Born: c. 717
Reigned: 743- Mar 751
Died: c. 754
Childeric III, known as Childeric the Idiot, was the last King of Francia who belonged to the Merovingian dynasty. (In fact, his parentage is uncertain.) He was deposed by Pope Zachary at the behest of Pepin the Short, who then became the first Frankish king of the Carolingian dynasty.
Following Dagobert I (629-634) the power of the Merovingian kings gradually declined until it was no more than a ceremonial position. The real power in Frankish territory was wielded by the mayors of the palace. In 718, Charles Martel combined the roles of mayor of the palace of Neustria and mayor of the palace of Austrasia making him the most powerful man in Francia. After the death of king Theuderic IV in 737 the throne remained vacant and Charles Martel became the de facto king.
When Charles Martel died in 741, his sons by his first wife, Rotrude, Carloman and Pepin the Short, became co-mayors of the palace. However, their half-brother, Grifo and their brother-in-law, Odilo, Duke of Bavaria, revolted against them. They decided to fill the throne with a Merovingian king after a six-year vacancy to add legitimacy to their reigns.
Childeric’s parents and his relation to the Merovingian family are uncertain. He may have been either the son of Chilperic II or Theuderic IV.
He took no part in public business. That was in the hands of Carloman and Pepin. Once a year Childeric would be brought out in an ox cart led by a peasant and preside at court. Even here he only told the visiting ambassadors what he had been told in advance to say.
In 747 Carloman retired to a monastery and Pepin decided to take the crown for himself. Pepin sent letters to Pope Zachary, asking whether the title of king belonged to the one who had exercised the power or the one with the royal lineage. The pope responded that the real power should also have the royal title and, in early March of 751, Childeric was dethroned by Pope Zachary and tonsured. Since his long hair was the symbol of his dynasty, cutting it divested him of all royal claims. He and his son Theuderic were placed in the monastery of Saint-Bertin. (It might be that Childeric went to Saint-Omer and Theuderic to Saint-Wandrille.)
There are conflicting accounts of Childeric’s death. Some references put it as early as 753 while others say it was as late as 758.
Text © 2017 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.