The History written by Richer of Saint-Remi (ca. 950-1000) is one of the only contemporary narrative sources for the history of France in the tenth century, a tumultuous period in which the Carolingian and Capetian dynasties fought for control of the throne while Viking raiders inflicted chaos upon the realm, and ambitious nobles expanded their own power at the expense of the monarchy. Besides describing the battles, betrayals and shifting allegiances that characterised tenth-century political culture, and providing accounts of the major ecclesiastical disputes of his day, Richer's history contains the only contemporary account of the life and career of Gerbert of Aurillac, the brilliant scholar and controversial prelate who served as master of the cathedral school of Rheims before being elected archbishop of Rheims, and later pope (as Sylvester II).
Building upon, but also moving beyond, previous scholarship that has focused on Richer's political allegiances and his views of kingship, this study by Justin Lake provides the most comprehensive synthesis of the History, examining Richer's use and abuse of his sources, his relationship to Gerbert, and the motives that led him to write. Not only are Richer's principal written sources all extant, but so is his autograph manuscript, giving readers an unrivalled window into the working methods of a tenth-century historian.
Lake situates Richer within the broader scholastic culture of the late tenth-century Latin West and explores the ways in which classical rhetoric, newly revived as a focus of instruction at Rheims by Gerbert, affected the way in which Richer wrote. In particular, he analyses his use of the classical rhetorical doctrine of plausible narrative (narratio probabilis) in reworking his source material, his composition of speeches and dramatic scenes, and the way in which he used his history as a means of self-fashioning and self-memorialisation.