Pepin the Short - World Leaders in History

Pepin III helped his kingdom become one of the foremost powers in Europe.
Pepin III helped his kingdom become one of the foremost powers in Europe.

Early Life

Pepin III, known as Pepin the Short, was born in 714 AD, the second son of Charles Martel (c. 686-741) and his wife Rotrude (?-724). Pepin was given a clerical upbringing, which he acquired from the monks at the Basilica of St. Denis. Martel who held the title Duke and Price of the Franks, as well as Mayor of the Palace, was the de facto ruler of Francia (481-843) from 718 until his death.

When the King of Francia Theuderic IV (c.712-737) died, Martel ruled as regent over the kingdom until his death, which led to Pepin and his older brother Carloman (c.711-754) succeeding their father and reigning together jointly as regents. Pepin ruled the regions of Burgundy, Neustria and Provence. Meanwhile, Carloman managed Alemannia, Austrasia, and Thuringia.

Career and Challenges

In the first few years of their joint rule, the brothers had to be vigilant as they put down various revolts led by the Alemanni, Aquitanians, Bavarians, and Saxons. They also removed their half-brother Grifo (726-753) from making any claims on a portion of the kingdom by imprisoning him into a monastery in 742. In 743, the brothers decided to end the Frankish interregnum that started with the death of Theuderic IV by making Childeric III (c.717-c.754) the King of Francia.

The two brothers mostly worked together, as they took military actions in support of each other, against the aforementioned revolts unlike in many medieval instances where fraternal power-sharing ended badly. Being holy men they also both worked to continue support Saint Boniface (c.675-754), as their father had, in his mission to reform the Frankish church and evangelizing the Saxons.

In 747, Carloman renounced his positions and went to Rome to retire and live a monastic life. However, some historians believed that he was encouraged to stay by Pope Zachary (679-752) as a political favor to Pepin. That same year, Grifo escaped his imprisonment and was given support by Duke Odilo of Bavaria (?-748). When Odilo died, Grifo attempted to take control of the duchy of Bavaria by was defeated by Pepin, who installed Odilo's son Tassilo III (c.741-c.796) as ruler. Following these events, Pepin became the undisputed de facto ruler of Francia.

In 751, Pepin decided to finally move against the last the Merovingian ruler Childeric III and became the de jure ruler of the kingdom. With the help of Pope Zachary, he was dethroned, tonsured, and forced into a monastery as most of the Frankish nobles backed Pepin's coup d'etat, making him the first ruler of the Carolingian dynasty. However, this moved led to another revolt by Grifo and one by Carloman's son Drogo.

Grifo was killed in 753 at the battle of Saint-Jean de Maurienne, while Drogo demanded his share of the family patrimony, as it is believed that Carloman planned for him to succeed him before retiring. However, Pepin ended up capturing Drogo, had him tonsured and forced him into a monastery in either 753 or 754. Pepin also had Carloman placed under house arrest after he came to visit and he died a few months later. The reasons for Carloman's visit are unclear, ranging from him being there on behalf of the King of the Lombards Aistulf (?-756) to an attempt to help his son.

Major Contributions

While Pepin had been anointed king in 751, he decided to add to his power in 754 with all of his potential rivals for the throne now having been taken care off. That year Pope Stephen II (?-757) traveled to Paris to anoint him as the King of the Franks in a second, lavish ceremony at the Basilica of St. Denis. He was also given the new title of Patricius Romanorum (Patrician of the Romans) and became the first known civil ruler to be crowned by a Pope.

At home, Pepin reformed the legislation of the Franks and continued the holy work and reforms started by the aforementioned Saint Boniface. However, he was never truly able to quell the tireless revolts from the Bavarians and Saxons in Germany, with his successors being the ones to final subjugate them.

Pepin also helped Pope Stephen II against the Lombards in Italy in the 750s and by 756 he had managed to force Aistulf to end his conquests. This led to the Donation of Pepin, where he officially conferred all the former territories that had been part of the Exarchate of Ravenna (584-751) to the Pope as a gift. This would end up forming the legal basis for what became the Papal States (754-1870) during the Middle Ages and the temporal rule of the Popes extending beyond Rome.

Legacy and Death

Pepin is remembered as a strong supporter of the Roman church and helped the religion expand in his kingdom through missionary work. He also managed to drive the Iberian Muslims out of France and finally subdue the Aquitanians and the Basques after close to three generations of on and off fighting. He also helped to install the infrastructure of feudalism that would become a major pillar of medieval Europe. Finally, he helped his kingdom become one of the foremost powers in Europe and set the stage for what would become the Carolingian Empire (800-88).

Pepin also expanded the kingdom's territory by taking back Septimania from the Umayyads. He also defeated Waifer of Aquitaine (?-768) multiple times as Pepin managed to subjugate and gain the fealty of most of the Basque and Aquitanian lords before his death in the final active years of the conflict. In 768, the 54-year-old Pepin died on his way home from one of his campaign against the Aquitanians. He was interred in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, which is located the northern suburbs of modern-day Metropolitan Paris.

Upon Pepin's death, the Kingdom of Francia was divided according to Salic law between his two sons Charlemagne (742-814) and Carloman I (751-771). Despite being of the most powerful and triumphant leaders of the era, Pepin's reign is often overshadowed by that of his father Charles Martel and his son Charlemagne.


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