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«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 ...»

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majestic description of Charlemagne driven by faith and honor in Roland and the PseudoTurpin Chronicle and perhaps the next day hear about the pompous and arrogant king driven by his own ego in the Pélerinage de Charlemagne. In fact, Ronald Walpole, “conjectures that the jongleur who sang the Roland of a morning at the Lendit fair may have chanted the Voyage de Charlemagne in the afternoon.”9 However, it is nearly impossible to know how widespread the story was or if it was censured or purged by the Church as some scholars have suggested. Considering the number of manuscripts that have survived, it would be safe to assume that the story did not have the popularity of Roland. Although Charlemagne’s image is far from the noble crusading king, his status does not seem to be diminished. He is given proper titles throughout the poem. He is the ‘Emperor of France,’ ‘Charles the King,’ and ‘Charles the Brave.’ The poem itself can be divided into 4 sections. The opening passage set in France (at St. Denis), the preparation for the journey, to Jerusalem, and to Constantinople. The story begins with the wife of Charlemagne issuing a ‘type’ of taunt towards her husband that she has heard of another King Hugo of Constantinople who is superior to Charlemagne. Charlemagne, insulted by the idea that there is someone better, vows to find him. He tells his men that they are going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – but on the way back will stop in Constantinople (the real reason for the trip). The Franks are outmatched by the sophistication and courtliness of their counterparts in Constantinople.

The story is full of contradictions when it comes to Charlemagne. He is arrogant and selfish, but refuses great treasure from King Hugo at the end of the story. His pilgrimage to Jerusalem is really ploy, but God still seems to favor him.

John Grigsby, “The Relics Role in the Voyage de Charlemagne” Olifant 9, (Fall 1981): p. 30.

In the very first scene his arrogance is plainly displayed when Charlemagne proudly asks his wife, “Dame veistes unkes hume nul desuz ceil Tant ben seist espee ne la corone el chef?”10 “Lady, have you ever seen a man in the world Wearing such a fitting sword and crown?” She surprisingly suggests that there is another who has a greater presence than Charlemagne has. When Charlemagne does not get the answer he is looking for from his wife, he reacts in a fit of anger. The author says he was “mult en est curecez” (filled with wrath). He even threatens to have his wife beheaded if she does not tell him the name of the other king. Upon hearing that it is Hugo of Constantinople, Charlemagne lies to his knights and tells them that he wants to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but of course, the real reason for the trip is to meet Hugo on the way back to France. On the surface, it seems that the portrait of the confident warrior-king of Roland has been replaced by a self-centered and insecure monarch concerned with his own glorification. However, the image of Charlemagne in this work does not fit the typically negative portrait we see in most of the rebel-baron works.

The Song of Girart de Vienne is a much better example of a poem that reflects the strained relationship between the monarch and nobility. It is one of the few chansons that have survived with knowledge of its author intact. The author Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube composed the work around 1180, the beginning of the reign of Philip II Augustus in France. Very little is known about the author Bertrand who describes himself as a ‘noble clerk.’ Although most literary scholars believe, that he is also the author of at least one Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, (Birmingham, Alabama, Summa Publications, 1984), p. 1.

other work, Aymeri de Narbonne, as well.11 In addition, it should be noted that a great deal of this poem can be traced to an older work. Most scholars believe that Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube added the description of the initial hostilities between Charlemagne and Girart as well as the conclusion.12 The story of Girart de Vienne can be divided into 4 major parts; (1) the youth of Girart (2) early Hostilities (3) the siege of Vienne (4) and the reconciliation. Girart instead of Charlemagne is the hero of the story. He is the ideal liegeman and lord, ‘wellbred and brave,’ the epitome of the courtly and chivalric ideal. On the other hand, Charlemagne is depicted as flawed and arrogant.13 Girart, although wronged by Charlemagne, remains a faithful vassal – he stands for feudal ideals broken by his own lord. Charlemagne is often depicted as being out of control. He gets angry very easily;

he has problems controlling his vassals and advisors.14 This is a portrait of a flawed king, his actions are often selfish, and his leadership qualities are poor.15 It is, in fact, Charlemagne’s actions that cause the war that claimed the lives of many great knights. Charlemagne selfishly plans to marry the woman whom he had promised to Girart. The author writes;

In three of the four manuscripts containing Girart of Vienne, it is succeeded by Aymeri of Narbonne, which is a story concerning Aymeri, the son of one of Charlemagne’s twelve Paladins. Aymeri accepts Charlemagne’s challenge to reconquer the city of Narbonne from Saracens. There are epic battles and betrayal in the story. In addition, like Girart, there are also elements of the Romance genre in this work.





Wolfgang G. van Emden, “problèmes de composition et de datation,” Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale, 13 (1970), p. 281-290. See also Alison Goddard Elliott, “The Double Genesis of Girart de Vienne” Olifant, 8 (1980), p. 131-160.

Jean Misrahi, “Girard de Vienne et la Geste de Guillaume,” Medium Aevum, 4 (1935), pp. 1-15.

The Song of Girart of Vienne by Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, trans. Michael A. Newth, (Tempe, Arizona, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1999), pp. x-xiii.

Bernard Guidot, “L’Empereur Charles dans Girart de Vienne,” Marche Romane, 30 (1980), pp. 127-141.

Nostre enperere a la dame esgardee;

molt la vit bele et gente et acesmee, les euz ot verz, la face coloree, et fu plus blenche que n’est nois sor gelee.

“Deus” dist li rois, “seinte vierge ennoree, je ne truis fame en tote ma contree, une ne autre, qui me plesse n’agree;

et ceste est tant et bele et acesmee c’onques plus bele ne pot estre trovee.

Par ce Seignor qui fist ciel et rousee, ceste avrai ge a moillier espousee;

Girart avra fame en autre contree.”

Se il le dist, ce fu verté provee:

desor Girart est la perte tornee.

Puis en fu fete grant guerre et grant mellee16 King Charles beholds the widow of the duke

And sees her grace, her charms and beauty too:

Her eyes are green, her face is fair of color, Her skin is whiter than snow on ice to view;

He says: “By God and the blest Maid, in truth, In all my realm I’ve found no woman whom I ever liked more than the rest hereto, And yet, this one I find so fair and true That no one else could match her looks or mood;

Now by the Lord Who makes the sky and dew, I’ll take to wife this widow of the duke’s!

Girart shall find another somewhere soon.”

And as he wished, that was the way it proved:

And what he gained young Girart had to lose;

What awful war and feuding hence ensued, (1273-1287) Ironically, Girart accepts the insult by Charlemagne because Charlemagne is his liegelord and instead accepts the city of Vienne as a fief. Here, the author is able to contrast the two main personalities of the poem – Charlemagne and Girart. Charlemagne is the Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, publié par Wolfgang Van Emden, (Paris, Société des Anciens Textes Francais, 1973), p. 59.

greedy and selfish monarch and Girart is the honorable noble and vassal who, continues to perform his duties, even in the face of continuous injustice.17 The author writes;

–  –  –

After Girart gives a mild protest, he eventually steps aside and does not oppose the marriage of Charlemagne and his former bride-to-be. Charlemagne’s nobles convince him, as a show of good faith, to give Girart the city of Vienne as a fief. The widow then tricks Girart into kissing her foot (rather than the Emperor’s) in a show of fealty. This leads to the hostilities between the two, since Charlemagne will not punish his wife (as he is bound to do as Girart’s liege-lord). The war between Charlemagne and Girart lasts for several years including a seven year long siege of the city of Vienne by Charlemagne’s army. The involvement of the marriage and war caused partially by a woman makes this story difficult to compare to other epics. It clearly has elements of the romance genre, but retains the epic framework.19 This separates it from most other epics, but it still George Beech, “A Feudal Document of Early Medieval Poitou,” in Mélanges d’histoire médiévale dédiés á Robert Crozier, vol. 1, (Paris, 1966), pp. 203-213.

Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, publié par Wolfgang Van Emden, (Paris, Société des Anciens Textes Francais, 1973), p. 66.

Wolfgang, Van Emden, “Girart de Vienne: Epic or Romance?” Olifant 10 (Fall 1984), pp. 147-160.

represents a reflection of the hostilities between the Capetian monarchy and the increasingly marginalized nobility.

The politics and role of gift exchange and feudalism in the Middle Ages is an ongoing debate among medieval historians.20 Here, the concept is reflected in Charlemagne’s gift to Girart of the fief of Vienne.

–  –  –

This is an important indicator that gift exchange was an important aspect of feudal relations.22 There are numerous historical parallels to conflicts between lords and vassals and kings and noblemen such as this. In particular, this entire scene episode between Charlemagne, Girart and the Duke’s widow is quite reminiscent of the agreements between Count William V of Aquitaine and Hugh IV of Lusignan.23 Widows of noblemen often remarried other noblemen especially if it was politically advantageous for both. However, just as the case between Charlemagne and Girart, the various secret See Stephen White’s “The Politics of Exchange: Gifts, Fiefs, and Feudalism,” in Medieval Transformations. Texts, Power, and Gifts in Context, ed. E. Cohen and M.B. de Jong, (Boston, Leiden, 2000); and Stephen White’s “The Politics of Fidelity: Hugh of Lusignan and William of Aquitaine,” in George Duby: L’ecriture de l’histoire, ed. C. Duhamel-Amado, (Brussels, 1996), pp. 223-230.

Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, p. 67.

Jean Subrenat, “Vienne. Fief ou alleu? (à propos de Girart de Vienne),” Mélanges René Louis: La Chanson de geste et le mythe carolingien, (Vézelay, Saint-père-sous, 1982), pp. 691-702.

See: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/agreement.html (visit of January 2006).

agreements about land exchange and marriage caused significant conflict between Hugh IV and William X.

Charlemagne’s gift to Girart of the fief of Vienne may be appropriate in certain instances, but in the poem, it is overshadowed by what the poet views as a betrayal on the part of the king. During the remainder of the poem, the author maintains the image of Girart as a noble wronged by his sovereign lord. Girart, in many ways, remains a faithful and honorable vassal fighting for his rights. Girart actually unknowingly wounds Charlemagne into a joust with Charlemagne without even knowing it. He actually injures Charlemagne, but when he figures out that it is Charlemagne, he is overcome with guilt and a feeling of betrayal. He comes down from his horse to kiss the foot of Charlemagne and ask for forgiveness. On the other hand, Charlemagne is driven largely by motives of revenge. The author writes;

“Vasal,” dit Ch[arles], “molt m’a fet corrocier;

dolanz serai se ne m’en puis vengier.24 “Vassal,” says Charles, “he [Girart] has much angered me:

Without revenge I shall be filled with grie.

Girart’s reasons for fighting the war are honorable and correspond to feudal custom.

Charlemagne’s are not honorable, but are rather self-serving. It is clear that the author favors Girart in this dispute. In addition, he clearly sides with the nobility over the monarchy. However, it is not clear why the author favors a noble over the famed emperor. One clue to this aspect might be the intended audience. If the author was writing for a noble audience rather than a royal one, then position would be understandable. If his patron was a noble who opposed or feuded with the current Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, publié par Wolfgang Van Emden, (Paris, Société des Anciens Textes Francais, 1973), p. 181.

Capetian monarch, then this might explain his opposition to royal authority. This is certainly not out of the realm of possibility since by 1180, when Philip II ascended to the monarchy, the Capetians had gained considerable power at the expense of the nobility.

However, the author does not question the legitimacy of Charlemagne, nor does he indicate that he should be removed from power. Nevertheless, the author has no problem criticizing Charlemagne as the representative of a legitimate, but repressive monarchy. At one point Oliver, the best knight of Girart’s, and Roland, the best knight of Charlemagne’s, are about to do battle. The author has Oliver say, je por Girart, le franc duc ennoré vos por Charlon, qui est rois coronnez.25

–  –  –

He indicates that Charlemagne is king by right because he was crowned. He also indicates that legitimacy does not necessary mean that the king will always act appropriately. The author consistently suggests that Girart is the better man. This is intended to be an example of the poor behavior often displayed by monarchs, especially in relation to their own vassals.

–  –  –

The idea that the image of Charlemagne as the ideal king and crusader could change so quickly to an unjust feudal overlord is a problematic issue for historians. It raises a number of important questions.26 What do the contradictory images and representations of Charlemagne mean? Do they reflect the uneasy relationship between Girart de Vienne, par Bertrand de Bar-Sur-Aube, publié par Wolfgang Van Emden, (Paris, Société des Anciens Textes Francais, 1973), p. 186.



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