This was written for a Great Books class. I'm 16. Here's the original assignment. Thank you very much!
Discuss how Charlemagne's life as described by Einhard and Notker illustrates his importance for later medieval Europe; that is, what things did he do that were important for reviving culture, and how did he do them?
Imagine the leader of the known world keeping a slate and stylus under his pillow in his never-ending attempt to learn his letters. Imagine this leader, surrounding himself with some of the brightest Christian minds of his day at all times. Imagine this leader terrifying his enemies with his wrath and alternately speaking gently to foreign envoys, calling them his children. Charlemagne was deeply influential during his reign as king of the Franks from 768 to 814. He revived the culture in France by settling the wars around him and expanding his realm, leading his kingdom and taking care of his people, and establishing good relations with other nations.
Einhard proudly records Charlemagne's conquests, which were many and widespread. Unfortunately, in the times before Charlemagne, the culture had broken down, and the leaders were barbaric and warred constantly. The king was a brilliant commander and never lost a battle save once. Charlemagne was very persistent and determined; these qualities helped him immensely in winning battles. His army was devoted to him and had total faith in his merits; this faith was not ill-placed! Once Charlemagne had conquered, he would usually be merciful to the inhabitants, although once he killed all the children taller than a sword's height. He was different from the spoiled, childish kings that ruled before him. One might imagine that a large kingdom would be unwieldy and bring its ruler to grief, but Charlemagne was capable and never lost his head (in more ways than one!). By the end of his reign, his realm covered most of Western Europe.
But, was Charlemagne only a warrior and not an administrator? Charlemagne was one of those men whose personalities was impressive, yet his was not to the point of not being able to get to know him. Blessed with riches and a kind heart, Charlemagne was not stingy in any respect. He was generous and loved to give presents. As a deeply religious man, Charlemagne dedicated much of his time and money to churches and monasteries. In fact, one of Charlemagne's favorite books was Augustine's City of God. Through his generous support of the church, the churchmen were able to minister more to the common folk. In order to educate the common children, Charlemagne built a school so that they could be taught the way his own children were being educated. Fortunately, he was not one of those rulers who executed all who opposed his faith. He genuinely cared for his people and was a wise king.
Charlemagne loved foreigners and showered them with gifts. He wanted to be on good terms with other rulers of other countries, and one kingdom in the East sent him an elephant in return. Unlike the other kings, Charlemagne was moderate in his habits and was always sober-minded. Able to both terrify and soothe, he would punish the wicked and greedy men and reward the hard-working ones. Once while visiting the Frisians, he noticed they were selling long cloaks like he wore, along with the short ones that were part of their national dress. He also noticed they charged the same for the smaller cloaks as the large ones. According to Notker the Stammerer, Charlemagne set them straight. Referring to the short cloaks as “napkins,” most certainly it was a rebuke in deceptive marketing they wouldn't forget. It was easy to become corrupt and repay the flatterers, but this king was above that and his country and neighboring nations, such as Persia, benefited in their culture because of his moderation.
The Franks were not doing well as far as culture is concerned, that is, until Charlemagne came on the scene. Because they were led by do-nothing kings and corrupt officials, the Franks suffered. By concluding the wars around him and extending his borders, Charlemagne led the Franks to a new era. Some would even say he laid the groundwork for a flowering of European religion, art and architecture. He ruled his kingdom well, taking on more than the average sovereign would be able to handle, let alone with his remarkable proficiency. The people loved and respected their fair king because he was so good to them. In mercifully completing his conquests, he fortified shaky relationships with other countries and made life-long friends with their ambassadors. Most significantly, he made himself the prototype for a good and loving king. No wonder Charlemagne is referred to as the “Father of Europe.”