Charlemagne and the Birth of Medieval Civilization
By 750, institutions & culture of the Germanic West were still modest; then a revival for about a century; called the Carolingian Renaissance and it was largely due to Charlemagne and his royal family; a lesser but similar revival associated with the English kings of Wessex like Alfred the Great. The Carolingians were important in Frankish history from 714 [Charles Martel] to 987 [the coronation of Hugh Capet], began as an ambitious family of feudal landowners. They held the hereditary office of Mayor of the Palace = the Chief Administrators of the Frankish kingdom; under Charles Martel, they halted the Muslim advance at the Battle of Tours (or Poitiers, 732); they collaborated with other nobles to undermine the Merovingians and, under Pepin the Short, deposed (with the aid of the church) them in 751. Close ties between the Frankish Monarchy and the Church are important, so it is worth asking why the Pope supported Pepin in deposing the old kings. The answer is simple: the Pope and the Church needed a military protector like Pepin and Pepin sought to use Christianity to justify his claim to the throne and unify the Franks. Pepin offered the so-called “Donation of Pepin”, a promise to guarantee papal control over various lands in Italy and in return the Pope reanointed him as King of the Franks and gave him the title Protector of Rome. Both sides gained from this new alliance of convenience. The Frankish kings could claim to rule by the grace of God while the Church gained military protection, security in its own lands, and Frankish support for missionary work.
The Age of Charlemagne, 768-814: Pepin died in 768; his sons, Charles and Carloman, divided the Frankish kingdom; Carloman died in 771, allowing Charles, or Charlemagne, to become the undisputed ruler. 1) kingdom Natural leader and a man of great energy, Charlemagne transformed the Frankish into a great empire and he then presided over a remarkable cultural flowering. Charlemagne enjoyed success as a military leader, and he succeeded in conquering the Lombards in northern Italy, the Saxons in the east, the Muslims in northern Spain, not to mention numerous other peoples. By about 800, he had created the largest state in Europe after the fall of Rome. 2) Within his kingdom, Charlemagne provided good government. Royal commands (capitularii) were usually issued after consultations with the great nobles and the clergy; these commands were carried out by missi dominici, royal officials who served as representatives of the kings and who prevented abuses by local officials; and officials and nobles were bound to Charlemagne by an oath of allegiance - they provided service, especially military service, and were rewarded with land (the benefice or fief). 3) Charlemagne a genuinely religious man who believed that God made kings responsible for the Church; encouraged missionary work, converting the Saxons by the sword when necessary; and he enhanced the prestige of the papacy by advocating reform of the Church under papal guidance. Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor in Saint Peter's Basilica on Christmas Day, 800; some historians see this coronation as the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire, which, in various guises, will exist until 1806. 4) the Carolingian Renaissance: Remarkable cultural flowering that received royal support. Palace School at Aachen or Aix-la-Chapelle; Alciun its director; it soon attracted the best minds of Europe, making Charlemagne’s capital at Aachen a great cultural center. Scriptoria at Aachen produced books in a new and clear script, Carolingian miniscule, which later became the basis for modern script and typefaces.
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