Thomas Shippey

No Arthur

Charlemagne

By

Harvard University Press 673pp £25 order from our bookshop

The main facts of Charlemagne’s life are, by early medieval standards, well documented. He was born in around 742, crowned as Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 and died on 28 January 814. A life of him was written fifteen or twenty years later by a monk called Einhard, who had known Charlemagne personally and been his adviser. Some seventy years after this, when stories about Charlemagne could still have been in circulation at second or third hand, another more anecdotal life was written by a monk called Notker, possibly ‘the Stammerer’. (Both, translated by Lewis Thorpe, were published by Penguin Classics in 1969 in a splendid single volume, cheap, short and accessible.) Public events, including Charlemagne’s many campaigns against Lombards, Saxons, Avars and Saracens, were recorded in several series of Frankish annals, while we also have eighty ‘capitularies’ (or legislative collections), a great deal of royal correspondence and many lives of his contemporaries. The overall picture is unlikely to change much.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,
    • 'Seventy years on, the time we have left to gather such first-hand testimony is running out.' John Keay on the sig… ,
    • The author 'seethes with contemptuous indignation at the shiny junk that an unregulated construction industry dumps… ,
    • 'The physical courage he demonstrated as a young man [...] gave way to intellectual power; radical thought, gifted… ,
    • 'While Jane Austen didn’t perhaps achieve the full recognition that she deserved in her lifetime, even then she out… ,