Persona history, Guntram von Wolkenstein

Greetings unto you, gentle reader, from Guntram von Wolkenstein. It is said that every proper chronicle begins with the Creation; however, I hope you deem these writings of mine not unworthy for that I have not done so.

I begin four years after Charles, King of the Franks, took the throne in 768Anno Domini. In that year he began the conquest of the Saxons, and it was inthis same year that I was born on my father’s estate. This villa, which has nowpassed into the hands of my brother, is not large, but it lies on the banks ofthe upper Rhine and sees much traffic from Rome. I do not believe there to beany dishonour in admitting that many of our ancestors were probably Alemanni,although my grandfather never let a chance pass by of pointing out that ourfamily also has noble Roman blood.

I remember little of my father. Four years after my birth King Charles armedhimself against the infidels in Spain, and in alliance with a certain Muslimlord advanced as far as Saragossa. Much was spoken afterwards of Moorishtreachery, but the truth is that our army could not take the city. News havingbeen received of a Saxon uprising, Charles had to retreat through the valley ofRoncesvalles, where the rearguard under the Count of Bretagne, Hruodlandus, wasovertaken and destroyed. It was sometime during that campaign of 778 that myfather fell – we never found out exactly where, or when.

Thereafter life became somewhat harder, for though Francia itself prospered,our villa gradually declined. My uncle, who controlled the estate after myfather’s death, was not as careful as my father had been, and traders often hadthe better of him. Thus it was that in 784 it was decided to send me down theRhine to Aachen, to see the royal court and to study in the academy of the greatAlcuin, and thereby have a chance at a secure future. I later found out that myfather had attended the Royal Court in Paderborn in 777, and had come to theattention of Charles, which made it all the easier for my uncle to arrange myentry into the school.

For several years, then, I lived in Aachen, coming to know such persons asEinhard, who is now writing the biography of Charles, and even met the king’ssons on occasion. The king himself has some rather interesting ideas – forinstance, he began using the old Roman baths again, which had fallen intodisuse, and soon everyone was following the fashion.

Throughout all these years the Saxons were never quite subdued, even thoughtheir chief Widukind had been baptised in 785. Almost every summer one tribe oranother would rebel, and Charles would have to go to war again. I took part inseveral of the campaigns (my first one in 792, I think), and though some of myfriends claimed to enjoy them I never found them very pleasant. Even lesspleasant was the campaign in 796 against the Avars; though eventually Charles’son Pippin was victorious and established the Avar March along the Danube. Thatwas the last campaign I took part in – I was fortunate enough in that I did notneed to join the war in 801 during which Prince Ludwig finally capturedBarcelona.

That was after Charles had been crowned Emperor in Rome, of course. Since Iwas a very minor part of the retinue I could not see much, but I heard fromEinhard later that Charles disliked the coronation greatly and had beensurprised by the Pope’s actions, going even so far as to say that he would nothave entered the church that day had he known what would happen. That may beso, although others say that Charles was pleased to become Emperor – however itmay be, it is undoubted that Charles is the greatest lord in Christendom.

It was on the return journey from Rome that I took my leave of the Emperor.I had thought several times of returning to the family estate, but always onething or another had prevented me. Now that we were passing by so closely, Ifinally made the decision. My brother had done much better than my uncle, andthe villa was once more flourishing. No doubt we will wrangle as to how todivide the lands, but perhaps I will instead return to Aachen and continueserving the Emperor.

Thus I close, in the year of Our Lord Eight Hundred and One, on the ancestral estate, writing in my room after the fashion taught to us by Alcuin.