The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier

In all your free time, I hope you will be able to read this wonderful medieval legend. I am no fan of Charlemagne but a tale well told, especially one including both the Franks’ king being beaten by a coal gatherer and the bloodless conversion of a Saracen, is a treat I must share with my friends here. If the translator’s Becoming Charlemagne, published Tuesday, is half as much fun as this story, it must be a good purchase.


  1. Thanks so much for this link. I’m glad you enjoyed my translation, which resulted from me asking myself, “Can I really translate 75 rhyming, alliterative stanzas into modern English and still make the thing a good read?” I’m heartened to see that you think the answer to that question is “yes.”

    As for my book, I’ve tried to bring to life the more sympathetic human elements of the Frankish king and his contemporaries in neighboring empires, although my focus is limited to the couple of years on either side of the imperial coronation. Your local library should have a copy of the hardcover, which came out last year; that’s a risk-free way to see if you like (or dislike) what I’ve done. As an author, I’m eager to sell books, of course, but I certainly don’t want to see readers paying for books they don’t enjoy.

    I’ll admit I know very little about Harry Potter, but I look forward to browsing your site over the weekend and seeing what I can glean!

  2. It does look promising. And the review of Beowulf The Movie (“In You I Confide, Red Dragon Tattoo”) is pretty darn funny too.

  3. John,

    Thanks for sharing this Christmas story with your readers.

    I will attest that Jeff Sypeck’s book Becoming Charlemagne is well worth reading as is his blog at

    Here is the review I gave of the book on

    5 stars Medieval politics are at the core of this book

    I’ve read many books on the Medieval period and Charlemagne in the last two years. This is now one of my favorites.

    Jeff Sypeck put the events of the period in a context which allows the reader to understand the various political forces competing against one another during that era, and the skill used by King Charles which ultimately led to him being referred to as King Charles the Great or Charlemagne.

    I had read mentions of Empress Irene of the Byzantine Empire before, but her villainy and treachery never really impressed me until reading Sypeck’s version. This time it took on the magnitude worthy of Shakespearean tragedies.

    The lives of Jews during the time of Charlemagne is a topic I had not seen mentioned at any length in the other various books I read, and Sypeck devoted a chapter to discussing how their treatment which by and large are hidden in the historical record. Charlemagne did not persecute Jews as he did those in his realm who worshiped pagan idols. Many Jews were educated, well-traveled, merchants, and officials in the royal courts.

    One Jew was sent by Charlemagne as an ambassador to Baghdad to speak with the leader of the Muslim empire, Harun al-Rashid.

    It is the various acts of political gifts from one leader to another (Harun to Charlemagne) which were then perceived as a political slight by other leaders (Empress Irene) that I found most fascinating.

    And then there is the dramatic saga of Pope Leo III and his attempted assassination that underscores the dramatic story of Charlemagne’s coronation as Emperor.

    This isn’t dry history with a simple recitation of facts, it is a story of intrigue brought to life.

    You know that Shakespeare had to base his stories on something.


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