Benjamin Bernier of Thugs and Miracles joins the podcasts to rank the Merovingian kings, often called France's first dynasty.
Gary: All right, the big episode to end out the year, and I am joined by a very special guest, Ben. Why don’t you introduce yourself and what you do?
Ben: Hey Gary, thanks for having me on. I’m Benjamin Bernier. By all means call me Ben, but no, I am the host of the Thugs and Miracles Podcast which unfortunately I got to podcasting about a year or two after you started. So you took the History of the French Podcast, which is a great title name. No, but history. The French has always appealed to me. I think the key difference between you and I really started at the end of the Roman era and went with talking about the Merovingian Kings as the first kings of France, and I’ve been working from there forward. Right now I am through season two, I have done the Merovingians over those two seasons. Hit all the kings. Really tried to emphasize the queens as well inside of all that, and I’m looking forward in later on this month to starting season three, which is going to start looking forward to the Carolingians.
Gary: Yeah, it’s always nice to have another French historian, or I should say a historian of France, because there aren’t too many in podcasting. There’s myself, there’s the Fin de Siècle which covers the years 1815 and 1914, and then there is one other that ranks the kings of France, but otherwise we’re kind of, I think we’re in surprisingly short supply. There are so many histories of the United States and of Britain, but I mean who wants to hear about those? I mean we, we got where it’s at, don’t we Ben.
Ben: Absolutely, you know I can say that we’re laying claim to a recent movie. You know The Last Duel was just in theaters and was talking about the same type of stuff we’re talking about and you know, obviously it must have some sort of crowd support of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are out there swinging swords at each other for it. So it’s a fun time. I think it’s definitely very cool, very interesting history and like I said I really appreciated your approach. Where you went back really almost to geo forming and you know neolithic era talked about how everything built-up to where we got. I kind of just picked up now really where the Romans left off. I’m excited about all of this and I really do like you said. I mean, I think it’s cool that you know we are. I guess we’re kind of competitors but we’re also, I think we can be very friendly. I think there’s more than enough pie to go around when it comes to French history. There’s just not too many people out there who are looking pre revolution.
Gary: Oh yeah, well, you know, I hope to inspire some people to look back further. I remember I got a review on Apple podcasts and somebody said: why is he talking about something pointless like the Chauvet Caves? Why doesn’t he talk about Napoleon? So there’s another podcast. There is The Age of Napoleon there are a couple of ones, but you know there’s more to France than just Napoleon and we are here to talk about today. In fact there are other great leaders in the history of France other than Napoleon, and we are here to rank the Merovingian Kings of Francia, although there’s we’re putting in a little caveat. So we are ranking those who were kings of all United Francia, not simply the kings of a part of Francia. If we did that then we would have over 30 kings and we would run out of stuff to say. But we have a-list of 14 monarchs and we are going to rank them today.
Ben: Sounds great, I agree. Yeah, I think I ended up at 34, and that was mostly because I decided not to go past Merovech and go into the pre kings of Francia that you can find in some sources. You don’t find a lot of information on them, so I think it’s definitely safe to go ahead and cut it to 34 and then for this, certainly 14. How do you want to start this?
Gary: So before we even start this, let me ask you: what was your ranking system for these kings? I’ll tell you my ranking system. So basically what I did was I ranked how the kings performed while they were in office, and then I tried to gauge how their actions affected the long term standing of the country. So I ranked them on a scale from negative three to three on military power in office, economic expansion, cultural growth and state management, with negative three being that they were far worse than their predecessors and then three being that they were better than their predecessors and then zero, that they just there was no evolution or growth. And then I looked at the long term military stability, economic stability and the civil service, and then I tallied them up. I know this isn’t a perfect system, but none of them are, but you have a very different system for ranking them. You are basically taking the baseball format.
Ben: So, yeah, what I’ve done over the course of all this and I’m hoping to be able to keep it going through all the kings as we go further on in time. But I’ve been doing, in baseball there’s a stat called wards, the wins above replacement. And so if you have a player who’s a zero ward, that means they are the basically just standard player for that position. And so I applied this to the kings. It was actually very similar to what you just said. I went from negative ten to plus ten instead of negative three to plus three, but same general idea. You know just arbitrary number at that point and what I was looking at was the length of reign, looking at their significant alliances, what their monuments or their physical additions to history would have been. So in case you know, probably the most prominent one inside of this grouping was Dagobert I. He was the one who put Saint-Denis on the map. He was the one who, now that church was the sarcophagus or whatever. It was the resting place of all the Merovingian kings and all the kings actually of France up until the 19th century. So very significant spot there. I looked at legal codes, I looked at significant military victories and defeats, obviously the war part of it, and then also their political influence, their ability to control their court. So that’s where somebody like the Rois fainéants all lost a lot of points because they had no control of the court. The economics was looking: societal changes, infrastructure development. To be very honest, almost none of the Merovingians really get much in the way of infrastructure development just simply because they were mostly piggy backing off the Roman roads and stuff at that point and then finally I looked at one category that I don’t think you have, which just strength of spouse. I really want to incorporate the queens into all this. I really want to incorporate the fact that there was alliances, whether or not the queen was necessarily strong herself, but the alliances that they were able to develop with these different, in Clovis’s case he was able to get his sister, his daughters and he obviously married to Clotilde. So I thought he was a very important category of the strength spouse and I took all that up. I divided it by ten and got a score.
Gary: All right, fantastic. So I was thinking that we would go from our absolute worst and then make our way up to number one. And going into this I was pretty sure who your number one would be, but I think that the absolute bottom and maybe the middle we might have some disagreement on. So, having said that, do you want to take it away and tell us who you thought was the worst Merovingian king, who is number 14?
Ben: Well, number 14, simply because he was the last Merovingian king and you can say he lost it all, is Childeric III in my opinion. Childeric III really was a puppet. He was brought into power by Charles Martel and also the ilk after him and held in that esteem, you know, essentially just to go ahead, take it to the end. You know there was really no need and actually you know I take it back. I think it was actually Pepin who put him back into power after Charles Martel had the interregnum them. So I apologized there. But any rate, yeah, he was not anything except for a figurehead and when they needed to get rid of them, when they finally decided it was convenient, he had nothing to hold on to. So he went away. That’s on the story of a lot of the Rois fainéants coming up. But since he was last I put him last.
Gary: So I’m glad that you and I agreed on who was the worst. I made a lot of excuses for the Rois fainéants, particularly for those who were children when they assumed power, but there’s really no excuse you can make for Childeric III. He is,, the figurehead figureheads, according to Einhard, Childeric would be wheeled in by an ox cart and give answers prepared by the mayors of the palace, to visiting ambassadors, and so he was the epitome, the picture of the useless king, and he didn’t even try to make a grab for power, although unlike certain of his predecessors. So there’s really no defending Childeric.
Ben: I mean he was so bad that ultimately, when Pepin did want to take over power in 751, all he had to do was go to the Pope, who was having some hard times himself and just you know, really look at him and say what’s the point, and I know he had a better quote than that. You know and all that, but essentially looked in and said: you know, if he doesn’t actually wield power, then why is he in power? And the Pope agreed? And next, you know the Merovingians were done. So yeah, you have to go ahead and assign points to somebody or take points away for having lost it right.
Gary: No kidding. So now that we’ve figured out who’s the worst, let’s work our way up. So who is your number 13?
Ben: So my number 13 is Theuderic III. He was just, he was deposed by Childeric in 673, but he returned to power in 675, ultimately just not really a very strong king again, he was actually kicked out of the kingship and he came back in because of political convenience later on. Nothing else really ranked with him very well and you know, so control in the court in particular. I gave him a negative ten because he was kicked out by his brother. So he did get a chance to be a standalone king simply because of other people dying around him. But he was not a very powerful king and was only there because it was useful to other people, and so I have him as 13.
Gary: Oh wow! Well, you’re going to hate me because I have him significantly higher. So I’ll tell you who have. So I actually, perhaps my system isn’t as precise, because you went from negative ten to positive ten, but I went from negative three to positive three, and in looking at the Rois fainéants there was a lot of them who, there’s only so much you can say, because there isn’t too much surviving material and a lot of them, you look at them and you say: well, they were basically just figureheads. So I actually have a tie between Dagobert III and Theuderic IV. So for about Dagobert III, what’s great about him is that he’s so completely and utterly irrelevant that the Liber Francorum reported that he existed, and that’s it. He doesn’t even get a kind word like Childebert III. It’s just okay, there was a king and that was all. So I ranked him extremely low. And then for Theuderic IV, there is another case where he did nothing. He was a pure figurehead that was kept in Chelles Abbey and then in Chateau Thierry and couldn’t even, you know, essentially leave his backyard. So those were the two that I ranked as tied for 12. So in that case I think it’s back over to you, since you have individuals instead of just my two there, who came in for your 12th.
Ben: Well actually, I would go ahead and say at 11 and 12, I actually agree with you on Dagobert III, and Theuderic IV. For all the reasons you basically said, I mean when you literally are listed in the only significant historical source as he was there. That’s mean, but the only thing that I have there and it’s kind of weird because you look at my ranking system. You give them zero across the board for that because there was nothing to say about him. So you have to acknowledge that he was a king. But, it’s not a perfect system because I mean I can see where you could rank him lower simply because of the fact that I mean that’s just not enough to stand on. When you go back to Clothar III, I had him, he lost. He was in power for 17 years, depending on who you’re looking at, I’m sorry Theuderic III. He was in power for 17 years but he lost his one significant battle. He went into he did not control of the court. That’s why he ended up getting ranked lower. But almost, if he had just died early on in life, many of these younger guys did you know like Dagobert III and Dagobert IV did. He probably would have just been at zero. He would have actually been higher for simply not having around as long. So it is an imperfect system. So that’s where I’m at, so I feel like we actually have the same people so far. You said that Dagobert III was higher on your yours, so I’d be curious. Who do you have then at your 11?
Gary: So here is my only other tie. So, I have Clovis IV and Childebert III, so Clovis IV. Here is another case where, because the later kings usually came in as children, then there’s not much to say about them. So Clovis IV. He ruled for two years as a minor and then one year as a figurehead. He did virtually nothing and then died. And then for Childebert III, he was ranked as a fairly just king and he did rule against the Pippin-ids in legal cases. On some occasions he was a king for 17 years, but he basically was just a puppet of the Pippin-ids. In retrospect, maybe because he ruled for so long I could have put him higher, but because he was just a pure puppet he gets fairly low. So I have them as tied for tenth place, but you have an individual 11th monarch?
Ben: That sounds about right to me where you have him. So I would definitely say Clovis IV is going to be down at the lower end. I have Demezery having written about him,” that he died being aged 14 or 15 years and neither had seen nor done anything that was memorable in his reign.” So he got more words then, then Dagobert III, but only for the same thing again, where he is zero. So I have him in that I think that was my 11, and then at ten I am looking at, come on over here. It looks like Clothar III. I have as a negative points again, same reason you’ve been putting forth all these are all in a situation where they really have no control of the court. They’re puppets. He had one signified military loss. He didn’t do anything militarily. So I had him losing a couple of points there and he was in power for six years, which was a little bit longer than some of the other Rois fainéants but again probably out of power by the time he’s in his early twenties, even that long. So that’s who I have down at my number ten.
Gary: All right, so yeah, we are reaching the point where we’re getting more to say about them, but I think for the Rois fainéants, I think very often the best you can say about these characters is that they did nothing, because some seem to do even worse than nothing. Who is your number nine?
Ben: Number nine: I’m going to start going into, I think you already said Childebert III is one of yours, so I have him there and that can be a tie with Childeric II as well. I’ll hold off on Childeric II I actually have, I’m going to say Chilperic III and my nine. I’m going to go with Childeric II at eight.
Gary: So I put at number nine, I have Chilperic II. I give him points because he tried to assert his kingship and with his allies he did make Charles Martel flee for a time. So that’s the prose that I give him. But then the con being that he eventually failed. Charles Martel, dethroned him, he fled to Odo, Duke of Aquitaine, and tried to retain power and lost that too. See, I give him points for trying, which is why I put Theodoric III a bit higher than you did, because you seemed to not be a fan of his. But I would rank a king who tried and failed far above one who didn’t even try at all. So my number nine is Chilperic II.
Ben: I can agree with you on almost everything you’re saying there. I guess I had him just a little higher and only in the sense of you know one or two places. I agree with you that he did have a more significant historical role, pushing back Charles Martel, I really lay almost all of that at Plectrude’sfeet, which was his grandmother at that point. Probably absolutely yeah. So I mean it was kind of cool. I got to go to Colone and see her tomb, which is still around, which is amazing considering the amount of bombing that occurred there in World War II. But I digress, but so there again as the figure head, he was the one who was in charge of all these things. Buck stops at his office. He had a more interesting history. I don’t think that he really did much, as far as you know, advancing the Merovingian cause or bringing them any closer to being a sustainable force. Obviously Charles Martel being the first of the really heavy hitting Carolingians was able to turn the tables on him. So I feel like he does lose some ground there. But I agree with your overall sentiment that just simply because of the fact that he was able to progress in any way, shape or form in that time period, that he did try and he deserves some amount of points just for that.
Gary: Who is your number 9.
Ben: So, yeah, I would say Childeric II is next on my list and mostly, the biggest thing for him. As opposed to having tried, like we just said, with the last one, with the last king, there with Childeric II. His issue was that he had the most potential to probably do something, and he didn’t. He ended up marrying Bilichild, his first cousin, but I mean we all know the royalty that was fairly common. They did have two boys, one of whom was Daniel, who ended up becoming actually later on, becoming Childeric II and was used in the realm of whether or not they found him. They actually found the right person. That’s another question I have about some of these kings. They really were put into power based on who know the mayor of the palace needing a figure at that time. But he was the one who had the most potential to go somewhere and he ends up getting killed because he essentially got peeved at one of his bodyguards, had him taken out of a noble, had him taken out and whipped publicly. That bodyguard then goes ahead and planned to assassinate him and did so while they were out on a hunt. And so the fact that he had everything going his way. He had already sired airs, he had a wife who was doing good things for him. He really had all the potential in the world and it just never came to anything, because he died by basically making somebody mad and having them go ahead and kill him. Six years into his reign left him in a position where I feel like he would have been good, could have been better, and that’s as high as he can get on the list for me.
Gary: See that is interesting. I think this shows the difference that we have in ranking them, in that I actually have Childeric II at number six, because again he, at a time when kings were weak, he was someone who actually asserted his rule. I agree with everything you said about him being a moron. I think there is no debating that. I mean he sent away Duke Wolfoald. No, he didn’t send away Duke Wolfoald. He made him the mayor of the Palace of all Francia, not just Austrasia, which angered the Neustrians. He married his cousin, which I’m guessing that’s how he got a low-ranking with you, because you were ranking based on wives as well. But then he, when the Bishop of Autun condemned it, he exiled the bishop to Luxeuil where he conspired with other nobles and had him killed. So I’m not going to argue that he wasn’t a moron because he was a moron. He was fantastically awful in that regard. But at a time when the Merovingians were figureheads, he actually, because he was able to not excommunicate, but because he was able to exile someone and he was able to marry his cousin. I’m not coming out for marrying cousins, but the fact that he was able to do that in the face of widespread condemnation shows that he at least had some power. So I actually ranked him much higher than that. So you know, you know bad king morally, but I give him props for the time that he spent in office with his power, so that’s quite a difference we have there.
Ben: It is, but I feel like everything you just said kind of plays into my next guy who’s Chilebert III. Another person who was very similar to what you just said, who was able to go ahead and exercise some degree of control, who was actually noted when you go back and you look at the Liber Historic Francorum, who’s calling him, I’m quoting here, “the glorious Lord of good memory, Childebert, the righteous king.” He was also with Pippin when they were able to go ahead and fight against the Frisians. They were able to go north into the East. The Frisians were always one of those groups that they had a lot of trouble quelling and putting down, and it really wasn’t until Charles Martel had almost unrestricted access to go what’s now modern day Amsterdam, to go fight that group that they were able to finally bring the Friesians into their fold and even after that they were still rebellious. So, but he was in power when you know, things were kind of ascendant. The mayor of the palace was in control, the Pippins and they were actually pushing there their case, and I give them credit for being again, if we’re going to go ahead and say, like Childeric III has to go ahead and get knocked for having been in power when everything fell apart. I have to give Childebert III a little bit of credit for having been in power when things were actually going pretty well, even though it’s really probably going more well for the mayor of the palace than him proper.
Gary: Well, I did not give him credit for that, so that is our big difference. So okay. So my number eight then was Clothar III, and more than anyone it seems like he is, just to me he seems like a straight middle of the road. He was also a kid, so you couldn’t really blame him for being just a figurehead and he didn’t seem to do anything wrong. So not anything right but anything wrong. So I ranked him as number eight. You had him much lower, though, because he was weak. Am I correct?
Ben: Yeah, that’s pretty much about where we’re at. I feel like we can agree that moment.
Gary: So I mentioned before my number seven is Theudoric III, I give him points for trying, so now we’re entering into, I think, some of the more interesting kings. We’re into our top six. So who do you have as your number six?
Ben: So yeah, I think basically what we’ve done now we’ve gotten through all the Rois fainéants and all we can make arguments, you know, within a point or two, for almost all of them, based on if we’re on an extra point, for trying harder, for having been around when something good was happening, we can say that about all. So now that these top ones, I feel this is where the conversation is going, get interesting and I think you and I are on to get into some real disagreements. As far as like, you know just who ranks where. Obviously, yeah, how do would otherwise be kind of boring, wouldn’t it so? Out of all this, I think the next person I have on my list and is going to be Clothier II, and the reason I have Clothier II up there, he had 30 years in power in reign. His mom was Fredegunda and Fredegunda and Brunhilda, the story of those two queens alone took up a huge portion of season one for me and it’s just really amazing story how they came into power. But ultimately he was the person who, his mom got him into position and he finally won by getting all the nobles to go ahead and agree to come to his side for some major concessions on his part. He essentially signed away almost all royal authority with the Edict of Paris to be able to go get Brunhilda thrown out of power. So when he came in about the year 613 or, 611 and 613 somewhere, and there he went ahead, had Brunhilda executed, by 614, he signed away the power. So he’s in. He’s reunified all of Francia, which was amazing at that point, considering that really is the king of Neustria before that. He had the smallest area of land and really should have be overrun at some point but ends up taking over everything, but at the cost of selling his soul essentially to the nobles, which is where you start to see the Carolingian rise up. So that’s why I have him at zero, because for all the positives, for the length of rain he had, for the fact that he was able to reunify all of this stuff, he didn’t really have much in the way of a strong spouse. He didn’t really do anything in the way of legal codes. Once he was in power and the Edict of Paris just gave away so much that I said for everything good he did, he essentially went back to zero by giving it all to the nobles and setting up the Carolingians. Granted, it took him another 100, some odd years to go ahead and do that fully, but you really see the mayor of the palace coming into their own with the advent of Clothier II.
Gary: Well, this is really interesting. That shows us a big difference, because I have him ranked as the number two top king. And the reason is because I didn’t see his reign as particularly as conciliatory as yours. I saw it as more of an adaptation and also, let me just say, Clothier II, I think, is an interesting figure and this is a very dark and perhaps messed up thing to say. But I think he was probably the best king in history to start his reign by killing kids, which is a very rare and awful thing. But of course he got the nobles on his side and then they handed over Brunhilda and her family and he decided to kill off her grandchildren, or I guess it might even, if I remember correctly, it was great grandchildren because he was so old at the time. Killed them off so that way they couldn’t oppose his rule. But then afterwards he ruled as a fairly just king. So there was, there’s not a lot of kings who start out their reign by killing children. So I guess just by default, Clothar II might be the best, but he did a surprisingly good job afterwards, but in terms of his actual reign. What’s interesting about Clothar II is, I saw him as more adapting to changes. At the time. He adapted to the economic changes of bipartite manorialism, by delegating more power to local nobles. He, not only that, but even though he legally gave up some powers with the Edict of Paris, he enhanced his soft power by expanding the royal court and using it to bring in aristocrats whom he could influence, something which do what the Carolingians, particularly Charlemagne, would do. Another thing is that he Christianized royal tradition and he also was involved in a war which defeated the Saxons, or at least a few of the Saxon tribes. So I’ll grant you that, even though he was weaker than some Merovingian kings and he would ultimately seed Austrasia to his son as the local monarch, and finally, another point against him would be that he had no major outside invasions. I saw him as a king that was willing to adapt and change with the time, and so for that I ranked him as number two. So that’s pretty interesting. You have him down as number six. I thought he was a pretty good monarch.
Ben: I think overall he wasn’t, he didn’t do anything bad once he was in power, certainly, and I do agree with you about the Saxons with the significant military victories. I would argue that Dagobert I, probably wouldn’t have been alive if it hadn’t been for Clothar II. I think I described him as a sort of John Snow type figure at point, because he actually rode across the river like by himself. You want to believe the tradition of all this. He rode across the river by himself and single-handedly stabbed the enemy commander in the face, which is a strong statement and you know it certainly speaks well of him as far as being a warrior king, I just really, I think the key difference between where you and I are coming at odds is the fact how much I feel like he signed away, really setting the templet for the the mayors of the palace at this point. Everything from 613 on is, in my opinion, where you see everything falling towards the mayor of the palace becoming stronger and stronger and stronger, and all of those later kings who we said were the kings of all Francia, but they were the Rois fainéants really started only two or three reigns after his.
Gary: Yeah, I’m trying to get Game of Thrones out of my memory. It just hurts too much. But yeah, I choose to believe all of the stories that the chroniclers tell us so completely believe that he stabbed someone in the face and that Meroveck was born of the sea. But in any case, so yeah, that’s a big difference from us. So number six, you have Clothar II, I have Childeric II who we already talked about. So your number five, let’s hear it.
Ben: Number five, and I think you’re going to go ahead and disagree on this one too. Dagobert I.
Gary: Yeah, I’m going to disagree, but not as badly as the last one, because I have Dagobert I as number three, number three and number five not the biggest difference. So why is Dagobert I your number five?
Ben: So, what I really was looking at here is the fact, so 18 years in power, so reasonable length of reign. But he came in pretty young and ends up dying of dysentery, which I mean it’s not surprising at the time, considering the hygiene standards. But, as I had on some points there, he did decent with some alliances. He was definitely going around administering justice and giving his verdicts to different groups as he travelled around. So he was one of the most travelled kings, in my opinion, when you saw how he was going to head and administering the legal codes. But, I really and I gave him a ton of points for Saint-Denis. As you look at his story about how he followed the deer into the Shrine of Saint-Denis and ended up, you know, being saved because his father didn’t go in there to kill him when he defied him early in life and they had this epiphany they built, you know up to this day, even point out to people as Saint-Denis is where they played the 1998 World Cup. That’s how you know significant that area is in that chapel is inside of France proper to this day. So he had a lot of good points there. But you know, when it comes into some of his military victories, you know he didn’t have the most sterling record as a military commander. Overall he had a decent spouse. You know he married young, had some issues there, but didn’t give him a whole lot of other points. He ends up getting just about one on my scale overall, which puts him above Clothar who came all the way back down to zero for having given the whole thing away. But I just was constantly unimpressed with the fact that Dagobert II was given, correction. Dagobert I, was given so much historically, so much just kind of good will. I never understood it because when you read about it he basically engaged in genocide, killing the Jews, killing the Saxons, doing all the other horrible things. I’m trying not to go ahead and apply modern logic and modern ways of looking at things to what he did, but he just doesn’t seem to be a particularly nice individual overall, and the amount of good will he’s received historically just seems really at odds to me. So I think a lot of people would have him higher than I did.
Gary: Yeah, I think this gets into another thing in ranking kings, because I agree that to an extent you have to look at some of the bad things that they did and look at it from a moral perspective, if anything, just to see if it weaken their power. Because if you have a particularly cruel king than that can have a negative effect on their personal power but also their culture. And so I agree, he loses points for all the things that you’ve mentioned. On the other hand, though, I think that he did get some major gains. I mean he was the richest king of the Merovingians, probably because he plundered 200,000 solidi of gold from Spain, he took Zaragoza and helped place Ally on the Spanish throne. He expanded church spending and Paris grew to being a major city during his time, and the arts flourished. So those are all the prose that I gave him, and that’s why he’s my number three, although he doesn’t rank higher because of the reasons you said, but also because he lost a war against the Slavs famously, which prompted the Arnulfings and Pippin-ids to revolt, which forced him to put his son, Seigibert on the throne of Austrasia as a puppet, which really helped kick-off the Arnulfings and Pippinids’ power grab. So, for all those reasons I chose to put him at number three. You put him in number five. That’s not the biggest difference, but I suppose we can still fight over it, so.
Ben: I’m glad. I’m glad you brought up the wins, though, and everything that he lost there, because he really did. I mean just did not have a strong military record, and you know I didn’t specify what the lost to. But I mean you’re looking at a whole, another king that was able, out of the Franks, that was able to stand-up and go ahead and take over you now, one of these Slavic tribes, and fight back against them. So very significant in that. And again, what’s funny about
Dagobert and all this? He literally is a French nursery rhyme. You know King Dagobert has no underpants and I’m mispronouncing, but it’s literally. They sing it to kids all the way up to this day. It was really what came into power because of the fact that during the revolution they couldn’t say King Louis directly. So they use Dagobert because it worked out phonetically, it worked out as far as the number of syllables, but it’s just interesting to me, like I said, that, how history can change and how people can look at somebody. He actually a movie made about him which almost none of these kings, including Clovis, have had a movie made about them. The fact that he says, it was a French movie back in the sixties, if you could look it up on, there is actually the first moving. It looks like a really bad comedy, but it’s still there and, to the best of my knowledge, you know Clovis, who I think we’re both going to have it. Number one didn’t even get that for him.
Gary: I’m going to wait till they make the movie where Chris Pratt stars as Dagobert, so until then, seems to be starring as everything else. So all right. So that’s our our debate: your number five in number three. Who is your number four?
Ben: So, this is somebody that I actually asked you to add into the list when we were first putting this whole thing together, and that’s going to be Childeric, who was really arguably the first of the Merovingian kings, depending on whether or not you believe that Merovech even existed if he came from Sea Monster or walked over from Troy or whatever else the Franks want you to believe about how he got there. But no, Childeric was the father of Clovis, and what’s really interesting about him historically is the fact that his tomb was found up in the Belgium area and they went ahead and excavated it and they found a lot of just interesting Merovingian jewelry, swords, weapons, stuff that were buried with him. You really got to see just how big a deal that the Frankish kings had become at that point and what Clovis had probably tried to do and where his funeral was very, very lavish, to go ahead and make him seem like that much bigger figure, and that Clovis was filling his shoes. The beads that were taking, the golden beads that were taken out of that tomb ended up being used by Napoleon in the 19th century as a symbol of French power. So he had a lasting imprint in that manner, even if people don’t understand why Napoleon had the beads. That’s where it all came from, Childeric. And ultimately I look at Childeric in a way akin to Philip II of Macedon. The way that Philip II, was to Alexander the Great is the way I look at Childeric and Clovis. He laid the groundwork for everything. So when you look at him, he only had Belgica Segunda, at a very small footprint at the time he went ahead and was released or when he died and when Clovis took over for him. But he had the army set up, he had the inroads with the Romans, he had the different alliances set up all over the area, and so when he died, Clovis had a ready-made army that he was able to go ahead and start prosecuting his push and his empire with. If he hadn’t done that, Childeric hadn’t done that, Clovis wouldn’t have been able to go after Syagrius within five years of his now taking over the reins of power. So that’s why I rank him really high, the same way that I ranked. You know the Clothier II really low because of his legacy effects. I feel Childeric’s legacy effects were much further and much stronger than what we ultimately saw from his reign proper.
Gary: So that is interesting. I actually have Childeric as number five, so not a big difference. You have them at four. I have them at five, Childeric I. I will give him enormous credit, of course, for being the Philip of Macedon character who sort of set the stage for the guy who set the stage. But one thing that I throw in just as a reminder is that he united the Salian Franks. So he didn’t unite all the Franks, and not only that, but he gets slightly lower for me just because he didn’t, his main contribution was in the military, he, unlike some of these later kings who could patronize the arts and the city development and religion. He was a tribal leader, and so at this time I think most of the kings, the Merovingian kings. They weren’t great patrons of the arts, they weren’t like the renaissance figures that we can think of, and so most of them don’t get much credit for investing in those things. But quite a few of them at least get some credit, whereas for Childeric I he is much more of the old style tribal leader, and so for that he’s number five for me.
Ben: No, I agree with everything you said. I also feel like this is just the vagaries of history, especially when you get 1,400-1,500 years in the past. It really is about what gets discovered and you know there’s even there’s discoveries coming up now in England, where they’re finding roman mosaics up in the UK to this day that we’re not known. So things haven’t been uncovered fully yet and Childeric was just, you know, 16th century, 17th century. They happened to stumble across his tomb and he probably would have ben a figure everybody would have forgotten about almost entirely if it hadn’t been for that. But really because of the fact that he was brought so much into the forefront and there’s you know, here’s even more stories that go. I don’t want to get into it all right now just because it would bog down this show. But really it is an incredibly interesting story line that came from him and his legacy and all that. But I do agree with you that ultimately he was a small area tribal leader.
Gary: So, my number four, and it seems like your ranking him higher, is Clothar I. And what’s interesting is that when I was first thinking about this list I thought I was going to rank him as number 14. I thought he was going to be the absolute worst because he led so many civil wars that killed off other Franks and he was just an awful person, which some of the awful stuff he did granted, and this is partially feeds into it, was just sort of par for the course of the time. I mean polygamy was par for the course, although he was particularly nasty to his wives. He made Radicand run away to a monastery, which actually might even be a point in his favor, because she ended up greatly sponsoring the religion. That might actually be pro. So I thought he was going to be the worst. But in retrospect, looking at him, he was a very, very strong king. Not only that, but with his brothers, he conquered Burgundy and Thuringia, which was just an enormous accomplishment. He did reunite the Franks, even though he was king of reunited Francia. For a pretty short amount of time. He sponsored churches and monasteries, so in complete retrospect. I do have to give him far more credit and that, even though he was, I think, a morally reprehensible person, he was the strong king of the early medieval period. So I put him as number four, and it, like you, have them even higher.
Ben: I have an interesting situation here with him. As far as, what’s interesting about him, I do have him here higher because he was in power for 50 years, which at this time most of the kings that we’ve just talked about didn’t live to be 40. So the fact that he was in power for 50 years, It’s just kind of a phenomenal, now granted he was in power not as the only king. He was really only in power as the only king of France for the last three years, and so I can see where you could rank him lower because of the fact that in those three years there was nothing horribly significant that happened. But over the course of 50 years in power he, like you, said he had those significant alliances. He does get some points for
Strength of spouse because of Radegund, because of other things they did. He didn’t do much to go ahead and actually, I would even say, the law codes kind of reverted a little bit in his time, but militarily he did push the boundaries. He kept on pushing out. He went into the now, what’s the Armorican Peninsula at the time now modern-day Brittany, and was pushing against them and he was ruthless, like you were pointing to. This is a guy who was the prototype of the Merovingians, more so I would even argue, than possibly Clovis. He murdered his nephew almost first thing because when his brother died he didn’t want them going ahead and buying for power and turning that state into two separate kingdoms. He went ahead. He was, like he said, polygamist was horrible to his wives. There is even a picture out there of him burning his son and his entire, his son’s entire family. His son fortunately dead when he set fire to the house, but the rest of the family wasn’t. I mean so when you talk about somebody who was willing to do whatever he needed to do, even at a time when that statement was pretty ruthless, this guy was even beyond that. So ultimately I’m trying to look at everybody one by one and I’m trying not to go ahead and apply today’s modern sensibilities to those rankings, because I want to be able to say: you know he did what he had to do at that time. This is a guy who you can make the argument against him, but I think you can also make the argument that he really was the Merovingian of the Merovingians when it came to how he ruled.
Gary: I absolutely agree on that and I know we’re not supposed to use the term dark ages. But as far as dark age kings are concerned, he was, I think, the epitome of the dark age, powerful monarch. I mean, let’s not forget, he didn’t just kill his nephews, but according to the story, he came in with one of his brothers and his nephews ran up to his brother begging for mercy, and his brother just stood there and Clothar drove his sword through the stomach of each of his nephews. And not only that, but that was. That was just the second king slaying of Clothar out of three, because if you really go back, he was not too distantly related to the ruling Burgundian house, because I think through his it was either.
Gary: Yeah, mother was a Burgundian, so he kills his something like second cousins with his brother. So you now I’m not going to blame him entirely for that, but then he kills his nephews in front of his mother. He kills his son and his family. So he was an absolutely brutal figure. But in retrospect I have to give him credit for being such a powerful monarch, so I had him rank four. Where do you have him?
Ben: So I have him and his brother Childebert, so here’s the other thing too, Childebert I actually wasn’t on our list because he wasn’t ever actually in control by himself, because I said he died three years before Clothar. But they were almost in charge together during that entire time. So, I have him all the way up to number two. Clothar I who is technically not a part of the unified list. He was still there with them the whole time. You’re talking about three years separation. Really at that point it doesn’t come down to their policies or who was doing better. It literally just came down to who lived longer. At a time when living into our seventies was just not something that happened very often.
Gary: You know one thing that I was thinking about. It is so strange that if there’s, how do I even put this, I was thinking of how I could put this on a tee shirt, but it was something like if his name’s Clothar, there’s a 66% chance that he’s going to do some kin slaying. I was thinking of putting that on a tea shirt, but then I thought this is way way too obscure for, to even put on a tea shirt. You know, I suppose you could be like that guy, that history nerd at a the party, but then you would have to explain it. So. But yeah, I mean Clothar I was involved in three different kinslaying incidents. Clothar II starts out his reign by killing off the grandkids of Brunhilda, whom he’s related to. So, a lot of killing kids. But if you can get over that, these were some pretty strong, very capable monarchs who actually did quite a lot of good for the realm, which is a very strange thing to think about, but it was a brutal time that they lived in.
Ben: I think you really hit the nail on the head with that one, as far as saying if you can get over the fact that they were murdering children, then the Merovingians are for you, because that I mean that really is the epitome of what they’re at. You didn’t even mention, with Clothier II that he killed the kids, but he had a seven-year old woman, Brunhilda torn apart with wild horses. Which I don’t know if that’s the worst way I can think of dying or if it would happen so quickly that I don’t even like to think about it. But I mean that’s about as brutal as you can get and if you go I mean for all the good things that Brunhilda did when you put her name into Google, the first ninety pictures are going to be of her getting ripped apart by horses.
Gary: You know I brushed that off just because they were enemies, you know, but whereas with the kids I can’t help but think well, they didn’t do anything to you. It’s just that their existence was a threat. You know it was the early-modern living, but thank you for giving me a different tagline for tee shirt. If you can get over the child killing, the Merovingians are for you.
Ben:(Laughing) I want all the royalties.
Gary: I think we’ve talked about everyone, but the big one so far. So my number three Dagobert I. My number two was Clothar II. You ranked Childeric I as your number three, and you ranked Clothar I as your number two. I don’t think it is any surprise whatsoever who our number one is, which is Clovis I. So why don’t you tell us why is he the head honcho?
Ben: Well, you know I can say that he’s the head honcho. I said this in the podcast when I first set it up, because he is literally the head. If you go to the gallery of battles in Versailles and you look at the picture number one up on the walls there of all the great kings that ever stood, Napoleon included, inside of France, he is the one who is on the first wall, on his horse, with, you know, invoking God to come down on his side so you can beat the Alemanni. Even the French go ahead and say that you know at some level he is the number one, he’s the first person, he’s the first king of France. That is really why I got interested in the first place and also why I think you can consider him overall to be the number one. But beyond just simply one picture, this is a guy who went ahead and brought the Franks out of obscurity, took him from Belgica Segunda to pretty much the entire boundary of what we would consider now modern France, with the exception of Burgundy. You know Septimania, the area right along the Mediterranean Coast and really the Brittany Peninsula. So land wise, he was huge. He also went ahead. He married very well inside of marrying Clotilde. That was huge form and because of Clotilde he was brought to Catholicism as opposed to Arianism, and when he went to Catholicism he picked up all the bonus points that come along with having a ready-made infrastructure from Rome, from what was still considered to be the Western Roman Empire. Because just because 476 happened, it doesn’t mean that people stop seeing Rome as a power and certainly not the Roman Catholic church. His coming over to the Roman Catholic Church being proclaimed Patricius, the sitting pope at the time. Actually correcting myself, I’m sorry, by the Byzantine emperor, the eastern Roman emperor. He had the alliances, he had the religion, he had the wife, he had the 30-year reign and pretty much all of Gregory Tour is talking about what he did. So there is no question that when you’re talking about the Franks, when our talk about the origin of the current state, it all begins with Clovis, and the only thing you can say against him really is that he was incredibly brutal, just like Clothier I. He was the one that would, you know, throw somebody’s axe on-the-ground and then, when they were bending over to pick it up, would split their head and half, and he did that over a vase. You can say that he had a number of incidents that were very similar, but being nice at this time was not a prerequisite to being king. I mean, as a matter of fact, was, probably someone would get you killed as a king, so he was able to find that balance of power between being an absolute tyrant who went so far and being murderous that he ends up getting overthrown himself, that he was able to become the person that everybody will remember forever.
Gary: You know he might have just been trying to be funny by killing that guy. You know who he told to pick up his axe. I don’t know if you listen to a recent episode I did about Frankish humor, but basically every, every joke ended with and then I killed him so he could have could have been a pretty hilarious king back at the time. You know a lot of people would find that funny, but in any case I agree with you on everything. He is sort of the George Washington of Francia. He sets everything up, not just. He sets up the royal traditions, the political traditions. One thing which you didn’t mention is he also codified the Salic law, so he sets up this incredibly important legal tradition that is going to essentially ripple throughout French history. So yeah, this guy, he is the undisputed number one. I just knew going into this that you and I, if we were going to agree on one monarch, it was going to be Clovis. I mean he’s a very strong contender for one of the best leaders in the history of all France. Maybe not to the level of Charlemagne. I mean we’ll have to see. You know. Perhaps if we do another episode where we compare the Carolingians and rank them. I’m sure going into that Charlemagne’s probably going to be our number one. If you don’t have Charlemagne, as you’re number one Carolingian, I think we’re going to have some talking to do. But yeah, Clovis, he’s one of the all time Greats. It’s no dispute there.
Ben: Well, the last thing I have on Clovis is as opposed to Charlemagne, who multiple different, like the Germans, can make a claim on Charlemagne, aka Cologne. All those different areas where they had a power base are in modern day Germany, and I understand the borders have fluctuated over time, many, many times over, but there is still the fact that Charlemagne is essentially a Germanic king and was the Holy Roman empire which the Holy Roman empire became most of what is now modern Germany. Clovis was Frankish. He is only French. He’s the only one that you know the French can go back to and say he is ours alone and no one else can really make a claim on him, whereas Charlemagne they can, someone else could still make a claim on him if somebody really wanted to over the course of time. So he is the quintessential French king and when you look back it’s always kind of questionable. Where do you start a history, the French post, because you can go all the way back. Like I said in the very beginning, you went all the way back to the beginning of dawn of time. I’ve heard other people saying that you know really they don’t think anything before the Carolingians counts. I personally would say, like you said, George Washington as Clovis is the best kind of example. I think that you can give for the French proper when you talk about Clovis.
Gary: Yeah, he seems to be, I mean, obviously there isn’t a 100% agreement on when the French began, but it seems like most people, they, they choose Clovis as being the start of where this all began. In fact, before we started this podcast together we were talking back and forth and you wanted to add Childeric I to our conversation, because I originally didn’t have him. I started with Clovis because he was the one who united all the Franks, whereas Childeric I was just the king of the Salian Franks. So even going into this podcast, you know I thought we were just going, I assumed we were going to start with Clovis, but you, you needled me into adding an extra king.
Ben: The only reason I come up with that is just because of the legacy there again to Philip II versus Alexander the Great. There is no question about who the better king was overall in history. But that warm start that those earlier kings were able to provide for their sons ended up really being what allowed them to take the whole package of brawn in ability and intelligence and apply it altogether at the right time, right place, and you know, for Clovis, taken outside Syagrius and then moving on to everybody else, there was really no doubt he was the guy to take over for Gaul and whatever you want to call it, this time, Francia, and again, did I keep going back to what you said, George Washington of the Franks.
Gary: There’s no better way to put that. So that note. Thank you so much, Ben for joining us and ranking the Merovingians. I would love to have you on the podcast in future to rank the Carolingians or maybe for the next episode. Maybe I could come on to your podcast. I am a ambitious but also very flexible person, so perhaps in future we can rank the Carolingians. I mentioned on my patron that eventually my hope is, as I go through all of French history, perhaps I could rank all of the French monarchs and maybe even all of the leaders of historical France, although I imagine that’s going to take quite a long time. It’s going to take, you know it’s taken me three years to get up to Hugh Capet, so I have no idea when we’re going to get up to Macon. I think that’s going to be quite a time. But if, if you can be patient, maybe we can do the Carolingians together. So Ben, thank you very much for being on the show. Please everyone check out his podcast, Thugs and Miracles.
Ben: Thank you very much, Gary. You’re doing tremendous things over there, the French History Podcast, and it really has been an honor to be on the show. So thank you very much and look forward to talking to you again in the future.
Gary’s Ranking: Ben’s ranking:
1. Clovis I 1. Clovis I
2. Clothar II 2. Clothar I
3. Dagobert I 3. Childeric I
4. Clothar I 4. Dagobert I
5. Childeric I 5. Clothar II
6. Childeric II 6. Chilperic II
7. Theuderic III 7. Childebert III
8. Clothar III 8. Childeric II
9. Chilperic II 9. Clothar III
10. (tied) Clovis IV 10. Clovis IV
10. (tied) Childebert III 11. Theuderic IV
12. (tied) Dagobert III 12. Dagobert III
12. (tied) Theuderic IV 13. Theuderic III
14. Childeric III 14. Childeric III