According to my most recent research into the Bolling-Chambers-Taylor families, I am descended from an ancient line of folks who were known to be bald, short, fat, stammerers, and some even barbarians!
At my eldest grandson’s wedding in Chicago last weekend, my third eldest grandson approached me for genealogical help. For his college sociology class his assignment was to check his ancestry to see what if any family members’ actions could be attributed to making significant sociological changes in our world as we know it today. To help him, when I returned home, I started reviewing my genealogical works over the years, noting a few posts from earlier blogs that might be helpful, and looking for something that struck me as a “big bang!”
I then pulled up my DNA test results to copy the mapped area of our families origins and went back to the family tree and various iterations of the family surname “Bolling.” This process took me from my last name Boling in Maryland, to Bowling and Bolling in Virginia and Yorkshire, England, this is where my 12th great grandfather (Sir Tristam Bolling, III [1515-1561] of Bolling Hall in Bradford in Yorkshire, England)was born. Next, onto my 16th through 27th De Bolling great grandfathers. That’s when the English DeBolling name changed to the French iteration “DeBoulogne” for my 28th through 36th great grandfathers (back to the year 891 when A De Therouanne De Boulogne was born in Flanders, France). And then the surnames ceased and my ancestral relatives were identified by the geographic areas in which they lived, and in many cases ruled. For example, my 37th great grandfather was known as Baldwin Baudouin I “Baas DeFer” “Iron Arm” the first Count of Flanders.
My Big Bang!
Next our family was found in Rhineland, Germany and lo and behold my 42nd great grandfather was Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, Emperor of the Roman Empire!–my big bang!
In the course of several hours I had traced my family line back beyond the 11th century United Kingdom and into the times before surnames, back to ancient and medieval times to France, Germany, Italy and earlier geographic names for these regions. It was here that I discovered those bald, short, fat, stammering barbarians were Kings and Emperors who belonged to the ancient Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasties.
I had actually traced our lineage back to the year 190 and the Germanic tribes that historians describe as the “Franks.” The Franks, united by culture and language, had settled near the Rhine River by the end of the third century. While the Roman Empire was failing, the Franks gradually expanded their territory westward into the Roman province of Gaul and were in control of an area that we know as present-day Belgium and Northeastern France when the Roman Empire fell in the year 476.
Clovis and the Merovingian Dynasty
The first great King of the Franks was Clovis, who was their leader between 481 and 511. Clovis’s family, referred to as the Merovingian dynasty, continued to expand its territory. The Frankish expansion grew as a result of the conversion of Clovis and his followers to Christianity, because Christians living in former Roman lands sought liberation from the barbarians who had gained control of large areas. This marked the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial alliance between the Franks and the Roman Catholic Church — which was also growing in power in the Middle Ages.
Charlemagne and the Carolingian Dynasty
The Franks continued to expand their territory through Western and Central Europe until their influence reached its height under Charles the Great–also known as Charlemagne, (my 42nd paternal great grandfather). He was King of the Franks between 768 and 814 and a member of the Carolingian dynasty. Charlemagne’s alliance with the Roman Catholic Church was formalized in the year 800, when he was crowned Emperor by the pope. By the time of his death, Charlemagne’s empire encompassed present-day France, Germany and northern Italy. However, after the empire was divided among his sons, the power and influence of the Franks gradually declined. By the year 987, the Carolingian dynasty — and the dominant position of the Franks in European affairs — had come to an end.
A Closer Look at the Carolingians
The Carolingian (kărəlĬn´jēənz), Dynasty of Frankish rulers was founded in the seventh century by Pepin of Landen, who, as mayor of the palace, ruled the East Frankish kingdom of Austrasia or Dagobert I. His descendants, Pepin of Heristal (my 45th great grandfather, Charles Martel (my 44th great grandfather), Carloman and Pepin the Short (my 43rd great grandfather), continued to govern the territories under the normal kingship of the Merovingians.
In 751, with the knowledge of backing up Pope Zacharias, Pepin the Short deposed the last Merovingian King, Childeric III. To emphasize the importance of the church and to legitimize his reign, Pepin was consecrated by a bishop of the Roman church. The family was at its height under Pepin’s son, Charlemagne, who was crowned Emperor in 800.
Charlemagne’s empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun (843) after the death of his son, Emperor Louis I among Louis’s three sons. Lothair I inherited the imperial title in the middle part of the empire Louis the German founded a dynasty that ruled in Germany kingdom of the East Franks until 911, his successors being Charles III (Charles the Fat), Arnulf, and Louis the Child. The third son of Louis I, Charles II (Charles the Bald), founded the French Carolingian Dynasty, which ruled, with interruptions, until 987. Its rulers were Louis II (Louis the Stammerer) Louis III, Carloman, Charles III (Charles the Simple), Louis IV (Louis d’Outremer), Lothair (941-86), and Louis V. In the Carolingian period, a landed economy was firmly established. The Kings consolidated their rule by issuing capitularies and worked closely with church officials. Until the late 9th century, Charlemagne and his successors were generous patrons of the arts. He encouraged the Carolingian Renaissance, a return to Roman classicism and Byzantine and Greco-Roman styles. Charlemagne successfully conquered all of Gaul and parts of Germany and Italy. He created a papal state in central Italy and 774. After his death the kingdom was divided; its authority eventually eroded was reestablished in France in 893.
Significance of the Franks
The Franks helped to bring stability to Europe in the Middle Ages. The Franks unified and Christianized most of Europe. In fact, the territories would not be united again in such an encompassing fashion until the time of Napoleon. The consolidation of authority in Europe under Charlemagne and his alliance with the Roman Catholic Church set the stage for the Holy Roman Empire.