The Legend of Charles Martel

The popular muse appears to have combined Charles the Hammer with his grandson Charles the Great. The Hammer has very few romances in which he even features and only one, to my knowledge, in which he is the protagonist. Though Pippin the Short is usually remembered as the father of Charlemagne, Pippin’s father is often forgotten, or replaced with such people as King Rother or Agnolo Michele. Even his great victory over the Muslim hordes at Tours left no trace in the oral tradition, although perhaps it lies beneath some of his grandson’s legendary victories.

There is, however, one romance in which the Hammer has a starring role: David Aubert’s Histoire de Charles Martel. Or at least, he stars in the first part. The bulk of the romance is devoted to the adventures of Girart of Roussillon, Orson of Beauvais, and the Lorrainers. The first part, however, features Charles as the protagonist. Some scholars think it is based on a lost chanson de geste. Be that as it may, the story is clearly very late, and is a typical late Carolingian cliché-fest. As David Aubert has never been printed, the following summary is based on the chapter titles as given in Paul Meyer’s introduction to Girart of Roussillon.

DAVID AUBERT’S LEGEND OF CHARLES MARTEL

Duke Gloriant of Berry lays siege to the city of Lusarne in Spain, which belongs to the Saracens. His eldest son, Huitasse [Eustace] de Berry captures Princess Ydorie of Lusarne from her guardian giant Orrible, and marries her. The Admiral [emir] is furious, takes Gloriant captive, and chases Huitasse away. He returns home to Bourges, whence his brother manages to expel him. As if this were not bad enough, King Theodorus of France [Theuderic IV] learns from his astrologers that the son of Huitasse, named Charles Martel, will be king after him, and plots to kill the lad. Fortunately, Gloriant escapes prison and returns home, where he manages to reconcile his sons. Little Charles is raised by Raimbaut the Marshall and his wife Hermentine, in Paris. He grows of an age to prove himself, and is a wonder. He participates in jousts at Paris, and wins the prize thereof and the love of King Theodorus’ daughter Marsibelle. The two are wed in Avignon. King Theodorus is furious, and imprisons the abbot of Saint-Denis and Count Galleran of Provence for allowing the wedding. He then sends Galleran to arrest his daughter and new son-in-law. Charles is gone, however. He has met Girart of Roussillon and they are adventuring together, en route to Constantinople, where they leave Marsibelle while they adventure. A long war ensues, involving King Agoulant of Jerusalem, king Menelaus of Dammarie, Emperor Belinas of Constantinople, a civil war in France between King Theodorus and Charles’ father Duke Huitasse of Berry, various minor knights and nobles, captivities, rescues, escapes, and all the usual paraphernalia, except, apparently, magic, which does not seem to feature until later in the romance. In the course of these wars, Charles impregnates Menelaus’ daughter Sagramoire. Fortunately for her, she soon marries Agoulant (who has killed Menelaus), and is able to pass off her son Archefer as Agoulant’s. Not till he is grown does she reveal the secret. Meanwhile, peace has been made in France, and King Theodorus has died, leaving the realm to his son Ydrich [Childerich III]. Archefer sees this as a sign that France is weak, and invades with a Saracen army. Charles conquers and converts him. The barons of France all agree to depose the incompetent Ydrich and make Charles king of France. After his coronation, Charles goes overseas with Archefer to convert Sagramoire. Unfortunately, they get caught up in another round of wars. Marsebille leads an army from France to Outremer, but Archefer and Sagramoire kill her. Charles captures his son, and sends him on a quest to Hell, from which, after many adventures, he returns alive, thanks to the enchanters Carniquant, whom he learned from, and Sorbrin, whom he killed and whose book he stole. Archefer presents his father with a great black horse, a gift from Lucifer himself.

Girart of Roussillon now travels to the Holy Sepulchre, and on his way home becomes engaged to Alexandrine, daughter of King Othon of Hungary.

Meanwhile, Duke Hillaire of Aquitaine, brother of Theodorus, wishes to be king of France, now that Ydrich has died. He invades, and very nearly succeeds in driving out Charles Martel, who is, however, saved by Girart. After Hillaire surrenders, Charles and Girart plan to marry the two daughters of King Othon, and the story segues into Girart of Roussillon, in a version which follows that of Wauquelin very closely.

ORIGINS OF THE LEGEND

In actual history, Charles Martel was the bastard son of Pepin II, Mayor of the Palace and de facto ruler of France. Charles was imprisoned by Pepin’s justly irritated wife Plectruda. When Pepin died in 715, Plectruda became the regent for her six-year-old grandson Theodebald. Charles, aged twenty-five, escaped from prison, a civil war broke out, the Saxons invaded, and King Dagobert III died, probably from assassination (715). The Franks opposed to Charles chose Chilperic II as their king, the son of Childeric I. Charles, while skirmishing with northern invaders, set up his own king: Clotair IV, whose exact relation to the Merovingians is unclear. Chilperic fled to Aquitaine, where Duke Eudes supported him – until Charles threatened to invade. Luckily for everyone, Clotair died, and Charles accepted Chilperic as king. Chilperic II died in 720, and the Franks elected Theuderic IV as king, the son of Dagobert III. The Moors crossed the Pyrenees that same year, and occupied the southern coast of France. Eudes recovered Toulouse in 721, but could not save Narbonne, and after several devastating raids thought it prudent to give his daughter Lampegia to the Muslim governor of Catalonia. Theuderic IV died in 727, and Charles never bothered replacing him. In 732, Abdelrahman, the Emir of Spain, attempted to conquer all of France, drove Eudes out of Aquitaine, but was defeated and slain by Eudes and Charles at the Battle of Tours [Poitiers]. In 735, Eudes died. Charles attempted to seize his territory, but was eventually obliged to leave Eudes’ son Hunauld in possession, though as his vassal. Charles next attempted conquering southwestern France, but failed to accomplish anything of value besides reclaiming Avignon for the Christians. Indeed, he often  seemed more interested in fighting Christians then the Saracens, and burned the Christian cities of Nîmes, Agde, and Beziers on his way back to the north to fight the Saxons. In 739, however he was recalled to the south by King Liutprand of Lombardy, in concert with whom he drove the Saracens (slightly) back to the west. Charles died in 741, and was succeeded as Mayor by his sons Carloman and Pepin III the Short. Faced with rebellions on every hand, including from their bastard brother Grifon, the joint Mayors raised Childeric III to the throne in 743, to help restore order. No one knows how Childeric was related to the Merovingian line, if he even really was. The rebellions were put down, Carloman retired to a monastery in 747, and Pepin, by permission of Pope Zacharias, sent Childeric to a monastery in 751 and crowned himself King. In 754 Pope Stephen II travelled to Paris to consecrate Pepin and his sons Carloman and Charles as patrici Romanorum, and forbade the people of France, under pain of excommunication, to ever take a king who was not of their family

As can be seen, there is only the vaguest resemblance between actual history and David Aubert’s romance.

Thus Charles Martel became King of France, and now let us turn to various knights who lived during his reign and what befell them, to wit:

Girart of Roussillon

Orson of Beauvais

Auberi le Bourguignon

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