An Introduction to the Study of the Middle Ages (375-814)

By Ephraim Emerton | Go to book overview
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AUTHORITIES:--With the history of the Franks we come to a
new form of historical literature which was to be the most impor-
tant during the whole of the Middle Ages, the "Annals." These
were records made from year to year in some monastery, or pos-
sibly at the courts of rulers, in which such events were men-
tioned as seemed to the writer to be of the most importance.
Sometimes no entries seem to have been made for many years, and
then the history of this period would be written all at once by
one hand. In such a case the writer might borrow his material
from some other annals, and add to it such information as he
could get from his fellow-monks or from his own memory.

It was a matter of pride for each monastery to have its annals
as complete as possible, and so we find the writers going back to
some very distant point, to the year 1, for instance, or to Abraham,
or even to Adam. In such cases the earlier history was of course
borrowed from written books, especially from the Bible, and the
real value of the annals begins only when they treat of events
within the personal knowledge of the writer.

One might suppose that the knowledge of a monk, living a
retired life, apart from the great current of events, would not be
worth much; but in fact the monk might be a person very much
in affairs. The monasteries were the chief seats of education and
of the arts of civilized life. They were also the hotels of the day,
and hospitality to travellers was a chief duty of the order. Monks
were employed as the secretaries of rulers and as the tutors of
their sons. In all these ways it was possible for them to see a
good deal of life. Even without leaving the walls of their mon-
astery, they were in a position to gather from the reports of trav-
ellers the news of what was going on in the great world.

The annals, then, when written by men of education and talent,


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