Charlemagne - George Upton

Wittekind's Baptism

Notwithstanding their many defeats and the massacre at Verden, the Saxons were not completely subjugated. Infuriated by that dreadful event, Wittekind and the Saxon leaders incited another uprising and began a war of revenge. Charlemagne in consequence was forced to use more strenuous measures than before. Two desperate battles were fought, one at Detmold, which was not decisive, and the other at Hesse, between the Ems and the Weser, in which the Saxons, who fought with almost unexampled bravery, were completely routed. Charlemagne removed ten thousand Saxons with their women and children to Brabant and Flanders, where they found new homes, their old ones having been turned over to Frankish settlers.

The King was now fully determined to put an end to any further opposition by making an offensive campaign.. Hitherto the Saxons had been the aggressors, but this year (784) he invaded Saxony and advanced as far as the Elbe. There he learned that Wittekind and Albion were on the opposite shore of the river and that they were desirous of opening negotiations with him. Accordingly he sent messengers to them promising them safe conduct if they wished to meet him. Wittekind sent back word that they were ready to tender allegiance and to be baptized, whereupon Charlemagne arranged for a meeting at his castle at Attigny. When they arrived they were received so graciously that the King's kindness offset the bitter necessity which had forced them to submit.

The reconciliation of Charlemagne and Wittekind amply justified the former's attitude toward the Saxons. Wittekind, in the presence of the great King, whose majesty and graciousness impressed him and whose words animated him with a new spirit, felt that had he been in Charlemagne's place he should have acted as the King had done. In view of the event at Attigny, those who criticised Charlemagne were dwarfs whose weak eyes could not see above his sword belt, much less appreciate the majestic spirit that shone in his kingly face. In their own name and in the name of their people, Wittekind and Albion vowed allegiance and were baptized, together with a great number of Saxons. Geva, the wife of Wittekind, who accompanied him, was also baptized. Charlemagne regarded that day at Attigny as the most fortunate in his career. Wittekind, his wife Geva, and Albion were loaded down with gifts and left for their homes escorted by a guard of honor. In a letter to the Pope, Charlemagne requested that a thanksgiving festival be ordered in commemoration of the event.

Wittekind and Charlemagne


It is related in the tradition concerning Wittekind's baptism that he subsequently came in disguise to the castle when Charlemagne was celebrating the Christmas festival, and that what he saw and heard there removed the last vestige of his heathen belief and left him a true Christian.