He has been known as Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, since the Norman invasion of 1066. Before that he was called Charles I, even though his grandfather was also a Charles. The leaders of the Franks were not so quick about declaring themselves kings. The previous Frankish dynasty were the Merovingian Kings, better known at the time as the “Do Nothing” kings. Perhaps the title of king had lost its luster. Charlemagne is also my 40th great grandfather.
Charlemagne’s grandfather was known as “Charles the Hammer”, it almost sounds like a pro-wrestler’s name. He was a very successful warrior. The ruling title was actually called “the Mayor of the Palace” the king might live in it, but Charles the Hammer ruled as mayor. For some reason the Carolingian dynasty also liked the family name of Pepin. Charlemagne’s father, son and uncle had that name. Maybe it sounds better in French.
So far, all of my royal ancestors have been connected through my mother’s Norwegian roots. But today I made a breakthrough, after years of collecting data on poor German farmers, and perhaps better off city burghers, I found a marriage to a minor count. A minor count can lead to a Duke, and generations of counts and dukes. I haven’t found any German kings or princes yet, but I’m sure they are there.
One of the counts had marriage connections to the Franks and suddenly I was related to Charles the Hammer, Pepin, and Charlemagne. I love the sudden explosion of data. I’ve taken it back even further than the Franks. I’ve found a direct connection to a Roman Senator of Gaul, around 300 AD. That’s 150 years before Rome fell.
So why was Charlemagne so great? Well, the first rule is that the victors get to write the history. They call Charlemagne the father of Europe. The shape of the countries in Europe has been based on the provinces of his empire. But he was also a great reformer. He actually passed laws on education and literacy, he provided guidelines on how to run a business and keep standardized records, he promoted the use of lowercase letters, he ruled for almost 50 years and he was not a “do nothing” king.
It would be somewhat of an error to think of him as French, he was Frankish, and that tribe had come from western Germany, and pushed the native Celts further west. And the Celts had pushed the Bronze Age Picts in the same manner. When the Romans came over the Alps and up from the coast, they ruled for over 600 years, creating a blended population. But the Romans rarely crossed the Danube, on the other side was barbaric Germans, dense forest, and death to their Legions. Charlemagne crossed the Danube easily and united much of even Eastern Europe.
It’s no wonder that the Pope crowned him the first Holy Roman Emperor in over 300 years. Charlemagne didn’t know it, but the Pope even expected him to rule over Constantinople. He didn’t go there.
We don’t know where he was born, but we know he died in Aachen and was placed in his tomb in Aachen Cathedral. Apparently he was entombed sitting on a throne for the first 200 years. Then they opened the tomb and laid him flat. Years later they put him in an elaborate casket where he remains. At one point they took measurements. He was between 6 foot and 6 foot 5. Above the 99 percentile of the time.
My 40th great grandfather died on Jan. 28, 814. I really do think he was great.