Great names in archival history: Chancellor Guérin, father of the French National Archives

The creation of the French National Archives dates to the time of King Philippe Auguste. They were the innovation of Brother Guérin, bishop of Senlis,
an illustrious and essential figure in the history of French archives.

Old books being stored in a library as archives

Before being a friend of the king, Brother Guérin, born in 1157, was first and foremost a knight of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. In 1187, during the Crusades, he took part in the Battle of Tiberias under the command of Garnier de Naplouse. As Keeper of the Seals (Garde des Sceaux) and then Bishop of Senlis in 1213, he retained a conqueror’s spirit as a strategist in the battle of Bouvines and contributed to the victory.

In 1220, Brother Guérin was tasked with gathering all the royal archives, going back to July 5, 1194, the date of the battle of Fréteval, during which Richard the Lionheart inflicted a crushing defeat and seized Philippe Auguste’s horses and all his possessions. The king lost his royal seal, account books and charters.


A controversial thesis

With the assistance of Étienne de Gallardon, Guérin’s mission was to reconstitute the King’s archives and state charters, based on the work of the Grand Chamberlain of France, Gauthier de Nemours. And so the archives of the French crown (Trésor des Chartes) were born.

The King also insisted that the archives be located in a single, fixed location. At first, this was the Louvre, then, under Saint-Louis, an annex of the Sainte-Chapelle chapel.

According to archivist and historian Yann Potin, the creation of a repository dates to 1204, when the Duchy of Normandy was incorporated into the Kingdom of France. From then on, administrative acts were systematically preserved. The legend that many of the archives were lost in battle is said to have been concocted by royalty to justify the absence of older collections.

Nevertheless, Guérin continued to play a key role. In 1222, he was one of Philippe Auguste’s executors and became Chancellor of France in 1223. He held this position during the regency of Blanche de Castille and into the reign of Saint Louis until his death in 1227.

Let your history shape the future with AGS Records Management. Get in touch with us today to explore our tailored solutions for your needs.

Share This