On the first day of Christmas…

^ My true love gave to me

The crowning of a great king

On Christmas Day, 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne the Emperor of the Romans.

Some sources state that Charlemagne was uncertain about what the papal ceremony would be and that he didn’t want the crown, and that he was upset by the ceremony itself. Charles the Great was already King of the Lombards and King of the Franks. The Frankish way of crowning was for the people to hail the leader — indicating popular approval — and then for the crown to be placed on the leader’s head. On Christmas, 800, Pope Leo III placed the crown on Charlemagne’s head, and then the people hailed him. But like any decent person being given an awkward Christmas gift, Charlemagne received it graciously.

What “Emperor of the Romans” meant was vague since the western Roman Empire was dead. The Byzantine Empire in the east had a plausible claim to be the continuation of the Roman Empire, however, so Byzantine Empress Irene of Athens was none too pleased by the Bishop of Rome declaring some filthy Frank the new caesar.

Ninth-century Orthodox icon depicting Empress Irene‘s reaction to the coronation of Charlemagne

At the time, crowning Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans was probably more beneficial to Pope Leo III than to Charles. It bound by sacred oath Charlemagne and his successors to defend Rome (i.e. the pope) against its unending onslaught of enemies. The irony is that, in the centuries to come, Rome and the Empire became fierce rivals.

As the first Emperor of the Romans, Charlemagne is considered the founder of the Holy Roman Empire — which wasn’t holy, Roman or an empire. Over the next thousand years, it became an unwieldy German confederation comprised of a zillion bits of land ruled by princes of various status and power. How did it fall? Read page 66 of my book.

Merry Christmas, and see you tomorrow!




I like writing history, poetry and nonsense. Check out my book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HS5K34Y/

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Nathan O. Stringer

Nathan O. Stringer

I like writing history, poetry and nonsense. Check out my book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08HS5K34Y/

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