THE story of the Knights of Arthur ends in defeat.
The king dreamed a strange and dreadful dream. It
seemed to him that he was sitting in a chair, dressed
in the richest cloth-of-gold that ever was made; and
under him was "a hideous deep black water, and therein
were all manner of serpents, and worms and wild beasts,
foul and terrible," and suddenly the chair turned
upside down, and he fell among the serpents, and "every
beast took him by a limb." It is a picture of the fall
of the Britons into the cruel power of their enemies
The story of the Knights of Charlemagne is also a story
The king has been fighting with the
 Saracens. Out of Arabia have come those wild soldiers
of Mohammed to invade Europe. They are threatening
both the religion and the civilization of the West.
They have destroyed the Eastern empire, and are now
proceeding to take the Western empire out of the hands
of its barbarian conquerors. Their purpose is to make
Arabia a world-power, such as Assyria and Chaldea, and
Greece and Rome had been. They intend to annex Europe
to Arabia, and to make Rome, as they had already made
Jerusalem, subject to Mecca. The situation is like
that in the days when Xerxes came with his Persians to
the conquest of Greece, and was met by Leonidas at the
Pass of Thermopylæ.
Thus the Saracens are met by Roland and Oliver at the
Pass of Roncesvalles. And, as in the old time, there
is a traitor. Ganelon, the false knight, shows a way
by which the men who fight under the
Cres-  cent may have the advantage of the men who fight under
the Cross. Charlemagne and the greater part of the
army have gone on ahead, but Roland will not sound his
horn to call them back. He will not ask for help.
"Please God and His Holy Angels," he cries, "France
shall not be so shamed through me; better death than
such dishonor. The harder we strike, the better the
emperor will love us." So they strike, till all the
sides of the mountains are filled with the bodies of
the slain. At last, the leaders themselves fall.
There is this difference, however, between the Death of
Arthur and the Song of Roland: the defeat of Arthur is
the end of the story, but the defeat of Roland is only
an incident. Back comes Charlemagne and puts the
Saracens to flight. It illustrates the contrast
between the Britons, fighting their losing battles
against the Angles, and their kinsmen the Franks,
fighting their winning battles
 against the Angles' kinsmen, the Saxons.
This was mainly due to the might of Charlemagne.
The Franks, over whom Charlemagne was king, were
Christians. But their Saxon neighbors, to the north
and east, in Germany, were heathen. Christian
missionaries had, indeed, been busy, following the
brave examples of Patrick and Columba and Augustine,
and tribe after tribe had yielded to the new religion.
Boniface, for example, had come down from England, from
the church which had been formed at last by the union
of the missions of Columba with the missions of
Augustine, and had won the title of "Apostle of
Germany." But he had died a martyr, the pagan Frisians
attacking him in his tent and putting him to death.
The Saxons were still unconverted.
High among the Saxon mountains, in the forests of the
Teutoberg, stood a tall, mysterious column called the
 It was the supreme idol of the Saxons. It looked down
over the valleys into which, in the days of Augustine,
the Saxons had enticed the legions under Varus, and had
destroyed them. The Saxons prayed to it before they
went to war. It represented the great god of Saxon
Of course, the Franks and Saxons fought continually.
That was then the fashion among neighbors. The Saxons
made their forays into the Frankish lands, and stole
cattle and burned villages, and the Franks returned
their visits. But more and more, as the Franks
increased in civilization and in their knowledge of
religion, the war between these tribes became a war
between the reign of law and the reign of disorder,
between learning and ignorance, and between
Christianity and paganism. It was a new mission.
Boniface had gone with the gospel, helped and defended
only by his good
 life; and when at last the savage Frisians came howling
about his tent, he would not permit any of his
companions to strike a blow against them. Charlemagne
came with the sword.
The first thing which he did was to destroy the
Irminsul. Down came the sacred column crashing to the
ground, and it seemed, for the moment, as if the
religion and the might of the Saxons had fallen with
it. But fighting the Saxons was like fighting a forest
fire. While Charlemagne was putting out the flames of
war in one place, they were breaking out more furiously
than ever somewhere else. Every time he won a battle,
he gathered his prisoners together, the vanquished
chiefs and the subdued people, and marched them down
into the nearest river and had them all baptized, every
man of them. It was a queer kind of mission; and these
converts often went back to paganism again when
Charle-  magne's back was turned, as might have been expected.
But there were priests and bishops who went in among
the people, dismayed as they were by the failure of
their old gods to protect them, and taught them more
effectively the truths to which the sword had so
forcibly called their attention.
Thus Charlemagne became the master of all the tribes of
Europe. All those various companies of barbarians who
had broken down the old empire and settled among the
ruins, and the wilder tribes who still lived, like the
Saxons, in their native forests, were forced by his
strong hand into obedience to a single government. He
had the mind and the ambition of Alexander and of
Cæsar, and belongs with them among the masters of
So far did the great sound of his name go, that one
time there came to him an embassy from the distant
Bag-  dad sent by Harun-al-Raschid, out of the
Arabian Nights; to see his court, as the Queen of Sheba
came to see the glory of Solomon.
The eye of the ambassadors of Harun-al-Raschid were
probably attracted most by the armor of the knights and
the ranks of the soldiers, and the stories which they
told on their return were mostly about Roland and
Oliver. But the most significant persons at the court
of Charlemagne were schoolmasters and clergymen.
There had come down from England, from a school at
York, a wise man named Alcuin. And when his errand was
accomplished, and he was about to return, Charlemagne
detained him. "Stay here," he said, "and teach us."
They needed him, that was plain enough. The great men
were soldiers, who knew much about war but nothing
about books. They were aware in a dim way that a race
had preceded them in
 those lands who, though they had finally been
conquered, had excelled their conquerors in art and
architecture, in science and letters, in law and order.
They had about them continual reminders of that old
civilization, in the remains of Latin roads and
buildings. They felt themselves in the neighborhood of
a buried treasure to which the clue was lost. In
Alcuin, they found the man who had the clue. He knew
the old history, and was acquainted with the old art,
and was able to read the old books. They became his
pupils, beginning with the emperor himself. And some
of those whom Alcuin taught established other schools,
which grew in years to great universities.
These schoolmasters were clergymen. Many of them were
monks of the Order of St. Benedict, and all looked to
the Italy of Benedict and Gregory, as the Jews in the
old time in exile when they said their prayers looked
toward Jerusalem. There
 dwelt the bishop who was the head of all things
religious as the emperor was the head of all things
political. To the clergymen of the court of
Charlemagne there were two great powers in the world:
the power of the sword, which was held by Charlemagne,
and was possessed by him as the master of the new
empire of Franks and Saxons and Goths, builded on the
ruins of the old; and the power of the spirit, which,
as represented by the Church, and by the pope as the
ruler of the Church, was bringing among these new
masters of the world the civilization and the religion
of the past.
But the pope was beset by enemies: by the Lombards, who
had invaded Italy and seized lands there and who,
though Christians, were of the Arian kind; by the
Greeks, who still had colonies in Italy, and whose
allegiance, like that of the pope himself, was to the
emperor whose throne was at Constantinople. He was
 still, in law, the emperor of Rome. Charlemagne came
to the assistance of the pope.
On Christmas Day, in the year 800, the pope at that
time being Leo III., Charlemagne was in Rome, and
attended the service in St. Peter's Church. Suddenly,
as he knelt before the altar, the pope placed upon his
head a golden crown, and pronounced him emperor of
It meant that the new time had finally come. It
completed the barbarian conquest. It announced that
the old imperial line was set aside, that the West was
independent of the East, and that the true successor of
the ancient emperors was Charlemagne the Frank. It was
the beginning of a new order of things, the Holy Roman
In the Holy Roman Empire Charlemagne was supreme. He
ruled the Church as he ruled the State. He built
churches and monasteries; he sent
mis-  sionaries and appointed bishops. He fulfilled the
proud words of Constantius, who said, "What I wish is a
canon of the Church, and what I believe is an article
of the creed." But happily, he was as wise as he was
strong, a good man, honestly intent on the welfare of
his people. So he died, full of years and honors, a
true successor, not in name only, but in character and
power, of the great emperors, and, like them, not
emperor only, but Pontifex Maximus also.
Thus was played the first act in that great contention
between the emperor and the pope for mastery, which is
the tragedy of the Middle Ages. The emperor was
supreme. The hero of the next act was Hildebrand.