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.


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.


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


The Legend of King Rother

The legend of King Rother is found in only one version, König Rother, a German poem in octosyllabic couplets from around 1160. Translated by Robert Lichtenstein, into octosyllabic couplets, in 1962, as volume 36 of the University of North Carolina Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures. Available surprisingly cheap on Amazon.

King Rother rules in Bari, and seeks a wife. His vassal, Lupold, suggests the princess of Constantinople, whose father kills all her suitors. Rother, intrigued by the challenge, sends a dozen ambassadors led by Lupold to ask her hand in marriage. He plays three melodies on his harp, by which the ambassadors may recognize him if anything goes wrong and he must come save them. Things do go wrong, and Constantine throws the ambassadors in the dungeon, only sparing their lives because they were his guests. A year and a day go by, and Rother asks Berchter, Lupold’s father, for advice. The barons agree that Rother will go in disguise as an exiled knight, alias Dieterich, pretending to be fleeing from Rother’s wrath. With “Dieterich” go Berchter, the giant Asprian and some of his giant vassals, including Widolt, and others. They leave Berchter’s son Amalger as regent.

They come to Constantinople, and are unimpressed by Constantine’s attempts to dazzle them. At dinner, Constantine allows his pet lion to roam the hall and eat whatever it wants. When it tries to eat Asprian’s food, he picks it up and dashes its brains out. Dietrich takes up residence in Constantinople, and gives gifts with largesse, impressing everyone except Constantine, including the Emperor’s wife and daughter. After a brawl at a second banquet, the love-stricken princess plots with her nurse Herlint how to see Dieterich. Herlint carries messages, and at last Dieterich makes two pairs of shoes, one silver and one gold, and sends both left shoes to the princess. When she sends for the right shoes, he refuses unless he can deliver them in person. The two meet at last in her chamber, and he puts her leg in his lap as he puts the shoes on [this was an old betrothal rite]. The princess is quite pleased at thus being tricked into engagement, especially when she learns that Dieterich is really Rother.

She tells her father that she wishes to do penance by serving the imprisoned ambassadors. He lets them out of prison for her to feed and clothe, and Dieterich offers himself as pledge for their return to prison. He reveals himself to them by his harping, and they dig a secret tunnel to the prison, to bring food in, and men out. Meanwhile, King Ymelot, the sultan of Babylon [Cairo], invades. Dieterich and his men ride out with Constantine. As the armies sleep in their camps before the battle Dieterich and the giants sneak into the enemy camp and kidnap Ymelot, and bring him before Constantine. They then ride as messengers to Constantinople, where they pretend that all is lost, and that the princess must board their boat and flee with them. Once all Rother’s men are aboard, he reveals his deception, and sails away. The Queen laughs, and returns home to await her husband.

Amalgar is dead, but Rother quickly restores order, weds his dear, and gets her with child. Constantine is furious when he gets home, and in the resulting uproar, Ymelot escapes. The Emperor hires a merchant to steal his daughter back. He sails to Italy, and pretends to have a magic stone which, if held by a queen on a boat, will cure any cripple she touches with it. A cripple is found, and the good-hearted queen goes to try the cure. (Rother is away in Germany on business). She is kidnapped. Rother returns home at the news, pardons the knights who were supposed to guard her, and summons his men. They arrive, incognito, in, just in time for a pre-wedding feast, for Ymelot has returned, and forced Constantine to give his daughter to his son Basilistium. They slip into the feast and crawl under the table, where Rother puts his ring on his bride’s finger. Basilistium notices the new ring, and sounds the alert. Rother reveals himself, and is sentenced to be hanged. His last request is to choose the place of his execution, and he chooses a place where his men are waiting in ambush. The pagans are routed, and Constantine is forgiven. Rother and his wife return home, where she gives birth to Pippin, who grows up to marry Bertha, and begets Charlemagne and Saint Gertrude. Rother reigns long and well, and at last retires to a monastery, leaving the empire to Pippin.


Bride-stealings are a dime a dozen in folklore, and no specific source need be sought for this poem. It features perhaps the most positive portrayal of giants in medieval romance. Very rarely is any giant represented as Christian, brave, and intelligent. A whole country of such giants, as in this poem, is a marvel indeed.

The real Saint Gertrude of Nivelles (626-659) was the daughter of Pippin of Landen (580-640), who was Mayor of the Palace under Dagobert I and Sigebert III, and was the founder of the Carolingian line. Saint Gertrude is depicted with mice and rats at her feet, for reasons no one knows. Some say it is because mice were symbols of the soul in German paganism, and Saint Gertrude guides souls to Heaven. Others say it is because she is invoked against mice, rats, and other vermin. Still others say it is because she was so absorbed in prayer once that a mouse crawled all over her without her noticing. Her feast day is March 17. For more details, see The Catholic Encyclopedia, and Sabine Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints and Curious Myths of the Middle Ages.

Let thus much suffice for the legend of King Rother, and let us now speak of Charles the Hammer, who is more commonly said to be the grandfather of Charlemagne.

The Legend of Ottaviano del Lione

The legend of Ottaviano del Lione, son of Fioravante, is to be found in the following verisons:

I Reali di Francia: an Italian compilation of Carolingian legends, by Andrea da Barberino. Book III is devoted to the adventures of Ottaviano. An abridged translation by Max Wickert can be found on his website, here.

Fioravante: an Italian prose romance which covers the same ground as Books I, II, and III of the Reali, with some differences. Between 1315 and 1340. To be found in Rajna’s work I reali di Francia. [Volume I:] Ricerche intorno ai reali di Francia, seguite dal libro delle storie di Fioravante e dal cantare di Bovo d’Antona. An analysis comes first, and the Fioravante is stuck in at the end. Also can be found in Romanzi dei Reali di Francia, edited by Adelaide Mattaini.


Gisberto of the Fierce Visage reigns in France, and his brother Ottaviano del Lione in Scondia. Ottaviano hears word that his father-in-law, Sultan Danebruno of Babylon [Cairo] is dead. He and his brother depart to claim his wife’s inheritance. Danebruno, it turns out, is not dead, though he is 150, and he leads his army against the Franks. Ottaviano kills him, and spends the next three years conquering the Orient. He besieges Babylon, but cannot take it for eighteen years. He goes to Jerusalem, meanwhile, and an angel tells him his line will do wonders for Christ. In this time, his wife Angaria gives birth to a son, named Bovetto . When Bovetto is fifteen and can bear arms, Ottaviano is poisoned by a woman who thought she was giving him a love philtre. After two more years, Bovetto takes Babyon [Cairo], upon which all the hosts of Pagandom unite to drive him out, and he retreats to Jerusalem, where he is besieged.

Gisberto, for his pride, is stricken with leprosy. He leaves his wife and son Michael in the care of the aging Riccieri, and wanders in Spain. Riccieri rescues Bovetto, who returns to Scondia to reign. Gisberto, after seven years in the woods, is cured, just in time to save Queen Sibilla of Articana from the besieging King Carianus of Lusintania [Portugal]. She converts and they are wed. King Libanorus leads an army to avenge his beheaded brother. The royal couple flee, but are betrayed at a castle near Saragossa. Luckily, the daughter of the castellan falls in love with Gisberto, and sends a message to Paris. An army arrives, led by the children of characters from Fioravante, and battle is joined outside the castle wherein Gisberto is held. In the heat of the fight, the castellan’s daughter releases Gisberto, who saves the day for the Christians. The castellan chooses execution over conversion, but his daughter Galiziana is baptized Diamia, and is wed to the squire who took the message.

Gisberto returns to his kingdom, and has peace for five years. But then, Alfideo of Milan, son of Durante, is attacked, and calls for aid. The fight is valiant, Bovetto distinguishes himself, but Gisberto is killed by a poisoned arrow. Alfideo, nonetheless, wins the war, and Gisberto’s son Michele is crowned.

Bovetto has a wife, Alibranda, daughter of Gulion of Bavaria. They have a son, Guido. Bovetto decides to conquer the English, who have overrun Britain and driven the Britons to Brittany. He does so, deciding to live in Antona [Southampton]. When Guido is sixteen, King Adramans of Frisia decides it is time to marry off his fifteen year old daughter Feliziana. He holds court, to which many come. She loves none of her suitors, however, but falls in love with Bovetto by report, notwithstanding religious differences. She sends a letter to him, and he comes and wins the tournament being held in Frisia. Her cousin walks in on the two of them kissing, and Bovetto kills him, and flees with Feliziana. Adramans pursues, and lays siege to London, before being defeated after a few months. Adramans disguises himself and wanders England, until he gains admittance before Bovetto, as a beggar, and stabs him to death. Bovetto kills him before he dies, and so Guido becomes king. Feliziana marries one of his noblemen.

Michael, not long after dies, leaving the Empire to his son Gostantino Agnolo. He has two sons, Lione and Pipino. Liking Pipino better, he leaves France to him. But at a feast one day, Rinieri of Maganza, who wanted to marry Feliziana, quarrels with Guido, who kills him. This is the origin of the feud between the Maganzans and Guido’s descendants, for Rinieri left two sons, Duodo and Alberigo. Guido lives long in exile, and, though his source does not says so, Andrea thinks this must be the reason he did not marry until his old age. Gostantino Agnolo dies, leaving the Empire to Lione, and France to Pipino. Pipino pardons the now over-sixty Guido, who marries Brandoria, daughter of King Ottone of Bordeaux.


Ottaviano makes war not in Egypt, but in Macedonia. He begot Bovetto by Argulia, who begot Guido d’Antono, who megot Buovo d’Antona, who begot the twins Guido and Sinibaldo, and King Guglielmo  of England. Guglielmo begot Bernard of Monchiere, and Duke Busone. Busone begot Girardo dalla Fratta, and Duke Mellone. Mellone begot Don Buoso and Don Chiaro. Girardo da Fratta begot Arnaldo of Berlanda, Rinieri of Gineva [father of Olivier and Alda], Mellone of Puglia, and Girardo of Vienna. This is the House of Monglane.

Bernardo of Monchiere begot Duodo of Nantoil [Doon de Nanteuil], Mellone [father of Orlando], Otto [father of Astolfo], Asmone of Dornona [Aymon], Buovo d’Agrismonte [father of Malagise and Viviano]. And Girardo da Rossiglione. Duodo begot Guarnieri di Nantoia, who begot Guido di Nantoia [Guy de Nanteuil]. Girardo da Rossiglione befot Anseigi il Bianco. This is the House of Chiaramonte.

Arnaldo da Berlanda begot Amerigo di Nerbona [Aymeri of Narbonne], who begot seven sons, [as this genealogy differs in nothing from the standard French version, we will omit it here, and give it in a future post dealing with William of Orange and his family].

Gisberto’s only adventure after his sojourn in the woods is killing a dragon en route to Paris. The war in Lombardy is not mentioned, and Bovetto’s conquest of England is disposed of in a sentence; it took fifteen years. Gisberto begot Agnolo Michele, who had no sons, so the kingdom passed to his seneschal’s son Pipino [Some MSS have Agnolo Michele begetting Pipino.]. Pipino begot three bastards: Lanfroi, Orderigi, and Berta, and one legitimate son, Charlemagne. Charlemagne begot King Aluigi the Pious, and Aluizia who married Elia [Elie of Saint-Giles] and bore him Aiolfo [Aiol].


This is a purely literary invention, either by Andrea or some other writer, to fill the gap between Floovant and Bevis. It is the dullest section of the Reali.

Let thus much suffice for Ottaviano, and let us now speak of his namesake the Emperor Octavian.

Or else, let us speak of his backstory, and his father Floovant.