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Charlemagne (Georges Minois)


Writing the biography of a giant of universal history like Charlemagne, who is also regarded as the instigator of European unity, is no easy task despite what some might think. Georges Minois, former student of theENS (École Normale Supérieure), associate and doctorate in history, got down to work, delivering us this beautiful Charlemagne biography, very dense, over seven hundred pages. The author, in accordance with his solid academic background, offers us extremely extensive work, teeming with detail, and which could largely suit a student audience.

This is the first biography of the emperor with the flowery beard who intends to restore the psychological evolution of the character, through a well-conducted chronological story, which takes its sources under the Merovingians and ends at the beginning of the 21st century, nowadays, with the evocation of the creation of Charlemagne Prize, awarded in 2000 to Nicolas Sarkozy to Angela Merkel. The aim is, in this work, to show the full impact of this sovereign who has been erected by history into a true "Father of Europe", through the centuries.

A pure work of historian

Georges Minois, in this biography of Charlemagne, has shown the tremendous work of a historian, which must be commended. The emphasis was first and foremost on the historiographical considerations and perspectives of Charlemagne's life in itself, which have been proposed since the year 1000, the year in which the Emperor of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire, Otto III, ordered to open the tomb of Charles the Great, located in the basilica of Aachen. This entire first section of Georges Minois’s work is intended to be a careful description of the construction and development of the “Carolingian myth”, of the legend of Charlemagne, throughout history.

Nevertheless, this overall picture cannot be done without precise sources: it is for this reason that the author has used an impressive amount of historical work, reinforcing the legitimacy of his work. Not a subchapter passes without Georges Minois referring to five or six examples taken from a previous historical and historiographical body of work. He notably used medieval sources, such as the Annals Regni Francorum, the Liber pontificalis, the Vita Caroli, or even the Codex Carolinus ; but he also dwelled on more "recent" sources, such as the work of Jules Michelet or Jacques Le Goff, still used wisely, in order to justify the comments presented. By laying solid historiographical foundations, and by relying on a considerable body of historical sources, Georges Minois delivers us a foolproof historical work.

An innovative biography

This biography of Charles the Great is also innovative in nature, which places it in a real break with previous works which may have been written on the same theme. It is no longer a matter of the author doing like his predecessors, who worked thematically; for Georges Minois, Charlemagne must also be portrayed in terms of his human, psychological personality, which had been somewhat omitted until then, notably because of a lack of historical source and hindsight.

Moreover, through this biography, we recognize very well the specialty of Georges Minois, namely cultural history. In the very subject, it is a question of drawing an intimate portrait, and certainly nuanced, of Charlemagne. In this, the interest of such historical work is capital: Charles the Great is no longer necessarily and systematically appreciated through his military campaigns or his political gestures, since he is exposed to the general public according to behavioral criteria. and psychological, nevertheless passed through the prism of event history for greater clarity and coherence.

What perspective for the work?

Therefore, by the new vision of the emperor that it proposes and by the proliferation of the historical discourse constructed, this biography of Charlemagne opens an interesting historiographical perspective, by its innovative character, as we have just mentioned, but also by the fact that it establishes a close relationship between the cultural history dear to the author and the event itself. Thus, for Georges Minois, more than submitting to readers an innovative vision of Charlemagne's life, it is a question of establishing bridges and incessant back and forth between the chronology of the reign and the existence of the sovereign in general. , and the history of the evolution of his behavior.

Georges Minois is naturally imbued with the culture of our time, and this is strongly felt on reading this biography of Charles the Great: he truly seeks to make Charlemagne an essential figure in the - contemporary - constitution of Franco-French friendship. German, but also of European construction. In this, the conclusion of the book, boldly titled " Charlemagne, first European or last Roman? ", Is capital, and wants to be the answer to the general problematic of the work. Charlemagne, in a way, by his unifying and universalist character specific to the tradition of the Roman Empire, is also the first to have initiated the European ideal, developed throughout the second half of the 20th century and still of news nowadays.

Thus, Georges Minois signs at Perrin a very interesting biography of Charlemagne, by this particular vision of the character that it proposes: more than a prosopographic work, it is a real work of historian, which poses a problematic and a specific perspective concerning the history and historiography of Charlemagne, namely the imitation-rejection game operated between the Roman heritage and the European, universal destiny.

More than a book of "pure" events history, it is a magnificent and complete overview of the life, personality and psychology of the emperor with the flowered beard, which is revealed quickly become essential for those who are closely interested in their life and action.

G. MINOIS, Charlemagne, Editions Perrin, Paris, March 2010.


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