Beyond the legends of Charlemagne lies a biography worthy of the tales. To the medieval mind, only King Arthur vied with Charlemagne as the finest example of what a Christian king could be. Kind, yet fiercely defensive of his family and Empire, there is much to admire. His exploits spawned both histories and romances, like all good legends it stood firmly rooted in history. The biography offered here was published in Will Durant's History of Civilization, but a small part of an encyclopedic historical survey. I include it here in the KCT resources because it might prove useful and inspiration to those seeking a basic introduction to this most famous of medieval kings.
The greatest of medieval kings was born in 742, at a place unknown. He was of German blood and speech, and shared some characteristics of his people- strength of body, courage of spirit, pride of race, and a crude simplicity many centuries apart from the urbane polish of the modern French. He had little book learning; read only a few books- but good ones; tried in his old age to learn writing, but never quite succeeded; yet he could speak old Teutonic and literary Latin, and understood Greek.
In 771 Carloman II died, and Charles at twenty-nine became sole king. Two years later he received from Pope Hadrian II an urgent appeal for aid against the Lombard Desiderius, who was invading the papal states. Charlemagne besieged and took Pavia, assumed the crown of Lombardy, confirmed the Donation of Pepin, and accepted the role of protector of the Church in all her temporal powers.
Returning to his capital at Aachen, he began a series of fifty-three campaigns- nearly all led in person- designed to round out his empire by conquering and Christianizing Bavaria and Saxony, destroying the troublesome Avars, shielding Italy from the raiding Saracens, and strengthening the defenses of Francia against the expanding Moors of Spain. The Saxons on his eastern frontier were pagans; they had burned down a Christian church, and made occasional incursions into Gaul; these reasons sufficed Charlemagne for eighteen campaigns (772-804), waged with untiring ferocity on both sides. Charles gave the conquered Saxons a choice between baptism and death, and had 4500 Saxon rebels beheaded in one day; after which he proceeded to Thionville to celebrate the nativity of Christ.
At Paderborn in 777 Ibn al-Arabi, the Moslem governor of Barcelona, had asked the aid of the Christian king against the caliph of Cordova. Charles led an army across the Pyrenees, besieged and captured the Christian city of Pamplona, treated the Christian but incalculable Basques of northern Spain as enemies, and advanced even to Saragossa. But the Moslem uprisings that al-Arabi had promised as part of the strategy against the caliph failed to appear; Charlemagne saw that his unaided forces could not challenge Cordova; news came that the conquered Saxons were in wild revolt and were marching in fury upon Cologne; and with the better part of valor he led his army back, in long and narrow file, through the passes of the Pyrenees.
In one such pass, at Roncesvalles in Navarre, a force of Basques pounced down upon the rear guard of the Franks, and slaughtered nearly every man in it (778); there the noble Hruodland died, who would become three centuries later the hero of France’s most famous poem, the Chanson de Roland.
In 795 Charlemagne sent another army across the Pyrenees; the Spanish March- a strip of northeast Spain- became part of Francia, Barcelona capitulated, and Navarre and Asturias acknowledged the Frankish sovereignty (806). Meanwhile Charlemagne had subdued the Saxons (785), had driven back the advancing Slavs (789), had defeated and dispersed the Avars (790-805), and had, in the thirty-fourth year of his reign and the sixty-third of his age, resigned himself to peace.
In truth he had always loved administration more than war, and had taken to the field to force some unity of government and faith upon a Western Europe torn for centuries past by conflicts of tribe and creed. He had now brought under his rule all the peoples between the Vistula and the Atlantic, between the Baltic and the Pyrenees, with nearly all of Italy and much of the Balkans. How could one man competently govern so vast and varied a realm? He was strong enough in body and nerves to bear a thousand responsibilities, perils, and crises, even to his sons’ plotting to kill him. He had in him the blood or teaching of the wise and cautious Pepin III, and of the ruthless Charles Martel, and was something of a hammer himself. He extended their power, guarded it with firm military organization, propped it with religious sanction and ritual. He could vision large purposes, and could will the means as well as wish the ends. He could lead an army, persuade an assembly, humor the nobility, dominate the clergy, rule a harem.
He made military service a condition of owning more than a pittance of property, and thereby founded martial morale on the defense and extension of one’s land. Every freeman, at the call to arms, had to report in full equipment to the local count, and every noble was responsible for the military fitness of his constituents. The structure of the state rested on this organized force, supported by every available psychological factor in the sanctity of anointed majesty, the ceremonial splendor of the imperial presence, and the tradition of obedience to established rule. Around the king gathered a court of administrative nobles and clergymen- the seneschal or head of the palace, the “count palatine”or chief justice, the “palsgraves”or judges of the palace court, and a hundred scholars, servants, and clerks.
The sense of public participation in the government was furthered by semiannual assemblies of armed property owners, gathered, as military or other convenience might dictate, at Worms, Valenciennes, Aachen, Geneva, Paderborn... usually in the open air. At such assemblies the king submitted to smaller groups of nobles or bishops his proposals for legislation; they considered them, and returned them to him with suggestions; he formulated the capitula, or chapters of legislation, and presented these to the multitude for their shouted approval; rarely the assembly voiced disapproval with a collective grunt or moan. Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, has transmitted an intimate picture of Charles at one of these gatherings, “saluting the men of most note, conversing with those whom he seldom saw, showing a tender interest toward the elders, and disporting himself with the young.”
At these meetings each provincial bishop and administrator was required to report to the King any significant event in his locality since the previous convocation. “The King wished to know,”says Hincmar, “whether in any part or corner of the Kingdom the people were restless, and the cause thereof.” Sometimes (continuing the old Roman institution of inquisitio) the representatives of the King would summon leading citizens to inquire and give under oath a “true statement”(veredictum) as to the taxable wealth, the state of public order, the existence of crimes or criminals, in the district visited. In the ninth century, in Frank lands, this verdict of a jurata, or sworn group of inquirers, was used to decide many local issues of land ownership or criminal guilt. Out of the jurata, through Norman and English developments, would come the jury system of modern times.
The empire was divided into counties, each governed in spiritual matters by a bishop or archbishop, and in secular affairs by a comes (companion- of the king) or count. A local assembly of landholders convened twice or thrice a year in each provincial capital to pass upon the government of the region, and serve as a provincial court of appeals. The dangerous frontier counties, or marches, had special governors- graf, margrave, or markherzog; Roland of Roncesvalles, for example, was governor of the Breton march. All local administration was subject to missi dominici- “emissaries of the master”- sent by Charlemagne to convey his wishes to local officials, to review their actions, judgments, and accounts; to check bribery, extortion, nepotism, and exploitation, to receive complaints and remedy wrongs, to protect “the Church, the poor, and wards and widows, and the whole people”from malfeasance or tyranny, and to report to the King the condition of the realm; the Capitulare missorum establishing these emissaries was a Magna Carta for the people, four centuries before England’s Magna Carta for the aristocracy. That this capitulary meant what it said appears from the case of the duke of Istria, who, being accused by the missi of divers injustices and extortions, was forced by the King to restore his thievings, compensate every wronged man, publicly confess his crimes, and give security against their repetition.
Barring his wars, Charlemagne’s was the most just and enlightened government
that Europe had known since Theodoric the Goth. The sixty-five capitularies
that remain of Charlemagne’s legislation are among the most interesting
bodies of medieval law. They were not an organized system, but rather the
extension and application of previous “barbarian”codes to new occasion
In some particulars they were less enlightened than the laws of King Liutprand of Lombardy: they kept the old wergild, ordeals, trial by combat, and punishment by mutilation; and decreed death for relapse into paganism, or for eating meat in Lent- though here the priest was allowed to soften the penalty. Nor were all these capitularies laws; some were answers to inquiries, some were questions addressed by Charlemagne to officials, some were moral counsels. “It is necessary,” said one article, “that every man should seek to the best of his strength and ability to serve God and walk in the way of His precepts; for the Lord Emperor cannot watch over every man in personal discipline.” Several articles struggled to bring more order into the sexual and marital relations of the people. Not all these counsels were obeyed; but there runs through the capitularies a conscientious effort to transform barbarism into civilization.
Charlemagne legislated for agriculture, industry, finance, education, and religion as well as for government and morals. His reign fell into a period when the economy of southern France and Italy was at low ebb through the control of the Mediterranean by the Saracens. “The Christians,”said Ibn Khaldun, “could no longer float a plank upon the sea.” The whole structure of commercial relations between Western Europe and Africa and the Levant was disturbed; only the Jews- whom Charlemagne sedulously protected for this reason- connected the now hostile halves of what under Rome had been a united economic world. Commerce survived in Slavic and Byzantine Europe, and in the Teutonic north. The English Channel and the North Sea were alive with trade; but this too would be disordered, even before Charlemagne’s death, by Norse piracy and raids. Vikings on the north and Moslems on the south almost closed the ports of France, and made her an inland and agricultural state. The mercantile middle class declined, leaving no group to compete with the rural aristocracy; French feudalism was promoted by Charlemagne’s land grants and by the triumphs of Islam.
Charlemagne struggled to protect a free peasantry against spreading serfdom, but the power of the nobles, and the force of circumstance, frustrated him. Even slavery grew for a time, as a result of the Carolingian wars against pagan tribes. The King’s own estates, periodically extended by confiscations, gifts, intestate reversions, and reclamation, were the chief source of the royal revenue. For the care of these lands he issued a Capitulare de villis astonishingly detailed, and revealing his careful scrutiny of all state income and expense. Forests, wastelands, highways, ports, and all mineral subsoil resources were the property of the state. Every encouragement was given to such commerce as survived; the fairs were protected, weights and measures and prices were regulated, tolls were moderated, speculation in futures was checked, roads and bridges were built or repaired, a great span was thrown across the Rhine at Mainz, waterways were kept open, and a canal was planned to connect the Rhine and the Danube, and thereby the North with the Black Sea. A stable currency was maintained; but the scarcity of gold in France and the decline of trade led to the replacement of Constantine’s gold solidus with the silver pound. The energy and solicitude of the King reached into every sphere of life. He gave to the four winds the names they bear today. He established a system of poor relief, taxed the nobles and the clergy to pay its costs, and then made mendicancy a crime.
Appalled by the illiteracy of his time, when hardly any but ecclesiastics could read, and by the lack of education among the lower clergy, he called in foreign scholars to restore the schools of France. Paul the Deacon was lured from Monte Cassino, and Alcuin from York (782), to teach the school that Charlemagne organized in the royal palace at Aachen. Alcuin (735-804) was a Saxon, born near York, and educated in the cathedral school that Bishop Egbert had founded there; in the eighth century Britain and Ireland were culturally ahead of France. When King Offa of Mercia sent Alcuin on a mission to Charlemagne, the latter begged the scholar to remain; Alcuin, glad to be out of England when the Danes were “laying it desolate, and dishonoring the monasteries with adultery,”consented to stay. He sent to England and elsewhere for books and teachers, and soon the palace school was an active center of study, of the revision and copying of manuscripts, and of an educational reform that spread throughout the realm.
Among the pupils were Charlemagne, his wife Liutgard, his sons, his daughter Gisela, his secretary Eginhard, a nun, and many more. Charlemagne was the most eager of all; he seized upon learning as he had absorbed states; he studied rhetoric, dialectic, astronomy; he made heroic efforts to write, says Eginhard, “and used to keep tablets under his pillow in order that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the letters; but as he began these efforts so late in life, they met with ill success.” He studied Latin furiously, but continued to speak German at his court; he compiled a German grammar, and collected specimens of early German poetry. When Alcuin, after eight years in the palace school, pled for a less exciting environment, Charlemagne reluctantly made him Abbot of Tours (796). There Alcuin spurred the monks to make fairer and more accurate copies of the Vulgate of Jerome, the Latin Fathers, and the Latin classics; and other monasteries imitated the example. Many of our best classical texts have come down to us from these monastic scriptoria of the ninth century; practically all extant Latin poetry except Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius, and nearly all extant Latin prose except Varro, Tacitus, and Apuleius, were preserved for us by the monks of the Carolingian age. Many of the Caroline manuscripts were handsomely illuminated by the patient art of the monks; to this “Palace School”of illumination belonged the “Vienna”Gospels on which the later German emperors took their coronation oath.
|Chess piece found at Aachen,
accurately depicting a Carolingian warrior as they would have been equipped
during Charlegmagne's campaigns.
Notice the scale or mail hauberk, pointed helmet, elongated shield, stirrups and high saddle.
In 787 Charlemagne issued to all the bishops and abbots of Francia an historic Capitulare de litteris colendis, or directive on the study of letters. It reproached ecclesiastics for “uncouth language”and “unlettered tongues,”and exhorted every cathedral and monastery to establish schools where clergy and laity alike might learn to read and write. A further capitulary of 789 urged the directors of these schools to “take care to make no difference between the sons of serfs and of freemen, so that they might come and sit on the same benches to study grammar, music, and arithmetic.”A capitulary of 805 provided for medical education, and another condemned medical superstitions. That his appeals were not fruitless appears from the many cathedral or monastic schools that now sprang up in France and western Germany. Theodulf, Bishop of Orleans, organized schools in every parish of his diocese, welcomed all children to them, and forbade the priest instructors to take any fees; this is the first instance in history of free and general education. Important schools, nearly all attached to monasteries, rose in the ninth century at Tours, Auxerre, Pavia, St. Gall, Fulda, Ghent, and elsewhere.
To meet the demand for teachers Charlemagne imported scholars from Ireland, Britain, and Italy. Out of these schools were to come the universities of Europe. We must not overestimate the intellectual quality of the age; this scholastic resurrection was the awakening of children rather than the maturity of such cultures as then existed in Constantinople, Baghdad, and Cordova. It did not produce any great writers. The formal compositions of Alcuin are stiflingly dull; only his letters and occasional verses show him as no pompous pedant but a kindly soul who could reconcile happiness with piety. Many men wrote poetry in this short-lived renaissance, and the poems of Theodulf are pleasant enough in their minor way. But the only lasting composition of that Gallic age was the brief and simple biography of Charlemagne by Eginhard. It follows the plan of Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars, and even snatches passages therefrom to apply to Charlemagne; but all is forgiven to an author who modestly describes himself as “a barbarian, very little versed in the Roman tongue.”
He must have been a man of talent nevertheless, for Charlemagne made him royal steward and treasurer and intimate friend, and chose him to supervise, perhaps to design, much of the architecture of this creative reign. Palaces were built for the Emperor at Ingelheim and Nijmegen; and at Aachen, his favorite capital, he raised the famous palace and chapel that survived a thousand dangers to crumble under the shells and bombs of the Second World War. The unknown architects modeled its plan on the church of San Vitale at Ravenna, which owed its form to Byzantine and Syrian exemplars; the result was an Oriental cathedral stranded in the West. The octagonal structure was surmounted by a circular dome; the interior was divided by a circular two-storied colonnade, and was “adorned with gold and silver and lamps, railings and doors of solid bronze, columns and crucibles brought from Rome and Ravenna,” and a famous mosaic in the dome.
Charlemagne was profusely generous to the Church; at the same time he made himself her master, and used her doctrines and personnel as instruments of education and government. Much of his correspondence was about religion; he hurled scriptural quotations at corrupt officials or worldly clerics; and the intensity of his utterance forbids suspicion that his piety was a political pose. He sent money to distressed Christians in foreign lands, and in his negotiations with Moslem rulers he insisted on fair treatment of their Christian population.
Bishops played a leading part in his councils, assemblies, and administration; but he looked upon them, however reverently, as his agents under God; and he did not hesitate to command them, even in matters of doctrine or morals. He denounced image worship while the popes were defending it; required from every priest a written description of how baptism was administered in his parish, sent the popes directives as numerous as his gifts, suppressed insubordination in monasteries, and ordered a strict watch on convents to prevent “whoring, drunkenness, and covetousness”among the nuns.
In a capitulary of 811 he asked the clergy what they meant by professing to renounce the world, when “we see some of them laboring day by day, by all sorts of means, to augment their possessions; now making use, for this purpose, of menaces of eternal flames, now of promises of eternal beatitude; despoiling simple-minded people of their property in the name of God or some saint, to the infinite prejudice of their lawful heirs.”Nevertheless he allowed the clergy their own courts, decreed that atithe or tenth of all produce of the land should be turned over to the Church, gave the clergy control of marriages and wills, and himself bequeathed two thirds of his estates to the bishoprics of his realm. But he required the bishops now and then to make substantial “gifts”to help meet the expenses of the government. Out of this intimate co-operation of Church and state came one of the most brilliant ideas in the history of statesmanship: the transformation of Charlemagne’s realm into a Holy Roman Empire that should have behind it all the prestige, sanctity, and stability of both Imperial and papal Rome. The popes had long resented their territorial subordination to a Byzantium that gave them no protection and no security; they saw the increasing subjection of the patriarch to the emperor at Constantinople, and feared for their own freedom. We do not know who conceived or arranged the plan of a papal coronation of Charlemagne as Roman emperor; Alcuin, Theodulf, and others close to him had discussed its possibility; perhaps the initiative lay with them, perhaps with the councilors of the popes.
There were great difficulties in the way: the Greek monarch already had the title of Roman emperor, and full historic right to that title; the Church had no recognized authority to convey or transfer the title; to give it to a rival of Byzantium might precipitate a gigantic war of Christian East against Christian West, leaving a ruined Europe to a conquering Islam. It was of some help that Irene had seized the Greek throne (797); now, some said, there was no Greek emperor, and the field was open to any claimant. If the bold scheme could be carried through there would again be a Roman emperor in the West, Latin Christianity would stand strong and unified against schismatic Byzantium and threatening Saracens, and, by the awe and magic of the imperial name, barbarized Europe might reach back across centuries of darkness, and inherit and Christianize the civilization and culture of the ancient world. On December 26, 795, Leo III was chosen Pope. The Roman populace did not like him; it accused him of various misdeeds; and on April 25, 799, it attacked him, maltreated him, and imprisoned him in a monastery. He escaped, and fled for protection to Charlemagne at Paderborn. The King received him kindly, and sent him back to Rome under armed escort, and ordered the Pope and his accusers to appear before him there in the following year. On November 24, 800, Charlemagne entered the ancient capital in state; on December 1 an assembly of Franks and Romans agreed to drop the charges against Leo if he would deny them on solemn oath; he did; and the way was cleared for a magnificent celebration of the Nativity. On Christmas Day, as Charlemagne, in the chlamys and sandals of a patricius Romanus, knelt before St. Peter’s altar in prayer, Leo suddenly produced a jeweled crown, and set it upon the King’s head.
The congregation, perhaps instructed beforehand to act according to ancient ritual as the senatus populusque Romanus confirming a coronation, thrice cried out: “Hail to Charles the Augustus, crowned by God the great and peace-bringing Emperor of the Romans!” The royal head was anointed with holy oil, the Pope saluted Charlemagne as Emperor and Augustus, and offered him the act of homage reserved since 476 for the Eastern emperor. If we may believe Eginhard, Charlemagne told him that had he known Leo’s intention to crown him he would not have entered the church. Perhaps he had learned of the general plan, but regretted the haste and circumstances of its execution; it may not have pleased him to receive the crown from a pope, opening the door to centuries of dispute as to the relative dignity and power of donor and recipient; and presumably he anticipated difficulties with Byzantium.
He now sent frequent embassies and letters to Constantinople, seeking to heal the breach; and for a long time he made no use of his new title. In 802 he offered marriage to Irene as a means of mutually legitimizing their dubious titles; but Irene’s fall from power shattered this elegant plan. To discourage any martial attack by Byzantium he arranged an entente with Harun al-Rashid, who sealed their understanding by sending him some elephants and the keys to the Christian holy places in Jerusalem. The Eastern emperor, in retaliation, encouraged the emirof Cordova to renounce allegiance to Baghdad. Finally, in 812, the Greek basileus recognized Charlemagne as coemperor, in return for Charlemagne’s acknowledgment of Venice and southern Italy as belonging to Byzantium. The coronation had results for a thousand years. It strengthened the papacy and the bishops by making civil authority derive from ecclesiastical conferment; Gregory VII and Innocent III would build a mightier Church on the events of 800 in Rome. It strengthened Charlemagne against baronial and other disaffection by making him a very vicar of God; it vastly advanced the theory of the divine right of kings. It contributed to the schism of Greek from Latin Christianity; the Greek Church did not relish subordination to a Roman Church allied with an empire rival to Byzantium. The fact that Charlemagne (as the Pope desired) continued to make Aachen, not Rome, his capital, underlined the passage of political power from the Mediterranean to northern Europe, from the Latin peoples to the Teutons. Above all, the coronation established the Holy Roman Empire in fact, though not in theory.
Charlemagne and his advisers conceived of his new authority as a revival of the old imperial power; only with Otto I was the distinctively new character of the regime recognized; and it became “holy”only when Frederick Barbarossa introduced the word sacrum into his title in 1155. All in all, despite its threat to the liberty of the mind and the citizen, the Holy Roman Empire was a noble conception, a dream of security and peace, order and civilization restored in a world heroically won from barbarism, violence, and ignorance. Imperial formalities now hedged in the Emperor on occasions of state.
Then he had to wear embroidered robes, a golden buckle, jeweled shoes, and a crown of gold and gems, and visitors prostrated themselves to kiss his foot or knee; so much had Charlemagne learned from Byzantium, and Byzantium from Ctesiphon. But in other days, Eginhard assures us, his dress varied little from the common garb of the Franks- linen shirt and breeches next to the skin, and over these a woolen tunic perhaps fringed with silk; hose fastened by bands covered his legs, leather shoes his feet; in winter he added a close-fitting coat of otter or marten skins; and always a sword at his side. He was six feet four inches tall, and built to scale. He had blond hair, animated eyes, a powerful nose, a mustache but no beard, a presence “always stately and dignified.” He was temperate in eating and drinking, abominated drunkenness, and kept in good health despite every exposure and hardship. He often hunted, or took vigorous exercise on horseback. He was a good swimmer, and liked to bathe in the warm springs of Aachen. He rarely entertained, preferring to hear music or the reading of a book while he ate.
Like every great man he valued time; he gave audiences and heard cases in the morning while dressing and putting on his shoes. Behind his poise and majesty were passion and energy, but harnessed to his aims by a clairvoyant intelligence. His vital force was not consumed by half a hundred campaigns; he gave himself also, with never aging enthusiasm, to science, law, literature, and theology; he fretted at leaving any part of the earth, or any section of knowledge, unmastered or unexplored. In some ways he was mentally ingenuous; he scorned superstition and proscribed diviners and soothsayers, but he accepted many mythical marvels, and exaggerated the power of legislation to induce goodness or intelligence. This simplicity of soul had its fair side: there was in his thought and speech a directness and honesty seldom permitted to statesmanship. He could be ruthless when policy required, and was especially cruel in his efforts to spread Christianity. Yet he was a man of great kindness, many charities, warm friendships, and varied loves. He wept at the death of his sons, his daughter, and Pope Hadrian. In a poem Ad Carolum regem Theodulf draws a pleasant picture of the Emperor at home. On his arrival from labors his children gather about him; son Charles takes off the father’s cloak, son Louis his sword; his six daughters embrace him, bring him bread, wine, apples, flowers; the bishop comes in to bless the King’s food; Alcuin is near to discuss letters with him; the diminutive Eginhard runs to and fro like an ant, bringing in enormous books.
He was so fond of his daughters that he dissuaded them from marriage, saying that he could not bear to be without them. They consoled themselves with unlicensed amours, and bore several illegitimate children. Charlemagne accepted these accidents with good humor, since he himself, following the custom of his predecessors, had four successive wives and five mistresses or concubines. His abounding vitality made him extremely sensitive to feminine charms; and his women preferred a share in him to the monopoly of any other man. His harem bore him some eighteen children, of whom eight were legitimate.
The ecclesiastics of the court and of Rome winked leniently at the Moslem morals of so Christian a king. He was now head of an empire far greater than the Byzantine, surpassed, in the white man’s world, only by the realm of the Abbasid caliphate. But every extended frontier of empire or knowledge opens up new problems. Western Europe had tried to protect itself from the Germans by taking them into its civilization; but now Germany had to be protected against the Norse and the Slavs. The Vikings had by 800 established a kingdom in Jutland, and were raiding the Frisian coast. Charles hastened up from Rome, built fleets and forts on shores and rivers, and stationed garrisons at danger points. In 810 the king of Jutland invaded Frisia and was repulsed; but shortly thereafter, if we may follow the chronicle of the Monk of St. Gall, Charlemagne, from his palace at Narbonne, was shocked to see Danish pirate vessels in the Gulf of Lyons. Perhaps because he foresaw, like Diocletian, that his overreaching empire needed quick defense at many points at once, he divided it in 806 among his three sons- Pepin, Louis, and Charles. But Pepin died in 810, Charles in 811; only Louis remained, so absorbed in piety as to seem unfit to govern a rough and treacherous world. Nevertheless, in 813, at a solemn ceremony, Louis was elevated from the rank of king to that of emperor, and the old monarch uttered his nunc dimittis: “Blessed be Thou, O Lord God, Who hast granted me the grace to see with my own eyes my son seated on my throne!”
Four months later, wintering at Aachen, he was seized with a high fever, and developed pleurisy. He tried to cure himself by taking only liquids; but after an illness of seven days he died, in the forty-seventh year of his reign and the seventy-second year of his life (814). He was buried under the dome of the cathedral at Aachen, dressed in his imperial robes. Soon all the world called him Carolus Magnus, Karl der Grosse, Charlemagne; and in 1165, when time had washed away all memory of his mistresses, the Church which he had served so well enrolled him among the blessed.
Romantic tales of Charlemagne
The Twelve Paladins
The Song of Roland
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Illuminated B: Carolingian period, 8th century. Source unknown.
Charlemagne's Sword: Although this sword is usually attributed to have belonged to Charlemagne, it is of later manufacture and style. Carolingian swords were short and broader, much like the Roman gladius. It is the sword that was used for Coronations in France for centuries and should be much admired for its fine workmanship.
Chess Piece: Found at Aachen, this piece was illustrated by Viollet-Le-Duc in the 19th century. A fantastic execution, it is generally accepted to accurately represent the arms and armour of Charlemagne's soldiers.
Bust of Charlemagne: A French relic c. 1350, the relic was created to house fragments of Charlemagne's skull.