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Certainly, one of the main reasons that there was such an overwhelming response to Urban’s speech at Clermont and the crusade sermons that would follow had to do with the offer of indulgences. The indulgence represents the importance of religious motivation on the part of crusaders. A number of historians such as Jonathan RileySmith, Marcus Bull, and many others have maintained for sometime that religion should be at the forefront of any discussion involving crusade motivation and inspiration. In fact, Bull states that “crusade ideology was predominantly religious in its inspiration.”86 In addition, most scholars have argued that crusader motivations associated with gaining wealth are in fact myths. It tended to be quite expensive for knights to participate in a crusade. In addition, Pope Urban II actually prohibited men to take pay for joining a campaign.87 Medieval crusaders were expected to have certain qualities such as courage, faith, bravery, military prowess, and leadership. Charlemagne is the historical and literary La Chanson d’Aspremont, pp. 27-28, lines 835-844.

Marcus Bull, Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade: The Limousin and Gascony, c.

970-c. 1130, (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1993), p. 6.

Bull, Knightly Piety, 5.

embodiment of all of these and even more. The memory and legend of Charlemagne had been known in European culture since shortly after his death in 814; primarily because of early sources such as Einhard’s Vita Karoli and Notker’s Charlemagne. However, it is really the twelfth-century that the crusading culture added to the legend and created a kind of crusader icon. His image as crusader icon served as a model and form of edification for the twelfth-century milites christi.

In Roland, the earliest of the sources, there are no explicit references to a crusade.

However, the language, symbolism, and motifs certainly seem to indicate that the author was informed about the crusading ideology and culture of the period. Michael Routledge argued that, “…it seems plausible that the poet [of Roland] was aware that his account would have a special appeal as propaganda.”88 In addition, perhaps the most important consideration is the audience. Routledge argues, “From the point of view of the audience – for we must not forget that these songs were written to be performed – they presented, in a palatable way exclusive to their milieu, the doctrine, information, and propaganda that was otherwise delivered by preachers, or diffused by clerks.”89 Not everyone could be at Clermont when Urban II preached his famous sermon on the necessity of the First Crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux could not reach everyone on his famous tours promoting the Second Crusade. Crusade ideology and propaganda made its way into European culture and society through various conduits, one of which was vernacular literature.

Michael Routledge, “Songs” in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, ed. Jonathan RileySmith. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 91.

Routledge, 111.

Charlemagne is described in Aspremont as ‘old,’ but also as ‘true Emperor,’ ‘King,’ bearer of ‘fair France’s Crown,’ and ‘fierce-faced.’ Like in Roland Charlemagne is the embodiment of what a knight and crusader should be. Robert Morrissey describes Aspremont as “an epic poem in which the most glorious image of a crusading Charlemagne fighting for the defense of Christendom….”90 There is less of a vengeance motivation in this story and much more of an emphasis on the defense of Christendom.

In fact, the mentality towards the forces of Islam in the post-First Crusade campaigns may well have been one of defense. They were a generation that was born during European control of the Holy Land. An attack on the crusader states may have been interpreted as the equivalent of an attack on the West.

The poem certainly has the religious tone of crusading as well. The Christian cause of the campaign takes precedence over all other aspects. In addition, it is explicit in the story that it is Charlemagne’s role to fight for and defend Christianity. Charlemagne tells his men;

–  –  –

[‘My noble knights,’ says Charlemagne to his barons ‘Consider well the great shame and the damage which they have caused, this foul race and savage, Whose hordes have left Arabia and Africa And taken over the land my father handed me!

Morrissey, 71.

La Chanson D’Aspremont, pp. 26-27, lines 864-871.

As pilgrims come with me and do battle!

He who comes not nor pays his debt of vassalage, I call him a traitor, both he and his family lineage.’] Calling the knights ‘pilgrims’ implies a certain context. This is not just any war or battle, but the most important duty of every Christian knight. War, pilgrimage, duty, indulgence, and Muslim aggression, all vital factors of the crusade and all elements of the story of Aspremont.

The Turpin contains an explicit propagandistic feature similar to that of Roland and Aspremont. The Turpin, at first glance, may seem like a different type of source since it is not technically a work of literature. However, it was performed in the same manner as Roland or Aspremont. In addition, the tremendous number of manuscripts indicates that its contents would probably have been known to that class of nobility that would lead the crusades. Similar to that of Roland and Aspremont, the Turpin depicts Charlemagne as having a favored relationship with God. This relationship is readily apparent near the beginning of the story when St. James appears before Charlemagne and says, …Quapropter tibi notifico quia sicut Dominus omnium regum terre potentissimum te constituit, sic ad preparandum ad me viam fidelium et liberandam terram meam de manibus Moabitarum ex omnibus te principibus elegit,…92 [Wherefore, I want to notify you that the Lord who made you powerful above all earthly kings, so he has chosen you among all princes to prepare through me the path of faith and to liberate my land from the hands of Saracens.] In the Turpin, the concept of a ‘chosen’ people or leader is quite common. Charlemagne is the most capable and most favored by God. The crusade rhetoric of the twelfth-century contained many of the same ideas and much of the same imagery. The crusaders were The Pseudo-Turpin Chronicle, ed. H. M. Smyser, (The Medieval Academy of America, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1937), p. 57.

called upon by God to liberate the Holy Land. Although Gaston Paris excludes the work from ‘Poetic History’ proper, it is not too much of a stretch to see in Turpin the same idealized image that exists in the works of poetry and acts as a propagandistic element of crusading culture. Morrissey describes this work as “…the account that represents Charlemagne as the model of the crusading king, an image that was later adopted for expeditions to the Holy Land.” The work has been described on several occasions by more than one scholar as “a work of propaganda.”93 For the audiences, authors and storytellers, the stories were more than just entertainment. The sources go a step further and take on the façade of propaganda.

Considering the importance of the crusades at the time and places the stories were composed, it is probable that they may have served as a source of inspiration. Shortly before and after the First Crusade, the propaganda effort took on many forms. It was not merely a Church and papal effort to maintain crusader enthusiasm, but rather crusading blossomed in the popular imagination at many levels of society. This popular view is largely represented in religious terms, but by no means restricted to papal sermons recruiting efforts. Popes and clergymen did travel around Europe preaching and recruiting for the Crusade. But so did Bohemond of Taranto, one of the hero’s of the First Crusade who campaigned in France for a new crusade shortly after the first (c.

1106). There were at least eleven crusading songs that were produced for the Second Crusade. At least fourteen roundels at the Abbey of Saint-Denis depicted events of the First Crusade, martyrs, pilgrims, and yes Charlemagne.94 Many of the other chansons de Morrissey, 51-52.

Jonathan Philips, The Crusades 1095-1197, (Longman Publishing, London, New York, 2002), p. 65.

geste written in the twelfth-century have a crusading theme and Charlemagne as a major character. Thus, the image of Charlemagne becomes part of the propagandistic purpose – inspiring knights and future crusaders.

Of course, all of the stories and sources are complex, multi-dimensional, and difficult, if not impossible to categorize under any single interpretation or lexicon.

However, considering that the sources are so closely connected with the crusades, it is probable that they were a source of propaganda. Roland is composed around or shortly after the First Crusade, the Turpin just after the Second Crusade, and Aspremont during the preparations for the Third Crusade. By the late twelfth- or thirteenth-century, the idea of knighthood involved the idea of crusading. This became part of the knight’s duty.

From a historical perspective, the stories not only serve as entertainment, but also as propaganda and inspiration for an eager audience familiar with and often involved in crusading. The sources are an important part of an on-going propaganda effort serving as a type of instruction or education for present and future crusaders. In this interpretation, the role of the image of Charlemagne is quite clear. He is the example, the model, and ultimately the ideal. He represents all that knights and crusaders should strive for. Most importantly, he is completely faithful and almost always victorious.

It is certainly no coincidence that these stories along with countless others have the crusades or crusading as a major theme and subsequently have Charlemagne as the main character. These poems reflect a great deal about the values, experiences, and expectations of society. In addition, they reflect an ongoing preoccupation with crusading and Holy War, and a preoccupation with the presence of an actual or perceived threat that the forces of Islam represented. This is clear at the end of Roland when Charlemagne, after just winning a decisive battle against the Saracens and avenging the death of his nephew Roland, is called away to another crusade. Just as Charlemagne begins to sleep,

–  –  –

The life of the milities christi is an important reflection of the chivalric attitudes of the crusading culture of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century society. There is certainly a sense of sacrifice associated with the life of Charlemagne – and by association with that of the crusader. He witnesses first hand the price of war. Roland and most of those close to him die. However, he is duty-bound and must continue with the defense of Christendom.

They are all difficult battles and wars, but Charlemagne seems to fit perfectly into this world. The Pope may be the vicar of Christ, but Charlemagne is the defender of Christianity.

It is difficult to categorize exactly what qualifies for propaganda when dealing with these sources. One scholar argued that, “Wittingly or unwittingly, there is a strong element of persuasion in this presentation of the duties and rewards of knighthood.

Perhaps without any intentions in this direction, the chansons de geste thereby take on a La Chanson de Roland, ed. & trans. Glyn Burgess, (New York, Penguin 1990.), p. 210.

propagandist role…”96 Although, it does seem to be fairly explicit in some places. For example, the Chanson d’Aspremont was actually sung in the streets of Messina in 1190 before an army of crusaders.97 The common theme throughout the sources and the mentality of the period, is the threat to Christendom and the need for crusade and defense. The legend of Charlemagne represents in the broadest possible terms, the ideal image of a warrior, leader, king, Christian, and crusader. The best possible propaganda for the crusade is history itself.

Making the myth of Charlemagne into history establishes a precedent and acts as a source of inspiration and edification.

–  –  –

Considering the historical sources that connect Charlemagne to the crusades and combining them with the literary tradition that develops in the twelfth century, it is understandable to see how the legend and myths surrounding Charlemagne’s geste were infused with the history and actual events.

By combining material from Einhard’s biography, the Frankish Annals, oral tradition, various chronicles, previous epics the authors of the twelfth century were able to create a memory of Charlemagne as not just one of a former King and Emperor, but as a kind of proto-crusader as well. This is best reflected in many of the crusade sources themselves.

References to Charlemagne ranged from the historical to the miraculous. There are stories about witnesses reporting visions of Charlemagne in the sky as well as the rumor D.A. Trotter, Medieval French Literature and the Crusades 1100-1300, (Genève, Librairie Droz, 1988), p. 84.

Morrissey, 73-74.

and legend that he came back to life. Ekkehard of Aura reported that shortly after the First Crusade was launched, some of the crusaders believed that Charlemagne had actually risen from the dead to lead the campaign.98 Actually, Charlemagne had long established a presence in the Holy Land by sponsoring churches and hospitals in the region and for engaging in a long diplomatic relationship with a prominent leader, Haroun-al-Rashid. This seemed to be common knowledge during the time of the crusades. William of Tyre, the Catholic archbishop of Tyre in the kingdom of Jerusalem, reported in his chronicle that;

The good will between Harun and the Christians rested on an admirable treaty which the devout Emperor Charles, of immortal memory, brought about through the work of frequent envoys who went back and forth between them. The gracious favor of the at potentate was a source of much comfort to the faithful, so that they seemed to be living under the rule of the Emperor Charles rather than under that of Harun.99 William who was writing his history in the 1160’s and 1170’s relied on his own experience, documents and records of the crusader states, and other related source material. He also mentions the gift of an elephant sent to Charlemagne by Harun, which seems to be a clear indication that he had access to Einhard’s work as well.

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