Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Charlemagne (742-814), or Karl the Great, the Napoleon of the Dark Ages, was the son of Pepin le Bref, and grandson of Charles Martel. In 768 he succeeded his father jointly with his brother Carloman in the kingdom of the Franks, and when at Carloman's death in 771 he became sole ruler, he wielded sway over a vast kingdom, and had great influence, besides being looked on as the bulwark of Christendom against the Saracens and the heathen of the North, and the protector of the Pope against the Lombards and the Greek eenpire. It was in 772 that he began the great work of his life - the conquest of the Saxons. These formidable enemies were the only remaining champions of the old Germanic power against the Franks, of the ancient religion of Odin against the new and aggressive Christianity. After a severe struggle, in which Charlemagne took their stronghold of Ehresburg, and overthrew their idol Irminsul, the Saxons were forced to submit for the time. The king then turned his attention to the Lombards, whose king had invaded the Papal dominions owing to the refusal of the Pope to aid him against Charlemagne, whose wife, the Lombard king's daughter, had been divorced for barrenness. The result of this campaign was the subjugation of Lombardy, and the placing of the Iron Crown upon Charlemagne's head. A revolt of the Saxons brought the conqueror once more down upon them, and after two more campaigns he forced them in 777 to do him homage, and accept almost universal baptism. An invitation from Spain to intervene in the wars of the Arabs and Moors led to an expedition into Spain, which had the solid result of adding the territory as far as the Ebro to his dominions, and has proved a lasting theme to romancers and minstrels since. The king's rearguard was attacked in the pass of Roncesvalles, and Roland, with many other of the Frankish chivalry, lost his life. In 785 the Saxons - in spite of the severe lesson Charlemagne had given them in 782, when he massacred 4,500 prisoners - made what was almost a last despairing effort, only to be again crushed, and to see themselves deported into other provinces of the empire. In connection with this deportation it may not be uninteresting to point out the fact that in the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg there are in daily use a very considerable number of words which are almost absolutely identical with the English words for the same ideas, and it is said by tradition that the inhabitants of this region are descended from the Saxons transported thither by Charlemagne. In 788 Charlemagne added Bavaria to his kingdom, and in 791 his campaigns against the Avars, a Mongol race inhabiting what is now Hungary, ended in his becoming possessed of Pannonia. Many fights he had with the Wends and Danes and Czechs; but they all ended in the same way, and his sway extended over almost all Central Europe. In 800 he reached what seemed the height of ambition when he became Roman Emperor; but his views were even yet bolder, for he had conceived the idea of uniting the Eastern and Western Empires by a marriage with the Greek Empress Irene, a plan which was brought to naught by her fall. In 801 Charlemagne received an embassy from the Caliph Haroun Al Raschid, his Eastern counterpart.

That Charlemagne was something more than a conqueror is shown by his measures for organising and civilising his dominions. His establishment of counts of the marches, his sending representatives to ensure uniformity of system in different peirts of his empire, his two yearly councils, one military, the other civil, his plan of uniting the Rhine and the Danube by a canal, all show great political foresight, and if his empire fell to pieces after his death, it was because the age was not yet ripe for it, Not only did Charlemagne encourage and court the acquaintance of learned men, he was also of no mean literary pretension himself, as some of his works show. Much of his success seems to have been owing in some measure to his intense vitality and vigorous constitution, added to great intellectual power. "I conquered the world," he is made to say in Owen Meredith's Legend of the Rhine, "because God gave me a gizzard;" and there may be a germ of truth in this.