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The Latin Chronicle Tradition at Saint-Denis

The Grandes Chroniques took its present shape over a period of 100 years, during which the monks of Saint-Denis translated into French the Latin chronicles that they had compiled.[20] From the time of the first copy, dated around 1274, until the mid-fourteenth century, the task of continuing the Grandes Chroniques was entrusted to the abbey. Drawing on rich Latin and vernacular traditions, Primat, the original monastic author-translator, produced a French text that traced the history of the French kings from the fall of Troy through the reign of Philip Augustus. He added elements from contemporary vernacular histories to a translation of writings that had been assembled in Latin anthologies by Dionysian compilers as


early as the first quarter of the thirteenth century: the Latin histories of Aimoin of Fleury, Sigebert of Gembloux, Einhard, Pseudo-Turpin, Hugh of Fleury, the continuator of Aimoin, and Guillaume of Jumièges.[21] Primat interwove these Latin and vernacular sources in a genealogical frame, producing a sequence of royal biographies that for the most part began with the king's coronation and ended with his death.

As his primary Latin source, Primat used an anthology (B.N. lat. 5925) made at Saint-Denis in the 1250s. He placed the French texts in the same order as many of the Latin ones and incorporated marginal notes from that manuscript, which he may have written himself to comment on and correct its text.[22] Like the earliest translator of the Pseudo-Turpin chronicle, Primat modified and supplemented this source.[23] He edited it; added translations of texts such as the Latin Descriptio qualiter (designed to authenticate relics owned by the abbey) and the life of Louis VII, neither of which was present in B.N. lat. 5925; clarified portions of his translation from Latin by comparing it to contemporary vernacular chronicles; and smoothed over transitions between the disparate elements that made up the Latin manuscript.[24]

Primat also structured his Grandes Chroniques differently from the Latin anthology. As the arrangement of decorated initials, rubrics, and chapter lists in these manuscripts makes clear, the Latin compendium was designed to present a collection of histories with their individuality preserved, whereas the first Grandes Chroniques (Ste.-Gen. 782) was conceived as a unified whole. In the Latin manuscript large decorated initials reinforce the originality and autonomy of component parts, marking Aimoin's Epistula in librum de gestis Francorum ad Abbonem abbatem (fol. 1), Aimoin's preface to the Historia Francorum (fol. IV), the four books of Aimoin's Historia Francorum and the Gesta Dagoberti (fols. 6, 19, 34V, 69V, and 73), the Vita Caroli Magni by Einhard (fol. 123), the Pseudo-Turpin chronicle (fol. 132), the Gesta Ludovici Pii imperatoris (fol. 149V – followed by shortened lives of his successors), the prologue to the Vita Ludovici VI Grossi regis and the Vita (fol. 199V), and the prologue to the Gesta Philippi Augusti and the Gesta (fols. 248V–249V). Primat chose to omit the two longer passages that preceded Aimoin's history and the prologues that set apart the lives of Louis VI and Philip Augustus. Further, he prefaced each book (except that describing the life of Louis VII, which came from another source) with chapter lists. Primat also added a prologue and subdivided the text of B.N. lat. 5925. Thus the life of Charlemagne was divided into five books and that of Philip Augustus into three; the life of Charles the Bald was made into a single book.[25] As we shall see, many of Primat's new subdivisions were reinforced by illustrations, perhaps to draw special attention to those portions of the text.

Because B.N. lat. 5925 was a recueil , it contained no prologue to the work as a whole. Primat integrated part of the proem of Aimoin's Latin chronicle with which B.N. lat. 5925 began (fol. 6), with an edited version of the prologue of a contemporary vernacular history commissioned by Louis IX's brother, the Abrégé de l'histoire de France by the Ménestrel of Alphonse of Poitiers. To these he added material of his own to shape a royalist reading of the Grandes Chroniques .[26]

Primat's prologue is most telling when it departs from its models. Certain additions and omissions reveal the bias of the Dionysian historiographer. Whereas


the Ménestrel of Alphonse of Poitiers enumerated diverse sources for his text—ranging from lives of saints to "a book which describes the gestes of the French kings which is at Saint-Germain-des-Près"—Primat listed only the chronicles of Saint-Denis.[27] Similarly, Primat stressed genealogy to a greater extent than did the Ménestrel, perhaps because of Saint-Denis's role as royal necropolis.[28] Some changes in the Ménestrel's prologue clarify the didactic purpose and audience of the Grandes Chroniques : Primat declared that the king and princes "with lands to govern" should "profit from the example of history."[29] Still other alterations introduce a common literary topos in which the translator who has undertaken the work at the request of his patron humbly begs the pardon of his readers for the inadequacy of his translation.[30]

Primat used a paragraph from Aimoin's Latin proem as a transition from the Ménestrel's text to Primat's largest original contribution to the prologue. Although Aimoin's Epistula and Praefatio were included in B.N. lat. 5925, their subject matter was too specific for the prologue to the Grandes Chroniques ; the Epistula was addressed to Aimoin's abbot, and the Praefatio described the customs and institutions of Gaul and Germany.[31] Primat used the most generalized portion of Aimoin's Proemium , a text following the preface, which celebrated the prowess, fame, and devotion of the ancient Franks.[32] Primat's adaptation first mentions the Trojan origins of the French, then discusses the ferocity with which the French fought their enemies and the mercy with which they treated their subjects, and concludes with a description of the reverence that inspired the French to convert to Christianity.[33]

This description of the French people provides a smooth transition to Primat's major addition to the prologue: two long passages that reinforce themes of holiness and seem to relate specifically to the political ideology of Louis IX's court. The first passage describes France's special role as defender of the church; it stresses the holiness of the French nation in an elaboration on Aimoin's description of the ancient Franks.[34] Primat then tells why France merits her special status: first, because Saint Denis protects France and, second, because Paris is the center of learning "by which the holy church is sustained and enlightened," having moved to France from Greece and Rome—an event referred to as the translatio studii .[35] These original passages end with a prayer that God maintain learning and chivalry in France.[36]

Primat's additions to the prologue draw attention to the genealogy of the French kings, but they also praise the holy nation that the kings govern under the protection of Saint Denis. Indeed, by juxtaposing his reference to the translatio studii with the prayer that follows it, Primat suggests that France and her kings must strive continually to merit their special status in the eyes of God.[37] Thus Primat's own additions to the prologue cast the chronicle in a didactic, even moralizing, frame; they lead readers, whether royal or noble, to anticipate a history of the holy kingdom of France and its most Christian kings that will provide models for their own behavior.

The additions to the prologue, the interpolations of texts like the Descriptio qualiter and the life of Louis VII, the use of vernacular histories to clarify and expand the text, and the restructuring of the Latin source (B.N. lat. 5925) demonstrate Primat's intention to shape a history for a vernacular audience. Three of his


changes in particular distinguish the Grandes Chroniques from other works. First, the revised structure of the French text, reflected in book divisions and decoration, pays increased attention to the lives of Charlemagne, Charles the Bald, and Philip Augustus. Second, the language of the translation is more "objective" than that of the contemporary vernacular histories that Primat used as sources. Third, original additions to the prologue place the text that follows squarely within the framework of Louis IX's royal ideology. The following chapters consider whether the Grandes Chroniques 's illustrations, the most obvious additions to this vernacular chronicle, were equally innovative.


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