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     Eighth century Europe rife with ignorance, raiding barbarians and scarce crops. The followers of Allah were swallowing territories, fast approaching Christian lands. Feared Saxons, Vikings and other invaders burned monasteries; a favorite pastime as they raped and pillaged. And as the monasteries burned, so did any copies of manuscripts that shared previously learned knowledge.

The stained glass window of Charlemagne is from the Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, circa 1200
The stained glass window of Charlemagne is from the Strasbourg
Cathedral, Strasbourg, circa 1200

     Fortunately for the times a brilliant man took the throne in Paris. His name was Charles, grandson of Charles (Martel) the Hammer who kept the Berbers out of France and son of Pepin the Short. After the death of his father, who was the "mayor" for the declining Merovingian royal house, the land of the Franks was bequeathed to Charles and his brother, Carloman. Within three years, Charles removed his brother from the throne and went to war against the nation of Lombards that defended the claim of Carloman's son.

     On an ordinary day, if he wasn't leading his army against the enemy, the very tall Charlemagne swam in the warm springs of Aachen, dressed humbly, practiced his handwriting (even designed the Carolingian style) and devoted time to his children. If that sounds modest, beware. He was crafty and determined. Charlemagne expanded his kingdom, brought under his rule numerous tribes upon which he forced conversion to Christianity, created a school for the noble class and deserving commoners, corresponded with leaders of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires and arranged to be crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D. In his attempt to make order he created the feudal system, which lasted for centuries. After his death, people argued that his name should be sainted because he was responsible for converting thousands of barbarians to Christianity. Yet, his form of conversion was done under the sword: convert or be killed. His memory was not sainted.

     Is it any wonder that storytellers repeated tales about him? And if fact and fiction merged together, making the story all the more captivating is it any different from today's Hollywood movies? After all, while historians may argue that Britain's Legend of King Arthur is based upon a 6th century war lord, the fact is that Charlemagne did live.

     The Song of Roland is the most famous story of the Charlemagne legends. Did you know that when William, Duke of Normandy, led his army to the Battle of Hastings against the Saxons in 1066, the troubadours entertained the soldiers with the Roland chanson de guerre?
From Einhard and Notiker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemange, published by Penguin Books in 1969, translated by Lewis Thorpe
From <u>Einhard and Notiker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemange</u>, published by Penguin Books in 1969, translated by Lewis Thorpe
It is among the first of marching songs. Count Roland, Charlemagne's favorite nephew, led the marches, or the soldiers on foot.

     In the legends, many believe that Charlemagne seemed a foolish old man. Really, he was still young when Roland died at Roncesvalles, which historians say happened in 778. The stained glass windows in the Chartres Cathedral, France illustrate the story of Roland.

     Besides the many tales about Roland, the legends include Roland's closest friend Oliver, Ogier the Dane, Bradamounte and Rogero, Reinold, the princess of Cathay, Astolpho, Huon, and Charlot. There are mystical gardens, enchanted castles, a hippogriff and even Merlin. There are also faeries. If you have read "The Eight" by Katherine Neville, then you are familiar with the legendary chess set that was given to Charlemagne by a Moor sultan.


     When I first read the legends in Bulfinch's Mythology, I was enchanted. Slowly, I developed a story incorporating characters from the legends and some of my own. It is a fairy tale. I invite you to take a look.

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