I am very pleased to welcome Jill Hughey, another member of the Love Historicals group.
Great to be here, Anna. It’s appropriate today to talk about Conquest and Prosperity – The Rule of Charlemagne and Everyone Else.
Power and wealth are keen motivators to people of a certain ilk. The individual who can harness the loyalty and resources of a group of those people will go far, as long as he or she continues to feed their hunger for more. Always more.
You might think I am writing about Wall Street or the mortgage bankers who caused the real estate crash or even certain elected officials. I’m not, and I find it both discouraging and encouraging that the things driving humanity haven’t changed much in thousands of years.
The boy who would become Charlemagne was born on April 2, 742. He was named Charles; inherited half of his father’s kingdom in 768; and, through “luck” (if you can call the death of your two brothers lucky), strategy, and force of will, became Holy Roman Emperor, ordained by the Pope as ruler of a vast chunk of Europe. Charlemagne has been called the “King and Father of Europe” because he unified what until then had been bands of tribes, tiny dukedoms, and kingdoms that fought amongst themselves.
How did he do this? How did he unite men who had been fiercely protecting their independent interests for generations? For starters, he offered them more of what they wanted, which was power and wealth.
Charlemagne built his empire by conquering societies on his borders. To do that, he needed the military support of his nobility and their armies. Of course, conquest brought not only land, but treasure. Those who helped gather the treasure were rewarded. The empire grew and the loyal nobility got rich, with the fringe benefit that the powerful men who were kept busy fighting for him could not stir up trouble by fighting against him or with each other.
In other words, he harnessed a thirst for conquest and increasing riches to serve his purposes. This is not so say he frolicked through life unopposed. Much to the contrary. His oldest son tried to wrestle some control he thought he deserved and got stuffed in a monastery for his trouble. The Saxons put up a tremendous fight until their figurehead leader and lower nobility were temporarily bought off with treasure and positions within Charlemagne’s realm. (Wealth and power.)
Charlemagne was a workaholic. He was driven to rule, hungry for territory, politically cunning, and ruthless against any adversary standing against him. While he listened to trusted advisers and considered himself a stalwart Christian (part of his conquering included Christianization of the conquered), he also gave himself great latitude in determining the best path forward, to the point that rules of The Church did not apply to him in his personal life, and trickery or deceit could be justified when it served his purposes.
Sound familiar? Single-mindedness and a belief that rules are for other people can be traced in successful people from earliest human history to Charlemagne to most notable monarchs up through the industrialists of the 19th century to the sharks of the present day financial and technology businesses. It is such a common theme that we shouldn’t even be surprised or shocked by it any longer.
Maybe it is wrong to apply moral judgment on someone like Charlemagne. Looking back through time, has human civilization been improved because he ruled? Yes, it probably has, just as the overall foundations of society were strengthened by the machinations of the Caesars of Rome and the fierce business practices of men like Andrew Carnegie. We sympathize with the people who have gotten trampled, but from a long historical view we can see how those blood-stained foundational blocks benefitted generations after.
So, 1,272 years ago, a baby named Charles was born. He laid a foundation for what we know as Europe, using conquest and prosperity as tools. We may not admire his methods, but we cannot argue with the longevity of Charlemagne’s legacy.
I write historical romance set in the period following Charlemagne’s death, when his carefully constructed empire was being weakened by the rule of his son Louis. The first book in the Evolution Series is called Unbidden. My books can be found at the following places.