Charlemagne, King of the Franks, and Emperor of the West,
reigned from 768 – 814. Once upon a time, a very long time, the 12th century through the late 19th, Carolingian legend, tales of Charlemagne and his peers, the paladins, were mainstream, wide-spread elements of popular culture.
Their adventures and exploits were subjects of authors such as Matteo Maria Boiardo, and Lodovico Ariosto, whose works are considered among the most significant epics of their kind from their age.
A leading figure of such stories is “the knight of the white plume and shield”, perhaps the original white knight, Charlemagne’s legendary niece, Bradamante.
Here are a few of the deeds for which she is known.
1. She casually defeats Sacripant, king of Circassia:
As she passes through on business of her own, Bradamante’s path crosses that of Sacripant, king of Circassia. Displeased with being disturbed, the king dons his helmet, mounts his horse, lifts his lance, and challenges her to a fight. She accepts. They charge each other just once. The king and his horse fall. Bradamante continues on her way.
According to legend, by the way, women from Circassia were famous for their beauty and held in great esteem within the harems of Turkish sultans and Persian kings.
In fact, in the mid-nineteenth century, P.T. Barnum, famous for displays of oddity and amusement, sought Circassian women for his shows. And he was apparently willing to spend quite a bit based on faith in the attention they would draw.
Though many of those whom Bradamante fought were said to have been of Muslim faith, they tended to be in service to kings of northern Africa and Spain. Neither Turkish Sultans nor Persian kings seem to have been directly involved at all.
2. She discovers the tomb of Merlin:
This she did not do all on her own. First she was tricked and fell into a hole. Then she was found by someone who already knew the way. But, she was strong and agile enough to survive the fall. And the one who found her, the priestess Melissa, had been told by a higher power that “brave and generous” Bradamante was soon to arrive. In fact, Melissa says specifically that Bradamante had been brought there by “a power from above”.
Melissa tells Bradamante that Merlin’s spirit still dwells in his tomb and might be willing to speak to her if she ventures further in. Bradamante follows Melissa to Merlin’s tomb and, as soon as she enters, indeed, the spirit of Merlin speaks to her. He blesses her, and tells her that she will be ancestor to many great knights and heroes. First, though, she must find and rescue Rogero, a powerful knight who has been taken captive.
It is said that Merlin has a habit of showing up in tales of knights and their deeds, often at important points, and often, even usually, after his reputed death.
3. She outwits a small and crafty thief who bears a ring which can make him invisible:
Well, in this case, Bradamante, for the most part, just follows instructions. But there is little use in knowing how to do something, without the courage to do it, and the skill to do it well. Melissa leads Bradamante on a path toward the castle where Rogero is held captive, telling her what she’ll need to do as they go along.
Melissa tells Bradamante to find the thief Brunello. Brunello has in his possession a ring which he stole from a queen of a far off land. According to Melissa, Bradamante needs this ring. She tells Bradamante where and how to find Brunello and describes him. Melissa also warns her that, should Brunello suspect anything that he might not like, he will put the ring in his mouth and this will cause him to disappear.
Bradamante finds Brunello. They talk for a bit, but she keeps her identity a secret, save that she is a knight. As they chat, their conversation turns to talk of an enchanter; master of a castle where many a knight might be held. Following Melissa’s instructions, Bradamante asks to be taken to this castle. As anticipated, Brunello offers to show her the way. Bradamante accepts, though, following further instruction, she makes sure that she stays behind him the entire way.
When they arrive in sight of the enchanter’s castle, she sneaks up from behind Brunello, grabs him, and ties him to a tree. Bradamante then seizes the ring.
With this act, Bradamante defeats even yet another king, by the way.
Brunello just happened to be king of a place called Tingitana.
Not just happened to be, actually; the kingdom of Tingitana was his reward for stealing the ring.
The kingdom of Tingitana may allude to the former Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana, which could be found between the Pillars of Hercules, the Atlas Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean, and an eastern desert.
4. She outwits and defeats the enchanter:
Bradamante blows her horn and loudly challenges the enchanter to a fight. The enchanter flies down from his castle on a hippogriff. He has with him a buckler, a small shield, which he has covered with a cloth. This isn’t just any buckler, though, this is a magic buckler. Once uncovered, it would flash a bright light and blind anyone who looks at it. But, Bradamante knows this; Melissa had warned her. And, the ring that she took from the thief Brunello is a magic ring; not just in that it can turn one invisible, but also in that it protects one from all other magic. OK, perhaps in that sense it’s more of an anti-magic ring. Whichever, when the enchanter uncovers his buckler, it has no effect on Bradamante. But, she pretends that it does. She throws herself to the ground and acts as if she’s been stricken by its brilliance. The enchanter lands and walks up to her, with intent to tie her up and take her to his home. As soon as he comes close enough, though, Bradamante leaps up and throws the enchanter to the ground. She grabs the chain he’d brought with him, and ties him up instead.
By the way, in case you are not familiar, a hippogriff is a creature with the head, claws, and wings of an eagle, but the body of a horse. Legend describes the hippogriff as “a natural animal” found in the Riphean Mountains.
“The Riphean Mountains” is said to be an ancient name for the Urals. If you happen to be from western Russia, please let me know if you ever see any hippogriffs flying around over there. I’d be especially interested in pictures.
5. She spares the life of the enchanter:
After his capture, the enchanter begs Bradamante to take his life.
Bradamante asks the enchanter his name and why he built his castle.
The enchanter tells her that his name is Atlantes. He tells her that he built his castle to keep the knight Rogero, whom he had raised from childhood, safe from the big, bad, world outside, and a fate that that world might hold for him. He tells her that Rogero once got away. He tells her, now that he has him back, he would rather die than to lose Rogero again. Bradamante tells Atlantes that that won’t work for her; she’s going to free Rogero, but Atlantes has to keep on living. Or, at least, she’s not going to kill him.
Bradamante is said to have made a habit of mercy.
In truth, she had been told that she should kill the thief Brunello.
But she thought it unseemly to slay an unarmed and unworthy foe,
especially as she really had no need. This is why she merely tied him up.
LIkewise, when she defeated Atlantes, Bradamante had, indeed, intended to take his life. But, when she looked at him, she saw in him great age and sorrow.
She deemed killing such a one in such a way a disgrace. Thus she stayed her hand.
6. She rescues the knight Rogero:
Bradamante commands Atlantes to lead her to his castle. Atlantes submits, and Rogero, along with others whom Atlantes has held captive, is freed.
By the transitive property, Bradamante has thus saved many others, as well. That is, she has saved numerous knights and heroes, and those knights and heroes, in turn, go on to save many more people in peril. Rogero, for instance, goes on to rescue the princess Angelica from an orc. Actually not “an orc”, one of those one might find in the mountains of Middle Earth or the hosts of Mordor, but “the Orc”, a sea monster to whom maidens were sent as an offering each and every day.
In Lodovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso”, it is said that Proteus, a shape-changing son of the god of the sea, fell in love with the daughter of a king of the isle of Ebuda, an island in a sea near Ireland, and with her fathered a child. This angered the king, however, and before the child was born, he ended both his daughter’s and his grandchild’s time in this world.
Proteus, in his fury, sent the orc, and other monsters of the sea, to wreak havoc on the king, his island, and his people.
The people sought advice from an oracle and were told that they needed to find a maiden as beautiful as the king’s daughter had been to offer to Proteus in return for his loss. The oracle also told them that, if the maiden is found worthy, Proteus will take her with him and let the island and the people be. But, if she is not found worthy, she will be eaten by the orc, and another maiden must be offered the next day.
Rogero, riding on the hippogriff, and flying through skies near Ireland on the particular day that Princess Angelica had been tied to a rock and offered to the monster, sees her and goes to her aid.
The orc approaches. Rogero attacks from the air. The orc battles back from the sea.
Rogero strikes the orc between its eyes with his lance, but the orc’s stony scales prove too tough to pierce. Rogero strikes again, and again, and again, but the orc’s natural armor renders useless his every blow. Thus Rogero opts to turn his attention to helping Angelica escape instead.
Happily, Rogero happens to have with him both Atlantes’ blinding buckler and the magic ring which Bradamante had used to deceive and defeat the enchanter.
Rogero swoops down toward Angelica, lands, and places the ring on her finger, so as to protect her. He then turns and reveals the buckler to the orc. Stunned, the orc falls back to float motionless on the sea. Rogero frees Angelica and, together on the hippogriff, they fly away to safety.
Without Bradamante, though, Rogero may have remained in Atlantes’ castle, unable to change Angelica’s fate.
If this story seems familiar, by the way, perhaps you’ve heard or read the legend of Andromeda.
Or simply seen “Clash of the Titans”.
7. She repels an invasion of the ancient port city of Marseilles:
Bradamante commands the imperial forces at Marseilles. Through her leadership, one of the most ancient and important cities of France is saved.
Founded by colonists from Phocoea, a city in Asia Minor, in 600 B.C., and then known as Massalia, Marseilles is one of the most ancient cities of, what is today, France. The Phocoeans are said to have first brought “the vine” to the region. Thus Marseilles may be the birthplace of French wine.
Over time, Massalia became a great city, a republic in its own right, and most of Phocoea is said to have moved there to escape Persian conquest of their homeland.
In fact, Massalia came to be one of the most powerful cities of the western Mediterranean; home to scholars and sailors, and home port of far-ranging fleets.
It is said that Bradamante’s great-grandfather, Charles Martel, forced Marseilles, and much of what is now the south of France, into accepting French protection, and rule, in the first place. Some in the southern cities are said to have preferred Muslim rule, despite their own Christianity, feeling that their terms tended to be more fair, and their governors easier to deal with.
8. She challenges any who might wish to wed her to prove themselves worthy through facing her in daylong combat:
Bradamante’s fame draws the attention of the Greek emperor Constantine. He decides that she’d be an ideal bride for his son and heir, Prince Leo.
Though this union would make her empress-to-be of “the wide Levant”, the lands and islands of the eastern Mediterranean, Bradamante has other plans. She asks Charlemagne to arrange a tournament in which she would fight each and every one who sought her hand in marriage. Only one who could keep up with her in combat from sunrise to sunset could earn the honor.
Word of this tournament reaches Prince Leo. He, and those whom he brings with him, journey to Paris, where the contest is to be held. When they arrive, however, they make camp outside the city, and the prince makes a point of keeping to himself.
On the day of battle, Bradamante fights fiercely and with great skill, from dawn to dusk. Yet, her opponent endures. Neither defeats the other, but her opponent proves their worth in battle.
She is, disappointed. But it turns out, that her preferred and prophesied partner, Rogero, had, in another adventure, befriended Prince Leo and had agreed to serve as his champion. Prince Leo knew that he wasn’t up to the fight.
Things get sorted out.
And Bradamante and Rogero are officially betrothed.
Given the dates of their time in power, and those of Charlemagne’s reign, “the Greek Emperor Constantine” and “Prince Leo”, may refer to Byzantine emperors Constantine V and Leo IV, the Khazar.
If this story seems familiar, perhaps you’ve heard or read stories of the Greek heroine Atalanta.
9. She becomes queen of the Bulgarians.
Perhaps this is not so much a deed as a result of her deeds, or, maybe, a reward for her deeds.
Bradamante and Rogero are wed, with Charlemagne and a great many of the nobles of Europe in attendance. As they arrive at the palace for the wedding feast, they find that three chiefs of the Bulgarians await them. They’ve come to ask Rogero to become their king. Rogero accepts.
Queen Bradamante and King Rogero go on to rule their powerful and prosperous people for many years to come.
As Charlemagne ruled within a time in which the realm of Bulgaria was known as an empire, the First Bulgarian Empire, 679 – 1018, perhaps it is that Bradamante became an empress after all.
In ‘The Balkans: A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey”, it is noted that, during the later reign of Charlemagne, someone newly elected to the throne, after a great victory, united and expanded the Bulgarian realm, revised the laws, and inspired a flourishing of commerce and agriculture. This ruler, however, is not noted as either Bradamante or Rogero. This celebrated victor is known by the name of Krum.
10. She begins a legendary family line from which several royal families of today are said to descend:
In Lodovico Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso”, Bradamante’s children, children’s children, children’s grandchildren, and so on, are said to include knights and heroes with names and stories which match many mentioned in Sir Andrew Halliday’s “Annals of the House of Hannover” and James Craufurd’s long and with great detail titled “The history of the house of Esté, from the time of Forrestus until the death of Alphonsus the last Duke of Ferrara with an account of the pretended devolution of that dutchy unjustly usurped by Clement VIII : wherein likewise the most considerable revolutions of Italy from the year 452 to the year 1598 are briefly touched.”
One of those families said to descend from this line is the House of Estes, the lords of Lodovico Ariosto’s homeland, the dukedom of Ferrara.
Another is the House of Hanover. Members of the House of Hanover include: George III, the English king at the time of the American Revolution, and Queen Victoria.
The current Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, a great great granddaughter of Queen Victoria, is said to descend from these families, as well; as are Margrethe II, Queen of Denmark, Harald V, King of Norway, and Felipe VI, King of Spain.