A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance

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World History

20.

Charlemagne Crowned Emperor (800)

Sources—(a) Annales Laureshamensis ["Annals of Lauresheim"], Chap. 34. Text in Monumenta Germaniœ Historica, Scriptores (Pertz ed.), Vol. I., p. 38.

(b) Vitœ Pontificorum Romanorum ["Lives of the Roman Pontiffs"]. Text in Muratori, Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, Vol. III., pp. 284–285.

(a)

And because the name of emperor had now ceased among the Greeks, and their empire was possessed by a woman,1 it seemed both to Leo the pope himself, and to all the holy fathers who were present in the self-same council,2 as well as to the rest of the Christian people, that they ought to take to be emperor Charles, king of the Franks, who held Rome herself, where the Cæsars had always been wont to sit, and all the other regions which he ruled through Italy and Gaul and Germany; and inasmuch as God had given all these lands into his hand, it seemed right that with the help of God, and at the prayer of the whole Christian people, he should have the name of emperor also. [The Pope’s] petition King Charles willed not to refuse,1 but submitting himself with all humility to God, and at the prayer of the priests, and of the whole Christian people, on the day of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, he took on himself the name of emperor, being consecrated by the Pope Leo. . . . For this also was done by the will of God . . . that the heathen might not mock the Christians if the name of emperor should have ceased among them.

(b)

After these things, on the day of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, when all the people were assembled in the Church of the blessed St. Peter,2 the venerable and gracious Pope with his own hands crowned him [Charlemagne] with an exceedingly precious crown. Then all the faithful Romans, beholding the choice of such a friend and defender of the holy Roman Church, and of the pontiff, did by the will of God and of the blessed Peter, the key-bearer of the heavenly kingdom, cry with a loud voice, "To Charles, the most pious Augustus, crowned of God, the great and peace-giving Emperor, be life and victory." While he, before the altar of the church, was calling upon many of the saints, it was proclaimed three times, and by the common voice of all he was chosen to be emperor of the Romans. Then the most holy high priest and pontiff anointed Charles with holy oil, and also his most excellent son to be king,1 upon the very day of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 James Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire (new ed., New York, 1904), p. 50.

1 Irene, the wife of Emperor Leo IV. After the death of her husband in 780 she became regent during the minority of her son, Constantine VI., then only nine years of age. In 790 Constantine succeeded in taking the government out of her hands; but seven years afterwards she caused him to be blinded and shut up in a dungeon, where he soon died. The revolting crimes by which Irene established her supremacy at Constantinople were considered, even in her day, a disgrace to Christendom.

2 This expression has given rise to a view which will be found in some books that Pope Leo convened a general council of Frankish and Italian clergy to consider the advisability of giving the imperial title to Charlemagne. The whole matter is in doubt, but it does not seem likely that there was any such formal deliberation. Leo certainly ascertained that the leading lay and ecclesiastical magnates would approve the contemplated step, but that a definite election in council took place may be pretty confidently denied. The writer of the Annals of Lauresheim was interested in making the ease of Charlemagne, and therefore of the later emperors, as strong as possible.

1 Einhard, Charlemagne’s biographer, says that the king at first had such aversion to the titles of Emperor and Augustus "that he declared he would not have set foot in the church the day that they were conferred, although it was a great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of the Pope" (Vita Caroli Magni, Chap. 28). Despite this statement, however, we are not to regard the coronation as a genuine surprise to anybody concerned. In all probability there had previously been a more or less definite understanding between the king and the Pope that in due time the imperial title should be conferred. It is easy to believe, though, that Charlemagne had had no idea that the ceremony was to be performed on this particular occasion and it is likely enough that he had plans of his own as to the proper time and place for it, plans which Leo rather rudely interfered with, but which the manifest good-will of everybody constrained the king to allow to be sacrificed. It may well be that Charlemagne had decided simply to assume the imperial crown without a papal coronation at all, in order that the whole question of papal supremacy, which threatened to be a troublesome one, might be kept in the background.

2 The celebration of the Nativity was by far the greatest festival of the Church. At this season the basilica of St. Peter at Rome was the scene of gorgeous ceremonials, and to its sumptuous shrine thronged the devout of all Christendom. Its magnificence on the famous Christmas of 800 was greater than ever, for only recently Charlemagne had bestowed the most costly of all his gifts upon it—the spoils of the Avar wars.

1 Charles, the eldest son, since 789 king of Maine. In reality, of course, he was but an under-king, since Maine was an integral part of Charlemagne’s dominion. He was anointed by Pope Leo in 800 as heir-apparent to the new imperial dignity of his father.

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Chicago: "Charlemagne Crowned Emperor (800)," A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, ed. Frederic Austin Ogg (1878-1951) (New York: American Book Company, 1908), 130–134. Original Sources, accessed December 9, 2019, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TGIZSKY3GYYNNTC.

MLA: . "Charlemagne Crowned Emperor (800)." A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, edited by Frederic Austin Ogg (1878-1951), New York, American Book Company, 1908, pp. 130–134. Original Sources. 9 Dec. 2019. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TGIZSKY3GYYNNTC.

Harvard: , 'Charlemagne Crowned Emperor (800)' in A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance. cited in 1908, A Source Book of Mediaeval History: Documents Illustrative of European Life and Institutions from the Germanic Invasions to the Renaissance, ed. , American Book Company, New York, pp.130–134. Original Sources, retrieved 9 December 2019, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=TGIZSKY3GYYNNTC.