Biography of Charlemagne


CHARLEMAGNE, or Charles the Great, King of the Franks, and Roman Emperor, was born on April 2nd, 742, probably at Aix-la-Chapelle, and was the son of Pepin the Short, the first Carlovingian King of the Franks, and grandson of Charles Martel. On Pepin's death in 768, he and his brother Carloman jointly succeeded to the throne. By Carloman's death and the exclusion of his sons from the throne, Charlemagne became sole King. In 772, it was resolved at the Diet at Worms to make war against the Saxons, for the security of the frontiers, which they continually threatened, and for the extension of the Christian religion. Charlemagne advanced as far as the Weser in 772, securing his conquests by castles and garrisons. Pope Adrian I. now called him to his aid against Desiderius, King of the Lombards.

Charlemagne crossed the Alps from Geneva, with two armies, by the Great St. Bernard and Mount Cenis, in 773, and overthrew the Kingdom of the Lombards in 774. The Lombard Dukes acknowledged him as their King, and he secured the Pope's favor by confirming the gift which Pepin had made to the Papal See, of the Exarchate of Ravenna. Being now invited to interpose in the wars of the Arabs and Moors in Spain, he hastened to that country in 778, and added to his dominions the region between the Pyrenees and the Ebro. Subsequent insurrections and wars in Germany, between this year and 800, resulted in victories over the Bulgarians and Huns, and in the further consolidation and extension of his Empire, the eastern boundary of which now reached to the Raab.

In 800, Charlemagne undertook an Italian campaign, which was attended with the most important consequences. Its immediate purpose was to support Pope Leo III, against the rebellious Romans. When Charlemagne on Christmas Day was worshipping in St. Peter's Church, the Pope unexpectedly, as it appeared, set a crown upon his head, and, amid the acclamations of the people, saluted him as Carolus Augustus, Emperor of the Romans. Although this added nothing directly to his power, yet it greatly confirmed and increased the respect entertained for him, such was still the lustre of a title with which were associated recollections of the Roman Empire. After this Charlemagne still extended and confirmed his conquests both in Spain and Germany. He labored to bring the Saxons to a general reception of Christianity, and founded Bishoprics for this purpose. His views were liberal and enlightened to a degree rare for many subsequent ages. He zealously endeavored to promote education, agriculture, arts, manufactures and commerce. He projected great national works, one of which was a canal to connect the Rhine and Danube. But he deemed nothing beneath his attention which concerned the interests of his Empire or of his subjects. He required his subjects to plant certain kinds of fruit-trees, the cultivation of which was thus extended northward in Europe. His own domains were an example of superior cultivation. He had a school in his palace for the sons of his servants. Learned men were encouraged to come to his court. His fame spread to all parts of the world; in 768, Harun-al-Raschid sent ambassadors to salute him. He enjoyed good health till shortly before his death, January 28th, 814. He was buried at Aix-la-Chapelle, in a church which he had built there