Einhard’s ”The Life of Charlemagne” Essay Sample
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Einhard’s ”The Life of Charlemagne” Essay Sample
Looking back at history, an individual usually can find an incredible amount of information about any given period in any given part of the world. Yet as varied are the history books, so are the biases which they each present. We see one example of these biases in Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne in which this adviser and close friend to the great Frankish king gives his history of Charlemagne’s life. One issue that Einhard repeatedly touches on is the virtually uninterrupted series of wars that the Frankish Kingdom under ‘Charles the Great’ undertook. Throughout the individual accounts of these war, Einhard attempts to justify Charlemagne’s military career.
It seems that when one looks back at Charlemagne and his seemingly unending chain of conflict that he put his kingdom through, one could come to the conclusion that Charlemagne was simply always blood and land thirsty, yet Einhard constantly tries to convince the reader that his king’s military ambitions were actually for the best for the Frankish people and for others throughout their isolated world. Einhard gives various reasons for individual wars for which he believes strengthened the kingdom and the crown. The first war that the Frankish king lead was mounted against Aquitaine shortly after Charlemagne was anointed in 768. It was started supposedly by Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short, ‘but not brought to a proper conclusion.’ (Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne) Einhard explains that Charlemagne simply did not want to abandon a task once it had been started and so with ‘no small perseverance and continued effort,’ (Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne) he was able to complete the war successfully. Even at this early point in Charlemagne’s reign, Lupus, Duke of the Gascons, not only obeyed the kings command to turn over a fugitive, but also submitted himself and his territory under Charlemagne’s authority without even being asked. Here, Einhard justifies the blood by showing Charlemagne’s adhering to principals which made him the great king he was, receiving the respect and devotion of even other leaders.
Completing one war, Charlemagne began his pattern of immediately starting another one, this time against the Longobards. The bloodshed seemed quite justifiable once again as the Bishop of Rome had pleaded for Charlemagne to come and crush the Longobards. How could Charlemagne turn down a desperate request from a man who lead the Church, the same Church which had anointed Pepin the Short and all his descendants ruler of the Franks until the end of time? It was a request that this expansionist king could not turn away from. Charlemagne restored all of the Church’s occupied lands and returned to his homeland from another successful battle between the ‘always righteous’ Franks and yet another ‘evil tyrant.’
Soon as the swords were sheathed, they were once again pulled out in a renewed conflict with the Saxons. Just as leaders have done throughout history to prove that they are fighting a justifiable conflict, Charlemagne and his court identified their new enemy as pagan monsters. Einhard tells of a people who are ‘ferocious….are given to devil worship….and think to it no dishonour to violate and transgress the laws of God and man.’ (Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne) By using these techniques, Charlemagne and consequently Einhard justified a war with the Saxon. They were able to explain that they had the support of God in this war against ‘infidels’ who were inherently evil. When reading Einhard and his descriptions of not only the war with the Saxon, but also other conflicts, I was struck by his biased supports of the wars, sometimes giving me the feeling that details had been altered in order to paint a righteous picture of Charlemagne and his actions.
It seems that when failure or defeat had taken place in a conflict, Einhard counters back with statements which compliment Charlemagne and attempt to overshadow the failure. ‘However, the King’s mettlesome spirit and his imperturbability, which remained as constant in adversity as in prosperity, were not to be quelled by their (Saxons) ever-changing tactics.’ (Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne) After thirty-three years of war, the Franks finally accomplished victory over the Saxons, attempting to convert them to Christianity and thus accomplishing noble justification.
Einhard also defends Charlemagne’s decision to use the sword with some additional rationale. A kingdom which did not push beyond its borders, would end up being pushed inward. When ‘Carolus Magnus’ fought against others in purely border disputes, he would take as much land as he could. In Einhard’s eyes, this was to provide for the security of Charlemagne’s subjects for which he cared a great deal. This was also one reason why Einhard believe Charlemagne to be such a great king for the Franks. Einhard did sometimes admit that Charlemagne had forged war because of insults or other seemingly minuscule things, yet because of his greatness, this was also acceptable. An example of this can be found when the pride of Duke Tassilo of Bavaria caused him to not obey the authority of Charlemagne. ‘Tassilo’s arrogance was too much for the spirited King of the Franks to stomach……he marched against Bavaria with a huge army.’ (Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne) Thus, through the beliefs of protecting the kingdom and its population, defending and spreading Christianity, guarding his own ego, or for simply the ‘good of the world’, Charlemagne fought the wars and Einhard justified them for students of history to contemplate whether or not they were truly as noble as he believed them to be.