15.08.16, Bouchard, Rewriting Saints and Ancestors

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Kellly Gibson

The Medieval Review 15.08.16

Bouchard, Constance Brittain. Rewriting Saints and Ancestors: Memory and Forgetting in France, 500-1200. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014. pp. xvi, 362. ISBN: 978-0-8122-4636-0 (hardback) 978-0-8122-9008-0 (ebook).

Reviewed by:
Kellly Gibson
University of Dallas
kgibson@udallas.edu

Constance Brittain Bouchard demonstrates that the past was very much alive for the authors and scribes in early and high medieval France. The past "had constant relevance for the present" and could become even more relevant through "judicious reinterpretation" (228). One could change the present by changing the past. She investigates the "control of memory" (228) in a wide range of documentary and narrative sources, highlighting the creativity behind even the driest of medieval texts. This work should remove any lingering ideas that medieval people were naïve, transparent recorders of the past. Bouchard builds on memory studies but takes "the study of medieval memory one step further, using it as a tool to ask questions about both the political and ecclesiastical history of France in the early and high Middle Ages" (4). Her work shows that memories were constructed for a variety of purposes and a study of these memories can shed light on politics, religion, culture, and society.

This important book makes significant contributions to our knowledge of historical practice and thought during the early and high Middle Ages and offers great insight into the problems and possibilities of medieval documentation. Bouchard shows that the past was far more complex than the records indicate by demonstrating how authors sought to simplify elements such as genealogies and foundation legends. It is important to consider the goals and historical context of the authors and scribes because we remember what they wanted us to remember. Forgers aimed to create "an improved and more useful" past (67) and often mixed forgeries with authentic texts so that their past "had at least some resemblance to the real past" (86). Chroniclers based their work on written evidence as well as contemporary ideas about, for example, the proper conduct of bishops.

Although Bouchard focuses on Burgundy-Champagne, she points to regional differences in, for example, monastic archive survival in eastern Francia. The work moves chronologically backward from the twelfth to the sixth century, with four chapters on the twelfth century, five on the eighth and ninth centuries, and two on the fifth through seventh centuries. She identifies several turning points, such as the sixth century when saints and relics proliferated. The main turning point is the Carolingian age. She advocates "seeing the rise of the Carolingians as a true historical turning point" even though "it has generally not been viewed as a transition point in any area other than political leadership" (152). In the late eighth and early ninth centuries, there were changes in settlement patterns, literacy, and monasticism. New aristocratic families and new ways of thinking about lineage arose. The appearance of cartularies and polyptyques was "a turning point in the medieval exercise of memory" (53). The Carolingians are the heart of the book and its villains. Bouchard portrays the Carolingians far more negatively than is usual in scholarship. Even Louis the Pious, sometimes characterized as weak, appears just as strong a controller of the church as the more notable warrior Carolingians Charles Martel and Charlemagne. The Merovingians come across as far better to the church than the Carolingians. This work goes a long way to rehabilitate the image of the Merovingians by pointing out Carolingian control of memory as well as including lesser-studied texts more favorable to the Merovingians alongside the most famous ones like Einhard'sLife of Charlemagne.

The first two chapters investigate the "reworking and reconceptualizing" of charters by "organizing and copying them" into cartularies (19). Cartularies appeared in the ninth century in the Rhineland and in Burgundy-Champagne in the eleventh century and increased in the twelfth century. Bouchard argues that cartularies did not simply preserve earlier documents and represent a "new approach to organizing the monks' collective memory" not "a new attitude toward writing" (19). They could be organized roughly chronologically by abbot or bishop, geographically by grant location, or by grantor. Bouchard demonstrates the importance of studying manuscripts themselves since printed editions often present the charters by date rather than retaining the original organization of the cartulary. Cartularies were primarily for members of the religious community to remember their property and the grantors for whom they should pray. In the third chapter, Bouchard shifts to narratives of monastic houses that included charters. Chroniclers often portrayed their houses as "older and more prestigious" than they actually were "because their standing in the past increased their authority in the present" (39). Even when founded in the seventh century or later, monasteries preferred to date their foundation to the sixth century, stress royal support from the beginning, and present a simplified history. The fourth chapter considers ninth-century polyptyques, "inventories of monastic holdings," "as sources that were originally created to preserve memory" (53) but "deliberately forgotten" three centuries later because they "had lost their usefulness" (62). Later scribes tried to rework something "hardly comprehensible" (55) into something "that would make sense in their own time" (53). Bouchard sees the polyptyques "as tools that continued to be used and added to over the following centuries" (55) that reflect changes occurring during that time, for example, in tenant obligations.

Chapter five moves from high medieval use of Carolingian-era sources to Carolingian-era forgeries. The forgers were "churchmen creating an imaginary past" and "new structures and institutions that would benefit them" (63-64). Forgery in the ninth century was prevalent due to the infrequency of documents. This increased the value of documents and made forgers "hope that their careful creations would carry greater weight" (64). The forgers sought to protect themselves from the Carolingians through memories of past popes and kings. The Le Mans forgeries intended to protect the bishopric's authority and property. The Pseudo-Isidorian decretals aimed to protect bishops from nearby kings and the judgments of fellow bishops by presenting the pope as the "chief representative of God's authority" (82) and making bishops dependent on only this distant authority. Benedict the deacon's forgeries attributed to past Carolingians showed how current Carolingians should behave toward the church by indicating how past Carolingians had acted.

Chapter six shifts from reactions to Carolingian power to the creation of that power. Bouchard characterizes Carolingian-era authors as "publicists" making "deliberate efforts to control how the Carolingians would be remembered" (87). The need for a "campaign of denigration" and lasting reluctance to describe the deposition of the Merovingians suggests concern over whether the Carolingians were right to take the Merovingians' place as king (104). To show that the Carolingians acted rightly, the Merovingians were remembered as "incompetents" and "best forgotten" (98-99). Einhard made the Merovingians appear non-Frankish to validate Carolingian rule by suggesting that now the Franks were ruled by one of their own. To contrast these views, Bouchard gives evidence of respect and preference for the Merovingians during the Carolingian age. Chapter seven further investigates the image of the Carolingians and justification of their seizure of power. Bouchard considers the Carolingian dynasty as "a product of creative memory" (124-5) made through omission of members of the Carolingian family. Around 800, Charlemagne's lineage was presented as a long-established royal dynasty in which power passed smoothly along the male line from father to son. This lineage suggested that Charlemagne's family had always been ideal rulers of the Franks.

Chapter eight challenges the idea that the Carolingians rescued and reformed the church after the negligent Merovingians. Bouchard describes the rise of the Carolingians as "a disaster" for Frankish churches and attributes any need for reform to the Carolingians, not the Merovingians so maligned in Carolingian writings. Ecclesiastical decline coincided with the rise of Carolingian power in the late seventh and early eighth century. Merovingians and Carolingians treated monasteries very differently. Merovingians gave monasteries gifts. Carolingians received gifts, took property from monasteries, and gave gifts only out of guilt. Merovingians protected monasteries by prohibiting outside intervention and Carolingians protected monasteries by intervening themselves, which was "control in the guise of protection" (150). Bishops went from being seen as a threat to monastic life in the Merovingian period to being seen as "suitable protectors of the monastic life" in the Carolingian period (144). Carolingians also departed from Merovingian precedent by granting allies the office of abbot. Bouchard concludes that, despite the work of the "Carolingian publicists" to depict the "kings as excellent Christians," they did not support western monasticism and their taking of church property was more serious than modern scholars generally consider it to be (150). Chapter nine further explores how the Carolingians affected monasteries. Bouchard investigates the "significant, if strangely silent, changes" during the transition from the Merovingians to Carolingians. She considers the "documentary darkness" evidence of "a uniquely terrible time for the monasteries" (168). Along with the Carolingian policies toward monasteries examined in chapter eight, Bouchard suggests that the Carolingians' close relationship with bishops, who replaced monasteries as royal advisors, led to the decline of monasteries. However, the forgeries in chapter five suggest that the bishops may also have felt vulnerable in Carolingian times. Bouchard uses the example of Flavigny to evaluate changes in scribal practice and literacy. In the eighth century, charters indicate that the world "still looks very 'Roman'" with "a legally established system of public power," "many more contemporary charters in existence," and "lay literacy" (157-8). Lay notaries drew up these charters, but the formulary produced around 800 was intended for monks. In the first half of the ninth century, the written word became more important in monasteries and less important for the laity. Monks began drawing up charters themselves and, since they no longer received charters made by lay notaries, could no longer use the earlier charters as models, again underscoring the need for documents to fit present needs.

In chapter ten, Bouchard looks at aristocratic families from the direction of memory. She argues that the aristocrats of the Merovingian era either did not become the wealthy and powerful families of the Carolingian era or did not remember their Merovingian-era origins. The eighth century was a "major discontinuity" in the history of the Frankish aristocracy (179) due to "the broad transformations taking place from antiquity to the Middle Ages" and "a new way of thinking about lineage" (191). Prior to the ninth century, when other families emulated the Carolingian model of lineage examined in chapter seven, only the Merovingians seemed to have tried "to create a memory of the family" (191).

Chapters eleven and twelve move to the pre-Carolingian period and highlight the tendency to imagine the past like the present. Chapter eleven investigates the creation of monastic foundation legends in the seventh century, revisiting a theme addressed in chapter three. Monks simplified the stories of these foundations and presented past monks like contemporary monks living under a rule instead of as the hermits and ascetics of late antiquity. The current practice of foundation charters created the expectation that all monasteries began at a specific time. Exemptions freeing monasteries from bishops, a seventh-century innovation, looked back to Augustine "even if it was necessary to mis-remember what he had actually said" (210). Bouchard again illustrates the quality of Merovingian monasticism by pointing out the effort to make monastic houses in the sixth and seventh centuries follow a rule and Gregory of Tours' memory of the Merovingians supporting "Christianity and the organized church" (207). Chapter twelve considers the memories of martyrs and relics in Gaul. Even though the second half of the sixth century saw an increase in the veneration of local saints' relics, authors at this time indicated that the saints had always been there and there had been no changes in their number or importance, presenting the very different fourth century exactly like the sixth century.

The book has two appendices. The first concerns Burgundian monasteries from their foundation through the twelfth century and supports chapters eight and eleven. This appendix, listed by monastery, provides information (where available) about the founder, foundation date, sources related to the foundation, relationships with lay rulers and other monasteries, and reforms and changes in the form of regular life. The second appendix, supporting chapter eleven, lists the churches in Auxerre, based largely on the Gesta of the bishops of Auxerre, in order of foundation date, which ranges from the fourth through the seventh century. Although the map of early medieval France at the beginning of the book is helpful in understanding the general geography of the entire work, detailed maps locating the monasteries within Burgundy and the churches within Auxerre would have been a great addition to the appendices.

Although unconventional in history books, Bouchard chose to move backward in time "in order to emphasize that my central concern is not particular events but rather the memory of those events" (6). This organization certainly achieves this objective, but some knowledge of the events gained in later chapters would help readers, especially those less familiar with medieval history, understand how memories changed and interpreted the events. For example, it would have been helpful to have chapter nine's fuller explanation of the decline in literacy before reading chapter five's statement about document scarcity motivating the forgers. Even if moving forward in time is disadvantageous because "it would be too easy to make the principal question whether the twelfth century got it right" (6), questioning whether later eras got it right would still encourage one to examine the construction of memory in opposition to the events.

Specialists in European history from late antiquity to the twelfth century will find a wealth of valuable insights in this work, as will anyone, regardless of geographic and chronological specialization, interested in memory and rewriting, the specific genres utilized in this work such as genealogies and hagiographies, and the themes addressed in the work such as rulership and monasticism.

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