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It will be necessary just as in the case with the French sources that numerous forms of literature will need to be studied in order to gain the most complete perspective of the representation of Charlemagne. Although the image of Charlemagne may not vary a great deal from the image seen in the French sources, there may be subtle differences that are important when considering the importance of the image, role of the image, intended audience, and the ultimate source of that image. In the German tradition there is an apocalyptic dimension associated with Charlemagne which does not appear in French sources. For example, according to one Bavarian source, Charlemagne, is seated in his tomb, in Aachen, in a chair. Even in death, his white beard continues to grow and when the beard has circled the stone table in front of him three times, the world will come to an end.

Another area that needs to be analyzed is the literary body of work that appears in Italy during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The sources, like those from Germany, post-date the French sources of the early crusading period. In fact, many of these sources also post-date those sources being used from Germany as well. The Italian case is also much like the German phenomenon in that many of the sources are variants of earlier French ones.

Julianne Vitullo discusses the chivalric epic in medieval Italy and argues that the image of Charlemagne is a key element in some of the more prevalent Italian works. It appears from her study that Charlemagne’s representation is quite complex and takes several forms. He is a strong king and leader while at other times he is depicted as weak and unjust. There is even one story where Charlemagne is forced into exile as a young man and ends up being raised by noble Saracens. The focus in Italy is on a variety of crusading sources and stories that reflect the complexity and importance of the Charlemagne image.

The “Construction” of the Image of Charlemagne and Its Development The chapters of the dissertation are arranged both thematically and chronologically.

However, preference will be given to theme and there will be some overlap in chronology between sources of different chapters. Although the sources do come from various regions of Europe and this is an important aspect of the study, the chapters are not organized according to geographic region. The large number of French sources in comparison to other regions would render this approach inadequate.

Chapter 2, “Charlemagne and the Milites Christi: Making Myth into History,” with sources that range from the early to late twelfth century. The main sources for this chapter are the Chanson de Roland, La Chanson d’Aspremont, the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, and the German Rolandslied and the principal theme is crusade and holy war.

As with the successive chapters, there will be other primary sources used, but these

constitute the bulk of the analysis. Chapter 3, “Charlemagne and Medieval Kingship:

The Making of an Ideal,” incorporates the sources Le Couronnement de Louis, Willehalm, as well as the sources from the previous chapter. The primary theme in this section is the building of the image of proper and legitimate kingship. Chapter 4, “The Unmaking of an Ideal: Charlemagne and the Feudal Order,” focuses on the problems of feudal relations, in particular, the often strained relationship between lord and vassal and between King and Duke. The main sources for this chapter are, Girart de Vienne and Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne. Chapter 5, “The Making of Royal History: The Convergence of Tradition and Myth,” analyzes A Thirteenth Century Life of Charlemagne, which is a portion of the Grandes Chroniques, the German Kaiserchronik, and the Karlamagnus Saga of Scandinavia. These sources are compilations of previous material reworked to give a pre-history and a legitimate authority to the rulers of the late thirteenth century. Chapter 6 is the section that contains the broader conclusions of the study.

A specific image of Charlemagne was familiar to the crusading generation of the late eleventh and twelfth centuries. Charlemagne’s legend had long outlasted the Carolingian Empire. However, Charlemagne’s legendary status, at least to the initial crusading generation, in many ways, is well deserved. He accomplished as much, if not more, than many of the emperors of Rome in its glory days. Consequently, Charlemagne began to appear intermittently in historical sources from the time of his death (814) up to and including the First Crusade (1096-1099).

The historical image of Charlemagne depicts him as an ideal leader and warrior.

This is the image that the first generation of crusaders took with them to the Holy Land.

The image was then transformed and integrated into the corpus of crusade literature that is prevalent during the subsequent two centuries. It is during the crusading period that this image is most prevalent and popular. It is during this period, the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries that the most critical elements of the image and representation of Charlemagne were formed. However, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the crusading image was also part of a broader representation of Charlemagne as the ideal Christian king. In addition, there are a number of questions that are raised when looking at the representation of Charlemagne is this period. For example, is this image created before the First Crusade, or during, or immediately after? What is the interplay between ‘the crusades’ and images of ‘kingship’? Is it the image created by the crusaders while on the journey and then brought back from the Holy Land or does it begin in Europe and then used as inspiration? Why are there also contradictory and negative images of Charlemagne? What social group or groups were responsible for its genesis? And what social group was the most likely audience?

The question of author and audience is one of the most significant and at the same time one of the most difficult. With such limited evidence, it is difficult to make definite conclusions. As Corti argues, “an author knows, as he did in the Middle Ages, that he has a definite public with a precise ideology, then his function as writer is also definite,

he does not suffer the problem of having to discover it, of questioning his own activity:

the work already contains in itself an image of the reader for whom it is destined.”38 It is then possible to ‘see’ the audience through the work of the author or authors. In this case, the image or representation of Charlemagne could have several possible targets.

One such target audience might have been the warrior aristocracy that would be best served by the lessons of religion, kingship, and warfare.

There is definitely a religious, political, and cultural importance to these images and representations. The research that I have done indicates that the image of Charlemagne at least in a political context represented a figure, and an idea, of authority and power. This ‘idea’ manifested itself into the proper or ideal image of medieval kingship. The frequent appearance of the image shows the mindset of a society and culture that revered its past leaders to the point that that they helped transform them into mythical legends and saints. From a religious standpoint, there is little question that the image of Charlemagne was constructed with the idea that he represented one of the finest examples of Christian kingship and Christian heroism. However, this image is not consistent with all the literature that appears during the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries.

In fact, there are several chinks in Charlemagne’s armor and image, which seem to Maria Corti, Introduction to Literary Semiotics, p. 37.

appear more often in later works. In many ways, the making of the Charlemagne image occurs during the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. Naturally there is considerable influence from preceding centuries which serve as the foundation on which the image was built and with the crusading fever, that infiltrated European culture, as the catalyst that started the building process which is reflected in the chanson de geste and the other literary achievements of the period.

His image is multi-dimensional and multi-functional. My research concurs with portions of the work of scholars such as Robert Folz and Robert Morrissey, who see the image of Charlemagne as a portrait of a highly idealized past. Although I tend to agree with their conclusions, my focus is somewhat different. I contend that the literary sources had a tremendous influence on Western views of crusade and Holy War. The deeds of Charlemagne served as a precedent for the crusades. I do not believe that it is coincidence that the rise of epic literature, and to some extent romance, coincided with the Western crusades to the Holy Land. I argue that generally sources like the Chanson de Roland served as a source of propaganda. The stories were not considered literature or poetry, but rather as history. The crusading culture used this ‘history’ as both justification and inspiration. This idealized past helped instill a greater sense of duty among the early crusaders of the twelfth-century.

I also intend to argue that texts authored by educated churchmen have explicit messages concerning the relationship between sacerdotium and regnum (Church and State). In this context, Charlemagne is a model for twelfth and thirteenth-century leaders in that his image is an emperor or king whose main function is to protect and defend Christendom and the Church. There is a need in the twelfth-century, to borrow a phrase from Hobsbawm, for “a continuity with the past.”39 Writers for Capetian kings in the twelfth and especially the thirteenth century often chose to emphasize Capetian connections to Charlemagne in order to justify their kingship. By doing so, the Capetian writers institutionalized a history that placed Capetian kings such as Philip II and Louis IX as the successors of Charlemagne’s empire.

As far as the connection between the construction of the image of Charlemagne and the crusades, it is my contention that there is a definite relationship between the crusaders who traveled to the Middle East in 1096 and the substance and appearance of Charlemagne’s image in the literature and historical sources that followed. The importance of the legend of Charlemagne to the generation of the first crusaders and those that would soon follow on the second, third and fourth crusades convinces me of a direct correlation between the two.

Eric Hobsbawm, The Invention of Tradition, (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 1-7.



Several twelfth-century sources embody an idealized image of chivalry, pilgrimage, and crusading. Some are part of the grand literary tradition born in the twelfth century that celebrate mythical and historical personalities, while others are pseudo-historical chronicles that glorify former kings and rulers and establish historical precedents for kingship and crusading. Most of them depict Charlemagne in a positive light, as the idealized military leader of Christianity. During the twelfth-century, a very distinct image was created and propagated. Charlemagne became the greatest of Christian warriors and the defender of Christendom.

Two of the most important developments in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries concerned the concepts of pilgrimage and crusade. A few decades before the First Crusade the phrases milites christi (knights of Christ) and militia christi (knighthood of Christ) were used in reference to warriors.1 Previous to this period, they had only been used in reference to monasticism and to clergy fighting with “weapons of peace.”2 Pope Gregory VII’s militia Sancti Petri included some of the first armed soldiers of the Church. With the emergence of new Church attitudes on ‘holy war’ and the emergence of a professional ethos of the new knighthood, the place and function of knights within medieval Christian society became clearer.

Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), p. 118.

Hans Eberhard-Mayer, The Crusades. 2nd edition, trans. John Gillingham, (Oxford: New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p 19.

Warring between Christians and Muslims had gone on for centuries prior to the First Crusade. The wars in Spain had been common since the eighth century and the wars in Sicily epitomize what Mayer calls a ‘proto-crusade.’3 The absence of an active papal cooperation separates the earlier conflict from the later crusades to the Holy Land.

However, the wars in Spain would later become a substitute for crusading in the East. In the twelfth century some armies were split with “one part of the army for the eastern regions [that is, the Holy Land], another for Spain, and a third against the Slavs…”4 Members of these campaigns enjoyed many of the same privileges and indulgences as those that went to the Holy Land.

The image of Charlemagne as a defender of the Church actually predates the launching of the crusades in the East and the literary tradition of the twelfth century. One of the earliest instances is that of a text dated to about 1000, which recounts the Emperor’s trip to the Holy Land. Charlemagne engaged in diplomatic relations with Muslim leaders and guaranteed “protective rights in Palestine” for Christian pilgrims.5 The source written by a Benedictine monk, Benedetto de San Andrea del Soratte, is loosely based on a chapter from Einhard’s Vita Karoli. The story is recorded in the Descriptio qualiter Karolus Magnus clavum et coronam Domoni a Constantinopoli Aquisgrani detulerit qualiterque Karolus Calvus hec ad Sanctum Dyonisium retulerit, which was dated between 1080 and 1095 and tells of another trip to the East by Charlemagne. According to the Descriptio, Saracen invaders attacked the Emperor of Mayer, The Crusades, 18.

“ The Chronicle of the Slavs by Helmold, priest of Boasau,” in The Crusades: A Reader, ed. S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt, (Canada, Broadview Press, 2003), p. 271.

Steven Runciman, “Charlemagne and Palestine” in English Historical Review 50 (October, 1935), p. 619.

Constantinople and the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Charlemagne traveled to the region to lift the siege and rescued his Christian brothers from the Muslim onslaught.

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