Einhard, the biographer who recorded Charlemagne's life, gives us an account of the emergence of the Carolingian Dynasty. Orthography deserves attention in this matter, for two reasons: first, because these events took place in a bilingual environment; chronicles were discussed and recorded in both Frankish and Latin. Second, because the notion of fixed orthography had not yet emerged; spelling was understood to be fluid, and most words had more than one acceptable spelling.
Einhard himself is also recorded as Eginhard and Einhart. Charlemagne is also known Charles the Great and Carolus Magnus; during his life, he was known as Karl.
But the narrative begins much earlier. Long before Charlemagne was born, the Carolingian Dynasty earned respect in the person of Charles "the Hammer" Martel, who defended Gaul, and most of Europe, from an invasion force of thousands of Islamic soldiers. The Muslims had invaded and occupied Spain in 711 A.D., and had periodically conducted raids over the Pyrenees into Gaul. At this time, Gaul was beginning to become known as France, because the Germanic tribe known as the Franks had been stabilizing the area for over two centuries; the area had been a power vacuum in the decades after the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D., and the Franks helped to restore civil order after a period of chaos.
Having secured their occupation of Spain, the Muslims wanted France. After a few year of raiding over the Pyrenees mountain range, they attempted a full-scale invasion. Historian Eleanor Shipley Duckett writes:
Ever since their arrival in Spain from Africa in 711, the Muslims had raided Frankish territory, threatening Gaul and on one occasion (725) reaching Burgundy and sacking Autun. In 732 Abd ar-Rahman, the governor of Cordoba, marched into Bordeaux and defeated Eudes. The Muslims then proceeded north across Aquitaine to the city of Poitiers. Eudes appealed to Charles for assistance, and Charles’s cavalry managed to turn back the Muslim onslaught at the Battle of Tours. The battle itself may have been only a series of small engagements, but after it there were no more great Muslim invasions of Frankish territory.
The forces of Charles "the Hammer" were outnumbered by the attacking Muslims, making his victory a tactical masterpiece, and making him an instant hero in Europe. After the victory, Charles Martel pointed out that the Merovingian Dynasty, in the person of Hilderich III, had done little or nothing to contribute to the defense of France, despite the fact that the Merovingians were the reigning monarchs of Gaul. Accusing the Merovingians of negligence, Charles Martel claimed the throne for himself and his family. The pope issued an opinion supporting Charles the Hammer. Einhard himself wrote:
The Merovingian Dynasty, from whom the Franks used to choose their kings, ruled according to the general opinion, up until the time of Hilderich. Hilderich was deposed by order of the Roman pope Stephan, shorn, and sent into a cloister. Although the dynasty, by all appearances, died out with him, it had already long since lost its significance and had henceforth only the empty royal title.
Clovis (Chlodowech or Chlodwig) was the first Frankish, and first Merovingian, king of Gaul, ruling until his death 511. Hilderich III was the last, having ruled from 742 to 751. Pope Zacharias, in office from 741 to 752, had already prior to his death in early 752 ordered the deposing of Hilderich. Pope Stephan, in office from 752 to 757, was chosen in March 752 as successor, and traveled in person to Gaul in order to anoint Pippin. Pippin the Short was the son of Charles Martel and the father of Charlemagne. As long as the Merovingians, having lost any real authority or power, remained on the throne as nomical rulers, the real activity of ruling fell to the major domo, the chief of staff, who happened to be Charles Martel. Einhard continues:
The major domo had real power and authority in the kingdom, the so-called chief of staff, who stood at the top of the government. Nothing was left to the king except to content himself with the title and to sit on the throne flowing hair on his head and an uncut beard and to play the ruler. He was allowed to hear ambassadors, who came from everywhere, and to dismiss them with words which seemed to be his own, but which one had in reality written for him and often had forced upon him.
So when Hilderich was deposed, he in reality had no power to lose anyway. His long hair and beard were symbols of royal power, but they had become empty symbols. When Carolingians ascended to the throne, they ruled in reality, having already long ruled behind the scenes.