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Everyone has heard of King Charles, but what everyone does not know is he was also known as Karl or Charlemagne. Charlemagne and his sibling, Carloman, were both made King after their father, Pepin had passed away from dropsy in Paris near the Aquitanian War. Each King would have their part to govern. Charlemagne was assigned to rule the side that belonged to their father and Carloman was to rule the part their uncle, Carloman had governed. They have accepted to rule, and after a while, it became a great difficulty to keep the peace between the two sides. Carloman’s people kept disturbing Charlemagne’s people and even tried to force the two brothers to go to war with each other. After ruling for a couple of years, Carloman fell to a fatal disease, and Charlemagne was named King of the Franks.
Since Charlemagne had to initially only rule over his father’s side before the passing of his brother, he had no choice but to take charge of the Aquitanian War which his father started. With patience and firmness, Charlemagne was able to gain ground in the war which made Hunold flee to Gascony. Charlemagne refused to give up and wanted the defeat, so he followed Hunolds footsteps across the River Garonne and built the castle of Fronsac. From there, he sent ambassadors to Lupus and Duke of Gascony to demand Hunold to surrender, or he will be taken by force. Lupus decided to give up Hunold and himself, to let the King know he respected him and will follow under his command. This concluded the war in Aquitania. Shortly after, a war against the Lombard King Astolf was started because the Bishop of Rome, Hadrian wanted to wage war on the Lombard’s. The war did not last long and was concluded. Charlemagne then went on and waged war against the Avars, Bavaria, and the Saxons, a Germanic tribe of pagan worshippers, and earned a reputation over three decades-long series of battles of ruthlessness. In 782, Charlemagne ordered the slaughter of over 4,500 Saxons and later forced the Saxons to convert to Christianity and whoever did not would be put to death.
The Saxon’s were fierce people that worshipped the devil and did not find it dishonorable to violate the law. Every day some circumstances tended to cause a break of the peace. There was no end to the thefts, murders, and arsons on both sides, so the Franks decided that they will no longer make reprisals and to open war with the Saxons. The Saxon War lasted for thirty-three years; it could have ended sooner if it had not been for the faithlessness of the Saxons. The war ended by the Saxon’s agreeing to the terms offered by the King; they were to renunciate their national religious customs and the worship of devils, accept the sacraments of the Christian faith and to join the union with the Franks as one person.
During the struggle with the Saxon’s, Charlemagne marched over to the Pyrenees into Spain with all the forces he had available. Everywhere he attacked surrendered, and he took no loss and then started marching homeward. On his path back through the Pyrenees, he had cause to stop and rue the treachery of the Gascons. The Gascons had ambushed Charlemagne and his forces. They laid on top of a very high mountain, attacked the rear of the baggage train and the guard in charge of it and caused them to fall back down to the very bottom of the valley. The Gascons were fast in movement due to the lightness of their armor, and they knew the nature of the battleground, whereas the Franks armor was heavy and they weren’t used to fighting on uneven terrain. In the engagement, many had fallen including Eggihard, the King’s steward; Anselm, Count Palatine; and Roland, Governor of the March of Brittany. The Franks could not avenge the enemy because after they carried out their plan, they were nowhere to be found, they had scattered.
Charlemagne’s conquests were skillfully planned and fought successfully in his forty-seven years of his reign. The Franks’ kingdom was increased, and they now rule over double of its former territory. Charlemagne added to the glory of his success by gaining the trust of several kings and nations. He particularly became very close with Alfonso, King of Galicia and Asturias. They were so close that when Charlemagne asked him for an elephant, he sent him the only one that he had left. The Emperors of Constantinople then sought alliance and friendship with Charlemagne even when the Greeks suspected him of plotting to take the empire from them, but because of the title Emperor, they made an alliance with him and found no cause of offense. Charlemagne was a defender of Christianity and gave money and land to the Christian church and protected the popes. Due to this, Pope Leo III wanted to acknowledge Charlemagne’s power and crowned him emperor of the Romans. As the emperor, Charlemagne proved worthy and a talented diplomat. Charlemagne promoted education and what is known as the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of a renewed emphasis on scholarship and culture. He also instituted religious reforms and was behind the Carolingian minuscule, a form of writing that became a modern European alphabet.
Charlemagne was in charge of several palaces and cities but spent the most time in Aachen. He had a castle there that included a school with which he only recruited the best teachers. Also, Charlemagne was interested in athletic events such as hunting, horseback riding, and swimming. He was known to be very energetic, and Aachen held a particular appeal for him due to its warm springs. After Charlemagne’s father’s death, he later married a daughter of Desiderius, King of the Lombard’s but that marriage didn’t last long, he repudiated after a year for unknown reasons and married Hildegard. Hildegard was a woman of high birth, of Suabian origin and they had three sons together – Charles, Pepin, and Louis – along with many daughters – Hruodrud, Bertha, and Gisela. He had three other daughters besides those – Theoderada, Hiltrud, and Ruodhaid – two of the daughters were by his third wife, Fastrada, a woman of German origin, and the third by a concubine. After Fastrada death, he married Liutgard, an Alemannic woman, who he had no children. After Liutgard death, he had three concubines. Charlemagne had a plan for his children’s education; he wanted to have both males and females instructed in the liberal arts. After the children’s years, they had to follow the custom of the Franks, the males had to learn horsemanship, war, and the chase, and the girls had to learn how to make clothing, and to handle spindle and distaff. Before Charlemagne’s death, he only lost three children, two sons and a daughter, Charles who was the oldest, Pepin who was the King of Italy, and Hruodrud, his oldest daughter who married the Emperor of the Greeks. Charlemagne was not very calm after the deaths of his children as everyone would have thought he would be since he was so strong-minded, he became affectionate and clung to the relationships.
Charlemagne was a large, tall, and a strong man. His appearance was dignified and stately, whether he was sitting or standing. His health was always excellent, except towards the last four years of his life. He started to have fevers frequently and even had a little limp with one foot. He would consult with physicians, but never took their advice on changing his food diet; therefore, the physicians became hateful to him. However, he did exercise frequently by horseback and in the chase. He loved the warm springs near his castle and would practice swimming also; he loved it so much he would invite others to join him like his sons and now and then a bodyguard or a troop. Charlemagne was temperate with eating, and also in drinking. He abominated anybody, much more himself and his household of drunkenness but he had trouble abstaining himself from food and would complain that fasts injured his health. Most of his meals consisted of four courses, not counting his favorite, the roast. During a meal, he only allowed himself to have three cups of wine maximum.
Towards the end of Charlemagne’s life, he asked Louis, King of Aquitania, his only son by Hildegard to gather together all the chief men of the Franks kingdom in an assembly. In the assembly, with unanimous consent, appointed Louis, to rule the whole kingdom and constituted him heir to the imperial name, and also proclaimed him Emperor. After appointing his son as King, he sent him back to Aquitania and decided to set out to a hunt despite his weakness from old age. Charlemagne returned from his hunt during the winter, and a few months later, he was struck with a high fever and could not leave his bed. He thought if he were to prescribe himself abstinence from food, his illness would subside but he was also suffering from a pain in his side, which the Greeks called pleurisy but that didn’t stop him, and he was still going to fast. Sadly, he died January twenty-eighth, seven days from the time he took to his bed shortly after partaking in the holy communion.
Charlemagne’s body was cared and washed in the usual manner and then carried to the church. At first, they questioned where to lay him because he had never given any directions as to his burial, but everyone agreed that nowhere would be more honorable than in the basilica he had built in the town with his own expense for the love of God and Jesus Christ. He was taken there and buried on the same day that he died, and they made a gilded arch above his tomb with an image of him and an inscription. The inscription read as followed: “In this tomb lies the body of Charles, the Great and Orthodox Emperor, who gloriously extended the kingdom of the Franks, and reigned prosperously for forty-seven years. He died at the age of seventy, in the year of our Lord 814, the 7th Indiction, on the 28th day of January”(Einhard,71).
- “Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire.” Films Media Group, 1989, digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?wID=98038&xtid=1956. Accessed 23 June 2019.
- “Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne.” Internet History Sourcebooks, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/einhard.asp.
- “Einhard: Life of Charlemagne.” American Book Company: Harper & Brothers, 1880. Book.
- Cole, Joshua, and Symes, Carol. Western Civilization, 19th edition. New York and London: W.W.Norton, 2017. Book.
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