1902 Encyclopedia > Eginhard

Biographer of Charlemagne
(c. 770 - 840 AD)

EGINHARD is best known as the biographer of Charlemagne. His name is variously spelled in manuscripts. Einhardns, Einhartus, Ainhardus, Heinhardus, are the earliest forms. In the 10th century it was altered into Agenardus, and out of this form arose Eginardus and Eginhardus. The French and English languages have adopted this later form; but it is unquestionably wrong, and the weight of authority is for Einhardus or Einhartus. The circumstances of his life are involved in considerable obscurity, owing partly to the want of information and partly to the doubtfulness or indefiniteness of our authorities. According to the statement of Walafridus Strabo, a contemporary, he was born in the district which is watered bv the river Maine in the modern duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt. Teulet has disputed the genuineness of the document in which the statement is contained, because "it exists only in one manuscript of the 15th century, and it contains an evident anachronism." The anachronism, however, is a mistake on the part of Teulet, for he understands by " pedagogium Sancti Bonifacii " a school taught by St Boniface, whereas it plainly means a school in the monastery of St Boniface, as Jaff6 takes it. The date of his birth can only be conjectured, but it must be some-where about the year 770 A.D. His parents were noble, and probably their names were Einhart and Engilf rit. He was educated at the monastery of Fulda. There is documentary evidence that he was resident in that place in the years 788 and 791. Owing to his intelligence and ability he was transferred from the monastery by its abbot Baugolfus to the palace, where he became intimate with the emperor and his family, and received commissions of great trust and importance. His removal to the palace took place not later than 796.

He was entrusted by the emperor with the charge of public buildings. He thus became one of the imperial ministers, and resided with the emperor at Aix-la-Chapelle. In reference to his artistic skill he received the Scripture name of Beseleel (Exod. xxxi. Iff, and xxxv. 30ff), according to a fashion then prevalent of giving ancient names to con-temporaries. Some suppose that he constructed the basilica at Aix-la-Chapelle and the other buildings mentioned in chapter xvii. of his Life of Charlemagne, but there is no express statement to that effect. The emperor employed him in 806 as legate to Borne to obtain the Pope's signature to a will which he had made in regard to the division of his empire. Hence the inference has been drawn that he was the emperor's secretary; but no contemporary ascribes this office to him.

It was owing to Eginhard's influence that in 813 Charlemagne made his son Louis partner in the empire. Louis, on becoming sole emperor, proved grateful to Eginhard, retained him in the office of head of public works, made him tutor to his son Lothaire in 817, and showed him every mark of respect.

Eginhard married Imma, a noble lady, a sister of Bernharius, who was bishop of Worms and abbot of the monastery of Wizenburg. Later tradition converted Imma into the daughter of Charlemagne, and invented a romantic story in regard to the marriage of Eginhard and Imma. It is doubtful whether he had any offspring. Eginhard addresses a letter to a person called Vussin, whom he styles " fili," " mi nate." These expressions and the tenderness of the language almost compel the belief that Vussin was his son; but as Vussin is never mentioned in several deeds in which his interests would have been concerned, and in which the names of Eginhard and Imma appear, some have supposed that Vussin was merely a spiritual son.

On January 11, 815, Louis bestowed on Eginhard and his wife the domains of Michelstadt and Mulinheim in the Odenwald on the Maine. In the document conveying this property to him he is simply called Einhardus, but in a document of June 2, 815, he is called abbot. In becoming abbot he did not dismiss his wife. After this period we find him at the head of several monasteries, Blandigny of Ghent, Fontenelle in the diocese of Bouen, St Bavon of Ghent, St Serváis of Maestricht, and St Cloud (but not the St Cloud near Paris), and he had also charge of the church of St John the Baptist at Pavia.

Eginhard began to grow tired of the intrigues and troubles of court life, and in 830 finally withdrew to Mulinheim, which he named Seligenstadt, where he had erected a church to which he had transported the relics of St Marcellinus and St Peter. His wife helped him in all his efforts, and her death in 836 caused him bitter grief. The emperor Louis visited him in his retreat the same year, probably to console him, but Eginhard did not long survive his wife, for he died March 14, 840.

Eginhard was a man of culture. He had reaped the benefits of the revival of education brought about by Charlemagne, and was on intimate terms with Alcuin. He was well versed in Latin literature, and knew Greek. He was very small in body, a feature on which Alcuin wrote an epigram. His most famous work is his Vita Caroli Magni, written in imitation of the Lives of Suetonius. It is the most reliable account of Charlemagne that we have, and a work of some artistic merit. It was written soon after the death of the great emperor. It was very popular in the Middle Ages. Pertz collated upwards of sixty MSS. for his edition.

The other works of Eginhard are—(1) Ármales Francorum, extending from 741 A.D. to 829 A.D. ; some doubt their authenticity, without good reason; (2) Epístolas, handed down only in one MS., now at Laon and of considerable importance for the history of the times; (3) Historia Translations Beatorum Christi Martyrum Marcellini et Petri, written in 830, and giving a curious narrative of how the bones of the martyrs were stolen and conveyed to Seligenstadt, and what miracles they wrought, To this is added a poem on the same subject. A treatise written by him, Be Ádoranda Cruce, has not come down to us.
The literature on Eginhard is very extensive, almost all who deal with Charlemagne, early German literature, and early French literature treating of him. The fullest and best accounts are given by Teulet and Jaffé in their editions.

The modern editions of Eginhard's works are by Pertz in vols, i. and ii. of his Monumento, Germanice Histórica, Hanover, 1826- 1829; Teulet, Einhardi omnia quce extant Opera, Paris, 1840 ; Migne, Patrologioe Latinee, torn. 104, Paris, 1866 (the Life of Charle- magne is in vol. 97); and Philip Jaffé in vol. iv. of his Bibliotheca Rerum Gcrmanicarum, Berlin, 1867. Teulet's is the handiest and most complete edition, and he deserves special praise in connection with the letters. Pertz and Jaffé published the Life of Charle- magne separately for the use of schools. Teulet gives a full account of all previous editions, of the MSS., and of translations. Some of the other editions contain bibliographical references. A transla- of the Life of Charlemagne has appeared in English by W. Glaister, London, 1877 (J. D.)


The story of his courtship, although apocryphal, deserves to he Doticed, as it frequently appears in literature. He is said to have made a practice of visiting the emperor's daughter secretly by night, On one of these occasions a fall of snow occurred which made it im-possible for him to walk away without leaving footprints that would have led to his detection. The risk was obviated by an expedient of Emma, who carried her lover across the court-yard of the palace on her back. The scene was witnessed from a window by Charlemagne, who related it next morning to his counsellors and asked their advice. The severest punishments were suggested for the clandestine lover, but Charlemagne rewarded the devotion of the pair by consenting to their marriage. The story is inherently improbable, and it is further discredited by the facts that Eginhard himself does not mention Emma among the number of Charlemagne's children, and that a story similar in its details has been told of a daughter of the emperor Henry III.

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