Charlemagne (742-814)Charlemagne (ca. 742-814) - He is the most dominant figure in European history from the Fall of the Western Empire until the Renaissance.  He is called the "Father of Europe" (pater Europae) because his actions widely shaped the new order of the continent on which he reigned.  He is Charlemagne, King of the Franks, King of Italy, protector of the Papacy and eventually crowned emperor of western Europe; the first emperor since the fall of Rome.  His father was Pepin "the Short" and his grandfather Charles Martel, two famous historical figures in their own right.  As the "Father of Europe", it's somewhat fitting that he was the grandson of Martel, the "Savior of Europe" (see Charles Martel).  And his father, Pepin, replaced the Merovingian Dynasty and founded the Carolingian, of which Charlemagne was its greatest figure.  As Pepin's oldest son, he became king of the Franks upon his father's death in 768.  But not alone.  His younger brother, Carloman I, was appointed co-ruler.  The reason for this is uncertain, but Charlemagne may have been a bastard.  The accepted year of his birth, if correct, was two years before Pepin married in 744.  Carloman, as a legitimate son, may have claimed the throne as his right.  But he died in 771, under mysterious circumstances, leaving Charlemagne as sole ruler of the Franks.


However, he was too ambitious to be satisfied with that title alone.  His father and grandfather turned the Frankish Kingdom into a powerful state, and Charlemagne used that to his advantage.  A dispute between the Pope and the Lombards in 772, gave him an excuse to acquire territory almost immediately upon becoming sole ruler (see Charlemagne conquers the Lombards below).  After his campaign, he took on the titles, King of Italy (or King of the Lombards) and protector of the Papacy.  The conquest of Italy brought Charlemagne into contact with the Saracens, his grandfather's old foe.  He took Corsica, Sardinia and the Balearic Islands from them.  In 797, he even crossed the Pyrenees and captured Barcelona from the Caliphate of Córdoba.  To the north, his wars with the Saxons were almost constant.  In 788, he took over Bavaria and by 804, after 30 years of warfare, conquered Saxony, homeland of the Saxons.  His treatment of northern Germanic tribes was harsh, compelling them to convert to Catholicism; and those who refused were typically executed.


Charlemagne (742-814)By the end of the 8th century, he opened up expansion to the east by taking on the Avars.  in 790, he marched an army along the Danube and pushed his border to central Europe.  The Frankish Empire had achieved its maximum boundaries by 800.  Meanwhile, in Italy, the Pope, Leo III, was having troubles with the conquered Lombards.  He sought refuge among the Franks and Charlemagne granted it.  In November of 800, the king returned with the pope to Rome and restored him to his position.  In return, on Christmas Day, 800, during mass in St. Peter's Basilica, as Charlemagne was kneeling at the alter in prayer, Leo III stepped forward and placed the crown on his head, anointing him Imperator Romanorum (Emperor of the Romans), the first since 476.  The story is that Charlemagne rejected any idea of being crowned emperor, but once it was done, he did not refuse the title.  It was the crowning achievement (no pun intended) of his career, and he held it until his death in 814.  He was succeeded by his son, Louis the Pious.