Marriage and alliance in the Merovingian Kingdoms, 481-639
By Ryan Patrick Crisp
PhD Dissertation, Ohio State University, 2003
Abstract: The sources for studying the early Middle Ages make it clear that many saw kinship, both by blood and marriage, as an important and meaningful connection to others which should regulate one’s behavior. In examining more closely the history of the relations between kinsmen, however, it becomes quite evident that theory did not always meet practice. In fact, while no one necessarily denied the demands of kinship, other considerations often took precedence. What resulted was as much bloodshed and animosity between kinsmen as cooperation, and nowhere is this made more clear than in the Merovingian Frankish kingdoms of the sixth century.
An explanation of the meaning, motives and practical implications of the kinship connections of the Merovingians, both those by blood and those made through marriage to other royal families, is rooted in the particular nature of the Merovingian kingdoms and Frankish kingship. For most of the sixth century, there was more than one ruling Frankish king at a time. This created a situation, therefore, where the resources of the Frankish kingdom were divided among multiple kings. These kings, who were also close kinsmen, fought with each other, both directly and indirectly, for control over a greater portion of the wealth, land, and leudes (sworn followers) of the kingdom.
This dissertation offers a narrative interpretation of Merovingian history from the reign of Clovis I (r. The narrative focuses on the competitive nature of the Merovingian kingdoms and the role that foreign marriages could play in that competition. The Merovingians made alliances without reference to kinship when they needed military or political support, or sought opportunities for plunder and expansion. Good relations with their neighbors could lead to a marriage between them, but marriage was not the precursor to peace and cooperation. Rather, marriage with prestigious foreign kings, princes and princesses served to enhance the royal status of the Merovingians. This is why discussions of the foreign marriages of the Merovingians in the sources reveal a strong emphasis on wealth, status, royal blood, character and beauty rather than peace, treaties and alliances.