Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne

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Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne or Voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople (Pilgrimage of Charlemagne or Charlemagne's Voyage to Jerusalem and Constantinople) is an Old French chanson de geste (epic poem) dealing with a fictional expedition by Charlemagne and his knights. The oldest known written version was probably composed around 1140. Two 15th-century reworkings of the story are also known.


In the story, Charlemagne asks his wife if she thinks he is the most handsome king in the world. To Charlemagne's outrage, she answers that the (fictional) Byzantine Emperor Hugo is better looking. Under the pretence of a pilgrimage, Charlemagne and his Twelve Peers set out for the east. They go to Jerusalem first, where they meet the patriarch, who gives them many important relics to take back, and also the title of Emperor. On the way home, they stop at Constantinople, a very beautiful and rich city free from theft and poverty. There they meet Hugo, indeed a very handsome and glorious king, standing on a golden plough. They are invited to the palace, an edifice which stands on a pole and revolves when the wind revolves.

Charlemagne and the Peers are welcomed in courtly fashion and they are assigned a beautiful room, in which King Hugo has hidden a spy. Charlemagne and his companions drink too much and start to gabber, to joke, about their extraordinary abilities. Olivier says he can sleep with Hugo's daughter a hundred times during a single night, Turpin claims he can juggle apples while standing with each leg on a different running horse, and so forth. The next day, when confronted with these lies, Charlemagne and his Peers retreat to their quarters ashamed. There, they pray to God in front of the relics, and promptly an angel appears, saying he will help Charlemagne.

Charlemagne returns to Hugo and claims that he is indeed capable of all the things he and his companions boasted about. Hugo doesn't believe it, but with the help of God, the Peers can perform their tasks. Hugo is very impressed and takes a vow to become Charlemagne's vassal. Once back home he forgives his wife and becomes a more pious king.

Later use[edit]

Whether Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne is a satire on the genre of the chanson de geste or not is debated. Also, date and location of composition of the poem is unknown. The text has also been translated into Old Norse prose, into the so-called Karlamagnus Saga. The prose translation into Middle Welsh, Pererindod Siarlymaen, is found complete together with the other tales of the Welsh cycle of Charlemagne, Cân Rolant, Cronicl Turpin and Rhamant Otuel, in two Welsh manuscripts of the middle of the 14th and late-14th century (White Book of Rhydderch, Peniarth 5, and Red Book of Hergest).

The later chanson de geste Galiens li Restorés derives, in part, from the Pèlerinage and tells of the adventures of Galien, the son of Olivier and the Emperor of Byzantium's daughter.


  • "Le pèlerinage de Charlemagne: pub. avec un glossaire" ed. Anna Julia Cooper, Eduard Koschwitz. Paris: A Lehure, 1925. [Text and glossary.]
  • Le voyage de Charlemagne à Jérusalem et à Constantinople ed. Paul Aebischer. Geneva: Droz, 1965. [Text.]
  • The pilgrimage of Charlemagne = Le pèlerinage de Charlemagne tr. Glyn S. Burgess, Anne Elizabeth Cobby. New York: Garland, 1988. [Translation.]
  • Ystorya de Carolo Magno ed. Stephen Joseph Williams. Caerdydd 1930 (argraffiad newydd 1968).
  • Sechs Bearbeitungen des Altfranzösischen Gedichts von Karls des Großen Reise nach Constantinopel ed. Eduard Koschwitz. Heilbronn 1879. [Texts and Translations.]