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Charlemagne

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A.D. 742-814

CHAMPION OF CHRISTIANITY AND CIVILIZATION

Charlemagne, or Karl the Great, King of the Franks and, during the final fourteen years of his life and reign, Emperor of the Romans, was born in the year 742. He was the elder son of King Pepin, known in history as Pepin the Short. That worthy ruler died in the year 768, leaving as heritage to his sons, Charles and Carloman, not only a kingdom which extended from the Rhine to the Pyrenees and from the Alps to the ocean, but an unfinished double task as well the Christianizing of the Teutonic races and the uniting of all Germanic tribes in one Empire. By the death of his brother Carloman three years later, Charlemagne became sole ruler of the kingdom, and upon him devolved the fulfillment of the mission which his father had begun. He became, as had been his father, the champion of Christianity and the protector of the Popes, and in this capacity, during thirty-three years of his eventful reign, conducted a fierce and unrelenting warfare against barbarians and heathens, in which the bloodshed on both sides, if we are to believe such records as have come down from that period, is almost without a parallel in history, In addition to the cause for which he fought battles and added to the extent of his kingdom, Charlemagne is also entitled to the gratitude of posterity for his efforts in behalf of the noble aim of advancing civilization and reviving education, which, during the two previous centuries, had been at its lowest ebb as a result of perpetual wars. Himself an ardent seeker for knowledge and a diligent student, he surrounded himself with men of learning, and throughout his vast Empire established schools, which were open to all. Charlemagne was physically and mentally a giant of his age, a man of immense energy, of great administrative ability, firm alike in adversity or prosperity, magnanimous to his enemies, imperious but not tyrannical, In every respect he proved equal to the task imposed upon him, and successfully accomplished the mission of his life. He reigned 46 years and died at the age of 72 years. Prior to his death, he designated his son Ludwig as his successor and crowned him as Emperor, but shortly after the passing of this indomitable spirit, the great Empire which he had created was broken to pieces. Each fragment, however, retained the impress of his genius. The civilization and Christianity he had conferred upon barbarians was not obliterated and the influence he wielded on future generations was lasting and wholesome.

The Franks were originally composed of tribes of fierce warriors. Their earliest settlements were located between the rivers Soheldt and the Rhine. They were Teutons and spoke the Low German tongue. Their dress was fashioned from skins of the bear, wolf and boar, they were light complexioned and wore their fair hair long and streaming. In battle they were formidable, and even their appearance was enough to strike terror to the more civilized nations against whom they waged savage and continuous war. The first traces of them on record dates to the Third Century, when they came in contact with the Roman Empire. During this and the following century they also carried on hostilities against the peaceful inhabitants of Gaul, crossing the Rhine on rafts, raiding the cities and slaughtering the inhabitants. Considerable of the territory and some of the cities thus laid waste by them became permanent Frankish possessions. The first Frankish King identified in history was Chlodion. Under his rule they extended their southern boundary into the Roman territory as far south as the river Somme. Later on, under the rule of King Merwing, they became allies of the Romans and aided them against the invasion of Attila and his terrible Huns. The Franks were divided into two great divisions, the Salians and the Ripuarians. To the Salians belongs the credit of founding the Frankish Kingdom under the royal line of the Merwings, although the Ripuarians were more numerous and powerful. Until King Chlodwig became King of the Salians in the year 481, the two tribes maintained separate governments, but during his reign he was chosen by the Ripuarians to become their King also. This formed the first great Teutonic confederation. Even at this time, although they were savage and cruel in their warfare, it is noted that they were more amenable to government and given to more settled habits than other barbarian tribes of the period. They worshiped the heathen gods Thor and Wodin (Odin). Gradually they enlarged their kingdom by conquest, and gradually, also, they built up and strengthened their original possessions on the banks of the Rhine. Under Chlodwig's reign they made the most notable additions to their kingdom. The victory over Syagrius at Soissons in the year 486 gave the Franks possession of all Gaul as far as the River Loire. This territory was at once flooded by Teuton settlers. In the battle of Zülpich, ten years later, Chlodwig defeated the Alemanni League, who dwelt on the upper Rhine, and were contending with the Franks for German supremacy. They were compelled to join the Frankish confederation, thus extending his dominion as far as the River Inn and to the Alps. It was at this time that the Franks embraced Christianity. Chlodwig, during the desperate battle with the Alemanni, invoked the aid of the God of the Christians and after the victory all the Frankish warriors were baptised and adopted into the church by Remigius, the Bishop of Rheims. This was the beginning of Frankish Christianity, and the new converts became zealous champions in the cause of the church. In the year 507 the Franks defeated the Visigoths, who then inhabited Spain and Gaul as far as the River Loire and to the Burgundian borders. The Visigoths were compelled to relinquish their Gothic possessions, but retained Spain for 20o years longer, when the Moors invaded the country and vanquished the Visigoths, whose name then disappeared from history. Chlodwig's avowed purpose in making war on the Visigoths was to gain this territory for Catholicism. The Franks now became the rising power in Europe, and the Burgundians were easily brought into subjection. After Chlodwig's death his kingdom was divided among his four sons. Clothaire, the youngest, survived his brothers and became, eventually, ruler of the whole kingdom, but at his death it was again divided. Later it was again united under Clothaire II and his son Dagobert, the latter reigning until 638. Following several divisions at different dates the whole kingdom was finally divided into two great parts, Austrasia, occupied by the eastern Franks, and Neustria, inhabited by the western Franks. Both thrones were occupied by the descendants of Merwing, who had deteriorated into such weak and worthless rulers that their power was exercised by the chief officer of state, the Mayor of the palace, instead of by the Kings. In Austrasia, the office of Mayor had become hereditary in the family of Pepin of andi, whose valor and ability in the field and in the councils of the nation had Iong been established. To all intents and purposes these Mayors ruled, the King being but nominally in power. Dissensions between the two divisions of the Franks had led to war on several occasions, until finally, under the Mayor-ship of Pepin of Heerstall, the rupture assumed serious proportions. The Teutonic blood had almost disappeared in Neustria from the intermingling with the Romano-Gallic element, and even of the Teutonic tongue but a remnant remained. Under Pepin, the Austrasians were victorious over the Neustrians and Pepin assumed government over them as their Mayor as well as over the Austrasians, and once more the Frankish dominions were united. The Pepin line of Mayors continued until in 752 when Pepin the Short held the office, he applied to the Pope for a decision whether the title and throne should not pass to him, inasmuch as he exercised the power and Childeric, who occupied the throne, was a mere figurehead. Pepin was supported by the nobility, and, as the reply of the Pope was favorable, Pepin was duly declared King and crowned, while Childeric was deprived of the long hair which was a distinguishing mark of royalty, and sent to the cloister at Monte Cassino. King Pepin ruled as such for sixteen years, during which time, as has been stated, he labored diligently in the interest of the Church of Rome and the power which had crowned him, until his death caused his mission naturally to fall to his son Charlemagne.

Immediately following the death of Pepin a revolt was instituted in Aquitania. It was led by Hunald, who claimed to be a descendant of the ancient dynasty. Owing to a disagreement between the two royal brothers, in which Carloman withdrew his forces, Charlemagne was compelled to carry on the war against the rebels alone. At the first encounter he won a decisive victory. Hunald fled to Gascony for refuge. Lupus, the ruler of Gascony, at the demand of Charlemagne, surrendered the refugee, and here Charlemagne gave the first example of his magnanimity, by sparing the life of the revolutionist and simply compelling him to retire to a cloister. The Aquitanians submitted and Charlemagne built a fortress on the banks of the Dordogne and left a strong garrison to guard against further revolts in the province. At this time the throne of Lombardy in Italy was occupied by Dedier, who had a son, Adelgis. Bertrada, Queen-mother of the Franks, was anxious to bring about an alliance between the Frankish kingdom and Lombardy, and in furtherance of this plan, offered her daughter Gisela to become the wife of Adelgis, heir to the Lombard throne, and at the same time sought Desiderata for one of her sons, although they had both already taken brides in their own nation. Pope Stephen III, who naturally hated the Lombards because of their aggressions against the Roman Empire, denounced the plan, but Bertrada persisted, and Charlemagne repudiated his wife Himiltrude and married Desiderata. The marriage of Adelgis and Gisela did not take place. Desiderata was of a sickly constitution, arid a few months later Charlemagne divorced her, and the alliance which had been brought about with Lombardy was broken off. In 771 Carloman died, and, owing to the unfriendly relations which had existed between the brothers, his wife fled with her two infants to the court of Lombardy.

In 772 the wars against the Saxons was begun, or rather renewed, for war had existed for generations between the Saxons and Franks. The Saxons still retained their rude barbarism and their idolatrous religion, and made frequent incursions into Frankish territory, just as the Franks, centuries before had ravaged and invaded the Roman Empire. Eginhard, the secretary of Charlemagne, who was educated under the King's direction and was his almost constant companion, and who has given us the most authentic history of the ruler's life, says of the Saxons and the Saxon wars : "No war undertaken by the Franks was so protracted or so fierce, or so full of toil and hardship, since the Saxons, like most of the nations inhabiting Germany, were naturally brave, and, being addicted to heathenism, were hostile to our religion, and thought it no disgrace to dishonor divine laws or violate human ones. Causes, too, daily arose which contributed to disturb the peace. The boundaries of their country and ours were in the open, almost everywhere contiguous. It was only in a few places that large forests, or ranges of mountains, coming between, formed a well-defined and natural boundary line to both countries. On the borders, therefore, plundering, burning, and blood-shed never ceased. The Franks were so enraged at this that they judged it now to be no longer a matter of making reprisals, but so important that it warranted them in undertaking an avowed war against them. War there-fore was declared, and was carried on continuously during thirty-three years with much bitterness on both sides, but with greater loss to the Saxons than to the Franks. It was the bad faith of the Saxons which prevented a more speedy termination. It is hard to say how often they were beaten, and humbly surrendered to the King, promising to obey his orders, giving up at once the hostages he asked, and acknowledging the Ambassadors sent to them; how sometimes they were so tame and compliant as even to promise to give up their idolatry, declaring they wished to embrace Christianity. But ready as they were at times to undertake all these things, they were always far readier to renounce them."

During the first year's campaign against these marauders along the Eastern borders of the Frank dominions, Charlemagne crossed the Rhine, and marched rapidly into the very heart of the Saxon territory. He took the fortress of Eresburg after a desperate assault, and proceeded to the religious center of Saxony, where stood the Irminsul, that dread pillar before which stood an altar where half the captives taken in war were with barbaric ceremonies sacrificed to the god Wodin. The idol was destroyed and the rich treasure which had been offered to the god was taken as booty and shared by the troops. On the banks of the Weser he was met by Saxon emissaries, who sued for peace. It was granted on the simple condition that Christian missionaries were to be allowed to work unmolested among the Saxons. On returning to his own country, Charlemagne received information which caused him to undertake a winter campaign into Italy. The King of Lombardy had demanded of Pope Adrian I that he consecrate the infant sons of Carloman as Frankish Kings. When the Pope refused, the King seized several towns of the exarchate and then marched on Rome. The Romans appealed to Charlemagne for protection, and the champion of Christianity, without hesitation, divided his troops, and, by two separate routes, crossed the Alps into Italy. The Lombards were caught between the two sections, and, not daring to risk a battle, retreated, each contingent seeking its own territory. The Lombard King retired to Pavia and prepared to withstand a siege. The siege lasted many months, at the end of which time the citizens revolted against their King and opened the gates to Charlemagne. The royal family of Lombardy was sent into France, and Charlemagne assumed the crown and title of King of Lombardy. This was in 774. In the meantime the Saxons had taken advantage of his absence and harried his borders as on previous occasions. Charlemagne again took the field against the barbarians, and proved easily victorious in every engagement. He ravaged their country as far as the sources of the Lippe, and was, as usual, met by deputies, who- implored peace and pardon. His army was accompanied by priests and monks, and these baptized thousands of men and women and children in the river, while the victorious army looked on. The following spring the King called the Champ de Mai, which was the primitive assemblies held annually by the Franks in the open air, hence, the May-field, to meet at Paderborn, and the Saxons were admitted to it on the same terms as other constituent states of the monarchy. Some of the fiercest of the Saxon chiefs, however, were not present, and one of them, Witikind, was even then among the Scandinavians of the North, inflaming them against the Franks. In 778 Witikind returned from the North, having rein-forced his band of fugitive Saxons with hordes of Nor-man warriors, and many of the subdued Saxons joined his ranks. He inaugurated a campaign of revenge, invading the Frankish territory and destroying life and property without regard to age, sex or condition. The nearest Frankish troops were sent against him, and before Witikind reached the shelter of the trackless forests most of his adherents had been slain. He mustered another force during the winter, and when Charlemagne person-ally led his army against the barbarian in the spring, Witikind again suffered ignominious defeat and fled beyond the Danish borders. Three years later he once more returned and operated in the country between the Ems and the Elbe, massacring Christians and burning the churches and monasteries. When Charlemagne appeared with a great force, the rebel retired again to the North. The anger of the King was thoroughly aroused he summoned the Saxon administrators at Verden, accused them of complicity with Witikind in not having prevented his cruel work, and demanded the surrender of all who had participated in the outrage. Fugitives were hunted down to the number of 4,500, and they were all condemned to death and beheaded. Instead of having the desired effect of terrorizing the Saxons, this act inspired them to revenge, and they rallied in greater numbers than ever to the standard of Witikind. He had secured Norman allies and at the same time the Frisians arose in insurrection and made common cause with the Saxons. Charlemagne was preparing to move against these combined forces in the spring of 783, when his Queen, Hildegarde, dieci at Thionville. Having attended her burial, he pushed rap-idly across the Rhine with an advance guard, ordering the main body of his troops to follow. For the first time the Saxons awaited an attack of the Franks. They held the heights of Osneggberge and fought with desperation, but were forced to retreat. This was followed by another battle at the River Hase, in which Witikind sustained a crushing defeat. Charlemagne laid to waste the country as far as the Elbe, and returned the following spring to inflict further punishment. He also made a winter campaign against the Saxons and in the spring, with an irresistible force at his back, issued an edict which made refusal to accept baptism punishable with death. He also opened negotiations with Witikind. That unfortunate warrior consented to accept Christianity and be baptised. The King himself stood as godfather to the ceremony, and in that period this relationship bound the principals in the most sacred ties. This accomplished, the conquest and Christianizing of Saxony proper, and within less than twenty years thereafter, there had grown up around each of eight sees, established by the Church, as many powerful cities, which continued to be centers of population, wealth and education through many centuries, viz., Min-den, Halberstadt, Verden, Bremen, Munster, Hildesheim, Osnabruck, and Paderborn.

But there still remained outside the Frankish monarchy tribes of unsubdued Saxons between the mouth of the Elbe and the Baltic, warlike Normans in the Danish and Scandinavian peninsulas, and races of Slays and Tar-tars were scattered beyond the northern and eastern borders. Having received the submission of Witikind and broken, at least for the time being, the opposition of Saxony, Charlemagne went to Italy to organize his affairs there. He crossed the Alps in the autumn of 786, celebrated the Christmas festival at Florence, and visited Rome. Then he proceeded, accompanied by a strong army, without opposition through the duchy of Beneventum and was soon before Capua. The Duke was powerless to offer resistance against the forces of Charlemagne and sent ambassadors, among them his son Romuald, to treat for peace. Charlemagne demanded that he should be recognized as sovereign, that an annual tribute should be paid, and that the Duke restore to Rome the estates whose revenues he had seized. The conditions were accepted and the victor returned to Rome and there spent the Easter festival of 787. Returning then to his native land, he determined to put an end to the troubles which had for some time stirred Bavaria, which was a dependency of the Franks and presided over by Tassilo, who had long been planning to throw off the yoke. Charlemagne summoned the intriguer to appear at the Champ de Mai at Worms of 787. He did not appear, and this resolved the King to incorporate Bavaria in the Frank kingdom. Armies invaded the doubtful duchy from every side. Troops from Italy poured across its southern border, from the north, Thuringians and Saxons entered the rebel territory and the King himself advanced upon Augsburg with a mixed army of Burgundians, Aquitanians, Neustrians and Alemanni. Tassilo had in the meantime entered into an agreement with the Huns and Slays, but they repudiated the compact, and he surrendered to Charlemagne. The rebel Duke was tried at the Champ de Mai of 788 and condemned for high treason, but again the King's magnanimity intervened and the Duke and his family were committed to the cloister. During this same year, one of Charlemagne's armies overcame the Greeks in Liburnia and added it to the Frankish kingdom.

For the purpose of setting forth connectedly Charlemagne's campaigns against the Saxons, we have thus far refrained from recording Charlemagne's first expedition into Spain, although it occurred ten years prior to the invasion of Bavaria, and just at that time, when the Saxon Witikind returned from his first flight into the North to renew with the aid of Norman allies the struggle against the Franks. Charlemagne's tremendous activity was such that if the narrative were to follow in strictly chronological order, his marvelous rushes from one side of Europe to the other and from the northern boundaries of his kingdom to the southern extremities of Italy, the consecutiveness of the chronicle as concerning the campaigns against especial localities and the results thereby attained would to a considerable extent be sacrificed.

It was while attending the great Champ de Mai of 777 at Paderborn, that Charlemagne was visited by a number of Moorish envoys, who sought his aid. The Emirs of Northern Spain were anxious to escape from the rule of the Caliph at Cordova. Charlemagne, with a well-appointed army, hastily crossed the Pyrenees, but met with no opposition in his onward march. He had divided his army into two divisions, in the same manner as when he invaded Italy, and the principal cities opened their gates to him and acknowledged submission without even a show of resistance. Pampeluna, Barcelona, and Girone, together with many lesser cities, surrendered. The two armies effected a junction at Saragossa. It had been the hope of those who applied to the King for aid that he would proceed against the Caliph of Cordova, but when they discovered that he was merely taking advantage of the opportunity to extend the borders of his own kingdom and providing an additional safeguard for it, they repented of their request. The accounts of this campaign are meager, but on the return journey, probably because of the bad faith shown by the Emirs, Charlemagne dismantled the city of Pampeluna. The district was mountainous, subsistence scarce, and transportation extremely difficult. For this reason a speedy retreat was necessary. The retiring armies marched out by way of the old Roman road through the gorge of Roncevaux. The main body was well in advance, while a strong rear guard followed with the baggage. Of the disaster which here befell the troops of the rear guard, Eginhard says : "The Gascons had placed themselves in ambush on the crest of the mountain, which, by the extent and density of the woods, concealed their ambuscades. They threw themselves upon the rear of the column, hurled it back into the depths of the valley, slew all the men to the very last, pillaged the baggage, and, favored by the shadows of night, which already darkened, scattered on all sides with amazing rapidity, and without a possibility of following up their traces. The assailants had in this engagement lighter arms and the advantage of position. The weight of their equipment and the difficulty of the ground, on the other hand, put the Franks entirely at a disadvantage,"

Twenty years later the conquest of Spain was completed. The Christian inhabitants of Gallicia and Asturias, under the leadership of Alphonso, aided Charlemagne in this conquest, and the enemy was driven back defeated. As a result of this final campaign in Spain the boundary of Charlemagne's kingdom was extended to the banks of the Ebro.

The Huns and Slays, who had been excited by Tassilo, the Duke of Bavaria, to begin hostilities against the Franks, although they failed to come to the aid of Tassilo, began a series of incursions into Bavaria and Lombardy. They were repeatedly defeated and great numbers slaughtered, but the barbarian hordes continued to pour in from Pannonia, then occupied by them, together with the districts farther east. Charlemagne himself made one expedition into Pannonia, but these campaigns were mostly conducted by his lieutenants. This conflict continued, according to Eginhard, for eight years, from 789 to 796 inclusive. The Franks were in every way superior to the Huns or Avars as warriors, and that their losses were slight as compared with the practical extermination of the barbarians, may be gathered from the following account quoted from Eginhard: "How many battles were fought, and how much blood was shed, is fully attested by the complete depopulation of Pannonia; even the situation of the royal palace of the Kegan (king or chieftain) is so obliterated that no trace remains of a human habitation. In this war the whole nobility of the Avars perished, and the glory of their nation was destroyed. All their riches and treasures, which they had long been accumulating, were carried away, nor can memory recall any war of the Franks in which they have gained greater booty or by which they have been more enriched. Indeed, we may confess that up to this time the Franks appeared to be a poor nation; but so much gold and silver was found in the palace, and such a quantity of valuable spoil was taken in the battles, as can scarcely be believed. The Franks justly spoiled the Huns of this booty, for the Huns themselves had no right to it, it being the plunder they had carried off from other nations. Only two of the chief nobility of the Franks. fell in this war Eric, Duke of Friuli, killed in Liburnia, near Tharsatica, a maritime state, having been cut off by an ambush of the inhabitants; and Gerold, Prefect of the Bavarians, who was killed in Pannonia while drawing up his line of battle, just before engaging the Huns. By whom he was killed is uncertain, since he was slain, with two others who accompanied him, while riding up and down the ranks and encouraging each man individually. With these exceptions the war was almost a bloodless one for the Franks, and although it lasted longer than its magnitude seemed to warrant, its result was most successful."

Another account, given by Edward L. Cutts, holds that the losses were extremely heavy, though sickness contracted in the marshy plains is given as the cause. This account also asserts that the Franks were unable to gain entrance to the center of the "ring," the stronghold of the Huns, a circular enclosure forty to fifty miles in extent, and surrounded by nine circles of barriers, composed of earth, stones and trees, between each of which were located villages, the rude palace of the chief occupying the inner enclosure. Of all the accounts of the life of Charlemagne, it is scarcely possible that any can be more reliable than that of Eginhard, who was the King's secretary, and had easy access to all information, and besides accompanied the King in all of his campaigns. In the spring of 792, Count Theodore and a large number of troops marching against the Huns were treacherously murdered by Saxons.

The Saxons were to have joined in the expedition against the Huns, but on meeting the command of Count Theodore on the banks of the Weser, they surrounded his troops and massacred them. At this time, also, a second revolution took place in Beneventum, the Duke having married into the Imperial family of Byzantium and intrigued to assert his independence. The allies he expected apparently failed to come to his aid, although there is no definite record of this affair except that the impending revolt was suppressed by an army under Louis, the son of Charlemagne. In the year 794 Charlemagne found leisure to punish the treacherous Saxons who had slain Count Theodore and his command. With two armies he entered Saxony, but the rebellious subjects surrendered without striking a blow. He sent thousands of the Saxons into other states of his empire as a safeguard against further insurrections, and also established strong military colonies in various of the most troublesome sections of Saxony. The following two years he occupied in subjecting the whole country to a vigorous military discipline. The defeat of the Huns had added Pannonia to the kingdom and the close of the war against the Saxons practically ended the campaigns of this remarkable conqueror. Eginhard relates that after this there were two short campaigns against the Bohemians and Linonians, but in these the King did not personally engage. The final war during the reign of Charlemagne was undertaken against the Northmen in 810, when as pirates they began ravaging the coasts of Gaul and Germany. King Geofrey, the leader of these incursions, was assassinated by one of his own servants, and this ended the piratical expeditions against the Franks. On Christmas Eve, in the year Soo, Charlemagne was crowned by Pope Leo as Emperor of the Romans.

The last years of his life Charlemagne devoted to spreading education and civilization throughout his vast Empire, organized by his wonderful genius and unflagging energy. There are few acts of cruelty to be found in the annals of Charlemagne's reign. He was merciful and forbearing on many occasions where such a course would not be expected. His favorite punishment seemed to be to send offenders to a cloister. He died on the 28th day of January, 814, at Aix-la-Chapelle, after a brief illness with fever. He was buried in the great church which he had himself built. His remains were placed in the crypt beneath the dome, seated as in life in a great marble chair, ornamented with gold, clad in his royal garb, with his crown upon his head and scepter in hand, and his famous sword, "Joyeuse," girded to his side; the pilgrim's pouch which he had worn in life in his pilgrimages to Rome hanging to his girdle, and on his knees a copy of the gospels. On the stone beneath the dome which closed the entrance to the tomb was carved the following epitaph : "Beneath this tomb lies the body of Charles the Great, an orthodox Emperor, who gloriously extended the kingdom of the Franks, and ruled it fortunately for forty-seven years. He died in the seventy-third year of his age, in the year of our Lord 814, the seventh year of the Indiction, the fifth of the Kalends of February."

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