The Chronicle of Fredegar

The version of this source that you can actually get your hands on is called “The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar, and Continuations.” Well. Let’s unpack that mouthful and see what we can learn.

Starting from the middle, the source is, in fact, a chronicle. That is to say, it is a written account of important events in the order of their occurrence. Is Fredegar the author? There is actually no reason to believe so, as the attribution to “Fredegar” only begins in the sixteenth century. There is a prologue of sorts, where the author addresses the reader, but he does not name himself. The “critical edition” from the late nineteenth century1.A German scholar named Krusch scoured Europe and found thirty different copies of the Chronicle, analyzed them, and put together a single version, with notes, explanations, etc. divides the work into four books. J.M. Wallace-Hedrill translated and published only the fourth book because the other three are derived and copied from sources that, he says, are otherwise available. Finally, most manuscripts of the chronicle end (in other words, the fourth book ends) in the year 642. But some manuscripts have a “continuation,” written by another person or two, that take the chronicle up through the year 768.

That’s the reason that the Chronicle is so valuable to students of early medieval history. It, along with the Liber Historiae Francorum, bridges the gap between Gregory of Tours and the Royal Frankish Annals.

The first author, or more accurately, the transcriber of the chronicle took various sources and wove them together into a reasonably coherent whole, starting with the creation of the world. In his preface he acknowledges using Isidore, Gregory, St. Jerome, and others as his sources. Sometimes he copies wholesale, sometimes he condenses, and sometimes he adds from other, unnamed, sources. Unpacking all of this has kept scholars busy for more than a century, with decades-long debates about how many authors there were, which parts did they write, and the like.

The author is more of a story teller than a keeper of the years, like in the Royal Frankish Annals. The chapter divisions are somewhat arbitrary, and serve a narrative purpose, not at all like the strict year-by-year accounting of the Annals. The effect is like reading a summary of some convoluted novel.

While the Chronicle is firmly focused on the doings of the high and mighty in continental Europe, you can pick up all kinds of tidbits. Eclipses, meteors, plagues, and floods are mentioned, as is Africa, Egypt and Alexandria, Jerusalem, Byzantium, the Caspian Sea, and Ireland.

As with all primary sources you have to be cautious in using Fredegar. For example, he completely misstates the battle of Poitiers, framing it as an alliance between Eudo and ar Rahman, which Charles manfully repulsed. Absolutely not! Eudo did many things, but an alliance with a Saracen in pursuit of desecrated churches? I think not.

One of the notable features of Wallace-Hedrill’s translation is the dual language presentation, with Latin on the left page, English on the right. While of limited use to those of us not schooled in medieval Latin, it is still pretty interesting to trace the Latin using the English. He also has a couple of genealogies and a good introduction, with a LONG linguistic analysis of the manuscript. I must confess, I skipped that part.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. A German scholar named Krusch scoured Europe and found thirty different copies of the Chronicle, analyzed them, and put together a single version, with notes, explanations, etc.

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