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22.01.13 Bouchard, The Cartulary-Chronicle of St-Pierre of Bèze

22.01.13 Bouchard, The Cartulary-Chronicle of St-Pierre of Bèze

St-Pierre de Bèze was what one might term a “medium-weight” monastery situated in central Burgundy. Though not as distinguished as St-Benigne de Dijon 25 kilometers to the south-west, and certainly not as famous as Cluny, or, later, Citeaux, Bèze was nevertheless a house of great antiquity. It was founded in the early to mid-seventh century and features in a handful of Merovingian documents. The highpoint of the monastery came in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries when it had over fifty monks and was the chief focus of donations from the nobility of the Bèze region. Thereafter attention shifted to Citeaux. It was the monk John who composed Bèze’s cartulary-chronicle in the 1120s, that is, at the height of the monastery’s fortunes. Constance Bouchard has provided the first complete modern edition of this fascinating document. It consists of a narrative that runs from the fifth century through to the later eleventh and which is interleaved with the first 188 charters, or notices of charters, in the cartulary. There are in all 331 documents in John’s record.

A nineteenth-century edition of the cartulary of St-Benigne de Dijon had appended the Bèze cartulary but had left out the chronicle element as this was in large part derived from St-Benigne’s own chronicle. Bouchard is quite right to include the Bèze chronicle in tandem with the cartulary for the two are interactive: the chronicle gives context to the charters (which are mostly donations) and the charters serve as pièces justificatives to the narrative. The compiler John says as much, for example when he ends a section on the reign of the emperor Louis the Pious with the statement that at that time Betto, bishop of Langres, gave parts of several estates to the monastery, “as we shall show here.” The relevant charters follow before the narrative resumes. The early narrative is ultimately derived from the Histories of Gregory of Tours, the Chronicle of Fredegar and its Continuations, The Royal Frankish Annals and Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, all through the medium of the St-Benigne chronicle. It is hard to identify later sources and, frankly, Bouchard’s edition does not make this easy. Where the St-Benigne chronicle dealt with matters pertaining to that monastery alone, John skipped sections. Conversely, he added material of particular interest to Bèze.

As a general observation, it is striking that Bèze could engineer a memory that stretched back into the fifth century. That is also to say that the early Frankish sources were full enough for Bèze, or, rather, St-Benigne de Dijon. to extract sufficient material to fashion a Burgundian regional history. Incidentally, this facility underlines the extent to which the Chronicle of Fredegar has a Burgundian focus. The chronicle also indicates that the coronation of Charlemagne as emperor was of little interest to this twelfth-century Burgundian. What the documented narrative shows overall is the way in which Bèze apparently flourished under the Merovingians, then got knocked back no fewer than five times, first by Carolingian secularisation and then by various invasions, before being effectively re-founded in the tenth century and eventually making a full recovery. The monastery’s lowest point came in the later eighth century when Remigius, a son of Charles Martel and bishop of Langres, gave it to a woman called Angla. The monks left in disgust, and Angla helped herself to the monastery’s properties. This comes in a section added by John to the St-Benigne chronicle and appears to be entirely fictional. Bouchard, alas, does not investigate further.

The narrative arc is one that will be familiar to readers of Bouchard’s earlier work Rewriting Saints and Ancestors. Memory and forgetting in in France, 500-1200 (Philadelphia, 2015). The history constructed by John is included in that work’s argument, namely, that contrary to traditional interpretations, the Carolingian rulers of Francia inherited a blooming monasticism to which they did massive damage. Such bold and original assertion is entirely absent from this edition which more or less just lays down the text for others to interpret, for Bouchard’s edition has but 17 pages of an Introduction in English, followed by 359 pages of Latin text, with minimal notes. To a large extent this is fair enough, for the work is, after all, a Latin edition. Not framing it within a commentary on historical contexts and document content has the advantage of allowing the reader to approach the documents without expectations. Monastic records from eleventh- and twelfth-century Burgundy have certainly featured strongly in debates about structural change in post-Carolingian society, and documents have been scoured for information about judicial institutions. When the documents are simply laid before us, these issues do not jump out at the reader, and one wonders whether they ever had the importance accorded to them in twentieth-century historiography.

On the other hand, this reader at least would have appreciated more guidance though the texts. In particular, it is not clear where the sources are coming from once the narrative moves beyond the Carolingian Annals. Sometimes where the charter content is very unusual, this is not commented on. In charter number 15, for instance, five serfs were said to have been bought (the verb is emere). Can this really have happened? Gifts to the monastery in fact very often concern serfs. If they were widely scattered over the region, as seems to be the case, how were Bèze’s resources organized? There may be no answers in this cartulary, but these are important questions to ask. Making any interrogation more difficult is the fact that Bouchard’s edition has a rather short bibliography with a limited range of secondary works. It does have an index that is good on people who appear the charters (which is the editor’s forte), but only the charters are indexed which makes the narrative harder to navigate. The topic index, moreover, is decidedly thin (less than two pages long) and it is in English. This is unfortunate as Latin terminology is the key to debates about structural change in the period. Although it is refreshing to see the documents presented without reference to those rather tired debates, a fuller commentary on the collection would have made the edition more useful. Constance Bouchard is nevertheless to be commended for furnishing a critical edition of a work long regarded as without historical value. She certainly proves otherwise, and provides a wealth of material that will be of great interest to scholars over the next generation.