Pepin the Short
“I crap higher than this Frankish turd..”
“I had the only reading glasses for the small print. Naturally I didn't give them to Pepin to check the Donation document”
“I am not lacking in other areas. You will see.”
King Pepin (or Pippin) (circa 715-768), called the Short (Pépin le Bref) or the About-4-feet-I'd-say (Pippin der Jüngere), rarely the Big (Pippin der Grosse), was the first King of the Franks (752–68) of the Carolingian dynasty. His father was the very tall Charles Martel, Lord Mayor of France who was surprised (and suspicious) that Pepin was so lacking in height. The average was restored with Pepin's eldest son Charles who matched his grandfather in the lofty department and would go on to become Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. Pepin is said to have had a high pitched voice which later gave rise to the German expression Pepinspracht, or as it was later to be passed into English 'Pippinspeake' - Pipsqueak.
Today, people would associate Pepin with Pippin, the really irritating Hobbit in Lord of the Rings. Author J. R. R. Tolkien surely had Pepin in mind when he invented the little people with the hairy toes, and he gaily plundered from everywhere for the names of his characters.
Peppy Short Stockings
Thanks to the appalling levels of literacy in 8th century Europe, no one knows exactly when Pepin was born. Since he was able to father children in the 740s, then he must have been born in around 715 in the evening. At the time France was in danger of becoming overrun by the muslim arab invaders in Spain and that really would have been 'goodnight, Christian Europe'. That it was wasn't was down to the brilliantly named Charles Martel. With a meaty, muscle name like - you knew everything would work out well.
In 741 Pepin and his brother Carloman succeeded their father, Charles Martel, as Mayors of the Palace and de facto rulers of the kingdom during a brief interregnum (a fortnight or so in 737). They had a younger half brother called Grifo (or something) who asked for slice of the French Gateaux. Pepin and Carloman invited 'Grifo' to a family supper to sort it all out and become the Carolingian Brothers.
As Grifo was about to drink the soup with his hands, he was jumped on by his siblings. They shaved his hair off, chained him naked to lampost and told the church to collect Grifo the next week or so. Seems cruel but at least Grifo survived. He was punished for his uppity rebellion by being assigned the task of copying out endless dreary manuscripts in a remote monastery where there was a ban on underpants.
In the midst of this frateral family fracking, a hitherto unknown member of the clapped out Merovingian dynasty was discovered. He was called Childeric and was apparently a direct descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdelene. Childeric had been living in a Paris commune with philosophy spouting students where he had grown his hair long and his finger nails longer. Childeric liked to go on long journeys but only in his mind. Pepin and Carloman agreed to make Childeric king as a temporary measure whilst they prepared to slug it out later.
In 747 Carloman felt guilty about what he had done to Grifo and went to the monastery to apologise. There was a mix up and Carolman found himself locked in prayer cell whilst Grifo escaped in his clothes. He moved to Bavaria. There he was known as 'The Gruffalo' for awhile to evade assassination.
A Papal Call for Help
Whilst Pepin was battling with his own family, Childeric was was still 'Chillin' around in Paris and somehow fathered a son called Theuderic. Rivals to Pepin now wanted to take his job of Mayor and stole his badges of office to make him scared. Pepin realised he had to be boss but couldn't think of a way to depose Childeric without elevating the latter's son in his place. Nor could he rely on either Grifo or his brother Carloman not making a comeback, especially as the latter's son Drogo was also flexing his trousers with ambitions to become a power tool or better.
Like every foreign ruler before and since, a strange opportunity to divert everyone's attention arose from Italy. There a long struggle between the Papacy and the Byzantine Empire about how to polish and preserve Icons (or not) had seen a lot very bad blood split. The Byzantine emperor Constantine V had said he wanted to knock Pope Zachary of his perch and refused all help to fight against the Lombard Kingdom in Northern Italy. The Lombards had responded as 'allies' of the Pope by capturing Ravenna, capital of Byzantine Italy and had turned south to take Rome too - at least on paper, a legally held Byzantine city.
Pope Zachary had sent a letter to France addressed to To Whom it May Concern with a single word message HELP!. Zachary had pinged his papal slippers by the time a reply came and a new Pope called Stephen was now running Rome. The Lombards were still demanding entry 'to defend Catholics against Woke Greeks and their statue pulling down theology' but were really after any remaining plunder in the once great city. Pope Stephen sneaked out of the city and slipped away to France to meet 'Little Pip' with an offer.
Quid Quo Pro (Sweet Caroline Dynasty of Mine)
Pepin welcomed the Pope in Soissons with a lot of quality of French wine. When Stephen suggested Childeric be included in the deliberations to liberate Rome from the Lombard threat, Pepin said 'make me King and I'll make you a Queen - Queen of Italy'. Stephen agreed but then, perhaps sensing Pepin was trying to become king - Drogo and Grifo formed an alliance and also dragged Carloman out of his monastery to challenge Pepin. A couple of swishing battles, and Pepin had captured all three. Once again Pepin showed his 'humble side' and didn't take any lives. He put all three rebels in monasteries but made sure they were housed in cells without draught excluders. All were dead within a couple of years.
Childish and his son were meanwhile sent to the barbers where their long hair was cut off and they were officially declared to be no longer the French Royal Family. Childish and Theudric were dumped in a holy place with iron bars and a scrap of parchment to doodle on. Childeric soon died without his weed supply but Theuderic or as he became known later as 'Brother Thelonious Monk 'survived, playing the jazz piano organ for many years into the reign of Charlemagne when music tastes changed and he was killed.
Pepin now became King (clambering up to the throne with the help of a leg up) in 752. It looked very spacious for Pepin but after some after having several books placed under him on the throne and large cushion, Pepin could strike a Kingly figure - but as long as he remain seated and was surrounded by dwarfs.
Pepin and his army swept into Italy and easily beat the Lombards. Emperor Constantine sent Pepin a singing psalm in celebration and offered 'compensation' if he returned the Byzantine possessions to him. But Pepin disapproved of Constantine and his Holy Vandalism and instead handed over a large part of Italy to Pope Stephen in his role of guardian of St.Peter's Holy Real Estate. In Rome an obscure document was discovered that claimed Rome, in fact all of Western Europe had been given to the Papacy by emperor Constantine the Great for curing him of flatulence. This document was called the Donation of Constantine and had been kept in a glass jar with a screw top. Emperor Constantine said it was 'bollocks' but since he was an image breaker, chair chucker and a lot else besides, no one believed the tricksy Byzantine.
So the little Frenchman (the start of a long tradition of pocket sized Gallic tyrants) had created the Papal States on the back of a forged document. And again this goes back to the shocking education standards of the time. The Donation was full of spelling mistakes and crude jokes but no one ran a spell checker on it until the 1450s! And even then when it was proved to be a blatant forgery, the Popes dismissed criticism about how they got their hands on the centre of Italy as 'God's Little Mysterious Ways'. Of course this was all in the future but Pepin was happy. He was king in fact as well as name. Short he was but had done mighty things for his family.
Following all that excitement, the rest of Pepin's reign was very dull. In 759 he captured Narbonne and drove the Arabs back over the Pyrenees but stopped there. Pepin did receive complaints from Rome about the Lombards but did not revisit Italy to help Pope Paul (brother of Pope Stephen who had succeeded his brother in a fake election). In Pepin's view the papacy was claiming too much of his time.
Only the Byzantines were still mightily pissed off with Pepin but empty threats about 'just you wait until we get our hands on your little midget body'. However with no sign of Byzantine fleet or army in view, Pepin threw these threats onto the fire.
Pepin died in 768. His body was placed in a shoebox and buried with frugal pomp in St.Denis cathedral. Pepin's sons Charles and Carloman sang a Frankish battle hymn He was Small but Perfectly Well Formed.