What strengths and flaws does Einhard identify in the character of Charlemagne?
Einhard describes more of Charlemagne's strengths than his flaws. I list some of these below:
Charlemagne's strengths as identified by Einhard:
1)Piety and generosity. Einhard writes that Charlemagne 'cherished with the greatest fervor and devotion the principles of the Christian religion, which had been instilled into him from infancy.' Not only did Charlemagne aid impoverished Christians in his own country, his generosity also extended to needy Christians overseas. Einhard writes that the king built a beautiful church at Aix-la-Chapelle so that he could worship there diligently.
The king is also said to be fond of foreigners and took 'great pains to take them under his protection.'
2)Good personal habits. Charlemagne is described as a man who is temperate in both eating and drinking. Einhard relates that the king is so moderate in his use of wine that he rarely allows himself more than three cups at each meal.
3)Fairness. Einhard describes Charlemagne as a king who entertained suits from both his friends as well as from anyone else who sought his help.
4)Eloquence and industry. Einhard states that Charlemagne was not only well-versed in his native language, he also took great pains to learn foreign ones. In addition, the king is said to have had 'the gift of ready and fluent speech.' Not content with general knowledge, the king also devoted his time to the study of 'rhetoric, dialectics, and especially astronomy; he learned to reckon, and used to investigate the motions of the heavenly bodies most curiously, with an intelligent scrutiny.'
5)Conquering hero. Einhard states that Charlemagne greatly increased the power of the Frankish kingdom. His wars were said to have been 'skilfully planned and successfully fought.' Additionally, the king had the 'old rude songs that celebrate the deeds and wars of the ancient kings written out for transmission to posterity.'
Charlemagne's flaws as identified by Einhard:
1)Weight issues. Einhard states that Charlemagne's ' neck was thick and somewhat short, and his belly rather prominent...' However, Einhard makes up for this unflattering portrayal of his idol by stating that 'the symmetry of the rest of his body concealed these defects.'
2)Scant improvement of bad laws. Einhard writes that Charlemagne 'determined to add what was wanting, to reconcile the discrepancies, and to correct what was vicious and wrongly cited' in his people's laws. However, all he did was 'to supplement the laws by a few capitularies (legislative acts), and those, imperfect ones...' Einhard makes up for this less than flattering description of Charlemagne's sincerity by attempting to explain that the king did cause the 'unwritten laws of all the tribes that came under his rule to be compiled and reduced to writing,' and that he 'began a grammar of his native language.'
3)Abysmal writing skills. Although Charlemagne tried very hard to learn how to write, Einhard tells us that his efforts met with 'ill success' because he started so late in life.
Einhard admired Charlemagne as a great ruler and was very much aware that his biography would become standard reading in elite Frankish circles. Moreover, as one of the emperor’s favorite courtiers, he felt himself personally grateful to Charlemagne. Accordingly, he strived to portray Charlemagne as a model king by limiting his critique to minor matters.
He lists many good features of the emperor’s character such as courage, constancy of mind and steadiness of purpose during the war, reverence for his mother, love of his sister, and patience with his quarrelsome brother. Einhard describes Charlemagne as loyal and affectionate in his friendships and solicitous about his children’s education. He mentions Charlemagne’s failure to marry off his daughters and choice to keep them near himself among his few criticisms.
Einhard appraises Charlemagne as both warlike and merciful; he stresses his generosity and hospitality toward foreigners, which some of his subjects considered excessive. Einhard, however, clearly approves of this and writes admiringly of Charlemagne’s alms for the poor within his empire and of his concern about poor Christians overseas. He also discusses his building of churches and palaces.
In describing Charlemagne’s love of justice, Einhard also notes his failure to improve his empire’s laws in any substantial way. He appreciates Charlemagne’s love of learning, his fluency and clarity of expression, and his love for languages and books, as well as his attention to liberal arts. At the same time he acknowledges that Charlemagne never learned to write properly.