The Carolingian Creation of a Model of Patrilineage

  • Constance Brittain Bouchard
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Medieval noble families are often conceptualized using a paradigm derived from twelfth-century France: straight-line lineages organized around male inheritance.1 In this essay I argue that this vision of family structure, although never a straightforward description of reality, was first created ca. 800 ce by publicists at the Carolingian court. It proved so compelling that all who wished subsequently to assert their right to rule had to present a similar model of their families, and so convincing that modern scholars have allowed this model to shape their own understanding of Charlemagne’s family tree. My discussion of how this family tree may be read and understood by modern historians is intended as a reminder that one cannot easily apply methodologies originally developed for the High Middle Ages to earlier periods. It is also a warning against treating medieval people’s descriptions of their past as a transparent window into what had happened, rather than into what they thought—or wished—had happened.


Ninth Century Family Tree Eleventh Century Seventh Century Eighth Century 
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© Celia Chazelle and Felice Lifshitz 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Constance Brittain Bouchard

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