Today on April 2, 742, Charlemagne, the first man to be crowned as Holy Roman Emperor, was born in Frankia (present-day France).
Charles I, better known simply as Charlemagne, was likely born in either the city of Aachen or Liege. As the eldest son of Pepin the Short, he was destined to one day rule over the Kingdom of Frankia. While little is known about his childhood or education, Charlemagne indeed turned into a worldly man. As a young adult, he displayed a talent for languages, speaking Latin and Greek, among other local dialects.
Few names in history conjure up stories of greatness like Charlemagne does. To this day, he remains one of the most famous and accomplished kings of medieval Europe. Throughout his 46-year reign, he would launch more than fifty military campaigns to reunite western and central Europe. On Christmas Day in 800, Pope Leo III crowned him Imperator Romanorum, "Emperor of the Romans," in Saint Peter's Basilica. The coronation made him the first man to hold the title of emperor since the fall of the Roman empire over three centuries earlier.
"Right action is better than knowledge, but in order to do what is right, we must know what is right." — Charlemagne
As a skilled military leader, Charlemagne used warfare as means for accomplishing his vision of a unified Europe. At its pinnacle, his territory stretched across present-day France, western Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, and most of the Italian peninsula. He founded what is now known as the Carolingian empire, and a dynasty that would last for another century until the death of Charles the Fat. After uniting the Germanic peoples under one kingdom, he set out on a holy mission to convert his subjects to Christianity.
Following the death of his father in 768, Charlemagne and his brother Carloman became the new co-rulers of the Frankish Kingdom. According to tradition, it was customary for any inheritance to be divided among male heirs — but like many other families, this immediately sparked tension between the two brothers. In fact, it was said they would eventually only communicate through their mother. But this uneasy relationship only lasted for three years before Carloman suddenly (and, mysteriously) died. Naturally, some historians have suggested Charlemagne likely conspired to have his brother killed. Regardless, Carloman's premature death was certainly convenient timing.
As the new sole ruler of the Franks, he set off on a series of successful conquests into neighboring lands and formed the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne fostered in a new age of enlightenment across Europe. By constructing a vast network of royal funded schools, he allowed for children of any social class to receive an education. Throughout the Dark Ages, reading and writing were mostly the work of monks, not warrior kings. However, the emperor's contemporaries often cite how much personal time he devoted to expanding his reading and writing skills. Charlemagne worked hard to establish a centralized administrative center and communication network, allowing him to govern the empire efficiently. He would marry at least four times and produced three legitimate heirs, including Louis the Pious, who eventually succeeded him as King of the Franks.