|« Prev||Charles the Great. a.d. 768-814||Next »|
§ 56. Charles the Great. a.d. 768–814.
Beati Caroli Magni Opera omnia. 2 vols. In Migne’s Patrol. Lat. Tom. 97 and 98. The first vol. contains the Codex Diplomaticus, Capitularia, and Privilegia; the second vol., the Codex Carolinus, the Libri Carolini (on the image controversy), the Epistolae, Carminâ, etc.
1. The Letters of Charles, of Einhard, and of Alcuin. Also the letters of the Popes to Charles and his two predecessors, which he had collected, and which are called the Codex Carolinus, ed. by Muratori, Cenni, ad Migne (Tom. 98, pp. 10 sqq.).
2. The Capitularies and Laws of Charlemagne, contained in the first vol. of the Leges in the Mon. Germ., ed. by Pertz, and in the Collections of Baluzius and Migne.
3. Annals. The Annales Laurissenses Majores (probably the official chronicle of the court) from 788 to 813; the Annales Einhardi, written after 829; the Annales Petaviani, Laureshamenses, Mosellani, and others, more of local than general value. All in the first and second vol. of Pertz, Monumenta Germanica Hist. Script.
4. Biographies: Einhard or Eginhard (b. 770, educated at Fulda, private secretary of Charlemagne, afterwards Benedictine monk): Vita Caroli Imperatoris (English translation by S. S. Turner, New York, 1880). A true sketch of what Charles was by an admiring and loving hand in almost classical Latin, and after the manner of Sueton’s Lives of the Roman emperors. It marks, as Ad. Ebert says (II. 95), the height of the classical studies of the age of Charlemagne. Milman (II. 508) calls it “the best historic work which had appeared in the Latin language for centuries.”—Poeta Saxo: Annales de Gestis Caroli, from the end of the ninth century. An anonymous monk of St. Gall: De Gestis Caroli, about the same time. In Pertz, l.c., and Jaffe’s Monumenta Carolina (Bibl. Rer. Germ., T. IV.), also in Migne, Tom. I., Op. Caroli.
Comp. on the sources Abel’s Jahrbucher des Fränk. Reichs (Berlin, 1866) and Wattenbach’s Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter (Berlin, 1858; 4th ed. 1877–78, 2 vols.)
J. G. Walch: Historia Canonisationis Caroli M. Jen., 1750.
Putter: De Instauratione Imp. Rom. Gött., 1766.
Gaillard: Histoire de Charlemagne. Paris, 1784, 4 vols. secd ed. 1819.
Gibbon: Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ch. 49.
J. Ellendorf: Die Karolinger und die Hierarchie ihrer Zeit. Essen., 1838, 2 vols.
Hegewisch: Geschichte der Regierung Kaiser Karls des Gr. Hamb., 1791.
Dippolt: Leben K. Karls des Gr. Tub., 1810.
G. P. R. James: The History of Charlemagne. London, 2nd ed. 1847.
Bähr: Gesch. der röm. Lit. im Karoling. Zeitalter. Carlsruhe, 1840.
Gfrörer: Geschichte der Karolinger. Freiburg i. B., 1848, 2 vols.
Capefigue: Charlemagne. Paris, 1842, 2 vols.
Warnkönig et Gerard: Hist. des Carolingians. Brux. and Paris, 1862, 2 vols.
Waitz: Deutsche Verfassungsgeschichte, vols. III. and IV.
W. Giesebrecht: Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserzeit. Braunschweig, 1863 sqq. (3rd ed.). Bd. I., pp. 106 sqq.
Döllinger: Kaiserthum Karls des Grossen, in the Munchener Hist. Jahrbuch for 1865.
Gaston: Histoire poetique de Charlemagne. Paris, 1865.
P. Alberdinck Thijm: Karl der Gr. und seine Zeit. Munster, 1868.
Abel: Jahrbucher des Fränkischen Reichs unter Karl d. Grossen. Berlin, 1866.
Wyss: Karl der Grosse als Gesetzgeber. Zurich, 1869.
Rettberg: Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, I. 419 sqq., II. 382 sqq.
Alphonse Vétault: Charlemagne. Tours, 1877 (556 pp.). With fine illustrations.
L. Stacke: Deutsche Geschichte. Leipzig, 1880. Bd. I. 169 sqq. With illustrations and maps.
Comp. also Milman: Latin Christianity, Book IV., ch. 12, and Book V., ch. 1; Ad. Ebert: Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters im Abendlande (1880), vol. II. 3–108. Of French writers, Guizot, and Martin, in their Histories of France; also Parke Godwin, History of France, chs. xvi. and xvii. (vol. I. 410 sqq.).
With the death of Pepin the Short (Sept. 24, 768), the kingdom of France was divided between his two sons, Charles and Carloman, the former to rule in the Northern, the latter in the Southern provinces. After the death of his weaker brother (771) Charles, ignoring the claims of his infant nephews, seized the sole reign and more than doubled its extent by his conquests.
Character and Aim of Charlemagne.
This extraordinary man represents the early history of both France and Germany which afterwards divided into separate streams, and commands the admiration of both countries and nations. His grand ambition was to unite all the Teutonic and Latin races on the Continent under his temporal sceptre in close union with the spiritual dominion of the pope; in other words, to establish a Christian theocracy, coëxtensive with the Latin church (exclusive of the British Isles and Scandinavia). He has been called the “Moses of the middle age,” who conducted the Germanic race through the desert of barbarism and gave it a now code of political, civil and ecclesiastical laws. He stands at the head of the new Western empire, as Constantine the Great had introduced the Eastern empire, and he is often called the new Constantine, but is as far superior to him as the Latin empire was to the Greek. He was emphatically a man of Providence.
Charlemagne, or Karl der Grosse, towers high above the crowned princes of his age, and is the greatest as well as the first of the long line of German emperors from the eighth to the nineteenth century. He is the only prince whose greatness has been inseparably blended with his French name.240240 Joseph de Maistre: ”Cet homme est si grand que, la grandeur a pénétré son nom.” (ch. 4), Since Julius Caesar history had seen no conqueror and statesman of such commanding genius and success; history after him produced only two military heroes that may be compared with him) Frederick II. of Prussia, and Napoleon Bonaparte (who took him and Caesar for his models), but they were far beneath him in religious character, and as hostile to the church as he was friendly to it. His lofty intellect shines all the more brightly from the general ignorance and barbarism of his age. He rose suddenly like a meteor in dark midnight. We do not know even the place and date of his birth, nor the history of his youth and education.241241 “It would be folly,” says Eginhard “to write a word about the birth and infancy or even the boyhood of Charles, for nothing has ever been written on the subject, and there is no one alive who can give information about it.” His birth is usually assigned to April 2, 742, at Aix-la-Chapelle; but the legend makes him the child of illegitimate love, who grew up wild as a miller’s son in Bavaria. His name is mentioned only twice before be assumed the reins of government, once at a court reception given by his father to pope Stephen II., and once as a witness in the Aquitanian campaigns.
His life is filled with no less than fifty-three military campaigns conducted by himself or his lieutenants, against the Saxons (18 campaigns), Lombards (5), Aquitanians, Thuringians, Bavarians) Avars or Huns, Danes, Slaves, Saracens, and Greeks. His incessant activity astonished his subjects and enemies. He seemed to be omnipresent in his dominions, which extended from the Baltic and the Elbe in the North to the Ebro in the South, from the British Channel to Rome and even to the Straits of Messina, embracing France, Germany, Hungary, the greater part of Italy and Spain. His ecclesiastical domain extended over twenty-two archbishoprics or metropolitan sees, Rome, Ravenna, Milan, Friuli (Aquileia), Grado, Cologne, Mayence, Salzburg, Treves, Sens, Besançon, Lyons, Rouen, Rheims, Arles, Vienna, Moutiers-en-Tarantaise, Ivredun, Bordeaux, Tours, Bourges, Narbonne.242242 According to the enumeration of Eginhard (ch. 33), who, however, gives only 21, omitting Narbonne. Charles bequeathed one-third of his treasure and moveable goods to the metropolitan sees. He had no settled residence, but spent much time on the Rhine, at Ingelheim, Mayence, Nymwegen, and especially at Aix-la-Chapelle on account of its baths. He encouraged trade, opened roads, and undertook to connect the Main and the Danube by canal. He gave his personal attention to things great and small. He introduced a settled order and unity of organization in his empire, at the expense of the ancient freedom and wild independence of the German tribes, although he continued to hold every year, in May, the general assembly of the freemen (Maifeld). He secured Europe against future heathen and Mohammedan invasion and devastation. He was universally admired or feared in his age. The Greek emperors sought his alliance; hence the Greek proverb, “Have the Franks for your friends, but not for your neighbors.” The Caliph Harounal-Raschid, the mightiest ruler in the East, sent from Bagdad an embassy to him with precious gifts. But he esteemed a good sword more than gold. He impressed the stamp of his genius and achievements upon the subsequent history of Germany and France.
Appearance and Habits of Charlemagne.
Charles had a commanding, and yet winning presence. His physique betrayed the greatness of his mind. He was tall, strongly built and well proportioned. His height was seven times the length of his foot. He had large and animated eyes, a long nose, a cheerful countenance and an abundance of fine hair. “His appearance,” says Eginhard, “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.”243243 The magnificent portrait of Charles by Albrecht Dürer is a fancy picture, and not sustained by the oldest representations. Vétault gives several portraits, and discusses them, p. 540.
He was naturally eloquent, and spoke with great clearness and force. He was simple in his attire, and temperate in eating and drinking; for, says Eginhard, “he abominated drunkenness in anybody, much more in himself and those of his household. He rarely gave entertainments, only on great feast days, and these to large numbers of people.” He was fond of muscular exercise, especially of hunting and swimming, and enjoyed robust health till the last four years of his life, when he was subject to frequent fevers. During his meals he had extracts from Augustine’s “City of God” (his favorite book), and stories of olden times, read to him. He frequently gave audience while dressing, without sacrifice of royal dignity. He was kind to the poor, and a liberal almsgiver.
His Zeal for Education.
His greatest merit is his zeal for education and religion. He was familiar with Latin from conversation rather than books, be understood a little Greek, and in his old age he began to learn the art of writing which his hand accustomed to the sword had neglected. He highly esteemed his native language, caused a German grammar to be compiled, and gave German names to the winds and to the months.244244 Wintermonat for January, Hornung for February, Lenz for March, Ostermonat for April, etc. See Eginhard, ch. 29. He collected the ancient heroic songs of the German minstrels. He took measures to correct the Latin Version of the Scriptures, and was interested in theological questions. He delighted in cultivated society. He gathered around him divines, scholars, poets, historians, mostly Anglo-Saxons, among whom Alcuin was the chief. He founded the palace school and other schools in the convents, and visited them in person. The legend makes him the founder of the University of Paris, which is of a much later date. One of his laws enjoins general education upon all male children.
Charles was a firm believer in Christianity and a devout and regular worshipper in the church, “going morning and evening, even after nightfall, besides attending mass.” He was very liberal to the clergy. He gave them tithes throughout the empire appointed worthy bishops and abbots, endowed churches and built a splendid cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle, in which he was buried.
His respect for the clergy culminated in his veneration for the bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter. “He cherished the church of St. Peter the apostle at Rome above all other holy and sacred places, and filled 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 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.”245245 Eginhard, ch. 27.
Notwithstanding his many and great virtues, Charles was by, no means so pure as the poetry and piety of the church represented him, and far from deserving canonization. He sacrificed thousands of human beings to his towering ambition and passion for conquest. He converted the Saxons by force of arms; he waged for thirty years a war of extermination against them; he wasted their territory with fire and sword; he crushed out their independence; he beheaded in cold blood four thousand five hundred prisoners in one day at Verden on the Aller (782), and when these proud and faithless savages finally surrendered, he removed 10000 of their families from their homes on the banks of the Elbe to different parts of Germany and Gaul to prevent a future revolt. It was indeed a war of religion for the annihilation of heathenism, but conducted on the Mohammedan principle: submission to the faith, or death. This is contrary to the spirit of Christianity which recognizes only the moral means of persuasion and conviction.246246 Bossuet justified all his conquests because they were an extension of Christianity.”Les conquêtes prodigieuses,” he says, ”furent la dilatation du règne de Dieu, et il se moutra très chrétien dans toutes ses aeuvres.”
The most serious defect in his private character was his incontinence and disregard of the sanctity of the marriage tie. In this respect he was little better than an Oriental despot or a Mohammedan Caliph. He married several wives and divorced them at his pleasure. He dismissed his first wife (unknown by name) to marry a Lombard princess, and he repudiated her within a year. After the death of his fifth wife he contented himself with three or four concubines. He is said even to have encouraged his own daughters in dissolute habits rather than give them in marriage to princes who might become competitors for a share in the kingdom, but he had them carefully educated. It is not to the credit of the popes that they never rebuked him for this vice, while with weaker and less devoted monarchs they displayed such uncompromising zeal for the sanctity of marriage.247247 Pope Stephen III. protested, indeed, in the most violent language against the second marriage of Charles with Desiderata, a daughter of the king of Lombardy, but not on the ground of divorce from his first wife, which would have furnished a very good reason, but from opposition to a union with the “perfidious, leprous, and fetid brood of the Lombards, a brood hardly reckoned human.” Charles married the princess, to the delight of his mother, but repudiated her the next year and sent her back to her father. See Milman, Bk. IV., ch. 12 (II. 439).
His Death and Burial.
The emperor died after a short illness, and after receiving the holy communion, Jan. 28, 814, in the 71st year of his age, and the 47th of his reign, and was buried on the same day in the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle “amid the greatest lamentations of the people.”248248 48 “Maximo totius populi luctu, ” says Eginhard. Very many omens, adds Eginhard (ch. 32), had portended his approaching end, as he had recognized himself. Eclipses both of the sun and the moon were very frequent during the last three years of his life, and a black spot was visible on the sun for seven days. The bridge over the Rhine at Mayence, which he had constructed in ten years, was consumed by fire; the palace at Aix-la-Chapelle frequently trembled; the basilica was struck by lightning, the gilded ball on the roof shattered by a thunderbolt and hurled upon the bishop’s house adjoining; and the word Princeps after Karolus inscribed on an arch was effaced a few months before his decease. “But Charles despised, or affected to despise, all these things as having no reference whatever to him.”
The Charlemagne of Poetry.
The heroic and legendary poetry of the middle ages
represents Charles as a giant of superhuman strength and beauty, of
enormous appetite, with eyes shining like the morning star, terrible in
war, merciful in peace, as a victorious hero, a wise lawgiver, an
unerring judge, and a Christian saint. He suffered only one defeat, at
Roncesvalles in the narrow passes of the Pyrenees, when, on his return
from a successful invasion of Spain, his rearguard with the flower of
the French chivalry, under the command of Roland, one of his paladins
and nephews, was surprised and routed by the Basque Mountaineers
(778).249249 The historic foundation of this defeat is given by
Eginhard, ch. 9. It was then marvellously embellished, and Roland
became the favorite theme of minstrels and poets, as
Théroulde’s Chanson de Roland,
Bojardo’s Orlando Innamorato,
Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, etc. His enchanted
Horn sounded so loud that the birds fell dead at its blast, and the
whole Saracen army drew back terror-struck. When he was attacked in the
Pyrenees, he blew the horn for the last time so hard that the veins of
his neck started, and Charlemagne heard it several miles off at St.
Jean Pied de Port, but too late to save
“The dead who, deathless all,
Were slain at famous Roncevall.”
The name of “the Blessed Charles” is enrolled in the Roman Calendar for his services to the church and gifts to the pope. Heathen Rome deified Julius Caesar, Christian Rome canonized, or at least beatified Charlemagne. Suffrages for the repose of his soul were continued in the church of Aix-la-Chapelle until Paschal, a schismatical pope, at the desire of Frederic Barbarossa, enshrined his remains in that city and published a decree for his canonization (1166). The act was neither approved nor revoked by a regular pope, but acquiesced in, and such tacit canonization is considered equivalent to beatification.
I. Judgments on the Personal Character of Charlemagne.
Eginhard (whose wife Emma figures in the legend as a daughter of Charlemagne) gives the following frank account of the private and domestic relations of his master and friend (chs. 18 and 19, in Migne, Tom. XCVII. 42 sqq.):
“Thus did Charles defend and increase as well as beautify his kingdom; and here let me express my admiration of his great qualities and his extraordinary constancy alike in good and evil fortune. I will now proceed to give the details of his private life. After his father’s death, while sharing the kingdom with his brother, he bore his unfriendliness and jealousy most patiently, and, to the wonder of all, could not be provoked to be angry with him. Later” [after repudiating his first wife, an obscure person] “he married a daughter of Desiderius, King of the Lombards, at the instance of his mother” [notwithstanding the protest of the pope]; “but he repudiated her at the end of a year for some reason unknown, and married Hildegard, a woman of high birth, of Swabian origin [d. 783]. He had three sons by her,—Charles, Pepin, and Lewis—and as many daughters,—Hruodrud, Bertha, and Gisela.” [Eginhard omits Adelaide and Hildegard.] “He had three other daughters besides these—Theoderada, Hiltrud, and Ruodhaid—two by his third wife, Fastrada, a woman of East Frankish (that is to say of German) origin, and the third by a concubine, whose name for the moment escapes me. At the death of Fastrada, he married Liutgard, an Alemannic woman, who bore him no children. After her death he had three [according to another reading four] concubines—Gerswinda, a Saxon, by whom he had Adaltrud; Regina, who was the mother of Drogo and Hugh; and Ethelind, by whom he had Theodoric. Charles’s mother, Berthrada, passed her old age with him in great honor; he entertained the greatest veneration for her; and there was never any disagreement between them except when he divorced the daughter of King Desiderius, whom he had married to please her. She died soon after Hildegard, after living to see three grandsons and as many grand-daughters in her son’s house, and he buried her with great pomp in the Basilica of St. Denis, where his father lay. He had an only [surviving] sister, Gisela, who had consecrated herself to a religious life from girlhood, and he cherished as much affection for her as for his mother. She also died a few years before him in the nunnery where she had passed her life. The plan which 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 .... When his sons and his daughters died, he was not so calm as might have been expected from his remarkably strong mind, for his affections were no less strong, and moved him to tears. Again when he was told of the death of Hadrian, the Roman Pontiff, whom he had loved most of all his friends, he wept as much as if he had lost a brother, or a very dear son. He was by nature most ready to contract friendships, and not only made friends easily, but clung to them persistently, and cherished most fondly those with whom he had formed such ties. 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 a journey 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 either 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 otherwise happy, he experienced the malignity of fortune as far as they were concerned; yet he concealed his knowledge of the rumors current in regard to them, and of the suspicions entertained of their honor.”
Gibbon is no admirer of Charlemagne, and gives an exaggerated view of his worst vice: “Of his moral virtues chastity is not the most conspicuous; but the public happiness could not be materially injured by his nine wives or concubines, the various indulgence of meaner or more transient amours, the multitude of his bastards whom he bestowed on the church, and the long celibacy and licentious manners of his daughters, whom the father was suspected of loving with too fond a passion.” But this charge of incest, as Hallam and Milman observe, seems to have originated in a misinterpreted passage of Eginhard quoted above, and is utterly unfounded.
Henry Hallam (Middle Ages I. 26) judges a little more favorably: The great qualities of Charlemagne were, indeed, alloyed by the vices of a barbarian and a conqueror. Nine wives, whom he divorced with very little ceremony, attest the license of his private life, which his temperance and frugality can hardly be said to redeem. Unsparing of blood, though not constitutionally cruel, and wholly indifferent to the means which his ambition prescribed, he beheaded in one day four thousand Saxons—an act of atrocious butchery, after which his persecuting edicts, pronouncing the pain of death against those who refused baptism, or even who ate flesh during Lent, seem scarcely worthy of notice. This union of barbarous ferocity with elevated views of national improvement might suggest the parallel of Peter the Great. But the degrading habits and brute violence of the Muscovite place him at an immense distance from the restorer of the empire.
“A strong sympathy for intellectual excellence was the leading characteristic of Charlemagne, and this undoubtedly biassed him in the chief political error of his conduct—that of encouraging the power and pretensions of the hierarchy. But, perhaps, his greatest eulogy is written in the disgraces of succeeding times and the miseries of Europe. He stands alone, like a beacon upon a waste, or a rock in the broad ocean. His sceptre was the bow of Ulysses, which could not be drawn by any weaker hand. In the dark ages of European history the reign of Charlemagne affords a solitary resting-place between two long periods of turbulence and ignominy, deriving the advantages of contrast both from that of the preceding dynasty and of a posterity for whom he had formed an empire which they were unworthy and unequal to maintain.”
G. P. R. James (History of Charlemagne, Lond., 1847, p. 499): “No man, perhaps, that ever lived, combined in so high a degree those qualities which rule men and direct events, with those which endear the possessor and attach his contemporaries. No man was ever more trusted and loved by his people, more respected and feared by other kings, more esteemed in his lifetime, or more regretted at his death.
Milman (Book V. ch. 1): “Karl, according to his German appellation, was the model of a Teutonic chieftain, in his gigantic stature, enormous strength, and indefatigable activity; temperate in diet, and superior to the barbarous vice of drunkenness. Hunting and war were his chief occupations; and his wars were carried on with all the ferocity of encountering savage tribes. But he was likewise a Roman Emperor, not only in his vast and organizing policy, he had that one vice of the old Roman civilization which the Merovingian kings had indulged, though not perhaps with more unbounded lawlessness. The religious emperor, in one respect, troubled not himself with the restraints of religion. The humble or grateful church beheld meekly, and almost without remonstrance, the irregularity of domestic life, which not merely indulged in free license, but treated the sacred rite of marriage as a covenant dissoluble at his pleasure. Once we have heard, and but once, the church raise its authoritative, its comminatory voice, and that not to forbid the King of the Franks from wedding a second wife while his first was alive, but from marrying a Lombard princess. One pious ecclesiastic alone in his dominion, he a relative, ventured to protest aloud.’)
Guizot (Histoire de la civilisation en France, leçon XX.): “Charlemagne marque la limite à laquelle est enfin consommée la dissolution de l’ancien monde romain et barbare, et où commence la formation du monde nouveau.”
Vétault (Charlemagne, 455, 458): “Charlemagne fut, en effet, le père du monde moderne et de la societé européenne .... Si Ch. ne peut être légitemement honoré comme un saint, il a droit du moins à la première place, parmis tous les héros, dans l’admiration des hommes; car on ne trouverait pas un autre souverain qui ait autant aimé l’humanité et lui ait fait plus de bien. Il est le plus glorieux, parce que ... il a mérite d’ être proclamé le plus honnête des grands hommes.”
Giesebrecht, the historian of the German emperors, gives a glowing description of Charlemagne (I. 140): “Many high-minded rulers arose in the ten centuries after Charles, but none had a higher aim. To be ranked with him, satisfied the boldest conquerors, the wisest princes of peace. French chivalry of later times glorified Charlemagne as the first cavalier; the German burgeoisie as the fatherly friend of the people and the most righteous judge; the Catholic Church raised him to the number of her saints; the poetry of all nations derived ever new inspiration and strength from his mighty person. Never perhaps has richer life proceeded from the activity of a mortal man (Nie vielleicht ist reicheres Leben von der Wirksamkeit eines sterblichen Menschen ausgegangen).”
We add the eloquent testimony of an American author, Parke Godwin (History of France, N. Y., 1860, vol. i. p. 410): “There is to me something indescribably grand in the figure of many of the barbaric chiefs—Alariks, Ataulfs, Theodoriks, and Euriks—who succeeded to the power of the Romans, and in their wild, heroic way, endeavored to raise a fabric of state on the ruins of the ancient empire. But none of those figures is so imposing and majestic as that of Karl, the son of Pippin, whose name, for the first and only time in history, the admiration of mankind has indissolubly blended with the title the Great. By the peculiarity of his position in respect to ancient and modern times—by the extraordinary length of his reign, by the number and importance of the transactions in which he was engaged, by the extent and splendor of his conquests, by his signal services to the Church, and by the grandeur of his personal qualities—he impressed himself so profoundly upon the character of his times, that he stands almost alone and apart in the annals of Europe. For nearly a thousand years before him, or since the days of Julius Caesar, no monarch had won so universal and brilliant a renown; and for nearly a thousand years after him, or until the days of Charles V. of Germany, no monarch attained any thing like an equal dominion. A link between the old and new, he revived the Empire of the West, with a degree of glory that it had only enjoyed in its prime; while, at the same time, the modern history of every Continental nation was made to begin with him. Germany claims him as one of her most illustrious sons; France, as her noblest king; Italy, as her chosen emperor; and the Church as her most prodigal benefactor and worthy saint. All the institutions of the Middle Ages—political, literary, scientific, and ecclesiastical—delighted to trace their traditionary origins to his hand: he was considered the source of the peerage, the inspirer of chivalry, the founder of universities, and the endower of the churches; and the genius of romance, kindling its fantastic torches at the flame of his deeds, lighted up a new and marvellous world about him, filled with wonderful adventures and heroic forms. Thus by a double immortality, the one the deliberate award of history, and the other the prodigal gift of fiction, he claims the study of mankind.”
II. The Canonization of Charlemagne is perpetuated in the Officium in festo Sancti Caroli Magni imperatoris et confessoris, as celebrated in churches of Germany, France, and Spain. Baronius (Annal. ad ann. 814) says that the canonization was, not accepted by the Roman church, because Paschalis was no legitimate pope, but neither was it forbidden. Alban Butler, in his Lives of Saints, gives a eulogistic biography of the “Blessed Charlemagne,” and covers his besetting sin with the following unhistorical assertion: “The incontinence, into which he fell in his youth, he expiated by sincere repentance, so that several churches in Germany and France honor him among the saints.”
SIGNUM K + S CAROLI GLORIOSISSIMI REGIS.
The monogram of Charles with the additions of a scribe in a document signed by Charles at Kufstein, Aug. 31, 790. Copied from Stacke, l.c.
|« Prev||Charles the Great. a.d. 768-814||Next »|