|Fig.1: Yes, Charlemagne was so awesome,
it was believed he was made out of gold.
Charlemagne was born around 742 AD (Anno Doughnutty), son of Pepin the Short, King of the Franks. Pepin established the Carolingian dynasty, named after his father, Charles Martel, who was pretty awesome in his own right. Charles Martel was too humble to be king himself and decided to rule behind the scenes, but after his death Pepin the Short would allow himself to be crowned, while his brother, Pepin the Tall, would become a forward and win six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Upon Pepin the Short's death in 768, the crown passed to his two sons: Charles (not yet "the Great," though he had promise), and his younger brother Carloman. Of course Charles was too cool to share, and Carloman died three years later of "mysterious circumstances." They did a special of it on 48 Hours and everything, but Charles was never implicated, and that coverup alone makes him a "Charlemagne" in my mind.
|Fig.2: Hello, nurse!!!
Next, Charlemagne wanted to consolidate his rule in present-day Germany (three more World Cups), especially in Saxony. Saxony was just a stone's catapult from Charlemagne's capital of Aachen (which he named so it would be one of the first entries in every encyclopedia), and he saw it as a crucial inland to the rest of Central Europe. But those Saxons wouldn't go down easy. Their leader was a man named Widukind, which sounds like some kind of creepy German teddy bear sold on QVC, but was actually a rather skilled military tactician. Too bad he was going up against the likes of Charlemagne, who could probably eat most generals such as Grant and Lee up for breakfast. Widukind held out until 785, despite massacres like the one in Verden that had 4,500 Saxon prisoners murdered, or the one in the Hofbräuhaus in Lippspringe where they failed to include the mushroom sauce on his jägerschnitzel. Finally, he agreed to be baptized into the Christian faith, with Charlemagne and his own Aunt Trudy as his godparents. But the Saxons kept rebelling all the way until 804, when Charlemagne was all like, "C'mon, guys!" and the Saxons finally got with the program. This allowed him to extend his influence all the way through Germany into present day Czech Republic, Hungary, and even a little of the Balkans (though he knew not to venture to deep into the mess that is those countries).
|Fig.3: The size of the Frankish Empire by the time of
Charlemagne's death in 814 is just further
proof of his kickbuttery. If that's wasn't a word before, it is now...all thanks to Charlemagne!
Not everything Charlemagne accomplished had to do with warfare and conquest, as cool as that stuff is. Charlemagne's reign initiated what came to be known as the Carolingian Renaissance, where he attempted to bring back the high culture of the Roman Empire, sans the feeding Christians to lions thing. He sponsored the use of hymns in church, which became the basis for all subsequent music from Mozart to Beethoven to "Weird Al" Yankovic. He employed many scholars to create illuminated manuscripts, which are copies of scripture or historical works where the scribes sometimes got bored and drew pretty, colorful pictures in the margins. These copies were vital in preserving several ancient works, and countless pieces would not exist today and help torture Catholic school children in Latin class without Charlemagne's efforts. Education was also high on Charlemagne concerns: he brought in scholars from all over his domain to educate his children and grandchildren. The fact that Charlemagne was himself unable to read or write was always a source of embarrassment for him. In his sixties, he even called 1-800-ABCDEFG and bought himself some Hooked on Phonics, but as his personal historian Einhard wrote, "his effort came too late in life and achieved little success." It was his only fault during his time on this Earth, but we still love him anyways.
|Fig.4: The crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman
Emperor by Pope Leo III, one of the biggest water-
shed moments in hist...wait, is that guy on the right
wearing a sombrero? Weird...
Charlemagne would rule over his empire in a firm, yet gentle manner until his death in 814, and was greatly mourned by his citizens (I know I continue to wear black for him to this day). His only living son through Hildegard, Louis the Pious, would do his best to keep the empire together, despite the constant rebellions from the different nationalities, his own selfish sons, and his poker buddies who never liked his suggestion to keep the Jokers in the desk as wild cards. And so upon his own death in 840, the empire would be divided among his sons: Lothair took Italy, Louis took East Francia (Germany), Charles took West Francia (France), and his immature, imaginative son Kevin took Gondor, and used his Aragorn and Legolas action figures to repel any orc attacks on his realm. So while Charlemagne's Frankish Empire no longer exists, his influence on Western Europe continued throughout history to today, and serves as a founder of three major countries most people have actually heard of. Dare I say that Charlemagne is the greatest European monarch of all time? Or will the zombified corpses of Elizabeth I, Louis XIV (fig.5), and Charles V come back and haunt me? I think I'll take my chances!
|Fig.5: Zombies never had such beautiful legs.
Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800, by Jeff Sypeck
Published: 2006; Hardcover: 284 pages
Canned Rating: 4 out of 5 Golden Charlemagnes