Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great (Latin: Carolus or Karolus Magnus) or Charles I (Frankish: Karl), was King of the Franks. He united a large part of Europe during the early Middle Ages and laid the foundations for modern France, Germany and the Low Countries. He took the Frankish throne in 768 and became King of Italy in 774. From 800, he became the first Holy Roman Emperor - the first recognised emperor in Western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier. Charlemagne already ruled his kingdom without the help of the Pope, but recognition from the pontiff granted him divine legitimacy in the eyes of his contemporaries.
The expanded Frankish state which Charlemagne founded was called the Carolingian Empire.
Charlemagne was the oldest son of Pepin the Short and Bertrada of Laon. He became king in 768 following the death of his father, initially as co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman's sudden death in 771 in unexplained circumstances left Charlemagne as the undisputed ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. Charlemagne continued his father's policy towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in northern Italy, and leading an incursion into Muslim Spain. He also campaigned against the Saxons to his east, Christianising them upon penalty of death, leading to events such as the Massacre of Verden. Charlemagne reached the height of his power in 800 when he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day at Old St. Peter's Basilica.
Charlemagne has been called the "Father of Europe" (Pater Europae), as he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire. His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Western Church. All Holy Roman Emperors up to the last Emperor Francis II, as well as both the French and German monarchies, considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne's empire.
However, the Eastern Orthodox Church views Charlemagne more controversially, labelling as heterodox his support of the filioque and recognition by the Bishop of Rome as legitimate Roman Emperor rather than Irene of Athens of the Eastern Roman Empire. These were but two of the machinations that led to the eventual split of Rome and Constantinople in the Great Schism of 1054.
Charlemagne died in 814, having ruled as emperor for just over thirteen years. He was laid to rest in his imperial capital of Aachen in what is today Germany. His son Louis the Pious succeeded him.