"Though the Merovingian Franks started as a strong dynasty, the last of the Merovingian kings were so weak that their nickname changed for the long-haired kings to the sluggard, or do-nothing kings (rois fainéants). These kings were so lazy and weak that most of the work running the Frankish empire was placed on the shoulders of the Mayors of the Palace, administrators, who actually did all of the work, including leading Frankish armies in battle. Charles (the hammer) Martel was one of the most famous of these Mayors of the Palace. In AD 732, he led to Franks to a stunning victory over the invading army of the Moors at Tours, and forced them back into Spain. Christianity was saved in France and Martel became a legend.
While Charles Martel enjoyed his title of hammer, he never took the title of king, He was content being Mayor of the Palace. Martel's title was passed to his son, Pepin the Short. Unlike his father before him, Pepin was a Mayor of the Palace who believed that the one doing all of the work should be king. Pepin appealed to the Pope in Rome, who was the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope was a very powerful man, and the people would accept the Pope's decision. Pope Zachary at this time was being pressured by attacks in Italy by the Lombards, he needed a strong ally, so Pope Zachary agreed that Pepin should rule. Pepin had Childeric III, the last of the Merovingian kings, taken from his country home, his hair was cut, and Childeric was sent to a monastery. Pepin became the first Carolingian king, a dynasty named after Pepin's father Charles Martel.
One of Pepin's first actions was to do battle with the Lombards. He was successful in taking away large portions of their land in Italy, and, instead of adding this land to his Frankish empire, he gave this land to the Pope. This gift is known as the Donation of Pepin. Now the Pope had his own small empire in Italy known as the Papal States.
Pepin was a much better ruler than the Merovingian kings before him. Pepin died in battle in AD 768 at age 54, leaving his kingdom to his two sons Charles and Carloman. The two brothers did not get along, and Carloman, not wanting to risk his life, decided to go to a monastery, leaving the kingdom to Charles.
Charles was 26 when he came to the throne, he would be in almost constant battle for the next 46 years against Germanic enemies. The Carolingians came from a long line of bishops, religious leaders in the Roman Catholic Church, so Charles was loyal to the church. He defended the Pope in Rome when needed and had a famous campaign against the Saxons. Charles demanded that the pagan Saxons convert to Christianity, those who refused were beheaded, over 4,000 in one day. He cut the sacred oak trees of the Saxons and made lumber to build churches.
Back in Rome, some people felt that Pope Leo III should be removed. They attacked him in the streets of Rome. Leo survived and made his way to Charles' camp. Charles, with his Frankish army, brought Leo back to Rome and restored him as Pope. A year later on Christmas day 800, Charles was in Rome. He attended church with the Pope, and then Pope Leo III placed a crown on his head and declared Charles the Emperor of Rome. It had been over 300 years since there was an emperor in the west. Charles was now so powerful, he was given the title Charlemagne (Charles the Great).
Charlemagne ruled over a vast empire. He divided it into 52 counties, and appointed a count to run each county. Not taking any chances, Charlemagne had special agents called missi domenici, check up on these counts to make sure they were honest and did not abuse their power.
Charlemagne supported education. He brought a great scholar from England, named Alcuin of York, to his capital at Aachen. He hoped that all of his subjects could learn to read and write. He even hoped one day to learn himself.
Charlemagne had a large family. He had four wives and 18 children. Although he was away in battle often, Charlemagne was a good father. He never wanted his daughters to marry for fear they would live too far away from him. He even broke off an engagement between his daughter, Rotrud, and the young emperor of Constantinople.
Charlemagne enjoyed physical activities like swimming and horseback riding. He was 6'4" a giant for his time. He loved music and hoped to learn to write so badly, he even went to sleep with a pen by his side and paper under his pillow, is case the skill came to him in the middle of the night. Charlemagne brought back a degree of civilization to Western Europe not seen since the days of ancient Rome. Charlemagne died in AD 814, leaving avast empire that spanned from modern France to Poland.
The Carolingian Empire weakened after the death of Charlemagne. The empire was divided into three parts, ruled by Charlemagne's grandsons. The middle of the three kingdoms was weak, and was absorbed by the eastern and western kingdoms. These two kingdoms would emerge as the modern countries of France and Germany."