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historyhopicon2copyIt’s an unlikely love story: a teenager and a 35-year-old widowed father of seven. Child No. 8 was on the way, and the man was also twice divorced. The teenager is Queen Fastrada, and the much older man is King Charles, whom we today call Charlemagne.

To those who are familiar with Fastrada, she seems to be an unusual choice for a blog hop featuring more than 20 authors telling mushy love stories (see the list below). After all, Charles’s biographer Einhard blames her cruelty as the cause of two conspiracies against the king, including one involving Charles’s eldest son Pepin. Never mind that both sets of conspirators had other reasons to rebel. Or that Einhard never elaborates on what she did. Or that Charles and Fastrada were dead when Einhard wrote those words.

My take on Fastrada is that she was maligned, the victim of a backlash against strong women and the inspiration for my still-in-a-very-rough-stage third novel.

Yet the reason I want to write about this queen is her relationship with Charles. Or more accurately, the relationship the primary sources hint at.

Fastrada’s birth date is not known, but she likely was between the ages of 13 and 19 when she wed Charles in 783, a few months after Queen Hildegard’s death. The probable reason behind the marriage was to solidify a Frankish alliance east of the Rhine when Charles was still fighting the Saxons.

But there seems to be more than politics in the couple’s union. The 787 entry in the Royal Frankish Annals contains this entry: “The same most gracious king reached his wife, the Lady Fastrada, in the city of Worms. There they rejoiced over each other and were happy together and praised God’s mercy.”

Those two sentences are very unusual for Frankish annals. Most of the time, the authors write about wars and politics. They don’t trouble themselves with how a couple felt about their reunion after months apart. Might Fastrada have been overseeing the annals and making sure they included that information?

Coin with Carlemagne

Ninth century coin with an image of King Charles (from Wikimedia Commons, permission granted under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)

Another clue of the affection the couple shared comes from Charles himself in a surviving letter to Fastrada, composed before he went to war with the Avars in 791. Charles greets her as “our beloved and most loving wife.” Perhaps that can be dismissed as a flourish by the person who actually put quill to parchment (Charles and the vast majority of Franks couldn’t write), but when you read the letter, you get the impression the greeting is not a mere platitude.

Charles describes the litanies to ensure victory and asks Fastrada to make sure the prayers and rituals are carried out at home, adding that she can decide for herself if she’s well enough to abstain from wine and meat. Gotta like a man who says his wife can make up her own mind.

Then Charles says he is surprised he hasn’t heard from his wife lately. “As to which, it is our desire that you should notify us more frequently concerning your health and other matters.” Not the sentiment of an apathetic husband.

Did Charles and Fastrada’s love survive the heartbreak of his son’s plot to overthrow him? In 794, two years after the conspiracy, the annalists are more concerned with an assembly that Charles held with the pope’s envoys in Frankfurt and the heresy of a cleric named Felix. But the authors mention that Fastrada died there and was buried with honors at St. Albans in nearby Mainz. I can only surmise Fastrada was in Frankfurt because Charles wanted her there.

Their story shows us love can thrive, even where it seems unlikely. (My sources are Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals, translated by Bernhard Walter Scholtz with Barbara Rogers, and Nithard’s Histories, and P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources.)

Many thanks to David Pilling and Maria Grace for organizing this hop. Each participating author in the Hearts through History Hop (listed below) is hosting a giveaway from February 10-16.

Mine is an e-book of my debut novel, The Cross and the Dragon, which takes place a decade before Charles and Fastrada wed. Featuring the willful and courageous Alda and her beloved husband, Hruodland, it’s a tale of love amid wars and blood feuds (see kimrendfeld.com for more). To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post only and provide an e-mail address so I can contact the winner.

To rack up additional entries:

If you do any of the above–or if you’re already a Facebook fan or Twitter follower–just note it in the comments on this post.

Update (February 17, 2013): Congratulations to Patricia, and many thanks to all who left comments. I’ve sent Patricia an e-mail and will be in touch.

Hop Participants

  1. Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
  2. Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
  3. Sally Smith O’Rourke
  4. Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
  5. Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
  6. Rosanne Lortz
  7. Sharon Lathan
  8. Debra Brown
  9. Heyerwood   (Lauren Gilbert)
  10. Regina Jeffers
  11. Ginger Myrick
  12. Anna Belfrage
  13. Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
  14. Nancy Bilyeau
  15. Wendy Dunn
  16. E.M. Powell
  17. Georgie Lee
  18. The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
  19. Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
  20. The heart of romance (Sherry Gloag)
  21. A day in the life of patootie (Lori Crane)
  22. Karen Aminadra
  23. Dunhaven Place (Heidi Ashworth)
  24. Stephanie Renee dos Santos