During the sixth century, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Merovingian rule had little or no power. The mayor of the palace, “Pepin the short,” held the power of the empire. In 752 Pepin dethroned the last Merovingian king and took the throne for himself and restored the power to the monarchy. He shared the kingdom with his brother Carloman. They ruled the land in harmony. Ten years later Pope Stephen crowned Pepin, and thereby solidifying his right to the throne. He had a son named Charlemagne, who later became king and was referred to as “Charles the Great”. This honorable name was bestowed upon him because he was the first king to re-establish order to this unruly empire. Charles united the Frankish empire, encouraged commerce, and brought religion back to the masses. Through Charles’ charisma, knowledge, determination, and loyalty to his people he achieved what no other ruler could have done during this time period and was honored as one of histories most glorified emperors.
Charles was born in 742 AD. During Charles’ childhood he accompanied his father on his military excursions. This gave Charles an early insight into military efforts, which possibly influenced his later military achievements. Charlemagne grew up in the kingdom and his father continued to educate Charles in military and strategic tactics. His mother taught him the finer arts of reading, literature and aristocratic methods. Both of his parents shaped him into the man he later became. Charles was highly educated and well rounded both militarily and socially.
Charlemagne Becomes Emperor
Before “Pepin the Short” died in 768 he divided his kingdom between his two sons, Charles who was twenty-six and Carloman who was seventeen. This division of the empire caused many problems, which created tension between the brothers. Carloman refused to assist Charles in the war against the Aquitanians. Charles was successful in putting down the revolt but he never saw his brother again. Carloman died suddenly in 771, Charles received Carloman’s inheritance, uniting the empire under one ruler once again.
By the persuasion of his mother Charles married in 770 to the daughter of Lombard King Desidarius. He dismissed her after a year and conquered the lands of his father in law. This pleased the Pope since Desidarius’ lands surrounded the Papal States. The Pope wanted Charlemagne to rule because of his vow to protect the Papal States.
Charles inherited his father’s unfinished battles, “Charlemagne fought it with much more energy and brought it to a different conclusion,” (pg. 60) Once he completed these battles, he began a series of wars with the Saxons in the north in 772 that lasted for over thirty years. Finally, in 804 he conquered them Simultaneously he was engaged in other battles in which he was victorious, thus proving his greatness as a military leader.
Charlemagne Retains Power
Even though “the reign of Charlemagne was one long and never ending series of warlike enterprises” (pg. 7) he managed to engage himself in other activities. Charles wanted to strengthen his empire and bring order to Europe. Charles was involved in diplomatic relationships between different rulers around the world. Through these relationships he made peace treaties with many different monarchies. He invited noble lords from his land and others to keep friendly relations through out the territory. He kept up a close relationship with the Pope. He visited him many times in Rome throughout his reign. In 800 on Christmas day the Pope named him emperor and for the first time in history a Pope bowed before an earthly king.
To keep his empire in order Charles was constantly creating new laws and edicts. However there were not enough men to see that they were observed. This is common to all centralized governments though. Charles gave the lower lords more land in exchange for them to deal with border control and defense. This idea continued after Charles’ death and is even used today.
Charlemagne looked out for the good of his people. He was not a selfish leader; he cared about both the nobles as well as the peasants. Not only was he a leader to his people, he wanted to spend time with them, “he would invite not only his son to bathe with him, but his nobles and friends as well and occasionally even a crowd of his attendants and bodyguards, so that sometimes over a hundred men or more would be in the water together” (pg. 77). He improved his people’s lives in so many different ways. He had “many projects which aimed at making his kingdom more attractive and at increasing public utility” (pg. 71). He attempted and succeeded at certain projects. He restored and built churches, bridges, canals, and roadways. Charles also worked to spread education and Christianity in every class of people. In addition he set up money standards to encourage commerce.
Some of his outstanding projects were the great church of the Holy Mother of God at Aachen. As well as the bridge over the Rhine at Mainz, which burned down. Charles initiated the reconstruction of this bridge, one year before he died. He also began the construction of two palaces. He restored sacred edifices, which had fallen into ruin because of their antiquity. He created schools for both nobles and peasants. He tried to build the Rhine-Danube canal and encouraged better farming methods.
Charles was also concerned with the culture of his people. He brought scholars in to read from their learned works instead of having jesters perform during meals. Charles revived church music. He had monks brought in from Rome to train his singers. He tried to restore appreciation for art by bringing valuable works of art from Italy to him.
As well as being a great military leader, diplomat, and political figure he was very involved in the church and his religion. He was close with the Pope. Charles believed that the only true source of goodness was through the Church. Without the church he felt life and all his endeavors would be pointless. The war with the Saxons ended on the certain conditions imposed by Charles. He said they had to end their devil worship and adopt the Christian faith. He wanted them to “be united with the Franks and become one people with them” (pg. 63).
Before Charles came to power the Frankish society was in anarchy. Excluding the church followers the people had forgotten education and the arts, which they had once possessed. The people were acting unruly and out of order; they were acting like barbarians neglecting everything sacred to Charles. His goal was to make the government strong and stable. Charles created stability and re-established the government. He brought religion and education to enlighten the people. He brought spirituality to them and created a meaningful existence. He also conquered and Christianized the barbarians, and by doing so expanded his empire.
The life he created for the people was not just the nobles it was for the peasants as well. He had great compassion for the peasants. Charlemagne felt that the government was there to benefit those it governed. He felt he should help the people, not just rule over them.
Although Charles was the monarch he involved himself in every facet of the kingdom. The government workers were often careless and unfair. Charles worked to end this problem. He expanded their work, wrote down everything they did and forced them to work in groups of people. This restored some law and order. Twice a year he summoned all the leading men to discuss the happenings in his empire. Anything that happened within the government did not go past him. Charles knew every aspect and he made the final decision.
Thanks to Charles’ determination he was able to re-establish order to the Frankish Empire. He brought hope to his people he made their live rich. Charlemagne contributed to every aspect of their lives. He was a brilliant military strategist and a motivate General. Charles unwillingness to give up, motivated the soldiers to win battles, which his father was not able to successfully complete. Charles was determined to educate his people, he searched throughout the land for educators and musicians to bring culture back to his people. Charles’ driving force was to honor for the church because without the church his efforts would be meaningless. Even on his death bed Charlemagne was a servant to his people. Charles died January 28, 814. He was buried in the cathedral that he built. He left his empire to his only surviving son Louis. Charles created an empire that became the envy and model for many to come, and earned the title “Charles the Great.”
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