Charlemagne: The Man, The Emperor and The Myth

Charlemagne (Vintage) - Derek Wilson

Charlemagne was a fascinating and complex individual.  He was an ingenious military strategist, a wise but ruthless leader, a cunning politician, and a devout Christian who joined the military might of his army to the spiritual force of the Church in Rome to forge Western Christendom.  

Charlemagne: A Biography by Derek Wilson is not so much a biography as an interesting combination of biography, historical, mythological and political analysis that puts Charlemagne into the context of broader European history up to the present day.  Wilson divided his book into three parts: Charlemagne the Man, Charlemagne the Emperor, and Charlemagne the Myth.  

The book begins by providing a short history of Europe, up until the time of Charlemagne's birth, then discusses Charlemagne in the context of his own life - his successes and failures, his relationship with his family, subjects, academics, enemies and the church.  The story continues with Charlemagne's immediate successors and the division of his empire.  This is a story full of political and religious intrigue, barbarian invasions, and military actions.  Wilson tries to separate the real Charlemagne from the mythological Charlemagne with some success.  The last third of the book analyses the historical impact of the Charlemagne mythos, which (according to Derek Wilson) was important for the concept of "Europe" and ultimately the unification of Europe in its various forms, to the current European Union.  


Even though it contains a lot of information (with maps and colour plates), the book is rather short and would have benefited from additional details regarding Charlemagne's personal life, military campaigns and methods, trials and tribulations in implementing state/ governmental policies.  However, I'm assuming this is due to the lack of contemporary sources.  

Despite its faults, this book will make an interesting and informative read for someone who does not know much about the subject and is interested in Charlemagne, his legacy and the development of modern Europe.  This book provides a well written portrait of Charlemagne and of the intricate political, religious, and cultural world he dominated.