The Development of Feudalism in Western Europe: Charlemagne Compare and Contrast

Throughout history, there have been many good and bad rulers, from the bravery of Alexander the Great, to the madness of George III. None, however, helped shape European feudalism like Charlemagne, King of the Franks, First of the Holy Roman Emperors. His advancements in government were not his only advancements though. He created an educational system for his people. While far behind the public and private educational systems of today, in the 8th and 9th century, it was a start. He also helped spread Christianity throughout Europe. Born in Northern Europe in 752, he was to become one of history’s great leaders, and precursor to the Holy Roman Empire.

Brief History of the Line of Frankish kings. In 481, Clovis became king of one of the Frankish tribes. Because of a bet he made with his wife, he became Christian, and he forced 3,000 of his soldiers to become Christian also. This would eventually gain the support of the Catholic Church for both himself and the Franks. However, Clovis’s qualities as a leader were not passed on to his sons, and on Clovis’s death, his sons divided the kingdom that he worked to build. Later Merovingian kings became inept at ruling the kingdom, and eventually became kings in just name only. The business of ruling the kingdom was left to the “Mayor of the Palace”.

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In 751, Pope Zacharias arranged for Childeric III to be sent to a monastery and for Pepin, Mayor of the Palace, to be crowned king. But, the alliance between the Papacy and the Franks would soon be tested. Aistulf, king of the Lombards, captured lands north of Rome and announced his intention to capture Rome itself. In an attempt by the Papacy to prevent this disaster, the Pope sent out to ask Pepin the Short, for his assistance in dealing with the Lombards.

He would eventually defeat the Lombards in battle, and the land that was gained was given to the Catholic Church, in the Donation of Pepin which created the Papal States. Birth and Parentage, and ChildhoodCharles I, or Charlemagne was born in 742. He was the son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada. Little is known about his childhood, other than the fact that he liked riding horses and hunting. He attempted to learn how to write, but was unsuccessful. He did however learn how to speak fluently in Latin, despite his attempt at learning how to write. Charlemagne’s roots can be traced back to Ansegis, Mayor of Austrasia and Begga. His most famous ancestors however, were his father and grandfather, Pepin the Short and Charles Martel, respectively.

After the death of Pepin the Short, Charlemagne and his brother Carloman were proclaimed kings by their supporting nobles, and were anointed by their respective bishops. Military Successes During his lifeIn 769, Aquitaine and Gascony broke into rebellion. Charlemagne was forced to try to crush these rebellions without his brother’s assistance. Charlemagne marched his army through Bordeaux and defeated the rebel leader, Hunold. Duke Hunold was to flee to the protection of Lupus, Duke of the Gascons. But Duke Lupus agreed to give up Duke Hunold to Charlemagne, and was granted peace.

Hunold was not executed, but was returned to monastic alive. After the reconquest of Aquitaine, his mother tried to get Charlemagne to reconcile with his brother, but he was already making treaties with rulers that surrounded Carloman’s kingdom. To try and seal the peace with Lombardy, he married the daughter of the king of Lombardy, Desiderata. Pope Stephen III did not like this marriage, for they encouraged Frankish kings to weaken the power of the Lombards, whose territories bordered upon it’s own. He then made an alliance with her father, Desiderius, which made the Pope give up his objections to the marriage.

However, after one year, Charlemagne divorced his wife and married Hildegarde, a Suabian noblewoman. In 771, there was a fear that Carloman, Charlemagne’s brother, and Desiderata would create an alliance and attack Charlemagne, but in December of that year, Carloman died, leaving Charlemagne in complete control of the Frankish Kingdom.In 772, Charlemage led an army into Saxony, in his first attempt to conquer the region. He then destroyed the Irminsul, a sacred temple and tree grove worshipped by all Saxony. He could have continued his invasion, but winter prevented it, and when he reconvened his army in 773, Charlemagne had changed his mind and had decided to attack Lombardy. His army marched from Geneva toward Lombardy.

Charlemagne’s army was spilt into two groups, one commanded by him and the other by his Uncle Bernard. Although Desiderius had fortified the passes to Lombardy, a flanking maneuver forced him to retreat toward Lombardy. Desiderius’ army came to rest at the city of Pavia. Charlemagne laid siege to the city for several months. He then left a smaller force to siege Pavia, and took the bulk of his army to meet other Lombard threats. He defeated the Lombard prince, and being so close to Rome, visited while Pavia was under siege. In Rome he met other rulers, spiritual and temporal. In meetings with the pope, he reconfirmed the alliance between the Frankish Empire and the papacy. In the summer of 774, Pavia was in a state of famine.

Desiderius agreed to surrender as long as the life of his men would be spared. Charlemage, after returning to the siege at Pavia, agreed to the terms, and exiled Desiderius to Neustria afterwards. Charlemagne then had himself declared King of Italy, and from that time onwards he was to be called King of the Franks and Lombards, Roman Patrician. He did not make drastic changes in the government, and left most of the governors in place. One of the son-in-laws to Desiderius refused to pay homage to Charlemagne, and he tried to restore the exiled prince Adelchis.

Charlemagne responded by killing one of the supporters in battle, and would return later to kill the rest. While Charlemagne was fighting the Lombards, the Saxons again revolted, and Charlemagne again marched his armies to Saxony. He started his invasion by attacking Westphalia. Then he marched into Engria, conquered the Mid-Saxons, and then crossed into Eastphalia. It was the Eastphalians who first converted to Christanity, then the Engrians followed. Hostages were taken for securtity for the oaths made. Westphalia was the last to covert, as they were stronger than the other two provinces of Saxony.

As an end result of this campaign, three quarters of Saxony were loyal to Charlemagne, but not for long. In 776, Saxony revolted again. He marched his army from Italy to Saxony with amazing speed, and took the Saxons completely by surprise. The hostages that he had taken earlier were killed, and the Saxons sued for Peace. To insure his control, Charlemagne called a council at Paderborn, in the center of Engria. Many Saxons were baptized, and swore oaths to remain loyal to Charlemagne. At the council, ambassadors from Spain had come to show homage to Charlemagne.

They proposed that their feudal lords become lords of Charlemagne, if he agreed to give protection. Thinking that Saxony was under control, he accepted the offer and took his army into Spain. After conquering lands there, he learned that there was another revolt in Saxony. He then marched back to Saxony, and defeated the Westphalians. As usual, the Eastphalians and the Engrians submitted without a fight. Charlemagne then divided the Saxons politically and put them under bishops. He published a Saxon code of law, and let some Saxon Chieftains keep rule.

Many were baptized in the rivers Elbe and Ocker. After 2 years, the northern tribes of Saxony revolted, and Charlemagne again quelled the revolt. He then rounded up the leaders of the revolt, which was about 4,500 men, and slaughtered them. Immediately after this, there were still revolts in Saxony, but only minor ones, which were easily crushed. Charlemagne then turned his attention to other fronts. He then conquered the Slavs, Avars, the Island of Corsica, Sardinia, and the Baleric Islands. In 792, the Saxons revolted again. It would take 2 years for Charlemagne to stop the rebellion.

Life with Charlemagne/ The search for a CapitolCharlemagne was described as a very large person, but with a very squeaky voice. He loved to have people around him. From the beginning of his day, he had people asking for advice, chatting with him, etc. He did not like to waste time, and often had his daily planning session in his bedroom while he got dressed. He was a deeply religious person, and attended mass regularly. But after mass, he turned his thoughts to hunting, the sport he had loved since childhood. Finding game was not a real problem for him, as game was plentiful in the northern forests of Frankland. He loved to eat, and regarded meal times when heart and mind were nourished. He is noted for liking roast meats.

Like the Greeks, Charlemagne despised drunkenness in all people, and especially held himself to his standards.After a meal, he would often take a nap in preparation for the day ahead, which was filled with court cases, planning, and other kingly matters. Another pastime that he liked was swimming, and it rivaled hunting for his favorite sport. In the evening, he would attend services in the chapel, before he would eat dinner. He loved his family, and when he was at home, would not sit down to eat without his children being present. He especially cared for his children, Charles, Carloman (who was later given his half-brother’s name, Pepin), and Louis. From the beginning of their lives he always stressed education.

In addition to the physical training they received, each one of them accompanied their father on the battlefield, and when each was 13, they were all commanding men. He also gave each of his sons a portion of the kingdom to rule, so that they would gain practical experience in being a leader. Even after they were on their own, Charlemagne kept an eye on them. For example, when he suspected that his son Louis was being frivolous, he sent him out to the Saxon front. He was even more watchful of his daughters. He would only allow them to marry courtiers that lived in the palace. His daughters joined in on all of his activities, from the morning hunt to the various after-dinner discussions.

In 791, he choose Aix-la-Chapelle (now know as Aachen) to be the site for his new capitol. He chose this site for several reasons. First, it was known for it’s hot springs. Second, Aix-la-Chapelle was in reach of nearly all of Frankland, and was especially close to Saxony. Third, it was a small town, and this would allow him to exert his own influence in its construction. The capitol was centered on the church and his palace, both in his mind equal. Governmental ReformsIn the late 780’s and throughout the 790’s Charlemagne devoted much of his time trying to improve the live of the everyday citizen. He proved himself to be a wise ruler. One of the factors in his success was the establishment of ‘missi dominici’ (the lord’s emmissaries).

The missi dominici were people who inspected all regions of the empire, taking notes on how Charlemagne’s orders were being carried out. The ‘missi dominici’ were really the eyes and ears of Charlemagne, since he could not view his entire kingdom at one time. Charlemagne once remarked “I insist, that my missi are, by their upright behavior, examples of the virtues in which they instruct others in my name.” Another factor that helped simplify the empire was the use of feudalism. Charlemagne produced a document called “Decree Concerning the Estates” and was a general document to help the tewards run the manor. Charlemagne improved the trade within the empire by improving road conditions, and building new roads.

He tried to build a canal connected the Danube and the Rhine rivers, but was unsuccessful. He was forced to develop a system of money exchange with in the empire because of the new trade. Charlemagne, while being an excellent military tactician, also cared for his intellectual development. Ever since he had been exposed to life in Italy, he started to attack learning as he had attacked the Saxons, with strength and doggedness. He learned how to speak Greek and Latin. Charlemagne started a school at Aix-la-Chapelle, where he invited students from all over the kingdom to learn. Although the school was estalished for sons of nobles, he believed that all children should have a chance to learn, so he allowed all children to enroll.

He often pointed out that the poorer students did better than the students who were better off. The reputation of the Palace School spread throughout Europe. Students from all across Europe came to the school. Charlemagne picked Alcuin, a monk from England to revise the educational system. Alcuin wrote new textbooks to replace the older ones, and started to train new teachers. By the time of Alcuin’s retirement, Charlemagne could offer universal free education. Charlemagne often enjoyed the conversation that Alcuin, and others gave. The school at Aix-la-chapelle soon became a college.

Lectures, poetry readings, and conversation was prevalent there. Charlemagne was given the nickname Kind David by most of the members of the academy, probably referring to David’s role in the bible as a prophet. Charlemagne’s interest in education stemmed from his interest in religion. He felt that education opened a person to the religious knowledge that made for salvation of the soul. Charlemagne became interested in religious life of Frankland in other ways. Previously, his sense of religious mission had been confined to his attempts to conquer new converts on the battlefield. His sense of responsiblity began to grow.

The king often turned preacher, as he felt that the people, especially the clergy, should live up to the ideals and behaviors that they professed. He started a campaign to clean all the churches in Frankland, he introduced the Gregorian chant to the church services, and he urged priests to get a proper education. Charlemagne also started to get into the theological controversies of the day. He studied the orthodox position, and tried to understand it. He also began to step in when he felt that Pope Hadrian was slacking off in duties. When Charlemagne heard that the Eastern church defended the practice of using images in their worship, Charlemagne wrote a defense of the Western’s Church’s positon. He called a council of Bishops in 794 where he presented his document. They all voted to condemn the eastern practice.

Beginning with the death of Pope Hadrian in 795, Charlemagne started down the path to becoming Emperor of the Romans. Hadrian’s successor, Pope Leo, was very unpopular. Roman nobles accused him of adultery.In 799 the Pope was attacked by a group of conspirators who were determined to dispose him. Loyal attendants, who took him to safety, eventually saved him. He sought a more permanent refuge with Frankish ambassadors.

Although Charlemagne did not especially like the new pope, he would not stand for this kind of behavior. He sent for Leo to be brought to him. Pope Leo stayed with Charlemagne for a couple months before he was sent back with 2 archbishops and Frankish bodyguards, who were to clear the Pope’s name. While this occured, Charlemagne took a tour of his kingdom. At the end of the tour, his fifth wife, Liutgard, died. He then announced that he was going to Rome so that his oldest legitimate son, Charles, would be proclaimed King of the Franks, as was the tradition for Frankish heirs to be crowned before their predecessors died. While in Rome, he finally cleared Pope Leo’s name of guilt. On Christmas Day, the day he had planned to crown his son King of Franks, he was crowned Emperor of the Romans.Charlemagne accepted the position with humility. Einhard, his biographer, and one of his closest friends remarked the king saying that he would enter St. Peter’s that Day if he had known what the Pope was going to do.

Charlemagne as Emperor Charlemagne showed most of his true qualities as Emperor. This was to start his carreer as a diplomat. He turned his attention to the Holy Land. Reports of Moslem attacks on Christian monasteries had been reaching Europe. Charlemagene began efforts to befriend the Muslims. He sent a team of ambassadors to Baghdad, where he befriended the caliph of Baghdad. It worked and the Caliph showered the Emperor with gifts of silk, and even an elephant. In 804, Saxony rebelled, and in an act of great cruelty, Charlemagne ordered that many Saxons to be sent to distant parts of the Frankish kingdom. In his new position came new enemies. His main enemy was the Byzantines. The Byzantine emperors were not happy with Charlemagne being crowned Emperor of the Romans. In the year 805, Charlemagne had a confrontation with the Byzantines over the possession of Venice.

But instead of fighting over Venice, Charlemagne ceded it to the Byzantine emperor in favor of better relations. The Normans were becoming more of a problem also. They would use their navy to raid the coastal villages of Frankland. Although the Franks were powerful on land, they were inferior to the Nomans at sea. Charlemagne organized his people to start building a new navy. The conflict in the north was finally ended, but not by superior naval strength, but for the mere reason that the Norman king had died. In 810 the Franks started a campaign against the Normans, and Charles took the elephant he had received from the Caliph of Baghdad with him. While on the campaign, the elephant died. This was only the start of Charlemagne’s troubles.

Later in 810, the Frankish Empire was struck by a cattle plague, causing famine. Charlemagne’s son, Pepin, and daughter, Hrodrud, both died that year, and Charlemagne’s health began to fail. Charlemagne started plan how his empire would be split up after his death. He did not want to split his land between his remaining sons, for fear of fighting between them. But, as was Frankish tradition, he did plan to break up his empire, but under the condition that the 3 kingdoms work with each other. Also in his will, he made clear that eleven twelfths was to go to the church. In 811, Charlemagnes’s oldest son, Charles, died. This left only Louis to govern the empire after his death. Many felt that the crown should not be passed to Louis, but rather to one of Charlemagne’s grandsons.

But Charlemagne was determined to follow tradition. In 813, he summoned Louis to Aix-la-Chapelle to try and teach him how to govern and empire. In September of that year, Charlemagne crowned his son, Louis the Pious, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Romans. Just a few months afterwards, Charlemagne was killed by a fever after a hunting trip. He was 71 years old. ConclusionCharlemagne by far had the longest rule of any ruler to date in Europe, with a reign of 45 years. He expanded education, and offered free education to his entire kingdom, and he strengthened the papacy. From his military exploits, to his diplomatic ones, he is truly a great man.

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