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The barbarian Kings who caused the end of the Roman Empire were nomads. While the Romans and the Church used cities as administrative and political centers, Europe's new rulers distrusted urban concentration and preferred to stay on the road with their court.

To this effect, they had villas built all over their land. They were not like the castles that would come later or the châteaux they would turn into. They were a cross between a ranch and a small regal village, with fields, stables, cattle, etc. and the small population required to make it run. They were also surrounded by woods where the sovereigns could enjoy their favourite past time of hunting. The upkeep of each of these villas was entrusted to a magister palatii ("Master/Mayor of the Palace") so that whenever the King and his court might drop by the villa would be ready to accomodate.

However during the 6th century, as the Barbarian Monarchs discovered the pleasures of sedentarism, the role of Mayor of the King's main palace took a political taint. In the palace, the Mayor's role started out as that of a secretary, or chief of staff: he would coordinate between the King's ministers, and between the King and his ministers. As the horse-riding warriors sunk deeper into decadence and debauchery, disregarding the affairs of the kingdom altogether, the position of Mayor of the Palace became central to the life of the palace, and therefore the kingdom altogether. The position was similar to that of a Prime Minister, until it became hereditary and the Mayor of the Palace was the de facto King.

The most famous Mayors are of course the Mayors of the regnum francorum, the Frankish kingdom started by Clovis in the 5th century. His descendents, the Merovingian Kings, had shattered what had been Europe's greatest country (already!), and their Mayors brought it back together and turned it into something even grander. The last Frankish Mayors of the Palace are called the Pippinids, after Pepin of Landen (613-642), the first predominant Mayor of the Palace in a line that would only grow grander and grander in the next few generations:
  • his grandson, Pepin of Herstal (679-714), Mayor of the Palace, undisputed ruler of the regnum francorum, established the tradition that Mayors of the Palace would be Pippinids;
  • Charles Martel (689-741) was Pepin of Herstal's illegitimate son but nonetheless inherited the job as Mayor of the Palace. He earned his name Martel (Hammer) by defeating a million-strong Arab army of invasion at the Battle of Poitiers. He also took on the title of viceroy of the Franks to insure his descendents' succession, and the byzantine titles of Patrician and Consul;
  • his son, Pepin the Short (752-768), was the first Pippinid to relinquish the title of Mayor of the Palace and be sacred King of the Franks even though, as we've seen, his line had ruled the regnum francorum for generations. You might also have heard of his son,
  • Charlemagne (768-814).


To the anonymous softlinker of Stewards of Gondor: yes, the Mayors of the Palace are what Tolkien based the Stewards on. I also softlinked Gríma Wormtongue.

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