Gateway to the Classics: European Hero Stories by Eva March Tappan
European Hero Stories by  Eva March Tappan


Pepin the Short had done a great deal to unite the kingdom; but when he died, he left it to his two sons, and so divided it again. The older son died in a few years; and now the kingdom of the Franks was in the hands of Char-le-magne, if he could hold it. First came trouble with the Sax'ons who lived about the lower Rhine and the Elbe. They and the Franks were both Germans, but the Franks had had much to do with the Romans, and had learned many of their ways. Missionaries, too, had dwelt among them and had taught them Christianity, while the Saxons were still heathen. It was fully thirty years before the Saxons were subdued. During those years, Charlemagne watched them closely. He fought, to be sure, whenever they rebelled, and he made some severe laws and saw to it that these were obeyed. More than this, however, he sent missionaries to them, and he built churches. He carried away many Saxon boys as hostages. These boys were carefully brought up and were taught Christianity. They learned to like the Frankish ways of living, and when they had grown up and were sent home, they urged their friends to yield and become peaceful subjects of the great king; and finally the land of the Saxons became a part of the Frankish kingdom.

When Charlemagne had only begun the Saxon war, the Pope asked for help against the Lom'bards, a tribe of Teutons who had settled in northern Italy. The king was quite ready to give it, for he, too, had a quarrel with them; and in a year or two their ruler had been shut up in a monastery and Charlemagne had been crowned with the old iron crown of Lom'bar-dy.


Count Roland at the Battle of Roncesvalles.

This war had hardly come to an end before the king led his troops into Spain against the Mohammedans. There, too, he was successful; but at Ron-ces-val'les he lost a favorite follower, Count Ro'land. Roland and the warriors who perished with him were so young and brave that their people were never weary of recounting their noble deeds. Later some one put the story into a fine old ringing poem, called the "Song of Roland," which long afterward men sang as they dashed into battle.

In the year 800, a great honor was shown to Charlemagne, for as he was kneeling at the altar in Rome on Christmas Day, the Pope set a crown upon his head, and the people cried, "Long life and victory to the mighty Charles, the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans, crowned of God!" Charlemagne was now not only king of the Franks, but Emperor in the Western Empire. This empire, however, was smaller than it had been in the earlier days, for it included now only France, part of Germany and of Italy, and a little strip at the north of Spain.


Coronation of Charlemagne.

Charlemagne had become a great ruler, and other rulers were anxious to win his friendship. Ha-run'-al-Rash'id, or Harun the Just, the Calif of Bag'dad, hero of the Arabian Nights, was one of his special friends. This calif was a poet and learned man. He founded schools throughout his kingdom in which medicine, geometry, and astronomy might be studied. Charlemagne did not write poetry, but he was a hard student, and he planned for the boys of his kingdom to be taught. One of his orders reads, "Let every monastery and every abbey have its school, where boys may be taught the Psalms, the system of musical notation, singing, arithmetic, and grammar, and let the books which are given them be free from faults, and let care be taken that the boys do not spoil them either when reading or writing." When he returned from one of his campaigns, he sent for a group of schoolboys and bade them show him their work. The boys from the poorer families had done their best, and he thanked them heartily. "Try now to reach perfection," he said, "and you shall be highly honored in my sight." The sons of the nobles had thought that as their fathers were rich and of high rank there was no need of their working, and they had nothing good to show their king. He burst out upon them in anger, "You pretty and dainty little gentlemen who count upon your birth and your wealth, you have disregarded my orders and your own reputations and neglected your studies. Let me promise you this: If you do not make haste to make good your former negligence, never think to get any favors from Karl."

As there were few learned men in the Frankish kingdom, the king sent to scholars in other parts of Europe and offered them generous rewards to come to the Franks as their teachers. He collected a library and established a school at his own court; and there the mighty Emperor, his family, and his courtiers, gathered around some wise man and learned of him. The Emperor was interested in everything. He often got up in the night to study the stars. Once when the planet Mars could not be seen, he wrote to his teacher, "What do you think of this Mars? Is it the influence of the sun? Is it a miracle ? Could he have been two years about performing the course of a single one?"



Charlemagne was a tall, large, dignified man. On state occasions he dressed most splendidly, but at other times he wore simple clothes and liked best those that were ornamented with the work of his wife and daughters. He was an expert horseman and swimmer, and he taught his sons to ride and to use the sword and the spear. He took charge of his own farms, he built churches and bridges, and he began a canal to connect the Rhine with the Danube. He encouraged trade, making the taxes upon merchants as light as possible. He collected the ancient German songs, he had a grammar of the language written, he improved the singing in the churches, and he even had the coinage of the kingdom manufactured in his own palace. All this was in addition to the fifty or more campaigns that he was obliged to make. Surely he was the busiest of monarchs and the busiest of Germans; for, although the land of the Franks is now France, yet it must not be forgotten that the Franks were German, and that the German "Karl der Gros'se," would be a better name for their great ruler than the French "Charlemagne."

When the mighty Emperor died, his empire fell to his son, a gentle, kindly man, but not strong enough to meet the lawless chiefs who opposed him. He was followed by his three sons; and again the vast empire was divided. The sons were not satisfied, and they went to war. After much fighting, a treaty was made at Ver-dun' in 843. The eldest son, Lo-thair', received the title of Emperor. His part of the domain was northern Italy and a broad strip of land extending to the North Sea. The kingdom of the youngest lay to the east of this, and that of the second son, Charles the Bald, to the west. Charles the Bald held more than half of what is now called France, and it is from this treaty and the reign of Charles that the French count the beginning of the kingdom of France.


Charlemagne and the Saxons. — He aids the Pope against the Lombards. — The "Song of Roland."—The coronation of Charlemagne. — The Western Empire. — Harun-al-Raschid. — Charlemagne's plans for teaching the boys of his land. — He examines a class. — The palace school. — Appearance of Charlemagne. — His work for the kingdom. — The Treaty of Verdun.

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