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Life of Charlemagne: Einhard

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In Life of Charlemagne, Einhard portrays Charlemagne as an effective leader, who was both generous and selfless, as well as a devout Christian. Before Charlemagne came to power in the Western Roman Empire, Rome was in shambles. After Odoacer deposed the Western Roman Emperor Romulus in 476 A.D., the Western Empire lacked control over its military, as the massive bureaucratic taxation system that once funded it was no longer working. However, Romans under Frankish rule began to start to see themselves as Franks, and the Frank’s needed a new emperor who could piece back together the West. This did not happen until Charlemagne was crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D. Einhard attempts to describe the conquests and personal life of Charlemagne, but creates a biased, godly image of him when doing so.

Furthermore, this bias possessed by Einhrad is due to the close relationship he maintained with Charlemagne and his family. Einhard describes this relationship in the preface of Life of Charlemagne; “The care that King Charles bestowed upon me in my childhood, and my constant friendship with himself and his children after I took up my abode at court. In this way he strongly endeared me to himself, and made me greatly his debtor,” (Life of Charlemagne, 243). As Einhard emphasizes here, he felt as though he owed something to Charlemagne, or was his “debtor.” This could have led to his bias in Life of Charlemagne, as he did not feel he could not describe any of Charlemagne’s imperfections. Although Charlemagne may have been a brutal

ruler, it is noted that Einhard looked up to him, and it would be dishonoring him to speak of any wrongdoings.

Furthermore, the first task of Charlemagne as Emperor was to regain territory that had been lost after the collapse of the Western Empire in 476 A.D. While Charlemagne was notorious for many glorious conquests, but when describing the war Charlemagne waged with the Lombards, Einhard emphasizes the power of the Church more clearly. After winning the Aquitanian war, Charlemagne sought out to wage a war with the Lombards, who were also Christian. This was war waged at the request of Pope Stephen in order to gain land and power over the Christian Church. This is a great example of the Church’s economic role in the Carolingian Empire, as the Pope was not only involved in religious matters but economic matters as well. “He was induced [in 773], by the prayers and entreaties of Hadrian [I, 772-795], Bishop of the city of Rome, to wage war on the Lombards. His father before him had undertaken this task at the request of Pope Stephen [II or III, 752-757], but under great difficulties, for certain leading Franks, of whom he usually took counsel, had so vehemently opposed his design as to declare openly that they would leave the King and go home,” (Life of Charlemagne, 247). In this quote, it shows Charlemagne’s loyalty to the Church, with no hesitation to wage a dangerous war with the Lombards. The quote also emphasizes the power the Christian Church possessed in making important economic decisions.

When speaking of Charlemagne’s religious rituals, Einhard portrays the devotion of Charlemagne; “He was a constant worshipper at this church as long as his health permitted, going morning and evening, even after nightfall, besides attending mass; and he took care that all the services there conducted should be administered with the utmost possible propriety,” (Life of Charlemagne, 257). This quote shows the biased opinion of Einhard, describing Charlemagne to

be unrealistically loyal to the religion. Einhard also further emphasizes this devotion to the Church when describing how Charlemagne conquered the Bretons. After they refused to obey Charlemagne, he sent an army after them and took hostages, which the Duke of the Bretons proceeded to run and Charlemagne was victorious. “He stayed in Rome several days in order to pay his devotions at the holy places, and then came back to Gaul [787],” (Life of Charlemagne, 249). This quote shows how Charlemagne was devoted to Christianity, and was giving thanks and credit to his lord.

Additionally, as Einhard shows Charlemagne was very devoted to Christianity, he also puts emphasis on the ways Charlemagne tried to protect it. “He was at great pains to improve the church reading and psalmody, for he was well skilled in both although he neither read in public nor sang, except in a low tone and with others.” This quote shows the true devotion to the religion where Charlemagne was not only trying to protect the religion, but improve the ways it was practiced. As it was one of Charlemagne’s goals to protect Christianity, he also sought to convert all of those who he conquered to Christianity. Einhard shows examples



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