Rewriting Saints and Ancestors: Memory and Forgetting in France, 500-1200by Constance Brittain Bouchard
Thinkers in medieval France constantly reconceptualized what had come before, interpreting past events to give validity to the present and help control the future. The long-dead saints who presided over churches and the ancestors of established dynasties were an especially crucial part of creative memory, Constance Brittain Bouchard contends. In Rewriting Saints
Thinkers in medieval France constantly reconceptualized what had come before, interpreting past events to give validity to the present and help control the future. The long-dead saints who presided over churches and the ancestors of established dynasties were an especially crucial part of creative memory, Constance Brittain Bouchard contends. In Rewriting Saints and Ancestors she examines how such ex post facto accounts are less an impediment to the writing of accurate history than a crucial tool for understanding the Middle Ages.
Working backward through time, Bouchard discusses twelfth-century scribes contemplating the ninth-century documents they copied into cartularies or reworked into narratives of disaster and triumph, ninth-century churchmen deliberately forging supposedly late antique documents as weapons against both kings and other churchmen, and sixth- and seventh-century Gallic writers coming to terms with an early Christianity that had neither the saints nor the monasteries that would become fundamental to religious practice. As they met with political change and social upheaval, each generation decided which events of the past were worth remembering and which were to be reinterpreted or quietly forgotten. By considering memory as an analytic tool, Bouchard not only reveals the ways early medieval writers constructed a useful past but also provides new insights into the nature of record keeping, the changing ways dynasties were conceptualized, the relationships of the Merovingian and Carolingian kings to the church, and the discovery (or invention) of Gaul's earliest martyrs.
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In medieval France thinkers constantly reconceptualized their past. The proper interpretation of past events could give validity to the present and help control the future. The saints that now presided over churches and the ancestors that had first established a dynasty were an especially crucial part of creative memory. Scholars have long known that many of our primary sources for the period were written well after the events they describe, so that, for example, the reign of Clovis is known principally from the Historia of Gregory of Tours, composed nearly a century later. Such post facto accounts form the heart of this book, including twelfth-century scribes contemplating the ninth-century documents they copied into cartularies; ninth-century churchmen considering their sixth-century predecessors; and sixth-century writers in Gaul coming to terms with the Christianity of the fourth and fifth centuries. The changes and upheavals of the period 500-1200 were met by rewriting and re-remembering. Memory was always malleable, as each generation decided which events of the past were worth remembering and which were to be reinterpreted or else quietly forgotten.
Memory is a potentially enormous subject, and this book has constantly sought to become the thousand-page wonder that makes academic publishers of the twenty-first century recoil in horror. To keep it manageable in size, I have omitted many interesting topics—some of which were spun off as articles, summarized only briefly here—and tried (not always successfully) to pare down the endnotes to the most recent or most influential works. I urge those seeking a fuller historiography to consult the notes to the books and articles cited. References are generally given in short form; full details are reserved for the bibliography.
Notes on Terminology
Royal lineages had no official names in the period covered by this book. Members of these lineages did, however, clearly recognize their relatives, and it has not therefore seemed an undue stretch for modern scholars to give collective names to those related in the male line. The Merovingians were those descended according to legend from Meroveus, offspring of a fifth-century sea serpent. The Carolingians, the family of Charlemagne (d. 814), are here the Arnulfings (or occasionally the Pippinids) before Charlemagne's time. The Capetians are the kings related in the male line to Hugh Capet, who replaced the last Carolingian on the French throne in 987, even though he was not in fact the first king in his family, a distinction that goes to his great-uncle. Before Hugh, the lineage is usually called Robertians, after his great-grandfather Robert the Strong.
Most of the people who appear in the book have names that could be spelled three or four or even more different ways: in modern English, French, or German (or occasionally Italian), or in medieval Latin. Thus Hugo, Ugo, Huo, Hugh, and Hughes are all possible ways to refer to the same person. If I have not always been completely consistent in choosing which version of a name to give someone (e.g., Charlemagne rather than Karl der Grosse, but Theoderic rather than Thierri), at least I have always called the same person the same thing. For clarity, I make a distinction in how I refer to a saint and how I refer to a church dedicated to that saint: Saint Martin indicates the person himself, St.-Martin a church dedicated to him.
Most of the examples in this book are from the regions now called France and Belgium, plus the westernmost edge of Germany (although the French-German border was not then where it is now, and Belgium did not exist as a country until the nineteenth century). In late antiquity this region is Gaul. In the Carolingian age it is Francia. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries it is simply France (although the French kingdom of the high Middle Ages did not include the lower Rhône, which had been part of Roman Gaul but in the twelfth century was part of the Holy Roman Empire). Although I take my examples from a broad geographic area, especially for the earlier period when the records are much sparser, the heart of my discussion is Burgundy-Champagne, the region stretching roughly from Châlons and Langres to Chalon and Mâcon, including Auxerre and Autun, the quintessential region "between the Rhine and the Loire." Place-names are given according to their modern French spelling (Reims instead of Rheims, Lyon instead of Lyons), except for those located in modern Germany (Aachen, not Aix-la-Chapelle). The few exceptions are for places much better known to an English-speaking audience by a different version of the name (Cologne, not Köln, and Burgundy, not Bourgogne).
Meet the Author
Constance Brittain Bouchard is Distinguished Professor of Medieval History at the University of Akron and author of many books, including Those of My Blood: Creating Noble Families in Medieval Francia, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.
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