French School Clothes: The 8th Century

Figure 1.--his drawing suposedly shows Charlaemagne and I assume boys at the palace school In Achen. I'm not sure what is portrayed here, perhaps him allowing peasant boys to be educated along with sons of nobels. 

The father of French education is generally considered to be Charlemagne, the father of the French nation. Charlemegne, who was largely uneducated, respected learning and incouraged the resumption of formal education. He reversed the descent toward barbarianism in western Europe that had followed the fall of the Roman Empire. I only have limited information, however on how boys were educated at the time and what they wore.

Charlemagne (742-814)

The renowned French King, Charlemagne (Charles the Great), was born on April 2, 742 in Northern Europe. In his words, "By the sword and the cross," Charlemagne conqured Western Europe, the first major union of western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. Although uneducated himself, through his enlightened leadership, he laid the roots of learning and order were restored to Medieval Europe.

Charlemagne's grandfather was Charles Martel, the renowned warrior who turned the Saracens before Tours in southern France. Charlemagne was the elder son of Bertrade ("Bertha Greatfoot") and Pepin the Short, first "mayor of the palace" to become king of the Franks. Although schools had almost disappeared in the 8th century, historians believe that Bertrade gave young Charles some education and that he learned to read. His devotion to the Christianity became the great driving force of his remarkable life.

Charlemagne at age 26, along with his brother Carloman inherited the kingdom of the Franks in 768. In 771 Carloman died, and Charlemagne became sole ruler of the kingdom. At that time the Franks along with the rest of Western Europe were falling back into barbarian ways, neglecting their education and religion. The Saxons of northern Europe were still pagans. In the south, the Roman Catholic church was asserting its power to recover land confiscated by the Lombard kingdom of Italy. Europe was in turmoil.

Charlemagne was determined to strengthen his realm and to bring order to Europe. In 772 he launched a 30-year military campaign to accomplish this objective. By 800 Charlemagne was the undisputed ruler of Western Europe. His vast realm encompassed what are now France, Switzerland, Belgium, and The Netherlands. It included half of present-day Italy and Germany, and parts of Austria and Spain. By establishing a central government over Western Europe, Charlemagne restored much of the unity of the old Roman Empire and paved the way for the development of modern Europe.

On Christmas Day in 800, while Charlemagne knelt in prayer in Saint Peter's in Rome, Pope Leo III placed a golden crown on the bowed head of the king. Charlemagne is said to have been surprised by the coronation, declaring that he would not have come into the church had he known the pope's plan. However, some historians say the pope would not have dared to act without Charlemagne's knowledge.


Charlamagne dressed in the Frankish style: linen shirt and breeches, a silk-fringed tunic, hose wrapped with bands, and, in winter, a tight coat of otter or marten skins. Over all these garments "he flung a blue cloak, and he always had a sword girt about him."

Charlamagne and Education

Western Europe was declining into barbarism when Charlemagne rose to the throne of the Franks in 768. Except in the monasteries, people had all but forgotten education and the arts. Virtually no one but the monks, certainly not ariatocrats could read. Charlemagne proceed to conquer barbarians and neighboring kings. By restoring the status of education and learning, Charlamagne was able to restore order in Western Europe. This enabled him to preserve many political rights and stimulate culture.

Charlemagne never stopped studying. He brought an English monk, Alcuin, and other scholars to his court. Charlemagne learned to read Latin and some Greek but curiously apparently failed to master writing. At meals, instead of having jesters perform, as was the custom of the day, he listened to visiting scholars read from learned works. Charlemagne believed that government should be for the benefit of the governed. He was a tireless reformer who tried to improve his people's lives. He set up money standards to encourage commerce, urged better farming methods and worked to spread education and Christianity.

Charlemagne was a tireless reformer who tried to improve his people's lot in many ways. He set up money standards to encourage commerce, tried to build a Rhine-Danube canal, and urged better farming methods. He especially worked to spread education and Christianity in every class of people. Charlemagne revived the Palace School at Aachen, his capital. He set up other schools, opening them to peasant boys as well as nobles.


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Created: February 16, 2000
Last updated: February 8, 2003