Many prospective readers ask “Why Charlemagne?” I find it puzzling myself. I studied 20th Centurty American History in college–social, political, economic, international. I wanted to understand the world I lived in.
I read a lot of other history–American, English, Roman, Egyptian–but somewhere along the way, I got interested in Charlemagne. A friend loaned me a 1930 book by Charles Edward Russell and I knew I would someday write about this man.
He is simply the greatest king that ever lived. He governed much of Europe for 47 years at a time when even cities were apt to have their own laws and languages. He needed the laws in writing–but few could read and write. So he recruited teachers in Italy and England and established schools. He established scriptoria in Europe where even pagan books were copied. He refused to appoint priests who didn’t know the mass.
A champion of education. But that wasn’t all. When a teacher was available, Charlemagne insisted that everyone who could be spared from work attend classes. Everyone included girls. Legend says that even the cook’s daughter attended classes with his own children. We’re talking the 8th century here–800 years before the Renaissance.
The scholar who acted as Charlemagne’s minister of education–Alcuin–is the second best-known name of the century. He had real power in the administration for it was the men he trained that represented Charlemagne through much of his territory.