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In 768 Charlemagne became King of the Franks. In 773 he added the kingdom of Lombardy to his Frankish empire. In 788 Bavaria was added to that empire. In 800 Charlemagne he was crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor. For several years, he had supported Pope Leo III in his efforts to rid Italy of the Lombards (barbarian invaders) and other factions opposed to the pope. At the pope's request, Charlemagne visited him in Rome in December 800. While the devout Charlemagne was praying at St Peter's altar on Christmas day, Pope Leo crowned him emperor of the Romans, and paid him homage. In this way, the pope was showing the importance of the west, and rejecting the eastern Byzantine empire.

He reigned until 814, during which time his chief concern was to spread Christianity. He was an energetic military leader and by greatly extending his domains he brought the Christian religion to the lands that he conquered.

Apart from military achievements, he welcomed all scholars to his court, encouraged education, helped the monasteries, and improved the legal system. He tried to improve conditions in the lands he conquered, where most of the people were poor farmers. He had a great respect for the arts and learning, and he encouraged crafts workers to settle and work in his lands. At his death, Charlemagne's empire stretched from Denmark, to Rome, and the Spanish border. His capital was at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), and it was the most important centre of learning in western Christendom. when he summoned the monk and scholar Alcuin of York in 1782 to head the palace school, the revival of learning in mainland Europe was under way. Scholars at that court developed a new style of script for use in books. It was known as minuscule and was formed with clear, rounded letters. At this time all books were written in Latin. Charlemagne himself learned to speak and read Latin, but he did not manage to write it.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Charlemagne was widely considered to be a model for all Christian rulers.

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