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his troops so far from home. But Desiderius, despising the youth and inexperience of his opponent, and trusting in his ability to defend the passes of the Alps which he had seized, refused to listen to the proposed terms.
Charlemagne appointed Geneva as the place of meeting for the annual muster of the Franks in the spring of 773, and there it was determined to march for the defence of the pope. The arniy was divided into two bodies, one, commanded by the king, taking the route across Mont Cenis ; the other, under his uncle Bernard, that across Mount Joux, now known as Mount St. Bernard.* Both succeeded in forcing the Alpine passes, and thenceforward the career of conquest was easy and uninterrupted. The open country was soon overrun, and Milan, Verona, and Pavia, were in turn reduced. Desiderius, being taken prisoner, was despatched into France, where he received the tonsure, and was admitted as a monk into the monastery of Corvey.
The return of Charlemagne from Italy was accelerated by intelligence that the Saxons had taken advantage of his absence to break out into revolt (A.D. 774.) They had succeeded in surprising and putting to the sword the garrison he had left at Ehresburg, had destroyed most of the strongholds he had established in their territory, had made a successful inroad into his dominions, and had returned laden with spoil.
* Possibly from this circumstance, though more probably from the hospice upon it, dedicated to St. Bernard.
Scarcely had he been able to suppress this outbreak, when he was summoned to Italy to quell an insurrection of the Lombards, who were again up in arms, headed by Adalgis, the son of the dethroned monarch, and supported by the Greek emperor. This occupied the year 775, and whilst absent in Italy the Saxons broke out afresh. He summoned his army to meet him at Worms in May, 776, led them into Saxony, and again compelled the insurgent tribes to sue for peace. His presence and interference were now demanded in the affairs of Spain. Abd'alrahman, the sole survivor of the Ommiade dynasty, having escaped to that country, was there acknowledged by the Moors as their caliph, in opposition to the Abbasside race, who had assumed the caliphate at Bagdad. This schism in the Mohammedan body was not, however, concurred in by the chiefs of the northern provinces, and Ibn al Arabi, lord of Saragossa, solicited the aid of the Franks against the Ommiades. Charlemagne, remembering the danger with which the Mohammedan power had so recently threatened Europe, eagerly availed himself of this opportunity of gaining an influence in the affairs of Spain. He led two armies across the Pyrenees in the spring of 778, and having conquered the whole country north of the Ebro, established in each district of it governors who were willing to take an oath of allegiance and fidelity to himself. By thus introducing rivalry among the Moorish chiefs, he dissolved that unity which was still fraught
with so much danger to Christendom ; while, by establishing his supremacy over their northern provinces, he secured the safety of his own southern possessions. Any further enterprises in this quarter were forbidden, however, by the indomitable Saxons, who were again in rebellion under their heroic leader Witikind.
It was as Charlemagne was hastening from Spain to crush this new insurrection that he fought the battle of Roncesvalles, so famous among the romance writers of the middle ages, and so strangely perverted by them. Stripped of its fictitious adornments, the true history of the battle appears to be as follows :—The Christians of the Pyrenees, who were more jealous of their Frank than of their Mohammedan neighbours, together with some of the Saracen chiefs, concerted an attack upon the retiring army as it repassed their mountains. An ambuscade was formed in the dense forests which clothe the steep and rugged rocks through which the valley of Roncesvalles winds. The main body, commanded by the king in person, was allowed to pass unassailed ; but when the rear-guard, in charge of the baggage, and under the conımand of the gallant Rutland, or Roland, or Orlando, as the name is variously spelt, were toiling up the narrow and tortuous defile, the mountaineers rushed upon them from their concealed fastnesses. The Franks made a desperate, but vain resistance. They were slain almost to a man, the baggage was plundered, and the assailants dispersed with the spoil to
their mountain strongholds, before even the tidings of the attack could reach the king. When he did hear of what had happened, he at once retraced his steps, but it was too late. Pursuit was impossible. He therefore contented himself with erecting a chapel and monuments to the memory of the slain, and passed on to wipe out his disgrace by new victories over the Saxons.
" The war which Charlemagne then commenced against the Saxons," says his secretary and biographer Eginhardt, “was the longest and most cruel which he ever undertook, and that which most fatigued his people. For the Saxons were of a ferocious disposition, and addicted to the worship of devils. Enemies of our religion, they did not deem it wrong to violate the laws of God or the rights of man. Other causes besides disturbed the peace each day. Our frontiers and theirs joined ; hence we were constantly exposed to carnage and plunder at their hands. A war, therefore, began which lasted thirty-three years. It would have been finished sooner but for the perfidy of the Saxons. We cannot say how often they were vanquished, or how often they submitted. Often they promised to abandon the worship of devils and submit to Christianity, but they apostatized again as soon as they had an opportunity. In fact, there was scarcely a year which did not prove their fickleness and perversity. But the magnanimity of the king, and his constancy in good and in bad fortune, could
never be vanquished. He never left their outrages or their perfidy unpunished, however often renewed. Finally, having defeated all who were in the habit of resisting him, having reduced them into submission, and having transported ten thousand families from the most turbulent district into the heart of his own territory, he terminated a war which bad continued so many years. The Saxons renounced the worship of demons and the rites of their forefathers; they embraced the Christian faith, and being mixed with the Franks, became only one people."
Thus was the whole mature life of Charlemagne spent. His reign was but one continuous and protracted campaign. He seemed to his enemies to be endowed with ubiquity. Now fighting the Saxons in their hitherto inaccessible fastnesses ; then flying to the Pyrenees, or to the islands of the Mediterranean, to meet a Moorish invader ; then in Italy, repressing an insurrection of the Lombards, or rescuing Rome from their attacks, or defending Naples against the Arabs ; anon storming the ring fortresses of Huns and Avars, or crushing a Bavarian revolt, or mustering his troops on the coast to repel an incursion of the Scandinavian pirates. In this rapidity of military movements, and in the energy and success with which he conducted his campaigns, we are forcibly reminded of that modern conqueror, who, a thousand years later, carried the devastations of war over the
* Vita Caroli Magni.