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This is a book on the life of the King Charles of Frank. He was a famous king because of the battles he engaged in for a period of about forty years. His kingdom was enormous covering territories of Denmark, Belgium, France and Switzerland. During this time he doubled the land he had been given by his father. He fought with the Bretons, Bavaria, Slavs and other nations.
The two biographies of the king are told by Nokter and Einherd. The stories though are very different. Einhard writes a praising account of the ruler that is not realistic in some ways. He enjoyed a close relationship with the King and his son.
His biography of the king arises out of his personal experiences with the king and the things he observed in the palace. Einhard had come to stay at the palace as he studied in the school that the King had established at the court.
Einhard says he chose to write the story rather than “allow the extraordinary life of this most remarkable king, the greatest man of all those living in his own period, to sink into the shades of oblivion.”(Einhard and Nokter, 2000, pg52) He further stated that he was the best person to write the story since “no one can describe these events more accurately than I, for I was present when they took place.”(Einhard and Nokter, 2000, pg51)
At that point in history, he claimed that no record had been written on the greatness of the king. Einhard enjoyed a comfortable stay at the palace and he obviously felt indebted towards the king.
Furthermore, he wanted to encourage the king’s son with the heroic military exploits of his father. He wrote the biography immediately after the king’s death. It would have been highly unlikely for him to start mentioning the King’s vices or weaknesses.
Nokter on the other hand wrote the story of the king based on stories that he had been told by his priest. He wrote the story seventy years after the death of the king.
Nokter wrote the biography between the years 884 and 887 AD. Although his narrative details are confirmed by Einhard’s version of the biography, his version cannot be fully relied on as he wrote the story based on anecdotes and witty tales handed down over generations.
Nokter did not concentrate on speaking of the King’s prowess in battle rather he wanted to expound on the king’s cleverness, ability and piety. He shows the way the king loved the practice of learning, surrounding himself with scholars. He only worked with competent men.
Those who insulted the king or erred were demoted publicly to serve as a warning to others. Nokter describes the king as a man who was highly vigilant; nothing that occurred in his kingdom escaped his notice. He stressed on the king’s mental and administrative abilities rather than physical prowess.
Differences in the two biographies
There are certain differences in the two biographies.
Einherd refrains from speaking of the king’s or his family’s weaknesses. He does not mention the king’s daughters’ indiscretions or the king’s concubines. Nokter is more realistic. He speaks of the king measuring the children of a defeated king with his sword. The king’s first wife had been the daughter of Desiderius, king of the
Longobards. Einhard says that after a year, the king had dismissed the wife and no one knew the reason why. Nokter is honest and says that the wife had become bedridden and could not conceive. The king treated her as if she had already died. He proceeded to get another wife.
In narrating the war between Italy and the Longobards, Einherd said that the king fought with more energy than his father. However Nokter states that the King had marched into Italy and intimidated the Longobards into giving in to him. There was actually no blood that was shed or a single fight that occurred.
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Einhard account gives more courageous exploits of the king. He said that in Fruili the king managed to stop a revolt involving the duke. Nokter disagrees and says that the only thing that the king did when he visited Fruiji was to pay a visit to a dying bishop.
Einhard speaks of a king Godefried who tried to invade the Frank kingdom. He however was not successful as he was stopped in his tracks by one of his followers who killed him. Nokter does not tell the same story. He goes ahead to explain that the King Godefried actually managed to get into the kingdom.
He lived in the Frankish kingdom of Mosele. He was however murdered by his own son who was angry and bitter at the way his father had forsaken his mother and was planning to marry another woman.
In another scenario, the king’s son, Pepin who was a hunchback planned to overthrow the king and take over the kingdom however his plot was uncovered. He was punished
then later allowed to live a religious life in a monastery in Prum. Nokter does not give a pretty picture of what happened. He says that the King’s son was sent to the poorest and strictest monastery located in Saint Gall.
Enhard narrated how the king had been on the best terms with the king of Persia at all times. However Nokter narrates an incident where the king refused to see envoys from Persia for a long time but eventually he agreed to see them. They had come with several gifts for him.
Einhard narrates how a bridge that had been constructed at the Mainz had accidentally caught fire. Nokter discredits the story as he believed that there were some evil people who had burnt the bridge.
Other discrepancies in the two accounts occur at the description of the king’s Corronation. The King had gone to Rome to see the Pope who had been attacked and blinded. Einhard does not give the reason why the pope was attacked.
However Nokter clearly reveals that it was a group of envious Romans that had attacked the Pope. Einhard in praising the king mentions how Charles overcame the hostility of the Romans by the strength and force of his personality. On the other hand Nokter shows the ruthless nature of the king. Although the Pope’s attackers had fled they were captured.
Some were taken to prison while others were condemned to death.
The King was building a remarkable cathedral and a bridge at Maine to ward off the people attacking from Germany and Gaul. Einhard speaks of the achievements of the king and the great progress of the constructions.
He avoids speaking of any awful incidences at the time. Nokter on the other hand speaks of an abbot who had been placed in charge of the construction and was stealing from the king. He mentions that the fraudster was killed.
When Einhard writes the story he avoids telling of the disagreements between Charles father and uncle Pepin. He also does not speak of the differences Charles had with his own brother. Einhard paints Charles as the brother who wanted to be at harmony with the people around him. The brothers had agreed to their father’s conditions of inheritance.
He states that Carloman was the source of many quarrels between them.
After his brother’s death Charles had the whole of Frankish empire to rule. The fact that after Carloman’s death his families fled the kingdom shows that the rosy picture of Charles painted by Einherd may not be true after all. It is notable how Einhard describes the way Charles mourned over many deaths.
However details lack on Charles mourning over his brother’s death. Einhard puts forward that Charles’s brother had been deceived by evil advisors. He said that the conflict between the brothers was not real but imaginary. He further states that the Carloman’s family fled the empire without any reason.
The two accounts however do have some similarities. Both authors speak of the king’s involvement with the church. Einhard speaks of the way the king attended worship services. He also put great effort to get the church fine materials to be used in building the cathedral. Nokter agrees with this view of the religious Charles by narrating how the king loved attending the morning hymns.
He loved the chanting and recommended that all the churches should have the same rhythm of chanting. Einhard praises Charles for his generous spirit. Charles would ensure he gave not only to poor people but poor Christians all over the world.
Nokter gives an example where the king instructed the nobles who were in charge of the cathedral to ensure that they provided everything to the workmen so that they were comfortable.
Both authors agree that the king was not aware of the Pope’s intention to crown him as the ruler. He accepted the title but he was not aware of the Pope’s plans that day and he did not show enthusiasm for his new authority.
Einhard narrates that once Charles had received the title of Emperor and Augustus, he declared that if he had known the Pope’s intention in the beginning he would not have set foot in the church. He expressed strong aversion to the titles.
Nokter adds that Charles accepted the titles as he felt he was pre-ordained by God to be the ruler. As Charles was already considered a ruler by the people, the Pope felt he was following God’s will in crowning him as the ruler. Nokter agrees with Einhard that Charles did not accept the title with great pleasure.
Historical biographies are usually tainted with personal attitudes and experiences of an individual. There have been other records of the great king that have been examined and discrepancies will arise here and there. However at the end of the day there are similarities in all the stories that eventually point us to the truth. One has to ensure they conduct a critical review of all the materials available.
Einherd and Nokter. The Two Lives of Charlemagne. USA: Prentice Hall. 2000. Print.