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Matthias Becher; a professor of medieval history at the University of Bonn in Germany is the author of the book 'Charlemagne', which is about the life of the father of Europe and his reign. The books translation from the 1999 original and publication was in Munchen. The author has divided it into seven chapters that have an introduction, followed by the seven chapters political analysis of his reign, then ends with an epilogue of Charlemagne and the time of his rule and how it led to the rise of modern European bureaucracy. (Becher, 2005)
It gives an overview of Charlemagne's reign that lasted between years 768 - year 814. He was the ruler of the vast Frankish kingdom and after the fall of Rome, he founded the first empire in Western Europe. Crowned emperor by Pope Leo the third on Christmas day, he ruled Europe with wisdom and safe political calculations. He is hence the father of Europe as this book introduces his life and legendary acts while maneuvering against the Lombards, the Saxons and others.
The five-page introduction of the book is a presentation of biographical details that outline the hardships of meeting modern expectations of a biography with the medieval sources. In the first chapter, Becher writes of the events that were the highlight of his reign. He begins by his crowning which the pope hence signifying his majesty does. This introduces the reader to the fact that he founded the medieval empire, which continued and transformed into the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, until the year 1806. He took charge of the papal affairs in Rome so that he can effectively take charge and firmly control the situation.
In the second chapter, is a history of the Franks up to the time Charlemagne took over in the year 768. The author writes of the administration of the Frankish kingdoms. The highlights of this chapter include the research on the decline of Merovingian's followed by the rise of the Carolingians narrative.
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The third chapter introduces Charlemagne's early career and youth where he was involved in family politics. It dwells largely on the family politics of the late 740s. The author has inferred from other sources the likely education and training of the subject. He writes about the rivalry that arose between him and his brother Carloman, how he married a Lombard princess and how he repudiated her after his brother's death. He also gives an account of King Desiderius protection to Carloman's widow and son after the invasion of the Lombard kingdom. These occasions put emphasis on his succession over the Avars and the Bavariaxiety.
The fourth chapter is a narration of the king's conquests. The campaign against the Saxons is the highlight of this chapter, though the author also draws attention to the Frankish setbacks. He concentrates on the conquest of the Saxons. The relations between Charlemagne, the popes and Byzantine rulers are the discussion in the fifth chapter. There was a transition from him being the King of the franks to being the Emperor in the west. Becher shows how Charlemagne eventually achieved recognition from the Byzantine emperor while guiding the theological cases of the franks even while being opposed by the pope.
Chapter six is the longest of them all since it gives an account of the ruling empire. Becher points out how difficult it is ruling a Frankish aristocracy without proper institutions. The king often faced cases of internal disloyalty, which led to his efforts to consolidate his rule by using better internal dynamics. He introduced various reforms including a code of conduct for princes, and administrative practices. These events gave rise to the organization of royal courts, bureaucratic governments and church reforms.
The issue of succession as discussed in chapter seven, involves matters of Charlemagne as he tries to provide arrangements for his succession. He adapts a semi polygamous lifestyle as his legitimate sons die and revises his will. He did not let his daughters marry eligible European nobles as they posed a risk to his succession plan. The last chapter is an epilogue that is entitled 'Hero and saint'. He has become a father of Europe through his domination in the medieval legacy. It portrays him as an inspiration to later medieval kings who continued with his legacy in the succeeding periods to present day.
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Becher portrays Charlemagne as a strong administrator who stands out for his reforms. He introduced a monetary system, military governance, cultural and ecclesiastical changes during the time of his rule. He is the main determinant of the economic future of Europe. He also introduced the era referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance characterized by learning through literature, art and education scholarship.
Critics have accused Becher of writing about a secular Charlemagne, as opposed to the expected political religious veteran. The fact that he took a very long time before deciding the name of the empire should have been a weak highlight, but Becher concentrates on the strong holds of how the ruler overcame his problems. He portrays him as a crusader of the papal matters, while having extra marital affairs at the same time, making him a secular icon amongst religious followers.
The book is not factual since the author has inferred from many sources. The medieval times are tricky to write about since they have no clear accounts of the happenings. The book is therefore a mixture if imaginations, inferred texts and comparative data from other scholars who studied medieval times. This included a biography by Einhard (Einhard, 2006)that was better suited to describe the medieval times. The author has combined a well-mastered account of the important life stages of the Charlemagne myth with an impressive presentation of his era.
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