The title and accompanying status were intended to indicate the bearer as the inheritor of Ancient Rome, and this new Empire remained unbroken for over a thousand years. Contemporary biographers, such as Einhard and Notker the Stammerer described Charlemagne as the ideal ruler – pious, wise, and strong. In the poem Karolus magnus et Leo papa, a court scholar lauded his patron as the ‘Father of Europe,’ victorious in battle, a just, powerful, and modest king. This strength of character, combined with the decorated title, sent Charlemagne’s name into legend, serving as a blueprint for medieval Christian kingship.
The person we now call Charlemagne was born Charles, son of Pepin, sometime between 742 and 747 CE. At that time, Pepin was mayor of the Frankish palace, a role which marked him as the vital decision-maker behind Merovingian kings, ruling the Frankish kingdom in all but name. In 751 CE, with the aid of Pope Zachariah, the last Merovingian king was deposed, and Pepin was elected to the status of King of the Franks instead. In 754 CE this position was reaffirmed by Pope Stephen and was also extended to Pepin’s sons – Charles, and his younger brother Carloman. Pepin used his position to stabilise and expand the kingdom and was thus embroiled in many military disputes. As Charles grew into adulthood, he followed in his father’s footsteps, establishing himself as a great military leader. It is due to these endeavours that he gained the moniker Carolus Magnus – Charles the Great, or Charlemagne.
When Pepin died in 768 CE, the Frankish kingdom was left jointly to his two sons, divided along a roughly East/West line. Ninth-century scholars describe Carloman, Charlemagne’s younger brother and co-ruler, as peevish and self-pitying, with little ability to rule. By comparison, Charlemagne’s charisma, strength, and energetic applications to military endeavours were attributed to the settling and expansion of Frankish lands. When Carloman died in December 771 CE, Charlemagne reabsorbed his brother’s territories into his own, creating one united Frankish Kingdom again. Through further military campaigns, which continued beyond the imperial coronation, Charlemagne became ruler of the majority of Western Europe - from Aquitaine in the West, to Carinthia in the East; from Saxony in the North, to Lombardy in the South.