Charlemagne

Charlemagne is one of my heroes.  I’ve read several biographies of his life and even own a Montblanc special edition fountain pen created in his honor.  

Charlemagne was born in 742 A.D. and became King of the Franks in 768 A.D.  To that title he added Emperor of the Romans, which he held until his death in 814 A.D.    Charlemagne loved the Lord and wanted to see the kingdom of God established to the farthest reaches on the European continent.  In each place he conquered he insisted that pagan temples and practices be eliminated and the gospel propogated.

His Christian rule ushered in the Carolignian Renaissance, which included a blossoming of the arts, literature, the development of the Carolignian miniscule script, the establishment of a common Latin language, the codification of a common set of laws and the establishment of churches throughout what is now Europe.

It is easy to criticize Charlemagne as having spread Christianity through the use of military force rather than through voluntary conversion, but to do so is to misunderstand the times in which Charlemagne lived.  At that time in what is now Europe, war was more-or-less a constant.  Charlemagne offered peace to those who would abandon their pagan practices and submit to his rule.  In other words, Charlemagne offered pagans the opportunity to avoid the common fate of man in exchange for embracing Truth.  I suspect for the eighth century Frank the offer seemed a reasonble and humane one.

The best biography on Charlemagne is the one written contemporaneous with his life by his close friend and advisor, Einhard.   I recommend purchasing the Penguin Classics version, Two Lives of Charlemagne, which includes another biography by Notker the Stammerer, written fifty years after Charlemagne’s death.  While many modern secular historians dimiss Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne as purely panegyric, it is the best I’ve read for one interested in Charlemagne the Christian and kingdom-builder.  I give it more credence than others I’ve read for the simple fact that Einhard is the only biographer who actually knew Charlemagne.  GS