Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. I. Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century
 
Charlemagne
By Robert Fabyan (d. 1513)
 
AFTER this time and season, many great and noble deeds were done by this said Charles, and by his sons and captains under him, and by his commandment. And for the personage of so noble a prince should be had in mind, therefore divers authors testify that he was fair and well-faring of body, and stern of look and of face; his body was eight foot long, and his arms and legs well lengthed and strengthed after the proportion of the body; his face of a span broad, and his beard very long. Of his strength wonders are told; he would at one meal eat an whole hare, or two hens, or an whole goose, or a like quantity of other meat, and drink thereto a little wine mingled with water. Among his other notable deeds, he made a bridge over the river of Rhine, of five hundred pace long, by the city of Mayence; and he builded, as witnesseth Antoninus, and other, as many abbeys and monasteries, as there be letters in the cross row of the A B C; and in the front of either of the said abbeys, after the time of their foundation, he pyght 1 or set a letter of gold of the value of an hundred pound turnoys, 2 which is near to the value of English money now current, twenty mark for a pound turnoys is much like 2s. 8d. sterling; and a pound Parisian is near upon 40d. sterling: but it standeth at no certainty for heighting and lowing of their coins. He also builded or new reedified the city of Aguysgrany, 3 and endowed the church of Our Lady there, with many great gifts and precious relics, which yet remain there to this day; in which city, and near about, he used much to abide and lie. And for his great deeds and victories he deserved to be named Charles the Great, and for all his great might and honour, yet that notwithstanding, he was meek and lowly in his heart, mild and gracious to the poor, and merciful to wretches and needy, and set his sons to learn, as well letters, as martial and knightly feats; and his daughter he set to spinning and wool work. And he was expert in all speeches, so that he needed none interpreters to explain or express to him the messages of strange ambassadors; and in the time of his dinner or meals, he used to have read before him lessons and epistles; and specially of the works of Saint Austen, de Civitate Dei. In him was no thing to be discommended, but that he held his daughter so long unmarried. This noble man Charles, three years before his death, he had peace with all countries, as well such as were obeisant unto the empire, as such as longed to his dominion of France. In the which time of rest, among other godly and virtuous deeds, he made his testament, and distributed his temporal moveable goods in three parts; whereof two parts he gave to maintaining of bishops and other ministers of the church, and for the reparation of churches, and necessaries to the same, and to the maintaining of the divine service of God, with also the aid and feeding of poor and needy people; and the third part to his children and other of his ally. Ye shall understand this Charles had in his treasury specially noted, before his other jewels, four tables or boards, whereof three were of silver and the fourth of gold. In one was graven the likeness of the city of Constantine the Noble; the which he bequathe to the Church of Rome. In another was graven or wrought, the likeness of the city of Rome; and that he gave to the bishop of Rheims and to his church; and the third table of silver wherein was graven the Mappa Mundi; and the fourth of gold, he gave to his sons. Many things there were, and causes of the exalting of the fame of this prince. But among other, one is specially remembered of mine author: Gagwyne, the King of Persia, then ruling a great part of the Orient, sent unto Charles an ambassade honourable with many rich presents: among the which was an horologe or a clock of laten, 4 of a wonder artificial making, that at every hour of the day and night, when the said clock should strike, images on horseback appeared out of sundry places, and after departed again by mean of certain vices. 5 He sent to him also tents of rich silk, and balm natural, with certain elephants, requiring him of amity and friendship; and in like wise did the emperor of Constantine the Noble. 6 Albeit that he, in his mind, was not well contented that the pope had in that wise divided the empire, and set such a man of might in the room thereof. This Charles had divers wives; but of the second, named Eldegard he received three sons; that is to say, Lewis, Pepin, and Charles; the which Pepin he made King of Longobards or Italy, as before is showed of his notable deeds. What should I longer hold process of this great conqueror? For like as I before shewed, of his notable deeds might I make a great volume if I should of them shew the clearness, and the circumstance of every conquest that he in his time achieved. But death that is to all persons equal, lastly took him in his dim dance, when he had been King of France, with his brother, and alone forty-seven years; of the which he ruled the empire, as before is shewed, fourteen years; in the year of his age, as saith the French chronicles, seventy-two, and was buried at Aquysgrany with great pomp, in the year of our Lord’s incarnation thirteen hundred and fifteen, with this superscription upon his tomb: “Caroli Magni Cristianissimi Imperatoris Romanorum, corpus sub hoc sepulcro conditum est,” which may be Englished as followeth:
        Of Charles the great and emperor most cristen
Of Rome, the body is hid this tomb within.
  1
 
Note 1. pyght = fixed: used of planting a tent (see note to Marriage of Richard II.). [back]
Note 2. turnoys or tournois, the measure of Tours. [back]
Note 3. Aguysgrany = Aix. Aquæ Gratianæ was the Roman name. [back]
Note 4. laten = brass. [back]
Note 5. vices = devices or contrivances. [back]
Note 6. Constantine the Noble.  Fabyan’s lack of Greek has led him into a strange manner of representing Constantinople. [back]
 
 
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