Page images

cubinage and polygamy. Though his violations of the law of chastity have been greatly exaggerated by Gibbon and some others, yet the fact is unquestionable. It would ill become us to excuse or palliate conduct so emphatically denounced and condemned by the word of God. It behoves us, on the contrary, to uphold God's law in its unswerving and unwavering integrity, as just, and holy, and good. Tried by that standard, Charlemagne is without excuse. Yet is it due to him, when taking merely a historical view of his character, and comparing him with his contemporaries, to remember that these offences in his age were flagrantly and fearfully common, and in the corrupted state of morals that prevailed, were not regarded as possessing that criminality, with which a more perfect acquaintance with Scripture has deservedly invested them.

These violations of the Divine law, on the part of Charlemagne, did not pass without their appropriate and invariable punishment. Whilst he lived his family was rent asunder, and very often the peace of his kingdom was disturbed, by broils between his legitimate and illegitimate children ; and, after his death, the feuds between the various branches of his family tended very much to that disruption of his empire which brought back the reign of anarchy to Europe.

On one occasion Pepin, his son by Himiltruda, driven desperate by the insults of Fastrada, the queen, and her children, fled from the court.

He was popular among many of the Frank lords, who, remembering that Charles Martel had been born out of wedlock, deemed that no disgrace. They ardently espoused his cause, and conspired to murder the lawful children of their king, and compel him to acknowledge Pepin as his lawful heir. This conspiracy was only suppressed with the loss of many valuable lives." His daughters," says Eginhardt, “ were very beautiful, and he loved them exceedingly. Happy in everything else, he was most unhappy in their character and conduct. He concealed, however, the grief which their conduct gave him, and conducted himself towards them as though ignorant of the evil reports to which their conduct gave rise.” So true is it that sin always brings with it its own punishmentif we sow the wind we must reap the whirlwind.

In person, Charlemagne was a model of manly beauty. He was considerably above six feet high, and perfectly proportioned. His sword, Joyeuse, which he brandished as lightly as though it were a wand, was so huge and heavy that few even of the Frank warriors could wield it. In all military exercises, he was unrivalled. In swimming, which was one of the most important accomplishments of the German soldier, he especially excelled. It is said, that during his first campaign in Italy, Desiderius, having shut himself up within the walls of Pavia, stood upon the battlements looking on the invading army as it arrived before the city. The besieged monarch saw troop after troop march up without

fear; but when he caught sight of Charlemagne, armed cap à pie, mounted on an iron-clad charger, he was so terrified at the commanding aspect of his enemy, that he rushed from the walls and hid himself.

The following description of Charlemagne's personal appeararıce and habits is taken from the romantic Chronicle of Turpin, written probably about two hundred years after his death : “ The emperor was of a ruddy complexion, with brown hair ; of a well-made, handsome form, but a stern visage. His height was about eight of his own feet, which were very long. He was of a strong robust make; his legs and thighs very stout, and his sinews firm. His face was thirteen inches long ; his beard a palm ; his nose half a palm ; his forehead a foot

His lion-like eyes flashed fire like carbuncles ; his eye-brows were half a palm over. When he was angry, it was a terror to look

He required eight spans for his girdle, besides what hung loose. He ate sparingly of bread, but a whole quarter of lamb, two fowls, a goose, or a portion of pork, a peacock, a crane, or a whole hare. He drank moderately of wine and water. He was so strong that he could cleave asunder, at a single blow, an armed soldier on horseback, from the head to the waist, and the horse likewise. He easily vaulted over four horses harnessed together; and he could raise an armed man from the ground to his head as he stood erect upon his hand.”

With equal exaggerations have the poets and


upon him.

romancers of the middle ages perverted the events of his reign. In the language of sir James Stephen,“

“they have inverted the whole current of history, changed Charles the Glorious and the Wise into an enchanted knight, surrounded by his paladins, and elevated to the seventh heaven of chivalry his kinsman Rolando, of whom history only knows that he fell before the treacherous Gascons at the pass

of Roncesvalles. Yet poetry, amidst all her wildest fictions, has in these legends perpetuated the record of one great and memorable truth-the truth, I mean, that the contemporaries of the great conqueror and their descendants cherished the traditions of his deeds with enthusiastic delight, and lavished on his memory every tribute which either history could pay or imagination offer."

We subjoin some account of these romantic histories of Charlemagne, and an abstract of one of them.



These are interesting and curious on many accounts. 1st, As showing how powerfully his character and achievements excited the admiration of his own and the succeeding ages. 2nd, As showing the utter ignorance of the simplest facts of history and geography which then prevailed. 3rd, Because the Chronicle of Turpin, from which all the others are derived, received

the sanction and seal of papal infallibility. How wild and extravagant were the absurdities to which pope Calixtus gave his attestation, let the readers of the following abstract of Roland and Ferragus judge :

One hundred and three years after the death of Christ, Charles the king reigned over France, Denmark, England, Lorraine, Lombardy, Gascony, Bayonne, and Picardy, and he was emperor of Rome, and lord of Christendom. Ibrahim was king of Spain, and Constantius emperor of Constantinople. Now Ibrahim was a pagan who persecuted the Christians without mercy, and banished the patriarch of Jerusalem. The banished patriarch made his complaint to Constantius, who implored the aid of Charlemagne. Charlemagne with all speed proceeded to Constantinople, where he was received with all honour, and was offered presents in profusion, but he declined them all, and only asked the gift of a few relics which he prized much more highly. Constantius thereupon conducted him to the treasury where they were deposited. On opening the door, an odour of such uncommon sweetness and efficacy gushed out, that three hundred sick persons were cured on the spot. The crown of thorns, the holy lance, a piece of the cross inclosed in crystal, a nail from the cross, an arm of St. Simeon, Aaron's rod that budded, and many other relics, were given to him. Overjoyed at the acquisition of such treasures, he seems to have forgotten the business he came about, but being

« PreviousContinue »