Childeric III

Childeric III
(d. 754)
   The last ruler of the Merovingian dynasty, Childeric was king from 743 to 751, but the real power in the Frankish kingdom was held by the Carolingian mayors of the palace, Pippin the Short and Carloman. Drawn from obscurity and hailed as the heir to the dynasty after a six-year interregnum, Childeric was a "do-nothing king" (one of the rois fainéants, as the later Merovingians are traditionally called), the puppet of the real rulers of Francia. In a memorable passage by Charlemagne's biographer, Einhard, Childeric is portrayed in most unsympathetic, almost ridiculous, terms. According to the biography, Childeric had little more than the empty title of king and had no influence on government beyond his annual visits to court. Arriving in a rustic oxcart led by a peasant, Childeric would play the role of king, sitting on his throne with his beard and long flowing hair (long hair was the symbol of Merovingian royal power), where he would receive ambassadors from other kingdoms. The answers he gave these ambassadors had been thoroughly rehearsed with the Carolingian mayors. Childeric was not only without political power but he was also without economic power. He owned only a single estate with a house and few servants. The estate itself brought him a meager income, and he was dependent upon the good graces of the mayors of the palace for his economic support. Childeric, thus, was a mere shadow of his illustrious ancestor Clovis (r. 481-511), the first Merovingian king.
   Despite his alleged economic and political weakness, Childeric was not a completely useless king. It is likely, first of all, that Einhard exaggerated Childeric's inadequacies to enhance the reputation of the new Carolingian dynasty, and there is evidence that he issued charters and possessed more than a single estate. Clearly, the Merovingian monarch was highly dependent on his Carolingian patrons, but at his enthronement he declared that he was pleased to be restored to the kingship and pleased to allow the Carolingians help rule the kingdom. Moreover, he possessed a certain charisma as a member of the royal line that Pippin and Carloman did not possess. Indeed, it was that very charisma that the Carolingian mayors needed to secure their positions in the kingdom. Childeric was raised to the throne to establish continuity in the kingdom, or at least give the appearance that the traditional dynasty remained in control of the kingdom and that the good fortune of the dynasty would preserve the kingdom. The Carolingian mayors had faced widespread opposition within the Frankish kingdom that was, perhaps, worsened by the absence of a legitimate king. Their father, Charles Martel, had ruled as mayor without a king on the throne during his last years, and Pippin and Carloman inherited this situation To reduce internal opposition, they put Childeric on the throne, and thus he performed an important political function.
   Childeric's utility, however, came to an end by the close of the 740s. In 747 Carloman withdrew from the world and retired to a monastery. Pippin was thus the sole mayor of the Frankish kingdom and much more secure in that role than he had been at the beginning of the 740s. In 750 he sent messengers to the pope in Rome asking if the person with the title or the person with the power should rule as king. The pope answered as Pippin had hoped, and in the following year Childeric was deposed, and Pippin assumed the throne. Childeric was tonsured and placed in a monastery, where he quietly lived out his days.
   See also
 ♦ Einhard and Notker the Stammerer. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Trans. Lewis Thorpe. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1981.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, J. M. The Long-Haired Kings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.
 ♦ Wood, Ian. The Merovingian Kings, 450-751. London: Longman, 1994.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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