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Merovingians, dynasty of Frankish kings, descended, according to tradition, from Merovech, chief of the Salian Franks, whose son was Childeric I and whose grandson was Clovis I, the founder of the Frankish monarchy. Merovingian kings followed Frankish custom in dividing the patrimony. After the death (511) of Clovis I, the kingdom was divided among his descendants into various kingdoms, which later became known as Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy. These kingdoms, whose borders were constantly shifting, were often combined; for brief periods, they were all united in a single realm under Clotaire I (558–61), Clotaire II (613–23), and Dagobert I (629–39). The rule of the Merovingians before Dagobert I was disturbed by chronic warfare among aristocrats and rivals for power, notably between Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia and Queen Fredegunde of Neustria. Dagobert I was the last active ruler; his descendants were called the rois fainéants, or idle kings. They were entirely subject to their mayors of the palace, the Carolingians, who became the nominal as well as the actual rulers of the Franks when Pepin the Short deposed (751) the last Merovingian king, Childeric III. See Childebert I; Theodoric I; Guntram; Chilperic I; Sigebert I; Childebert II.

See S. Dill, Roman Society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age (1926, repr. 1966); J. M. Wallace-Hedrill, Long-Haired Kings and Other Studies in Frankish History (1982); P. J. Geary, Before France and Germany (1988); E. James, The Franks (1991).

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Austrasia (ôstrā´zhə), northeastern portion of the Merovingian kingdom of the Franks in the 6th, 7th, and 8th cent., comprising, in general, parts of E France, W Germany, and the Netherlands, with its capital variously at Metz, Reims, and Soissons. It originated in the partition (511) of the realm of the Frankish king Clovis I among his four sons after his death. Austrasia was constantly troubled by dynastic rivalries between its rulers and those of the neighboring kingdom of Neustria. These struggles, both political and cultural, reached their climax in the fierce fights between Queen Brunhilda of Austrasia and Queen Fredegunde of Neustria. During the reigns of Clotaire I, Clotaire II, and Dagobert I, Austrasia was temporarily reunited with Neustria. This rivalry was only part of the regionalism that eventually brought an end to Merovingian rule. With the decline of the royal power in Austrasia, the office of mayor of the palace developed into the real seat of power and finally became hereditary in the family of the Carolingians. Austrasia became part of the Carolingian empire.