As always here at Balladeer’s Blog, Christmas time all the way through Twelfth Night are when I make blog posts about Charlemagne and his Paladins. (The figures of legend, not the historical Charlemagne.) In old traditions Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire by the Pope on Christmas Day, hence the reason that tales of Charlemagne are often associated with the Yuletide holiday. (In real life Charlemagne was crowned Emperor a few months later.) FOR MY FIRST CHAPTER ON CHARLEMAGNE’S PALADINS CLICK HERE
LOTHAIR AND BENES – This story takes place much earlier than most of my previously covered Tales of Charlemagne. Lothair (in real life the grandson of Charlemagne) was, according to legend, the Emperor’s oldest son. Lothair was brave and virtuous, unlike Charlemagne’s scheming and treacherous son Charlot.
Of late the Emperor was stewing over the way that Duke Benes had provided no men for Charlemagne’s most recent military campaigns against the Muslim colonialists in Spain, nor had he provided money. Neither had he acknowledged the Emperor’s authority over him by any shows of courtesy.
At first Charlemagne furiously planned to march on Duke Benes’ city of Aygremont and take the city. Then he would hang Benes, kill his son Maugris the Enchanter and burn his wife alive. Duke Naymes, one of the Emperor’s Paladins, talked Charlemagne into giving peace a chance by merely sending a hundred Paladins to Aygremont in order to convey the Emperor’s wish that he submit to an order and show his allegiance.
Charlemagne sent his oldest son Lothair to lead a hundred other Paladins to Aygremont on this mission. Lothair and his men arrived and were feasted by a wary Benes. After the meal was completed, Lothair told Benes that his father the Emperor demanded five hundred fighting men from Benes to serve in Lombardy. When the Duke refused, Lothair delivered his father’s threat to hang Benes, kill Maugris and burn the Duchess.
In a rage, Benes and all his men attacked Lothair and his hundred Paladins. The resulting battle lasted all day, with Charlemagne’s men facing overwhelming odds, but by the time the sun went down Lothair had been beheaded in battle with Benes himself and only ten of the hundred Paladins were still alive. Benes sent Lothair’s body in a cart along with the ten surviving Paladins back to Paris to tell the Emperor that he would bring forty-thousand men to best Charlemagne on the field of battle.
Back at Paris, the Emperor had been killing time since Lothair and his men departed by holding a tournament in the nearby city of Saint Victor. At that tournament Reinold had emerged triumphant, astride his horse Bayard, a descendant of Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus.
The day following the tournament Charlemagne was uneasy about Lothair’s fate and held a council with his Paladins Ogier the Dane, Archbishop Turpin and Duke Naimes. They all agreed that if Benes would not bend the knee he should be killed. As if on cue, the cart bearing Lothair’s corpse, accompanied by the ten surviving Paladins, arrived at the palace.
After being informed of what had happened, Charlemagne made known his intention to march on Aygremont. While Lothair’s funeral and burial were held at Saint Germain, Duke Aymon of Ardennes, Reinold’s father, slipped out of Paris with his sons and his entourage. Duke Benes was his brother and he did not want to march against his own blood.
In the days ahead, the Emperor gathered his forces while Benes summoned his brothers Bron and Gerard to his aid accompanied by their own troops. Thus fortified, Benes led his army in a siege of Troyes, a town loyal to Charlemagne in the Champagne region.
At length Ogier the Dane’s troops came upon the forces besieging Troyes and attacked. Ogier and his men were holding their own against the men of Bron and Gerard, when Charlemagne arrived with the remainder of his loyal troops, turning the odds heavily against Duke Benes’ brothers.
Those brothers sent messengers begging Benes for help and the Duke led his army to their aid. By darkness on this summer evening the forces of Duke Benes and his brothers were forced to retreat. Gerard himself had nearly been killed in solo combat with the Emperor but Bron and Benes rescued him.
That night Gerard encouraged his brothers to fight on against Charlemagne the next day but Benes and Bron knew they faced disaster if they did that. At daybreak they sent thirty men to the Emperor’s lines to ask for peace and to pay a penalty for slaying Lothair. Charlemagne accepted the surrender and demanded that in a few months Benes come to Paris with five thousand men to be sent to fight wherever the Emperor willed.
However, on the day Duke Benes and his five thousand men approached Paris, they were met by a much greater force led by the Paladin Ganelon. That future villain, showing his truly treacherous nature for the first time, had preyed upon Charlemagne’s deep grief over Lothair’s death. At last the Emperor had agreed to turn a blind eye to Ganelon’s actions if he would slaughter Benes’ men as revenge for Lothair.
Ganelon did so, killing Benes himself in battle, and as poetic justice left ten of the Duke’s men alive to accompany his corpse back to Aygremont as had been done to Lothair.
Amid the mourning back at Aygremont, Benes’ son Maugris the Enchanter promised his grieving mother that he would use his dark arts to strike back at Charlemagne for this treachery. +++
I’ll be examining more tales of Charlemagne soon.
FOR MORE MYTHOLOGY AND FOLKLORE CLICK HERE