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The Kaiserchronik is a German epic poem of the mid-twelfth-century. It is a legend of saints and a chronicle account of the Roman Emperors and the German emperors and kings to Conrad III (c. 1140’s). The poem contains some 17,000 rhymed couplets, and is considered the earliest complete work in the vernacular produced in Germany.39 The poem is thought to be the work of an ecclesiastic of Regensburg and a Guelf partisan. At one time, it was even suggested that it may have been written by Priest Konrad, the author of the Rolandslied (1170). However a number of scholars have demonstrated that Konrad did not write the Kaiserchronik, but rather borrowed from it.40 Some lines are taken directly from the Kaiserchronik and used in the Rolandslied. In addition, there are enough stylistic differences between the two works to discount the idea that Konrad wrote the Kaiserchronik first and then incorporated material from it into the Rolandslied.41 Regardless of its authorship, the work does seem to have been widely circulated. There are twelve complete manuscripts and seventeen partial manuscripts, Louis VII of France did not attend this ceremony probably because of on-going political disputes with the Germans. However, the English king Henry II did attend the ceremony.
Albert K. Wimmer, Anthology of Medieval German Literature, (Bristol, Indiana, Wyndham Hall Press Inc., 1987), p. 50.
Carl Wesle, “Kaiserchronik und Rolandslied,” Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache und Literatur, 48 (1924), pp. 223-258.
George Karl Bauer, “Kaiserchronik” und “Rolandslied,” Zeitschrift fur deutsche Philologie 56 (1931), 1and it was continued twice in the thirteenth-century. Since the Kaiserchronik contains a number of prominent figures and attempts to cover a broad period, Charlemagne is not the central focus of the work. Nevertheless, a number of important features can still be learned about Charlemagne’s image in Germany from the limited representation in the work.42 Since the Kaiserchronik is a kind of ‘chronicle’ as much as a poem and it involves other former kings and emperors, it shows the place of Charlemagne in history.43 However, there are so many factual and historical errors that it is difficult to call the work a chronicle, because this would confuse the work with the medieval chronicle tradition that is of an entirely different nature.44 The Kaiserchronik is about ‘kingship’ and ‘statecraft.’ It uses a ‘pseudo-chronicle’ format in order to discuss former kings and emperors. In fact, the work, near the beginning, promises to tell of ‘good and bad kings.’ The author’s methodology is basically to string together verse biographies of various lengths of ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Holy Roman Emperors.45 Not surprisingly, Charlemagne is depicted in overwhelmingly positive terms. The date of the work (c. 1150) for the most part predates the negative image found in the rebel-baron cycle of the chanson de geste and the later Italian adaptations from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. At first glance, it may appear that Charlemagne is simply one of many great emperors and kings. This is an important theme concerning his Geith, Carolus Magnus, pp. 48, 57.
Folz, Le souvenir et la légende de Charlemagne dans l’Empire germanique médiéval, pp. 160-169.
Henry Myers, “The Concept of Kingship in the ‘Book of Emperors’ (‘Kaiserchronik’),” Traditio 27 (1971), 206-207.
Myers, “Concept of Kingship,’ pp. 206-207.
place in history. However, the representation of Charlemagne is given a loftier status, he is more important to the author and audience. As Joachim Bumke writes, “of all the rulers of the past, Charlemagne was the most immediate and vivid. The kings of France and Germany invoked him as their ancestor and the model of their rulership. The poets celebrated him as the ideal embodiment of the Christian monarch.”46 The text and theme of the Kaiserchronik clearly supports Bumke’s claim. The author is explicit about the accomplishments and character of the former emperor and king. He writes;
(Charles was a true warrior of God He forced the pagans to convert to Christianity Charles was brave Charles was handsome, Charles was steadfast and was full of kindness Charles was praiseworthy Charles was fearsome He possessed the highest excellence Many people in the Roman Empire praised Charles above all other kings of the world.) Joachim Bumke, Courtly Culture: Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages, trans. Thomas Dunlap, (Berkeley: Los Angeles: Oxford: University of California Press, 1991), p. 280.
This passage highlights the various ideals for which Charlemagne was best known.47 He was a knight and crusader of unquestionable faith. He was both fearsome and kind and converted pagans to the true faith.
However, the text goes well beyond just a simple glorification of a popular king from the distant past. In the Kaiserchronik there is another use for the representation of Charlemagne. Charlemagne is presented as an authority figure whose customs are treated as a legal precedent. Within the Kaiserchronik, there a number of laws that are regarded as having been implemented by Charlemagne. In this respect, the image of Charlemagne is used as a way to legitimize imperial policies of the twelfth century. Two examples of this aspect concern social standing and the rights, or rather, the lack of rights, concerning peasants. The author describes two customs concerning peasant dress and the bearing of weapons by peasants, the first of which forbade peasants from wearing refined or elegant clothes. The author writes of Charlemagne after he was crowned emperor;
do riht er aver sa umbe der buliute gewaete. Daz machte der babes do staete. Nu wil ich iu sagen umbe den buman, waz er nach der pfaht solte an tragen: iz si swarz oder gra, niht anders reloubet er da; geren da enneben, daz gezimet sinem leben;
sinen rinderinen scuoch, da mit ist des genuoch; siben elne se hemede unt ze bruoch, rupfin tuoch. Ist der gere hinden oder vor, so hat er sin ewerch verlorn48 (Then he straightaway passed regulations concerning the dress of the peasants. The pope approved them. Now I will tell you what a peasant was allowed to wear according to the law: black or gray, nothing else did the emperor permit. Gores only on the sides, that is appropriate to his social standing, and shoes made only of cowleather and nothing else. Seven ells of cloth for shirt and pants, of rough material. If he wears gores in the back or in front he has violated his social status.)49 Christian Gellinek, Die Deutsche Kaiserchronik: Erzahltechnik und Kritik, (Frankfurt & Main, Athenaum Verlag, 1971), 175-177 (my translation).
Kaiserchronik, ed. E. Schroder, (Germany, 1895), lines 14788-802.
Translation from Bumke, Courtly Culture, 128.
Most scholars believe that actual prohibitions concerning dress do not precede the midthirteenth-century. However, the passage does indicate that the nobility was interested in protecting certain privileges including dress. In addition, by claiming that Charlemagne had implemented these regulations, it gives them a plausible history and more important – more credibility. In another section, the author discusses the bearing of weapons to church by peasants. According to the author, Charlemagne forbade this as well. He writes;
an dem sunnentage sol er ze kirchen gan, den gart in der hant tragen. wirt daz swert da zim vunden, man sol in vuoren gebunden zuo dem kirhzune: da habe man den geburen unt slahe im hut und harabe.50 (On Sundays he [the peasant] shall go to church, carrying his stick in his hand. If a sword is found on him, he shall be bound and led to the church fence. There the peasant shall be held and soundly beaten.)51 The issue of peasant bearing weapons was an ongoing one in the Middle Ages. This particular episode in the Kaiserchronik is a close parallel to Frederick Barbarossa’s general prohibition against peasants carrying weapons in the Constitutio de pace tenenda of 1152. As Bumke argues “in the High Middle Ages weapons were a symbol of rank.”52 Charlemagne is again the legitimizing character. He acts as a precedent that displays the monarchy’s clear authority in these matters. However, this is one of the more complicated aspects of the Kaiserchronik. The former rulers are often given the title of ‘judge’ rather than their imperial or royal titles of emperor or king respectively. In addition, the interpretation of the law is quite complex, because, “the king who must rule Kaiserchronik, ed. E. Schroder, lines 14805-11.
Translation from Bumke, Courtly Culture, 166.
Paul Freedman, Images of the Medieval Peasant, (California: Stanford University Press, 1999) pp. 179Also, Bumke, Courtly Culture, 166.
under law must also observe the plural validity of the differing laws of nations subject to him.”53 The focus on the ‘law’ is an element that is central to the image of ideal and true kingship throughout the entire Kaiserchronik. Although the Kaiserchronik does not make a major issue of bloodline or ethnicity, it does have a great deal in common with the Karolinus.
Both the Kaiserchronik and the Karolinus are without question didactic. There are specific lessons to be learned and specific models from which to learn them. In the twelfth-century version of Charlemagne, he is a former king and an example of a good and proper king. Like the French sources the image or representation of Charlemagne acts as a form of edification. This image or representation of Charlemagne is typical of this period and serves to reinforce the already existing and growing legend concerning his exploits. In addition, it is further evidence that the French and German writers in the twelfth century had a similar view of Charlemagne. This would become considerably less pronounced in the case of German authors in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Virtually the opposite was the case for French authors. In the thirteenth century, the image and memory of Charlemagne would be used extensively by the French monarchy.
There was a variety of uses that historians and chroniclers would find for the image of Charlemagne.
An issue that became quite prominent in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was ethnicity and national identity. In the midst of the rise of secular states, it became critical, from the Capetian perspective, to identify Charlemagne, the former Frankish king Myers, “Concept of Kingship,’ p. 217.
and emperor, as French rather than German. However, this long process would take nearly two centuries. The tenth century represents a kind of transition point or period for the history of France. This period saw the end of the Carolingian line and the beginning of the Capetian one. There is something going on that represented the end of one world and the birth of a new one.
The late tenth century also represented a kind of identity crisis for the heirs of the Carolingian West. In 962, Otto I ascended to the position of Holy Roman Emperor. Two other ruling dynasties, the Salians and Hohenstaufens would follow the Ottonians. In the end, they would all occupy the position of Emperor for nearly three centuries. From the perspective of the Capetians, in the early tenth century during the time of Otto I, they needed to create an alternate identity. Charlemagne’s empire had disintegrated and with it went the ‘Carolingian’ dynasty and identity. The ‘Frankish’ Empire was now much more ‘German’ than it had ever been in the previous centuries. There was already an emperor, so the Capetian kings slowly began disassociate with the concept of ‘Frank’ and would eventually embrace the concept of ‘French.’ Although this did not happen in the tenth or even the eleventh centuries, it would be the twelfth century when this newly defined concept of ethnicity and identity was first embraced. First, in the tenth century, the monarchy was far too weak to compel such a change. The notable decline in royal charters alone is enough to conclude that royal power was in significant decline.54 According to Jean Dunbabin, it was not until after the crusades, in the twelfth century that this became possible.55 She argues that “in taking his place at the head of the Second Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180, 2nd edition, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.
Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180, pp. 256-294.
Crusade, the Rex Francorum decisively hastened the transformation of the Franks into the French.”56 The process continued after the Second Crusade (1145-1149), as Suger, the Abbot of St. Denis and other royal supporters, continued a propaganda effort that helped define the concept of ‘French.’ In addition, it was primarily the Capetian elite of the twelfth-century that created or invented the concept of ‘French.’57 It was not a grass roots movement, but a top-down formula. Louis VI, Louis VII, Philip Augustus, and other monarchs and royal supporters took it upon themselves to help define Francia and the ‘French people.’58 The representation of Charlemagne is an important part of this process. When it concerned legitimacy and identity, the Capetians would continually recycle the Carolingian legacy for their own purposes. The prevalence and popularity of the literary tradition helped to pave the way for the utilization of Charlemagne and the Carolingian past as propaganda. However, the propaganda effort extended beyond the Capetian royal courts. The Church, and in particular Saint-Denis, was an important part of the process as well.
In particular, the Capetian kings association with the Church became a crucial concept. Charlemagne was reputed to have built or funded and sponsored the building of numerous churches and monasteries. Charlemagne was also represented as the ‘defender of the Church.’ If the Capetian kings were the true descendants of Charlemagne, they Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180, p. 294.
Joseph Strayer argues that it is in the thirteenth-century rather than the twelfth-century that the Capetians ‘invented’ France. Strayer, “France: The Most Holy Land, the Chosen People, and the Most Christian King,” in his Medieval Statecraft and the Perspectives of History, (Princeton: New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 302.
See also Andrew Lewis, Royal Succession in Capetian France, pp. 104-122.