«CHARLEMAGNE: THE MAKING OF AN IMAGE, 1100-1300 By JACE ANDREW STUCKEY A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN ...»
Let me say one thing: these losses, coming all of a sudden, would have been too much for the Emperor Charles. Those that he sustained at Roncevalles and his other campaigns could not be compared with mine in severity.52 There seems to be an attitude on the part of the Wolfram, the author, that his audience will almost certainly understand the references to Charlemagne simply because his legend is such common knowledge. In particular, they would be familiar with the story of Roland. By this time, the story of Roland was widely circulated in German lands. In Wolfram von Eschenbach. Willehalm, Text der Ausgabe von Werner Schroder, (Berlin & New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2003), p. 3.
Adapted from Wolfram von Eschenbach, Willehalm, trans. Marion Gibbs and Sydney Johnson, (New York: Penguin Press, 1984), p. 19.
Willehalm, Gibbs & Johnson, 39.
addition, it is an indicator as to the importance of the Battle of Alischanz. For Wolfram, this may be an attempt to put his story on par with that of Roland.
In the story, Charlemagne is a common rhetorical device. He is a model of Christian kingship without actually being a character. When speaking of Louis the king, Wolfram says things such as “He who had been born of Charles now behaved in the manner of Charles…”53 Louis’s familial connection to Charlemagne is something that had great meaning. It is an essential part of his identity. It is also an essential part of the crown. The person who wears the crown should have some connection to Charlemagne – an on-going theme in the twelfth and thirteenth century.
Wolfram says at another point, “The name of Charles was often mentioned, and it was said that the King should show that he inherited his courage…which was his by birth….”54 Again, there is an issue of identity in the passage that says a great deal about the expectations of the king. The important idea here is that Louis could and should inherit certain characteristics from Charlemagne. Charlemagne’s rule and legacy continue through the blood of Louis. There is an explicit emphasis on the importance of ‘dynastic continuity.’ This ensured to a certain extent that rex qui nunquam moritur (the king never dies). 55 The concept of ‘royal blood’ held a great deal of power. In particular, the blood of Charlemagne, a warrior king, a saintly king, and a just king, represented great power for the culture of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century. The importance of this blood connection becomes clear in the story of Willehalm, when Willehalm challenges Louis Willehalm, Gibbs & Johnson, 99.
Willehalm, Gibbs & Johnson, 98.
Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies, pp. 317-336.
and says, “If you do not [act] quickly then you are no son of Charles.”56 This is obviously an accusation that Louis is not acting very ‘king-like,’ which is to say he is not enough like Charlemagne. It is also reminiscent of Charlemagne’s judgment of Louis in the Crowning of Louis. This is a common theme throughout the work.
For the most part, Louis again is presented as the anti-type for an ideal king. He does not have the skills or personality that his father possessed. However, the issue of legitimacy is still prevalent. Louis is the rightful king, and it is he who allows Willehalm to use the battle cry (Monschoi) and to fight under the imperial banner. One of the most important features of the story of Willehalm is that it addresses the need for historical continuity. Willehalm, who is a blood relative of Charlemagne, uses Charlemagne’s battle-cry (Monschoi), and also his sword (Schoiuse) to defend the empire and Christendom as Charlemagne had once done.57 It is a transmission of power and legitimacy from Charlemagne’s generation to Willehalm’s generation of knights and crusaders.
The crusade parallels to the story are quite strong as well. There is no need for Willehalm to convince his men to take up the cross in defense of Christianity, since they already seem to be wearing it. Before a battle, Willehalm tells his men, “Comrades, you should bear in mind that you are wearing the symbol of Him who saved us from hell.”58 The atmosphere of the poem is in part a religious conflict and in part, a love story, but the overall theme certainly has the feel of a religious crusade. Charlemagne’s legacy of Willehalm, Gibbs & Johnson, 97.
Ashcroft, “’dicke Karel wart genant’, p. 22.
Willehalm, Gibbs & Johnson, 25.
kingship and crusading is both a legitimizing and inspirational feature in the story of Willehalm. As a rhetorical device, the representation of Charlemagne acts as a powerful symbol of legitimate kingship.
Suger (c.1081-1152), the Abbot of Saint-Denis, is one of the most important figures of the twelfth-century. He oversaw the construction of the new Abbey at Saint-Denis, a project largely credited by many art historians and scholars as the earliest form of Gothic architecture.59 The influence of the legend of Charlemagne on the ideas of kingship in the twelfthand thirteenth centuries was prominent in a number of different areas. The first and probably most prevalent is that of the epic (chanson de geste) and romance traditions that followed. However, there was a parallel development outside of the literary arena in which the image of Charlemagne plays an immense role in defining kingship. Prime examples of this phenomenon are the relics and writings associated with the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
There was a complicated relationship between the Abbey of Saint-Denis and the history of the French monarchy and in particular the Capetian dynasty. Saint-Denis was one of the wealthiest abbeys in the West. It had benefited “royal generosity since the Merovingian period, with various Merovingian, Carolingian, and Capetian sovereigns having been buried there.”60 Saint-Denis was believed to have been founded by the martyr Dionysius, a bishop of Paris. This Dionysius was later wrongly connected to Otto von Simpson, The Gothic Cathedral: Origins of Gothic Architecture and the Medieval Concept of Order, 2nd ed., (New York, 1962).
Suger, The Deeds of Louis the Fat, trans. with introduction Richard Cusimano and John Moorhead, (Washington, D.C., The Catholic University of America Press, 1992), p. 2.
Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian convert of Saint Paul mentioned in the book of Acts.
The Saint and the monastery were also quite prominent in the French literary tradition. “Of all the saints invoked by the chansons de geste, Saint-Denis is mentioned most often: by the twelfth-century the position of Saint-Denis as special benefactor of French kings is already part of popular legend.”61 In much of the literary corpus of France, dating from the mid-twelfth-century on, Charlemagne is often referred to as the ‘king of St. Denis.’ In the Le Couronnement de Louis upon announcing that Charlemagne has died a character says; “Que morz est Charles li reis de Saint Denis”62 (Charlemagne is dead, the King of Saint-Denis). In the Song of Aspremont, Charlemagne is referred to by a number of titles such as Emperor, bearer of fair France’s crown, and the King of Saint-Denis. In this story, the poet creates in the mindset of the Muslim enemy an understanding of the importance of Saint-Denis. One of the Saracen leaders says to his warriors before a great battle, “Car cevalciés, franc chevalier baron.
Je vos metrai sempres Karle en prisson.
A Saint Denis iert coronés Eaumon.”63 “Ride on good knights and brave barons.
Soon Charlemagne will be put in prison.
At Saint-Denis, Aumon will soon take his place.” Gabrielle Spiegel, “The Cult of Saint Denis and Capetian Kingship” in Journal of Medieval History 1, (1975), p. 58.
Le Couronnement de Louis, ed. E. Langlois, p. 68, line 1461.
Brandin, La Chanson D’Aspremont, p. 123.
To defeat Charlemagne would be to replace him as the king of ‘Saint-Denis.’ The Pope also recognizes the critical role Saint-Denis has played on behalf of the Christians. At one point in the story, Balan a converted Muslim describes to Charlemagne and the Christian army what to expect in the next battle.64 The Pope praises him highly for his efforts.
Dist l’apostoles: “ Foi que doi Saint Denis, Comunement devons nos estre amis.”65
In the Song of Girart de Vienne, Charlemagne is referred to as the ‘King of Saint-Denis’ on eight occasions and twice as the ‘Lord of Saint-Denis.’ In addition, there are fifteen other references to the Saint and the Abbey. In the Pélerinage de Charlemagne, the story actually begins at Saint-Denis with Charlemagne putting his crown upon his head and making the sign of the cross.
Outside the epic tradition, the connections with Charlemagne and Saint-Denis are quite prominent as well. First, the relics at the Abbey were believed to have been brought back to France from the Holy Land by Charlemagne who had gone to liberate Jerusalem form the clutches of Muslim invaders.66 Second, according to tradition, the banner of Saint-Denis and Charlemagne’s royal standard bearer – ‘the Oriflamme’ became one and the same by the later part of the twelfth-century. Specifically, it was during the reign of Balan is the characters name throughout most of the poem. However, once converted, he takes the name Witikin.
Brandin, La Chanson D’Aspremont, vol. II, p. 37.
This story is found in the late eleventh-century source the ‘Descriptio.” This is short for the Descriptio Qualiter Karolus Magnus Clavum et Coronam Domini A Constantinopoli Aquisgrani Detulerit Qualiterque Karolus Calvus Hec Ad Sanctum Dyonisium Retulerit.
Philip II Augustus who carried the banner on the Third Crusade in 1190. Philip’s son, Louis VIII helped legitimize Capetian rule by re-establishing a strong familial connection with Charlemagne’s ruling family – the Carolingians. Philip could only claim lineage to Charlemagne and the Carolingians on his mother’s side of the family. However, he married Isabella of Hainault who could claim lineage to the Carolingian line from both her mother and father. Their son Louis VIII (r. 1223-1226) was really the first Capetian to be able to claim Carolingian blood through both his mother and father. In addition, the practice of depositing a royal flag at the monastery of Saint-Denis begins with Hugh Capet. This flag was not the abbey’s own, but one, which had belonged to Charlemagne.
Legend, history, and poetry described it as a gift from Pope Leo to Charlemagne, in recognition of his imperial status as emperor of the Roman people.67 Third, because of the conscious attempt on the part of Capetian kings, particularly of the twelfth-century, to connect with the Carolingian past there was the creation of a number of traditions and sources used to emphasize and authenticate the Capetian – Carolingian connection. The Descriptio already discussed briefly falls into this category, but there is another important source as well. There is a false charter, forged by Suger, attributed to Charlemagne known as the ‘Donation.’ In this charter, Charlemagne supposedly called a council at Saint-Denis at which time he commemorated the work of the Saint for protecting the empire from dangerous enemies. In addition, he “decreed that all kings, archbishops, and bishops should venerate the monastery as the caput omnium ecclesiarum regni and its abbot as Primate of France.”68 According to the charter, Spiegel, “The Cult of Saint Denis and Capetian Kingship,” p. 58.
Spiegel, “The Cult of St. Denis and Capetian Kingship,” p. 60.
Charlemagne also put an offering of gold on the altar of Saint-Denis as an act of homage.
In the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, there is a very similar vision of Charlemagne’s reverence to Saint-Denis. Charlemagne is shown to have bestowed upon the abbey many honors and gifts in addition to relics. In fact, in many of the long versions of the Chronicle, the authors incorporate the events in the false charter of Charlemagne including calling the council where Charlemagne “acknowledge[d] Saint-Denis as the prime see of France.”69 The reward for such an act of loyalty comes quickly for Charlemagne. “On the night after the council, Saint-Denis himself appears before Charlemagne in a dream and promises to intercede for the souls of those who have been or ever will be slain in wars against the Saracens in Spain or who shall give money to the church of Saint-Denis.”70 Even before Suger solidified the connection between royal historiography and the Abbey of Saint-Denis there existed an image of a strong connection between the ruling family and the ecclesiastical leadership at Saint-Denis.
However, Suger does deserve a great deal of credit for elevating the status of the Abbey as well as the Capetian monarchy.71 This clearly demonstrates that the image of Charlemagne is directly influenced by the written sources of the twelfth-century and not by the traditions established in the ninth-century by Einhard.
Suger also wrote a book or biography of King Louis VI. Between 1140 and 1144, Suger wrote Vita Ludovici Grossi regis (The Deeds of Louis the Fat), describing the reign of Louis VI who ironically was not one of the most prominent or powerful kings of the H.M. Smyser, “An Early redaction of the Pseudo-Turpin (Bib. Nat. fonds lat. 17656, olim Notre Dame 133” in Speculum 11, (April, 1936), p. 291.
Smyser, “An Early redaction,” p. 291.
Eric Bournazel, “Suger and the Capetians,” Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: A Symposium, (New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986), pp. 55-66.
Capetian period. In this work, Suger comes across as a “staunch royalist” and one who sees the importance of hierarchy and monarchy.72 In addition, there are many clear ideas concerning kingship. Andrew Lewis argues that the image of kingship that emerges in Suger’s work is ‘traditional.’ There are three aspects that are clearly identifiable: “(1) the king as administrator of the kingdom; (2) the king as a figure with special religious associations or attributes; and (3) the king as protector of the churches and the ‘poor.’”73 However, the aspect that Suger stresses more than any other is the last one – the king as protector of the church and poor. Not surprisingly, this is where Charlemagne figures into Suger’s ideology. Within Suger’s writing there are specific references to the former king and emperor. In the very first chapter, Suger makes a reference to Charlemagne in a discussion of Louis’s early years.