Upon the death of Charles Martel, rule of the Kingdom of the Franks passed to his sons Carloman and Pepin. When Carloman retired to pursue the religious life, voluntarily or otherwise, Pepin became de facto sole ruler of the Franks. With the support of Pope Zachary, he then deposed the figurehead Merovingian monarch and was proclaimed King of the Franks.
When Charles Martel died in 741 he left the Kingdom of the Franks to his two sons Carloman, who held Austrasia, and Pepin, Mayor of the Palace of Neustria. In order to enhance the legitimacy of their rule, they raised the figurehead Childeric to the Merovingian throne. The two brothers ruled together for a number of years, cooperating in the suppression of several revolts, until 747 when Carloman retired to religious life. Pepin suppressed a revolt led by his half-brother Grifo, and became the sole ruler of the Franks.
In 751, the Lombards under their king Aistulf had conquered the Exarchate of Ravenna, the main seat of Byzantine government in Italy, whose Exarch held territorial power as the representative of the Eastern Roman Emperor. The Lombard Duke of Spoleto and the Lombard kings posed a threat to Roman territory, and Aistulf demanded tribute from Pope Zachary, an able diplomat.
About that time Pepin sent ambassadors, Bishop Burkard of Wurzburg and Chaplain Folrad of St. Denis, to lay the suggestive question before Pope Zachary: whether it seemed right to him that one should be king who did not really possess the royal power. Hard pressed by the Lombards, Pope Zacharias welcomed this advance of the Franks and replied that this did not appear good to him. After this decision, according to the ancient custom, Pepin was elected king by the Franks and soon after anointed by Boniface at Soissons with Zachary's blessing. The decision was not supported by all members of the Carolingian family and Pepin had to put down a revolt led by Carloman's son, Drogo, and again by Grifo. The consecration of the new king was intended to remove any doubt as to its legitimacy.
Byzantium could send no troops against the Lombards, and Emperor Constantine V Copronymus, in answer to the repeated requests for help of the new pope, Stephen II, could only offer him the advice to act in accordance with the ancient policy of Byzantium, to pit some other Germanic tribe against the Lombards.
In January 754, Pope Stephen II met with Pepin at Ponthion and asked for his assistance against the Lombard King Aistulf, and requested the same protection for the prerogatives of St. Peter which the Byzantine exarchs had extended to them. The king agreed, and in the charter establishing the States of the Church, soon after given at Quiercy, he promised to restore these prerogatives. The Frankish king received the title of the former representative of the Byzantine Empire in Italy, i.e. "Patricius", and was also given the responsibility of protecting the privileges of the Holy See.
On 28 July 754 Pope Stephen anointed Pepin, as well as his two sons Charles and Carloman, at Saint-Denis in a memorable ceremony that was recalled in coronation rites of French kings until the end of the ancien regime in the French Revolution of 1789-1799.
At the same time he bestowed on Pepin and his sons the title of "Patrician of the Romans", which title, the highest Byzantine officials in Italy, the exarchs, had borne. Instead of the latter the King of the Franks was now to be the protector of the Romans. The pope in bestowing this title probably acted also in conformity with authority conferred on him by the Byzantine emperor.
At Quiercy on the Oise the Frankish nobles finally gave their consent and Pepin promised to give to the Church certain territories, the first record of the Papal States. In the original document of Quiercy Pepin promised the pope the restoration of the lands of Central Italy, which had been last conquered by Aistulf, especially in the exarchate and in the Roman Duchy, and of a number of more or less clearly defined patrimonies in the Lombard Kingdom and in the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.
For the cities in the exarchate and in the Pentapolis, which Aistulf promised to return, Pepin executed a separate deed for the pope. This is the first actual "Donation of 754". Once Pepin left Italy, Aistulf reneged. The pope sent a messenger by sea, summoning Pepin to fulfill his pledge. In 756 Pepin again set out with an army against Aistulf and a second time hemmed him in at Pavia. Aistulf was again compelled to promise to deliver to the pope the cities granted him after the first war and, in addition, Commachio at the mouth of the Po and Forlì with its hinterlands. But this time the mere promise was not considered sufficient. Messengers of Pepin visited the various cities of the exarchate and of the Pentapolis, demanded and received the keys to them. Pepin executed a new deed of gift for the cities thus surrendered to the pope, which together with the keys of the cities were deposited on the grave of St. Peter. Pepin confirmed his Donations in Rome in 756, and in 774 his son Charlemagne again confirmed and reasserted the Donation.
The property of the exarchate in the Marche was the Pentapolis, (the "five cities" of Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Senigallia and Ancona). The Donations made the Pope for the first time as a temporal ruler. This strip of territory extended diagonally across Italy from the Tyrrhenian to the Adriatic.
The Byzantine Government had hoped through the Franks to regain possession of the districts that had been wrested from it by the Lombards. But just as kings at that time founded monasteries and endowed them with landed properties, that prayers might be offered for them there, so Pepin wished to provide the pope with temporal territories, that he might be certain of the prayers of the pope. The Byzantines sent ambassadors, who came to Pepin before the second expedition of 756 and asked him to return to the emperor the cities to be taken from the Lombards. Pepin affirmed under oath that he had not engaged in war so often to win the favor of any man but for the love of St. Peter and for the remission of his sins, and he declared that no enrichment of his treasury would persuade him to snatch away what he had once offered to St. Peter.
- Kirsch, Johann Peter. "Pope St. Zachary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 21 Jul. 2014
- Kampers, Franz. "Pepin the Short." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 21 Jul. 2014
- Schnürer, Gustav. "States of the Church." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 21 Jul. 2014
- Liber Pontificalis, 786