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The influence of Charlemagne in France


Charlemagne to France
Charlemagne to France

Pepin was succeeded in 768 by his two sons, Charles (later known as Charlemagne) and Carloman, who divided the kingdom between themselves until Carloman’s death three years later. Although Carloman’s portion should legally have passed to his sons, Charlemagne wielded enough political power to bend the still flexible Frankish succession law and procedures to his advantage. He seized the inheritance of his nephews and reunited the kingdom. This usurpation provided Charlemagne with the resources for building his empire—a political achievement unmatched by any of his Carolingian predecessors or successors. Eventually he ruled lands stretching from the Pyrenees Mountains to the Elbe River.

Charlemagne ruled most of his empire through officers known as counts, who received land—much of it plundered—in exchange for their services. To secure their loyalty, the counts were obliged to swear oaths of fidelity—sometimes sworn on holy relics to make the oath a religious obligation. The counts had wide-ranging responsibilities, from maintaining roads to supervising the judiciary.

They also administered oaths to a variety of officials, including clerics, as a way of reinforcing loyalty to Charlemagne. Charlemagne understood well the importance of not trusting any one group of officials too much. Thus, he sent another set of imperial agents, called the missi dominici, to comb through the empire to eliminate corruption and disloyalty among the counts.

It is unclear how well Charlemagne was able to control developments at the grass roots using this system. He was frequently obliged to put down revolts against his rule.

The Saxons proved particularly hard to subdue, and their persistent resistance to Carolingian rule prompted Charlemagne to unleash ever more bloody repression against them. Charlemagne found the church to be one of his best weapons for maintaining control, and he further integrated churchmen into his imperial system.

Pope Leo III
Pope Leo III

Thus, he leaned heavily on bishops as well as the counts to carry out his orders and appointed clergymen to serve as missi. But if political considerations underlay much of Charlemagne’s treatment of the church, his political policies were also rooted in genuine religious conviction. He donated large tracts of land to churches and monasteries, worked hard on standardizing the liturgy, supported missionary efforts, and supervised the morals and education of the clergy. The results of these efforts are hard to determine for want of evidence. But Charlemagne’s attempts to improve the morals and education of the clergy led to his promotion of the arts and scholarship in a movement that has been called the Carolingian Renaissance. The Carolingian Renaissance was less a break with the past than an extension of it, for learning was by no means dead in the kingdom when Charlemagne took power. By the end of the 8th century, Charlemagne had made his empire reasonably secure militarily and had enriched it with plunder. He then devoted considerable effort to expanding the empire’s intellectual resources.

Reportedly unable to write himself, Charlemagne nonetheless developed an exceptional respect for scholarship and the arts. The Carolingian Renaissance occurred in schools attached to cathedrals and monasteries and in Charlemagne’s court, headquartered in Aachen (in French, Aix-la-Chapelle), in present-day Germany. The court attracted major scholars from around Europe, even from beyond the borders of the empire. Most notable was Alcuin, an English scholar, who set up an educational program. Scholars congregated at the court in part to use its large library. Scholars of the Carolingian Renaissance were concerned mainly with art, literature, and theology. Although these scholars and artists were not highly original, they kept learning alive, partly by recopying ancient works.

The climax of Charlemagne’s rule has traditionally been considered his coronation as emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800. But historians then and now disagree sharply on what happened on that occasion and its significance. Charlemagne was in Rome in late 800 as part of an effort to restore the pope’s power in Rome, which was threatened by a rebellion. The pope hoped to restore his political fortunes by crowning Charlemagne and thereby associating himself more closely with the major political force in Europe. According to one account, the coronation was a surprise to Charlemagne, and one he did not altogether welcome. Scholars now tend to think he knew about the coronation beforehand and that he was happy enough to accept the imperial title. Some historians have tried to represent the coronation as a turning point in medieval history and as a key to Charlemagne’s notion of a Christian empire. However, neither Charlemagne’s ideas nor his policies seem to have changed very much as a result. The Carolingians’ legitimacy had rested on the church’s sanction for nearly half a century by this time, and Charlemagne’s elevation from king of the Franks to emperor of the Romans seems only to have followed well-established precedent.Moreover, Charlemagne’s disposition of his empire suggests he was still thinking about it in traditional Frankish terms. Rather than try to maintain its unity after his death, Charlemagne planned to divide the empire among his three sons, Louis, Carloman, and Pepin. But two of these sons died before Charlemagne, and Louis inherited the whole empire when his father died in 814. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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