Charlemagne was a Frankish ruler who descended from Charles Martel. Martel was among the foremost defenders of Christianity in Western Europe during the onslaught of Muslim invasion in the 8th century. His decisive success against the Muslim armies laid the foundations of a Frankish dynasty.
Charlemagne was Martel’s grandson and became the King of the Franks in 768. He wrested the control of Italy from the Lombards, brought Saxons into the fold of Christianity by sword and ultimately forged most of Western Europe into a single empire which was later called the Carolingian Empire, a precursor to the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne was crowed as the Roman Emperor by the Pope in 800.
Charles Martel became the most powerful leader in Western Europe following his victory at the Battle of Tours in in 732. The battle was a watershed historic moment where the unrestricted expansions of Muslims into Western Europe was finally stopped and Christianity stood victorious on the Continent under Martel. Martel went on to found a ruling dynasty of the Franks.
His grandson, Charlemagne, ascended to the throne upon King Pepin’s death. Initially, Charlemagne shared the kingship of the Frankish lands with his younger brother. Soon, however, his brother died and he went on to rule the Franks single-handedly. From this power base, he occupied various new territories and annexed them to his empire.
At the time of Charlemagne’s ascension to the Frankish throne, the Lombards had established their kingdom in Italy. Although Charlemagne initially tried to forge an alliance with the Lombards, he would later change this policy. In 772, a dispute between the Lombard rulers and the Papacy ensued. Charlemagne mediated in favour of the Papacy and ultimately led an army against the Lombards in 773.
He defeated the Lombards in these direct confrontations and finally laid siege to the city of Pavia. The sieged dragged on until 774 when the Lombards finally surrendered and Charlemagne effectively became the King of the Lombards as well, annexing Italy to the domains of his empire.
During the reign of Charlemagne’s father, the Franks had ranged into Aquitaine and made significant gains. Charlemagne reasserted this by appointing Frankish nobility to many vital positions in Aquitaine. This was resisted by the duke of Gascony and Franks had to face many battles and numerous uprising in the Aquitaine region.
In time, Charlemagne was able to conquer most of the Aquitaine region and ultimately appointed his son, Louis the Pious, as the King of this new territory. However, the gains in Aquitaine were temporary and as soon as Charlemagne died, the control of the Carolingian dynasty over Aquitaine weakened.
Since the days of Charles Martel, Franks had a close alliance with the Catholic Papacy. Charlemagne became the fiercest upholder of Christianity in Western Europe and it was his fierce campaigns against Germanic and non-Germanic pagan tribes which ultimately established Christianity all over Europe.
Among the most notable of such campaigns was Charlemagne’s attempts to Christianise Saxons in Saxonia. His battles with Saxons continued for thirty years during which he fought eighteen battles with them. By 804, Charlemagne had forcefully converted most Saxon populations to Christianity, established Churches all over their lands, destroyed their temples and effectively made Continental Saxons into a Christian people who no longer had any pagan aspirations.
Avars were a pagan people, identified as Huns by some historians, settled in Bavaria in late 8th century. Charlemagne was quick to march against them soon with a sizable army and destroy their fortifications. The Avars tried to hold back the assault but over the years, repeated campaigns by Charlemagne and his son using two different armies finally forced them to submit.
In 800, notable Avar leaders travelled to Charlemagne’s court and upon being baptised, one among them was proclaimed the leader of the Avars. In 803, Charlemagne decisively put down one final rebellion of the Avars and was proclaimed King by the defeated pagans.
Before Charlemagne, his father had been the first of the Frank rulers to take the title of King. Charlemagne significantly expanded the frontiers of the Frankish Kingdom and effectively turned it into an Empire by annexing Italy, Aquitaine and many Central European territories to it. In 799, he travelled to Rome at the request of Pope Leo III where he was crowned as the “Emperor of the Romans” in 800 by the Pope himself.
This was a move designed by the Pope to take away the formal control of Rome and Papacy from the Byzantine Emperors and give it in the hands of the Frankish rulers. Charlemagne’s coronation, in this light, is seen as the beginning of Church’s independence from Byzantium and its reliance on West European rulers.
Charlemagne died in 814, having firmly established Christianity in Western Europe and carved a sizable Empire for the Franks. Upon his death, his Empire was divided between his sons in the manner common among Franks. Italy went to King Pepin, Charles the Younger was made King of Neustria and Aquitaine went to King Louis the Pious. Charlemagne was effectively considered the creator of the Kingdoms of France and Germany which later paved the way for the modern-day countries of the same name.
Charlemagne was among the most influential European rulers during the Middle Ages who left a lasting impact on Western and Central Europe. He was the grandson of Charles Martel of Battle of Tours fame. Charlemagne ascended to the throne in 768 and throughout his reign, he launched countless battles against Saxons, Lombards, the regions in Aquitaine and a large number of other pagan tribes.
He won most of these battles, effectively bringing Italy and Saxonia into Frankish control and turning a huge number pagan populations into adherents of Christianity. By his death, he had forged a Frankish Empire which expanded over modern-day France, Italy, Germany and a large number of other territories. He was the first ruler after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century to be crowned “Emperor of the Romans”.