When Charlemagne died in 814 CE, he left behind a dominion and a legacy unlike anything seen in Western Europe since the fall of Rome. Distinguished historian and author of The Middle Ages Johannes Fried presents a new biographical study of the legendary Frankish king and emperor, illuminating the life and reign of a ruler who shaped Europe's destiny in ways few figures, before or since, have equaled.Read more...
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When Charlemagne died in 814 CE, he left behind a dominion and a legacy unlike anything seen in Western Europe since the fall of Rome. Distinguished historian and author of The Middle Ages Johannes Fried presents a new biographical study of the legendary Frankish king and emperor, illuminating the life and reign of a ruler who shaped Europe's destiny in ways few figures, before or since, have equaled.
Living in an age of faith, Charlemagne was above all a Christian king, Fried says. He made his court in Aix-la-Chapelle the center of a religious and intellectual renaissance, enlisting the Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin of York to be his personal tutor, and insisting that monks be literate and versed in rhetoric and logic. He erected a magnificent cathedral in his capital, decorating it lavishly while also dutifully attending Mass every morning and evening. And to an extent greater than any ruler before him, Charlemagne enhanced the papacy's influence, becoming the first king to enact the legal principle that the pope was beyond the reach of temporal justice--a decision with fateful consequences for European politics for centuries afterward.
Though devout, Charlemagne was not saintly. He was a warrior-king, intimately familiar with violence and bloodshed. And he enjoyed worldly pleasures, including physical love. Though there are aspects of his personality we can never know with certainty, Fried paints a compelling portrait of a ruler, a time, and a kingdom that deepens our understanding of the man often called "the father of Europe."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-29
- Reviewer: Staff
In this splendid biography, Fried (The Middle Ages), retired professor of medieval history at the University of Frankfurt, shows that Charlemagne remains a figured to be reckoned with even 12 centuries after his death. The book, excellently translated by Lewis, is arranged by topic, rather than chronology. This format helps to clearly present a broad picture. The importance of religion is stressed throughout the book, and Fried makes clear that from childhood Charlemagne understood that “the principal task of any ruler was to wage war.” The combination of his Christianity and his martial nature resulted in a 30-year war with the Saxons (772–804). Fried also elucidates the role the Franks played in Spain, both in the battle against the Basques at Roncevalles (778) and in later dealings with the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates. Charlemagne’s coronation in Rome as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 is examined from political and military viewpoints; Fried believes that Charlemagne, rather than Pope Leo III, was in control of the situation and had initiated the coronation. Other chapters cover court life, the revival of classical education, and Charlemagne’s determination to establish law and order in his domains. Fried stresses eschatological beliefs a bit more than necessary, perhaps because he’s studied them so extensively. This is a magisterial study of the life and times of the Frankish king who became the first Holy Roman Emperor. (Oct.)