10. The Mayors of the Palace were really in charge during the Merovingian dynasty, with Kings just their ceremonial puppets
The Merovingians ruled over large parts of modern-day France and Germany for almost 300 years beginning in 450 AD. The dynasty was actually made up of several different kingdoms, each with its own monarch. However, for a large part of the Merovingian era, these rulers were commonly referred to as âthe do-nothing kings’ – and for good reason. In this part of Europe, it wasn’t the king who had the power, but the âMayor of the Palace’. Indeed, according to some historians, this was the first real example of the âpower behind the throne phenomenon’, and it seemed to work pretty effectively.
The office of the Mayor of the Palace was established in around 600 AD. Under the system, the Mayor served as a prime minister, taking care of all domestic policies, as well as dictating their kingdom’s relations with the rest of the Merovingian empire and other outside forces. Before long, the kings were reduced to nothing more than figureheads, wheeled out for the occasional special ceremony. By all accounts, the monarchs didn’t object much to the arrangement. After all, they continued to live a life of luxury without having any real responsibilities. Moreover, it’s likely many kings took heed of what happened in the kingdom of Austrasia, in the north-east corner of the Merovingian lands.
In 751 AD, the Mayor of the Palace in Austrasia, the wonderfully-named Pepin the Short, broke the arrangement. No longer content with merely being the power behind the throne, he went one step further. He deposed the ruling monarch, a certain Childeric III, and crowned himself king in his place. Only this time, the king would have both the throne and all the powers of the Mayor’s office. What’s more, he ruled that the office of Mayor should be passed down through the family. In effect, this spelled the end of the whole system and started the Carolingian Monarchy, which would over the next century evolve into the start of the Kingdom of France.