Charlemagne is also known as “Charles the Great.” He was the most famous ruler in the Middle Ages. He was the king of the Franks from 768- 814 and the emperor of the Romans from 800- 814. Charlemagne’s kingdom included most of western and central Europe. He was born in 742 and died in 814. Charlemagne was a tall man for that time at over six feet. He had a thick neck, red hair, and blue eyes. Some words that describe him would be ambitious, strong, and brutal. Charlemagne was a very smart man. He could speak and read in Latin, and even though he tried to write in Latin, he never learned how.
Charlemagne was born on April 2, 742. His father was “Pepin the Short.” In 751, Charlemagne’s father dethroned the last Merovingian king, and took the throne for himself. In a promise to the pope to protect his lands, Pepin the Short was crowned King of the Franks by Pope Stephen II in 754. When Charlemagne’s dad died in 768, Pepin the Short’s kingdom was divided into two parts. Charlemagne and his brother Carloman each got part of the land. Even though Carloman was younger, he got a bigger part of the land. Three years later in 771, Carloman died and Charlemagne received all of his brother’s land. He united the two sections together, and was now the only leader of the Frankish Empire.
Soon after his brother’s death, Charlemagne started to expand his empire. His empire in 771 went from Austrasia in the north to Septimania in the south. Its border in the east was Nordgau and the border in the west was Aquitaine. Charlemagne’s biggest and longest fight was against the Saxons. The Saxons lived in northwest Germany. This was Charlemagne’s first move to expand his kingdom. He picked the Saxons to attack because they were the last people in the area that were non - Christian, and because they had attacked the Frankish borders many times. Charlemagne made Saxony one his provinces. He put Christian churches there and made the Saxons convert to Christianity. The Saxons did not like this, so they revolted. Before Charlemagne could force his rule there permanently, he had to capture their leader, Widukind. This took Charlemagne several attacks on the Saxons before he caught their chieftain. When the Saxons revolted again in 792, Charlemagne sent many of them out of the country and brought in other Frankish people. After thirty - two years of fighting, Charlemagne finally defeated the Saxons in 804.
Charlemagne also moved his empire southward. Charlemagne invaded Bavaria and added it to his kingdom. In 773 Pope Adrian I asked Charlemagne for help because the Lombards invaded the Papal territories in northern Italy. Charlemagne took out the Lombard’s king and defeated them. He also added Lombardy to his empire. By doing this, Charlemagne became better friends with the pope and became a Roman patrician.
In 778 Charlemagne attacked the Moors in northern Spain. Charlemagne was stopped at first, but after a while, he conquered the Spanish March and Navarre. On his way home, the end of Charlemagne’s army was annihilated by the Basques. An epic poem was written about this incident called The Song of Roland.
In 799 there was a rebellion in Rome, so Pope Leo III asked Charlemagne to help him out. Charlemagne came to Rome, and stopped the rebelling. Because of this, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans on Christmas Day in 800. Throughout his rule, Charlemagne maintained a very good relationship with the popes and the Christian Church.
When Charlemagne became emperor, he brought in many new ideas. One thing that he did was give sections of land to his nobles. The nobles were then loyal to Charlemagne and would help him in the military when they were needed. The nobles also kept up the roads, bridges, and the land. Charlemagne also assigned nobles to be heads of parts of his empire. This would be like governors of each state in the United States of America. These nobles were like kings of their section and had a lot of power.
Charlemagne made many changes that helped the economy of his kingdom. He launched new ways of farming that helped produce more food. To promote trade, he minted silver coins. This coin was called the denarius and had the picture of Charlemagne on it. These were the first coins used since the late Roman Empire.
Charlemagne also improved the schooling in his empire. He set up a school and library at Aachen. This school brought in the best teachers from all over Europe, and taught people how to be teachers. Charlemagne helped the church out at this school by teaching men how to be priests, brothers, or monks. Scholars at this academy copied down old pieces of writing from the Old Roman Empire. By doing this, they saved many writings that would have been lost. Charlemagne and other educated students invented a new kind of handwriting. This style was named the Carolingian Minuscule. The handwriting we use today is based on the Carolingian Minuscule.
Even though Charlemagne’s kingdom was very influential and powerful, it didn’t have some of the things that were needed that helped other empires like the Old Roman Empire to keep going. A few of these things that Charlemagne’s empire didn’t have were: an economy that was based on money, good communications throughout the empire, and a good civil service. His kingdom was also weak in a way because it depended on Charlemagne to keep things together and keep things going smoothly. Another negative thing about his realm was that it was so large that it was hard to govern. When Charlemagne died on January 28, 814, his kingdom started to dwindle, and in the late 800s it fell apart. Charlemagne’s only successor, Louis I, was emperor until 840 when he died. After that, in 843, the Frankish Empire was split up into three sections, which were ruled by Charlemagne’s grandchildren.