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814 – The death of Charlemagne, retroactively considered the first Holy Roman Emperor, brings about the accession of his son Louis the Pious as ruler of the Frankish Empire.

1547 – Edward VI, the nine-year-old son of Henry VIII, becomes King of England on his father’s death. Henry VIII died at the age of 55, ironically, on the same date of the birth anniversary of his father, Henry VII, king of England (d. 1509), who was born on this date in 1457.

Today I will highlight the death of Emperor Charlemagne.

Charlemagne (Charles the Great (April 2, 748 – January 28, 814), numbered Charles I, was the King of the Franks from 768, the King of the Lombards from 774, and the Emperor of the Romans from 800. During the Early Middle Ages, he united the majority of western and central Europe. He was the first recognised emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire around three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state that Charlemagne founded is called the Carolingian Empire. He was later canonised by Antipope Paschal III.

In 813, Charlemagne called Louis the Pious, king of Aquitaine, his only surviving legitimate son, to his court. There Charlemagne crowned his son as co-emperor and sent him back to Aquitaine. He then spent the autumn hunting before returning to Aachen on 1 November. In January, he fell ill with pleurisy, inflammation of the membranes that surround the lungs and line the chest cavity. In deep depression (mostly because many of his plans were not yet realised), he took to his bed on 21 January and as Einhard tells it:

He died January twenty-eighth, the seventh day from the time that he took to his bed, at nine o’clock in the morning, after partaking of the Holy Communion, in the seventy-second year of his age and the forty-seventh of his reign.

He was buried that same day, in Aachen Cathedral, although the cold weather and the nature of his illness made such a hurried burial unnecessary. The earliest surviving planctus, the Planctus de obitu Karoli, was composed by a monk of Bobbio, which he had patronised. A later story, told by Otho of Lomello, Count of the Palace at Aachen in the time of Emperor Otto III, would claim that he and Otto had discovered Charlemagne’s tomb:

Charlemagne, they claimed, was seated upon a throne, wearing a crown and holding a sceptre, his flesh almost entirely incorrupt. In 1165, Emperor Frederick I re-opened the tomb again and placed the emperor in a sarcophagus beneath the floor of the cathedral. In 1215 Emperor Frederick II re-interred him in a casket made of gold and silver known as the Karlsschrein.

Charlemagne’s death emotionally affected many of his subjects, particularly those of the literary clique who had surrounded him at Aachen.