Post-classical history


Turold the Dwarf

Turold the dwarf is perhaps the most captivating of all the figures depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry [scene 10; plate 1]. We see him in the county of Ponthieu, holding the two horses of Duke William's emissaries, who have just arrived at Count Guy's residence on their mission to demand Harold's handover to the Norman duke. There are only fifteen characters named in the whole work; all but four are easily identifiable, known from other sources for the part they played in the drama of 1066. Who is this dwarf engaged in such a menial task, and why has he been singled out so enigmatically by name?

For reasons that must lie at the very heart of the mystery, whoever designed the tapestry has taken pains to point out that the dwarf is called Turold, for the name has been carefully lowered and placed immediately above the dwarf's head. There has been some controversy in the past as to whether the person called Turold is the dwarf or the Norman emissary standing next to him.1 But it is important to note that the word 'Turold' stands alone and does not form part of any sentence. Five other times a person is named in the tapestry by a stand-alone name. Harold (twice), William, Robert and Eustace - all are on occasions designated in this way. In each case the name has been placed above the head of the person in question. So, despite the objections of some, there can really be little doubt that the name 'Turold' refers to the dwarf. It is possible that it refers to the knight as well; we have seen how fond the artist was of teasing us with multiple meanings, and Turold was a common name.2 What can be stated with more probability, however, is that the dwarf is called Turold, and it is the dwarf who provides us with the most compelling mystery.

Turold is a dwarf in the strictest medical sense. Some observers have questioned this, preferring to see his apparently small stature as an attempt at perspective.3 Strangely, however, this debate has proceeded without bringing even minimal medical evidence to bear on the issue. Not only is Turold small. His head is especially large for the rest of his body;indeed his head and neck account for almost a third of his total height. In this, he is unlike any other figure in the tapestry;more normally, the proportion of head and neck to the rest of the body is a fifth or a sixth. It is, of course, unrealistic to expect an anatomically correct portrait. But the disproportionately large head is a key symptom of a type of dwarfism known as achondroplasia. Caused by a random genetic mutation, achondroplasia is the most common form of dwarfism encountered today; its incidence cannot have been any different in medieval times. Thus 'la teste ot grosse' 'the head is large'- was how the twelfth-century poet Beroul described a dwarf named Frocin. Achondroplastic dwarfs have normal intelligence and lifespan. They also tend to be well built. Turold's normal intelligence and upper body strength are shown by his ability to control the two horses. His pointy beard shows that he is not a child. Very short limbs, strong upper body, disproportionately large head, normal intelligence, beard all this goes a long way towards showing that the artist of the tapestry has left us with a portrait of an adult male achondroplastic dwarf.4

But who can this dwarf be? Our quest to answer this question is not helped by the fact that 'Turold' was a common name. Unfortunately for us, many a proud Norman parent chose to call his or her infant son 'Turold' for it was a forceful name, carrying a frisson of the pagan past; it was ultimately derived from the Old Norse personal name Thorvaldr, which literally meant 'the Power of Thor'. Introduced into Normandy by invading Vikings of the ninth century, it became extremely popular in the form of Turold or Thorold (and other variant spellings). Surviving documents represent only the tip of the iceberg but they attest to twenty-eight Turolds living in Normandy before 1066.5 The name was particularly common in the east of the duchy, but it is also found as far west as the Channel Islands. The Domesday Book listed fourteen invaders called Turold who by 1086 had established themselves in England.6 The popularity of the name in medieval times has left its mark in the current surnames of Thorold in England, Torode in Guernsey and Theroude (among others) in France, and in several place names in Normandy as well. On the island of Jersey it is recalled by the district still known as Trodez and by a little lane called Rue de la Fosse Tauraude. What is more, a clutch of medieval Turolds can be found in other parts of France, and elsewhere on the continent as well.

There is, of course, no reason why a dwarf should not be someone of remarkable achievement. One very intriguing theory about Turold, advanced from time to time, is that he was the genius who designed the Bayeux Tapesry.7 Could this be the answer to the enigma of Turold? Did he cast himself in a modest cameo role within his own masterpiece, much as Alfred Hitchcock was to do in our own times? Intriguing as this theory is, it is unlikely to be the case. We must not forget that the evidence suggests that the designer of the tapestry was English, or at least connected with St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury. Several factors show Turold to be French and to be based in France. The tapestry's Turold is shown in Ponthieu, rather than Normandy, but we should not be overly surprised to find this typically Norman name in a region which lay just over the Norman border. That Turold is French in a broad sense is further confirmed by the fact that the back of his head is shaved. At this point in the tapestry the Normans and other Frenchmen are invariably identified by their shaven napes.

Nor does the general style of eleventh-century self-portraiture lend weight to the hypothesis that Turold was the tapestry's artist. In illuminated manuscripts the artist did sometimes depict himself in small form. But typically the diminutive artist seems to be shown in a position of deference or supplication to a divine or saintly figure, drawn much larger, or to his ecclesiastical or secular superior, similarly illustrated as large.8 This was the whole point of the artist's minimised appearance. Turold, as we have seen, is a dwarf and his diminutive appearance is not to be confused with this modest convention. Moreover, he specifically turns his back on the others depicted in the same scene. Other examples of manuscript self-portrait show the artist in the course of his work or in possession of his tools.9 Once again, there is nothing in the tapestry which would indicate that Turold is a draughtsman or artist. On the contrary, his costume seems to suggest that his profession is specifically something else. What that profession is turns out to be the next important clue.

Turold's unusual costume comprises a pair of short, wide breeches with a pair of 'under-trousers' beneath. In 1966 Rita Lejeune pointed out that from other evidence this curious costume can be identified as that of a 'jongleur' - in other words, an entertainer who might be a jester, acrobat, juggler, minstrel, bard or other performer.10 The dwarf Turold, it seems, is a jongleur. Jongleurs added a sparkle and colour to medieval life that is not often evident from the dry tomes of history.11 Most of the surviving information comes from the centuries that followed 1066, but things cannot have been so very different in Turold's day. The repertoire of a troop of jongleurs was as exciting as it was various. They plied their trade in marketplaces, along the pilgrim routes and in the great baronial castles. Some would juggle with apples, balls or knives. Others sang exciting tales, long heroic sagas told from memory, or showed off their skill at rhyming and repartee. There were jongleurs who could imitate the sound of birds;others performed tricks with dogs, horses and other animals or recounted bawdy jokes. Many were musicians who might be heard playing viols, rotes, lyres, cymbals, tambourines or bells. In fact, jongleurs could be seen doing practically anything that an audience eager for distraction might pay to see. Only one aspect of a jongleur's performance survives in the English word 'juggler'.

At the lower end of the social scale was the jongleur of the ordinary people, a poor, ragamuffin busker, who was seen at markets and fairs and at stopping points along the pilgrim routes. Then there was the jongleur who would travel from castle to castle, knocking on great oak doors and offering his services to the lord and lady. At the announcement of an important event, such as a noble or royal marriage or the dubbing of a knight, jongleurs would converge from far and wide. Sometimes eager and impoverishedjongleurs arrived in such numbers that it was necessary to turn them away.

At the very top of the profession was the jongleur who had become attached to the court of a wealthy patron. The resident jongleur would provide the entertainment at his lord's castle and would accompany him when he visited other important persons. His standard of life would have been immeasurably better than that endured by his itinerant confreres. Indeed, he might even be rewarded with a grant of land, the most important and enduring form of wealth. The names of a few of these eleventh-century stars survive. The Domesday Book of 1086, for example, reveals that a ladyjongleur (or possibly the wife of a jongleur) called Adelina held land in Hampshire under the patronage of Roger of Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury.12 The Domesday survey also tells us William the Conqueror employed a jongleur called Berdic, whom he rewarded after the Conquest with three villages in Wales.13 But of Berdic himself nothing more is known. Nor is William the Conqueror the only person depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry known to have employed a jongleur. His Breton adversary Conan II (1040-66), whom we see in the embroidery escaping down a rope from the town of Dol, retained a singer-harpist named, curiously enough, Norman.14

As for Turold, the fact that he is named and depicted in the tapestry suggests that he was one of these more important jongleurs, a performer who had been patronised by a member of the nobility. And his specific association with Count Guy in the embroidery suggests that he was none other than the count's own jongleur and household dwarf. The tapestry shows Turold only once; his feet are firmly set on the soil of Picardy; and he is depicted in the same scene as the Count of Ponthieu. There is certainly nothing that suggests that the dwarf has, just now, travelled from Normandy, as a companion to Duke William's two knights.15

Count Guy of Ponthieu was a rich man and he wielded significant power within his region. Closely related to the King of France and a cousin of Count Eustace II, he comes across in the sources as greedy, callous and camp; this was, after all, the man who held the marooned Harold for a large ransom.16 The idea that he might have employed a household dwarf as his jongleur certainly does not jar with other reports of his character. If we are right in taking Turold to be a court dwarf, he stands in the line of a long tradition. Dwarfs have found employment in wealthy households in many periods of history, stretching back to ancient Egypt and imperial Rome, and through to Renaissance times and beyond.17 For the medieval period with which we are concerned the evidence for court dwarfs is not abundant but it does exist. Thus in the 1060s Bishop Gunter of Bamberg is recorded as having a dwarf named Askericus.18 In the late twelfth century Count Henry II of Champagne, the King of Jerusalem, possessed a dwarf named Scarlet, who, in a bizarre accident, perished with him as he tried to save his lord and master from falling absentmindedly out of a window.19 The examples can certainly be multiplied as the ages progress. The pages of medieval literature, especially from the twelfth century onwards, are full of additional evidence of the medieval fascination for dwarfs and for the existence of court dwarfs in particular. The golden-haired harpist Cnu Deireoil of Celtic myth played music that was so sweet that his listeners invariably fell asleep. The court dwarf in the German Arthurian poem Wigalois (c. 1200) sang songs so wonderful that they could not be erased from memory. In Chretien de Troyes' poem Erec et Enide (c. 1160) we come across a more sinister dwarf who accompanies his lord and lady on their travels, brandishing a whip and barring the way to innocent strangers. There were also stories of wild dwarfs who dwelt in forests and caves, with magical powers and great hoards of gold, even a whole race of dwarfs with their own king and queen. Wild dwarfs could look up at the night sky and read the stars as if the whole of the heavens were a vast illuminated manuscript, and when the chance beckoned they would cast magic spells on the world asleep.

There is thus sufficient evidence, over an extended period, for the medieval fascination with dwarfs and we should not to be surprised if Turold is a jongleur attached to the noble household of Count Guy of Ponthieu. This certainly remains no more than an implication from what we see in the tapestry;no written evidence supporting it survives. But it seems an entirely reasonable hypothesis on the basis of which to continue our investigation. Let us now consider what kind of jongleur Turold might have been. Some churchmen held jongleurs in very low esteem, regarding them as typically blasphemous, vulgar and drunk. Honorius of Autun (c. 1080-c. 1117) fulminated that they were all the servants of Satan and would end up in hell. The image of a jongleur in hell, in the process of having his tongue torn out by devils, can be seen above the west door of the early twelfth-century church at Conques in central France. In the same vein, Orderic Vitalis, writing around the 1130s, tells the story of a jongleur who, having made an irreverent joke about certain holy relics, was said to have been struck dead by lightning that very night.20

Our Turold was surely no disreputable fellow like this. He was a high-class jongleur. His name has been embroidered proudly in the company of kings and nobles. There were some high-minded clerics who were prepared to tolerate the art of the jongleur,provided that it was put to some useful purpose.Jongleurs could, after all, sing to the people about edifying or uplifting subjects and in a language they could understand. It did not have to be all scandalous songs or idle tricks and dirty jokes. They could sing the lives of saints and moral fables or the famous heroic tales of feudal and Christian valour known as chansons de geste. Above all else, it is in this last role, as performers, and sometimes authors, of chansons de geste that jongleurs are nowadays best remembered.Chansons de geste were the epic poems of Old French literature. They were tales of exciting and heroic deeds, usually set in or around the age of Charlemagne, sung by a jongleur to an audience of lords and courtiers. The great popularity of chansons de geste is testified by the fact that more than 100 survive, dating from the latter part of the eleventh century to the first half of the fourteenth. So is this how we should see Turold? As a performer, and perhaps author, of chansons de geste} Interestingly enough, Gormont et Isembart, the very earliest chanson de geste that survives, albeit in fragmentary form, is known to come from Ponthieu. The monk Hariulf, writing in the 1080s at the monastery of Saint-Riquier, just outside Count Guy's capital of Abbeville, tells us that the story ofGormont et Isembart was 'remembered and sung every day by the people of the land'.21 But there is something more than this, something that is much more intriguing. The very greatest of all thechansons de geste is the Chanson de Roland (the Song of Roland) and it is familiar, if only by name, to every French schoolchild. It is the first great work of French literature, a monumental celebration of Charlemagne and his kin. It occupies a position in French literary history equivalent to the English Beowulf and it may be counted among the world's classics. Scholars have long argued over the authorship, origin and date of the Roland. Mystery surrounds these issues. But in the very last of the 4,002 lines of the earliest extant version of the Chanson de Roland, preserved in the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman manuscript kept in the Bodleian Library in Oxford, we read the following extraordinary clue:

Ci fait la geste que Turoldus declinet
Here ends the story which Turold relates22

At once we must remember that Turold was a very common name. Moreover, the precise meaning of line 4002 of the Chanson de Roland, and in particular the role of 'Turoldus', has remained frustratingly obscure; the Turold mentioned could have been the author of the poem, the performer of the poem, the author of its source material or even the twelfth-century copyist who made the only surviving copy of this version of the tale.23 We are in a grey area; but grey as it is, the possibility is truly intriguing. It is a possibility that is even more intriguing now that we have seen that the dwarf is probably a jongleur and that the tapestry brings to the fore Count Eustace II of Boulogne, the man who had the richest blood of Charlemagne running through his veins and who may even have been the patron of the tapestry itself. Could it be that the dwarf in the tapestry is the forgotten genius who wrote and composed the Chanson de Roland} Was this his claim to fame?

The Chanson de Roland is a masterpiece which was written, so far as historians have deduced, by a Frenchman, from somewhere in the north of what we now call France, or possibly conquered England, during the latter part of the eleventh century. But though its author may justly be called the founding father of French literature, his identity has always remained a mystery. Apart from his possible name, Turold, nothing is known of him. As a topic of study, the Chanson de Roland is matched only by the Bayeux Tapestry in terms of the vast number of scholarly books and articles that medievalists have devoted to it. Yet despite this intense interest, the theory that the two Turolds are identical persons has only very rarely been suggested, and nowadays it is not mentioned at all. As Gerard Moignet wrote in 1972, scholars have 'abandoned all hope of finding the author of theChanson de Roland [in the Bayeux Tapestry]'.24 In all this, however, the intriguing fact that the dwarf in the Bayeux Tapestry seems to be a jongleur has not widely been noted and it has never been truly brought to bear on the issue.

The story of the Chanson de Roland, which is very loosely based on fact, is set in the year 778, during the age of Charlemagne. The manner in which the poem was written or evolved has long been a subject of debate; it probably existed in a variety of earlier forms, now lost, before being reworked in the eleventh century by a single poet for new times and for a new audience. It tells of how the traitor Ganelon betrayed the rearguard of Charlemagne's army to the Muslim Saracens of Spain. As a result Roland (Charlemagne's nephew) and many others, including his companion Olivier and the warrior Archbishop Turpin, come under a devastating attack as they return to France through the Pyrenean pass of Roncevaux. Under Roland's leadership they fight long and heroically. Archbishop Turpin, Olivier and Roland all stand out for their fighting prowess but inevitably they all perish. In due course, however, Charlemagne, aided by God, exacts revenge against the Saracens, swiftly in one battle and then again on a vast scale as the forces of Islam and Christianity face each other in a further epic conflict.25 The traitor Ganelon is finally brought to justice and executed for his crime.

In the figure of Roland medieval Europe found one of its greatest feudal and Christian heroes. He was the epitome of valour, battling for his God and his king, and dying a heroic death. The fame of the poem quickly spread. Versions of it were to be composed in High German, Old Norse, Welsh, Dutch and Middle English. In the fourteenth century both Dante and Chaucer knew the story. In Renaissance Italy stories of Roland continued to inspire Boiardo and Ariosto. Images of Roland and his companion Olivier may be found in art and sculpture from the twelfth century onwards and Roland's horn, which, out of his sense of honour, he refuses to blow to summon help, attained iconic status.

There is, of course, much in the poem that the modern reader finds objectionable; the poet's religiosity is ignorant, racist and violent. But in truth he could not have been otherwise, given where and when he lived. The opposition he sets up between the two great companions-in-arms, the brave but reckless Roland and the wise and cautious Olivier, still succeeds in engaging the reader and in stimulating debate. The poet is also a master at milking the tension. He can dramatically hold up the action, describing the same knife-edge moment in succeeding stanzas with subtly different words. If he was a performer, it shows; he knew how to keep his audience on edge. The scene that recounts Roland's death, in particular, has been described as one of the greatest in world literature.

There are several intriguing parallels between the respective stories told by Chanson de Roland and the Bayeux Tapestry. Many historians have noted in passing that the artist of the tapestry may well have known the Chanson de Roland and that he was perhaps consciously echoing themes found in the poem.26 Harold, for example, reminds us of the traitor Ganelon: both are brothers-in-law of their sovereign; both undertake a dangerous mission in a foreign land; both are brave and noble opponents who are brought down as a result of breaking the bonds of feudal duty; and the penalty of death is the price of their sin, for them and their kinsmen.

Most impressive, however, is the parallel that can be drawn between the fighting Archbishop Turpin and Bishop Odo of Bayeux. Alone among contemporary accounts the tapestry places Odo in the thick of the fighting. It is true that the embroidered Odo carries a mace, not a lance or sword, apparently reflecting a prohibition against those in holy orders shedding blood. The legendary Turpin is a hardened warrior who has no such inhibition. Turpin also dies in battle, a fate certainly not shared by Odo. But the image of the swashbuckling cleric, bravely taking part in the midst of a 'holy' battle, is strikingly shared between the tapestry and the Chanson. There is a passage in the Chanson de Roland that may even have been the direct inspiration for what we see in the embroidery. Surrounded by the enemy, and in the thick of battle, Roland's knights begin to panic and they call upon Roland and Olivier to protect them. Turpin, riding amongst them, steels their resolve:

Lord barons, do not indulge in base thoughts;
In God's name I beg you not to flee,
So that no man of worth can sing a shameful song.
It is far better for us to die fighting.27

The designer of the tapestry sought to flatter Bishop Odo in a variety of ways and it is more than possible that he was here deliberately fawning to him by implying that he was a second Archbishop Turpin [scene 54; plate 10]. At the same time, however, he carefully avoided any implication that Odo was directly involved in the slaughter. The point of comparison was carefully chosen.

If Ganelon is Harold and Odo Turpin, who in the embroidered story is the Emperor Charlemagne and who is Roland?Here the messages seem to be mixed. The leader of the invasion is Duke William and it might seem that he should naturally have the starring role and enjoy the implication of being another Charlemagne. Yet the presence of Count Eustace, the emperor's noble descendant, suggests on the contrary that he is the one who stands for the Carolingian bloodline, perhaps Charlemagne and Roland all rolled into one. On this account, William's counterpart in the poem would be a merely secondary figure, the 'Norman' vassal of Charlemagne who is anachronistically identified in the poem as Duke Richard the Old (who was in reality Duke William's great-grandfather). If these parallels with the Chanson de Roland are really there, as they seem to be, we have further evidence that the artist of the tapestry, although working in England and in an English genre, was actually French-speaking.28More than that, we can now well understand that the artist might wish to reinforce the parallels with the story of Roland by a passing depiction of the author of the poem itself, in Ponthieu and in the presence of Count Guy, where he would normally be found.

The place of origin of the Chanson de Roland has long been debated. On the basis that the twelfth-century Oxford manuscript was copied out in the Anglo-Norman dialect of its day, some have argued that it is a Norman work.29 Others, however, see the original poem as emanating from somewhere else in northern France, perhaps the area around Paris known as the Ile-de-France, or in Champagne, Anjou or Lorraine.30 Chartres, too, has been suggested.31 That it may have been written in Ponthieu is a novel suggestion; but the possibility should not be dismissed out of hand. Count Guy of Ponthieu was a great-great-grandson in the male line of Hugh Capet, the French king who finally ended the rule of the Carolingians in 987. Hugh Capet himself, however, was an indirect kinsman of Carolingian lineage and Guy could presumably trace a descent from the emperor in several female lines. Moreover the links in the region with the age of Charlemagne were as strong as they were anywhere else. It was here that Charlemagne is said to have placed his son-in-law Angilbert (740814) in control of the region. Angilbert was also one of the most celebrated former abbots of the monastery of Saint Riquier, the chief monastic centre of Ponthieu.32 The distinction in the poem between the 'French' and 'Norman'divisions of Charlemagne's army seems to mirror the very same distinction made in the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio when it describes Duke William's invasion force, where the 'French' are (or include) the men of Ponthieu and Boulogne. The Chanson de Roland thus appears to reflect sentiments of 'French' identity that are very similar to those expressed in the Carmen. On the other hand, the notion that the Chanson de Roland is a Norman work is undermined by the fact that it is always the French who are given the greater prestige; the 'Normans' are allotted a merely secondary role and 'Normandy' is merely one of a number of subsidiary territories ruled over by the true 'Frenchman' Charlemagne.33The poem was probably written for a wider audience than just one French region, and no place in Ponthieu is mentioned in the text, but for political, historical and genealogical reasons Pon­thieu, or one of its northern French neighbours, can hardly be ruled out as its place of composition or adaptation.

Nor is it impossible that the Roland is more or less contemporary with the Bayeux Tapestry, that is to say probably dating from the period between 1066 and about 1080 and perhaps more specifically from the early to mid-1070s. Various arguments have been advanced in favour of the Rolandbeing significantly later in date than the tapestry, but none is persuasive.34 While the thrust of the Chanson de Roland puts the 'Normans' very much in the shade of the 'French', there are nevertheless some oblique references to Duke William's recent conquest of England. Thus it is mentioned that Charlemagne 'crossed the salty sea to England and won the poll-tax for Rome's own use' and that 'England became his domain'.35 Neither statement is true of Charlemagne but both are true of William the Conqueror. For this reason, if nothing else, the poem in its surviving form must date from after 1066. The widespread notion that the Chanson de Roland must, of necessity, have been written after a battle in Spain in 1086 (the Battle of Zalaca) is based on a series of false assumptions.36 Arguably, so is the notion that the Roland reflects the time of the First Crusade (post 1096); there is no reference at all, either implicit or explicit, to the Crusade in the East. What the Roland reflects is rather the climate of opinion that made the First Crusade possible. This was a time, some twenty or so years earlier, when contingents of French knights were already fighting against the Muslims in Spain, just as we find them in the Roland. Moreover, there may well be a number of oblique references in the Roland to contemporary events in 1071 or 1072, forming a cluster of allusions that suggests that the poet was writing not long afterwards.37There is also no reference to the Norman conquest of Sicily, although the Norman successes in Calabria and Apulia are implicitly referred to. This suggests that the poet was writing before the conquest of Sicily was complete in 1091, and probably before it was substantially complete in the late 1070s. One place in Sicily is mentioned in passing by the poet - Palermo.38Palermo was captured by the Normans in January 1072. For all these reasons a date for the composition or adaptation of the work in the early 1070s seems to be entirely plausible.

Such general considerations are hardly much of an advance on the matter. What we need is some more precise clue that the Chanson de Roland was composed or at least adapted by a poet working in Ponthieu. There is at least one such clue. Among several holy relics mentioned by the poet, one stands out in particular. So important is it that Charlemagne (Charles) has it embedded in the pommel of his sword:

We could speak for a long time about the lance
With which our Lord was wounded on the cross.
Charles has its point, thanks be to God,
Which he has mounted in his golden pommel.39

The reference here is to the lance of the Roman centurion that pierced the side of Jesus as he lay hanging on the cross.40 It is Charlemagne's ownership, 'thanks be to God', of the tip of the Holy Lance that gives his soldiers their assured sense of destiny, that they have a joyous and heavenly future which their unquestioned faith held was open to them as a result of the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. The point of the Holy Lance is embedded in the sword of Charlemagne;the sword is thus named Joyeuse, 'the Joyful'; and it is from the name of the sword Joyeuse that seems to have been taken the battle cry that the poet puts into the mouths of Charlemagne's knights, Monjoie, 'My Joy'. The Holy Lance thus stands at the centre of a group of related concepts of great mystical significance to the poet.41 And it turns out to be of the greatest interest in our quest to link the tapestry's Turold with the authorship of the poem. We must, therefore, narrow our focus on to this question.

The Chanson de Roland tells us that the point of the Holy Lance belonged to Charlemagne. The only place in the whole of eleventh-century France where a similar story has been found is the abbey of Saint-Riquier, the chief monastic centre of Ponthieu. The abbey of Saint-Riquier, it will be recalled, lies only a few miles from Count Guy's capital of Abbeville, in other words, only a short distance from where the dwarf-jongleur Turold would have composed and sung his songs. The Saint-Riquier story is given to us by Hariulf, the monk who completed his chronicle of Saint-Riquier in large part by 1088. Hariulf's interest in the matter arose because the precious lancepoint had, for several decades during the ninth century, been a prized possession of his own abbey. He tells us that Louis the Pious, son and successor to Charlemagne, gave the abbey a large number of holy relics, the most precious of which was 'the point of the lance with which a soldier pierced the side of that divine Master who died for our salvation (it is this wound which gives rise to the sacraments of the church)'.42

Hariulf did not know how the biblical lancepoint had come into Louis' possession. He merely reported that 'it is said' that Louis had acquired this relic on a visit to Constantinople. However, no such visit is known, and a later account states that Charlemagne himself had given the relic to the abbey of Saint-Riquier. Within some fifty years or so, however, the abbey of Saint-Riquier lost it. Around the year 880, under imminent danger of Viking pillage, it was moved for safe keeping to the town of Sens and it was never returned and has subsequently disappeared.43

Despite this relic being associated by Hariulf with Charle-magne's son Louis, rather than directly with the emperor, Hariulf's story remains of the greatest interest in our quest. There is no other contemporary report which so closely parallels what we read in theRoland. Both speak specifically of the point of the Holy Lance. Both say that the family of Charlemagne owned it. In the words of one scholar who investigated the matter in detail, the tradition found at Saint-Riquier and the similar story in the poem 'can hardly be unrelated'.44 From this it seems distinctly possible that the poet of the Chanson de Roland was working within earshot of the traditions preserved at the abbey of Saint-Riquier and thus that he might well have been working in Abbeville as Count Guy of Ponthieu'sjongleur.


1 Turold


2 The meeting between

Duke William and

Earl Harold


3 'Where a priest

and Ælfgyva'


4 Mont-Saint-Michel and the crossing of the sands


5 Harold's oath to Duke William


6 King Edward's

last bequest


7 Bishop Odo of Bayeux

presides over a banquet


8 Wadard


9 Vital


10 Bishop Odo encourages the young knights at the Battle of Hastings


11 Count Eustace II of Boulogne points out Duke William


12 The death of King Harold

There is one further piece of evidence. In 1982 Professor D. D. R. Owen published an article in which he showed that more than a dozen parallels and similarities can be identified between the famous Latin poem about the Battle of Hastings, Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, and the FrenchChanson de Roland.45 Owen argued that these parallels strongly suggest that there is some direct relationship between the Latin and the French poems. He concluded that the poet of the Carmen was deeply familiar with the vernacular Roland, and that he drew upon it, 'deftly garnishing the historical facts as he had received them with epic turns of phrase, accentuating oppositions, adding picturesque touches to both characters and events'. Moreover, it would appear that the version of the Roland with which the Carmen-pott was familiar was more or less the one which has been transmitted down to us.

This conclusion is extremely important, but its importance has been obscured. At the time when Owen published his article it was widely considered that the Carmen was a twelfth-century work and that it could not have been written by Bishop Guy of Amiens. But Guy's authorship of the poem has now been firmly re-established.46 So if Owen is right that the author of the Carmen knew and used the Roland, then the Chanson de Roland must have been composed, in a form not dissimilar to what we know today, before Guy died, which was in either 1074 or 1075.47 This is a dating remarkably consistent with what has been proposed above. Furthermore, if Bishop Guy was familiar with the Chanson de Roland, at a time so close to its presumed date of composition, the two poems could well have originated in broadly the same milieu. This cannot be proved; the Chanson de Roland might quickly have become popular. But the influence of the Chanson de Roland on Bishop Guy would be all the more understandable if he were working not far from where the Roland was composed. We know that when Guy wrote the Carmen he was the Bishop of Amiens. His episcopal seat lay only two dozen miles along the River Somme from Abbeville, where his nephew Count Guy ruled over Ponthieu. In his youth Bishop Guy had even been a student at Saint-Riquier. Once again our hypothesis that the Chanson de Roland might well have been composed in the region of Abbeville and Saint-Riquier, and by none other than Turold, Count Guy of Ponthieu's household jongleur,is remarkably consistent with the evidence. It is consistent, too, with the theory that Count Eustace II of Boulogne was the patron of the Bayeux Tapestry for it was Eustace, the noble heir of Charlemagne, who stood to gain most in prestige from the tapestry's implicit allusions to the Chanson de Roland and its talented author Turold.48

The discussion in this chapter has ranged over a number of matters; no doubt a great deal more could be said. It would certainly be remarkable if we have an embroidered portrait of the author of the first great work of French literature. If that were true, the whole magnificent edifice - from Moliere to Flaubert, from Corneille to Hugo, and all the other luminaries as well - would rest on the shoulders of this enigmatic dwarf. That there is considerable scope for caution is clear. The clues are slender; much mystery remains. But the possibility that the two Turolds are identical is distinctly more interesting than has hitherto been supposed.

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