222. The Life of Charlemagne, by Einhard (829-836 AD); and Charlemagne by Notker the Stammerer (883-887 AD)

Source :  Two Lives of Charlemagne, translated by Lewis Thorpe, published by Penguin Classics (ISBN 0140442138)

Thoughts :  Last time we visited France in this blog, Julius Caesar was busy subduing the Gauls (all but one certain village 😉). 850 years later, give or take, Pope Stephen II deposes the King of the Franks, Childeric III and crowns the Mayor of the Palace, Pepin the Short as the new King, starting the Carolingian dynasty. Pepin’s elder son Charles (known to history as Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, b. 742, d. 814) will eventually rule most of what is now France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Italy, and be crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

This book contains two brief biographies of Charlemagne. The first, written by his friend, diplomat Einhard, is largely flattering, with only a few faults described. It mentions the many wars fought and neighbouring countries subdued, but with very little actual detail. Interestingly, defeated kings were sent into exile or more usually sent to monasteries rather than more severe measures. Much is also made of the assemblage of wise men to Charlemagne’s court and the resurrection of the value of knowledge, known as the Carolingian Renaissance.

The second biography is more a succession of anecdotes (true or not) rather than a structured biography or history, with many having little or nothing to do with Charlemagne anyway, but quick to show bishops in particular in a bad light.

My favourite anecdote was on page 140, where an envoy from the King of Constantinople while dining with Charlemagne broke a local law by turning his fish over while eating. The Frankish nobles immediately insisted on the death penalty for this insult. Charlemagne explained the law to the envoy and he could not be pardoned, but was there anything the envoy wanted before the sentence was carried out. After a moment’s thought, he asked that any one who had witnessed his act have their eyes put out. Charlemagne admitted he had not seen the fish being turned over himself. Apparently neither had the Queen, nor could any noble be found that had seen the deed themselves. The envoy returned home safely.

We’ve also seem to have reached the Age of the Nickname, and who could resist peeking inside the work of Notker the Stammerer. Then there’s Charles the Bald, Charles the Fat, Louis the Pious, Notker the Peppercorn, Notker the Thick-Lipped, Pepin the Short, Pepin the Hunchback, and El-Hakem the Cruel (odd how they all shared the same middle name?!) Wait until we reach the Vikings!

Personal rating:  A fairly painless way of discovering who Charlemagne was. 4/10

Kimmy’s rating:  Kim eats her meat very quickly, and certainly would not be so gauche as to turn it over.

In the years 820-850

  • Muslims repulse Frankish invasion of Catalonia, 821-825
  • Egbert of Wessex defeats Beornwulf of Mercia, 825, conquers Mercia 829; becomes first King of the English
  • Church of St Mark’s in Venice founded 828
  • Trade in ivory, salt and gold enriches empire of Ghana in West Africa c.831-835
  • Kenneth MacAlpin, King of the Scots, defeats the Picts to unite most of Scotland, 832
  • Muslims invade southern Italy 837-840
  • Sons of Louis the Pious squabble over Carolingian Empire 840, Treaty of Verdun splits the Empire 843, Charles the Bald gets lands equating to modern day France, Louis the German gets Germany, Lothair I gets Burgundy, Italy and Provence
  • Danes establish Dublin and Limerick in Ireland 840, Norse establish Normandy 841
  • Muslims attack Rome 846, Pope Leo IV builds Leonine Wall around the Vatican 847-848

from The Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978



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