Charlemagne (or Charles the Great)
The greatest of the Frankish kings. Charlemagne was the
elder son of Pepin the Short and succeeded his father in
768–814 C.E. He was Emperor of the West, 800–814 C.E. He had
a close connection with the supernatural according to legend.
Very often in the pages of French romance, the emperor was
visited by angels who were considered to be the direct messengers
of the heavenly power.
These visitations, of course, were meant to symbolize his position
as the head of Christendom in the world. He was its upholder,
with the Moors on his southern borders and the pagans
(Prussians and Saxons) to the north and west. Charles was regarded
by the Christians of Europe as the direct representative
of heaven, whose mission it was to Christianize Europe and to
defend its true faith in every way. Charlemagne and his court
were also connected with the realm of fairies. Encounters with
the fairy folk by his paladins were not so numerous in the original
French romances that deal with his court, but in the hands
of Boiardo, Ariosto, and Pulci, the paladins dwelled in an enchanted
region where at any moment they might have met with
all kinds of supernatural beings.
Both in the early and late romances the powers of magic
and enchantment are ever present, chiefly instanced in magical
weapons such as the Sword Durandal of Roland, which cannot
be shivered; the magic ointments of giants like Ferragus, which
when applied provide invulnerablity; and armor that exercises
a similar guardianship on the body of its possessor. Heroes like
Ogier the Dane penetrated into fairyland itself and wedded its
queens. This union with fairyland was the fate of a great many
medieval heroes. The analogous cases of Tom-a-Lincolne,
Tannhäuser, and Thomas the Rhymer are also relevant. The
magic and the marvels are everywhere in use in the romances
that deal with Charlemagne.
He died on January 28, 814 C.E. and was buried in Aachen.
Cabaniss, Allen. Charlemagne. New York Twayne Publishers,
Easton, Steward C. The Era of Charlemagne. New York Van
Nostrand, 1961.
Shepard, Les. The History of Street Literature. Detroit Singing
Tree Press, 1973.