"Every country has its heroes; men and women, part fact, part legend, who exist to explain and reinforce elements of the national psyche. None has been as powerful and influential as Charles the Great.... While the Charlemagne story illuminates some of the grand themes of our shared past, it remains essentially a story--and an adventure story at that."
Charlemagne is seen by historians as the bridge between ancient and modern Europe. His Holy Roman Empire was the embodiment of an ideal that inspired leaders as different as Charles V, Napoleon, and Hitler, each of whom sought to make a unified Europe a reality again in their own times.
In this new biography, the first major study of Charlemagne in more than twenty-five years, Derek Wilson provides an absorbing and lively account of his life, character, and accomplishments. Charlemagne transcends every notion we have of the traditional historical hero. A military strategist of Julius Caesar's caliber, he had no knowledge of classical history. A ruler with the sagacity of Marcus Aurelius, he ordered summary executions more reminiscent of Caligula or Nero. A devout believer who ensured the survival of Christianity in the West, he considered himself above the Church, sired numerous bastard children, and generated accusations of incest.
As Wilson describes a Church divided between the Latin West, with its capital in Rome, and the Greek Church of the East, with its capital in Constantinople, we see not only the emergence of Europe but the trials of a Church in flux. The politics of the day were in constant play and were mastered by Charlemagne with cunning and force. By marrying the military might of his army to the spiritual might of the Church in Rome, Charlemagne dominated his world and forged Western Christendom.
Written by one of England's most respected biographers, Charlemagne is a masterful, multidimensional portrait of a great historical figure--a man whose earthly passions were surpassed only by his religious devotion, and whose religious devotion was exceeded only by his will to power.
Christian warrior, scholar prince, pilgrim saint and emperor, Charlemagne (742-814) has influenced modern rulers from Napoleon to Charles de Gaulle. As acclaimed British historian Wilson (Tudor Tapestry: Men, Women, and Society in Reformation England) points out in this fast-paced biography, the Frankish king who was named emperor by the pope brought civilization and peace to Europe in the Early Middle Ages. An acquisitive king intent on expanding Francia's borders and connecting politics and religion, Charles the Great, according to Wilson, is responsible for the shape of Europe as we know it today. Wilson deftly chronicles Charlemagne's military exploits, political intrigues and religious devotion. In addition to his military leadership, the emperor initiated a revival of humane learning (the Carolingian Renaissance) and the establishment of a clerical hierarchy that could preach, administer the sacraments properly and oversee matters of the empire. Although, as Wilson points out, Charlemagne's sometimes megalomaniacal personality drove his armies to the brink of disaster, he fostered a unity and a culture in his empire that have lasted to modern times. Maps. (On sale June 6)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
June 11, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Charlemagne by Derek Wilson
He pitched there a tent and was waiting in prayer the arrival of the new converts when, behold! instead of friends, a band of enraged infidels appeared on the plains all in arms and, coming up, rushed into his tent. The servants that were with the holy martyr were for defending his life by fighting; but he would not suffer it, declaring that the day he had long waited for was come, which was to bring him to the eternal joys of the Lord. He encouraged the rest to meet with cheerfulness and constancy a death which was to them the gate of everlasting life.(1)
That account of the death of Boniface, the "Apostle of Germany," in June 754 is important because it marks a turning point in world history. It is also useful as a launchpad for this book because it may help us to get into the right frame of mind to approach the life and times of Charles the Great. Professor Barraclough succinctly observed, "Without Boniface there could have been no Charles"(2) and that is a truth that we in the laid-back, agnostic, twenty-first-century West should not lose sight of. If we find it difficult to understand the mentality of Islamic suicide bombers and tend to be dismissive of all fundamentalisms, then our imaginations need to be jolted so that we can place ourselves alongside the warriors, scholars and missionaries who created and led the first western empire. They were men who believed simply, felt passionately, saw complex issues in black and white, were aggressive in word and deed and understood this world as but a shadow of a greater reality. And it was because they were the men they were--heroes in every sense of the word--that they turned the tide of events, took hold of a culture that seemed doomed to extermination by superior forces and forged the civilization of which we are the heirs.
The Carolingian prince who would become Charlemagne was only twelve years old when the venerable English missionary, Boniface, went to his death in what is now Holland, but he knew Boniface and the septuagenarian's martyrdom will have made its impact on the boy. Boniface had been a very important figure in the life of Charlemagne's family, a bold, uncompromising religious hero and a Carolingian supporter who inspired gratitude and awe. This bustling, no-nonsense ecclesiastic towered over church life north of the Alps and it was he who legitimized the coup that established Charles' father as the progenitor of a new sovereign dynasty in Francia.
Frankish dominance in the area west of the Rhine had been established by Clovis in the fifth century, and his descendants of the Merovingian ruling house had pushed their boundaries ever farther. But, in the way of hereditary dynasties, enjoyment of power gradually took the place of effective exercise of power. Successive rulers relied increasingly on their leading court officials, the mayors of the palace, to fight their wars and administer their lands. In 750, the reigning mayor, Pepin III (Pepin the Short), decided to bring this unsatisfactory situation to an end. But, instead of simply seizing power and disposing of Childeric III, the last Merovingian, he sought papal authentication for his usurpation. He sent Rome a message as brief as it was pregnant with significance: "Is it wise to have kings who have no power or control?" Pope Zacharias, who had his own reasons for wishing to oblige Pepin, concluded that it was not wise. Armed with the permission of God's representative on earth, Pepin bundled Childeric off to a monastery where he lived out his days, while Pepin himself was anointed King of the Franks. The man deputed to officiate at this ceremony on Zacharias' behalf was Boniface. It was the forging of this unique bond between the spiritual and terrestrial powers that was to form the basis of what became the Holy Roman Empire. More important, the creation of a religious and civil infrastructure--neither theocracy nor secular state--made possible whatever it is that we call "Europe."
Only in the closing years of his reign did Charlemagne and his contemporaries begin to think of themselves as Europeans, and any notion they had of a newly emerging cultural entity was, at best, shadowy. They were too close to the political, religious and racial pressures that were forming this entity to be able to give it a name. We must, therefore, take a little time out to study the map of those lands where the slow but dramatic metamorphosis was taking place.