Carolus Magnus

Carolus Magnus

Charlemagne becomes king of the Franks in 768 – after the death of his father and brother. Throughout his reign, Charlemagne went to war: against the Muslim rulers of present-day Spain and Portugal,
against present-day Italy in the south and against the Danes and Saxons in northwestern Europe.
This is sometimes accompanied by brutal violence and mass executions. Thanks to his many campaigns, Charlemagne continues to expand his empire and eventually the Frankish Empire covers large parts of Europe.

With his coronation by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 in Rome, the emperorship in Western Europe was restored. A title that has not been held by a monarch since the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476. In order to govern his vast empire, Charlemagne and his advisers designed a clever system of governance based on mutual loyalty and aid. Members of the Frankish elite took on administrative, judicial and war tasks. They literally assist their monarch ‘with advice and deed’ and received estates in return as compensation. Charlemagne divides his empire into counties with an official, the count, at the head. Inspectors visit regularly to check the governance of each earl with an established questionnaire. They report to Karel. He has the most important laws for a region laid down in ordinances: the capitularies.

Spread across the empire, Charlemagne has several residences, the so-called ‘palatinate’. It is assumed that he also had a palace in Nijmegen, the Valkhof (NL). Charlemagne travels from palace to palace and arranges administrative and legal affairs on the spot. The visit to the Palatinate is also a form of taxation: the supplies and resources of the region are used for the residence of Charlemagne and his extensive court. He must have traveled a distances equal to several times around the world. And that while the ox-drawn carts of his court only traveled 15 kilometers a day on the neglected old Roman roads. If it was possible to travel by sailing or rowing ship, it would be five times faster.

Charlemagne attached great importance to education, culture and science. He had schools set up to train young men for public service, and he received scholars from many countries at his court. He does not had to write himself, for that he had officials, but he can read very well.

He is also proficient in mathematics and astronomy and speaks several languages. Charlemagne introduced a single currency that is valid everywhere in the empire.

Entered the alphabet with 26 letters that we still use today.

He was king, emperor and state-former of both France and Germany and they consider Charlemagne as the founder of their nation.

Charlemagne also distinguished himself as a propagator of the Christian faith, educational reformer and military genius. Charlemagne devoted himself to the restoration of the septem artes liberales, the seven liberal arts, in the field of education. The septem artes liberales became the basis of medieval education and consisted of seven subjects, subdivided into the trivium (three ‘language subjects’: grammar, dialectics and rhetoric) and quadrivium (four ‘arithmetic subjects’: arithmetic, geometrica, musica and astronomia).

The last years of his life Karel lived in his palatinate in Aachen. He died here in 814. He is interred in the Palatine Chapel, which forms the basis for today’s Aachen Cathedral.

After Charlemagne, a messy time arose. In 843, by the Treaty of Verdun (843), the Frankish Empire was divided among the descendants of Charlemagne into three parts, ending Charlemagne’s great empire. And after some more divisions, the new borders were established in 870 by the Treaty of Meerssen (NL).
Maastricht came to lie on the border of the East and West Frankish Empire and it became the only place where you could cross the river Meuse.

On December 29, 1165, Charlemagne was canonized by Pope Paschal III.
Already in the epic “Karolus Magnus et Leo Papa” he was proclaimed “Pater Europae” (Father of Europe).
Charlemagne is regarded as a personality who shaped the collective European historical consciousness.
He will go down in history as one of the greatest monarchs ever. During his life many stories are told about him, which are further exaggerated after his death.

As in all centuries myth and reality became more and more intertwined. Many years later the rulers in Europe up to Hitler repeatedly identified with Charlemagne, the ideal statesman and in order to legitimize their own striving for power. Napoleon considered himself a direct descendant of Charlemagne and the Roman emperors.

It was not until the twentieth century that the image of Charlemagne as the ideal monarch was given critical comments.

There is no straight line between today’s European unification and Charlemagne, European history has developed too erratic and diverse for that. But with Charlemagne, who revived the Western Roman empire and made the relatively insignificant Aachen in the north the new Rome, Europe for the first time became a major player on the world political stage that before were dominated by cities or towns and states around the Mediterranean.
Charlemagne provided a political and cultural stimulus that has inspired time and again in the centuries since.
For his great contributions to Europe, a Charlemagne Prize has been established for the best leader who has done the most for the unification of Europe.
That’s why many call him the father of Europe.