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

Sirmione Castle

Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.

Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.