• Ben

Thoughts on the End of a Season (Part 1.3) – Primogeniture (Or Lack Thereof)

So, the final thoughts I have for Season One, as far as what surprised me the most, is the sheer number of civil wars fought amongst the Merovingians and their desire to continually split the kingdom upon a king’s death. This act, it would seem, pretty much ensured a steady stream of in-fighting. After all, how do you really ensure an equitable split between two, three, and sometimes more inheritors? If you do it just based on territorial size, well, that’s going to be an issue because some brothers will have more natural resources, or bigger cities, or better access to rival territories into which to expand... or to have to defend against. Really, it doesn’t matter how you split it; someone is always going to be left wanting more.

This brings us to the idea of primogeniture (thank you Willy Wonka), or the practice of giving the entirety of an inheritance to the eldest son. Now, this practice has its issues, as all forms of hereditary monarchy (and really, all governments) do. If you’re a second son and you’re to receive nothing, well then, you have nothing to lose by attacking big brother, do you? This, however, is not a guaranteed phenomenon. Even if a younger brother should want to overthrow the king, he would still need to build a coalition, gather an army, raise revenues, etc. Long story short, there’s quite a bit of administration and planning required to launch a proper revolt. And the consequences for you and your followers are fairly dire if you don’t succeed. Seriously, do an image search for “treason” and “Middle Ages” and you’ll get my drift, and quickly.

Splitting the kingdom, however, lowers all of these bars to entry, so to speak, for younger brothers. In fact, it incentivizes them to fight their brothers and try to overthrow their kingdoms. I mean, thanks to the partitions, these younger siblings now have nobles, armies, and their own revenue streams. Add this to the fact that these Merovingian kings would look weak if they didn’t try to expand their borders and take riches through plunder, and we basically have a situation wherein even a peace-loving king would have to turn to war.

Still, prior to starting T+M, I really had no idea that the Merovingian Dynasty was so self-defeating. I knew the name, and I knew that a character in The Matrix movies called himself “The Merovingian,” but beyond that I didn’t fully know what they were about. Well, 25 episodes and one season later, I have learned that they were every bit a group - a series of kings - struggling to find its identity in the wake of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Merovingians were coming of age at the same time as the early Catholic Church, which itself was struggling against other sects of Christianity. Finally, they dealt with - poorly - their relations and interactions with women, and ultimately set in place a system of kingship that reveled in the notion of self-destruction wrapped in the guise of identifying “the strongest.” Because of this, the individual Merovingian kingdoms of this time - Austrasia, Burgundy, and Neustria - often expended all of their resources trying to be the alpha, and in doing so they made it possible for the group who did the least - and preserved their men and resources - to ultimately prevail.

And that’s where we left off in Season One. Not with a great and noble tactician leading the Franks, but with Chlothar II walking into the throne of three kingdoms simply because he stood to the side while the other kings killed themselves. What remains to be seen is how this will play out in Season Two. Unlike this season, where we watched the Franks do battle with the Huns and then incrementally grow their power, we’ll be watching this new, fully encompassing kingship attempt to keep its grasp on power. The results - and the stories - are guaranteed to be intriguing and much different in this coming season. We can’t wait to see you there!