History 101 - Fast Forward
Fall 1996
SUBMITTED: September 30, 1996

Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, King of the Franks (742-814), was a strong
leader who unified Western Europe through military power and the blessing of the
Church. His belief in the need for education among the Frankish people was to
bring about religious, political, and educational reforms that would change the
history of Europe.

Charlemagne was born in 742 at Aachen, the son of Pepin(or Pippin) the Short and
grandson of Charles Martel. His grandfather, Charles, had begun the process of
unifying western Europe, in the belief that all people should be Christian.
Charlemagne's father, Pepin, continued this process throughout his rule and
passed his beliefs on to Charlemagne. All three, in addition to the political
unification, believed that the church should be reformed and reorganized under
the Pope, which helped their rise to power as the Carolingian Dynasty. (Holmes

Upon Pepin's death in 768, Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman, each inherited
half of the Frankish kingdom. Pepin, in the Merovingian tradition of the time,
split his kingdom between his two sons. Three years later Carloman died and
Charlemagne took control of the entire kingdom. He inherited great wealth and a
powerful army, built by his father and grandfather. Charlemagne used the army
and his own skillful planning to more than double the size of the Frankish
Kingdom. (Halsall 15)

The world of Charlemagne was a heathen one, with many warring tribes or kingdoms.
Many of these tribes were conquered by Charlemagne, among them the Aquitanians,
the Lombards, the Saxons, the Bretons, the Bavarians, the Huns, and the Danes.
The longest of these battles was against the Saxons, lasting thirty-three years.
Charlemagne actually defeated them many times, but due to their faithlessness
and their propensity to return to their pagan lifestyle, the Saxons lost many
lives in the prolonged battles with the Franks. With each conquest the Frankish
kingdom grew, and with growth came additional power and responsibility for
Charlemagne. In each area of Europe that was taken over by Charlemagne, he
removed the leaders if they would not convert to Christianity and appointed new
ones, usually someone with high position in the Church. Those people who
refused to convert or be baptized in the church were put to death. (Holmes 75)

The Church played a vital role in the kingdom of Charlemagne. It gave a sense
of stability to Charlemagne's rule, and he in turn provided stability in the
Church. The people conquered by Charlemagne, after being converted to
Christianity, were taught through the Bible a unified code of right and wrong.
It was necessary for the Church to play a role in this education of the people,
because only the clergy were educated. (Boussard 92) The Church also guided
Charlemagne's hand as a ruler, for he took on many conquests as a necessity to
spread the Christian religion throughout Europe. (Ganshoff 19) Indeed, it
appears that Charlemagne's desire to spread his kingdom and government was
intertwined with his desire to spread the Christian religion and have the people
live according to the Word of God. (Ganshoff 25)

At the beginning of the Carolingian dynasty the Church was suffering from many
problems. Paganistic peoples, a degradation of the Latin language, and the
decline of power of the Pope or Papacy all contributed to the need for a leader
to bring about reformation. Charles Martel, Pepin, and ultimately Charlemagne
all took as their personal responsibility the reorganization of the Church.
Each one, as king of the Franks, saw it his duty to better the state of his
churches. (Ganshoff 205) Charlemagne, through the monasteries and ultimately
the "Palace School", required all priests to learn classic Latin. His purpose
was to insure that church services were always conducted in the proper form,
with correct pronunciation and grammar. The education of the priests also
served to provide Charlemagne with a growing number of educated people for his
administration, and gave his kingdom a unified written language that could be
passed on throughout all of Western Europe. (Holmes 97)

The Papacy had been reduced to controlling only a small portion of land around
Rome, and was under constant aggression from the Lombards. Pope Hadrian I in
773 appealed to Charlemagne to help rebuff the Lombards, and in the winter of
that year in a short and decisive campaign, the Lombards were defeated.
Charlemagne then added "King of the Lombards" to his title, and gave control of
the northern part of Italy to the Pope. The creation of the "Papal States"
indebted the Pope to Charlemagne, and Pope Leo III eventually crowned
Charlemagne "Emperor of the Romans" on Christmas day in 800AD. (Ganshoff 41)

Power in Carolingian society was based on land