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CHARLEMAGNE: THE MAKING OF AN IMAGE, 1100-1300
JACE ANDREW STUCKEY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Jace Andrew Stuckey
My dissertation and all of my work is dedicated to my wife Shannon. Without her
support none of this would have been possible. I would also like to dedicate this work to
my daughter, Elizabeth, who was born the semester that I graduated. She has become an
inspiration to me.
I want to thank my family and friends for their support while I was pursuing my
graduate degrees. I want to thank all of my professors and especially my committee
members, Dr's Curta, Hasty, Hatch, Landes, and Sommerville for their dedication and
invaluable advice while I was writing the dissertation. I especially want to thank Dr.
Florin Curta, my advisor, for his tireless efforts in editing and advising me on my
dissertation and for his dedication to training me as a historian. I will always consider
him to be my mentor.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
ABSTRACT ........ ............................ ...... ......... ........... vii
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
H istoriography .................................................... ....................... 3
Sources, Theory and M ethodology..................................... ......................... ......... 16
2 CHARLEMAGNE AND THE MILITES CHRISTI: MAKING MYTH INTO
HISTORY ..................................... .................................. .......... 27
R olan d .................. ..................... ................................................................. 33
The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle.......................................................... ............... 35
A sprem ont ....................................................................................................... ....... 37
E lem ents of the C crusade ................................................. ... ............... ............... 42
Interpretation and Adaptation of Roland .............. .............................................49
Propaganda, Crusade, and Charlem agne ........................................ .....................57
C onclu sion ......... .................. ..................................... ...........................69
3 CHARLEMAGNE AND MEDIEVAL KINGSHIP: THE MAKING OF AN
ID E A L ...............................................................................7 8
Defining Kingship and the Limits of Power...........................................................80
R land .................. ...................8...................2..........
The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle.......................................................... ............... 90
A sprem ont ................. ..................... ...................... ............... 93
K ingship, Legitim acy, and Social O order ........................................ .....................96
T he C row ning of L ouis ............................................................ .....................96
W illehalm ............................................ ..........................104
Suger, the Abbey of Saint-Denis, and the Cult of Kingship .................................... 109
C conclusion: K ingship and M em ory ......... .. ............... .................. ..................... 119
4 THE UNMAKINGG' OF AN IDEAL: CHARLEMAGNE AND THE FEUDAL
O R D E R ............... ... ......... .......................................................................................... 12 3
T he R ebel-B aron C ycle ......................................................................................... 125
The Song of Girart de Vienne and Le Pelerinage de Charlemagne......................128
Contradictions of K ingship ......................................................... .............. 136
B beyond France .......................................................................................... ............... 150
T h e C ru sa d e s ...................................................................................................... 1 5 2
Le Pelerinage de Charlemagne.............................................. ....................152
Girart de V ienne ...................................... .. ..... ............ 155
C o n c lu sio n ...................................... .............................................. 1 5 8
5 THE MAKING OF ROYAL HISTORY: THE CONVERGENCE OF
TRADITION AND M YTH ......................................................... .............. 162
Capetian Propaganda .............................................................. ............... .164
Blood-Line and M edieval Statecraft...................................................................... 169
K arolinu s ........................................................................ 172
K aiserchronik ................................ ............ .......................... 176
Ethnicity and the Legacy of the Crusades ................................................182
The G randes C hroniques ................................................................................... 189
Charlemagne in the North: The Karlamagnus Saga................... ...............203
C on clu sion ............................................... ................. ....................... 2 06
6 C O N C L U SIO N ......... ....................................................................... ........ .. ..... .. 208
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ......................................................................... ..................228
BIOGRAPH ICAL SKETCH ...................................................... 239
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
CHARLEMAGNE: THE MAKING OF AN IMAGE, 1100-1300
Chair: Florin Curta
Major Department: History
The image of Charlemagne represents one of the most highly developed historical
and literary legends of the Middle Ages. His representation ranges from the majestic to
the bland; from grandiose to weak and from a saint to a despot. He exemplified the
greatest of military heroes and stood as the champion of Christianity, while at the same
time his character and the sources in which it appears illustrated many of the problems of
an unstable feudal world. By the twelfth century, the former Carolingian King and
Emperor represented the greatest attraction of any historical character of the medieval
period. The image of Charlemagne extends from early Latin panegyrics such as De
gestis Karoli Magni by the Monk of St. Gall of the ninth century to the grand epics and
romance works of the twelfth to fifteenth centuries such as the Chanson de Roland.
At the center of this dissertation is a study of the representation of Charlemagne in
twelfth and thirteenth century literature. The focus of my analysis is on a representative
collection of sources that were produced in France, Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia.
They date from 1100 to 1300. I focus on popular images of crusading, religion, and
kingship as linked with the portrait of Charlemagne. The emphasis is on the impact the
image of Charlemagne had on crusaders' ideals, crusading activities, and views on
The impact of the crusades forced three worlds into escalated conflict that would
forever transform the political, cultural, and religious landscape of Europe and the Middle
East. The impact on medieval literary genres was nearly as dramatic. From epic to
romance, churchmen and poets of this period quickly incorporated the crusading themes
into their work. The literature of this period represents a militant and religious culture
that found its ethos and role models in the lives of former kings, emperors and conquerors
and especially in that of Charlemagne. The crusading ethos dominated some of the most
popular genres of that time and acted as propaganda for a culture that embraced chivalric
values, and increasingly became a society that exported its militarism in the name of
religion. My research has yielded a number of conclusions. I argue that the literary
sources had a tremendous influence on Western views of crusade, kingship, and the
creation of vernacular history. The deeds of Charlemagne served as a precedent for the
crusades and an example for future kings.
"Charlemagne, claimed by the Church as a saint, by the French as their greatest
king, by the Germans as their compatriot, by the Italians as their emperor, heads all
modern histories in one way or another; he is the creator of a new order of things."1 As
late as the 1820's, the legend of Charlemagne for historians such as Sismondi represented
the embodiment of an age-old ideal and a crucial part of modern European identity and
ethnicity. Why was Charlemagne, a figure from the distant past, able to achieve such
high status and command such enormous respect?
The image of Charlemagne represents one of the most highly developed historical
and literary legends of the Middle Ages. Arguably, no figure, not even the illustrious
King Arthur, was able to achieve the far-reaching, continent-wide appeal and popularity
of Charlemagne. His representation ranges from the majestic to the bland; from
grandiose to weak and from a saint to a despot. He exemplified the greatest of military
heroes and stood as the champion of Christianity, while at the same time his character
and the sources in which it appears illustrated many of the problems of an unstable feudal
world. By the twelfth century, the former Carolingian King and Emperor represented the
greatest attraction of any historical character of the medieval period. The image of
Charlemagne extends from early Latin panegyrics such as De gestis Karoli Magni by the
1 J.C.L. Simonde de Sismondi, Histoire des Francais, vol. 2 (Paris: Treuttel and Wurtz, 1821), p. 217;
quoted in Robert Morrissey, (C1, Il, ,.,ii,.- and France: A Thousand Years oJ \l Iil.. -I trans. Catherine
Tihanyi (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), p. xvii.
Monk of St. Gall of the ninth century to the grand epics and romance works of the twelfth
to fifteenth centuries such as the Chanson de Roland.
At the center of this dissertation is a study of the representation of Charlemagne in
the twelfth- and thirteenth-century literature. The significance of the chronological
bracket becomes obvious to anyone familiar with crusade history. The dissertation
examines the popular images of crusading, religion and kingship as linked with the
portrait of Charlemagne. The approach used is inter-disciplinary in that I use primarily
literary sources to answer questions of a fundamentally historical nature. Many
historians do not focus on literary sources when dealing with the image of Charlemagne.
Ideas of religion, kingship, and crusading were common in many literary sources.
Combining these sources with various historical sources, such as chronicles, allows
historians to get a better idea of how and why the image was formed.
The crusading period (c. 1096-1291) is a crucial period in medieval history. The
impact of the crusades of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries forced three
worlds into escalated conflict that would forever transform the political, cultural, and
religious landscape of Europe and the Middle East. The impact on the medieval literary
genre was nearly as dramatic. From epic to romance, churchmen and poets of this period
quickly incorporated the crusading themes into their work. The literature of this period
represents a militant and religious culture that found its ethos and role models in the lives
of former kings, emperors and conquerors and especially in that of Charlemagne. The
crusading ethos dominated some of the most popular genres of that time and acted as
propaganda for a culture that embraced chivalric values, and increasingly became a
society that exported its militarism in the name of religion.
The focus of my analysis is on a representative collection of sources that were
produced in France, Germany, Italy, and Scandinavia. They date from ca. 1100, just after
the First Crusade, to ca. 1300. In an attempt to capture the multi-faceted alteration of
Charlemagne's image depending upon the cultural context, I chose texts written in
French, German, and Italian, as well as Latin. The relatively long period covered by this
study is designed to provide sufficient room for comparison.
The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are important in a number of respects. This is
the period that C.H. Haskins in his famous book labeled the "Twelfth Century
Renaissance." There was significant Church reform in this period (particularly
concerning the investiture controversy). There was an increase in the translations of
scientific and literary works of the Greek corpus and this was the time of the rise of the
university. In addition, there was considerable political and social change. However, it is
the literary development that is of interest to this research project.
The representation of Charlemagne as a crusader, and ideal king, and the familial
predecessor of the Capetian ruling family in the sources of the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries is quite common. The historiography of this period is extremely diverse and
dense. My goal, of course, is to develop a viable historical perspective of the
representation of Charlemagne as he appears in the most vernacular literary and historical
works in Latin of the crusading era.
Because the research is centered primarily on the literature of the crusades and in
some ways the crusaders themselves, it will be necessary to deal with a number of
secondary materials concerning both subjects. The crusades have been well researched
over the last fifty years and will serve as an important backdrop to the dissertation. Many
studies by Kenneth Setton, Carl Erdmann, and Jonathan Riley-Smith have made strong
contributions in the field. Their work, along with many others, has demonstrated not
only the importance of the field, but its complexity as well. However, most of the work
tends to focus on the political and religious conditions rather than on the cultural and
Given the great popularity of crusade-related topics among students of the Middle
Ages, there is surprisingly little work done on crusading propaganda. My dissertation
attempts to fill that gap by examining literary works rarely used as historical sources by
traditional historians. In doing so, my dissertation engages with current work in cultural
history focusing on the influence of texts on social reality. In that respect, it is both an
elaboration of and engages with the innovative approach taken by Paul Freedman in
Images of the Medieval Peasant.2 Freedman's approach combines traditional intellectual
history with the newer cultural focus. Freedman uses literary and artistic sources to
demonstrate their effect on perceptions and treatment of medieval peasants. The
emphasis is on the impact the representation of Charlemagne had on crusaders' ideals and
crusading activities. The image is used as a kind of propaganda for crusading. My
interest is in the use and abuse of crusading imagery rather than the Crusades per se. As
such, my work builds upon and contributes to current debates about literary work in
shaping historical context.
In addition, there is little, if any, attention given to the role of the image of
Charlemagne in that body of crusading literature. Many scholars who have studied the
image of Charlemagne in the literature of the period see it as a portrait of a highly
2 Paul Freedman, Images of the Medieval Peasant, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999),
idealized past. On the other hand, the literary studies often fail to give the much-needed
historical perspective. In some ways, the work of Gabrielle Spiegel has helped to bridge
this gap.3 Her work on the development of medieval historiography during the twelfth-
and thirteenth-centuries is really key for my analysis on the use of the image of
Charlemagne in different contexts. In particular, her research indirectly indicates that
literary representations and "legends" were able to make their way into the vernacular
and royal historiography of the Late Middle Ages.
Charlemagne is perhaps the most popular historical figure of the Middle Ages. He
has been celebrated as king, emperor, the unifier of Europe, the founder of France, and
the defender of Christendom. However, although there is a great amount of scholarship
concerning the epic literature, there is not a concerted effort to isolate and analyze the
Charlemagne aspect as it relates to the crusades. In addition, there has not been a study
that looks at the various regions that the literature was produced and then compares and
contrasts these images. It is important to approach the topic from an interdisciplinary
perspective in order to gain a wider outlook. In a number of ways, the literary and
historical image of Charlemagne created in the twelfth-century mirrored that of a
glorified knight and crusader. The image was created by the society and culture that
traveled to the Holy Land and participated in the crusades.
The history of Charlemagne has been analyzed from a number of different
perspectives. He has been the subject of a number of biographies and histories, but most
have tended to focus on his military exploits and his coronation. As a result, there is only
minimal discussion of his legend. To some extent, the legend of Charlemagne is an
3 Gabrielle Spiegel, The Past as Text; The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography (Baltimore:
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).
entirely different subject than that of his real life. Historians have long been interested in
the development and impact of the legend of Charlemagne in medieval Europe. As early
as the 1890's historians were analyzing the myths and legends associated with
Charlemagne. Among the most prominent was Gerhard Rauschen who, in his Die
Legende Karls des Grossen im 11. und 12. Jahrhundert,4 analyzed the Descriptio, Vita
Karoli Magni and various other texts associated with the Charlemagne canonization.
Rauschen was one of the first to put the development of the legend into an historical
In the area of Charlemagne legend, some of the most important work came in the
mid-twentieth century with the work of Robert Folz. One of the seminal books on the
subject is his Le Souvenir et la 1egende de Charlemagne dans l'empire germanique
mndieval.5 This is an exhaustive study of the memory of Charlemagne in the German
Empire, drawing on literary and religious manifestations in sources from the ninth to the
early sixteenth-century. The memory of Charlemagne is a combination of both history
and legend and has connections to imperial as well as religious ideas. The study is
somewhat limited in that it does not consider the whole of Europe but rather just the
German case. Folz does not focus on the literary tradition, but annals, biographies, and
various other sources and argues for a continuity. In his Etudes sur le Culte liturgique de
Charlemagne dans les eglises de I'Empire,6 Folz expands his work to other parts of
4 Gerhard Rauschen, ed. Die Legende Karls des Grossen im 11. Und 12. Jahrhundert,
(Gesellschaft fuir rheinische Geschichtskunde, 7. Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1890).
5 Robert Folz, Le souvenir et la legende de ( li, /,. 11,1,m. dans l'empire germanique mddidvale, (1'Univ. de
Dijon, 7. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1950; rpt. Geneva: Droz, 1973).
6 Robert Folz, Etudes sur le Culte liturgique de ( lh, /k.. oil ic. dans les eglises de l'Empire,
(Fac. Lett. Univ. of Stasbourg, S6rie bleu, 115. Stassburg: Impr. Des Dernieres Nouvelles de Straasbourg,
1951; rpt. Geneva: Droz, 1973).
Europe and argues that by the end of the twelfth century, an extensive "cult" of
Charlemagne existed in France, Germany and the Low Countries. After his canonization
in 1165 by the Anti-Pope Pascal III, a number of prayers, masses, and feasts developed in
honor of Charlemagne. I agree with Folz's idea that the memory and legend of
Charlemagne represented an illustration of Christian virtue. However, Folz sees the
legends in Germany as more localized than the French tradition, whereas I would argue
that they are a part of the broader context of Western culture.
The work of Folz was followed by others such as Karl-Ernst Geith's Carolus
Magnus: Studien zur Darstellung des Grossen in der deutschen Literatur des 12. und 13
Jahrhunderts.7 Geith analyzes a number of sources in which Charlemagne appears, such
as the Rolandslied and the Kaiserchronik and such themes as Karl und David and
Kanonisation. He discusses previous work done on the subject. This study is a fairly
comprehensive analysis of the medieval German literature in which Charlemagne is an
essential figure. According to Geith, the German sources almost always depict
Charlemagne in a positive light. This is not always the case in the French and later
Italian traditions. But again, this study is limited in scope as it only considers the German
The image or representation of Charlemagne is certainly dynamic and varies from
region to region. The overly positive portrayal of the former Emperor in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries described by Geith did not always translate to other regions.
According to Karl Bender, many of the authors of the Franco-Italian texts chose to adopt
7 Karl-Ernst Geith, Carolus Magnus: Studien zur Darstellung Karls des Groj3en in der deutschen Literatur
des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts, (Munich and Bern: Francke,Bibliotheca Germanica, 19. 1977).
a more negative model of Charlemagne.8 A more recent study, Julianne Vitullo's The
Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy, confirms Bender's argument.9 Vitullo demonstrates
that later (thirteenth to fifteenth century) epic works adopted in Italy often had a less than
ideal image of Charlemagne. Henning Krause argued that the social ideology of the
rising bourgeoisie and the unique political situation in Italy characterized by such
elements as the ability to vote the Emperor out of power dictated the manner in which the
representation of Charlemagne was imported. 10 For the most part, although not
exclusively, the negative imagery was a later, post-twelfth century, phenomenon.
Scholars have also used the image of Charlemagne or the example of Charlemagne
in studies involving various topics such as kingship, religion, and the rise of court culture.
Stephen Jaeger in his work the Origins of Courtliness11 argues to a certain extent that
courtly ideals were invented by medieval bishops for entertainment. In the work, Jaeger
uses the precedents of Carolingian and Ottonian culture extensively. The image of
Charlemagne and his court culture was idealized in the later period just as his supposed
crusading exploits were.
Of course, it is not a novel idea to suggest that the sources are a more accurate
reflection of twelfth- and thirteenth-century culture than that of their Carolingian subject
matter. In fact, Richard Kaeuper has recently pointed out that, "Scholars have long
8Karl Bender, "Les metamorphoses de la royaut6 de Charlemagne dans les premieres 6pop6es franco-
italiennes," Cultura Neolatina 21 (1961), 164-74.
9 Julianne Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2000).
10Henninng Kraus, "Aspects de l'histoire poetique de Charlemagne en Italie," In C I.,, I,. ,,,Ii.." et
S'epopee romane, pp. 103-23.
1 Stephen Jaeger, The Origins of Courtliness: Civilizing Trends and the Formation of Courtly Ideals 939-
1210 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985).
recognized that these twelfth-century poems reflect society and issues of their time of
composition, not those of the eighth- or ninth-century setting in which the action takes
place."12 It should not be surprising that Charlemagne plays an important role in the
literary development of a period so far removed from his own time, since he represented
such an iconic position in French culture and history.
Many scholars looking at the image of Charlemagne have concentrated on the
French literary corpus of the high and late Middle Ages. One area of the literary corpus
that received particular attention is the chanson de geste (songs of heroic deeds). With
nearly 100 surviving poems such as the chanson de Roland, chanson de Jerusalem,
chanson d' Aspremont in which there is a crusading theme, this genre represents one of
the most popular aspects of French medieval literature. In many of these works,
Charlemagne is a principal character and comes to embody the ideal chivalric values of
twelfth century knighthood.
In particular, the origins of the genre have fascinated and puzzled scholars for more
than a century. As early as 1939, Grace Frank succinctly summarized the interests in the
chansons de geste:
Who shall say what inspired the first author of a chanson de geste with the idea of
writing a historical romance in decasyllabic laisses? His ultimate inspiration may
have been a pilgrimage or a crusade, a Latin poem or a saint's life in the vernacular,
or merely an intense desire to tell a stirring tale. His proximate source may have
been a song or a story, a monk, an inscription, a church chronicle, or some
combination of these. All we know is that, whether his hero was Charlemagne or
Roland or William, there can be no doubt that his poem soon became widely
popular and much imitated. And if this poem were the 'original' of our Chanson
de Roland as it may well have been one can readily understand why!13
12 Richard Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
13 Grace Frank, "Historical Elements in the Chanson de Geste" in Speculum 14 (1936) p. 212.
Frank's analysis of the interest in chanson de geste in general and the song of Roland in
particular reflects the questions historians and literary scholars were interested in
pursuing. Although the field has expanded greatly, modem-day scholars are still
debating many of the same issues. In particular, the debate concerning origins and
meaning is still prevalent today.
The study of the legend of Charlemagne in the chanson de geste may be traced
back to the mid-nineteenth century with the work of Gaston Paris. The question of
origins tended to be the first question asked by many nineteenth century historians. After
all, understanding the birth of the chanson went a long way in completing one's
understanding of one's own origins and that of the French State. Discovering the birth of
the national consciousness was the goal of scholars all over Europe. They worked in the
midst of an environment that embraced romanticism and nationalism in a way not
entirely understood by today's scholars.14 Trapped in a world obsessed with nationalism
and the origins of the modem state, scholars such as Gaston Paris utilized methodologies
that would answer the most pressing concerns of the day such as national history,
national origin and most importantly identity. In fact, Robert Morrissey contends that
"Paris fashions a specifically French solution: he argues the Romance-language culture
derives from both Germanic and Provencal cultures but rises above them and contains the
seed of a French identity."5 Paris and other scholars working in the midst of intense
nationalist movements saw in the figure of Charlemagne as the creation of the nation. In
14 Michael Zink, Medieval French Literature: An Introduction, trans. Jeff Rider, (New York: Medieval &
Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1995), p. 25.
15 Morrissey, 289.
addition, it was through poetry such as the chanson de geste that the "collective" and
"national" identity manifested itself.
In his Histoire podtique de Charlemagne, (1865), Paris proposed that a long oral
tradition preceded the first written source of the chanson de geste. He believed that there
existed oral epics called cantilenes that were more or less a contemporary of the military
events they described. The cantilenes were numerous and fairly short and sewn together
creating the chanson de geste. In addition, they were composed by bards who followed
courts and followed the Scandinavian and Celtic customs that found their way into early
medieval culture. Another scholar, Leon Gautier, agreed with many of the ideas put forth
by Paris. However, in his Epopees Francaises, Gautier argued that the original
cantilenae had been composed in German rather than Romance.16 In 1884, the Italian
scholar Pio Rajna agreed that there may have been a German origin since 'Germanic'
epics did exist during the Carolingian period and that since no cantilkne is saved. He also
maintained that the stories were not really 'popular' since they reflected the ideals of the
The first to challenge Gaston Paris' thesis was Joseph Bedier. Bedier maintained
that the chansons did not derive directly from the events narrated. Bedier believed that
the epics had been invented by the trouveres of the High Middle Ages. He argues that
they were first invented by monks to advertise pilgrimage sites. The stories were used to
bolster the reputations of various sanctuaries and pilgrimage sites that housed famous
relics. Bedier's advocates have since maintained that there were no real epics before the
16 Urban T. Holmes, Jr, A History of Old French Literature from the Origins to 1300, (New York: F.S.
Crofts & CO., 1938), p. 67.
17 P. Rajna. Le origini dell'epopeafrancese (Florence, Sansoni, 1884).
year 1000. In addition, they deny any connection between the oral tradition and actual
historical events. The focus for these scholars is mainly the literary value of the poems,
which they thought to be more important than the historical background revealed by Paris
and his successors.
In the 1920's, Ferdinand Lot18 defended the 'traditionalist' interpretation by
attacking Bedier's 'individualism' and by asserting "that the chansons de geste preceded
and created the cult of epic heroes linked to sanctuaries on the pilgrimage routes rather
than succeeding [them]"19 Ramon Menendez Pidal20 also defended the 'traditionalist'
position by concentrating on the oral component of the chanson. He argued that the
chanson "was not born form the imagination or the pen of its author in a definitive,
perfect, and unchangeable state" and that "there was no authentic or correct text.21 To
Pidal, each version or manuscript represented a performance and showed how the genre
transformed generation to generation.
Another group of scholars shifted the emphasis of the debate about origins to the
potential impact of early medieval Latin literature. The 'Latinists' maintain that in order
to discover the antecedents of the chanson de geste, an analysis of the pre-existing Latin
corpus is necessary. This group of scholars credits the Latin Literature, "with keeping
alive the memory of historical events and, together with its classical models, providing a
18 Ferdinand Lot, "Etudes sur les LUgendes piques francaises IV: Le Cycle de Guillaume d'Orange,"
Romania 53 (1927): 449-73.
19 Zink, 28.
20 Ramon Men6ndez Pidfl, La Chanson de Roland y el neotradicionalismo (origenes de la /pica romdnica)
(Madrid: Espansa-Calpe, 1959).
21 Zink, 29.
literary technique for their embodiment."22 To such scholars, Latin sources such as,
classical works, non-classical poetry, Biblical stories, and Saint's lives had a considerable
influence on the twelfth and-thirteenth century writers of the chanson. The authors were
educated men familiar with the Latin tradition. Thus, the Latin tradition provided the
background for content and technique for the birth of epic in the twelfth century.
However, not all representatives of this group of scholars agree on the most influential
sources. Some opt for epic Latin sources, while others insist on anecdotal works.23
In the second half of the twentieth century, a number of scholars expanded the
debate on the oral component of the chanson. Scholars such as Jean Rychner and Joseph
Duggan have emphasized the number of possible variants the oral component adds. They
argued that "...each perform... [represented] a new creation of a poem that does not truly
exist in and of itself, independent of its performance."24 In his The Song ofRoland.
Formulaic Style andPoetic Craft, Duggan further argued that the 'formulaic style' is
evidence of the oral character. This complicates the issue because, for Duggan, the
written chanson de geste leaned in the later period towards the Romance 'written' genre
of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To Duggan, the 'formulaic style' was more
prevalent in the early epic period, which indicated an oral component. A number of
scholars have disputed that formulaic style is, "unique to oral literature" and claimed that
is not even "proof of orality."25
22 Frank, 209.
23 Holmes, 72.
24 Zink, 30.
25 Zink, 31.
Those scholars that have suggested that the Chanson de Roland and other sources
within its category have a long orally transmitted past have contended that the true
origins lay in a pagan-Germanic past.26 They argue that the ethics and values are dictated
by a Germanic shame culture, not by religion. However, in my opinion this interpretation
is too narrow. In particular, I see the religious element as a critical element in the story's
theme, which is usually entirely neglected, by those that would argue that it is a bi-
product of a Germanic shame culture. Rather than guess about how old the stories are or
might be, it is necessary to work with the written sources we have.
Lately, the argument has been advanced that Chanson de Roland as we know it,
may in fact be an 'invention' of nineteenth century scholars. Andrew Taylor suggests
that the categories in which contemporary scholars view Roland are based on nineteenth-
century works, and are in essence post-medieval. This invention was a conscious attempt
to find, "a direct expression of the national spirit, in a pure and original state..."27 The
pressing need in post-revolutionary France for a national epic provided the impetus for
the interest in the poem. Taylor argued that the title attributed to the poem is entirely
misleading. According to Taylor, what "we call the poem it contains the Chanson de
Roland, accepting the title Michel first provided, one that occurs nowhere in the
manuscript."28 As a result, contemporary scholars who study the work are from the
beginning affected by the perceived context of its compilation. Everything from the title
26 An early example of this interpretation can be found in the work of George Fenwick Jones, The Ethos of
the Song ofRoland, (Maryland, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1963).
27 Andrew Taylor, "Was There a Song of Roland?" Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 76 (2001) p.
28 Taylor, Was There a Song ofRoland, p. 53.
to the production of the poem is colored by some of the previous nineteenth-century
It is entirely possible, as scholars of more recent times have suggested that there is
no single theory of origins that applies to all the poems of the chanson de geste. A more
multi-dimensional view has been adopted by some in an effort to shed light on the
background of the popular epics of the later Middle Ages. With this approach, it is
necessary to examine each poem individually, while still considering the larger cultural
background from which they were produced, in order to determine whether it contains
historical references to a distant past.
Much like the study of the chanson de geste, the legend of Charlemagne
preoccupied all of the scholars mentioned above. The character and representation of
Charlemagne, because of the frequency and prevalence, is arguably the most important
figure of medieval epic. Writing in the early twentieth century William Comfort
confirmed this idea when he argued that,
...the figure of the great Emperor dominates to a great degree the whole body of
the poetry which occupies our attention. It is with his epic personality and with his
far-reaching activities that other persons and events are brought into relation. A
study of the personages in the French epic necessarily begins with Charlemagne.29
The most ambitious study of the legends and myths surrounding Charlemagne is
Robert Morrissey's Charlemagne and France: A Thousand Years of Mythology.30 The
study traces the developments of legendary status from the ninth century works of
Einhard and Notker to the development of medieval epic and romance to a
29 William Wistar Comfort, "The Character Types in the Old French Chanson de Geste," Publication of the
Modern Language Association 21 (1906), p. 282.
30 Robert Morrissey, (C 1 Il, ,. i,,I and France: A Thousand Years of \l\ Ii.' .. trans. Catherine Tihanyi
(Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).
'remythologizing' in the Renaissance and Reformation and finally, to the nationalist
interpretations of nineteenth century scholars.
Sources, Theory & Methodology
There are a number of ways to approach the sources proposed for this study. Any
analysis of the legend of Charlemagne and the epic tradition in the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries has to take into account the possibility that Gaston Paris' arguments or a variant
of his ideas concerning oral tradition might have some validity. As such, it is prudent to
consider the work of modern theorists who deal with oral tradition. One of the most
important names in the field is Jan Vansina. In his, Oral Tradition as History, Vansina
discusses the epic tradition and the use of oral tradition as a source of history. Vansina
sees Epic as "a narrative couched in poetic language, subject to special linguistic rules of
form." Many of the sources used in this study do fit the component definition of epic
including "... a historical dimension... correspond [ing] to actual events of minor or
major importance." 31
However, oral tradition is only a small component of the larger historical
framework. It is not my intention to draw conclusions or even speculate as to a possible
oral tradition or pre-history of the epic sources included in this study. I do not deny the
relevance of this issue, but that it would significantly alter my conclusions. This is,
without question, an important avenue of research, but simply not one that is the focus of
this study. Therefore, I will proceed with the impression that the twelfth and thirteenth
century texts that are available to historians and literary scholars are the products of their
31 Jan Vansina, Oral Tradition as History, (James Curry, London; Heinemann Kenya, Nairobi, 1985), p.
own time, and not a written version of long passed oral tradition. However, this is not to
say that there are not previous models from Antiquity and the early Middle Ages that the
twelfth and thirteenth century authors are not familiar. A combination of primarily Latin
models certainly had an impact on the form and function of twelfth and thirteenth century
literature. An ideal example is sources concerning the lives of saints. Although there are
marked differences between twelfth century epic and hagiography, there are similarities
in style and theme. Epic tends to be considerably longer and the concept of 'heroism,'
unlike saint's lives is virtually always the main theme.
I start from the premise that, as Paul Zumthor noted "literature simultaneously
reflects and interprets a state of society."32 Zumthor's theoretical discourse is a much
better fit for the present study. He covers a broad range of sources and deals with the
continuities and broader tendencies of poetics. He also covers both medieval Latin and
vernacular sources. He deals most significantly with twelfth century poetics and as a
result to some extent with twelfth century culture. His questions for the historian are
some of the same that will be the focus of this study. Those are; how did history
determine the text's mode of being? Was the relationship between the text and its public
affected by the culture of the day? What was the author's relationship to that culture and
how did it affect the text? The author's intent and reception, and the social function of
the text are also critical for this discussion. Many of these functions included
32 Paul Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, trans. Philip Bennett, (Minneapolis and Oxford: University of
Minnesota Press, 1992), p. 5.
"celebration or commemoration, instruction, and edification, moral-ethical
exemplification, glorification and panegyric, propaganda and persuasion."33
All of these social functions certainly apply to the medieval epic. However,
although modern scholars recognize epic literature as being closely associated with
legend and fiction, this was not the case in the Middle Ages. Prior to the fourteenth
century, most of medieval society would not have distinguished between epic and history,
although it has been suggested that medieval readers and listeners, distinguished fact and
fiction within literary sources. This distinction manifested itself through the style of a
text, whether it was prose, which tended to hold more credibility, or verse which was
more closely associated with fiction. According to Nicholas of Senlis, a thirteenth
century translator of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, "...many peoples had heard recounted
and sung (the story of Charlemagne's expedition to Spain), but never has so many lies
been told as by those singers and jongleurs who spoke and chanted it. No rhymed tale is
true; all that it speaks is lies, for it knows nothing but hearsay."34 According to Zumthor,
the thirteenth and fourteenth century marked a "... shift of perspective"35 when dealing
with society's sense of history. Although a prose translation of the Pseudo-Turpin
Chronicle is no more historically accurate than the Song of Roland in verse, it would be
reasonable to conclude that twelfth- and thirteenth-century culture viewed the stories of
Charlemagne as part of their collective memory and history and accepted them as true.
3 Suzanne Fleischman, "On the Representation of History and Fiction in the Middle Ages" History and
Theory, 22, (1983), p. 282.
34 Quoted in Gabrielle Spiegel, "Forging the Past: The Language of Historical Truth in Middle Ages," The
History Teacher, 17 (1984), p. 271.
35 Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, p. 287.
In addition, there are a number of typologies to consider when dealing with literary
genres of the high and late Middle Ages. According to Suzanne Fleischman, "twelfth-
and thirteenth-century epics like historical drama of the fifteenth and early sixteenth
centuries, are acknowledged to have served a commemorative function: each
performance constituted a ritual celebration of great figures of the past, a communal cat
of self-affirmation and identification. These historical genres functioned as the collective
memory of a community that was largely unlettered."36 The sources and therefore the
typologies in this study are somewhat limited because of space and time. The Middle
Ages is a highly symbolic period.37 Consequently, even with limited written sources, it is
possible to gain a general sense of the culture of the period.
The logical place to begin the analysis is to look at the French sources associated
with the representation of Charlemagne. The sources that came from France most likely
represent the largest and most important body of evidence as well as the earliest sources
to be considered. The amount of literature produced during this period is extensive. In
addition, Charlemagne definitely plays a predominant role in most of the literature from
the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
Charlemagne appears quite often in French medieval literature and especially in the
chansons de geste. The chansons de geste typically fall into one of three categories. The
first is the cycle of the king (Geste du Roi). The second group is the Geste de Doon de
Mayence, and these stories deal with adventures associated with the king (Charlemagne)
36 Zumthor, Toward a Medieval Poetics, p. 283.
7 Maria Corti, An Introduction to Literary Semiotics, trans. Margherita Bogat and Allen Mandelbaum,
(Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1978), p. 17.
feuding with some rebellious subject or vassal. The third cycle is associated primarily
with the stories about William of Orange and his family. There are of course some that
do not fit any of these three categories. Many, if not most, of these stories that I will
analyze in this dissertation have a strong crusading theme, such as the Chanson de
The next area that is critical to analyze is the corpus of German literature produced
in the same period. Much of this literature appears later than the French sources and is,
in fact, based on some of the same stories and texts. The sources of German literature are
not as abundant as the French collections, but the German sources do mirror the French
tradition in many important ways. For example, two principle sources, the Rolandslied
and Willehalm have significant references to Charlemagne and are based on earlier
French texts. In the former (based on the Song of Roland), Charlemagne is a prominent
character, and in the later, his legendary image is often mentioned. In both cases, as in
the French sources, the image and presence of Charlemagne is very strong. The
Kaiserchronik represents a large chronicle of Roman and German Emperors to Conrad III
and includes significant passages on Charlemagne. However, the image that comes from
the German sources might also be a great deal narrower than that of the French, simply
because there are fewer sources to develop a more complex image.
It will be necessary just as in the case with the French sources that numerous forms
of literature will need to be studied in order to gain the most complete perspective of the
representation of Charlemagne. Although the image of Charlemagne may not vary a
great deal from the image seen in the French sources, there may be subtle differences that
are important when considering the importance of the image, role of the image, intended
audience, and the ultimate source of that image. In the German tradition there is an
apocalyptic dimension associated with Charlemagne which does not appear in French
sources. For example, according to one Bavarian source, Charlemagne, is seated in his
tomb, in Aachen, in a chair. Even in death, his white beard continues to grow and when
the beard has circled the stone table in front of him three times, the world will come to an
Another area that needs to be analyzed is the literary body of work that appears in
Italy during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The sources, like those from Germany,
post-date the French sources of the early crusading period. In fact, many of these sources
also post-date those sources being used from Germany as well. The Italian case is also
much like the German phenomenon in that many of the sources are variants of earlier
Julianne Vitullo discusses the chivalric epic in medieval Italy and argues that the
image of Charlemagne is a key element in some of the more prevalent Italian works. It
appears from her study that Charlemagne's representation is quite complex and takes
several forms. He is a strong king and leader while at other times he is depicted as weak
and unjust. There is even one story where Charlemagne is forced into exile as a young
man and ends up being raised by noble Saracens. The focus in Italy is on a variety of
crusading sources and stories that reflect the complexity and importance of the
The "Construction" of the Image of Charlemagne and Its Development
The chapters of the dissertation are arranged both thematically and chronologically.
However, preference will be given to theme and there will be some overlap in chronology
between sources of different chapters. Although the sources do come from various
regions of Europe and this is an important aspect of the study, the chapters are not
organized according to geographic region. The large number of French sources in
comparison to other regions would render this approach inadequate.
Chapter 2, "Charlemagne and the Milites Christi: Making Myth into History," with
sources that range from the early to late twelfth century. The main sources for this
chapter are the Chanson de Roland, La Chanson d'Aspremont, the Pseudo-Turpin
Chronicle, and the German Rolandslied and the principal theme is crusade and holy war.
As with the successive chapters, there will be other primary sources used, but these
constitute the bulk of the analysis. Chapter 3, "Charlemagne and Medieval Kingship:
The Making of an Ideal," incorporates the sources Le Couronnement de Louis,
Willehalm, as well as the sources from the previous chapter. The primary theme in this
section is the building of the image of proper and legitimate kingship. Chapter 4, "The
Unmaking of an Ideal: Charlemagne and the Feudal Order," focuses on the problems of
feudal relations, in particular, the often strained relationship between lord and vassal and
between King and Duke. The main sources for this chapter are, Girart de Vienne and Le
Pelerinage de Charlemagne. Chapter 5, "The Making of Royal History: The
Convergence of Tradition and Myth," analyzes A Thil iceinlh Century Life of
Charlemagne, which is a portion of the Grandes Chroniques, the German Kaiserchronik,
and the Karlamagnus Saga of Scandinavia. These sources are compilations of previous
material reworked to give a pre-history and a legitimate authority to the rulers of the late
thirteenth century. Chapter 6 is the section that contains the broader conclusions of the
A specific image of Charlemagne was familiar to the crusading generation of the
late eleventh and twelfth centuries. Charlemagne's legend had long outlasted the
Carolingian Empire. However, Charlemagne's legendary status, at least to the initial
crusading generation, in many ways, is well deserved. He accomplished as much, if not
more, than many of the emperors of Rome in its glory days. Consequently, Charlemagne
began to appear intermittently in historical sources from the time of his death (814) up to
and including the First Crusade (1096-1099).
The historical image of Charlemagne depicts him as an ideal leader and warrior.
This is the image that the first generation of crusaders took with them to the Holy Land.
The image was then transformed and integrated into the corpus of crusade literature that
is prevalent during the subsequent two centuries. It is during the crusading period that
this image is most prevalent and popular. It is during this period, the eleventh, twelfth,
and thirteenth centuries that the most critical elements of the image and representation of
Charlemagne were formed. However, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the
crusading image was also part of a broader representation of Charlemagne as the ideal
Christian king. In addition, there are a number of questions that are raised when looking
at the representation of Charlemagne is this period. For example, is this image created
before the First Crusade, or during, or immediately after? What is the interplay between
'the crusades' and images of 'kingship'? Is it the image created by the crusaders while
on the journey and then brought back from the Holy Land or does it begin in Europe and
then used as inspiration? Why are there also contradictory and negative images of
Charlemagne? What social group or groups were responsible for its genesis? And what
social group was the most likely audience?
The question of author and audience is one of the most significant and at the same
time one of the most difficult. With such limited evidence, it is difficult to make definite
conclusions. As Corti argues, "an author knows, as he did in the Middle Ages, that he
has a definite public with a precise ideology, then his function as writer is also definite,
he does not suffer the problem of having to discover it, of questioning his own activity:
the work already contains in itself an image of the reader for whom it is destined."38 It is
then possible to 'see' the audience through the work of the author or authors. In this
case, the image or representation of Charlemagne could have several possible targets.
One such target audience might have been the warrior aristocracy that would be best
served by the lessons of religion, kingship, and warfare.
There is definitely a religious, political, and cultural importance to these images
and representations. The research that I have done indicates that the image of
Charlemagne at least in a political context represented a figure, and an idea, of authority
and power. This 'idea' manifested itself into the proper or ideal image of medieval
kingship. The frequent appearance of the image shows the mindset of a society and
culture that revered its past leaders to the point that that they helped transform them into
mythical legends and saints. From a religious standpoint, there is little question that the
image of Charlemagne was constructed with the idea that he represented one of the finest
examples of Christian kingship and Christian heroism. However, this image is not
consistent with all the literature that appears during the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries.
In fact, there are several chinks in Charlemagne's armor and image, which seem to
38 Maria Corti, Introduction to Literary Semiotics, p. 37.
appear more often in later works. In many ways, the making of the Charlemagne image
occurs during the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. Naturally there is considerable
influence from preceding centuries which serve as the foundation on which the image
was built and with the crusading fever, that infiltrated European culture, as the catalyst
that started the building process which is reflected in the chanson de geste and the other
literary achievements of the period.
His image is multi-dimensional and multi-functional. My research concurs with
portions of the work of scholars such as Robert Folz and Robert Morrissey, who see the
image of Charlemagne as a portrait of a highly idealized past. Although I tend to agree
with their conclusions, my focus is somewhat different. I contend that the literary
sources had a tremendous influence on Western views of crusade and Holy War. The
deeds of Charlemagne served as a precedent for the crusades. I do not believe that it is
coincidence that the rise of epic literature, and to some extent romance, coincided with
the Western crusades to the Holy Land. I argue that generally sources like the Chanson
de Roland served as a source of propaganda. The stories were not considered literature or
poetry, but rather as history. The crusading culture used this 'history' as both
justification and inspiration. This idealized past helped instill a greater sense of duty
among the early crusaders of the twelfth-century.
I also intend to argue that texts authored by educated churchmen have explicit
messages concerning the relationship between sacerdotium and regnum (Church and
State). In this context, Charlemagne is a model for twelfth and thirteenth-century leaders
in that his image is an emperor or king whose main function is to protect and defend
Christendom and the Church. There is a need in the twelfth-century, to borrow a phrase
from Hobsbawm, for "a continuity with the past."39 Writers for Capetian kings in the
twelfth and especially the thirteenth century often chose to emphasize Capetian
connections to Charlemagne in order to justify their kingship. By doing so, the Capetian
writers institutionalized a history that placed Capetian kings such as Philip II and Louis
IX as the successors of Charlemagne's empire.
As far as the connection between the construction of the image of Charlemagne and
the crusades, it is my contention that there is a definite relationship between the crusaders
who traveled to the Middle East in 1096 and the substance and appearance of
Charlemagne's image in the literature and historical sources that followed. The
importance of the legend of Charlemagne to the generation of the first crusaders and
those that would soon follow on the second, third and fourth crusades convinces me of a
direct correlation between the two.
39 Eric Hobsbawm, The Invention of Tradition, (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press,
1983), pp. 1-7.
CHARLEMAGNE AND THE MILITES CHRISTI: MAKING MYTH INTO HISTORY
Several twelfth-century sources embody an idealized image of chivalry, pilgrimage,
and crusading. Some are part of the grand literary tradition born in the twelfth century
that celebrate mythical and historical personalities, while others are pseudo-historical
chronicles that glorify former kings and rulers and establish historical precedents for
kingship and crusading. Most of them depict Charlemagne in a positive light, as the
idealized military leader of Christianity. During the twelfth-century, a very distinct
image was created and propagated. Charlemagne became the greatest of Christian
warriors and the defender of Christendom.
Two of the most important developments in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries
concerned the concepts of pilgrimage and crusade. A few decades before the First
Crusade the phrases milites christi (knights of Christ) and militia christi (knighthood of
Christ) were used in reference to warriors.1 Previous to this period, they had only been
used in reference to monasticism and to clergy fighting with "weapons of peace."2 Pope
Gregory VII's militia Sancti Petri included some of the first armed soldiers of the
Church. With the emergence of new Church attitudes on 'holy war' and the emergence
of a professional ethos of the new knighthood, the place and function of knights within
medieval Christian society became clearer.
1 Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1986), p. 118.
2 Hans Eberhard-Mayer, The Crusades. 2nd edition, trans. John Gillingham, (Oxford: New York: Oxford
University Press, 1988), p 19.
Warring between Christians and Muslims had gone on for centuries prior to the
First Crusade. The wars in Spain had been common since the eighth century and the
wars in Sicily epitomize what Mayer calls a 'proto-crusade.'3 The absence of an active
papal cooperation separates the earlier conflict from the later crusades to the Holy Land.
However, the wars in Spain would later become a substitute for crusading in the East. In
the twelfth century some armies were split with "one part of the army for the eastern
regions [that is, the Holy Land], another for Spain, and a third against the Slavs..."4
Members of these campaigns enjoyed many of the same privileges and indulgences as
those that went to the Holy Land.
The image of Charlemagne as a defender of the Church actually predates the
launching of the crusades in the East and the literary tradition of the twelfth century. One
of the earliest instances is that of a text dated to about 1000, which recounts the
Emperor's trip to the Holy Land. Charlemagne engaged in diplomatic relations with
Muslim leaders and guaranteed "protective rights in Palestine" for Christian pilgrims.5
The source written by a Benedictine monk, Benedetto de San Andrea del Soratte, is
loosely based on a chapter from Einhard's Vita Karoli. The story is recorded in the
Descriptio qualiter Karolus Magnus clavum et coronam Domoni a Constantinopoli
Aquisgrani detulerit qualiterque Karolus Calvus hec ad Sanctum Dyonisium retulerit,
which was dated between 1080 and 1095 and tells of another trip to the East by
Charlemagne. According to the Descriptio, Saracen invaders attacked the Emperor of
3 Mayer, The Crusades, 18.
4" The Chronicle of the Slavs by Helmold, priest of Boasau," in The Crusades: A Reader, ed. S.J. Allen
and Emilie Amt, (Canada, Broadview Press, 2003), p. 271.
5 Steven Runciman, "Charlemagne and Palestine" inEnglish Historical Review 50 (October, 1935), p. 619.
Constantinople and the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Charlemagne traveled to the region to lift
the siege and rescued his Christian brothers from the Muslim onslaught.
In both sources, particularly in the Descriptio, Charlemagne is depicted as a pilgrim
and defender of Christendom. Successful in his attempt to drive off the heathen armies,
Charlemagne refuses the 'worldly' gifts offered to him, but requests that he be able to
take some of the relics of the Passion back home to Aachen. He indeed received,
'spineam coronam et clavum fustumque crucis et sudarium domini cum aliis
sanctissimis reliquiis nam sanctissime matris domini semper virginis Marie camisia
inerate et cinctorium, unde puerum lesumin cunabulis cinxerate, et brachium sancti sensi
Symeonis.'6 One of the primary goals of the Descriptio is to explain the presence of
certain relics in Saint-Denis. Particularly the relics associated with the Passion; eight
thorns from the crown of thorns, a nail from the Cross, the Holy Shroud, one of Simeon's
arms, the clothes of Jesus child, and a portion of the True Cross. We are told that Charles
the Bald transferred some of these relics from Aachen to Saint Denis. The source
indicates, 'spineram domini corona et unum de clavis, qui in came eiusfuerunt et de
ligno crucis et alia quedam.' Among the relics that ended up at Saint Denis were the nail
from the Cross, part of the crown of thorns, and the piece of the True Cross.7
The sources are important for a number of reasons, especially in relation to the
Abbey of Saint-Denis, the Capetian monarchy, and the image of Charlemagne. The
Descriptio creates a link between the Saint-Denis relics and the Holy Land. In addition,
6 Cited after A. Elizabeth, R. Brown and Michael Cothren. "The Twelfth-Century Crusading Window of
the Abby of Saint-Denis: Praeteritorum Enim Recordatio Fururorum est Exhibitio" Journal of Warburg and
Courtauld Institutes, (1986), p. 26, note 110.
7 Jean-Louis G. Picherit, ed & trans, The Journey of( I II, I. ,1,,." to Jerusalem and Constantinople.
(Birmingham, Alabama, Summa Publications, Inc., 1984), p. v-vi.
this text linked Charlemagne and the Carolingian past to the Capetian Kings. This served
as a way of legitimizing Capetian kingship, a problem discussed in more detail in chapter
three. The representation of Charlemagne as a military leader and defender of the Church
would become one of the most popular in the centuries to come. It is upon this image
that twelfth century writers would build their version of events. Consequently, this image
may be seen as mirroring the Crusading ethos and the development of the milites christi.
Charlemagne's heroic deeds took him from France and Germany to Spain and Italy.
This is an important image and theme, since many of the works were written during the
preparation and implementation of the First, Second, and Third Crusades. The early
works such as Roland have the crusading spirit and ideology implicit in both text and
story. Later works tend to be more explicit, directly referring to Charlemagne's
campaigns as actual crusades.
There are a number of elements that are common to all sources dealing with the
image of Charlemagne. The emperor's physical characteristics are often described in
detail. He is also associated with a number of titles, most prominently that of King or
Emperor. The figure of Charlemagne is associated with a number of positive adjectives
and heroic epithets such as; 'great,' 'noble,' 'true Emperor,' 'mighty Emperor,' 'fierce-
faced,' 'brave' and 'faithful.'
The most immediate and recognizable characteristic of the representation of
Charlemagne is his physical prowess and his social status. Strength and skill are
important attributes for any warrior and Charlemagne had a great deal of both. The issue
of social status and knighthood is also a critical element. Marc Bloch and R.C. Smail
have both showed that there was a significant change in the way society viewed the
concept and occupation of knighthood.
In the late eleventh and in the twelfth centuries, there were two important
developments. First, knighthood became a social distinction, synonymous with
nobility. The milites were recognized as a class, almost as a caste, of society. The
reception into it of a young man of an age to bear arms was marked by a ceremony
in which he assumed them, and in the literature of the twelfth century statements
appear from which it is clear that only those men might become knights whose
parents had been also of knightly, that is noble, birth.8
The combination of a 'noble,' 'strong,' 'skillful,' and 'Christian' warrior is most typical
for the image of Charlemagne. Charlemagne is of course much more than just a
prominent 'noble,' he is the King and Emperor who leads the armies. It is no surprise
therefore that Charlemagne's characteristics, both his physical attributes and personality
(as a Christian leader), conform to the chivalric expectations of a twelfth-century
audience. During the twelfth century, St Bernard of Clairvaux combined the ideas of
knighthood and monasticism in his De laude novae militia. It is also that period that "the
crusader became virtually the exclusive type of true chivalry, and the crusader at that who
was fired by single-minded religious zeal..."9
The twelfth-century sources, particularly the epic tradition were imbued with
religious imagery. Charlemagne is a faithful man whose life has been about defending
and extending Christianity. There are a number of churchmen who are portrayed in most
stories and it is likely that churchmen were the authors of at least some of the sources
involving Charlemagne. The focus of the theme involves aspects such as religious war,
supernatural events, the appearance of angels, and the incorporation of the concept of
8 R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193, 2nd Edition, (Cambridge: New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1995), pp. 106-107.
9 Maurice Keen, Chivalry, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1984), p. 5.
indulgence. Religion is not only a major component of the stories, but an essential part of
the creation of Charlemagne's image and character. Charlemagne seems to have a
special relationship with God. His entire life has been committed to the service of the
Church. In this respect, he epitomized the ethos of the twelfth-and thirteenth-century
crusades. Marcus Bull argued that, "the reasons why arms-bearers from certain parts of
south-western France (and very possibly from elsewhere) went on the First Crusade can
be traced in patterns of behavior and sets of ideas which were principally molded by
contacts with professed religion."10 Religion remained a major impetus from the First
Crusade onward. This is reflected in the chivalric and crusading literature that became
commonplace in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. It would be difficult if not
impossible to separate religion from the military goals in the sources. It would also be
difficult to separate the representation of Charlemagne from religion and propaganda of
the author, who more than likely was a churchman. Charlemagne's perceived
representation that included military valor and piety served as the ideal role model for the
Equally prominent in all the texts dealing with Charlemagne is his imposing
physical stature. In the ninth century, Einhard had described Charlemagne as;
... strong and well built. He was tall in stature, but not excessively so, for his height
was just seven times the length of his own feet. The top of his head was round, and
his eyes were piercing and unusually large. His nose was slightly longer than
normal, he had a fine head of white hair and his expression was gay and good-
humoured. As a result, whether he was seated or standing, he always appeared
masterful and dignified. His neck was short and rather thick, and his stomach a
trifle too heavy, but proportions of the rest of his body prevented one from noticing
these blemishes. His step was firm and he was manly in all his movements. He
spoke distinctly, but his voice was thin for a man of his physique. His health was
10 Marcus Bull, Ke i.iiil Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade; The Limousin and Gascony, c.
970-1130 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993), p. 20.
good, except that he suffered from frequent attacks of fever during the last four
years of his life...He spent much of his time on horseback and out hunting, which
came naturally to him [and] ... He wore the national dress of the Franks.1
Einhard's physical description of Charlemagne became the basis for all subsequent
references to the emperor, but twelfth-century authors added a number of elements to
Charlemagne's image and character.
At the beginning of the Chanson de Roland, we first learn about Charlemagne's
Un falde stoed I unt fait tut d'or mer;
La siet li reis ki dulce France tient.
Blanche ad la barbe e tut flurit le chef,
Gent ad le cors e le cuntenant fier;
S'est kil demanded, ne l'estoet enseigner12
[There stands a chair of state, made from pure gold;
There sits the king who holds the fair land of France.
His beard is white and his hair hoary,
His stature is noble, his countenance fierce;
If anyone seeks him, there is no need to point him out.]13
Even at an age beyond 200, Charlemagne remains a glorious inspiration for his followers
and an intimidating adversary for his enemies. Particularly interesting about this passage
is the use of the term enseigne. This term is usually used as the name of the heraldic
devices associated with a knight's weaponry. Here in Roland, it is an identifying
1 Einhard, The Life ofC ( I.,, ,. ,,I,,.. In Two Lives ofC I( I/,. ,,Iai.. Trans. Lewis Thorpe, (London,
Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 76-77.
12 La Chanson de Roland, Texte pr6sentW, traduit et comment par Jean Durounet, (Paris: GF-Flammarion,
1993), p. 66, lines 115-119.
13 The Song ofRoland, trans., Glyn Burgess, (London, Penguin Books, 1990), p. 32.
insignia. It is something that separates Charlemagne from everyone else. The Saracen
enemy clearly acknowledges Charlemagne as a man of courage and skill and an
adversary nearly impossible to defeat. He is described as;
Carles repairet, li reis poesteifs
Li emperere od la barbe flurie,
Vasselage ad e mult grant estultie;
S'il ad bataill(i)e, il ne s'en fuirat mie.
Mult est grant doel que n'en est ki l'ociet!
En ceste there ad estetja VII. anz.
Li emperere est ber e cumbatant:
Meilz voel murir que ja fuiet de camp;
Suz ciel n'ad rei qu'il prist a un enfant.
Carles ne creint nuls hom ki siet vivant.14
[.. .the mighty king (2133)
The Emperor with hoary white beard
Is full of valor and great daring.
If there is a battle he will not take flight;
It is a great pity that there is no one to kill him. (2605-08)
He has been in this land for seven years.
The Emperor is valiant and a fine warrior;
He would sooner die than abandon the field.
No King on earth would regard him as a child.
Charles fears no man alive. (2736-40)]15
Judging from such passages, there seems to have been a specific 'look' associated with
knighthood and nobility. There also seem to be specific, visual signs of heroism, all in
tone with what Maurice Keen saw as the hallmarks of knighthood and chivalry. First, a
knight must be 'able-bodied' and show 'signs of valour.' Keen notes that, "the earliest
sources that can fully and properly be called chivalrous are the chansons de geste."16
14 La Chanson de Roland, pp. 226, 262, 272, lines 2133; 2605-2608; 2736-2640.
15 The Song ofRoland, Burgess, pp. 111, 115-116.
16 Keen, Chivalry, p. 10, 51.
The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle
By the middle of the twelfth-century, the story of Charlemagne's trip to the Holy
Land, in order to rescue the Byzantine Emperor and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, had been
associated with his military campaigns in Spain. The military exploits in Spain were
grafted into the story of Roland, as illustrated by the so-called Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle
(Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi). This text deals with a series of wars at the end of
which Charlemagne conquered the whole of Spain and Galicia. Although referred to as a
chronicle, the text is in fact written as a letter from the archbishop of Reims (a
contemporary of Charlemagne) to Leoprand, the dean of Aachen. Of course, it is actually
an invention of an imaginative twelfth-century churchman who must have been
intimately familiar with chansons de geste and in particular with Roland. Scholars have
long debated as to whom the real hero is, either Saint James or Charlemagne. It has been
argued that the source was used to encourage pilgrimage to Compostella and as crusade
propaganda. As some would expect, the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle is praiseful of
Charlemagne and his campaigns in Spain. Charlemagne is the very perfection of
kingship and imperial authority. The author refers to his campaigns clearly as a
Early scholars such as Joseph Bedier have argued that the work cannot be viewed
independently, but as a part of the Book of Saint James which has five parts or sections;
of which the Pseudo-Turpin is the fourth part.17 Others have argued that, "it still could
1 The Book ofSt. James Part 1 the Sermons and Offices of St. James; Part 2 The Miracles of the
Saint; Part 3 His Translation from Jerusalem to Compostella; Part 4 The Pseudo-Turpin; Part 5 A
Guide for Pilgrims to Compostella
be maintained that it was redacted, remanie to fit into the Book of Saint James."18
However, out of more than 100 Turpin manuscripts, none was found to pre-date the Book
of Saint James. Most scholars date the original Turpin between 1140 and 1165, thus
placing the text squarely in the framework of the twelfth-century reception of
Charlemagne's image and story.
Most longer versions of the Turpin contain a description of Charlemagne's physical
appearance, strength, activities at court, and knightly deeds.
This moreover is how that distinguished honoured emperor was: brown hair on him
and ruddy countenance and a body fair and youthful,19 and he was pleasant to look
at.20 And there went eight feet such as a man of the longest feet of all of his time
might have, to his height, and vast was his girth beneath his waist, and his middle
was of a proportionate size.21 He had stout arms and shins and very powerful joints
and he was expert in the battles of knights; he was very mirthful; his face was a
foot long, he had lion like sparkling eyes, like the stone that is called carbuncle.
Each of his eyebrows was a palm long,22 and whoever he might look on in anger
that person used at once to tremble with fear. Eight spans were in the belt that used
to go round him, not to count that what was over after fastening it.23 He used to eat
little bread but he used to eat a quarter of a sheep or a couple of hens, or a goose or
a shoulder of pig or a peacock or a whole hare, and he used to drink a little wine
jovially mixing water with it. He was of so much strength that he used with a
sword stroke to cut through from the top of the head downward an armed knight
seated on his horse together with the horse itself. He used to easily straighten out
with his hands24 four horse shoes at once. Another feat-of-strength of his was when
a knight in arms and armour used to come and stand on his palm he used to raise
18 H.M. Smyser, "An Early Redaction of the Pseudo-Turpin (Bib. Nat. fonds lat. 17656, olim Notre Dame
133)" Speculum 11 (1936) no. 2, 279.
19 corpore decors et venustus.
20 visu efferus.
21 amplissimus renibus, bentre congruus.
22 supercilia oculorum dimidiam palmam habebant.
23 praeter illud quod dependebat.
24 facile extendebat.
him readily on his one hand. He was liberal in his gifts and upright in his
judgment, and he was bright and sweet voiced in speech.25
And though one might like to listen to more of his great deeds it would be
burdensome for us to show them forth, as for example how he took knightly
equipment from Galfridus Admiraldus, son of Toletus, when a youth at the palace
of Toletus at a time when he was in banishment, and how he slew in fight for love
of Galfridus the proud Barnatus, king of the Saracens and enemy of Galfridus, and
how he protected many countries and cities, and how he ordained many abbacies
and churches throughout the world, and how he covered the bodies and relics of
many saints and martyrs with gold and silver, and how he went to visit the burial
place of the Lord, i.e. Jesus Christ, and how he brought with him the tree of the
Cross of Crucifixion.26
For the most part, Charlemagne's appearance and skills represent an ideal illustration for
Christian knights. However, the comments are also 'half-satirical' and may not be
intended to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, God chooses Charlemagne because of his
abilities. There are scenes in the Turpin that show that Charlemagne can be wrong or
sinful. This is probably meant to emphasize the human weaknesses inherit in all men and
is probably a hagiographical element intended to demonstrate the possibilities of
redemption.27 It may also be a strategy of contrasts. Charlemagne is a giant and there is
a comical contrast between physical appearance and the frailty of his soul.
At the end of the twelfth-century, the representation of Charlemagne in many of the
chansons de geste such as Roland continued to reflect an ideal image of crusading. This
representation is best documented in the poem La Chanson d'Aspremont. The positive
imagery and faultless physical characteristics of Charlemagne are extensive throughout.
25 locutionibus loculentus.
26 Gabhdltasn Serluis Mhoir, The Conquests ofC (,n /,. oii.ooi,. (London, Irish Texts Society, 1919). This is
a translation of the Pseudo-Turpin's chronicle made from an unknown Latin original around 1400.
27 Morrissey, (Cl I,i k1,1 1,.-ic and France: A Thousand Years of \I ilh. '. -, 55.
The Chanson d'Aspremont is a story composed in the late 1100s in southern Italy,
probably in Calabria or in Sicily during preparations for the Third Crusade. It is part of a
series known as the geste de roi, which also includes Roland. In this story, Muslim
powers from north Africa attack Italy with the intention of conquering the whole of
Europe. Charlemagne is forced to defend Italy and with that, all of Christendom. After
several diplomatic overtures in which both sides give the enemy the choice to submit and
convert or to die, a number of battles ensue and the Christians under the leadership of
Charlemagne are ultimately victorious. Aspremont is quite long, in fact, nearly three
times the length of Roland. It is repetitive and overly rhetorical in places, but maintains
and even enhances the crusade theme from Roland. The author is unknown, but he
obviously was familiar with Italy and the legend of Charlemagne. Religious zeal, feudal
loyalty, and scenes of combat dominate the action of the story. The poem may be based
on reminiscences of the Saracen raids of in 813, 846, and 870, and some historians even
believe that in Aspremont the legend of Charlemagne was confused with the history of
the Ottonian expansion into the region.
In Aspremont, Charlemagne appears as 'powerful, wise, fierce-faced, true,' and one
"who after God is greatest of them all!"28 Throughout the poem, there is very little if any
question as to Charlemagne's 'greatness.' He is always "brave and strong and fierce of
mettle."29 There are only a few scenes where a physical description of Charlemagne is
given. One comes from a Saracen envoy, who visits the Emperor's court early in the
poem. The poet writes,
28 La Chanson d'Aspremon, trans. Michael A. Newth, (London and New York: Garland Publishing Inc.,
1989), p. 5, line 99.
29 La Chanson d'Aspremont, Newth, p. 16, line 566.
Balans manjue et regarded sovent
Con Carlemainnes est fiers sor tolte gent.
Barbe li vient desor espessement
Ki don't li est crute novielement30
[While Balan eats he cannot help but notice
How Charlemagne stands out, his mark imposing;
His beard is long, its texture thick and flowing;
Compared to Carlon's he thinks how young his own is;]
In another instance, the author describes how Charlemagne and his men get dressed for
battle. He says of Charlemagne;
Es vos le roi ricement acesme
Angele resanle del ciel jus avale
Car il estoit de cors grans et menbre
De son escu fu tant bien afuble
Que bien resanle que il soit ensi ne
Ne sanlapas chevalier enprunte31
[Behold our King so richly thus arrayed,
Like an avenging Angel from Heaven's gates!
Carlon is big, well-built and sturdy-framed;
He bears his shield with such an easy grace
It seems to all to be his natural state;
Charles is no knight dressed up for mere display!]
The authors help to create and image of Charlemagne that is seemingly unbeatable.
Although he has all the important characteristics of a knight and crusader, his physical
characteristics and abilities are exaggerated. The last line (sanlapas chevalier enprunte)
seems also to be a veiled reference to tournaments. This would make sense
chronologically since the rise of the tournament, as Maurice Keen points out "begins in
that same period in which we have seen the concepts of knighthood and the ceremony of
admission to the knightly order crystallizing into recognizable shape, the hundred years
30 La Chanson d'Aspremont, Chanson de Geste Du XII Siecle, ed. Louis Brandin. (Librairie Honore
Champion, Paris, 1970), pp. 14-15, lines 427-430; English Translation by Newth, p. 13.
31 La Chanson d'Aspremont, Brandin, p. 136. Lines 4230-4235; English translation Newth, p. 104.
or so between the middle of the eleventh and the middle of the twelfth century."32
Aspremont was written in the wake of this movement. Certainly the audience would have
recognized this connection, but also the author's point in emphasizing that Charlemagne
is much more than a tournament knight. In some ways, the author is putting
Charlemagne in contrast to a knight involved in tournaments. In other words,
tournaments were not viewed as real warfare. Charlemagne has the physical
characteristics and skills of a knight and the religious convictions of a pilgrim.
Charlemagne's physical characteristics and social status play a major role in establishing
his representation as one of knight, crusader, and defender of the Church.
The twelfth-century image of Charlemagne is not just one of warrior and defender
of the Church. His role as the rightful leader of Christendom is also a common theme.
His status exceeds all others'. In Roland, Charlemagne is a 'great,' 'noble,' and 'just'
King of France. In Aspremont, Charlemagne is the 'mighty,' 'true,' and 'powerful'
Emperor. He is the 'bearer of fair France's crown' and even the 'King of St. Denis.'
Saint-Denis had become connected with the French monarchy during the time of Suger in
the mid-twelfth-century. The Abbey contained a number of important relics associated
with the 'Passion' brought back to France by Charlemagne.33 In addition, the past and
future Capetian Kings would all be buried there.34
Although there were no kings on the First Crusade, the subsequent campaigns
almost always involved Western monarchs. The Second Crusade had the King of France,
32 Keen, Chivalry, 83.
33 See Descriptio...
34 There will be more on this aspect in Ch. 3. Particularly important in this area are the works of Jean
Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180; and Gabriele Spiegel "The Cult of Saint Denis and Capetian
Kingship," in Journal of Medieval Studies 1, (1975).
Louis VII, and the German Emperor, Conrad III. The Third Crusade involved three of
the most powerful monarchs of the late 1100s; Richard I of England, Philip II of France,
and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. These three monarchs all had connections to the
memory and image of Charlemagne. Barbarossa had Charlemagne canonized by the anti-
pope Pascal III in 1165. This was an action taken by the Germans as a response "...to the
efforts of the French kings to monopolize the Frank for themselves."35 Although never
recognized by Rome, this was widely popular in German lands and later spread beyond
the Holy Roman Empire. The Capetian kings, including Philip II, continually sought
connection to Charlemagne and the Carolingian legacy in order to legitimize their own
rule. In Aspremont, there is a reference to Charlemagne that conjures an image of
Richard. In the passage, a character says of Charlemagne that he is "the good, the
worthy, he with the heart of a lion."36 Having been composed just prior to the Third
Crusade, this may well be a reference to King Richard. With the Norman influence in
England, the epic and literary traditions were quite popular in England in the twelfth- and
thirteenth-centuries. Later, in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-centuries, Charlemagne
'Romances' would be popular.37
Keen has argued that many aspects of the chivalric tradition are of secular origin
He cites William of Marshall, Geoffrey of Charny's Libre de chevalerie and Ramon
Lull's Libre del ordre de cavayleria and argues that "the origins of knighthood is given in
terms that are entirely secular." In general, "chivalry may be described as an ethos in
35 Mattias Becher. (C I,,,. i,,,,i .. trans. David S. Bachrach, (Yale University Press, New Haven and
London, 2003), p. 141.
36 La Chanson d'Aspremont, trans. Newth, p. 223, line 9376.
37 See Three Middle English (C li, /. /,m,g,,.'- Romances, ed. Alan Lupack, (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval
Institute Publications, 1990).
which martial, aristocratic and Christian elements were fused together." 38 This fusion in
turn became the model for the crusade sources. Keen argues that the "interweaving of
Christian with heroic and secular motifs becomes characteristic of the treatment of the
crusade in chivalrous narrative and poetry." If so, then the image of Charlemagne is an
important key for understanding this process. He is, at once, the secular monarch who
embodies the very perfection of knightly abilities and the Christian pilgrim who fights for
and defends the Church. And as Keen contends, "one reason why the stories of
Charlemagne and his peers made such a powerful impact upon the knighthood of the
twelfth and succeeding centuries was because it was so easy for the men to relate the
preoccupations of the Carolingian world and the events of Charles's career, as they came
to know them, to preoccupations and events of their own time, especially perhaps, to their
crusading preoccupations." 39 Crusading dominated many of the preoccupations of the
twelfth-century man. Beyond the three major campaigns to the Holy Land, there were
numerous other smaller expeditions.40
Elements of the Crusade
In building the image of Charlemagne as a crusader icon, the authors incorporated a
number of themes associated with the eleventh- and twelfth-century campaigns. The
twelfth-century sources are filled with references to defending Christian lands,
38 Keen, Chivalry, 11, 16.
39 Keen, Chivalry, 55, 107.
40 Between 1101 and 1186 there were nearly 20 appeals for major campaigns to the East. See Jonathan
Phillips, The Crusades 1095-1197, (London: Longman Publishing, 2002), pp. 27-39; and Jonathan Riley-
Smith, "The Crusading Movement and Historians," in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades,
(Oxford: New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 1-12.
indulgences, religious and apocalyptic imagery, Muslims as the enemy of God, and the
liberation of the Holy Land.
It was not difficult to find a precedent for the image of Charlemagne. With the
crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800, he became the new Emperor of the
'Romans,' but even prior to this came a delegation from Jerusalem to present the keys to
the city.41 The Christians of the twelfth-century "looked to Charlemagne as the protector
of Jerusalem"42 Crusading Capetian kings from Louis VII to Philip II and Louis IX
emphasized their connections to the Carolingian legacy. Liberating Holy Lands and
defending Christendom from the Muslim world became an important part of the
Charlemagne legacy. Constructing the memory of Charlemagne around the concept of
protection, holy war and crusade allows the society and culture, and particularly the
Capetian nobility who participated in the crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
an immediate link to the greatest of all Christian kings and heroes.
The first and most obvious association with the crusades is the Muslim adversary.
Within the corpus of epic literature, there is an emphasis on representing Islam as the
enemy of Christendom. The sources share a number of characteristics when dealing with
this issue. First, there is often, if not always, a misunderstanding of Islamic theology and
beliefs. The Muslim religion is often characterized as the beliefs of polytheistic idol
worshippers. On the other hand, the sources often praise the Muslim combatants as
worthy warriors, with their only fault being that they were not Christian.43 By the
41 Alessandro Barbero, C1, I./,. ,,,,ii.. Father ofa Continent, trans., Allan Cameron, (Berkeley: London:
University of California Press, 2004), pp. 75-76.
42 Philips, The Crusades 1095-1197, p. 100.
43 This aspect parallels events recorded in some crusade chronicles. In particular, the Gesta Francorum
records that after defeating a Turkish army, the author indicates that the Turks were so strong and their
thirteenth century, some Christian authors would go as far as to call them 'chivalrous'
and 'knightly.' In Roland and Aspremont, the Saracens are presented at times as great
warriors possessing tremendous courage and skill. The Turpin Chronicle shows the
possibility of conversion, but little else positive or redeeming about the Saracen people.
Charlemagne speaks to Agolant, the leader of the Saracens, in Arabic, which Agolant
takes as a sign of respect. However, continually depicting the Muslims as 'the enemy' of
God helps to emphasize the crusading cause and solidify the image of Charlemagne as a
past crusader and the leader of Christendom.
There are a number of connections with the crusades and one of the most
prominent is the idea of a cross-cultural crusading army. The emphasis is not so much on
Frenchmen or Germans or Italians fighting the Saracens, but on the defense of
Christendom. The description does not seem to be driven so much by ethnic or political,
motivations but religious. In Roland, the author goes out of his way to describe and
emphasize this element of Charlemagne's army. In describing Charlemagne's army prior
to the final battle the author says;
De Franceis sunt les premeres escheles.
Apres les dous establisent la terce;
Encele sunt li vassal de Baivere:
Suz cel n'ad gent que Carles ait plus chere
Fors cels de France, ki les regnes cunquerent44
[The first two divisions are of Frenchmen;
After these two they draw up a third.
In this are the vassals from Bavaria;...
There is no people on Earth whom Charles loves more,
Apart from the men of France who conquered his realms for him]
military abilities so skilled, that had they been Christian, there is not an army in the world that could defeat
44 La Chanson de Roland, p. 296. lines 3026-3028; 3031-3032.
He goes on to say;
Naimes li dux puis establist la quarter
De tels barons qu'asez unt vasselage:
Alemans sunt e si sunt d'Alemaigne;45
Naimes li dux e li quens Jozerans
La quinte eschele unt faite de Normans:...
La siste eschele unt faite de Bretuns:46
[Duke Naimes then drew up the fourth
From such barons as have great courage.
They are Germans and come from Germany;]
[Duke Naimes and Count Jozeran
Made up the fifth division with Normans;...
They made up the sixth division of Bretons;]
The author goes on to describe armies and divisions from 'Poitevins,' 'Auvergne,'
'Frisia,' and 'Burgundy.' In this instance, diversity in ethnic terms is a positive value,
because it is representative of a greater, more powerful, force. Christendom is best
served by Charlemagne's leadership, in which he is able to mobilize an army that cuts
across ethnic divisions.
In the Pseudo-Turpin, the author emphasizes that after hearing from the spirit of
Saint James, Charlemagne assembled his army from all parts of his kingdom and
forcefully attacked Spain.47 Near the end of the Turpin Chronicle, the author indicates
where the fallen Christian heroes and martyrs will be buried. This is another good
example of the various backgrounds from which Charlemagne's army was assembled.
... Apud Belinum sepelitur Oliverus et Gandeboldus rex Frisie et Ogerium rex
Dacie et Arastagnus rex britannie et Garinus dux Lotharingie et alii multi. Felix
villa macilenta Belinum, que tantis hominibus decoratur! Apud Burdegalam in
45 La Chanson de Roland. p. 296, lines 3036-3038.
46 La Chanson de Roland. p. 298, lines 3045-3046, 3052.
47 Pseudo-Turpin, 57.
cymiterio beati Severini: Gaifems rex burdegalensis, Engelems dux Aquitainie,
Lambertus rex bituricensis, Gelerius, Gelinus, Rainaldus de Albaspina, Gauterius,
Guillelmus, Beggo cum .v. milibus aliorum. Hoellus comes apud Nantas urbem
suam cum multis Britonibus sepelitur.48
[The noble count Oliver was buried in Belin and was Gandeboldus, the King of
Frisia and Ogier the King of Denmark; Arastagnus, the King of Britanny; Garinus,
the Duke of Lorraine; and a many other nobles. The castle of Belin was blessed and
honored by so many noble princes. At Bordeaux, in the cemetery of Saint Severin
these noble were buried; Gaifer, Duke of Bourges and of Aquitaine; Lambert King
of Bituricensis, Gelin, Gelier, Renaud d'Aube Espine, Gautier, Guillelmus, and
Begue, and 5000 others. Hoiaus, the Count of Nantes, was brought for burial to
Nantes, his own city, together with many other Bretons.]
This is quite prevalent in Aspremont as well. The Christian armies come from several
different areas and are all loyal to Charlemagne. Charlemagne is, in effect, leading
Christendom into war with the Saracens. Upon hearing the news of the Arab invasion the
author describes Charlemagne's reaction as one of anger and wrath. One of the first
actions he takes is to call on his armies from all over his kingdom. Near the beginning of
the poem, the author says;
Droit a Cologne manda roi Anseis
II le secorje enviers les Arrabis
Oltre Aspremont li ardent son pais.
[To King Anseis of Cologne he writes to:
"Come help me against the Arab throng!
They burn my land in high Aspremont."]
He goes on to say;
Quant Carlemaines ot ensi esploitie
Par tantes tieres sont si brief envoie
Vient i roi, duc et princes proisie,
Por ostoier molt bien apparellie. 49
48 The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, ed. H.M. Smyser, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Medieval Academy of
America, 1937), p. 90, (my translation).
49 La Chanson d'Aspremont, p. 32-33, lines 974-976; 1003-1006.
[King Charlemagne has finished with preleminaries;
His letters sent to all his kingdoms and land
Bring back to him kings, dukes and worthy princes
Armed and equipped for war against the Infidels;]
Later while addressing the armies Charlemagne says;
De plusors teres somes ci asanle;...
Point par les rens, si les vait confortant,
Molt element les vait araisonant:
"Or cevalcies, Francois et Alemant
Flamenc et Fris et Englois et Normant,
Cil de Tolose et tot li Loherant,
Li Angevin, Li Mansel, Li Torant;
Car Dex etjo vos serai hui garant"50
[We are here from many lands and states...
He rides the ranks, encouraging and talking,
Inspiring them, assuring and exhorting:
"Frenchmen, Alemans, so let us ride forward now!
You Englishmen, you Flemish, Frisians, Normans,
You Toulouse braves and you my Lorraine stalwarts,
Men from Manseau, Angevin and Tourangeaux:
God and myself will support you in this fight,"]
In the minds of most twelfth-century authors, there does not seem to be any question that
Charlemagne is 'French.' In some cases, he is referred to as a Frank. However, the
authors are not always clear in differentiating these two terms. It is implied that the
'French' stand a little higher than other fellow Christians.
Although the authors underscore the variety of ethnic backgrounds the Christians
represent, the higher purpose is evident in the author's tone and emphasis. It is not a
Norman or Flemish army that takes the field against the infidel, but a Christian one. This
is strikingly close to the same context as we see the armies of crusaders in the twelfth-
century being presented. The First Crusade was largely a Norman/French campaign.
However, in the First Crusade there was still a cross-cultural representation within
50 La Chanson d'Aspremont, pp. 134, 141; lines 4179; 4383-4389.
crusader army.51 Overall, the subsequent campaigns tended to be more representative of
the multi-ethnic society that existed in the Christian West. This element helps to
underscore the representation of Charlemagne as the defacto leader of the Christian
The 'Peace of God' and 'Truce of God' movements may have also played a role in
reducing the violence in the West and redirecting it under a united front during the
crusades. There are differing interpretations among scholars on the role of these
movements, especially the 'Peace of God' movement. Georges Duby argued in no
uncertain terms that the crusades were a direct result of the Peace.52 By contrast, Marcus
Bull argued that the "broad relevance of the Peace to the crusade is clear, for domestic
stability in the West was bound to aid the recruitment and organization of the
expedition."53 Nevertheless, there is an attempt among the twelfth-century authors of
several sources to create an image of a united Christian West. This is a reflection of both
the crusades and the idealized portrait of Charlemagne and his united Christian Empire.
There is within the sources a parallel with the idea of persecution and defense as
well. The mentality that existed within Western society included the serious concern
over the spread of Islam. Whether this was justified or imagined is a matter of debate.
There is a lengthy discussion on how the Saracens have robbed the land, burned churches
51 Jonathan Riley-Smith The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (Philadelphia, University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1986), p. 50. "On 3 May the storm broke over the community at Speyer, where Emich
of Leiningen's army had gathered. Emich marched north to Worms, where the massacres began on the 18th
and then to Mainz, where he was probably joined by more Swabians under Count Hartmann of Dilingen-
Kybourg and by an army of French, English, Flemish and Lorrainer crusaders" The bulk of the crusaders
who participated in the First Crusade were Norman/French, but the concept of 'Christendom' tended to
trump the importance of ethnicity.
52 Georges Duby, The Chivalrous Society, trans. C. Postan, (London, 1977).
53 Bull, 0, h-iii Piety, p. 57.
and killed or made slaves of the Christians. This idea of mistreatment is reminiscent of
the stories of pilgrims being persecuted before the First Crusade as well as from the later
crusader states that were attacked by Muslim armies. The representation of Charlemagne
fits well into the protection and defense mold. In Aspremont, the Archbishop Turpin
describes Charlemagne as the '...defender of the Christians." In another passage,
Charlemagne says of himself, "If Agolant defeats me in the fray then Christendom itself
shall not be saved." 54 The image of Charlemagne is one that is created to stand between
Christendom and Islam. 'Right' and 'justified' Charlemagne eventually defeats the
enemies of God and Christianity.
Interpretation and Adaptation of Roland
The Old-French Roland is a convincing parallel to the First Crusade and the
twelfth-century mentality concerning Christian and Muslim relations, Holy War, as well
as the importance of the representation and role of Charlemagne. However, perhaps
more telling is the German reworking of the Roland story by a German cleric, Priest
Konrad. The Rolandslied is the first major treatment of the crusade in medieval German
literature. There are a number of parallels with the Old French version, but also a number
of interesting differences as well.55 The Old French version has no known author or
authors and there on-going debates concerning the origin of the story. By contrast, we
know that the Rolandslied does not suffer from any lack of knowledge concerning its
author, origin, or context dates to c. 1170 and that Pfaffe Konrad, as the author names
54Aspremont, Newth, p. 98, 28.
55 Karl-Ernst Geith, Carolus Magnus: Studien zur Darstellung Karls des Grossen in der deutschen
Literatur des 12. und 13. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1977), pp. 90-92.
himself in the work, is was a court chaplain. In addition, there is a nearly complete
manuscript that dates to the late twelfth-century.
Nearly twice as long as the original, the German version retains the basic narrative,
but enhances some themes and subsequently eliminates others. Gone is any concern for
the glory of France or any feeling of French patriotism, no matter how primitive, but
retained and, in fact, enhanced is the crusade ideology. Gone are any implicit references
to what could be construed as a 'proto' or 'quasi-crusade' and instead with Konrad's
version we have the actual use of the term 'crusade' itself. At one point Charlemagne's
character says of the Saracen enemy, "I'll lead such as Crusade that they will regret ever
having been born. They shall all perish shamefully."56 This type of crusade rhetoric
pervades the entire text. One scholar argued that, "no other medieval work portrays so
vividly the religious zeal, indeed one might call the religious fanaticism, that prevailed in
many quarters after the Second Crusade."57 In fact, some scholars would argue that the
Rolandslied is "imbued with an intense religious spirit foreign to the Chanson de Roland'
and that the crusade rhetoric and imagery were additions by Konrad.58 However, this
position, in part, depends on the Roland story being a reflection of the Germanic 'honor-
shame' culture that pre-dates the twelfth century production of the text. Although this
has not been fully demonstrated by scholars, even with this point conceded, it is not
enough to conclude that the 'religious spirit' of Konrad's adaptation is new. The Oxford
56 Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, trans. J.W. Thomas, (Columbia, South Carolina, Camden House, Inc.,
1994), p. 45.
57 J.W. Thomas, Introduction to Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, p. 2.
58 Horst Richter, "Militia Dei: A Central Concept for the Religious Ideas of the Early Crusades and the
German Rolandslied" in Journeys Toward God: Pilgrimage and Crusade, ed. Barbara N. Sargent-Baur,
(Kalamazoo, Michigan, Medieval Institute Publications, 1992), p. 108.
Roland as well as the many other versions of Roland in the twelfth-century all emphasize
the religious element. I would argue that the crusade imagery is already present in the
French version of Roland story of the early twelfth-century and that Konrad's adaptation
of the poem represents a more explicit use of the crusade theme. The crusade rhetoric is
simply emphasized to a greater extend in Konrad's work. Konrad interpreted the Roland
story of the twelfth-century the way it was intended as a crusade. There are enough
direct parallels between the two versions to conclude that Konrad viewed the French
version as a crusade. In addition, there is Konrad's insistence that, using a French
version, "he had added nothing and [took] nothing away than with regard to his
interpretation of events."59 Konrad of course did add a great deal to the story. However,
he did not invent the crusade theme.
It is difficult not to conclude that the Crusades had a tremendous effect on the
work. It seems logical considering the date of composition, which c. 1170 "reflected
with some accuracy a wide-spread fervor of the period between the Second and the Third
Crusade."60 In addition, the Rolandslied post-dates the proclamation of the crusade in
Spain, the very location the events in the story are said to have taken place. In 1147,
Pope Eugenius III gave permission to Emperor Alfonso VII to a lead crusade against
Muslims in Spain. In fact, by this time crusading had expanded considerably to include
areas outside the Holy Land. In the same year, 1147, the Wendish Crusade was
proclaimed against the Slavs in the northern territories.61
59 Walter Haug, Vernacular Literary Theory in the Middle Ages: The German Tradition, 800-1300, in its
European Context, trans. Joanna M. Catling, (New York, Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 78.
60 J. W. Thomas, Introduction to Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, p. 5.
61 Mayer, The Crusades, p. 99.
This is all substantiated by the text itself. The rhetoric and actions of the main
characters Charlemagne, Roland, and Turpin are consistent with other crusade epics and
other various forms of crusade propaganda. In particular, the emphasis on indulgence
and martyrdom draws strong parallels to crusade ideology. Early in the poem Turpin
makes this clear when he tells the Franks before a battle that;
If you die, you will be martyrs
and secure a place in paradise.62
Konrad's emphasizes the concept of martyrdom with increasing frequency throughout the
text. On another occasion after a great battle and many Christian warriors are lost
Four hundred and ten Christians died and were received with angels' song in the
holy place where those of God's children go who suffer martyrdom for His sake.
Having served their Lord well, they were now rewarded with great honor.63
There is an obvious parallel here between Konrad's emphasis on martyrdom and various
crusade sources that also emphasize martyrdom and indulgence. There are numerous
battle scenes throughout the Rolandslied and subsequent death scenes. The knights in
Charlemagne's army are encouraged to strive for the greatest deeds on the battlefield and
that the army's faith and efforts will be rewarded by God in the end. This helps to
explain the anxious attitudes of many Christian knights who could hardly wait to fight
with God's enemies on the field of battle. Their death in battle fighting for God should
be mourned but also celebrated since they achieved a martyr's death. Fulcher of Chartres
illustrates this well in the prologue of his chronicle of the First Crusade. He writes; "o
quot milia martyrum in hac expedition beata morte finierunt!" (Oh how many thousands
62 Das rolandslied des Pfaffen Konrad, ed. Peter Wapnewski (Tiibingen, Niemeyer, 1967), lines 1134-35.
63 Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, trans. J.W. Thomas, p. 64.
met a martyr's blessed death on this expedition!)64 In fact, in the Rolandslied,
Charlemagne is even admonished by an angel for grieving too much over the numerous
dead knights. Instead, he is told to rejoice at their martyrdom.65
In Konrad's version of the Roland story, there are several speeches and
exhortations that are strikingly similar to crusade sermons. In particular, just prior to the
climax, Karl (Charlemagne) gives a speech to his knights. Konrad writes;
"nu ir gotes helde,
got uorderot uch selbe,
er ladet uch in sine riche.
gehabet uch frumecliche:
swer sich zegote wil gehaben,
dem sint di porten uf getan
da er sinin herren scol sehen
uon den haiden stat gescriben da:
'mors peccatoris pessima.'
der suntare tot ist fraislich:
mit fraisen sint si imir mere
in dem helle grunde,
der chunc Dauid
der scribet uns hiute uon diseme tage:
'chunige der erde
stent uf wider ir herren,
sich samnent manige fursten
wider unsere herren Cristen.'
got mit sine gewalte
daz wir daz hiute rechen
der des himiles waltet uber al,
der zetailet si mit siner craft:
64 The First Crusade: The Chronicle ofFulcher of( ln,, .. and Other Source Materials, ed. Edward
Peters, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), p. 48.
65 Jeffrey Ashcroft, "Pfaffe Konrad" in Dictionary ofLiterary Biography, Germany Writers and the Early
Middle Ages: 800-1170, vol. 148, ed. Will Hasty and James Hardin, (New York: Gale Research, 1995), p.
er tut unsich lobelichen sigehaft.
daz hail ist uon gote kom.'66
("You are warriors of God, your Lord summons you and invites you to enter His
kingdom, so conduct yourselves well. The gates of heaven will open wide for him
who wants to dwell with God. What could be better? This is what is written
concerning the heathens: 'mors peccatoris pessima,' which, means 'the death of
sinners is terrible.' Those who do not confess their sins will suffer forever in the
depths of hell. ... King David67 spoke with to us of this present day when he said:
'The kings of the earth will rise up against their Lord; many princes will join forces
against our Lord Christ.' With His power God has protected us so that we might
now wreak vengeance. However, the righteous man may be swept away, not a hair
of his head will be rumpled body and soul will dwell forever in God's grace.")68
One scholar described this speech as "an exhortation to do battle, to fight to the death, to
take revenge on the enemy, and to protect one's own land and home, even though Karl's
particular intention is to justify the decisive battle of the holy war."69 The heroes,
Charlemagne, Roland and the rest of the 'twelve peers' mark themselves with the sign of
the cross just as crusaders had done. In addition, Konrad uses the German translation of
the Latin phrase Miles Christi to refer to Charlemagne and Roland. He calls them 'gotes
helden' and 'gotes degene.'70 However, Konrad's warriors of God have an additional
element that is absent in the Chanson de Roland. They are also presented as the militia
spirituals, a role heavily influenced by the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux and the
66 Das Rolandslied des PtrIrrt Konrad, ed. Peter Wapnewski, lines 7681-7723.
67 For discussion of the appearance of Old Testament figures see; Geith, Carolus Magnus, pp. 100-105.
68 This translation is adapted from a prose English version of the same speech in Priest Konrad's Song of
Roland, trans. J.W. Thomas, p. 94.
69 Maria Dobozy, "The Structure of the Crusade Epic and the Function of the King," Neophilologus 67
(1983), p. 92.
70 Richter, "Militia Dei, p. 108.
crusading orders that developed after the First Crusade.71 The Christian knights are
presented in the ideal combination of monk and warrior. Konrad describes some of their
virtues as follows.
si heten all ain muot.
ir herce hin ze gote stunt
si heten zucht unt scam,
chuske unt gehorsam,
gedult unt minne.
si prunnen warlichen inne
nach der gotes suoze.7
(They show unanimity, heartfelt desire to be with God,
discipline and chastity, purity and obedience, patience and love,
and a burning desire for God's sweetness.)
This element is particularly prevalent in the representation of Charlemagne. He is given
a 'saint-like' status. This should not be surprising since it was just five years earlier in
1165, that he had been canonized by the Pascal III at the behest of the German Emperor
(although never officially recognized). Even though the representation of Charlemagne
in Germany did not enjoy the same lofty status as it did in the French lands or for the as
long a period, the mid-twelfth-century (after canonization) through the fourteenth-century
was a time when his figure reached its most prominent representation.73 The Rolandslied
is probably the best example of the idealized portrait of the crusading Charlemagne in all
of medieval German literature.
There is one last factor concerning the Rolandslied and the Crusades that should be
considered. Konrad not only names himself in the work, but also his reasons for
producing the work. In the epilogue, Konrad names 'herzog Hainrich and the noble
71 Ashcroft, "Pfaffe Konrad" in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 148, p. 125.
72 Das Rolandslied des Ptiitrr Konrad, ed. Peter Wapnewski, lines 3419-3425.
73 Paul Salmon, Literature in Medieval Germany, (New York, Barnes and Noble Inc., 1967), p. 44.
duchess, child of a mighty king' as his patrons. Numerous scholars have concluded that
these are Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria and his second wife Mathilda,
daughter of Henry II of England.74 Jeffrey Ashcroft and other scholars have argued that
the tone of the story reflects Henry's ideology and desire to lead the Northern Crusade.
This campaign, along with others outside the Holy Land, is rarely given the same amount
of attention as the major crusades to the East. However, during Hrnry's time, between
the Second and Third Crusades, Saxony did represent an area that had significant
numbers of crusade participants.75
There are numerous parallels between Henry and Charlemagne (Karl) as well.
Henry, like many nobles and monarchs of the twelfth-century often emphasized his own
personal familial connection to the Emperor.76 He was the grandson of Lothar II, a
descendant of Charlemagne. It is Charlemagne who calls for the crusade in the
Rolandslied, not the Pope. With the strained relationship between the papacy and the
Holy Roman Empire, it was Henry, not the religious authority that pushed for the
Northern Crusade. In addition, Henry conquers and converts new lands to Christianity
just as Charlemagne does in the Rolandslied.7 Henry, also like Charlemagne, is
compared with Old Testament kings. In the epilogue, Konrad compares Duke Henry
with the Old Testament King David. He writes;
74 Jeffrey Ashcroft, "Konrad's Rolandslied, Henry the Lion, and the Northern Crusade," in Forum for
Modern Language Studies 22 (1986), pp. 184-208. See also Ashcroft, "Pfaffe Konrad" in Dictionary of
Literary Biography, vol. 148, pp. 121-130.
75 Dieter Kartschoke, Die LDi,, o i'.' des deutschen Rolandsliedes, (Stuttgart, 1965).
76 Albert K. Wimmer, An Jri,/. '1. -.i of Medieval German Literature, (Bristol, Wyndom Hall Press, 1987),
77 Ashcroft, "Pfaffe Konrad" p. 125.
Nune mugen wir in disem zite
dem chuoninge Dauite
niemen so wol gelichen
so den herzogen Hainrichen.
got gap ime di craft
daz er alle sine uiande eruacht.
di cristen hat er wol geret,
di haiden sint uon im bekeret:
daz erbet in uon recht an78
(In these times there is no one so like King David as Duke Heinrich. God gave him
the power to defeat all his enemies; he has honored Christianity and converted the
heathens: that is his rightful legacy.)79
There is very little about the Rolandslied that is not representative of twelfth-century
crusader ideology and very little about the representation of Charlemagne (Karl) as
anything other than the ideal crusader. One scholar argued that "Karl is the ideal ruler
and crusader. Seeking neither wealth nor fame, he wants only to be an agent in carrying
out the divine will; his strength comes form God."80 This is apparent throughout as
Konrad continually emphasizes Charlemagne's crusader characteristics. He is the
"defender of Rome" and "the defender of orphans and widows."81 Konrad has moved
beyond the Chanson de Roland and explicitly tied the epic figure Charlemagne to the
history of the crusades.
Propaganda, Crusade, and Charlemagne
By the twelfth century, the association between knights and the concept of
pilgrimage was quite common. Pilgrimage had become a popular form of penance. In
the minds of many, Christian knights displayed a combination of a number of
8 Das Rolandslied des Ptrttrri Konrad, ed. Peter Wapnewski, lines 9039-9047.
79 Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, trans. J.W. Thomas, p. 107.
80 J. W. Thomas, Introduction to Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, p. 5.
81 Priest Konrad's Song ofRoland, trans. J.W. Thomas, pp. 17, 38, 45.
characteristics such as courtesy, piety, faithfulness, bravery, skill, just to name a few.
Stephen Jaeger argued that the eleventh and twelfth centuries gave birth to the courtly
ideals that would become the most recognizable trademark of late medieval culture.82
With the advent of epic and in the wake of the Gregorian Reform and in the midst of the
crusading movement, the ideal knight incorporated crusading and pilgrimage into his
character. Pilgrimage and crusading quickly became two of the most important aspects
of knighthood. Pilgrimage provided an outlet for much needed penance and spiritual
growth and the crusades provided the proper outlet for the knight's skills in warfare the
defense and extension of Christendom.
Many of the twelfth-century sources seem to be more than just a celebration of
chivalry, knighthood, and heroism. The authors, perhaps churchmen in many cases, the
characters in the vernacular literature, and the intended audience, again presumably the
noble class, were all reflections of the crusade. Churchmen preached the idea and
nobleman and knights responded to the call by leading armies into harm's way.
Crusading propaganda took on many forms. Generally, the job of promoting and
preaching the crusade fell to the papacy and lesser clergy repeating speeches and
instructions from the Pope. In addition, after the First Crusade virtually all crusades were
proclaimed by a papal bull or encyclical. During the twelfth-century, much of the focus
of the Church was on the campaigns to the Holy Land. There are numerous charters and
a wealth of documentary evidence concerning the crusades. However, the popular image
of the crusades and knights who led them grew beyond the confines of papal
proclamations. In this context, the legend of Charlemagne operated on several levels.
82 Jaeger, Origins of Courtliness, 3-16.
The image of Charlemagne in war is certainly an idealized portrait of what a crusader
should be. In addition, his character has an understanding of his role as defender of the
church and as God's chosen emissary. The stories and sources act as both history and
edification for twelfth- and thirteenth-century Western culture. In addition, they
emphasize the perceived threat the forces of Islam represented. In the age of the
crusades, the Western leaders genuinely, rightly or wrongly, felt threatened by the
increasing encroachment of the Muslim world. Perhaps the Western mentality on this
issue is best reflected in the Chanson d'Aspremont when a Saracen envoy says to
... emperere, faites moi escolter.
II sont trois tieres que jo sai bien nomer:
Aise a non l'une et Europe sa per
La tierce Alfrique, l'on n'en puet puis trover,
Ices trois tieres department par la mer
Ki fait les tieres des illes deserver
La mellor a mes sires a garder
L'autran I fisent paien un sort jeter
Les dos devoient a la tierce acliner.83
[... emperor, listen well to me,
There are three lands that I shall name:
Asia is the name of one, and Europe is its equal.
The third one is Africa;
Here the three realms are separated by the sea,
Which turns the lands into islands.
The best one is for my lord to keep,
As it was given to the pagans in the past.
The two other realms must serve the third.]
The Western understanding of the medieval Muslim world view is present in this
passage. It evokes the concepts of Dar-al-Islam (house of Islam) and Dar-al-Harb
(house of war). It is also an indication of the mentality that there can really never be
83 La Chanson d'Aspremont, p. 9, lines 243-251.
peace between the two worlds. The sources are also de-facto advertisements for crusade
indulgences. In addition, martyrs are emphasized throughout the battle scenes and the
authors leave no question as to their place in the afterlife. One of the defining features of
crusade ideology is the concept of indulgence. The link between indulgence and crusade
was first put forth by Pope Gregory VII. The idea was solidified shortly later with Pope
Urban II's speech at Clermont in November of 1095. Those who fought against the
infidel on a crusade and those who died in the process of fighting for God and the Church
secured for themselves a place in paradise. There is an early implication of this idea in
Roland when the archbishop Turpin seems to use the language of indulgence.
D'altre part est li arcevesques Turpin;
Sun cheval broche e muntet un lariz,
Franceis apelet, un sermun lur ad dit:
'Seignurs baruns, Carles nus laissat ci;
Pur nostre rei devum nus ben murir.
Chrestientet aidez a sustenir!
Bataille avrez, vos en estes tuz fiz,
Kar a voz oilz veez les Sarrazins.
Clamez vos culpes, si preiez Deu mercit!
Asoldrai vos pur vos anmes guarir.
Se vos murez, esterez seinz martirs,
Sieges avrez el greignor pareis.'
Franceis de[s]cendant, a there se sunt mis,
E l'arcevesque de Deu les beneist:
Par penitence les cumander a ferir.84
[Archbishop Turpin, some way across the field,
Spurs his horse and gallops up a hill.
With these solemn words he calls upon the Franks:
'Lord barons, Charles has left us here;
For our king we must be prepared to die.
Help us now to sustain the Christian faith.
You will have to engage in battle, as you well know;
Confess your sins, pray for the grace of God;
84 La Chanson de Roland, p. 150, lines 1124-1139.
To save your souls I shall absolve you all.
If you die, you will be blessed martyrs
And take your place in paradise on high'
The Franks dismount and kneel upon the ground;
In God's name the archbishop blessed them.
As penance he orders them to strike.]
There are three important ideas in this passage. First, Charlemagne is clearly the feudal
sovereign to which the Christian armies owe their allegiance. This is emphasized by the
fact that it is a high ranking church official who is saying that all must be willing to fight
and die for Charles. Second, the idea that those who die during the fighting will become
martyrs is, in a broad sense, related to the crusade ideology that existed in the early
twelfth-century. In addition, the third idea that fighting is a form of 'penance' is parallel
to the idea that the crusades were an extension of the concept of pilgrimage. This last
idea is probably the most critical. Crusade historians have long maintained that for
contemporaries, the crusades came to represent a new kind of pilgrimage. The idea of an
armed pilgrimage defined the crusade era and directly led to the creation of the crusading
orders including the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights. Roland is a direct
reflection of this trend.
In the Pseudo-Turpin there is discussion of martyrdom for soldiers who die in
battle. However, by the end of the twelfth-century, the language and propaganda is even
more explicit. For example, the author has Charlemagne say;
'Franc crestiien, Dex vos tigne en vertu.
Or po6s dire bien vos est avenue
Qu'en vos tans est icis besoinz creu;
Vos qui av6s el grant pechi6 geu,
As cols doner al brant d'achier tolt nu
En ester6s tolt cuite et absolu;
Si vos promet que n'I ait plait tenu;
Mais vengies tost vostre pere Jhesu:
Sauf en series u je sui descheu.'85
['Brave Christian knights, God keep you in His Strength!
Well might you say that you are lucky men,
That in your lifetime you can defend your faith;
You who were born in sin and wickedness,
For which you all are damned and your souls dead,
By striking blows with blades of steel
Your sins will be absolved and your souls blessed;
There is no doubt of this you have my pledge;
Rise up at once sweet Jesus to avenge!
You will be saved...]
Certainly, one of the main reasons that there was such an overwhelming response to
Urban's speech at Clermont and the crusade sermons that would follow had to do with
the offer of indulgences. The indulgence represents the importance of religious
motivation on the part of crusaders. A number of historians such as Jonathan Riley-
Smith, Marcus Bull, and many others have maintained for sometime that religion should
be at the forefront of any discussion involving crusade motivation and inspiration. In
fact, Bull states that "crusade ideology was predominantly religious in its inspiration."86
In addition, most scholars have argued that crusader motivations associated with gaining
wealth are in fact myths. It tended to be quite expensive for knights to participate in a
crusade. In addition, Pope Urban II actually prohibited men to take pay forjoining a
Medieval crusaders were expected to have certain qualities such as courage, faith,
bravery, military prowess, and leadership. Charlemagne is the historical and literary
85 La Chanson d'Aspremont, pp. 27-28, lines 835-844.
86 Marcus Bull, Kii, .iil- Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade: The Limousin and Gascony, c.
970-c. 1130, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993), p. 6.
8 Bull, ai, i t Piety, 5.
embodiment of all of these and even more. The memory and legend of Charlemagne had
been known in European culture since shortly after his death in 814; primarily because of
early sources such as Einhard's Vita Karoli and Notker's Charlemagne. However, it is
really the twelfth-century that the crusading culture added to the legend and created a
kind of crusader icon. His image as crusader icon served as a model and form of
edification for the twelfth-century milites christi.
In Roland, the earliest of the sources, there are no explicit references to a crusade.
However, the language, symbolism, and motifs certainly seem to indicate that the author
was informed about the crusading ideology and culture of the period. Michael Routledge
argued that, "...it seems plausible that the poet [of Roland] was aware that his account
would have a special appeal as propaganda."88 In addition, perhaps the most important
consideration is the audience. Routledge argues, "From the point of view of the audience
- for we must not forget that these songs were written to be performed they presented,
in a palatable way exclusive to their milieu, the doctrine, information, and propaganda
that was otherwise delivered by preachers, or diffused by clerks."89
Not everyone could be at Clermont when Urban II preached his famous sermon on
the necessity of the First Crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux could not reach everyone on his
famous tours promoting the Second Crusade. Crusade ideology and propaganda made its
way into European culture and society through various conduits, one of which was
88 Michael Routledge, "Songs" in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, ed. Jonathan Riley-
Smith. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 91.
89 Routledge, 111.
Charlemagne is described in Aspremont as 'old,' but also as 'true Emperor,' 'King,'
bearer of 'fair France's Crown,' and 'fierce-faced.' Like in Roland Charlemagne is the
embodiment of what a knight and crusader should be. Robert Morrissey describes
Aspremont as "an epic poem in which the most glorious image of a crusading
Charlemagne fighting for the defense of Christendom...."90 There is less of a vengeance
motivation in this story and much more of an emphasis on the defense of Christendom.
In fact, the mentality towards the forces of Islam in the post-First Crusade campaigns
may well have been one of defense. They were a generation that was born during
European control of the Holy Land. An attack on the crusader states may have been
interpreted as the equivalent of an attack on the West.
The poem certainly has the religious tone of crusading as well. The Christian cause
of the campaign takes precedence over all other aspects. In addition, it is explicit in the
story that it is Charlemagne's role to fight for and defend Christianity. Charlemagne tells
'Franc Chevalier,' dist Carles al barnage,
'Esgardes ore quel honte et quel damage
Ont fait sor moi la pute gens salvage
Qui sont issu et d'Alfrique et d'Arrage
Et arive en mon droit iretage.
Venes od moi en cest pelerinage
Qui n'I venra ni metra altre gage
Culvers sera et il et son linage91
['My noble knights,' says Charlemagne to his barons
'Consider well the great shame and the damage
which they have caused, this foul race and savage,
Whose hordes have left Arabia and Africa
And taken over the land my father handed me!
90 Morrissey, 71.
91 La Chanson D 'Aspremont, pp. 26-27, lines 864-871.
As pilgrims come with me and do battle!
He who comes not nor pays his debt of vassalage,
I call him a traitor, both he and his family lineage.']
Calling the knights 'pilgrims' implies a certain context. This is not just any war or battle,
but the most important duty of every Christian knight. War, pilgrimage, duty,
indulgence, and Muslim aggression, all vital factors of the crusade and all elements of the
story of Aspremont.
The Turpin contains an explicit propagandistic feature similar to that of Roland and
Aspremont. The Turpin, at first glance, may seem like a different type of source since it
is not technically a work of literature. However, it was performed in the same manner as
Roland or Aspremont. In addition, the tremendous number of manuscripts indicates that
its contents would probably have been known to that class of nobility that would lead the
crusades. Similar to that of Roland and Aspremont, the Turpin depicts Charlemagne as
having a favored relationship with God. This relationship is readily apparent near the
beginning of the story when St. James appears before Charlemagne and says,
... Quapropter tibi notifico quia
sicut Dominus omnium regum terre potentissimum te constituit, sic ad
preparandum ad me viam fidelium et liberandam terram meam de mani-
bus Moabitarum ex omnibus te principibus elegit,...92
[Wherefore, I want to notify you that
the Lord who made you powerful above all earthly kings, so
he has chosen you among all princes to prepare through me the path of faith and to
liberate my land from the hands of Saracens.]
In the Turpin, the concept of a 'chosen' people or leader is quite common. Charlemagne
is the most capable and most favored by God. The crusade rhetoric of the twelfth-century
contained many of the same ideas and much of the same imagery. The crusaders were
92 The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, ed. H. M. Smyser, (The Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1937), p. 57.
called upon by God to liberate the Holy Land. Although Gaston Paris excludes the work
from 'Poetic History' proper, it is not too much of a stretch to see in Turpin the same
idealized image that exists in the works of poetry and acts as a propagandistic element of
crusading culture. Morrissey describes this work as "...the account that represents
Charlemagne as the model of the crusading king, an image that was later adopted for
expeditions to the Holy Land." The work has been described on several occasions by
more than one scholar as "a work of propaganda."93
For the audiences, authors and storytellers, the stories were more than just
entertainment. The sources go a step further and take on the facade of propaganda.
Considering the importance of the crusades at the time and places the stories were
composed, it is probable that they may have served as a source of inspiration. Shortly
before and after the First Crusade, the propaganda effort took on many forms. It was not
merely a Church and papal effort to maintain crusader enthusiasm, but rather crusading
blossomed in the popular imagination at many levels of society. This popular view is
largely represented in religious terms, but by no means restricted to papal sermons
recruiting efforts. Popes and clergymen did travel around Europe preaching and
recruiting for the Crusade. But so did Bohemond of Taranto, one of the hero's of the
First Crusade who campaigned in France for a new crusade shortly after the first (c.
1106). There were at least eleven crusading songs that were produced for the Second
Crusade. At least fourteen roundels at the Abbey of Saint-Denis depicted events of the
First Crusade, martyrs, pilgrims, and yes Charlemagne.94 Many of the other chansons de
93 Morrissey, 51-52.
94 Jonathan Philips, The Crusades 1095-1197, (Longman Publishing, London, New York, 2002), p. 65.
geste written in the twelfth-century have a crusading theme and Charlemagne as a major
character. Thus, the image of Charlemagne becomes part of the propagandistic purpose -
inspiring knights and future crusaders.
Of course, all of the stories and sources are complex, multi-dimensional, and
difficult, if not impossible to categorize under any single interpretation or lexicon.
However, considering that the sources are so closely connected with the crusades, it is
probable that they were a source of propaganda. Roland is composed around or shortly
after the First Crusade, the Turpin just after the Second Crusade, and Aspremont during
the preparations for the Third Crusade. By the late twelfth- or thirteenth-century, the idea
of knighthood involved the idea of crusading. This became part of the knight's duty.
From a historical perspective, the stories not only serve as entertainment, but also as
propaganda and inspiration for an eager audience familiar with and often involved in
crusading. The sources are an important part of an on-going propaganda effort serving as
a type of instruction or education for present and future crusaders. In this interpretation,
the role of the image of Charlemagne is quite clear. He is the example, the model, and
ultimately the ideal. He represents all that knights and crusaders should strive for. Most
importantly, he is completely faithful and almost always victorious.
It is certainly no coincidence that these stories along with countless others have the
crusades or crusading as a major theme and subsequently have Charlemagne as the main
character. These poems reflect a great deal about the values, experiences, and
expectations of society. In addition, they reflect an ongoing preoccupation with
crusading and Holy War, and a preoccupation with the presence of an actual or perceived
threat that the forces of Islam represented. This is clear at the end of Roland when
Charlemagne, after just winning a decisive battle against the Saracens and avenging the
death of his nephew Roland, is called away to another crusade. Just as Charlemagne
begins to sleep,
Seint Gabiel de part Deu li vint dire:
'Carles, sumun les oz de tun emperie
Par force iras en la there de Bire,
Reis Vivien si succuras en Imphe,
A la citet que paien unt asise;
Li chrestien te recleiment e crient.'95
[St. Gabriel comes, God's courier, to his side [and says]
"Up, Charles! Assemble thy whole imperial army;
With force and arms to Elbira ride;
Help King Vivien where he lies,
At Imphe, his city, besieged by Infidels;
The Christians call and cry out for you"]
The life of the milities christi is an important reflection of the chivalric attitudes of the
crusading culture of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century society. There is certainly a sense
of sacrifice associated with the life of Charlemagne and by association with that of the
crusader. He witnesses first hand the price of war. Roland and most of those close to
him die. However, he is duty-bound and must continue with the defense of Christendom.
They are all difficult battles and wars, but Charlemagne seems to fit perfectly into this
world. The Pope may be the vicar of Christ, but Charlemagne is the defender of
It is difficult to categorize exactly what qualifies for propaganda when dealing with
these sources. One scholar argued that, "Wittingly or unwittingly, there is a strong
element of persuasion in this presentation of the duties and rewards of knighthood.
Perhaps without any intentions in this direction, the chansons de geste thereby take on a
95 La Chanson de Roland, ed. & trans. Glyn Burgess, (New York, Penguin 1990.), p. 210.
propagandist role..."96 Although, it does seem to be fairly explicit in some places. For
example, the Chanson d'Aspremont was actually sung in the streets of Messina in 1190
before an army of crusaders.97
The common theme throughout the sources and the mentality of the period, is the
threat to Christendom and the need for crusade and defense. The legend of Charlemagne
represents in the broadest possible terms, the ideal image of a warrior, leader, king,
Christian, and crusader. The best possible propaganda for the crusade is history itself.
Making the myth of Charlemagne into history establishes a precedent and acts as a source
of inspiration and edification.
Considering the historical sources that connect Charlemagne to the crusades and
combining them with the literary tradition that develops in the twelfth century, it is
understandable to see how the legend and myths surrounding Charlemagne's geste were
infused with the history and actual events.
By combining material from Einhard's biography, the Frankish Annals, oral
tradition, various chronicles, previous epics the authors of the twelfth century were able
to create a memory of Charlemagne as not just one of a former King and Emperor, but as
a kind of proto-crusader as well. This is best reflected in many of the crusade sources
References to Charlemagne ranged from the historical to the miraculous. There are
stories about witnesses reporting visions of Charlemagne in the sky as well as the rumor
96 D.A. Trotter, Medieval French Literature and the Crusades 1100-1300, (Geneve, Librairie Droz, 1988),
9 Morrissey, 73-74.
and legend that he came back to life. Ekkehard of Aura reported that shortly after the
First Crusade was launched, some of the crusaders believed that Charlemagne had
actually risen from the dead to lead the campaign.98
Actually, Charlemagne had long established a presence in the Holy Land by
sponsoring churches and hospitals in the region and for engaging in a long diplomatic
relationship with a prominent leader, Haroun-al-Rashid. This seemed to be common
knowledge during the time of the crusades. William of Tyre, the Catholic archbishop of
Tyre in the kingdom of Jerusalem, reported in his chronicle that;
The good will between Harun and the Christians rested on an admirable treaty
which the devout Emperor Charles, of immortal memory, brought about through
the work of frequent envoys who went back and forth between them. The gracious
favor of the at potentate was a source of much comfort to the faithful, so that they
seemed to be living under the rule of the Emperor Charles rather than under that of
William who was writing his history in the 1160's and 1170's relied on his own
experience, documents and records of the crusader states, and other related source
material. He also mentions the gift of an elephant sent to Charlemagne by Harun, which
seems to be a clear indication that he had access to Einhard's work as well.
Charlemagne also appears in one of the versions of Urban II's speech calling for
the First Crusade. Robert the Monk reported that, Urban called upon the crusaders to
look to their past and ancestors for inspiration. He says;
Moveant vos et incident animos vestros ad virilitatem gesta praedecessorum
vestrorum, probitas et magnitude Karoli Magni regis, et Ludovici filii ejus
aliorumque regum bestrorum, qui regna paganorum destruxerunt et in eis
fines sanctae, Ecclesiae dilataverunt. Praesertim moveat vos santum Domini
98 Ekkehardi UraugiensisAbbatis Hierosolymita nach der Waitz'schen Recension mit Erliuterungen und
einem Anhange, ed. Heinrich Haganmayer, (Tubingen, 1877), pp. 121-122.
99 William of Tyre, A History of the Deeds Done Beyond the Sea, trans. E.A. Babcock & A.C. Krey, vol. II,
(New York, Columbia University Press, 1943), p. 64.
Salvatoris nostri Sepulcrum, quod ab immundis gentibus possidetur, et loca
sancta, quae nunc inhoneste tractantur et irreverenter eorum immundiciis
sordidantur. O Fortissimi milites et invictorum propago parentum, nolite
degenerari, sed virtutis priorum vestrorum reminiscimini.100
[Let the deeds of your ancestors move you and inspire your minds to manly
Achievements; the glory and greatness of King Charles the Great, and his
son Louis, and of your other kings, who have destroyed the kingdoms of the
pagans, and have extended in these lands the territory of the holy church. Let
the holy sepulchre of the Lord our Savior, which is possessed by unclean
peoples, especially incite you, and the holy places which are now treated with
ignominy and irreverently polluted with the filthiness. Oh, most valiant soldiers
and descendants of invincible ancestors, do not be degenerate, but remember
the valor of your progenitors.]
In this short passage, the pope makes a number of important points. First, he refers to
Charlemagne as an ancestor of those present at Clermont, immediately connecting them
with the glory of an idealized Carolingian past. The reference to Charlemagne also
serves as a legitimizing factor for those leading the crusade. Many of the leaders were
conscious of the importance of this connection and emphasized their relation to
Charlemagne. As Jonathan Riley-Smith writes, "most of the leaders could trace their
ancestry back to Charlemagne and three of them, Robert of Flanders, Godfrey of
Bouillon and his brother Baldwin, seem to have been particularly conscious of this."101
In all cases, the connection was neither imagined nor legendary, but actually true.102 The
two crusaders were true descendants of Charlemagne's lineage. The biographer of
100 Recueil des historians des croisades: public par les soins de 1 'Academie imperiale des inscriptions et
belles-lettres, vol. 3, Speech of Urban II, by Robert the Monk. In Historiens Occidentaux, (England, Gregg
Press Limited), p. 728.
101 Riley-Smith, The First Crusade, p. 112.
102 Robert's family line connects to Charlemagne's through Baldwin I, Count of Flanders in the late ninth
century, and known as 'Iron Arm.' He was married to the daughter of Charles the Bald, Judith. The family
of Godfrey and Baldwin have an even more direct connection to Charlemagne. According to Andressohn
"both the paternal and maternal branch claimed descent from Charlemagne, an assertion which seems
substantiated." John C. Andressohn, The Ancestry and Life of Godfrey of Bouillon (Indiana University,
1947), p. 9.
Tancred, Ralph of Caen, stressed the connections to Charlemagne while discussing the
establishment of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, when in 1100 Baldwin, a
descendant of Charlemagne, came to sit, as king of Jerusalem, on the throne of David.103
Charlemagne also appears in the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanourm,
an anonymous chronicle/history of the First Crusade. The author, believed by historians
to be a participant, described the road the crusaders took to Jerusalem as being built by
Fecerunt denique Galli tres parties. Vna pars
Francorum in Hungariae intrauit regionem, scilicet
Petrus Hermita, et dux Godefridus, et Balduinus frater
Eius, et Balduinus comes Monte. Isti potentissimi
Milites et alii plures quos ignore uenerunt per uiam
Quam iamdudum Karolus Magnus mirificus rex Franciae
Aptari fecit usque Constantinoploim.104
[The Franks separated into three armies.
One entered the region of Hungary namely Peter the Hermit,
and Duke Godfrey, His brother Baldwin, and Baldwin,
the count of Hainault. These most valiant
Knights and many others whose name I do not know
Traveled the road that Charlemagne, the heroic king
Of the Franks, had once caused to be built to Constantinople.]
The reference here is to the 'imperial road' from Constantinople to Sirmium.
Charlemagne is given credit for deeds belonging to the Roman Emperor. The author has
extended Charlemagne's actions to incorporate deeds from both long before and long
after his actual life. There are similar references to Charlemagne and his exploits in
Spain in the Pilgrims Guide to Santiago de Compostela. Here again, the creation of the
103 Riley-Smith, The First Crusade, p. 112.
104 Gesta Francorum etAliorum Hierosolimitanorum. Ed. Rosalind Hill, (Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.,
London, Paris, New York, 1962), p. 2.
image of Charlemagne is one of a proto-pilgrim and proto-crusader traveling and fighting
in the region. At one point, the Guide reports that;
In sumitate uero eiusdem months est locus quod dicitur Crux Karoli,
quia super illum securibus et dolabris et fossoriis
ceterisque manubriis Karolus cum suis exercitibus in Yspaniam pergens,
olim tramitem fecit signumque Dominice crucis prius in eo eleuauit, et tandem
flexis genibus versus Galleciam, Deo et Sancto lacobo precem fudit.105
[On the summit of this mountain is a place called the Cross of Charlemagne,
because it was here that Charles, setting out with his armies for Spain, once
made a road with axes, hatchets, pickaxes, and other implements, and first
raised the sign of the cross of the Lord. And then, falling to his knees and
turning towards Galicia, poured out his prayer to God and Saint James.]
There is a sense here that Charlemagne has paved the way for pilgrims traveling the
route, just as he had done for the those traveling on the road to Constantinople. In a later
section of the Guide, Charlemagne builds churches and his knights who died in battle are
Item in Landis Burdegalensibus uilla quae dicitur Belinus uisitanda sunt corpora
sanctorum martirum Oliueri, Gandelbodi regis Frisie, Otgerii regis Dacie,
Arastagni regis Brittannie Garini ducis Lotharingie, et aliorum plurimorum scilicet
Karoli Magni pugnatorum, qui deuictis exercitibus paganorum in Yspania trucidati
pro Christi fide fuere. Item uisitanda sunt corpora beatorum martirum Facundi
scilicet et Primitiui,
Quorum basilicam Karolus fecit. 106
[Then, in the lands of the Bordelais, in a town which is named Belin, one should
visit the bodies of the holy martyrs Oliver, Gondebaud, King of Frisia, Ogier, King
of Denmark, Arastain, King of Brittany, Garin, Duke of Lorraine, and many other
warriors of Charlemagne, who after conquering the pagan armies, were slaughtered
in Spain for their Christian faith.
Then, one should visit in Spain the body of the blessed martyrs Facundus and
Primitivus, whose basilica Charlemagne built.]
105 A Pilgrims Guide: A Critical Edition: vol. II. General editor Paula Gerson, (Harvey Miller Publishers,
London, 1998), p. 26.
106A Pilgrims Guide: A Critical Edition: vol. II. General editor Paula Gerson. (Harvey Miller Publishers,
London, 1998), p. 64.
There is considerable debate among crusade historians as to the exact nature of the
military campaigns in Spain. The Reconquista is not typically placed in the same
category as the crusades to the Holy Land. The campaigns in Spain did involve
ecclesiastical sanctions, those who participated were granted remission of sins, and the
campaigns had an international flavor (French participation). However, the reconquestt
lacked the distinctive crusading indulgence, the wearing of the cross, and the intention of
delivering the Holy Land."107 One argument that has been put forth is that after the initial
crusades to the East, the Spanish Reconquista began to conform to the ideology of the
crusade or in the very least, it became a substitute for a Crusade to the Holy Land. In the
mind of many scholars, the twelfth-century campaigns in Spain were crusades in every
sense of the term.
There are of course many other parallels between the Reconquista and the
Crusades. One such parallel is the image of Charlemagne. The image that was created in
the twelfth-century did not distinguish a great deal between the campaigns in Spain and
those in the Holy Land. Charlemagne's role as a member of the knighthood of Christ
changed very little depending on the region in which he was being depicted. In Spain, as
described in Roland and the Pseudo-Turpin, he defends and conquerors in the name of
Christianity. This is also true for Southern Italy in Aspremont or for Jerusalem and
Constantinople in the Descriptio.
One of the last sources to invoke the image of Charlemagne and his relation to the
Crusades is Ambroise's Estoire de la Guerre Sainte. This 'history of the holy war' was
written in the wake of the Third Crusade, at some point between 1194 and 1199. There is
107 Joseph F. O'Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain, (University of Pennsylvania Press,
Philadelphia, 2003), pp. 19-20.
debate about whether the author, a Norman, was a simple jongleur or an actual cleric.
Gaston Paris argued that the work lacked the sufficient level of learning that would be
indicative of a cleric. Indeed the work reflects the ethos and narrative patterns of
previous chansons de geste. But, recent studies have revealed a plethora of Biblical
themes suggesting something more than popular learning.108
Charlemagne first appears in Ambroise's Estoire in an early section of the work
when the author is discussing 'Troubles for the Crusaders.' Intense bickering and
disagreement among the leaders the crusaders has created some problems. He says of
Quant li vaillant reis Charlemaines, qui tant conquist terres e regnes, ala josteier en
Espaine Ou il amena la preuz campaine Qui fuvendu al roi Marsille Par Guenelon,
don't France avile; E quant il refu en Sesoigne Ou il fist meinte grant besoigne, E il
desconfist Guiteclin, E mist les Senes a decline, Par la force de maint prodome; E
quant il mena l'ost par Rome, Quant Agolant, par grant emprise, Fu par mer arivea
Rise, E[n] Calabre, la riche terre; E quant Sulie a l'autre guerre refu perdue e
[re]conquisse E Antioche si fud assise, E es granz ostz e es batailles Sor les Turcs e
sor les chenailles Don't tant I ot mortes e mates; L n'avoit esrifs ne barates, Lores a
cel tens ne anceis, Qui erent Norman ou Franceis, Qui Peitevin, ne ki Breton, Qui
mansel, ne ki Burgoinon, Ne ki Flamenc, ne qui Engleis; Illoc n'I aveit point de
jangleis, Ne point de s'entreamponouent Mais tote honors en reportouent; C[il]
erent tuit apele Franc E brun e bai e sor e blanc, E par pechie quant descordouent, E
li prince les racordouent, E erent tuit a une acorde, Si que poi I doroit descorde;109
when the valiant King Charlemagne, who conquered so many lands and countries,
went to campaign in Spain, taking with him the noble band who were sold to
Marsile by Ganelon to the dishonour of France,110 and when he, Charlemagne, had
returned to Saxony, where he did may great deeds and defeated Guiteclin,111
108 Ambroise's Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, vol. II, trans. Marianne Ailes, (The Boydell Press, Great
Britain, 2003), p. 1-2.
109 Ambroise's Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, vol. I, text, ed. Marianne Ailes, (The Boydell Press, Great
Britain, 2003), p. 137-138.
110 Reference to Chanson de Roland.
111 Reference to Jean Bodel's Chanson de Saisnes, which tells of Charlemagne's campaign to defeat the
Saxons under the leadership of Guiteclin.
bringing about the fall of the Saxons by the strength of many valiant men and when
he led his army to Rome, when Agoland, through a great undertaking had arrived at
Reggio in the rich land of Calabria,112 when, in another war, Syria was lost and
reconquered and Antioch besieged, in the great armies and the battles against the
Turks and the pagan hordes, when many were killed then there was neither Norman
nor French, Poitevin nor Breton, Mansel nor Burgundian, Flemish nor English;
there was no malicious gossip nor insulting of one another; everyone came back
with all honour and all were called Franks, whether brown or red, swarthy or white
and when through sin they disagreed the princes brought them back into agreement
with each other, and all were of one mind so that disagreement lasted little time.113
They were all called 'Franks' because they were all the same in God's eyes they were
knights of Christ they were all crusaders. Here, Charlemagne not only acts as an
important precedent for holy war and crusading, but also as a unifying force for
Christendom. It is also an indication of the importance of the crusade. The crusade cause
takes precedence over all other internal quarrels that might exist between crusade leaders.
This is, in part, a reflection of the impact the 'peace of God' and 'truce of God'
movements had on the mentality of churchmen and western chroniclers.
By the end of the twelfth century, Western Christians had staged three major
crusades to conquer the Holy Land. They had taken and then subsequently lost control of
Jerusalem and most of the Holy Land. During the same period an image of Charlemagne
was created and expanded. He had, by the end of the century, appeared in numerous
epics, romances, histories, chronicles, and charters.
The image of Charlemagne is used as a broad exemplar for twelfth-century
crusading. He used for precedent and propaganda. The legend of Charlemagne became
112 Reference to La Chanson d'Aspremont.
113 Ambroise's Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, vol. II, trans. Marianne Ailes, (The Boydell Press, Great
Britain, 2003), pp. 145-146.
the ideal to which all the milites christi could strive. In an age of pilgrimage and crusade,
it was believed by most that Charlemagne sought to honor and defend Christendom.
CHARLEMAGNE AND MEDIEVAL KINGSHIP: THE MAKING OF AN IDEAL
Among the many Carolingian coin types, there is a large denar minted at Aix-la-
Chapelle. The legend reads; "XC:VINCIT:XC:REGNAT KAROLUS MAGNUS
IMPERAT (Christ triumphs, Christ reigns, Charles the Great rules)"1 In the post-
Carolingian world this may have represented the ideal society. A religious structure
associated with the Christian savior and a political structure that featured the greatest of
all Christian kings Charlemagne. It is also an indication that Charlemagne has taken
the place of 'Christ the Emperor.'2 The previous tradition had been XC: VINCIT : XC:
REGNAT : XC: IMPERAT (Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat). It
represented an ordered and hierarchical society that was ruled and defended by warrior
kings. This society and particularly its kings represented important examples for twelfth-
and thirteenth-century society. Using history and memory for inspiration, many writers
of this later period saw Charlemagne as more than an important predecessor to the
Capetian Kings and German Emperors. Twelfth-century culture created, in the
representation of Charlemagne, an image of ideal Christian kingship. Charlemagne not
only represented an ideal ruler; he also represented a legitimizing factor for later kings
and emperors. The Capetians viewed Charlemagne as the progenitor of Francia itself.
1 Sergio Bertelli. The King's Body. Trans. R. Burr Litchfield. (The Pennsylvania State University Press,
University Park, Pennsylvanian, 2001). p. 16.
2 Ernst Kantorowicz, Laudes Regiae: A Study in Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship,
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1958), p. 3.
Any perceived or actual familial connection to Charlemagne helped to legitimize
kingship throughout the high and late Middle Ages.
The construction of an ideal image of Charlemagne went beyond that of a heroic
and chivalric warrior who leads his armies to victory over the forces of paganism. Within
the corpus of twelfth- and thirteenth-century literary genres and political treatises, there
are profound statements of kingship. There is an indication from historical and literary
sources that certain attributes of kings were expected by society in general. Charlemagne
filled this role as clearly as he did the role as an ideal crusader. This image is not
separate from the crusader image, but simply another element of the broader image and
representation. Twelfth- and thirteenth-century kings and important nobles definitely
played a major role in the crusades.
Ideals about kingship involving Charlemagne are not entirely inventions of the
twelfth-century. As early as the ninth- and tenth-centuries, various writers used
Charlemagne as an example of proper and ideal kingship. This was certainly a prevalent
theme throughout and after the Carolingian period. In the words of Jean Dunbabin,
the soul of the Carolingian political structure was the king. As defender of his
people, he led the Franks into battle against their external enemies; as judge, he laid
down the norms of justice, created peace between disputants, punished the wicked
and avenged the weak; as Christian leader, he cared for the widows and orphans, he
gave alms to the poor; as a shield of the church, he purged it from error, upheld its
authority, protected its means and subsistence. At least according to the portraits
presented by his courtiers, Charlemagne fulfilled all these expectations...3
This image of Charlemagne as the model of kingship was adopted and enhanced by later
twelfth- and thirteenth-century authors.
3 Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-11180, 2nd ed., (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press,
2000), p. 5.
The post-Carolingian world of medieval society continually looked to the
Carolingian past as an example and precedent for kingship. In particular, the image of
Charlemagne is most often evoked in sources that concern ideal and legitimate kings.
The more like Charlemagne, the better. If kings could connect their family line to
Charlemagne, they tended to exploit it. A prime example of this concept is the nobles
who helped lead the First Crusade Robert of Flanders and Godfrey of Bouillon and his
brother Baldwin already discussed in chapter two as well as later Capetian rulers like
Philip Augustus and Charles I of Anjou. In particular, "Charles was to make much of the
name he shared with Charlemagne; it seemed a matter of good omen to one so devoted to
the acquisition of great titles."4 Even the powerful King Philip II went to great lengths to
connect his family line to that of Charlemagne. His mother Adela as well as his first wife
Hainault was able to claim descent from Charlemagne.5
Defining Kingship and the Limits of Power
Medieval kings of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century exercised considerable power.
In particular, the process of centralization in England and France allowed the monarchy
to increase its power. Although this process varied considerably in both regions, by the
twelfth-century both had powerful monarchs. Henry II in England exercised considerable
influence on the continent as well as in Britain. Philip II helped to make France one of
the most powerful kingdoms in the High Middle Ages. However, it would be several
centuries before a monarch could exercise actual control over an entire realm. There
4 Jean Dunbabin, C (l. tI, I ofAnjou: Power, Kingship and State-Making in Thirteenth-Century Europe,
(London and New York, Longman Publishing, 1998), p. 10.
5 Jim Bradbury, Philip Augustus: King of France 1180-1223, (London and New York, Longman
Publishing, 1998), p. 220.
were indeed limits to the power of medieval kings. This period witnessed the
development of common law, when Emperors and kings were often elected. It was the
time of Magna Carta and a time when nobles and vassals often held as much power as
their kings. Of course, it was also the time of powerful kings such Philip II who
attempted to extend the monarchy's power and remove the nobility from the process of
'making kings' by institutionalizing the law of 'primogeniture.' It was also a time when
kings were viewed as religious figures. One important example is the idea of the 'royal
touch.' It was only in the twelfth-century, not the Early Middle Ages when monarchs
became more closely identified as religious figures with the ability to heal or cure disease
with a simple touch. Kings were often anointed in imitation of Old Testament figures
and there was a significant development into what Kantorowicz called a political
theology.6 Based on a number of literary and historical sources, the figure of
Charlemagne plays a critical role in the process of defining medieval kingship.
The literary sources, especially epic, are ideal examples for exploring the image of
kingship in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. On a broad level, the sources are clear
indicators as what an ideal king is, and what a 'bad' king is. However, there is a great
deal more to be found in these sources as well. For example, the authors spend a great
deal of time dealing with relationship between the nobility and the monarchy and
between the monarchy and the church. The king's relationship with his vassals is as
critical aspect of virtually all epics. Another feature that is prevalent in most twelfth-
century epics is a concern for 'law' or more appropriately 'custom.' One last aspect is
the personal qualities of the king or emperor, whether it is physical strength or religious
6 Ernst H. Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology, (Princeton, New
Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1997), pp. 42-78.
piety. Taken together these characteristics help define the image of proper kingship in
As is the case with examining issues and themes such as holy war, crusade,
chivalry, and knighthood, one of the best literary sources of the early twelfth-century for
kingship is the Song of Roland. The image of the ideal king, emperor, and feudal lord is
not a late development in the epic cycle of the chanson de geste. The portrait of Charles
as the ideal Christian king is prevalent from the beginning of the legend. In Roland, the
poet begins with "Carles li reis, nostre emperere magnes,"(Charles the king, our great
emperor). The poet immediately makes clear the status of Charlemagne and emphasizes
a role that the legend of Charlemagne would continue to occupy in the popular
imagination of Western Christians for centuries to come.
The elements of kingship, feudal order, law and social relationships are quite
complex in the Roland story. Charlemagne is presented as "the ideal king," but the status
of the monarch's position is under constant threat from both internal and external forces.8
The internal problems stem from the feud between Ganelon and Roland and Ganelon's
eventual betrayal. The external problem is the threat of the Muslim army. The stability
of the feudal order depends largely upon Charlemagne's actions. In one sense, the poem
is, as Morrissey argues, an exploration of "what threats and challenges can royal
sovereignty as embodied by Charlemagne, here shown essentially having no defects, bear
SThe Song ofRoland, Burgess, p. 164.
SBecher, Chi., 1,.., ,,i.. 139.
and overcome? In short, what are the limits of the social order?"9 This is accurate, but
perhaps somewhat incomplete. The story is also the presentation of a chivalric ideal in
the character of Charlemagne. This chivalric ideal is an attribute that becomes
institutionalized by the twelfth-century and a significant aspect of the representation of
Charlemagne's strength as a warrior and crusader seems virtually limitless. The
poet continually emphasizes this aspect before, during, and after the major battle scenes.
He says of Charlemagne;
Li emperere est ber e combatant
Meilz voel murir que ja fuiet de camp;
Suz ciel n'ad rei qu'il prist a un enfant
Carles ne creint nuls hom ki seit vivant10
The Emperor Charles is valiant and a fine warrior;
He would sooner die than abandon the field
No king on earth would regard him as a child
Charles fears no man alive.
Li emperere par a grant poestet,
.VII. anz tuz plens ad en Espaigne estet;
Prent I chastels e alquantes citez.11
The emperor in his great power
Has been in Spain for seven long years,
He has captured many a city and many a castle.
Equally impressive is Charlemagne's political command as a king. Since the poem is
essentially a product of the twelfth-century, it is important to view Charlemagne's
9 Morrissey, ( Ii,, I,. i,,,is,." and France, 46.
10 La Chanson de Roland, Durfournet, p. 272, lines 2737-2740.
1 La Chanson de Roland, Durfournet, p. 264, lines 2609-2611.
character not so much as the successful eighth- and ninth-century king and emperor, but
as a twelfth-century king.12 As such, he should be seen as both a political and religious
figure.13 As a political figure, Charlemagne, the king, acts as arbiter and judge when the
dispute between Ganelon and Roland surfaces in the beginning of the poem. Quite often
in France during the period in which Roland was written, kings took up the role of
resolving disputes among feuding vassals.14 As a religious figure, Charlemagne rules by
divine right and is endowed with special powers by God himself. The poet indicates
throughout the poem the inclination that Charlemagne, beyond any other character, has a
favored relationship with God. This is fairly explicit throughout the poem:
Karles se dort cum hume traveillet
Seint Gabriel li ad Deus enveiet;
L'empereur li cumandet a guarder.
Li angles est tute noit a sun chef.
Par avisiun li ad anunciet
D'une bataille ki encuntre lui ert;15
Charles sleeps like a weary man.
God sent Saint Gabriel to him;
He gives him orders to guard the emperor.
The angel spends all night at his head,
In a vision he announced to him,
A battle to be waged against him;
The 'royal mystique' that manifests itself in literary sources such as Roland and other
epics is part of a long tradition that dates at least to the Carolingian period. Charlemagne
enjoys more than just a 'favored relationship' with God, he has divine protection. He is
12 The version of the Roland story being used here is the Oxford Chanson de Roland, which is interpreted
by most scholars as a copy of an earlier twelfth-century manuscript.
13 Percy Ernst Schramm, Der Konig von Frankreich: Das Wesen der Monarchie vom 9. Sum 16.
Jahrhundert, 2nd ed., vol. 1, (Darmstadt, 1960), pp. 146-158.
14 Myers. Medieval Kingship, p.188.
15 La Chanson de Roland, Durfournet, p. 258, lines 2525-2530.
actually in contact with God through his dreams, much like many Old Testament
prophets. Kings were often viewed on the same plane as Old Testament figures such as
Kings David and Solomon. The culture of the twelfth-century continued and enhanced
this tradition and sources such as Roland and other epics are obvious examples of this
Another reflection in Roland is the extent to which the king depends on the
nobility. Charlemagne, although king and emperor, relies heavily on his nobles for both
political and military support. He draws significant strength and power from his vassals,
in particular, the twelve peers. Charlemagne does not make all the important decisions
by himself and he does not exercise absolute power.
Li empereres est par matin levet,
Messe e marines ad li reis escultet.
Desuz un pin en est li reis alez,
Ses baruns mandet pur sun cunseill finer.
Par cels de France voelt il del tut errer.
Li empereres s'en vait desuz un pin.
Ses baruns mandet pur sun cunseill fenir:16
The emperor arose early in the morning
And heard mass and matins
Then the king went over to a pine tree;
He summons his barons to conclude his council.
He wishes to be guided entirely by the men of France.
The emperor goes over to a pine tree;
He summons his barons to conclude his council,
From a royal perspective, this may be interpreted as a kind of weakness. He takes poor
advice from his council. Roland, who fears another poor decision in a vain attempt to
make peace, boldly addresses Charlemagne;
A voz Franceis un cunseill en presistes.
Loerent vos alques de legerie;
16 The Song ofRoland, Burgess, Penguin Books, p. 150, lines 163-169.
Dous de voz cuntes al paien tramesistes,
L'un fut Basan e li altres Basilies.
Les chefs en prist es puis desuz Haltilie.
Faites la guerre cum vos l'avez enprise;17
You sought advice from your Franks
And they counseled you in somewhat reckless fashion.
You sent two of your counts to the pagans,
One was Basan, the other Basile.
He (Marsile) took their heads on the hills beneath Haltile.
Wage war, as you set out to do,
In addition, on two separate occasions, he trusts Marsile, one of the enemy leaders, when
the Saracen leader has such a propensity to betray Charlemagne's trust, and he does not
sense Ganelon's treachery until it is too late. Consequently, the Christian army is not
properly prepared when they are brutally attacked. Charlemagne is, in effect, blind to the
fact that Marsile is untrustworthy. Treacherous infidels have obviously deceived
Charlemagne and the poet's sympathies lie with him and the Christian army. However, it
seems unavoidable not to put some of the blame for the tragic outcome on the shoulders
of great king himself. In this context, the poet exposes that Charlemagne has real
weaknesses. Does this diminish his status as an ideal king? This veiled critique of the
king may also be a clue as to the intended audience of the poem was noble rather than
royal. Charlemagne, the king, discounts the advice of his nobles and the result is deadly
for the Christian army.
The importance of the law and legal procedures or perhaps more accurately
'custom' is also a theme explored by the poet at the end of the story. Charlemagne does
not have sufficient royal authority when it comes to Ganelon's trial. Although his
1 The Song ofRoland, Burgess, Penguin Books, p. 170, lines 205-210.
judgment and position carries considerable weight, the ultimate decision is left to a
council to which Charlemagne yields. Again, this may be a clue the intended audience of
the poem. Customarily, the nobility would have been involved in the judgment of
Ganelon. After defeating the pagan army, Charlemagne presents Ganelon for trial.
Des ore cumencet le plait e les noveles
De Guenelun, ki traisun ad faite.
Li emperere devant sei l'ad fait traire.
'Seignors barons,' dist Carlemagnes li reis,
'De Guenelun car mejugez le dreit!
Il gut en lost tresque en Espaigne od mei,
Si me tolit .XX. milie de mes Franceis
E mun nevold, que ja mais ne verreiz,
E Oliver, li proz e li curteis;
Les .XII. pers ad trait por aveir.'1
Then the trial and the case begin
Of Ganelon who committed treason.
The emperor had him dragged before him
'Lord barons,' said King Charlemagne,
Place your judgment upon Ganelon
He came with me in my army as far as Spain
And robbed me of twenty thousand of my Franks
And my nephew, whom you will never see again,
Oliver too, the brave and the courtly.
He betrayed the twelve peers for money.'
Ganelon and his supporters are eventually found guilty and put to death. Interestingly,
when the trial begins, there does not seem to be any guarantee that Charlemagne will get
his way. This may simply be a dramatic device used by the poet to add intrigue to the
performance. However, with such an emphasis placed on the trial and the process, it is
likely to have been more than a dramatic element. Although Charlemagne ultimately
does get his way, there is an inherit respect for the process and proper 'custom' in his
actions. It may also be interpreted as a feeling of impotence or lack of power, in that he
18 La Chanson de Roland, ed. Durfournet, p. 352, lines 3747-3756.
has little or no control as to the outcome of trial. However, issues of law and
Charlemagne's influence may have been inherited from an earlier period. In particular,
"Einhard seems always conscious of a ruler's devotion to law and justice as the constant
criterion for his greatness. He presents Charlemagne as a great lawgiver and judge for his
people."19 Unfortunately, there is no clear evidence that the author of Roland was
familiar with Einhard's text. However, in the twelfth-century issues of 'custom' and
'law' were becoming more prevalent and the relationship between the monarchy and the
law considerably more complex.
The poet of Roland presents a complicated picture of Charlemagne and twelfth-
century kingship. God favors Charlemagne partly because of his personal characteristics
and partly because of the position he occupies. There is a sense of holiness associated
with the position of King and Emperor. There is a sense of legitimacy associated with
Charlemagne's role and position one that has been passed down form Constantine and
Justinian to Charlemagne himself. As a sovereign, Charlemagne is an ideal knight who
leads and participates in battles. He is a just king and lord, who does not exercise
absolute power, and perhaps most important, he is extremely devout. There is never
really a question as to his faith. In this respect, Charlemagne is a rex christianissimus.
The religious element cannon be ignored, especially considering that the author may well
have been a cleric and felt the need to emphasize this part of Charlemagne's character. It
also indicates that in the twelfth-century, the ideal faithfully defended the Church.
However, as pious and devout as Charlemagne is, there still seems to be a divide between
19 Henry A Myers, Medieval Kingship. In cooperation with Herwig Wolfram, (Chicago, Nelson-Hall,
1982), p. 131.
the secular and religious authorities. Charlemagne is servant to no one, but God. As
Richard Kaeuper points out; "we need only recall how dominant and even sacerdotal a
role Charlemagne plays in the Song of Roland blessing in Jesus' name and in his own,
conversing with his companion angels, convincing God to extend the daylight (in order to
effect his revenge)."20 Charlemagne does not answer to the archbishop Turpin; rather
Turpin answers to him. This becomes quite clear near the beginning of the poem when
Turpin questions one of Charlemagne's decisions.
Turpins de Reins en est levet del renc
E dist al rei: 'Laisez ester voz Francs;
En cest pais avez estet set anz.
Mult unt oud e peines e ahans;
Dunez m'en, sire, le bastun e le guant
Ejo irai al Sarazin espan,
Sin vois vedeir alques de sun semblant.'
Li empereres respunt par maltalant:
'Alez sedeir desur cel palie blanc;
N'en parlez mais, sejo nel vos cumant.'21
Turpin of Reims then rose from the ranks
And said to the king. 'Let your Franks be.
You have been in this country for seven years;
They have endured many troubles and toils.
Give me, lord, the staff and the glove
And I shall go to the Spanish Saracen
To see what lies behind his outward show.'
The emperor responds angrily:
'Go and be seated on that white silk cloth;
Do not say another word, unless I bid you to.'
Charlemagne may serve as the defender of the Church, but the churchmen are ultimately
his servants. He is God's emissary re-emphasizing the image of the king as both a
political and religious figure. However, it may be a critique from the poet. It is relevant
20 Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence, p. 104.
21 The Song ofRoland, Burgess, p. 172, lines, 264-274.
that the poet illustrates so vividly the king putting the churchman in his place. It is
clearly at variance with contemporary texts, such as the Norman Anonymous' Treatise,
but represents pretty well the developments of the early twelfth-century, especially the
relations between kings and popes after ca. 1130. Perhaps more importantly, it reflects
the mindset of the Norman barons, who controlled their bishops, a situation confirmed by
the 1107 agreement between the Church and Henry I of England.22
The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle
The representation of Charlemagne in Turpin is an extension of the picture
presented in Roland. The Roland story is retold within the Turpin Chronicle along with
Charlemagne's liberation of Compostella and eventual conquest of all of Spain. The
crusading image is arguably more explicit here. Charlemagne remains the powerful
crusading king who confidently leads his armies into battle against the enemies of
Christendom. This is not surprising considering that by the time the Turpin had been
written, the mid- to late twelfth-century, crusading had become well established in the
culture of the High and Late Middle Ages.
Charlemagne is presented in line with previous kings and Roman emperors.
However, Charlemagne's exploits, particularly in Spain are much more powerful and
successful. After discussing the various cities that have been conquered, the author
talks about what previous kings of the Franks had done in the region and then compares
them to Charlemagne's successes.
Et post eius mortem multi reges et principles in Hyspania Sarracenos
expugnaverunt. Chlodoveus namque primus rex Francorum christianus, Chlotarius,
Dagobertus, Pippinus, Karolus Martellus, partim Hyspaniam adquisierunt, partim
22 David Carpenter, The Struggle for Mastery; The Penguin History of Britain 1066-1284, (London,
Penguin Books, 2003), pp. 138-139.
dimiserunt. Sed hic Karolus magnus totam Hyspaniam suis temporibus
(And after their death, many ancient kings and princes were able to expel the
Saracens from Spain. Clovis, the first Christian King of the Franks, and Lothar,
Dagobert, Pepin, and Charles Martel conquered Spain, but abandoned part of it.
But Charlemagne was able, in time, to subjugate all of Spain.)
There is a clear indication here that Charlemagne had surpassed all previous kings in his
conquests and achievements. There is an implicit indication that previous kings had
achieved a great deal, but that Charlemagne more than any other king has separated
himself from the others. In the memory of twelfth-century culture, he represents the peak
of Christian kingship. In addition, it is Charlemagne's service to the Church that is
emphasized as well.
After liberating Compostella and all of Spain, Charlemagne builds new churches,
monasteries, and nunneries. He distributes the finest gold and silver to the poor of many
of the conquered cities. He appoints bishops and abbots to their offices. He converts
non-Christians to the faith and distributes the new Christian lands among his many
knights and nobles who have fought by his side.
His itaque gestis terras et provincias Hyspanie pugnatoribus suis, illis scilicet qui in
patria manere volebant, Karolus dimisit: terram Navarrorum et Basclorum
Britannis, et terram Castel-lanorum Francis, it Nageram et Cesaraugustam Grecis et
Apuleis qui in nostro exercitu erant, et terram Aragonis Pictavis, et terram
Alandaluf iuxta maritima Teutonicis, et terram Portugallorum Dacis et Flandris.
terram Galicie Franci inhabitare noluerunt, quoniam nimis aspera illis videbatur.
Nemo postea fuit qui auderet in Hyspania Karolum impugnare.24
Charlemagne left Spain, while giving the lands and territories to his knights who
wished to stay. To the Bretons, he gave the lands of Navarre and that of the
Basques; and to the French, he gave the land of Castile, and to the Apulians, he
gave the land of Nadre, Aragon, and Saragossa, to the Germans he gave the land of
23 The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, Smyser, p. 60.
24 The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, Smyser, p. 79.
Landauluf which is close to the sea; and the land of Portugal was given to the
Danes and Flemish. The French did not wish to inhabit the Galician lands, because
they saw them as too harsh. No one was able to fight with Charlemagne after this.
The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle is not the only source to emphasize the generosity of
Charlemagne; it is rather part of a larger corpus of works that places a premium on
depicting kings in this manner. It also reflects the complex relationship between
monarchs and their vassals in twelfth-century society.
Interestingly, although the Turpin contained an image of an ideal king in
Charlemagne, it may have also been used as a critique of the Capetian monarchy in the
early thirteenth-century. Prominent nobles in conflict with the monarchy commissioned a
number of prose vernacular translations. Gabrielle Spiegel argues that these vernacular
versions of the pseudo-history were political propaganda and an anti-Capetian polemic.
With the increasing power of the monarchy under the reign of rulers such as Philip II
Augustus, the French aristocrats in various areas including Flanders feared for their
autonomy. The texts were used by the nobility as a kind of propaganda to emphasize
their own familial connections with the Carolingian dynasty and the lack of connection
that existed between Philip and the Carolingians, or more precisely between Philip and
Charlemagne.25 Charlemagne is presented as an ideal king in order to emphasize how
opposite Philip and the Capetians are to that ideal.
The Capetian kings and the ruling families that were to follow were not oblivious
to the powerful influence the Carolingian legacy had in the twelfth-century. In particular,
the use of the name of Charlemagne is often used to imply legitimacy or to indicate a
25 Gabrielle M. Spiegel, "Forging the Past: The Language of Historical Truth in Middle Ages," in The
History Teacher 17, (1984), pp. 267-283.