Charlemagne (/ˈʃɑrlɨmeɪn/; 2 April 742/747/748 – 28 January 814), also known as Charles the Great (German: Karl der Große; Latin: Carolus or Karolus Magnus) or Charles I, was the King of the Franks from 768, the King of Italy from 774, and from 800 the first emperor in western Europe since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state he founded is called the Carolingian Empire.
The oldest son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon, Charlemagne became king in 768 following the death of his father. He was initially co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman's sudden death in 771 under unexplained circumstances left Charlemagne as the undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom.
Called the "Father of Europe" (pater Europae), Charlemagne's empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of cultural and intellectual activity within the Catholic Church. Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne's empire.
Charlemagne died in 814 after having ruled as Emperor for just over thirteen years. He was laid to rest in his imperial capital of Aachen in today's Germany.
The pan-European nature of Charlemagne's influence is indicated by the origins of many of the men who worked for him: Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon from York; Theodulf, a Visigoth, probably from Septimania; Paul the Deacon, Lombard; Peter of Pisa and Paulinus of Aquileia, Italians; and Angilbert, Angilram, Einhard, and Waldo of Reichenau, Franks.
His great scholarly failure, as Einhard relates, was his inability to write: when in his old age he began attempts to learn—practicing the formation of letters in his bed during his free time on books and wax tablets he hid under his pillow—"his effort came too late in life and achieved little success", and his ability to read – which Einhard is silent about, and which no contemporary source supports—has also been called into question.
By Charlemagne's time the French vernacular had already diverged significantly from Latin. This is evidenced by one of the regulations of the Council of Tours (813), which required that the parish priests preach either in the "rusticam Romanam linguam" (Romance) or "Theotiscam" (the Germanic vernacular) rather than in Latin. The goal of this rule was to make the sermons comprehensible to the common people, who must therefore have been either Romance speakers or Germanic speakers. Charlemagne himself probably spoke a Rhenish Franconian dialect of Old High German.
Apart from his native language he also spoke Latin and understood a bit of Greek, according to his biographer Einhard (Grecam vero melius intellegere quam pronuntiare poterat, "he could understand Greek better than he could speak it"). The largely fictional account of Charlemagne's Iberian campaigns by Pseudo-Turpin, written some three centuries after his death, gave rise to the legend that the king also spoke Arabic.
During Charles' reign, the Roman half uncial script and its cursive version, which had given rise to various continental minuscule scripts, were combined with features from the insular scripts that were being used in Irish and English monasteries. Carolingian minuscule was created partly under the patronage of Charlemagne. Alcuin of York, who ran the palace school and scriptorium at Aachen, was probably a chief influence in this.
The revolutionary character of the Carolingian reform, however, can be over-emphasised; efforts at taming the crabbed Merovingian and Germanic hands had been underway before Alcuin arrived at Aachen. The new minuscule was disseminated first from Aachen and later from the influential scriptorium at Tours, where Alcuin retired as an abbot.
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