The Legend of Taillefer of Leon

The Saintongeaise translation of Turpin interpolates a certain Taillefer de Leon among Charlemagne’s warriors who fought in Spain. In the Chronique Saintongeaise which is prefaced to two MSS of this Turpin, we are told of this Taillefer’s namesake nephew, who allegedly lived in the days of Charles the Simple. The CS is a third-rate butchering of various older chronicles, of interest only for the bits of folklore it includes. The only English translations, to my knowledge, is a few paragraphs about Taillefer by Francis Bourdillon in Folklore 7, 1896, p. 254 sq. Although Taillafer seems to have at one time been a popular local hero in Saintonge, what follows is all that is now known of him.

During the troubles after the deposition of Charles the Simple, King Raoul of Burgundy defeated the invading Normans alongside his son Taillefer de Leon. Taillefer was given Aquitaine and Angoulême, and the daughter of Walter Frapan of Rome, who brought with her a dowry of silver, gold, and twenty thousand knights, with whom he drove the Normans from Paris. His sons were William, Count of Auvergne and Duke of Aquitaine; and Ramnulf, Count of Poitou; and Theobald. Taillefer then conquered all Germany, and drove the Hungarians and Normans out, and became emperor, and then went over-sea [to Jerusalem] and left the realm to his son Odon, who had four sons. He gave Bougogne to one of them, Geoffrey, who built the abbeys of Vendôme, with Countess Agnes his wife. He [unclear antecedent] gave his son Emonon Angoulême, Gascony, Saintonge, and Peiregorc. And he gave Walter Toulouse, Limousine, Auvergne, and all the land to the Rhine. There were three gestes in France: one of Pepin and “langre,” one of Odon of Maence, and one of Guarin of Maence, and these conquered Christendom.

Origins and Influence

This most minor of minor heroes has been discussed in depth by William Bourdillon, in an appendix to his edition of the CS, which is what we follow here. Bourdillon identifies uncle and nephew as doublets of William Taillefer I, Count of Angouleme (r. 916-962). In Ademar’s chronicle, only sixty years after his death, Taillefer is given the sword Durissimus, forged by Walander the Smith [Wayland, Volunt], and cleaves the Norse king Storim in half with it.

William Taillefer III (r. c. 1088-c.1119) was also a valiant knight, and visited the Holy Sepulchre near the end of his life.

King Rodolph the First of Burgundy (r. 888-912) did defeat the Normans, and Duke William the Pious of Aquitaine (r. 994-1019) and Count Ranulph of Poitou (r. 877-890) were also real, but they were not related to each other.

William Taillefer I was, however, the son of Raimund, Count of Toulouse and Duke of Aquitaine, who had repelled a Hungarian invasion in 924. As for the later genealogy, Odon appears to be meant for Otto the Great (r. 936-973). The founder of Vendôme was Count Geoffrey II Martel of Anjou (r. 1040-1060), no relation to the Great Otto, though his wife, Agnes, was the daughter of Otto-William (958-1026), stepson of Duke Henry of Burgundy.

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