Period Persona – Pepin the Younger

King Pepin the Short (1)Born: AD 714

Died: AD 768

Pepin the Younger, also known as Pepin the Short or PepinIII, was the King of the  Franks and the first of the Carolingians to become King.

The younger son of Frankish strongman, Charles Martel, Pepin’s upbringing was distinguished by the ecclesiastical education he had received from the monks of St. Denis. When Pepin’s father Charles Martel died in 741, the Frankish Kingdom was divided between Pepin and his elder brother, Carloman, his surviving sons by his first wife. Carloman became Mayor of the Palace of AustrasiaAlemannia and Thuringia, Pepin became Mayor of the Palace of NeustriaBurgundy, and Provence. Grifo, Charles’s son by his second wife, Swanahild (also known as Swanhilde), demanded a share in the inheritance, but he was imprisoned in a monastery by his two half-brothers. In 743 the brothers chose Childeric III, a Merovingian, as nominal king of all the Franks. With their help St. Boniface effected far-reaching reforms that strengthened the Frankish church and advanced the conversion of the Saxons. In 747 Carloman either resolved to or was pressured into entering a monastery.

Anointed a first time in 752 in Soissons by the archbishop of Mainz, Pepin added to his power after Pope Stephen II traveled all the way to Paris to anoint him a second time in a lavish ceremony at the Basilica of St Denis in 754, bestowing upon him the additional title of Patricius Romanorum (Patrician of the Romans) and is the first recorded crowning of a civil ruler by a Pope. After lobbying Pope Zachery and asking if it were proper that he, being annointed by the Pope and holding the true power, should be subject to the decisions of Childeric III. Being hard pressed by the Lombards, Pope Zachary welcomed this move to end an intolerable condition and to lay the constitutional foundations for the exercise of the royal power. The Pope replied that such a state of things is not proper: the de facto power is more important than the de jure power. After this decision the throne was declared vacant. Childeric III was deposed and confined to a monastery. He was the last of the Merovingian Kings. According to ancient custom, Pepin was then elected King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish nobles, with a large portion of his army on hand (in case the nobility inclined not to honor the Papal bull).

Pepin’s first major act as king was to go to war against the Lombard king Aistulf, who had expanded into the ducatus Romanus. Victorious, he forced the Lombard king to return property seized from the Church. He confirmed the Papacy in possession of Ravenna and the Pentapolis, the so-called Donation of Pepin, whereby the Papal States were established and the temporal reign of the Papacy began.

Pepin died during a campaign, in 768 at the age of 54. He was interred in the church of Saint Denis. His wife Bertrada was also interred there in 783. Charlemagne rebuilt the Basilica in honor of his parents and placed markers at the entrance.

The Frankish realm was divided according to the Salic law between his two sons: Charlemagne and Carloman I.


Historical opinion often seems to regard Pepin as the lesser of his father and his son Charlemagne, though a great man in his own right. During his reign he continued to build up the heavy cavalry which his father had begun. He maintained the standing army that his father had found necessary to protect the realm and form the core of its full army in wartime. He not only contained the Iberian Muslims as his father had, but drove them out of the country and, just as important, he managed to subdue the Aquitanians and the Basques after three generations of on again off again clashes, so opening the gate to central and southern Gaul and Muslim Iberia. He continued his father’s expansion of the Frankish church (missionary work in Germany and Scandinavia) and the institutional infrastructure (feudalism) that would prove the backbone of medieval Europe.

His rule, while not as great as either his father’s or son’s, was historically important and of great benefit to the Franks as a people. Pepin’s assumption of the crown, and the title of Patrician of Rome, were harbingers of his son’s imperial coronation which is usually seen as the founding of the Holy Roman Empire. He made the Carolingians the ruling dynasty of the Franks and the foremost power of Europe. While not known as a great general, he was undefeated during his lifetime.


Around 735 (?) Pepin married Leutberga (712?-760?) from the Danube region. They had five children. She was divorced  some time after the birth of Charlemagne and her children were sent to convents.

In 741, Pepin married Bertrada of Laon. Her father, Charibert, was the son of Pepin II’s brother, Martin of Laon. They are known to have had eight children, at least three of whom survived to adulthood:

  • Charles (2 April 742 – 28 January 814), (Charlemagne)
  • Carloman (751 – 4 December 771)
  • Gisela (757–810)
  • Pepin, died in infancy.
  • Chrothais, died young, buried in Metz.
  • Adelais, died young, buried in Metz.
  • Two unnamed daughters

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