Someone brought up a question for me a few days ago. Why do the next few books move on to the early days of the Holy Roman Empire, and specifically why use Emperor Karl I (Charlemagne) as a character in the series. I don’t know why I started to find this emperor fascinating. Maybe it’s that he’s sort of an intriguing figure in that era.
Charles (which is what I call him because most people know him as Charlemagne) was a bit of a throwback in some ways to an earlier time, a time when Celtic chieftains and kings ruled over what had been Gaul. When the Frankish tribe began attacking the Roman Empire, the empire was turning their eyes east towards Greece or Byzantium. This gave free rein to the so-called barbarian tribes to take over Rome and the western part of Europe. At this point the Roman Empire was mostly Christian. The Barbarians weren’t and had their own customs about marriage, children, and religion.
A few centuries later, they all converted to Christianity. However, like the Irish, they kept a lot of their tribal customs. Karl was a man that professed himself a Christian, but lived like a Germanic chieftain. I like that. It gives him depth and character. I suppose I thought a man crowned by a pope would have been a little less worldly. However, he had wives and concubines that he loved. He loved his children too, whether they were official or bastards. Even if they turned on him, as several of them did.
He was a great storyteller and started a school for the locals near the palace at Aachen. He enjoyed living and laughed a lot.
Charles knew his world and was a keen politician even though he was somewhat embarrassed to admit that he didn’t really know how to read or write well. He recognized when something was outside of the realm of his expertise and found people to explain all sides of the issue to him. Something that I think modern day politicians should readily embrace. Especially since most politicians are illiterate or at least seem to approve of illiteracy, but that’s another blog post.
I don’t exactly approve of the way he treated the Saxons, but he treated the Basileus of Byzantium and Harun al-Rashid, the de-facto leader of the many tribes who were from the Middle East with respect. Al-Rashid apparently thought enough of Charles to send him an elephant and a clock as a presents. The emperor thought it was a most amusing joke as Abul-Abbas apparently ate more than any other beast in the empire.
Chuck also loved his roasts and his hunts. Despite what the doctors told him, he kept himself busy. 15 years after becoming emperor, Charles started to let his oldest official son, Ludvicus (Louis for ease of reading) sort of take over.
As much as I like Emperor Chuck, I never have cared for his successor. Louis was known to never smile. He forced his bastard brothers to tonsure (take holy orders) to secure his place. It may be a harsh judgment, but as Chuck was known for being friendly and wise and his son was known as ‘Louis the Pious’. He didn’t have this father’s talents on the battlefield, charm, or sense.
So there you go, I guess I like Chuck because he was a man of contradictions who enjoyed himself. He knew his limitations and his strengths. That’s why I think he’d be a great book character. There’s nothing more interesting than a character that is not quite what he seems to be. At least I enjoy reading about characters like that.