There are several reasons why the middle ages were a perfect allegorical fit during the 1960s. For instance, The wars waged by Charlemagne match the Vietnam War as they are both wars design to defeat belief systems (atheism and communism.) The assassinations of the 1960s and landslide re-election of Richard Nixon are evident in Charlemagne’s own assassination and return to power. In fact, Pippin is better suited for a setting in the 1960s, as the story is riddled with historical inaccuracies. Here is the real history.
Pepin The Hunchback
Pepin was the first born to Charles the Great. Though technically the heir to the throne, Pepin’s inheritance was questioned because of his hunchback, which disabled him, and the uncertainty of who his mother was. It is possible that he was born to a concubine or Charlemagne’s first wife out of wedlock. As a result, Charlemagne’s favor fell upon his sons Pepin of Italy (King of Italy) and Louis the Pious (King of Aquitaine.) Pepin revolted against Charlemagne in 792 with other members of the nobility. Einhard, Charlemagne’s biographer, speculates that the rebellion was a result of a required oath of loyalty and upset over Fastrada’s cruelness, though it may have been influenced by Pepin’s brothers receiving kingdoms instead of him. However, the rebels were caught. Charlemagne executed those involved in the plot and rewarded those that were not. Pepin was banished to monastery, where he lived in isolation for the rest of his life.
The Family Tree
Pippin greatly simplifies and convolutes the family tree. For instance, Charlemagne had five wives, and Louis’ mother was not Fastrada, but Hildegard. Not to mention, their 9 siblings are missing.
Pope Adrian I was in power while Charlemagne was at war in the 780s. At the time, the Catholic church had complete authority and secular rulers wanted more power. Charlemagne and Pope Adrian worked together to unite Europe. They split power between them by secular and spiritual matters. While Charlemagne was not at this time more powerful than the Pope, he was on his way to becoming the ruler of almost all of Western Europe.
Charlemagne, King of the Franks, waged the Holy Wars in an attempt to convert all of Europe to Christianity and build his empire. Pippin’s war against the Visigoths is inaccurate as they had already converted to Catholicism in 589. Charlemagne first raided the Saxons in 772 and conquered Lombardy in 774. In 782, the Saxons revolted against the Franks, causing Charlemagne to start a new campaign the following year to regain control over the Saxons and Frisians, who supported them. This campaign lasted until 785. The Avars, or Huns, initially attacked the Franks in 788, but were defeated. From 791-796, Charles fought the Frankish-Avar War after the Huns had restored their army, which Charles won. Because Pepin’s revolt occurred in 792, it is likely that the play takes place during this war despite the play’s setting of “780s.” In 800, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Church.
Life as a Noble
Life in Charlemagne’s rule operated under a feudal system. At the top of the feudal system was Charlemagne, followed by the nobles, the knights or vassals, and finally the peasants. All of the land belonged to the King who dispersed the land as he pleased. He distributed land to the nobles, who could distribute it to their knights, etc. As presented in Pippin, the peasants work the land for the nobles, who pay taxes to support the army.
Nobles ate food that was prepared for them by servants. They lived inside of castles, where they had stables, kitchens, bedrooms, and sitting rooms. All noble children learned to read and write. Boys were trained to become knights, or became monks. Girls were taught to sew, dance, sing, and care for a home.
Life as a Peasant
“Life for the common people in the Age of Charlemagne was, in a word, awful.”
-John J. Butt, author
The peasants made up 90% of the population, barely survived on what food they could provide for themselves. The common people were in a constant battle against nature’s floods, droughts, freezing temperatures, and insects. Everything that they ate was grown, gathered, or hunted themselves. They lived in homes similar to huts, made out of local material such as wood and mud. Those who hunted were in danger of the wolves in the dark forests. The villages were located in isolation, far from the royals, causing little communication.
Life as a Woman
Female nobles had no systematic power, but did have power via influence. In fact, during this time, women lost rights due to The Church. Women had been able to manage property, run businesses, and marry across class lines, but they were stripped of these rights in order to better serve the household.
The woman’s job was to produce heirs. They could be married by as young as twelve years old, though Charlemagne passed a law that girls could not be married before puberty. Their marriages were arranged by their parents, who could match them with a man from age 20 to 50. Statistically, 3 out of 10 children died before the age of one and 3 out of 10 died before puberty. This meant that women were constantly pregnant to ensure that some of their children would live long enough to make families of their own. However, about 20% of women died during childbirth.
- 742: Charles is born
- 751: Charles’ father Pepin the Short is crowned king
- 768: Pepin the Short dies, dividing his kingdom between Charles and his brother Carloman
- 769: Pepin The Hunchback is born by Himiltrude
- 771: Carloman dies and Charles inherits the entire kingdom
- 772: Charles raids the Saxons
- 774: Charles conquers Lombardy
- 777: Construction on Charles’ palace in Aachen begins
- 778: Louis the Pious is born by Hildegard
- 781: Charles goes to Rome and has Pepin declared King of Italy.
- 782: Charles executes 4,500 Saxon prisoners
- 783: Charles’ second wife Hildegard dies, Charles marries Fastrada, Bertrada (Berhe), Charles’ mother dies
- 787: Charles launches education reform to build schools
- 788: Charles conquers Bavaria
- 792: Pepin the Hunchback revolts against his father, is caught, and exiled to a monastery
- 800: Charles is crowned Emperor
- 813: Louis the Pious becomes co-emperor until Charlemagne died in 814, when he became his sole successor.