Though Charlemagne was a real historical figure, a body of folkore has risen around him and his Paladins (knights). Part of that folklore was that the Pope crowned Charlemagne as the new Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, even though the crowning really took place the following February. Since the story of Charlemagne’s crowning as Emperor was told as a Christmas story for centuries I always use Christmas time to examine him and his Paladins.
To start Round Three of Balladeer’s Blog’s look at Charlemagne lore I’ll examine some tales of the young Roland (Orlando to the Italians). Last December I covered Charlemagne’s reunion with his long-lost sister and her son Roland.
HOW ROLAND AND OGIER BECAME PALADINS – The Emperor could not expect his nephew to immediately step into service as a Paladin, since he had a great deal to learn. Charlemagne placed him as a Page in the household of Duke Namo of Bavaria, where Roland began his career alongside many other young nobles.
Roland had to learn to curb his independent ways since he had up until then done as he pleased while stealing to feed himself and his mother. The young man adjusted, and learned courtly ways so well that he became a favorite of Duke Namo.
At age fourteen Roland became a Squire and began training for warfare in earnest. He learned how to handle swords and lances and how to care for the armor of the Paladin he served as a Squire. Horsemanship, hunting and swimming were also part of his education.
Around this same time Ogier the Dane (see previous installments) was introduced to Charlemagne’s court and began training alongside Roland. A few years later a Muslim army began closing in on Rome and Pope Leo retreated with his staff to Spoleto, from where he sent an urgent cry for help to Emperor Charlemagne.
Charlemagne immediately assembled his army, crossed the Alps and entered Spoleto. Pope Leo and his Cardinals welcomed the Emperor and paid him homage. Two days later word arrived that the Muslim forces had besieged Rome and Charlemagne set out from Spoleto with his men.
The advance units were led by Duke Namo, with Roland and Ogier as his Squires. A Paladin named Alory was assigned the great honor of carrying into combat Charlemagne’s Oriflamme, the flag of the Franks which combined the fleur-de-lis of the French with the eagle of the Germans.
Duke Namo sighted a large body of the Saracen Muslims and ordered his troops to attack them. As the fight raged, Alory was gripped with fear and panic to such a degree that he lowered the Oriflamme and rode away from the battle.
Ogier saw this and intercepted Alory, knocked him from his horse and donned the disgraced Paladin’s armor. Then he raised the Oriflamme and carried it back to the front, riding up near Duke Namo, and then past him, carrying the banner into the ranks of the Muslims.
Roland and several other Squires imitated Ogier’s act, donning the armor of Paladins who lie dead on the battlefield, and riding to attack the Saracens. Namo’s plan to retreat was discarded as Roland and Ogier – mistaken for the Paladins whose armor they wore – rallied the Frankish army.
The dead heat became a sure victory for the Franks as Charlemagne himself arrived with his men and the Muslims began to give way. Eventually the Emperor was locked in combat with Corsuble, the commander of the Saracens. Just when Charlemagne was about to use his sword Joyeuse to behead Corsuble, several other Muslims came to their commander’s aid.
Ogier rode to Charlemagne’s side, helping him overcome the powerful odds, but the Emperor, because of the armor worn by the Dane, thought Alory was fighting at his side and resolved to honor him after the battle. At length the Muslims were overcome and, as the poems say “the standard of Mohammed turned in retreat.”
With the Emperor’s forces holding the field, Archbiship Turpin (see previous installment), one of the Paladins, took off his armor and put on his robes to prepare for a mass of thanksgiving over the victory. As always, Turpin saw slaying the enemies of the church to be just as “holy” a service as conducting masses.
Presently, Charlemagne greeted Ogier and, still thinking it was Alory in the armor, complimented him and was about to have Archbishop Turpin bless him. Suddenly, Roland, unable to bear the ongoing mistaken identity, threw off his own helmet then Ogier’s so that the Emperor could see who had really distinguished themselves in the battle.
Once the full truth was known, Charlemagne immediately used his sword Joyeuse to knight Ogier, Roland and the other surviving Squires who had donned their fallen Paladin’s armor.
The rest of that day and all of the next were spent celebrating the victory. Turpin conducted a special mass honoring the newly-dubbed Sir Roland, Sir Ogier and the others. Charlemagne bestowed upon Sir Roland the sword Durindana, which legend held had been wielded by the Trojan Prince Hector long ago. The sword could cut through any and all armor.
Upon Sir Ogier, the Emperor bestowed the sword Cortana, made from the same metal as Joyeuse and Durindana. The fairy Morgana – whose role in the tales of Charlemagne is much different than her role in Arthurian lore – had magically provided Cortana in place of the sword originally meant for Ogier.
Charlemagne and his court knew from this magical switcheroo that Ogier was still looked after by Morgana and the other mystic maidens who had attended him at his birth.
While the new Paladins were showered in honors, Charlot, the treacherous son of Charlemagne, grew even more envious and embittered toward Roland and Ogier, sowing the seeds for future sinister plotting.
MORE TALES OF CHARLEMAGNE COMING SOON. FOR THE PREVIOUS INSTALLMENTS CLICK HERE
FOR MORE MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE CLICK HERE