Book Series Publications of the Journal of Medieval Latin, vol. 12

Merovingian Letters and Letter Writers

Alice Tyrrell

  • Pages: xxxi + 386 p.
  • Size:178 x 254 mm
  • Illustrations:2 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2019

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58358-7
  • Paperback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-58359-4
  • E-book
  • Available

This book, useful for both scholars and students of Late Antique Gaul, is a survey of 600 plus Latin letters written during the Merovingian era (ca. 500-750) by bishops and other clergy, highly-placed laymen, women, popes, and royalty. Various aspects of the correspondence are discussed, including amicitia, literary circles, gift-giving, letter-bearers, Scripture usage, and women’s writing. An appendix supplies English summaries of the letters, many of which have not received translation into any modern language.


"Yet, ultimately, the nature of the book as more of a summary of material than a source of novel argumentation will mean that it is most useful to postgraduates and upper level undergraduates seeking to go beyond the historical narratives. For this target audience, though, the book's importance cannot be overstated. Tyrrell provides a lucid and clear overview of a vast array of letters, many of which are only available in Latin. In this regard, her several translations - mostly partial - and the appendix summarizing the individual letters will be welcomed by those who want to use these letters but may not yet have the language skills to tackle the MGH editions." (Richard Broome, in Sehepunkte, 19.12, 2019)

“This is a fine piece of scholarship on a little-known source for a well-known period (…) Tyrrell’s engaging language, combined with her comprehensive approach and inclusion of detailed appendices, renders this paperback volume an essential reference work for scholars and students of Merovingian history, late-antique Gaul, and epistolography.” (Bronwen Neil and Catherine Rosbrook, in the Journal of Medieval Latin, 30, 2020, p. 411-413)

“In sum, this is an admirable undertaking, and assembles a very useful catalogue of material that readers will find very helpful when looking for a particular letter on a particular topic or for an overview of the kind of information that is included in Merovingian letters. As such it is a most welcome addition to Merovingian scholarship.” (Ralph W. Mathisen, in The Medieval Review, 20.09.15)

« (…) Merovingian Letters and Letter Writers rendra service à quiconque entreprend une recherche sur les temps mérovingiens et/ou les lettres durant le haut Moyen Âge : le livre contient en effet, outre sa présentation honnête des collections et des éd. classiques, un répertoire analytique du corpus de 129 p. qui permet de s’orienter rapidement dans les quatorze collections parcourues (…) » (Marie-Céline Isaïa, dans Le Moyen Âge, 1, 2021, p. 196)


Alice Tyrrell received her Master’s and PhD degrees in Medieval Studies from the University of Toronto. She is currently an independent scholar living in Victoria, BC.


Primary sources from the Frankish kingdom during the Merovingian era (ca. 500-750) are few and far between. This volume is a survey of more than 600 Latin letters, selected by the author, that were exchanged between persons in Gaul during that time period. Many are almost entirely unknown and have never been translated into any modern language. While most of the letters were authored by clerics and highly-placed laymen, a small but significant number was composed by women, both religious and lay.

For elite individuals, letter networks were the social media of their day. Letters were written to maintain the bonds of friendship, to seek or extend patronage and political alliance, to instruct, rebuke, defend, console, and recommend. Many have come down to us in collections; others are strays embedded in other texts or deperdita that come to light only in the replies of others.

This book is a valuable tool for scholars and students alike. In seven readable chapters, the author discusses numerous aspects of the letters and explores how they fit with, and enlarge upon, the better-known sources of the period such as the works of Gregory of Tours, Fredegar, the anonymous History of the Franks (LHF), and various saints’ vitae. An appendix containing a summary of each letter in translation renders these texts more readily accessible to the English speaker.


Introduction and Timeline of Letter Collections

Chapter 1: Amicitia Networks Part 1: Sidonius Apollinaris to Nicetius of Trier and Friends
Chapter 2:  Amicitia Networks Part 2: Venantius Fortunatus and the Later Sixth Century
Chapter 3: Amicitia Networks Part 3: Columbanus to Boniface and Lull
Chapter 4: Kings and Popes
Chapter 5: Women’s Letters
Chapter 6: Bearers and Gifts
Chapter 7: Letter Writers and the Bible

Appendix: Summaries of Individual Merovingian Letters