«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 ...»
H. Morf, “Etude sur la date, le caractère et l’origine de la Chanson du Pèlerinage de Charlemagne,” Romania, 13 (1884), pp. 185-232.
‘church and state’ or does it have more to do with the evolving image of proper kingship?
Is the most prevalent theme the relations between the nobility and the monarchy? All three of these issues play an important part in these sources.27 With the crusade and pilgrimage themes being of only nominal importance, the remaining prevalent theme is the portrait of the king and his relationship with subordinate vassals. In various sources that depict Charlemagne negatively, there are a number of complex and sometimes contradictory images of kingship. The negative image is more than likely not so much a reflection of beliefs about the historical Charlemagne, but more contemporary (late twelfth-century) royal policies.28 In the Le Pélerinage de Charlemagne, there are two immediate representations of kings pointed out by Charlemagne’s wife who compares King Hugo of Constantinople to her husband. Charlemagne after placing his crown on his head, rhetorically asks his wife if she knew of any man who possessed such a ‘fitting sword and crown.’ She responds by citing Hugo.
“Uncore en sai jo un ki plus se fait leger
Quant il porte corune entre ses chevalers:
Kaunt la met sur sa teste, plus belement lui set!”29 “I know of one who has more presence than you
When wearing his crown amidst his knights:
It befits him better when he places it on his head” J.D. Niles, “On the Logic of Le Pélerinage de Charlemagne,” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen, 81 (1980), pp. 208-216.
J. Horrent, “La Chanson du Pélerinage de Charlemagne et la réalité historique contemporaine,” in Mélanges de langue et de littérature du moyen âge et de la Renaissance, offerts à Jean Frappier par ses collégues, ses élèves et ses amis, (Geneva: Publications romanes et françaises, 1970), pp. 411-417.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, (Birmingham, Alabama, Summa Publications, 1984), p. 1.
It is this discussion that is the impetus for Charlemagne’s trip to Jerusalem and Constantinople and a major theme of the poem, which is Charlemagne’s attempt to find this so-called superior king. Although Charlemagne is pompous and arrogant, and often appears more comical than regal, the poet imparts his character with a number the most important kingly characteristics.30 At the beginning of the poem, “Charlemagne is portrayed as the Carolingian theocratic monarch whose authority is based on terrestrial conquest and sanctioned by God.”31 This is explicit when the he says, “Uncor cunquerrei jo citez ot mun espez!” (with my spear I will conquer many cities).32 He has the proper title and the author no doubt sees him as the rightful Emperor. The poet even has Charlemagne’s wife clarify her statement by saying that;
“Emperor,” she said “do not be angry with me because of this Though he has more riches, gold, and silver than you, He is not as valiant as you, nor is he as good a knight For smiting in battle and for pressing hard the enemy.” However, the traditional images of kingship found in other poems of the cycle of the king are difficult to maintain in the Pélerinage.34 There are no great battles. The ChristianJ.H. Caulkins, “Narrative Interventions. The Key to the Jest of the Pélerinage de Charlemagne,” in Etudes de phiologie romane et d’histoire littéraire offertes á Jules Horrent á l’occasion de son soixantième anniversaire, eds. J.M. D’Heur and N. Cherubini, (Liège, 1980), pp. 47-55.
Jane Burns, “Portraits of Kingship in the Pélerinage de Charlemagne” in Olifant, 10 (Autumn, 1984): p.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 1.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 3.
S. Sturm, “The Stature of Charlemagne in the Pélerinage,” Studies in Philology, 71, (1974), pp. 1-18.
Saracen conflict that fueled Western views of good vs. evil and Godly vs. pagan is absent from this story. What made an ideal image of the ideal king in Roland is simply not a major part of this work. The poet does make reference to previous conquests that have helped make Charlemagne the Emperor he is. For example, while in Jerusalem Charlemagne says to the Patriarch;
The representation of kingship in the figure of Charlemagne here is almost based entirely on previous exploits and reputation. However, the portrait of the ‘Carolingian theocratic’ monarch fades into something much more abstract. It is not explicit; the imagery is more implicit. Virtually none of this is based on his actions in this story. Instead, it is based on the imagery supplied by the author. For the most part, this image of kingship gives way to the notion of ‘religious kingship.’36 It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the image of Charlemagne as a religious figure and Charlemagne as a political figure.37 However, as comical as the theme may seem to be, the religious kingship reflected in the poem may be a reflection of the Old Testament model of kings. This is a concept that flourished in twelfth-century France and was an important theme in political ideology.
Because of the prevalence of this thematic tool in various literary and historical sources, Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 13.
Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Medieval Political Theology, (Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1957), pp. 273-302.
Ernst Kantorowicz, Laudes Regiae: A Study of Liturgical Acclamations and Medieval Ruler Worship, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1958), pp. 157-181.
it is likely that this image was often intentionally and unintentionally adopted by poets of various works. The religious element is the emphasis while Charlemagne is in Jerusalem.
Throughout many of the chansons de geste, Charlemagne travels and fights with his ’12 Peers.’ There is an obvious parallel with Christ and the twelve apostles.
However, in the Pèlerinage, there is much more of an emphasis on comparing or in some cases equating Charlemagne with Christ. He is repeatedly referred to as the thirteenth member of the group, which may be “a willful association between this king and Christ.”38 In addition, Charlemagne is actually mistaken for Christ himself and his twelve peers as the apostles. Upon entering Jerusalem, the poet writes;
Burns, “Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne,” Olifant, 10, p. 171.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 11.
The situation is somewhat confusing since neither Charlemagne nor his men seem to know the significance or the symbolism associated with the church and the thirteen seats.
They are simply sitting in order to ‘rest’ and gaze at the beauty of the artwork of the Church. In fact, one scholar, John Grigsby, describes Charlemagne and his men as … having blundered into a sacred place. He behaves like a country bumpkin, or tired tourist, in the magnificent church where walls are covered with fine mosaic images. True to his egotistic conduct toward his wife back at Saint Denis, he steps around, or brazenly removes, the barriers closing off the Holy Seat where Christ presided over the Last Supper.40 However, the poet does not explicitly criticize Charlemagne’s behavior. In fact, the poet goes out of his way to indicate that no one had ever done this before or since. The poet puts the Emperor on virtually the same level as Christ himself. Charlemagne occupies the earthly realm and reigns as the earthly king just as Christ had once done.
Charlemagne seems to fall in line with previous great kings extending from the Old Testament to the Christian era. The underlying message may be that, without their knowledge, Charlemagne and his ‘peers’ are destined to imitate the experience of Christ and his apostles. In a way, the poet is extending the Biblical genealogy of kings forward to the twelfth-century. The genealogy of the Gospel of Matthew connects Abraham to David and eventually David to the house of Joseph and Jesus. The poet has brought this forward and connected Charlemagne to this tradition. This connection between Charlemagne and Christ himself is emphasized even further when a witness sees Charlemagne in the Church. The poet writes;
Uns judeus I entrat, ki ben l’out esgardet:
Cum il vit le rei Karle, cumencat a trembler:
Tant out fer le visage, ne l’osat esgarder:
A poi que il ne chet, fuant s’en est turnet, John Grigsby, “The Relics Role in the Voyage de Charlemagne” Olifant 9, (Fall 1981): p. 24.
The Jew, who believes that Charlemagne is God, immediately approaches the Patriarch in hopes of being baptized. Charlemagne in this case inspires a spontaneous conversion, perhaps just as Jesus had once done. However, it is not just the Jewish man who is moved by Charlemagne’s appearance. The Patriarch is also impressed by the commanding presence of the Emperor. After being introduced to the Emperor the Patriarch says;
“Sire, you are very valiant indeed;
You have sat in the very seat where God himself sat:
Therefore call yourself Charlemagne, greatest above all crowned kings!” Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 11-13.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 13.
In this sequence of events, Charlemagne is clearly presented as more than a man. He is actually mistaken for God himself. In most previous portraits of kingship, Charlemagne is simply favored by God above all other kings. He is deserving because of his devotion, his abilities, and his service. However, the situation here is unique. This portrait in the Pélerinage in the Jerusalem scenes seems to present a picture of a more divine kingship.
This portrait of sacral and divine kingship seems, at first glance, to be in stark contrast to the image of Charlemagne for the remainder of the poem. After leaving Jerusalem with a collection of relics given by the Patriarch (the very same relics that will end up in the collection at Saint Denis), Charlemagne proceeds to Constantinople to meet King Hugo. This of course was the original purpose of the voyage. The poet writes that Charlemagne arrived at the city on ‘a strong ambling mule’ following an ‘ancient path.’43 While in Constantinople, Charlemagne gets what he originally desired – a chance to compare himself to King Hugo.
In Constantinople, the poet describes the extravagance of the palace and how Charlemagne is very impressed by the riches. The wind actually makes the palace revolve. When this happens, the Franks, including Charlemagne, cannot even remain standing. The poet presents the Franks in a manner of significantly less culture and sophistication than their Eastern counterparts. However, although even Charlemagne himself is impressed with the palace and the riches, he sees no strong warriors to challenge the Franks. In addition, King Hugo himself describes Charlemagne with great reverence. The poet writes;
Li reis regardet Carle; veit le cuntenant fer, Les braz gros et quarrez, le cors greile et delget.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p. 23-26.
King Hugo shows Charlemagne and his men a great deal of respect. The ‘legend’ of Charlemagne is apparently prevalent from within the story as well as outside it. This representation of Charlemagne does change quite quickly though. After being given lodging by Hugo, Charlemagne and his men, before falling asleep, boast and ‘jest’ of their ability to perform great physical challenges. Charlemagne boasts of his strength to cut through Hugo’s best knight wearing two hauberks and that he could drive a sword into the ground so deep that no one could retrieve it. Roland says he could overpower and destroy the palace with King Hugo’s own ‘Olifant.’ Oliver boasts that he could have sex with King Hugo’s daughter 100 times in one night. The others in Charlemagne’s party follow suit and make similar boasts and claims, which involve the destruction of portions of Hugo’s palace.
Le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople, ed. Jean-Louis G. Picherit, p.25-27.
A spy reports the outrageous and treacherous boasts to King Hugo. Hugo is insulted by the claims made by Charlemagne and his men. He confronts Charlemagne and calls him a ‘fool.’ He decides that he is going to make Charlemagne and his men accomplish the jests or he will have them killed. Charlemagne is described as being ‘afraid for his life’ after hearing of Hugo’s intentions. Charlemagne explains, to no avail, that ‘jesting’ is simply a part of Frankish custom and not intended as an insult.
In a short time, the image of Charlemagne has changed dramatically from one who is compared to Christ on earth on the one hand and, on the other, one who faces death for his drunken misbehavior. Jane Burns has argued that the “evidence [here] suggests that Charlemagne’s trial in Constantinople functions, to some degree at least, as a kind of Last Judgment, rather than as a mere test of his royal and political power.”45 This seems fairly accurate, since it is through the trial that Charlemagne and the Peers must prove their worth. However, there does not seem to be much drama associated with the eventual outcome of the ‘trial.’ After hearing of Hugo’s demand that Charlemagne and his men perform the jests, he and his men pray to God with the aid of the relics obtained in Jerusalem. The poet writes;
Atant es vus un angele que Deus I aparut,
E vint a Carlemaine, si l’ad releved sus:
“Carles, ne t’esmaer, co te mandet Jhesus;
Des gas qu’ersair desistes, grande folie fud:
Ne gabez ja mes hume, te cumandet Christus.