Song of Roland EXPLAINED

Song of Roland

The Song of Roland, or, in French, La Chanson de Roland, is the best known of the Old French epics. It was possibly first composed some time in the 10th or 11th century, though the earliest extant version of the chanson, was found in the 12th century, in a manuscript designated as “Digby 23”, now kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. There are later versions that can be found in other manuscripts, but none of them are as complete as the Digby version.

The author of the chanson de Roland was possibly Turoldus, whose name was include at the very end of the epic. Whether he was the original composer of the epic or that he was the compiler of Digby manuscript, or a fictional author, is uncertain.

The author of the chanson, clearly set out to immortalise the hero Roland and the so-called Twelve Peers, in similar fashion that later medieval poets immortalise King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.


On the Field of Rencesvals
Battle of Charlemagne and Baligant
Trial of Ganelon
Historical Background





Charlemagne (or Charles I) was besieging Cordoba, when King Marsile of Spain called upon a meeting at his palace in Saragossa, to discuss what they should do about Charlemagne. Charlemagne’s army had conquered much of Marsile’s kingdom for the last seven years, and Marsile was at loss of how he can prevent himself from losing his crown and the final stronghold to the Franks.

It was Blancandrin of Castel de Valfunde, who counsel Marsile with a plan to betray the offering peace to Charlemagne. The peace would be to lure Charlemagne out of Spain by offering hostages, treasures, and most importantly a false declaration that Marsile would become Charlemagne’s vassal and convert to the Christian faith. Marsile would pretend to follow Charlemagne to Aix (or Aix-la-Chapelle), the capital of the Franks, to swear allegiance to Charlemagne and be baptised. With Charlemagne back at Aix, Marsile could try to reconquer the land and cities that Charlemagne has won. Blancandrin said it was better for Marsile to break the last two promises and let the hostages die, then for Marsile to lose his entire kingdom. Blancandrin had even offered his own son as hostage.

So Marsile sent Blancandrin as his envoy to Charlemagne, with treasures and the selected high-ranking hostages. Blancandrin brought before the Frankish king, the offer – hostages, treasure, and the promise of Marsile becoming vassal to Charlemagne.

So that night, Charlemagne summoned his counsellors and noblemen, for advice on this matter of Marsile’s proposal.

It was Roland who voiced his rejection of the Saracen proposal of peace, and his distrust for Marsile. Since Cordoba has been captured, they only need to capture Marsile’s capital, Saragossa, and Charlemagne would have the entire Spanish peninsula in his hands; so there was no need of accepting any truce with Marsile. The hero also reminded the assembly that Charlemagne had previously sent an embassy, Basan and Basile, to Marsile, but they were treacherously beheaded the two counts.

Roland’s stepfather, Ganelon, on the other hand, rebuked the young hero of being reckless and for warmongering. If Marsile want peace and ask for mercy, then Charlemagne should magnanimously accept, especially if the Saracen king becomes a Christian and a vassal to Charlemagne.

Duke Naimes, Charlemagne’s wisest counsellor, thought that Ganelon’s argument was the most sensible and diplomatic solution. He volunteered to go, but Charlemagne refused to be deprived of Naimes’ wisdom. Also the person who goes to Saragossa may not return alive if the truce don’t go well.

Roland then offer to go, but Oliver and the king, refused his nomination as ambassador, since Roland was no diplomat, and was clearly hostile to the Saracens. Roland was most likely to offend the Saracen king. Archbishop Turpin also offered to go Marsile, but he was also rejected.

Roland then suggested that his stepfather should go, since it was Ganelon’s idea to accept peace from the enemy. Ganelon was angry stepson’s nomination because anyone who goes would probably not return alive, but he reluctantly accepted the position when Charlemagne thought he was the ideal candidate. Ganelon swore before Charlemagne and the whole assembly that he would bring Roland’s downfall.

Ganelon decided to go alone, since the Frank noblemen agree on his nomination; his kinsmen would have come with him. When Charlemagne gave his glove to Ganelon as the mark of his appointment, Ganelon rudely let the glove fall on the ground – which all members of the council saw as a bad omen.

So Ganelon set out for Saragossa with Blancandrin. In their journey, Blancandrin learned of Ganelon’s hatred for his stepson, and with the Saracen encouragement, Ganelon vowed to make Roland and the other members of the Twelve Peers pay with their lives for his humiliation at Charlemagne’s court.


At Saragossa, though Marsile greeted Ganelon’s warmly, but the message of Charlemagne that he delivered would have brought about Ganelon’s immediate death, but Blancandrin intervened, and asked his king for patience and to listen to Ganelon’s suggestion.

Ganelon advised Marsile that the only way to make Charlemagne leave Spain forever is to bring about Roland’s death. Roland is Charlemagne’s right hand in warfare; without Roland, the Frankish king would despair and could not hope to conquer Spain. Marsile should pretend to follow Charlemagne to Aix, to accept baptism, and Spain would be divided in half: Roland would rule one half of the kingdom, while Marsile would rule the other. When Charlemagne would leave for France, Ganelon would arrange it so that Roland to accept the post of rearguard with the Twelve Peers and 20,000 men. Marsile should then gather half of his army to destroy Roland and his warriors in an ambush.

With this plan from Ganelon, Marsile and those in his court rejoiced that Charlemagne’s ambassador was willing to commit treason out of spite for his stepson; they rewarded Ganelon with rich gifts. Even Bramimonde, Marsile’s consort, bestowed a kiss upon Ganelon.

Ganelon returned to Galne, a city which Roland had captured, and gave the news to Charlemagne, along with a false letter from the Saracen king that Marsile would follow Charlemagne to Aix, to be baptised and accept fief from Charlemagne. So, the king immediately ordered to break camp, and immediately prepare the withdrawal from Spain: to return home. Charlemagne was unaware that Marsile indeed intending to follow the Frankish army, but with four hundred thousand armed Saracen warriors.


On the night before Charlemagne was due to make a trek across the mountains of the Pyrenees, the king had a couple of unsettling dreams. They were actually visions of treachery from Ganelon and from Marsile.

In one dream, Ganelon seized Charlemagne’s lance and violently broke the weapon. In the second vision, Charlemagne was in a chapel at Aix, where he was bitten by a wild boar, while a leopard attacked his body. A hunting dog came and bit off the boar ear, before fighting with the leopard.

In the morning, Charlemagne called for his advisers, wanting to know who should remain behind and guard the passes and narrow defiles while the main body of Charlemagne’s army moved ahead into France.

Ganelon immediately suggested Roland should protect the army’s rear, while Ogier the Dane take the position of the vanguard. The vanguard is normally led by Roland, so he was angry that he must command the rearguard forces. Unlike Ganelon, who dropped Charlemagne’s staff that indicated he was serving as embassy on behalf of the king, Roland didn’t not drop the king’s gauntlet and bow now that he have been given command of the rearguard. Charlemagne immediately recognised that his dreams of Ganelon’s treachery, but he was powerless to prevent it.

When Charlemagne brought up the issue of Roland taking half of his army to guard the passes and defiles, the hero immediately rejected his uncle’s offer. Roland boasted that he needs no other than his eleven companions and his twenty thousand warriors that was already under his command. However there are some notable warriors to join Roland; among them are Archbishop Turpin, Astor, Duke Gaifier and Count Gautier del Hum joined Roland.

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On the Field of Rencesvals

As Charlemagne moved his main body of his army through the pass of Rencesvals, Roland remained in Spain. Despite, being back at his kingdom, Charlemagne was grieving and told Duke Naimes about his vision that Roland and the Twelve Peers would be destroyed by Ganelon’s treachery.


At Saragossa, Marsile gathered four-hundred thousand Saracen warriors to attack Roland’s twenty thousand men. His nephew, Aelroth, boastfully wants to face Roland himself. Eleven other volunteered to fight against the Twelve Peers. Among them are Falsaron, Marsile’s brother; a Berber king named Corsalis; Malprimis of Brigant; the emir from Balaguer; the almacor from Moriane; Turgis of Turteluse; Escremiz of Valterne; Estorgan and his companion Estramariz; Margariz of Seville; and Chernubles of Munigre. Each one hollowly boasting that he would be the one to kill Roland. And they all marched towards Rencesvals.

Roland ordered Count Gautier to guard the defiles and passes of Rencesvals with a thousand Frank warriors. But even here, Gautier would face strong opposition from King Almari of Belferne.

When the Franks heard the arrival of their enemies, Oliver went to investigate on the hilltop and saw the Saracens vastly outnumbered them. Oliver returned to Roland with the news that they could not possibly win with only 20,000 knights; his advice was that Roland should sound the horn, so Charlemagne reinforced them. Roland flatly refused, mainly because he didn’t want people to see him as a coward, and that he was overconfident that they could defeat Marsile. Two more times, Oliver returned to the hill and then back to Roland, calling upon his companion to call for aid, but each time, Roland rejected Oliver’s wise advice. Roland called for the Franks to be armed and ready to fight the Saracen army. Roland knew now the full extent of his stepfather’s treachery and that Ganelon had accepted gifts from the Saracen king.

As the two sides charged into one another, Aelroth boasted that they will destroy Charlemagne and his kingdom. But his prowess and glory (or lack of it) was short-lived; Roland hearing the rash Marsile’s nephew, drove his spear into Aelroth, breaking his back. Oliver’s killed Falsaron, Marsile’s brother, when he was making similar boast. Corsablix met his end at Archbishop Turpin. Gerin killed Malprimis, while his companion account for the emir. Samson ended the almacor’s life; Anseis overthrew Turgis; Engeler ends Escremiz of Valterne; Oton over Estorgans, Berenger against Astramariz.

Though, Margariz attacked Oliver with his spear, the Frank paladin was unharmed, and the Saracen didn’t stay. Cherubles wasn’t so lucky. After 15 blows against various unnamed Saracens, Roland’s spear was destroyed, so he drew Durendal from his scabbard, and sliced Cherubles from head down to his groin. This sword even cut it way to the Saracen’s horse’s spine. That was how powerful Roland was.

There are too many little deeds done by the Twelve Peers, to record here, but the Franks have done very well against Marsile’s forces, right up til noon. Because around this time, Marsile had joined in the fray. Realising that even outnumbered, the Franks had slaughtered a hundred thousand of his men.

The first of Roland’s eleven companions began to fall. Climborin was among the Saracen nobles who greeted Ganelon in friendship; he killed Engeler. Oliver avenged Engeler, by not only killing Climborin, but also Duke Alphaien and Escababi. Valdabrun killed Duke Samson, but Roland avenged his companion’s life. Anesis had fallen to an African named Malquiant, son of Malcuid, but Turpin took his revenge upon Malquiant. Grandonie of Cappadocia, son of King Capuel, did a lot of damage on the Twelve Peers, accounting for Gerin, Gerer and Berenger, as well as Guiun from Saint-Antoine and Austorie of Valence. It was Roland who stopped Grandonie, just like he did against Cherubles earlier.


Roland realised that he should have heeded Oliver’s warning, because there were only 60 Frankish warriors are left; so the hero decided that he would blow his horn, the Oliphant. This time, it was Oliver who said it would not be honourable now that that tide has shifted. Twice more, Roland said he should sound the horn, but Oliver argued against it. Archbishop Turpin told the two friends to cease arguing with one another. Although, Turpin agreed that calling for aid from Charlemagne would be too late in arriving to help them, but at least Charlemagne could avenge their death.

So with this advice, Roland blew his Oliphant, which Charlemagne could be heard 30 leagues away from the battlefield. The king exclaimed that the rearguard must be in battle, but Ganelon dismissed that there were no battle. But Naimes and other members of Charlemagne heard it too when Roland blew the horn a second time, and still Ganelon persisted that Roland and the rearguard was in no trouble, and they should ride on towards Aix. A third time, the horn was blown, confirmed everyone’s fear. Charlemagne immediately ordered his army to turn back to Spain, hoping that he would save what left of the rearguard force.

Charlemagne also ordered the immediate arrest of his treacherous brother-in-law. Ganelon was placed under detention of Charlemagne’s master cook, whose charges would beat Roland’s stepfather, until the king’s return.


Back at Rencesvals, the effort of blowing the Oliphant so hard, caused ruptured in Roland’s temple, and bleeding at the nose and mouth, which was probable the cause of his death. Roland, Oliver and the archbishop returned to battle.

By this time, Marsile rode into thick of the battle, felling Bevon, Beaune of Dijon, and the peers – Yvoire, Yvon and Gerard of Roussillon. This caused both anguish and anger in Roland. He rode in and attacked Marsile. Roland severed Marsile’s hand, as well as chopping off Jurfaleu the Blond’s head; Jurfaleu was Marsile’s son.

Wounded, Marsile fled from the battlefield, which caused a major number of Saracens to abandon the battle like cowards. This however didn’t help the surviving Charlemagne’s rearguard, and the 50,000 Saracens still outnumbered Roland’s dwindling force; on the Saracen side, Marganice, Marsile’s uncle was still in command of the field, along with Alfrere and Garmalie.

Marganice could still victory can be won, so when he saw the opportunity, he ran his through Oliver at the back. Despite this mortal wound, Oliver killed Marganice with his sword, Halteclere, and still he continued to fight while can still stand, killing more Saracens.

Even Roland was awed at his companion’s feat, but Oliver was losing his eyesight. When Roland too close to his companion, Oliver nearly killed him, the Halteclere splitting his helmet, but the blade did not touch Roland’s head.

Oliver finally feeling his death approaching, dismounted his horse, and confessed his sins, before his heart failed him.

With Oliver’s death, Roland grieved for him, and fainted was still on his horse, Veillantif. When he regained his sense, Gautier had come down from the defiles and heights of Rencesvals, having lost all his men in his command. But Gautier, the archbishop and Roland were the only ones still left alive. Hearing Gautier’s tiding made the hero furious, so he killed 20 Saracens in quick succession, while Gautier felled six and the archbishop five. But Gautier fell when he came under the volley of javelins. Turpin also received a mortal wound, pierced by four spears, but still the archbishop fought on. Roland blew his horn again; and this attempt caused the hero to almost faint from the pain.

But Charlemagne could barely hear the sound of the Oliphant, and the Franks blew their own bugles in answer. Fearing of facing Charlemagne, the Saracens attacked Roland and Turpin. Roland lost his horse, Veillantif. Though, his shield was in tattered and his hauberk was rent in many places, none of the blows could cut or pierce him. This caused the Saracens to panic and flee from the two implacable warriors.

Roland then began searching for all of his Peers, and laid them around the archbishop. The grief caused Roland to faint again. Despite his wounds, Turpin took the hero’s Oliphant and went to a nearby stream, to fetch water for Roland, but weakened by his wounds and loss of blood, the Archbishop of Reims died.

Roland regained his sense, only to find the archbishop dead with his entrails spilled on the ground near the water. Roland also felt that he was dying too because blowing the Oliphant had caused internal bleeding inside of his head. He moved towards a tree where he found 4 blocks of large marble, and where Roland fainted again.

The hero was unaware that one of the Saracens was feigning death. This pagan thought the paladin was dead, and attempted to take Durendal from Roland. At this point, Roland was jolted to his sense, and sensing a cowering thief, swung the Oliphant against the pagan. The horn broke the helmet and the Saracen’s skull, before he gouged out both eyes.

Fearing that a Saracen would gain his sword and horn and exhibited them as trophy of Saracen’s victory, Roland tried to break both Durendal and the Oliphant, but even his might could not break them. Ten times he beat his sword against the stone, but it would neither break nor shatter. At this point, the hero praised the sword, and listed some parts that make up his sword hilt. Enclosed in the hilt was St Peter’s tooth, St Basil’s blood, hair from St Denis and part of the raiment of St Mary, Jesus’ mother.

Now that he felt death approaching, he confessed his sins, and began praying to God for salvation and to the archangels Michael and Gabriel to guide him. Seeing that all attempt to destroy the Durendal to no avail, he decided to hide it under his body, as he sat against the pine tree, facing the direction of his enemies in Spain. And then, he died.


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Battle of Charlemagne and Baligant

It was about this point Charlemagne arrived with his army, on the field littered with the dead. He was too late. He found the bodies of the Twelve Peers. The king and his entire lamented the loss of rearguard force, the Twelve Peers, and his beloved nephew; they were the flower of Charlemagne’s army, so the loss of them seemed devastating.

Naimes noticed a great deal of dust rising, and rightly assuming that the Saracens were fleeing from Rencesvals. Setting some guards to watch over their bodies, Charlemagne set out in pursuit of the enemies. It seemed that God was extending his hand to help Charlemagne, by causing the sun to stop, before it could set, so the Franks could catch the Saracens. The Saracens seeing the Frankish army, they panic, and tried to reach Saragossa. Most these routed enemies were driven into the river Ebro, where they drowned. Some stood their ground before the river, and were annihilated.

Since it was now dark, Charlemagne decided to set up camp at Val Tenebros, letting his men and horses to rest. That night, Charlemagne mourned for the loss of so many good men, but eventually he fell asleep, where he had vision of Gabriel informing him to not concern himself with those who died, and take comfort that Roland’s soul had been taken to heaven. Charlemagne must concentrate in capturing Saragossa and put his treacherous brother-in-law on trial.


Marsile who fled after receiving his wound – a missing hand, managed to escape the disaster that befell those men that had died at Val Tenebros and the Ebro River. Seven years earlier, when he first fought against the Franks, he sent a missive to an old emir, named Baligant from Babylon (not to be confused with a city in Mesopotamia; this city is in Egypt, possibly Cairo) to come to his aid. Baligant arrived with a large fleet in Spain, and was approaching Marsile’s capital, Saragossa, with a large army.

Baligant sent an envoy, where Marsile informed the emir’s messengers that he had lost his right hand in battle and his son. He had no desire to rule any longer since he was without an heir, so he was surrendering his city and kingdom (Spain) to Baligant by giving the key to the emir’s envoy. Upon hearing this news, Baligant set out to face Charlemagne’s army.

That morning Charlemagne returned to Rencesvals, where he mourned for his nephew and the Twelve Peers. He was about to make arrangement for those who died their burial, but Baligant’s army arrived.

So both armies got ready for battle, deploying the battalions and assigning captains to these divisions (there is a long description of this, which I will not list). However, Charlemagne did arrange a new division of 15,000 young warriors, commanded by Count Rabel and Count Guineman, to serve as the vanguard, like that led by the Twelve Peers of 20,000 men; they were to spearhead the attack against the Saracens. On the other side, Baligant’s son, Malpramis, led the spearhead division. Charlemagne divided the rest of his force into 10 divisions, while Baligant had 40 divisions.

Charlemagne’s horse was called Tencendur and armed himself with his sword Joiuse, while Baligant’s sword was Preciuse and his spear Maltet.

The two opposing vanguards clashed first, before the rest of the two large armies join in the battle. Malpramis fought well, but ended at the worse end of fight, when the elder warrior, Duke Naimes killed him. Naimes would have lost his life, when he was struck by King Canabeus, Baligant’s brother, but he was rescued by Charlemagne.

Despite the size of Baligant’s army, Charlemagne’s smaller army proved to be more experienced. But the deciding factor of the battle was the meeting between the two rulers.

Both kings were unhorsed, when they smashed their spear against one another; they fought each other with their swords. Baligant almost got the better of the fight, when his sword stunned Charlemagne, but the angel Gabriel intervene renewing Charlemagne who returned the blow with Joiuse, and split open Baligant’s head.

Seeing their emir dead, the Saracen warriors began to flee, with the Frankish warriors on their heel.

Charlemagne’s army chased the enemies all the way to Saragossa. When Marsile heard his wife Bramimonde, he cried out that Baligant’s army was fleeing towards their city, he knew that the emir was dead; Marsile also died from sorrow. Bramimonde surrendered the city to Charlemagne, when the Franks broke through the gates. Only those who accept Christianity and baptised were spared; so over 100,000 Saragossa residents were baptised. Bramimonde was held as royal captive, and she was to accompany to France, in the hope that she would become Christian.

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Trial of Ganelon

The next day, Charlemagne left the city Saragossa, determined to return to France and to Aix, to try Ganelon for treason.

Charlemagne’s return to Aix was marred by another tragedy. Aude, Oliver’s sister, was Roland’s bride. When Charlemagne broke the news, but told her that he could marry his son, Louis, she rejected the king’s offer, and collapsed, dead from grief. She was promptly buried.

Charlemagne then have his brother-in-law tried, charged with treason, and the king’s court full of noblemen would be the jury. Ganelon’s thirty kinsmen came to support him, particularly Pinabel from Castel de Sorence.

Charlemagne put forward that Ganelon accepted gold, arranging so that Marsile could ambush the force of the Twelve Peers, leading to the death of Roland and his companions. Ganelon argued that he hadn’t committed treason, because Roland had wronged him, so it was a quarrel just between him and his stepson.

Pinabel challenged anyone to prove Ganelon’s treason, by the mean of single combat. No one was willing to face Pinabel in combat, so the nobles tried to reconcile the king with Ganelon and absolved his brother-in-law of treason. Charlemagne angrily called his noblemen “traitors”. Only Thierry, brother of Duke Geoffrey of Anjou, supported the king’s case, and accepted the challenge of single combat from Pinabel. Thierry accused of Ganelon of treason, and causing the death of Roland, the Twelve Peers, and 20,000 knights under Roland’s command at Rencesvals. For this combat to be prepared, Ganelon must provide hostages as surety. Thirty of Ganelon’s kinsmen swore pledge of loyalty.

The single combat took place outside of Aix, on the green meadow. Pinabel was tall and strong knight, and considerably experience. Thierry, on the other hand, was shorter, and slender in built. Everyone sorrowfully believed that Thierry would lose.

Both aside tried to get the other side to surrender, because each side admired the opponent’s courage, but Pinabel refused to reconciliation if Ganelon must die as a traitor. So they fought one another.

They broke spear against one another, and were both unhorsed. They leaped to their feet, and drew their swords, trading blow after blow.

Again, the angel Gabriel interfered, when Pinabel’s sword cut open Thierry’s helmet, scoring a cut from forehead to the right cheek. Thierry’s return blow was more decisive and precise, splitting Pinabel’s head, spilling out his brains. Thierry had overthrown his foe. The noblemen now unanimously voted that Ganelon was guilty of treason. Ganelon’s kinsmen were not spared; they all were hanged on the gallows-trees.

Ganelon’s fate was worse than his kinsmen. His limbs were pulled out of his body; each limb was tied to a horse.

The poem ended, shortly after Bramimonde accepted baptism and became a Christian; her name was changed to Juliana. That night, Charlemagne had another vision, as he slept. Gabriel told Charlemagne must gather an army to help King Vivien in Imphe, whose city was besieged by the pagans from Brie, but Charlemagne complained that his life was old and wearied.

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Historical Background

Chanson de Roland was based on historical event that occurred at the pass of Roncesvalles, currently in the province of Navarre, northern Spain, August 15, AD 778. Roncesvalles was spelt Roncevaux, in French, but it is called Rencesvals, in Old French.

Charlemagne had two biographers, but only Einhard in Vita Karoli Magni (“Life of Charles the Great”, c. 833) had made any report to the ambush and annihilation of Frankish troops. Einhard (c. 770-840) was a contemporary of Charlemagne and to the king’s son, Louis I (also known as Louis the Pious), and served in his court at Aachen, not only as a biographer, but an important adviser. The other biographer is named Notker.

What is notable is the difference between the biography and the epic (chanson).

According to the legend, Charlemagne stayed in seven-year campaign in Spain, where he conquered much of the Moorish kingdom of Spain, eventually capturing Saragossa, the Moorish capital surrendering after defeating the army of Baligant.

Historically, Charlemagne did besieged the Moorish city of Saragossa, but never captured it. He stayed only for one season or summer, before he retreated back to France through the Pyrenees. In fact, Einhard never mention Rencesvals by name; he only referred the mountain pass in the Pyrenees. Also, Charlemagne had entered Spain, on the invitation of the Moorish embassy, requesting aid in ending the uprising. So Charlemagne didn’t enter Spain in a conquest.

In the chanson (epic), the Saracens had ambushed Roland’s division at Rencesvals; but in Einhard’s biography, there was no Saracens at all; it was the Gascons and Barques responsible for this attack. Einhard stressed that the Basques were lightly armored and the mountainous terrain, therefore they had advantage against the heavily armored Franks. The Basques easily dispersed in all direction, making it impossible for the Franks to give chase to elusive enemies.

Also there were no mention of the Twelve Peers in Einhard’s biography, and except for Roland, none of his companions were named. Roland died with other two other commanders: Eggihard, the King’s steward, and Anselm, Count Palatine. Roland himself, was listed as the Lord of the Breton March. Nor were there any mention in the biography of Ganelon, the stepfather of Roland, who had betrayed them at Rencesvals.

An earlier source, the original Annales regni Francorum, make no mention of any massarce Charlemagne’s rearguard, no mention of the pass in Rencesvals. What it does mention about Spain in 778 is that Pamplona was destroyed, and that Basques and Navarre were taken, before Charlemagne returned to France. Charlemagne also took hostages with him, from a number of Saracens, including from Ibn el Arabi and Abou Thaur. Again, there are no mention of the Saracen rulers, Marsile and Baligant, whom figured so largely in the chanson.

There is a revised edition of Annales regni Francorum, written about AD 800. Here (the revised annal), it does mention the Basques ambushing the rearguard at the top of the pass of the Pyrenees, but also make no mention of the Rencesvals by name. It also says that the Basques guerilla had engaged not only the rearguard, but the entire army, and that most of Charlemagne’s commanders were killed in this ambush.

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The Life of Charlemagne was written by Einhard (c. 833).

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