Carolingians were a dynasty that rose to rule the Germanic Franks in the 8th century. After holding the powerful position of the mayor of the palace for a long time, the Carolingians were effectively able to replace the Merovingian dynasty as the rulers of Franks. They accomplished this with the direct support of the Church which had been a close ally of the Carolingians for many decades prior.
The first Frankish king of Carolingian descent was Pepin the Short and by the time one of his descendants, Charlemagne, became the Frankish ruler, the Carolingians were the most formidable power in all of Western Europe. Following are some of the most famous Carolingian kings.
Pepin the Short
Pepin the Short rose to the position of the Mayor of the Palace in 741. At the time, the Merovingian dynasty had lost all power to the Carolingians but ruled over the Franks in name alone. Pepin initially ruled over Burgundy, Provence and Francia but eventually came to rule over the whole of Francia.
In 751, Pepin deposed the last Merovingian monarch and with the help of the Pope and proclaimed himself ‘King of the Franks’. He actively supported the cause of Papacy and in doing so, opposed the Lombards in Italy. After securing control of northern Italy, he gave away a number of states to the Papacy which became the basis of the later Papal States. Pepin died in 768 and was succeeded by his sons, Carloman and Charlemagne.
Carloman I was the eldest son of Pepin the Short and a brother of Charlemagne. Upon Pepin’s death in 768, Carloman and Charlemagne were each given one-half of Pepin’s kingdom as inheritance, both becoming King of the Franks in their respective regions. This led to a conflict between the two brothers with both trying to secure allies in Lombard Italy, the Church and in Bavaria.
While most of Carloman’s attempts failed, Charlemagne successfully forged many powerful alliances. This intensified the conflict between the two and they were close to war when Carloman died in 771, leaving Charlemagne the sole ruler of the Franks.
Charlemagne the Great
Charlemagne is considered the greatest of all Carolingian monarchs. In his period, the Carolingian might reached its power and it was largely his reign which defined Western Europe for a millennium to come.
Upon his brother’s death in 771, Charlemagne was the master of entire Frankish kingdom. He then expanded southwards, subduing the Lombard Italy and being proclaimed the King of Italy in 774. He also launched campaigns into Moorish Spain to stem the advancing tide of Muslim invasions.
To the East, he campaigned vigorously into Saxony for many decades, subduing the Saxons and converting them to Christianity upon the penalty of death. Towards Hungary, his campaigns subdued the Avars and in the northeast, he received the submission of the Slavs.
In 800, Charlemagne was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope, making him the first to assume the title in Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. He died in 814, leaving a vast Empire to his descendants.