1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mayor of the Palace

MAYOR OF THE PALACE.—The office of mayor of the palace was an institution peculiar to the Franks of the Merovingian period. A landowner who did not manage his own estate placed it in the hands of a steward (major), who superintended the working of the estate and collected its revenues. If he had several estates, he appointed a chief steward, who managed the whole of the estates and was called the major domus. Each great personage had a major domus—the queen had hers, the king his; and since the royal house was called the palace, this officer took the name of “mayor of the palace.” The mayor of the palace, however, did not remain restricted to domestic functions; he had the discipline of the palace and tried persons who resided there. Soon his functions expanded. If the king were a minor, the mayor of the palace supervised his education in the capacity of guardian (nutricius), and often also occupied himself with affairs of state. When the king came of age, the mayor exerted himself to keep this power, and succeeded. In the 7th century he became the head of the administration and a veritable prime minister. He took part in the nomination of the counts and dukes; in the king’s absence he presided over the royal tribunal; and he often commanded the armies. When the custom of commendation developed, the king charged the mayor of the palace to protect those who had commended themselves to him and to intervene at law on their behalf. The mayor of the palace thus found himself at the head of the commendati, just as he was at the head of the functionaries.

It is difficult to trace the names of some of the mayors of the palace, the post being of almost no significance in the time of Gregory of Tours. When the office increased in importance the mayors of the palace did not, as has been thought, pursue an identical policy. Some—for instance, Otto, the mayor of the palace of Austrasia towards 640—were devoted to the Crown. On the other hand, mayors like Flaochat (in Burgundy) and Erkinoald (in Neustria) stirred up the great nobles, who claimed the right to take part in their nomination, against the king. Others again, sought to exercise the power in their own name both against the king and against the great nobles—such as Ebroïn (in Neustria), and, later, the Carolingians Pippin II., Charles Martel, and Pippin III., who, after making use of the great nobles, kept the authority for themselves. In 751 Pippin III., fortified by his consultation with Pope Zacharias, could quite naturally exchange the title of mayor for that of king; and when he became king, he suppressed the title of mayor of the palace. It must be observed that from 639 there were generally separate mayors of Neustria, Austrasia and Burgundy, even when Austrasia and Burgundy formed a single kingdom; the mayor was a sign of the independence of the region. Each mayor, however, sought to supplant the others; the Pippins and Charles Martel succeeded, and their victory was at the same time the victory of Austrasia over Neustria and Burgundy.

See G. H. Pertz, Geschichte der merowingischen Hausmeier (Hanover, 1819); H. Bonnell, De dignitate majoris domus (Berlin, 1858); E. Hermann, Das Hausmeieramt, ein echt germanisches Amt, vol. ix. of Untersuchungen zur deutschen Staats- und Rechtsgeschichte, ed. by O. Gierke (Breslau, 1878, seq.); G. Waitz, Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte, 3rd ed., revised by K. Zeumer; and Fustel de Coulanges, Histoire des institutions politiques de l’ancienne France: La monarchie franque (Paris, 1888). (C. Pf.)