Throughout history, there have been many good and bad rulers, from the bravery of Alexander the Great, to the madness of George III. None, however, helped shape European feudalism like Charlemagne, King of the Franks, First of the Holy Roman Emperors. His advancements in government were not his only advancements though. He created an educational system for his people. While far behind the public and private educational systems of today, in the 8th and 9th century, it was a start. He also helped spread Christianity throughout Europe.
Born in Northern Europe in 752, he was to become one of history’s great leaders, and precursor to the Holy Roman Empire. Brief History of the Line of Frankish kings. In 481, Clovis became king of one of the Frankish tribes. Because of a bet he made with his wife, he became Christian, and he forced 3,000 of his soldiers to become Christian also. This would eventually gain the support of the Catholic Church for both himself and the Franks. However, Clovis’s qualities as a leader were not passed on to his sons, and on Clovis’s death, his sons divided the kingdom that he worked to build.
Later Merovingian kings became inept at ruling the kingdom, and eventually became kings in just name only. The business of ruling the kingdom was left to the “Mayor of the Palace”. In 751, Pope Zacharias arranged for Childeric III to be sent to a monastery and for Pepin, Mayor of the Palace, to be crowned king. But, the alliance between the Papacy and the Franks would soon be tested. Aistulf, king of the Lombards, captured lands north of Rome and announced his intention to capture Rome itself. In an attempt by the Papacy to prevent this disaster, the Pope sent out to ask Pepin the Short, for his assistance in dealing with the Lombards.
He would eventually defeat the Lombards in battle, and the land that was gained was given to the Catholic Church, in the Donation of Pepin which created the Papal States. Birth and Parentage, and Childhood Charles I, or Charlemagne was born in 742. He was the son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada. Little is known about his childhood, other than the fact that he liked riding horses and hunting. He attempted to learn how to write, but was unsuccessful. He did however learn how to speak fluently in Latin, despite his attempt at learning how to write.
Charlemagne’s roots can be traced back to Ansegis, Mayor of Austrasia and Begga. His most famous ancestors however, were his father and grandfather, Pepin the Short and Charles Martel, respectively. After the death of Pepin the Short, Charlemagne and his brother Carloman were proclaimed kings by their supporting nobles, and were anointed by their respective bishops. Military Successes During his life In 769, Aquitaine and Gascony broke into rebellion. Charlemagne was forced to try to crush these rebellions without his brother’s assistance.
Charlemagne marched his army through Bordeaux and defeated the rebel leader, Hunold. Duke Hunold was to flee to the protection of Lupus, Duke of the Gascons. But Duke Lupus agreed to give up Duke Hunold to Charlemagne, and was granted peace. Hunold was not executed, but was returned to monastic alive. After the reconquest of Aquitaine, his mother tried to get Charlemagne to reconcile with his brother, but he was already making treaties with rulers that surrounded Carloman’s kingdom. To try and seal the peace with Lombardy, he married the daughter of the king of Lombardy, Desiderata.
Pope Stephen III did not like this marriage, for they encouraged Frankish kings to weaken the power of the Lombards, whose territories bordered upon it’s own. He then made an alliance with her father, Desiderius, which made the Pope give up his objections to the marriage. However, after one year, Charlemagne divorced his wife and married Hildegarde, a Suabian noblewoman. In 771, there was a fear that Carloman, Charlemagne’s brother, and Desiderata would create an alliance and attack Charlemagne, but in December of that year, Carloman died, leaving Charlemagne in complete control of the Frankish Kingdom.
In 772, Charlemage led an army into Saxony, in his first attempt to conquer the region. He then destroyed the Irminsul, a sacred temple and tree grove worshipped by all Saxony. He could have continued his invasion, but winter prevented it, and when he reconvened his army in 773, Charlemagne had changed his mind and had decided to attack Lombardy. His army marched from Geneva toward Lombardy. Charlemagne’s army was spilt into two groups, one commanded by him and the other by his Uncle Bernard. Although Desiderius had fortified the passes to Lombardy, a flanking maneuver forced him to retreat toward Lombardy.
Desiderius’ army came to rest at the city of Pavia. Charlemagne laid siege to the city for several months. He then left a smaller force to siege Pavia, and took the bulk of his army to meet other Lombard threats. He defeated the Lombard prince, and being so close to Rome, visited while Pavia was under siege. In Rome he met other rulers, spiritual and temporal. In meetings with the pope, he reconfirmed the alliance between the Frankish Empire and the papacy. In the summer of 774, Pavia was in a state of famine. Desiderius agreed to surrender as long as the life of his men would be spared.
Charlemage, after returning to the siege at Pavia, agreed to the terms, and exiled Desiderius to Neustria afterwards. Charlemagne then had himself declared King of Italy, and from that time onwards he was to be called King of the Franks and Lombards, Roman Patrician. He did not make drastic changes in the government, and left most of the governors in place. One of the son-in-laws to Desiderius refused to pay homage to Charlemagne, and he tried to restore the exiled prince Adelchis. Charlemagne responded by killing one of the supporters in battle, and would return later to kill the rest.
While Charlemagne was fighting the Lombards, the Saxons again revolted, and Charlemagne again marched his armies to Saxony. He started his invasion by attacking Westphalia. Then he marched into Engria, conquered the Mid-Saxons, and then crossed into Eastphalia. It was the Eastphalians who first converted to Christanity, then the Engrians followed. Hostages were taken for securtity for the oaths made. Westphalia was the last to covert, as they were stronger than the other two provinces of Saxony. As an end result of this campaign, three quarters of Saxony were loyal to Charlemagne, but not for long. In 776, Saxony revolted again.
He marched his army from Italy to Saxony with amazing speed, and took the Saxons completely by surprise. The hostages that he had taken earlier were killed, and the Saxons sued for Peace. To insure his control, Charlemagne called a council at Paderborn, in the center of Engria. Many Saxons were baptized, and swore oaths to remain loyal to Charlemagne. At the council, ambassadors from Spain had come to show homage to Charlemagne. They proposed that their feudal lords become lords of Charlemagne, if he agreed to give protection. Thinking that Saxony was under control, he accepted the offer and took his army into Spain.
After conquering lands there, he learned that there was another revolt in Saxony. He then marched back to Saxony, and defeated the Westphalians. As usual, the Eastphalians and the Engrians submitted without a fight. Charlemagne then divided the Saxons politically and put them under bishops. He published a Saxon code of law, and let some Saxon Chieftains keep rule. Many were baptized in the rivers Elbe and Ocker. After 2 years, the northern tribes of Saxony revolted, and Charlemagne again quelled the revolt. He then rounded up the leaders of the revolt, which was about 4,500 men, and slaughtered them.
Immediately after this, there were still revolts in Saxony, but only minor ones, which were easily crushed. Charlemagne then turned his attention to other fronts. He then conquered the Slavs, Avars, the Island of Corsica, Sardinia, and the Baleric Islands. In 792, the Saxons revolted again. It would take 2 years for Charlemagne to stop the rebellion. Life with Charlemagne/ The search for a Capitol Charlemagne was described as a very large person, but with a very squeaky voice. He loved to have people around him. From the beginning of his day, he had people asking for advice, chatting with him, etc.
He did not like to waste time, and often had his daily planning session in his bedroom while he got dressed. He was a deeply religious person, and attended mass regularly. But after mass, he turned his thoughts to hunting, the sport he had loved since childhood. Finding game was not a real problem for him, as game was plentiful in the northern forests of Frankland. He loved to eat, and regarded meal times when heart and mind were nourished. He is noted for liking roast meats. Like the Greeks, Charlemagne despised drunkenness in all people, and especially held himself to his standards.
After a meal, he would often take a nap in preparation for the day ahead, which was filled with court cases, planning, and other kingly matters. Another pastime that he liked was swimming, and it rivaled hunting for his favorite sport. In the evening, he would attend services in the chapel, before he would eat dinner. He loved his family, and when he was at home, would not sit down to eat without his children being present. He especially cared for his children, Charles, Carloman (who was later given his half-brother’s name, Pepin), and Louis. From the beginning of their lives he always stressed education.
In addition to the physical training they received, each one of them accompanied their father on the battlefield, and when each was 13, they were all commanding men. He also gave each of his sons a portion of the kingdom to rule, so that they would gain practical experience in being a leader. Even after they were on their own, Charlemagne kept an eye on them. For example, when he suspected that his son Louis was being frivolous, he sent him out to the Saxon front. He was even more watchful of his daughters. He would only allow them to marry courtiers that lived in the palace.
His daughters joined in on all of his activities, from the morning hunt to the various after-dinner discussions. In 791, he choose Aix-la-Chapelle (now know as Aachen) to be the site for his new capitol. He chose this site for several reasons. First, it was known for it’s hot springs. Second, Aix-la-Chapelle was in reach of nearly all of Frankland, and was especially close to Saxony. Third, it was a small town, and this would allow him to exert his own influence in its construction. The capitol was centered on the church and his palace, both in his mind equal.