It has been said of France that governing a country with three hundred and twenty-five varieties of cheese is an impossibility: so, arguably, is writing its history. With the disappearance of Roman rule, the history of Gaul fragments into the histories of scores of different regions and political authorities: a realistic narrative history would be the sum of these innumerable local histories, formless, unwieldy, unreadable. This is no doubt one reason why so much historical attention has been given to those figures who, briefly, welded most or all of Gaul into one political unit: Clovis and, above all, Charlemagne. And those who have written narrative histories of longer periods have seen that the best way to deal with the mass of disparate material was to concentrate upon the history of the monarchy. Thus we can find histories of France under the Merovingians and Carolingians whose geographical scope shrinks as the political power of each dynasty wanes; histories whose focus of attention is in the north, where the Frankish monarchy had its roots.
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