Pepin had two sons Charles and Carloman. After the death of their father they ruled together, but in a few years Carloman died, and then Charles became sole king.
This Charles was the most famous of the kings of the Franks. He did so many great and wonderful things that he is called Charlemagne (shar-le-main'), which means Charles the Great.
He was a great soldier. For thirty years he carried on a war against the Saxons. Finally he conquered them, and their great chief, Wittekind, submitted to him. The Saxons were a people of Germany , who then lived near the land of the Franks. They spoke the same language and were of the same race as the Franks, but had not been civilized by contact with the Romans.
They were still pagans, just as the Franks had been before Clovis became a Christian. They actually offered human sacrifices.
After Charlemagne conquered them he made their lands part of his kingdom. A great number of them, among whom was Wittekind, then became Christians and were baptized; and soon they had churches and schools in many parts of their country.
Another of Charlemagne's wars was against the Lombards .
Pepin, as you have read, had defeated the Lombards and given to the Pope part of the country held by them. The Lombard king now invaded the Pope's lands and threatened Rome itself; so the Pope sent to Charlemagne for help.
Charlemagne quickly marched across the Alps and attacked the Lombards . He drove them out of the Pope's lands and took possession of their country.
After he had conquered the Lombards he carried on war, in 778, in Spain . A large portion of Spain was then held by the Moorish Saracens. But a Mohammedan leader from Damascus had invaded their country, and the Moors invited Charlemagne to help them. He therefore led an army across the Pyrenees . He succeeded in putting his Moorish friends in possession of their lands in Spain and then set out on his return to his own country.
On the march his army was divided into two parts. The main body was led by Charlemagne himself. The rear guard was commanded by a famous warrior named Roland. While marching through the narrow pass of Roncesvalles (ron-thes-val'-yes), among the Pyrenees , Roland's division was attacked by a tribe called the Basques (basks), who lived on the mountain slopes of the neighboring region.
High cliffs walled in the pass on either side. From the tops of these cliffs the Basques hurled down rocks and trunks of trees upon the Franks, and crushed many of them to death. Besides this, the wild mountaineers descended into the pass and attacked them with weapons. Roland fought bravely; but at last he was overpowered, and he and all his men were killed.
Roland had a friend and companion named Oliver, who was as brave as himself. Many stories and songs have been written telling of the wonderful adventures they were said to have had and of their wonderful deeds in war.
The work of Charlemagne in Spain was quickly undone; for Abd-er-Rahman, the leader of the Mohammedans who had come from Damascus , soon conquered almost all the territory south of the Pyrenees .
For more than forty years Charlemagne was king of the Franks; but a still greater dignity was to come to him. In the year 800 some of the people in Rome rebelled against the Pope, and Charlemagne went with an army to put down the rebellion. He entered the city with great pomp and soon conquered the rebels. On Christmas day he went to the church of St. Peter , and as he knelt before the altar the Pope placed a crown upon his head, saying:
"Long live Charles Augustus, Emperor of the Romans."
The people assembled in the church shouted the same words; and so Charlemagne was now emperor of the Western Roman Empire, as well as king of the Franks.
Charlemagne built a splendid palace at Aix-la-Chapelle (aks-la-shap-el'), a town in Germany , where perhaps he was born.
Charlemagne was a tall man, with long, flowing beard, and of noble appearance. He dressed in very simple style; but when he went into battle he wore armor, as was the custom for kings and nobles, and often for ordinary soldiers in his day.
Armor was made of leather or iron, or both together. There was a helmet of iron for the head, and a breastplate to cover the breast, or a coat of mail to cover the body. The coat of mail was made of small iron or steel rings linked together, or fastened on to a leather shirt. Coverings for the legs and feet were often attached to the coat.