Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Suger: The Life of Louis VI 'the Fat'


The kingdom of France when Louis VI came to the throne in 1108 was a patchwork of feudal principalities over which the authority of the French Capetian monarchy was weak. Beyond the heartlands of Capetian power around Paris, kings of France had little power and the rulers of the great principalities such as Aquitaine paid little heed to the authority of the French state. Under Louis VI, this gradually began to change and, although it took a further two centuries to complete the process, the feudal supremacy of the French monarchy began to be asserted and the lands over which it had feudal hegemony began to expand. Much of what we know about Louis' reign comes from his life written by his friend and advisor Suger Abbot of St-Denis. Suger was a talented individual who straddled the often perilous divide between Church and State with considerable skill. He was a diplomat, administrator in both ecclesiastical and political spheres and staunch defender of his monastery. He witnessed many of the important events of Louis' reign and knew many of the people he wrote about. His Life of Louis VI is a partial biography, like most medieval biographies, that aims through recounting Louis' life to demonstrate what the nature of 'good' kingship should be--to defend the weak, to dispense justice, to defend both Church and State from those who sought control over them and to defend France against attack from within and without. His is an epic tale of good versus evil, justice versus injustice and right against wrong.


This volume provides a translation of Suger's work with detailed annotation that identify the key participants and explain the significance of the key events. The introduction provides a brief biography of Suger and examines what his intentions were in writing his book. Two appendices look at the French defeat at the Battle of the Two Kings at Brémule in 1119 and the murder of Charles of Flanders in 1127 through the eyes of other medieval writers. There is also a detailed bibliography.

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