Charlemagne, Charles the Great, Emperor Constantine VI, Empress Irene, Holy Roman Emperor, Holy Roman Empire, King of England, King of France, King of the English, Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, William the Conqueror
Merry Christmas from the European Royal History Blog!!
Today I will briefly mention two coronations that took place on Christmas Day.
Charlemagne. King of the Franks crowned Emperor 800CE.
William I The Conquer, King of the English, Duke of Normandy 1066
In 799, Pope Leo III did not have a good relationship with the citizens of Rome and suffered sever abuse when the Romans tried to put out his eyes and tear out his tongue. Leo III, naturally fearing for his life, escaped and fled to the court of King Charlemagne at Paderborn. Charlemagne, under the advisement of scholar Alcuin, sojourned to Rome and in November of 800 and on the first of December held a council on 1 December. On December 23rd Pope Leo III swore an oath of innocence. And two days later during a Mass, on Christmas Day (25 December), Charlemagne knelt at the altar to pray, the Pope crowned him Imperator Romanorum (“Emperor of the Romans”) in Saint Peter’s Basilica. By doing this doing, the Pope effectively nullified the legitimacy of Empress Irene of Constantinople.
It was seen by scholars of the day that when Odoacer forced the abdication of Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476CE this did not effectively abolish the Western Roman Empire as a separate power Europe. Theoretically the powers of the Western Roman Emperor were said to have been reunited with or grafted into the Eastern Roman Empire. Therefore from that time contemporary scholars believed that there was a singular undivided Roman Empire. Pope Leo III and King Charlemagne, as well as their predecessors, also held to this political ideal of there being a singular Roman Empire that was one and indivisible.
However, the imperial coronation of Charlemagne was not believed to have caused a severance of the Roman Empire back into East and West factions. In the eyes Leo III and Charlemagne, along with contemporary political theorists, they were not revolting against a reigning sovereign, Empress Irene, but legitimately filling up the void of legitimate successors caused by the deposition Emperor Constatine VI in 797 and Charlemagne was held to be the legitimate successor, not of the Emperor Romulus Augustulus, but that of Emperor Constantine VI.
Despite the good intentions of Charlemagne’s coronation as Emperor, it intended to represent the continuation of the unbroken line of Emperors from Augustus to Constantine VI. The reality was that his imperial coronation had the effect of setting up two separate, and often opposing, Empires along with two separate claims to imperial authority.
One of the issues that has been debated by scholars is whether of not Charlemagne saw this prestigious gift bestowed on him on that Christmas Day? According to the twenty-eight chapter of Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni which says that Charlemagne was ignorant of the Pope’s intent and did not want any such coronation:
“He (Charlemagne) at first had such an aversion to being granted the imperial title that he declared that he would not have set foot in the Church the day that theses imperial titles were conferred, although it was a great feast-day, if he could have foreseen the design of the Pope.”
A number of modern scholars, however, logically suggest that Charlemagne was indeed aware of the coronation. It has been said he certainly cannot have missed the bejewelled crown waiting on the altar when he came to pray; something even contemporary sources support.
Charlemagne is counted as Charles I, Holy Roman Emperor, but many scholars believe the state that evolved into the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation began with the coronation of Otto I, Duke of Saxony in 962. Otto I was crowned Emperor by Pope John XII at Olds St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope also anointed Otto’s wife Adelaide of Italy, who had accompanied Otto on his Italian campaign, as empress. With Otto’s coronation as emperor, the Kingdom of Germany and the Kingdom of Italy were unified into a common realm, later called the Holy Roman Empire.
Exactly when did William I The Conqueror become King of the English? Although he certainly became the De Facto King of the English when he defeated King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in October of 1066, it was not until his coronation on Christmas Day of that year did will accede to the throne.
William may have hoped the English would surrender to his rule immediately after his his victory over Harold II but that just was not the case. A swiftly convened meeting of the Wittan, comprising the English clergy and magnates, elected Edgar the Ætheling King of the English. Edgar the Ætheling was of the House of Wessex and a nephew of King Edward the Confessor. The support for Edgar by the Wittan was very lukewarm.
Undeterred, William continued his conquest of England. He and his armies secured Dover, parts of Kent, and Canterbury, and also captured Winchester, where the royal treasury was located. These captures solidified his holdings in that region and also his line of retreat to Normandy, if that was needed. It was unnecessary.
William then marched northward to Southwark and into London in late November. Next he led his forces around the south and west of London, burning buildings of those in resistance along the way. He crossed the Thames at Wallingford in early December where Archbishop Stigand submitted to William. He moved on to Berkhamsted soon afterwards where Edgar the Ætheling, Morcar, Edwin, and Archbishop Ealdred also submitted. This solidified his power in London where William began the construction of the Tower of London And with his troops garrisoned in London William was crowned King of the English at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.