Gaul-art - 11/15/96
"Of Things French in the Middle Ages" by Lady Isabelle de Foix.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
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Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
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Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
OF THINGS FRENCH IN THE MIDDLE AGES
by Lady Isabelle de Foix
Not everyone is aware of the fact that France has a German name. The
Germanic people who overran the Roman province of Gaul in the fifth century were
called the Franks. This name came from the Old Germanic word for "free". These
people had never been under Roman rule, and were notorious for their hatred of
Roman rule and civilization.
There were originally at least two branches of the Frankish people. The branch that was to play the most important role in history were the Salian Franks. They originally came from an area that was east of the Rhine. In the fourth century, the Franks, wishing to get closer to the wealth of the Roman Empire, obtained from the Roman Emperor Julian the right to settle along the northern frontier of the Empire, in what is now Belgium. During the fifth century, while Roman power disintegrated, they moved southward into Gaul. It was probably during this period that one family began to dominate the Frankish political structure, and so became the Frankish royal family. This family, like other German dynasties, claimed descent from the gods, and they traced their ancestry to a German mythological character named Merovech Thus this family was known as the Merovingian dynasty. The first of this dynasty was Clovis, who converted to Christianity in 496. He allied himself with the Roman Catholic Church against heretics known as "Arians".The Visigoths, or "West Goths", another Germanic tribe who settled in southeast Gaul, were Arians, and Clovis had no trouble extending his realm at their expense (507). He also conquered the Burgundians, another Germanic tribe, who had settled in southeastern Gaul. He then chose Paris as his capital, and a new Christian kingdom took form in the West. Clovis chose Paris as his capital because, like the rest of northern Gaul, it had been heavily colonized by Salian Franks, and partially because of religious traditions. Paris had connections with several saints, most notably St. Dionysus, or, as the French called him, St. Denis. Medieval Parisians confused St. Denis with St. Dionysus of Corinth, who had been one of St. Paul's disciples. St. Denis had been the first bishop of Paris, where he had been martyred around 250 C.E. The area where he had been martyred was called Montmartre, the "mountain of the martyr". A shrine was erected here, and it became a popular destination for pilgrimages. So Paris became associated with St. Denis, and this gave the city prestige.
The Merovingians were great conquerors; they proved to be inept rulers. They never ceased to be primitive Germanic chieftains; they never rose to the challenge of ruling as kings. They divided their property among their sons, and this led to fratricidal wars among Clovis' successors, since this custom made all of them claimants to the throne. At times during the sixth century, there were even two kings. The old Roman order in the realm collapsed to the point where the crown could not even collect taxes Meanwhile the Frankish and Gallo-Roman aristocracies, who began to coalesce into one aristocracy, developed an intense hatred of the crown. The Merovingians tried to win the allegiance of some of the nobles by giving them offices which carried grants of lands. These officials wasted no time making these offices and land their private property. The title of duc (duke) originally belonged to the military representatives of the Frankish crown; the title of conte (count) originally belonged to royal legal officials, The recipients of these offices transferred them to their heirs, and these families became the Frankish aristocracy after a few generations. In 751 the hapless Merovingians lost the throne to the dynasty called the Carolingians. This dynasty was named after its most famous member, Charles, who was crowned King of the Franks in 771 and Holy Roman Emperor in 800. This monarch was called Carolus Magnus (Charles the Great) in Latin, and became known as Charlemagne in French and English.
Charlemagne was a great conqueror; he conquered territories as far east as the modern Czech Republic and Slovenia. He followed Frankish tradition by dividing his empire between his three sons, and in effect tore up his own empire upon his death in 814. By 911 the western part of this empire was an independent kingdom, and its king was known as "Rex Francorum", or "king of the Franks", and his kingdom included most of what is now France. By this time the word "Francia" had two different meanings. The first kings of the house of Capet (987 -1328) only had direct control over a small area around Paris, where they had been dukes before they became kings. This area was known as the "Ile de France", or "island of France", because it is virtually surrounded by tributaries of the Seine River. Only the natives of France called themselves "French". Someone from Picardy, a district just north of the Ile-de-France, was Picard, not French; the same was true of other regions where the nobility held lands. This continued to be the case throughout the Middle Ages. In 1405 Christine de Pisan claimed that a particularly obnoxious custom was "even worse in Picardy and Brittany than in France" Many of the dukes and the counts who held lands in these regions had more power over them then the king did. Since the king claimed sovereignty over these lands, all of these lands, along with the Ile-de-France, was also called "Francia" in official documents.
This kingdom was very diverse culturally and linguistically. The Callo-Roman population had spoken "Vulgar" or low Latin, the Latin of the people as opposed to the polished Latin of the Roman writers. Roman settlements had been much more dense in southern Gaul than the north, which was much more heavily colonized by the Franks. Consequently the Vulgar Latin of the north was heavily influenced by the Germanic tongue of the Franks, while the speech of the south was not These languages got their names for their word for "yes". In the north, the word for yes was oil, which became the modern French oui; thus this language was called the "langue d'oil". In the South, the word for yes was oc, and was called either the "langue d'oc" or "Occitan". It is also referred to as "Provencal" It is interesting to note that the scholars of the period considered both of these languages to be merely highly corrupted forms of Latin rather than separate languages Additionally, there were very different dialects of both the langue d'oil and the langue d'oc. The word question came to English with the Norman invaders, who spoke a dialect of the langue d'oil. The Parisians pronounced this word "kes-ti-on": the Normans pronounced it "kwes-ti-on", just as we still doParisian dialect prevailed as the language of the entire kingdom because of the prestige and influence of Paris as a royal capital; by the sixteenth century the other dialects had died out.
The most famous users of the langue d'oc were the troubadours. The word "troubadour" is a modern French word derived from the Provencal word "trobar", which means "to invent".. While the poets of politically and socially turbulent northern France wrote of battles and blood-and-guts machismo in poems like the "Song of Roland" which was probably written around the beginning of the twelfth century, the polished and better-educated aristocrats of the more peaceful and affluent south either became troubadours themselves or patronized them. The first troubadour was Duke Guillaum of Aquitaine (1071--1127), the grandfather of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The predominate theme in troubadour poetry was unrequited love for a noble lady. This love was unrequited because the ladies were married. This love took on a quasi-religious tone when their love became veneration, elevating the lady to near-divine status. The men who venerated these ladies became their servants This was revolutionary, because women in the Middle Ages generally had a low social status. There were even female troubadours. By contrast, there is only woman in the entire Song of Roland, and this was Roland's fiancee, Alde "the Beautiful" who died when she was told of Roland's death.. The north was a man's world, until poets of the north began to imitate the troubadours. These poets, called the "trouveres", also began to venerate noble ladies. The idea of courtly love spread into Germany, where the poets who sang of love for their noble ladies were called "minnesingers" ("love poets"). Thus began the notion of chivalry as a code of proper behavior for the upper classes. The troubadour movement ran its course and died out in the thirteenth century in southern France, but their contribution to medieval culture was immortal.
Erasmus, "Praise of Folly", translation, Betty Radice, 1971, Penguin Books
Limited, reprinted with introduction by A.H.T. Levi, 1993, Penguin Books
Cantor, Norman, Civilation of the Middle Ages, HarperCollins, 1993.
Bowen, James, A History of Western Education, volume II, St. Martin's Press,
Chadwick, Owen, The Reformation, Penguin Books, 1964.
McConica, James, (chapter on Erasmus) Renaissance Thinkers, Oxford University
Levi, A. H. T. Levi, introduction to "Praise of Folly", Penguin Books Limited,
Huizanga, Johan, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation, translated from the Dutch
by F. Hopman, First Harper Torchbook edition, 1957; translation first published
under the title "Erasmus of Rotterdam" by Charles Scribner's Sons, 1924
Le Goff, Jaques, Medieval Civilization 400--1500, translated by Julia Barrow,
Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988
Durant, Will, Age of Faith, Simon & Schuster, 1950
Durant, Will, The Reformation, Simon & Schuster, 1957
Encyclopedia Brittanica, Fifteenth Edition, 1990
Various Authors, The Age of Discovery, Time-Frame, Time-life Books
Various Authors, The Renaissance: Maker of Modern Man, National Geographic
Copyright 1996, Patricia M. Hefner. Permission is given to use these articles in any educational publication as long as you credit me for the authorship of the article and send me a copy of the publication.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.