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Rosamond McKitterick - Charlemagne

Professor Emerita of Medieval History, Sidney Sussex College,  Cambridge

Balsdon Fellow, British School in Rome, 2002

Fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study, 2005 - 2006

Dr A. H. Heineken International Prize for History by the Royal Dutch Academy -2010

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS)

Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).


  • The Carolingians and the Written Word (1989)

  • The Frankish Kings and Culture in the Early Middle Ages (1995)

  • History and Memory in the Carolingian World (2004)

  • Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (2006)

  • Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (2008)


Episode #1

Q: Background and interest in Charlemagne?

A: Long history of my interest in medieval history. Read historical novels and wondered what was behind what was going on. Eventually got interested in the Carolingian period as an undergraduate in my final two years. The fascination of the early medieval ages was that there was so much that was unknown. I felt as if it was possible to explore, to trample over ground that wasn’t actually very well-trodden.

Episode 2

Q: What does the map of Europe look like at the time of Charlemagne?

A:  If you start with Charlemagne’s father, Pippin, what you have is clearly the emergence of different groups of peoples within the areas that were once Roman and those that were not. Each of those areas in Spain, Italy, England, Wales. Ireland, North Africa were ruled by different groups. In Gaul, the area we would now think of as France, that was where the Franks were primarily settled. When Charlemagne, with his brother inherited in 768 the kingdom he inherited was what we would think of as France.

Episode #3

Q: What makes Charlemagne such a great leader comparable to Napoleon?

A: It was Napoleon who kept on drawing parallels between himself and Charlemagne.

He did it partly in terms of conquest. Charlemagne’s sarcophagus was brought by Napoleon from Aachen and installed in the Louvre.  I myself don’t find such parallels particularly helpful.

Episode #4

Q: What was Charlemagne’s attitude toward the Jews?

A: To some extent he is inheriting his father’s attitudes towards the Jews. Let them get on with their religion but we do not want them controlling Christians in any way. One needs to backtrack a bit and think, how many Jews were there in the Carolingian empire? What was the Carolingian knowledge of the Jews and Jewish history? Occasionally you get a reference to a particular individual.

Episode #5

Q: What was their knowledge of the Hebrew bible?

A: They knew their bible. But what is particularly interesting for us is that the biblical kings who most important as models for Carolingian rulers, were King Solomon and King David. When they start taking about legislation they invoke Moses.

Episode #6

Q: What is the Capitulary of the Jews?

A: When it come to this capitulary, it’s not even certain that it’s Charlemagne’s. It is certainly a very interesting text. There are six clauses altogether. On one level it is basically saying that we do not want the Jews to legally take advantage of any Christian. What we do not want to happen is that no Jew should take a pledge, or debt, or goods to do with the church. They are trying to create a division between what the Jews do and what the Christians do.

Full Video - Rosamond McKitterick

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