The Carolingian Emperor Charlemagne on a mosaic at Saint-Jean-de-Latran, in Rome, dating from the end of the VIIIth Century.

We know that Charlemagne was a great ladies’ man.  As he aged, his taste for women and girls became even more pronounced and he fell completely in love with a German princess, whose name, unfortunately, History has not retained.

Petrarque, who reports the facts, tells us that he was so in love that he neglected not only the affairs of the kingdom, but also the care of his own person.  He could be seen roaming around his palace heaving great sighs, his arms dangling and his eyes fixed on the German lady.  His clothes were rumpled, his fingernails black, his hair dirty and, he, who had never worn a beard, forgot to shave…  In other words, love was making him pitiful.

His entourage watched him in great astonishment.  Violent, red-blooded, sensual, Charlemagne was not in the habit of wilting away over a young lady.  In general, he was a lot more expeditive.  Everyone remembered what he had done to the gentle Amalberge.  One day, while this amiable young girl was walking in the palace corridors, Charlemagne, who had conceived a great passion for her, saw her.  Taken with the sudden desire to violate her on the spot, he threw himself on her and furiously crushed her against him.  Panicked, the young virgin managed to escape and ran to take refuge in a chapel where she knelt before the altar.  Charlemagne had followed her.  He entered the holy place, bounded on his prey and seized her with such violence that he broke one of her arms.  Rather ashamed, he bowed his head and apologised.

He was about to call for help.  But Heaven did not give him time.  The Holy Virgin, whose statue was close by, performed a miracle and knitted the two parts of the damaged humerus together.  Charlemagne, very impressed by this intervention, no longer dared display his ardour;  he bowed to the young girl, left the chapel in as dignified a way as possible and went for a little walk to cool off.

This adventure had marked people’s minds.  To the point that, when Amalberge died from a bad furuncle, the Church, who always gives credit where credit is due, considered that, to resist Charlemagne’s advances, she must have needed supernatural courage, and declared that the young girl must have been a saint.  She was canonised…

The Emperor was the first to kneel before her statue and pray to her…

Remembering these times when Charlemagne was so enterprising with the ladies, rapid in his conquests and precise in his gestures, the members of his Court shook their heads:  the great Charles was not the same.  He looked unhappy, he stumbled around, a dazed look on his face.  He seemed exhausted.

For weeks, thinking of his young German girl, the Emperor was literally consumed, refusing delicious foods, pushing away pitchers of fine wines, showing no interest in the curvy charms of the palace ladies…

One day, at last, the young girl who was the object of so much passion, accepted his attentions, and Charlemagne was once again bright-eyed, with a fresh complexion, a sprightly step, shining hair, and a well-trimmed moustache…  But he still didn’t interest himself in the affairs of State, for, from morning to night, he was with his ravishing mistress.  They were seen swimming together, prancing around on little Hungary horses, playing chess, and kissing each other on window-seats.  In other words, he could not stand to be separated from her for even a second.  He seemed bewitched…

After a few months, the young woman suddenly became ill, took to her bed, and died…  The whole Court then hoped that Charlemagne would consecrate himself energetically to the affairs of the Empire, to help him forget his pain.  Not at all.   He still refused to be separated from his dead beloved, just as he had while she was alive.  He refused to have her buried.  Worse, he wanted her to be installed on a parade bed, dressed in her most beautiful gown, wearing sparkling jewels.  All day, he remained beside her, talking to her, telling her anecdotes, discussing palace events.  At night, he came to lie down beside her.  In the morning, he embraced her passionately and made extravagant speeches to her.  One morning, the officers and the guards heard him address the cadaver, whose state of corruption was starting to be frightful, saying to it in a joyful tone:

“My gentle one, my beautiful wild rose, Spring is beautiful this morning.  And you are ravishing…”

They were dismayed.

Finally, Archbishop Turpin, prelate of Cologne, became worried.  Thinking that the Emperor’s disorder and his mad passion for a cadaver were due to some spell, he decided to investigate.  And, one evening when Charlemagne had gone out, he penetrated the chamber where the dead woman lay, searched her clothes, minutiously visited her body, and ended up finding, under the deceased’s tongue, a stone set in a ring.  Persuaded that this was the cause of the spell, he took the jewel away with him.

A short time later, Charlemagne returned, looking different, which surprised his entourage.  Petrarque tells us that he seemed to have woken from a deep sleep, and looked at everything with astonishment.  Then he went into the chamber, and was heard to yell:

“Why is there a cadaver in my bed?  It must be buried straight away.  Its odour is disgusting!”

And, without bothering any more with this dead woman whom he had so loved, he left the palace and went, as if pushed by a supernatural force, to the home of Archbishop Turpin.  The prelate welcomed him enthusiastically, and asked to what he owed the honour of such a visit.  Charlemagne declared that he loved him.

To be continued.