I'm interested in the state of the Frankish kingdom at the time of the Merovingian peak, before they were deposed.

I have heard hints of lavish lifestyle, but I take this to be much the same way that people today spite the "1%" with differentiating between 'the wealthy' and 'the obscene.' Was it this reason, or something else, that made them so reviled?

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    What's the question exactly? Why they were deposed?
    – Pavel
    Dec 14, 2012 at 21:32
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    This is a "When did you stop beating your wife?" question - what evidence is there that the Merovingians were reviled? Who were they reviled by? Jan 19, 2014 at 15:18
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    @PieterGeerkens: The OP (unlike most of us), is a woman. So while your comment is well taken, I'd use another metaphor.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 20, 2014 at 14:03

3 Answers 3


If one interprets this question as Why were the Merovingians so reviled at the peak of their power?, then the answer is easy: they weren't. At the peak of their power, the frankish kingdoms were the most powerful geopolitical entities in Western Europe, were recognized as such and their kings were treated accordingly.

The frankish kingdom under Clotaire the First

The early Carolingians reviled the Merovingians in order to get the Pope to legitimize their dynasty as kings, and not just rulers, of the frankish kingdoms. This finally happened when Pope Zachary deposed Childeric III in 751 in what can only be described as a very good operation for both: Pépin gained the legitimacy he was after while Zachary ensured the domination of the Catholic Church on the frankish kingdoms (while the Franks had been Christian for several centuries at that point, the frankish bishops of the 8th century had a reputation of indiscipline bordering on heresy, see for instance Aldebert, as well as of venality and the frankish lords were quite tempted to confiscate Church land when they needed it, see for instance the matter brought to Zachary's attention by Boniface before and during the Concilium Germanicum). Besides, he gained a powerful ally able to counter the military threat from the Lombards he was under.

Finally, French republican historiography (see for instance Michelet) liked to go at absurd length to make fun of the late Merovingians, in part because as kings without kingdoms they had in the view of the XIXth century French Republicans all the vices of the kings and none of their virtues (the embodiment of the French Nation), in part in repetition of Carolingian propaganda, in part because of the contingent fact that Dagobert the First (in fact one of the most powerful king of Western Europe in the seventh century) was said to have been quite clumsy, as was Louis XVI, and hence became the hero of a very popular song during the French Revolution (the song's popularity, as a children rhyme, endures to this day, so that French children know to mock Merovingians well before they know what a Merovingian is, or in fact what a kingdom is).

  • Bravo, excellent answer. Just one nitpick: was the domination of Christianity really in any doubt in Francia in the middle of the 8th century? If not, Pope Zachary's motivation was probably a bit different. +1 anyway, of course. Jan 20, 2014 at 15:41
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    @FelixGoldberg Yes, you're right, my formulation wasn't helpful. The Christian faith was all dominant and not contested, however, the domination of an hierarchical and organized Catholic Church with the Pope as its top was less clear. I updated the answer to make this clearer. Thanks again.
    – Olivier
    Jan 20, 2014 at 19:01
  • For an example of Carolingian propaganda, see here: history.stackexchange.com/questions/11468/… Jan 20, 2014 at 19:50

I don't know that the Merovingians were always reviled. According to Paul Freedman, even when they were quite weak and ineffective as rulers, they still enjoyed the prestige that accrued from having "the blood of Clovis [flowing] in their veins". Clearly, Clovis at least was still revered several generations after his death. Freedman suggests that the decline of the Merovingians was at least in part related to their waning ability to "bring home the plunder", so to speak, once the low-hanging fruit (possible while the economic and administrative infrastructure left behind by the Roman empire kept going) had been picked, and the rest had wised up.


The Merovingians helped start the feudal system. They were actually weak kings. So they relied on a hierarchy of nobles to help them. To reward these people, they "farmed out" pieces of land to them in a manner that we would now call "fiefdoms."

Feudalism was unpopular because it was an expensive, clumsy way of governing. Most people (in the first millenium) didn't mind supporting kings. But feudalism created a whole CHAIN of overlords, each taking their cut off the backs of poor peasants. (Today's "1%" may be creating a "new feudal system," with a new hierarchy, and if they are resented, this may be the reason why.)

Feudalism made people (specifically poor peasants) wish for "the good old days." The Merovingians brought an end to the "good old days" sooner than kings in other parts of Europe.

Here is a link to one of my posts on another site which draws parallels between the original and "new" feudalism. http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/399221-tom-au/35971-why-a-new-feudalism-is-plausible

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    I am sorry but this is a -1. This answer is woefully anachronistic and chock full with unfounded suppositions. (1) The feudal system was first set up by Charlemagne or, arguably, Charles Martel (and even Charlemagne would have hardly recognized the feudal system of, say, the 12th century) (cf., say, Ganshof) right after the Merovingians. (b) I don't think it makes any sense to say "Feudalism was unpopular" - there were no opinion polls or talkback buttons back then. You seem to be supposing some form of public opinion in the Middle Ages - which didn't really exist. TBC Jan 19, 2014 at 15:32
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    (c) Are you sure that the feudal chain of command was more expensive to support than the elaborate and oppressive Late Roman bureaucracy? And how does one actually make such comparisons (one can hardly translate to 1990 dollars, can one?). (d) What are the "good old days" you refer to? The Late Roman Empire? Even if we assume it was better for the peasants, can we be sure they retained a specific group memory of the old days? How far back can a group actually remember anything, in the absence of written texts? And I don't recall an oral tradition about good old Roman times. Jan 19, 2014 at 15:38
  • @FelixGoldberg: Actually, these were the recollections of Baltics (e.g. Estonians), who remembered the "golden era" or Swedish rule, followed by more "feudalistic" Russian or Polish rule. See my latest question, history.stackexchange.com/questions/11474/… centuries So I took this phenomenon back 1000 years to the Merovingians.
    – Tom Au
    Jan 19, 2014 at 19:46
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    @TomAu That's more a reflection of Polish/Russian rule than of Feudalism. And that article is just a bunch of hogwash. Jan 20, 2014 at 6:09
  • @LennartRegebro: I don't like the term "a bunch of hogwash." But I deleted the post because I now believe that it was "unsubstantiated" or "poorly founded."
    – Tom Au
    Jan 20, 2014 at 13:58

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