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THE CHARLEMAGNE

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Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 897 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THE CHARLEMAGNE LEGENDS Innumerable legends soon gathered round the memory of the great emperor. He was represented as- a warrior performing superhuman feats, as a ruler dispensing perfect justice, and even as a martyr suffering for the faith. It was confidently believed towards the close of the loth century that he had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; and, like many other great rulers, it was reported that he was only sleeping to awake in the hour of his country's need. We know from Einhard (Vita Karoli, cap. xxix.) that the Frankish heroic ballads were drawn up in writing by Charlemagne's order, and it may be accepted as certain that he was himself the subject of many such during his lifetime. The legendary element crept even into the Latin panegyrics produced by the court poets. Before the end of the 9th century a monk of St Gall drew up a chronicle De gestis Karoli Magni, which was based partly on oral tradition, received from an old soldier named Adalbert, who had served in Charlemagne's army. This recital contains various fabulous incidents. The author relates a conversation between Otkar the Frank (Ogier the Dane) and the Lombard king Desiderius (Didier) on the walls of Pavia in view of Charlemagne's advancing army. To Didier's repeated question "Is this the emperor?" Otkar continues to answer " Not yet," adding at last " When thou shalt see the fields bristling with an iron harvest, and the Po and the Ticino swollen with sea-floods, inundating the walls of the city with iron billows, then shall Karl be nigh at hand." This episode, which bears the marks of popular heroic poetry, may well be the substance of a lost Carolingian cantilena.' The legendary Charlemagne and his warriors were endowed with the great deeds of earlier kings and heroes of the Frankish kingdom, for the romancers were not troubled by considerations of chronology. National traditions extending over centuries were grouped round Charlemagne, his father Pippin, and his son Louis. The history of Charles Martel especially was absorbed in the Charlemagne legend. But if Charles's name was associated with the heroism of llis predecessors he was credited with equal readiness with the weaknesses of his successors. In the earlier chansons de geste he is invariably a majestic figure and represents within limitations the grandeur of the historic Charles. But in the histories of the wars with his vassals he is often little more than a tyrannical dotard, who is made to submit to gross insult. This picture of affairs is drawn from later times, and the sympathies of the poet are generally with the rebels against the monarchy. Historical tradition was already dim when the hypothetical and much discussed cantilenae, which may be taken to have formed the repository of the national legends from the 8th to the loth century, were succeeded in the 11th and the early 12th centuries by the chansons de geste. The early poems of the cycle sometimes contain curious information on the Frankish methods in war, in council and in judicial procedure, which had no parallels in contemporary institutions. The account in the Chanson de Roland of the trial of Ganelon after the battle of Roncesvalles must have been adopted almost intact from earlier poets, and provides a striking example of the value of the chansons de geste to the historian of manners and customs. In general, however, the trouvere depicted the feeling and manners of his own time. Charlemagne's wars in Italy, Spain and Saxony formed part of the common epic material, and there are references to his wars against the Slays; but especially he remained in the popular mind as the great champion of Christianity against the creed of Mahomet, and even his Norman and Saxon enemies became Saracens in current legend. He is the Christian emperor directly inspired by angels; his sword Joyeuse contained the point of the lance used in the Passion; his standard was Romaine, the banner of St Peter, which, as the oriflamme of Saint Denis, was later to be borne in battle before the kings of France; and in 1164 Charles was canonized at the desire of the emperor Frederick I. Barbarossa by the Anti-pope Pascal III. This gave him no real claim to saintship, but his festival was observed in some places until comparatively recent times. Charlemagne was endowed with the good and bad qualities of the epic king, and as in the case of Agamemnon and Arthur, his exploits paled beside those of his chief warriors. These were not originally known as the twelve peers 2 famous in later Carolingian romance. The twelve peers were in the first instance the companions in arms of Roland in the Teutonic sense.' The idea of the paladins forming an association corresponding to the Arthurian Round Table first appears in the romance of Fierabras. The lists of them are very various, but all include the names of Roland and ' A remnant of the popular poetry contemporary with Charlemagne and written in the vernacular has been thought to be discernible under its Latin translation in the description of a siege during Charlemagne's war against the Saracens, known as the " Fragment from the Hague " (Pertz, Script. iii. pp. 708-710). 2 The words douze pairs were anglicized in a variety of forms ranging from douzepers to dosepers. The word even occurred as a singular in the metrical romance of Octavian:—" Ferst they sent out a doseper." At the beginning of the 13th century there existed a tour des pairs which exercised judicial functions and dated possibly from the llth century, but their prerogatives at the beginning of the 14th century appear to have been mainly ceremonial and decorative. In 1257 the twelve peers were the chiefs of the great feudal provinces, the dukes of Normandy, Burgundy and Aquitaine, the counts of Toulouse, Champagne and Flanders, and six spiritual peers, the archbishop of Reims, the bishops of Laon, Chalons-sur-Marne, Beauvais, Langres and Noyon. (See Du Cange, Glossarium, s.v. Par."). See J. Flach, Le Compagnonnage dans les chansons de geste (Paris, 1891). Oliver. The chief heroes who fought Charlemagne's battles were Roland; Ganelon, afterwards the traitor; Turpin, the fighting archbishop of Reims; Duke Naimes of Bavaria, the wise counsellor who is always on the side of justice; Ogier the Dane, the hero of a whole series of romances; and Guillaume of Toulouse, the defender of Narbonne. Gradually most of the chansons de geste were attached to the name of Charlemagne, whose poetical history falls into three cycles: the geste du roi, relating his wars and the personal history of himself and his family; the southern cycle, of which Guillaume de Toulouse is the central figure; and the feudal epic, dealing with the revolts of the barons against the emperor, the rebels being invariably connected by the trouveres with the family of Doon de Mayence (q.v.). The earliest poems of the cycle are naturally the closest to historical truth. The central point of the geste du roi is the z z thcentury Chanson de Roland (see ROLAND, LEGEND OF), one of the greatest of medieval poems. Strangely enough the defeat of Roncesvalles, which so deeply impressed the popular mind, has not a corresponding importance in real history. But it chanced to find as its exponent a poet whose genius established a model for his successors, and definitely fixed the type of later heroic poems. The other early chansons to which reference is made in Roland—Aspremont, Enfances Ogier, Guiteclin, Balan, relating to Charlemagne's wars in Italy and Saxony—are not preserved in their original form, and only the first in an early recension. Basin or Carl et Elegast (preserved' in Dutch and Icelandic), the Voyage de Charlemagne d Jerusalem and Le Couronnement Looys also belong to the heroic period. The purely fictitious and romantic tales added to the personal history of Charlemagne and his warriors in the 13th century are inferior in manner, and belong to the decadence of romance. The old tales, very much distorted in the 15th-century prose versions, were to undergo still further degradation in 18th-century compilations. According to Berte aus grans pies, in the 13th-century remaniement of the Brabantine trouvere Adenes li Rois, Charlemagne was the son of Pippin and of Berte, the daughter of Flore and Blanchefleur, king and queen of Hungary. The tale bears marks of high antiquity, and presents one of the few incidents in the French cycle which may be referred to a mythic origin. On the night of Berte's marriage a slave, Margiste, is substituted for her, and reigns in her place for nine years, at the expiration of which Blanchefleur exposes the deception; whereupon Berte is restored from her refuge in the forest to her rightful place as queen. Mainet (12th century) and the kindred poems in German and Italian are perhaps based on the adventures of Charles Martel, who after his father's death had to flee to the Ardennes. They relate that, after the death of his parents, Charles was driven by the machinations of the two sons of Margiste to take refuge in Spain, where he accomplished his enfances (youthful exploits) with the Mussulman king Galafre under the feigned name of Mainet. He delivered Rome from the besieging Saracens, and returned to France in triumph. But his wife Galienne, daughter of Galafre, whom he had converted to the Christian faith, died on her way to rejoin him. Charlemagne then made an expedition to Italy (Enfances Ogier in the Venetian Charlemagne, and the first part of the Chevalerie Ogier de Dannemarche by Raimbert of Paris, 12th century) to raise the siege of Rome, which was besieged by the Saracen emir Corsuble. He crossed the Alps under the guidance of a white hart, miraculously sent to assist the passage of the army. Aspremont (12th century) describes a fictitious campaign against the Saracen King Agolant in Calabria, and is chiefly devoted to the enfances of Roland. The wars of Charlemagne with his vassals are described in Girart de Roussillon, Renaus de Montauban, recounting, the deeds of the four sons of Aymon, Huon de Bordeaux, and in the latter part of the Chevalerie Ogier, which belong properly to the cycle connected with Doon of Mayence. The account of the pilgrimage of Charlemagne and his twelve paladins to the Holy Sepulchre must in its first form have been earlier than the Crusades, as the patriarch asks the emperor to free Spain, not the Holy Land, from the Saracens. The legend probably originated in a desire to authenticate the relics in the abbey of Saint Denis, supposed to have been brought to Aix by Charlemagne, and is preserved in a 12th-century romance, Le Voyage de Charlemagne d Jerusalem et d Constantinople.' This journey forms the subject of a window in the cathedral of Chartres, and there was originally a similar one at Saint-Denis. On the way home Charles and his paladins visited the emperor Hugon at Constantinople, where they indulged in a series of gabs which they were made to carry out. Galien; a favourite 15th-century romance, was attached to this episode, for Galien was the son of the amours of Oliver with Jacqueline, Hugon's daughter. The traditions of Charlemagne's fights with the Norsemen (Norois, Noreins) are preserved in Aiquin (12th century), which describes the emperor's reconquest of Armorica from the " Saracen " king Aiquin, and a disaster at Cezembre as terrible in its way as those of Roncesvalles and Aliscans. La destruction de Rome is a 13th-century version of the older chanson of the emir Balan, who collected an army in Spain and sailed to Rome. The defenders were overpowered and the city destroyed before the advent of Charlemagne, who, however, avenged the disaster by a great battle in Spain. The romance of Fierabras (13th century) was one of the most popular in the 15th century, and by later additions came to have pretensions to be a complete history of Charlemagne. The first part represents an episode in Spain three years before Roncesvalles, in which Oliver defeats the Saracen giant Fierabras in single combat, and converts him. The hero of the second part is Gui de Bourgogne, who recovers the relics of the Passion, lost in the siege of Rome. Otinel (13th century) is also pure fiction. L' Entree en Espagne, preserved in a 14th-century Italian compilation, relates the beginning of the Spanish War, the siege of Pampeluna, and the legendary combat of Roland with Ferragus. Charlemagne's march on Saragossa, and the capture of Huesca, Barcelona and Girone, gave rise to La Prise de Pampelune (14th century, based on a lost chanson); and Gui de Bourgogne (12th century) tells how the children of the barons, after appointing Guy as king of France, set out to find and rescue their fathers, who are represented as having been fighting in Spain for twenty-seven years. The Chanson de Roland relates the historic defeat of Roncesvalles on the 15th of August 778, and forms the very crown of the whole Carolingian legend. The two 13th-century romances, Gaidon, by Herbert Leduc de Dammartin, and Anseis de Carthage, contain a purely fictitious account of the end of the war in Spain, and of the establishment of a Frankish kingdom under the rule of Anseis. Charlemagne was recalled from Spain by the news of the outbreak of the Saxons. The contest between Charlemagne and Widukind (Guiteclin) offered abundant epic material. Unfortunately the original Guiteclin is lost, but the legend is preserved in Les Saisnes (c. 1300) of Jehan Bodel, which is largely occupied by the loves of Baudouin and Sibille, the wife of Guiteclin. The adventures of Blanchefleur, wife of Charlemagne, form a variation of the common tale of the innocent wife falsely accused, and are told in Macaire and in the extant fragments of Ld Reine Sibille (14th century). After the conquest of the Saracens and the Saxons, the defeat of the Northmen, and the suppression of the feudal revolts, the emperor abdicated in favour of his son Louis (Le Couronnement Looys,12th century). Charles's harangue to his son is in the best tradition of epic romance. The memory of Roncesvalles haunts him on his death-bed, and at the moment of death he has a vision of Roland. The mythic element is practically lacking in the French legends, but in Germany some part of the Odin myth was associated with Charles's name. The constellation of the Great Bear, generally associated with Odin, is Karlswagen in German, and Charles's Wain in English. According to tradition in Hesse, he awaits resurrection, probably symbolic of the triumph of the sun over winter, within the Gudensberg (Hill of Odin). Bavarian ' For clerical accounts of Charles's voyage to the Holy Land see the Chronicon (c. 968) of Benedict, a monk of St Andre, and Descriptio qualiter Karolus Magnus clavum et coronam Domini . . . detulerit, by an 11th-century writer.tradition asserts that he is seated in the Untersherg in a chair, as in his tomb at Aix-la-Chapelle. His white beard goes on growing, and when it has thrice encircled the stone table before him the end of the world will come; or, according to another version. Charles will arise and after fighting a great battle on the plain of Wals will reign over a new Germany. There were medieval chroniclers who did not fear to assert that Charles rose from the dead to take part in the Crusades: In the MS. Annales S. Stephani Frisingenses (15th century), which formerly belonged to the abbey of Weihenstephan, and is now at Munich, the childhood of Charlemagne is practically the same as that of many mythic heroes. This work, generally known as the chronicle of Weihenstephan, gives among other legends a curious history of the emperor's passion for a dead woman, caused by a charm given to Charles by a serpent to whom he had rendered justice. The charm was finally dropped into a well at Aix, which thence.. forward became Charles's favourite residence. The story of Roland's birth from the union of Charles with his sister Gilles, also found in German and Scandinavian versions, has abundant parallels in mythology, and was probably transferred from mythology to Charlemagne. The Latin chronicle, wrongly ascribed to Turpin (Tilpinus), bishop of Reims from 753 to 800, was. in reality later than the earlier poems of the French cycle, and the first properly authenticated mention of it is in 1165. Its primary object was to authenticate the relics of St James at Compostella. Alberic Trium Fontium, a monk of the Cistercian monastery of Trois Fontanes in the diocese of Chalons, embodied much poetical fiction in his chronicle (c. 1249). A large section of the Chronique rimee (c. 1243) of Philippe Mousket is devoted to Charlemagne's exploits. At the beginning of the 14th century Girard of Amiens made a dull compilation known as Charlemagne from the chansons de gests, authentic history and the pseudo-Turpin. La Conqueste que fit le grand roi Charlemaigne es Espaignes (pr. 1486) is the same work as the prose compilation of Fierabras (pr. 1478), and Caxton's Lyf of Charles the Grete (1485). The Charlemagne legend was fully developed in Italy, where it was to have later a great poetic development at the hands of Boiardo, Ariosto and Tasso. There are two important Italian compilations, MS. XIII. of the library of St Mark, Venice (c. 1200), znd the Reali di Francia (c. 1400) of a Florentine writer, Andrea da Barberino (b. 1370), edited by G. Vandelli (Bologna, 1892). The six books of this work are rivalled in importance by the ten branches of the Norse Karlamagnus saga, written under the reign of Haakon V. This forms a consecutive legendary history of Charles, and is apparently based on earlier versions of the French Charlemagne poems than those which we possess. It thus furnishes a guide to the older forms of stories, and moreover preserves the substance of others which have not survived in their French form. A popular abridgment, the Keiser Karl Magnus Krenike (pr. Malmo, 1534), drawn up in Danish, serves in some cases to complete the earlier work. The 2000 lines of the German Kaiserchronik on the history of Charlemagne belong to the first half of the 12th century, and were perhaps the work of Conrad, the poet of the Ruolantes Liet. The German poet known as the Stricker used the same sources as the author of the chronicle of Weihenstephan for his Karl (c. 1230). The earliest important Spanish version was the Chronica Hispaniae (c. 1284) of Rodrigo de Toledo. The French and Norman-French chansons circulated as freely in England as in France, and it was therefore not until the period of decadence that English versions were made. The English metrical romances of Charlemagne are: Roolandes Song (15th century); The Taill of Rauf Coilyear (c. 1475, pr. by R. Lekpreuik, St Andrews, 1472), apparently original; Sir Ferumbras (c. 1380) and the Sowdone of Babylone (c. 1400) from an early version of Fierabras; a fragmentary Roland and Vernagu (Ferragus); two versions of Otuel (Otinel); and a Sege of Melayne (c. 1390), forming a prologue to Otinel unknown iA French. (Barcelona, 1874). (M. BR.)
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