Charlemagne: Lombards, Holy Roman Emperor, and Eldest Son of




Charlemagne: King of
Education and Reform





Tim O’Neill

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Introduction to Art

November 15, 2017/ Fall



            Charlemagne was the king of the Franks, first emperor of
the Romans, and king of the Lombards. Charlemagne had a variety of names such as, Charles the
Great, Carolus Magnus, King of the Franks, King of the Lombards, Holy Roman
Emperor, and Eldest Son of Pepin the Short. Commonly
known as Charles the Great, he left a lasting reputation that was characterized
by his influence on art, education, and the spread of Christianity. His
leadership style earned him fame during the Middle Ages, not only in Europe,
but also in the rest of the world. In some instances he was even referred to as
the ‘Father of Europe’.  The exact birth
date of Charlemagne is not known, but is estimated to be in April 747 (Freeman, 2017, p. 10). Charlemagne
targeted reforms in different areas such as development, economics, and
education. The radical reforms of Charlemagne earned him fame and led to
prosperity of his Kingdom. Encyclopedia of World Biography said, “He founded the Holy Roman Empire,
stimulated European economic and political life, and fostered the cultural
revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. ”  (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2017).

of Charlemagne

            When Charlemagne was born, his father was the mayor of
the palace. Known as Pippin III, also spelled Pepin, byname Pippin the Short.

Britannica, 2017).  Charlemagne’s
father served the Merovingian king, and extended his powers in the kingdom of
the Franks. It is believed that the role of Pippin III as a leader created a
strong foundation for the success of Charlemagne. During the Middle Ages,
leadership descended in families, especially among the royal families. In some
instances, however, some leaders emerged outside the royal family (Oman, 2017, p. 34). The case of
Charlemagne is an instance of success based on leadership styles he acquired
from his father and his personal philosophies. Charlemagne participated in the
military, social, and political services led by his father (Wickham,
2009, p. 13).

These were important training grounds towards the creation of a leader who
would later change the entire kingdom and have a major impact on European life.

            Pippin III seized the throne from Cedric III, in 751.

This was an important step towards the future leadership of Charlemagne. In the
tradition of the kingdom, the leadership would automatically be passed to the
sons after the death of the king. With papal support, Pippin III succeeded in
becoming the leader and sought to fortify the kingdom. Before seizing the
throne, Pippin III committed to protect Rome, in order to form an alliance with
the pope. He also had military interventions in Italy between 755 and 755. The
military interventions were put in place to restrain the threats of the
Lombards to Rome. He also influenced the formation of the territory that
stretched from central Italy, forming a new political entity (Ghosh, 2015,
p. 12).

            After the death of Pippin III in 768, the realm was
divided to Charlemagne and Carloman, his brother. The division of the realm was
founded in the customs of the Frankish kingdom. However, Charlemagne and his
brother, Carloman, did not share a close relationship. The unity of the
Frankish kingdom was threatened by the rivalry between the two brothers.

Charlemagne sought to gain political advantage over his brother by forming an
alliance with the king of the Lombards, Desiderius. The daughter of Desiderius
and the wife of Charlemagne reached an agreement, that appeared to create an
imbalance with the alliance that had been created by Pippin III. The death of
Carloman in 771 ended the looming crisis, and Charlemagne assumed leadership of
the entire Frankish kingdom,  the rights
of the heirs of Carloman were disregarded by the king (Freeman 10).

            The moment Charlemagne assumed full rule over the
Frankish kingdom, there were strong forces of change. The need to implement
these changes motivated Charlemagne to develop a new leadership style that
could enable the kingdom to succeed. Moreover, the Frankish tradition
categorized him as a warrior who was expected to lead the people against rival
communities. Therefore, the need for change and his warrior status were very
instrumental in his rise as a great leader of the Frankish kingdom. Moreover,
there was need to unite the entire kingdom. Although the predecessors of
Charlemagne had succeeded in various conquests, there was disunity within the
kingdom. To become a better leader, Charlemagne had to facilitate unity among
the people so that the kingdom could register progress together (Wickham, 2009, p. 13).

            The first thing that Charlemagne did differently was to
deviate from the insatiable appetite for absolute power by his predecessors.

Through the urge for power and wealth, the former leaders had failed to
identify what the people expected of them. Subsequently, the kingdom was not
united (Ghosh, 2015, p. 12). Charlemagne had a great
political disposition and took a long-term approach to leadership and
development. Despite the differences with his brother Carloman, Charlemagne
united the two factions after the death of his brother. His case and quest for
leadership was inspired by the need to fortify the kingdom, and establish a
better lifestyle for the people.  He was
still very much a warrior, the successes of Charlemagne at war also allowed him
to become a better king. Any leader of the Frankish kingdom was a born warrior,
who had to master the war tactics so that enemies could be conquered. “Charlemagne was a model knight as one of the Nine Worthies who enjoyed
an important legacy in European culture. One of the great medieval literary cycles, the
Charlemagne cycle or the Matter of
France, centres on his deeds—the Emperor with the Flowing Beard
of Roland
fame—and his historical commander of the border with Brittany, Roland, and the 12 paladins. These are
analogous to, and inspired the myth of, the knights of the Round Table
of King Arthur’s court.135
Their tales constitute the first chansons de
geste. ”

            Another distinguishing characteristic of Charlemagne was
his respect and appreciation of the Frankish kingship, and the imposing changes
that were important in society. By action, Charlemagne expressed his commitment
to respect the kingship and the traditional values of the kingdom. He did not
let the changes or leadership pressures to make him deviate from the
traditional values of the people. Charlemagne was equally aware of the
expectations the society had. Therefore, he crafted a leadership style that
could create a balance between the traditions of the society and the present
changes that were inevitable. The ability to balance the two factors is an exemplary
factor that was lacking in previous leaders. Overall, his approach was a
transformational one that would include all the people as one family.

            The rise of Charlemagne was also supported by various
personal abilities and skills. Although he did not attain the highest level of
education, Charlemagne had native intellectual skills that were imperative in
leadership. He also had intellectual curiosity that could enable him identify
impending dangers or areas that required his attention. Charlemagne was also
praised as a king who was always eager to listen to and learn from others.

Unlike other kings who believed in themselves alone, Charlemagne gave room for
opinion and widely consulted with the people on matters of governance. The
personal skills made Charlemagne an admirable leader who made informed
decisions and never relented on acting on those decisions.

on the Arts

            The influence of Charlemagne on the arts is best
understood by exploring the Carolingian Renaissance. Charlemagne was very instrumental
in the formation of the Carolingian Renaissance. This was a period marked by
rapid transformations in education, cultural activities, arts, and economics in
the Frankish kingdom. Artistic patronage and military strength, as was
characteristic of the leadership of Constantine, became key pillars for the
Frankish kingdom. Charlemagne emulated the leadership style of Constantine, and
sought to make the kingdom a better place for all the members. In some of the
famed letters that he wrote, Charlemagne invited European scholars to court so
that they could advise on the approach he wanted to use to transform politics,
education, and arts (Ross, 2012, p. 1).

            Charlemagne had an immense impact on the arts during the
Carolingian Renaissance. As a leader, he provided the best avenue for artists
to develop their artworks and present them to the people. Most of the artists
of the period worked for the king, the court members, and abbots and bishops
that were closely related to the court (Fichtenau, 1957, p. 14). The
immediate impact was the flourishing of the arts since there was a ready market
for the artworks. Furthermore, the artists were supported by the leaders
because they portrayed the cultural beliefs of the kingdom, and continued to
express the ideologies in Europe. Through art, Charlemagne knew that the
continuity of the kingdom could be maintained, and the traditions and values of
the kingship could be preserved.

            Arts were also developed during the Carolingian
Renaissance through the commissioning of the king. For example, Charlemagne
commissioned the constructing of a palace and chapel in Aachen, Germany, by
architect Odo of Metz. The contributions of Charlemagne towards the development
of the arts were felt across Europe. Charlemagne also developed his scriptorium
that supported the works of the artists. The center offered space for
illuminating and copying different manuscripts. In the scriptorium, a new
script, the Carolingian miniscule, was developed.  The Carolingian miniscule provided a new
approach to writing scripts that could be read easily, unlike the previous
scripts that were difficult to read. Because the written word could be read by
more people during that timeframe, the ideas and influence of Charlemagne spread
more easily across Europe and the rest of the world. The Holy Roman Empire
Association said, “Most
of the presently surviving works of classical Latin were copied and preserved
by Carolingian scholars. Indeed, the earliest manuscripts available for many
ancient texts are Carolingian. It is almost certain that a text which survived
to the Carolingian age survives still”.  ( DEC 2017).  

            Figurative art was also reformed and improved during the
Carolingian Renaissance. In the previous contexts, most artworks were
two-dimensional and flat. The Carolingian artists worked more on
three-dimensional artworks that could provide better views than the artworks of
the early Byzantine and Christian artworks. Although the artworks still focused
on religion, the Carolingian artworks were exemplary because they added more
life and beauty. The artists also created more convincing illusions of space
and restored the three-dimensional approach in artwork. For example, in the Godescalc Gospel Lectionary, author
portraits were used to create the illuminate manuscript. Godescalc Gospel Lectionary was also commissioned by Charlemagne.

Towards this end, it is apparent that Charlemagne had a deep interest for the
arts, and focused on the promotion of artworks by appreciating the Carolingian

            Overall, the contribution of Charlemagne towards the
development of the arts cannot be exaggerated. By initiating the Carolingian
Renaissance, Charlemagne set the stage for promotion of the Frankish culture
through artwork. He emulated the artists and even created a center for copying
illuminated manuscripts, as his commitment to promote the arts. He also
commissioned the development of various artworks including his palace in
Aachen. One challenge of language arts at the time was the large number of
writing styles or scripts. The styles varied greatly from one region to the
other and made it difficult to learn or communicate effectively via the written
word. Dr. Nancy Ross a Cambridge University Art History Ph.D. speaks to the
importance of the a common script  in an
article saying, “Charlemagne
had his own scriptorium, or center for copying and illuminating manuscripts, at
Aachen. Under the direction of Alcuin of York, this scriptorium produced a new
script known as Carolingian miniscule. Prior to this development, writing
styles or scripts in Europe were localized and difficult to read. A book
written in one part of Europe could not be easily read in another, even when
the scribe and reader were both fluent in Latin. Knowledge of Carolingian
miniscule spread from Aachen was universally adopted, allowing for clearer
written communication within Charlemagne’s empire. Carolingian miniscule was
the most widely used script in Europe for about 400 years.”  (Ross, 2017)

The mythic legacy left by
Charlemagne regarding improvement of arts and preservation of the cultures can
be compared to the successes of Constantine. His contribution had an impact in
Europe and other parts of the world.

to Spread of Christianity in Europe

            Charlemagne was an ardent Christian who believed in the
importance of connecting his kingdom with God. Being a leader who was expected
to lead the community in war during conquests, he might have easily forgotten
the importance of religion. However, Charlemagne had legislative policies that
promoted religion in the Frankish kingdom (Fichtenau, 1957, p. 14). His support
for spirituality and morals guided his actions as a leader. He also embraced
the support of abbots and bishops who were commissioned to instil spirituality
and morals in the kingdom. Through the bishops, Charlemagne instilled an
intense religious program in the kingdom and Europe.  Charlemagne’s efforts to create a rigorous
spiritual awakening were embraced by other leaders who found relevance in his
leadership style and supported the Christianity expansion.

            The religious reform led by Charlemagne focused on the
failures of the past systems and the need to strategize on the next steps that
could promote spirituality in the kingdom. Therefore, the religious reform
focused on strengthening the hierarchical structure of the church, setting the
responsibilities and powers of the church hierarchy, improving the moral and
intellectual qualities of the clergy, and improving pastoral care (Nelson, 2014, p. 94). The
religious reform targeted the expansion of the ecclesiastical resources of the
church. The roles of each person in the church hierarchy were very important
because they would govern the operations of the church. Abbots and bishops were
commissioned by the king to promote and work on the spiritual health of the
community. Most importantly, Charlemagne led from the front by commissioning
the activities of the church and fiercely defending spirituality (Nelson, 2014, p. 94). His efforts
were emulated by leaders in other parts, and Christianity spread extensively in
Europe during and after his regime.

to Educational Development

            Carolingian Renaissance was characterized by major
developments and reforms in education, economics, arts, and religion.

Charlemagne identified the specific areas that required his attention, and
focused on them effectively. Education was an area that also drew the attention
of the king. Charlemagne understood the importance of education and strived to
support the course in the kingdom. He commissioned building of schools in the
kingdom. Although Charlemagne had only attained elementary level of education,
he supported the school activities by commissioning different people to head
the educational developments. Moreover, his interests for education were
exemplified by his abilities to reserve funds for the development of schools (Contreni, 2014, p. 89).

consider Charlemagne as the sponsor of medieval education. His awareness of the
importance of learning led to expansion of the school system and improvement of
learning infrastructure in the kingdom. His educational reforms included the
provision of libraries, teaching incentives, textbooks, and curricula. All
these were important in the expansion of the school system in Europe. Towards
this end, the contributions of Charlemagne in transforming and expanding
education became appreciated even after his regime as king of the Frankish


            Charlemagne was a radical and transformational leader who
applied a different leadership style as king of the Frankish empire. He rose to
become a celebrated leader after power descended to him from Pippin III, his
father, as it was the custom in the Frankish tradition. The king ascended to
power at a time when there were massive calls for changes in the society, and
the need to respect the kingship. The successes of Charlemagne were based on
his capabilities to balance the different needs and make informed decisions for
the good of the people. He contributed to development of the arts, spread of
Christianity across Europe, and transformation and expansion of the school


Works Cited

Contreni, J. J. (2014). Learning for God: Education in
the Carolingian Age. The Journal of Medieval Latin 24 , 89-129.

Encyclopedia of World Biography.

7 Dec. 2017 .

Encyclopedia Britannica.

7 DEC. 2017

Dr. Nancy Ross, “Carolingian art,
an introduction,” in Smarthistory, August
8, 2015, accessed December 12, 2017,

Fichtenau, H. (1957). The
Carolingian Empire. Blackwell .

Charlemagne – Charles the Great- 800-814” in Holy Roman Empire
Association. 5 December, 2017.—charles-the-great.html

Freeman, E. (2017). Charles the
great, or just plain Charles: Was Charlemagne a great medieval leader? Agora
52.1 , 10.

Ghosh, S. (2015). Writing the
Barbarian Past: Studies in Early Medieval Historical Narrative. Brill .

Nelson, J. L. (2014). Religion in
the Age of Charlemagne.

Oman, C. (2017). The Art of War in
the Middle Ages. Merkaba Press (PublishDrive).

Ross, N. (2012). Carolingian art, an

Wickham, C. (2009). The
Inheritance of Rome: A History of Europe from 400 to 1000. Viking.








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