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Helene A. Guerber

Charlemagne, Emperor

A FTER the wars in Saxony, in Lombardy, and in Spain were ended, Charlemagne went over into what is now called Austria, to fight Avars, from whom he also won much territory and spoil. Then as he had become a master of nearly all the land which had once formed the Western Empire, it was thought only right that he, too, should bear the title Emperor.

When he went to Rome, therefore, in 800, he received his name of Charles the Great, and on Christmas Day appeared in church clad in imperial purple. While he was kneeling before the altar, the Pope took the imperial crown, and placing it upon Charlemagne's head, hailed him sixty-eighth Emperor of Rome.

Thus the Western Roman Empire, which had died out 324 years before (in476), sprang to life again under Charlemagne; but from this time on it is generally known as the "Holy Roman Empire." During that visit, Charlemagne also confirmed the grant of land which had been made tot he church by his father.

The last years of Charlemagne's reign were far more peaceful than the first; still, he foresaw that there would be trouble as soon as he died. According to one story, while he was gazing out at sea, he once suddenly beheld some ships of the Northmen—bold northern pirates who, sailing along the European coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, often landed, stole all they could lay hands upon, and then sailed away leaving nothing but ruins behind them. Tears coursed down his aged cheeks, and when his followers asked the cause of his grief, he sadly answered: "Do you know, my faithful liegemen, why I weep? I do not fear that these men can hurt us, but it affronts me to think that while I live, they have dared to insult my coasts, and I foresee with grief what evil they will do to my descendants and to their subjects!" You will soon see that Charlemagne had good cause to weep over the misfortunes which were to come, and that his descendants did suffer greatly at the hands of these Northmen.

Charlemagne was married five or six times. He had fourteen children whom he loved dearly, but some of them died before he did. While his sons were often called away to fight or attend to business, his daughters generally accompanied him wherever he went. It was even said that he was too fond of them to allow them to marry, for he feared their husbands might want to live away from court, and thus separate him from them. If you would like to know the story of the courtship and marriage of one of these daughters, you can read if in Longfellow's charming poem, "Emma and Eginhard" (āgin-hart), in the Tales of a Wayside Inn, where you will also find other interesting things about this great monarch.

Charlemagne was so great, so rich, so brave, and so powerful, that his fame spread far beyond Europe, even into Asia. The Caliph of Bagdad, as a token of respect, sent him ambassadors bringing wonderful presents. Many of these Eastern gifts were great curiosities to the French and Germans of that day, who make particular mention of a monkey, an elephant, an organ, and a mechanical clock; but all agree that most precious of all the gifts were the keys of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem.

Charlemagne was tall and strong, had blue eyes, curly hair and beard, and handsome features. While he could occasionally dazzle people by the splendor of his imperial robes, he generally dressed like a soldier, carrying his great sword "Joyeusse", which was so very heavy that few warriors could handle it at all.

Charlemagne never believed in doctoring. When he fell ill of fever, he refused to eat, and died at the end of a week, in January, 814, at the age of seventy-two, having made all his last arrangements with great care and calmness.

At his request, he was buried in the vault of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle. His body was embalmed, clad in imperial purple, seated on a throne, and placed in a tomb all paved with gold coins. With a crown on his head, scepter in his hand, sword by his side, and an open Bible on his knees, the great Emperor sat in state, and the vault was closed. Charlemagne had prescribed all this in his will, and had besides given strict orders that his tomb should never be opened, under penalty of his curse. But one of the German Emperors, wishing to secure the regalia (crown, scepter, and other royal or imperial ornaments), had the tomb opened in 997. The body of Charlemagne was then found just as it had been left. The ornaments and gold were removed, the corpse laid in a tomb, and the throne brought up into the gallery of the cathedral, where it can still be seen. But, strange to relate, the Emperor who braved Charlemagne's curse was never lucky again. As for the regalia, it was taken in time to Vienna, where it is still exhibited in the imperial treasury.

The hero of countless interesting French and German legends, Charlemagne, the most picturesque and powerful monarch in Europe for several centuries, was greatly regretted when he died. We are told that a monk of his time wrote: "No one can tell the mourning and sorrow that his death caused everywhere; even pagans wept for him as for the father of the world!"