A Brief History
On November 29, 800, the Frankish King Charlemagne (aka, Charles I) traveled to Rome and The Vatican to investigate charges of adultery and perjury against Pope Leo III, another soap opera in the long saga of the papacy.
Charlemagne as King of the Franks (France), was seen as the leading Catholic monarch of the time, and as such, the protector of the faith and the Pope. Leo had been unanimously elected Pope on the death of Pope Adrian I, but the friends and relatives of Adrian apparently resented Leo and undertook to discredit the reigning Pope.
Leo was attacked physically by armed assassins in April of 799, and was subjected to an attempt to rip out his eyes and tongue. Rendered unconscious, Leo was rescued by a larger force of armed men loyal to the Pope. Leo was placed under the protection of Charlemagne who investigated the charges against him and exonerated the Pope. The plotters loyal to Adrian were exiled.
In return for his service, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day of 800. Ironically, it was Adrian I that had conferred the status of Patricius Romanus (protector of the Roman Catholic Church) on Charlemagne’s father in 774.
The intrigue and politics of the Church, the Papacy, and the Holy Roman Empire continued, especially between the East (Constantinople based) and West (Rome based) parts of the Church and Empire. The history of the papacy would go on to an incredible array of scandals and accusations (sex, murder, intrigue) for centuries, so much so that it amazes me the institution has lasted to this day. This history reads like the most fanciful soap opera that can be imagined, one that would certainly be on cable because it is too sordid for network television!
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have a favorite bizarre story related to any of the Popes? Feel free to share them with us in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Hodgkin, Thomas. The Life of Charlemagne. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
Winston, Richard. Charlemagne. New Word City, Inc., 2015.