Friday, December 23, 2005

The Dagobert Code

On this date in 679, an obscure 28-year old warlord styled as Dagobert II was assassinated in the Foret de Woevre, near Stennay, Lorraine.

One thing about being on the losing side of history, especially 7th century history, is that there is no one left to tell your side of the story with any accuracy. Nonetheless -- call it "underground history," call it "pop culture revisionist fantasy," if you will -- here in the 21st century there is a persistent suggestion (whiffs of which have been taken up famously, for example, in Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, and in Larry and Andy Wachowski's Matrix film trilogy) that the Merovingian dynasty of French kings met their end as a result of the breach of a bargain between Clovis I and Pope Anastasius II: specifically, that in exchange for Clovis' baptism and renunciation of a centuries old claim (embarrassing to the Church) that Clovis' family was directly descended from Jesus Christ, that the Church would be prepared to support Merovingian claims to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

For Clovis to have been seduced by such a bargain was the fatal error, according to the theorists, because by placing his progeny in a position of deriving their legitimacy from the Church, he guaranteed that the Church would, little by little, take all meaningful authority and legitimacy away from the Merovingians when it was politically expedient to do so.

To the most devoted theorists, Dagobert II was the last defiant Merovingian claimant to the throne. By 651, when Dagobert was born to Sigibert III, even though the Merovingians still retained their royal titles, the authority of the Frankish kings had already been largely usurped by the "mayors of the palace" -- in this case, an administrator named Grimoald. When Sigibert died in 656, Grimoald immediately dispatched the 5-year old Dagobert into the care of the bishop of Poitiers so that he could place a pliable family member on the throne.

Although Grimoald's intent may have been to have the child murdered, the bishop was apparently reluctant to carry out the deed. Instead, the bishop exiled the child to Ireland, to be raised in the monastery at Slane. There Dagobert found a mentor in St. Wilfrid, who educated and prepared him to assume royal duties. In 671, Dagobert married a Visigoth princess and moved to Rennes-le-Chateau, where he convinced his mother to back his claim to the Austrasian throne of the Franks. With the help of St. Wilfrid (who perhaps saw in Dagobert an instrument of mending fences between the Roman and Celtic wings of the Church), Dagobert was crowned king in 676.

Dagobert moved quickly to consolidate his authority and, in defiance of his former mentor, raised a larger treasury at the expense of the Church with the aim of reconquering Aquitaine, which had seceded from Merovingian territory about 40 years earlier. Dagobert's independence apparently caused significant distress among both ecclesiastics and secular administrators, and legend has it that the then-current mayor of the palace, Pepin the Fat (grandfather of Pepin the Short, the first Carolingian king of France), ordered Dagobert's assassination, which came at the hands of one of Dagobert's servants, who lanced him in the eye (a la Harold II and William Rufus of England) as Dagobert rested during a hunting trip.

The Church apparently did not pause to grieve Dagobert's death, and there is little evidence of him left in the records and contemporary histories of the Frankish line. On the other hand, Dagobert had enough of a cult following among his subjects to merit canonization as a saint -- not by the Church, but by a local conclave -- in 872. Modern conspiracy theorists see Dagobert's death as the beginning of an underground period of Merovingian activity by which, through shadowy organizations such as the Knights Templar and its shadowy subcommittee, the Prieure de Sion, the Merovingians have secretly regained control of the seat of European power and have promoted the European Union as a second Holy Roman Empire to replace the one they lost, controlling (in Lyndon-LaRouchian terminology) the prime levers of international industry and finance.

If that is the case, perhaps there is no good doggone reason to cry over "spilt Dagobert" today; indeed, it is sometimes unclear whether today's Merovingian conspiracy theorists stand in favor of, or against, the legacy of Dagobert II.

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