At what point does history end and legend begin? That's a question that I've been asking myself a lot this last month as my novel has the convergence of legends and an historical figure. I recently read the novel Labyrinth by Kate Mosse which dealt with the persecution of the Cathars in 13th century France. After finishing the book, I went to the author's website and found her repeating a story that I had previously heard from Rick Steves, the travel writer, about Carcassonne.
The tale was of a lengthy siege (some versions suggesting it lasted upwards of five years) that was ended when the widow of the city's leader, a Saracen woman by the name Dame Carcas, used psychological warfare against their enemies. They supposedly fed grain to their last remaining pig, until it appeared nourished. Then they threw the fattened pig over the wall at the foot of the besieging army, hoping they would think that the people of Carcassonne must have a lot of food remaining inside and would not be surrendering anytime soon. Charlemagne reportedly ended the siege shortly thereafter.
Since starting this project, I have been researching the life of Charlemagne as well as the history and culture of Medieval Europe in the 8th and 9th centuries. I found nothing in the biographies of Charlemagne to suggest that he spent any time near Carcassonne, let alone a lengthy and unsuccessful siege of that fortified city.
I sent an email to Kate Mosse asking her if she could verify the story by citing a source. I told her that I thought it more likely that if there had been a siege of this nature, that King Charles the Great was not the leader of the army outside their gates. Rather that somewhere down the line, that the story was embellished by changing the identity of their enemy to someone of greater stature. There could be no worthier opponent than "The Father of Europe" who was crowned as Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. To have withstood an attack by Charlemagne would serve as a mark of distinction.