The greatest of medieval monarchs, Charles the Great (742-814) towers over every notion we have of national heroes and semi-mythical champions. His military conquests exceeded those of Julius Caesar. He had the sagacity and dedication to public service of a Marcus Aurelius. In ruthlessness, as in dedication to personal culture, he was reminiscent of Augustus. But that is only the beginning.
Charlemagne was a phenomenon and phenomena do not die. Later European leaders from Frederick Barbarossa and Charles V to Louis XIV, Napoleon I and Hitler took Charlemagne as their model. His growing mythology inspired the Crusades, fed the concept of chivalry, bolstered absolutist regimes, excited nineteenth-century liberals and emerges today among those who claim Charles the Great as the founder of European unity.
Charlemagne is one of the most remarkable figures in European history: only by understanding him in all his complexity can we begin to understand Europe today. Derek Wilson's biography provides such an opportunity.