The Song of Roland was one of the oldest known manuscripts of French literature dating back to 1140 A.D. One manuscript of the epic poem dating back to the early 1100s one can be found in a library at Oxford. Scholars continue to debate the earliest version of The Song of Roland, but the work remains one of the finest examples of Anglo-Norman literature.
The Story of Roland
Roland was the nephew of Charlemagne, a great Christian king who fought many battles throughout Europe to expunge the pagans and spread Christianity. Seven years of battle have driven all the Saracens from Spain save for one stronghold. The King and Queen of Saragossa plan a deception that will lure Charlemagne away from Spain and give them room to breathe. The King proposes to become a vassal of Charlemagne and to convert to the Christian faith if Charlemagne will leave them in peace.
Weary of war, Charlemagne contemplates the offer. Roland recommends that his step-father be sent. The man becomes enraged, believing that Roland has plotted his demise. He in turn, betrays Charlemagne and Roland, helping the Saracens ambush Roland and his twelve peers as they lead the rearguard to the negotiations. The step father is successful, Roland and twelve thousand of his men are slaughtered in a pitched battle against a force numbering four hundred thousand.
When found, Roland's body faced the direction of the Saracen stronghold, his soul having departed for heaven.
Deeply aggrieved at the slaughter, Charlemagne's forces take Saragossa, slaughtering every man they take in battle. Once the city was claimed, Charlemagne ordered the forced conversion of every member of the populace. All Jewish and Muslim icons and temples were destroyed. All will convert or die, except for their Queen Baanmimonde. Charlemagne wishes the Queen to convert for love.
He takes her captive and returns to his capital. There, Roland's step-father is tried for treason. Ganalon dies a traitor's death for betraying his king by being stretched to death by five horses. Several of his kinsmen are also executed. After the executions, Charlemagne announces the Queen's conversion and his people celebrate. But Charlemagne's burden has not ended, for even as he weds the newly converted Queen, an angel visits him and bids him return to war for the faith. A weeping and weary Emperor must prepare once more to take the field for his God.
Charlemagne was the last true Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to hold France, Spain and Italy. His unification of Europe would lead to a renaissance that would influence European monarchies for centuries.