Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720

By Head, Thomas | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720


Head, Thomas, The Catholic Historical Review


Late Merovingian France: History and Hagiography, 640-720. By Paul Fouracre and Richard A. Gerberding. [Manchester Medieval Sources Series.] (Manchester: Manchester University Press. Distributed by St. Martin's Press, Scholarly and Reference Division, New York. 1996. Pp. xi, 397. $69.95 clothbound; $24.95 paperback.)

This splendid volume provides an important addition to the general studies of and translated sources from the Merovingian era which have appeared over the last decade from such Anglophone scholars as Patrick Geary, Judith George, Edward James, JoAnn McNamara, Raymond Van Dam, and Ian Wood. Alongside an impressive body of continental, largely German, scholarship, these works have significantly altered our view of the Merovingian kingdoms, showing how vibrantly Roman political and religious forms survived under Frankish kings. Fouracre and Gerberding have now cogently completed the rehabilitation of the rois faineants-those who ruled from the death of Dagobert through the death of Chilperic II.They appear on their own terms in the words of carefully translated contemporary sources, rather than in those of Carolingian propagandists, or in a Gibbonesque narrative of decline and fall, or in hazy notions of Germanic ethnic identity.Their reigns emerge as a period of complex and intense syncretism which led from the empire of the Romans to that of the Carolingians.

The volume is not simply a source collection, but is in effect a comprehensive reconsideration of these seventy years of Frank;sh history, albeit one which will not surprise readers of, for example, Ian Wood's The Merovingian Kingdoms, 450-751 (London, 1994).The volume begins with a lengthy introduction in which the editors present a concise political history of the period, then consider the problems presented by hagiography as a source for political and social history, and finally discuss the use of Latin within the Frankish kingdoms and in these sources more particularly.The body of the volume consists of eight translated sources.The bookends are historical works, selections from the Liber Historiae Francorum, a laconic contemporary source positively inclined to the Merovingians (which Richard Gerberding early analyzed in an excellent monograph), and the Annales Mettenses Priores, a piece of Carolingian propaganda. In between these bookends are six hagiographic sources, concerning the lives of two queens and four bishops: Balthild,Audoin, Aunemund, Leudegar, Praejectus, and Geretrud.Together they constitute roughly one-half of the hagiography composed in this period. Each source is preceded by a lengthy commentary. Collectively these introductions provide a thorough examination of a good number of the sources of the period which will be invaluable to other scholars. They make a convincing case, for example, that the Acta Aunemundi, although composed in the tenth century, preserves authentic seventh-century traditions. The introduction and commentary are substantial: of the 370 pages of text in the volume, less than 150 are occupied by the translations.

The scholarship to be found in the editors' own text is revisionist history at its most sensible and compelling: solidly based on the sources, but using interpretative imagination, supplemented by such modern theoretical techniques as deconstruction (explicitly discussed by the editors) and anthropology (implicitly present in their discussion of conflict resolution and family alliances). …

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