«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 ...»
Although the various chapters of this dissertation cover different thematic strands concerning the legend of Charlemagne there are a number of important themes that run through all of them and there are some broader conclusions. The prolific legend that surrounds the figure of Charlemagne in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries helped create a multi-dimensional image that had an indelible mark on medieval culture. I argue that a critical period of development of the legend coincides with the major crusades to the Holy Land and continuous campaigns in Spain. This is also the period of increased centralization in Capetian France. The period in question here is the first major key to understanding the development of the image of Charlemagne. It is possible to connect the representation of Charlemagne with some of the broader developments of the twelfthand thirteenth-centuries. By analyzing the legend of Charlemagne against the backdrop of these broader circumstances, it is possible to pinpoint the various reasons that Charlemagne appears as he does in both literary and historical sources.
The construction of the image of Charlemagne in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries followed a distinct pattern. After the First Crusade, and throughout the twelfthcentury when the West was preoccupied with crusading, the image of Charlemagne appeared in numerous sources as a kind of proto-crusader. In addition, this image was coupled with an emphasis on defining kingship. By the thirteenth-century, the image of Charlemagne represented the ideals of Christian kingship.
In chapter two, the center of the analysis on Charlemagne’s image concerns crusading. The representation of Charlemagne in both historical and literary sources is clearly a reflection of this phenomenon. It also concerns the development of the concepts of miles and milites Christi. The critical period of development for these concepts is the eleventh-century. In the early eleventh-century, the Latin word miles is occasionally used to denote a mounted warrior. By the time of the First Crusade (1096-1099), this was its usual meaning.1 In addition, during the same period, milites because of its martial function separated the knights from other societal groups. The older concept of the militia Christi was then transformed in the midst of the developing crusader ideology.2 The ‘new model army’ had evolved from older theological concepts, from the flowering of a new chivalric code, and from the simple need to field an army for the crusading campaigns. The image of Charlemagne is a direct outgrowth of both the crusades and the ideology that helped foster them. In literary sources, Charlemagne is almost always depicted on horseback fighting the infidel on a quasi-crusade. In addition, there are clear parallels between the twelfth-century literary tradition and the crusading sources of approximately the same period. Charlemagne’s image in this context is at once a celebration of crusading ideals and a kind of propaganda for the ongoing campaigns. The crusading representation of Charlemagne is the first stage in the development of the legend of Charlemagne in the High and Late Middle Ages. The initial sources such as the Descriptio, Roland, and the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle are the foundational sources associated with Charlemagne’s perceived crusading past. They also serve as a Maurice Keen, Chivalry, (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1984), p. 27.
Hans Eberhard-Mayer, The Crusades, trans. John Gillingham, (Oxford & New York, Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 19-20.
propagandistic purpose. In some cases this was a deliberate goal from the beginning. In others it was incidental. The difference is the relative dates the works appeared. Early sources (Roland, Turpin, etc.), have clear propagandistic goals. Roland mirrors the First Crusade far too much for it to be unintentional and The Turpin-Chronicle emphasizes the Christian-Muslim conflict over every other theme. In the 1200s, authors were probably more concerned with the imitation of consecrated models than with propaganda. By that time, crusading was a well-established practice and did not require special propaganda efforts.
Although ‘kingship’ and the ‘crusades’ were treated somewhat separately in this dissertation, the two concepts are closely related in the image and representation of Charlemagne. Essentially, crusading becomes an element of kingship. In case of the French Capetian monarchy, crusading and kingship became inseparable in the twelfthand thirteenth-centuries. There was a virtually uninterrupted succession of French crusading kings from the mid-twelfth-century to the late thirteenth-century. Louis VII, Philip II, and Louis IX were all crusaders and involved in major campaigns. Louis VII helped lead the Second Crusade (1144-1147), Philip II helped lead the Third Crusade (1189-1193), and Louis IX led two crusades, one in 1248 and the other in 1270, which ended with his death in North Africa. Only Louis VIII, who ruled for just three years, between 1223 and 1226, before his early death, failed to take an army to the East.
Crusading was clearly an important part of royal conduct and action. But, the concept applies to other crowned heads of Europe as well. Pope Gregory IX actually excommunicated Emperor Frederick II for having refused to fulfill his crusading vow.3 Brian Tierney, The Crisis of the Church & State, (New Jersey, Prentice Hall, Inc., 1964), p. 140.
‘Imagined crusades’ were part of the propaganda of the twelfth-century – often coming directly from the papacy in sermons and charters. However, they appeared more frequently in vernacular forms such as epic literature. With continuous crusading in the East and campaigns becoming increasingly prevalent in Spain, the image and memory of Charlemagne quickly became progressively more attached to the concept of crusade.
Poets and chroniclers of this period seized on the memory of the former king and emperor and expanded his repertoire of conquests and great deeds to include a veneer of crusading to mirror current events.
Crusading during twelfth century was an ever-present phenomenon and an ongoing process. The major campaigns were not at all isolated.4 There were numerous engagements and on-going pleas to the West for new and continuous campaigns.
Between the First and Second Crusades pleas came in 1101, 1106-1108, 1120-1124, and 1127-1129. In addition, there were fifteen further pleas between 1149 and 1186.5 The development of the image of Charlemagne was part of the ‘culture of crusading.’ The legend of Charlemagne in literary sources, like that of Arthur, is well developed and geographically diverse. The chansons de geste and other literary sources were popular in France, Germany, Italy, England, and Spain. This is not surprising since all of these areas were directly involved in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century crusades.
The crusade theme was one of the most prevalent themes of the period. However, the memory of the crusades extended well into the late medieval and early modern worlds.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Crusading Movement and Historians,” The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, ed. Jonathan Riley-Smith, (Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 1-3.
Jonathan Philips, The Crusades 1095-1197, (Great Britian, Longman Publishing, 2002), p. 27.
Perhaps two of the most telling sources in that respect are two very different works, the recuperatione Terre Sancte and the Divina Commedia, written at a distance of ten years from each other in the early 1300s. The former is a pamphlet, written by Pierre Dubois, a lawyer and royal advocate from a bourgeois family of northern France.6 The latter, an epic poem, is the monumental work of Dante Alighieri, a Florentine political exile who studied philosophy and theology. However, both works reflect the influence and permanence of Charlemagne’s mythical crusading exploits.
Dubois’s Recovery of the Holy Land, concerns plans for a French-led campaign to the East to re-establish the Latin kingdom. Completed in 1306, his work comes in the wake of the expulsion of the crusaders from the Holy Land with the loss of Acre in 1291.
Dubois’s work is one that is based on practicality and idealism at the same time. It was practical in the sense that those familiar with the crusades of the past, both successful and unsuccessful, coupled with the continuous fighting that went on in the region between major campaigns, knew very well what had and had not worked from a military perspective. It was idealistic in terms of Dubois’s estimation of the strength of the French army as well as the probability of Western monarchs voluntarily combining forces for such a campaign. However, it is in the military planning that Charlemagne becomes important. While debating whether to have the army travel by sea or land, Dubois notes that, “it seems expedient to follow the example of that supreme warrior, Charlemagne, and have the larger part of the army proceed by land.”7 In a later passage, he adds that “a good way to carry out this project would be to organize four armies, three of which Walther I. Brandt, from the Introduction to Pierre Dubois, The Recovery of the Holy Land, edited & trans., Walther I. Brandt, (New York, Columbia University Press, 1956), pp. 4-7.
Dubois, The Recovery of the Holy Land, edited & trans., Brandt, p. 86.
should go by sea. The fourth and largest should go by land, following the example of Charlemagne, of Emperor Frederick I, and of Godfrey of Bouillon.”8 This time Dubois has included references to actual crusaders. This was quite common for later sources.
Charlemagne’s reputation and mythical deeds fit seamlessly with the exploits of actual crusaders.
In Dante’s grand epic, completed in 1314, Charlemagne is mentioned only on three occasions. However, these brief passages reveal a great deal about the connection between the crusades and the memory of Charlemagne permeated medieval culture.
In Canto VI of the Paradisio Dante Emperor Justinian chronicle aspects of the history of Rome, particularly the Republic and the Empire. However, the narrative also goes into the Middle Ages and by the time he reaches Charlemagne’s era, the history of Rome and the history of the Church seem to have become synonymous. Dante describes Charlemagne’s defense of the Church against King Desiderius the Lombard as follows;
Lombard fangs bit into the Holy Church, and under those same wings came marching forth victorious Charlemagne to rescue her.9 The monarch’s role as defender of the Church was an emerging theme in various sources in the later Middle Ages, especially so in the wake of the Crusades and the various Dubois, The Recovery of the Holy Land, edited & trans., Brandt, p. 156.
The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, trans. Allen Mandelbaum, (New York, Bantam Books, 1984), p.
episodes of Church-State conflict. The image of Charlemagne, in both literary and historical sources, exemplified this emerging concept.
Charlemagne is mentioned again in Paradisio Canto XVIII. It is here that the pilgrim actually sees the spirit of Charlemagne. What is particularly telling about the scene is the company in which the spirit of Charlemagne resides. He is with a group of spirits who are depicted as ‘lights’ and who form a cross and the opening message from the Book of Wisdom – Diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram (‘love, justice, you who judge the earth’). Not surprisingly, he is placed in the company of warriors and defenders of the Church. He introduced together with such Old Testament figures as Joshua and Judas Maccabaus (the Maccabees). This was a common element of the crusade rhetoric that permeated a number of sources of the previous two centuries.
According to Dante,
The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, trans. Mandelbaum, p. 160.
Robert Guiscard was a Norman leader who took southern Italy and Sicily from Saracen control just before the First Crusade. Godfrey of Bouillon was the leader of the First Crusade, an actual descendant of Charlemagne, and the first Christian King of Jerusalem.
The depiction of Charlemagne in the company of crusaders is an important indicator for how later generations viewed his life as well as the concept of crusade. From the perspective of late medieval culture ‘crusading’ was something that dated back to at least the time of Charlemagne. Those knights who went on crusade enjoyed the bounty of indulgence and those who fell in the process were considered martyrs. Charlemagne’s favored relationship with God comes through the text as well. He resides among the most respected and elite of all Christian warriors.
Dante’s brief mention of Charlemagne is an accurate gauge of recognized perceptions of his past heroic deeds that existed in the mentality in much of Western Europe in the late Middle Ages. Writing in the early fourteenth-century, Dante in a few short passages was able to capture the basic image of Charlemagne that had been most prevalent for the previous two centuries – a king who defended the church and an immortalized crusader.
The same theme is also incorporated into the works of other later writers. Leonardo Bruni in his History of the Florentine People, the bulk of which was completed by 1428, confirmed Charlemagne’s actions in defending the Holy Church. According to Bruni, Charlemagne came to Italy three times, the last of which to restore Pope Leo to Rome.
Bruni argued that in Charlemagne’s day, “the papacy depended on the emperor.”11 However, Bruni’s description presents Charlemagne as much more than a defender and Leonardo Bruni, History of the Florentine People, trans. & ed. James Hankins, (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 91.