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Pondering Charlemagne

What do you remember about Charlemagne from your 5th Grade History class? I remember learning that King Charles the Great (that was how he signed his name, Karoli Gloriosissimi Regis – really) was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in Rome on Christmas Day in 800 A.D., and that he had a palace in a place called Aix-la-Chapelle. As a child I thought that Aix-la-Chapelle was in France. The name looked French. But I was wrong. Charlemagne’s magnificent palace was in Germany, in what is now Aachen.

There were a few other things that Sr. Mary Rose did not tell us about Charlemagne. She never mentioned that he had 5 wives, most of whom he put aside so he could wed someone else more politically advantageous, and that along with the wives he had 5 mistresses. She never mentioned that these assorted women presented him with 20 children between them. And she certainly never even hinted that his 10 daughters were never allowed to wed, and that Charles the Great’s fabulous palace was home to the girls, their lovers and their children so that they could cater to Charles until he died, at which time the girls’ brother, Louis, showed up and kicked them all out.

Charlemagne’s palace, alas, is no longer with us, but Charlemagne is. His tomb is in Aachen, in the Palatine Chapel, which is the only bit of the 9th century palace that is still standing. It was completed in A.D. 805, making it over 1200 years old, although some architectural historians insist that the chapel could not have been built before A.D. 1050. Even if that is true, it still meets my definition of old. I plan to pop in to see Charles’ tomb next month.
I wonder where all his wives are buried.

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