SEMINAR II: Earlier Merovingian Kingship, c. 480-600 (Michaelmas, Week 4)

The Jewels of Childeric, king of Tournai (d. 481)

In this seminar we will look at the development of Gaul under the rule of the Merovingian dynasty established by King Childeric (d. 581) and his son, Clovis (d. 511). Under their leadership the Franks became the dominant barbarian people in Gaul, but this seems not to have produced a particularly coherent or stable 'state'; rather, the story of the sixth century (so vividly described in the History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours) is one of vicious conflict over the possession of royal authority among the different descendants of Clovis. But on the other hand, the 'Gallo-Roman' aristocracy showed a remarkable ability to survive the vicissitudes of these conflicts. All of this raises numerous questions which may be grouped in the following ways:

  1. What was the attitude of the Merovingians to royal authority? To what extent did they treat their position as an 'office' with public duties and obligations? How Roman was the Merovingian approach to kingship?
  2. What were the causes of the many conflicts which erupted among the Frankish rulers of sixth-century Gaul?
  3. How serious were these conflicts? How destructive were they? Did they amount to full-blown civil wars?
  4. What was the attitude of the Gallo-Roman and Frankish aristocracy to these conflicts? How did they fare in the midst of these conflicts? What were their survival strategies and how effective were they?

Strongly Recommended Reading for All Students

  1. Innes, M., An Introduction to Early Medieval Western Europe, 400-900: The Sword, the Plough and the Book (London, 2007), chp. 7, 'Gaul and Germany: The Merovingian World'. A good, introductory, outline of the period covered by the first nine weeks of the course. MBF.
  2. EITHER: James, E., The Franks, The Peoples of Europe (Oxford, 1988), chp 5 (and if possible 2-3 as well). MSBF.* There is one copy in the 3hr short loan area; two are on popular loan. OR: James, E., The Origins of France (London, 1982), chps. 2 and 5. MSB.*
  3. Wood, I. N., The Merovingian Kingdoms 450-751 (London, 1993), chps. 3-4, 6-7. MSC.*

Other Reading:

  • Collins, R., 'Theodebert, Rex Magnus Francorum', in P. Wormald with D. Bullough and R. Collins (eds.), Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society: Studies presented to J .M. Wallace-Hadrill (Oxford, 1983), pp. 7-33. MSC7.
  • Dill, S., Roman Society in Gaul in the Merovingian Age (London, 1966). MSC.H.*
  • Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, trs. O. M. Dalton, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1927). MSC.* The library also has the Penguin translation by Lewis Thorpe, but this one is better and has a commentary full of useful notes. But in any event, the full text of an earlier translation by Earnest Brehaut is also to be found online on the Medieval Sourcebook:
  • Geary, P. J., Before France and Germany: The Creation and Transformation of Merovingian Gaul (Oxford, 1988), chps. 3-4. MSC.*
  • Halsall, G., Warfare and Society in the Barbarian West, 450-900 (London, 2003), chps. 2-3. MBD.M
  • Heather, P. J., 'State, Lordship and Community in the West (c. A.D. 400-600)', in A. M. Cameron, B. Ward-Perkins, M. Whitby (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 14, Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, AD 425-600 (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 437-68. LI.*
  • James, E., 'The Northern World in the Dark Ages, 400-900', in G. Holmes (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe (London: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 63-114. MB7.
  • Kibler, W. and G. A. Zinn (ed.), Medieval France: An Encyclopaedia (New York, 1995). +MSB1
  • King, P. D., 'The Barbarian Kingdoms', in J. H. Burns (ed.), The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought, c. 359-1450 (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 123-53. MBS.
  • Lasko, P., The Kingdom of the Franks, North-West Europe before Charlemagne (London, 1971). MSC.
  • McKitterick, R., 'Politics', in R. McKitterick (ed.), The Early Middle Ages: Europe, 400-1000 (Oxford, 2001), pp. 21-56. MB.* For general background.
  • Murray, A. C.,'"Pax et disciplina": Roman Public Law and the Merovingian State', in K. Pennington, S. Chodorow and K. H. Kendall (eds), Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Medieval Canon Law, Monumenta Iuris Canonici Series C, Subsidia (Vatican City, 2001), pp. 269-85; rpt. in T. F. X. Noble (ed.), From Roman Provinces to Barbarian Kingdoms (London, 2005), pp. 376-88. MBB.
  • Van Dam, R., 'Merovingian Gaul and the Frankish Conquests', in P. Fouracre (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 1, c.500-c.700 (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 193-231. MB.*
  • Wallace-Hadrill, J. M., Early Germanic Kingship in England and on the Continent (Oxford, 1971), chp. 1. MVC.
  • Wood, I. N., 'Administration, Law and Culture in Merovingian Gaul', in R. McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 63-81; rpt. in T. F. X. Noble (ed.), From Roman Provinces to Barbarian Kingdoms (London, 2005), pp. 358-75. MBB.
  • Wood, I. N. (ed.), Franks and Alamans in the Merovingian Period, Studies in the History of Archaeoethnology 3 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1998). MSC7.
  • Wormald, P., 'Kings and Kingship', in P. Fouracre (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 1, c.500-c.700 (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 571-604. MB.*

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