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“He was six feet four inches tall, and built to scale. He had beautiful white hair, animated eyes, a powerful nose...a presence ‘always stately and dignified.’ He was temperate in eating and drinking, abominated drunkenness, and kept in good health despite every exposure and hardship.”
- EINHARD (the King's secretary) describing Charlemagne
King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 742 - 814

Charlemagne (English: Charles the Great, Dutch: Karel de Grote, German: Karl der Grosse, Latin: Carolus Magnus) was born on April 2, 742 in Northern Europe. Charles was the eldest son of Pepin III and Bertrada of Laon.

In 768, when Charlemagne was 26, he and his younger brother Carloman inherited the kingdom of the Franks. In 771 Carloman died, and Charlemagne became sole ruler of the kingdom. At that time the Franks were falling back into barbarian ways, neglecting their education and religion. The Saxons of northern Europe were still pagans. In the south, the Roman Catholic church was asserting its power to recover land confiscated by the Lombard kingdom of Italy. Europe was in turmoil.

Charlemagne was determined to strengthen his realm and to bring order to Europe. In 772 he launched a 30-year military campaign to accomplish this objective. By 800 Charlemagne was the undisputed ruler of Western Europe. His vast realm encompassed what are now France, Switzerland, Belgium, and The Netherlands. It included half of present-day Italy and Germany, and parts of Austria and Spain. By establishing a central government over Western Europe, Charlemagne restored much of the unity of the old Roman Empire and paved the way for the development of modern Europe.

On Christmas Day in 800, while Charlemagne knelt in prayer in Saint Peter’s in Rome, Pope Leo III placed a golden crown on the bowed head of the king. Charlemagne is said to have been surprised by the coronation, declaring that he would not have come into the church had he known the pope’s plan. However, some historians say the pope would not have dared to act without Charlemagne's knowledge.

Charlemagne learned to read Latin and some Greek but apparently did not master writing. At meals, instead of having jesters perform, he listened to visiting scholars read from learned works. Charlemagne believed that government should be for the benefit of the governed. He was a reformer who tried to improve his subject’s lives. He set up money standards to encourage commerce and urged better farming methods.

‘By the sword and the cross,’ Charlemagne became master of Western Europe.

As is often the case, people considered great by historians are great killers as well. Throughout his conquests, Charlemagne was responsible for the death of masses of people who refused to accept Christianity, or their new king. Choosing to keep faith with their old gods and leaders, many thousands were slaughtered.

If you are aware of books, movies, databases, web sites or other information sources about Charlemagne or related subjects, or if you would like to comment, please contact us.

Resource Menu
Books About Charlemagne

Charlemagne Charlemagne
by Derek Wilson

Wilson chronicles Charlemagne's military exploits, political intrigues and religious devotion as the emperor initiates a revival of learning and the establishment of a clerical hierarchy that could preach, administer the sacraments and oversee matters of the empire.

Purchase this hardcover edition of Charlemagne

Charlemagne: Father of a Continent Charlemagne: Father of a Continent
by Alessandro Barbero (Author), Allan Cameron (Translator)

By distinguished medievalist Alessandro Barbero, this biography illuminates both the man and the world in which he lived. The most important study of Charlemagne in a generation.

Purchase this hardcover edition of Charlemagne: Father of a Continent

Life of Charlemagne Life of Charlemagne
by Einhard

Einhard actually knew Charlemagne personally and wrote his biography in the decade following the Emperor's death. Readers should be aware differences in language and style between ninth-century and modern prose. Einhard conveys the man and ruler that was Charlemagne.

Purchase this paperback edition of Life of Charlemagne

Two Lives of Charlemagne Two Lives of Charlemagne
by Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Translated by Lewis Thorpe

Two biographies in one volume, written by contemporaries of Charlemagne. Great primary research sources.

Purchase this paperback edition of Two Lives of Charlemagne

A History of the Franks A History of the Franks
by Gregory of Tours, Translated by Lewis Thorpe

Gregory was Bishop of Tours from 573 to 594. His work "Ten Books of History," commonly known as "The History of the Franks," chronicles the conquest of Gaul by the Franks. A great primary source about Frankish history up to the year 591.

Purchase this paperback edition of A History of the Franks

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne
by Pierre Riche, Jo Ann McNamara (Translator)

An overview of life in Charlemagne's feudal empire that covered nearly nine million square kilometers of Europe, north to south from Hamburg to Barcelona, and east to west from Osnabruck to Nantes.

Purchase this paperback edition of Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne

Bulfinch's Mythology Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable: The Age of Chivalry: Legends of Charlemagne
by Thomas Bulfinch

19th Century author, Thomas Bulfinch retells classical myths including the legend of the Trojan War and the voyage of Ulysses, the story of King Richard the Lion Hearted, Robin Hood and legends of Charlemagne.

Purchase this hardcover edition of Bulfinch's Mythology

DVD/VHSs About Charlemagne

Holy Barbarian Charlemagne: Holy Barbarian (2008)
Produced by Phoenix Learning Group, Inc.

This is a dramatic re-enactment of a crucial turning point in medieval history—when Charlemagne must decide to what lengths he will go to subdue the Saxons—reveals both sides of his fascinating character: the great civilizer and the implacable barbarian.

Purchase this DVD edition of Charlemagne: Holy Barbarian

The Dark Ages The Dark Ages (2007)
Produced by The History Channel

"The Dark Ages" profiles the warlords whose armies threatened the demise of European society (including Alaric, Charles the Hammer and Clovis) and the men and women who valiantly fought for peace and enlightenment (including Charlemagne, St. Benedict, Empress Theodora). In the shadows of this turbulent millennium the seeds of modern civilization were sown.

Purchase this DVD edition of The Dark Ages

Charlemagne Charlemagne (1994)
Produced by Acorn Media

An entertaining and historically accurate mini-series portrayal of life the legendary Charlemagne.

Purchase this VHS edition of Charlemagne

Charlemagne Online Videos

The fall of Merovingian Empire, the Frankish predecessors of the "Carolingian Empire" and Charlemagne. A presentation by Ryan M. Reeves (PhD Cambridge), Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Charlemagne, or "Charles The Great" of the "Carolingian Empire," successors of the "Merovingian Empire" in Europe. A presentation by Ryan M. Reeves

Related Websites

Charlemagne Timeline

Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne
The entire text

Charlemagne from the Catholic Encyclopedia Page

The History of Charlemagne from

Bulfinch's Mythology
Legends of Charlemagne or Romance of the Middle Ages by Thomas Bulfinch—HTML version

Charlemagnes DNA and Our Universal Royalty


Other Military Figures in the Lucidcafé Library

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