Charlemagne: why do we say, wrongly, that he invented the school?

For this back to school, I saw things on a grand scale: I’m going to tell you about a character whose name is very well known, but who is ultimately very poorly known: Charlemagne. Know first of all that he did not have a flowery beard, but a mustache and that he did not invent the school.

This myth is partly linked to the creed of Charlemagne. He wants to unify as well as possible a mosaic of motley peoples, with a thousand dialects, around the same word which would come directly from the pontifical city. To guide him in this vast construction site, he surrounds himself with intellectuals. He also has pied-à-terre in a good part of Italy, which is very practical for meeting poets, grammarians and theologians who have been growing there like mushrooms since Antiquity.

Charles brings back to Aachen where he installed his capital a whole bunch of big heads, especially the English Alcuin who becomes his closest adviser. they will put in place a series of liturgical reforms to align as many people as possible with the same practices, the same prayers, the same songs, the same texts. Charlemagne may not know how to write (which was common at the time) but he can read and surround himself well. His obsession for the purity of the texts and the fact that they are well distributed encourages him to launch a capital project: the overhaul of the writing.

The influence of France Gall’s song

Around 780, he had Alcuin develop a script with well-formed letters and well-separated words. It’s a thousand times more decipherable than the porridge of Merovingian fly legs which no one understood anymore. This tiny carolina is so readable that you still use it today: time new roman fontthe star word processing software for your computers, is its direct heir.

Charlemagne’s will that the texts be well transmitted does not stop there. He gives a good boost to teaching, especially Latin, which he wants to impose as much as possible as the common language of religion and administration. So, no, Charlemagne did not have this crazy idea one day of inventing the school, even if the Third Republic wanted to make believe and that a famous France Gall song from the 60s perpetuated this legend..

The school has existed since the invention of writing. But we can say that Charles, who was no doubt frustrated at not having received a scholarly education, renovated and generalized it. For the clerics, but also the laity in order to train agents of the State on which it could rely to make respect his authority.

As a total sovereign, Charlemagne puts his nose (which it seems was quite long) everywhere: in spiritual life, civil life, public life and private life. We can say that he has a strong penchant for regulation. It legislates on everything: how ecclesiastics should dress, what to think of the Trinity, how much to pay for bread… envoys charged with controlling the local power in his name.

We cannot say that the approach is always super efficient, we are short of personnel and the aristocracy sometimes acts as a barrier, but it testifies to the sprawling ambition of Charlemagne tounify his immense kingdom.

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Charlemagne: why do we say, wrongly, that he invented the school?