This study examines the rhetorical structure of the Decem libri historiarum of Gregory of Tours. Whereas previous studies have drawn attention to Gregory's habit of pairing parallel narrative threads for the purpose of comparing what he considered to be appropriate and inappropriate behavior, the inconsistencies in that rhetorical strategy (e.g., lack of criticism for Clovis' parricidal policies of expansion and uncharacteristic moments of praise for Chilperic, the “Herod and Nero” of Gregory's lifetime) have been attributed to Gregory's penchant for the ironic or satirical. This study takes the view that Gregory purposefully constructed complicated, and at times contradictory, profiles for the dramatis personae of his history in order to generate a sense of suspended judgment for which he would become the ultimate arbiter at the end of an individual's life. This style of narrating the lives of individuals made Gregory himself a dramatis persona in his own history by investing him with absolute interpretative authority and authority over the construction of historical memory. Gregory's careful development of that authority was itself a strategy for survival in a very fluid, and often volatile, political environment.


Sometime after his elevation as bishop in 573, Gregory of Tours began writing his Decem libri historiarum by composing a preface that claimed with memorable simplicity, “quite a few deeds continue to occur, some good and some bad.”1 By the time that he finished his history in 594, it had become the fullest continuous narrative of Gallic events for the fourth through sixth centuries, ranging in more or less the same understated style through the triumphs and disasters of men and women associated with the Gallic church and the Frankish and Gallo-Roman aristocracy. Unlike previous masters of historiography, such as Tacitus or Ammianus, who regularly shuttled the reader across the expanses of the Mediterranean world without losing clarity of focus, Gregory rarely strayed beyond the confines of post-Roman Gaul. Gregory wrote about events close to home and close to his heart. Perhaps in part because of this “provincial” scope, Gregory has not been regularly subjected to scrutiny as a depicter of the past doing what Cassiodorus once described as depingere historico modo, to paint in historical fashion, at least not to the extent that modern scholarship has treated the historical writing of Gregory's predecessors.2 Although recent studies of the Decem libri have been more alert to Gregory as a craftsman of the past, there is still a tendency to read Gregory out of his own work and to focus instead on the subjects that Gregory described.3 This tendency is understandable on several counts. Gregory's own repeated protestations that he was not a practitioner of the rhetorical art, coupled with a style of writing that was classic sermo humilis, encouraged early assessments that Gregory lacked extensive training in letters.4 Similarly, the assumption that Gregory wrote history in the service of a poorly defined posterity (a notion again strengthened by his own attestation in the preface to the Decem libri),5 has not inclined scholarship to delve deeply into the mechanics of how Gregory constructed the past for his own purposes. The present study explores some of the textual tactics employed by Gregory as a purposeful practitioner of the historical art, primarily by assuming that Gregory's interest in the present was far more urgent than his interest in the past. As Gregory disclosed in the opening sentence of his history, he was concerned about “things that continue to occur,” with the grammatically correct understanding of the imperfect subjunctive (res gererentur), that he anticipated both good and bad things would potentially continue. Thus, this study reads Gregory's Decem libri as a history that was acutely interested in the resolution of contemporary affairs, particularly those that could impact his own episcopacy, and suggests that his portrayal of lessons from past and even contemporary events was intended to strengthen his own position in order to weather the exigencies of politics in Frankish Gaul. The claim that Gregory wrote history to insulate himself from vulnerability to contemporary politics is not in itself new, and the current study owes much to the previous work of Ian Wood and Guy Halsall.6 More specifically, however, this essay suggests that Gregory constructed his history in such a way that the only means of finding a rationale for the historical narrative that it offered was to actively surrender, as a reader, to Gregory's role as the authoritative interpreter of the past. Gregory purposefully positioned narrative sequences that would invite comparisons of how he rendered judgments about the individuals whom he privileged with roles in his history. His treatment of historical narrative, and of individuals, was intended to broadcast the fact that what posterity would understand about the past depended on his personal inclination with the pen. Indeed, a great many things were happening, but it would be Gregory who pronounced which were good and which bad, and this was a message that Gregory intended to broadcast to the political actors of his contemporary day.


Gregory's opening preface is a remarkable literary artifact that sets the stage for reading the entire Decem libri.7 Prefaces were the traditional apparatus for historical writing that disclosed the author's priorities and aims.8 More importantly, historical prefaces offered the author an opportunity to prime the expectations of the audience, particularly in such a way that the audience would be alert to potentially polemical subtleties in the narrative that had causal significance.9 In the case of Gregory's preface, a number of interesting themes emerge that were intended to condition how the audience should read the subsequent historical narrative. Importantly, Gregory uses his preface to project the notion of a public audience for the Decem libri, in addition to allowing him to craft his own authoritative persona as author. A reading of his preface will be sufficient to illustrate this point:

With the cultivation of liberal studies failing, and even disappearing altogether from Gallic cities, at a time when quite a few deeds continue to occur, some good and some bad, when the ferocity of hostile nations rages and the fury of kings is enflamed, when churches are assaulted by heretics and sheltered by the orthodox, faith in Christ glows in many, grows cool in quite a few, and so churches are either enriched by the devout or despoiled by the faithless. At such a time, not a single trained writer [grammaticus] learned in the art of composition [in arte dialectica] may be found who could portray these things either in prose style or in verse. Many people are continuously complaining, saying, “Woe to our times because the pursuit of literary studies has perished among us, nor may a trained speaker [rhetor] be found among the people, who is able to make current deeds public in writing.” And so thinking often upon these things being said, and sentiments similar to them, I have nevertheless neither been able to conceal the manner of those living properly nor the disputes of the most shameful, so that, even if in uncultivated exposition, they should come to the attention of the coming generation for the commemoration of the past. And with these incitements, quite unaccountably, I have marveled that it has been said by many that, “Few understand the philosophical public speaker [philosophantem rethorem], but many the speech of plain folk.”10

The first feature worthy of attention here is how the preface encourages readers to imagine a public audience for the Decem libri. Gregory alludes to the “many” who have complained about a lack of historical writing in recent memory and who prefer a simple style of exposition. The actual compass of this audience is unclear. It may be the case that Gregory merely refers to other members of religious vocation at the church of Tours. Alternatively, the extent of people throughout Gaul who figure as interlocutors with Gregory in the history itself potentially expands the audience to include a dispersed reading elite, both lay and religious, especially in towns across the regions of the Touraine and Auvergne, where Gregory claimed connection to a familial network.11 Gregory's own involvement in various Merovingian royal courts of Gaul would also encourage his readers to imagine that they were part of a more widely-ranging audience.12 Regardless of the actual scope of the audience, by not defining its boundaries, Gregory allows the reader to imagine an undifferentiated public readership for his history, rather than an enterprise aimed at a private dedicatee. His history would be a work that presumably answered the appeals of the many, and this simultaneously freighted his opinions with greater significance—something that could be of concern to those alluded to as malefactors in the preface, and who were designated as such in the subsequent details of the historical narrative. Current scholarship has similarly noted the potential importance of Gregory's use of the “many” in his general preface to describe his audience, positing that Gregory directed his history at clergy, officials in the civil administration and military commanders in order to manipulate public opinion.13 However, it is just as likely that Gregory conjured an imaginary “many” as a means, rather, to threaten an intervention in the collective historical memory. The very idea that his history would influence a wide public readership was potentially a threat to anyone included in the narrative.

Another prevalent theme of the preface is Gregory's claim that the traditional habits of literary activity—in this case, the writing of history—had fallen from common knowledge, such that only a person with meager literary ability, such as Gregory, could be found to manage the task of writing about past and present affairs. This, of course, is the classic topos for sermo humilis, in which the lack of rhetorical skill serves as a virtue and simultaneously declares distance from training in artifice, providing an attestation of candor and simplicity that Gregory claims suits the taste of his audience.14 Here, Gregory taps into contemporary attitudes toward literature and written history that had attended both the rise of Christianity, with its particular attitudes toward the classical literary heritage, and the end of the Roman Empire as a social and political system that had perpetuated (however indirectly) specific literary habits.15 Even highly literate Christians debated the proper role of literary skills inherited from secular, pre-Christian traditions, and they increasingly inclined toward modes of writing that were representative of long-standing Christian application. Gregory wrote at a time when Christianity had become the normative cultural system of the former Roman west, and his preface appears to confirm assumptions about literacy and literature in a post-imperial Christian context. According to Gregory, not only was he untrained in rhetorical arts, but those skills seemed to be utterly wanting in Gallic society. Thus, the preface claims, not only would Gregory be incapable of sophisticated prevarication of the past by virtue of his lack of literary training, but he is nonetheless exceptional as one of the few still capable of filling the void of historical knowledge. In short, Gregory's authority as an interpreter of the past rests upon a claim to both literacy and a kind of textual asceticism. Gregory's interpretation of the past (and present) was a kind of textual parrhesia, the authority to speak the plain truth, however condemning, as revealed through attunement to the will of God.

Gregory's claim to simplicity, however, has a particular Janus-like quality, in that it is but one face of a composite textual persona. Elsewhere, throughout the Decem libri, and in other narrative works (primarily hagiographical) to which Gregory refers in the history,16 it becomes clear that Gregory's command of sophisticated literary training was quite impressive. For example, in Gregory's first work, Glory of the Martyrs, he compared his aversion to the stock themes of a literary education to Jerome's contest with an affinity for Virgil and Cicero.17 In the process, Gregory could not refrain from enumerating the various classical stories that he would avoid retelling:

I do not commemorate the flight of Saturn, the wrath of Juno, the debaucheries of Jupiter… or the wars, shipwreck and kingdoms of Aeneas. I say nothing about the mission of Cupid, the love for Ascanius and the wedding, tears and fearsome destruction of Dido, the gloomy entrance court of Pluto, the debauched rape of Persephone, or the triple heads of Cerberus; nor will I repeat the conversations of Anchises, the trickeries of the man from Ithaca, the cunning Achilles… I will not recount the advice of Laocoön, the strength of Amphitryon's son…18

These were the stock themes of a classical literary education, often rehearsed in declamation, with which Gregory clearly had familiarity (so much so that he would refer to Odysseus and Hercules with playful allusion), but which Gregory professed as bearing, “the penalty of eternal death when the Lord passes judgment.”19 Gregory later commenced his Glory of the Confessors by claiming, “I do not possess the arts of rhetoric or the skill of grammar.” It was with full irony, however, that he conceded his rhetorical shortcomings by descending into a colorful series of metaphoric comparisons for literary malpractices that he, in his ignorance, would avoid.20 Despite his rejection of the themes of a classical literary education, Gregory was clearly familiar with authors known for literary value. In the preface to his Life of the Fathers, Gregory weighed the merits of using Vita or Vitae for the title of the work by referring to the opinions of Aulus Gellius and Pliny the Elder.21 Even in the Decem libri, where Gregory avers that he has followed the true path of Christian authors such as Eusebius, Jerome, and Orosius,22 he betrays knowledge of “classical” literature, such as Virgil and Sallust, whom he quotes for dramatic effect.23 Apparently his classical learning extended as far as an understanding of the structure of a classicizing education. Upon closing his history, Gregory recites the seven liberal arts, as had been dictated by Martianus Capella, whom Gregory assumed to be in current circulation among his readers.24 Interestingly, it is here at the end of his history that Gregory concedes his readers may include those trained in the three arts of the trivium which his preface explicitly claims had been lost in Gaul.25 Venantius Fortunatus likely numbered among those whom Gregory addressed when referring to Martianus. Venantius' own familiarity with classical themes has been long noted among scholars, including a series of Sapphic verses that he penned at Gregory's request, and in which he embedded allusions to Catullus, Horace, Propertius, and Virgil, likely for Gregory's delight.26 Similarly, Gregory was familiar with the retired queen Radegund, whose exquisite learning had secured her role as Venantius' sometime patron, although Radegund died in 587, prior to Gregory's completion of the history.27 In short, far from the man of plain speech, Gregory was a reader, and a writer, with a sophisticated literary background, and sophisticated literary audience, that he advertised in direct contradiction to the authority that he seemed to cultivate by posturing as a literary ascetic.28

Prior to writing the Decem libri, Gregory had appealed to a rhetorical (and religious) justification to explain the otherwise incongruous combination of literary training and simplicity of exposition. In essence, the desire to write was not his own but rather the will of God, and God's insistence upon the revelation of the truth purified what might otherwise seem an unseemly display of learning. As he noted in the Glory of the Confessors, “Worldly arrogance does not compel me to write; rather, embarrassment forces me to be silent, but love and fear of Christ compel me to repay my gratitude.”29 Similarly, in the Life of the Fathers, Gregory states that he had “presumed, despite our inexperience and ignorance, to speak of these things at greater length, praying to the Lord that He may put words in our mouth, as He has often rendered speech to the dumb, so that my lips may utter things salutary to my hearers and readers, and worthy of the holy fathers.”30 Gregory later appeals to this line of defense in the Decem libri, particularly in the preface, when he discloses his intent to reveal the troubled history by which Gallic churches had been protected by the faith of the few, and despoiled by the ambitions of others.

In the Decem libri, tension between Gregory's unwillingness to write and his readily apparent literary training surfaces as it had in previous hagiographical works, except that events of the past would be traced to the present day. Gregory's history is not, in strictu sensu, an ecclesiastical history. Like previous historians of the church, he attaches Gallic Christianity to the time of biblical Creation, but the narrative does not follow the development of a Gallic church. For example, the crowded history of Gallic church councils receives almost no attention in Gregory's narrative.31 Nonetheless, Gregory's relationship to the sacral personality of the church clearly assisted his enterprise by allowing him to craft a voice of authority. Indeed, his earlier hagiography and his role as the current bishop of Tours, a major cultic site with political importance for Merovingian rulers, allowed his personal voice to assume the authority not only of the Gallic church, but of iudicium Dei (“the judgment of God”) especially where he pronounced with solemn regularity either the salvation or damnation of various personalities in his narrative.32 Because the judgment of God was inscrutable and incontestable, so would readers be at the mercy of Gregory's judgment when what might be considered ethical logic seemed to fail. Indeed, the various failures of ethical logic in the Decem libri served to draw attention to how iudicium Dei inspired Gregory's own judgment.

Gregory's mandate from God would allow him to apply his immense literary skill to revealing the drama of wicked deeds that he had witnessed down to the very moment of writing his history. The combination of God's mandate, Gregory's literary training, the declared intent to expose evils done to the church, and the implied contemporaneity of the narrative all served to give pause to those readers with undue influence over Gregory's present circumstances. Why Gregory would fashion historical writing in this way has to do with the precariousness of his position. Tours long had strategic and cultural importance for Merovingian kings. It was a gateway city into the Touraine, itself a frontier between Francia proper and the region of southern Gaul that had submitted to Gothic rule until relatively recently, just before Gregory's own lifetime. Indeed, the appropriation of associations with the cult of Martin by Frankish rulers may have been an expedient for the many periodic political and military interventions that Tours experienced.33 As Gregory's own history makes very clear, dynastic strife between Merovingian rulers frequently triggered military action in towns of the Touraine and Auvergne such as Tours, Poitiers, and Clermont.34 These were cities that changed hands often as Frankish rulers sought to gain advantage over one another. Tours changed hands between six Frankish rulers in Gregory's lifetime, and between four during his episcopacy.35 In many cases, a change of lordship involved violence against the citizens of Tours and against its church.36 Gregory's own position was similarly precarious in as much as the church of Tours not infrequently became a source of sanctuary for a startling number of political exiles, such as the disfavored comes Guntram Boso and the renegade Frankish prince Merovech.37 Gregory's history also makes it clear, as it did during the trial of Bishop Praetextatus in 577 and his own trial in 580, that Gregory was an active participant in Merovingian politics, in which he assumed equal risks with other actors in the Frankish game of thrones.38 A textual demonstration of Gregory's capacity to pass judgment and to pass those judgments on to posterity was a strategy for curbing the behaviors of political actors who could harm Tours, Gregory's church, and Gregory himself. In other words, the Decem libri were a sixth-century instantiation of the adage, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Evidence suggests Gregory had been writing his history more or less continuously throughout his episcopacy to the year of his death in 594. The timeline for the authorship and publication of the Decem libri is the subject of considerable scholarly disagreement, and this is not the place for a full reconstruction of opposed arguments. Some scholars, such as Alexander Callander Murray, hold that Gregory wrote the Decem libri in a single moment at the end of his life.39 More compelling arguments have been made that Gregory wrote and released his history in parcels over the course of his episcopate, although without firm agreement on a precise chronology.40 For example, only Books 1, 2, 3, and 5 begin with prefaces, indicating that Gregory may have circulated updated versions of the history after the completion of Books 1, 2, 4, and then Book 10 in the last year of his life. Ian Wood has similarly noted a dramatic change in how Gregory handled the delicate subject of Fredegund's chastity, particularly by becoming more outspoken about her infidelity in portions of the history written after the death of her husband, King Chilperic.41 The change in tone suggests that the circulation of earlier portions of his history to readers had required a kind of discretion not needed with subsequent circulation. Of course, disclosing opinions critical of prominent political actors carried very real dangers, even for Christian leaders assumed, in theory, to be clothed with the protective grace of parrhesia. Gregory's history relates a number of instructive episodes in which he and fellow bishops came under intense censure.42 As this article argues, it is precisely because of the vulnerability of bishops like Gregory to the temperaments of secular rulers that he appealed to a mode of writing that would allow him not only to offer the instruction of the past to remedy current ills, but also to discourage reprisals against himself and his community. Thus, history, for Gregory, was the sharp edge of a kind of parrhesia that granted him license to critique. And the more widespread was knowledge of Gregory's reputation as a savant of historical narrative, the more secure would his position and that of Tours become. From this perspective, the Decem libri offers much more than a palette of historical details concerning late antique Gaul and its peoples; the history offers an example for how knowledge of the past could be crafted to suit the needs of the author and, more importantly, how religious and ideological sensitivities converged in the minds of readers (and rulers) to empower the past and the potential legacy of historical memory with almost coercive force. At least, it is argued here, that was Gregory's hope.


Although Gregory proposed to adopt a plain, unadorned style of narrative, it is in the architecture of the history's structure where Gregory's artistry and his strategy emerges. Gregory's hand in crafting the past is most deft where the reader is allowed to make discoveries, almost through casual comparison. Scholars have long noted how Gregory's historiographical style is structured by comparanda. Gregory introduces the heuristic for comparative reading in his first preface, where he draws attention to res rectae vel inprobae (“deeds good and bad”).43 Scholars have similarly noted that this rhetorical feature of Gregory's writing relates directly to his aims as an author of history, particularly as a means of demonstrating the efficacy of the clergy in adjudicating affairs of state.44 But whereas the sometimes-arbitrary judgments that emerge out of his paired comparisons have been attributed to a penchant for irony and satire,45 Gregory's seeming lack of a consistent internal logic has not received consideration as a purposeful and patterned habit for the emplotment of historical memory.46 Indeed, as a reading of Gregory's plot threads reveals, the behaviors of historical actors that Gregory would label as mixte confusaeque (“confused and disordered”),47 provided him with ample opportunity to demonstrate his own lasting imprint on the production of historical memory for the remonstration of his own contemporaries.

Gregory's control over the past through pairings can be seen in both simple and complex formulations. For example, two parallel themes in Book 2 are episcopal successions in Gaul and the origins of Frankish kings. Where Gregory's historical memory concerning successions in Gallic churches is clear and precise, Gregory feigns confusion and misgiving concerning the origins of Frankish kings, demonstrating early in the history a contrast between two sources of authority in his own political theatre.48 Some contrasts were clearly a product of Gregory's sources, but elsewhere, especially with regard to local Gallic affairs, Gregory's agency as author must be considered. For example, in Book 2, Gregory pairs two successive chapters. In the first (2.20), a dux named Victorius, whom the Visigothic king Euric had sent to govern Clermont, was exiled by the men of the town for “being exceedingly wanton in affairs with married women.”49 After fleeing to Rome, he eventually returned to his former habits of debauchery, for which he was stoned to death. In the following chapter (2.21), Eparchius assumed the episcopal seat of Clermont and was afflicted with sexual desire by Satan, who approached the bishop in the guise of a prostitute. Thereafter, Eparchius was tempted by “lusts of the flesh,” but he managed to prevail.50 Both chapters portray the effect of sexual desire on public figures in the same community. The contrast is clear: where the secular leader failed to restrain indecent passions, the bishop prevailed. The message was the efficacy of a holy man over that of a secular figure appointed by a heretical (Arian) king. But Gregory could also cast judgment on members of the church with the same strategy of pairing chapters. For example, in 3.12, Frankish soldiers of king Theuderic ransacked the church of bishop Quintianus in Clermont. During the course of laying hands on the property of citizens that had been collected at the church for safe keeping, the soldiers “were overcome by an unclean spirit,” and they set about tearing themselves to pieces “with their own foul teeth.”51 In the very next chapter (3.13), Theuderic's soldiers moved on to neighboring Vollore, a fortress town that had never previously fallen into enemy hands; but because the presiding priest at this town (Proculus) had once committed an unspecified injury to the sainted Quintianus of Clermont, the town was seized, the inhabitants sold into slavery, and Proculus himself was slaughtered by soldiers at the very altar of his church. Although Gregory admits that his explanation for the fall of Vollore is only speculative, his technique of stage setting allowed his audience to compare two dramatically different spectacles: that of divine vengeance against sacrilegious soldiers in one church and against an impious priest in another.

More interesting are episodes where Gregory's judgment seems utterly arbitrary. For example, a favorite theme of Gregory's, and one directly related to his own difficulties at Tours, is that of unruly priests and deacons who defy the authority of the bishop. Two such cases appear in Book 2, the first pertaining to the successor of Saint Martin. Gregory relates at length how the priest Bricius had insulted Martin, going so far as to lay snares to test his bishop's holiness.52 In his own turn, upon succeeding as bishop of Tours, Bricius endured slander and calumny, eventually being expelled from Tours by its citizens; but he was finally allowed to return after confessing the sins he had committed against Martin, for which reason he eventually regained his episcopal throne at Tours “and lived there happily” for the remainder of his life.53 Later in Book 2, Gregory relates a narrative where it becomes clear that forgiveness for abusing a bishop was not available to all. In 2.23, Gregory describes how two priests at Clermont slandered and abused the bishop Sidonius. It is noteworthy that Gregory does not refer to the priests by name, given his own familiarity with Clermont. Indeed, it almost seems that Gregory must circumlocute naming the two priests, who were dead by the time of his own episcopacy in Tours: “With Sidonius' passing, the wicked priest, the second of the two who yet remained…”54 The anonymity of the priests may relate to the rather spectacular fashion in which each perished later as a consequence of persecuting bishop Sidonius. The first died on a lavatory, for which Gregory asserts, “Whence it should not be doubted that this very man was guilty of a crime no less serious than that of Arius [the author of the so-called Arian heresy], who in the same way discharged his entrails through his lower passage in the lavatory.”55 The second died at a lavish dinner party after having a servant explain a vision in which the priest had been denounced by the now-dead Sidonius before a heavenly magistrate, for which Gregory likened his downfall to that of Simon Magus.56 Although Gregory claims that the “Lord delivered so harsh a judgment on the unruly priests in their lifetime,”57 the elaborate descriptions of their deaths, combined with their anonymity, points to Gregory as the arbiter who proclaimed their damnation after death.

Bishops also could suffer withering rebuke in the episodes fashioned by Gregory. One of the more memorable episcopal epics narrated by Gregory is the contest between Cato and Cautinus over the episcopal see of Clermont. Gregory recounts the deeds of both men over the course of five chapters in Book 4, where it is nearly impossible to discern which man was the greater miscreant.58 Cato appears as self-important, arrogant, and unreasonably ambitious, for which reason he lost his position as bishop, first of Clermont and then of Tours. His rival for the office of bishop at Clermont, Cautinus, succeeded by enduring the abuses of Cato but then proved to be a drunken and avaricious glutton, who went so far as to bury a priest alive in order to seize his property. As Gregory states, “never had Nero or Herod committed such a crime… To Cautinus, however, nothing was sacred… for he was completely forlorn of any kind of reading, either sacred or profane.”59 Gregory delays pronouncing judgment on the two until much later in the book (4.31), when describing the plague that afflicted the Auvergne in 571. Here it is learned that Cato had dedicated himself to burying victims of the plague (not live priests!) when others had fled, “This priest, if he was held by any pride, he was cured, I believe, because he was sufficiently delighted by many kindnesses to the poor. Bishop Cautinus, by comparison, fearing this calamity, when he had wandered among diverse places and returned to the city, falling upon this blight, he died on Good Friday.”60 Both men behaved scandalously, but importantly, like Bricius' confession, it was their behavior in the final moment upon which Gregory based his final judgment.

It should be clear that Gregory had a penchant for the dramatic, and irony played a major role in how he communicated the inscrutable nature of final judgments to his audience. Secular figures receive even more studied attention in this regard. A case in point is the turbulent career of the nobleman Guntram Boso, which Gregory relates over the course of six books.61 Although it is natural that a contemporary with whom Gregory was personally familiar should appear episodically throughout the books in which Gregory was an eyewitness, Gregory's opinion of Guntram Boso is not entirely consistent until his final obituary in Book 9. Prior to his death, Gregory describes him as a fool who entertained ambitions for becoming a bishop on the advice of soothsayers and as an inveterate oath breaker who trafficked in deceit in order to acquire the favor of the wicked queen Fredegund.62 But Gregory also seems to concede the childish quality of his flaws with a particular ambivalence, noting, “indeed, in other respects, Guntram was an altogether honorable man, but was too prone to breaking oaths.”63 On a decidedly more positive note, Gregory later portrays him invoking the name of Saint Martin and heroically dispatching the freebooter Dragolen in defense of his daughters, the only episode of martial heroism in the entire history.64 Similarly, in Gregory's Miracles of Saint Martin, Boso assumes an almost heroic quality in tandem with the power of the patron saint of Tours. When caught in a gale while crossing the Loire, with boats already overwhelmed by water, Boso commanded his men to take heart as he called upon Martin, to the effect that the waters calmed and the party reached the shore without loss.65 Nonetheless, when Boso finally died in Book 9, Gregory solemnly pronounced that, “he was an unprincipled sort of man, greedy and avaricious, coveting beyond all measure the goods of other people, giving his word to all, keeping his promises to none.” Thus would Boso be remembered by Gregory's pen.

Gregory's treatment of Merovingian rulers operates in much the same fashion, but with the expectation that comparisons between Frankish kings should be drawn across generations. The first Merovingian king to serve as an exemplar for Gregory's rhetorical strategy is Clovis, a deeply flawed Christian ruler but nonetheless a new Constantine, according to Gregory.66 Much like Guntram Boso, Clovis' propensity for perjury and deception was breathtaking. Even after converting to orthodox Christianity, Gregory nonetheless recounts episodes in which Clovis contrived on specious grounds to slaughter not only fellow Frankish kings but his own kinsmen. The means by which he destroyed competitors is colorful, to say the least, but so is Gregory's justification for Clovis' rise to power, too. Two episodes, in particular, illustrate how Gregory both accentuates Clovis' duplicity and refuses to censure his behavior. In chapter 2.40, Gregory describes the elaborate plot in which Clovis seizes the territory of Cologne by duping the son of a fellow Frankish king into assassinating his own father. In the aftermath of the patricide, Clovis arranges to have the son murdered, seizes the city of Cologne and then offers an address to the inhabitants as the new ruler, in which he perjured himself by disavowing any role in the bloodshed of the two kings, “But I am in no way associated with these affairs, for I am unable to shed the blood of my kinsmen, because that would be a sin.”67 Nonetheless, Gregory adds the perplexing explanation that, “God daily bowed Clovis' enemies under his hand and increased his kingdom, for he walked before God with an upright heart and he did what was pleasing in the eyes of God.”68 Following this, at 2.42, when Clovis' trickery brings the destruction of the Frankish king Ragnachar and his brothers, Gregory dismisses Ragnachar as a lecher, for which he seems to dismiss Clovis' complicity. Nevertheless, as in the episode concerning the Frankish kings of Cologne, Gregory notes that Ragnachar and his brothers were kinsmen of Clovis, for which reason Clovis expressed remorse, “not grieving for the death of these kinsmen, but as a contrivance, so that he might perhaps discover someone yet alive whom he would kill.”69 Gregory's crafting of Clovis' memory was peculiarly blind.70 Although he celebrated Clovis as a new Constantine on account of his conversion and for his respect for Saint Martin, he was an inveterate and unrepentant kinslayer—something that Gregory would have known from his reading of how Orosius had characterized Nero, Gregory's favorite label for bad character.71 Nonetheless, in his final obituary of Clovis, Gregory rings a decidedly positive note, “King Clovis supported correct belief in the Trinity, he crushed the sources of heretical belief and he expanded his kingdom throughout all of Gaul.”72 The problematic nature of Gregory's portrayal of Clovis is well known to modern scholars and has prompted a range of interpretations intent upon explaining what appears to be a lapse in ethical logic on Gregory's part. What has not received attention is the rhetorical interplay that Gregory crafted between the perplexing fact of Clovis' seeming final salvation, on the one hand, and judgments that Gregory rendered for succeeding generations of Merovingian rulers.

The sons of Clovis are amply depicted as having inherited their father's disregard for shedding familial blood, and the manner in which Gregory generates parallel consideration of Clovis and his descendants is noteworthy, particularly because he chose not to bequeath the same saving grace of a positive obituary to the succeeding generation. In many ways, the older son of Clovis, Theuderic, may be seen as a new Clovis. Like his father, Theuderic was the offspring of questionable legitimacy.73 And like his father, he subjugated the Thuringians, a neighboring people with whom both Clovis and Theuderic could claim relation through Clovis' mother Basina.74 Closer to the issue of familial betrayal, Gregory portrays Theuderic in constant antagonism with his own brothers. During the course of one plot against his brother Chlothar, Gregory noted that, “Theuderic was very adept at these sort of schemes [talibus dolis].”75 It is worth noting that Gregory used the same term (dolus) to describe Clovis' plots against kinsmen.76 Theuderic's death passes without explicit judgment from Gregory, although this may be because of the obvious contrast with the glowing reputation Gregory gifted to Theuderic's son, Theudebert. Gregory notes the break with a tradition of familial treachery when describing how Theuderic slew his kinsman Sigivald with his own hand, but Theudebert, out of religious scruple, refused to slay Sigivald's son at his father's order.77 After Theuderic's death, Gregory explains how Theudebert, “became a great man and distinguished himself in every kind of nobility. He ruled the kingdom with justice, he respected bishops, bestowed favors upon the churches, relieved the poor, happily conceded many pious and helpful gifts to many,” and he remitted the taxes that churches had paid to his father's treasury.78 The final contrast between Theudebert and his father comes near the end of Book 3, where Gregory explains how the good king Theudebert rehabilitated Desideratus, the bishop of Verdun.79 This was a bishop whom Theudebert's father had disgraced and driven to penury for undisclosed reasons. What mattered to Gregory was the charity Desideratus received from the new king, for which reason when he, in turn, became ill, Gregory could happily report: “God was already summoning him to attend.”80 However, despite the obvious warmth with which Gregory wrote of Theudebert, he also explains that after his death, the Franks took the opportunity to retaliate against Parthenius, Theudebert's hated tax assessor. After a failed attempt by two bishops to hide Parthenius, he was torn to pieces by a mob. As Gregory notes, this was quite deserved, because “he was a voracious glutton at meals… and he would noisily discharge farts, even in public without any respect for those listening.”81 Although Theudebert was apparently a model king, the narrative of Parthenius actually overwhelms the good king's obituary. The irony of the Parthenius narrative, combining as it does with the obituary of an otherwise model king's reign, is but a token of the rhetorical manipulation with which Gregory could treat historical memory. In Life of the Fathers, the roles of Theuderic and Theudebert are completely reversed. On several occasions, Gregory demonstrates Theuderic as a king both fearfully respectful and scrupulously supportive of men of the church.82 By contrast, Gregory notes that it was Theudebert who was unjust and scornful of religion.83

Jarring though the revelation concerning Parthenius may seem, it actually forms a bridge to Book 4, which describes the reign of Clovis' most successful son, Chlothar. At the beginning of Book 4, Gregory relates how Chlothar decreed all churches would pay a third portion of their revenues to the treasury, thus renewing the issue of royal taxation.84 Apparently all bishops yielded to this demand out of fear except Injuriosus, the current bishop of Tours, whose indignation so concerned Chlothar, “for he feared the might of blessed Martin,” that the king cancelled his decree.85 Gregory describes Chlothar throughout the history as a deeply flawed but ultimately repentant Christian king. Chlothar was a notorious womanizer who infamously married the young Ingund, only to enter into bigamous marital relations with her sister, Aregund, afterwards.86 Interestingly, although Chlothar was given to lust and to conflict with his kinsmen, Gregory takes an interest in Chlothar's attempts to redeem himself in the eyes of the church. Not only did he heed Injuriosus with regard to taxes, but he rebuilt Saint Martin's church in Tours.87 It is perhaps out of consideration for this that when Gregory described Chlothar's final battle with his rebellious son Chramn, he notes: “And in that place King Chlothar readied for battle against his son, as though a new David against Absolom.”88 Where Clovis had been a new Constantine, his son Chlothar was a new David; but where Clovis received the grace of forgiveness for his iniquities upon death, the reader finds Chlothar, in the very next chapter, making a pilgrimage to Tours to confess “all the misdeeds he may have committed in ignorance” at the tomb of Saint Martin.89 David's repentance for his own sexual improprieties may be implied. Nevertheless, in the same chapter, Gregory explains how Chlothar fell ill and on his deathbed exclaimed, “Well, what kind of king would you suppose is in heaven, that he would thus kill such a great king as me.” Gregory added the editorial that Chlothar thus passed with a tormented spirit.90


Gregory's interest in Chlothar's marital relations and in his disposition toward taxing the church provide comparanda for how he wrote about Chlothar's most notorious son, Chilperic.91 Indeed, Chilperic almost seems a natural product of Chlothar's adulterous nature. Gregory explains without much flourish that, whereas Chlothar's other sons had issued from his legal marriage with Ingund, Chilperic was the issue of Chlothar's bigamous relationship with Aregund.92 Chilperic, in turn, seems to have inherited his father's poor judgment in selecting wives and also his interest in taxing the resources of the church.93 Not surprisingly, Gregory heaped all the stock vices of Merovingian kings upon Chilperic—he married badly out of lust, he abused bishops out of arrogance, he plotted against kinsmen out of greed, and he murdered and broke oaths.94 As a crowning rhetorical gesture, Gregory would ultimately dub Chilperic, “the Herod and Nero of our times.”95

Nevertheless, despite the by-now predicable complaints, there was something genuinely different about Chilperic, who reigned for 23 years, including nearly a decade of Gregory's episcopacy during which Tours was under Chilperic's authority. If the length of his reign is any indication, he was actually a quite successful ruler. In fact, it is possible to read around Gregory's obvious derision of Chilperic all the signs of a ruler who was perhaps thoughtful and intellectually attuned to both religion and cultural traditions. For example, Gregory reviles Chilperic's attempts to engage in theological debate.96 Although Gregory portrays Chilperic's decree on Christian theology as ignorance of Trinitarian doctrine, Chilperic may have seen himself as following a proper Constantinian paradigm in which rulers shaped religious observance. Chilperic even composed Christian hymns and sermons—enterprises appropriate to a proper bishop.97 In Gregory's view, however, Chilperic's attempts to act in a tradition of Christian rulership were ultimately flawed. Similarly, Chilperic is the only Frankish king noted for his literary tastes. Following upon Gregory's refutation of Chilperic's doctrinal innovations, he also announces that Chilperic had attempted to imitate the poetry of the earlier, fifth century Christian poet Sedulius and even went so far as to introduce four characters to the current alphabet.98 For Gregory, Chilperic's lack of wisdom in matters divine was naturally congruous with his incompetence in prosody.

More interestingly, however, Gregory seems to have overlaid signs of Chilperic's aptitude for governance with a rhetoric suggestive of imitatio Neronis. Gregory was at least familiar with the reputation of Nero's improprieties through the report of Orosius. It may be for this reason that Chilperic's interest in literary matters assumes a particularly burlesque quality in Gregory's history. Similarly, Nero's fascination with matters of the stage may explain Gregory's report that Chilperic had ignored his brother's threats of war because of his preoccupation with building amphitheaters at Paris and Soissons.99 It is difficult to imagine how Chilperic may have managed being absorbed in construction projects in two separate cities, except that Nero had made both literary erudition and support of spectacles notorious. It is tempting to view Chilperic's preoccupations as manufactures of a comparison to Nero, who, like Herod, were portrayed by Orosius as foe to the founding of the nascent Christian church. Indeed, Gregory later notes that Chilperic considered the church his adversary.100 Of course, the fact that Chilperic (unlike Nero) authored Christian hymns, sermons, and even doctrine suggests that Gregory's portrayal may have been a rhetorical response to a culturally-sensitive ruler.

Where Chilperic's direct paternal predecessors had been either a new Constantine (Clovis) or a new David (Chlothar), Gregory described Chilperic as a composite inverse—as the new Herod and Nero. Similarly, Gregory describes the very beginning of Chilperic's authority over the Touraine in terms that invoke an exemplar from the past: “he burned churches, stole holy vessels, killed clergy, emptied monasteries of men, raped maidens and despoiled everything. The lamentation in the churches at that time was even worse than in the time of Diocletian's persecution.”101 But Chilperic's memory was complex and Gregory's rhetorical strategy was not simply a matter of transforming the luster of a successful reign into something risible. Gregory almost unaccountably leaves indications of Chilperic's good nature untarnished.102 Gregory was clearly involved at an intimate level with Chilperic's court and deliberations. Many of Gregory's contests with Chilperic's policies are rendered as conversations between bishop and king,103 an indication that, like Clovis and Chlothar, Chilperic actually deferred to the bishop of Tours as the custodian of the sacred memory of Martin. In a similar light, although representatives of Chilperic such as Roccolen and Leudast may be seen stirring all manner of mischief at Tours,104 it is also the case that Chilperic respected the right of sanctuary at the church of Tours and even sent messages to the tomb of Saint Martin to ask for guidance.105 Although Gregory has a tendency to denigrate such shows of deference, there are other indications that Chilperic was not universally worthy of condemnation. For example, Chilperic extinguished the flames of a feud between noble families by referring an accusation of adultery to the judgment of a bishop.106 Similarly, Gregory mentions that Chilperic's hostility toward his son Merovech was based on the fact that his marriage to Brunhild (the widow of Merovech's uncle) violated religious scruple.107 And when Chilperic learned of Leudast's many crimes in Tours, he allowed the people of Tours to elect a new comes.108 Chilperic apparently exercised restraint in the pursuit of personal justice. When a bishop was accused of slandering the king, Gregory notes that “Chilperic was moved to compassion and left the decision to God,” thus deferring official censure.109 On another occasion, Gregory was brought to trial for slander against Chilperic's wife, Fredegund, and he notes that, “all present marveled at the king's wisdom and restraint” when Chilperic allowed Gregory to swear his innocence, rather than stand trial.110 Gregory even allows a hint of pathos for Chilperic when his two surviving sons succumbed to the plague, although his forbearance had limits. According to Gregory, the affliction of Chilperic's sons had been divine wrath against the decree of a new series of taxes.111 Not only had the taxes been impious, but when the people assaulted the tax collectors, as had happened under Theudebert, Chilperic's agents tortured and executed even abbots and priests in retaliation.112 Adding to the drama of the story, when Chilperic's sons fell ill, it was at the insistence of the wicked Fredegund that Chilperic was finally induced to repent of the taxes.113 And although Chilperic cancelled the taxes like his father Chlothar, divine mercy was withheld and Chilperic's sons nonetheless died.

In the end, Gregory's account of Chilperic is a tempestuous mélange of intimate dialogue, overt criticism, grudging admiration, Tacitean insult, and even empathy. The point of this seemingly-incongruous portrayal of things mixte confusaeque is that the memory of Chilperic should remain unsorted until Gregory decided to pronounce his obituary. Despite the various premonitions and portents concerning Chilperic, it is not until the end of his life that Gregory discloses a final verdict, that the Herod and Nero of his times had been damned as a wicked man.114 In this way, the manner in which Gregory constructs the memory of Chilperic shares much of the drama of suspended judgment that the reader finds with regard to the likes of Cautinus, Guntram Boso, Clovis, and Chlothar. However, upon Chilperic's death, Gregory secured the finality of his obituary through both rhetoric and prophecy. In the last chapter of Book 6, Gregory recites the full resume of Chilperic's evil deeds, whereby there can be no doubt concerning the just merits of the king's damnation.115 Immediately following, however, in the opening chapter of Book 7, Gregory decided to digress with a hagiographical account of the life of Salvius, whom Gregory notes had passed away in the same year as Chilperic.116 The life of Salvius was clearly a mirror opposite of Chilperic's. Proof against the temptations of sexual license and greed for property, Salvius led a blameless life, for which he was permitted to witness the rewards of his afterlife by first dying and then miraculously returning to life, whereupon he assumed the governance of Albi as the town's bishop during the last ten years of Chilperic's life (the same period of Chilperic's control of Tours). The following chapter (7.2) returns the reader to the jarring contrast of Chilperic's judgment (“With Chilperic dead, having found the fate which he had pursued for so long…”) and thus binds the comparison of holy man to wicked king.117 In both instances, that concerning Salvius and Chilperic, respectively, the main theme is the miraculous revelation of final judgement in the afterlife.


Gregory's self-appointed role as the herald of either salvation or damnation assumes particular importance during the reign of Guntram, the surviving brother of Chilperic and the king under whose authority Tours passed as a result of Chilperic's death.118 Despite Gregory's complaints about Chilperic's government, the death of Chilperic did not relieve Tours' precarious position. Guntram initially assumed control of Chilperic's household and kingdom, including the protection of his wife and designated heir, Chlothar II.119 Although Guntram was the only surviving son of Chlothar I and hence the most senior Merovingian ruler, his nephew Childebert, the king of Austrasia, also had a strong claim to the Touraine through his father Sigibert, who had ruled the region prior to his assassination in the conflict with Chilperic. Although Tours would pass to Childebert with the Treaty of Andelot in 587, the issue was unsettled in the years immediately following Chilperic's death in 584, and the Touraine became a point of contention between Guntram and Childebert. Gregory describes how the citizens of Tours had been compelled to swear allegiance to Guntram after his soldiers systematically pillaged private and church properties surrounding the town.120 Afterwards, when neighboring Poitiers attempted to change allegiance to Childebert, Guntram's soldiers ravaged the territory of Poitiers and again plundered Tours, although Gregory attests the citizens of Tours had remained loyal to their oath.121 Thus, as Guy Halsall has noted, Guntram was a chief and contemporary anxiety for Gregory.122

Gregory's history never subjects Guntram to the kind of invective visited upon Chilperic. Indeed, Gregory even refers to him as rex bonus, “the good king,” Guntram.123 Nevertheless, it is clear enough that Gregory portrayed Guntram as brooding, unpredictable, and dangerous. On the one hand, Gregory praises Guntram's restitution of properties previously seized by Chilperic's followers. As Gregory notes, Guntram was inclined to give gifts to churches and he “demonstrated kindness to many in person and conferred much upon the poor.”124 On the other hand, St. Martin's church at Tours was clearly vulnerable. This became apparent when Guntram ordered the execution of a political exile seeking sanctuary in the church precinct.125 Gregory also demonstrated how Guntram was prone to lapses of judgment, such as his order to execute his own chamberlain, a man Gregory claims was spuriously accused of killing an aurochs in the royal forest.126 At times, that judgment could be completely at odds with itself. For example, at 8.6 Gregory was able to prevail upon Guntram to fully rehabilitate two noblemen who had supported the dangerous rebel Gundovald and subsequently sought sanctuary at the church of St. Martin in Tours.127 In the very next chapter (8.7), Gregory describes how Guntram publicly humiliated two bishops who had acceded to the wishes of the same Gundovald. Indeed, Gregory here suggests that Guntram's influence allowed “the devil's poisonous weeds to ripen among the bishops of the Lord.”128 Even more unaccountably, when Guntram threatened to destroy a bishop whom he claimed had been instrumental in the assassination of Chilperic, Gregory reminded the king that he had seen a vision with Chilperic being led to his own judgment, proof that Chilperic had secured his own death in God's eyes.129 Quite to Gregory's surprise, Guntram then related his own, more visceral vision of Chilperic's damnation, in which three bishops broke his brother's limbs and tossed his body into a boiling cauldron, whence it dissolved into utter non-existence. Despite his agreement concerning the well-deserved disposition of Chilperic's soul, Guntram's rancor with the bishop apparently did not diminish.

The main narrative of Gregory's history ends in 591, just a year prior to Guntram's death, although Gregory revisited the text with an epilogue in 594, and he left the death of Guntram unmentioned.130 Gregory simply notes that he completed the history in the thirty third year of king Guntram.131 The fact that Gregory declined to mention Guntram's death implies that Gregory's typical suspended judgment was still pending. Likely this was a looming threat held over Guntram in his last years, and perhaps one that Gregory maintained in the opening years of Guntram's successor, Childebert. Among the only official documents repeated verbatim in the text of Gregory's history, the Treaty of Andelot made explicit provisions for the transfer of Tours to Childebert in 587—well before Guntram's death.132 Nevertheless, the chapter in which Gregory includes the treaty makes it clear that Guntram still exercised the senior role among Merovingian rulers, particularly by manipulating the dramatic rivalry between Brunhild and her son Childebert, on the one hand, and Fredegund and her son Chlothar II, on the other. Thus, the ‘unresolved’ state of Guntram's portrayal in the final books of the history likely points to the ongoing use of the history and its potential to shape historical memory for posterity as leverage.

In particular, it is worth pausing to consider Gregory's concern about the potential hostility of Fredegund in the aftermath of Guntram's death. As mentioned, Gregory's pen seems purposefully poised to render judgment on Guntram, and this may relate to Gregory's interest to use the legacy of historical memory to restrain Fredegund. Although Chilperic's death might be thought to have neutralized Fredegund's potential for harm to a certain degree, Gregory's history demonstrates just the opposite. Gregory claims that even while nominally under Guntram's protection, Fredegund contrived to interfere in the restoration of Bishop Praetextatus and to twice plot the assassination of Brunhild.133 Fredegund's denunciation of Eberulf and his eventual death is also testimony of the fact that she could rely upon Guntram to settle scores for her.134 The fact that Eberulf spent his last days in sanctuary at Gregory's church in Tours doubtlessly increased the bishop's own vulnerability. Indeed, the change in political alignments following Chilperic's death may have made Fredegund an even more dangerous adversary. Although Gregory had never flinched from describing Fredegund's distemper in previous chapters, in the chapters following Chilperic's death Gregory finally dares to enumerate her various alleged murders and he openly casts doubt on her fidelity to Chilperic.135 By contrast, Gregory wrote with greater sympathy for Brunhild, and he may have intended this as an indication for how historical memory would compare the two. Certainly the model piety of two other Merovingian queens, Clothild and Radegund, had received ample attention in the history as positive exempla that would stand in contrast to Fredegund.

Thus, even after Guntram's death, hostilities between the parties of Brunhild/Childebert and Fredegund/Chlothar II may have required keeping the political agency of the history active by leaving the work unfinished.136 The final chapter (10.30) before the epilogue that Gregory appended in 594, the year of his own death, has just that unfinished quality, relating as it does an epidemic and drought that afflicted the people of Tours and Nantes. Gregory may have penned the final epilogue (10.31), which includes a resume of the bishops of Tours and their works, when he had fallen ill in 594. Even here, Gregory included an imprecation not to change the text of his history in any way on the threat of eternal damnation:

“Nevertheless, I conjure all you bishops of God, who are elevated to the church of Tours after my lowly self, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the day of judgment fearful to all sinners, that you never cause these books to be destroyed or to be rewritten, or to be reproduced in part only with sections omitted, but that you may maintain them with you, thus intact, just as I have left them to you, thus never to be corrupted, or you will be damned with the Devil, being forsaken in that very same judgment.”137

This forceful invocation in direct address was intended to imprint historical memory with the unalterable finality of the end of days. Thus, the judgments that Gregory made throughout his history were intended to last the ages of human memory.138 Perhaps he intended the unresolved memory of Guntram to curb the insolences of those who would claim legitimacy from his passing. His final abjuration against altering his history included the addendum that a bishop skilled in the arts of “our Martianus,” meaning the rhetorical arts of Martianus Capella familiar to a select group among his readership, might render his histories in verse. This statement clearly implies that the unfinished business of Gregory's day could be addressed by a continuator.139 Although the brooding king Guntram had already passed away when Gregory concluded his history and his obituary remained unwritten, the toxic conflict between Brunhild and Fredegund, and their respective sons, Childebert II and Chlothar II, was far from resolved in Gregory's final days. It is possible that Gregory implied that the final judgment on Guntram's reign, and the legacy that it would impart to his successor, whether Childebert II or Chlothar II, could still be written by another author with Gregory's skill and temperament, perhaps a Venantius Fortunatus, who by then may have been bishop of neighboring Poitiers, and, by all accounts, was an intimate with Gregory and easily his equal in the literary arts. Even if Gregory did not have Venantius specifically in mind, the mere suggestion that someone of Gregory's caliber would be available to craft a memory of any misdeeds done to Gregory in his final years was probably threat enough.

In conclusion, where Gregory seems to lose control of his characterizations of individuals, it rather seems that he is engaging in an elaborate rhetorical portrayal of his own capacity to distill the multi-faceted personalities of individuals from his own lifetime into definitive obituaries. It is not the case that Gregory simply “reports the facts.” His opinions are too intrusive and everywhere condition what he expects the audience to understand as the appropriate ethical interpretation of a historical episode. More importantly, Gregory's agency as author is indisputable. Simple deference to the church did not always equate to salvation after death in the Decem libri. Gregory's history is a dramatic demonstration of how he, as a skilled practitioner of the historical art, was capable of controlling what would become the historical memory of posterity.

In broader compass, the conclusion of this article suggests that the writing of history was a form of tactical engagement in public life, perhaps just as polemical and potentially provocative as Cicero's public speeches some six centuries earlier. Written history possessed a particular gravity, an almost intrinsic authority granted to it by a sixth-century society that, however radically deracinated it may have been from a seedbed of imperial Roman public life, was nonetheless based on a value system that sought legitimacy in tradition. Even where Gregory wrote about a remote past, a thoughtful reader would have regard for the contemporaneity of historical causation, making the rendition of the past a formidable talisman indeed. This naturally begs the question of why relatively few authors wrote history in a period often portrayed (in both late antique and modern literature) as a period of intense social change. Several answers present themselves. First, the legitimating force of history was partly enshrined in its own exclusivity: few people could muster the resources to preserve, and manipulate, the past. Such resources included an elevated level of literacy, access to source material (especially textual sources), and a mind acutely attuned to the nuance of literary license and creativity. Even a master of invective such as Cicero understood that he could spin only those narratives and reputations that were within the realm of believability to his audience. Second, the dangers inherent in engaging in polemical literary activity were real.140 Any successes that Gregory may have hoped for in the Merovingian political theater were not assured simply by virtue of writing about the past—doing so required undertaking personal risk with the genuine possibility of extreme censure. The importance of the cult of Martin in Merovingian political culture likely mediated some of that risk and Martin appears in the Decem libri not only as a defender of Tours but a potential avenger of Gregory, who cultivated this relationship between the bishop and the saint at every possible textual turn. Finally, it is also the case that Gregory, like Cicero, was simply an exceptionally pugnacious character; and like Cicero, whose considerable lifetime reputation became larger than life after death, Gregory's lifetime reputation had probably also begun to achieve that same kind of stature, in part because of his custodial relationship with the cult of Martin, and in part because of how his own writings had amplified that relationship of saint to bishop in historical memory.141 Of course, it must also be recognized that where Gregory may have cultivated his own lifetime celebrity, in death, when his pen was put firmly to rest, the revisionism that caused him such anxiety in his epilogue became a remedy to the umbrage under which Merovingian kingship labored in the Decem libri. Within a generation of Gregory's death, the Frankish historian Fredegar would use Gregory's history to assemble a more heroic version of the Frankish political past, and he would claim, with impunity, that his history was scarpsum (“scraped”) from the work of the Gregory of Tours.142



Gregory of Tours, Decem libri historiarum, praefatio, “cum nonnullae res gererentur vel rectae vel inprobae;” the arguments for the terminus post quem of Gregory's history are numerous, ranging from before his elevation in 573 to roughly 580, on which see Walter Goffart, The Narrators of Barbarian History (AD 550–800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), 119–27; Adriaan Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority in Sixth-Century Gaul: The Histories of Gregory of Tours Interpreted in their Historical Context (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), 25–70; Martin Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours: History and Society in the Sixth Century, trans. by Christopher Carroll (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 110–115; Helmut Reimitz, “Social Networks and Identities in Frankish Historiography: New Aspects of the Textual History of Gregory of Tours' Historiae,” in The Construction of Communities in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Richard Corradini, Max Diesenberger, and Helmut Reimitz (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 231–35; Guy Halsall, “The Preface of Book V of Gregory of Tours' Histories: Its Form, Context and Significance,” English Historical Review 122 (2007): 306–12.


Cassiodorus, Variae, praefatio 1.9, “Tu enim illos assumpsisti vera laude describere et quodam modo historico colore depingere;” on this preface, Shane Bjornlie, “Audience and Rhetorical Presentation in the Variae of Cassiodorus,” Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire 92.1 (2015): 187–207; tantalizingly, Gregory uses a similar expression to describe the writing of history, Decem libri, praefatio, “peritus dialectica in arte grammaticus, qui haec…depingeret.”


For studies sensitive to Gregory's rhetoric, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 112–234; Ian Wood, “Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire 71.2 (1993): 253–70; Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours; Ian Wood, “The Individuality of Gregory of Tours,” in The World of Gregory of Tours, ed. Kathleen Mitchell and Ian Wood (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 29–46.


For a synopsis of earlier criticisms of Gregory in the modern historiography, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 112–27; also, Peter Brown, “Gregory of Tours: Introduction,” in World of Gregory of Tours, 1–28.


Decem libri, praefatio, “Ista etenim atque et his similia iugiter intuens dici, pro commemoratione praeteritorum, ut notitiam adtingerint venientum.”


Especially Ian Wood, “Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” 253–70; Guy Halsall, “Nero and Herod? The Death of Chilperic and Gregory's Writing of History,” in The World of Gregory of Tours, 337–50.


For discussion of the main preface to Gregory's Decem libri, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 155–57; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 119–27; Halsall, “The Preface to Book V,” 297–317, esp. 306–12.


Tore Janson, Latin Prose Prefaces: Studies in Literary Conventions (Stockholm: Ivar Hæggstroms, 1964); François Hartog and Michel Casevitz, L'histoire d'Homère à Augustin: prefaces des historiens et textes sur l'histoire (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1999).


John Marincola, “Tacitus' Prefaces and the Decline of Imperial Historiography,” Latomus 58.2 (1999): 391–404.


Decem libri, praefatio, “Decedente atque immo potius pereunte ab urbibus Gallicanis liberalium cultura litterarum, cum nonnullae res gererentur vel rectae vel inprobae, ac feretas gentium desaeviret, regum furor acueretur, eclesiae inpugnarentur ab hereticis, a catholicis tegerentur, ferveret Christi fides in plurimis, tepisceret in nonnullis, ipsae quoque eclesiae vel ditarentur a devotis vel nudarentur a perfides, nec repperire possit quisquam peritus dialectica in arte grammaticus, qui haec aut stilo prosaico aut metrico depingeret versu: ingemescebant saepius plerique, dicentes: ‘Vae diebus nostris, quia periit studium litterarum a nobis, nec reperitur rhethor in populis, qui gesta praesentia promulgare possit in paginis.’ Ista etenim atque et his similia iugiter intuens dici pro commemoratione praeteritorum, ut notitiam adtingerint venientum, etsi incultu effatu, nequivi tamen obtegere vel certamena flagitiosorum vel vitam recte viventium; et praesertim his inlicitus stimulis, quod a nostris fari plerumque miratus sum, quia: ‘Philosophantem rethorem intellegunt pauci, loquentem rusticum multi.’” This and all subsequent translations are those of the author.


On the extent of Gregory's familial connections in towns of the Touraine and Auvergne, Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 30–41; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 11–35; Martin Heinzelman, “Gregory of Tours: The Elements of a Biography,” in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, ed. Alexander C. Murray (Leiden: Brill, 2015), 7–34.


The impressive dispersion of manuscripts for the Decem libri may relate to a wider readership proximate to his own intended audience; on the manuscripts and readership of Gregory's history in the early Middle Ages, Helmut Reimitz, “The Early Medieval Editions of Gregory of Tours' Histories,” in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, ed. Alexander Callander Murray (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 519–65; more generally, on Gregory's involvement in the affairs of Merovingian courts, Jean Verdon, Grégoire de Tours (Roanne: Horvath, 1989), 27–38.


Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 117–32.


For discussion of Gregory's relation to a tradition of simplicity of expression, Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 319–32; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 101–52; Conrad Leyser, “'Divine Power Flowed from His Book': Ascetic Language and Episcopal Authority in Gregory of Tours' Life of the Fathers,” in World of Gregory of Tours, 281–94.


On specifically Christian adaptations to the Latin literary heritage, Catherine M. Chin, Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania, 2008); on the relation of urban decline to literary habits, J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, The Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 318–41; similarly, Pierre Riché, Éducation et culture dans l'Occident barbare, 6ᵉ-8ᵉ siècles (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1962).


Note that although Gregory refers to all of his hagiographical collections in the Decem libri, these works were likely incomplete at the time of his death; Richard Shaw, “Chronology, Composition and Authorial Conception in the Miracula,” in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 102–40.


Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs, preface, trans. Raymond Van Dam, Gregory of Tours: Glory of the Martyrs (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988), 18–19; for Jerome's iconic dilemma with Cicero, Ep. 22–30.


Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs, preface, in Van Dam, Glory of the Martyrs, 19.


Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Martyrs, preface, in Van Dam, Glory of the Martyrs, 19.


Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors, preface, trans. Raymond Van Dam, Gregory of Tours: Glory of the Confessors (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988), 1.


Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, preface, trans. Edward James, Gregory of Tours: Life of the Fathers (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1985), 2.


Gregory of Tours, Decem libri, Book 1, praefatio, “De subpotatione vero huius mundi evidenter chronicae Eusebii Caesariensis episcopi ac Hieronimi presbiteri prolocuntur et rationem de omni annorum serie pandunt. Nam et Horosius diligentissime haec inquaerens…”


For Virgil, Aeneid, see Decem libri, 2.29, 4.30, 4.46, 8.22, 9.6; for Sallust, Catilina, see Decem libri 4.13 and 7.1.


Gregory of Tours, Decem libri 10.31, “Quod sit e, o sacerdos Dei, quicumque es, Martianus noster septem disciplinis erudiit.”


Gregory of Tours, Decem libri 10.31, “sit e in grammaticis docuit legere, in dialecticis altercationum propositiones advertere, in rethoricis genera metrorum agnoscere.”


Venantius Fortunatus, Carmen 9.7, trans. Judith George, Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1995), 90–95; for Gregory's relationship with Venantius as evidence of his appreciation for classical learning, see also, Michael Roberts, “Venantius Fortunatus and Gregory of Tours: Poetry and Patronage”, in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 35–59; also, Michael Roberts, The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009), 269–83.


On Gregory's connection to Radegund, Decem libri 9.2 and 9.40; on her literary erudition, Jane Stevenson, Women Latin Poets: Language, Gender and Authority from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 86–88.


Modern scholarship has interpreted Gregory's literary training and depth within a wide range; Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 112–19; Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 316–17; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 1–6 and 94–101.


Gregory of Tours, Glory of the Confessors, preface, in Van Dam, Glory of the Confessors, 2.


Gregory of Tours, Life of the Fathers, preface, in James, Life of the Fathers, 2.


On Gallic church councils, Ralph W. Mathisen, Ecclesiastical Factionalism and Religious Controversy in Fifth-Century Gaul (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1989); Josef Limmer, Konzilien und Synoden im spätantiken Gallien von 314 bis 696 nach Christi Geburt (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004); Gregory I. Halfond, “Cum Consensu Omnium: Frankish Church Councils from Clovis to Charlemagne,” History Compass 5.2 (2007): 539–59.


William S. Monroe, “Via Iustitiae: The Biblical Sources of Justice in Gregory of Tours,” in The World of Gregory of Tours, 99–112, demonstrates how Gregory's conception of justice derives primarily from biblical reading, which would have similarly informed his notion of iudicium Dei and his own pronouncement of obituary judgments; also on this, see Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 252–57; and Helmut Reimitz, History, Frankish Identity and the Framing of Western Ethnicity, 550–850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 43–47.


Where the city of Tours is involved in major political events of the Frankish kingdoms, Decem libri 2.43, 4.20, 4.45, 4.47, 5.2, 5.4, 5.14, 6.31, 7.12, 7.21, 7.24, 7.42, 7.43, 8.6, 8.18, 9.39.


Where the Touraine and Auvergne are impacted by military conflict resulting from dynastic strife, Decem libri 4.45, 4.47, 5.2, 5.4, 5.14, 6.31, 7.12, 7.13, 7.24, 10.9; for discussion of Gregory's treatment of Clermont and Tours, Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 187–96.


From 558 to 595, Tours was under the control of Chlothar I, Charibert I, Sigibert I, Chilperic, Guntram, Childebert II; during the period of Gregory's episcopacy (573–94), Tours was under the control of Sigibert, Chilperic, Guntram and Childebert II.


Where changes in the lordship of Tours resulted in violence against the community, Decem libri 4.20, 4.45, 7.12; for discussion of the impact of dynastic politics on Tours and Gregory's episcopacy, Halsall, “The Preface to Book V,” 311–12; Reimitz, History, Frankish Identity and the Framing of Western Ethnicity, 27–43.


The church of St. Martin at Tours as a haven providing sanctuary against the authority of Frankish kings, Decem libri 4.20, 5.2, 5.14, 7.21, 7.43, 8.6, 8.18, 9.39.


Where Gregory is directly involved in disputes or negotiations with Frankish kings, Decem libri 5.4, 5.14, 5.18, 5.49, 6.2, 6.5, 6.31, 8.2, 8.5, 8.6, 8.14, 9.20.


Alexander Callander Murray, “Chronology and the Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours,” Journal of Late Antiquity 1.1 (2008), 157–96; Alexander Callander Murray, “The Composition of the Histories of Gregory of Tours and its Bearing on the Political Narrative,” in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, ed. Murray (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 63–101.


Bruno Krusch and Wilhelm Levison, Monumenta Germaniae historica, Scriptores rerum merovingicarum 1.1 (Hannover, 1951), xxi-xxii; Rudolph Buchner, Gregor von Tours: Zehn Bücher Geschichten, vol. 1 (Berlin: Rütten and Loening, 1955), xx-xxv; Jean Verdon, Grégoir de Tours: Le père de l'histoire de France (Le Coteau: Horvath, 1989), 77–80; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours.


Wood, “Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” 258–59.


See Decem libri 5.18, on Praetextatus of Rouen; 6.22, on Charterius of Périgueux; 5.49, on Gregory's trial.


Noted by Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 174–83; Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 268–71; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 119–27.


Max Bonnet, Le latin de Grégoire de Tours (Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1890), 720; Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 174–83; Wood, “Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” 253–70.


On irony and satire, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 174–83, 197–203.


On emplotment as a heuristic for understanding the production of historical text, Hayden White, “The Historical Text as Literary Artefact,” in Tropics of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 81–100.


Decem libri, Book II, praefatio.


On the origins of the Franks, see especially Decem libri 2.9, where Gregory conducts a textual archaeology of the Franks in his sources, admitting that the names of the first kings are unknown, “De Francorum vero regibus, quis fuerint primus, a multis ignoratur;” on these parallel chronologies, Reimitz, History, Frankish Identity and the Framing of Western Ethnicity, 34–35.


Decem libri 2.20, “Ipse vero dum nimium esset in amore mulierum luxoriosus.”


Decem libri 2.21, “Verumtamen sacerdos temptatus est per commotionem corporis a concupiscentia.”


Decem libri 3.12, “Veramtamen auctores scelerum ab spiritu inmundo correpti, infestis dentibus propriis se morsibus lacerant.”


Decem libri 2.1.


Decem libri 2.1, “septem postea feliciter vivens annos.”


Decem libri 2.23, “Quo migrante, presbiter ille nequam, alter ex duobus qui remanserat…”


Decem libri 2.23, “Unde indubitatum est, non minoris criminis hunc reum esse quam Arrium illum, cui similiter in secessum fuerunt interna deposita per partis inferioris egestum.”


Decem libri 2.23, “ut unus Arrii sortiretur mortem, alius tamquam Simon Magus apostolic sancti oration ab excels arce superbiae praeceps allideretur.”


Decem libri 2.23, “Tale iudicium super contumaces clericos Dominus in hunc praetulit mundum.”


Decem libri 4.6, 4.7, 4.11, 4.12, 4.31.


Decem libri 4.12, “numquam vel Neronem vel Herodem tale facinus perpetrasse… In Cautino autem nihil sancti, nihil pensi fuit. De omnibus enim scripturis, tam ecclesiasticis quam saecularibus, adplene immunis fuit.”


Decem libri 4.31, “Hic autem presbiter multae humanitatis et satis dilectur pauperum fuit; et credo, haec causa ei, si quid superbiae habuit, medicamentum fuit. Cautinus autem episcopus cum diversa loca, hanc cladem timens, circuisset, ad civitatem regressus est; et haec incurrens, parasciven passiones dominicae obit.”


Guntram Boso appears at Decem libri 4.50, 5.4, 5.14, 5.18, 5.24, 6.24, 6.26, 7.14, 7.32, 7.36, 7.38, 8.21, 9.8, 9.10, 9.23.


Decem libri 5.14.


Decem libri 5.14, “Gunthchramnus vero alias sane bonus, nam in periuriis nimium praeparatus erat.”


Decem libri 5.25, “Guntchramnus vero cum super se mortem cernerit inminere, invocato nomen Domini et virtutem magnam beati Martini elevatoque contu, Dracolenum artat in faucibus, suspensumque de equo sursum unus de amicis suis eum lancia latere verberatum finivit.”


Gregory of Tours, Miracles of Saint Martin 2.17.


Decem libri 2.31, “Procedit novos Constantinus ad lavacrum;” for discussion of the irony of Gregory's portrayal of Clovis as a Constantine, Shane Bjornlie, “Constantine in the Sixth Century: from Constantinople to Tours,” in The Life and Legacy of Constantine: Traditions through the Ages, ed. Shane Bjornlie (London: Routledge, 2016), 92–114; for additional discussion on Gregory's engagement with the memory of Clovis, Ian Wood, “Gregory of Tours and Clovis,” Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire 63.2 (1985): 249–72.


Decem libri 2.40, “Sed in his ego nequaquam conscious sum. Nec enim possum sanguinem parentum meorum effundere, quod fieri nefas est.”


Decem libri 2.40, “Prosternebat enim cotidiae Deus hostes eius sub manu ipsius et augebat regnum eius, eo quod ambularet recto corde coram eo et facerit quae placita errant in oculis eius.”


Decem libri 2.42, “Sed hoc non de morte horum condolens, sed dolo dicebat, si forte potuisset adhuc aliquem repperire, ut interficeret.”


On the incommensurability of Gregory's portrayal of Clovis, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 218–21.


For Gregory's knowledge of Orosius, Decem libri, Book 1, praefatio, “Nam et Horosius diligentissime haec inquaerens”; for Orosius on Nero, Septem historiae 7.7.9, “He did not even hold back from parricide, but had no hesitation in murdering his mother, brother, sister, wife and all his other blood relations and kin,” trans. A.T. Fear, Orosius: Seven Books of History against the Pagans (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2010), 334; for further discussion of Gregory's familiarity with Orosius, Joaquín Martínez Pizarro, “Gregory of Tours and the Literary Imagination: Genre, Narrative Style, Sources and Models in the Histories,” in A Companion to Gregory of Tours, 338–42.


Decem libri, Book 3, praefatio, “Hanc Chlodovechus rex confessus, ipsius hereticos adiuturium eius oppraesset regnumque suum per totas Gallias dilatavit.”


Decem libri 2.12 describes how Clovis' father, Childeric, received another king's wife as his own under questionable circumstances; 2.28, “habens iam de concubine filium nomine Theudericum,” concerning Theuderic's mother, who was Clovis' “concubine” when he married Clothild.


Decem libri 2.12, Clovis' father finds sanctuary at the royal court of the Thuringians and then claims the Thuringian king's wife as his own; 2.27, Clovis conquers the Thuringians; 3.4 and 3.7, Theuderic attacks Thuringia.


Decem libri 3.7, “In talibus enim dolis Theudoricus multum callidus erat.”


Decem libri 2.42, “sed dolo dicebat.”


Decem libri 3.23, “In illis diebus Theudoricus parentem suum Sigivaldum occidit gladio, mittens occulte ad Theudobertum, ut et ille Sigivaldum, filium eius, neci daret… Sed quia eum de sacro fonte exciperat, perdere noluit.”


Decem libri 3.25, “At ille in regno firmatus, magnum se atque in omni bonitate praecipuum reddidit. Erat enim regnum cum iustitia regens, sacerdotes venerans, eclesias munerans, paupers relevans et multa multis beneficia pia ac dulcissima accommodans voluntate. Omne tribute, quod in fisco suo ab eclesiis in Arvernum sitis reddebebatur, clementer indulsit.”


Decem libri 3.34.


Decem libri 3.36, “quia eum iam Dominus vocare iubebat.”


Decem libri 3.36, “Fuit autem in cibis valde vorax…et strepidus ventris absque ulla auditorium reverential in public emittebat.”


Life of the Fathers 4.2, 4.3, 5.2 and 17.1.


Life of the Fathers 17.2


Decem libri 4.2.


Decem libri 4.2, “Tunc commotus rex, timens etiam virtutem beati Martini.”


Decem libri 4.3.


Decem libri 4.20.


Decem libri 4.20, “Ibatque Chlotharius rex tamquam novus David contra Absolonem filium pugnaturus.”


Decem libri 4.21, “et adveniens Toronus ad sepulchrum antedicti antestetis, cunctas actiones, quas fortassis neglegenter egerat.”


Decem libri 4.21, “'Wa! Quid potatis, quails est illi rex caelestis, qui sic tam magnos regis interfecit?' In hoc enim taedio positus, spiritum exalavit.”


For varied interpretations of Gregory's portrayal of Chilperic, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 223–24; Wood, “Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” 253–70; Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 235–37; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 41–51; Halsall, “Nero and Herod?” 337–50.


Decem libri 4.3, “de Aregundem vero, sororem Ingundis, Chilpericum.”


See Decem libri 4.28 and 5.28, respectively.


Chilperic's “misdeeds” may be read across Books 4–6.


Decem libri 6.46, “Chilpericus, Nero nostri temporis et Herodis”.


Decem libri 5.44.


Decem libri 6.46.


Decem libri 5.44.


Decem libri 5.17.


Decem libri 6.46.


Decem libri 4.47, when Chilperic sends his eldest son Theudebert to claim Tours, “eclesias incendit, ministeria detrahit, clericus interficit, monastiria virorum deicit, puellarum deludit et cuncta devastat. Fuitque tempore illo peior in eclesiis gemitus quam tempore persecutionis Diocliciani.”


Guy Halsall, “Nero and Herod?” 341–43, similarly notes that Chilperic's presentation was a complex mixture of negative and “genuinely praiseworthy” characteristics, although Halsall sees Gregory including positive features to generate irony, not as a performance of Gregory's ability to read between the lines of things mixte confusaeque.


Personal conversations between Gregory and Chilperic at Decem libri 5.18, 5.44, 6.2, 6.5.


Decem libri 5.1 and 5.4, on Roccolen; 5.14 and 5.49, on Leudast.


On messages to St. Martin's tomb, Decem Libri 5.14.


Decem libri 5.32.


Decem libri 5.2; on this issue, Karl Ubl, Inzestverbot und Gesetzgebung: Die Konstruktion eines Verbrechens (300–1100) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), 157–79.


Decem libri 5.47.


Decem libri 6.22 “rex miseridordia motus, commendans Deo causam suam”.


Decem libri 5.49, “Mirati sunt omnes regis vel prudentiam vel patientiam simul.”


Decem libri 5.34.


Decem libri 5.28.


Decem libri 5.34.


Decem libri 6.46 and 8.5.


Decem libri 6.46.


Decem libri 7.1.


Decem libri 7.2, “Defuncto igitur Chilperico inventamque, quam diu quaesierat, mortem…”


For different interpretations of Gregory's portrayal of Guntram, Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 184–85; Wood, “Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” 259–61; Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 238–40; Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 51–75.


On Guntram's protection of Fredegund and control of resources left by Chilperic to Chlothar II, Decem libri 7.7 and 8.42; on issues surrounding the paternity of Chlothar II, see Karl August Eckhardt, Studia merovingica (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1975), 235–39; and Wood, “The Secret Histories of Gregory of Tours,” 258–59.


Decem libri 7.12.


Decem libri 7.24.


Halsall, “Nero and Herod?” 347.


Decem libri 4.25 and 9.21.


Decem libri 7.7, “multisque se benignum exhibens ac multa pauperibus tribuens.”


Decem libri 7.21 and 7.29.


Decem libri 10.10, Gregory makes a point of noting that Guntram had acted on hearsay, “Quo haec loquente,” for which he later repented that he had acted precipitously and out of anger, “Multum se ex hoc deincepts rex paenitus, ut sic eum ira praecipitem reddidisset.”


Decem libri 8.6, Guntram forgives the noblemen Garachar and Bladast.


Decem libri 8.7, “cur inter sacerdotes Domini taliter zezania diabuli pollularet.”


Decem libri 8.5.


Breukelaar, Historiography and Episcopal Authority, 56–59, noted that the history does not appear to have a “natural” ending, with 10.30 being written in 591 and the epilogue (10.31) being written three years later, after Guntram's death.


Decem libri 10.31.


Decem libri 9.20.


Decem libri 7.16, on the restoration of Praetextatus to his bishopric; 7.20 and 8.29, on attempts to assassinate Brunhild.


Decem libri 7.21–22, 7.29.


See especially, Decem libri 7.7; Ian Wood has already noted how Gregory's frank disclosure of Fredegund's alleged infidelity begins with the death of Chilperic, “Secret histories of Gregory of Tours,” 259.


Goffart, Narrators of Barbarian History, 184–86, similarly suggests that relations between Childebert II and Chlothar II may have troubled Gregory.


Decem libri 10.31, “tamen coniuro omnes sacerdotes Domini, qui post me humilem ecclesiam Turonicam sunt recturi, per adventum domini nostri Iesu Christi ac terribilem reis omnibus iudicii diem, sic numquam confusi de ipso iudicio discedentes cum diabolo condempnemini, ut numquam libros hos aboleri faciatis aut rescribi, quasi quaedam eligentes et quaedam praetermittentes, sed ita omnia vobiscum integra inlibataque permaneant, sicut a nobis relicta sunt.”


Heinzelmann, Gregory of Tours, 101–52, also argued that Gregory's charge to maintain the structure of his history unchanged also relates to his concern that alterations would disrupt the historiographical structure of antithetical and typological pairings.


Decem libri 10.31, “Martianus noster septem disciplinis.”


See Anthony Kaldellis, “How Perilous Was It to Write Political History in Late Antiquity?” Studies in Late Antiquity 1.1 (2017): 38–64.


On Cicero's transition to iconic status, Robert Kaster, “Becoming ‘CICERO,’” in Style and Tradition, ed. P. Knox and C. Foss (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1998), 250–65.


The incipit to Book 3 of Fredegar's chronicle reads, “Incipit capetolares libri quarti, quod est scarpsum de cronica Gregorii episcopi Toronaci”; for the uses to which Fredegar put Gregory's Decem libri, Ian Wood, “Fredegar's Fables,” in Historiographie im frühen Mittelalter, ed. A. Scharer and G. Scheibelreiter (Vienna: Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung), 359–66; Reimitz, History, Frankish Identity and the Framing of Western Ethnicity, 127–239.