XXXI.4 What the genius of the nation was with respect to mayors

A govern­ment in which a nation which had a king elec­ted the man who was to exer­cise the royal autho­rity, seems quite extra­or­di­nary ; but inde­pen­dently of the cir­cum­stan­ces they found them­sel­ves in, I think the Franks took their ideas on this mat­ter from the dis­tant past.

They had des­cen­ded from the Germans, of whom Tacitus says that in their choice of king they deci­ded by his nobi­lity ; and in the choice of their chief by his vir­tue.1 There you have the kings of the first dynasty, and the mayors of the palace ; the first ones were here­di­tary, the second ones elec­tive.

We can­not doubt that these prin­ces, who in the assem­bly of the nation rose and pro­po­sed them­sel­ves as chiefs of some enter­prise to all who wished to fol­low them, com­bi­ned for the most part in their per­son both the autho­rity of the king and the power of the mayor. Their nobi­lity had given them royalty, and their vir­tue, by lea­ding nume­rous volun­teers to fol­low them who were taking them as chiefs, gave them the power of mayor. It is by the royal dignity that our first kings pre­si­ded over tri­bu­nals and assem­blies, and issued laws with the consent of those assem­blies ; it is by the dignity of duke or chief that they made their expe­di­tions and com­man­ded the armies.

To know the genius of the early Franks in this regard, you have only to look at the conduct of Arbogaste, a Frank by nation, to whom Valentinian had given the com­mand of the army. He clo­sed the empe­ror in the palace, and allo­wed no one to speak to him about any mat­ter civil or mili­tary.2 Arbogaste did then what the Pépins did later.

Reges ex nobilitate, duces ex virtute sumunt (De moribus Germanorum [ch. vii]).

See Sulpicius Alexander in Gregory of Tours, book II.