Liber Historiae Francorum

Liber historiae Francorum (English: The book of the history of the Franks) is an anonymous 8th century chronicle. The first sections are a secondary source for early Franks in the time of Marcomer, giving a short breviarum of events until the time of the late Merovingians. The subsequent sections of the chronicle are an important primary source for the contemporaneous history and provide an account of the Pippinid family in Austrasia before they became the more famous "Carolingians".

The text's modern editor, Richard Gerberding, who vindicates the coherence and accuracy of its account,[1] gives reasons for locating the anonymous author in Soissons, probably in the royal monastery of Saint-Médard and characterizes him as "Neustrian, a staunch Merovingian legitimist, secular as opposed to ecclesiastically minded, and an enthusiastic admirer and probably a member of that aristocratic class based on the Seine-Oise valley whose deeds, wars and kings he describes".[2] Liber historiae Francorum is customarily dated to 727 because of a reference at the end to the sixth year of Theuderic IV.[3] It offers a Neustrian perspective of the era of mayors of the palace, where the factions of the great territorial magnates could only be held in check and balanced by the consecrated legitimacy of the Merovingian king. Liber Historiae Francorum has been explored and interpreted by Richard Gerberding and more recently by Rosamond McKitterick in History and Memory in the Carolingian World.[4] As a widely read narrative, it helped inculcate a sense of cultural solidarity among the readership for whom it was intended, and whose biases it caters to and whose political agenda it promotes.

As for that agenda, Fouracre and Gerberding (1996) show that the book supports the kings of the Merovingian dynasty only insofar as they rule with the consultation of the major nobles. The nobles, in turn, are supported only insofar as they do not aspire above their station.[5]

It is one of a corpus of new books of history written in the 8th century, and copied and widely distributed in the 9th, which offered their readers (and listeners) a deep background that set the Franks only distantly in the context of the Roman Empire (the Roman Empire is virtually ignored) and more immediately in the Christian Gallo-Roman world.

From the outset, the book promises to present the origins and deeds of the Frankish kings and people. It tells that the Franks originated with a group of Trojan refugees who found themselves on the north coast of the Black Sea and thence made their way across the Danubian plain to the Rhineland; in this, it relies heavily upon the Gallo-Roman bishop and historian Gregory of Tours (died 594), whose history it epitomizes, occasionally corrects[6] and parallels. The last eleven chapters, 43-53 in Bruno Krusch's edition, present an independent account of events in the Frankish lands in the 7th and early 8th centuries and attract historians' interest, as they cover ground not lighted by any other source.

Chapter 43 begins with the attempted usurpation of Austrasia by the Pippinid mayor Grimoald the Elder, which it treats in summary form. It ends with Grimoald's death by torture under Clovis II who ruled the Pippinids' rival state Neustria. This is what Chapter 44 has to say about Clovis following that:

At the same time he brought ruin to the kingdom of the Franks with disastrous calamities. This Clovis, moreover, had every kind of filthy habit. He was a seducer and a debaser of women, a glutton and a drunk. About his death and end nothing of historical worth may be said. Many writers condemn his end because they do not know the extent of his evil. Thus in uncertainty concerning it they refer from one to another.[7]

The rest of this chapter and the beginning of the next chapter stretch between Clovis's death, usually dated to the late 650s, and the accession of Theuderic III, usually dated to 673: a four-year reign of "the boy king Chlotar".

Chapters 45ff, as Ursinus the Abbot had done, provide a hostile account of mayor Ebroin of Neustria. In contrast to the description of Clovis II quoted above, the author has nothing but praise for Childebert III, "a famous man," whom he describes as "the glorious lord of good memory Childebert, the just king."[8] The closing chapters mainly cover Charles Martel.

Liber historiae Francorum became a primary source for the Continuations to Fredegar's Chronicle, as redacted by Count Childebrand in 751 on behalf of his half-brother, Charles Martel.


  1. Bruno Krusch (1888) discounted the credibility of Liber Historiae Francorum.
  2. Gerberding 1987, p. 146.
  3. Gerberding 1987.
  4. McKitterick 2005.
  5. Fouracre & Gerberding 1996.
  6. Based on the text's additions to Gregory of Tours, Gerberding supports the reassignment of the site of Clovis' famous victory over the Visigoths from Vouillé to Voulon.
  7. Bachrach 1973, p. 102.
  8. Krusch 1888, pp. 323-324.


Further reading

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