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The Merovingians ruled much of present-day France and Germany between the fifth and seventh centuries. The beginning of this time coincides with not only the Grail stories, but with the era of King Arthur, who was so central to many of these tales. There was never any question that the Merovingians were the rightful rulers of the Franks. They were not "created" as kings. The sons who were entitled became kings automatically on their twelfth birthdays. Their role was not to govern - that was left to the "Mayors of the Palace." They were simply expected to exist as representatives of the role, holding similar power and status to a twenty-first century constitutional monarch. They were also allowed the delights of polygamy and sometimes took great advantage of this privilege.
The origin of the Merovingian family name comes from that of their progenitor, Merovee (also styled "Merovech" or "Meroveus"). The name is reminiscent of both the French word for "mother" and the French and Latin words for "sea." The legend is that Merovee was born of two fathers - the story that is told is no doubt allegorical and refers to the alliance of two dynasties through his birth. It was said that his mother was already pregnant by her husband when she went swimming in the sea. She was seduced by a sea creature who impregnated her for a second time. When Merovee was born therefore, the blood of two sources, that of his Frankish father, the ruler, and that of a "sea animal" ran through his veins.
From that time on, the Merovingians had a reputation for the occult and the supernatural. They were looked upon as priest-kings, much as the Egyptian pharaohs were regarded. The healing powers they were said to have possessed extended even to the tassels of their robes, which were believed to be of particular curative powers. As we shall see in Chapter Four, after the death of Berenger Sauniere a procession of people passed by his robed corpse, each removing a tassel from it. The Merovingian kings were said to have had a certain birthmark that took the form of a Templar type red cross, either over the heart or between the shoulder blades.
King Childeric I was the son of Merovee and the father of Merovingian King Clovis. When his tomb was found in the seventeenth century in the Ardennes region of Belgium, it contained such items of sorcery as a severed horse's head, a golden bull's head and a crystal ball.
One of the abiding symbols of the Merovingians was the bee. Hundreds of pure gold bees were found in King Childeric's tomb. The custom endured through the centuries. When Napoleon was crowned emperor in 1804, he made sure that golden bees were attached to his coronation robes. He was fascinated by the Merovingians and commissioned their genealogies to be compiled in order to find out whether the dynasty had survived after it had been deposed. These formed the basis of the genealogies found in the Priory of Sion documents.
The Merovingians claimed two different origins: from Noah, and from Troy. The latter would explain place names in France such as Troyes and Paris. Also, according to Homer, there were a number of Arcadians at Troy. The bear was considered to be sacred in Arcadia and the forbears of the Merovingians, Sicambrian Franks, also held the bear in great esteem. Another possible connection is that the Welsh word for "bear" is "arth" which may explain the origin of King Arthur's name.
By the time the Sicambrians had moved into present day France to escape the invasion of the Huns, they had already established themselves as a sophisticated society which had developed along Roman lines. Therefore the Merovingians, who inherited their culture, could be perceived to follow the Roman imperial modal. The culture of the Franks thrived and prospered under the Merovingian dynasty from this point onwards. The Merovingians accumulated enormous wealth during this period, and the equal-armed cross that their coins bore was exactly the same as that used during the Crusades for the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Clovis I is perhaps the most famous of the Merovingian monarchs, as it was he who introduced Roman Christianity into France. His Catholic wife had given him more than a little encouragement to go in this direction, but it is likely that there was another reason for his being won over to the idea.
Christianity at this time took many different forms. The Roman Church was in constant conflict with the Celtic Church. In 496 AD, Clovis had a number of secret meetings with Saint Remy. This led to a deal being struck between Clovis and the Roman Church in which Clovis would act as the strong arm of the Church. In return for this, he was to rule over what had been Constantine's Holy Roman Empire, which the Visigoths and Vandals had destroyed.
It was of enormous importance to the Roman Church that this should work as it would mean a new Roman and Christian Empire, administered by the secular Merovingian dynasty. And so Clovis was baptized by Saint Remy at Rheims in France. In this way, the Roman Church was making a pact not only with Clovis, but with all of his descendants.
Clovis carried out his side of the bargain enthusiastically. He increased the size of his empire to embrace much of what is now France and Germany. He was particularly keen to defeat the Visigoths and eventually did so at the Battle of Vouille. The Visigoths were turned further and further back and they finally established themselves in the Razes area, at Rhedae - the present village of Rennes-le-Chateau.
After Clovis' death, his realm was divided, according to the tradition at the time, amongst his four sons. This led to a breakdown of the cohesion that had previously existed, and gave the Mayors of the Palace the perfect opportunity to gain more power. However, they had Dagobert II to contend with.
Dagobert was born in 651 and when Clovis, his father, died in 656, all efforts were made to prevent him from inheriting Austrasia, the north-eastern realm of Clovis. The leading Mayor of the Palace of the time, Grimoald, kidnapped Dagobert as soon as his father died and managed to persuade the court first that Dagobert was dead, and second that Clovis had wanted Grimoald's son to inherit the throne. So convincing was he that even Dagobert's mother believed him.
However, Grimoald had been unable to bring himself to murder Dagobert and had taken him to the Bishop of Poitiers, who had the child King exiled to Ireland. Here he grew up and was educated at the monastery of Slane near Dublin. He married a Celtic princess, Mathilde, and moved to York in northern England, where he got to know Saint Wilfred, the Bishop of York. At this time, the Merovingian alliance with the Roman Church was not as strong as it had been at the time of Clovis.
Wilfred was very keen to bring the Celtic and Roman churches together, which both sides had agreed upon at the Council of Whitby in 664. However, it seems that Wilfred also recognized the valuable potential of Dagobert - the rightful King of Austrasia - returning to France and reclaiming the land as the militant representative of the Church.
Dagobert's wife died in 670 and Wilfred was swift to ensure that Dagobert's next wife was chosen with care. She was Giselle de Razes, the daughter of the Count of Razes and the niece of the King of the Visigoths. This alliance between the Merovingians and the Visigoths would not only have brought much of France under the same rule, it would have empowered Rome over the Visigoths.
They married at the church of St. Magdeleine in Rennes-le-Chateau. Having had four daughters through his two marriages, Dagobert now became the father to a son in 676 - Sigisbert IV.
After living three years at Rennes-le-Chateau, Dagobert was proclaimed the King of Austrasia. He quickly set about re-establishing order throughout his new kingdom and in so doing greatly increased his wealth.
He did not, however, live up to Wilfred's expectations, angering the Roman Church by attempting to limit its influence in his realm. Through his marriage into the Visigoth dynasty, he also acquired much of what is now the Languedoc region in southern France. The Visigoths had never felt allegiance to Rome. They preferred the heretical "Arian" form of Christianity which insisted that Christ was an ordinary human being who had been born as all other men and Dagobert seemed to be following their example.
Therefore, inevitably, with his new-found wealth and lands, he developed enemies. He also caused the resentment of the rulers of neighboring Frankish lands, some of whom had connections in Dagobert's court that could be dangerous to him. One of these was his Mayor to the Palace, the treacherous Pepin the Fat.
The larger of Dagobert's two palaces was at Stenay in the Ardennes. Nearby was the Forest of Woevres, where, as we learned in Chapter Two, Dagobert went hunting on December 23, 679. It was while he was sleeping under a tree that his godson supposedly crept up to him, and under Pepin's orders, lanced him in the eye, killing him. The murdering band then returned to Stenay where, it was believed, they slaughtered the rest of Dagobert's family. The Roman Church wasted no time in commending the action. However, perhaps through guilt, they canonized Dagobert in 872, when his remains were moved to the graveyard of a church which was renamed "the Church of Saint Dagobert." They even gave him his own feast day, on December 23rd. This day also happened to be sacred to the Benjamite tribe. The Roman Catholic Church has always been unable or unwilling to explain why he was canonized.
From the day of his burial in the Church of Saint Dagobert, his grave has been a destination of pilgrimage for various significant historical figures including the Duke of Lorraine, the grandfather of Godfroi de Bouillon. The church was destroyed during the French Revolution and most of the relics of Saint Dagobert disappeared. Today only what is believed to be his skull remains, and it is held at a convent at Mons. Curiously some years later, a poem entitled "de Sancta Dagoberto martyre prose" appeared. Its message was that Dagobert had been martyred for some reason and it was found at the Abbey of Orval.
Dagobert's assassination effectively marked the end of the Merovingian era. After the death of Dagobert, the Merovingian dynasty fell into decline, although they managed to hang onto much of their status for nearly a hundred more years. However, many of the monarchs were too young to be effective, and were unable to defend themselves against the relentless ambitions of the Mayors of the Palace. Childeric III died childless in 754 and that was the clearest sign that the dynasty's flame had expired.
Pepin the Fat, who ordered the assassination of Dagobert, had his son Charles Martel placed in a position of leadership. Despite his excellent military reputation, and the fact that the opportunity was there for him, he seems to have avoided claiming the throne, perhaps through respect for the rights of the Merovingians. After Charles Martel died in 741, his son, Pepin III who was Mayor of the Palace to King Childeric III, went to the Pope with a delegation and asked the question, "Who should be King? The man who actually holds the power, or he, though called King, has no power at all." The Pope agreed that Pepin should be made King and thus broke the agreement that had been established with Clovis. Childeric was sent to a monastery, where he died four years later and Pepin was established firmly on the throne of the Franks.
Pepin III's coronation in 754 was conducted according to new rules which ensured kings would be created instead of simply acknowledged. This was done in accordance with the fraudulent document called the Donation of Constantine, which is discussed fully in Chapter Five on Constantine the Great. The Carolingian dynasty started at this point, named after Charles Martel, although it is more closely associated with his descendant Charlemagne, who in 800 was proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor - a title that had previously belonged solely to the Merovingian kings.
Just before Pepin III was crowned, he married a Merovingian princess, presumably to legitimize himself in his own eyes, propelling the Merovingian genes once again in their rightful direction. Charlemagne married similarly. In fact his misgivings even seemed to affect his coronation. He seemed determined to give the impression that he was bashful about becoming Holy Roman Emperor. The ceremony had been fixed so that it appeared that the Pope was crowning him without Charlemagne's prior knowledge. Charlemagne accepted the crown expressing the mock shock that film stars show when being awarded an Oscar. To add credence to the performance he insisted that he would never have entered the Roman cathedral if he had known that was going to happen.
The betrayal of Clovis by the assassination of Dagobert II has been the greatest source of anguish for the Priory of Sion and the Merovingian descendants. However, there seems to have been an attempt to mitigate the insult. Thus the Carolingian royal family (the family of Emperor Charlemagne) married Merovingian princesses in order to legitimize themselves. Dagobert's son, Sigisbert, was the ancestor of Guillem de Gellone, ruler of the Jewish kingdom of Septimania in southern France and later of Godfroi de Bouillon, who captured Jerusalem during the Crusades. Thereby the bloodline of Jesus Christ, the Davidic line, was restored back to the throne that had been rightfully its own since the time of the Old Testament.
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