Changing Perceptions of Pippin the Short in Carolingian Historiography
Erik Goosmann

In 741, the Carolingian mayor of the palace Charles Martel died and was succeeded by three of his sons. The most successful of these, Pippin the short (r. 741-768), staged a coup in 751 and founded the Carolingian royal dynasty. The new regime justified its authority through an ideology of strict religious and moral rectitude. However, these lofty ideals conflicted with some of the darker turns on the Carolingian road to kingship.

In the historiographical narratives produced in the later eighth and ninth centuries, attempts were made to reconcile the more controversial elements of the Carolingian past with contemporary moral standards. This project explores the transformations in the perception of Pippin’s reign and the literary strategies that were employed to reshape the Frankish past in Carolingian historio­graphy from the mid-eighth to early-tenth centuries. In addition, it forces us to think on how Carolingian historiography worked, what its purposes were, and for whom it was written. Three cases are central to this project: first, the violent succession of Charles Martel in 741, which resulted in the exclusion of Grifo, the youngest of Charles’s three heirs; secondly, the abdication and conversion of Pippin’s older brother Carloman in 747; and, thirdly, Pippin’s coup and his royal inauguration of 751/4.

These controversial events stood at the basis of the dynasty’s formation and needed to be aligned with contemporary values and the idealized perceptions of the earliest history of the Carolingian dynasty. This process of reconciliation required constant reevaluation and adjustment. After all, contemporary history is not created in a vacuum, but competes with the collective memory of the audience for which it is written, which placed checks on the extent to which Carolingian ideologues could deviate from socially accepted conceptions of past events. Like its modern counterpart, medieval historiography made a truth claim, which implied that the link between history and memory – elastic to an extent – needed to be preserved, lest historical narrative became fiction.