Charlemagne Unifies Europe in New Series

wondrium series charts charlemagne's life and place in history

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Charlemagne was the first Holy Roman Emperor, beginning in 800 CE. During, and since, his reign, his image has been molded and remolded to fit the causes of countless modern rulers. He also had superb management skills.

Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne
On December 25, 800 CE, Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo II. Photo by Friedrich Kaulbach / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

History is full of young rulers. Tutankhamun became king at the age of nine. King George III ascended to the throne at the age of 22. Charlemagne, on the other hand, didn’t become emperor until the age of 52. It may not be a world record—King William IV didn’t rule Britain until nearly his 65th birthday—but Charlemagne’s rise to power was slow, long, and unlikely.

In the series Charlemagne: Father of Europe, Dr. Philip Daileader, Professor of History at William & Mary, returns to Wondrium to shed light on the first Holy Roman Emperor. Wondrium producer Adam Vogtman, who worked on the series with Dr. Daileader, explained what to expect from the series.

Charles the Great (Courses)

“The series charts the course of a man thrust in a position of being a king over a large territory—an empire, basically,” Vogtman said. “It charts his life and his exploits and that bit of history provides a precious context for understanding the world coming out of antiquity into the medieval world.”

According to Vogtman, Europe, which is central to world affairs, was shaped by Charlemagne’s conquests and the precedents he set, including its religiosity. In a way, Charlemagne: Father of Europe is a prequel to modern Europe. It’s primarily focused on his life and times, but there are several episodes that reveal his reverberations through later history, myth, legend, propaganda, and the shaping of nationalist identities in Europe. In a separate interview, Dr. Daileader spoke about how figures like Napoleon and Hitler invoked the name of Charlemagne for their own ends.

When asked about Dr. Daileader, Vogtman immediately pointed to his presentation skills as crucial to conveying the wealth of information in the series, especially “his attention to detail and his manner of making what could be a fairly boring topic compelling and engaging.”

“It’s a difficult topic for contemporary people to get into because it feels stuffy and alien,” Vogtman said, but Dr. Daileader kept all 12 episodes lively.

Under Good Management

Modern movies about historical figures tend to sell them as nearly godlike in their power and their roles in shaping history. However, for Vogtman, one of the biggest takeaways of his time with Charlemagne: Father of Europe was to find that the opposite of this was often true.

“What I found really interesting about the series was the power sharing dynamic between kings and feudal lords and the use of religion and law—but also occasionally threats of violence—to get things done and to keep the society and the territory that the king is responsible for working and functioning,” he said. “Its economy, its army, whatever it’s doing: There’s quite a bit of management skill that’s required.

“Typically, we think of the king as someone who’s just issuing orders, but he’s actually just a really good manager. He has to be, or else someone kills him and takes his place.”

Charlemagne’s religious ordinances and capitularies helped him delegate and manage his incredible empire in ways we’d associate much more with the modern era.

Charlemagne: Father of Europe is now available to stream on Wondrium.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily