Dagobert: Histoire et légende

Dagobert: Histoire et légende

daa-go-BAY, ree-stwaa ray lay-ZHAHD. Click below to hear this.

Dagobert: History or legend?

So how did Dagobert, King of all the Franks from 629-634 (and king of various other two-bit kingdoms before and after that), become the hero of a children’s song? (See my previous post for the song.)

Well, he didn’t, really. It’s not clear why the anonymous songwriters picked on him, but he was a king like many others of his era: scheming, brutal when it was politically expedient, and neither particularly clever nor particularly stupid–and not nearly so stupid as the song makes him out to be.

I always supposed that Dagobert was a child king, and that Éloi (Eligius) was the regent. Who else puts his pants on backwards? That’s the province of three-year-olds. It turns out that the song is not about him at all. It appeared around 1790, as a satire on Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, whose days were numbered by that time. Louis (and his wife) are accused, under the guise of singing about Dagobert, of all sorts of irrational, stupid, and/or lascivious behavior.

Verse after verse appeared, and eventually the song came back to life when the Empire fell. This time, Napoleon Ier was the target. There’s a verse that goes like this:

Le roi faisait la guerre
Mais il la faisait en hiver ;
Le grand saint Éloi
Lui dit : Ô mon roi !
Votre Majesté
Se fera geler.
C’est vrai, lui dit le roi,
Je m’en vais retourner chez moi.

It’s a clear reference to Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, where his troops were defeated as much by the brutal winter as by the military prowess of the Russian army. Napoleon was greedy.

And remember this verse?

Le bon roi Dagobert
Voulait s’embarquer pour la mer ;
Le grand saint Éloi
Lui dit : Ô mon roi !
Votre Majesté
Se fera noyer.
C’est vrai, lui dit le roi,
On pourra crier : « Le Roi boit ! ».

For this reference, go back and read this post and
this one. Clearly, poor Dagobert became the butt of every joke in the book as a cover for the hapless monarchs who followed him so far down the line.

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