HIST2005 Rule and Reform under Charlemagne and his Successors, 768-987

Reading List
  • Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan)
  • Credits: 20
  • Module Manager: Dr Jonathan Jarrett
  • Email: TBC
  • This Module is approved as a Discovery Module
  • This module is mutually exclusive with:
    • HIST2115 Charles the Great to Alfred the Great: Franks, Anglo-Saxons

Discovery module overview

Module Summary

Module Summary

The first Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Great (in French, Charlemagne), became a legend but his real achievements were not much less dramatic, uniting most of Europe as far east as the Balkans and as far south as the Pyrenees and Rome, and leaving it all with a centralising government, a single coinage and a new style of handwriting that is still the basis of our modern typefaces. Within thirty years of his death this had broken up in civil wars and Viking attacks and would only ever be briefly reunited. What was so special about this short-lived empire that it is remembered where so many other barbarian hegemonies are forgotten? This module uses translated primary sources and visual material alongside the historiography to ask: what was Charlemagne’s real achievement? How was it different to others' before and after? And why could it not be sustained?


At the end of the module, students will be able to demonstrate:

  • (1) a working knowledge of the Carolingian Empire, its origins and its various regional fates;
  • (2) a sound evaluation of the historiography of this period against the primary sources upon which it has partly been based;
  • (3) an understanding of a formative historical period both in its own terms and in the terms of those who attempted to replace or recreate it;
  • (4) the ability to reflect on how historians reckon the achievements or shortcomings of the societies we study and how much this reckoning depends upon continuity to our own society.


The module will be taught in eleven one-hour lectures and nine one-hour tutorials, the latter based around a particular text or piece of evidence illuminating the week's theme. The lecture themes will be as follows:

  • (1) Dynasties and Takeover: the Rise of the Carolingians
  • (2) Charlemagne the Conqueror
  • (3) Popes, Emperors and Theology
  • (4) Succession and Reform
  • (5) The War of the Brothers
  • (6) Government and Money
  • (7) Degeneracy and Intrigue
  • (8) The End of the Carolingian Empire
  • (9) The Last Carolingians
  • (10) The Legend of Charlemagne
  • (11) Father of Europe?

The seminars (and their key sources) will be as follows:

  • (1) Contested Memories the Merovingians remembered (the Book of the History of the Franks)
  • (2) Super-Frank: Einhard’s Charlemagne (the Life of Charles)
  • (3) The War of Images (the Chronicle of Theophanes)
  • (4) Poor Son of a Great Father? Louis the Pious (Thegan's Life of the Emperor Louis)
  • (5) In Search of a Villain (Nithard’s History of the Sons of Louis)
  • (6) The Medieval Euro? (The Edict of Pîtres)
  • (8) 'They all brought forth kings from their guts': 888 and Aftermath (the Chronicle of Regino of Prüm)
  • (9) Hugh the Great and the Rise of the Capetians (letters of Gerbert of Rheims)
  • (11) Charlemagne the Crusader (the Song of Roland)

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module, students will be able to demonstrate:

  • (1) knowledge of political events and institutions in Western Europe in the eighth to tenth centuries, especially the formation of kingdoms, state government and international relations;
  • (2) knowledge and understanding of the changes in religious practice and organisation in the period and the extent to which these were state-driven;
  • (3) knowledge of the ideological and pragmatic basis on which power was claimed and exercised in this and some subsequent pre-modern periods;
  • (4) awareness of the legacy of these developments in subsequent eras and the range of attempts made to assert continuity with and inheritance of them.

Assessment and teaching

Assessment and teaching


Assesment type Notes % of formal assesment
Essay 1 x 2,000-word essay, due by 12 noon Monday of teaching week 8 40
Presentation To be delivered in class 10
Total percentages (Assessment Coursework) 50


Exam type Exam duration % of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc) 2 hr 0 mins 50
Total Percentage (Assesment Exams) 50

Private Study

Reading to prepare for seminars and for presentations; self-directed reading around the topic; researching, preparing and writing assessments; reading and revision to prepare for the examination.

Progress Monitoring

Student progress can to some extent be monitored in seminars, especially individual presentations but also general contributions to class; in addition, students will be encouraged to seek advice about reading for and planning their presentations and their essays.

Teaching methods

Delivery type Number Length hours Student hours
Lecture 11 1 11
Tutorial 9 1 9
Private Study Hours 180
Total Contact Hours 20
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits) 200

Reading List

Reading List
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