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Chapter 4

CHAPTER IV: PIPIN AND CHARLES THE GREAT (AD 741-814) PART I

Towards the end of St. Boniface's life, a great change took place in
the government of the Franks. Pipin, who had succeeded his father,
Charles Martel, as mayor of the palace, grew tired of being called a
sergeant white he was really the master; and the French sent to ask
the pope, whose name was Zacharias, whether the man who really had
the kingly power ought not also to have the title of king.
Zacharias, who had been greatly obliged to the Franks for helping
him against his enemies the Lombards, answered them in the way that
they seemed to wish and to expect; and accordingly they chose Pipin
as their king. And while, according to the custom in such cases,
Pipin was lifted up on a shield and displayed to the people, while
he was anointed and crowned, the last of the poor old race of
"do-nothing" kings was forced to let his long hair be shorn until he
looked like a monk, and was then shut up in a monastery for the rest
of his days.

Pipin afterwards went into Italy for the help of the pope, and
bestowed on the Roman Church a large tract of country which he had
taken from the Lombards. And this "donation" (as it was called) or
gift, was the first land which the popes possessed in such a way
that they were counted as the sovereigns of it.

Pipin died in 768, and was succeeded by his son Charles who is
commonly called Charlemagne (or Charles the Great). Under Charles
the connexion between the Franks and the Popes became still closer
than before; and when Charles put down the Lombard kingdom in Italy
(AD 774), the popes came in for part of the spoil.

But the most remarkable effect of this connexion was at a later
time, when Pope Leo III had been attacked in a Roman street by some
conspirators, who tried to blind him and to cut out his tongue. But
they were not able to do their work thoroughly, and Leo recovered
the use both of his tongue and of his eyes. He then went into
Germany to ask Charles to help him against his enemies; and on his
return to Rome he was followed by Charles. There, on Christmas Day,
AD 800, when a vast congregation was assembled in the great church
of St. Peter, the pope suddenly placed a golden crown on the king's
head, while the people shouted, "Long life and victory to our
emperor Charles!" So now, after a long time, an emperor was set up
again in the West; and, although these new emperors were German,
they all styled themselves Emperors of the Romans. The popes
afterwards pretended that they had a right to bestow the empire as
they liked, and that Leo had taken it from the Greeks, and given it
to the Germans. But this was quite untrue. Charles seems to have
made up his mind to be emperor, but he was very angry with the pope
for giving him the crown by surprise, instead of letting him take
his own way about it; and, if he had been left to himself, he would
have taken care to manage the matter so that the pope should not
appear to do anything more than to crown him in form after he had
been chosen by the Roman people.

PART II

Charles was really a great man, although he had very serious faults,
and did many blameable things. He carried his conquests so far that
the Greeks had a proverb, "Have the Frank for thy friend, but not
for thy neighbour,"-- meaning that the Franks were likely to try to
make their neighbours' lands their own. He thought it his duty to
spread the Christian faith by force, if it could not be done in a
gentler way; and thus, when he had conquered the Saxons in Germany,
he made them be baptized and pay tithes to the Church. But I need
hardly say that people's belief is not to be forced in this way; and
many of those who submitted to be baptized at the conqueror's
command had no belief in the Gospel, and no understanding of it.
There is a story told of some who came to be baptized over and over
again for the sake of the white dresses which were given to them at
their baptism; and when one of these had once got a dress which was
coarser than usual, he declared that such a sack was fitter for a
swineherd than for a warrior, and that he would have nothing to do
with it or with the Christian religion. The Saxons gave Charles a
great deal of trouble, for his war with them lasted no less than
thirty-three years; and at one time he was so much provoked by their
frequent revolts that he had the cruelty to put 4,500 Saxon
prisoners to death.

But there are better things to be told of Charles. He took very
great pains to restore learning, which had long been in a state of
decay. He invited learned men from Italy and from England to settle
in his kingdom; and of all these, the most famous was a Northumbrian
named Alcuin. Alcuin gave him wise and good advice as to the best
way of treating the Saxons in order to bring them to the faith; and
when Charles was on his way to Rome, just before he was crowned as
emperor, Alcuin presented him with a large Latin Bible, written
expressly for his use; for we must remember that printing was not
invented until more than six hundred years later, so that all books
in Charles's days were "manuscript" (or written by hand). Some
people have believed that an ancient manuscript Bible which is now
to be seen in the great library at Paris is the very one which
Alcuin gave to Charles.

We are told that when Charles found himself at a loss for help in
educating his people, he said to Alcuin that he wished he might have
twelve such learned clerks as Jerome and Augustine; and that Alcuin
answered, "The maker of heaven and earth has had only two such, and
are you so unreasonable as to wish for twelve?"

Alcuin was made master of the palace school, which moved about
wherever the court was, and in which the pupils were Charles's own
children and the sons of his chief nobles; and besides this, care
was taken for the education of the clergy and of the people in
general. Charles himself tried very hard to learn reading and writing
when he was already in middle age; but although he became able to
read, and used to keep little tablets under his pillow, in order
that he might practise writing while lying awake in bed, he never
was able to write easily. Many curious stories are told of the way
in which he overlooked the service in his chapel, where he desired
that everything should be done as well as possible. He would point
with his finger or with his staff at any person whom he wished to
read in chapel, and when he wished any one to stop he coughed; and
it was expected that at these signals each person would begin or
stop at once, although it might be in the middle of a sentence.

During this time the question of images, which I have already,
mentioned (p 170), came up again in the Greek Church. A council was
held in 787 at Nicaea, where the first general council had met in
the time of Constantine, more than four centuries and a half before
(PART I, Chap. xi.), and in this second Nicene council images were
approved of. In the West, the popes were also for them; but they
were condemned in a council at Frankfort, and a book was written
against them in the name of Charles. It is supposed that this book
was mostly the work of Alcuin, but that Charles, besides allowing it
to go forth with his name and authority, had really himself had a
share in making it.

Charles the Great died in the year 814. A short time before his
death, he sent for his son Lewis, and in the great church at
Aix-la-Chapelle, which was Charles's favourite place of abode, he
took from the altar a golden crown, and with his own hands placed it
on the head of Lewis. By this he meant to show that he did not
believe the empire to depend on the pope's will, but considered it
to be given to himself and his successors by God alone.