Andorra - Charlemagne


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This episode is on Andorra and how the legendary Charlemagne gave it it's start. The Podcast Intros goes into some options for learning more about Charlemagne in general. Give them a listen

Links to other resources as well as the transcript are below the pictures.

A map of Pepin the Short's campaigns against the Moors

Map of the conquests of the Frankish Kings, the lightest green is for Charlemagne's additions. Of particular interest for us is the bottom left corner of the map.

North and south of the Pyrenees (Year 760)

Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en

Map of the Ummayad Caliphate, part of which was "The Moors" in North Africa and Spain


Other Resources(Clickable links on the titles)

The History of English Podcast: Charlemagne is mentioned from episodes 31-50 more often in 44-49 and then talked about in detail in 45 and 46

The Viking Age Podcast: Lots on the Carolingians and specifically on the battles between Charlemagne and the Saxons

The History of Byzantium: One episode on the relationship between the Byzantine Emperor and Charlemagne

We Talk About Dead People: A 2-hour episode on Charlemagne, like a morning radio show with an expert and a host

The Medieval World: A bunch of episodes on Charlemagne and the Carolingians, talks are like a lecture style.

For more on Charlemagne there are some great lectures here from a Yale Professor, Episode 19 and 20 at least are on him


Andorra is the smallest nation we will cover in the A's. It's about 15 miles wide and 12 miles long. That's about 6 times smaller than Rhode Island, the smallest state in the USA. It has 7 parishes(hey Louisiana you know about this!) which are like counties. Andorra is situated on the border of France and Spain nestled in the Pyrenees mountains there. It has been a semi-independent and then independent country since the time of Charlemagne (near the turn of the 9th century AD). It's basically made up of 2 branches of the Valira River which flow together to create the main Valira River near the center of Andorra. These 2 branches and then the main river help create the 3 narrow valleys in between the mountains that define the countryside. One interesting thing I found was that these valleys all face different directions and the mountains are so high that each valley actually has it's own kind of micro-climate so even though it's a small country it does have a lot of different things to see.

So then, how did somebody make a country on the border of two other countries? Why there? How did it survive?! These questions and more will be answered right after I give you some historical background that I hope you care about! One other thing before we get started, there are maps on the website at, I would recommend you check them out before or after listening to the podcast to understand what's going on a little better. Please don't look at those while driving cars, trucks, trains, or anything else that requires your attention. On with the story of Andorra's founding.

It's the 8th Century AD and the Umayyad caliphate has moved across from Africa and into Spain. The Umayyad's that reached Spain are commonly called the Moors so that's what I'll be calling them for the most part. They own the area we know of as Spain and have even reached across the Pyrenees(those mountains Andorra is on in between France and Spain) into southern France where they controlled a full half of France's southern coast. When the Moors first pushed into upper Spain many of the Christian peasants who lived near the Pyrenees sought refuge in the mountains. This is considered the main time period where these mountain valleys first became permanent homes for the future Andorrans.

Meanwhile in modern-day France, the Franks have a strong hold on things. One of the kings of the Franks was Charlemagne, and he will play a pivotal role in our podcast today. So let's get a little background on what's going on before he got on the throne. Charles' father and grandfather had been leaders of the Franks. His grandfather, Charles Martel "The Hammer", was an illegitimate son of the mayor of Austrasia, northeastern France. The Mayor of Austrasia at this time was nominally a mayor ruling under the Merovingian Kings(the first Frankish dynasty) but in reality was the ruler of the Franks. When his father died, Martel fought and defeated a coalition of his father's former subjects who wanted the legitimate child heir to be on the throne.

Martel immediately began enlarging Austrasian territory and was able to take over pretty much the whole of northern France before long. He would eventually take over all but the southeastern part of modern France. It was southwestern France and the Moors that we are most interested in so that's what we'll focus on. The Moors had been fighting with the Duchy of Aquitaine in southwest France. The Duchy one a few early battles but but eventually was defeated and pushed back. In 732 the Duke of Aquitaine asked for help from Martel as the Moors pushed him all the the way back into central France. The Duke and Martel had been enemies up to this point and Martel was excited to have an excuse to march in. Martel quick-marched his men across France to near Tours and soundly defeated the Moors there. The location of this battle was the high-water mark for Moorish expansion in Europe and they would slowly be pushed back towards and then over the Pyrenees from here on. Martel did many other things and is considered the father of Charlemagne's Dynasty but we need to get to Charlemagne so let's keep moving.

After Charles Martel, came Pepin III or Pepin the Short. Pepin was the first in this line to take the actual name King of the Franks. He fostered a close relationship with the Pope, helping him fight against the Lombards and gifted the Pope land which would go on to become the "Papal States", a kingdom ruled directly by the Pope. Pepin spent most of his time attempting to subdue the lands his father had conquered especially in Aquitaine (that's southwestern France). In 752 he was able to put the final Moorish stronghold in France to siege. The stronghold was called Narbonne and it was located on the Mediterranean Sea. The siege lasted 7 long years but finally the city surrendered in 759 and Moorish control in France was broken from then on. He did many other things which we could talk but we can't so let's continue.

Charlemagne was born the eldest, and possibly illegitimate, son of Pepin III. He participated in many battles with his father growing up right up until his father Pepin dying in 768. Charlemagne and his brother Carloman were elevated to joint kingship but Carloman died soon after in 771, of apparently natural causes while Charlemagne became a legend. Charlemagne finished subduing the peoples in Aquitaine and finally incorporated them fully into the Frankish Kingdom. This is what put him in direct contact with the Moors and would lead to the campaign that launched Andorra into statehood. He would go on to subdue many of his people's rivals defeating the Saxons in the north, the Lombards in the South, as well as many others. He eventually held basically all the territory in continental Europe west of Poland and the Balkans, including Italy down to a little south of Rome. On the way he was given many titles, King of the Franks, of the Lombards, Emperor of the Romans, and finally Emperor of the Carolingian Dynasty.

He is considered the most important European Monarch/Emperor of his period not only for his military conquests mentioned before but also for reforms he made domestically. He made economic, religious, and educational reforms that really changed Europe. One example was his emphasis on reading and books. Under his care a massive copying of older, especially Latin, manuscripts was done and to this day most of our surviving copies of those manuscripts can be traced to the Carolingian Empire.

This cannot be overstated as many of our surviving Latin manuscripts can be traced back to these manuscripts copied during the Carolingian Empire. Without these, our modern day look into Roman times would be even more limited than it already is. During the course of all this copying the Carolingian scribes also came up with a new way of copying that came to be known as Carolingian miniscule. Along with this copying of the classics came what is considered the first of the three european renaissances, the most famous being "The Renaissance" which we all know of happening in Italy. During this bigger renaissance, the Carolingian miniscule was mistaken for Latin and became the basis for the Renaissance's humanistic miniscule. Obviously the main way of writing in the Renaissance would be become pretty important as they had a lot to write down. Well later this became the Roman typeface when printing presses came along and that lead to Times New Roman which you probably know about today. So there's that.

Because of his "Renaissance-man" like qualities, Charlemagne kind of being good at many different things, he was seen as one of the chief models of chivalry throughout the Middle Ages. The Carolingian Empire would only technically last about 88 years(as his grandfather and father had not taken the title Emperor) but it would have a profound cultural effect on Europe through the middle ages and many historians believe he is the who who really created the idea of "europe" as we think of it today. I found this all pretty surprising as I don't remember hearing more than a passing few sentences about him in my history classes growing up. Did your history classes emphasize him more?

Anyways back to Andorra! During the course of all this conquering and reforming, The Ummayad Caliphate, which owned most of the middle east and north africa, had lost control of Spain to a Moorish rebellion. The last pocket of the Ummayads was in the northwest corner of Spain and came to Charlemagne's court asking for help. They promised to become Vassals of Charlemagne if he came and helped them defeat the Emir in Spain. This was a great opportunity for him to put a stop to Moorish raids into Frankish territory and maybe even expand... and so he jumped at the idea.
It seems this campaign across the Pyrenees started off alright, he first defeated the Basques, an independent people living in the western Pyrenees, and burned their capital to the ground. Then his army scored a few victories on the battlefield and pushed the Moors back a bit. Somewhere in there he lost a battle and started heading back into Frankish territory. At this moment, the Basques, who apparently didn't care for the burning of their capital, tipped this campaign into disaster. While the Frankish army was marching back through the Pyrenees the Basques ambushed them and Charlemagne lost many high ranking officers and most of his rear guard.

This campaign is the first point at which Andorra might have gotten it's start. As Charlemagne's armies marched across the Pyrenees the people living in the valleys that now make up Andorra may have volunteered to guide his soldiers through the Pyrenees or maybe even volunteered to join in his campaign. In exchange for this he declared them an independent city under his protection.

Another note about this incident before we go on, the ambush in the Pyrenees actually spawned a famous 11th Century poem, the Song of Roland, that ,with 4000 lines of verse, turned this ambush and the campaign in general into a mythical campaign between good(the Franks) and bad(the Moors). This is rather ironic as the actual battle was fought by Basques who may or may not have been christian at the time, but were definitely not Muslims, but being ambushed and defeated by a small state's army doesn't have quite the ring to it as an epic struggle between Christianity and Islam so... you know. This epic poem is considered something like the French version of King Arthur and the knights of the round table so this campaign ends up being one of the most famous of Charlemagne's career.

Anyways after the Frankish Army pulled out, the Moors marched back in and, on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees at least, things were business as usual. Charlemagne was at least able to set up a thin bit of buffer zone between Frankish territory-proper and the Moors. That buffer zone was called a "March" and he actually had Marches kind of spread out where-ever there was a country nearby that needed some space. It seems because of the mountain range in the Pyrenees, Charlemagne was using these small city-states as fortifications to slow down or stop advancing Moorish raiding parties and armies.

As his sons grew up, Charlemagne sent each of them to grow up in the territory he wanted them to rule over so that they would be able to govern their locations well when they were older. This is how Louis the Pious ended up in the Spanish March as it was his assigned domain.

This Louis is where the more official version of the founding story comes in. Louis, as governor, won a great victory against the Moors at the place where the Valira River forks(remember that's the river that kind of defines Andorra Geographically),which is Andorra's capital city. After the battle he named the country "Endor" and Endor became Andorra. He officially made it a small self-governing state, settled some of his men there and demanded as yearly tribute *MONTY PYTHON QUOTE FROM THE FOLDER"! No just joking not a herring. But he really did ask for a yearly tribute ....of 2 troutz that's what the Valira River is famous for apparently. Now it's very possible that both stories are true. That Charlemagne started this and then his son ratified it upon his victory but it's very difficult to know with much certainty. This is all somewhat memorialized in Andorra's national anthem

Now, like I said earlier Andorra was kind of like a guard city in the Pyrenees so that wasn't the greatest position to be in. Thankfully for the Andorrans, after Louis' victory he went on to push the Moors all the way back to the Erba River as his father had done. However, unlike his Father he was assigned to this domain and so did not withdraw his army to allow the Moors back in. This made Andorra a good 100 miles from the new border and much safer than it had been before.

Now there are a lot of interesting things about Andorra that are outside the pervue of this podcast but I'd recommend you check out. It's got a 2 diarchy instead of a monarchy with one "prince" from Spain and another from France and this has existed since basically somewhere in the 11th century all the way up to today, after doing some digging it seems like this might be the oldest continuous government in the world up to this point. It has not changed hands since the 11th century.

If you want more information about Charlemagne I have put a link to a few Yale Professor's lectures on Charlemagne that can give more details. And there are a number of books, I read the Carolingian Chronicles, which is a translation from way long ago and it's a reasonable read.

That's where we will end today's episode, Andorra would end up outlasting it's mother empire and would stay pretty much in one piece from this point on. It's really an astonishingly long history for any country let alone a tiny one on the border between two countries.

Now I will be doing some extra at the end of an "almost founding father of a new kingdom of Andorra" so stick around if you want to hear that story from the 20th century. If not, no worries! If you enjoy what's happening here message me at the website, on facebook, or email me at Or if you have some extra change lying around you want to throw at the making of this please don't let me stop you, I am on Patreon.

So anyways, off we go with overtime it's not overly long today.

Let's talk about Boris Skossyreff. He was a Russian adventurer and all-around scallywag born in 1894 and died in 1989 at the ripe old age of 93. During his lifetime one of his adventures led him to Andorra where in 1934 he presented a list of important suggestions to the local government officials along with his intention to reign as their king. The government officials were not amused although there were some commoners that were apparently interested. He was forced into self-described "Exile" living in a hotel about 3 miles from Andorra where he acted like an exiled monarch giving interviews to many international newspapers. While there he also wrote a new constitution for Andorra and distributed thousands of copies of it. In this constitution he would among other things, turn Andorra into a tax haven to encourage investment in the country. According to legend he organized 500 volunteers and lead them into Andorra where the "General Council" of Andorra voted to accept him as king. With this lasting until about 2 weeks later when 3 constables from the Spanish Civil Guard were brought in and arrested him. The official story says that he did not garner much support and was stopped trying to enter Andorra the second time by a guard at the border. But who can be sure right? I can tell you though that Andorra has problems to this day with other European countries because of their very low taxes maybe he was onto something.

That's it for today's podcast thanks again for coming! See you next time on Founders of Nations!

Hello it's Matt again, welcome back for country number 2! I am releasing these first two in 2 weeks because I was already a bit ahead on these but usually these will run one every two weeks as I have to have time to work and research and prepare things as well as that spending time with my wife and children thing haha. So this week's episode will be on Charlemagne and how he helped found Andorra. Charlemagne did about a billion things and is responsible in many ways for Europe as we know it so this 20 minute episode will not cover much more than a brief background and his interactions with Andorra. For more information there are many books and podcasts as well as a metal album done by none other than a 90-year old Christopher Lee(Count Dooku, Sauroman, and other characters). I read the Carolingian Chronicles but there are many others available. As for podcasts that's what this mini-sode is for. Here we go:

The History of English Podcast has 6 episodes where Charlemagne plays a big part each episode is about an hour long. This one focuses on Charlemagne's reign and especially reform related things, especially those that ended up influencing English words, very interesting to find some common words from Charlemagne! It's pretty interesting and the episodes are very well researched. We will take a listen to the main episode on Charlemagne as our sample

The Viking Age Podcast has a 5-episode series of 1-hour episodes on the rise of the Franks and then their wars with the Saxons. The show is well thought out and has good info about the Viking Age. We'll be sampling a few minutes from Episode 4 of the series.

The History of Byzantium - has one episode on the relationship that developed between the Byzantine Emperor and Charlemagne, interesting stuff here. This podcast is traipsing through the entirety of Byzantine History so lots of good information,

The Medieval World - has a bunch of episodes on both Charlemagne and the Carolingians, we will be sampling one episode from the bunch, it's well researched and informative.

We Talk about Dead People - A 2-hour episode that goes into a LOT of details and they cover pretty much every area of what makes Charles so magne. This podcast is basically like listening to a rock morning radio show but about historical events so be ready for silliness and steady cursing.

The Life of Charlemagne is a book on podcast that has 5 episodes averaging around 15 minutes each. This is written by Einhard, Charlemagne's court historian, and is a good primary source for Charlemagne.

Charlemagne: medieval empire builder - a 20 minute interview on the family of Charlemagne