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« The good king Dagobert put his panties upside down ". If the popular song, probably dating from the French Revolution, is still sung today, it is no less false and unfair to Dagobert I, son of Clotaire II, so much his reign struck the spirits. It is also the opportunity for Ivan Gobry, in this biography of Dagobert I, to retrace the existence of this too often overlooked sovereign, who was nevertheless one of the greatest monarchs that the Frankish kingdom has known.
Gobry, after having carried out various prosopographical works on other Merovingian kings such as Clotaire I and Clotaire II, signs here a new biography in the collection " History of the Kings of France », Published by Pygmalion in March 2010.
Dagobert Ier, a firm sovereign and "king of all the Franks".
Legend has - unfortunately - consecrated Dagobert I as a sort of "puppet" sovereign, little interested in the affairs of his kingdom, even as a distracted or stupid being. Obviously, this is not the case, and that’s the whole point of Ivan Gobry’s work. More than rehabilitating the reign of this Merovingian, it is a question of presenting all his action, which took place during nearly ten years, where he had in particular much to do with the Frankish aristocracy, eager for ever more autonomy. Dagobert I, by his firmness and his dominating personality, was the last Merovingian king to personally administer the Frankish kingdom, the " Regnum Francorum ". In addition, from 629, year of the death of his father Clotaire II, Dagobert I seized power alone, by foiling a plot which aimed to divide the Regnum Francorum : his reign therefore began under a certain desire for firmness and consolidation of royal power.
This biography therefore really tends to retrace the work undertaken and carried out by Dagobert I, both internally to the kingdom and externally, diplomatically. More than continuing the work of Clotaire II, his father and predecessor, it was about strengthening royal power. In this, Dagobert I can be considered as the first real “king of France”. He had to fight like the Frankish aristocracy and the patrimonial system, which organized the divisions between the different sons and which was, in fact, a major source of conflict. He sought to reorganize the administration and institutions of the kingdom in a more coherent and efficient manner, including " of the king's men ", According to the expression consecrated by Ivan Gobry in his work, as Pépin de Landen, Saint Arnoul - to whom he was entrusted in 609 as part of his education -, Saint Didier, Saint Ouen, and above all Saint Eloi, made famous at the end of the 18th century by the famous song of " Good King Dagobert ».
Dagobert I was also active in the fields of arts and letters, at the heart of a period of transition between Antiquity and the Middle Ages, unlike these predecessors: churches and monasteries were built, attention was paid to peculiar to silversmith and jewelry, and episcopal schools were opened in large numbers. Admittedly, these actions remained a minority and incomplete, but they deserve to be underlined because they constitute a momentum for renewal, for rupture. For example, it was through the initiative of Dagobert I that the Abbey of Saint-Denis was built, which subsequently became the necropolis of the kings of France.
Ivan Gobry also pays particular attention to the external action of the sovereign whose biography he is making, and in particular with regard to his military operations. For if Dagobert I was a firm and ferocious sovereign, he was none the less a great warlord. His many victorious campaigns can attest to this, such as that against the Saxons in 627 - where he was wounded and where Clotaire II came to help him -, that of Aquitaine in 632, or that of 636 against the Vascons, who put their territory to fire and blood, the chiefs submitting to Dagobert in the process.
A versatile biography.
As you can see, in this biography of Dagobert I, Ivan Gobry makes a point of rehabilitating the sovereign and his global action, which lasted almost ten years. Basically, this work is therefore of fundamental interest; but it also has a utility in terms of form, which makes it a versatile and captivating book.
Firstly, this biography is well focused on the character, and even more than that of Louis X - which we presented to you a few days ago on Histoire-pour-tous -, for example, yet by the same author. Certainly, it is necessary to present the ancestry and the descent of the biographer, vis-à-vis contextual imperatives which are fundamental in the perspective of a good understanding of the life of the character on the one hand, and of the history in general on the other hand. The work is truly versatile in the vision and analysis it offers of the Merovingian dynasty: more than a biography, it is therefore an introductory work on the Merovingians, and in particular on those who have preceded by the “lazy kings” - Dagobert I was, moreover, the last ruler of the dynasty to have truly reigned over the entire Frankish territory; successive rulers were qualified afterwards as "lazy kings" by Eginhard, biographer of Charlemagne, in his Vita Caroli, so as to justify the taking of power of the Carolingians. Ivan Gobry therefore insisted for a long time on the functioning of the Merovingian monarchy, through the prism of the global action of Dagobert I: royal institutions and system of government, great figures and " king's men », And the place of letters and the arts are central points of the regime.
It is a well-constructed and organized work, very dynamic, moreover very pleasant to read. Ivan Gobry, a true pillar of the collection " History of the Kings of France "- he delivered to his publisher Pygmalion nearly twenty biographies of Frankish and French rulers - remains faithful to this desire to" popularize "History, to make historical science accessible to all. Like the biography of Louis X, the author uses dialogue forms, which are one of his hallmarks: of course, the specialist and scholar reader might feel somewhat disoriented, but anyone will appreciate this effort of writing, which considerably increases the intelligibility of the work. In this regard, Gobry has integrated at the end of this biography of Dagobert I some appendices, which prove to be very useful in the context of the understanding of Merovingian history, which is, let's face it, somewhat complex to integrate: biographical notes, the author adds well-constructed and precise genealogical tables, as well as a profitable summary chronology. Regarding bibliographic sources, however, one should put a stop to it: admittedly, Ivan Gobry used crucial and necessary medieval historical sources (such as theHistoria Francorum by Grégoire de Tours, theHistoria Longobardorum by Paul Deacon, or theHistoria Ecclesiae Anglorum of Bede the Venerable); but he used rather old reference works as a working basis, some dating from the 19th century, which poses the fundamental problem in History of historiographical renewal.
However, it is clear that this biography of Dagobert I of Ivan Gobry is not intended specifically for a scholarly audience on the subject, and that the emphasis is constantly on accessibility and intelligibility. Note, however, the considerable effort that has been made on the use of medieval sources, allowing for example first or second year undergraduate students to use the book without problem in the context of university work. A good book, pleasant to read, that we recommend to all.
Ivan GOBRY, Dagobert Ier, 629-639, Son of Clotaire II, Pygmalion, Coll. History of the Kings of France, Paris, March 2010.