A luxury that we don’t often get with the early Middle Ages is being able to contrast two opposing sources. It is kind of the key of how we try to teach students, or at least I would like it to be, but nonetheless it’s rather rare in any situation from our period to be able to clearly define two or more sides to a question and then find sources from those sides. However, sanding down my mental rust patches for the QMUL teaching led me to take a rapid run through Paul Fouracre’s and Richard Gerberding’s Late Merovingian France and somewhat to my surprise that is one of the things it can offer, in the form of two saints lives, that of Leudegar and that of Præjectus, who almost through no fault of their own wound up as leaders of opposing factions at the same royal court in 675, a court which saw the arrest and blinding of one and the murder of his chief ally, a murder for which the other was then blamed and murdered by his opponents when he got home.1 This, when sewn together by the cunning of the editors’ commentary, makes quite a good thing to learn with. I am more convinced than ever that Roger Collins might have been right when, at a legendary seminar held shortly after the publication of The Da Vinci Code, he told us all that that proved what he’d known all along, that the real money was with the Merovingians.I hadn’t realised how political these saints’ lives could get. I rather like hagiography as a source but I’m too used to Celtic vitae which are most fun because of how crazy their miracles are. With the saints’ lives that Fouracre and Gerberding pick, though, the miracles are almost an afterthought; though the protagonists lead holy lives, they are known as saints mainly because of miracles after their deaths, and their ‘martyrdom’ is not so much explained by their faith but by their being obdurate in the face of entirely worldly opposition. This makes the texts less cult promotion and more efforts of community reconciliation, and they have lots of spiky bits that couldn’t yet be forgotten when they were written. The grit and argument is very well brought out by the editors and the things that they feel the sources show clearly explained. These sources also include a chunk (but not all, as I had somehow come to believe) of the Liber Historiae Francorum, one of the few narrative histories of the pre-royal Carolingians that actually predates their becoming royal, and a largish swathe of the Annales Mettenses priores for contrast, plus Lives of SS Balthild, Audoin, Aunemund, Leudegar, Præjectus, Geretrud and Foillan, all of whose stories touch at points, mostly through the court (e. g. Aunemund is supposedly killed by order of Balthild, Geretrud is daughter of Pippin II). These are largely sympathetically translated—Merovingian Latin is apparently less ornate than Carolingian stuff, which is partly shown by the later Annales included here—and only a few modern idioms jar. The single defect is that the book is plagued with typoes, almost all of which seem to be omitted letters; I don’t know if there was some botched transfer from hard to electronic copy that stripped line ends or something, but it seems to have been something like that. These do not, however, stop this being one of the most interesting and well-presented source volumes I’ve ever used and I only wish it covered more years.2
1. Full citation: Paul Fouracre & Richard A. Gerberding (transl.), Late Merovingian France: history and hagiography 640-720, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester 1996); the Passio Leudegarii and Passio Præjecti are pp. 193-300.
2. I think my favourite source-book remains Paul Dutton’s Carolingian Civilization: a reader, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures 1 (Peterborough ON 1994, repr. 2002), because of the huge range of stuff it has in it and the erudite translations, but I realise that this isn’t much use if you’re not studying the Carolingians. Well, you know, why not start?