The rise of the Carolingians or the decline of the Merovingians?
By Emily Wilson
Access History, Vol.2:1 (1998)
Introduction: The transference of power from the Merovingians to the Carolingians in France is one of the most confusing periods of early medieval history. In coming to a conclusion about whether this transference was due more the decline of the Merovingians, or more to the rise of the Carolingians, there are many considerations, often conflicting, and the sources are far from comprehensive. Nevertheless, this is a period which repays consideration, as it was instrumental in the formation of medieval France. Ultimately, a conclusion to the question ‘should we speak of the rise of the Carolingians or the decline of the Merovingians?’ may not be possible. This essay will argue that the terms “rise” and “decline” suggest an inevitability which is not supported by the evidence. In so doing the focus will be almost exclusively on political history for the reason that this is the area that the documentary sources shed the most light. Unfortunately, while this is the area that leads to the most certain conclusions, this will mean that the paper will have to gloss over certain aspects of ecclesiastical and economic history—both areas which have a significant impact on this question, and have largely ignored the areas of military and diplomatic history, also important in any consideration of this period. By focusing on political history however, it will be shown that this was a period characterised by a vitality and change, where the eventual victors were far from certain.