Charlemagne - George Upton

Victories of Peace

It seems almost incredible that a prince who was obliged to undertake so many and such prolonged campaigns that against the Saxons alone requiring twenty-six expeditions—could have had any opportunity to engage in works of peace. The question must arise how he found the time, or the opportunity, or the encouragement for other operations than those of a warlike nature.

Succeeding events will supply the answer. From the point of view of his wars, the Emperor has been called a conqueror; but when we come to consider his peace achievements and his creative ability, it will be shown that he had a still clearer right to that appellation. It will also clearly reveal his ideals of sovereignty, and we shall recognize the propriety of the title history has accorded him.

First of all, let us consider the place which was the favorite resort of the Emperor during the last twenty years of his life. He lived at Aix-la-Chapelle nearly all the time when he was not in the field Its gently sloping heights, spurs of the Eifel and Ardennes, at that time densely wooded, enclosed a fruitful valley. A royal palace stood there in Pepin's time; and even if Charlemagne was not born there, as is sometimes asserted, yet it is certain that he spent the most of his boyhood amid these scenes.

Bathing was one of his favorite pleasures, and many a time he breasted the blue waves of the Rhine. The warm mineral baths at Aix-la-Chapelle were his especial delight. There were also thickly wooded spots in the vicinity which attracted him. He was as fond of hunting as of bathing, even in his last years; and his retainers, as well as his beautiful and buxom daughters, often joined him in the hunt, and chased the buffaloes and wild boars to the clang of horns and the baying of hounds. All great human personages excite the imagination of those who come under their influence; and the popular fancy is fond of weaving stories about them which help to reveal their true character. One of these legends concerns the baths at Aix-la-Chapelle.

At Charlemagne's palace in Mainz there was a bell which was said to ring whenever any danger was threatened. Charlemagne heard its clang one day and sent a messenger to ascertain the cause. He found that a snake had coiled itself around the rope and was the bell-ringer. The snake led the messenger to its nest, where a noxious toad was found squatting upon the snake's eggs. He drove the toad away and then informed the Emperor of the curious event. Charlemagne's astonishment was further increased when the snake suddenly appeared in the hall, wriggled along to his table, ascended it, dropped a sparkling jewel which it carried in its jaws into a wine glass, and then quickly disappeared.

The magic stone, upon which swan and runic symbols were engraved, had mysterious properties. Whoever received the gift became the object of the passionate adoration of the giver. Charlemagne placed the stone in a ring and sent it to his beloved wife Fastrada. Immediately he became more closely attached to her than ever before. He could not be away from her. When her death removed her from his side, he was overcome with grief. Her body was placed in an open coffin in the Cathedral, and the Emperor spent his time there and would not suffer it to be buried. The people whispered among themselves, "The Emperor's mind is affected by his love for Fastrada. What will become of his crown and country if this grief continues?"

In this emergency the pious Turpin had a dream which suggested a method of deliverance. He rose from his bed, donned his clothes, and hastened to the Cathedral. It was apparently empty. Before the altar there was a lofty sarcophagus, upon which the Empress rested. Round about it upon the floor lay a band of paladins garbed as penitents. In front of the sarcophagus stood the Emperor weeping, with his head resting upon the coffin. Turpin ascended the steps. He gently raised Fastrada's ermine covering, seized the hand so long cold, and quietly removed the ring; whereupon the paladins, who had been kneeling in prayer, looked about in astonishment. The Emperor lifted his head and addressed them. "How long have we mourned? Too long, surely! Where is my chancellor? It seems to me my people are calling. Let the Empress be buried in the earth, never to be forgotten."

The magic swan ring now exerted its influence in a new way. The Emperor became devotedly attached to the prelate, and the latter was troubled over its demoralizing influence. He went to Aix-la-Chapelle, followed by the Emperor, and threw the ring into a quiet forest lake made by the warm springs. From that time the place became the favorite resort of the Emperor. He erected a castle in the midst of the lake, in which he often meditated upon the frailty of earthly things. He took delight in bathing in the waters in whose depths the swan ring, taken from the hand of his beloved, rested without his knowledge.

At Aix-la-Chapelle he also built a majestic palace, surrounded by a broad columned portico, which was a marvel of architecture at that time. Rome and Ravenna furnished the columns, the marble blocks, and the mosaic work, and the best architects were sent there by the Pope. Around it were buildings for the schools, court attendants, and bodyguards; farther away, a cloister and farmhouses; and still farther off a tall structure built over the warm baths and capable of accommodating hundreds. The most majestic building of all was a minster connected with the palace by a pillared passageway, the dome of which, supported by tall columns, was adorned with a representation of Christ and the four-and-twenty elders of the Apocalypse in mosaic upon a gold background, the altars glistening with gold and silver ornaments.

Everything was carried out according to the plans of the Emperor; and even when he was in the field the work went on. He devoted himself assiduously to all sacred matters. In the early morning hours he might be seen passing along the portico to the church to meditate and strengthen himself for his official duties, and at evening he returned for the same high purpose.

Those who attended this hero of the spiritual when the times were opportune for deeds of peace often accompanied the hero of the sword upon his expeditions. During his first Lombard campaign he became acquainted with the pious and learned Anglo-Saxon prelate, Alcuin, and took him with him that he might have the advantage of his counsels and teaching. Charlemagne, like all princes' sons in those days, had enjoyed but little instruction up to the time he assumed the sovereignty. His native ability helped him over many hard places, but that same ability inspired him with a passionate desire to avail himself of the treasures of knowledge. The great Emperor sat, a willing scholar, at the feet of his teacher Alcuin, whom Guizot thus describes:

"Alcuin was very well versed in Antonius and Hieronymus and was familiar with Pythagoras, Aristotle, Aristippus, Diogenes, Plato, Homer, Virgil, Seneca, and

Pliny. His writings were chiefly theological, but he had also done much of importance in mathematics, astronomy, dialectics, and rhetoric. This man was the light of the Church in his day and was also a classical scholar."

Other members of the scholarly circle at his court, were Angilbert, Eginhard, Theodulph, Peter of Pisa, and the Lombard historian Paulus Warnefried. The last, as already has been stated, had been condemned to death for inciting revolt in his country, but was pardoned by Charlemagne, who subsequently conferred many honors upon him. How highly Charlemagne esteemed art and science is shown by the fact that he attended the sessions of the academy and was recognized as an equal among its members. He would not allow court ceremonials to be conducted in halls devoted to the service of science. In order to preserve and foster the culture of former times, the members at his request took the names of famous ancients. Alcuin was called Horace; Eginhard, Callippus; Angilbert, Homer; Theodulph, Pindar; and Charlemagne the hero, champion of, the Church, and lover of the lyre was unanimously called David.

Charlemagne was endowed with extraordinary natural gifts of language; his studies, which he pursued at night, both at home and in the field, enabled him in an exceedingly short time to converse as fluently in Latin as in his mother tongue. He studied the works of the great Roman historians, Julius Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, and others; and besides this, during his Roman expeditions, he had viewed the scenes of the exploits described by them and the ruins of ancient stateliness. The Grecian world also had revealed to him the brilliant culture of the great men of that country. He was so well acquainted with the Greek language that he could read the literature in the original, which disclosed to him visions of the beauty of that Eden. Rome stood high in his estimation, but Athens higher; and higher than either Rome or Athens, Jerusalem, as the source of those sacred teachings which are to humanity what the sun is to the earth—light-diffuser and inspiration of newly created life. He never wandered from the true path, whose course is so often confused by mistaken teachers even to this day. With unwavering faith he anticipated the complete victory of the light and was ready at all times to serve the sacred cause with all his energy. He often manifested his sincere interest in the Academy. He ardently longed to create a new Athens at Aix-la-Chapelle by his own efforts, assisted by his friends, and to make this new Athens the centre of a Christian spirit which should be a light to all the nations. He founded training schools and schools for youth. He organized a school at the court for the sons of his generals and officials. He supervised every detail, so that there should be no question of their success, and invited the assistance of others. The great Emperor was not ashamed to avail himself of the critical knowledge acquired by the results of education. The chronicles of Saint Gall contain the following interesting instance of this:

It happened that the sons of those of the middle and lower classes exhibited results which surpassed all his expectations, and that the sons of people of the higher classes handed in wretched and bungling compositions. Imitating the example of the highest Judge, Charlemagne placed the industrious ones on his right and said to them: "I praise you, my children, for the zeal with which you have carried out my instructions and because you have done your best according to your ability. Continue striving to accomplish still more that you may not fail to meet my expectations and to have my constant care." Then he turned his reproachful gaze upon those at his left and hurled these words at them: "Why is it that you, sons of noblemen, puppets upon whom have been showered all the gifts of birth and wealth, have not respected my orders and recognized my solicitude for your reputation? You have slighted me and devoted yourselves to effeminate habits, sports, frivolity, and disgraceful actions." Raising his arm, he shouted: "By Heaven, there are other things more worthy than these. Your birth and rank count for little with me. Listen! If you do not hasten to atone for your neglect by increased industry, you will never again enjoy my favor."

He who would achieve greatness in the short span of life must improve every moment of time. Even while dressing, Charlemagne busied himself with state affairs, heard complaints, held receptions, and made decisions. When he could not sleep at night he spent much time reading and writing. One may ask why a man who understood Greek and Latin and was so well versed in classic literature should have practised writing. The question has given rise to many conjectures Very little attention was paid to writing in those days. It was mainly confined to the copying of the letters in the sumptuous editions then in use. The books with their costly gold and silver covers, set with precious stones, were genuine works of art. Guizot says:

"With few books and still less paper, writing was a luxury as well as a gift. Nearly all instruction was oral, and writing was not depended upon in study. It is true Charlemagne did not need to economize in paper; but his teachers had accustomed themselves to instruct their pupils with extracts and selections, which were committed to memory and not written upon tablets. They did not expect great elaboration of detail from their scholars and brought their studies to a close without practising the art which with us is considered the beginning. The writing and preparation of diplomas was the work of expert secretaries."

As Charlemagne had acquired the art of writing he thus surpassed the princes and notables of his time in this also.

The Emperor took special pains at meals that while the body was nourished the soul and mind should not be neglected. He was fond of pleasant entertainment, and if conversation was not so interesting as he wished, the chaplain would read from some good book. As gormandizing was distasteful to him, the dinner consisted of only four courses, something unheard-of in court life at that time. He drank but three times at table, and regarded drunkenness as a vice. He was delighted beyond measure when surrounded by his own family, something he rarely enjoyed because of his many campaigns.

An extraordinarily tender relation existed between Angilbert, who bore the academic name of Homer, and Charlemagne's beautiful daughter Bertha. Upon one occasion they sat engaged in pleasant conversation without noticing that night was approaching. What might have happened if the Emperor had been aware of this it is difficult to conjecture. The hours passed swiftly and daybreak drew near. It was not a Romeo and Juliet morning of lark and nightingale greetings to the sun, but a cold winter morning with freshly fallen snow on the ground. How was Angilbert to get away without leaving accusing footprints in the snow? At this juncture, Charlemagne, who had risen early, went to the window and beheld his loved daughter Bertha carrying Angilbert on her back through the snow, after which she returned to her chamber. Charlemagne kept silent about the escapade, and it was not until some time afterwards that he confided to his friend what he had seen that night.

It was devout piety that induced Charlemagne to build the stately Cathedral. The music of the Italian masters was heard there for the first time, and the art of song was fostered by his chapel. The German language was employed there for the first time in divine service, much to the surprise of the Franks. The peal of the organ which Harun-al-Rashid presented to the Emperor was also first heard there. The chronicles of Saint Gall, to which we are indebted for so much interesting information concerning Charlemagne, relate that "the wonderful instrument, by the aid of its metal action and leathern bellows, filled the air with resonant thunder and anon with the, soft tones of the lyre, as if worked by magic."

Wood and stone, music, tapers, and incense, however, are of little account by themselves. Indeed they sometimes prove detrimental to the service, which should be the worship of God in spirit and in truth. There had been much pomp in the service before the time of Charlemagne. Indeed, the churches vied with each other in religious spectacles, and there was very little change in these matters among the clericals or laity in his time. When the clericals had finished their churchly duties they sought relief from their exertions in worldly pleasures. They were often seen in courtly attire engaged in hunting, in military exercises, or riding to banquets. It was irksome to bishops and abbes when they had to be satisfied with such a table as Charlemagne set forth. He was determined from the very first that there should be a radical change in church observances, and that the first step should be the establishment of higher standards in the behavior of clericals, and the suppression of covetousness, vanity, and personal show among them. He sternly rebuked a bishop who had provided himself a golden crozier set with pearls and precious stones. "We expect our pastors to bear the cross of Christ," he told him, "but they abandon their poor sheep and seek to vie with kings and emperors in splendor and majesty." He also required them to evince a spirit of reverence in all their actions.

He assigned a young priest, who came to him highly recommended, to an important position. Thereupon the priest mounted his horse which was standing waiting for him and would have hurried away to the hunt. Charlemagne called him back and said: "Forsooth, I observe that you are far too active for a priest. It will be better, therefore, for you to follow me in my campaigns as a soldier, for the Kingdom of Heaven is much disturbed by these storms of war."

The clericals often accompanied him, not for fighting, but to render spiritual help whenever it was needed. Certain monks who had distinguished themselves by works of mercy and the transcribing of useful books were allowed the privilege of hunting as exceptions, because he thought they might strengthen themselves and at the same time secure skins for book covers, girdles, and gloves.

Charlemagne labored incessantly for the highest interests of Church and State. He held two annual assemblies, one military and the other of a deliberative nature, in which these interests were discussed. It is surprising to find that he held forty-two synods for that part of the Empire alone, in which church matters were regulated and educational questions settled. He issued four hundred and seventy-seven edicts appertaining to the subjects contained in the famous "Capitularies," besides six hundred and seventy-four of a political character. Although many of these are not applicable to modern conditions, it must be remembered that one time is not all time that the wisdom of the lawgiver must be measured by the conditions of those for whom laws are made; and that results must be decided upon their merits or demerits. All his contemporaries are agreed that his laws resulted in great benefit for the Empire.

It often happened in these assemblies that when the decisions of famous men in the olden times were considered, a feeling of doubt would seize upon Charlemagne. Upon one such occasion he declared: "Oh that I had twelve such learned advisers as Hieronymus and Augustine were!" To which Alcuin replied: "The ruler of heaven and earth did not have any, and you are longing for twelve of them."

Charlemagne retired to rest burdened with care, but awoke with fresh hope and new desire for action. His predecessors had made their first residence in Paris; he, German in body and soul, much as he enjoyed the healthiness of Roman life, left for the banks of the Rhine, and, as has been related, selected Aix-la-Chapelle as his residence in his latter days. There was not a detail of public administration which escaped his attention or upon which he did not expend his extraordinary creative ability. When it was necessary he sat in majesty upon his throne. In the academy he devoted himself with no less assiduity to the promotion of great truths. Indeed, it is difficult to say in what capacity he most excelled—as a war hero, lawgiver, judge, or teacher. Those who saw him in plain attire upon one or other of the royal estates, directing and disposing, might well imagine that the great Charlemagne perfectly filled the role of farmer.

Under Charlemagne's management the crown possessions became models of husbandry. Nothing escaped his attention, and whatever he planned was successful. The stewards received lists containing the names of species of corn, kitchen herbs, fruit trees, medical simples, which were to be planted, cultivated, and looked after in field and garden. He ordered poultry, geese, and doves to be kept at the mills so that the superfluous grain should not be wasted. He laid out fish-ponds, constructed apiaries, planted noble vineyards, and introduced improved methods of wine-making. Nor did he confine himself to the strictly useful. He arranged for the keeping of pheasants and peacocks. He cultivated great quantities of flowers in the beautiful pleasure gardens. He employed gardeners, fish-masters, and bee-keepers. He arranged to have experts in the making of butter and cheese teach the people. Upon the crown estates as well as upon; others, wolf-hunters were posted, who had to deliver annually a certain number of skins or suffer a penalty. Whatever produce from the crown property was unnecessary for use at the court was sold, and a yearly account of it was kept. The supervision of the house stewards extended to the slightest detail. Charlemagne was far from avaricious. His household never suffered for lack of anything. Whenever corn was disposed of he arranged to sell the measure about a denier below the ordinary price. He had the highest sense of order in the management of affairs, and looked upon disorder, whether in the State, the family, or intellectual matters, as conducive to disastrous results. He did not live upon the fat of the land, but upon the abundance from his own estates.

Let us consider the conditions of industry and business in Charlemagne's Empire. His wars were in no wise detrimental to material prosperity. Arrow, missile, and helmet makers, as well as sword and bow and bullet makers, were in demand. At the royal palaces there were blacksmiths, armorers, gold and silver smiths, shoemakers, tailors, millers, turners, masons, wheelwrights, builders, brass-workers, tanners, soap-boilers, fowlers, potters, bakers, joiners, saddlers, net-weavers, coopers, architects, glass-blowers, parchment makers, painters, and dyers. After Charlemagne's order that monks who failed in studies should make themselves useful as handworkers, there was an active emulation among all the artisans employed at the palaces, the monasteries, and in the cities. Ferdinand Pfalz states in his "Scenes in City Life" that under Charlemagne, notwithstanding his frequent wars, the cities enjoyed material prosperity:

"The Rhine, Meuse, and Scheld were crowded with freight vessels; and at the landing-places, as at Worms, Mainz, Cologne, Dorstadt, Maestricht, Ghent, and Bruges, or in the harbors at the mouth of the Scheld there were busy scenes. The Strasburg merchants shipped down the Rhine to the sea and the Frisians to Worms. The great Emperor regarded this expansion of commerce with delight. The old and patched Roman walls were soon too restricted for the increasing urban populations. Churches and seats of the nobility spread out into the suburbs, which eventually had to be enclosed in a ring of walls."

Order in housekeeping both in court and state affairs Charlemagne regarded as vitally necessary to sovereignty.. The whole Empire was divided into districts and to each district a competent official was assigned, whose duty it was to see that the Capitularies were respected. Special judges appeared from time to time, made examinations, and reported to the Emperor. In deliberations on the affairs of the Empire, Charlemagne summoned the leading feudal owners and the high churchmen in May, which is the origin of the name "Mayfield" given to these meetings.