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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
Table of Contents


 

 

GOOD KING DAGOBERT AND HIS SUCCESSORS

B
Y the murder and robbery of his young kinsmen, Clotaire II. Became master of all three kingdoms, and therefore, like his namesake, sole king of France. He is noted in history not only for his cruelty t Brunhilda, but also because he was forced to make a new law, whereby the nobles were henceforthallowed to leave their lands and titles to their children. Before that, when a nobleman had died, his lands had always been given back to the king. At this time, also, there was chosen in each of te three kingdoms a chief officer, called Mayor of the Palace, to govern under the king.

While Clotaire was noted for his hardness of heart, his son Dag'obert is so famous for his good nature and jollity that no one in France ever mentions him except as "the good king Dagobert." At his father's death (628), he too found himself sole king of France, and during his reign he received, besides, tribute from many tribes in Germany. He made many wise laws, listened tot he complaints of the poor as patiently as to those of the rich, and dealt out justice to all alike.

[61] Many of Dagobert's wise deeds are said to have been due to the good advice given by his treasurer (Eloi), a man of such fine principles that he was called "saint" even during his lifetime. This treasurer was also a very clever goldsmith, and made for the king a golden throne, and a crown and scepter, long carefully preserved in the treasury of the Church of St. Denis, near Paris.

This church—a wonder of architecture—stands in the very spot where St. Denis is said to have been buried. The story runs that a poor little chapel, built over the saint's grave, had fallen into ruins and was quite forsaken. One day while pursuing a deer, Dagobert saw it plunge into a thicket, and soon found that it had taken refuge in this tumble-down place. The tender-hearted king not only spared the poor deer's life, but vowed to build a church and abbey there. For this reason he is considered the founder of the abbey of St. Denis, although very little of the building he erected there still exists.

[62] The church finished, we are told that Dagobert laid upon the altar a quaint banner of crimson and gold, cut in the shape of a flame, which is known as the "Or'iflamme." This was the sacred royal banner of France. For centuries no French king ever went to war without first visiting the church of St. Denis, where the abbot gave him this standard, which was kept on the altar in times of peace. The Oriflamme was always carried before the king in battle, and it waved from his tent camp, while the royal war cry of "Montjoie et St. Denis" (moN-zhwä' ā săN dē-nee')was heard in every fray where it was carried.

Dagobert felt such an interest in the church he had founded, that he begged to be buried in it. His tomb in the Church of St. Denis—which was several times reconstructed in later centuries—can still be seen, with quaint sculptures all around it, showing how saints and demons are said to have fought for the king's soul, which we are happy to say, was finally carried off in triumph to heaven. From the time of Dagobert's burial in this church (638) until the end of the eighteenth century, French monarchs were always laid to rest in this edifice, which contains so many beautiful and interesting tombs that thousands of strangers—as well as countless patriotic Frenchmen—go to visit it every year.

Dagobert is considered the best and wisest of all the Merovingian kings, and his memory is still kept green in France by an old nursery rhyme, which is familiar to children there as the Mother Goose ditties are to you. As most of his successors were weak, idle, and stupid, they are known as the Sluggard, or Do-nothing, Kings. They ate, drank, and were merry; rode about in royal style, [63] lolling lazily in great wagons drawn by slow-pacing oxen; and troubled themselves about nothing in the world save their own pleasure. As a rule they died very young, the result of too much eating and drinking, and not enough exercise; but none of them were ever missed.

These slothful kings were mere figureheads. The real power in the kingdom had fallen into the hands of their principal officers, the mayors of the palace, who ruled Neustria, Austrasia, and Burgundy about as they pleased. But as these mayors of the palace were often jealous of one another, and anxious to govern all France alone, their rivalry led to many bitter quarrels and even to open warfare.

Finally a famous Austrasian mayor of the palace, named Pepin (of Héristal), defeated the Neustrians in a great battle (Testry 687), and thus became sole master of all northern France. It suited him, however, to keep puppet-kings on the throne, whom he crowned or deposed just as his fancy prompted.

For many years after this, mayors of the palace made and unmade kings, getting rid of those who were inconvenient by means of poison or of the dagger, or by cutting off their long hair and shutting them up in monasteries.


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