«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 ...»
(… and he said that Charlemagne had dark hair and a sanguine complexion, a graceful and noble body, and he had a proud look about him. Measured by his own foot, which was very large, he was eight feet tall. His chest and shoulders were quite broad, his stomach and loins fit his body well. His arms and thighs were heavy. He was strong in all of his limbs; in battle, he was a fierce and intelligent knight. His face was a palm and a half long, his beard a one palm, his nose a half palm, and his forehead a foot long. He had eyes that were like that of a lion, and they shone like carbuncles. His eyebrows were half a palm long.)98 He goes on to discuss Charlemagne’s strength and writes that Charlemagne could cut through an armed knight with a single blow and lift an armed knight over his head with Les Grandes Chroniques de France, vol. 3, Viard, p. 257.
one arm.99 An important distinction here is the marked difference between this description and Einhard’s earlier image. Einhard gave Charlemagne white hair with a short thick neck whereas Primat’s Charlemagne is dark-haired and well-proportioned. It is not entirely clear what prompted this change. It may be that the idea of male beauty had changed in the 1200s. However, it is unknown why Primat and previous chroniclers and poets adapted a different physical description. Perhaps, because it may have seemed more heroic and fit his legendary character better. Primat’s representation of Charlemagne does seem to exude an image of youthfulness not present in Einhard’s description.
Book five involves the battle of Saragossa, the death of Roland, and the death of Charlemagne. Primat writes that after the death of Roland and the other courageous barons at the battle of Roncevaux, Charlemagne was never healthy again. He mourned and lamented their loss for the remainder of his life.100 Unlike the seemingly ageless Charlemagne of Roland, according to Primat, the Charlemagne of history died at the age of 72 just as Einhard reported in the ninth-century. He sat on a golden throne, in an extravagant tomb at Aix-la-Chapelle dressed with imperial garments while holding his sword and a copy of the Gospels.101 In the end, Charlemagne retains his image as the
ideal monarch and the most Christian king. Primat writes:
Karlemaines vaut autant come jors de char, pour ce que il resplendi et sormonta touz les princes et les rois charniex après Jhesu Crist, en sciences et en vertuz.
These elements are also contained in most long versions of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle.
Les Grandes Chroniques de France, vol. 3, Viard, p. 288-292.
Les Grandes Chroniques de France, vol. 3, Viard, p. 293-294.
The image of Charlemagne in the Grandes Chroniques is intended to be a more ‘complete picture,’ and a ‘complete history.’ It represents what later chroniclers and historians see as the most important aspects of his life. However, more importantly the Grandes Chroniques represent what was critical about the past. It is an indication of what Charlemagne means to French history and the French monarchy.
In addition, the image of Charlemagne in the Grandes Chroniques closely corresponds to Louis IX’s conception of holy kingship. Louis intended much of his own reign to be an example of Christian kingship. His actions, policies, and crusading ventures provided instructions for his successors and helped define the royal mission. 103 In addition, the image of the monarchy in the court of Louis IX was led by a strong monarch with few, if any checks on his power.104 In other words, he wanted future kings to rule in the manner of Charlemagne and himself, which in the Grandes Chroniques, is nearly indistinguishable.
The didactic goal of the Grandes Chroniques is something that was apparent right from the beginning of its production. In fact, the earliest surviving manuscript contains clear indicators that the Grandes Chroniques were intended as a model of kingship.105 Commissioned in 1274 by the monks at Saint-Denis, a copy of the Grandes Chroniques Les Grandes Chroniques de France, vol. 3, Viard, p. 296.
Spiegel, Chronicle Traditon of Saint-Denis, p. 88.
Charles Wood, “The Mise of Amiens and Saint Louis’ Theory of Kingship,” French Historical Studies, 6 (1970), 300-305.
Hedeman, The Royal Image, pp. 11-22.
was presented to King Philip III who succeeded to the throne in 1270 after the death of his father Louis IX. The numerous pictorial miniatures point to the theme of ideal kingship. Taken in conjunction with the text itself, the conclusion that the Grandes Chroniques were intended to ‘teach,’ is unavoidable. In the prologue, the author emphasizes that the numerous French kings highlighted in the work are intended as an exemplum. The author writes that the chronicle is a “mirror of life … [and] each person can find good and evil, beauty and ugliness, sense and folly, and profit in everything through the example of history.”106 This conclusion is much easier to draw in this case than that of the literary works of the twelfth-century whose audience is more difficult to identify. In the case of the Grandes Chroniques, there is no question that at least a portion of the audience was royalty. Just as the Karolinus was intended to instruct King Louis VIII through the image and example of Charlemagne, Philip III’s Grandes Chroniques were intended to teach him governing principles through the example of his progenitors, including Charlemagne and Philip II.
Even beyond the source itself, Philip III demonstrated the symbolic importance of Charlemagne when Philip III, like Philip II, used the sword of Charlemagne in his coronation. Within the source, both the pictorial images and the text emphasize Charlemagne’s kingship. In many ways, the Grandes Chroniques present a protonationalistic view of Charlemagne. Charlemagne is now French. In addition, his imperial status is de-emphasized, while his legendary deeds and exploits as King of France become the official version of history. This interpretation did not end with the first renderings of the Grandes Chroniques, but would endure well into the Valois reign.
Hedeman, The Royal Image, p. 15. Kings had personal copies of the Grandes Chroniques. Charles V’s copy is the one being referenced here by Hedeman.
Charles V actively promoted the ‘cult of Charlemagne’ and was often compared to him in works that he had commissioned. In addition, the life of Charlemagne is more heavily illuminated in the Charles V’s version than any other.107
The reception of the history and representation of Charlemagne outside France was quite prominent. The popularity of the Charlemagne legend was significant in Italy and England through the literary tradition (primarily the chanson de gestes). In Germany, a ‘historical’ compilation in a similar tradition as the Grandes Chroniques appeared at the end of the thirteenth-century. This work, the Karl Meinet is written in German verse and tells of Charlemagne’s life and legendary deeds.108 In addition, in the late thirteenthcentury, an important Norse compilation called the Karlamagnus Saga was produced for King Haakon V.109 This source in particular allows scholars to determine what elements of the Charlemagne legend were most important or popular outside of the French-German context. It acts as an important gauge for the reception of the image of Charlemagne.
The source is the work not of a single author, but rather of several hands. In its fullest form, the Saga contains ten parts. The number of previous sources used that involve Charlemagne is much greater than that in the Grandes Chroniques. From the tradition of the chanson de geste, it includes the Chanson de Roland, Chanson d’Aspremont, Doon de la Roche, La Chevalerie Ogier de Danemarch, Chanson d’Otinel, Moniage Guillaume, Chanson de Saisnes and the Pélerinage de Charlemagne. There is Hedeman, The Royal Image, p. 98-105.
Karl Meinet, ed. Adelbert von Keller, (Stuttgart, Verwaltung, 1858).
There is even a Swedish version of the life of Charlemagne (Karl Magnus Kronike), which is a translation of parts VII and VIII of the Saga. Most manuscripts are from the fifteenth century.
also an adaptation of the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle as well.110 The work also attempts to the entirety of Charlemagne’s life. His youth, knightly exploits, heroic deeds, and death are all covered in the Saga. Virtually every major event concerning the previous legend of Charlemagne is included in the Saga. Charlemagne’s image as crusader, ideal monarch, protector of the Church and women and children is everywhere. However, it is in the longest section, entitled ‘King Agulandus,’ which is an amalgamation of the Turpin Chronicle and the Song of Aspremont, that Charlemagne’s connection to crusading and kingship is best displayed. The section chronicles Charlemagne’s legendary campaigns to Spain. The original Song of Aspremont takes place in Italy, but here the authors have
moved the story to Spain. Charlemagne’s reputation goes beyond Spain:
When the most famous lord who ever lived in the north lands, Karolus Magnus, first of all the kings of the Franks to hold the Roman Empire, had conquered a great realm in Italy and made many lands subject to him under the rule of the Roman empire – Anglia, France, Germany, Burgundia, Lotharingia, and many others which lie between the two seas, together with untold cities taken from the Saracens,
-- he intended to put aside warfare,111 However, Charlemagne was visited by the spirit of Saint James and told to liberate the Christian lands in Spain besieged by Saracens. Of course, Charlemagne gathers his army and, in a number of epic battles, defeats the Saracen army led by Agolant. The theme of Christian-Muslim conflict is of course familiar. Charlemagne protects and defends Christian lands from Agolant and the treacherous Saracens. It seems like an overly simplistic plot line of ‘good’ versus ‘evil.’ However, the characters are not at all static.
Karlamagnus Saga: The Saga of Charlemagne and His Heroes, trans. Constance B. Hieatt, vol. 1 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1975), pp. 16-18.
Karlamagnus Saga: The Saga of Charlemagne and His Heroes, trans. Constance B. Hieatt, vol. 2 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1975), p. 65.
Often the Christians are subject to sin and human frailty while the Muslims are to be admired for their heroic abilities and noble deeds.112 The quotation above indicates that the Saga follows the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle almost exactly as it had appeared a century and half earlier. Although some scholars have suggested that a complete version of the work circulated in the thirteenth-century, no manuscript of the Karlamagnus has a complete version of either the Pseudo-Turpin or Aspremont. However, Peter Foote has long suggested that the Pseudo-Turpin circulated in Iceland by at least the early thirteenth-century. In addition, he argues that the PseudoTurpin sections of the Saga were translated in Iceland while the Aspremont section was later translated in Norway.113 There is really nothing very different about the image of Charlemagne in the northern territories. This is significantly different that what occurs in southern Europe, particularly in Italy. In Italian sources the later the period, the more unpredictable and in many cases, negative, is the image of Charlemagne. In addition, many of the traditional dichotomies are dissolved. In the Karleto, Charlemagne is actually raised by noble Saracens. Because of significant clan violence, he cannot even trust his own Christian family and is betrayed by Christian half-brothers and has to turn back to Saracens for support.114 In an even later epic, Charlemagne actually marries a Saracen princess.115 By the fifteenth-century in Italy, many of the epics depict Roland, not Charlemagne, as the Karlamagnus Saga, vol. 1, pp. 29-30.
Peter G. Foote, The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle in Iceland: A Contribution to the Study of the Karlamagnus Saga. (London, 1959).
Juliann Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic in Medieval Italy, (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2000) pp. 35-36.
Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic, p. 46.
ideal leader.116 However, the Norse sources are a clear indication that Charlemagne’s reputation far exceeded the borders of the former Carolingian Empire.
The making of a royal history represented an important state in the development of medieval historiography. Within a fairly short period, many of the traditions and myths that had been popular for the previous two centuries were modified, condensed, and placed in the official ‘canon’ of royal history. The image of Charlemagne was an important part of this process. The representation of Charlemagne served a number of important propagandistic goals. Many, if not most, of the themes are the same as they were in the twelfth-century, such as crusading and kingship. However, it was the writers and chroniclers of the thirteenth-century that expanded the format and in some ways legitimized the use of Charlemagne’s legendary exploits and made them into history.
During the process, the image of Charlemagne turned more ‘French’ than ‘German.’ Although German writers and chroniclers still wrote about Charlemagne and incorporated him into their histories, in France, it was almost an obsession. For various reasons, he meant more to the French kings than he did to the German Emperors. In the middle of the ninth-century, Pope Sergius II commented that “Charlemagne united as one body the Empires of Romans and Franks” (Romanorum Francorumque concorporavit imperium).117 Four centuries later, the Capetian propagandists successfully separated ‘French’ from ‘German’ and virtually eliminated any Germanic and imperial aspect of Charlemagne’s character.
Vitullo, The Chivalric Epic, p. 81.
Kantorowicz, Laudes Regiae, p. 103.
The continuous use and reuse of the figure of Charlemagne to instruct kings, legitimize their rule, inspire Christian armies to conquer and to defend lands against the Muslims reflect political and cultural importance the image of Charlemagne gained during the High and Late Middle Ages. The image of Charlemagne was the perfect combination of heroism, chivalry, and faithfulness. His royal disposition and conduct