Pippin III was the first official king of the Carolingian Dynasty, although his family had long ruled over the Franks from their hereditary position as mayors of the palace. In the year 750, after acting as mayor of the palace for nine years, Pippin III finally usurped the title of king from Childerich, the last Merovingian puppet monarch, and did so with the support of Pope Stephen II. The pope’s support of Pippin marked the close relationship between the Carolingian Dynasty and the Papacy. As a result of this relationship, Pippin would fight many wars on behalf of the church and the pope. In addition, learning from how easily he had dethroned the weak Merovingian kings, Pippin and his descendants would rule their vassals with an iron fist.
Of all the nobles in King Pippin’s sphere of influence, Duke Waifar of Aquitaine (r. 744-768) was arguably the monarch’s greatest annoyance. Pippin had shown an interest in Aquitaine as early as the year 742, when he and his brother, Carloman, launched a joint invasion of the region (then controlled by Waifar’s father, Hunald) and seized at least one castle. Several years later, in 748, Duke Waifar personally earned the displeasure of the future Carolingian king when he gave shelter to a man named Grifo, who happened to be the rebellious and wayward brother of Pippin III.
Excluding the Grifo incident, Duke Waifar and Pippin were able to coexist for well over a decade. The Royal Frankish Annals, covering events from 741-829, made little mention of Duke Waifar until the year 760. At that point in the annals, however, the duke began to make constant appearances in the yearly entries. It is actually surprising that it took so long for Pippin III and Duke Waifar to come to blows, for the duke was the type of person that the Carolingian king loathed the most—an obstinately independent-minded noble and an alleged opponent of the church.
In 760, Pippin invaded Aquitaine in a punitive military campaign after he had heard reports that Duke Waifar was seizing church land. The campaign ended quickly, with the duke handing over hostages and promising to clean up his act. While the 760 campaign may seem unassuming and undramatic, it was actually the first bout in the so-called Aquitanian War, a bloody feud which would last for nearly a decade.
Instead of changing his ways, Duke Waifar mobilized an army in 761 and marched against King Pippin. The duke’s lofty ambition, however, far outweighed his military capabilities. Pippin and his famous son, Charlemagne, quickly pushed Waifar’s army back and launched a counter-attack against Aquitaine. Before the year’s end, the Carolingians conquered Bourbon, Chantelle, Clermont and other smaller settlements. After halting for the winter, Pippin returned to Aquitaine in 762 and 763, capturing several more cities, including Thouars and Bourges. After that, Pippin took a break from his war effort, or considerably scaled down his campaigning, for the Royal Frankish Annals mentioned no excursions to Aquitaine during the years 764 and 765.
In 766 and 767, however, the king of the Franks renewed his offensive against Duke Waifar with greater enthusiasm than ever before. In the later year, Pippin captured important cities such as Toulouse, Albi and Gevaudan, as well as several castles at Ally, Turenne and Peyrusse. In 768, Pippin stepped up his game even further, by capturing and executing Waifar’s uncle, Remistagnus. In addition to this, Pippin also captured Waifar’s mother, two sisters and an unspecified number of the duke’s nieces. Shortly after these events, still in the year 768, Duke Waifar met with a violent death. The Royal Frankish Annals simply state that he was killed, and make no mention of a battle or an arrest as the cause, leading many to presume Duke Waifar was assassinated.
Interestingly, King Pippin III did not outlive his rival by long. Before the end of 768, the victorious Carolingian king contracted a serious illness, reported by Charlemagne’s biographer, Einhard (c.770-840), to have been edema or dropsy. Whatever the case, Pippin III died as a result of his poor health on September 24, 768.
Charlemagne, after succeeding to the throne alongside his brother, Carloman, launched the first war in his kingly career fittingly against Aquitaine. In 769, he invaded the region and forced Waifar’s elderly father, the retired Duke Hunald, to flee to Gascony, where he sought shelter with Duke Lupus. Unfortunately for the Aquitanian refugee, Duke Lupus quickly received an ominous and threatening letter from Charlemagne, which resulted in Hunald being promptly handed over to the king of the Franks.
Written by C. Keith Hansely
Picture Attribution: (Side profile of King Pippin the Short, by François Séraphin Delpech (1778–1825), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernhard Scholz and Barbara Rogers. Ann Arbor Paperbacks / University of Michigan Press, 1972.
- Two Lives of Charlemagne, by Einhard and Notker the Stammer, translated by David Ganz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.