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Death: Einhard (840)

Submitted by Ludwig von Rege... on March 14, 2015 - 12:00am
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On this day in 840 died Einhard.


You, O reader, being wise will know that magnificent Einhard
Wrote this account of the deeds of Charles the Great1


Charlemagne's biographer was born to Einhard (senior) and Engilfrit around 770.  Growing to diminutive stature, he was educated at Fulda.  Though he was ill suited to war, the Carolingian renaissance created a great demand for men of letters.

At Charles' court he acquired the names Bezaleel (the builder of the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant) and Nard (a small but powerfully fragrant plant).  Alcuin recommended him to Charles as a suitable replacement for himself.


Do not spurn, O reader, the nard, small in size,
For the nard with its spiked shoot gives off a tremendous smell2


Einhard was famous at court for his artistic taste and command of classical poetry.

Notice how the triumphant Nard, who is used to reciting Aonian verses,
Is aflush today with the highest of honors.3


After Charles' death, Einhard would go on to serve Louis, his son.  A surviving compilation of Einhard's letters includes some that he composed for Louis.


In the name of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, Louis, the emperor augustus by the design of divine providence, to our faithful man, H.4


As well as for his courtly and bureaucratic skills, Einhard is known for his Translation and Miracles in which the relics of saints appear to be rather specialised in that they only cure people with cripplingly tightened tendons.

But it is for the Vita Karolini that Einhard is best remembered.  As well as an account of Charles' deeds, the biography gives us an insight into his personal life.


Although his daughters were extremely beautiful women and were deeply loved by him, it is strange to have to report that he never wanted to give any of them away in marriage to anyone...Although he was otherwise happy, this situation caused him no end of trouble.  But he always acted as if there was no suspicion of any sexual scandal on their part or that any such rumor had already spread far and wide.


Personally familiar with Charles, Einhard nonetheless cribbed from Suetonius in his description of the emperor.  In all such matters he deferred to the Classics.

Einhard founded the town of Seligenstadt and is buried there in Einhard-Basilika, along with the relics of the saints he went to such pains to collect.


All translations from Charlemagne's Courtier: The Complete Einhard, by Paul Edward Dutton


1 Gerward's preface to the Vita Karolini.
2 Alcuin, Poem 30.1
3 Modoin, On the Poets of His Age
4 Einhard letter 20.

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