The Court of Charlemagne: Lay Participants in the Aula Renovata
By Jennifer Davis, Catholic University of America
This paper deals with the court of Charlemagne and its lay influences.
The court was the centre of Carolingian society. Laymen were as companions to the king; helping him hunt, bathing him etc…In the court of Charlemagne, laymen were constantly and fundamentally involved. The paper asks Are political concerns lay concerns? While the court of Charlemagne was religiously shaped, it was not clerically shaped meaning that while it is true that clerics wrote most documents in this court, it did not mean they administered them or held the most important roles. Of the 30 signatures on Charlemagne’s will, 16 were lay and 14 were clerics. These men were the inner circle of the King and closest to him.
The King’s relatives were also important in administration of court and found in positions of influence. The ties of family loyalty were most useful to the King, not just ecclesiastical positions. ‘Who did what?’ was decided by the needs of the empire, their links to the King and what was felt they could best accomplish to that end.
Carolingian government was only partially institutional; a new person in a role would play out that role differently.The court of Charlemagne was known for its interest in imperial imagery. The general capitulary of 802 states that ‘all must do their part’, meaning that the laity and clergy must work together.
Carolingians were interested in literature. Those who could not function with literature could still serve the King; Charlemagne did not expect literacy for participation in Carolingian governance. Clerics and lay people were important and could do what the King asked of them without being literate.