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«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 ...»

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In both sources, particularly in the Descriptio, Charlemagne is depicted as a pilgrim and defender of Christendom. Successful in his attempt to drive off the heathen armies, Charlemagne refuses the ‘worldly’ gifts offered to him, but requests that he be able to take some of the relics of the Passion back home to Aachen. He indeed received, ‘spineam coronam et clavum frustumque crucis et sudarium domini cum aliis sanctissimis reliquiis – nam sanctissime matris domini semper virginis Marie camisia inerate et cinctorium, unde puerum lesumin cunabulis cinxerate, et brachium sancti sensi Symeonis.’6 One of the primary goals of the Descriptio is to explain the presence of certain relics in Saint-Denis. Particularly the relics associated with the Passion; eight thorns from the crown of thorns, a nail from the Cross, the Holy Shroud, one of Simeon’s arms, the clothes of Jesus child, and a portion of the True Cross. We are told that Charles the Bald transferred some of these relics from Aachen to Saint Denis. The source indicates, ‘spineram domini coronam et unum de clavis, qui in carne eius fuerunt et de ligno crucis et alia quedam.’ Among the relics that ended up at Saint Denis were the nail from the Cross, part of the crown of thorns, and the piece of the True Cross.7 The sources are important for a number of reasons, especially in relation to the Abbey of Saint-Denis, the Capetian monarchy, and the image of Charlemagne. The Descriptio creates a link between the Saint-Denis relics and the Holy Land. In addition, Cited after A. Elizabeth, R. Brown and Michael Cothren. “The Twelfth-Century Crusading Window of the Abby of Saint-Denis: Praeteritorum Enim Recordatio Fururorum est Exhibitio” Journal of Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, (1986), p. 26, note 110.

Jean-Louis G. Picherit, ed & trans, The Journey of Charlemagne to Jerusalem and Constantinople.

(Birmingham, Alabama, Summa Publications, Inc., 1984), p. v-vi.

this text linked Charlemagne and the Carolingian past to the Capetian Kings. This served as a way of legitimizing Capetian kingship, a problem discussed in more detail in chapter three. The representation of Charlemagne as a military leader and defender of the Church would become one of the most popular in the centuries to come. It is upon this image that twelfth century writers would build their version of events. Consequently, this image may be seen as mirroring the Crusading ethos and the development of the milites christi.

Charlemagne’s heroic deeds took him from France and Germany to Spain and Italy.

This is an important image and theme, since many of the works were written during the preparation and implementation of the First, Second, and Third Crusades. The early works such as Roland have the crusading spirit and ideology implicit in both text and story. Later works tend to be more explicit, directly referring to Charlemagne’s campaigns as actual crusades.

There are a number of elements that are common to all sources dealing with the image of Charlemagne. The emperor’s physical characteristics are often described in detail. He is also associated with a number of titles, most prominently that of King or Emperor. The figure of Charlemagne is associated with a number of positive adjectives and heroic epithets such as; ‘great,’ ‘noble,’ ‘true Emperor,’ ‘mighty Emperor,’ ‘fiercefaced,’ ‘brave’ and ‘faithful.’ The most immediate and recognizable characteristic of the representation of Charlemagne is his physical prowess and his social status. Strength and skill are important attributes for any warrior and Charlemagne had a great deal of both. The issue of social status and knighthood is also a critical element. Marc Bloch and R.C. Smail have both showed that there was a significant change in the way society viewed the concept and occupation of knighthood.

In the late eleventh and in the twelfth centuries, there were two important developments. First, knighthood became a social distinction, synonymous with nobility. The milites were recognized as a class, almost as a caste, of society. The reception into it of a young man of an age to bear arms was marked by a ceremony in which he assumed them, and in the literature of the twelfth century statements appear from which it is clear that only those men might become knights whose parents had been also of knightly, that is noble, birth.8 The combination of a ‘noble,’ ‘strong,’ ‘skillful,’ and ‘Christian’ warrior is most typical for the image of Charlemagne. Charlemagne is of course much more than just a prominent ‘noble,’ he is the King and Emperor who leads the armies. It is no surprise therefore that Charlemagne’s characteristics, both his physical attributes and personality (as a Christian leader), conform to the chivalric expectations of a twelfth-century audience. During the twelfth century, St Bernard of Clairvaux combined the ideas of knighthood and monasticism in his De laude novae militia. It is also that period that “the crusader became virtually the exclusive type of true chivalry, and the crusader at that who was fired by single-minded religious zeal…”9 The twelfth-century sources, particularly the epic tradition were imbued with religious imagery. Charlemagne is a faithful man whose life has been about defending and extending Christianity. There are a number of churchmen who are portrayed in most stories and it is likely that churchmen were the authors of at least some of the sources involving Charlemagne. The focus of the theme involves aspects such as religious war, supernatural events, the appearance of angels, and the incorporation of the concept of R.C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097-1193, 2nd Edition, (Cambridge: New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 106-107.





Maurice Keen, Chivalry, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1984), p. 5.

indulgence. Religion is not only a major component of the stories, but an essential part of the creation of Charlemagne’s image and character. Charlemagne seems to have a special relationship with God. His entire life has been committed to the service of the Church. In this respect, he epitomized the ethos of the twelfth-and thirteenth-century crusades. Marcus Bull argued that, “the reasons why arms-bearers from certain parts of south-western France (and very possibly from elsewhere) went on the First Crusade can be traced in patterns of behavior and sets of ideas which were principally molded by contacts with professed religion.”10 Religion remained a major impetus from the First Crusade onward. This is reflected in the chivalric and crusading literature that became commonplace in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. It would be difficult if not impossible to separate religion from the military goals in the sources. It would also be difficult to separate the representation of Charlemagne from religion and propaganda of the author, who more than likely was a churchman. Charlemagne’s perceived representation that included military valor and piety served as the ideal role model for the crusaders.

Equally prominent in all the texts dealing with Charlemagne is his imposing physical stature. In the ninth century, Einhard had described Charlemagne as;

…strong and well built. He was tall in stature, but not excessively so, for his height was just seven times the length of his own feet. The top of his head was round, and his eyes were piercing and unusually large. His nose was slightly longer than normal, he had a fine head of white hair and his expression was gay and goodhumoured. As a result, whether he was seated or standing, he always appeared masterful and dignified. His neck was short and rather thick, and his stomach a trifle too heavy, but proportions of the rest of his body prevented one from noticing these blemishes. His step was firm and he was manly in all his movements. He spoke distinctly, but his voice was thin for a man of his physique. His health was Marcus Bull, Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade; The Limousin and Gascony, c.

970-1130 (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993), p. 20.

good, except that he suffered from frequent attacks of fever during the last four years of his life…He spent much of his time on horseback and out hunting, which came naturally to him [and] … He wore the national dress of the Franks.11 Einhard’s physical description of Charlemagne became the basis for all subsequent references to the emperor, but twelfth-century authors added a number of elements to Charlemagne’s image and character.

–  –  –

[There stands a chair of state, made from pure gold;

There sits the king who holds the fair land of France.

His beard is white and his hair hoary, His stature is noble, his countenance fierce;

If anyone seeks him, there is no need to point him out.]13 Even at an age beyond 200, Charlemagne remains a glorious inspiration for his followers and an intimidating adversary for his enemies. Particularly interesting about this passage is the use of the term enseigne. This term is usually used as the name of the heraldic devices associated with a knight’s weaponry. Here in Roland, it is an identifying Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne, In Two Lives of Charlemagne, Trans. Lewis Thorpe, (London, Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 76-77.

La Chanson de Roland, Texte présenté, traduit et commenté par Jean Durounet, (Paris: GF-Flammarion, 1993), p. 66, lines 115-119.

The Song of Roland, trans., Glyn Burgess, (London, Penguin Books, 1990), p. 32.

insignia. It is something that separates Charlemagne from everyone else. The Saracen enemy clearly acknowledges Charlemagne as a man of courage and skill and an adversary nearly impossible to defeat. He is described as;

–  –  –

Judging from such passages, there seems to have been a specific ‘look’ associated with knighthood and nobility. There also seem to be specific, visual signs of heroism, all in tone with what Maurice Keen saw as the hallmarks of knighthood and chivalry. First, a knight must be ‘able-bodied’ and show ‘signs of valour.’ Keen notes that, “the earliest sources that can fully and properly be called chivalrous are the chansons de geste.”16 La Chanson de Roland, pp. 226, 262, 272, lines 2133; 2605-2608; 2736-2640.

The Song of Roland, Burgess, pp. 111, 115-116.

Keen, Chivalry, p. 10, 51.

–  –  –

By the middle of the twelfth-century, the story of Charlemagne’s trip to the Holy Land, in order to rescue the Byzantine Emperor and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, had been associated with his military campaigns in Spain. The military exploits in Spain were grafted into the story of Roland, as illustrated by the so-called Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle (Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi). This text deals with a series of wars at the end of which Charlemagne conquered the whole of Spain and Galicia. Although referred to as a chronicle, the text is in fact written as a letter from the archbishop of Reims (a contemporary of Charlemagne) to Leoprand, the dean of Aachen. Of course, it is actually an invention of an imaginative twelfth-century churchman who must have been intimately familiar with chansons de geste and in particular with Roland. Scholars have long debated as to whom the real hero is, either Saint James or Charlemagne. It has been argued that the source was used to encourage pilgrimage to Compostella and as crusade propaganda. As some would expect, the Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle is praiseful of Charlemagne and his campaigns in Spain. Charlemagne is the very perfection of kingship and imperial authority. The author refers to his campaigns clearly as a ‘crusade.’ Early scholars such as Joseph Bédier have argued that the work cannot be viewed independently, but as a part of the Book of Saint James which has five parts or sections;

of which the Pseudo-Turpin is the fourth part.17 Others have argued that, “it still could The Book of St. James – Part 1 – the Sermons and Offices of St. James; Part 2 – The Miracles of the Saint; Part 3 – His Translation from Jerusalem to Compostella; Part 4 – The Pseudo-Turpin; Part 5 – A Guide for Pilgrims to Compostella be maintained that it was redacted, remanié to fit into the Book of Saint James.”18 However, out of more than 100 Turpin manuscripts, none was found to pre-date the Book of Saint James. Most scholars date the original Turpin between 1140 and 1165, thus placing the text squarely in the framework of the twelfth-century reception of Charlemagne’s image and story.

Most longer versions of the Turpin contain a description of Charlemagne’s physical appearance, strength, activities at court, and knightly deeds.

This moreover is how that distinguished honoured emperor was: brown hair on him and ruddy countenance and a body fair and youthful,19 and he was pleasant to look at.20 And there went eight feet such as a man of the longest feet of all of his time might have, to his height, and vast was his girth beneath his waist, and his middle was of a proportionate size.21 He had stout arms and shins and very powerful joints and he was expert in the battles of knights; he was very mirthful; his face was a foot long, he had lion like sparkling eyes, like the stone that is called carbuncle.

Each of his eyebrows was a palm long,22 and whoever he might look on in anger that person used at once to tremble with fear. Eight spans were in the belt that used to go round him, not to count that what was over after fastening it.23 He used to eat little bread but he used to eat a quarter of a sheep or a couple of hens, or a goose or a shoulder of pig or a peacock or a whole hare, and he used to drink a little wine jovially mixing water with it. He was of so much strength that he used with a sword stroke to cut through from the top of the head downward an armed knight seated on his horse together with the horse itself. He used to easily straighten out with his hands24 four horse shoes at once. Another feat-of-strength of his was when a knight in arms and armour used to come and stand on his palm he used to raise H.M. Smyser, “An Early Redaction of the Pseudo-Turpin (Bib. Nat. fonds lat. 17656, olim Notre Dame 133)” Speculum 11 (1936) no. 2, 279.

corpore decorus et venustus.

visu efferus.

amplissimus renibus, bentre congruus.

supercilia oculorum dimidiam palmam habebant.

praeter illud quod dependebat.

facile extendebat.



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