Pepin the Short

Pepin (or Pippin) (died 24 September 768), called the Short (Pépin le Bref)[1] or the Younger (Pippin der Jüngere), rarely the Great (Pippin der Grosse),[2] was the first King of the Franks (752–68) of the Carolingian dynasty. In 741 he and his brother Carloman succeeded their father, Charles Martel, as mayors of the palace and de facto rulers of the kingdom during an interregnum (737–43). After the retirement of Carloman (747), Pepin obtained the permission of Pope Zachary to depose the last of the Merovingian kings, Childeric III, and assume the throne (752). As he was named for his grandfather, Pepin of Heristal, in turn named for his grandfather, Pepin of Landen, both mayors of the palace, Pepin the Short has sometimes been numbered Pepin III.


Assumption of power

Pepin's father Charles Martel died in 741. He divided the rule of the Frankish kingdom between Pepin and his elder brother, Carloman, his surviving sons by his first wife: Carloman became Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia, Pepin became Mayor of the Palace of Neustria. 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 the Frankish realm the unity of the kingdom was essentially connected with the person of the king. So Carloman, to secure this unity, raised the Merovingian Childeric to the throne (743). Then in 747 Carloman either resolved to or was pressured into entering a monastery. This left Francia in the hands of Pepin as sole mayor of the palace and dux et princeps Francorum.

At the time of Carloman's retirement, Grifo escaped his imprisonment and fled to Duke Odilo of Bavaria, who was married to Hiltrude, Pepin's sister. Pepin put down the renewed revolt led by his half-brother and succeeded in completely restoring the boundaries of the kingdom.

Under the reorganization of Francia by Charles Martel, the dux et princeps Francorum was the commander of the armies of the kingdom, in addition to his administrative duties as mayor of the palace, and specifically commander of the standing guard which Charles Martel had begun maintaining year-round since Toulouse in 721.

First Carolingian king

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. As life expectancies were short in those days, and Pepin wanted family continuity, the Pope also anointed Pepin's sons, Charles (eventually known as Charlemagne) and Carloman.

Pepin was subject to the decisions of Childeric III who had only the title of King but no power. Childeric was considered a joke by the people. Since Pepin had control over the magnates and actually had the power of the king, he now addressed to Pope Zachary a suggestive question.

In regard to the kings of the Franks who no longer possess the royal power: is this state of things proper?

Hard pressed by the Lombards, Pope Zachary welcomed this move by the Franks to end an intolerable condition and 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 Merovingians.

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). He was anointed at Soissons by Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, who was a court advisor, along with his niece, Saint Leoba. Meanwhile, Grifo continued his rebellion, but was eventually killed in the battle of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in 753.

Expansion of the Frankish realm

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 was founded and the temporal reign of the Papacy began.[3] In 759, he captured Narbonne from Iberian Muslim invaders and drove them out of France. He then consolidated his power further by integrating Aquitaine into the kingdom. In taking Narbonne, and formally annexing Aquitaine (whose status was always dependent on the strength of her suzerains), he completed the work of his father save for one last task: fully subduing the Saxons. He was preparing for war against them when his health began to fail, and thus, this final task was left for his son, the great Charlemagne.


Pepin died during a campaign, in 768. He was interred at the Basilica of Saint Denis, to be near the saint according to the custom. His wife Bertrada was also interred there in 783. Charlemagne rebuilt the Basilica in honor of his parents and placed markers at the entrance. [4]

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

Historical opinion often seems to regard him as the lesser son and lesser father of two greater men, though a great man in his own right. 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, he drove them out of the country. He continued his father's expansion of the Frankish church (missionary work in Germany and Scandinavia) and the 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. It can certainly be argued that 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 certainly made the Carolingians de jure what his father had made them de facto—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.



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 Metz.
  • Adelais, died young, buried Metz.
  • Two unnamed daughters[6]

Pepin the Short
Born: 714 768
Preceded by
Charles Martel
Mayor of the Palace of Neustria
Merged into crown
Preceded by
Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia
Preceded by
Childeric III
King of the Franks
Succeeded by
Charles I and
Carloman I


  1. Perhaps a reference to his practice of wearing his hair short, in contrast to the long hair that was a mark of his predecessors. Paul Edward Dutton, Charlemagne's Mustache: And Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
  2. Pierre Riché, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe (Philadelphia, 1993), 65. Even more rarely his name may be spelled "Peppin".
  3. Basilique Saint-Denis.
  4. Treffer Gerd Die französischen Königinnen. Von Bertrada bis Marie Antoinette (8.-18. Jahrhundert) Pustet, Regensburg (1996) pp. 23-29 ISBN 3791715305 ISBN 978-3791715308
  5. Medieval Lands - Franks, Carolingian Kings Retrieved on 8 November 2008