Wednesday, October 12, 2011

the kingdom of charlemagne

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There was relatively little commerce in Western Europe. Roads, bridges, and the infrastructure were generally non-existent. Furthermore, the countryside was unsafe for travel due to a lack of organized law enforcement. Small villages had to take care of themselves; therefore, goods were manufactured to supply local needs only. Among the Franks, all sons were entitled to a share. Therefore, when a King died, each son became a King over his own little kingdom. This created many small political units with no uniform laws or policies. This lack of unity made them vulnerable to enemies as well as conflict from within. During this time, loyalty of a warrior or subject to his chosen leader and to the homeland or institution was not a light matter. Charlemagne provided unity and stability during his time.

Political authority played a significant role in the rise of the Frankish Empire. Charlemagne’s role as the political leader of the empire is one of the key factors contributing to its rise. The basis for Charlemagne’s power was his dual authority - King of the Frankish Empire and Emperor of Rome. Before Charlemagne and his father, Pepin’s, reigns, the basis of political authority did not lie with the king. Einhard writes, It had really lost all power years before and it no longer possessed anything at all of importance beyond the empty title of king. The wealth and the power of the kingdom were held tight in the hands of certain leading officials of the court, who were called the mayors of the palace . The king possesses nothing at all of his own, except a single estate with extremely small revenue”. It was Pepin, who set the precedent for the shift in political authority. He started out as a Mayor of the Palace, which was a title granted by the people to someone based on their wealth and family distinction. Pepin later inherited from his father Charles [Martel 715-41] the title of King which he later passed on to his children, Charlemagne and Carloman.

The Frankish people had a lot to do with decisions relating to political authority. In 768, King Pepin died and a general assembly was called to determine who should be King � Charlemagne or Carloman. The people decided that Pepin’s kingdom should be divided between his two sons. This joint rulership illustrated the importance of the role of councils and general assemblies in deciding political authority . Their support would determine whose will would prevail between the two equal ruling brothers.

Though there were many outside factors influencing political authority, transfer of power was still based on hereditary. Family and relationships still largely determined the position a person could obtain. It was very rare that a person who was not of noble class could achieve greatness, although Charlemagne did support meritocracy in his court. In the case of Charlemagne, family was of great importance, since it was his father, Pepin who, as King, was able to pave the way for Charlemagne to come to power. Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman became kings because of Divine right.

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There was tension between the brothers until Carloman died at the end of 771 . When Carloman died, Charlemagne could not take control of Carloman’s empire without first calling another general assembly and obtaining the consent of all Franks. At the assembly, a number of prominent people in his kingdom offered allegiance to Charlemagne. As a result, Charlemagne gained control of his late brother’s empire, united it with his own empire and became sole ruler of the Frankish empire. With a monarchy, the empire was stronger, more united.

Although family position did have its benefits, many family relationships also created friction as well. For example, Carloman and Charlemagne jointly ruled the Frankish Empire and this created tension between them. And later, when it came to his own heirs,

some of Charlemagne’s children were indeed threats to the empire. Einhard writes, “Pepin who was born to Charlemagne by a concubine conspired with certain of the Frankish leaders who had won him over to their cause by pretending to offer him the kingship. The plot was discovered and the conspirators were duly punished. Pepin was tortured .”

To prevent this from happening again, Charlemagne kept his children very close to him. He devoted as much time to the upbringing of his daughters as he did to his sons. Marriage was another way by which family relations were formed. Often times, marriages were arranged to benefit families politically. In the case of Charlemagne’s first wife, at the bidding of his mother, he married the daughter of one of his rivals -Desiderius, the King of the Longobards . Marriage was a way to forge many political as well as diplomatic connections. Women were valuable political pawns, which is perhaps why none of Charlemagne’s daughters got married. He felt that, if they married, their husbands would pose a threat to the throne.

Sometimes, disagreements between the King and his councils would cause rifts. And, on occasion, the King was able to manage without the support of the council. In spite of these disagreements, the councils played an important role in political authority. The people were always consulted about matters of importance.

The warrior spirit was considered to be one of the most esteemed attributes of a Frank.

Fighting was endemic those who monopolized the wars also controlled society. Franks were plagued with war after war.

When Charlemagne was of the right age, it is recorded that he worked eagerly at riding and hunting. It was the custom of the Franks to ride and be practiced in the use of arms and ways of hunting. We may reasonably infer that acquiring these skills formed a major part of his early education.

Charlemagne was not a “man of letters” and literacy was considered unimportant at that time for anyone other than the clergy. Charlemagne didn’t become interested in “letters” until later in life . Charlemagne gained a number of experiences in public duties and responsibilities, which were assigned to him by his father, thus, giving him an apprenticeship to rule the kingdom. Although Charlemagne was not literate, he seems to have placed value in education. We can credit him with the revival of learning.

Charlemagne saw that education was in serious decline. So he assembled at his court some of the finest minds of his day. He also sponsored monasteries where ancient books were preserved and copied. He reformed the palace school and ensured that monastic schools were set up throughout the realm. The idea of learning was given a time and a place to flourish .

The “Carolingian Renaissance” was an isolated phenomenon. Learning did not catch fire throughout Europe. Only in the royal court and monasteries was there any real focus on education. Yet, because of Charlemagne’s interest in preserving and reviving knowledge, a wealth of ancient manuscripts was copied for future generations . Just as important, a tradition of learning was established in European monastic communities. These monasteries helped to overcome the threat of the extinction of Latin culture.

Charlemagne created a political hierarchy in which the Counts would report to the Dukes, and the Dukes to Charlemagne himself. Charlemagne gained the loyalty and respect of his Barons by leading them on numerous successful military campaigns. He also insisted that his nobles be educated, and formed at his palace, a school under the direction of the scholar, Alcuin . With Alcuin as the “Minister of Education”, the palace school began what is known as the “Carolingian Renaissance”. This characterization is supported by the desire of the Emperor to rebuild the Roman Empire and rule in the same manner as the Roman Emperors. It is this renaissance that impacts the Western world today, more than any of Charlemagne’s military conquests.

In Charlemagne’s palace school at Aachen, one finds the ideals and aims of the Carolingian renaissance most definitively.

The Merovingians established a school to train young nobles to fight, and how to conduct themselves at court. At the time, however, no academic knowledge was being imparted . The only schools that taught academics were located at monasteries and cathedrals.

Charlemagne altered the palace school into a center of learning and knowledge . He hired scholars to teach under the direction of Alcuin, Minister of Education. Charlemagne required Alcuin himself to instruct the royal family in reading and writing.

In addition to the palace school, Charlemagne made many decrees concerning the education of his people

(1). His “Charter of Modern Thought” required that the monasteries be concerned with “the study of letters” .

() Charlemagne ordered that teachers “who are both willing and able to learn” be hired and “let them apply themselves to this work with a zeal equal to the earnestness with which we recommend it to them” .

The Carolingian handwriting that evolved during Charlemagne’s reign was developed to increase the legibility of the numerous manuscripts the monks turned out at this time. These small letters, known as “Carolingian Miniscule” became the basis of the lower case letters we use today. Ninety percent of the works of ancient Rome now in existence, are preserved in the form of manuscripts copied in a Carolingian Monastery.

While Charlemagne attempted to rekindle an interest in learning and unite various groups into one nation, he never addressed the economic difficulties that Europe faced, now that Rome no longer furnished order. Although Charlemagne did devise the system of pounds, shillings and pence used throughout Europe during the middle ages and in Britain until recently, other segments of the infrastructure continued to decline. Roads and bridges fell into decay, trade was fractured, and manufacturing was by necessity a localized craft, instead of a widespread and profitable industry .

The political and cultural life of Europe collapsed with the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. Three hundred years later, Charlemagne, who became sole king of the Franks in 771, led a cultural revival that lifted Western Europe from darkness. Charlemagnes reign also was marked by brutal military campaigns designed to expand his empire. For more than 0 years, Charlemagne waged a bitter war against the Saxons, finally forcing their conversion to Christianity . This campaign included the mass execution of 4,500 Saxons on a single day. Although Charlemagne ultimately controlled practically all of the Christian lands of Western Europe, his empire quickly crumbled following his death in 814. The cultural revival sparked by Charlemagne nonetheless had a permanent influence on Europe and overshadowed his ruthless military measures.

The papacy was an essential element of political authority in Frankish society. Pepin forged a relationship with the papacy by coming to the aid of the Pope of Rome. In return, Pepin is made King. Charlemagne’s relationship with the papacy is an extension of his father’s relationship. He continues Pepin’s efforts to protect the papacy. In return, Pope Leo III crowns Charlemagne emperor . As emperor of Rome, Charlemagne’s realm of political authority doubles. Charlemagne’s political authority not only lies in the secular world, but in the ecclesiastical world. He takes on the role of the protector of the church. His new position allows him to do many things, including reforms in the church and reforms in the legal system of Frankish society. Einhard writes He made careful reforms in the way in which the psalms were chanted and the lessons read.” Now that he was Emperor, he discovered that there were many defects in the legal system of his own people. The Franks had two separate codes of law which differ from each other on many points. He committed himself to writing and unifying the laws of all the nations under his jurisdiction which had at that point still remained unrecorded .

Charlemagne was profusely generous to the Church. At the same time, he made himself the church’s master, and used its doctrines and personnel as instruments of education and government. Much of his correspondence was about religion. He hurled scriptural quotations at corrupt officials or worldly clerics and the intensity of his utterances precluded suspicion that his piety was a political pose. He sent money to distressed Christians in foreign lands, and in his negotiations with Muslim rulers, he insisted on fair treatment of their Christian population .

Bishops played a leading part in his councils, assemblies, and administration. But, he looked upon them, however reverently, as his agents under God and he did not hesitate to command them, even in matters of doctrine or morals. He denounced image worship while the popes were defending it. From every priest, he required a written description of how baptism was administered in their parish. Popes received as many directives from him as they did gifts. He suppressed insubordination in monasteries and ordered a strict watch on convents to prevent “whoring, drunkenness, and covetousness” among the nuns.

In his quest to become Emperor of Rome, Charlemagne faced many difficulties. The Greek monarch already had the title of Roman emperor and full historic right to that title. The Church had no recognized authority to convey or transfer the title, let alone give it to a rival of the Greek Monarchy. Byzantium might precipitate a gigantic war of Christian East against Christian West, leaving a ruined Europe to a conquering Islam .

On December 6, 75, Leo III was chosen Pope. The Roman populace did not like him. They accused him of various misdeeds such as simony, perjury, and adultery. And on April 5, 7, they attacked the Pope, maltreated him, and imprisoned him in a monastery. He escaped, and fled to Charlemagne at Paderborn for protection.

The King received him kindly and sent him back to Rome under armed escort. In the following year, he ordered the Pope and his accusers to appear before him. On December 1, 800, an assembly of Franks and Romans agreed to drop the charges against Pope Leo III if he denied the charges under oath. Pope Leo III denied the charges and the way was cleared for a magnificent celebration of the Nativity .

On Christmas Day, as Charlemagne, in the chlamys and sandals of a patricius Romanus, knelt before St. Peter’s altar in prayer, Pope Leo III produced a jeweled crown, and set it upon the King’s head. This gave Charlemagne the “Devine Right to Rule” according to the Roman Church.

Having conquered an empire and established the “Devine Right to Rule”, Charlemagne then began to establish some uniformity within the empire. The ancient concept of public order had not been entirely destroyed by the invasion of barbarians. But, as law and order weakened, its place was partly taken by the Churchmen’s Nations of peace and right order. Charlemagne established a system of courts to provide justice to all free disputants.

In conclusion Charlemagne was a Frankish Warrior King with the background and traditions of Germanic peoples. It seems that Charlemagne united an empire by conquest and ruled by the authority of the Pope. Charlemagne also treated his empire as his personal property and divided his realm among his sons. Either he failed to realize that only with unity could the empire become a true power, or he placed his own wishes, and those of his sons, above the decisions that would best serve the empire in the future.

Duckett, Eleanor S. Alcuin, Friend of Charlemagne. Connecticut Archon, 165.

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, trans. Lewis Thorpe, (Harmondsworth and Baltimore, 16).

Lauret, Rene. France and Germany The Legacy of Charlemagne. Chicago Henry Regnery Company, 164.

TURNER, WILLIAM. “Carolingian Schools.” “The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III.” (http// 1

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