World History I

HST 218 – 102


By: Vlad Exxxx

Instructor: Mr. James Krokar

DePaul University

November 18, 2002

The happiness and prosperity of the citizens

is the only legitimate object of government.

Thomas Jefferson

Sometimes one great man is all it takes to change the course of history
around for a nation, a civilization, or even the entire world. Luckily
for the proponents of its proponents, it is hard to disagree with the
theory of “persona magna.” The world has seen the historical
repercussions of the distinguished exploits of such men as Julius
Caesar, Alexander the Great, and Abraham Lincoln. The remarkable
accomplishments of Charlemagne undeniably earn him a place among the
most triumphant individuals in history.

Charlemagne was born into the family of the Mayor of the Palace in the
court of King Childeric. Despite the lack of royal ancestry, Charles’
father, Pepin was the true ruler of the Franks until the eventual
deposition of impotent Childeric, at which time Pepin was named the
official monarch. Upon Pepin’s demise, the state, which Pepin had
gloriously expanded, was passed on to Charles and his brother Carloman
who ruled jointly for some three years, and after Carloman’s death,
Charles became the King of the Franks (Einhard 27).

The reign of Charlemagne was a most glorious one. During his forty-five
years in power, Charles distinguished himself as a successful conqueror,
an imposing sovereign, an able diplomat, and an active advocate of
learning. His conquests doubled the empire he inherited, his masterful
diplomacy helped him establish strategic alliances with neighbors, and
his appreciation for knowledge and scholarship sparked a “Carolingian
Renaissance” (Painter 5), a period of revival of learning, while popular
education was waning in Europe during the early Middle Ages.

For the purpose of determining the medieval Franks’ view of an ideal
ruler, Einhard’s positively biased biography of Charlemagne is the best
source for information. As pointed out in Sidney Painter’s foreword to
the book, Einhard slants the focus toward the positive aspects, while
“passing over delicately details he considered embarrassing” (Painter
11). As a result of such omission of most of the unfavorable
biographical facts, the somewhat idealized view of Charlemagne becomes a
model of a “perfect King” as envisioned by the people of his time.

Perhaps the skill most highly valued by Einhard as well as by the people
of the turbulent Middle Ages was the ability to conduct victorious
warfare. After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, the nations that came
to inherit the land were engaged in frequent wars, trying to conquer
lands in order to collect tribute. Clearly, in times like those it was
necessary for a king to be an apt military commander because the welfare
of a nation almost directly depended upon the territory, and therefore
the amount of arable land and natural resources. Einhard dedicates a
large portion of the biography to the history of Charlemagne’s
conquests. He mentions Charles’ charisma and outstanding leadership
skills. If one were to closely examine the record of the most famous or
most notorious kings in the history of mankind, the top of the list
would be dominated by the warrior kings: Alexander the Great, Julius
Caesar, Sundiata, Ivan the Terrible, and others. In today’s world, the
violation of other nations’ borders seems if not outrageous, then at
least unethical. But in the Middle Ages, when all government was done by
the sword, the winner was the one who was most adept with that sword.
What difference does it make that Charlemagne could not read or write if
his fifty-three successful conquests brought all of Christian Western
Europe except for Britain, Italy, and Sicily (Painter 5) to the Franks’
feet? In contrast to Charlemagne’s spectacular example, Einhard briefly
describes the personality of the official king in the time of Pepin,
Charlemagne’s father:

There was nothing left the King to do but to be content with his name of
King, his flowing hair, and long beard, to sit on the throne and play
the ruler, to give ear to the ambassadors that came from all quarters,
and to dismiss them, as if on his own responsibility, in words that
were, in fact, suggested to him, or even imposed upon him (Einhard

If anything had caused Einhard to give mention to such a petty figure as
King Childeric, it must have been the need for an antithesis to contrast
with the marvelous personality of Charlemagne. Fulfilling the duty of a
historian would not explain such a motion because in Einhard’s own
foreword, he indirectly confesses of creating a somewhat biased picture
of his master and benefactor, thereby renouncing the duty and the title
of a historian.

Einhard undertook a considerable effort to discuss Charlemagne’s
positive personal traits: determination and steadfastness to go through
with all his endeavors; strict adherence to justice and readiness to
counteract any “faithless behavior” with righteous vengeance (Einhard
31). Through Charlemagne’s example, Einhard specifies more valuable
character traits of a worthy ruler: perseverance to withstand whatever
comes, without yielding in the face of adversity or difficulty (Einhard

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