Sunday, 29 March 2009

Chapter 1

How valiant he was in youth, and with what energy he repelled the king of the English, William Rufus, when he attacked Louis’ inherited kingdom

The glorious and famous king of the French Louis was the son of the magnificent king Philip.[1] In the first flower of his youth, barely then twelve or thirteen years old[2], he was elegant and handsome, admirable for his development of moral character and for the growth of a well-made body that had the potential for a swift and honourable expansion of his kingdom in the future and this encouraged great confidence that he would defend the churches and the poor. This noble youth, in accordance with the ancient custom of Charlemagne and other great kings testified by imperial charters, tied himself to the saintly martyrs and their servants at St.-Denis as if from a naturally sweet disposition. His long-standing friendship with their church was formed in his youth and lasted throughout his whole life, displaying great liberality and reverence. So much so that, at the end of his life, he placed his hope in them second only to God, and gave himself up to them, body and soul, with devotion and deliberation, so that, had it been possible, he would have become a monk there.[3]

In his formative years, growing courage matured his spirit with youthful vigour, making him bored with hunting and the boyish games that others of his age used to enjoy and forget the pursuit of arms. And when he was troubled by the attacks of many great men of the kingdom and of the outstanding and magnanimous king of the English William[4], son of the even more magnanimous king William the conqueror of the English, his stout heart soared at the chance to prove himself, his courage smiled at the test, he banished apathy, opened the gates to prudence, put an end to leisure and increased his concern. William king of the English was skilled in military arts, greedy for praise and eager for fame.[5] After his elder brother Robert[6] was disinherited, he was fortunate to succeed his father William. Then, after Robert’s departure for Jerusalem[7], he obtained the duchy of Normandy. There he put so much pressure on the Norman frontiers of the French kingdom[8] that whenever he could he forced the renowned young prince to fight.

While they fought, similarities and differences between them came to light. They were alike in that neither would yield. They were dissimilar in that one was a mature man, the other a youth. William was rich, wasteful with the treasures of England, a brilliant recruiter and paymaster of soldiers. Louis lacked money, sparing in using the treasures of his inherited kingdom, only getting an army together by hard work, yet prepared boldly to oppose.[9] You might have seen this young man dashing across the frontiers into Berry, then into the Auvergne, now into Burgundy, with a handful of men, and returning just as quickly to the Vexin[10], if he judged it necessary to confront with his three or five hundred men King William with his thousand.[11] The vicissitudes of war are uncertain and sometimes he yielded, sometimes he put his enemy to flight.[12]

In these encounters[13] many captives were taken on both sides. The famous youth and his men captured among many others, the count Simon[14], the noble baron William de l’Aigle[15], an equally illustrious figure in England and in Normandy, Pain of Gisors, for whose benefit the castle of Gisors was fortified for the first time; and on the other side, the king of England captured the bold and noble count Matthew of Beaumont[16], the illustrious and renowned baron Simon de Montfort[17], and Lord Pain of Montjay.[18] But while concerns about hiring soldiers[19] ensured the swift release of those from England, the rigours of a very long captivity weakened the French. They could not escape their chains by any means until they made homage to the English king, joined his service and promised on oath to attack and disturb their own king and his kingdom.[20]


[1] Fliche, A., La Règne de Philippe I, roi de France 1060-1108, Paris 1912 is the standard text while Gobry, Yvan, Histoire des Rois de France: Philippe Ier, père de Louis VI Le Gros, Paris, 2003, 2007 is the most recent study.

[2] Historians disagree about when Louis was born and there is a case for either 1077-1078 or 1081-1082: Calmette, Joseph, ‘L’âge de Louis VI’, Orientalia periodica, vol. xiii, (1947), pp. 36-39. Luchaire, Achille, Louis VI le Gros: Annales de son vie et de son règne, Paris, 1890, p. 289 gave excellent reasons in favour of 1081 and ibid, Fliche, A., La Règne de Philippe I, roi de France 1060-1108, p. 39 agreed. Suger’s account of the life of Louis begins in 1093-1094.

[3] Louis VI’s birth is the first occasion where a story about the birth of a Capetian heir has survived. Bertha of Flanders had long been barren when the king, both personally and through others, begged St Arnulf, about of Saint-Médard to intercede with God ‘that He be willing to give him a son as successor for the safeguard of the kingdom and the defence of the Holy Church’. Initially the abbot refused but later agreed telling the queen to care for the poor. Some time later, he told a monk to go to the queen: ‘And you will announce to her the wished-for joy, for she is bearing in her womb a son, whom at the holy font she shall name Louis and who after his father’s death will hold the kingdom of the French.’ The saint spoke from revelation: not until five days after she received the message did the queen feel the child move in her. The tale is found in a saint’s vita that was finished in 1114: Hariulf ‘Vita S, Arnulfi episcopi Suessionensis’, Patrologia Latina, 1399: columns 1405-1406. Before 1114, Louis VI was believed by some not only to have been born heir to the throne but that his birth was accompanied by some miraculous elements. The religious significance of the legend reinforces the support shown before 1088 by the monks of St. Riquet in Ponthieu for the legend of St Valéry’s appearance to Hugh Capet and had changed it so that it was now St Riquet who had promised the throne to Hugh and seven generations of his descendents. The tale spread widely in north-east France and Normandy perhaps because of rivalry between the monks of St Valéry and those of St Riquet on behalf of their respective saints. The legend is based on the premise that the Capetians became rulers of France because God recognised their merits and is antithetical to the formula that based their legitimacy on Carolingian descent: Lewis, Andrew W., Royal Succession in Capetian France, Cambridge, Mass., 1981, pp. 49-50.

[4] William II, generally know as ‘Rufus’ reigned from September 1087 until August 1100. Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, revised edition, (Yale University Press), 2000 is the most accessible study of his life. Suger’s comments about William Rufus were far more positive than most contemporary writers in part the result of his having given land to St-Denis and by emphasising William’s merits he could explain the young Louis’ lack of success against him.

[5] Suger’s attitude to William Rufus is set in its historiographical context by Callaghan, Thomas, ‘The Making of a Monster: Historical Images of William Rufus’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. vii, (1981), pp. 175-185 especially p. 180 and Mason, Emma, ‘William Rufus and the Historians’, Medieval History, vol. I, (1991), pp. 6-22.

[6] Robert Curthose was William the Conqueror’s eldest son and inherited the duchy of Normandy and county of Maine on his father’s death in 1087: David, C.W., Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, Cambridge, Mass., 1920 remains useful but Aird, William M., Robert ‘Curthose’, Duke of Normandy, (Boydall Press), 2008 places a more positive evaluation of his achievements than the majority of medieval sources arguing that this negative image has adversely influenced modern interpretations of his career.

[7] Robert Curthose went on the First Crusade in 1096 and pledged his duchy to William Rufus for a loan of 10,000 marks of silver he needed for the enterprise. When Rufus took possession of the duchy in September 1096, the Conqueror’s inheritance was effectively reconstructed even if he was never duke en titre.

[8] In this sense, Suger use of the term ‘realm’ (‘regnum’) creates problems of definition. In this instance, Suger is referring to the royal principality of largely the Ile-de-France. On the ambiguity of the term and its possible meanings, see Wood, Charles T,. ‘Regnum Francie: A Problem of Capetian Administrative Usage’, Traditio, vol. xxiii, (1967), pp. 117-147.

[9] The idea that England was far richer than France came from the words that Walter Map attributed to Louis VI, words he claimed he heard the king say: ‘The king of England, who lacks nothing, possesses men, horses, gold and soil…We, in France have only got bread, wine and a good mood’: De nugis curialium, in Monumenta Germaniae, Scriptores, vol. xxvii, p. 73.

[10] There is a useful map of the French Vexin in ibid, Barlow, Frank, William Rufus, p. 377. It lies either side of the River Seine from Rouen down towards Paris. There was an alleged grant of the Vexin to duke Robert I of Normandy in 1033 and ducal influence over the area remained strong until 1077 when the last Valois count, Simon of Crépy abdicated in order to become a monk. Philip I then enfeoffed his younger brother, Hugh the Great with Vermandois and Crépy but kept the French Vexin under his own protection because of its strategic importance. The area proved to be one of persistent conflict between successive English and French kings; it was in making a raid on Mantes in the Vexin that William I was fatally wounded in 1087.

[11] In 1092, Louis was invested with the Vexin and the towns of Mantes and Pontoise, Philip I’s acquisitions from the succession to Simon de Crépy: Ibid, Fliche, A., La Règne de Philippe I, roi de France 1060-1108, p. 79. It is his spirited defence of his apanage that is described by Abbot Suger.

[12] Suger’s account of the Vexin wars is generalised and he gives Louis a far more dominating role than Orderic Vitalis. However, it has been suggested by ibid, Luchaire, Achille, Louis VI le Gros: Annales de son vie et de son règne, pp. xv-xxiii that Suger described only the war of 1097-1098 and omitted that of 1098-1099 because Louis had quarrelled with his father and was no longer in command. However, two of the French losses mentioned, Simon de Montfort and Matthew de Beaumont-sur-Oise are more likely to have occurred in the second rather than the first part of the campaign. Louis was knighted by Guy I, count of Ponthieu on 24th May 1098 against the wishes of Philip and the Betrada of Montfort faction and Louis took refuge in Flanders to escape his father’s anger. Suger had every reason to blur the story of the war.

[13] The Vexin wars of 1097-1098 and 1098-1099 are only examined in any detail by Orderic Vitalis, vol. v, 212 ff. They are completely omitted by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and so from all the English histories that relied on the Chronicle. Orderic’s interest in the war may, in part have been motivated by the fact that his abbey of St Evroult had a special interest in the Vexin in which it had two dependent priories: one at Maule south of Meulan and the other north of Parnes, near Chaumont. Suger’s account is, by contrast, brief and lacking in detail.

[14] Simon de St Liz had married the daughter of Earl Waltheof and became count of Huntingdon and Northampton.

[15] William, de l’Aigle was the son of Richer I, lord of Laigle and had several castles in England. He was married to Julienne (born c.1070), a daughter of the Geoffrey II court of Perche (c.1033-1100) in 1091. He should not be confused with William de L’Aigle, his paternal uncle, lord of the manor of Exmes, who was killed in February 1092.

[16] Beaumont-sur-Oise is in Seine-et-Oise and in the canton de L'Isle-Adam. Matthew was the son of count Ivo III, known as ‘the Clerk’ who probably died in 1081. One of his sisters, Agnes was married to Bouchard IV de Montmorency. On the subject of the succession to Ivo ‘the Clerk’, see Depoin, J., ‘Les comtes de Beaumont-sur-Oise et le prieuré de Conflans Sainte-Honorine’, in Les Mémoires de la Société historique ... de Pontoise et du Vexin, vol. xxxiii, (1915), pp. 31-33.

[17] Suger mentions the capture by the English of Simon de Montfort. In his edition, Waquet identifies him with Simon II the Younger but Marjorie Chibnall in her edition of Orderic Vitalis makes him Simon I the Elder. There is some confusion here and it is possible that Suger’s Simon de Montfort is a mistake for Amaury II, his half-brother. Simon II ‘the Young’ was the second son of the third marriage of Simon I. He was succeeded in 1092 by his son Richard but he died without heirs before 1101. See Rhein, A, .La seigneurie de Montfort-en-Iveline, Versailles, 1910, pp. 36-50.

[18] The correct name for Pain was Aubri. He was in the entourage of Philip I and Louis VI from 1090 to 1122: ibid, Luchaire, Louis VI le Gros, Annales de son vie et de son règne, n° 2 and 319. Montjay-la-Tour is about fifteen miles north-east of Paris.

[19] Both sides hired mercenaries for these campaigns and Orderic Vitalis shows that only two of the major leaders in William’s army had significant English interests.

[20] In the winter of 1097-1098, William did little more than reconnoitre and lay the foundations of a castle at Gisor though Orderic Vitalis mentioned skirmishing in this area. In February 1098, William abandoned the Vexin war to deal with problems in Maine, leading to its conquest and war in the Vexin was not restarted until September. In the spring of 1099, William made a truce with the French and returned to England

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Prologue

To the most reverend Josselin lord bishop of Soissons[1], Suger by the patience of God abbot of the blessed St. Denis[2] the Areopagite[3], servant of God as best he can be, hoping to be united with the bishop of bishops.[4]

We should submit ourselves and our works for the consideration and judgement of those by whom, on the day of judgement the sentence of love or hate will be pronounced according to deserts, when ‘the noble man shall sit in the gates with the senators of this earth.’[5] Therefore, best of men, even had you not occupied the episcopal throne, to which I am wholly devoted as you are yourself. I could say no more of you than that you asked of me. That is why I am sending for your approval and wisdom the deeds of the most serene Louis, King of the French. Thus, because he showed himself the most generous of lords in promoting us and also when we had been promoted, both I in writing and you in correcting may equally praise the man whom we have equally loved and whose death we equally mourn. For friendship, even when it is born of benefits received, puts no barriers in the way of love, since He who ordered us to love our enemies did not prevent us loving our friends. So in payment of a double debt of gratitude and love, unequal but not irreconcilable, let us build him ‘a monument more lasting than bronze.’[6] So with my pen, I describe his devotion to the worship of God by the church and his passion for the good of the kingdom, which ought not fade from men’s memory with the passage of time; nor should the zealous prayers of the interceding church cease from generation to generation, because of the great benefits it received from him.

May your highness occupy happily your episcopal throne among the senators of the sky.


[1] Josselin de Quierzy (or Vierzy) (-1152), surnamed ‘the Red’ was archdeacon of Bourges and then bishop of Soissons. He was elected bishop of Soissons in 1126 and died on 24th October 1152. He was a friend of Suger and owed his advancement to Louis VI. The letters of St Bernard suggest that Josselin and Sugar cooperated in affairs of state and in 1129-30 Josselin was one of the bishops who supported the claims of St-Denis over the house of Argeneuil.

[2] St Denis was bishop of Paris and martyr. Nothing is known of his birth or his early life, other than he came from Italy. His feast is kept on 9th October. He is usually represented with his head in his hands because according to the legend after his execution the corpse rose again and carried the head for some distance. While still very young, he was distinguished for his virtuous life, knowledge of sacred things and firm faith and Pope Fabian (236-250) sent him with some other missionary bishops to Gaul. The Church of Gaul had suffered terribly under the persecution of the Emperor Decius and the bishops were to try to restore it to its former flourishing condition. Denis with his inseparable companions, the priest Rusticus and the deacon Eleutherius, arrived near the present city of Paris and settled on the island in the Seine. The earliest document that gives an account of his labours and of his martyrdom is Passio SS. Dionsyii, Rustici et Eleutherii. It dates from the end of the sixth or the beginning of the seventh century and wrongly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus. It is interwoven with much legend, from which, however, the following facts can be gleaned. On the island in the Seine Denis built a church and provided for a regular solemnisation of the Divine service. His fearless preaching led to countless conversions. This aroused the envy, anger and hatred of the heathen priests. They incited the populace against the strangers and persuaded the governor Fescenninus Sisinnius to put a stop to the new teaching by force. Denis with his two companions were seized and as they maintained their faith were beheaded (about 275) after many tortures. Later accounts give a detailed description of their sufferings. They were scourged, imprisoned, racked, thrown to wild beasts, burnt at the stake, and finally beheaded. Gregory of Tours stated ‘Beatus Dionysius Parisiorum episcopus diversis pro Christi nomine adfectus poenis praesentem vitam gladio immente finivit’ (Historia Francorum I: 30). The bodies of the three holy martyrs were buried through the efforts of a pious matron named Catulla and a small shrine was erected over their graves. This was later on replaced by a basilica. From the reign of King Dagobert I (622-638), the church and the Benedictine monastery attached to it were more and more beautifully decorated. The veneration of St. Denis became by degrees a national devotion, rulers and princes vying with one another to promote it

[3] The abbey of St-Denis owed a great deal of its status to a curious process by which three different people had come to be seen as one person. In Acts 17: 34, St Paul numbered among one of his converts in Athens one St Dionysius (French Denis) the ‘Areopagite’, later bishop of Athens. In the third century, a second Dionysius, who seems to have been bishop of Paris was martyred. Finally, in the early sixth century, an eastern author of texts on themes like the unknowability of God and the hierarchy of angels added the name Dionysius the Areopagite to his work. The identification of St. Denis of Paris with St. Dionysius the Areopagite and with the Pseudo-Dionysius, the composer of the Areopagitic writings persisted throughout the Middle Ages. The combining of these three persons in one occurred as early as the eighth or perhaps the seventh century, but it was only through the Areopagitica written in 836 by Hilduin, Abbot of Saint-Denis, at the request of Louis the Pious, that this serious error took deep root: see Levillain, L., ‘Etudes sur l’abbaye de Saint-Denis a l’epoque merovingienne’, in Bibliotheque a l’Ecole des Chartes, vol. lxxxii, (1902), pp. 31-36. When Suger thought of the patron saint of his abbey, he viewed a particularly impressive figure: an individual who had direct contact with St Paul and the author of important theological works and who had been martyred for the faith. St-Denis had benefited from royal patronage since the Merovingian period and various Merovingian, Carolingian and Capetian monarchs were buried there. By the twelfth century many people felt that the blessed Dionysius was in some ways patron saint of France and that the abbey had special ties with the French monarchy. It is not surprising that when Peter Abelard denied the claims of the monks that their patron was the Areopagite in the 1120s that he was regarded as ‘a traitor to the whole country’. For the linkage between St-Denis and the French monarchy, see: Crosby, S.M., The Royal Abbey of St Denis: From Its Beginnings to the Death of Suger 475-1151, New Haven, 1987 and Spiegel, Gabrielle M,. ‘The Cult of Saint Denis and Capetian Kingship’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. i, (1975), pp. 43-70, reprinted in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, pp. 138-162. Beaune, Colette, Naissance de la nation France, Paris, 1985, pp. 83-90 examines the cult of the blessed Dionysius before Suger.

[4] ‘Bishop of bishops’ refers to Christ: see Thesaurus Linguae Latinae 5/2 678, 72-75 for applications of the term ‘episcopus episcoporum’ to Christ among the Church Fathers.

[5] Proverbs XXXI, 23.

[6] Horace, Odes III, 30, v 1.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The translation

The Vita Ludovici, like the vast majority of texts written before the age of the printing press, survives in a fairly large number of manuscripts, all of which differ from one another in a variety of ways, but most of which were copied during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when the text was most popular. This translation uses Manuscripts A-H. I have used a translation made by Jean Dunbabin as the basis for this work though I have checked the Latin texts of Molinier and Waquet, three French translations and the one translation published in English making alterations to improve both their accuracy and readability. The annotations are grounded in Henri Waquet’s edition and translation though I have substantially extended them.

I decided not to ‘re’ construct and translate ‘the’ text as it hypothetically left the pen of its author, but to make available ‘a’ text of Suger’s history that was actually read, or which (at least) was actually present in someone’s library collection. This translation is my own attempt at a ‘critical edition’, that is yet another composite version of the various manuscripts. However, the version presented here is the result of my becoming increasingly persuaded that ‘editions’ of medieval texts can only be, at best, misleading.

I was first introduced to the debate over the value of so-called ‘critical editions’ approximately fifteen years ago, when I read an article by Leonard Boyle. Boyle argued that despite the enormous difficulty inherent in any attempt to ‘re-create’ the ‘original’ version of a pre printing-era text as it left the pen of its author, if the editor were careful and painstaking enough, taking into account every possible clue offered by the various manuscript witnesses, he could succeed. At the time I was persuaded by his arguments and it was under the influence of his call for scrupulous transcriptions that I began my own attempt to establish ‘the’ translation of Suger’s narrative. However, Boyle’s arguments soon came to appear, to my mind, completely beside the point. It now seems irrelevant whether we can or cannot re-construct accurately the version of a text produced by a given author at a particular moment. If we succeed, we will still only offer to our readers a text that probably no one ever saw; if, as is more likely, we fail, we offer to our readers a text that no one ever saw, a figment of our own imaginations. Some of the more radical participants in recent literary-critical debates have attacked the very idea of an author for pre-printing-era texts.[1] I do not deny the importance of the person of Abbot Suger, but I do insist that we shift our focus, when dealing with pre-1450 texts, away from the ‘modern’ construct of the edition and towards the pre-‘modern’ concrete reality of the manuscript.[2]

Unfortunately, my courage has sometimes failed me. I made concessions and compromises and have, in a number of ways, sacrificed ‘authenticity’ for ‘readability’. The chapter divisions, sentence divisions and intra-sentence punctuation of the translation are largely those of Manuscript A. Paragraph structure can play a large role in determining meaning, in determining how a given text is read. It is important to keep in mind the artificiality of the breaks in the translation. Also, neither Arabic numerals in general nor the convention of citing texts by numerical indicators, both of which are standard features of ‘modern’ scholarship have any relevance to medieval France around the year 1140. Finally, twelfth-century Latin scribes rarely capitalised anything. Therefore, the vast majority of capitalised words which do not begin new sentences (most significantly words referring to the God of the Christians) are concessions to ‘modern’ conventions. The result is a modified version of the manuscripts of the Vita Ludovici representing a compromise of the ‘text’ and the need for its ‘translation’.


[1] For instance, Masters, Bernadette A., Esthétique et manuscripture. Le 'Moulin à paroles' au moyen âge, Heidelberg, 1992; note, however, that Masters does not merely attack the idea of an author so much as she proposes a completely new way to conceptualise the pre-’modern’ author as a collective person.

[2] A recent example of this approach is Gehrke, Pamela, Saints and Scribes: Medieval Hagiography in its Manuscript Context, Berkeley, 1994.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Bibliography: 2

The growing importance of the history of art 1950-2000

The period since 1950 has seen a major and often important increase in studies on the history of art. Of particular significance is the work of E. Panofsky especially his Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis and its Art Treasures, 2nd ed., Princeton, 1976 containing an excellent bibliography and the papers from the symposium on Suger held in New York in 1981 and published as P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986. Unlike the previous two sections, the material below is alphabetical.

Baldwin, J., The Government of Philip Augustus, Berkeley, 1986, has some useful things to say about Louis VI and Suger.

Barroux, R., ‘L’ abbé Suger et la vassalité du Vexin en 1124’, Le Moyen Age, vol. lxiv, (1958), pp. 1-26.

Bautier, R. H., ‘Paris au temps d’Abélard’, Abélard en son temps, Paris, 1981, pp. 21-77; the papers from an important international colloque.

Beaune, C., Naissance de la nation France, Paris, 1985, published in English as The Birth of an Ideology: Myths and Symbols of Nation in Late-Medieval France, University of California, 1991.

Bedos Rezak, B., ‘Suger and the symbolism of royal power: the seal of Louis VII’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 95-103.

Benson, R. L. and Constable, G., (eds.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century, Oxford, 1982.

Benton, J. F. ‘Suger’s life and personality’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 3-15.

Bony, J., French Gothic Architecture, California University Press, 1983.

Bourderon R. and Peretti, P. de, Histoire de Saint-Denis, Toulouse, 1988.

Bournazel, E., ‘Suger and the Capetians’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 55-72.

Bournazel, E., Le Gouvernement capétien au XIIe siecle, 1108-1180: Structures sociales et mutations institutionelles, Paris, 1975.

Bournazel, E., Louis VI Le Gros, Fayard, 2007, now the leading biography.

Bur, M., ‘A note on Suger’s understanding of political power’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 73-75.

Bur, M., Suger Abbé de Saint-Denis Régent de France, Paris, 1991.

Caviness, M. H., ‘Suger’s glass at Saint-Denis: The state of research’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 257-272.

Clark, N. W., ‘Suger’s church at Saint-Denis: The state of research’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 105-130.

Constable, G., ‘Suger’s monastic administration’, P.L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 17-32.

Crosby, S., The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis from Its Beginning to the Death of Suger, 475-1151, Yale Publications in the History of Art, two vol.s, 1987.

Crosby, S., Hayward, J., Little, C., and Wixom, W. D., The Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis in the Time of Abbot Suger, New York, 1981, a catalogue for an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum.

Dufour, J., Recueil des Actes de Louis VI, rois de France (1108-1137), four vols. Paris, 1992-1994 a definitive study of the acts of Louis VI complementing and yet superceding A. Luchaire Louis VI le Gros. Annales de sa vie et son règne, Paris, 1890. The acts are in vols. 1 and 2, the introduction is vol. 3 and an index is in vol. 4.

Formige, J., L’Abbaye royale de Saint-Denis. Recherches nouvelles, Paris, 1960.

Gerson, P.L., ‘Suger as iconographer: The central portal of the west façade of the abbey church of Saint-Denis’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 183-198.

Gobry, Ivan, Louis VI, père de Louis VII, Pygmalion, 2003, 2007, a straightforward narrative.

Grant, Linda, ‘Suger and the Anglo-Norman world’, Anglo-Norman Studies, vol. 19, (1997), pp. 51-68.

Grant, Linda, Abbot Suger of St-Denis: Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France, London, 1998, the most readily available study in English.

Grodecki, L., ‘Abélard et Suger’, Le Moyen Age retrouvé de l’an Mil a l’an 1200, Paris, 1986, pp. 217-222.

Grodecki, L., ‘Les vitreux de Saint-Denis, étude sur le vitrail au XIIe siècle’, Corpus vitrearum Medii Aevi, Paris, 1976, pp. 93-103.

Grosse Rolf, Saint-Denis zwischen Adel und König. Die Zeit vor Suger (1053- 1122), Sigmaringen, Thorbecke, 2002.

Hanning, R. W., ‘Suger’s literary style and vision’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 145-150.

Lemarignier, J. F., Le gouvernement royal aux premier temps capetiens 987-1108, Paris, 1965

Leroy, Y., ‘La chronique de Morigny et le scare de Louis VII’, Revue historique de droit français et étranger, vol. 4, (1987), pp. 527-544.

Leroy, Y., Le Tresor de Saint-Denis, Paris, 1991, catalogue for an exhibition at the Louvre.

Lewis, A. W., ‘Suger’s views of kingship’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 49-54.

Lombard-Jourdan, A., ‘Les foires de l’abbaye de Saint-Denis’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. cxlv, (1987), pp. 273-338.

Maines, C., ‘Good works, social ties and the hope for salvation’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 77-94.

Nebbia Dalla Garda, A., La Bibliothèque de l’abbaye de Saint-Denis en France du IXe au XVIIIe siecle, Paris, 1985.

Pacaut, M., Louis VII et son royaume, Paris, 1964.

Prou, M., Recueil des Actes de Philippe I, roi de Frances (1059-1108), Paris, 1908 covers the acts of Louis VI’s father.

Quesnay-Adams, J du, ‘The influence of Lucan on the political attitude of Suger of Saint-Denis’, Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Western Society for French History, vol. xii, (1984), pp. 1-11.

Quesnay-Adams, J du, ‘The Regnum Francie of Suger of Saint-Denis: An Expansive Ile-de-France’, Historical Reflexions, vol. xix, (1993), pp. 167-188.

Rasmussen, N. K., ‘The liturgy of Saint-Denis: a preliminary study’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 41-47.

Rockwell, A., Glass, Stones and Crown: The Abbé Suger and the Building of Saint-Denis, New York, 1968.

Rorem Paul, Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works, Paulist Press 1987.

Rorem Paul, Pseudo-Dionysius: A Commentary on the Texts and an Introduction to their Influence, Oxford University Press. 1993.

Rudolph, C., Artistic Change at Saint-Denis: Abbot Suger’s Program and the Early Twelfth Century Controversy over Art, Princeton, 1990.

Spiegel, G., ‘History as enlightenment: Suger and the mos anagogicus’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 151-158.

Thomas-Derevoge, Philippe, L’Aigle de l’Abbe Suger, Rocher, 2008.

Verdier, P., ‘Some new readings of Suger’s writings’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 159-162.

Waldmann, T., ‘Abbot Suger and the nuns of Argengteuil’, Traditio, vol. xli, (1985), pp. 239-272.

Wyss, M et al, Atlas historique de Saint-Denis. Des origins au XVIIIe siecle, Paris, 1996.

Zinn, G. A., ‘Suger, theology and the pseudo-dionysian tradition’, L. Gerson (ed.), Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: a Symposium, New York, 1986, pp. 33-40.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Bibliography

The bibliography adopts a chronological approach largely because this allows the historiography of studies of Suger to be identified, an approach used by Bur, Michel, Suger Abbé de Saint-Denis Régent de France, Paris, 1991, pp. 325-338.

Establishing the chronology 1600-1900

This period is dominated by the narrative account of Suger, his role as abbot of St-Denis and as the royal administrator. It also saw the creation of the first modern editions of the Vita Ludovici. With the exception of the work of M. Félibien, O. Cartellieri and A. Luchaire, most are now only of historiographical interest.

Doublet, Histoire de l’abbaye de S.Denys, Paris 1625.

Baudier, Histoire de l’administration de Suger, Paris, 1645.

Félibien, M.,. Histoire de l’abbaye royale de S. Denys, Paris, 1706.

Gervaise, D., Histoire de Suger, three vols. Paris, 1721.

Garat, Eloge de Suger, prix de l’Académie français, Paris, 1779.

Séchelles, Hérault de, Eloge de Suger, Paris, 1779

Jumel, Eloge de Suger, Paris, 1779.

De Chasteler, Eloge historique de Suger, Paris, 1779.

De Langeac, Lespinasse, Suger, moine de Saint-Denis, Paris 1779.

Des Mesmons, Eloge de Suger, Amsterdam, (Paris), 1780.

De Laussat, Discours sur l’abbé Suger et son vie, Geneva, (Paris), 1780.

Demalle, Eloge de Suger, Amsterdam and Paris, 1780.

Deslyons, Eloge historique de Suger, London, 1780.

L’abbé d’Espagnac, Reflexions sur l’abbé Suger at son siècle, London, 1780.[1]

L’abbé de St. Martin, Response aux reflections sur l’abbé Suger et son siècle, Paris 1780.[2]

Nettement, Alfred., Histoire de Suger, Paris, 1842, Suger et son temps. Nouvelle édition, revue, corrigée et considérablement augmentée, 2nd ed., Paris, (A. Varigault à Lagny pour) Lecoffre, 1867.

De Saint-Méry, Suger ou la France au douzième siècle, Limoges, 1851.

Combes, F., L’abbé Suger, histoire de son monastère et sa régence, Paris, 1853.

Huguenin, M., Etude sur abbé Suger, thesis, Paris, 1855.

Huguenin, M., Suger at la monarchie française au douzième siècle, Paris 1857.

Darras, Abbé, Saint-Denis l’aréopagite premier évèque de Paris, Paris, 1863

Lecoy de la Marche, A., (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, Paris 1867, introduction of Suger’s writings, pp. i-xx.

Chevellier, U., Revue critique d’Histoire et de Littérature, vol. xxxii, (1868), pp. 82-86 provides a more detailed bibliography of material on Suger published before 1865.

Viollet, Paul, ‘Une grand chronique latine de Saint-Denis: observations pour server à l’histoire des oeuvres de Suger’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. xxxiv, (1873), pp. 241-254.

Menault, E., Suger, agriculteur, abbé de Saint-Denis, coloniseur, fondateur de villes neuves, minister, regent de France, père de la Patrie, Paris, 1884.

Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, suivi par l’histoire du roi Louis VII, Collection de texts pour server a l’etude at a l’enseignement de l’Histoire, Paris 1887, useful introduction, pp. v-ix, xiii-xxxx.

Luchaire, A., Louis VI le Gros. Annales de sa vie et son règne, Paris, 1890, remains an essential study of the sources for Louis’ reign but now needs to be read in relation to J. Dufour Recueil des Acts de Louis VI, rois de France (1108-1137), four vols. Paris, 1992-1994.

Thompson, J. W., The Development of the French Monarchy under Louis VI le Gros 1108-1137, Chicago, 1895.

Lecoy de la Marche, A., ‘Suger’, La France chrétienne dans l’Histoire, Paris, 1896, pp. 148-158.

Cartellieri, O., Abt Suger von Saint-Denis, Historische Studien, vol. xi, Berlin, 1898: this volume remains essential for the catalogue of Suger’s actas.

Extending the scope 1900-1950

The first half of the twentieth century saw the publication of early studies on the history of art, the continued publication of valuable source material and modern studies of the abbey of St-Denis. The period ends with the publication of a biography of Suger by M. Aubert.

Male, E., ‘Le part de Suger dans la création de l’iconographie du Moyen Age’, Revue de l’art ancient et moderne, vol. xxxv, (1914-1915), pp. 91-102, 161-168, 253-262 and 339-349.

Levillain, L., ‘Essai sur les origins du Lendit’, Revue historique, vol. clvii, (1927), pp. 241-276.

Male, E., L’Art religieux du XIIe siecle en France, Paris, 1922, 3rd ed., 1928.

Olivier-Martin F., Etudes sur les régences, vol. I: Les régences et les majorités sous les Capétiens directs et les premiers Valois (1060-1375), Paris, 1931.

Lebel, G., Histoire administrative, économique et financière de Saint-Denis, Paris, 1934.

Lebel, G., Catalogue des actes de Saint-Denis relatifs a la province ecclésiastique de Sens de 1151 a 1346, Paris, 1935.

Meredith-Jones, C., (ed.), Historia Karoli Magni et Rothlandi ou Chronique du Pseudo-Turpin, Paris, 1936, reissued, 1972.

Gandillac, M. De, Oeuvres completes du Pseudo-Denys, Paris, 1943, translation of the essential works.

Briere G. and Vitry, P., L’Abbaye de Saint-Denis, Petites monographies des grands edifices de la France, Paris, 1948

Aubert, M., Figures monastiques: Suger, Saint-Wandrille, 1950.


[1] Les Réflexions sur Sugar et son Siècle were written by M.R.M. d’Amarzit de Saruget, Abbé d’Espagnac and published in 1780, in which he ‘entrait en campagne contre les rois, le clergé, les monastères et autres institutions qu’il était à la mode de dénigrer.’ It was an answer to Dominique Garat’s prizewinning essay L’Éloge de l'Abbé Suger (1779, Académie Française). Espagnac was a literary orientated man who tried to get as close to Voltaire as he could and in fact is labelled ‘un de ses bons disciples’. Dominique Garat was a French statesman and Suger's political descendant.

[2] The Abbé Louis Pierre de Saint-Martin was born in Paris, 1733, became ‘avocat au Parlement, et devint conseiller clerc au Chatelet de Paris, en 1783’. He was an adherant of the principles of the French revolution and had a distinguished legal career during and after the revolution. He died in Liège in 1819.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Editions and translations

The following editions of the text of the Vita Ludovici have been produced.

Pithou, P., Historia Francorum scriptores, vol. xi, Frankfort, 1596, pp. 95-135 based on the complete Manuscript B; a weak edition largel because of the inadequacies of the manuscript used.

Duchesne, A., Historiae Francorum Scriptores coaetanei, vol. iv, Paris, 1641, pp. 281-327: based on Mansucripts B and E; an infinitely superior edition to Pithou.

Bouquet, D., Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, vol. xii, 1781, pp. 10-63: based on Manuscripts A, D, E, G and Duchesne.

Migne, J. P., Patrologia Latina, vol. clxxxvi, Paris 1854, columns 1253-1340: after Bouquet.

Lecoy de la Marche, A., (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, Paris 1867, pp. 1-149: based on Manuscripts A, B, C, D, E, and G; superior to the earlier editions but it lacks footnotes.

Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, suivi par l’histoire du roi Louis VII, Collection de texts pour server a l’etude at a l’enseignement de l’Histoire, Paris 1887, pp. 1-146: based on Mansucripts A-G.

Waquet, Henri, (ed.), Vie de Louis VI le Gros, Les classiques de l’histoire de France au Moyen Age, Paris, 1929, reprinted, Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1964: based on Manuscripts A-H.

The following translations of the Vita Ludovici have been produced.

Primat, Grandes Chroniques de France, 1274, edited P. Paris, vol. iii, 1837, pp. 207-355 and J. Viard (ed.), Les Grandes Chroniques de France, Société de l’histoire de France, vol. v, Paris, 1928, pp. 80-283. This translation followed Manuscript E, somewhat inaccurately.

Guizot, F., Vie de Louis VI le Gros, Collection des Ménoires relatifs a l’Histoire de France, vol. viii, Paris 1825, pp. 4-159, reprinted in Suger: L’Abbé, le roi et les barons, Source de l’Histoire de France, Paris, 2002, pp. 6-180. Guizot’s translation followed Bouquet’s edition.

Waquet, Henri, (ed.), Vie de Louis VI le Gros, Les classiques de l’histoire de France au Moyen Age, Paris, 1929, reprinted Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1964.

Cusimano, Richard and Moorhead, John, (eds.), Suger: The Deeds of Louis the Fat, Washington, 1992.

Bur, Michel, (ed.), Suger: La Geste de Louis VI, Acteurs de l’Histoire, Paris, 1994.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The Manuscripts: 2

Manuscript G

Bibliothèque Nationale, 6265, paper, 106 folios

Manuscript G belonged to Claude Fauchet and contains the Vita Ludovici, the Historia Ludovici VII, extracts from Hugh de Fleury and part of William of Jumieges Gesta Normannorum. The manuscript was copied in 1515 from a book from the monastery of Saint-Magloire de Paris and derived from Manuscript E or a similar manuscript. The scribe of Manuscript G often corrected errors in the original.

Manuscript H

Bibliothèque du Vatican, regina Christina, 461

This is the most recent manuscript copied in 1567 transcribed from a manuscript in St-Denis similar to Manuscript A. However, the copyist, Sanson Hayet Gulielmus modified and spelling and vocabulary of the original in ways that were not always advantageous. It was not available to Molinier.

Manuscript I-L

There are four further manuscripts that contain copies of the Vita Ludovici, unknown to Waquet.

Manuscript I: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. Lat. 550.

This is a copy of the Continuations of Aimoin, written about 1202-5[1] and housed in the library of St-Denis. Here it later served as the basis for the initial section of Manuscript E, itself largely a copy of the Continuations of Aimoin.[2] The Vatican manuscript contains the whole of Suger’s original work and, unlike Manuscript J continued with the Historia Regis Francorum Ludovici Septimi, a compound history of Louis VII comprising the fragment composed by Suger before 1151, together with a continuation written by a monk of Saint-Germain-de-Prés that carried the narrative to the birth of Philip Augustus in 1165. However, it omits some of the interpelations relevant to Saint-Germain-de-Prés found in MS 12711 but adds two texts absent from it: Einhard’s Vita Karoli and the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle.

Manuscript J: Bibliothèque Nationale, 12711.

This is a copy of the Continuations of Aimoin but it only contains a few chapters of Suger’s Vita Ludovici.

Manuscript K: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. Lat.624

Manuscript L: Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 869[3]

Manuscripts K and L consist of two versions of the early vernacular prose history called Chronique des rois de France, written between 1217-1218 and the early 1230s[4] probably in or near Paris.[5] Both manuscripts include the first translation of the Vita Ludovici into French.

The existence of the Old French Chronique des Rois de France at the Musée Condé in Chantilly was first reported by Ronald Walpole in 1978.[6] He noticed that the version of the Pseudo-Turpin contained in Chantilly MS 869, a manuscript dating from the fifteenth century strongly resembled one published by Claude Buridant from a thirteenth century Histoire des rois de France, preserved in the Vatican Manuscript 624. Elie Berger[7] had noted similarities between MS 624 and the Grand chroniques de France in 1879 but it was a century later when Pierre Botineau was equally struck by the similarities between MS 624 and the Chantilly manuscript.[8] He also established that when Primat translated the Vita Ludovici in the first part of the Grandes chroniques in the 1260s or early 1270s he used this vernacular text as a source. Shortly after Buridant published his edition of the Pseudo-Turpin found in the Histoire.[9] Botinaeu and Buridant believed that Vatican 624 contained a unique version of the vernacular Pseudo-Turpin but Walpole was able to demonstrate that the text of Chantilly 869 provided a second exemplar (what he called Pseudo-Turpin I) and that MS 869 might be a second copy of the whole Chronique.[10] His hypothesis has been confirmed by examining the text as a whole and it is clear that MS 869, though dating from the fifteenth century is a considerably more complete version of the Chroniques des rois de France than Vatican 624.

Gillette Labory has shown that Chantilly 869 is not a copy of Vatican 624, though the two versions are closely related.[11] The Vatican 624 manuscript dates from the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century. The language of the scribe, according to both Buridant and Walpole suggests a Burgundian copyist, possibly from the western part of that county.[12] The text of Chantilly 869 is a later copy, dating from the last quarter of the fifteenth century and written in Francien, the language of the Ile de France. Unlike Vatican 624, Chantilly 869 is richly decorated with twelve large and 102 smaller miniatures but the manuscript is incomplete at the end, owing to mutilation. Labory has shown that the Anonymous’ use of the Continuations of Aimoin cannot be perfectly matched to the readings found in either Bibliothèque Nationale, 12711 (Manuscript J) or Vatican 550 (Manuscript I). While the Continuations is certainly his major source, it cannot be shown that the Anonymous directly translated either of these manuscripts and this is reinforced by his consistent supplementing of the Latin sources in his compilation with additional material.

After the death of Philip I, the Anonymous of Chantilly/Vatican translated the Vita Ludovici Grossi of Suger introducing it with a long preamble:

Of this King Louis, about whom we have now begun to write, we have already spoken in the preceding history of the king, even though this was only in brief, concerning how he was crowned king after the death of King Philip his father in the city of Orleans. But, the Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis who was raised his cleric and who greatly loved him wrote up his deeds and his life where he shows very clearly what loved he possessed for him. This life and deeds of the noble King Louis the Fat we have begun to relate in French just as Abbot Suger recounted it in Latin, to the extent that we have been able. But it vexes us sorely to do this task. For no one should attempt to undertake such a thing unless he is perfect in writing, for no one can know how difficult a thing it is to translate from Latin into French unless he has done it himself and attempted it. However much it grieves us, we have to do it because we are constrained to do so and would not dare to contradict or refuse. But I heartily pray those who read this book that they do not blame or reproach me for having undertaken this thing, for they should know that I do it as if forced, as someone who is inadequate to perform such a task. We have said this to excuse ourselves, but let us continue the history as the valiant Abbot Suger relates it…

The Anonymous was not the only writer to complain of the intricacies of Suger’s Latin and when Primat made extensive use of the Anonymous’ own translation, he too was confronted by the problem of Suger’s language and grammar. There is some difference between the French translations of the Vita Ludovici: in Chantilly 869 it is complete while Vatican 624 lacks a section corresponding to about thirty folios in Chantilly.


[1] Marc du Pouget ‘Recherches sur les chroniques latines de Saint-Denis: Commentaire et edition critique de la Descriptio clavi et corone domini’, thesis, Ecole des Chartres, 1977, p. 16.

[2] Aimoin was a monk of Fleury who wrote a Historia Francorum at the beginning of the eleventh century during the abbacy of Abbot Abbon, to whom he dedicated the work. Aimoin’s text stopped in 634 and only later was it completed by a number of continuations. Lemarignier, J. F., ‘Autour de la royauté française de IXe au XIIIe siècle. Appendice: la Continuation d’Aimoin at le manuscript Latin 12711 de la Bibliothèque Nationale, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. cxiii, (1955), pp. 25-36 has shown that between 1015 and 1025 a copy of Aimoin was taken to Saint-Germain-des-Prés where it was continually interpolated over the next century and a half. The initial continuation carried the narration to 1031, the second to 1165. Around 1175, Suger’s lives of Louis VI and Louis VII were added.

[3] On both the Vatican and Chantilly manuscripts, see Walpole, Ronald N., ‘Prolegomenes a une edition di Turpin français dit le Turpin I’, Revue d’Histoire des Text, vol. x, (1980), pp. 199-230 and vol. xi, (1981), pp. 325-70 and Labory, Gillette, ‘Essai d’une histoire nationale au XIIIe siecle: La Chronique de l’Anonyme de Chantilly-Vatican’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. cxlviii, (1990), pp. 201-54.

[4] The anonymous author of the Chronique des rois de France began his translation in the reign of Philip Augustus. He recalled Philip Augustus’ conquest of Normandy (1204-1205) and his description of the king as a ‘good son’ and defender of the church suggests that it was written after 1213 when Philip Augustus was reconciled with Queen Ingebourg, whose repudiation and exile from court had resulted in the realm being placed under a papal interdict. Gillette Labory argues that the Anonymous’ prayer for the king’s recovery (he had fallen ill in 1217) close to the beginning of the work suggests a date between 1213 and 1217 for the start of the work and that he ended writing in the early 1230s since he is aware of the election of Jean de Brienne as emperor in Constantinople in 1229-1231 but does not mention his death in 1237.

[5] Discussion of these two manuscripts is grounded in Spiegel, Gabrielle M., Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth-Century France, California, 1993 especially pp. 269-323.

[6] Walpole, Ronald N., ‘La traduction du Pseudo-Turpin du Manuscrit Vatican Regina 624: à propos d’un livre récent’, Romania, vol. lcxix, (1978), pp. 484-514.

[7] On the Vatican manuscript see, Berger, Elie, ‘Notices sur divers manuscripts de la Bibliothèque Vatican’, Bibliothèque des Ecoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome, vol. vi, (1879), p. 10 and Walpole, Ronald N., ‘La Traduction du Pseudo-Turpin du Manuscrit Bibliothèque Vatican 624: A Propos d’un livre recent’, Romania, vol. xcix, (1978), pp. 484-514.

[8] Botineau, Pierre, ‘L’Histoire de France en français de Charlemagne a Philippe-Auguste: La Compilation du Ms. 624 du Fonds de la Reine a la Bibliothèque Vatican’, Romania, vol. xc, (1969), pp. 79-99.

[9] Buridant, Claude, (ed.), La traduction du Pseudo-Turpin du Manuscrit Vatican Regina 624, Geneva, 1976.

[10] Ibid, Walpole, Ronald N., ‘La traduction du Pseudo-Turpin du Manuscrit Vatican Regina 624: à propos d’un livre récent’, pp. 484-514.

[11] Labory, Gillette, ‘Essai d’une histoire nationale au XIIIe siecle: La Chronique de l’Anonyme de Chantilly-Vatican’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. cxlviii, (1990), pp. 201-54.

[12] Walpole, Ronald N., ‘Prolegomenes a une edition du Turpin français dit le Turpin I’, Revue d’Histoire des Text, vol. x, (1980), pp. 199-230 and vol. xi, (1981), pp. 325-370, p. 203-206.

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Manuscripts

In the 1880s, when Auguste Molinier[1] produced his edition of the Vita Ludovici, he had access to seven manuscripts that he designated A-G. Henri Waquet[2] in his 1929 edition of the text used an eighth manuscripts adding Manuscript H to Molinier’s seven. Since then, three additional manuscripts that contain copies of the Vita Ludovici, unknown to Waquet have come to light that can be lettered I-L. Of these manuscripts, eight (A, D, E, G, H, I and L) provide a complete text. Four manuscripts (B, C, J and K) are incomplete and only provide fragments of the text. Manuscript F is important in having a text that is significantly different and more detailed in some areas from the other manuscripts especially in relation to the events of 1124.

Manuscript A

Bibliothèque Mazarine: 2013, ancien 543; 266 folios in two columns

This volume consists of 266 leaves written in two columns containing a collection of narrative texts relating to the history of the Papacy and France (Liber Pontificalis, Historia ecclesiatica by Hugh de Fleury, extracts from Gregory of Tour, the Gesta Normannorum of William of Jumieges and fragments from the Chronicle of Adon de Vienne etc.) Molinier saw the manuscript as a sort of universal history since the birth of Christ formed by the juxtaposing of distinctive historical works and attributed it, if not to Suger himself then to his disciples.[3] He appears to base this conclusion, which he recognised was tenuous to Suger’s biographer William’s statement about Suger’s knowledge of and interest in history. The Vita Ludovici is to be found at the end of the manuscript from folio 232. Apart from glosses written during the thirteenth century, it is possible to distinguish the work of two hands. The first copied folios 1-231, probably compiled under the direction of Suger and worked between 1120, the year of Louis VII’s birth until the death of the young Philip in 1131 or at the latest the death of Louis VI in 1137.[4] The second was responsible for the final thirty-five leaves occupied by the work of Suger and worked around 1160-70.[5] The manuscript originated in the abbey of St-Denis[6] and Molinier argued that it was ‘perhaps’ regarded as a ‘first draft of Grandes chroniques de Saint-Denis’ and that the second copyist had access to Suger’s own copy of the Vita Ludovici.[7] This copy of the work of Suger is the oldest and best of the manuscripts and it is probable that all the other manuscripts derive from this work.

Manuscript B

Bibliothèque Nationale, 17546, ancien Notre-Dame 135; 39 folios in two columns; incomplete

This manuscript is structured very like Manuscript A but it is smaller consisting of thirty-nine leaves of which Suger’s text fills up the last twenty. The first part of the manuscript consists of a universal chronicle that stops in 1109 and is made up of passages borrowed from Adon de Vienne, Reginon de Prüm, Aimoin and his continuators. The Vita Ludovici is incomplete and ends in the middle of a sentence in chapter 26 with the words ‘scismaticum Burdinum’ on folio 39. The remainder of the manuscript existed in 1596 when Pithou used the manuscript but it appears to have been lost in the seventeenth century. [8]

The writing is the same throughout the manuscript and it was produced towards the end of the twelfth century. The scribe either used Manuscript A or, more probably a manuscript other than A but very close to it and since lost. He brought to the text some humorous corrections but he also made a significant number of omissions.

Manuscript C

Bibliothèque Nationale, 17657, ancien Notre-Dame 133; 163 folios in two columns; incomplete

This manuscript consists of material on Charlemagne (folios 1-16: Eginard and the Pseudo-Turpin) and events in the history of Normandy and England (folios 17-115: William of Malmesbury Gesta Anglorum and folios 120-158: William of Jumieges Gesta Normannorum). In addition, there are three fragments of the Vita Ludovici on folios 117-119.

· From ‘Guilelmus usui militia’ to ‘materiam’ covering the war between the young Louis and William Rufus and his death in 1100. [9]

· From ‘ad partes Normannorum’ to ‘ulterione’ covering the interview between Henry I and Louis VI at Neaufles. [10]

· From ‘de illustrem Antiochenum’ to ‘vitam amisit’covering the exploits of Bohemond. [11]

These fragments were probably copied in the 1160s. The final fragment of the Vita Ludovici is on folios 158-163 from ‘de venerande memorie’ to ‘stilum replicemus’[12] and examines the visit of Paschal II to France and the quarrel over investitures. This fragment was written by a different scribe after the Lateran Council of 1179.[13] He changed certain of Suger’s phrases and omitted certain words or groups of words.

There are undeniable parallels between Manuscripts C and D in their transcription of the Vita Ludovici. They derive from a common but lost source, similar to A and reproduced exactly in C but badly transcribed in D. The lost source was contemporaneous to Suger but was not his original text.

Manuscript D

Bibliothèque Nationale, 12710, ancien Saint-Germain; 89 folios

This is a very complex manuscript executed in relatively small script by at least nine scribes. The date and provenance are difficult to establish. Palaeographical evidence suggests a date at the end of the first half, or about the middle of the twelfth century. The manuscript gives the impression of a sort of commonplace-book containing a large variety of historiographical and hagiographical texts concerning the history of France. Saint-Denis has been suggested as the place of origins on the basis of its textual links to Manuscript A. However, documents relating to Dinant on folio 83 and a reference to a Liber Lobiensis on folio 32 suggest an origin in the diocese of Liège. In the sixteenth century, the book belonged to the monastery of Saint-Feuillien-du-Rœulx in Belgium and then passed to the library of Saint-German-des-Prés near Paris.

Many of the omissions in Manuscript C are also found in Manuscript D written after 1180. The Vita Ludovici is found in folios 12-25 and is transcribed in its entirety. As in Manuscript A, it forms part of a general history[14]. The scribe of Manuscript D knew Manuscript A and used it for several texts but did not utilise it for Suger’s text. He transcribed it poorly from an alternative manuscript, the same one used by the transcriber of Manuscript C. This is clear from the words and groups of words that are missing in both manuscripts.

Manuscript E

Bibliothèque Nationale, 5925, ancien Colbert 290

Manuscript E consists of dense collection of histories and chronicles concerning the kingdom of France down to 1223. It was produced in the middle of the thirteenth century and was one of the principal sources for the Chroniques françaises de Saint-Denis. The Vita Ludovici is on folios 199-232. Although it has closer links with Manuscript A than Manuscript B, it is arguably based on an intermediate manuscript since lost.

Manuscript F

Bibliothèque Nationale, 5949

Manuscript F exists in two versions. The original manuscript is in the Bibliothèque Mazarine 554, a parchment of 652 pages written for Charles V in the middle of the fourteenth century. There is an excellent copy made in the seventeenth century for André Duchesne. It is a collection of texts, made by a monk from St-Denis for a universal chronicle from 1057 to 1270 and consists of a partial copy of the Chronicle of William de Nangis (second redaction), Henry of Huntingdon Historia Anglorum, the Secreta fidelium of Marino Sanudo and the Vita Ludovici that reveals information found in no other manuscript.

Both Molinier[15] and Waquet[16] spend some time examining Manuscript F. Paul Viollet[17] argued, and Molinier supported this view in his preface that this redaction was produced by Suger himself after he had produced the original text. He argued that Suger had returned to his text and revised it as part of producing a new historical work that was interrupted by his death. Waquet was not convinced by their argument citing the work on O. Holder-Egger[18] who concluded that there was no evidence for a second redaction produced by Suger. Several of the passages cited by Molinier that seemed relevant to new circumstances in reality are little more than rather verbose developments of the original text. Even where there is something new, there is little reason to attribute them directly to Suger. O. Holder-Egger argues that the passage in the Vita Ludovici on the banner of St Denis could not have been the work of an individual living before the fourteenth century.

There may, however, be support for Viollet and Molinier’s view of Manuscript F from Linda Grant.[19] She argues that ‘it is difficult to believe that Suger was not using passages written as events happened; he must have started recording the deeds of the king many years before his subject’s death in 1137, with Louis’ blessing and cooperation.’ She bases this conclusion of the detailed nature of those parts of the text dealing with the early years of Louis’ life. Writing then stopped in the early 1130s, she argues and was taken up again after Louis’ death when Suger added the section on Louis’ lengthy final illness and revised the rest adding extra information, reflections and linking passages. She points to two occasions when ‘the seam shows’: for example, the end of chapter 1 marks the death of William Rufus but in the middle of chapter 16 is a paragraph beginning ‘Prefatus itaque rex Henricus, Guilelmo fratri deliciter succedens’, sections that succeed and complement one another. Whether her sequencing of the writing of Louis’ life is correct, the construction of the work over a long period of time with textual revisions and additions may well be how Suger wrote. If this was the case, then there could be an argument for a further revision in the late 1140s that supports Viollet’s thesis. Clearly, however, this revision was not available to the scribe of Manuscript A when he transcribed the Vita Ludovici in the 1160s and that I think poses a real problem because if it existed at that time at St-Denis why did he not use it? On balance, I am inclined to the view that Manuscript F is later and, in the absence of compelling evidence to support Viollet that the view of Holder-Egger that it originated in the fourteenth century in the reign of Charles V (born 1338; king 1364-1380) is the most likely explanation.


[1] Ibid, Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, pp. xvii-xxii.

[2] Ibid, Waquet, Henri, (ed.), Vie de Louis VI le Gros, pp. xvii-xxiv.

[3] Ibid, Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, p. xvii, xviii cit, ibid, Lecoy de la Marche, A., (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, pp. 382.

[4] Lair, Jules, ‘Memoire sur deux chroniques latines composées au XIIe siecle a l’abbaye de Saint-Denis’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. xxxv, (1874), pp. 543-570 argued on p. 570 that the list of French kings that ended with the words ‘Ludovicus rex genuit Phillippum, Ludovicum et Henricum’ on folio 222 that it was not produced before 1131.

[5] Viollet, Paul, ‘Une grand chronique latine de Saint-Denis: observations pour server à l’histoire des oeuvres de Suger’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. xxxiv, (1873), pp. 241-254 argued that the final folios could not have been copied before 1162.

[6] For historical writing at St-Denis, see Spiegel, Gabrielle M., The Chronicle Tradition of Saint-Denis: a Survey, Brookline, Mass., 1978.

[7] Ibid, Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, pp. xvii-xviii.

[8] Pithou, P., Historia Francorum scriptores, vol. xi, Frankfort, 1596, pp. 95-135.

[9] Ibid, Waquet, Henri, (ed.), Vie de Louis VI le Gros, p. 6 (lines 20-21) to p. 14 (line 4).

[10] Ibid, p. 98 (line 1) to p. 112 (line 8).

[11] Ibid, p. 44 (line 1) to p. 50 (line 8).

[12] Ibid, p. 50 (line 10) to p. 68 (line 18).

[13] In the title of this chapter, written in the same hand as the other fragments, it says ‘De nostri temporis concilio a papa Alexandro III Rome celebrato’. This dates it to shortly after 1179.

[14] Lair, Jules, ‘Memoire sur deux chroniques latines composées au XIIe siecle a l’abbaye de Saint-Denis’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. xxxv, (1874), pp. 543-570 showed it was a collection of copies and extracts drawn together by a French historian in order to compose a chronicle of the kings of France.

[15] Ibid, Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, pp. xxii-xxviii and 133-164

[16] Ibid, Waquet, Henri, (ed.), Vie de Louis VI le Gros, pp. xxii-xxiv

[17] Viollet, Paul, ‘Une grand chronique latine de Saint-Denis: observations pour server à l’histoire des oeuvres de Suger’, Bibliothèque de l’Ecole des Chartres, vol. xxxiv, (1873), pp. 241-254. Luchaire, Achille supported his thesis in ‘Une trés ancienne histoire de France. La compilation du manuscript latin 5949 A’, Revue historique, vol. xxxiv, (1887), pp. 259-276.

[18] Holder-Egger, O., ‘Zu Sugers Vita Ludowici VII regis’, Neues Archic der Gesellschaft für altere deutsche Geschintkunde, vol. ccvii, (1901), pp. 186-197.

[19] Grant, Linda, Abbot Suger of St-Denis: Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France, London, 1998, pp. 38-42.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Vita or Gesta? 2

Certainly, Suger is ‘selective’ in his account of Louis’ life. There is much that is left out and historians have to turn to other historians like Orderic Vitalis to fill in the details. There is little on Louis’ life before the age of eleven, little on the tensions between him and his father over his second ‘marriage’ to Bertrada, their falling out over Louis being knighted away from home in 1098 or Bretrada’s attempt to have him imprisoned and poisoned in England in 1100-1101. Louis’ marriage to Adelaide de Maurienne in 1115 is mentioned briefly and his eldest son Philip is introduced only to die. It may be that Suger did not view these events as having any real bearing on the purpose of the text. However, there are other omissions that can be explained by Suger’s personal political and religious agenda. There is little on the factionalism of Louis’ court linked to the growing power of the Garlande family especially Stephen de Garlande leading to the crisis of 1127 when he was ousted from his position as chancellor. In fact, there is little on the mechanics of governing France under Louis. This was certainly deliberate on Suger’s part and reflects his desire, from the vantage point of the 1140s to distance himself and perhaps by extension Louis from the rule of the Garlandes.

He briefly mentions the house of St. Victor in Paris that Louis founded in 1113 and that played a significant part in twelfth century spiritual and intellectual life but he remains silent on Louis’ involvement with any other monasteries. St Bernard of Clairvaux and the religious tendencies he represented are ignored though there is a passing reference to his having advised on the coronation of the young Louis in 1131 in Manuscript F. It is Louis’ relationship with St-Denis that is the focus of his attention and particularly his relationship with Suger whose predecessor Adam gets scant recognition.

Establishing a clear link between the Capetian monarchy and St-Denis was at the heart of Suger’s writing. The abbey was under pressure from several quarters in the first decades of the twelfth century. First, to the church of Reims was promoting the cult of St Remigius as a rival to that of Dionysius: in his prologue, Suger described himself as ‘abbot of the blessed Denis the Areopagite’[1]. In 1090, the young prince Louis had subscribed to a document issued by his father confirming the possessions and immunities of the competing saint’s abbey in Reims. Louis had come into direct conflict with Reims over his coronation at Orleans in 1108 and although Both Philip and the young Louis were crowned at Reims in 1129 and 1131 respectively, the tensions between St-Denis and Reims comes out strongly in Suger’s text. Wherever possible, Suger showed Reims in a bad light. Secondly, during the 1120s, Peter Abelard had correctly challenged the claim that Dionysius the Areopagite was the patron of the abbey causing considerable internal dissension at St Denis. Abelard was accused as a traitor to the Crown, was thrown into prison, managed to escape and sought sanctuary in the lands of Theobald of Blois. Suger decided to drop the whole matter and allowed Abelard to live wherever he chose on condition that he did not enter another monastery. He did not object when Abelard became a very unhappy abbot himself a few years later and took no part in the attacks by Bernard of Clairvaux that resulted in Abelard’s condemnation at the Synod of Sens in 1140. Suger’s major concern in the years after he bacame abbot was the reform of St-Denis. He may have regarded his predecessor Adam as his ‘spiritual father and foster parent’ but he found the abbey buildings in disrepair, its revenues uncollected and its possessions alienated after Adam’s death. Thirdly, king Philip I had chosen to be buried, not in St-Denis but at the abbey of St-Benoit-sur-Loire reinforcing Suger’s less than flattering view of him unlike the Chronicle of Morigny that described him as a ‘man of wisdom’.[2] Suger contrasted Philip’s indolence with Louis’ activity to the extent that even during his father’s lifetime he was described as ‘defender of his father’s kingdom’. The language used in the text, especially the verbs and adverbs of speed reinforced the view that Suger’s Louis spent his life in continuous activity. It was Louis’ devotion to St-Denis from childhood and the fact that he lived a ‘good life’ and had a ‘good death’ that strengthened Suger’s claims for the abbey. Central to his restatement of the centrality of St-Denis to the French monarchy was Suger’s embellished account of the threatened German invasion of 1124. Louis conducted himself ‘with great humility’ at St-Denis asking the blessed Dionysius for aid, taking the battle standard, the mythic oriflamme[3] from the altar in a ceremony Suger implied meant that Louis recognised that he was a vassal of the abbey.[4] His account of events is open to question in several important respects but behind the rhetoric there is a king clearly devoted to St Denis. Royal donations and privileges especially the extension of St-Denis’ local jurisdiction and the concessions of the Lendit fair helped restore the legal and economic authority of the abbey. Louis’ support was essential and in his text, Suger shows again and again just how St-Denis profited.

Louis may have been at the centre of the canvas but St Denis and St-Denis were always in its background. They provided the link between the ideal visibility of human society and the order and justice of the invisible, divine hierarchy with Louis progressing from ‘a handsome youth…admirable for his development of moral character and for the growth of a well-made body’ to his approaching death when he ‘put off his kingship and laid down his kingdom’: the move from the material state of external beauty to the invisible state of enlightenment. The Vita Ludovici can be seen in terms of the Pseudo-Dionysian notion of anagogical ascent where readers, in contemplating the life of Louis VI share in the experience of enlightenment that his life reflected and that access to that enlightenment is achieved by following the mos anagogicus, the anagogical way. [5]

The Vita Ludovici operates on several different levels. First, it can be regarded as a ‘gesta’ to the extent that it recounts the deeds of Louis VI. Secondly, it is a ‘vita’ albeit a selective biographical study of Louis VI covering his life from his adolescence through to his death. In both these respects it is a partial account subject to the problems of reliability that historians encounter when dealing with medieval sources. The ‘gesta’ and ‘vita’ dimensions of the Vita Ludovici operate at the level of the visible in that they say what happened in a world in which there was disorder, threats to the authority of the Crown that were countered by an active and, within limits successful monarch. The degree of narrative credibility is determined by the third, and for Suger most important aspect of his work, its mystical and invisible quality. Suger has created a cultural image of kingship and its role in a cosmologically defined hierarchy of being, a means through which people may seek enlightenment through contemplating the ‘deeds’ and ‘life’ of Louis VI.

Suger wrote neither a traditional ‘gesta’ nor a traditional ‘vita’ in the sense that they are recognised in medieval historiography. The narrative of Louis’s life and deeds is important for the gloss it gives on the increasing authority of Capetian monarchy and the importance of individuals in bringing about fundamental political change. Yet to view the Vita Ludovici simply in those terms is to miss the central thrust of Suger’s writing. It is true that, unlike most of his ecclesiastical contemporaries, Suger never wrote a theological text but for a full understanding of why he wrote about Louis VI we have to recognise the centrality of the ideas of the Pseudo-Dionysius to his thinking. The Vita Ludovici can, in this sense be seen as a work of theology, a religious and educative tract using secular events as the medium through which Suger explored the Dionysian dualities of ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’, order and chaos, strength and weakness, authority and rebellion, secular and ecclestiastical, and good and evil. The memory of what had happened allowed others to contemplate what was to come. As Speigel says at the end of her paper[6]: ‘To Suger, the recollection of the past was not only a memory; it was also and perhaps more important, the promise of the future.’


[1] Robert Hanning has made some useful comments on the effects of chroniclers stating the rhetorical principles of historiography in their Prologues in his review of Lecroix, Benôit, L’Historiens au moyen age, Paris, 1971 in History and Theory, vol. xii, (1973), pp. 419-434. Hanning argued that the conscious expression of rhetorical tradition that occurred in much medieval writing had a paradoxical role: ‘in providing not a guide to perceiving and communicating the meaning of history but rather as a context within which the author and audience shared a common intention – to address themselves to the needs of the past for instruction and edification.’ He believes this provided a ‘verbal context’ in which historians located themselves and won acceptance from their audiences but do not describe the methods or purposes that governed or inspired their work. For Suger, this ‘context’ lies in friendship, duty and especially remembrance.

[2] Ibid, Mirot, Leon, (ed.), La Chronique de Morigny (1095-1152), p. 21. La Chronique de Saint-Pierre-le-Vif de Sens, edited by R.H. Bautier and M. Gilles, Paris 1979, p. 146 also viewed Philip more favourably.

[3] The practice of depositing the royal flag at St-Denis started with Hugh Capet. The flag did not belong to the monastery but had originally been Charlemagne’s. The Chanson de Roland is the main source for this: ‘Saint Pierre fut, si aveit num Romaine/Mais de Munjoie iloec out pris eschange’ and the Nova Gesta Francorum, written at St-Denis in the early twelfth century reiterated this legend: ‘Mox ut Leo in eius loco successit missis legatis ad pium regem Karolem clavis confessionis Sanct Petri simul et vexillum romane urbis direxit’ (Bibliothèque Nationale lat 11793, fol. 27v). It is described as a gift from Pope Leo to Charlemagne recognising his status as emperor of the Roman people; this explains why it is sometimes called ‘Romane’. The Chanson de Roland described it as an ‘Orie flambé’ (the flag with ears) and gives Monjoie as its preferred name. Until the end of the eleventh century, the banner retained its religious significance while becoming more and more important as a symbol of the nation. There was, however, a second standard at St-Denis, that of the Vexin. This was, in origin feudal without previous royal associations but its importance as a royal standard was sealed when Louis VI took it from the saint’s altar in 1124 and ‘invited all France to follow him’ to face the threat of the German invasion. Increasingly the distinction between the banner of St-Denis and Charlemagne’s Oriflamme became confused though probably not before the reign of Philip Augustus later in the twelfth century and this is reflected in the dual battle cry of the French: ‘Montjoie Saint Denis’. See Spiegel, Gabrielle M., ‘The Cult of Saint Denis’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. i, (1975), pp. 43-69, printed in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, especially pp. 153-155.

[4] The claims Suger made for St-Denis are based, to a certain extent on a charter that purported to have been given to the abbey by Charlemagne in 813: Muhlbacher, E., (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica Diplomatum Karolinorum I: Pippini, Carlomanni, Caroli Magni Diplomata, Hannover, 1906: D.Kar.286, pp. 428-430. This said that all archbishops and bishops should defer to the church of St-Denis, which is the head (‘caput’) of all the churches in the kingdom and that its abbot is primate of the church of France.

[5] What follows draws on the Pseudo-Dionysian arguments of Spiegel, Gabrielle M., ‘History as Enlightenment: Suger and the Mos Anagogicus’, in ibid, Gerson, P. L., (ed.), Abbot Suger and St Denis, pp. 151-158, printed in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, see p. 175.

[6] Spiegel, Gabrielle M., ‘History as Enlightenment: Suger and the Mos Anagogicus’, in ibid, Gerson, P. L., (ed.), Abbot Suger and St Denis, pp. 151-158, printed in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, p. 177.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Vita or Gesta?

The Capetian kings of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have been little studied by English historians. Few of the ‘Capetian chronicles’ are available in English translations though the Anglo-Saxon and especially Anglo-Norman writings of historians like Orderic Vitalis, that have much to say on political relations between England, Normandy and France are.  My blog for the next few months will concentrate on the life and writings of Abbot Suger of St-Denis and includes a new translation of his life of Louis VI (Vita Ludovici grossi) based on an examination of most of the extant manuscripts and available French and English translations. This provides valuable insights into the nature of writing history in the early to mid-twelfth century where personal and political agendas often meant that the ‘history’ written was deliberately partial and ‘constructed’ to get across a particular message. It also deals with the problems faced by a French monarchy trying to assert its authority outside its own domains against the vested interests of an aristocracy that proved powerfully dangerous.

There are significant difficulties in defining the different types of historical writing from the medieval period[1]. When is a chronicle not a chronicle but an annal? The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a case in point: called a chronicle but clearly a set of annals. What is the difference between an annal and a chronicle? Is it simply a case of the way in which each was produced, the one written rather like an annual diary often by different writers, the other as a coherent piece of history in which the author adduces causation to events? Is the one a work of ‘history’ and the other a means through which history may be written? Yet, these questions, important though they undoubtedly are, do not resolve the problems with the different genres. If the difficulty of defining in any precise way what chronicles, annals, lives and deeds actually are is incapable of satisfactory resolution, perhaps historians need to look at their purpose, the agendas that lay behind these historical writings. Suger did not give his biography of Louis VI a title and the manuscripts containing the text gave it different names. However, in the prologue of the text in which Suger wrote to bishop Josselin of Soissons, he used the term ‘gesta’: ‘serenissimi Regis Francorum Ludovici gesta approbate scientie vestrie arbitrio delegamus…’ (I am sending for your approval and wisdom the deeds of the most serene Louis, King of the French) though at the beginning of chapter 28 he uses the term ‘Ut autem ad propositum recolende Regis hystorie revertamur…’ (But let us return to our aim, which is to write a history of the king.). The use of ‘deeds’[2] rather than ‘history’ or ‘life’ can also be found in comments made by Odo de Deuil[3], Suger’s successor as abbot of St-Denis and William, his biographer refers on three occasions to Suger’s account of Louis’ deeds[4]. The problem is that, with two exceptions[5], editors of the text have used the word ‘life’ rather than ‘deeds’[6]. The writing of the ‘deeds’ of particular individuals was an important feature of the historiography of the eleventh and twelfth centuries[7]. These works focus on the reporting of deeds rather than providing detailed biographical information. Essentially they tell the ‘heroic’ story[8] and Cusimano and Moorhead suggest that they are linked ‘perhaps’ to the old French chanson de geste[9]. Suger’s biographer William said that he was a lover of stories and that when he was in a good mood he loved to stay up to the middle of the night telling of the deeds of heroic men[10]. This, according to Cusimano and Moorhead[11] suggests that the episodic nature of the book owed ‘something to the techniques of a raconteur’. More to the point, I think is the continued importance of orality in a period when literacy was the preserve of the few. The problem with using the term ‘gesta’ for Suger’s study of Louis VI is that it lacks the distinguishing features of chronicles of this genre: a commitment to chronological progression through a reign or life; clear thematic development usually grounded in ethical precepts defining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kingship; and a degree of historical completeness. The focus on Louis is often lost in favour of long digressions that even Suger recognises are of little relevance to his central character. He almost seems to need to remind himself to get back to the point. Perhaps it is better to look at Suger’s writing as a piece of ‘selective’ biography[12] much in the same way that William of Apulia’s poem on Robert Guiscard and William of Poitiers’ discussion of William the Conqueror are selective. Suger did not simply produce a collection of incidents arranged in a broadly chronological way since an examination of the individual sections shows both a clear internal logic and structure[13]. At the heart of Suger’s Vita Ludovici was an individual who protected the people, the church and, as in the case of the planned German invasion in 1124, France against disputes, disorder and attacks that threatened peaceful order. The innocent and disadvantaged came to Louis to seek his aid and Louis hastens to put things right. This is made clear in the opening chapter of the work: ‘You might have seen this young man dashing across the frontiers into Berry, then into the Auvergne, now into Burgundy, with a handful of men, and returning just as quickly to the Vexin…’. The proud and the recalcitrant are defeated or destroyed and the peace that had earlier existed was restored. There is a clear divine purpose in the text. The individual chapters may be more or less autonomous and more or less chronological but the tone of the text reiterates the same message: the king will restore God’s order and will defeat those who threaten that order. It is that divine purpose that gives the text its selectivity. Gabriel Spiegel argues that each chapter of the Vita Ludovici ‘contains the narration of a single ‘event-unit’ that may, but does not necessarily, delimit a comparable unit of historical time, hence the chronological imprecision all commentators on the text have found so puzzling.’[14] She points to the triadic structure of the chapters where disruption of the established order is followed by Louis’ attempt to deal with the results of that disruption and ends with a final restoration of the proper hierarchical ordering of society. This triadic structuring can be seen throughout the Vita Ludovici even in those chapters on successive popes who come to Philip I and Louis VI to seek their aid to put right certain wrongs. On occasions as, for example in chapter 26 where Louis is defeated at Brémule in 1119, Suger is hard-pressed to maintain the structure but maintain it he does even if the resolution of the disruption is far from convincing. To sustain this structure, Spiegel argues

Suger wilfully violates chronological order, conflating events or deferring the conclusion of a chapter until he can properly narrate the resolution of the disturbance and the restoration of order…The chronological looseness of the Vita Ludovici, therefore, is the result not of confusion but of narrative intention... [15]

In some respects, there is much of the traditional hagiographical tradition in Suger’s writing with Louis as a secular ‘saint’ translating into human events and actions the principles governing the celestial and ecclesiastical hierarchies of the Pseudo-Dionysius[16], the Areopagite whom the monks of St-Denis mistakenly identified with their own patron saint.. Suger certainly composed a series of lessons for the liturgical office at St-Denis on the anniversary of Louis’ death and, as early as 1124 he provided for Louis’ anniversary to be celebrated at St-Denis. A passage in the Chronicle of Morigny refers to Suger having composed lessons during the period 1139-1142.[17] Suggestions that the lessons were extracts from Suger’s text have been made by two of his editors[18] but there is some evidence to suggest that the text pre-dated the lessons even if it was revised after.[19] At the end of chapter 32, he referred to pope Innocent II in the perfect tense: ‘The lord pope in blessed succession enhanced the glory of the most Holy See by the merits of his life and his devotion to duty.’ This suggests that this was written after Innocent died in 1143 and the earliest references to his work on Louis VI occurred shortly after that date.[20]


More recent general texts on the Capetians available in English include: Dunbabin, J., France in the Making 843-1180, 2nd ed., (Oxford University Press), 2000, Hallam, Elizabeth and Everard, Judith, Capetian France 987-1328, 2nd ed., Longman, 2001 and Bull, Marcus, (ed.), France in the Central Middle Ages 900-1200, (Oxford University Press), 2002

[1] On the problem of defining medieval texts see Guenée, Bernard, ‘Histoire, Annales, Chroniques: Essai sur les genres historiques au moyen age’, Annales, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, vol. iv, (1973), pp. 997-1016, reprinted in his Politique et Historie au moyen-age: recueil d’articles sur l’histoire politique et l’historiographie médiévale (1956-1981), Paris, 1981, pp. 279-298.

[2] Carpentier, E., ‘Histoire et informatique: Recherches sur la vocabulaire des biographies royals françaises’, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, vol. xxv, (1982), pp. 3-30 provides support for the use of ‘gesta’ for Suger’s work.

[3] Odo of Deuil De Perfectione Ludovici VII in Orientem, edited and translated by Virginia Gingerick Berry, New York, 1948, p. 3.

[4] A. Lecoy de la Marche, (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, Paris 1867, pp. 382 and 403.

[5] Suger: The Deeds of Louis the Fat, translated with introduction and notes by Richard Cusimano and John Moorhead, Washington, 1992 and Suger: La geste de Louis VI et autres oeuvres, edited by Michel Bur,  Paris, 1994.

[6] What follows is grounded in a reading of Spiegel, Gabrielle M., ‘History as Enlightenment: Suger and the Mos Anagogicus’, in Gerson, P. L., (ed.), Abbot Suger and St Denis, New York, 1986, pp. 151-158, printed in her The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, London, 1997, pp. 163-177.

[7] Examples of this genre include: Wipo’s The Deeds of the Emperor Conrad, William of Poitiers’ The Deeds of William the Conqueror, William of Apulia’s The Deeds of Robert Guiscard, the anonymous Deeds of Stephen and Otto of Freising’s The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa.

[8] Links have been made between Suger and the crusading works with ‘gesta’ in their title especially the anonymous Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum and Fulcher of Chartres Gesta Francorum Iherusalem peregrinantium and Suger twice stated that his book was an account of the ‘gesta Francorum’ in chapters 1 and 10. On this see Hunt, Tony, ‘L’inspiration ideologique du Charroi de Nîmes’, Revue belge de philology et d’histoire, vol. lxvi, (1978), pp. 580-606.

[9] Ibid, Suger: The Deeds of Louis the Fat, p. 7.

[10] William Vita Sugerii, in ibid, Lecoy de la Marche, A., (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, pp. 382 and 389.

[11] Ibid, Suger: The Deeds of Louis the Fatp. 7.

[12] The notion of ‘selective’ biography is not a type of historical writing exclusive to the medieval period. In the nineteenth century for example, politicians were especially prone to getting their biographies published so that they could tell their sides of the story and were often extremely ‘selective’ with the ‘facts’. We still have ‘official’ biographies today written by historians often with access to family papers unavailable to other scholars. The idea that biography should narrate an individual’s life ‘warts and all’ is quite recent and authors today are often at pains to emphasise that their conclusions have not been influenced by surviving family members. Take Harold Wilson, apart from his own self-justificatory writings and the biographies published while he played a central part in public life in the 1960s and 1970s, three biographies were published in 1992-1993: Pimlott, Ben, Life and Times of Harold Wilson, Morgan, Austen, Harold Wilson: A Life and Zeigler, Philip, Wilson: The Authorized Life of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, the first ‘balanced’, the second ‘critical’ and the third ‘official’.

[13] This is made clear in Spiegel, Gabrielle M., ‘History as Enlightenment: Suger and the Mos Anagogicus’, in ibid, Gerson, P. L., (ed.), Abbot Suger and St Denis, New York, 1986, pp. 151-158, printed in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, pp. 163-177.

[14] Ibid, Spiegel Gabrielle M. ‘History as Enlightenment: Suger and the Mos Anagogicus’, pp. 151-158, printed in her ibid, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, p. 166.

[15] Ibid, Spiegel, Gabrielle M., pp. 151-158, printed in her The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography, pp. 169-170.

[16] On Suger’s links to the Pseudo-Dionysius, see Panofsky, Erwin, Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St-Denis and its Art Treasures, Princeton, 2nd ed., 1979 and Simson, Otto von, The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order, 2nd ed., New York, 1964. Modifications to their views are suggested in Zinn, Grover A., ‘Suger, Theology and the Pseudo-Dionysian Traditions’, in ibid, Gerson, P. L., (ed.), Abbot Suger and St Denis, pp. 33-40. Kidson, Peter, ‘Panofsky, Suger and St Denis’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. i, (1987), pp. 1-17 argues that there is no need to see Suger as having been directly influenced by Pseudo-Dionysius.

[17] Mirot, Leon, (ed.), La Chronique de Morigny (1095-1152), 2nd ed., Paris, 1912, p. 69.

[18] Ibid, Lecoy de la Marche, A., (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, p. v and Molinier, Auguste, (ed.), Vie de Louis le Gros par Suger, Paris 1887, p. xvii, no 1. Waquet, Henri, (ed.), Vie de Louis VI le Gros, Paris, 1929 ignored the question.

[19] Hugenholtz, F. and Teunis, H., ‘Suger’s Advice’, Journal of Medieval History, vol. xii, (1986), pp. 191-205 suggest that Suger’s approach to the Vita Ludovici was influenced by events that occurred early in the reign of Louis VII.

[20] The earliest references to the text can be found in Liber de rebus administratione sua gestis, ibid, in Lecoy de la Marche, A., (ed.), Oeuvres completes de Suger, recueilles, annotées er publiées d’après les manuscrits, p. 171 and this work has been dated by ibid, Panofsky, Erwin, Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St-Denis and its Art Treasures, p. 142 to between 1144-1145 to 1148-1149.