Fredegar


Fredegar
(fl. c. 642)
   Name associated with an anonymous Burgundian chronicler of the mid-seventh century, who is the most important source for Frankish history after Gregory of Tours. The chronicle attributed to Fredegar, traditionally divided into four books, is a composite of various other sources, including Gregory's history, compiled by as many as three authors. Most scholars, however, detect only two authors at work. The important and original section of the work is the fourth book, which chronicles events from 591 to 642. It thus provides important information on the Merovingian kings of the early seventh century as well as on the formative period of the Carolingian family. Sometime in the eighth century Fredegar's chronicle was taken up by another anonymous author, who continued the history to 768, the first year of the reign of Charlemagne.
   Little is known of the author or authors of the work, and the name Fredegar is associated with manuscripts of the work only in the sixteenth century. From evidence in his chronicle, however, it is possible to suggest that Fredegar, or at least the author of the new material on the seventh century, was a Burgundian layman of some standing who was active in the 640s and may have died around 660. He clearly had access to royal archives and to ambassadors from Lombard, Visigoth, and Slavic lands. He also had access to church archives, even though his focus was not that of a cleric. His Latin, in Wallace-Hadrill's words, was "highly individual," and other commentators have said much worse. But the chronicle, especially the fourth book, remains a most important source of information for a pivotal point in Frankish history.
   The work itself is mostly derivative, with the exception of the original fourth book. The first three books, or five chronicles depending upon the arrangement of the text, are drawn from a number of earlier chroniclers and historians, with occasional editorial remarks and interpolations by the chronicler. Fredegar included works of St. Jerome, Isidore of Seville, and Gregory of Tours, and other Frankish chroniclers, among others. The fourth book, or sixth chronicle, is Fredegar's own and shows a remarkable knowledge not only of Frankish political life, but also of affairs in the Byzantine Empire. Although haphazardly organized and not written on an annual basis as the chronicle format would suggest, the work nonetheless captures a vital moment in the history of the Merovingian dynasty. Fredegar's chronicle begins with the last years of Queen Brunhilde, whom Fredegar clearly dislikes; he must have recorded her grisly demise with some pleasure. His great heroes were Chlotar II, who overthrew Brunhilde, and his son Dagobert I, and it is thanks to Fredegar that we know a good deal about their reigns. It is also in the fourth book of Fredegar's chronicle that the famous legend of Frankish origins appears. According to Fredegar, the Franks were of Trojan origin, a legend that became very popular among the Franks and was probably well known in learned circles in Fredegar's time.
   The work was continued in the eighth century, taking up where Fredegar left off and chronicling Frankish affairs in the early years of the Carolingian dynasty, and in the ninth century it became increasingly popular. It remains one of the most important sources of the history of the Frankish kingdoms in the seventh century.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Laistner, Max L. W. Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University Press, 1993.
 ♦ Wallace-Hadrill, John M., ed. and trans. The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar with Its Continuations. London: Nelson, 1960.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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