I'm so excited to welcome Kim Rendfeld, author of "The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar" to the blog today.
Charlemagne: Hero or Villain?
Did Charlemagne unite his country when he seized his dead brother’s kingdom from his toddling nephews? Did he save Rome from the invading Lombards? Did he destroy the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Continental Saxon peoples? Did he have his daughters educated along with sons? Did he cut his eldest son from the succession?
All of the above. Whether those actions make him a hero or a monster depends on whose side you’re on. Or in in the case of a historical novelist, which character’s point of view.
Alda, a Frankish aristocrat and heroine of my debut, The Cross and the Dragon, sees him as a hero. She follows the gossip about tensions between Charles and his younger brother, Carloman, each of whom inherited a kingdom when their father died. After Carloman’s death from an illness, she is relieved a strong leader takes over the entire realm, even though it means the king divorces a Lombard princess and marries a girl from an important family in Carloman’s former kingdom. Alda has little sympathy for Charles’s ex-father-in-law, Lombard King Desiderius, and supports the Franks’ invasion to save Rome from him.
Leova, a pagan, peasant Saxon and the heroine of my latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, has a very different take. In her eyes, Charles is a monster. His 772 invasion of Eresburg and the burning of the Irminsul ruin the good life she had. She has lost everything – her husband, her home, her faith, even her freedom. All she has left are her children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. The only Frank she loathes more than Charles is Pinabel, a count who could have preserved the Saxon family’s freedom but bought them as slaves instead.
Fastrada, the heroine of my work in progress with the tentative title Lady Queen Fastrada, has yet another perspective. As Charles’s fourth wife, she sees him as a husband and father. Pepin, Charles’s son from his first marriage, is angry with his dad because he feels cheated out of his inheritance.
So who was this guy we today call Charlemagne? It depends on whom you ask.
In this excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Deorlaf, my heroine’s son, beholds Frankish King Charles for the first time at the charred remains of the Irminsul.
Deorlaf eyed the Frankish soldiers milling with the priests. Most of the warriors were only a few years older than he was, clad in leather armor. Some – with thick necks, broad chests, and stout legs – wore armor of small metal plates, and a few armored men carried swords and daggers with jeweled hilts and scabbards.
A few Franks glanced over their shoulders at the Saxons and nudged their friends. The murmur among them grew. Laying his hand on his dagger, Deorlaf thought he could make out sneers and glares.
“Peace,” Father Osbald said in a loud voice from only a few paces away. “These people have come to accept baptism. Anyone who interferes will feel God’s wrath.”
But the soldiers were staring at something behind Osbald. Deorlaf turned and beheld a Frankish nobleman, massive with muscle and towering above everyone. Was he spawned by a giant?
Wearing a headdress of gold and jewels, the tall, broad man strode toward the altar, where an old priest awaited him. All the Franks parted to make way for the nobleman and bowed to him. Adilstan, who had returned from the Weser River, followed and knelt before the Frankish leader. Deorlaf scowled. Coward!
The priest raised his arms toward heaven. “God bless his excellence, King Charles.”
May the gods curse the monster who destroyed our Irminsul, Deorlaf thought.
Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.