“…but when it’s your brother, sometimes you look the other way.”

What hath Tony Soprano to do with Charlemagne? Matthew Gabriele at Modern Medieval poses the question and ponders two points of comparison: Charlemagne’s coldly methodical consolidation of power, and the rex quondam et futurus vibe that resonated long after the Frankish king’s death. As someone who’s written about Charlemagne and as a proud son of the great Garden State, I’m happy to throw a few coals on the “Tony Sopranomagne” debate, letting it smolder like the hearth at Aachen on a cold winter night—or like cigarette butts in a half-eaten pork-roll sandwich at a north Jersey diner at 3 o’clock in the morning.

While the description of Charlemagne as a “cold-blooded thug” is certainly plausible for the king’s earlier years, I’m not sure the comparison fully stands. Granted, Charlemagne kept his family close; he propagated a famously contentious dynasty; and, like Tony, he loved his onion rings. But generally speaking, Charlemagne was more likely to exile his enemies, not have them whacked. He finagled Bavaria from his former brother-in-law with a big-picture strategy that would have left a brute like Tony Soprano gaping in amazement. At the same time, he cultivated a loyal inner circle and maintained it through wariness, charisma, and worthy rewards rather than mob-boss paranoia. Within the modest limits of his intellectual gifts, Charlemagne was also far more inquisitive than one might expect of a man who discovered learning fairly late in life; it’s safe to suggest that, unlike Tony, Charlemagne was more enlightened at the start of his own personal season six than he was at the start of season one.

As for Matthew’s theory about the factors that caused later medieval people to doubt Charlemagne’s demise and further inflate his legend, I can’t argue with it. I’ll defer to, and eagerly await the publication of, the very neat-looking book of essays he’s editing. I should disclose, however, that I have a vested interest in a Charlemagne who isn’t dead. Think of the sequel possibilities! Becoming Charlemagne II: The Rise of the Silver Denarius. Or maybe Become Charlemagne or Ein Hard. Even better: 62,036 Weeks Later. Yes, I can already hear the rumbling voiceover at the start of the trailer: “In a world shattered by chaos, one man…”

4 thoughts on ““…but when it’s your brother, sometimes you look the other way.”

  1. I like the movie ideas, especially “Ein Hard.” Maybe John McClain could go back in time to help Charlemagne escape his son’s, Pepin’s coup attempt. This, of course, sets up “Ein Hard with a Vengeance” — the Basques would never knew what hit them…

    Oh, and we also share something other than a fascination with ol’ Charles — we’re both Blue Hens (I’m AS ’97). Small world.


  2. It’s always good to see UD alums prospering! Sounds like we missed each other in ’93 by only a few months.

    As for Charlemagne: We could pool our (no doubt formidable) economic resources and fund a feature film, but what an iffy investment that would be. So hear me out: if you can put aside your aversion to the genre, I see real possibilities in reality TV: “Francia’s Next Top Model,” maybe, or “Neustria’s Got Talent”…


  3. Ein Hard is very funny.

    We could pool our (no doubt formidable) economic resources and fund a feature film, but what an iffy investment that would be.

    Well, Charlemagne did have a major role in a musical, so there’s a kind of precedent.

    Could do it as Notker’s stuttering flashback à la the old man, Henry Carr, in Stoppard’s Travesties


  4. Hi, Karl. I’ve long aspired to write a second, better Charlemagne musical to knock Pippin off its dreadfully perky pedestal. I’m still working on it–but in the meantime, later this year, look for my animated Charlemagne holiday special, starring Mr. Magoo as Walahfrid Strabo…


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