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Charles the Great, or Charlemagne, was one of the most powerful kings in Europe after the fall of Rome.
He was from Germany
Charlemagne’s place of birth is unknown, but some scholars suggest that he was born in modern-day Aachen, Germany. On top of that, he became king of the Franks, a tribe of Germanic people.
His father became king because the previous rulers wouldn’t stop killing each other
Charlemagne’s father was Pepin the Short, and he wasn’t originally a king. Pepin was what was known as the Mayor of the House, who looked after the state while the then-kings of the Merovingian dynasty were out fighting one another.
When we say the Merovingians fought one another, we don’t mean in piddly backyard squabbles – the various Merovingian kings fought constantly – eventually their constant battling lead to a creation of rules for battle. They loved fighting so much that they left all the political power to the mayors of the houses.
Eventually, the Pope named Pepin king.
He was initially co-ruler
After Pepin died in 768, the Franks awarded the kingship to both Charlemagne and his brother Carloman, although jurisdiction was split between the two.
He did not want to be Holy Roman Emperor
Charlemagne was crowned at Mass on Christmas Day in 800 in Saint Peter’s Basilica. However, Charlemagne once declared that, had he known that the Pope was going to crown him, he never would have gone to Saint Peter’s that day.
He set a Pope on the throne
The year before his crowning, Charlemagne was approached by Pope Leo III. It seemed that Leo had been ejected from the papacy by the Roman people, who tried to put out his eyes and tear out his tongue. Leo ran to Charlemagne and begged him to intervene on his behalf. After some deliberation, Charlemagne agreed, marched to Rome, and reinstated Pope Leo III.
He did not like the Roman Empire
Firstly, the Roman Empire had not entirely fallen by the time Charlemagne was named Holy Roman Emperor. The Eastern half still stood, ruled from Constantinople in modern-day Turkey. In addition, the Franks prided themselves that they had “fought against and thrown from their shoulders the heavy yoke of the Romans.”
He crowned his son himself
The year before his death, Charlemagne called his final living son to him – Louis, King of Aquitaine. After gaining approval from his Franks (again, he didn’t care very much about the Romans), he crowned his son Louis the new Holy Roman Emperor.
When his son died, he divided the kingdom
His son, Louis the Pious, became emperor on Charlemagne’s death. After a near-death experience, Louis decided to create plans for an orderly succession. He issued an imperial decree that outlined his plans, and then divided up the empire between his three sons and his nephew, who he then ruled over. This might have worked had his nephew not rebelled and then Louis remarried, producing yet another son. Three civil wars followed, which Louis ended until death caused another one.
You can go see pieces of Charlemagne’s corpse
Charlemagne was canonized in the Roman Catholic Church. In 1349, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV had some of Charlemagne’s bones moved into reliquaries – one to contain a thigh bone, and a bust of Charlemagne to contain his skullcap. Louis XI of France did the same, commissioning the Arm Reliquary, which contains the ulna and radius fro Charlemagne’s right arm.