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The Mythification of Charlemagne


14 February 2017

Organisers: Mark Chinca (Cambridge), Thomas Foerster (Cambridge), Michael Schaich (GHIL) and Christopher Young (Cambridge)
Venue: German Historical Institute London
Joint workshop with the Department of German and Dutch at the University of Cambridge


Charlemagne ruled as king of the Franks from 768 until his death in 814 and was crowned the first western Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800. He ruled over regions and territories that today form part of several European countries. As a result, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries his legacy was disputed, as both French and German historians claimed him as the father of their respective countries. Today, the Frankish ruler is praised as a father of a unified Europe, and as a patron of learning and the arts in the Carolingian Renaissance – even though the emperor was illiterate for most of his life.

The mythification of the emperor, however, had already begun in his lifetime. In the high Middle Ages, in particular, his memory was manipulated to serve a variety of needs. He was not only remembered as the first Christian Emperor whose palace at Aachen became the coronation site for over 30 German kings, but also became a literary figure at whose court Frankish and French heroes gathered. And he could also be seen as a crusading hero himself. In 1165, in the incipient conflicts between French and German claims to his tradition, the emperor was even declared a saint.

The workshop assembles specialists on the reign and the historical image of Charlemagne in the high Middle Ages from Germany, Britain and the United States. Anne Latowsky (South Florida), Knut Görich (Munich), Alheydis Plassmann (Bonn) and Thomas Foerster (Cambridge) will discuss the memory and the myth of Charlemagne and its importance for the history of Europe.

Admission is free, but we would like to ask you to register with Carole Sterckx:



Workshop programme (PDF file)



The workshop will be followed by a public reading from the new English translation of the Kaiserchronik, the first vernacular verse chronicle in Europe and a central source for twelfth-century historical memory in general and the image of Charlemagne in the Holy Roman Empire in particular.

14 February, 6.30pm
Mark Chinca and Christopher Young (Cambridge):
The Mythification of Charlemagne: An Introduction to and Reading from the Kaiserchronik

Mark Chinca, Reader in Medieval and Early Modern German Literature, and Christopher Young, Professor of Modern and Medieval German Studies at the University of Cambridge, will provide an introduction to the Kaiserchronik. The introductory remarks will be followed by a reading from the new English translation of the Kaiserchronik.