Preface
 

I, Theuderic, once a king and master of men, now a servant of Christ in the monastery of Fontanelle, have, in the year of Our Lord eight hundred and twelve, finished writing this history of my very illustrious family, the race of kings they call Merovingians. Whereas Christ, through his death on the cross, secured everlasting life for those who repent, our glorious Father in heaven has, on account of my many sins, left me to toil in this world of grief even now until the eighty-second year of my age. Nevertheless, I trust and pray that my Father will see fit soon to take me to my reward, and it is right for me to set aside my pen and tie a ribbon around my papers, and bring to a close many years of labour, begun in pain and executed in sadness.

Today we live in a time when the human race itself grows old. For we were warned the last days would be terrible, when men would be lovers of themselves, boasters, traitors, disobedient, violent, false accusers, despisers of those that are good.[1] What do we see around us if not the very things of which we were warned? The one who was my fathers' slave now calls himself my king. He who is ignorant of the shapes of the letters sits on a throne and wears an emperor's diadem.[2] What more need I add? The days of my forefathers were as glorious as these days are wretched. Then, wars were few and their object was peace. Now, war begets war, and a state of peace is considered a kind of shame. Then, law gave protection to the weak. Now, the law punishes weakness, while murderers are excused and thieves are rewarded.

As I come to explain what led me to write this book, my pen is filled not so much with ink as with tears. It was in the year 750, one Sunday morning, when soldiers came from that faithless man Pippin to the palace of Compiègne, where my family was staying, and announced that we were the prisoners of our own royal servant.[3] I remember with shame that I was preparing for the  hunt, for in those days I was young and frivolous and did not observe the Lord's Day as I do now. The horses were returned to the stables and the dogs to their kennels, and I took off my hunting clothes. We were held in the hall with armed men standing guard over us. The gloom of the winter afternoon was redoubled as we did not know whether we might be struck and killed at any moment. I recall my father struggling to maintain his kingly dignity, not wanting to upset my mother and sister, though I could see he was humiliated and afraid. In the evening we were allowed to retire to our private chambers. I imagined that the soldiers had been ordered to murder us while we slept. Yet the morning came, and it was not only the day that lightened. Our captors, I now realise, had frightened themselves by their great crime. When they saw they controlled the royal estate, and our private bodyguard had abandoned us, they became calmer. What can I say? We spent a year there as prisoners. Our treatment was good and, in some ways, things did not seem much different from before. Then, on 28 October 751, day of shame and infamy, more soldiers arrived from the treacherous Pippin, with the command that my father was to be deprived of his throne, and put into holy orders at the monastery of Sithiu. We never saw him again. A few weeks later, the news came that Pippin had perversely taken the title of king and, forgetting his oaths of loyalty, had been anointed in the city of Soissons by one who ought to have known better, the holy Boniface.

One year after he was made a monk, my unhappy and wronged father fell ill and died. I was not allowed to attend his funeral, and was only told what had happened after he was already buried. The armed men who bore this news also announced that I was now to be put into holy orders. I was brought here to Fontanelle, tonsured and shown my new palace, that is to say, a little cell.[4] Although I was obliged to attend the holy offices with the monks, I was otherwise left alone and could visit any part of the monastery, though like the other inmates I could not leave. At that time I resolved to write the history of my family, for history should, if nothing else, be a teacher, and I wanted all to remember what true kings are, and know what they lost when they bowed their necks to a tyrant and usurper. At first, I wrote from my own memory of the things I had been taught as a boy. My abbots, Wido and later Gervold, who were also my turnkeys, were kind to me. I was able to correspond with certain wise men who remained loyal to my family, and they became as it were my hands and eyes in archives that it was then impossible for me to visit. In 768, when it appeared my life was in danger, Wido sent me to Ireland. I stayed there twenty years and they were some of my happiest. Like the foolish old man I am, I feel the tears running down my face as I call to mind the cell where I slept, and the place I sat at in the library, and the friends with whom I enjoyed many conversations, both serious and carefree. Yet I also longed to see my native Francia again. When the news reached me of my mother's death, and I remembered her last letter, in which she spoke of her desire to see me again, I realised I had been skulking like a fugitive for too long. My life was not in danger, for Pippin's son Charles (i.e. Charlemagne, ed.) , was puffed up with arrogance and surrounded by sycophants, and felt secure in his rule. When I was younger, I burned with the desire to have my kingdom restored, expecting it any day, but I idled and did nothing to make it happen. It was only a dream. Giving up even the dream, I was no threat to my self-proclaimed master. I have now been back in my homeland another twenty years and more, and life has not been unkind. I have not had to labour with my hands, my needs have been met, and there have been opportunities to travel and spend time with friends.

All the while, I have been working on my history, reading every relevant thing and making many notes. On my journey home from Ireland, I travelled through Jarrow and paid my respects, I am very pleased to say, at the tomb of that most venerable historian and man of God, Bede. Though he had passed joyfully to the Lord fifty years before, it was my great fortune to discuss his methods with the disciples who keep burning the flame of his great learning. They taught me how to reckon time, as Bede did, by the years of our Lord's incarnation, which was first calculated by the wise Dionysius Exiguus.

I will now explain the arrangement of my work. I have started at the beginning, not with Adam and Eve as many chroniclers do, but with the story of my earliest forefathers, and, setting everything in its proper order, I have continued up to the deposition of my own father, which I described above. I have taken what was written by my predecessors, and added what I could obtain from old letters and other kinds of record, as well as drawing on the many things I learned from my relatives. I must apologise for my rough way of writing. When I was young I neglected my studies, and I know only how to use simple words in a simple order.  In producing this history, I thought it better to make myself understood than to try and impress the cognoscenti with a flowery style. I have also stayed faithful to the events as they actually happened, unlike that awful man, Gregory of Tours, who caused so much trouble to my family and whose ten books of histories might more properly be called ten books of lies. I would rather tell the truth and risk provoking the anger of men, than deny it and suffer the anger of God. Therefore let no one change my account to make it more acceptable, or leave out those parts which are considered to offend. As we read in the scriptures, if any man shall take away from the words of this book, may God take away his part out of the book of life. The Lord has said, Surely I come quickly. Even so, come Lord Jesus.[5] In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

[1] See 2 Timothy 3.1-3.
[2] Einhard in his Life of Charlemagne (3.25) tells us that Charlemagne tried but was unable to write. Charlemagne was crowned emperor at Rome on 25 December, 800; Royal Frankish Annals s.a. 801.
[3] The one semi-genuine charter we have of Childeric III was given at Compiègne; Urkunden der Merowinger no. 190. Compiègne was the place of issue of genuine charters of Chilperic II; ibid. nos. 171, 173, 175. A genuine placitum of Theuderic IV was given at Ponthion in 726, and interpolated charters at Quierzy in 722; ibid. no. 187, 182, 184. It seems the Merovingian kings were increasingly restricted to Compiegne. For the date: the Royal Frankish Annals give Pippin's elevation in 750; Fredegar's Second Continuation c. 33 gives November 751 for Pippin's elevation (see the MGH annotation, SRM 2, p. 182). See also GAF c. 14 for the date of 750. Theuderic suggests that Pippin put the royals under house arrest a year before he actually usurped the kingship.
[4] The Gesta Abbatum Fontanellensium (SRG 28) c. 14 records that Childeric III was sent to Sithiu and Theuderic to Fontanelle in the following year.
[4]See Revelations 22.19-20.