Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne

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E. Jane Burns

Portraits of Kingship in the
Pèlerinage de Charlemagne


t is surprising to discover that in a text which is called alternately the
Pèlerinage de Charlemagne and the Voyage de Charlemagne en Ori-
ent,1 the movement suggested by these titles is virtually absent from
the narrative. Of the 870 lines in this romance epic, only thirty are devoted
to the description of Charlemagne's travels along the path from St. Denis
to Jerusalem and subsequently to Constantinople.2 This disparity be-
tween text and title is accompanied by a second textual anomaly, a confu-
sion in the avowed goal of Charlemagne's journey. The emperor states al-
ternately that his purpose is to follow a pious itinerary toward the Holy
Land and to fulfill a political mission in the Byzantine capital:

1Scholarly opinion is almost equally divided on the question of title, although
voyage is favored slightly. For pèlerinage: Jules Horrent, Le "Pèlerinage de Charlemagne":
Essai d'explication littéraire avec des notes de critique textuelle (Paris: "Les Belles Lettres",
1961); Heinrich Morf, "Étude sur la date, le caractère, et l'origine de la Chanson du
Pèlerinage de Charlemagne," Romania, 13 (1884), pp. 185-232; Gaston Paris, "La Chanson
du Pèlerinage de Charlemagne," Romania, 9 (1880), pp. 1-50 [see also his La Poésie du
Moyen Âge (Paris. 1885), I, p. 119]. For voyage: Paul Aebischer, éd., Le Voyage de Charle-
à Jérusalem et à Constantinople (Genève: Droz, 1965); Jules Coulet, Études sur l'an-
cien poème français du Voyage de Charlemagne en Orient. Publications spéciales de la So-
ciété des Langues Romanes [Montpellier], 19 (Montpellier: Coulet, 1907); Guido Favati, ed.,
Il "Voyage de Charlemagne," edizione critica. Biblioteca degli Studi Mediolatini e Volgari, 4
(Bologna: Libreria Antiquaria Palmaverde, 1965); Paulin Paris, "Notice sur la Chanson de
geste intitulée: le Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople," in Jahrbuch für
romanische und englische Literatur,
l (1859), pp. 198-211. Quotations used in the present es-
say are drawn from the Aebischer edition.

2From St. Denis to Jerusalem, vv, 89-111; Jerusalem to Constantinople, vv. 254,
259-261; and Constantinople to St. Denis, vv. 861-863.


162 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

En un lointain reaume, se Deu pleist, en irrez

Jerusalem requere, la terre Damne Deu.
La croiz e le sepulcre voil aler aürer:
Jo l'ai trei feiz sunged, moi i covent aler,
Irrai un rei requerre, dount ai oï parler;


The Pèlerinage here departs significantly from the traditional binary
structure that governs epic tales of conflict between Christian and pagan,
Frank and Saracen. With the introduction of Jerusalem as an intermediate
goal in Charlemagne's journey, the conventionally balanced epic narra-
tive is recast in a triadic format resting on the geographic triangle of
France, the Holy Land, and the eastern Empire. Neither the French mon-
arch nor his eastern rival is presented in conformity with the expected epic
stereotype. If Charlemagne is a Christian king on a religious voyage, he
does not resemble the crusading monarch of the Chanson de Roland, for
in the Pèlerinage Charles and his men are unarmed and without military

Ni unt escuz ne lances ne espees trenchaunz,

Meis fustz feret de fraine e escrepes pendanz.

Et munterent as mulz, qu'orent forz e amblanz.

(vv.79-80, 89)

King Hugon, in the same vein, is not cast in the rôle of the religious infi-

del destined for military defeat and conversion from paganism. He is por-
trayed through a curious combination of royal pomp and peasant toil.
When we first encounter the Byzantine emperor, he is engaged in manual
labor as he plows the fields alongside the sumptuous palace:

Chevalchet li emperere, ne se vait atargeant;

Truvai lu rei Hugun a sa came arant.

3See also v. 57, "Ja n'en prendrai mais fin tresque l'avrai veüz!" and vv. 152-155,
in which the double goal is reiterated:

Duze reis ai cunquis par force e par barnez:

Li trezime vos querre, dunt ai oï parler.
Vine en Jerusalem, pur l'amistet de Deu:
La croiz e le sepulcre sui venuz, aürer.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 163

Les conjugles en sunt a or fin relusant,

Li essués e les röes e li cultres arant.

(vv. 282-285)

The typical epic scenario is skewed further by the absence of extensive
overland journeys and prolonged battles which characterize the military
campaigns in other chansons de geste.

The Pèlerinage advances, in the end, a curiously static view of king-

ship which features Charlemagne in a series of royal poses: at St. Denis,
Jerusalem, and Constantinople, each of which is punctuated by a corona-
tion.4 The initial crowning takes place in France:

Un jur fu Karlemaine al Seint Denis muster:

Rout prise sa corune, en croiz seignat sun chef,

(vv. 1-2)

This coronation, denounced as faulty by Charlemagne's wife, is followed
by a figurative coronation of the French monarch as the king of kings in

4For a cogent explanation of this triadic structure in terms of Proppian folktale
morphology, see John D. Niles, "On the Logic of Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne." Neuphilo-
logische Mitteilungen, 81, No. 2 (1980), pp. 208-216. While this approach offers a viable justi-
fication for the extended emphasis given to the gabs in the Pèlerinage and explains the neces-
sity for the double goal of Jerusalem and Constantinople, Proppian methodology cannot
account for the manner in which the folktale skeleton is elaborated, in the French epic, into a
specifically medieval text. The wondertale format cannot explain, for example, why Charle-
magne takes Christ's seat in Jerusalem, why King Hugon sits on a golden plow, or why the
text places particular emphasis on the act of coronation. For other recent readings of this cu-
rious text see: Jules Horrent, "La Chanson du Pèlerinage de Charlemagne et la réalité histo-
rique contemporaine," in Mélanges offerts à Jean Frappier (Genève: Droz, 1970), I, pp.
411-417; Jules Horrent, "Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople," Le
Moyen Age, 73 (1967), pp. 489-494; Sara Sturm, "The Stature of Charlemagne in the
Pèlerinage," Studies in Philology, 71 (1974), pp. 1-18; Janet H. Caulkins, "Narrative Inter-
ventions: The Key to the Jest of the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne," in Jean-Marie D'Heur et
Nicoletta Cherubini, éds., Études de Philologie romane et d'histoire littéraire offertes à Jules
Horrent à l'occasion de son soixantième anniversaire (Liège, 1980), pp. 47-55; John L.
Grigsby, "The Gab as a Latent Sub-Genre," Conference on the Medieval Epic in the Ro-
mance Languages, Société Rencesvals Internationale. American-Canadian Branch, Berkeley,
California, June 24, 1980; Alexandre Leupin, "La Compromission: Pour une
réinterprétation du Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople," Conference on
the Medieval Epic, June 24, 1980.

164 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

E dist li patriarches: "Sire, mult estes ber!

Sis as en la chaere u sist meïmes Deus:
Aies nun Charlemaine sur tuz reis curunez!"

(vv. 156-158)

and by the final ceremony in Constantinople which brings ultimate vindi-
cation of Charles's authority:

Karle portet corune dedenz Constentinoble,

Li reis Hugue la sue, plus bassement uncore.
Et Franceis les esgardent, li plusur en parolent,
"Ma dame la reïne ele dist mult que fole
Que preisat sun barnet si ben cume le nostre!"

(vv. 816-820)

At each stop in Charlemagne's fictional itinerary, heroic exploits are re-
placed by a ceremony of investiture, a studied pause in the narrative that
creates the effect of a royal portrait.

Although the Pèlerinage offers no overt clues for reading its enig-

matic monarchal portraits, we might reasonably seek assistance from the
immediate context of St. Denis, the place where the epic tale begins and
ends. The choice of St. Denis as an index of medieval kingship is justifia-
ble on many grounds, not the least of which are historical. As the royal ab-
bey, representing the twin seat of regal and religious authority, St. Denis
shared a unique relationship with the French monarchy from the eighth
century.5 The burial place of French kings and the repository of the royal
arms and insignia, the abbey church housed as well the relics of St. Denis,
patron saint and protector of the French monarchy. From the first half of
the twelfth century, St. Denis served as the cornerstone of the royal policy
which established Capetian ascendency throughout France, a policy of co-
operative rule in which the king of France became the "first vassal" of
St. Denis, while Abbot Suger acted as the principal advocate and defender
of the realm.6

5On the relationship between St. Denis and the monarchy, sec Sumner McKnight
Crosby. L'Abbaye Royale de St. Denis (Paris: Paul Hartman. Éditeur, 1953), pp. 6-10: Erwin
Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (Cleveland: World Publishing Company,
1957): Otto von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (New York: Pantheon Books, 1965), pp.

6Crosby, p.10.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 165

It is not the aim of this article, however, to read the Pèlerinage as a re-

flection of Suger's relation with the Capetian kings. To reduce the fic-
tional portraits of Charles and Hugon to representations of historical
phenomena in either the eighth and ninth or the twelfth century would do
little to further our understanding of the Pèlerinage as a literary text.
Evaluation of this curious narrative against the corpus of French epic to
which it belongs nominally, but which it resembles only vaguely, would
produce equally limited results. I propose, rather, to examine the
Pèlerinage with reference to two other "texts" that are roughly contempo-
rary: the historical or pseudo-historical writings of Suger concerning mo-
narchal rule, and the iconographie program sculpted on the west façade of
the church at St. Denis.7 In this analysis, the Pèlerinage will be taken as
one factor in a series of intertextual referents which should be understood
not as representations nor sources of one another but as structural analogs.
When read together, (he three texts provide an outline of the conception
and expression of kingship in twelfth-century France.

The art historical "text" at St. Denis is particularly significant since it

provides an elaborate iconographie program for portraying the Last
Judgment which will become the standard arrangement of Gothic west
façades throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.8 The iconogra-
phy at St. Denis depicts the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ,
the Last Judgment and the end of time, and varied cosmologies.9 Within
this rich amalgam of images we also find reference to the union of regnum
and sacerdotium, the notion of conjoined royal and spiritual authority.

Although the concept of monarchy documented on the abbey façade

follows the political notions of Abbot Suger, we cannot reasonably posit a
direct line of influence between the royal abbot and the author(s) of the
Pèlerinage, making of him (them) propagandists in Suger's grand scheme.
I would like to suggest, rather, that the iconographie program on the
St. Denis façade can be useful as a kind of template for determining the re-

7Suger, "La Vie de Louis le Gros: Mémoire de Suger sur son administration ab-
batiale," Suger Oeuvres complètes, ed. A. Lecoy de La Marche (Paris: J. Renouard. 1867).

8Crosby, pp. 35-37; Émile Mâle. L'Art religieux du XIIe au XVIIIe siècles (Paris:
Armand Colin, 1945), pp. 17, 40-46.

9See Paula Gerson, "The West Façade of St. Denis," Ph.D. Dissertation, Colum-
bia University, 1970.

166 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

lationship of narrative elements in the strange tale of the Pèlerinage. Us-

ing the sculptured portraits of the "kings" at St. Denis and the blueprint
for monarchal authority outlined in Suger's writings, we can explain how
the disparate narrative segments of the Pèlerinage fit together, how the en-
igmatic deeds of the French monarch, the miracles of Jerusalem, and the
marvels of Constantinople are arranged according to a concerted icono-
graphic plan. Charlemagne and Hugon will not then be read as depictions
of specific historical kings but as types of kingship, variations on the
complex notion of regnum and sacerdotium that hallmarks French politi-
cal thought throughout the High Middle Ages.

Each portrait of kingship in the Pèlerinage, including the anomalous

depiction of King Hugon on the plow, is cast in conformity with the no-
tion of regnum and sacerdotium that figures in the sculpted façade at
St. Denis. At the outset of the text, Charlemagne is portrayed as the Caro-
lingian theocratic monarch whose authority is based on terrestrial con-
quest and sanctioned by God. As the opening lines of the tale attest,
Charles, as a Christian king, is thereby empowered to enlarge his realm by
military force:

Un jur fu Karlemaine al seint Denis muster:

Rout prise sa corune, en croiz seignat sun chef,


The emperor states,

"Uncor cunquerrei jo citez ot mun espez!"

(v. 11)10

This portrait of the monarch as vicarius dei, God's advocate and defender

on earth, closely resembles the historical Charlemagne who was often
compared to Melchizedek, the Old Testament priest-king par excel-
lence." It reflects as well Alcuin's notion of the Imperium Christianum

10See also vv. 151-152. in which Charles describes his previous victories, "Sire, jo
ai nun Karle, si sui de France nez, / Duze reis ai cunquis par force e par barnez."

11Percy Schramm, A History of the English Coronation (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1937). p. 118. The custom of comparing the French monarch to Old Testament kings
and patriarchs persists through the reign of Louis VII and is common throughout Europe
until the seventeenth century. See Alfred Katzenellenbogen, The Sculptural Programs of

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 167

expressed in the famous letter of 799 which claims Charlemagne to be the

Christian ruler above all others, executor not of Roman but of Biblical

However, the Carolingian land-based power presented in the open-

ing scene of the Pèlerinage is superseded, in the course of the tale, by royal
power of another sort. In the second tableau, that of Charlemagne in Jeru-
salem, the Carolingian vicarius dei is replaced by a portrait of the Christus
mimetes, a twin personality whose terrestrial nature is transformed,
through the consecration ceremony, into a kind of deity. In this scene, we
find the Carolingian monarch enthroned in Christ's seat, and crowned by
the patriarch as "king of all kings" (v. 158). The harmony posited here be-
tween the religious and royal functions of the French monarch no longer
reflects Alcuin's notion of political hegemony. It suggests instead the
twelfth-century view of sacral kingship outlined by thinkers from the
Norman Anonymous, to Hugh of Fleury and Abbot Suger. In Suger's
words, the French king was Christ's vicar incarnate, "réalisant l'image de
Dieu en sa personne et lui donnant vie."13 The presentation of king as
Christ in the Pèlerinage conforms precisely to the medieval notion of the
Christocentric ruler who is not only aided by God's power, but shares it as
his own.14

There is, thus, a clear shift in the course of the Pèlerinage, in the de-

piction of Charlemagne as a Christian king. By the end of the narrative,
the Carolingian monarch has been stripped of his sword and is shown in
the uncommon pose of a non-military victor. Although Charles's men ex-
press their wish that the emperor capture Hugon's wealth through battle
in traditional epic style:

Chartres Cathedral (1951; rpt. New York: W. W. Norton and Co.. 1964), p. 29, and the revi-
sion of Katzenellenbogen's theory in P. Gerson's dissertation.

12Geoffrey Barraclough, The Crucible of Europe (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1976), p. 43.

13Panofsky, Architecture gothique, p. 12.

14Ernst Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies (Princeton: Princeton University
Press. 1957), p. 63. Suger expresses clearly the notion of parity between royal and spiritual au-
thority in a letter to Samson, Archbishop of Reims (1149) stating "that the glory of Christ's
body, that is the Church of God, consists in the indissoluble unity of kingship and priest-
hood is perfectly clear, because he who provides for the other helps him," Letter 74. Patrolo-
gia Latina 186, col. 1386, cited by Katzenellenbogen, p. 33.

168 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

Veez, cum gent palais et cum forz richetet!

Pleüst al rei de glorie de sainte majestet
Carlemaine mi sire les oüst recatet
U cunquis par ses armes en bataile champel"

(vv. 449-452)

Charles's victory is bloodless:

Mult fu lied e joius Carlemaine li ber,

Ki tel rei ad cunquis sanz bataille campel.


The physical blows of epic combat are here transformed into the verbal
jousts of gabs which are subsequently enacted by the grace of the relics and
prayer (vv. 667-678). Military force is entirely replaced by God's vertu, "Ne
fu mie par force, mès par la Deu vertud" (v. 751).15 Although Charles suc-
ceeds in making King Hugon his vassal and gaining the attendant riches
(vv. 700, 791), he does so in a manner that shifts the basis of royal prowess.
At the end of the epic, Charlemagne is pronounced ber for having accom-
plished the great deeds (hauts faits) of the bloodless battle, "Mult par est
Karle ber pur demener esforz" (v. 814), a title which in the Roland is
awarded only for unrestrained killing. This portrait of non-violent king-
ship appears to be governed ultimately by the second term in the narrative,
Charlemagne's stay in Jerusalem. For in that scene, in addition to receiv-
ing the relics which enable his final victory, Charlemagne is awarded the
designation ber, a term used not to indicate epic deeds but to signal the
French monarch's resemblance to Christ. The patriarch remarks to
Charles, "Sire mult estes ber! / Sis as en la chaere u sist meïmes Deus" (vv.
156-157, my emphasis).

The Pèlerinage thus serves to inaugurate a kind of kingship different

from the theocratic monarchy of the historical Charlemagne in which God
helped warriors to strike effective blows. Rather, in the Pèlerinage, we find
a more complete fusion of kingship and priesthood offered as a solution to
diminished royal power. The threat to monarchal authority is eliminated

15The Pèlerinage contains only one mention of killing Saracens, which occurs
when Charles and his men depart from Jerusalem, "Et dist li patriarches: 'Savez dunt jo vus
priz? / De Sarazins destrure, ki nus ount en despit!'" This advice is never carried out. (Vv.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 169

in the text through the creation of a kind of royal Christology: a king who

wears the crown of Christ and gains thereby ultimate authority over
earthly and spiritual affairs. The conflation of rex and sacerdos begun by
the Carolingians who combined the tradition of imperial insignia with
Christian anointing, is carried one step further in the Pèlerinage, so that
the terrestrial monarch becomes a secular version of the Christian God-

The notion of liturgical kingship was, of course, not the invention of

Suger. As Kantorowicz has shown, a theology of kingship is documented
in art historical materials from the tenth century, through a combination
of imperial and Christological imagery. As early as the Gospel book of
Aachen (973), for example, we find Otto II depicted in the traditional pose
of imperial enthronement similar to the portraits of Charles the Bald in
the ninth-century Carolingian Bibles (Vivian Bible, Codex Aureus). How-
ever, in the tenth-century scene from the Gospel book of Aachen the em-
peror's throne is enclosed within a mandorla and the crown is supple-
mented by a halo.

Thus after the Carolingian period the emperor is shown, in some

manuscripts at least, to have appropriated characteristics which were tra-
ditionally reserved for Christ. Otto II is cast clearly as a gemina persona:
possessing both crown and halo, his head reaches into the celestial realm
wrhile his feet remain on earth.16In contrast to the Carolingian portrayal
of theocratic kingship which was patterned on the Old Testament models
of David and Melchizedek, the emperor is here depicted as Christ in Ma-
jesty or king in Christology,17 announcing the notion of Christ-centered
kingship which became current in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

On the west façade of St. Denis we find two portraits of kingship

which are analogous to those in the Pèlerinage.18 In the tympanum repre-
senting the heavenly realm, Christ is depicted as a celestial king who
reigns eternally. Below him we find an evocation of terrestrial rule in the
jamb statues which represent kings and prophets of the Old Testament,

16Kantorowicz, pp. 42-86.
I7Ibid, p. 16.

18For a detailed analysis of the St. Denis façade, see Katzenellenbogen, p. 34ff.
and Gerson.

170 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

These are the spiritual ancestors of the kings of France, and by combining

royal and priestly functions they underscore the historical union of reg-
num and sacerdotium. The concordance of the two powers which charac-
terized Old Testament rule is reiterated in the tympanum through Christ
who combined kingship and priesthood in his person.19

Based on the St. Denis model and on the understanding of sacral

kingship as it developed in the twelfth century, it is possible to see in the
Pèlerinage an iconographie program which posits two historically dis-
tinct forms of kingship as political successors. In this manner, the theo-
cratic monarchy of the Carolingian era would serve as a figurai antecedent
of the Christocentric rule of later centuries. The initial portrait of Charle-
magne at St. Denis could thus be read as an announcement of the Christ-
centered rule suggested in the scene in Jerusalem.

This hypothesis would be convincing only if it could account as well

for the third coronation, the crowning of Charles in Constantinople, and
explain the enigmatic portrait of King Hugon on the plow, The emperor
enthroned in Jerusalem (vv. 119, 157) and the king who is seated on the
plow in Constantinople, "a cel paile tendut verrez lu rei seant" (v. 281), are
developed throughout the Pèlerinage as ambiguous mirror images of one
another. It is clear from the first description of it that Hugon's plow is not
a simple farm implement. It is described, rather, as a throne, "Une chaiere
sus le tent d'or suzpendant, / La sist li emperere, sur un cuisin vaillant"
(vv. 288-289), a throne which recalls closely the chaere occupied by
Charlemagne in Jerusalem:

Karlemaine i entrat, ben out al queror grant joie.

Cum il vit la chaere, icel part s'aprocet:
Li emperere s'asist, un petit se reposet.

(vv. 118-120)

When Charlemagne arrives in Jerusalem he announces that he is search-
ing for Hugon, the thirteenth king in a series of rivals, "Duze reis ai cun-
quis par force e par barnez: / Li trezime vois querre" (vv. 167-168). Yet the
Byzantine ruler is not to be found at this site. What we witness instead is
Charlemagne depicted as a ruler who constitutes the thirteenth member of

l9Kantorowicz, pp. 42-86.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 171

his group of peers, "Duze cuntes vi ore en cel muster entrer: / Oveoc euls le

trezime, une ne vi si forment!" (vv. 137-138). And when this Christian king
sits in Christ's seat, he temporarily assumes the pose of Christ in Majesty
surrounded by twelve apostles.

The same numerical arrangement is reiterated in Constantinople

where Charlemagne is said to occupy the thirteenth bed while his men re-
pose in the remaining twelve (vv. 425-427). It is clear that the repeated
characterization of Charlemagne as the thirteenth member of a group is
conditioned by a willful association between this king and Christ. One
wonders if the apostolic connection is designed to apply to Hugon as well,
since Hugon is specifically designated as the thirteenth king whom
Charlemagne is seeking (vv. 152-153) and since the text also states overtly
that the goal of Charlemagne's voyage is to meet God who is repeatedly
cast as the thirteenth member of the group of apostles, "Et dist li patri-
arches: Ben avez espleitez / Quant Deus venistes querre;" (vv. 167-168).

Whatever the significance of this insistence on the apostolic connec-

tion held by both Charlemagne and Hugon, it is difficult to explain this
link in terms of Carolingian, Capetian, or Byzantine rule. One finds a
more convincing analog, however, in the description of liturgical king-
ship on the St. Denis façade. Here we see Christ in majesty flanked by the
twelve apostles.20 Their rôle is to aid the God-king in pronouncing the fi-
nal judgment, since the ultimate purpose of the elaborate iconographie
program on the abbey façade is to depict the final day of reckoning.

The best known medieval commentary of the Last Judgment, pro-

duced by Honorius of Autun, a contemporary of Suger, emphasizes, as do
the Pèlerinage and the St. Denis tympanum, the seating arrangement of
the apostolic group. As Honorius explains, the seated Christ will pass
judgment with the aid of apostles resting on twelve triumphant seats. He
specifies as well the presence of angels sounding trumpets to awaken the
dead, and a terrifying storm of heat and cold.21 This passage corresponds
very closely to the description of Charlemagne's experience at Hugon's

20The rôle of the apostles in the Last Judgment has a long tradition in Christian
and especially Byzantine art before appearing at St. Denis.

21Yves Lefèvre, ed.. L'Élucidarium et les Lucidares de Honorius Augustodunen-
sis (Paris: E. De Boccard, 1954). Livre III: 60-61. p. 182.

172 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

palace. Before falling victim to a horrible maelstrom, Charles hears two

angels blowing ivory horns which make a sound similar to that of para-

Cascun tient en sa buche un corn d'ivoire blanc.

Celés imagenes cornent, l'une al altre surrist,


C'est avis qui l'ascute qu'il seit en paraïs,
La u li angel chantent et suëf e seriz!
Mult fud grant li orages, la neif e li gresilz,
Et li vent durs e forz, qui tant bruit e fremist.

(vv. 353, 373, 376-379)22

This evidence suggests that Charlemagne's trial in Constantinople
functions, to some degree at least, as a kind of Last Judgment, rather than
as a mere test of his royal or political power. This should not surprise us
since the avowed purpose for the emperor's visit to the Byzantine capital is
precisely to seek judgment of his earthly accomplishments and monarchal
authority. Read in terms of the iconographic plan at St. Denis, the third
portrait of kingship in the Pèlerinage would thus not be historical, as were
its predecessors, but apocalyptic. The final coronation of Charlemagne is
indeed described as a kind of apotheosis: the ruler who has surpassed all
earthly limitations has proven himself worthy to become king in eternity.
Honorius's description of the Last Judgment offers a similarly concrete
evocation of the sacralization of royal authority by equating the royal in-
signia with those of Christ and the imperial crown with Christ's crown
(Livre III: 51, p. 80). In the Pèlerinage, the elevation of the monarch to
Christological status is shown tangibly through the image of Charles's
crown which stands higher than that of his rival King Hugon (vv. 809-810,
818-827), so that Charlemagne now truly merits the title conferred upon
him in Jerusalem: king "sur tuz reis curunez" (v. 158).

Thus, in the scene of final judgment at Constantinople, the two

22Margaret Schlauch has noted the resemblance between the angels blowing
horns in the Pèlerinage and those on the Boukkeleon gate in Constantinople, "The Palace of
Hugon de Constantinople," Speculum. 7 (October 1932). pp. 500-514. While this monument
might well have inspired the imagery in the Pèlerinage, the angels described in the epic text
have been recast to conform to a specifically medieval rôle: that of announcing Paradise and
the Last Judgment.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 173

monarchs (whose portraits reflect one another in ambiguous similarity

throughout the narrative), emerge as bearers of opposite fates. King Hu-
gon who suffers defeat at the hands of the newly-glorified French monarch
is the epitome of royal authority based on material wealth alone. Even the
worldly Charlemagne is in awe of Hugon's "paleis e la richesce grant; / A
or fin sum les tables, les chaeres, li banc," (vv. 343-344). Cast down from
this throne of opulent splendor, Hugon resembles the rich king who falls
from the wheel of Fortune in numerous medieval depictions of the day of
reckoning.23 The downward motion of the wheel serves typically in medi-
eval iconography to signal the vulnerable position of royalty whose
wealth and power are only temporarily assured. In the Pèlerinage we find
a metaphorical version of the wheel of Fortune which brings the wealthy
King Hugon to his knees while Charles, like the king on the ascendent
side of the cosmic wheel, is raised simultaneously toward the summit of
power.24 This figurative spinning of the wheel of Fortune is rendered in
yet another way by the intriguing description of Hugon's rotating palace.
Although this incident has generally been interpreted by scholars as the
turning of a domed ceiling, the text specifies that the spinning of Hugon's
castle is not horizontal in the manner of a twirling dome, but that it fol-
lows a vertical line of descent, "Il le funt turneër e menut e suvent /
Cumme roë de char qui a tere decent," (vv. 356-357). While the passage in
question contains a curious mélange of discordant elements, the text
clearly associates the turning palace with apocalyptic chaos, stating that
the rotation is caused by the blowing of paradisial horns:

De quivre e de metal tregeté dous enfanz:

Cascun tient en sa buche un corn d'ivoire blanc.
Si galerne ist de mer, bise ne altre vent
Ki ferent al paleis de devers occident,
Il le funt turneër e menut e suvent
Cumme röe de char qui a tere decent.

(vv. 352-357)

Thus, the scene in which Charles undergoes the trial of judgment com-

23Émile Mâle, L'Art religieux du XIIIe siècle en France (Paris: Armand Colin,
1958). pp. 93-97.

24Actually, Charles is also cast to the ground as a result, it seems, of his admira-
tion for Hugon's splendid opulence (vv. 365-387). The French monarch's position is restored,
however, in the final coronation (vv. 816-817) when he replaces Hugon in the rôle of most es-
teemed king.

174 Olifant / Vol 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

bines, in a single image of apocalyptic horror, the classical portrayal of

fate with a more Christian view of the end of time, as the wheel of Fortune
is merged with angels who announce the final cataclysm. For Charle-
magne, as we have seen, is not presented as a mere successor in a long line
of dethroned kings. As a Christocentric monarch Charles wears, in the fi-
nal scene of coronation, a crown of glorified authority which raises him
closer to God. He is thus like the righteous men in Honorius's commen-
tary who "s'élèveront grâce aux deux ailes de la charité, tandis que les im-
pies seront abaissés vers la terre" (Livre III: 53, p. 181 ).

There remains, however, the curious portrait of King Hugon as he

appears to Charles before the judgment scene, seated on a golden plow:

Chevalchet li emperere, ne se vait atargeant:

Truvat lu rei Hugun a sa carue arant.
Les conjugles en sunt a or fin relusant,
Li essués e les röes e li cultres arant.

(vv. 282-285)25

This image of the Byzantine king offers an intriguing mélange of imperial
splendor and menial labor. Hugon is seated on a silk feather cushion (vv.
289-290), beneath an elegant canopy (v. 281), his feet resting on an inlaid
stool (v. 291). The cryptic combination of land cultivation and regal pomp
becomes less puzzling when we recall that the medieval Latin term carruca
(which gives carue in Old French) has royal as well as agricultural conno-
tations. It is not until the twelfth century that char and charrue are distin-
guished with regularity, the earliest attestation of charrue appearing in the
Roman d'Alexandre of ca. 1150.26 We do know that the word denoting

25See also vv. 299-300, 317-318.

26For a thorough discussion of the lexical differentiation of char and charrue, see
Albert Dauzal, Nouveau Dictionnaire étymologique et historique (Paris, 1964), pp. 154-155;
A. Ernout and A. Meillet, Dictionnaire Étymologique de la langue latine (Paris, 1932), p. 153;
W. Foerster, "Der Pflug in Frankreich und vers 296 in Karl des Grossen Wallfahrt nach Jeru-
salem," Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, 29 (1905), pp. 1-17; La Curne de Sainte-Palaye,
Dictionnaire historique de l'ancien langage français (Paris, 1877), pp. 387. 403; Émile Littré,
Dictionnaire de la langue française (Paris: J. J. Pauvert, 1956), pp. 142, 172-173; Tobler-
Lommatzsch, Etymologisches Worterbuch der französischen Sprache (Heidelberg, 1969), pp.
216, 290; E. Winkler, "Zur Lokalisierung des sog. Capitulare de Villis," Zeitschrift für roma-
nische Philologie, 37 (1913), pp. 535-537: 38 (1914). pp. 561-562; Lynn White, Medieval
Technology and Social Change (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), pp. 50-51.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 175

"plow" in the later Middle Ages bore a close linguistic association, from

Roman times through the eleventh century, with a wheeled vehicle used
initially for the transportation of royalty. In this light, the portrait of Hu-
gon in the Pèlerinage can be read as a literary conflation of the royal and
pastoral functions inherent in the term carruca used both as char and char-
rue. Hugon, as he is depicted in the Pèlerinage, appears both as the mon-
arch in his triumphal chariot and as the laborer guiding the plow.

This somewhat surprising image of royalty that Charles witnesses be-

fore the test of the Last Judgment can be read, then, as a portrait of king-
ship in which divine and terrestrial functions are thoroughly fused, in
which priest and king are one. It is difficult to square this portrait of the
Byzantine king with that of the ominous eastern rival who threatened
Charles's sovereignty at the outset of the text. If we return to the opening
passage, however, the menace that King Hugon creates for Charles's king-
ship is not one of military supremacy, for Charles remains most preu in

Mais n'est mie si pruz ne si bon chevalers

Pur ferir en bataile ne pur ost encaucer!

(vv. 28-29)

Hugon wears the royal crown more suitably, according to Charles's wife,
because the Byzantine king disposes of more wealth, "Plus est riche d'aver
e d'or e de deners" (v. 27). While Charles's power is based on the acquisi-
tion of land:

Dame, veïstes unkes hume dedesuz ceil

Tant ben seïst es pee, ne la corune el chef?
Uncor cunquerrei jo citez ot mun espez!


Hugon's advantage is in material riches.

If the Pèlerinage is read in conjunction with the St. Denis façade,

however, the gold at the end of Charlemagne's journey would not repre-
sent the material wealth of the splendid monarch who falls from the wheel
of Fortune. Rather, the gold which Charlemagne seeks from the beginning
of the tale, the gold which makes Hugon superior, would be of spiritual
significance, in line with the famous dictum engraved on the doors of the

176 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

abbey church. Speaking of the light of Christ who is described as the gol-

den door, the text reads: "The dull mind rises to truth through that which
is material / And seeing this light, is resurrected from its former submer-
sion."27 This kind of gold is found in the Pèlerinage in the uncanny im-
age of Hugon's charrue d'or.28In the golden plow, the king's riches are
combined with humble work much as Christ's spiritual wealth is set in
material poverty. While the combination of regal and pastoral motifs is
clearly inappropriate for describing either the historical Byzantine kings
or the eastern monarchs of French epic, it makes sense as an evocation of
liturgical kingship for which the Christ-king was the model. One has only
to recall, for example, Bede's description, "Always, the Lord deemed it
worthy not only to become man for our own sake, while being God, but
also poor, while being rich, so as to make us participants of his richness
and divinity by virtue of his poverty and manhood."29 Only in Christ can
wealth and poverty be one; only in Christ and in His terrestrial double: the

Thus the golden plow in the Pèlerinage can be seen to depict impe-

rial wealth put to new use, a notion which recurs frequently in Suger's De
Administratione. He declares that every costly and costlier thing should
serve first and foremost for the administration of the Holy Eucharist. Gold
should be made into "golden pouring vessels, golden vials, golden little
mortars," in the interest of "his kingdom," that is to say the spiritual
realm, as opposed to the glorious kingdoms of monarchs on earth.30 In
the Pèlerinage, Charlemagne is cast initially in the rôle of a king whose
opulent treasures result from the spoils of war, while Hugon's gold is em-

27Panofsky, Abbot Suger and the Abbey Church of St. Denis and Its Art Treas-
ures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1916). p. 47.

28In De Administratione, 25, Suger accords prime importance to the spiritual
rather than the royal function of gold, stating that he desires to build the church at St. Denis
more than to obtain the treasures of Constantinople (cited by Panofsky, Abbot Suger and the
Abbey Church,
p. 45). The curious discussion about the possible theft of Hugon's plow in the
Pèlerinage (vv. 320-324) can also be explained in terms of Sugerian philosophy. In De Ad-
ministratione he supposes that the treasures in Hagia Sophia have been hidden in order to
protect them from the pillage of war, and he encourages instead the use of gold for religious
purposes, to attain the peaceful kingdom of Christ. Hugon's realm in Constantinople exem-
plifies this line of thought since it is free from both war and theft.

29Homilia XV, Patrologia Latina 94, col. 80.
30Panofsky, Abbot Suger, pp. 65-67.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 177

ployed in the tranquil cultivation of a field from which battle is absent.

The eastern king is hailed as superior because his extensive riches are not
only material but spiritual as well. Charlemagne's conquest of this formi-
dable rival results not in the taking of booty but in the appropriation of
other-worldly riches. During the confrontation that occurs between the
two monarchs in Constantinople, Charlemagne, who was portrayed ini-
tially as a warrior-king, is recast in a peaceful, pastoral mode. He now at-
tains victory "sanz bataille campel" (v. 859).31

The portrait of King Hugon as plowman which precedes Charle-

magne's apocalyptic trial, seems to serve as a marker along the path, an
indication of the new rule that the French monarch will inaugurate
through pacific conquest of the rival king. This final royal portrait an-
nounces the Last Judgment scene in the Pèlerinage in much the same way
that Isaiah, in one of the earliest apocalyptic texts, announces celestial
paradise. The conversion from battle sword to peaceful plow in the
Pèlerinage calls to mind Isaiah's famous exhortation that his followers
hammer their swords into plowshares, abandoning the pursuit of war to
walk in the golden light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:5). In contrast, he describes
the forsaken peoples through images of royal wealth and triumphal chari-
ots, "They are replenished from the east, their land also is full of silver and
gold. Neither is there any end of their treasures. Their land is also full of
horses. Neither is there any end of their chariots" (2:7). The Pèlerinage
uses both motifs of chariot and plow but arranges them in a transforma-
tive sequence so that Hugon's chariot becomes a plow for the cultivation
of both terrestrial and spiritual riches. The metaphor is brought to its log-
ical conclusion in the final lines of the poem where we learn that the
treasures which Charlemagne has acquired from the Byzantine ruler will
be offered as gifts upon the altar of St. Denis (vv. 865-867). This again is
material wealth put to spiritual use, as Charlemagne's golden catch is
plowed back into the Church.

It has been suggested that Charlemagne's journey through the

Pèlerinage does not go anywhere, that events in Jerusalem and Constanti-
nople function in large part as figurae of St. Denis itself, designed not as

31Non violent triumph was the hallmark of Suger's mature diplomatic career.
His two greatest victories, suppression of the coup d'état launched by the brother of Louis
VII, and stemming the invasion of the emperor Henry V of Germany, were notably bloodless
(Crosby pp. 232-233.)

178 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

representations of historical events but historical illustrations of Suger's

philosophy.32 If we read the Pèlerinage in light of the iconographie pro-
gram on the façade of St. Denis, we reach a similar conclusion by different
means. Within the stone monuments of the west façade dedicated to the
representation of the Last Judgment, there is no indication of physical
space in which time could pass. Kings and Christ are portrayed in an ideal
sphere among persons who lived in different epochs. While some figures
are shown in particular moments of their lives, these moments are made
permanent.33 The Pèlerinage in like manner can be seen to offer a series of
portraits which use historical events to substantiate the notion of sacral
kingship. Narrative movement in the text does not emphasize progression
from place to place, or between events, but the moving together of royal
and religious duties.

In this sense, Charlemagne's journey exists both as a pilgrimage and

a voyage. The term voyage from viaticum denotes specifically the money
or provisions necessary for the journey along the via, signifying the path
where chariots pass and leave their tracks.34 As a voyager, Charlemagne
seeks initially the kingship of imperial splendor symbolized by the gold
and wealth of King Hugon. In the course of the tale, however, the political
voyage is conjoined with a peregrinatio whose etymology (per ager) desig-
nates movement away from the city, through the fields toward a more rus-
tic setting.35 With the discovery of King Hugon in whom regal and spirit-
ual functions are united, Charlemagne witnesses kingship of a
superterrestrial sort, kingship symbolized by the gold of a chariot-plow
which leaves no earthly tracks since, like the chariot described by Hono-
rius in his commentary on the Last Judgment, it travels (figuratively)
above ground (Livre III: 60-61, p. 182).36

The conflation of char and charrue and the attendant confusion of

royal and pastoral functions in the Pèlerinage is thus not without pur-

32Alfred Adler, "The Pèlerinage de Charlemagne in New Light on St. Denis,"
Speculum, 22 ( 1947), pp. 550-561.

33Katzenellenbogen. p. 93.
34Ernout et Meillet, pp. 1058-1059.
35Ibid., pp. 21-22.

36See also Psalm 67:18 of the Vulgate, in which the chariots of God travel to Si-
nai, the Holy Place.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 179

pose. It serves, rather, as a kind of linguistic keystone in the architectonic

structure of this strikingly unconventional epic. The fusion of royal
wealth and spiritual riches emblemized so succinctly in Hugon's chariot-
plow can be seen as an iconographie template for an elaborate textual
program in which pilgrimage and crusade are one. A historical counter-
part for this fusion of sacral and secular voyage is found in the consolida-
tion of regnum and sacerdotium, which is perhaps most aptly illustrated
by Louis VI's statement following the attempted invasion of French soil
by the German emperor Henry V. While presenting a sizeable donation to
the abbey church, Louis declared its dual purpose to be "for the salvation
of our soul and for the benefit of the government and the defense of the
realm."37 The king here exchanges crusade for pilgrimage as the military
defense of land becomes synonymous with the salvation of man's soul. For
Suger, the campaign against the German emperor, although it involved
no active combat or deployment of troops, was itself a kind of crusade. The
victory, he declares, was "as great or even greater than if it had been won
on the field of battle."38 This crusade is precisely one in which no over-
land journey is necessary. It is similar, in this respect, to the spiritual pil-
grimage of the Christian soul which it ensures. For Louis and Suger alike,
the ideal military campaign and the Christian journey are peaceful en-
counters requiring no active travel.

In the Pèlerinage, we are confronted with a monumental view of

kingship depicted through a minimum of physical displacement. Narra-
tive progression in the text serves to chart an increasing sacralization of
royal authority as the tale moves from the initial portrait of the mortal
Charlemagne as vicar of God on earth, to the divinized God-king in Jeru-
salem, to the visionary evocation of the eternally righteous king beyond
judgment in Constantinople. If the text, as I have tried to suggest, is a
statement about monarchal power in the abstract, rather than the com-
memoration of a specific battle or the glorification of royal military
strength, the repeated scenes of coronation can be seen to function as con-
stant reminders, literary assertions, of a political hierarchy struggling to
maintain royalty at its summit. For the Pèlerinage does not stand in neat
mimetic relation to the political events of the twelfth century. The pre-
dominant trend in the European definition of kingship was precisely con-

37Von Simson, p. 76.

38 "Vie de Louis le Gros," 37, p. 104.

180 Olifant / Vol. 10, No. 4 / Autumn 1984 - Winter 1985

trary to Suger's plan of harmony between royalty and priesthood. As the

prolonged struggle of investitures attests, the delicate balance between ec-
clesiastical and monarchal relations was beset throughout the twelfth cen-
tury with the threat of radical revision. The Investiture Contest stemmed
ultimately from the more fundamental problem of defining the proper re-
lationship between spiritual office and material property. This prolonged
conflict resulted finally in the defeat of royal theocracy, a defeat marked
most vividly by dissolution of the spell of the coronation ordines and the
notion of Christ-centered kingship.39

In the image of visionary kingship that it advances, the Pèlerinage

can be seen as a literary remedy for historical events, an attempt to arrest
historical change by freezing medieval kingship in a glorified gesture.
Through its fictional sacralization of the coronation rite, the text offers a
kind of literary compensation for the excision of consecration from the
rights of royalty, a literary hedge against the reduction of monarchal au-
thority to regnum without sacerdotium. In place of the judgment of the
French monarch, promised at the outset of the Pèlerinage, the text substi-
tutes an apotheosis of Charlemagne into a king beyond judgment, a ruler
who will judge others from a seat of perfectly balanced power: the throne
of the crusading monarch and the plow of the pious pilgrim.

This apocalyptic transformation of the French monarch requires no

elaborate quest or voyage. The weapon wielded to combat the threat
against royal sovereignty in the Pèlerinage is a careful iconographie order-
ing of narrative units. From the powerful linguistic association of char
and charrue, the text builds a comprehensive ideological program of reg-
num and sacerdotium which can be seen to account for the strangely en-
igmatic portrayal of both Christian and Byzantine rulers. Geographic dis-
placement of characters, whether to enlarge the royal domain or save one's
soul, is superseded by the careful positioning of textual icons, which
themselves validate royal political supremacy. War is similarly diffused
into a less violent linguistic equivalent: verbal gabs. In a tale that relegates
the device of the voyage to a purely accessory status, it is not surprising
that personal pilgrimage toward Christ and political crusade to bolster the
realm go nowhere in particular. They converge rather to form the outline

39Kantorowicz, p. 90ff., Katzenellenbogen, p. 33.

Burns / Portraits of Kingship in the Pèlerinage / 181

of a sedentary king whose monarchal authority is guaranteed not by costly

feats of military aggression, but by the visionary and unassailable bond of
the plow turned throne and the chariot made carrue.

E. Jane Burns

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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