(Latin: Carolus Magnus)
Charles the Great, 742-814, King of the Franks, first sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire, born Aix-la-Chapelle or Liege; died Aix-la-Chapelle.
He was the eldest son of Pepin the Short, mayor of the palace, whom Pope Stephen III anointed as king (752).
Before his death, in 768, Pepin divided his dominions between his two sons, Charles and Carloman.
At the latter's death (771) his subjects accepted Charles as their king.
As "Roman Patrician" Charles was obligated to defend the temporal rights of the Holy See, which were first threatened by the Lombards under Desiderius, whom he finally defeated at Pavia.
He waged victorious warfare against the pagan Saxons, to whom he gave the alternative of baptism or death, their leader Wittekind finally accepting Christianity in 785.
The invasion of Moslem Spain in 777 was without significant result.
The "Chanson de Roland" recounts the death of the paladin Roland during this campaign.
Bertha, the king's mother, who had been a strong influence for good, died in 783.
About this time Charlemagne subdued uprisings of Tassilo, Duke of Bavaria, Areghis, the Lombard prince, the Thuringians, Saracens and Avars.
In 800 he received the imperial crown from Leo III in Rome.
In 806 he divided his empire by will among his three sons.
Charlemagne undertook the agricultural development of his realm, organized and codified the principles of ancient Frankish law, and through the scholars whom he attracted to his court inaugurated educational reform.
He furthered the spiritual welfare of the Church by his zeal for ecclesiastical discipline and took keen interest in the deliberations of synods.
He improved and propagated church music, laying the foundations of modern musical culture.
His canonization by the antipope Paschal III was never ratified.
Charlemagne is the hero of a cycle of romance in the Middle Ages.
He first appeared as a legendary figure in the book of the so-called Monachus Sangallensis (883).
In France he became the center of the national epics, or "Chansons de Geste," which relate his legendary deeds and those of his paladins (Oliver, Roland, Turpin), and vassals.
In the older epics he is the incarnation of majesty, truth, and justice, and the champion of God's church against the infidel, but the later epics paint him as a tyrant and oppressor.
His Saxon wars left many legends in Germany, concerned mainly with Wittekind and his conversion, which, according to the French version, was short-lived tnd insincere.
Through French influence the Carlovingian legend spread to other countries; in Italy it inspired the Franco-Italian epics, and the "Reali di Francia" of Mignabotti, and culminated in the famous chivalrous epics of Boiardo and Ariosto; in Germany it appeared in the "Rolandslied" of Konrad der Pfaffe, "Karlmeinet," and the chap-books of the 15th century; in Scandinavia in the "Karlamagnus saga" (c.1300); in the Netherlands in numerous translations like "Carel ende Elegast"; and in England Caxton published "The Lyf of Charles the Grete" (1485) and "The four sonnes of Aymon" (1486).
New Catholic Dictionary