9. The Paladins of Charlemagne were hand-picked by the Holy Roman Emperor himself to protect him and to keep order across the Empire
Also known as the ’12 Peers’, the Paladins were a dozen men, hand-chosen by the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne to be by his side, both in his royal court and in battle. Over the centuries, myths and history have become blurred. So much so, in fact, that much of what we think we know about the Paladins is hotly disputed. Indeed, there may not even have been 12 of them. However, despite the lack of consensus, the Paladins are widely remembered as being Charlemagne’s bravest, most reliable men, who helped secure several notable military victories for their ruler.
Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, served as King of the Franks from 768 and then as the Holy Roman Empire from 800 until his death in 814. During the Early Middle Ages, he united large parts of western and central Europe, bringing the Christian faith to large parts of the continent. He was a model knight, fully subscribed to the idea of chivalry, and he wanted men around him that believed in it, too. Around the turn-of-the-century, he selected 12 men to be his Paladins. As well as being his bodyguards, they were also his closest advisers, both in military matters as well as in matters of the state.
According to writings from the time, most notably from The Song of Roland, the Paladins were excellent soldiers as well as thinkers. Most notably, at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778, the Paladins fought with distinction to protect Charlemagne from a Basque ambush. While the forces of the Holy Roman Empire were defeated – the king’s only military defeat – the 12 Paladins ensured that Charlemagne himself got away unscathed. One of their number, a Frank named Roland, was killed that day. From that point onwards, their legend just grew and grew. In fact, some scholars believe that the myths of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table grew out of tales of Charlemagne and his fearsome and wise Paladins.