«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 ...»
(In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity. Amen. I, Louis, by the grace of God, King of France. It is recognized that it belongs to the office of the royal dignity to vigilantly watch over the churches of God which are established in our realm, so that as it is in our power, we make sure that their interior quiet is not upset by external disturbances and also erect defenses against those whose hands are ready for plunder.)88 The crusade charter here is just one example of theme that was prevalent throughout the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. The idea that it is essentially the duty of the kings to protect the church is not an isolated appearance. Virtually every source examined here, both literary and historical, mentions this idea of the king being the defender of the Church. This is not something that is a minor theme, but rather something that is explicit in the language and attitudes of the characters and historical actors.
The idea of the king as defender of the church, as one who protects widows and orphans, as one who upholds the law, and as one who is faithful and pious, are more than the main elements of kingship. There is, in fact, a broader connection to the concept of ‘chivalry.’ The ‘chivalrous knight’ has all the attributes mentioned above as well as numerous others. The king, ultimately a knight as well, is an extension of this same basic concept. In a sense, it is not so much that kings and knights act in service of religion and the Church, but that knighthood and kingship are religious services in and of themselves.89 This in many respects is in the same tradition as the crusades. The crusaders are in many cases acting in the service of the Church, but the crusade itself is a religious act. The image and representation of Charlemagne is part of this broader ideal of chivalry. He is a knight, crusader, and a symbol of ideal and divine kingship.
Corliss Konwiser Slack, Crusade Charters 1138-1270, English translations by Hugh Bernard Feiss, (Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Tempe, Arizona, 2001), pp. 54-55.
Keen, Chivalry, 61.
THE ‘UNMAKING’ OF AN IDEAL: CHARLEMAGNE AND THE FEUDAL ORDERThere are a number of literary and historical sources of the twelfth- and thirteenthcentury that depart from the traditionally positive view of Charlemagne. In many sources, particularly, but not exclusively, the chansons de geste of the rebel-baron cycle, Charlemagne is depicted in a manner that is far from ideal. No discussion of the image and representation of Charlemagne in this period in literary and historical sources would be complete without analyzing the negative portrait that exists in these sources. Even some of the traditionally positive sources already discussed in previous chapters contain elements of comical and negative imagery, which have been briefly discussed in the previous chapter on kingship. In these sources, the overall image is a positive one, but there are scenes that show faults and weaknesses.
In Roland, Charlemagne wins the major battles at the end of the poem and successfully avenges his nephew’s death. However, he does lose Roland and many of his best nobles. Charlemagne is partially responsible for their deaths because of the poor decisions he has made. In Aspremont, Charlemagne is never completely reconciled with his rebellious vassal, Girart. Although the author never explicitly criticizes Charlemagne’s inability to reconcile with his vassal, the implicit message certainly involves a fault on the part of Charlemagne and perhaps the French monarchy in general.
In the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, after demonstrating the superiority of his army through battle and feats of arms, Charlemagne is able to convince the Saracen leader, Agolant, along with his followers to convert and accept baptism. However, after arriving at Charlemagne’s camp, something unexpected happens. While Charlemagne describes the differences in clothing worn by priests, bishops, monks, and knights, Agolant notices another group. The author writes;
Interea videns Aigolandus.xiii. pauperes in quadam parte misero habitu indutos, ad terram residentes, sine mensa et sine linteaminibus comedentes, parco potu et cibo utentes, interrogavit cuiusmodi homines essent.1 Meanwhile Agolant sees thirteen paupers who were dressed in poor robes, who ate on the ground, without a table and without a table cloth and who had little to eat and little to drink. He asked about these men. 2 When asked about these men Charlemagne says, At ipse Karolus ait: Hec est gens Dei, nuntii domini nostri Ihesu Christi, quos sub numero.xii. apostolorum Domini per unumquemque [diem] ex more pascimus.3 At which Charlemagne answered: These are people of God, messengers of our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we feed every day in the name of the 12 apostles of the Lord.
Agolant is insulted by what in his mind is disrespect shown to ‘God’s people.’ He immediately refuses baptism, returns to his people, gathers an army and challenges Charlemagne to battle. Charlemagne immediately orders that the poor be properly clothed and fed, but it is too late for Agolant and all his followers that would have been converted that day; they all die in the ensuing battle, unconverted. The author chastises Charlemagne’s actions and his inability to convert Agolant and the Muslim army.4 He uses it as a lesson for the reader/listener, warning that those who mistreat the poor – God’s people, will answer for it on the day of judgment.
The Pseudo-Turpin, Ed. H.M. Smyser, (The Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge, Mass. 1937), P 72.
In most versions of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle the number given is 12 not 13. The number here is probably a scribal error.
The Pseudo-Turpin, Ed. H.M. Smyser, p. 72.
The Pseudo-Turpin, Ed. H.M. Smyser, p. 72, lines 24-35.
However, the critical, negative, and comical portraits of Charlemagne are not very prevalent in the sources already discussed. Sources containing an abundance of these elements really constitute a different category of epic and romance literature. Although there are less than ideal portraits of Charlemagne and critiques of kingship, this aspect, up to this point, has not been the major theme of the sources. It is really with the rebel-baron cycle and other various mid- to late-twelfth-century works that the attention Charlemagne’s ideal image begins to show signs of flaws.
The rebel-baron cycle of the Old French epic has traditionally been interpreted as (anti-royalist) rhetoric reflecting the growing conflict between the nobility (aristocracy) and the monarch. The cycle included, and is sometimes used interchangeably with, the geste of Doon de Mayence, named for one of the major early works. Some of the characters have imaginary genealogical ties to Doon, but little more connects them. In addition, the works themselves have no real ties to one another other than their main character's opposition to Charlemagne. The tone is vehemently anti-royalist to the extent that nobles are concerned with the growing power of the monarchy as well as the abuse of power by corrupt monarchs. It is not, however, anti-royalist in the sense that the nobility is trying to dissolve the institution of the monarchy or even overthrow the king (Charlemagne). In fact, none of the stories that fit into this category ends with Charlemagne being removed from power. Instead, the rebel-baron cycle would be more aptly described as epics concerned with proper royal behavior. Many poems depict Charlemagne in terms that blatantly contradict the representation found in the cycle of the king as well as most historical sources.
The negative representation of Charlemagne seems to depict a corrupt and unjust monarch. It is intended to be critique of monarchs who take advantage of their position and behave inappropriately. Generally, the authors tend to be critical of Charlemagne and the monarchy on a number of different issues, mistreatment of faithful vassals tends to take precedence over all of them. As a consequence, the negative representation of Charlemagne may be viewed as an attack on the current Capetian policies.
From the reign of Louis VI through that of Philip II Augustus, kings continually imposed policies that restricted the power of the nobility and expanded the monarchy’s control.5 The sources are clear indicators of some of the problems and issues that feudal monarchs and nobles faced during this period. The complexities of these problems are simplified for the stories. Typically, the reader or listener is presented with a kind of binary opposition monarchy vs. nobility. However, both sides tended to struggle with and against each other. Generally, the authors tend to be critical of the monarchy and identify with the struggles of the nobility. This is not surprising since the most probable audience for performances would have been the nobility. The character or image of Charlemagne in most of the stories is considerably different from those of the cycle of the king. Charlemagne is no longer the protagonist. He is not a villain, but is certainly far from being the hero.
The texts that fall into this broad category have many features in common with other sources in the category, but each is also unique and has defining characteristics that set it apart form the rest. For example, in Huon de Bordeaux, Huon in conflict with Charlemagne for killing his son ‘Charlot’ who attacked Huon together with the traitor Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 256-277.
Amauri, is sent by Charlemagne on a perilous mission to the court of the amir of Babylon to kiss his daughter, bring back a hair of his beard and four teeth, and to kill the chief guest present there. In addition, Charlemagne charges Huon to “bring back 1,000 falcons, 1,000 bears, 1,000 hunting dogs, 1,000 youths, [and] 1,000 maidens.”6 The amir’s daughter Esclarmonde befriends him, they fall in love and escape together under the presiding influences of Auberon, King of fairies. They experience magical and enchanted adventures, and return to further struggles in France, before Huon is settled in his inheritance. There is a great deal of fantasy and magic associated with this tale, but the conflict between lord and vassal, as well as the sense of duty for the vassal are clear and prominent. In contrast, in Renaut de Montauban Charlemagne’s son is killed by the rebellious vassal, but there are no fantastical adventures in far off lands, only a bitter war between Charlemagne and Renaut. After numerous battles and broken oaths, the two are finally begrudgingly reconciled, but the conflict remains.7 In many of the early stories the rebellious vassal has no just cause for his revolt.
These stories always end with the defeat of the traitor and his repentance and reconciliation to the emperor. This is not the case in the later works such as Girart de Vienne. Charlemagne, the monarch, either breaks with feudal custom or treats his nobles and subordinates them improperly. In Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne, a poem that does not belong to the rebel-baron cycle, Charlemagne is still presented in a manner entirely different than, for example, Roland Quoted in William Calin, The Epic Quest: Studies in Four Old French Chanson de Geste, (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), p. 166.
Morrissey, Charlemagne and France, p. 77.
In Le Pélerinage de Charlemagne (the Pilgrimage of Charlemagne, also known as the Voyage de Charlemagne), historians are confronted with one of the earliest poetic works that depict him as less than ideal. This particular poem has troubled scholars for more than a century. It survived into the modern era in a single fourteenth-century manuscript that has subsequently been lost from the collection of the British Library.8 The first problem is that it is difficult to categorize the work. It does not really fit neatly into any of the traditional categories or poetic cycles. Nevertheless, it is usually put in the cycle of the king (the same group as Roland). Most scholars believe that the poet lived on the continent. The poem is quite short, only 870 lines in comparison to Roland’s 4002 and Aspremont’s 11,376. In addition, the date of this work is debatable – suggestions have ranged from the late eleventh-century to the late thirteenth-century.
However, generally most scholars have assigned it to the mid-twelfth-century.
To some extent, the story parallels the events described in the Descriptio.
Charlemagne visits Jerusalem and Constantinople and brings back important relics to France. The Descriptio was undoubtedly a major source of inspiration for the author.
Versions of the story in the Descriptio were widely circulated and the composition of the Descriptio predates the Pélerinage. However, the comical tone, lack of major battles, and depiction of Charlemagne set the Pélerinage apart from the ‘epic-like’ descriptions and events in the Descriptio.
The Pélerinage de Charlemagne is one of the early sources to depict explicitly Charlemagne in comical manner. It is difficult to imagine that audiences could hear the The manuscript has actually been missing since the late 19th century.