The Franks are an ethnic group from northwestern Europe. The Frankish kingdoms dominated the history of medieval Europe. In Saga we see the Franks in their Carolingian form, defending the heartlands against the Viking invasions, and their early Capetian form, marking the transition into the French monarchy.
The Merovingian Franks
|Merovingian territories. (From Wikipedia.)|
The Franks were one of the largest and most successful of the Germanic tribes to settle in Roman territory at the end of Antiquity. They occupied what is now northern France and eastern Germany, establishing their kingdom there. Their early king, Clovis, converted to Catholic Christianity, not the Arian Christianity of most other Germanic tribes. This adroit move gained him the support of the local Roman churches. It also set the stage for the lasting Frankish alliance with the Pope. The Frankish kingdoms often split and recombined, as kings divided their territory among their sons, and civil war or conquest brought them together again. Nonetheless, they maintained a common Frankish identity.
The first dynasty of the Franks, descending from Clovis, were called the Merovingians. The Merovingians retained many features of sacral kingship, including long hair which supposedly gave them magical (or holy) powers. However, the family itself soon lost effective control of the state, becoming figureheads for the real rulers, a family known as the Mayors of the Palace. These Mayors included forceful leaders, such as Charles Martel ("Charles the Hammer") who, among other deeds, defeated a Muslim expeditionary force from Spain.
Eventually, the Mayors grew weary of this charade. The Mayor Pepin III deposed the last Merovingian and, with the blessing of the Pope, became king of the Franks. Thus began the Carolingian dynasty (after the Latin Carolus = Charles).
The Carolingian Empire
Pepin's son was Charlemagne. Charlemagne's name means "Charles the Great" in Old French, an accurate reflection of his importance in European history. Charlemagne's conquests (particularly in Italy and Saxony) fundamentally transformed the Frankish kingdom, bringing most of western Europe under its rule. In 800, the Pope crowned Charlemagne "Roman Emperor" in recognition of his status as the preimienent monarch in western Europe.
|The Frankish Kingdom. (From Wikipedia.)|
When Charlemagne died, his son Louis the Pius inherited the Empire. Between Charlemagne and Louis, Europe experienced long decades of united rule.
Carolingians and Vikings
Louis, however, had many sons. Following Frankish custom, he partitioned his territories among them. Civil wars over these inheritances began even before Louis' death. Henceforth, the Frankish territories would be divided into many kingdoms: West Francia and East Francia were the most prominent, and would become the nuclei of France and Germany, respectively.
|Division of the Empire (843). Wikimedia.|
Devolution of Frankish royal power proceeded apace, with much of the power in Frankish territories devolving to local warlords. In 987, the last Carolingian king of West Francia died, and the crown passed to a related line, that of Hugh Capet. The Capetians thus became the ruling house of what is now France, with a power-base centered around Paris and the Îsle-de-France. Capetian rule also corresponds roughly with importance changes in Frankish military technology and lordship, especially the rise of mounted knights. Their history takes us into the High Middle Ages, out of the Viking Age, and beyond the scope of Saga.