Life Of Charlemagne

Life Of Charlemagne



Est. Date. 771-814

Orig. Language. French

Orig. Writer. Einhard

Translated by.

This text was written by Einhard, a nobleman and close friend and advisor of Charlemagne. This makes

this text a potent portion of historic text as it was a first hand witness to the acts of Charlemagne.

Charles the Great or Charlemagne became king of the Franks from 771 to 814. He was a great military

conqueror. He used military force to conquer the land and force the people, of whom the majority

where pagans or Arians, to become Christians. He also sponsored Benedict monasteries and

missionaries and copying theological manuscripts.


Einhard’s life of Charlemagne (Various Sections)

Now Charlemagne restarted his war against the Saxons. The Franks never fought another war with such

persistence, bitterness or effort, because the Saxons, like almost all the German tribes, were a fierce

people who worshipped devils and were hostile to our religion. They did not consider it dishonorable to

violate any law, human or divine.

Every day there had been fighting. Except where forests or mountain ridges formed clear boundaries,

the whole boundary between us and the Saxons ran through open country, so that there was no end to

the murders, thefts and arsons on both sides. The Franks therefore became so embittered that they at

last resolved to make reprisals no longer, but to come to open war with the Saxons [772].

The war lasted thirty-three years with great fury, and the Saxons came off worse than the Franks. It

would have ended sooner, had it not been for the duplicity of the Saxons. They were conquered

repeatedly and humbly submitted to the King, promising to do follow his commands. Sometimes they

were so weakened that they promised to renounce their worship of devils, and to adopt Christianity, but

they were as quick to violate these terms as they were to accept them. This kind of thing happened

almost every year of the war. But Charlemagne’s steadfast purpose faced good and bad fortune alike,

and he was never wearied by their fickleness, or diverted from his task. He never allowed their faithless

behavior to go unpunished, either fighting them in person or sending his counts’ armies to get

vengeance and righteous satisfaction.

At last, after conquering and subduing all who resisted, he resettled ten thousand of his subjects with

their wives and children throughout Gaul and Germany [804]. This long war finally ended with the

Saxons submitting on Charlemagne’s terms, renouncing their national religious customs and the worship

of devils, accepting the sacraments of the Christian faith and religion, and uniting with the Franks to

form one people.

[Conquest of Bretons, Beneventans, Bavarians, Slavs, Huns, Bohemians, Linonians...]

Extent of Charlemagne’s Conquests

These were the wars so skillfully planned and successfully fought that this most powerful king fought

during his forty-seven-year reign. He increased the Frank kingdom so much — though it was already


Life Of Charlemagne

great and strong when he received it at his father — that more than double its former territory was

added to it.

Public Works

King Charlemagne, as I have showed, greatly extended his empire and powerfully subdued foreign

nations, and was constantly occupied with such plans. But he also started also many public works to

adorn and benefit his kingdom, and brought several of them to completion. The greatest were the

Church of the Holy Mother of God at Aix-la-Chapelle, a most impressive building, and a bridge over the

Rhine at Mayence, though this bridge was destroyed by fire the year before Charles died, and since he

died so soon afterwards, it could not be repaired, although he had intended to rebuild it in stone. He

began two beautiful palaces at Ingelheim and Nimeguen. But he cared above all for sacred buildings

throughout his kingdom. Whenever he found them falling into disrepair, he commanded the priests and

monks in charge to repair them. He also fitted out a naval fleet to protect Gaul and Germany from the

Vikings, and Italy from the Moors.


Charlemagne was fluent in speech, and could express whatever he had to say with the utmost clarity. He

was not satisfied with speaking his native language, but learned foreign ones. He was a master of Latin,

but he could understand Greek better than he could speak it. He might have passed for a teacher of

eloquence. He was keen on the arts, and held teachers in great esteem, conferring great honors on

them. Peter of Pisa, the elderly deacon taught him grammar. Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon from Britain and

the greatest scholar of his day, taught him other subjects. The King spent much time with him studying

rhetoric, dialectics, and especially astronomy. He investigated the motions of the stars most carefully.

He also tried learning to write, and used to keep tablets and notebooks in bed under his pillow, so that

at leisure hours he could practice making the letters. But, though he tried hard, he was starting late in

life, and had little success.


Charlemagne was fervently devoted to Christian principles, which had been instilled into him from

infancy. He built the beautiful church at Aix-la-Chapelle, which he adorned with gold and silver and

lamps, and with rails and doors of solid brass. He had the columns and marbles brought from Rome and

Ravenna, as he could not find suitable ones anywhere else. He worshipped there constantly as long as

his health permitted, going morning and evening, even at night, besides attending mass. He made sure

that all services there conducted properly in every way, and often warned the sextons not to let

anything improper to be brought into the building. He provided many sacred vessels of gold and silver,

and so many clerical robes that not even the lowliest doorkeepers had to wear their everyday clothes.

He took great pains to improve reading and singing there, for he was well skilled in both although he

never read in public, or sang except quietly along with the congregation.

Charlemagne and the Roman Church

Charlemagne gave a great deal of charity to the poor, and not only in his own country. Wherever he

heard that there were Christians living in poverty — Syria, Egypt, Africa, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Carthage

— he had compassion on them, and sent money over the seas to them. This is why he strove to make

friends with foreign kings, so that he could give relief to the Christians living under their rule.

He cherished the Church of St. Peter at Rome above all other holy places, and heaped its treasury with a

vast wealth of gold, silver, and precious stones. He sent countless large gifts to the popes; and

throughout his whole reign his most heartfelt wish was to re-establish the ancient authority of Rome


Life Of Charlemagne

under his care and by his influence, and to defend and protect St. Peter’s, beautifying and enriching it

himself above all other churches. But though he held it in such veneration, he only went to Rome to say

his vows and prayers four times during the whole of his forty-seven-year reign.

Charlemagne Crowned Emperor

His last journey there had another purpose though. Pope Leo had been mutilated by the Roman people

who tore out his eyes and cut out his tongue, and he had called upon the King for help. Charlemagne

accordingly went to Rome to set these affairs of the Church in order, because all was in confusion, and

he spent the whole winter there. It was then that he was given the title of Emperor and Augustus. At

first he had such an aversion to the title that he declared that he would not have set foot in the Church

on the day they were conferred if he had known what the Pope intended, even though it was a great

feast day. [Christmas 800]

The Roman emperors were unhappy about his taking this title, but he bore their jealousy very patiently.

Through frequent embassies and letters, in which he addressed them as brothers, he made their

haughtiness give way to his magnanimity, a quality in which he was unquestionably much their superior.


After receiving the title of Emperor, Charlemagne realized that the laws of his people were defective.

The Franks have two completely different sets of laws, and he decided to add what was missing, sort out

the discrepancies, and correct what was wrong. He never got very far with this project, but he had the

unwritten laws of all the tribes under his rule to be written up. He also had the old songs celebrating the

deeds and wars of ancient kings written out for posterity.

Charlemagne’s Death

Toward the close of his life [813], broken by ill-health and old age, he summoned his son Louis, King of

Aquitaine, and gathered together all the chief men of the whole kingdom of the Franks in a solemn

assembly. He appointed Louis, with their unanimous consent, to rule with himself over the whole

kingdom and made him heir to the imperial title.

He spent the rest of the autumn hunting, and in January he was struck with a high fever, and took to his

bed. As soon as he was taken sick, he decided to abstain from food, as he always had done when he had

a fever, hoping that the disease could be driven off, or at least mitigated, by fasting. Besides the fever,

he suffered from pleurisy, but he still persisted in fasting, and in keeping up his strength only by the

occasional drink. He died 28 January, seven days after he took to his bed, at nine o'clock in the morning,

after receiving holy communion, at the age of seventy-two and having reigned for forty-seven years.