David W. Capper — Honors in History
From Chieftain to King: The Development of Frankish Royal Power, 481-639 AD
The development of Frankish kingship during the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries is one of the enduring questions in early medieval history. One of the ways that it is possible to track this development is through looking at six separate factors of royal power. An examination of the six areas of royal power – religious power, civil authority, domestic military affairs, international affairs, noble-to-royal politics, and royal-to-royal politics – enables us to trace the relative strength of Frankish kingship during this time period. In four separate periods – 481-561 AD, 561-593, 593-614, and 614-639 – it becomes clear that Frankish kingship went through many significant turns. A careful evaluation of the six factors gives us the following pattern of increase and decrease of royal power. The first period, from the reign of Clovis to the death of his son Chlothar I was a period of significant increase in royal power. The second period, that of the rule of the four sons of Chlothar, was one of transition, where there were shifts in power in individual areas, but not an overall increase or decline. The third period, that of the civil war between the descendants of Brunechildis and those of Fredegund was one of decline, due to the destructive power of the war. The final period was the peak of Frankish kingship under the Merovingians, with the rule of the single, powerful kings Chlothar II and Dagobert I.