France: The Merovingian Long-Haired Kings

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The Coronation of Clovis

Tuned in: Game of Thrones (Soundtrack), The Kingsroad

One of my favorite settings for a historical novel is France.  I’ve traveled its countryside and cities and marveled at its beauty, traditions, food and language.  Its history is filled with incredible stories of passion, heroism, destruction and human triumphs.  French monarchies and the dynasties that enveloped them are a testament to eras that flourished and failed.  The Frank Merovingians and their Long-Haired Kings built a dynasty that brought a spirit of unity, esteem for the honor of women, organization, and the assimilation to Christianity that helped solidify this new tribe of pagan rulers in France (ancient Gaul).

The Franks, a pagan Germanic tribe that eventually evolved into the French, came into contact with the Gallo-Roman provinces of Gaul in the first century BCE and became the ‘most powerful of the Germanic tribes.’  At the close of the 5th century, the Salian Franks had migrated to the province of Belgica Secunda, which is now part of the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France.  In the days after the Western Roman Empire collapsed, they created the most stable barbarian kingdom under the rule of Clovis who became a Catholic and ordered his people to do the same.

What makes the Frank Merovingian story so interesting is the birth of their dynasty.  The 7th century history, Liber Historiae Francorum, combined fact and epic to ‘uplift’ the past of the Franks believed lost in oral myth, but whose present-day accomplishments earned them a place in history.  So it is recorded that the origins of the Franks reach back to Troy.

The two Trojan princes, Priam and Antenor sailed on ships with the remaining Trojan army and settled in Pannonia (modern day Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia).  Although this story houses a mythic quality, it is within the historical framework of the Franks who did settle in Pannonia and who the Romans employed to drive away the tribe of Alans.  The Franks’ Trojan origin connected them to the Romans who claimed ancestry to Aeneas, a Trojan hero who fled and settled in Italy.  The Emperor Valentinian refers to them as the Trojan Franks ‘because of the hardness and daring of their hearts.’  The name ‘Frank’ means ‘fierce or free’ in the Frankish language and is linguistically related to the Dutch and Flemish speakers of Belgium.

The Franks traveled northwest ‘to the farthest reaches of the Rhine River’ after a dispute with the emperor.  Here they created a stronghold and chose a “long-haired’ king, alleged to be Faramund elected in AD 418.  In 428, his son Clodion continued the line.

The significance of the long hair was a ritually connected tradition.  All the Patriarchal families of the Franks wore their hair long because it was the style of pre-Roman Germans.  When these tribes came into contact with the Romans who clipped their hair short, the ‘style fell out of use.’  However, some leaders preferred the hairstyle of their ancestors and kept the long hair with modified braids on the sides of their face.  The historian, Gregory of Tours, noted in his writing that this style was exclusive to the Merovingians.  It was forbidden for anyone to have this long hair unless a Merovingian.

Long hair became identified with this ruling family; consequently, the Merovingians have come down in history as the “Long-haired Kings.”

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Merovech

In addition, Gregory was the first to refer to the Merovingian dynasty as if it had started as a sole ruling group when it had originally been part of many families of rank from which ‘war leaders’ and ‘kunings’ were selected.  The name Merovingian derives from Merovech the next recorded king after Clodion and presumed to be his son.  In a 7th century account, Merovech is honored with a legendary birth where Clodion’s wife while bathing in the sea is attacked by a monster-like centaur.  She becomes pregnant and later gives birth to Merovech.

Despite the tale, Merovech did live and after his father died, he went to Rome to gain support for succession against his brother who solicited help from Attila the Hun for the same purpose.  Gregory wrote that he had seen Merovech and that ‘He was still very young and we all remarked the fair hair that fell upon his shoulders.’  Merovech built a friendship with the Roman Master of the Soldiers, Aetius, and became Rome’s ally in the battle of the Catalaunian Plains where Rome and her allies fought Attila the Hun.  Merovech lives through his name in which historians gave to his descendants—the Merovingians.

I find French Merovingian history to be one of the most colorful and tumultuous periods in history, and ripe for story telling.  Do you have a favorite historical time period(s)?  Tell me.

Buon Compleanno Ryan!

Birth of France: Warriors, Bishops and Long-Haired Kings (Scherman); A History of Pagan Europe (Jones & Pennick); The History of the Franks (Gregory of Tours)

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About cinzia8

Published writer and teacher.
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2 Responses to France: The Merovingian Long-Haired Kings

  1. Anita Cannella says:

    Hello,
    I read your article on the Long Hair Kings. How interesting a marked appearance can send messages to your friends and enemies. This made me think of peircing and tattoos in our day and age. Baseball caps, hanging pants, big shorts, t-shirts, jewrely and cars, all items that align us or we think bond us to certain groups. It seems we are still a tribal kind of people.
    I am interested in the time period of cathedral building in Europe and the very early Plagues, also 1500-1800, religious and political ideas changing the world.
    Anita Cannella

  2. cinzia8 says:

    Anita:

    Your point is well made. Humans do tend to mark themselves in order to convey certain distinctions either related to status, politics, religion or all of the above and other cultural aspects as well (the Amish come to mind as a possible example). If you like the era of cathedral building in Europe and haven’t read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, I highly recommend it. Perhaps in the future I will do an entry on the Black Death. Years ago a saw a great movie set during one of the plagues called The Horseman on the Roof. It was excellent.

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