When Was Charlemagne Crowned Holy Roman Emperor?
Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was crowned Holy Roman Emperor at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Christmas day in the year 800. It is one of the most important dates in the middle Ages, the beginning of a new era in European history. The man thus charged with the task of restoring order and unity out of the chaos which had followed the downfall of Christian Rome was already an emperor in fact, though not in name.
When his ally Pope Leo III placed the crown on Charles’s head-unexpectedly, it was said, while he knelt in prayer-this heir to the Caesars already ruled lands stretching from Denmark to Rome and from the Atlantic to the Danube.
Charlemagne was born in 742 the grandson of Charles Martel who, 10 years before had saved Christendom from the Saracens at the Battle of Tours in France. At the age of 26 he inherited the kingdom of the Franks and set out to bring order to Western Europe and Christianity to heathen tribes.
Charlemagne has been called the “Father of Europe” (Pater Europae), as he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Western Church. All Holy Roman Emperors up to the last Emperor Francis II, as well as both the French and German monarchies, considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire.
However, the Eastern Orthodox Church views Charlemagne more controversially, labelling as heterodox his support of the filioque and recognition by the Bishop of Rome as legitimate Roman Emperor rather than Irene of Athens of the Eastern Roman Empire. These and other machinations led to the eventual split of Rome and Constantinople in the Great Schism of 1054.
At the time of his death in 814 he had extended his rule from the Baltic Sea to the Pyrenees and from the coast of Brittany eastwards across Germany and Italy to the lower valley of the Danube.
Although he never learned to write, Charlemagne did much to encourage education and the arts. After his death the Frankish empire broke into pieces. About 130 years later the Holy Roman Empire was again revived and lasted with dwindling power until its extinction in 1806. But the fragmentation of Western Europe persisted through the centuries with continual outbreaks of warfare up to the end of the Second World War.
Charlemagne died in 814, having ruled as emperor for over thirteen years. He was laid to rest in his imperial capital of Aachen in what is today Germany. He married at least four times and had three legitimate sons, but by the time he died only one son, Louis the Pious, survived and succeeded him.