Pepin, Power and the Papacy: The True First Holy Roman Emperor
By Courtney E. Bowers
The Histories, Vol. 4:2 (2019)
Introduction: Church and State have long found themselves intertwined in Western Civilization. The rise of the Roman Catholic Church precluded the importance of any other religion and created a juggernaut that rulers sought to subjugate to their will. After the fall of Rome, the Western World needed a new force in which to believe— a steadfast leader— and so the Church took up this promontory role. As such, the Church was one of the preeminent forces in shaping the medieval world and the lives of the people living under its complex and somewhat chaotic systems.
The Popes were the leaders of this Catholic powerhouse and were gaining power not only as spiritual and moral leaders but also as visages of God’s temporal power upon earth. It would be through the aid of the Frankish Kings that the popes would gain the power and prestige that would make them both formidable spiritual and temporal rulers and corrupt politicians. Only once they were able to break away from the constraints of the Eastern Empire and assert their affiliation with the Western rulers could they expand to become such a center of power and control. So too did the Western rulers simultaneously benefit from this alliance of wills and the subsequent pooling of resources. This union would become official (and termed as such) with the coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor.
However, Charlemagne’s father Pepin was also crowned by the pope as a protector and officer of the Church in the ritualistic ways of the Old Testament. So too did his “donation” of the land that would become the Papal States cement the temporal alliance of the Church and the Franks. It is then the purpose of this paper to explore the idea that it is indeed Pepin and not Charlemagne who was truly the first Holy Roman Emperor due to his status as patricius Romanorum, his papal coronation, his power over Church reform and his permanent donation of territory to the popes.
Top Image: Pepin the Short, miniature, Imperial Chronicle (Anonymi chronica imperatorum), Corpus Christi College MS 373, fol. 14