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THE REIGN OF CHARLEMAGNE—THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE
IN A.D. 768 Charles the Great, or Charlemagne as he is usually called, succeeded his father Pepin. He was a great
statesman and a great conqueror, one of his first conquests being that of the Lombards. As we have seen during
the life of Pepin, the bonds between the Catholic king of the Franks and the pope had become very close.
Indeed, the pope had come to regard the king of the Franks as a faithful son of the Church to whom he might
turn for aid at all times.
Soon, therefore, after Charlemagne came to the throne, the pope, Adrian I, appealed to him for help against
the Lombards. So across the Alps Charlemagne passed with a mighty army. In no long time the cities of Lombardy
yielded to him, Pavia only holding out for six months. But
 that, too, fell, and Charlemagne entered in triumph into the capital of the Lombard kingdom. Desiderius, the
last king of the Lombards, was taken prisoner, his head was shaved, and he was sent to France, there to end
his days in a monastery.
Thus the rule of the Lombards in Italy, which had lasted for two hundred years, came to an end. But unlike his
father, Charlemagne did not hand over all his conquests to the pope. He placed the crown of Lombardy on his
own head, added the kingdom to his already great territory, and henceforth called himself king of the Franks
and of Lombardy.
But greater than Charlemagne's conquest of the Lombards was his conquest of the Saxons. At this date a large
part of what is now Germany was still pathless forest and swamp, inhabited by wild heathen Saxons. Now
Charlemagne's great desire was to bring all German peoples into one Christian empire. He dreamt of a great
Germanic empire in which the people would speak one language, worship one God, and obey one ruler. So he
determined upon the conquest of the Saxons.
But to conquer the Saxons was no easy matter. Year by year, when spring came, with dogged determination
Charlemagne set forth to attack them in their strongholds, and having, as he thought, subdued and converted
them, he returned home. But year by year, with equally dogged determination, as soon as he was gone the Saxons
rose in rebellion. They slew the priests and governors he had left among them, burned the churches he had
built, and returned once more to the worship of their gloomy heathen gods.
For thirty years the struggle lasted. But not unlike the Mohammedans, Charlemagne was determined to convert
the world, even at the sword's point if need be. So by thousands he slew the Saxons. By thousands he baptized
them. He made cruel laws against those who clung to their
 heathen faith, or those who dared to return to it after they had been "converted" and baptized by force. He
carried thousands of men, women, and children away from their homes, and planted colonies of them in France.
Thus, with the harshest and most cruel of methods, he forced the religion of love and brotherly kindness upon
his fellow-men. And at length the Saxons submitted, and all Germany as far as the Elbe was added to
Charlemagne fought, too, with the pirate Danes of the north, with Slavs and Avars in the east, and with the
Saracens of Spain. But although by these campaigns he added to his territory or his fame, none of his
conquests were so important as those over the Lombards and the Saxons.
Besides being a great conqueror Charlemagne was also a great statesman. As a conqueror he was terrible, but
once a people submitted to him he became a wise and tolerant ruler. He allowed the conquered peoples to a
great extent to keep their own customs and laws, and often he appointed a native chief as their duke or ruler.
His greatest institution, perhaps, was that of the Missi Dominici or king's messengers. These king's
messengers were officers whom he sent into all parts of his kingdom to see that the laws were kept and that no
one suffered injustice, to listen to complaints, and generally to attend to all matters in connection with the
In spring each year Charlemagne held a great parliament, which, from the time of year, was called the
Mayfield. To this the king's messengers came, bringing with them their reports. Thus, although Charlemagne's
kingdom was so large that he could not himself visit every portion of it every year, through his messengers he
learnt what was going on in each part of it, and could thus keep it under control.
Another of Charlemagne's great works was the institution
 of schools. When he came to the throne there was hardly a school throughout the length and breadth of his
kingdom, and he himself could neither read nor write. But he knew how important a thing learning was, so he
encouraged it in every way possible.
As there were no learned men among the Franks, Charlemagne sought them from other countries, offering them
large rewards if they would come to teach his people. Many answered his call, but none among them helped him
so much as the Englishman, Alcuin of York. He became master of the school which Charlemagne founded in his own
palace, and of which Charlemagne himself was a pupil.
Besides this one in the palace many other schools were founded throughout the kingdom, in connection with the
churches and monasteries. In these not only the sons of noblemen but the sons of freemen and others of lesser
degree learned to read and write. Libraries also were founded, so that those who learned to love literature
might not be utterly destitute of books to read. For in those days, one must remember, few private people
could afford to possess books. They were all written by hand upon vellum or parchment, and were often
beautifully decorated with coloured initials and pictures. Writing or copying a book was slow work, so there
were comparatively few to be had, and they cost a great deal of money.
Both in peace and war Charlemagne was the greatest figure of his times. His fame and power far surpassed that
of the emperor. Either in war or peace he had dealings and with all the chief rulers of Europe. It is said
that he even sent embassies to the great caliph of Bagdad, or Harun Alraschid, or Harun the Just, who is best
known to Europe through the "Arabian Nights." He little deserved his surname, being in truth a cruel tyrant
caring nothing for the happiness of his people. He was constantly at war with the Empire, but he received the
 the "Christian dog" with at least outward politeness and sent him rich gifts, among them an elephant, the
first ever seen in the land of the Franks.
Charlemagne ruled in Italy as the emperors had never done since the days of Justinian. And as years went on
the idea that Italy owed any fealty to the emperor faded more and more from the minds of the people, while, at
the same time, an enmity between pope and emperor grew.
Iconoclasts and the Eastern Empire
Quarrels had arisen between the Church of the East and the Church of the West. The eastern bishops condemned
the use of images, and wished to have them abolished; the pope upheld their use and denounced the emperor as a
heretic, because it was he who instigated the bishops. Those who wished to banish images from the churches
were called Iconoclasts, or image-breakers.
The war between the Iconoclasts and the Catholics waged fiercely. Then there came a revolution in
Constantinople. The beautiful bad Empress Irene caused her son the Emperor Constantine VI to be blinded, and
herself usurped the throne. But although the people cheered her and acclaimed her Augusta, as she drove
through the streets in her gilded chariot, there were many who were filled with anger because a woman sat upon
the throne of the Cæsars.
Among these was the pope, and even although Irene had restored the use of images in the churches, his wrath
against her was not appeased. He became more unwilling than ever to acknowledge any allegiance to the Empire,
and at length he took a step which wiped away the last pretence of it.
About this time documents, which are called the False Decretals, and the Constitutium Constantini, or the
Donation of Constantine, became known to the public. They have been proved to be forgeries, but upon them much
of the power of the popes was founded. For, by the Donation of
Con-  stantine, it was said that Constantine the Great had given to Pope Silvester and his successors the
sovereignty of all Italy when he built his new capital on the Bosphorus. This he had done, it was said, out of
gratitude to the Church, because on being baptized he had been cured of leprosy. By this Donation the popes
were clearly freed from all overlordship of the emperors, who had of late proved themselves but poor champions
of Italy, and the way was left open for the popes to choose a stronger staff to lean upon.
Coronation of Charlemagne
Toward the end of the year 800 Charlemagne paid a visit to Rome, and on Christmas Day, with a gorgeous train
of knights and nobles, he went to the Church of St. Peter
to hear mass. The great church, already five centuries old, was filled to overflowing. Beneath the light of
numberless candles, gold and gems gleamed and glittered, priests in rich robes moved silently hither and
thither, and the sound of sweet singing rose and fell.
Mass was over. But the king still knelt on the steps of the altar,
and a breathless silence held the great
congregation. Then, as the king rose from his knees, Pope Leo III came towards him holding a golden crown high
in his hands, and placed it upon the monarch's head.
"To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, mighty and pacific Emperor, be life and victory," he cried.
The crowd took up the words, and three times the great building rang with acclamations. Then came an outburst
of song, and in chant after chant the voices of the choristers rose, beseeching God and His angels, and all
the holy martyrs, to bless and aid the new-crowned emperor.
The Holy Roman Empire
Thus began the Holy Roman Empire which was to endure
 for a thousand years and be shattered at length by an upstart Corsican soldier.
Was Charlemagne surprised and not altogether pleased to find this great title thus suddenly thrust upon him?
Who can say? "Had I known what Leo was about to do," he said later, "I would never have entered St. Peter's on
that Christmas morning." Yet for many years his thought had turned to some such title. Perhaps, however, he
wished to take it at his own time, and of his own free will, and not to have it thrust upon him by an
officious pope. Perhaps he saw that this act conferred more power upon the pope than honour upon the emperor,
and that the time might come (as come it did) when no king of the Germans would dare to take the title of
emperor until the crown had been placed upon his head by the bishop of Rome.
When the news of this coronation reached Constantinople there was great wrath, and Charlemagne's right to take
the title of Augustus was denied. But Charlemagne did his best to soothe the wrath. He tried to arrange
marriages between his own family and the Empress Irene, and thus again unite the Empires of the East and West.
But these efforts came to nothing, and less than two years after Charlemagne was crowned emperor Irene was
deposed and soon after died.