"I, who am a barbarian" - Charlemagne's biographer Einhard

"I submit the book. It contains the history of a very great and distinguished man; but there is nothing in it to wonder at besides his deeds, except the fact that", and very little versed in the Roman language, seem to suppose myself capable of writing gracefully and respectably in Latin" (Einhard, "Vita Caroli Magni")

14 March 840: Today, 1173 years ago, Einhard, Charlemagne’s biographer, luminary of the Carolingian Renaissance and all-rounder at the Frankish court, died in Seligenstadt at the age of about 70.

Initial from Einhard’s Vita Caroli magni imperatoris, ca 1050

Called Bezalel after the architect of the Tabernacle in Charlemagne’s inner circle and gentlemen’s club where everybody bore a nom de guerre of the Old Testament (the emperor himself was Moses, Bishop Hildebold of Cologne was Aaron, etc), Einhard obviously had some considerable civil engineering skills, he supervised bridge building as well as the building of several of Charlemagne’s Pfalzen (royal palaces), but he was tasked with various diplomatic missions as well as presiding over various monasteries as lay abbot. After Charlemagne’s death, Einhard served his son Louis the Pious as counselor until his withdrawal to the monastery at Seligenstadt, where he died. His lasting claim to fame was his biography of Charlemagne though, the “Vita Karoli Magni”. Einhard wrote it after his master’s death around 817 in excellent Latin after the fashion of Suetonius’ “Twelve Caesars”, and even though Einhard is by no means an independent chronicler, his work is the first non-Roman biography of a king after the fall of the Western Empire and one of the most important contemporary sources of Charlemagne and his times.

Illustration from Hermann Schoenfeld's "Women of the Teutonic Nations", here:
Emma carrying Einhard (1910)

There are various legends around Einhard and Charlemagne’s daughter Emma. Story has it that Emma did not want to marry the Byzantine Emperor and her father gave her the choice of either Constantinople or a cloister. The lass was in love with her teacher Einhard though and secretly summoned him to her chambers to ask his counsel. He stayed all night but snow had fallen and he couldn’t sneak out. He, being rather small and Emma, her father’s daughter, tall and robust, found a way – she carried him out on her shoulder and they eloped together a couple of days later. Afterwards, when Charlemagne stopped for a bite to eat in a tavern in a place called Obermulinheim on the river Main, he recognised his daughter’s famous pancakes and indeed, it was Emma’s and Einhard’s tavern. Charlemagne cried out: “Selig sei die Stadt genannt, da ich meine Tochter Emma wiederfand“ (Blessed I call the place where I found my daughter Emma again) and the town is calles Seligenstadt (blessed town) ever since.

More on: