Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blessed Emperor Charlemagne

File:Friedrich Kaulbach - Krönung Karls des Großen.jpg
Coronation of Charlemange [by Pope St. Leo III] by Friedrich Kaulbach (+1903)

This past 28 January was the feast of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, who bore that imperial title from his coronation by Pope St. Leo III in 800 until his death in 814AD.  Before he was Emperor, he was Charles I, King of the Franks, and, by conquest, King of the Lombards (or Italy).  His was a massive character, a heroic character in a heroic age of iron.

From my standard sources:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Charlemagne

Patron Saints Index: Blessed Charlemagne

I present here a few notes that I have compiled on the Emperor Charlemagne:

In 768, Pepin, King of the Franks, died.  He was succeeded by two sons:  Carloman and Charles.  When Carloman died in 771, Charles became sole ruler of the massive Frankish kingdom (much of modern France, Germany, and the Low Countries).  This was to be a momentous development.  In May 773, Charles opened an assembly of the Franks – he proposed to finish off the Lombards once and for all, as King Desiderius (756-774) had again violated treaties and harassed the popes.  That summer of 773 he invaded Italy to aid the pope, Hadrian I (772-795).  Victory was swift (except, however, the siege of Pavia, the Lombard capital), and Charles was in Rome during Holy Week of 774.  He confirmed the Donation of Pepin while there – and was named King of the Lombards and Patrician of the Romans after the fall of Pavia and capture of Desiderius that June.

Meanwhile, to the north, the Germanic barbarians, the Saxons, surged into the Frankish realm looting and killing.  In 775, Charles campaigned against the Saxons.  An assembly in 777 made the possibility of the conversion of the Saxons look real.  Next, Charles – the Great – was enticed into a plan to invade Muslim Spain by the Islamic governor of Barcelona.  This he did in 778 with the support of Pope Hadrian.  He marched on Zaragossa in the Northeast, and found the city too difficult to seize.  In his frustration, he also destroyed the walls of Pamplona.  Thus, as he departed Spain, a combined Muslim-Basque forced attacked his rear-guard at Roncesvalles, the object of the famous “Song of Roland.”  In Fall 780, Charlemagne returned to Italy and in 781 he met an English scholar, Alcuin, and commissioned him to direct his palace school and educate his children and nobles.  In 782, Charlemagne, angry with the continued war with the Saxons, slaughtered 4,500 of their nobles at Verdun.  This he regretted, and, by 785, the chief of the Saxons, Widukind, was baptized.  He next added Bavaria and Carinthia to his realm in 788.  In 797 Saxony was finally added to Charlemagne’s realm. 

File:Frankish Empire 481 to 814-en.svg 
Map showing the Frankish realm -- the light green added by Charlemagne.

The 790s marked the start of the invasion of a new menace – the Vikings from the North.  In 794, Charlemagne made his capital in the city of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle).  The next year the old ally of Charles, Pope Hadrian, died, to be replaced by a great saint, St. Leo III (795-816).  In 799, a vicious assassination attempt on the life of Pope St. Leo III was made – including an attempt to blind him and split his tongue – during a procession.  Charlemagne and his men, however, protected the pope, found the attackers and brought them to justice.  In 800, the call came forth for Charles to be crowned Emperor, for he ruled most all of the old western realm, and had been a faithful protector of Church and Pope.  The Byzantine Empire had lost Rome, was ruled by a usurper woman (Irene), and was not helping the Church as had the Franks.  Thus, on Christmas day, 800, Pope St. Leo III crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor – not just a revival of the old Empire, but this was a new Christian realm.  The coronation of Charlemagne was universally accepted in the Latin West, as was his title of Emperor, even if the Byzantines protested.  The recognition of his title by the East came nominally in 812 with the promise of Charlemagne to restore Venice to the Byzantines if they recognized the title.  This Michael I did, but not as “Roman Emperor.”  This Holy Roman Imperial title would exist until 1806.  Something, then, of the reign of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charles Magnus:
  • Character: In what shows very much the kind of Emperor he was to be, in 802 he demanded an oath of loyalty from his nobles – not only loyalty to himself, but to “‘voluntarily strive according to his intelligence and strength to keep himself entirely in the holy service of God’ and to refrain from any actions harmful to churches, widows, orphans, and strangers, all of whom were under the special protection of the Holy Roman Emperor.”  Einhard, his biographer describes him thus:
    • [All extracts from Book III. Section numbers used in various translations]
      #22. [Charles' Appearance.] Charles was large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall (his height is well known to have been seven times the length of his foot); the upper part of his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nose a little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus his appearance was always stately and dignified, whether he was standing or sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriage manly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size led one to expect. His health was excellent, except during the four years preceding his death, when he was subject to frequent fevers; at the last he even limped a little with one foot. Even in those years he consulted rather his own inclinations than the advice of physicians, who were almost hateful to him, because they wanted him to give up roasts, to which he was accustomed, and to eat boiled meat instead. In accordance with the national custom, he took frequent exercise on horseback and in the chase, accomplishments in which scarcely any people in the world can equal the Franks. He enjoyed the exhalations from natural warm springs, and often practised swimming, in which he was such an adept that none could surpass him; and hence it was that he built his palace at Aixla-Chapelle, and lived there constantly during his latter years until his death. He used not only to invite his sons to his bath, but his nobles and friends, and now and then a troop of his retinue or body guard, so that a hundred or more persons sometimes bathed with him.
      #23. [Charles' Clothing] He used to wear the national, that is to say, the Frank, dress-next his skin a linen shirt and linen breeches, and above these a tunic fringed with silk; while hose fastened by bands covered his lower limbs, and shoes his feet, and he protected his shoulders and chest in winter by a close-fitting coat of otter or marten skins. Over all he flung a blue cloak, and he always had a sword girt about him, usually one with a gold or silver hilt and belt; he sometimes carried a jewelled sword, but only on great feast-days or at the reception of ambassadors from foreign nations. He despised foreign costumes, however handsome, and never allowed himself to be robed in them, except twice in Rome, when he donned the Roman tunic, chlamys, and shoes; the first time at the request of Pope Hadrian, the second to gratify Leo, Hadrian's successor. On great feast-days he made use of embroidered clothes, and shoes bedecked with precious stones; his cloak was fastened by a golden buckle, and he appeared crowned with a diadem of gold and gems: but on other days his dress varied little from the common dress of the people.
      #24. [Charle's Manner] Charles was temperate in eating, and particularly so in drinking, for he abominated drunkenness in anybody, much more in himself and those of his household; but he could not easily abstain from food, and often complained that fasts injured his health. He very rarely gave entertainments, only on great feast-days, and then to large numbers of people. His meals ordinarily consisted of four courses, not counting the roast, which his huntsmen used to bring in on the spit; he was more fond of this than of any other dish. While at table, he listened to reading or music. The subjects of the readings were the stories and deeds of olden time: he was fond, too, of St. Augustine's books, and especially of the one entitled "The City of God."
      He was so moderate in the use of wine and all sorts of drink that he rarely allowed himself more than three cups in the course of a meal. In summer after the midday meal, he would eat some fruit, drain a single cup, put off his clothes and shoes, just as he did for the night, and rest for two or three hours. He was in the habit of awaking and rising from bed four or five times during the night. While he was dressing and putting on his shoes, he not only gave audience to his friends, but if the Count of the Palace told him of any suit in which his judgment was necessary, he had the parties brought before him forthwith, took cognizance of the case, and gave his decision, just as if he were sitting on the Judgment-seat. This was not the only business that he transacted at this time, but he performed any duty of the day whatever, whether he had to attend to the matter himself, or to give commands concerning it to his officers.
      #25 [Charles' Education] Charles had the gift of ready and fluent speech, and could express whatever he had to say with the utmost clearness. He was not satisfied with command of his native language merely, but gave attention to the study of foreign ones, and in particular was such a master of Latin that he could speak it as well as his native tongue; but he could understand Greek better than he could speak it. He was so eloquent, indeed, that he might have passed for a teacher of eloquence. He most zealously cultivated the liberal arts, held those who taught them in great esteem, and conferred great honours upon them. He took lessons in grammar of the deacon Peter of Pisa, at that time an aged man. Another deacon, Albin of Britain, surnamed Alcuin, a man of Saxon extraction, who was the greatest scholar of the day, was his teacher in other branches of learning. The King spent much time and labour with him studying rhetoric, dialectics, and especially astronomy; he learned to reckon, and used to investigate the motions of the heavenly bodies most curiously, with an intelligent scrutiny. He also tried to write, and used to keep tablets and blanks in bed under his pillow, that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the letters; however, as he did not begin his efforts in due season, but late in life, they met with ill success.
      #19 [Charles and the Education of His Children] The plan that he adopted for his children's education was, first of all, to have both boys and girls instructed in the liberal arts, to which he also turned his own attention. As soon as their years admitted, in accordance with the custom of the Franks, the boys had to learn horsemanship, and to practise war and the chase, and the girls to familiarize themselves with cloth-making, and to handle distaff and spindle, that they might not grow indolent through idleness, and he fostered in them every virtuous sentiment. He only lost three of all his children before his death, two sons and one daughter, Charles, who was the eldest, Pepin, whom he had made King of Italy, and Hruodrud, his oldest daughter....
      He was so careful of the training of his sons and daughters that he never took his meals without them when he was at home, and never made ajourney without them; his sons would ride at his side, and his daughters follow him, while a number of his body-guard, detailed for their protection, brought up the rear. Strange to say, although they were very handsome women, and he loved them very dearly, he was never willing to marry any of them to a man of their own nation or to a foreigner, but kept them all at home until his death, saying that he could not dispense with their society. Hence, though other-wise happy, he experienced the malignity of fortune as far as they were concerned; yet he concealed his knowledge of the rumours current in regard to them, and of the suspicions entertained of their honour.
      #27[Charles and the Roman Church] ... He cherished the Church of St. Peter the Apostle at Rome above all other holy and sacred places, and heaped its treasury with a vast wealth of gold, silver, and precious stones. He sent great and countless gifts to the popes; and throughout his whole reign the wish that he had nearest at heart was to re-establish the ancient authority of the city of Rome under his care and by his influence, and to defend and protect the Church of St. Peter, and to beautify and enrich it out of his own store above all other churches. Although he held it in such veneration, he only repaired to Rome to pay his vows and make his supplications four times during the whole forty-seven years that he reigned.
      #28 [Charles' Coronation] The Romans had inflicted many injuries upon the Pontiff Leo, tearing out his eyes and cutting out his tongue, so that he had been comp lied to call upon the King for help. Charles accordingly went to Rome, to set in order the affairs of the Church, which were in great confusion, and passed the whole winter there. It was then that he received the titles of Emperor and Augustus, to which he at first had such an aversion that he declared that he would not have set foot in the Church the day that they were conferred, although it was a great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of the Pope. He bore very patiently with the jealousy which the Roman emperors showed upon his assuming these titles, for they took this step very ill; and by dint of frequent embassies and letters, in which he addressed them as brothers, he made their haughtiness yield to his magnanimity, a quality in which he was unquestionably much their superior.
      [from Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, S. E. Turner, trans. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1880), pp. 56-62, 51-54, 64-66. cf,]
  • Martial: As far as military conquests go during his Imperial rule, his last campaign against the Saxons came in 804, and this brought him to the boundary of the Danish realm – the Vikings.  Here was to be the next great source of trouble.  The other area of campaign was Spain.  From 801-811, his son Louis, and Duke William of Toulouse, waged war against the Islamic Emirate of Cordoba with its Umayyad Emir.  It came to naught, as the Muslims fought hard, and King of the Asturias, Alfonso II (791-842) the Chaste, was unable to give much aid.  Pamplona was captured, but Zaragossa would remain beyond reach.  They reached a three year truce in 812 with the Emir of Cordoba.
  • Culture: Charlemagne contributed a great deal to culture, despite his barbarian stock.  To quote the old Catholic Encyclopedia, his interest in church music and solicitude for its propagation and adequate performance throughout his empire, have never been equalled by any civil ruler either before or since his time… He not only caused liturgical music to flourish in his own time throughout his vast domain, but he laid the foundations for musical culture which are still potent today.Charlemagne also made notable contributions to learning, as his association with Alcuin mentioned earlier bears witness.
Charlemagne's Chapel at Aachen.

With Charlemagne’s death in 814AD
, Imperial rule passed to his only surviving son, and the weakest, Louis I the “Pious” [His other two sons were Pepin +810, and Charles, +811].  Nevertheless, provision was made for the traditional dividing of the Empire, had others survived.  Hence, eventually the Emperor would be divided – with the Imperial title staying with the eastern portions, Germany.  Charlemagne has been ranked with Constantine for his significance, and a local cult, in Aachen, has been approved, so it is entirely appropriate to call him, and invoke him, as Blessed Charlemagne!

[Cf., Carroll, Building of Christendom]

Live well!

No comments:

Post a Comment