Charlemagne. I (, )

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Instructor: Mr. James Krokar

DePaul University

November 18, 2002

The happiness and prosperity of the citizens

is the only legitimate object of government.

Thomas Jefferson

Sometimes one great man is all it takes to change the course of history around for a nation, a civilization, or even the entire world. Luckily for the proponents of its proponents, it is hard to disagree with the theory of persona magna. The world has seen the historical repercussions of the distinguished exploits of such men as Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Abraham Lincoln. The remarkable accomplishments of Charlemagne undeniably earn him a place among the most triumphant individuals in history.

Charlemagne was born into the family of the Mayor of the Palace in the court of King Childeric. Despite the lack of royal ancestry, Charles father, Pepin was the true ruler of the Franks until the eventual deposition of impotent Childeric, at which time Pepin was named the official monarch. Upon Pepins demise, the state, which Pepin had gloriously expanded, was passed on to Charles and his brother Carloman who ruled jointly for some three years, and after Carlomans death, Charles became the King of the Franks (Einhard 27).

The reign of Charlemagne was a most glorious one. During his forty-five years in power, Charles distinguished himself as a successful conqueror, an imposing sovereign, an able diplomat, and an active advocate of learning. His conquests doubled the empire he inherited, his masterful diplomacy helped him establish strategic alliances with neighbors, and his appreciation for knowledge and scholarship sparked a Carolingian Renaissance (Painter 5), a period of revival of learning, while popular education was waning in Europe during the early Middle Ages.

For the purpose of determining the medieval Franks view of an ideal ruler, Einhards positively biased biography of Charlemagne is the best source for information. As pointed out in Sidney Painters foreword to the book, Einhard slants the focus toward the positive aspects, while passing over delicately details he considered embarrassing (Painter 11). As a result of such omission of most of the unfavorable biographical facts, the somewhat idealized view of Charlemagne becomes a model of a perfect King as envisioned by the people of his time.

Perhaps the skill most highly valued by Einhard as well as by the people of the turbulent Middle Ages was the ability to conduct victorious warfare. After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, the nations that came to inherit the land were engaged in frequent wars, trying to conquer lands in order to collect tribute. Clearly, in times like those it was necessary for a king to be an apt military commander because the welfare of a nation almost directly depended upon the territory, and therefore the amount of arable land and natural resources. Einhard dedicates a large portion of the biography to the history of Charlemagnes conquests. He mentions Charles charisma and outstanding leadership skills. If one were to closely examine the record of the most famous or most notorious kings in the history of mankind, the top of the list would be dominated by the warrior kings: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Sundiata, Ivan the Terrible, and others. In todays world, the violation of other nations borders seems if not outrageous, then at least unethical. But in the Middle Ages, when all government was done by the sword, the winner was the one who was most adept with that sword. What difference does it make that Charlemagne could not read or write if his fifty-three successful conquests brought all of Christian Western Europe except for Britain, Italy, and Sicily (Painter 5) to the Franks feet? In contrast to Charlemagnes spectacular example, Einhard briefly describes the personality of the official king in the time of Pepin, Charlemagnes father:

: 5/04/2008