Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Great Charlemagne

The national anthem of Andorra "El Gran Carelmany" (The Great Charlemagne) presents the nation's history in a first-person narrative. Charlemagne, King of the Franks and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, 742 - 814, was born on April 2, 742 in Northern Europe. Charles was the eldest son of Pippin III and Bertrada of Laon. ‘By the sword and the cross,’ Charlemagne became master of Western Europe.

In 768, when Charlemagne was 26, he and his younger brother Carloman inherited the kingdom of the Franks. In 771 Carloman died, and Charlemagne became sole ruler of the kingdom. At that time the Franks were falling back into barbarian ways, neglecting their education and religion. The Saxons of northern Europe were still pagans. In the south, the Roman Catholic church was asserting its power to recover land confiscated by the Lombard kingdom of Italy. Europe was in turmoil.

Charlemagne was determined to strengthen his realm and to bring order to Europe. In 772 he launched a 30-year military campaign to accomplish this objective. By 800 Charlemagne was the undisputed ruler of Western Europe. His vast realm encompassed what are now France, Switzerland, Belgium, and The Netherlands. It included half of present-day Italy and Germany, and parts of Austria and Spain. By establishing a central government over Western Europe, Charlemagne restored much of the unity of the old Roman Empire and paved the way for the development of modern Europe.

On Christmas Day in 800, while Charlemagne knelt in prayer in Saint Peter’s in Rome, Pope Leo III placed a golden crown on the bowed head of the king. Charlemagne is said to have been surprised by the coronation, declaring that he would not have come into the church had he known the pope’s plan. However, some historians say the pope would not have dared to act without Charlemagne's knowledge.

Charlemagne learned to read Latin and some Greek but apparently did not master writing. At meals, instead of having jesters perform, he listened to visiting scholars read from learned works. Charlemagne believed that government should be for the benefit of the governed. He was a reformer who tried to improve his subject’s lives. He set up money standards to encourage commerce and urged better farming methods. ‘By the sword and the cross,’ Charlemagne became master of Western Europe.

As is often the case, people considered great by historians are great killers as well. Throughout his conquests, Charlemagne was responsible for the death of masses of people who refused to accept Christianity, or their new king. Choosing to keep faith with their old gods and leaders, many thousands were slaughtered.

Above is a postcard from Andorra with the lyrics of the national anthem beside the Great Charlemagne.