Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY XXIII.: ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE HISTORY OF FRANCE BY ROYAL RACES. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY XXIII.: ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE HISTORY OF FRANCE BY ROYAL RACES. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE CLASSIFICATION OF THE HISTORY OF FRANCE BY ROYAL RACES.
Suppose a sensible stranger, who had some acquaintance with the original historians of the downfall of the Roman empire, but had never opened a single modern volume of our history. Suppose that, meeting for the first time with one of these books, he looked through the table of contents, and remarked, as a striking feature, the basis of the whole work, the distinction of several races, what idea do you think he would form of these races, and the intention of the author? Most probably he would imagine that this distinction answers to that of various populations, either Gallic or foreign, the mixture of which, gradually brought about, formed the French nation; and when he saw that he was mistaken, that they are simply different families of princes, upon which our entire system of national history turns, he would doubtless be much astonished. For us, used from infancy to such an historical plan, not only it does not offend us, but we cannot imagine it to be possible to find another. We simply require of the writers to introduce as many fine maxims and as elegant a style as possible into it.
It may perhaps be said that this method is a natural consequence of the importance of those who are placed at the head of the government; but antiquity likewise had governors; ancient historians do not forget to mention the names of the consuls of Rome and the archons of Greece. This notwithstanding, the narrative of each epoch is not with them of the birth, education, life, and death of a consul or an archon. A real history of France ought to relate the destiny of the French nation; its hero should be the entire nation; all the ancestors of that nation should figure in it by turns, without exclusion and without preference. The old chronicles, compiled in the convents, naturally had preferences for the men who gave the most to the churches and monasteries; and history, thus written apart from the scene of the world, lost its public character to assume that of simple biography. Notwithstanding the superiority of our enlightenment, we have copied the model transmitted by the monks of the middle ages, and we have even surpassed them. Of all that was passing in Gaul, they saw only the succession of the Frankish kings; we, for more simplicity, have reduced this succession to one family, or two or three at the utmost. The most scrupulous of our historians make three races of kings, but that is the extent; these are the pillars of Hercules which none venture to pass, not even those who confess that Mérovée is not the son of Clodion, and that Raoul, Eudes, and Robert are not descendants of Pepin. Notwithstanding this confession, they persist, according to the established formula, to call first race their collection of twenty-one kings, from Pharamond to Childeric III., and second race that of fifteen kings, from Pepin to Louis V.
First race, called the Merovingian; second race, called Carlovingian: these are two formulas which we read in those of our histories which are reckoned the best, and which we repeat in our habitual conversation, without conceiving the least doubt of their exactness. Yet more than one question can be made on this matter; and to begin with the dynasty which our historians call Merovingian, whence does it derive this surname, and at what period did it receive it? Is it a popular appellation of a mere scientific designation, introduced by the writers in order to mark a division in history? Here are difficulties which a second class pupil might submit to his professor. If the professor was one of those conscientious men who make sure of things before they reply, he would look through the original document, and would at first be much astonished to read in an ancient chronicler: Merovingia quæ alio nomine dicitur Francia. He would see Merovingus employed instead of Francus in a life of Saint Colomban, written in the seventh century. Finally, he would find in three historians, Frankish by birth, the following passages: Merovechus, à quo Franci cognominati sunt Merovingi . . . . Meroveus, ob cujus facta et triomphos (Franci), intermisso Sicambrorum vocabulo, Merovingi dicti sunt . . . . Merovicus, à quo Franci Merovinci appellati sunt, quod quasi communis pater omnibus coleretur.* Our professor would conclude from these authorities, that Merovingian, as we call it, or Merowing, as the Franks called it, was not only a family name, but sometimes the name of a people. All the Franks without distinction were called Merowings, from the name of Merowig, an ancient chief, whom all the members of the nation venerated as their common ancestor. There is nothing surprising in this; the clans of Scotland and Ireland and the tribes of Arabia still call themselves by the name of some ancient leader, poetically invoked as the father of the whole tribe.
As to the name of Carlovingians, it is an absurd barbarism, introduced into the nomenclature for more conformity with the name of Merovingians. The word used in the chronicles of the period, which has been disfigured in this way, is that of Carolingi, which is itself only the Frankish word Karling with a Latin termination.
The title of Karlings, or children of Karl, suits very well the kings whose succession composes what is called the second race; but this title should at least be restored or Frenchified in a proper manner. It was under the government of the descendants of Karl surnamed Marteau, that the title of Merowings or Merovingi, according to the Latin orthography and declension,† was applied as the name of a dynasty to the kings, the last of whom was dethroned by Pepin, Karl’s son.
Doubtless the attention bestowed on the genealogies of the kings has not been useless to history. This problem was the first which the learned of the seventeenth century undertook to solve; and several of them have given proof of an admirable sagacity. But now that, thanks to their efforts, every thing of this nature is cleared up, other historical questions arise, and that of our national genealogy among the first. As many as we are, French in name and heart, the children of one country, we do not all descend from the same ancestors. From the most distant times several populations of different races inhabited the territory of Gaul; the Romans, when they invaded the country, found in it three nations and three languages.‡ What were these nations, and in what relation of origin and family did they stand to the inhabitants of the other countries of Europe? Was there an indigenous race, and in what order did the races, emigrated from other parts, come to jostle themselves against the first? What has been, in the succession of time, the movement of degradation from the primitive differences of manners, character and language? Are any traces of them to be found in the local habits which distinguish our provinces, notwithstanding their uniformity produced by civilization? Do not the dialects and provincial patois, by the various accidents of their vocabularies and pronunciation, appear to reveal an ancient diversity of idioms? These are questions the bearing of which is immense, and which, if introduced into our history at its various periods, would completely change its aspect. There would be no need intentionally to diminish the importance of the royal races, in order that the imagination of the reader should be more struck with that of the popular races. They would be like great trees which should suddenly spring up in a field sprinkled with bushes, like rivers which should arise in a plain watered by little rivulets.
[* ] Sigeberti Chron—Hariulfi Chron.—Roriconis Gesta Francorum, apud Script. Rerum Francic. tom. iii.
[† ]Merwingi is sometimes found in the ancient documents.
[‡ ] See, in Cæsar’s Commentaries, the distinction he establishes between the Belgians, the Celts, and the Aquitanians.