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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times|
Charlemagne And His Wars.
by Guizot, M.
|The most judicious minds are sometimes led blindly by tradition and habit, rather than enlightened by reflection and experience. Pepin the Short committed at his death the same mistake that his father, Charles Martel, had committed: he divided his dominions between his two sons, Charles and Carloman, thus destroying again that unity of the Gallo- Frankish monarchy which his father and he had been at so much pains to establish. But, just as had already happened in 746 through the abdication of Pepin's brother, events discharged the duty of repairing the mistake of men. After the death of Pepin, and notwithstanding that of Duke Waifre, insurrection broke out once more in Aquitaine; and the old duke, Hunald, issued from his monastery in the island of Rhe to try and recover power and independence. Charles and Carloman marched against him; but, on the march, Carloman, who was jealous and thoughtless, fell out with his brother, and suddenly quitted the expedition, taking away his troops. Charles was obliged to continue it alone, which he did with complete success. At the end of this first campaign, Pepin's widow, the Queen-mother Bertha, reconciled her two sons; but an unexpected incident, the death of Carloman two years afterwards in 771, re-established unity more surely than the reconciliation had re-established harmony. For, although Carloman left sons, the grandees of his dominions, whether laic or ecclesiastical, assembled at Corbeny, between Laon and Rheims, and proclaimed in his stead his brother Charles, who thus became sole king of the Gallo-Franco-Germanic monarchy. And as ambition and manners had become less tinged with ferocity than they had been under the Merovingians, the sons of Carloman were not killed or shorn or even shut up in a monastery: they retired with their mother, Gerberge, to the court of Didier, king of the Lombards. "King Charles," says Eginhard, "took their departure patiently, regarding it as of no importance." Thus commenced the reign of Charlemagne.
The original and dominant characteristic of the hero of this reign, that which won for him, and keeps for him after more than ten centuries, the name of Great, is the striking variety of his ambition, his faculties, and his deeds. Charlemagne aspired to and attained to every sort of greatness, military greatness, political greatness, and intellectual greatness; he was an able warrior, an energetic legislator, a hero of poetry. And he united, he displayed all these merits in a time of general and monotonous barbarism, when, save in the Church, the minds of men were dull and barren. Those men, few in number, who made themselves a name at that epoch, rallied round Charlemagne and were developed under his patronage. To know him well and appreciate him justly, he must be examined under those various grand aspects, abroad and at home, in his wars and in his government.
In Guizot's History of Civilization in France is to be found a complete table of the wars of Charlemagne, of his many different expeditions in Germany, Italy, Spain, all the countries, in fact, that became his dominion. A summary will here suffice. From 769 to 813, in Germany and Western and Northern Europe, Charlemagne conducted thirty-one campaigns against the Saxons, Frisons, Bavarians, Avars, Slavons, and Danes; in Italy, five against the Lombards; in Spain, Corsica, and Sardinia, twelve against the Arabs; two against the Greeks; and three in Gaul itself, against the Aquitanians and the Britons; in all, fifty-three expeditions; amongst which those he undertook against the Saxons, the Lombards, and the Arabs, were long and difficult wars. It is undesirable to recount them in detail, for the relation would be monotonous and useless; but it is obligatory to make fully known their causes, their characteristic incidents, and their results.
It has already been seen that, under the last Merovingian kings, the Saxons were, on the right bank of the Rhine, in frequent collision with the Franks, especially with the Austrasian Franks, whose territory they were continually threatening and often invading. Pepin the Short had more than once hurled them back far from the very uncertain frontiers of Germanic Austrasia; and, on becoming king, he dealt his blows still farther, and entered, in his turn, Saxony itself. "In spite of the Saxons' stout resistance," says Eginhard (Annales, t. i., p. 135), "he pierced through the points they had fortified to bar entrance into their country, and, after having fought here and there battles wherein fell many Saxons, he forced them to promise that they would submit to his rule; and that, every year, to do him honor, they would send to the general assembly of the Franks a present of three hundred horses. When these conventions were once settled, he insisted, to insure their performance, upon placing them under the guarantee of rites peculiar to the Saxons; then he returned with his army to Gaul."
Charlemagne did not confine himself to resuming his father's work; he before long changed its character and its scope. In 772, being left sole master of France after the death of his brother Carloman, he convoked at Worms the general assembly of the Franks, "and took," says Eginhard, "the resolution of going and carrying war into Saxony. He invaded it without delay, laid it waste with fire and sword, made himself master of the fort of Ehresburg, and threw down the idol that the Saxons called Irminsul." And in what place was this first victory of Charlemagne won? Near the sources of the Lippe, just where, more than seven centuries before, the German Arminius (Herrmann) had destroyed the legions of Varus, and whither Germanicus had come to avenge the disaster of Varus. This ground belonged to Saxon territory; and this idol, called Irminsul, which was thrown down by Charlemagne, was probably a monument raised in honor of Arminius (Herrmann-Saule, or Herrmann's pillar), whose name it called to mind. The patriotic and hereditary pride of the Saxons was passionately roused by this blow; and, the following year, "thinking to find in the absence of the king the most favorable opportunity," says Eginhard, they entered the lands of the Franks, laid them waste in their turn, and, paying back outrage for outrage, set fire to the church not long since built at Fritzlar, by Boniface, martyr. From that time the question changed its object as well as its aspect; it was no longer the repression of Saxon invasions of France, but the conquest of Saxony by the Franks, that was to be dealt with; it was between the Christianity of the Franks and the national Paganism of the Saxons that the struggle was to take place.
For thirty years such was its character. Charlemagne regarded the conquest of Saxony as indispensable for putting a stop to the incursions of the Saxons, and the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity as indispensable for assuring the conquest of Saxony. The Saxons were defending at one and the same time the independence of their country and the gods of their fathers. Here was wherewithal to stir up and foment, on both sides, the profoundest passions; and they burst forth, on both sides, with equal fury. Whithersoever Charlemagne penetrated he built strong castles and churches; and, at his departure, left garrisons and missionaries. When he was gone the Saxons returned, attacked the forts and massacred the garrisons and the missionaries. At the commencement of the struggle, a priest of Anglo-Saxon origin, whom St. Willibrod, bishop of Utrecht, had but lately consecrated, St. Liebwin in fact, undertook to go and preach the Christian religion in the very heart of Saxony, on the banks of the Weser, amidst the general assembly of the Saxons. "What do ye" said he, cross in hand; "the idols ye worship live not, neither do they perceive: they are the work of men's hands; they can do nought either for themselves or for others. Wherefore the one God, good and just, having compassion on your errors, hath sent me unto you. If ye put not away your iniquity, I foretell unto you a trouble that ye do not expect, and that the King of Heaven hath ordained aforetime; there shall come a prince, strong and wise and indefatigable, not from afar, but from nigh at hand, to fall upon you like a torrent, in order to soften your hard hearts and bow down your proud heads. At one rush he shall invade the country; he shall lay it waste with fire and sword, and carry away your wives and children into captivity." A thrill of rage ran through the assembly; and already many of those present had begun to cut, in the neighboring woods, stakes sharpened to a point to pierce the priest, when one of the chieftains named Buto cried aloud, "Listen, ye who are the most wise. There have often come unto us ambassadors from neighboring peoples, Northmen, Slavons or Frisons; we have received them in peace, and when their messages have been heard, they have been sent away with a present. Here is an ambassador from a great God, and ye would slay him!" Whether it were from sentiment or from prudence, the multitude was calmed, or at any rate restrained; and for this time the priest retired safe and sound.
Just as the pious zeal of the missionaries was of service to Charlemagne, so did the power of Charlemagne support and sometimes preserve the missionaries. The mob, even in the midst of its passions, is not throughout or at all times inaccessible to fear. The Saxons were not one and the same nation, constantly united in one and the same assembly and governed by a single chieftain. Three populations of the same race, distinguished by names borrowed from their geographical situation, just as had happened amongst the Franks in the case of the Austrasians and Neustrians, to wit, Eastphalian or eastern Saxons, Westphalian or western, and Angrians, formed the Saxon confederation. And to them was often added a fourth peoplet of the same origin, closer to the Danes and called North-Albingians, inhabitants of the northern district of the Elbe. These four principal Saxon populations were sub-divided into a large number of tribes, who had their own particular chieftains, and who often decided, each for itself, their conduct and their fate. Charlemagne, knowing how to profit by this want of cohesion and unity amongst his foes, attacked now one and now another of the large Saxon peoplets or the small Saxon tribes, and dealt separately with each of them, according as he found them inclined to submission or resistance. After having, in four or five successive expeditions, gained victories and sustained checks, he thought himself sufficiently advanced in his conquest to put his relations with the Saxons to a grand trial. In 777, he resolved, says Eginhard, "to go and hold, at the place called Paderborn (close to Saxony) the general assembly of his people. On his arrival he found there assembled the senate and people of this perfidious nation, who, conformably to his orders, had repaired thither, seeking to deceive him by a false show of submission and devotion. . . . They earned their pardon, but on this condition, however, that, if hereafter they broke their engagements, they would be deprived of country and liberty. A great number amongst them had themselves baptized on this occasion; but it was with far from sincere intentions that they had testified a desire to become Christians."
There had been absent from this great meeting a Saxon chieftain called Wittikind, son of Wernekind, king of the Saxons at the north of the Elbe. He had espoused the sister of Siegfried, king of the Danes; and he was the friend of Ratbod, king of the Frisons. A true chieftain at heart as well as by descent, he was made to be the hero of the Saxons just as, seven centuries before, the Cheruscan Herrmann (Arminius) had been the hero of the Germans. Instead of repairing to Paderborn, Wittikind had left Saxony, and taken refuge with his brother-in-law, the king of the Danes. Thence he encouraged his Saxon compatriots, some to persevere in their resistance, others to repent them of their show of submission. War began again; and Wittikind hastened back to take part in it. In 778 the Saxons advanced as far as the Rhine; but, "not having been able to cross this river," says Eginhard, "they set themselves to lay waste with fire and sword all the towns and all the villages from the city of Duitz (opposite Cologne) as far as the confluence of the Moselle. The churches as well as the houses were laid in ruins from top to bottom. The enemy, in his frenzy, spared neither age nor sex, wishing to show thereby that he had invaded the territory of the Franks, not for plunder, but for revenge!" For three years the struggle continued, more confined in area, but more and more obstinate. Many of the Saxon tribes submitted; many Saxons were baptized; and Siegfried, king of the Danes, sent to Charlemagne a deputation, as if to treat for peace. Wittikind had left Denmark; but he had gone across to her neighbors, the Northmen; and, thence re-entering Saxony, he kindled there an insurrection as fierce as it was unexpected. In 782 two of Charlemagne's lieutenants were beaten on the banks of the Weser, and killed in the battle, together with four counts and twenty leaders, the noblest in the army; indeed the Franks were nearly all exterminated. "At news of this disaster," says Eginhard, "Charlemagne, without losing a moment, re-assembled an army and set out for Saxony. He summoned into his presence all the chieftains of the Saxons and demanded of them who had been the promoters of the revolt. All agreed in denouncing Wittikind as the author of this treason. But as they could not deliver him up, because immediately after his sudden attack he had taken refuge with the Northmen, those who, at his instigation, had been accomplices in the crime, were placed, to the number of four thousand five hundred, in the hands of the king; and, by his order, all had their heads cut off the same day, at a place called Werden, on the river Aller. After this deed of vengeance the king retired to Thionville to pass the winter there."
But the vengeance did not put an end to the war. "Blood calls for blood," were words spoken in the English parliament, in 1643, by Sir Benjamin Rudyard, one of the best citizens of his country in her hour of revolution. For three years Charlemagne had to redouble his efforts to accomplish in Saxony, at the cost of Frankish as well as Saxon blood, his work of conquest and conversion: "Saxony," he often repeated, "must be christianized or wiped out." At last, in 785, after several victories which seemed decisive, he went and settled down in his strong castle of Ehresburg, "whither he made his wife and children come, being resolved to remain there all the bad season," says Eginhard, and applying himself without cessation to scouring the country of the Saxons and wearing them out by his strong and indomitable determination. But determination did not blind him to prudence and policy. "Having learned that Wittikind and Abbio (another great Saxon chieftain) were abiding in the part of Saxony situated on the other side of the Elbe, he sent to them Saxon envoys to prevail upon them to renounce their perfidy, and come, without hesitation, and trust themselves to him. They, conscious of what they had attempted, dared not at first trust to the king's word; but having obtained from him the promise they desired of impunity, and, besides, the hostages they demanded as guarantee of their safety, and who were brought to them, on the king's behalf, by Amalwin, one of the officers of his court, they came with the said lord and presented themselves before the king in his palace of Attigny [Attigny-sur-Aisne, whither Charlemagne had now returned] and there received baptism."
Charlemagne did more than amnesty Wittikind; he named him Duke of Saxony, but without attaching to the title any right of sovereignty. Wittikind, on his side, did more than come to Attigny and get baptized there; he gave up the struggle, remained faithful to his new engagements, and led, they say, so Christian a life, that some chroniclers have placed him on the list of saints. He was killed in 807, in a battle against Gerold, duke of Suabia, and his tomb is still to be seen at Ratisbonne. Several families of Germany hold him for their ancestor; and some French genealogists have, without solid ground, discovered in him the grandfather of Robert the Strong, great-grandfather of Hugh Capet. However that may be, after making peace with Wittikind, Charlemagne had still, for several years, many insurrections to repress and much rigor to exercise in Saxony, including the removal of certain Saxon peoplets out of their country and the establishment of foreign colonists in the territories thus become vacant; but the great war was at an end, and Charlemagne might consider Saxony incorporated in his dominions.
He had still, in Germany and all around, many enemies to fight and many campaigns to re-open. Even amongst the Germanic populations, which were regarded as reduced under the sway of the king of the Franks, some, the Frisons and Saxons as well as others, were continually agitating for the recovery of their independence. Farther off towards the north, east, and south, people differing in origin and language—Avars, Huns, Slavons, Bulgarians, Danes, and Northmen—were still pressing or beginning to press upon the frontiers of the Frankish dominion, for the purpose of either penetrating within or settling at the threshold as powerful and formidable neighbors. Charlemagne had plenty to do, with the view at one time of checking their incursions and at another of destroying or hurling back to a distance their settlements; and he brought his usual vigor and perseverance to bear on this second struggle. But by the conquest of Saxony he had attained his direct national object: the great flood of population from East to West came, and broke against the Gallo-Franco- Germanic dominion as against an insurmountable rampart.
This was not, however, Charlemagne's only great enterprise at this epoch, nor the only great struggle he had to maintain. Whilst he was incessantly fighting in Germany, the work of policy commenced by his father Pepin in Italy called for his care and his exertions. The new king of the Lombards, Didier, and the new Pope, Adrian I., had entered upon a new war; and Dither was besieging Rome, which was energetically defended by the Pope and its inhabitants. In 773, Adrian invoked the aid of the king of the Franks, whom his envoys succeeded, not without difficulty, in finding at Thionville. Charlemagne could not abandon the grand position left him by his father as protector of the Papacy and as patrician of Rome. The possessions, moreover, wrested by Didier from the Pope were exactly those which Pepin had won by conquest from King Astolphus, and had presented to the Papacy. Charlemagne was, besides, on his own account, on bad terms with the king of the Lombards, whose daughter, Desiree, he had married, and afterwards repudiated and sent home to her father, in order to marry Hildegarde, a Suabian by nation. Didier, in dudgeon, had given an asylum to Carloman's widow and sons, on whose intrigues Charlemagne kept a watchful eye. Being prudent and careful of appearances, even when he was preparing to strike a heavy blow, Charlemagne tried, by means of special envoys, to obtain from the king of the Lombards what the Pope demanded. On Didier's refusal he at once set to work, convoked the general meeting of the Franks, at Geneva, in the autumn of 773, gained them over, not without encountering some objections, to the projected Italian expedition, and forthwith commenced the campaign with two armies. One was to cross the Valais and descend upon Lombardy by Mount St. Bernard; Charlemagne in person led the other, by Mount Cenis. The Lombards, at the outlet of the passes of the Alps, offered a vigorous resistance; but when the second army had penetrated into Italy by Mount St. Bernard, Didier, threatened in his rear, retired precipitately, and, driven from position to position, was obliged to go and shut himself up in Pavia, the strongest place in his kingdom, whither Charlemagne, having received on the march the submission of the principal counts and nearly all the towns of Lombardy, came promptly to besiege him.
To place textually before the reader a fragment of an old chronicle will serve better than any modern description to show the impression of admiration and fear produced upon his contemporaries by Charlemagne, his person and his power. At the close of this ninth century a monk of the abbey of St. Gall, in Switzerland, had collected, direct from the mouth of one of Charlemagne's warriors, Adalbert, numerous stories of his campaigns and his life. These stories are full of fabulous legends, puerile anecdotes, distorted reminiscences, and chronological errors, and they are written sometimes with a credulity and exaggeration of language which raise a smile; but they reveal the state of men's minds and fancies within the circle of Charlemagne's influence and at the sight of him. This monk gives a naive account of Charlemagne's arrival before Pavia and of the king of the Lombards' disquietude at his approach. Didier had with him at that time one of Charlemagne's most famous comrades, Ogier the Dane, who fills a prominent place in the romances and epopoeas, relating to chivalry, of that age. Ogier had quarrelled with his great chief and taken refuge with the king of the Lombards. It is probable that his Danish origin and his relations with the king of the Danes, Gottfried, for a long time an enemy of the Franks, had something to do with his misunderstanding with Charlemagne. However that may have been, "when Didier and Ogger (for so the monk calls him) heard that the dread monarch was coming, they ascended a tower of vast height, whence they could watch his arrival from afar off and from every quarter. They saw, first of all, engines of war such as must have been necessary for the armies of Darius or Julius Caesar. 'Is not Charles,' asked Didier of Ogger, 'with this great army?' But the other answered, 'No.' The Lombard, seeing afterwards an immense body of soldiery gathered from all quarters of the vast empire, said to Ogger, 'Certes, Charles advanceth in triumph in the midst of this throng.' 'No, not yet; he will not appear so soon,' was the answer. 'What should we do, then,' rejoined Didier, who began to be perturbed, 'should he come accompanied by a larger band of warriors?' 'You will see what he is when he comes,' replied Ogger, 'but as to what will become of us I know nothing.' As they were thus parleying appeared the body of guards that knew no repose; and at this sight the Lombard, overcome with dread, cried, 'This time 'tis surely Charles.' 'No,' answered Ogger, 'not yet.' In their wake came the bishops, the abbots, the ordinaries of the chapels royal, and the counts; and then Didier, no longer able to bear the light of day or to face death, cried out with groans, 'Let us descend and hide ourselves in the bowels of the earth, far from the face and the fury of so terrible a foe. Trembling the while, Ogger, who knew by experience what were the power and might of Charles, and who had learned the lesson by long consuetude in better days, then said, 'When ye shall behold the crops shaking for fear in the fields, and the gloomy Po and the Ticino overflowing the walls of the city with their waves blackened with steel (iron), then may ye think that Charles is coming.' He had not ended these words when there began to be seen in the west, as it were a black cloud, raised by the north-west wind or by Boreas, which turned the brightest day into awful shadows. But as the emperor drew nearer and nearer, the gleam of arms caused to shine on the people shut up within the city a day more gloomy than any kind of night. And then appeared Charles himself, that man of steel, with his head encased in a helmet of steel, his hands garnished with gauntlets of steel, his heart of steel and his shoulders of marble protected by a cuirass of steel, and his left hand armed with a lance of steel which he held aloft in the air, for as to his right hand he kept that continually on the hilt of his invincible sword. The outside of his thighs, which the rest, for their greater ease in mounting a horseback, were wont to leave unshackled even by straps, he wore encircled by plates of steel. What shall I say concerning his boots? All the army were wont to have them invariably of steel; on his buckler there was nought to be seen but steel; his horse was of the color and the strength of steel. All those who went before the monarch, all those who marched at his side, all those who followed after, even the whole mass of the army, had armor of the like sort, so far as the means of each permitted. The fields and the highways were covered with steel: the points of steel reflected the rays of the sun; and this steel, so hard, was borne by a people with hearts still harder. The flash of steel spread terror through-out the streets of the city. 'What steel! alack, what steel!' Such were the bewildered cries the citizens raised. The firmness of manhood and of youth gave way at sight of the steel; and the steel paralyzed the wisdom of graybeards. That which I, poor tale-teller, mumbling and toothless, have attempted to depict in a long description, Ogger perceived at one rapid glance, and said to Didier, 'Here is what ye have so anxiously sought:' and whilst uttering these words he fell down almost lifeless."
The monk of St. Gall does King Didier and his people wrong. They showed more firmness and valor than he ascribes to them: they resisted Charlemagne obstinately, and repulsed his first assaults so well that he changed the siege into an investment and settled down before Pavia, as if making up his mind for a long operation. His camp became a town; he sent for Queen Hildegarde and her court; and he had a chapel built, where he celebrated the festival of Christmas. But on the arrival of spring, close upon the festival of Easter, 774, wearied with the duration of the investment, he left to his lieutenants the duty of keeping it up, and, attended by a numerous and brilliant following, set off for Rome, whither the Pope was urgently pressing him to come.
On Holy Saturday, April 1, 774, Charlemagne found, at three miles from Rome, the magistrates and the banner of the city, sent forward by the Pope to meet him; at one mile all the municipal bodies and the pupils of the schools carrying palm-branches and singing hymns; and at the gate of the city, the cross, which was never taken out save for exarchs and patricians. At sight of the cross Charlemagne dismounted, entered Rome on foot, ascended the steps of the ancient basilica of St. Peter, repeating at each step a sign of respectful piety, and was received at the top by the Pope himself. All around him and in the streets a chant was sung, "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord!" At his entry and during his sojourn at Rome Charlemagne gave the most striking proofs of Christian faith and respect for the head of the Church. According to the custom of pilgrims he visited all the basilicas, and in that of St. Maria Maggiore he performed his solemn devotions. Then, passing to temporal matters, he caused to be brought and read over, in his private conferences with the Pope, the deed of territorial gift made by his father Pepin to Stephen II., and with his own lips dictated the confirmation of it, adding thereto a new gift of certain territories which he was in course of wresting by conquest from the Lombards. Pope Adrian, on his side, rendered to him, with a mixture of affection and dignity, all the honors and all the services which could at one and the same time satisfy and exalt the king and the priest, the protector and the protected. He presented to Charlemagne a book containing a collection of the canons written by the pontiffs from the origin of the Church, and he put at the beginning of the book, which was dedicated to Charlemagne, an address in forty-five irregular verses, written with his own hand, which formed an anagram: "Pope Adrian to his most excellent son Charlemagne, king." (Domino excellentissimo filio Carolo Magno regi Ipadrianus papa). At the same time he encouraged him to push his victory to the utmost and make himself king of the Lombards, advising him, however, not to incorporate his conquest with the Frankish dominions, as it would wound the pride of the conquered people to be thus absorbed by the conquerors, and to take merely the title of "King of the Franks and Lombards." Charlemagne appreciated and accepted this wise advice; for he could preserve proper limits in his ambition and in the hour of victory. Three years afterwards he even did more than Pope Adrian had advised. In 777 Queen Hildegarde bore him a son, Pepin, whom in 781 Charlemagne had baptized and anointed king of Italy at Rome by the Pope, thus separating not only the two titles, but also the two kingdoms, and restoring to the Lombards a national existence, feeling quite sure that, so long as he lived, the unity of his different dominions would not be imperilled. Having thus regulated at Rome his own affairs and those of the Church, he returned to his camp, took Pavia, received the submission of all the Lombard dukes and counts, save one only, Aregisius, duke of Beneventum, and entered France again, taking with him as prisoner King Didier, whom he banished to a monastery, first at Liege and then at Corbie, where the dethroned Lombard, say the chroniclers, ended his days in saintly fashion.
The prompt success of this war in Italy, undertaken at the appeal of the Head of the Church, this first sojourn of Charlemagne at Rome, the spectacles he had witnessed, and the homage he had received, exercised over him, his plans, and his deeds, a powerful influence. This rough Frankish warrior, chief of a people who were beginning to make a brilliant appearance upon the stage of the world, and issue himself of a new line, had a taste for what was grand, splendid, ancient, and consecrated by time and public respect; he understood and estimated at its full worth the moral force and importance of such allies. He departed from Rome in 774, more determined than ever to subdue Saxony, to the advantage of the Church as well as of his own power, and to promote, in the South as in the North, the triumph of the Frankish Christian dominion.
Three years afterwards, in 777, he had convoked at Paderborn, in Westphalia, that general assembly of his different peoples at which Wittikind did not attend, and which was destined to bring upon the Saxons a more and more obstinate war. "The Saracen Ibn-al-Arabi," says Eginhard, "came to this town, to present himself before the king. He had arrived from Spain, together with other Saracens in his train, to surrender to the king of the Franks himself and all the towns which the king of the Saracens had confided to his keeping." For a long time past the Christians of the West had given the Mussulmans, Arab or other, the name of Saracens. Ibn-al-Arabi was governor of Saragossa, and one of the Spanish Arab chieftains in league against Abdel-Rhaman, the last offshoot of the Ommiad khalifs, who, with the assistance of the Berbers, had seized the government of Spain. Amidst the troubles of his country and his nation, Ibn-al-Arabi summoned to his aid, against Abdel-Rhaman, the Franks and the Christians, just as, but lately, Maurontius, duke of Arles, had summoned to Provence, against Charles Martel, the Arabs and the Mussulmans.
Charlemagne accepted the summons with alacrity. With the coming of spring in the following year, 778, and with the full assent of his chief warriors, he began his march towards the Pyrenees, crossed the Loire, and halted at Casseneuil, at the confluence of the Lot and the Garonne, to celebrate there the festival of Easter, and to make preparations for his expedition thence. As he had but lately done for his campaign in Italy against the Lombards, he divided his forces into two armies one composed of Austrasians, Neustrians, Burgundians, and divers German contingents, and commanded by Charlemagne in person, was to enter Spain by the valley of Roncesvalles, in the western Pyrenees, and make for Pampeluna; the other, consisting of Provenccals, Septimanians, Lombards, and other populations of the South, under the command of Duke Bernard, who had already distinguished himself in Italy, had orders to penetrate into Spain by the eastern Pyrenees, to receive on the march the submission of Gerona and Barcelona, and not to halt till they were before Saragossa, where the two armies were to form a junction, and which Ibn- al-Arabi had promised to give up to the king of the Franks. According to this plan, Charlemagne had to traverse the territories of Aquitaine and Vasconia, domains of Duke Lupus II., son of Duke Waifre, so long the foe of Pepin the Short, a Merovingian by descent, and in all these qualities little disposed to favor Charlemagne. However, the march was accomplished without difficulty. The king of the Franks treated his powerful vassal well; and Duke Lupus swore to him afresh, "or for the first time," says M. Fauriel, "submission and fidelity; but the event soon proved that it was not without umbrage or without all the feelings of a true son of Waifre that he saw the Franks and the son of Pepin so close to him."
The aggressive campaign was an easy and a brilliant one. Charles with his army entered Spain by the valley of Roncesvalles without encountering any obstacle. On his arrival before Pampeluna the Arab governor surrendered the place to him, and Charlemagne pushed forward vigorously to Saragossa. But there fortune changed. The presence of foreigners and Christians on the soil of Spain caused a suspension of interior quarrels amongst the Arabs, who rose in mass, at all points, to succor Saragossa. The besieged defended themselves with obstinacy; there was more scarcity of provisions amongst the besiegers than inside the place; sickness broke out amongst them; they were incessantly harassed from without; and rumors of a fresh rising amongst the Saxons reached Charlemagne. The Arabs demanded negotiation. To decide the king of the Franks upon an abandonment of the siege, they offered him "an immense quantity of gold," say the chroniclers, hostages, and promises of homage and fidelity. Appearances had been saved; Charlemagne could say, and even perhaps believe, that he had pushed his conquests as far as the Ebro; he decided on retreat, and all the army was set in motion to recross the Pyrenees. On arriving before Pampeluna, Charlemagne had its walls completely razed to the ground, "in order that," as he said, "that city might not be able to revolt." The troops entered those same passes of Roncesvalles which they had traversed without obstacle a few weeks before; and the advance-guard and the main body of the army were already clear of them. The account of what happened shall be given in the words of Eginhard, the only contemporary historian whose account, free from all exaggeration, can be considered authentic. "The king," he says, "brought back his army without experiencing any loss, save that at the summit of the Pyrenees he suffered somewhat from the perfidy of the Vascons (Basques). Whilst the army of the Franks, embarrassed in a narrow defile, was forced by the nature of the ground to advance in one long, close line, the Basques, who were in ambush on the crest of the mountain (for the thickness of the forest with which these parts are covered is favorable to ambuscade), descend and fall suddenly on the baggage-train and on the troops of the rear-guard, whose duty it was to cover all in their front, and precipitate them to the bottom of the valley. There took place a fight in which the Franks were killed to a man. The Basques, after having plundered the baggage-train, profited by the night, which had come on, to disperse rapidly. They owed all their success in this engagement to the lightness of their equipment and to the nature of the spot where the action took place; the Franks, on the contrary, being heavily armed and in an unfavorable position, struggled against too many disadvantages. Eginhard, master of the household of the king; Anselm, count of the palace; and Roland, prefect of the marches of Brittany, fell in this engagement. There were no means, at the time, of taking revenge for this cheek; for after their sudden attack, the enemy dispersed to such good purpose that there was no gaining any trace of the direction in which they should be sought for."
History says no more; but in the poetry of the people there is a longer and a more faithful memory than in the court of kings. The disaster of Roncesvalles and the heroism of the warriors who perished there became, in France, the object of popular sympathy and the favorite topic for the exercise of the popular fancy. The Song of Roland, a real Homeric poem in its great beauty, and yet rude and simple as became its national character, bears witness to the prolonged importance attained in Europe by this incident in the history of Charlemagne. Three centuries later the comrades of William the Conqueror, marching to battle at Hastings for the possession of England, struck up The Song of Roland "to prepare themselves for victory or death," says M. Vitel, in his vivid estimate and able translation of this poetical monument of the manners and first impulses towards chivalry of the middle ages. There is no determining how far history must be made to participate in these reminiscences of national feeling; but, assuredly, the figures of Roland and Oliver, and Archbishop Turpin, and the pious, unsophisticated and tender character of their heroism are not pure fables invented by the fancy of a poet, or the credulity of a monk. If the accuracy of historical narrative must not be looked for in them, their moral truth must be recognized in their portrayal of a people and an age.
The political genius of Charlemagne comprehended more fully than would be imagined from his panegyrist's brief and dry account all the gravity of the affair of Roncesvalles. Not only did he take immediate vengeance by hanging Duke Lupus of Aquitaine, whose treason had brought down this mishap, and by reducing his two sons, Adairic and Sancho, to a more feeble and precarious condition, but he resolved to treat Aquitaine as he had but lately treated Italy, that is to say, to make of it, according to the correct definition of M. Fauriel, "a special kingdom," an integral portion, indeed, of the Frankish empire, but with an especial destination, which was that of resisting the invasions of the Andalusian Arabs, and confining them as much as possible to the soil of the Peninsula. This was, in some sort, giving back to the country its primary task as an independent duchy; and it was the most natural and most certain way of making the Aquitanians useful subjects by giving play to their national vanity, to their pretensions of forming a separate people, and to their hopes of once more becoming, sooner or later, an independent nation. Queen Hildegarde, during her husband's sojourn at Casseneuil, in 778, had borne him a son, whom he called Louis, and who was, afterwards, Louis the Debonnair. Charlemagne, summoned a second time to Rome, in 781, by the quarrels of Pope Adrian I. with the imperial court of Constantinople, brought with him his two sons, Pepin aged only four years, and Louis only three years, and had them anointed by the Pope, the former King of Italy, and the latter King of Aquitaine. "On returning from Rome to Austrasia, Charlemagne sent Louis at once to take possession of his kingdom. From the banks of the Meuse to Orleans the little prince was carried in his cradle; but once on the Loire, this manner of travelling beseemed him no longer; his conductors would that his entry into his dominions should have a manly and warrior-like appearance; they clad him in arms proportioned to his height and age; they put him and held him on horseback; and it was in such guise that he entered Aquitaine. He came thither accompanied by the officers who were to form his council of guardians, men chosen by Charlemagne, with care, amongst the Frankish 'leudes,' distinguished not only for bravery and firmness, but also for adroitness, and such as they should be to be neither deceived nor seared by the cunning, fickle, and turbulent populations with whom they would have to deal." From this period to the death of Charlemagne, and by his sovereign influence, though all the while under his son's name, the government of Aquitaine was a series of continued efforts to hurl back the Arabs of Spain beyond the Ebro, to extend to that river the dominion of the Franks, to divert to that end the forces as well as the feelings of the populations of Southern Gaul, and thus to pursue, in the South as in the North, against the Arabs as well as against the Saxons and Huns, the grand design of Charlemagne, which was the repression of foreign invasions and the triumph of Christian France over Asiatic Paganism and Islamism.
Although continually obliged to watch, and often still to fight, Charlemagne might well believe that he had nearly gained his end. He had everywhere greatly extended the frontiers of the Frankish dominions and subjugated the populations comprised in his conquests. He had proved that his new frontiers would be vigorously defended against new invasions or dangerous neighbors. He had pursued the Huns and the Saxons to the confines of the empire of the East, and the Saracens to the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. The centre of the dominion was no longer in ancient Gaul; he had transferred it to a point not far from the Rhine, in the midst and within reach of the Germanic populations, at the town of Aix-la-Chapelle, which he had founded, and which was his favorite residence; but the principal parts of the Gallo-Frankish kingdom, Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, were effectually welded in one single mass. What he had done with Southern Gaul has but just been pointed out: how he had both separated it from his own kingdom and still retained it under his control. Two expeditions into Armorica, without taking entirely from the Britons their independence, had taught them real deference, and the great warrior Roland, installed as count upon their frontier, warned them of the peril any rising would encounter. The moral influence of Charlemagne was on a par with his material power; he had everywhere protected the missionaries of Christianity; he had twice entered Rome, also in the character of protector, and he could count on the faithful support of the Pope at least as much as the Pope could count on him. He had received embassies and presents from the sovereigns of the East, Christian and Mussulman, from the emperors at Constantinople and the khalifs at Bagdad. Everywhere, in Europe, in Africa, and in Asia, he was feared and respected by kings and people. Such, at the close of the eighth century, were, so far as he was concerned, the results of his wars, of the superior capacity he had displayed, and of the successes he had won and kept.
In 799 he received, at Aix-la-Chapelle, news of serious disturbances which had broken out at Rome; that Pope Leo III. had been attacked by conspirators, who, after pulling out, it was said, his eyes and his tongue, had shut him up in the monastery of St. Erasmus, whence he had with great difficulty escaped, and that he had taken refuge with Winigisius, duke of Spoleto, announcing his intention of repairing thence to the Frankish king. Leo was already known to Charlemagne; at his accession to the pontificate, in 795, he had sent to him, as to the patrician and defender of Rome, the keys of the prison of St. Peter and the banner of the city. Charlemagne showed a disposition to receive him with equal kindness and respect. The Pope arrived, in fact, at Paderborn, passed some days there, according to Eginhard, and returned to Rome on the 30th of November, 799, at ease regarding his future, but without knowledge on the part of any one of what had been settled between the king of the Franks and him. Charlemagne remained all the winter at Aix-la-Chapelle, spent the first months of the year 800 on affairs connected with Western France, at Rouen, Tours, Orleans, and Paris, and, returning to Mayence in the month of August, then for the first time announced to the general assembly of Franks his design of making a journey to Italy. He repaired thither, in fact, and arrived on the 23d of November, 800, at the gates of Rome. The Pope received him there as he was dismounting; then, the next day, standing on the steps of the basilica of St. Peter and amidst general hallelujahs, he introduced the king into the sanctuary of the blessed apostle, glorifying and thanking the Lord for this happy event. Some days were spent in examining into the grievances which had been set down to the Pope's account, and in receiving two monks arrived from Jerusalem to present to the king, with the patriarch's blessing, the keys of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, as well as the sacred standard. Lastly, on the 25th of December, 800, "the day of the Nativity of our Lord," says Eginhard, "the king came into the basilica of the blessed St. Peter, apostle, to attend the celebration of mass. At the moment when, in his place before the altar, he was bowing down to pray, Pope Leo placed on his head a crown, and all the Roman people shouted, 'Long life and victory to Charles Augustus, crowned by God, the great and pacific emperor of the Romans!' After this proclamation the pontiff prostrated himself before him and paid him adoration, according to the custom established in the days of the old emperors; and thenceforward Charles, giving up the title of patrician, bore that of Emperor and Augustus."
Eginhard adds, in his Life of Charlemagne, "The king at first testified great aversion for this dignity, for he declared that, notwithstanding the importance of the festival, he would not on that day have entered the church, if he could have foreseen the intentions of the sovereign pontiff. However, this event excited the jealousy of the Roman emperors (of Constantinople), who showed great vexation at it; but Charles met their bad graces with nothing but great patience, and thanks to this magnanimity, which raised him so far above them, he managed, by sending to them frequent embassies and giving them in his letters the name of brother, to triumph over their conceit."
No one, probably, believed in the ninth century, and no one, assuredly, will nowadays believe, that Charlemagne was innocent beforehand of what took place on the 25th of December, 800, in the basilica of St. Peter. It is doubtful, also, if he were seriously concerned about the ill-temper of the emperors of the East. He had wit enough to understand the value which always remains attached to old traditions, and he might have taken some pains to secure their countenance to his title of emperor; but all his contemporaries believed, and he also undoubtedly believed, that he had on that day really won and set up again the Roman empire.