Einhard attempts to create a sense of sympathy towards Charles, or Charlemagne, because he was a powerless monarch whose responsibilities were exercised by other officials which meant there was not a lot he could do as king and due to the monarch losing his father. Pepin, Chalemagne’s father and who was just as powerless as Charlemagne due to the Mayor of the Palace possessing most of the power, died of dropsy which led to Charles becoming king of his father’s Frankish kingdom and Carloman becoming king of their uncle’s Frankish kingdom (Einhard 2). Charlemagne is presented to the reader as a restless and inisginificant man due to him being referred to as an individual who should be content in possessing the title of King rather than exercise trying to become more powerful than he actually was. However, Einhard may have been sympathetic to Charlemagne, but he has great admiration for Charlemagne as he was depicted as a ‘great’ military commander and a hero who was successful in ensuring that the Saxons were defeated at Mount Osning in 783 (Einhard 8). Einhard’s principle throughout this text was that Charlemagne was a ‘great’ leader who helped establish the Holy Roman Empire through his significant victories and charismatic personaility. Therefore, it is clear that Charlemagne did exercise influence during his time as king because he was still in charge of the military even though his power was less significant over ruling the kingdom. Einhard was a great admirer of Charlemagne as he depicted Charlemagne as someone who would carry out his duties even though he was depicted as a man who had little power over his kingdom.
Because the writer of this text knew Charlemagne personally, it is clear that Einhard’s argument was that Charlemagne was a ‘great’ leader. Einhard demonstrates further his admiration for Charlemagne as a ‘great’ leader and charitable individual because he spent much of his time trying to help Christians that were living in poverty. For example, he sent money to countries like Egypt and Syria and he rescued Pontiff Leo from injuries that the Romans had inflicted on him to which Charlemagne gained the titles of Emperor and Augustus (Einhard 27). Einhard had admiration for Charlemagne as a man who was a principled believer in Christianity as well as being a great military commander
Einhard further demonstrates that Charlemagne was a principled and patriotic leader by showing that Charlemagne would only wear Frankish clothes that included a linen shirt and linen breeches (Einhard 23). Einhard’s intention was to also provide readers with an insight into the character of Charlemagne to show that he had a ‘human’ side as well as being this ‘great’ military leader by explaining how he despised drunkenness and worried about the impact that heavy eating could have on his health. Einhard tries to do this further by explaining how his main passions and interests were reading and music as well as a man who loved to learn. For example, he was very interested in the works written by St. Augustine with his favourite book being ‘The City of God’ and he took lessons from a deacon called Albin of Britain who assisted Charlemagne in learning about astronomy, rhetoric and dialectics which he took seriously (Einhard 24). Therefore, an image of Charlemagne is presented as one who had a broad range of interests and who took it upon himself to dedicate his time to learning. This further demonstrates that Einhard had great admiration for Charlemagne in showing there was more to his character than being a military leader.
However, because this was a text that was produced by Einhard, a man who knew Charlemagne personally, it adds a mixture of credence and detraction from truth. Because of this, we gain an insight into the interests of the king from a man who spent a lot of time observing his interests for music and reading. The text is able to provide the reader with a useful insight into the military campaigns that Charlemagne fought in the Iberian peninsula and provides accurate historical information about the precise dates of victories. The provenance of the source is useful because it originates from a time when Charlemagne was alive and that makes the source reliable in being able to provide the reader with an image of Charlemagne from a man who knew him best. Because this text provides references to the battles Charlemagne fought and won as well as an insight into the personality of Charlemagne, Einhard allows readers to become closer to the ‘historical’ Charlemagne because it provides facts about Charlemagne, but only to a certain extent. This source also detracts from the truth about Charlemagne in many ways and does not allow the readers to become closer to Charlemagne for certain reasons. Collins (1998) suggests that the relationship between Charlemagne and Einhard was not great and that Charlemagne did not place as much trust in Einhard as the latter would suggest (p.8). Collins (1998) praises Einhard in certain because the Battle of Roncesvalles in 778 was a rather accurate portrayal of how Charlemagne won the battle, but he criticises Einhard because he was writing a biography about a king which had not been done until seven hundred years before Einhard was born (p.1). Collins’ (1998) argument is that Einhard was too interested in pursuing his own agenda which remains unclear to many historians to this day due to the brief accounts of work that Einhard committed to (p.1). Therefore, Einhard’s account of Charlemagne is very limited in providing us with a true account of what Charlemagne was really like and only provides readers with an image of ‘historical’ Charlemagne to a certain extent. As Collins (1998) suggests, narrative accounts do add value to the study of history, but there are other useful sources that can provide readers with a more balanced picture of Charlemagne (p.2). These sources include administrative and legal texts and documents as well as chronicles.
In conclusion, readers can gain a close historical insight into what Charlemagne was like to a certain extent. Einhard provides the reader with knowledge about many of the famous victories that Charlemagne won, his passions and interest and the many acts he committed to make himself great. Einhard’s main argument was that Charlemagne was a principled Christianity and a ‘great’ monarch and military leader. Einhard also has a lot of sympathy for Charlemagne’s circumstances. However, it is clear that there were many issues that Einhard faced when providing an historical narrative of the king due to the Charlemagne’s lack of trust in Einhard as well as the lack of other sources that Einhard used in trying to provide readers with a balanced view of the king that include legal and administrative texts. Charlemagne was an historical figure of significance as a consequence of founding the Holy Roman Empire and winning many great victories. Our insight into the king is limited due to a narrative that fails to provide a balanced picture of this monarch.
Collins, R. (1998) Charlemagne. Toronto: University of Toronto.
Einhard, S.E. (1880) Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne. Available from http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/einhard.asp.