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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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him readily on his one hand. He was liberal in his gifts and upright in his judgment, and he was bright and sweet voiced in speech.25 And though one might like to listen to more of his great deeds it would be burdensome for us to show them forth, as for example how he took knightly equipment from Galfridus Admiraldus, son of Toletus, when a youth at the palace of Toletus at a time when he was in banishment, and how he slew in fight for love of Galfridus the proud Barnatus, king of the Saracens and enemy of Galfridus, and how he protected many countries and cities, and how he ordained many abbacies and churches throughout the world, and how he covered the bodies and relics of many saints and martyrs with gold and silver, and how he went to visit the burial place of the Lord, i.e. Jesus Christ, and how he brought with him the tree of the Cross of Crucifixion.26 For the most part, Charlemagne’s appearance and skills represent an ideal illustration for Christian knights. However, the comments are also ‘half-satirical’ and may not be intended to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, God chooses Charlemagne because of his abilities. There are scenes in the Turpin that show that Charlemagne can be wrong or sinful. This is probably meant to emphasize the human weaknesses inherit in all men and is probably a hagiographical element intended to demonstrate the possibilities of redemption.27 It may also be a strategy of contrasts. Charlemagne is a giant and there is a comical contrast between physical appearance and the frailty of his soul.

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At the end of the twelfth-century, the representation of Charlemagne in many of the chansons de geste such as Roland continued to reflect an ideal image of crusading. This representation is best documented in the poem La Chanson d’Aspremont. The positive imagery and faultless physical characteristics of Charlemagne are extensive throughout.

locutionibus loculentus.

Gabháltasn Serluis Mhoir, The Conquests of Charlemagne, (London, Irish Texts Society, 1919). This is a translation of the Pseudo-Turpin’s chronicle made from an unknown Latin original around 1400.

Morrissey, Charlemagne and France: A Thousand Years of Mythology, 55.

The Chanson d’Aspremont is a story composed in the late 1100s in southern Italy, probably in Calabria or in Sicily during preparations for the Third Crusade. It is part of a series known as the geste de roi, which also includes Roland. In this story, Muslim powers from north Africa attack Italy with the intention of conquering the whole of Europe. Charlemagne is forced to defend Italy and with that, all of Christendom. After several diplomatic overtures in which both sides give the enemy the choice to submit and convert or to die, a number of battles ensue and the Christians under the leadership of Charlemagne are ultimately victorious. Aspremont is quite long, in fact, nearly three times the length of Roland. It is repetitive and overly rhetorical in places, but maintains and even enhances the crusade theme from Roland. The author is unknown, but he obviously was familiar with Italy and the legend of Charlemagne. Religious zeal, feudal loyalty, and scenes of combat dominate the action of the story. The poem may be based on reminiscences of the Saracen raids of in 813, 846, and 870, and some historians even believe that in Aspremont the legend of Charlemagne was confused with the history of the Ottonian expansion into the region.

In Aspremont, Charlemagne appears as ‘powerful, wise, fierce-faced, true,’ and one “who after God is greatest of them all!”28 Throughout the poem, there is very little if any question as to Charlemagne’s ‘greatness.’ He is always “brave and strong and fierce of mettle.”29 There are only a few scenes where a physical description of Charlemagne is given. One comes from a Saracen envoy, who visits the Emperor’s court early in the poem. The poet writes, La Chanson d’Aspremon, trans. Michael A. Newth, (London and New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1989), p. 5, line 99.

La Chanson d’Aspremont, Newth, p. 16, line 566.

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[While Balan eats he cannot help but notice How Charlemagne stands out, his mark imposing;

His beard is long, its texture thick and flowing;

Compared to Carlon’s he thinks how young his own is;] In another instance, the author describes how Charlemagne and his men get dressed for battle. He says of Charlemagne;

–  –  –

The authors help to create and image of Charlemagne that is seemingly unbeatable.

Although he has all the important characteristics of a knight and crusader, his physical characteristics and abilities are exaggerated. The last line (sanlapas chevalier enprunté) seems also to be a veiled reference to tournaments. This would make sense chronologically since the rise of the tournament, as Maurice Keen points out “begins in that same period in which we have seen the concepts of knighthood and the ceremony of admission to the knightly order crystallizing into recognizable shape, the hundred years La Chanson d’Aspremont, Chanson de Geste Du XII Siècle, ed. Louis Brandin. (Librairie Honorè Champion, Paris, 1970), pp. 14-15, lines 427-430; English Translation by Newth, p. 13.

La Chanson d’Aspremont, Brandin, p. 136. Lines 4230-4235; English translation Newth, p. 104.





or so between the middle of the eleventh and the middle of the twelfth century.”32 Aspremont was written in the wake of this movement. Certainly the audience would have recognized this connection, but also the author’s point in emphasizing that Charlemagne is much more than a tournament knight. In some ways, the author is putting Charlemagne in contrast to a knight involved in tournaments. In other words, tournaments were not viewed as real warfare. Charlemagne has the physical characteristics and skills of a knight and the religious convictions of a pilgrim.

Charlemagne’s physical characteristics and social status play a major role in establishing his representation as one of knight, crusader, and defender of the Church.

The twelfth-century image of Charlemagne is not just one of warrior and defender of the Church. His role as the rightful leader of Christendom is also a common theme.

His status exceeds all others’. In Roland, Charlemagne is a ‘great,’ ‘noble,’ and ‘just’ King of France. In Aspremont, Charlemagne is the ‘mighty,’ ‘true,’ and ‘powerful’ Emperor. He is the ‘bearer of fair France’s crown’ and even the ‘King of St. Denis.’ Saint-Denis had become connected with the French monarchy during the time of Suger in the mid-twelfth-century. The Abbey contained a number of important relics associated with the ‘Passion’ brought back to France by Charlemagne.33 In addition, the past and future Capetian Kings would all be buried there.34 Although there were no kings on the First Crusade, the subsequent campaigns almost always involved Western monarchs. The Second Crusade had the King of France, Keen, Chivalry, 83.

See Descriptio… There will be more on this aspect in Ch. 3. Particularly important in this area are the works of Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180; and Gabriele Spiegel “The Cult of Saint Denis and Capetian Kingship,” in Journal of Medieval Studies 1, (1975).

Louis VII, and the German Emperor, Conrad III. The Third Crusade involved three of the most powerful monarchs of the late 1100s; Richard I of England, Philip II of France, and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. These three monarchs all had connections to the memory and image of Charlemagne. Barbarossa had Charlemagne canonized by the antipope Pascal III in 1165. This was an action taken by the Germans as a response “…to the efforts of the French kings to monopolize the Frank for themselves.”35 Although never recognized by Rome, this was widely popular in German lands and later spread beyond the Holy Roman Empire. The Capetian kings, including Philip II, continually sought connection to Charlemagne and the Carolingian legacy in order to legitimize their own rule. In Aspremont, there is a reference to Charlemagne that conjures an image of Richard. In the passage, a character says of Charlemagne that he is “the good, the worthy, he with the heart of a lion.”36 Having been composed just prior to the Third Crusade, this may well be a reference to King Richard. With the Norman influence in England, the epic and literary traditions were quite popular in England in the twelfth- and thirteenth-centuries. Later, in the fourteenth- and fifteenth-centuries, Charlemagne ‘Romances’ would be popular.37 Keen has argued that many aspects of the chivalric tradition are of secular origin He cites William of Marshall, Geoffrey of Charny’s Libre de chevalerie and Ramon Lull’s Libre del ordre de cavayleria and argues that “the origins of knighthood is given in terms that are entirely secular.” In general, “chivalry may be described as an ethos in Mattias Becher. Charlemagne, trans. David S. Bachrach, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003), p. 141.

La Chanson d’Aspremont, trans. Newth, p. 223, line 9376.

See Three Middle English Charlemagne Romances, ed. Alan Lupack, (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 1990).

which martial, aristocratic and Christian elements were fused together.” 38 This fusion in turn became the model for the crusade sources. Keen argues that the “interweaving of Christian with heroic and secular motifs becomes characteristic of the treatment of the crusade in chivalrous narrative and poetry.” If so, then the image of Charlemagne is an important key for understanding this process. He is, at once, the secular monarch who embodies the very perfection of knightly abilities and the Christian pilgrim who fights for and defends the Church. And as Keen contends, “one reason why the stories of Charlemagne and his peers made such a powerful impact upon the knighthood of the twelfth and succeeding centuries was because it was so easy for the men to relate the preoccupations of the Carolingian world and the events of Charles’s career, as they came to know them, to preoccupations and events of their own time, especially perhaps, to their crusading preoccupations.” 39 Crusading dominated many of the preoccupations of the twelfth-century man. Beyond the three major campaigns to the Holy Land, there were numerous other smaller expeditions.40

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In building the image of Charlemagne as a crusader icon, the authors incorporated a number of themes associated with the eleventh- and twelfth-century campaigns. The twelfth-century sources are filled with references to defending Christian lands, Keen, Chivalry, 11, 16.

Keen, Chivalry, 55, 107.

Between 1101 and 1186 there were nearly 20 appeals for major campaigns to the East. See Jonathan Phillips, The Crusades 1095-1197, (London: Longman Publishing, 2002), pp. 27-39; and Jonathan RileySmith, “The Crusading Movement and Historians,” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, (Oxford: New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 1-12.

indulgences, religious and apocalyptic imagery, Muslims as the enemy of God, and the liberation of the Holy Land.

It was not difficult to find a precedent for the image of Charlemagne. With the crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800, he became the new Emperor of the ‘Romans,’ but even prior to this came a delegation from Jerusalem to present the keys to the city.41 The Christians of the twelfth-century “looked to Charlemagne as the protector of Jerusalem”42 Crusading Capetian kings from Louis VII to Philip II and Louis IX emphasized their connections to the Carolingian legacy. Liberating Holy Lands and defending Christendom from the Muslim world became an important part of the Charlemagne legacy. Constructing the memory of Charlemagne around the concept of protection, holy war and crusade allows the society and culture, and particularly the Capetian nobility who participated in the crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries an immediate link to the greatest of all Christian kings and heroes.

The first and most obvious association with the crusades is the Muslim adversary.

Within the corpus of epic literature, there is an emphasis on representing Islam as the enemy of Christendom. The sources share a number of characteristics when dealing with this issue. First, there is often, if not always, a misunderstanding of Islamic theology and beliefs. The Muslim religion is often characterized as the beliefs of polytheistic idol worshippers. On the other hand, the sources often praise the Muslim combatants as worthy warriors, with their only fault being that they were not Christian.43 By the

Alessandro Barbero, Charlemagne: Father of a Continent, trans., Allan Cameron, (Berkeley: London:

University of California Press, 2004), pp. 75-76.

Philips, The Crusades 1095-1197, p. 100.

This aspect parallels events recorded in some crusade chronicles. In particular, the Gesta Francorum records that after defeating a Turkish army, the author indicates that the Turks were so strong and their thirteenth century, some Christian authors would go as far as to call them ‘chivalrous’ and ‘knightly.’ In Roland and Aspremont, the Saracens are presented at times as great warriors possessing tremendous courage and skill. The Turpin Chronicle shows the possibility of conversion, but little else positive or redeeming about the Saracen people.

Charlemagne speaks to Agolant, the leader of the Saracens, in Arabic, which Agolant takes as a sign of respect. However, continually depicting the Muslims as ‘the enemy’ of God helps to emphasize the crusading cause and solidify the image of Charlemagne as a past crusader and the leader of Christendom.

There are a number of connections with the crusades and one of the most prominent is the idea of a cross-cultural crusading army. The emphasis is not so much on Frenchmen or Germans or Italians fighting the Saracens, but on the defense of Christendom. The description does not seem to be driven so much by ethnic or political, motivations but religious. In Roland, the author goes out of his way to describe and emphasize this element of Charlemagne’s army. In describing Charlemagne’s army prior to the final battle the author says;

–  –  –

military abilities so skilled, that had they been Christian, there is not an army in the world that could defeat them.

La Chanson de Roland, p. 296. lines 3026-3028; 3031-3032.



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