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Chronicles and historiography: the interrelationship of fact and fiction

Pope Clement V

Pope Clement VChronicles and historiography: the interrelationship of fact and fiction

Sophia Menache (University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel 31905)

Journal of Medieval History: xx (2006) 1-13

Abstract

Notwithstanding the great progress in medieval historiography during the last century, a conceptual and methodological basis in regard to the analysis of narrative sources is still missing. This paper indicates some of the challenges posed by fourteenth-century chronicles while focusing on contemporary testimonies about Clement V, pope between 1305 and 1314. Discussion of the different testimonies allows drawing some conclusions and paves the way for a new approach to medieval narrative sources.

Along with historical information, fourteenth-century chronicles are full of all sorts of anecdotes and stories flavoured with various doses of prejudices, fantasies, and stereotypes. This state of affairs poses for medievalists the methodological challenge of extracting historical data from what at first glance contains all the features of a fairy-tale. The situation becomes especially difficult when different chronicles provide similar or even identical accounts that might be considered mutually reinforcing, but may easily transform tendentious information into historical fact. This was indeed the case with many chronicles written during and about the pontificate of Clement V, pope between 1305 and 1314. Contemporary chroniclers as a whole found it difficult to understand, let alone support, papal policy. Their approach, biased as it was, paradoxically finds ample echo in historical research. The pope’s absence from Rome and what appeared to be his growing reliance on France and its king, Philip the Fair, acquire the weight of unquestionable proof of what has often been described as the decadence of the papacy in the late middle ages, with Clement’s pontificate supplying the cornerstone of this characterisation.

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