Charlemagne-art - 9/4/00 "Charlemagne" by Jan van Seist. (humor)
NOTE: See also the files: Isabella-art, Joan-of-Arc-art, Lamoral-art, Margaret-art, Otto-T-Great-art, War-o-t-Roses-art, Inven-Charle-man, gardening-bib.
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[NOTE - originally written for Storm Tidings, the newsletter of the Shire of Adamastor (Cape Town) in the Kingdom of Drakenwald]
by Jan van Seist Charlemagne! Carolus Magnus! Charles the Great! King of the Franks! Emperor of Rome! and slayer of lots and lots and lots of Saxons (HUZZAH!)! His name resounds through the centuries, the shining light of early Europe. It is in his honour and for the edification and entertainment of the shire that I once again take up my pen and continue my occasional history of our period.
Charles was not born to the Imperial purple. His father, Pippin the Short, was "merely" King of the Franks  and on his death, Charles inherited but half of the Frankish kingdom, the remainder going to his brother Carloman. However, Charles' half included the traditional Frankish lands in the North (and with them, the Frankish army) and Carloman's the newly conquered territories of the South (and with them, their revolting subjects). Carloman wisely chose to die young and thus avoided annihilation in the inevitable civil war.
Charles, robbed of his rightful blood feud, accepted Carloman's lands and set about creating enemies for his knights to prove their valour on. He got off to a flying start by marrying the Lombard king's daughter, Desiderata, and then trading her in for a sportier model from Suabia less than a year later . Desiderata's old man was not impressed. He was even less impressed when the might of Frankish chivalry smashed his army and annexed his state.
After his romp through Lombardy, Charles set off on the first of his Saxon conquests. The pagan Saxons held the lands to the East of the Franks and so, for the good of their souls, Charles and his army, burnt and pillaged Saxony until all the chiefs (except Witikind who went into exile) swore to be good Christians and loyal Frankish subjects. Charles then returned home. Shortly afterwards, Witikind followed suit and the Saxons reverted to paganism and revolted.
After his second Saxon conquest (see first Saxon conquest for details), Charles decided to liberate Spain from the Moors. He had already defeated Christian and pagan armies several times and thought the Moslems would make a nice change. In any case, Spain could only be an improvement on the swamps and forests of Saxony. His Frankish host swept majestically over the Pyrenees and descended on the fair city of Saragossa. Just as they had settled down to a good old-fashioned siege, word reached Charles that Witikind had returned to Saxony etc. The chroniclers do not record the exact words Charles used on hearing this news but they do state that he lifted the siege and led the host off to Saxony - again! Although the main force reached Saxony with few problems (insert 3rd Saxon conquest) the baggage train did not. A protracted dispute arose between the Frankish rear guard and the Basques over the departure taxes owed by the Frankish horde. Eventually, in spite of the protests of the hreroic Hruotland , the Basques decided to cut through the red tape (and the Franks) and took the lot.
In the following years, Charles eventually pacified not only his own realm  but also his neighbour, the Pope's. In AD 800, after having all of his problems solved by Charles yet again, Pope Leo III rewarded him by making him Emperor of Rome. Technically, Leo wasn't really supposed to do this sort of thing but the papacy's relationship with the Imperial court in Constantinople was rather poor. The emperors had been acting like protestants for the past 60 years, and although the current empress, Irene, was a good Catholic,  she was patently unsuitable. One, she had the embarassing habit of murdering family members when she thought no-one was looking and, two, she was female. So appointing a Frank as emperor didn't bother Leo too much. In the end, the Imperial court chose to ignore the whole affair - if Leo wanted to pretend that some Frankish king was the Roman Emperor that was his problem. Charles was very disappointed. Conquering the Eastern Empire and burning Constantinople to the ground had sounded interesting.
Although Charles obviously enjoyed thumping people, he is known for more than his military success. Among other things, he was actually able to read and write  and on the advice of his advisor Alcuin, he established centres of learning in monasteries throughout Europe. Generations of schoolchildren for the remainder of our period could raise their eyes to heaven and thank the blessed Charlemagne for enabling them to spend perfectly good Spring days indoors learning Latin with old monks instead of wasting their time outside .
Firmly encouraged by his Suabian princess he also built a very civilised castle (complete with little lace curtains and a blue and white kitchen) for them to live in  and built a nice cathedral next door. Charles, like most men, didn't realise how hard his wife worked on his behalf. It is said that a sign of true appreciation is to be replaced by two people when you retire. On his wife's death, Charles replaced her with not two but three concubines.
When Charles himself died , he left his heir, Louis, a strong and united empire. Charles was greatly mourned by his courtiers, his concubines, his daughters and his daughters' lovers. They mourned him partly for his wise and benevolent rule and partly for his magnificent achievements, but mostly because they knew that the new emperor was going to show them the door as soon as the corpse was cold . He did.
Footnotes: 1 - Pippin had actually started out as Mayor of the Franks (roughly equivalent to wicked grand vizier) but had obtained an upgrade to king fairly early on.
2 - The official grounds for divorce were false advertising. Charles told the Lombards that Desiderata was about as desirable as a wet sock. He thought that divorcing a wife on the grounds that she was "no fun to play with" (The euphemism is the author's. Charles was considerably more Frank) was eminently reasonable and he never understood why the ex-in-laws were so offended.
3 - Hruotland's name was later changed to Roland by bardic convention, on the grounds that fitting a name like Hruotland into heroic songs and poems was too bloody difficult.
4 - Even Witikind got tired of hiding in swamps after the 6th Saxon conquest and came to an arrangement with the Franks.
5 - She was later sainted for abolishing the 2nd Commandment.
6 - e.g. "Dear Wittykindde, yu do it agen and I'll beet yer bluddy hedd in, Sackson pygge, yers sinseerley, Carolus, Kyng".
7 - It could have been worse. Alcuin was a Yorkshireman. Imagine generations of schoolboys conjugating sentences like: "Ee, ai lahke a nahce black puddin', ai do." or translating passages from the memoirs of Geoffrey Boycott.
8 - "Schaffe, schaffe, Schlöble baue"
9 - He caught a nasty cold. Concubines have their uses but wives are much better at reminding Emperors to wear their warm woolly mufflers.
10 - Louis, called by the chroniclers "the Pious" and by his contemporaries "the Congenital Idiot", was, thanks to Charles and Alcuin, the first monastery-educated king of the Franks. As the saying goes, "a little learning makes a dangerous king". His high moral standards and his acts of charity and mercy confused his Frankish subjects and were largely responsible for the bloody civil wars that devastated the empire during his reign.
Copyright 1997 by Dr. I.G. van Tets.
Mitrani Dept. of Desert Ecology
Blaustein Institute for Desert Research
Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications,
provided the author is credited and receives a copy.