Charlemagne was the single most influential ruler of the early Middle Ages. In his 46-year reign as King of the Franks and later the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, reformed the administration and laws of his realm, encouraged the works of the Catholic Church, and began an all too brief renaissance of learning and education. In a certain sense, Charlemagne could be considered the founder of modern Europe.
J. B. Bury’s Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance is a good history of the great king’s life and times. Bury goes into some detail concerning Charlemagne’s ancestors, rise to power, conquests, his administration of his empire, and his relations with other nations and powers, including the Muslims of Spain. Quite a lot of attention is given to Charlemagne’s often complex relationship with the papacy. For all of that, however, I must confess I was a little disappointed with this book. For one thing, Bury barely mentioned Charlemagne’s attempts at a revival of learning and culture. For another, I would have appreciated his extending his narrative down to Charlemagne’s son and grandsons. I don’t think the story of the Carolingian Renaissance is complete without relating the ultimate failure of his vision by the weakness of Louis the Pious and the contentions among the grandsons of Charlemagne.
Despite the weaknesses mentioned, I do recommend this book to any interested in the so-called Dark Ages.