The Birth of the West: Rome, Germany, France, and the Creation of Europe in the Tenth Century, by Paul Collins
I have touched on Charlemagne and his centralizing, warrior ways in a few of my posts regarding the Middle Ages; it is time to focus specifically on this murderer, the one for whom a great prize of Europe is awarded annually. When one understands Charlemagne and his methods, one will understand what lies just beneath the surface of those who advocate for the cause of the European Union.
It was Charlemagne’s objective to unite Christian Europe, to make Christian that which was not, and to expand his creation. Charlemagne inherited his Kingdom of the Franks from his grandfather Charles Martel (who defeated the Muslims at Poitier-Tours thus ending the Muslim advance into Europe) and his father Pippin III – Pippin “the Short.”
Charlemagne expanded this kingdom to include present day France, Germany, northern and central Italy, and northeastern Spain. Let’s just say it didn’t happen peacefully. Let’s also just say that the entire creation was held together by string and bubble-gum: Charlemagne’s personality.
Disparate peoples with separate histories, laws languages, and traditions were unwilling to be bound together into a single polity unless the ruler was strong enough to maintain unity.
No, I haven’t just suddenly started writing about 2018. In any case, I will modify Collins’ view: that “the ruler was strong enough to maintain unity” did not make this disparate people “willing.” That Charlemagne’s personality held it together was obvious with his death; the empire began to come apart.
Essentially, the Carolingian empire didn’t correspond to political, social, economic, and linguistic reality on the ground and was thus irrelevant to most of its citizens.
It was an ideological construct, nothing more. Imagine…a nation built on an idea, not able to survive past the strength of its founding personality. Who would have believed it?
Starting at the End
The largest, bloodiest, and most destructive battle of the ninth century began at 6 in the morning on Saturday June 25, 841, at Fontenoy-en-Puisaye….
Perhaps 25,000 to 30,000 were killed – of course many more wounded. Such was the bloody legacy of Charlemagne, as this was one of several battles in what is known in German as the Brüderkrieg – the brother war.
The battle was between and among the sons of Louis the Pious, who was the son of Charlemagne. The battle pitted Lothar on one side, Louis the German and Charles the Bald on the other. There was much fighting between and among the brothers that preceded the battle – looting, rape, pillage – each brother working to weaken the other, to weaken the kingdom of the other.
The region between what is today France and Germany was also at issue, and this region was Lothar’s, with one brother on each side. Yes, I know: there is no “region” between France and Germany. Tell that to the people of Alsace-Lorraine, who last changed hands (for the umpteenth time) in 1945 – more than a millennia after the aforementioned battle.
Lothar’s brothers spent three days negotiating with Lothar prior to the battle – pleading for peace for the “Christian people,” pleading to be left alone. But this wouldn’t do for the man who would be emperor. Lother’s negotiation was for no purpose other than to buy time – time until Pippin II arrived in support.
After hours of a stalemate in battle, a cavalry charge finally broke through Lothar’s lines; according to the annals sympathetic to the victors, “Lothar suffered a shameful defeat and fled.” The slaughter continued – “the booty and slaughter were immense and truly astounding.” Then the victors celebrated Mass the next day.
After the battle, the victorious brothers and their armies met at Strasbourg in order to strengthen their bonds against Lothar. The oaths given by the brothers and their armies are telling. Each brother gave his oath in the language of the other – such that the army of the other could understand. The oath, as follows and taken from “A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to Saint Louis (3rd Edition)”, by R.H.C. Davis:
For the love of God and for the Christian people and for our common salvation, from this day forward, so long as God give me knowledge and power, I will help this my brother [both with my aid and everything] as by right one ought to help one’s brother, on condition that he does the same for me, and I will not hold any court with Lothar, which, of my own will, might cause [my brother] harm.
Then, the people of each army took an oath:
If Louis [or Charles] observes the oath which he has sworn to his brother Charles [or Louis] and if Charles [or Louis], my lord on his part does not keep it, if I cannot turn him away (from his wickedness), neither I nor any of those whom I will have been able to turn away, will give him any help against Louis [or Charles].
Let’s just say, nothing was settled even after this. But we haven’t even got to the beginning yet….or even the middle.
Louis the Pious – Charlemagne’s son – became emperor upon Charlemagne’s death. As Charlemagne’s other sons were dead, and his bastard sons under arrest, Louis was able to secure the throne uncontested.
Louis decided to divide the empire among his three sons – Lothar, Pippin and Louis (Pippin later dying and his place taken by the much younger Charles). Lothar was to be crowned as co-emperor – co-emperor with the still-living Louis – therefore giving him first place in succession. The other two were kings, to serve under Lothar.
Once this scheme was announced, the fighting began – between the brothers, between the brothers and the father, allegiances constantly changing in every combination possible, war followed by rapprochement followed by war. You get the idea.
Louis the Pious died on June 20, 840. As you have seen, the trouble between the brothers certainly didn’t die with him.
Verden is a small north German town near the confluence of the Weser and Aller rivers nineteen miles (30 kilometers) south of Bremen. On a spring day in 782, it became the scene of a horrible massacre during which more than 4,500 Saxon warriors were beheaded between dawn and dusk. The perpetrator of this barbarism was Charlemagne.
The Saxons were given many opportunities to accept the Christian religion (and bow to Charlemagne) or die (for a hint at the nature of these Saxons, I offer the Stellinga; let’s just say that “bowing” was not in their nature). Charlemagne had enough of these “treaty-breaking Saxons.” He accepted the Saxon surrender, after which he slaughtered them.
The Saxons saw Charlemagne for what he was – a tyrant who wanted to impose a foreign religion and foreign governance structure upon them. Between 772 and 804, Charlemagne was constantly in battle against these recalcitrants (I recall reading, probably in Davis, that not a year went by during his reign without Charlemagne in battle in order to create his empire). The worst of Frankish brutality was perpetually on display.
Some of the winners of the aforementioned Charlemagne Prize: Winston Churchill, George C. Marshall, the European Commission, Henry Kissinger, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, the Euro, Emmanuel Macron.
Omelette makers, one-and-all; good at only one thing: breaking a few eggs.