Elder son of Pepin the Short and a grandson of Charles Martel, Charlemagne shared with his brother Carloman in the succession to his father's kingdom. At Carloman's death (771), young Charlemagne annexed his brother's lands, disinheriting Carloman's two young sons, who fled with their mother to the court of Desiderius, king of the Lombards. When Desiderius conquered part of the papal lands and attempted to force Pope Adrian I to recognize Carloman's sons, Charlemagne intervened (773) on the side of the pope and defeated the Lombards. At Rome, Charlemagne was received by Adrian as patrician of the Romans (a title he had received with his father in 754), and he confirmed his father's donation to the Holy See. Shortly afterward he took Pavia, the Lombard capital, and assumed the iron crown of the Lombard kings of Italy.
In 778 he invaded Spain, hoping to take advantage of civil war among the Muslim rulers of that kingdom, but was repulsed at Zaragoza. In later campaigns conducted by local counts, Barcelona was captured (801) and a frontier established beyond the Pyrenees. Charlemagne's struggle with the pagan Saxons, whose greatest leader was Widukind, lasted from 772 until 804. By dint of forced conversions, wholesale massacres, and the transportation of thousands of Saxons to the interior of the Frankish kingdom, Charlemagne made his domination over Saxony complete. In 788 he annexed the semi-independent duchy of Bavaria, after deposing its duke, Tassilo. He also warred successfully against the Avars and the Slavs, establishing a frontier south of the Danube.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.