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Although the story of Girart de Vienne is clearly an indication of the ongoing struggles between nobles and the monarchy, and the Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne does not reflect the image found in Roland and other poems of the cycle of the kings, they still in a general sense reflect some of the previous themes concerning the image and representation of Charlemagne. Although the genre and theme has changed in this category of sources, the image of Charlemagne still retains two of its main uses – that is crusading propaganda and as a model of medieval kingship.

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Throughout the Middle Ages, secular leaders across the west constantly sought to associate their persons and their achievements to the Carolingians. Moreover, this illustrious family had produced so many descendants spread across Europe that the claim to be their offspring could very well be true. But pretense far outweighed genuine connections. Every leader was proud to trace his descent from some great Carolingian hero lauded in epic poetry. In this, fantasy and mythology were equally part of the Carolingian legacy.1 Riché’s description of the importance of the Carolingian legacy is quite fitting for the mentality that existed in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century. In the minds of many, the legitimacy of Capetian kingship hinged on a perceived connection to Charlemagne and the Carolingian past. The actual or perceived past of the Carolingians was an important part of Capetian and French identity.

However, the familial or bloodline descent from the Carolingian stock was only one of two connections that helped define Capetian and ‘French’ history and identity.

The myth of Trojan lineage had also been a claim of Frankish nobility and royalty. The Trojan myth had been part of medieval historiography for some time. There are actually two separate sources that are possibly independent that helped to create the myth of Trojan origins. The earliest and most common appeared in the Chronicle of Fredegar (c.

660) in which Priam is reported to be the first king of the Franks (Exinde origo Francorum fuit. Priamo primo regi habuerant…).2 The second source is the eighthPierre Riché, The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe, trans. Michael Idomir Allen, (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), p. 363.

George Huppert, “The Trojan Franks and their Critics,” Studies in the Renaissance, 12, (1965), p. 227.

century Liber Historiae Francorum produced at Saint-Denis. Although some modern scholars have questioned the independence of the second source, the concept was nevertheless a belief in Carolingian and Capetian times.3 One of the main purposes of this foundation myth was “to situate the French kings and their peoples in the mythological cosmology of the genesis of nations.”4 In addition, it then provided a connection to the Romans, the Merovingians, and Carolingians. It gave the rulers of what would become ‘France’ an unbroken continuity of kings dating back to antiquity.

However, this perceived connection came under intense scrutiny on a number of occasions. As early as the ninth-century, Frechulf, abbot of Fulda and bishop of Lisieux (823-851) contended because of language, that the Franks were probably not of Trojan origins. A few centuries later, Rigord, a chronicler from Saint-Denis, writing in the late twelfth-century questioned the connection as well in a long discussion of the ‘widespread skepticism’ about the assumption.5 However, the connection with the Trojan past was not the immediate concern of the Capetian monarchy – the connection to Charlemagne and the Carolingians was.6 Tradition and myth were powerful forces in medieval society. In essence, for much of the Middle Ages, there was no real distinction between history and myth. The John M. Wallace-Hadrill, The Fourth Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar, (London, 1960).

John Baldwin, The Government of Philip Augustus; Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages, (London & Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1986), p. 373.

Elizabeth A. R. Brown, “The Trojan Origins of the French: The Commencement of a Myth’s Demise, 1450-1520,” in Medieval Europeans. Studies in Ethnic Identity and National Perspectives in Medieval Europe, ed. Alfred A. Smyth, (London & New York, MacMillian/St. Martin’s Press, 1998), p. 135. In the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-centuries, humanist scholars, churchmen, and lawyers would systematically dismantle the entire concept.

Baldwin, The Government of Philip Augustus, 374.

traditions of the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries associated with Charlemagne represented some of the most developed myths of the medieval period. The fascination and in fact infatuation and reliance on the Charlemagne legend was quite prominent throughout the former Carolingian Empire and in places well beyond it.

Charlemagne was a crusader, an ideal monarch, and sometimes an overbearing feudal lord. However, he also represented an important precedent – a symbol that was at the heart of German and especially French royal history. In many ways, Charlemagne stood as the symbol of the monarchy. The image of Charlemagne had become part of the institution. Laws and various forms of legislation were often cited in his name and his memory was almost always invoked during coronation ceremonies. The institution of the monarchy during early Capetian times was under constant assault from anti-royalist factions, but it was also an institution that gained considerable power by the end of the twelfth-century. However, even with the increased power of the monarchy and the individual monarchs themselves, the kings were still ultimately compared to Charlemagne, or rather his legend.

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The connection between Charlemagne and French royal history was fairly explicit in the late twelfth-century. King Philip II Augustus led a conscious effort to connect the Capetian rulers to the Carolingian lineage of Charlemagne. He also led a conscious effort to identify the image of Charlemagne and the Carolingians with the institution of the monarchy.

Philip started the effort to control and standardize the history of the monarchy and by default, the representation of Charlemagne. In 1194, Philip created the royal archives.7 The archives served a number of purposes. First, it was the initial step in creating an ‘official’ history. Second, it strengthened or legitimized claims of connection between the Capetians and Carolingian kings. Lastly, it put the Capetian version of the past at the forefront. It made a differentiation between the popular, literary, and poetic traditions and the preferred narrative presented by Philip and the monarchy. Philip made a concerted effort to separate the royal archives from jongleurs and other poets whose representation of Charlemagne tended to be the most popular within medieval culture.

However, for Philip, relying on poets and performers for an image of the most important emperor and king in the history of France and Christendom was much too unreliable and random.

Philip distrusted the vernacular literary tradition, because, unlike the royal archives, he could not control the poets and jongleurs that produced a powerful and sometimes unpredictable image of Charlemagne and his Carolingian progenitors. The divergence between the literary representation and Philip’s preferred image of Charlemagne created a problem for Philip. By the time of Philip’s reign (1180-1223), epic had become so widespread that it was difficult, if not impossible, to replace. However, the creation of royal history and the ‘official’ version of the ‘French’ and Christian past did not necessarily exclude the epic and literary tradition from its source base. In fact, the literary sources are important precursors for the vernacular historiographic tradition of the late twelfth- and thirteenth-century.

Baldwin, The Government of Philip Augustus, 38-39.

The concern for writing history separate from that of popular epic and romance literature began during the same period. There were two major trends associated with this movement. The first was an adoption of the literary themes of the twelfth-century, but the other was a rejection of the literary style of the same period. The tendency to write histories and other ‘official’ works in the vernacular became quite common in the thirteenth-century. The other major trend among authors included a change from writing in ‘verse’ to writing in ‘prose.’ This is in part due to a change in reading practices.

However, to many critics, verse also represented the style of poets and jongleurs and rarely represented a truthful account of its subject. Prose, on the other hand, quickly became viewed by many as the language and style of historians and chroniclers.

An ideal example of both of these trends is the numerous translations of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle produced in the early thirteenth-century. The first two came in 1200 by Nicholas of Senlis and were made for count Hugh of Saint-Pol. The second came in 1206 and was made for Count Renauld of Boulogne.8 Nicholas’s professed goal was to search out and tell the ‘true history’ of Charlemagne.9 Many other translations would soon follow. No less than eight Old French translations of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle were made in the thirteenth-century (six before 1230). In addition, several more were made into Provencal, Catalan, Galician, Welsh, and Old Norse.10 It did not take long before the new prose versions of the Turpin-Chronicle were incorporated into Gabrielle Spiegel, The Chronicle Tradition of Saint-Denis, (Brookline, Lyeden: Classical Folia, 1978), p.


Gabrielle Spiegel, “Forging the Past: The Language of Historical Truth in Middle Ages,” The History Teacher 17, (1984), 269.

An Anonymous Old French Translation of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, ed. Ronald Walpole, (Cambridge, Medieval Academy of America, 1979), p. 5.

‘official French history.’ Prior to 1223, the work appeared in the Chronique des Rois de France. It was at this point that the Turpin-Chronicle became “an integral part of the Carolingian history of the French monarchy.”11 It is also during this same period that the image and representation of Charlemagne would take its place in the Capetian ‘official’ version of French history. The Turpin-Chronicle preserved and enhanced an image of Charlemagne as the forerunner of crusaders, the forefather of the Capetian monarchs, and the ‘godfather’ of the French State.12 Philip’s reign is a transition point between two distinct forms of historical expression. The rise and popularity of the vernacular prose chronicle in the early thirteenth-century represented a new and somewhat revolutionary ‘language of history.’ The shift in emphasis created a proper ‘style’ and an ‘official’ version of the past while at the same time condemning other previous and existing styles, especially epic and romance.13 This is a critical development since the production of both epic and romance literature flourished in the thirteenth-century and continued to be written in the vernacular making it difficult to distinguish, both in its content and stylistically, from ‘royal history.’ The numerous French translations of the Turpin-Chronicle would soon be followed by other prose vernacular histories. In particular, the crusading chronicles of Robert of Clari, Geoffroy of Villehardouin, and Jean of Joinville became the standard format for thirteenth-century histories. This is in stark contrast to the chronicles of the First Crusade. Written in the early twelfth-century, chronicles such as the Gesta Spiegel, “Forging the Past,” pp. 270-271.

The Old French Johannes Translation of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle: A Critical Edition, ed. Ronald Walpole, (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, University of California Press, 1976), p. xv.

Gabrielle Spiegel, “Pseudo-Turpin, the Crisis of the Aristocracy and the Beginnings of Vernacular Historiography in France,” Journal of Medieval History 12 (1986) 214.

Francorum and the Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres were all written in Latin. Of course, Latin literature poetry and history continued to appear throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages.

The connection with Charlemagne served Philip and the Capetians in a number of different ways. First, there is the familial connection to Charlemagne and the Carolingians that helped legitimize their place as the ruling dynasty. This is best exemplified by the reditus regni ad stirpem Karoli Magni – the idea that the monarchy had returned to the lineage of Charlemagne. Second, the sources and chronicles, many of which are forgeries, such as the false ‘charter of Charlemagne’ and other records at SaintDenis created a sense of continuity, which in and of itself is a kind of legitimacy. The historical record demonstrated the foundations with the Trojan origins and the translation of the empire from ‘Roman’ to ‘Frank’ and from the Carolingian dynasty to the Capetian dynasty.14 Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, with legitimacy comes ‘permission’ for Philip to take territory, to invade hostile territories, and to implement increased control over his nobles and vassals. He is acting in accordance with what Charlemagne, as king would do. He is taking back the king’s territory (Charlemagne’s former kingdom).15 This is precisely the same methodology that is used to present Charlemagne as a progenitor of the crusaders. The emphasis on a ‘crusading Charlemagne’ by monks and chroniclers at Saint-Denis coincides precisely with the period that French kings were campaigning in the East.16 However, this is a much easier transition since the image of a Gabrielle Spiegel, “Political Utility in Medieval Historiography: A Sketch,” History and Theory, 14 (1975), 316.

Gabrielle Spiegel, “Political Utility,” p. 322.

Gabrielle Spiegel, “Political Utility,” p. 316.

‘crusading Charlemagne’ already existed in popular literature. On the other hand, the familial connection and the demonstration of proper kingship took a much more concerted propagandistic effort.

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