Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, lived from 742 to 814 A.D. In 751, he became king of the Franks, a Germanic group. The kingdom was initially split between Charlemagne and his brother, Carloman, but Carloman died in 771 and the land was reunited under Charlemagne.
Charlemagne spent much of his life trying to unite the various Germanic peoples and convert them to Christianity. He conquered parts of what are now Italy and Austria, and he spent around 30 years fighting the Saxons. He became known for his bloody tactics, such as ordering the Massacre of Verden and condemning to death those who did not follow Christian traditions.
In contrast to his violent legacy, Charlemagne promoted education and was part of the development of Carolingian miniscule, which later evolved into the modern European alphabet. He had a positive relationship with the Christian church and was made a saint in 1165, though his sainthood is no longer recognized.
In 813, Charlemagne appointed his son to share in ruling the kingdom, and when he died the next year, Charlemagne's reign spanned most of western Europe.Learn more about Middle Ages