Charlemagne, Makhir and Mother Goose

Charlemagne the Great
Charlemagne the Great

Rabbi Makhir was a Jewish priest, allegedly an Exilarch (a priest-king of the exiled Davidic line), who settled in the south of France in the early Carolingian era to become the client-ruler of Jewish Septimania, the coastal region of southern France known also as the Languedoc.  The Cathar movement sprang from this same region a few centuries later, and there are some unsolved mysteries surrounding this man and his true blood-relationship to the Frankish aristocracy of the centuries following his reign.

In the Sefer ha-Qabbalah, written by Abraham ibn Daud in about 1161 A.D., it says:

"Then King Charles sent to the King of Baghdad [Caliph] requesting that he dispatch one of his Jews of the seed of royalty of the House of David. He hearkened and sent him one from there, a magnate and sage, Rabbi Makhir by name. And [Charles] settled him in Narbonne, the capital city, and planted him there, and gave him a great possession there at the time he captured it from the Ishmaelites [Arabs]. And he [Makhir] took to wife a woman from among the magnates of the town; *…* and the King made him a nobleman and designed, out of love for [Makhir], good statutes for the benefit of all the Jews dwelling in the city, as is written and sealed in a Latin charter; and the seal of the King therein [bears] his name Carolus; and it is in their possession at the present time. The Prince Makhir became chieftain there. He and his descendants were close with the King and all his descendants."


The 'King Charles' he is talking about is not Charlemagne the Great, though I thought so for many years, and many others still do.  Charlemagne was a contemporary of Guillem de Gellone, who is thought to have been Makhir's son (or grandson).  I'm almost positive that this "King Charles" referred to by Abraham ibn Daud wasn't Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles 'the Hammer' Martel — for one thing, Charles Martel was never crowned king.  I think Abraham, who lived centuries after the events he was describing, was a bit confused.  I think this "King Charles" who appealed to the Calif of Baghdad was in fact Pepin 'the Short,' Charles Martel's son and Charlemagne's father.

Abraham ibn Daud states that this Makhir, after being installed at Narbonne was given "a great possession there at the time he [the king] captured it from the Ishmaelites."  It's a fact that the King of the Franks did form a pact with a Judiarch in Narbonne (Makhir, it seems), did offer him his own princedom, that is, sovereignty over the Languedoc (now Southern France), and in return the Judiarch and the Jews of Narbonne aided the king in taking the city from the previous overlords, the Muslims ("Ishmaelites").  But it wasn't Charles ('the Hammer') nor was it Charlemagne who was king at the time.  The pact was made in 759 and it was Pepin 'the Short,' King of the Franks, who made it.

This episode is incredibly important, both in history and with respect to what I like to write about.  Arthur Zuckerman wrote a controversial book,
The Nasi of Frankland in the Ninth Century and the 'Colaphus Judaeorum' in Toulouse.  First, the Judiarchs (Jewish Kings) of the Languedoc were alternately known as 'Nasi's.  (Put that in your pipe along with Adolph Hitler and try smoking it!)  Zuckerman made the case that the 'Makhir' described by Abraham ibn Daud was one and the same person as Aymeri, the father of Guillem de Gellone told of in the Chanson de Geste poetry.  Makhir, it seems, went by a third name as well, Theodoric (or Thierry), a Frankish name he allegedly adopted when he was baptised and his Jewish kingdom was recognized by the Carolingians (Pepin and Charlemagne's line, named after their patriarch Charles 'the Hammer' Martel, aka 'Carloman').

Some scholars claim that there are flaws in Zuckerman's research, and the conventional wisdom is that his theory has been refuted.  It is accepted however that there was indeed a Rabbi Makhir who led a Jewish principality in southern Gaul from Narbonne in the late 8th century.  Why is this idea that there was this line of exhilarchs ruling over a Jewish kingdom in the middle ages so constroversial?  Because Makhir married Pepin's sister (Alda) and it is known that his son (or, I suspect, grandson) Guillem de Gellone sired several children whose descendants would go on to found important noble houses in France, and because exposing this relationship between Pepin and his heirs and a Jewish nobility in Septimania might attract attention to the fact that, as I believe, there was Jewish blood coursing in the veins of the Carolingian kings.  (Controversial stuff for some people.)

Where did this Davidic family line who ruled Septimania originate?

We can only speculate, as others have done, but there is some support for a genealogy in the paternal line that looks like this: Dagobert II – Sigibert IV – Sigibert V – Theodoric (i.e. Makhir? i.e. Aymeri?) – Guillem de Gellone.

Placing Makhir (Theodoric, Aymeri) as a contemporary and ally of Pepin makes good sense, for Guillem, his son (or grandson), is invariably regarded as being a peer of Charlemagne 'the Great,' (Pepin's son).  There's another reason this match-up fits the known clues, for after the pact was made and the Muslims of Narbonne were defeated, Theodoric (Makhir) took Pepin's sister, Alda, for a wife.  This would make Guillem and Charlemagne 1st cousins, and it is known that the alliance between the two was a close one.

The Church of Rome tried desperately to erase all evidence of a medieval Jewish principality in southern France and the Davidic family which ruled it.  Why?  I encourage the reader to check out my two posts, 'The Roman Church vs. the descendants of Jesus and his family,' parts one and two.  Some clues survived, however.  Kudos to Henry Lincoln and his co-researchers for digging up a couple of them.  In 1144, Theobald, a Cambridge monk, spoke of "the chief Princes and Rabbis of the Jews who dwell in Spain [and] assemble together at Narbonne where the royal seed resides," and in 1165 or 66 Benjamin of Tudela reported that (in Septimania) there were "sages, magnates and princes at the head of whom is…a descendant of the House of David."

These two reports date from the 12th century whereas Guillem lived in the 8th, so, it appears that this Jewish kingdom in Southern France survived for at least four centuries.

OK, we need to think a bit about what motivated Pepin to not only make a military pact with Makhir and shower him with lands and title, but also to offer his sister to the Judiarch in marriage.  Pepin was desperate for two things – he wanted to kick the Muslims out of Narbonne and also to legitimize his own family's "right to rule."  His grandfather (Pepin 'the Fat'), in collusion with the Church, murdered Dagobert II, the last effectual Merovingian king, clearing the way for himself to be anointed by the Pope and become the first Carolingian King of the Franks.  His family having basically usurped the Frankish crown from the Merovingians, at a time when "royal blood" really meant something, you can imagine that if Pepin had a chance to marry a real Davidic princess, he'd jump at the prospect.

Mother Goose
Why is Mother Goose always portrayed
wearing a witch's hat?
(and, like so many "elves"/Sidhe/Robins
and the like, a red one at that?)

Pepin married Bertrada de Laon.  There's no evidence that her blood was Davidic, but she was Jewish.  An epitaph was attached to her, that of Bertrada 'the Goosefoot.'  Not a very nice nick-name, is it?  It wasn't meant to be, it was meant to be derogatory.  People made fun of Bertrada's Jewish heritage by calling her 'Goose-foot.'  History books and genealogical trees which include Bertrada sometimes regard her as having been a Merovingian princess, but this parentage is highly suspect.  First, her Merovingian heritage is alleged but unsupported.  Second, would a real Merovingian let his daughter marry the grandson of the Mayor of the Palace who had murdered Dagobert II?  Third, while the Merovingians did apparently have Davidic blood in them, they were not regarded as being Jewish, while Bertrada apparently was.

Bertrada, the 'Goose-foot,' was of course Charlemagne (the Great)'s mother, and it is said that she entertained her infant son with fables, what we would call nursery rhymes.  SSOF (Slap self on forehead!)  – We've just stumbled onto the true identity of 'Mother Goose'!

This is all the more significant if you think of it all in context.  Generations before, Charlemagne's great-grandfather Pepin of Herstal (Pepin 'the Fat') colluded with the Roman Church to murder Dagobert II, effectively ending the Merovingian line of Frankish Kings.  (There were a handful of ineffectual Merovingians that ruled after him, but mostly in name only.)  At the time, a king was recognized as such by virtue of his blood, the idea that the Church could "anoint" a king was a foreign concept.  After Charles 'the Hammer' defeated the Muslims at the Battle of Tours, the Church whipped out the Donation of Constantine, purportedly written by Constantine 'the Great' 500 years earlier in the 4th century whereby he transfered sovereignty, both secular and spiritual, of the Western Holy Roman Empire to the Church.  Notwithstanding the fact that the document was a crude forgery, the Church invoked this authority to crown Charles ('the Hammer')'s son, Pepin ('the Short'), King of All the Franks.

Pepin's subjects however weren't used to this new means of creating a king by "anointing," and Pepin, in particular, in his eagerness to legitimize his own right to rule, chose Bertrada ('the Goosefoot') of Laon for a wife – so her ancestry is of interest to us.  Bertrada's mother is identified, as often as not, as Blanch, the 'Flower of Hungary.'  Blanch means white, and the 'Flower' moniker is a common Grail epitaph.  If Blanch really was Bertrada's mother, and if she was Jewish and the 'Flower' in her name was (and I'm certain of it) a Grail reference, then one cannot but conclude that she was (like the Merovingians) Davidic, and this is the kind of blood that Pepin and the Carolingians wanted – actually needed, to legitimize their dynasty.

One last loose end here, Blanch was referred to as the Flower of Hungary. This is the Carpathian basin, which, during and prior to the time of Pepin, was home to the Avars.  This implies that there were Davidic Kagans among the Avars and that one of them was Pepin's mother-in-law!  (But that's a whole 'nother can of worms…)

Copyright (c) 2015 Eric Westfall.
Original content may be quoted or replicated under the Fair Use doctrine. All other rights reserved.

2 Comments to 'Charlemagne, Makhir and Mother Goose'

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  1. John said,

    How do you know Bertrada of Laon was Jewish?

  2. admin said,

    I don't.  I think she was.  

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