As my husband and I prep our house for the market–decluttering, recycling, and making a gazillion trip to Goodwill–my mind wanders to what it was like for Charlemagne (748-814) and his family. Like other Frankish kings, he had to pick up and move. Constantly.
Until the later years of Charles’s reign, the royal family typically stayed at a residence for only a few months. You read that right. In the winter of 776, for example, he spent Christmas at Herstal followed by Easter at Nijmegen, then went to the assembly in Paderborn. Afterward, he spent Christmas at Douzy then Easter at Chasseneuil. Sometimes he would spend Christmas and Easter in the same place and maybe even have an assembly there, but he would often be on the move again soon.
Why all these changes in location? Well, Charles traveled with a couple of hundred of his best friends. OK, they were magnates, guards, numerous servants, livestock, and hunting dogs. The pasture and crops could sustain all those people and all those animals for only a few months.
So packing up the beds, tables, chests, clothes, weapons, the library, and the treasury was a routine thing for them. When the royal family traveled, the queen had to plan ahead. (A queen’s role was to look after the household so that her husband would be free to deal with affairs of the realm).
Along the way, the royal party might be rather expensive houseguests for a count or bishop. Yet all this travel provided a political advantage. The king’s presence reinforced his authority. A visiting king could exchange gifts with his hosts and renew oaths in an age where alliances kept the realm together.
Before arriving at their destination, servants were sent ahead to prepare the place. It was a lot of work to get a palace or even a villa ready for royalty. But at least, they didn’t have to agonize over whether a buyer would hate the décor.
Daily Life in the Age of Charlemagne, John J. Butt
Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riché (translated by Jo Ann McNamara)
Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernhard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers