The History of the Franks - Grégoire de Tours (539-594)

Gregory was Bishop of Tours, at the time at the edge of Frankish influence in what had been Gaulle (see map) but had not yet become France. It covers a particularly interesting, chaotic and colourful (mostly red) period of European History.

The version linked to this page comes from the "Medieval Sourcebook" and is an abridged translation from Gregory's Latin by Earnest Brehaut in 1916. About half the text is present, if you like it, it's worth going to your local library and borrowing a complete version. If they haven't got a copy, make a fuss and demand they obtain one immediately as they certainly should have this tome on their shelves! Along with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede, Gildas and a few others, it gives an astonishing insight into early medieval society, and, above all, the role of the church in that society. 

Moreover, page by page, parallels with our own societies creep into the back of one's mind. You will never be able to look a Catholic priest in the eyes again, if you had ever thought of doing something so imprudent!

The corruption, brutality, and egoism of the clergy of the time are exposed with such candor, and by one who was himself an eminent member of that very order, that it seems amazing the book had not disappeared along with so many others in some handy Viking bonfire. The Christian church in particular, and religion in general, is shown for what it was, and still is, a means of dominating the masses where the sword and the battle axe are no longer sufficient. 

To come back to this site's main theme, religion prevented people thinking for themselves, from rocking the boat, far more economically than an army. The clergy also served as an administration which, although occasionally in conflict with this or that lord, managed the masses ideologically far better than the brutish, illiterate kinglets of the day could hope to do. Whether in doing so they pursued a policy of moderation, either deliberately or not, is another debate... You'll have to think that one out for yourself !


By Ernest Brehaut :

The History of the Franks by Gregory, bishop of Tours, is an historical record of great importance. The events which it relates are details of the perishing of the Roman Empire and the beginning of a great modern state and for these events it is often the sole authority. However although Gregory was relating history mainly contemporaneous or recent, we must allow largely for error and prejudice in his statements of fact. It is rather as an unconscious revelation that the work is of especial value. The language and style, the intellectual attitude with which it was conceived and written, and the vivid and realistic picture, unintentionally given, of a primitive society, all combine to make the History of the Franks a landmark in European culture. After reading it the intelligent modern will no longer have pleasing illusions about sixth century society.

For more, click here. Have a good read !


Updated 2/2/2001