trust this passage of the Vita Hadriani—not only for the fact of a written promise by Pepin and of its confirmation by Charles, but for all the startling contents? This is that “Roman question” about which seas of ink have flowed and still are flowing. For long it was the wont of ultramontane writers to assume both the reality of such a promise and confirmation and the accuracy of this account of it, while with almost equal unanimity those unfriendly to the Papacy or to its temporal power dismissed the one as myth, the other as forgery. But in these later years, now that the temporal power is but a memory, scholars have drawn together. It seems established that the passage, however corrupt, is no interpolation, and that it was written at Rome in 774; and there is a growing faith in its accuracy, even as to the details of Pepin's promise. But how to explain so strange a pact is still a puzzle. Was it, as some have thought, not the main compact between Pope and king, but a scheme of partition for use only in case the Frank invasion should perhaps result in the fall of the Lombard power? Schemes such as this may well have filled the Pope’s long Gaulish visit; but for aught but guesswork our sources are too scanty and too crude. The clerics who meagrely penned the deeds of king and Pope were only official scribes, inspired and inspected, who of the deeper planning of their lords perhaps knew little and betray yet less. The papal letters, a more solid support, are mute, of course, during Stephen's visit; and, when they reappear, imperfectly preserved and uncertainly dated, are often but the mask for a wilier diplomacy by oral message. And in this day of the eclipse of culture, when the best trained clerk of convent or of curia groped helplessly for words and for inflections, one can never be quite sure whether what is written is what seemed best worth writing or only what seemed possible to write. Nor may it be forgotten that from the side of Greek or Lombard, great though their stake in the affairs of Italy, we have in all this period not a word.

754-756] The Franks in Italy

The Frankish host at last, in the late summer of 754 (possibly the spring of 755), set forth for Italy, taking with it the Pope. Before its start and yet again during the march a fresh attempt was made to scare off or buy off the Lombard from his prey. But neither gold nor threats could move Aistulf from his purpose. Happily for the Franks, the Alpine passes and their Italian approaches had long been in their hands, and now, ere their main army began to climb the Mont Cenis, they learned with joy that Aistulf, routed by their vanguard, whom he had rashly attacked in the mountain defiles, had abandoned his entrenchments in the vale of Susa and sought shelter within the walls of his capital. The Franks, rejoicing in the manifest favour of Heaven, were soon before Pavia; and Aistulf, disheartened, speedily consented to a peace “between the Romans, the Franks, and the Lombards.” He acknowledged Pepin as his overlord, and promised to surrender to the Pope Ravenna with all his other conquests. The Pope was sent on, under escort, to Rome; and Pepin, taking hostages, returned to France.

But Aistulf soon rued his concessions. Only a single town did he actually give up, and by midwinter of 755-756 he was again ravaging before the gates of Rome. The Pope in panic appealed frantically to his ally. Nay, so great was the emergency that, when the Franks delayed, St Peter himself addressed to Pepin, Charles, and Carloman, and to the clergy, the nobles, and all the armies and people of France a startling letter. “I, Peter, apostle of God, who have adopted you as my sons” so runs this strange epistle, duly delivered by messengers from Rome, “do call and exhort you to the defence of this Roman city and the people committed to me by God and the home where after the flesh I repose ... And with us our Lady, the mother of God, Mary ever virgin, doth most solemnly adjure, admonish, and command you ... Give help, then, with all your might, to your brothers, my Roman people, that, in turn, I, Peter, apostle called of God, granting you my protection in this life and in the day of future judgment, may prepare for you in the kingdom of God tabernacles most bright and glorious and may reward you with the infinite joys of paradise ... Suffer not this my Roman city and the people therein dwelling to be longer torn by the Lombard race: so may your bodies and souls not be torn and tortured in everlasting and unquenchable hell fire ... Lo, sons most dear, I have warned you: if ye shall swiftly obey, great shall be your reward, and, aided by me, ye shall in this life vanquish all your foes and to old age eat the good things of earth, and shall beyond a doubt enjoy eternal life; but if, as we will not believe, ye shall delay, know that we, by authority of the holy Trinity and in virtue of the apostolate given me by Christ the Lord, do cut you off, for transgression of our appeal, from the kingdom of God and life eternal”.

The Franks delayed no longer. In May they were again upon the march. Aistulf hastened from Rome to meet them; but again he failed to bar their path, and again was shut up in Pavia. It was now, as Pepin drew near the town, that a Greek envoy, who had tried to intercept him on his way, at last came up with him. In honeyed words he claimed for the Empire Ravenna and its Exarchate. But Pepin answered that for no treasure in the world would he rob St Peter of a gift once offered, swearing that for no man’s favour had he plunged thus once and again into war, but for love of St Peter and the pardon of his sins. It is the papal biographer who reports his words.

The siege was short. Aistulf, now a convicted rebel, was glad to escape with life and realm by payment of a third of his royal hoard, with pledge of yearly tribute, and by immediate surrender of his conquests. To Abbot Fulrad, as Pepin’s deputy, these forthwith were handed over, one by one, from Ravenna, with Comacchio, down the coast to Sinigaglia and over the mountains to Narni; and their keys the abbot bore to Rome, where with the written deed of their donation by his king he laid them on St Peter's tomb.

757-768] Desiderius King of the Lombards 

When the Franks went home, the Exarchate, as Aistulf had found it, was the Pope’s. Rome and its duchy, though unnamed by Pepin, were as surely his. But not contentment. Though his lands now stretched from Po to Liris and from sea to sea, the redemption of Italy was but begun. Aistulf's robberies won back, why not Liutprand’s? Occasion offered soon. Aistulf was killed by accident while hunting, and his brother Ratchis, without asking leave of the Pope, left the monastery to assume the crown. The outraged Stephen stirred Benevento and Spoleto to revolt, and aided Desiderius, duke of Tuscany, in a struggle for the throne. But this aid had its price: a sworn contract bound Desiderius to the surrender of the rest of the towns seized by the Lombards. Abbot Fulrad, who lingered still at Rome, was not only witness to the pact, but with his little troop of Franks took a hand in the enthronement of Desiderius. Perhaps he thought thereby to plight his royal master to enforce the contract; but, though the Lombard, once on his throne, yielded only Faenza and Ferrara, and though Pope Paul, who in that same year (757) succeeded his brother, could extort no more, and filled the ten years of his pontificate with piteous appeals to the “patrician of the Romans” for help against dangers, real or fancied, from Lombard and from Greek, the Frank refrained from further meddling.

Nor was there need of it. Though Desiderius quelled with firm hand the rebels in Spoleto and in Benevento and was not to be cajoled into further “restitutions” to the Pope, and though the Emperor tried intrigue both with Lombard and with Frank, neither assailed Pope Paul with arms. Not even the fiercely contested papal election which in 767 followed his death disturbed the integrity of the Papal State. Pope Stephen III, who in 768 emerged from the turmoil, however he might date his charters by the Emperor's regnal years and report his elevation to the Frank patrician, "his defender next to God," was to all intent as sovereign as they. That so vigorous a ruler and so capable a soldier as Constantine V made no armed attempt to save to his Empire the fair peninsula that gave it birth must doubtless be explained not only by the nearer cares which kept him busy, but by the potent shadow of the Frank; and to that shadow was clearly due the inaction of the Lombard. But the Frank himself, beyond St Peter’s gratitude here and hereafter, asked no other meed.

Yet France was not without reward. Through the door which war had left ajar culture crept in. “I send you”, writes Pope Paul, “all the books which could be found”—and he names the hymn-books and the school-books of his packet, “all written in the Greek tongue”, an antiphonal and a responsal, treatises on grammar, geometry, orthography, works of Aristotle and of Dionysius. “I send, too”, he adds, “the night-clock”—doubtless an alarm-clock, such as waked the monks to their matins. It is but a glimpse at a traffic which must mainly have found humbler channels. The improving calligraphy of Frankish scribes shows already Roman influence. Bishop Remedius of Rouen imported from Rome a singing-master for his clergy; and, when the master was called back to head the Roman training-school, sent his monks thither to complete their musical education. Chrodegang of Metz, ever in close touch with Rome, inaugurated the most notable church reform of his day by organizing under a discipline akin to the monastic the clergy of his cathedral city. Among the imperial gifts from Constantinople came an organ, the first seen in the West. A more questionable blessing was the advent of Greek theologians: Byzantine envoys debated with papal, before the king and his synod, as to the Trinity and the use of images; and, though they lost the verdict, they must have quickened thought. Nor was the new horizon bounded by Christian lands. The lord of Barcelona and Gerona, Muslim governor of north-eastern Spain, strengthened himself against his Moorish sovereign by acknowledging the Frankish overlordship; and a more distant foe of the Umayyad court of Cordova, the great Caliph Mansur, from his new capital of Bagdad, exchanged with Pepin embassies and gifts. It was the beginning of that connection between the leading power of the Christian West and the leading power of the Muslim East which has proved so perennial, and to the powers of Christian East and Muslim West so costly.

Pepin’s Wars [759-760

But all this interest in the world at large meant no sacrifice of energy at home. It was precisely the years that fell between or followed the Italian expeditions which saw Pepin most active as a legislator. In four successive synods of his clergy he perfected the work begun by Boniface, but made it clear that in the Frankish Church the crown was still to be supreme. Every spring henceforward all the bishops should gather to the king for synod, and every autumn at his seat in Soissons those clad with metropolitan authority should meet again. Inspection and stern churchly discipline should keep at home and at religious duties priest and monk and nun. All Christians must observe the Sunday rest and worship, and all marriage must be public. “Though at the moment our power does not suffice for everything”, runs an introductory clause full of significance for the king’s whole character, “yet in some points at least we wish to better what, as we perceive, impedes the Church of God; if later God shall grant us days of peace and leisure, we hope then to restore in all their scope the standards of the saints”.

Days of peace proved rare. In 759, having freshly scourged the Saxons to tribute and submission, he “made no campaign, that he might reform domestic affairs within his realm”. But in 760 began the task which busied his remaining years—the subjection of Aquitaine. The broad south-west of Gaul, cut off from Neustria by the wide stream of the Loire, from Burgundy by the escarpment of the Cevennes, had not since Roman days fully cast in its fortunes with the rest. When Clovis won it from the Goths he had not sown it with his Franks; and the Goths, withdrawing into Spain, had left its folk less touched than any other in the west of Europe by Germanic blood and ways. To the chroniclers and even to the laws of Pepin’s time they still are “Romans”. The race of native dukes which under the later Merovingians had made them almost independent acknowledged Pepin as a suzerain only; and their boldness in harbouring fugitives from his authority and in taxing the Aquitanian estates of Frankish churches had already caused friction and protest when the Frank occupation of Septimania gave rise to war. That this district, so closely knit to Aquitaine before and since, its doorway to the Mediterranean and the highway of its commerce, should pass into the keeping of the Frank was indeed a knell to all their hopes. Duke Waifar had as early as 752 begun to wrest the region from the failing grasp of the Moor, and it was perhaps only to escape his clutches that the Goths of its eastern towns offered themselves to Pepin. This could be borne; but when, in 759, the taking of Narbonne carried to the Pyrenees the Frank frontier, the speedy sequel was the war with Aquitaine.

Pepin did not underrate his foe. Year after year, from 760 to 768, he led against Waifar the whole Frankish host; and, though a brief peace closed the first campaign, the struggle thereafter was to the death. With thoroughness and system, wasting no time in raids, from fortress to fortress, district to district, through Berri, Auvergne, the Limousin, garrisoning and organising as he went, the king relentlessly pushed on. Once desertion and famine forced him to a pause; but there followed a fruitful year—for whose blessings the king, like some American governor or president of modern days, ordained in the autumn a general thanksgiving—and the war went on. By the early summer of 768 the land was wholly overrun, and the death of Waifar ended the brave but hopeless fight. Pepin, himself worn out by the struggle, lived only long enough to enact the statute which should govern the new-won province. By this he fused it with the rest of his kingdom, but left to its people their ancestral laws, guarded them against the extortion of the royal officials, and provided for a local assembly of their magnates which in conference with the deputies of the Crown should have final authority as to all matters, civil and ecclesiastical.

In the palace reared by his son at Ingelheim the fresco devoted to the memory of Pepin pictured him “granting laws to the Aquitanians”. It was, indeed, his most lasting work. Though the whole history of Aquitaine betrays her separateness of blood and speech, though still “there is no Frenchman south of Loire”, she has never ceased to form with Neustria a single realm. All else—the absorption of Brittany, the conquest of the Saxons, the humbling of Bavaria, whose young duke’s desertion had for a moment crippled the war on Aquitaine—Pepin left unfinished to his sons. Between the two, after the bad old fashion of the Franks, he now parted the kingdom. To Charles, the elder, grown a man of twenty-six, fell Austrasia, most of Neustria, the western half of Aquitaine—all, that is, to north and west; to the younger, Carloman, still in his teens, though wedded, all to south and east. Bavaria was assigned to neither: it must first be won.

At St Denis, home of his childhood and his chosen place of sepulture, Pepin died, not yet half through his fifties. His life, though short, was fruitful. Modern scholars are at one in thinking his fame eclipsed unduly by that of his successor. Nearly everything the son accomplished, the father had begun. Vigorous, shrewd, persistent, practical, his own general and his own prime minister, relentless but not cruel, pious but never blindly so, able to plan but able too to wait, Pepin bequeathed to Charles more than a kingdom and a policy. Even for his bodily strength and presence, his power of passion and his length of life, Charlemagne perhaps owed something to the stainless self-control as husband and as father which was Pepin's alone of all his line. How the king looked we have no means of knowing. The legend which caused him in later centuries to be called “the Short” is baseless fable.