History of the Franks


Saint Gregory of Tours was born in 538 in what is now Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region of central France. A Gallo-Roman who spoke Latin as his native language, he was ordained as a deacon in 563 and was bishop of Tours from 573 until his death in 594. Gregory’s Historia Francorum (History of the Franks) is a major source for the history of France under the Merovingians (ruled from the late fifth century to 750). The work is in ten books. Book one begins with the Creation and ends with the death of Saint Martin of Tours in 397. Books two, three, and four cover events in France from 397 to the death in late 575 of the Merovingian king Sigibert (or Sigebert) I. The remaining five books, ending in 591 during the reign of King Guntram (also seen as Gontran, reigned 561‒92), recount events that Gregory witnessed or of which he had personal knowledge. This manuscript, Latin 17654 in the collections of the National Library of France and known by the designation B4, is one of the important early manuscripts of the Historia Francorum, along with the library's B5 and B2 in the Royal Library in Brussels, Belgium. The manuscript is missing the last four chapters of Book 10 and parts of some chapters in books 1‒6. It is written in a Merovingian uncial. Some initials are adorned with geometric designs, plants and/or zoomorphic representations of fish, birds, or snakes, drawn with a pencil, and enhanced with yellow, red, orange, and green. Titles, incipits and explicits in capitals alternately are colored in yellow, red, orange, and green; titles in uncials are in orange-red ink. Appearances of the letter Q (for Quaternio), introducing the signatures of the notebooks in the margin, are enhanced with circles in a manner similar to the decorated initials, and notebook numbers are adorned with pyramids of small ink strokes. Some strokes (e.g., the iconographic repertory of fish, birds, and the cross; the form of the initial I in folio 52 verso; and the ornamentation of the signatures of notebooks) evoke the style that was executed in the Abbey of Luxeuil, which spread widely in Merovingian Gaul.

Last updated: August 15, 2017