My resource here was the superb "Medieval Source Book"

Medieval Sourcebook:
Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne

Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne (excerpts)

translated by Samuel Epes Turner

(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880)



The Life of the Emperor Charles

  1. The Merovingians
  2. Charlemagne's Ancestors
  3. Charlemagne's Accession
  4. Plan of This Work
  5. Aquitanian War
  6. Lombard War
  7. Saxon War
  8. Saxon War (continued)
  9. Spanish Expedition
  10. Submission of the Bretons and Beneventans
  11. Tassilo and the Bavarian Campaign
  12. Slavic War
  13. War with the Huns
  14. Danish War
  15. Extent of Charlemagne's Conquests
  16. Foreign Relations
  17. Public Works
  18. Private Life
  19. Private Life (continued)
  20. Conspiracies Against Charlemagne
  21. Charlemagne's Treatment of Foreigners
  22. Personal Appearance
  23. Dress
  24. Habits
  25. Studies
  26. Piety
  27. Generosity
  28. Charlemagne Crowned Emperor
  29. Reforms
  30. Coronation of Louis-Charlemagne's Death
  31. Burial
  32. Omens of Death
  33. Will


SINCE I have taken upon myself to narrate the publicand private life, and no small part of the deeds, of my lord andfoster-father, the most lent and most justly renowned King Charles,I have condensed the matter into as brief a form as possible.I have been careful not to omit any facts that could come to myknowledge, but at the same time not to offend by a prolix stylethose minds that despise everything modern, if one can possiblyavoid offending by a new work men who seem to despise also themasterpieces of antiquity, the works of most learned and luminouswriters. Very many of them, l have no doubt, are men devoted toa life of literary leisure, who feel that the affairs of the presentgeneration ought not to be passed by, and who do not considereverything done today as unworthy of mention and deserving tobe given over to silence and oblivion , but are nevertheless seducedby lust of immortality to celebrate the glorious deeds of othertimes by some sort of composition rather than to deprive posterityof the mention of their own names by not writing at all.

Be this as it may, I see no reason why I should refrainfrom entering upon a task of this kind, since no man can writewith more accuracy than I of events that took place about me,and of facts concerning which I had personal knowledge, oculardemonstration as the saying goes, and I have no means of ascertainingwhether or not any one else has the subject in hand.

In any event, I would rather commit my story to writing,and hand it down to posterity in partnership with others, so tospeak, than to suffer the most glorious life of this most excellentking, the greatest of all the princes of his day, and his illustriousdeeds, hard for men of later times to imitate, to be wrapped inthe darkness of oblivion.

But there are still other reasons, neither unwarrantablenor insufficient, in my opinion, that urge me to write on thissubject, namely, the care that King Charles bestowed upon me inmy childhood, and my constant friendship with himself and hischildren after I took up my abode at court. In this way he stronglyendeared me to himself, and made me greatly his debtor as wellin death as in life, so that were I unmindful of the benefitsconferred upon me, to keep silence concerning the most gloriousand illustrious deeds of a man who claims so much at my hands,and suffer his life to lack due eulogy and written memorial, asif he had never lived, I should deservedly appear ungrateful,and be so considered, albeit my powers are feeble, scanty, nextto nothing indeed, and not at all adapted to write and set fortha life that would tax the eloquence of a Tully [note: Tullyis Marcus Tullius Cicero].

2. Charlemagne's Ancestors

At the time of Childeric's deposition, Pepin, thefather of King Charles, held this office of Mayor of the Palace,one might almost say, by hereditary right; for Pepin's father,Charles [Martel 715-41], had received it at the hands of his father,Pepin, and filled it with distinction. It was this Charles thatcrushed the tyrants who claimed to rule the whole Frank land astheir own, and that utterly routed the Saracens, when they attemptedthe conquest of Gaul, in - -two great battles-one in Aquitania,near the town of Poitiers , and the other on the River Berre,near Narbonne-and compelled them to return to Spain. This honorwas usually conferred by the people only upon men eminent fromtheir illustrious birth and ample wealth. For some years, ostensiblyunder King the father of King Charles, Childeric, Pepin, sharedthe duties inherited from his father and grandfather most amicablywith his brother, Carloman. The latter, then, for reasons unknown,renounced the heavy cares of an earthly crown and retired to Rome[747]. Here he exchanged his worldly garb for a cowl, and builta monastery on Mt. Oreste, near the Church of St. Sylvester, wherehe enjoyed for several years the seclusion that he desired, incompany with certain others who had the same object in view. Butso many distinguished Franks made the pilgrimage to Rome to fulfilltheir vows, and insisted upon paying their respects to him, astheir former lord, on the way, that the repose which he so muchloved was broken by these frequent visits, and he was driven tochange his abode. Accordingly when he found that his plans werefrustrated by his many visitors, he abandoned the mountain, andwithdrew to the Monastery of St. Benedict, on Monte Cassino, inthe province of Samnium [in 754], and passed the rest there inthe exercise of religion.

3. Charlemagne's Accession

Pepin, however, was raised by decree of the Romanpontiff, from the rank of Mayor of the Palace to that of King,and ruled alone over the Franks for fifteen years or more [752-768].He died of dropsy [Sept. 24, 768] in Paris at the close of theAquitanian War, which he had waged with William, Duke of Aquitania,for nine successive years, and left his two sons, Charles andCarloman, upon whim, by the grace of God, the succession devolved.

The Franks, in a general assembly of the people,made them both kings [Oct 9, 786] on condition that they shoulddivide the whole kingdom equally between them, Charles to takeand rule the part that had to belonged to their father, Pepin,and Carloman the part which their uncle, Carloman had governed.The conditions were accepted, and each entered into the possessionof the share of the kingdom that fell to him by this arrangement;but peace was only maintained between them with the greatest difficulty,because many of Carloman's party kept trying to disturb theirgood understanding, and there were some even who plotted to involvethem in a war with each other. The event, however, which showedthe danger to have been rather imaginary than real, for at Carloman'sdeath his widow [Gerberga] fled to Italy with her sons and herprincipal adherents, and without reason, despite her husband'sbrother put herself and her children under the protection of Desiderius,King of the Lombards. Carloman had succumbed to disease afterruling two years [in fact more than three] in common with hisbrother and at his death Charles was unanimously elected Kingof the Franks.

4. Plan of This Work

It would be folly, I think, to write a word concerningCharles' birth and infancy, or even his boyhood, for nothing hasever been written on the subject, and there is no one alive nowwho can give information on it. Accordingly, I determined to passthat by as unknown, and to proceed at once to treat of his character,his deed, and such other facts of his life as are worth tellingand setting forth, and shall first give an account of his deedat home and abroad, then of his character and pursuits, and lastlyof his administration and death, omitting nothing worth knowingor necessary to know.

18. Private Life

Thus did Charles defend and increase as well, asbeautify his, kingdom, as is well known; and here let me expressmy admiration of his great qualities and his extraordinary constancyalike in good and evil fortune. I will now forthwith proceed togive the details of his private and family life.

After his father's death, while sharing the kingdomwith his brother, he bore his unfriendliness and jealousy mostpatiently, and, to the wonder of all, could not be provoked tobe angry with him. Later he married a daughter of of Desiderius,King of the Lombards, at the instance of his mother; but he repudiatedher at the end of a year for some reason unknown, and marriedHildegard, a woman of high birth, of Suabian origin. He had threesons by her - Charles, Pepin and Louis -and as many daughters- Hruodrud, Bertha, and and Gisela. He had three other daughtersbesides these- Theoderada, Hiltrud, and Ruodhaid - two by histhird wife, Fastrada, a woman of East Frankish (that is to say,of German) origin, and the third by a concubine, whose name forthe moment escapes me. At the death of Fastrada [794], he marriedLiutgard, an Alemannic woman, who bore him no children. Afterher death [Jun4 4, 800] he had three concubines - Gersuinda, aSaxon by whom he had Adaltrud; Regina, who was the mother of Drogoand Hugh; and Ethelind, by whom he lead Theodoric. Charles' mother,Berthrada, passed her old age with him in great honor; he entertainedthe greatest veneration for her; and there was never any disagreementbetween them except when he divorced the daughter of King Desiderius,whom he had married to please her. She died soon after Hildegard,after living to three grandsons and as many granddaughters inher son's house, and he buried her with great pomp in the Basilicaof St. Denis, where his father lay. He had an only sister, Gisela,who had consecrated herself to a religious life from girlhood,and he cherished as much affection for her as for his mother.She also died a few years before him in the nunnery where shepassed her life.

19 Private Life (continued) [Charles and the Educationof His Children]

The plan that he adopted for his children's educationwas, first of all, to have both boys and girls instructed in theliberal arts, to which he also turned his own attention. As soonas their years admitted, in accordance with the custom of theFranks, the boys had to learn horsemanship, and to practise warand the chase, and the girls to familiarize themselves with cloth-making,and to handle distaff and spindle, that they might not grow indolentthrough idleness, and he fostered in them every virtuous sentiment.He only lost three of all his children before his death, two sonsand one daughter, Charles, who was the eldest, Pepin, whom hehad made King of Italy, and Hruodrud, his oldest daughter. whomhe had betrothed to Constantine [VI, 780-802], Emperor of the Greeks. Pepin left one son, named Bernard, and five daughters,Adelaide, Atula, Guntrada, Berthaid and Theoderada. The King gavea striking proof of his fatherly affection at the time of Pepin'sdeath [810]: he appointed the grandson to succeed Pepin, and hadthe granddaughters brought up with his own daughters. When hissons and his daughter died, he was not so calm as might havebeen expected from his remarkably strong mind, for his affectionswere no less strong, and moved him to tears. Again, when he wastold of the death of Hadrian [796], the Roman Pontiff, whom hehad loved most of all his friends, he wept as much as if he hadlost a brother, or a very dear son. He was by nature most readyto contract friendships, and not only made friends easily, butclung to them persistently, and cherished most fondly those withwhom he had formed such ties. He was so careful of the trainingof his sons and daughters that he never took his meals withoutthem when he was at home, and never made a journey without them;his sons would ride at his side, and his daughters follow him,while a number of his body-guard, detailed for their protection,brought up the rear. Strange to say, although they were very handsomewomen, and he loved them very dearly, he was never willing tomarry any of them to a man of their own nation or to a foreigner,but kept them all at home until his death, saying that he couldnot dispense with their society. Hence, though other-wise happy,he experienced the malignity of fortune as far as they were concerned;yet he concealed his knowledge of the rumors current in regardto them, and of the suspicions entertained of their honor.

22. Personal Appearance

Charles was large and strong, and of lofty stature,though not disproportionately tall (his height is well known tohave been seven times the length of his foot); the upper partof his head was round, his eyes very large and animated, nosea little long, hair fair, and face laughing and merry. Thus hisappearance was always stately and dignified, whether he was standingor sitting; although his neck was thick and somewhat short, andhis belly rather prominent; but the symmetry of the rest of hisbody concealed these defects. His gait was firm, his whole carriagemanly, and his voice clear, but not so strong as his size ledone to expect. His health was excellent, except during the fouryears preceding his death, when he was subject to frequent fevers;at the last he even limped a little with one foot. Even in thoseyears he consulted rather his own inclinations than the adviceof physicians, who were almost hateful to him, because they wantedhim to give up roasts, to which he was accustomed, and to eatboiled meat instead. In accordance with the national custom, hetook frequent exercise on horseback and in the chase, accomplishmentsin which scarcely any people in the world can equal the Franks.He enjoyed the exhalations from natural warm springs, and oftenpractised swimming, in which he was such an adept that none couldsurpass him; and hence it was that he built his palace at Aixla-Chapelle,and lived there constantly during his latter years until his death.He used not only to invite his sons to his bath, but his noblesand friends, and now and then a troop of his retinue or body guard,so that a hundred or more persons sometimes bathed with him.

23. Dress

He used to wear the national, that is to say, theFrank, dress-next his skin a linen shirt and linen breeches, andabove these a tunic fringed with silk; while hose fastened bybands covered his lower limbs, and shoes his feet, and he protectedhis shoulders and chest in winter by a close-fitting coat of otteror marten skins. Over all he flung a blue cloak, and he alwayshad a sword girt about him, usually one with a gold or silverhilt and belt; he sometimes carried a jewelled sword, but onlyon great feast-days or at the reception of ambassadors from foreignnations. He despised foreign costumes, however handsome, and neverallowed himself to be robed in them, except twice in Rome, whenhe donned the Roman tunic, chlamys, and shoes; the first timeat the request of Pope Hadrian, the second to gratify Leo, Hadrian'ssuccessor. On great feast-days he made use of embroidered clothes,and shoes bedecked with precious stones; his cloak was fastenedby a golden buckle, and he appeared crowned with a diadem of goldand gems: but on other days his dress varied little from the commondress of the people.

25 Studies

Charles had the gift of ready and fluent speech,and could express whatever he had to say with the utmost clearness.He was not satisfied with command of his native language merely,but gave attention to the study of foreign ones, and in particularwas such a master of Latin that he could speak it as well as hisnative tongue; but he could understand Greek better than he couldspeak it. He was so eloquent, indeed, that he might have passedfor a teacher of eloquence. He most zealously cultivated the liberalarts, held those who taught them in great esteem, and conferredgreat honors upon them. He took lessons in grammar of the deaconPeter of Pisa, at that time an aged man. Another deacon, Albinof Britain, surnamed Alcuin, a man of Saxon extraction, who wasthe greatest scholar of the day, was his teacher in other branchesof learning. The King spent much time and labour with him studyingrhetoric, dialectics, and especially astronomy; he learned toreckon, and used to investigate the motions of the heavenly bodiesmost curiously, with an intelligent scrutiny. He also tried towrite, and used to keep tablets and blanks in bed under his pillow,that at leisure hours he might accustom his hand to form the letters;however, as he did not begin his efforts in due season, but latein life, they met with ill success.

28 Charlemagne Crowned Emperor

When he made his last journey thither, he also hadother ends in view. The Romans had inflicted many injuries uponthe Pontiff Leo, tearing out his eyes and cutting out his tongue,so that he had been comp lied to call upon the King for help [Nov24, 800]. Charles accordingly went to Rome, to set in order theaffairs of the Church, which were in great confusion, and passedthe whole winter there. It was then that he received the titlesof Emperor and Augustus [Dec 25, 800], to which he at first hadsuch an aversion that he declared that he would not have set footin the Church the day that they were conferred, although it wasa great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of thePope. He bore very patiently with the jealousy which the Romanemperors showed upon his assuming these titles, for they tookthis step very ill; and by dint of frequent embassies and letters,in which he addressed them as brothers, he made their haughtinessyield to his magnanimity, a quality in which he was unquestionablymuch their superior.


Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne, translated bySamuel Epes Turner, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880)