Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity

by Rosamond McKitterick

Paperback, 2008



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Cambridge University Press (2008), Paperback, 478 pages


Charlemagne is often claimed as the greatest ruler in Europe before Napoleon. This magisterial study re-examines Charlemagne the ruler and his reputation. It analyses the narrative representations of Charlemagne produced after his death, and thereafter focuses on the evidence from Charlemagne's lifetime concerning the creation of the Carolingian dynasty and the growth of the kingdom, the court and the royal household, communications and identities in the Frankish realm in the context of government, and Charlemagne's religious and cultural strategies. The book offers a critical examination of the contemporary sources and in so doing transforms our understanding of the development of the Carolingian empire, the formation of Carolingian political identity, and the astonishing changes effected throughout Charlemagne's forty-six year period of rule. This is a major contribution to Carolingian history which will be essential reading for anyone interested in the medieval past. Rosamond McKitterick has also received the 2010 Dr A. H. Heineken Prize for History for her research into the Carolingians.… (more)

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LibraryThing member barlow304
Professor McKitterick has written a synthesis of Charlemagne’s reign. That is, she has not set out to write a biography, but rather to examine anew the original sources, carefully delimiting what we know from what we assume. She demonstrates that some of our assumptions are based on the later
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years of Charlemagne’s long rule, which we then project back to the early years.

In the author’s view, Charlemagne was concerned to unite his new empire. Relations with the papacy, including the crowning in 800, the insistence on new, proper texts of the sacred books, the obsession with orthodoxy and the command to extend Christian principles into daily life helped to create a consistent view of the empire. These measures also helped draw in the various peoples of the empire into a common identity.

Some of the author’s views are contentious, but surely she is right to argue that Carolingian conquests were a matter of opportunity and family matters, rather than a program of conquering. The exception here is the sustained campaigns that lead to the eventual conquest of the Saxons and their conversion to Christianity.

Along the way, Professor McKitterick also discusses the evidence for an itinerant kingship, a travelling court, and the existence of a royal scriptorium. She shows how a reliance on written texts helped the missi dominici to administer justice, helped the king to communicate with his subjects, and helped ensure uniform religious observances.
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Physical description

478 p.; 8.98 inches


0521716454 / 9780521716451
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