Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
893
CHARLEMAGNE

have entered the building had he known of the intention of Leo. He accepted the dignity at any rate without demur, and there seems little doubt that the question of assuming, or obtaining, this title had previously been discussed. His policy had been steadily leading up to this position, which was rather the emblem of the power he already held than an extension of the area of his authority. It is probable therefore that Charles either considered the coronation premature, as he was hoping to obtain the assent of the eastern empire to this step, or that, from fear of evils which he foresaw from the claim of the pope to crown the emperor, he wished to crown himself. All the evidence tends to show that it was the time or manner of the act rather than the act itself which aroused his temporary displeasure. Contemporary accounts lay stress upon the fact that as there was then no emperor, Constantinople being under the rule of Irene, it seemed good to Leo and his counsellors and the "rest of the Christian people" to choose Charles, already ruler of Rome, to fill the vacant office. However doubtful such conjectures concerning his intentions may be, it is certain that immediately after his coronation Charles sought to establish friendly relations with Constantinople, and even suggested a marriage between himself and Irene, as he had again become a widower in 800. The deposition and death of the empress foiled this plan; and after a desultory warfare in Italy between the two empires, negotiations were recommenced which in 810 led to an arrangement between Charles and the eastern emperor, Nicephorus I. The death of Nicephorus and the accession of Michael I. did not interfere with the relations, and in 812 an embassy from Constantinople arrived at Aix-la-Chapelle, when Charles was acknowledged as emperor, and in return agreed to cede Venice and Dalmatia to Michael.

Increasing years and accumulating responsibilities now caused the emperor to alter somewhat his manner of life. No longer leading his armies in person he entrusted the direction of campaigns in various parts of his empire to his sons and other lieutenants, and from his favourite residence at Aix watched their progress with a keen and sustained interest. In 802 he ordered that a new oath of fidelity to him as emperor should be taken by all his subjects over twelve years of age. In 804 he was visited by Pope Leo, who returned to Rome laden with gifts. Before his coronation as emperor, Charles had entered into communications with the caliph of Bagdad, Harun-al-Rashid, probably in order to protect the eastern Christians, and in 801 he had received an embassy and presents from Harun. In the same year the patriarch of Jerusalem sent him the keys of the Holy Sepulchre; and in 807 Harun not only sent further gifts, but appears to have confirmed the emperor's rights in Jerusalem, which, however, probably amounted to no more than an undefined protectorate over the Christians in that part of the world. While thus extending his influence even into Asia, there was scarcely any part of Europe where the power of Charles did not make itself felt. He had not visited Spain since the disaster of Roncesvalles, but he continued to take a lively interest in the affairs of that country. In 798 he had concluded an alliance with Alphonso II., king of the Asturias, and a series of campaigns mainly under the leadership of King Louis resulted in the establishment of the "Spanish march," a district between the Pyrenees and the Ebro stretching from Pampeluna to Barcelona, as a defence against the Saracens. In 799 the Balearic Islands had been handed over to Charles, and a long warfare was carried on both by sea and land between Frank and Saracen until 810, when peace was made between the emperor and El-Hakem, the emir of Cordova. Italy was equally the scene of continuous fighting. Grimoald of Benevento rebelled against his overlord; the possession of Venice and Dalmatia was disputed by the two empires; and Istria was brought into subjection.

With England the emperor had already entered into relations, and at one time a marriage was proposed between his son Charles and a daughter of Offa, king of the Mercians. English exiles were welcomed at his court; he was mainly instrumental in restoring Eardwulf to the throne of Northumbria in 809; and Einhard includes the Scots within the sphere of his influence. In eastern Europe the Avars had owned themselves completely under his power in 805; campaigns against the Czechs in 805 and 806 had met with some success, and about the same time the land of the Sorbs was ravaged; while at the western extremity of the continent the Breton nobles had done homage to Charles at Tours in 800. Thus the emperor's dominions now stretched from the Eider to the Ebro, and from the Atlantic to the Elbe, the Saale and the Raab, and they also included the greater part of Italy; while even beyond these bounds he exercised an acknowledged but shadowy authority. In 806 Charles arranged a division of his territories among his three legitimate sons, but this arrangement came to nothing owing to the death of Pippin in 810, and of the younger Charles in the following year. Charles then named his remaining son Louis as his successor; and at his father's command Louis took the crown from the altar and placed it upon his own head. This ceremony took place at Aix on the 11th of September 813. In 808 the Frankish authority over the Obotrites was interfered with by Gudrod (Godfrey), king of the Danes, who ravaged the Frisian coasts and spoke boastfully of leading his troops to Aix. To ward off these attacks Charles took a warm interest in the building of a fleet, which he reviewed in 811; but by this time Gudrod had been killed, and his successor Hemming made peace with the emperor.

In 811 Charles made his will, which shows that he contemplated the possibility of abdication. The bulk of his possessions were left to the twenty-one metropolitan churches of his dominions, and the remainder to his children, his servants and the poor. In his last years he passed most of his days at Aix, though he had sufficient energy to take the field for a short time during the Danish War. Early in 814 he was attacked by a fever which he sought to subdue by fasting; but pleurisy supervened, and after partaking of the communion, he died on the 28th of January 814, and on the same day his body was buried in the church of St Mary at Aix. In the year 1000 his tomb was opened by the emperor Otto III., but the account that Otto found the body upright upon a throne with a golden crown on the head and holding a golden sceptre in the hands, is generally regarded as legendary. The tomb was again opened by the emperor Frederick I. in 1165, when the remains were removed from a marble sarcophagus and placed in a wooden coffin. Fifty years later they were transferred by order of the emperor Frederick II. to a splendid shrine, in which the relics are still exhibited once in every six years. The sarcophagus in which the body originally lay may still be seen at Aix, and other relics of the great emperor are in the imperial treasury at Vienna. In 1165 Charles was canonized by the antipope Paschal III. at the instance of the emperor Frederick I., and Louis XI. of France gave strict orders that the feast of the saint should be observed.

The personal appearance of Charles is thus described by Einhard: — "Big and robust in frame, he was tall, but not excessively so, measuring about seven of his own feet in height. His eyes were large and lustrous, his nose rather long and his countenance bright and cheerful." He had a commanding presence, a clear but somewhat feeble voice, and in later life became rather corpulent. His health was uniformly good, owing perhaps to his moderation in eating and drinking, and to his love for hunting and swimming. He was an affectionate father, and loved to pass his time in the company of his children, to whose education he paid the closest attention. His sons were trained for war and the chase, and his daughters instructed in the spinning of wool and other feminine arts. His ideas of sexual morality were primitive. Many concubines are spoken of, he had several illegitimate children, and the morals of his daughters were very loose. He was a regular observer of religious rites, took great pains to secure decorum in the services of the church, and was generous in almsgiving both within his empire and without. He reformed the Frankish liturgy, and brought singers from Rome to improve the services of the church. He had considerable knowledge of theology, took a prominent part in the theological controversies of the time, and was responsible for the addition of the clause filioque to the Nicene Creed. The most