Frankish kingdoms

History of France between 486 AD - 986 AD

In the late 5th century The Roman Empire was on the verge of collapsing. The Aquitania in southern France was definitely abandoned to the Visigoths, who would soon conquer a significant part of southern Gaul as well as most of the Iberian Peninsula. The Burgundians claimed their own kingdom, and northern Gaul was practically abandoned to the Franks. Aside from the Germanic peoples, the Vascones entered Wasconia from the Pyrenees and the Bretons formed three kingdoms in Armorica (today's Brittany).

Merovingian kingdom

In 486, Clovis I, leader of the Salian Franks, defeated Romans at Soissons and subsequently united most of northern and central Gaul under his rule. Clovis then recorded a succession of victories against other Germanic tribes such as the Alamanni. In 496, pagan Clovis adopted Catholicism. This gave him greater legitimacy and power over his Christian subjects and granted him clerical support against the Arian Visigoths. He defeated Alaric II at Vouillé in 507 and annexed Aquitaine, and thus Toulouse, into his Frankish kingdom.

Clovis made Paris his capital and established the Merovingian Dynasty but his kingdom would not survive his death in 511. Under Frankish inheritance traditions, all sons inherit part of the land, so four kingdoms emerged: centered on Paris, Orléans, Soissons, and Rheims. Over time, the borders and numbers of Frankish kingdoms were fluid and changed frequently. Also during this time, the Mayors of the Palace, originally the chief advisor to the kings, would become the real power in the Frankish lands; the Merovingian kings themselves would be reduced to little more than figureheads.

By this time Muslim invaders had conquered Hispania and were threatening the Frankish kingdoms. Duke Odo the Great defeated a major invading force at Toulouse in 721 but failed to repel a raiding party in 732. The mayor of the palace, Charles Martel, defeated that raiding party at the Battle of Tours and earned respect and power within the Frankish Kingdom. The assumption of the crown in 751 by Pepin the Short (son of Charles Martel) established the Carolingian dynasty as the Kings of the Franks.

Carolingian empire

Kloster Lorsch 07
Lorsch Abbey gatehouse, c. 800, an example
of the Carolingian architectural style

Carolingian power reached its fullest extent under Pepin's son, Charlemagne. In 771, Charlemagne reunited the Frankish domains after a further period of division, subsequently conquering the Lombards under Desiderius in what is now northern Italy (774), incorporating Bavaria (788) into his realm, defeating the Avars of the Danubian plain (796), advancing the frontier with Islamic Spain as far south as Barcelona (801), and subjugating Lower Saxony after a prolonged campaign (804).

In recognition of his successes and his political support for the Papacy, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in 800. Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious (emperor 814–840) kept the empire united; however, this Carolingian Empire would not survive Louis I's death. Two of his sons – Charles the Bald and Louis the German – swore allegiance to each other against their brother – Lothair I – in the Oaths of Strasbourg, and the empire was divided among Louis's three sons (Treaty of Verdun, 843). After a last brief reunification (884–887), the imperial title ceased to be held in the western realm, which was to form the basis of the future French kingdom. The eastern realm, which would become Germany, elected the Saxon dynasty of Henry the Fowler.

During the The Carolingian age the literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical reforms, and scriptural studies flourished. This so-called Carolingian Renaissance was the first of three medieval renaissances, a period of cultural activity in the Carolingian Empire occurring from the late eighth century to the ninth century which took inspiration from the Christian Roman Empire of the fourth century.

Viking Raids

Under the Carolingians, the kingdom was ravaged by Viking raiders. Viking advances were allowed to escalate, and their dreaded longboats were sailing up the Loire and Seine Rivers and other inland waterways, wreaking havoc and spreading terror. During the reign of Charles the Simple (898–922), Normans under Rollo were settled in an area on either side of the Seine River, downstream from Paris, that was to become Normandy.

In this struggle some important figures such as Count Odo of Paris and his brother King Robert rose to fame and became kings. This emerging dynasty, whose members were called the Robertines, were the predecessors of the Capetian Dynasty. Led by Rollo, some Vikings had settled in Normandy and were granted the land, first as counts and then as dukes, by King Charles the Simple, in order to protect the land from other raiders. The people that emerged from the interactions between the new Viking aristocracy and the already mixed Franks and Gallo-Romans became known as the Normans.

Popular sites founded between 486 AD and 986 AD in France

Mont Saint Michel Abbey

The first written text about an abbey dates from the 9th century. When Christianity expanded to this area, around the 4th century, Mont Tombe, the original name of Mont Saint Michel, was part of diocèse d’Avranches. By the middle of the 6th century, christianism had a stronger presence in the bay. By this time, Mont Tombe was populated by religious devots, hermits (probably some Celtic monks) resupplied by th ...
Founded: 709 AD | Location: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

Mont Saint Michel Island

Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune which has held strategic fortifications since ancient times, and since the eigth century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it. On top God, the abbey and monastery, below this the Great halls, then stores and housing, and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen ...
Founded: 8th century | Location: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

Château de Blois

The Royal Château de Blois in the center of the city of Blois. The residence of several French kings, it is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans. Built in the middle of the town that it effectively controlled, the château of Blois comprises several buildings constructed from the 13th to th ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Blois, France

Le Mans Cathedral

Le Mans Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Julian of Le Mans, the city"s first bishop, who established Christianity in the area around the beginning of the 4th century. The cathedral, which combines a Romanesque nave and a High Gothic choir, is notable for its rich collection of stained glass and the spectacular bifurcating flying buttresses at its eastern end. Nothing is known about the form of the original church fou ...
Founded: 834 AD | Location: Le Mans, France

Cháteau de Angers

The Cháteau d'Angers is a castle founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou. It was expanded to its current size in the 13th century. Originally, the castle was built as a fortress at one of the sites inhabited by the Romans because of its strategic defensive location. In the 9th century, the Bishop of Angers gave the Counts of Anjou permission to build a castle in Angers. It became part of the Angevin empire of t ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Angers, France

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

Situated in the narrow valley of the Gellone river where it meets the steep sided gorge of the Hérault River, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is essentially a medieval village located on the St. James"s Way pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella. Because of its isolation, in 806 Saint Guilhem established the monastery of Gellone here. Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is one of the 'The most beautiful villages of Fr ...
Founded: 806 AD | Location: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, France

Jumièges Abbey Ruins

Jumièges Abbey was founded in 654 on a gift of forested land belonging to the royal fisc presented by Clovis II and his queen, Balthild, to the Frankish nobleman Filibertus, who had been the companion of Saints Ouen and Wandrille at the Merovingian court of Dagobert I. Under the second abbot, Saint Achard, Jumièges prospered and soon numbered nearly a thousand monks. In the 9th century it was pillaged and b ...
Founded: 654 AD | Location: Jumièges, France

Château de Saumur

The Château de Saumur, originally built as a castle and later developed as a château was originally constructed in the 10th century by Theobald I, Count of Blois, as a fortified stronghold against Norman predations. It overlooks the confluence of the Loire and the Thouet. In 1026 it came into the hands of Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, who bequeathed it to his Plantagenet heirs. Following its destruction in 1067, ...
Founded: 10th century | Location: Saumur, France

St. Stephen’s Church

Saint Stephen’s Church in Strasbourg is located inside the catholic ‘Saint-Étienne’ college, for which it serves as a chapel. Saint Stephen"s is one of the oldest churches in Strasbourg. The crypt contains the remains of a fifth-century Roman basilica. The site was originally occupied by a Roman fort. A new church was built on the site in early in 717 by Duke Adalbert of Alsace, brother of Sa ...
Founded: 717 AD | Location: Strasbourg, France

Abbey of St. Vaast

The Abbey of St. Vaast was founded in 667. Saint Vedast, or Vaast (c. 453–540) was the first bishop of Arras and later also bishop of Cambrai, and was buried in the old cathedral at Arras. In 667 Saint Auburt, seventh bishop of Arras, began to build an abbey for Benedictine monks on the site of a little chapel which Saint Vedast had erected in honour of Saint Peter. Vedast"s relics were transferred to the new a ...
Founded: 667 AD | Location: Arras, France

Minerve

The Minerve village is situated on top of the gorge of the River Cesse in a naturally strong defensive position. Near the village the river disappears underground in a large, naturally-carved tunnel. Minerve has been selected as one of The Most Beautiful Villages Of France. Historically, the village has been the capital of the Minervois wine region. The main bridge leading into the village is closed to all passenger ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Minerve, France

Abbey of Saint-Germain d'Auxerre

The Abbey of Saint-Germain d"Auxerre was a Benedictine monastery dedicated to its founder Saint Germain of Auxerre, the bishop of Auxerre, who died in 448. The abbey reached the apex of its cultural importance during the Carolingian era; the source for its early history is an account of the Miracula Sancti Germani Episcopi Autissiodorensis ('Miracles of Saint Germain, Bishop of Auxerre') written before ca. 880. The earlie ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Auxerre, France

Montmajour Abbey

Montmajour Abbey was a fortified Benedictine monastery built between the 10th and 18th centuries. Until the late Middle Ages, Montmajour was an island, 43 meters above the surrounding terrain, protected by marshes and accessible only by boat. As early as the 3rd millennium BC the island was used as a cemetery, with individual graves carved into the rock. In the 9th and 10th centuries the island also served as a sanctuary ...
Founded: 963 AD | Location: Arles, France

Saint Symphorien's Church

The church dedicated to Saint Symphorien near the Azay-le-Rideau château that is interesting for the number of architectural periods incorporated in its design. While the newest portion dates from 1603, the current façade incorporates an older 9th century façade in the Carolingian style. The original carved figures are still visible, though an added window destroyed part of the second row. The rest of ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Azay-le-Rideau, France

Abbey of Saint-Gilles

The Abbey of Saint-Gilles is included in the UNESCO Heritage List, as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. According to the legend, it was founded in the 7th century by saint Giles, over lands which had been given him by the Visigoth King Wamba after he had involuntarily wounded the saint during a hunt. The monastery was initially dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul: however, ...
Founded: 7th century | Location: Saint-Gilles, France

Château de Peyrepertuse

Château de Peyrepertuse is a ruined fortress and one of the so-called Cathar castles located high in the French Pyrénées in the commune of Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse. The view of the castle from Duilhac (to the south) is impressive thanks to the 30 to 40 meter cliff on which the Castle is perched. The main entrance is located on the north side, but in the time of the Cathars, a secret passage through a ...
Founded: 806 AD | Location: Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, France

Chartres Old Town

Chartres old town is located to the banks of the Eure River, which at this point divides into three branches. The rives is crossed by several bridges, some of them ancient, and is fringed in places by remains of the old fortifications. The Porte Guillaume (14th century), a gateway flanked by towers, is the most complete specimen. The steep, narrow streets of the old town contrast with the wide, shady boulevards which enci ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Chartres, France

Cunault Abbey Church

The Abbey of Cunault was founded in 847 by monks of Noirmoutiers (an island near Nantes) who had fled the Norman invasions. In 862 further incursions forced the Benedictine monks to flee to Tournus in Burgundy where they hid the relics of their patron Saint-Philibert. They returned during the 11th century and built a prosperous priory that remained under the control of Tournus. The impressive Romanesque belfry, enlarged ...
Founded: 847 | Location: Chênehutte-Trèves-Cunault, France

Fleury Abbey

Fleury Abbey (Floriacum), founded about 640, is one of the most celebrated Benedictine monasteries of Western Europe. It possesses the relics of St. Benedict of Nursia. Today the abbey has over forty monks and is headed by the abbot Etienne Ricaud. Fleury abbey had originally two churches, another one dedicated to St. Peter"s and another to Blessed Virgin. The church of St. Peter was demolished in the 19th century; the ex ...
Founded: 640 AD | Location: Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, France

Saint-Hilaire Abbey

Originally devoted to Saint-Sernin, first bishop of Toulouse, the Saint-Hilaire abbey later took the name of Saint-Hilaire who was Bishop of Carcassonne during the 6th century, because relics of his mortal remains were apparently sheltered there. It was during the medieval period that this locality grew in importance, the village spread around the abbey whose abbots were also the feudal lords. Until the beginning of the ...
Founded: 8th century | Location: Saint-Hilaire, France

Abbey of Saint Aubin

Largely rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries, Saint Aubin’s old monastic buildings are now local government offices. On the left of the courtyard, you will see through the bay windows the cloister’s beautiful Romanesque gallery with its finely worked sculptures.
Founded: 966 | Location: Angers, France

Château de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin

Conrad I, Count of Vintimiglia, built the castle in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in 970 to defend the Western border of his feudal domain from attack by hordes of Saracens that rampaged around the area. Initially the entire village was encompassed by the castle. The keep's military strength was reinforced in the 15th century by the Grimaldi family. In 1808  the castle was sold as a Bien National to five Roquebrune inhabitant ...
Founded: 970 AD | Location: Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France

Sainte-Enimie Village

Sainte-Enimie is a former commune founded in the 7th century by Énimie (according a legend a daughter of the Merovingian king Clothar II), who started a convent there after being cured of leprosy in the surrounding waters. It was the site of several monasteries, some of which still remain. Located in the Gorges du Tarn, it is a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“the most beautiful villages of Franc ...
Founded: 7th century AD | Location: Gorges du Tarn Causses, France

Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines Abbey

Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines Benedictine abbey is recorded for the first time in 819, in a document mentioning its abbot, Sentimir. Plundered and destroyed, it was rebuilt by order of King Lothair of France in 981. Later it came under the protection of the Counts of Roussillon and later of the Kings of Aragon. The abbey church was enlarged and re-consecrated in 1153. In the 13th century it gained a marble cloister on ...
Founded: 819 AD | Location: Saint-Génis-des-Fontaines, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.