- LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0196
- LAST REVIEWED: 01 December 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0196
Charles or Karl (Karolus, and later known as Charlemagne) was born 742/748 and died in his palace at Aachen in 814. The oldest son of Pepin and Bertrada, he became King of the Franks with his younger brother, Carloman in 768, and sole king in 771. He was a successful, and sometimes ruthless, warrior who extended Frankish rule over large parts of Germany and central Europe, northern and central Italy, and northern Spain. He also proved to be an astute politician and administrator of his diverse kingdom. He was an intensely religious man with close ties to the papacy. In 800 Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome. He fostered learning and education by inviting leading scholars to his court. Collectively they produced what has been called the “Carolingian Renaissance.” Charlemagne’s influence lasted long after his death. Legends about him appeared early and continued to be recited and written well into the 16th century. In the 20th century some adopted Charlemagne as the “Father of Europe” in order to promote European unity. On the lighter side his name has been used on at least two cigars—Charles the Great “Barcelona”and La Gloria Cubana Charlemagne—and in an advertisement for Plexo Suspenders, which asked: “How did Charlemagne keep his trousers up?” (Everybody’s Magazine, January 1914, p. 103).
A number of books and articles provide broad coverage of Charlemagne and his age. Collins 1998 and Becher 2003 are the best short accounts in English. Bullough 1973 is a splendidly illustrated scholarly analysis in the guise of a coffee-table book. McKitterick 2008 is a scholarly analysis of most of the major questions about Charlemagne’s reign. Nelson 2002 and Nelson 2006 provide an analysis of Charlemagne’s family and personality. McKitterick and Nelson are the leading scholars of Charlemagne and the Carolingian period in English. Hägermann 2000 and Fried 2013 are full treatments in German. Barbero 2004 deals with Charlemagne from an Italian point of view, while Favier 1999 presents a French perspective. Sypeck 2007 is an interesting popular account.
Barbero, Alessandro. Charlemagne: Father of a Continent. Translated by Allan Cameron. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
An Italian scholar’s account of Charlemagne and his times; well-informed, especially on Charlemagne’s conquest of and subsequent rule over Italy. Has an excellent annotated bibliography.
Becher, Matthias. Charlemagne. Translated by David S. Bachrach. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.
A short, authoritative biography based on the most recent Anglo-American and continental scholarship.
Bullough, Donald. The Age of Charlemagne. 2d ed. London: Paul Elek, 1973.
A scholarly, but very readable, account of Charlemagne and his times with a large number of color plates and illustrations.
Collins, Roger. Charlemagne. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
A very good, short narrative, best on political and military affairs.
Favier, Jean. Charlemagne. Paris: Fayard, 1999.
A rather diffuse, topically organized account.
Fried, Johannes. Karl der Grosse: Gewalt und Glaube. Munich: Beck, 2013.
A full account of the life and times of Charlemagne by a leading German medieval historian, published to coincide with the 1200th anniversary of the emperor’s death.
Hägermann, Dieter. Karl der Grosse: Herrscher des Abendlandes. Berlin: Propyläen, 2000.
A large, detailed biography in strict chronological form well-informed by recent scholarship; the book, however, has minimal bibliography.
McKitterick, Rosamund. Charlemagne: the Formation of a European Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
An excellent account that astutely assesses the primary sources and manuscripts as well the principal events of Charlemagne’s reign. Very good on all aspects of Charlemagne’s reign but especially on cultural and administrative issues and recent scholarly debates.
Nelson, Janet L. “Charlemagne: Pater Optimus?” In Am Vorabend der Kaiserkrönung: Das Epos “Karolus Magnus et Leo Papa” und der Papstbesuch in Paderborn 799. Edited by Peter Godman, Jörg Jarnut, and Peter Johanek, 269–280. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2002.
Nelson discusses the coronation and subsequent decisions from the standpoint of Carolingian family politics.
Nelson, Janet L. “Did Charlemagne Have a Private Life?” In Writing Medieval Biography, 750–1250: Essays in Honour of Professor Frank Barlow. Edited by David Bates, Julia Crick, and Sarah Hamilton, 15–28. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2006.
Nelson is the leading scholar of Charlemagne and the Carolingians. Here she discusses the evidence for Charlemagne the person as well as the problems of writing the biography of medieval persons.
Sypeck, Jeff. Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.
A very readable popular account emphasizing the relations between Charlemagne and Aachen with Rome, Jerusalem, and Baghdad.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
How to Subscribe
Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.
- Aelred of Rievaulx
- Alfonso X
- Alfred the Great
- Alighieri, Dante
- Anglo-Norman Realm
- Anglo-Saxon Manuscript Illumination
- Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture
- Apocalypticism, Millennialism, and Messianism
- Architecture, Carolingian
- Armenian Art
- Art and Pilgrimage
- Art, Anglo-Saxon
- Art, Byzantine
- Art, Coptic
- Art, Gothic
- Art in Italy
- Art, Insular
- Art, Ottonian
- Art, Pictish
- Art, Romanesque
- Arts, Decorative
- Attila And The Huns
- Audelay, John
- Augustodunensis, Honorius
- Bartholomaeus Anglicus
- Benedictines After 1100
- Benoît de Sainte Maure 
- Bernard of Clairvaux
- Bernardus Silvestris
- Biblical Apocrypha
- Boccaccio, Giovanni
- Bokenham, Osbern
- Book of Kells
- Bozon, Nicholas
- Britain, Drama in
- British Isles, Charters of the
- Byzantine Manuscript Illumination
- Calendars and Time (Christian)
- Cambridge Songs
- Canon Law
- Cantari, Italian
- Capgrave, John
- Carolingian Era
- Carolingian Manuscript Illumination
- Carthusians and Eremitic Orders
- Charles d’Orléans
- Chaucer, Geoffrey
- Christian Mysticism
- Christianity and the Church in Post-Conquest England
- Christianity and the Church in Pre-Conquest England
- Chronicles of England and the British Isles
- Clanvowe, John
- Classics in the Middle Ages
- Confessors, Handbooks for
- Corpus Christi
- Councils and Synods of the Medieval Church
- Crusades, The
- Crusading Warfare
- Dance of Death
- de Santa Maria, Cantigas
- Death and Dying in England
- Drama, French
- Drama, German
- Drama, Italian
- Drama, Liturgical
- East Anglia, Art of
- Economic History
- England, Post-Conquest
- England, Pre-Conquest
- England, Towns and Cities Medieval
- Exeter Book, The
- Feast of Fools
- Folk Custom and Entertainment
- Food, Drink, and Diet
- France, Regions of Medieval
- French of England, The
- Froissart, Jean
- Games and Recreations
- Gerson, Jean
- Glass, Stained
- Gower, John
- Gregory VII
- Harley 2253 Manuscript, The
- Hiberno-Latin Literature
- High Crosses
- Hilton, Walter
- Hoccleve, Thomas
- Hood, Robin
- Hungary, Latin Literacy in Medieval
- Hungary, Libraries in Medieval
- Illuminated Manuscripts
- Insular Manuscript Illumination
- Italy, Mosaics in
- Jewish Manuscript Illumination
- Junius Manuscript, The
- King Arthur
- Kings and Monarchy, 1066-1485, English
- Knapwell, Richard
- Lancelot-Grail Cycle
- Language, Middle English
- Libraries in England and Wales
- Lindisfarne Gospels
- Liturgical Processions
- Lollards and John Wyclif, The
- Lombards in Italy
- Love, Nicholas
- Low Countries
- Lydgate, John
- Machaut, Guillaume de
- Magic in the Medieval Theater
- Malmesbury, Aldhelm of
- Malory, Sir Thomas
- Manuscript Ilumination, Norman (and Anglo-Norman)
- Manuscripts, Illustrated Beatus
- Marie de France
- Markets and Fairs
- Medieval Archaeology in Britain, Fifth to Eleventh Centuri...
- Medieval Archaeology in Britain, Twelfth to Fifteenth Cent...
- Medieval Britain, Schools in
- Medieval Europe, Jews and Judaism in
- Medieval Ivories
- Medieval Music Theory
- Medieval Naples
- Metalwork, Anglo-Saxon
- Metalwork, Carolingian
- Middle Ages, Family Life in the
- Middle Ages, Hospitals in the
- Middle Ages, Ovid in the
- Mozarabic Art
- Mural Decoration, Italian
- Musical Instruments
- Necromancy, Theurgy, and Intermediary Beings
- Nicholas of Cusa
- N-Town Plays
- Old English Language
- Old English Literature and Critical Theory
- Old Norse-Icelandic Sagas
- Papacy, The Medieval
- Peter Abelard
- Pizan, Christine de
- Plowman, Piers
- Poetry, Old English Religious
- Poland, Ethnic and Religious Groups in Medieval
- Pope Innocent III
- Preaching, Late Medieval
- Pre-Carolingian Western European Kingdoms
- Prosody, English
- Rate Manuscript (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 61)
- Regular Canons
- Related Texts, The Cloud of Unknowing and
- Religious Lyrics
- Robert Mannyng of Brunne
- Roland, The Song of
- Rolle, Richard
- Roman Law
- Romance, Arthurian
- Ruthwell Cross
- Saint Plays and Miracles
- Scandinavian Migration Period Gold Bracteates
- Scogan, Henry
- Sex and Sexuality
- Ships and Seafaring
- Shirley, John
- Songs, Medieval
- Southampton, Archaeology of
- St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury
- St. Peter's in the Vatican (Rome)
- The Auchinleck Manuscript
- The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
- The Findern Manuscript (CUL Ff.i.6)
- The Gawain Poet
- The Illustrated Old English Hexateuch
- The Italian Novella
- The Middle Ages, The Trojan War in
- The Nibelungenlied
- The Owl and the Nightingale
- The Prick of Conscience
- Theater and Drama, Dutch
- Theater and Performance, Iberian
- Thomas Aquinas
- Thornton, Robert
- Travel and Travelers
- Troubadours and Trouvères
- Troyes, Chrétien de
- Universities, Medieval English
- Usk, Adam
- Usk, Thomas
- Venerable Bede, The
- Vercelli Book, The
- Vernon Manuscript, The
- Visigothic Period, Art in the
- Von Eschenbach, Wolfram
- Wall Painting in Europe
- War, Hundred Years
- Welsh Literature
- Women's Life Cycles
- York, Alcuin of
- York Corpus Christi Plays