Charles the Great

By Nicholas Polimeni


Charles the Great or Charlemagne was a medieval king whose reign lasted from 768 to 814. A skilled military commander, Charles became the king of the Frankish Empire. He expanded the empire exponentially and converted all under his reign to Christianity. In the year 800, Charlemagne's power drastically increased after being crowned emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III. Charlemagne was the first and only king to have united such a vast empire during the Middle Ages. He died in 814, leaving an extensive empire and great legacy behind.

Early Life

Charlemagne's exact date of birth is unknown, but is believed to be anywhere from 742-747. He was born to Pippen III, a high power vassal to the king of the Frankish Empire. Charlemagne trained for leadership by watching and participating in his father's court. Soon after, in 751, with support from the Pope, Pippen became king of the Frankish Empire. Pippen forged an alliance with the Pope by agreeing to protect Rome, this alliance and devotion toward Christianity also showed during Charlemagne's reign. In 768, King Pippen III died leaving the kingdom divided between two heirs, Charlemagne and Carloman, his brother. The rivalry threatened the kingdom, and Charlemagne, looking to take full power formed an alliance with the king of Lombards, a neighboring kingdom. In return for the alliance, Charlemagne had to marry the king's daughter. In 771 Carloman died, ending the power struggle, and Charlemagne took full power, ignoring Carloman's heirs.

Charlemagne's Family

Charlemagne managed his family in a rather unconventional way. He is believed to have multiple wives, mistresses, and 18 children! He encouraged his children's education and was, reportedly, a good and devoted father, but his relationships with some of his kids went to far. He wouldn't let his daughters marry while he was still alive, because he loved them too much and would be jealous of their husband(s). Not much more is known about his family, considering he was king, this time period was more focused on recording his life not his familiy's life, except for his heir.

Charlemagne's Rule (768-814)

Charles wanted to untie all Germanic people and convert them to Christianity, the most followed religion at the time. He spent much of his reign in warfare, expanding his emperor, and getting closer to his goal of a united empire. He conquered lands such as but not limited to Lombards, Avars, Bavaria. One of Charles' greatest battles lasted three decades and was waged against the Saxons, who were Pagan worshipers. He ordered the killing of thousands of Pagans who refused to convert to Christianity. This further established Charles' rule and his and the Frankish empires strength and ruthlessness.

Being a great support of Christianity, Charles promised to protect Rome and the churches and gave money to their cause. Christianity wasn't the only thing Charles tried to spread through his vast empire. He promoted education, language, art, and culture, starting a period known as Carolingian Renaissance.

Death and Legacy

It is suspected that Charlemagne was in good health until four years before his death, when he suffered from fevers and started to limp. Charles the Great suspected that his days were coming to an end and crowned his son, Louis the Pious, co-emperor. Louis gained full power when Charles died in 814 after four decades of leadership. His empire's borders now covered most of Western Europe. He was buried at a cathedral at Aachen. Years later, by the late 800's, the Frankish Empire fell, due to many reasons. One of which included having too many kings to rule the kingdom. Regardless, Charlemagne became a legend. He was canonized (declared a saint) by Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa and ensured Christianity's survival through the Middle Ages. He was a man of myth, one who had accomplished more than all others during the Middle Ages and was closest to creating a Renaissance.


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  • "Charlemagne." A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 07 June 2015.
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