XXXI.5 How the mayors obtained the command of the armies

While the kings com­man­ded the armies, the nation did not think about choo­sing itself a lea­der. Clovis and his four sons com­man­ded the French, and led them from vic­tory to vic­tory. Thibault, son of Theodebert, a young prince, weak and ill, was the first of the kings to remain in his palace.1 He refu­sed to take an expe­di­tion into Italy against Narses, and he had the dis­plea­sure of seeing the Franks choose them­sel­ves two chiefs who led them there.2 Of Clotaire I’s four chil­dren, Gontram was the one who most neglec­ted the com­mand of the armies3 ; other kings fol­lo­wed this exam­ple ; and to discharge the com­mand without peril into other hands, they gave it to seve­ral chiefs or dukes.4

From this innu­me­ra­ble dif­fi­culties arose : there was no more dis­ci­pline, no one knew how to obey ; the armies were no lon­ger fear­some except to their own coun­try : they were laden with booty before they arri­ved in enemy ter­ri­tory. We find a vivid depic­tion of all these pro­blems in Gregory of Tours.5 “How will we be able to obtain the vic­tory,” Gontram would say, “we who do not pre­serve what our fathers have acqui­red ? Our nation is no lon­ger the same…”6 A curious thing : it had been on the decline since the time of Clovis’s grand­sons !

It was the­re­fore natu­ral that the time should come for making a sin­gle duke, a duke who could have some autho­rity over that infi­nite mul­ti­tude of lords and leu­des who no lon­ger knew their res­pon­si­bi­li­ties, a duke who could res­tore mili­tary dis­ci­pline, and lead against the enemy a nation that no lon­ger knew how to wage war except on itself. They gave the power to the mayors of the palace.

The first func­tion of the mayors of the palace was the eco­no­mic govern­ment of the royal hou­se­holds. They had, in conjunc­tion with other offi­cers, the poli­ti­cal govern­ment of the fiefs, and at the end they dis­po­sed of them by them­sel­ves.7 They also had the admi­nis­tra­tion of the affairs of war and the com­mand of the armies, and these two func­tions pro­ved to be neces­sa­rily lin­ked to the other two. In those times, it was more dif­fi­cult to assem­ble the armies than to com­mand them ; and who bet­ter than the per­son who dis­tri­bu­ted favors could have that autho­rity ? In this inde­pen­dent and war­like nation it was bet­ter to invite than to com­pel ; it was bet­ter to grant or give hope of fiefs that became avai­la­ble by the pos­ses­sor’s death, reward cons­tantly, make them fear pre­fe­ren­ces : the per­son who was super­in­ten­dent of the palace ought the­re­fore to be the gene­ral of the army.

In the year 552.

Leutheris vero et Butilinus, tametsi id regi ipsorum minime placebat, belli cum eis societatem inierunt (Agathias, book I). Gregory of Tours, book IV, ch. ix.

Gontram did not even go on the expedition against Gondovalde, who claimed to be the son of Clotaire and demanded a part of his kingdom.

Sometimes as many as twenty. See Gregory of Tours, book V, ch. xxvii, book VIII, ch. xviii and xxx, book X, ch. iii. Dagobert, who had no mayor in Burgundy, had the same policy, and sent against the Gascons ten dukes and several counts who had no dukes over them (Chronicle of Fredegar, ch. lxxviii on the year 636).

Gregory of Tours, book VIII, ch. xxx, and book X, ch. iii ; ibid., book VIII, ch. xxx.


See le second supplement to the law of the Burgundians, tit. 13, and Gregory of Tours, book IX, ch. xxxvi.