Franklin S. Gibbs Prof. History of Western Civilization November 25, 2000 Charlemagne The two lives of Charlemagne as told by Einhard and Notker the Stammerer are very different accounts of the life of the great Emperor. Einhard gives us a historical overview of the life of Charlemagne who lived from 742 to 814 A. D. Charlemagne was also known as Charles the Great and the King of the Franks.
Charles was one of four children born to Pepin the Short, A Mayor of the Palace of the Carolingian Empire. He had one brother, Carloman and two sisters, Gisela and Pepin. Since women at the time didn’t inherit power, when Pepin the Short died, the kingship of the Carolingian Empire was divided and shared by Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman. Unfortunately, Carloman died early and unexpectedly as a young man and the entire land of the Franks was given to Charlemagne.
This kingdom was vast and covers what would today include parts of the countries of Germany, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and France. Charlemagne took very good care of his mother who lived with him at the palace and died at a ripe old age. His brother Pepin died as a child and his sister Gisela spent her entire life as a religious in a nunnery. Charlemagne had four wives and four concubines. From these relationships he had fourteen children.
He insisted on educating all of his children both the boys and the girls. The boys leaned how to hunt and use arms while the girls learned womanly things like weaving. Charlemagne was a devoted father and when he wasn’t fighting a war and was at home, he insisted on eating dinner with his children and also took them with him on many of his journeys. He was so attached to his daughters that he refused to give them away in marriage with the result that two of them ended up having illegitimate children. Charlemagne was a famous king because of the many years in which he waged war agains other nations, about forty seven years in total.
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During that time he practically doubled the land given to him by his father. He successfully waged war against many including the Bretons, Bavaria, the Slavs, Esthonians, Danes and an especially long thirty-year war against the Saxons. He was a respected and feared by many of the rulers of other lands. He is also remembered because of the Carolingian Renaissance which took place under his direction and leadership. Although he was not a learned man, he revered and respected knowledge. He attracted many scholars to his palace.
Theology and the literary Skills became a part of the everyday life in the palace for nobles and common people of talent as well. Many building projects were also undertaken during this time of renaissance including two magnificent palaces the cathedral of the church of the Holy Mother of God at Aachen, the bridge over the Rhine at Mainz, the restoration of many sacred buildings which had fallen into disrepair, and the building of a naval and coastguard fleet to protect the ports and mouths of rivers from enemy attack. Charlemagne died at the age of 72 and designed his only surviving son Lewis as heir to his kingship. He was interred at his beloved cathedral in 814 A. D. In his will, he provided for the church, the cities in the kingdom, all of his children, grandchildren, palace workers, servants and the poor.
Einhard’s historical view outlined above gives a historical view of the life of Charlemagne. It was written from the historical facts as well as Einhard’s personal observations and his relationship with Charlemagne. Einhard was a minister of his Royal Majesty. He was highly respected for his knowledge, intellect, brilliance, integrity and character. He enjoyed a comfortable life at the palace and a personal relationship with the King and his family. His stated reason for writing the book was to make sure that the greatness of Charlemagne was recorded for history and to accurately record events he witnessed and could verify.
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He also stated that no one had started to write about Charlemagne to his knowledge and he wanted to make sure his greatness was recorded. He also felt a sense of indebtedness for his patron’s care, nurturing and comfortable lifestyle he enjoyed at the palace. Whereas Einhard wrote his book from the historical perspective and his personal knowledge of the Emperor, Notker the Stammerer wrote his book seventy years after he death of Charlemagne in the form of a series of anecdotes about Charlemagne’s care of the church primarily from the stories told to him as a child by a priest named Werinbert. Ad albert, who was Werinbert’s father was he source of the stories about Charlemagne’ campaigns of war against other nations.
These anecdotes in some cases support and elaborate on the basic information provided by Einhard. In other cases, the anecdotes embellish with fantasy and fiction so that little credibility can be given to his accounts. Although it is difficult to compare these two books because they are not at all similar, some comparisons can be made. Einhard said that Charlemagne’s first wife was the daughter of Desiderius, the King of the Longobards. He states that that he dismissed his wife after a year and nobody new why he had done that. In Notker’s book, he explains that Charlemagne had just defeated the Longobards and in order to keep them from seceding from the Franks, he married the daughter of the King.
Because she later became sick, was bedridden and couldn’t have any children, she was treated like she was already dead and Charlemagne picked another wife, Hildegarde. In Einhard’s account of the war with the Longobards, he states that the war had been begun at the request of Hadrian, the bishop of Rome and also had been initially started by Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short. He states that Charlemagne fought the war with more energy than his father and that after a long siege forced the surrender of Desiderius. Charlemagne also sent his son, Adl agis into exile, restored all that had been taken from the Romans back to them, and made his son Pepin, King of the whole of Italy which he had conquered in this war. In Notker’s account, once Pepin the Short was dead, the Longobards began to harass the Romans.
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Charlemagne then marched into Italy and without a battle or any bloodshed intimidated the Longobards into surrendering to him. After the campaign at Longobard, Einhard states that Charlemagne put down a revolt of the Duke of Fruili yet Notker mentions only that Charlemagne visited a dying bishop in the city of Fruili. In the war with the Avars or Huns, Einhard and Notker support each other in the amount of time in took for Charlemagne to completely demolish the Huns and the degree to which the devastation was complete. Both stressed the amount of gold, silver and precious booty taken from the Huns during their own campaigns against other nations. Notker elaborated on the rings or barriers, which the Huns had erected to protect them against enemies, but it wasn’t enough to stop Charlemagne.
In another discrepancy between the two lives of Charlemagne, Einhard tells of a King Godefrid who planned to invade the palace itself but was killed by one of his followers before he could act. Notker on the other hand states that King Godefrid invaded and settled in the Frankish kingdom of Moselle. His death, according to Notker, was at the hands of his own son who killed him because he had just repudiated his mother and was about to marry another woman. Charlemagne was on the best of terms with Harun-al-Rach id, the King of the Persians and was the recipient of elaborate gifts from the Orient. Notker tells a story that Charlemagne wouldn’t see the envoys from the Persians for a long time but did eventually receive them and treat them well. He states that the envoys brought monkeys, balsam, nard, and unguents and medications.
Einhard describes the many outstanding projects built by Charlemagne including the remarkable construction of the church of the Holy Mother of God at Aachen and the bridge over the Rhine River which was five hundred feet long. He also reported that Charlemagne built a fleet to ward off attacks of the Northmen who were attacking the coast of Gaul and Germany. Notker tells an anecdotal story about a particular abbot who Charlemagne had placed in charge of supervising the building of the cathedral and who through fraud and deceit stole from the emperor but who was subsequently killed. Einhard interpreted this to mean that God was watching over the affairs of a just Emperor, Charlemagne. The bridge at Mainz caught fire by accident according to Einhard but Notker believed that the acts of a few evil people caused the destruction of the bridge. According to Notker, upon hearing that the Northmen had attacked a town in Southern Gaul.
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When Charlemagne’s men went to attack the ships they didn’t reach them because the Northmen, upon hearing that Charlemagne was approaching fled. Einhard describes a conspiracy in which one of Charlemagne’s son, Pepin the Hunchback planned to take over the kingship. When the plot was uncovered, he was punished and permitted to pursue the life of a religious at the monastery at Pru m. Notker reports that Pepin was sent to the poorest and most austere monastery of Saint Gall. Einhard and Notker shared opinions on some of the items of dress for the Emperor I that linen shirts and drawers were worn and a tunic of white according to Einhard and white or blue according to Notker. Shoes with long bands or cloth or boots with long laces were areas of disagreement.
Elaborate dress was used for special occasions according to both writers and both agreed that the Kings eating habits were moderate and he was always sober. Both authors also credited Charlemagne with the Renaissance in that he welcomed scholars to the palace and he studied many of the liberal arts and other subjects but never advanced too far. According to Einhard, Charlemagne was a devout Christian who worshipped regularly and went through great pains to get the finest of materials for the building of the cathedral. Notker commented on the long flowing robes which the Emperor wore to evening services and did mention his attendance at morning hymns. He also stressed the importance Charlemagne put on having all the churches chant the same way and his efforts to unify the rhythm of chanting. Charlemagne was a generous man who gave not only to poor people in his country but to poor Christians all around the world.
Notker relates how Charlemagne instructed the nobles who supervised the cathedral workmen to take care of the workmen and make sure they had anything they needed to be comfortable. Einhard’s Charlemagne visited Rome because Pope Leo had been attacked and blinded and the people of Rome cut out his tongue. He doesn’t say why this happened. The Emperor wanted to restore the church, which was in a bad state. During his stay in Rome, Pope Leo proclaimed him Emperor and Augustus.
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He reluctantly accepted the title and overcame the hostility of the other Roman Emperors by the force and strength of his personality. In Notker’s version of these events, the Pope was the target of a plot by envious Romans who attempted to put out the eyes of the pope but who lost heart at the last moment and succeeded only in slashing him across the eyes. The pope summoned Charlemagne to Rome and bestowed the crown of Emperor and Augustus upon him. The Pope’s attackers fled when they heard that Charlemagne was coming but they were found and punished some were imprisoned and other condemned to death. The Charlemagne of Einhard is a man of many notable characteristics and accomplishments. Einhard gives a sense of what the important events and people in Charlemagne’s life were.
Einhard gives a more detailed and colorful background to many of the events even if some of his descriptions and stories are not believable. In Einhard, we learn the facts. In Notker, we see Charlemagne’s sense of humor, and his compassion; his forgiveness; his sense of equality and fairness. In the many anecdotes Of Notker, Charlemagne comes alive.