Charlemagne, Emperor of the West - Charlemagne's Birth Date/Place - How to show what we don't know

Started by Sharon Doubell on Friday, March 6, 2015
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3/14/2015 at 10:11 AM

I've been thinking about what I can say about these charts and how to keep it relatively simple and direct. If this were an astrology group we'd all be discussing the nuances for days, but it's a genealogy group so I think it is better to just hit some of the highlights then move on.

I was a little disappointed when I ran the charts. I expected to get a nicely ambiguous result. Something that would give me hours of entertainment for many years to come while I tried to figure out which chart is the most likely.

Instead, there is no room for debate from an astrological perspective. The 742 chart is almost perfect what we know about Charlemagne. The others just aren't. The 742 chart is so striking and the 747 and 748 charts are so much "weaker" that it takes away most of the fun.

There are hundreds of different placements and aspects to look at, but the ones that stand out for me in the 742 chart are.

1. Mars square the North and South Nodes. This is the chart of a warrior. Really a warrior. This piece is the most striking and is enough to set this chart from the others for 747 and 748. I could have stopped here and made my judgment just from this.

2. Saturn in Leo, This is likely to be the chart of a politician or someone who plays a role, does it in a calculating way, but might not be always comfortable with it. Saturn is trine both the Sun and the Part of Fortune, so someone in the spotlight who has a quirky and unpredictable political luck.

3. Sun and Jupiter conjunct in Aries. Probably a larger than life personality, driven to personal achievement, and probably very successful at it.

4. Moon in Capricorn. Someone who keeps a reign on their emotions, using them for advantage. Nowadays we would say this is someone who might marry for money, or someone who lets anger show only when it is advantageous. Probably also a difficult or formal relationship with his mother.

Without knowing a time of birth, we can't calculate the 9th House so there is nothing to show this person's approach to scholarship and education, both of which were key elements in Charlemagne's adult life.

These are the pieces that really stand out. I'm having to restrain myself from going on and on ;)

If I didn't know this is a possible chart for Charlemagne and I had to play guessing games knowing only that this is a famous person, I would be thinking of famous generals turned politician.

My first guesses would have been Eisenhower and de Gaulle. Too military to be Churchill and too political to be Patton, but I don't think those would have been completely off base,

Of course this could also be the chart of anyone from a corporate lawyer to a drill sergeant, born with different life options.

Private User
3/14/2015 at 10:42 AM

I'm impressed of your findings.
It would have been fun if someone in the future would make a TV Series
of him following his entirely life, think it would have been a smashing hit.

3/14/2015 at 12:42 PM

I also compared the three charts as Justin did. My conclusions are equivalent.
The April 2, 742 date is the nearer possible match. As I wrote earlier I will post next week some of the Yogas described for this chart......

Greetings to all


3/14/2015 at 3:54 PM

What's the point? This is a genealogy site. Astrology and genealogy are two different kind of sciences. Without knowing the exact data, one can only guess and assume things. Let's all agree on the fact that this Great grandfather was born somewhere between 740 and 750 period, untill the precisie data comes available, this is the best we can do. Forget the houses, yogi's, ascendants and other abacadabra, keep on breathing and carry on.

3/14/2015 at 5:15 PM

I'm afraid I didn't get the Zealot gene. I'm always surprised when people put energy into being a True Believer or a True Skeptic. I typically think only about whether something is interesting or not interesting, and then only for myself.

So when someone says, "Nonsense" or asks "What's the point?", I understand that there are people in the world for whom that is the important part. I'm just not one of them. I'm interested in medieval culture, as well as medieval history. Those others are people who wouldn't be interested in anything about Charlemagne's life. Not what kinds of foods he ate, what his religious beliefs were, not what language he spoke. For them, the only thing that matters is whether they get to have a famous king in their family -- and even then there are other people in the world who would answer "Who cares?"

There are two ways of approaching the intersection of astrology and history.

People with a knowledge of astrology will think it's interesting to play with the charts of famous people to see how well the predictions match the person's life. Some of them might even think that arguments from astrology might be evidence. Here, those are the people who might come around later and argue that Charlemagne must have been born in 742. In my opinion that would be over reading the evidence. I think it's an interesting footnote to history, but I wouldn't be persuaded to use it as evidence.

On the other hand, people with a knowledge of history will think it's interesting because of the doors it opens for understanding Charlemagne in the context of his time. In Charlemagne's time astrology was part of the package of exciting new sciences preserved by the Arabs and Jews from ancient times and brought back to Europe by eminent scholars like Alcuin. If Charlemagne didn't believe in astrology then he would have been one of the cranks of his time, similar to Flat-Earthers today.

For someone who is genuinely interested in history, and not just collecting famous ancestors, opens up some very interesting questions about his life. The question is not whether he was really born April 2 742, but what that meant to his contemporaries.

We could ask ourselves if having scholars tell him he was a natural general and politician played any role in how he saw himself. Or could it be the opposite? Did he like scholars so much because they were there to tell the world he was a great soldier and politician? Pope Leo almost certainly consulted his astrologers before deciding to crown Charlemagne and astrologers would have helped select the day of the coronation. If they were working from a 742 birth chart, then we can see what they saw and understand some of what was going through their minds.

We can also wonder whether the 742 might have been a propaganda piece. It's possible that Charlemagne was really born in 747 or 748 but circulated a better chart for political reasons. If that is what happened, we might be getting a hint about why his first biographer suggested 742 but an obscure chronicle says 747.

So much for the enthusiasms of history buffs and scholars. Turning back to the more prosaic question about his real date of birth -- it isn't just some vague "between 740 and 750". If you'll excuse me for saying so, that's just intellectual laziness. There are two dates supported by the sources. April 2 742 and April 2 747. And there is one date supported by a reasonable argument from the sources. April 2 748.

Of these, my personal opinion is that 742 is the most likely, but I can agree that someone else could reasonably advocate either of the others. If I were the curator for this profile, I would use April 2 742, which happens to also be the "traditional date". Let everything else be a footnote. It won't be the only place on Geni where a profile contains the "best" information in the data fields and leaves the disputes and quibbles to a discussion section in the profile overview.

The place is purely speculative. It will have been one of a dozen reasonable guess. In this case it's not possible even to use one of the traditional evasions (France, Germany,Belgium), unless someone wants to do "Frankish Kingdom". Personally, I think the place should be blank.

3/15/2015 at 1:09 AM

What a fantastically interesting discussion. I love it when we get Justin to comment on topics at such length. He always does it so knowledgeably and yet so accessibly.
My 'Historian gene' :-) still wants to allow for the possibility of a range of dates; but I think the case has been made too well for the April 2 742 date, to ignore the fact that it is also the 'traditional' date:
If everyone's (or at least the majority) are happy with that - then I'm going to revert to the traditional date on the profile; with a note in the About pointing this out - and referencing this Discussion.

As to the place - Presently I have it as "Unknown - Likely in present day Belgium or Germany"

3/15/2015 at 1:17 AM

The About Note now reads:

Birthdate & Place unknown: See Discussion. Birthdate is traditionally taken as April 2 742; but 747 & 748 have also been proposed by scholars. Amongst conjectures for Birthplace:
*Herstal, Liege (present Belgium)
*Aachen, near Aix-La-Chapelle (present Germany).
*Ingelheim (present Germany)

3/15/2015 at 2:33 PM


"Pope Leo almost certainly consulted his astrologers before deciding to crown Charlemagne and astrologers would have helped select the day of the coronation"

Einhard tells us that Charlemagne said that if he had known he was going to be crowned Emperor, he wouldn't have gone to the church service. I don't think this was false modesty on Charlie's part; quite the opposite. For our Charlie, God had made him Emperor. All very well having a nice coronation ceremony AFTER he had declared himself Emperor, just to confirm God's choice, but being crowned Emperor BEFORE he had declared himself had nasty overtones that the Pope could choose. This interpretation may be subject to he objection that it is made with the knowledge of subsequent papal/imperial/royal disputes over division of powers, but all the same I can't see a better interpretation of Einhard. And Leo's motives were not just looking at Charlie but at Byzantium.


So I doubt whether Leo would have consulted astrologers. He had one opportunity, and one opportunity only, to crown Charlemagne

3/15/2015 at 4:40 PM

It's a nice story, Mark, but I have my doubts. Einhard is writing a generation later and he was writing to glorify Charlemagne. It's a nice touch, showing Charlemagne's supposed humility, but implausible. Scholars have noticed that if you were trying to get someone canonized and they didn't do anything else in their lives, you could at least make the point that they were humble. I give this one about about as much credence as the story about Charlemagne's ancestor St. Arnoul of Metz who turned back a raging fire by making the sign of the cross and multiplied the beer so that it served everyone ;)

There are two parts to my statement. The first is that the pope probably consulted astrologers. The second is that astrologers helped choose the date. You might be reading those to mean that the pope made his decisions based only on astrology, but that's not what I said and not what I meant.

The political situation was complex, as it is always is at any time and place. The pope had his struggles with the Eastern empire, which had claimed since the fall of Rome to be the heir also of the Western empire. In choosing to make Charlemagne the new Western emperor, the pope was taking a radically new direction. Charlemagne was (arguably) the most powerful ruler over whom the pope had nominal authority, so he was a good candidate, but that misses the point that the pope wasn't forced to take the step at all.

As far as choosing the date, medieval people didn't just get on airplanes and spend a few hours in a city. Charlemagne's trip to Rome was a lengthy journey and he spent some time in the city. Not only that, he had been in Italy several times before, on military campaigns.

Significantly, Einhard tells us that it was Alcuin, Charlemagne's chief adviser and the man who taught him astrology, who urged Charlemagne to make this trip. Charlemagne traveled in November 800 and was in Rome already on December 1, when he held a council there. He wasn't crowned until some 3 weeks later, on Christmas day.

I would suppose Charlemagne heard mass every day, like other medieval kings. I would find it incredible if he traveled to Rome, but heard mass only privately in his own quarters until, just that once, he decided to visit a Roman church.

I also find it hard to imagine that Pope Leo III, who was one of the popes who actively protected astrologers, would not have used them himself. The popes who banned astrology did so because they thought it was demonic and a denial of free will, not because they thought it was wrong. And, anyone savvy enough to be a pope would also be savvy enough to know what their enemies' astrologers might be saying.

What I would imagine is something like this. The pope hit on the plan of designating Charlemagne as emperor in the West, which would be flouting the claims of Empress Irene and could be disastrous. The obvious choice would be Charlemagne, who already controlled most of the old empire, and certainly the parts the pope cared about. Astrologers would be brought in to consult. "Yes, certainly, the chart we have for Charlemagne shows he would be an excellent choice. Right character, chart shows high ability as soldier and politician, and nothing here to suggest his impending downfall."

Then they would have turned to horary astrology, very popular in the middle ages but rare nowadays. The pope would have asked "Should I make Charlemagne the Western emperor?". And the astrologers would have drawn a chart for the time the question was asked. Here we can cuss a bit, because this chart would have been the decision pivot, but we have no way re-creating it because we don't know when the question was officially posed (unless the chart has been preserved in some corner of the Vatican archives). Presumably, the chart showed good things. Of course, we should remember that a cagey astrologer might have had some influence on setting the time, so some limited control over what the answer would be. It's the kind of question that can be made more positive or more negative by just waiting a few hours or days before officially asking.

Then pope would have turned to mundane astrology for choosing a date. It would be hard to beat the high solemnity of doing it at Christmas mass. but run that past the astrologers too, just to make sure those two malefics Mars and Saturn won't be in the wrong aspects on that day. I imagine the astrologers probably looked at several dates. I would guess the December 1 conference was one of them, and Christmas mass was another. It's possible that the astrologers said "Oooo, go with December 1" but the pope liked the symbolism and marketing opportunities for Christmas better. Just because Pope Leo would have consulted astrologers wouldn't mean that he always listened to them ;)

As it happens, Charlemagne's coronation chart is among the most famous in astrological history because it is considered to be the foundation chart for Western Civilization. (Similarly, the signing of the Declaration of Independence is the "birth chart" for the United States.)

I'm a little skeptical of the chart because I can't figure out where the information about the time of day came from, but if true it has Aries rising and the Sun conjunct the Midheaven in Capricorn. That's very nice timing, but not too hard to achieve for a December date with just a little bit of fussing about the exact time. It's the chart an astrologer would have chosen if asked to make sure Charlemagne's subsequent career was glorious.

I don't think it's possible to raise any serious doubts about the role of astrology in political decisions of this time.

3/15/2015 at 5:20 PM

I'm going to interject a little personal story here that might give an idea of what it's like to consult an astrologer about timing an event.

When my partner and I decided to get married, we had good business reasons for consulting an astrologer and for letting it be known that we were consulting an astrologer.

We had already decided to just fly down to Palm Springs for a few days and have the mayor perform the ceremony. We had some flexibility about when to do that, but had already set a date, made plane reservations, and scheduled it with the mayor's office.

When we talked to the astrologer, she ran our charts, and found that we are exceptionally compatible. (Of course.) But she didn't like the date and time. Very bad. Our marriage would begin to unravel within a few years if we did it then. She wanted us to get married the following day, which would be much better astrologically. A certain date a week later would be almost as good and a certain date the following summer would be spectacular.

Nope. Not going to change the date. So, we worked with the time of day. The aspects would be very bad before a particular time, but start turning more positive after that. If we could making just a bit later, it would still work.

So, we changed the appointment time at the mayor's office to be an hour later. I laughingly mentioned to the mayor's assistant that our astrologer wanted us to make the change. It's California. They can cope with these things.

As it happened, the mayor was half an hour early but he'd already been briefed. He apologized for being early and said he understood that we were dealing with an "astrological timing issue", so he suggested we all just sit and chat until time to start. Then he asked for the "target' time (10:11) and said he could pull it off. And he did. Exactly.

We got some major credit with certain business associates, and I got a great story to tell for the rest of my life ;)

3/16/2015 at 3:20 AM

Well, I know that according to our Chinese Horoscopes, my husband and I - the Tiger and the Dragon - are supposed to represent the explosive yoking of opposites to create balance between the West and the East. No small responsibility, but we do our best :-)

If I recall correctly, the slight variation in the accounts of the crowning by Charlemagne's scribe, and by the Pope's scribe - show quite clearly that the event itself was the site of a nuanced power struggle between church and state for the supreme right to instate the other; without losing the support and patronage of the other.

Charlemagne had just been called on to judge accusations against Pope Leo III of adultery and perjury; which awkward position ‘above’ the Pope he had dodged by setting up a church synod; which awkward position they dodged by saying they could not judge the Apostolic See – and allowed him to take an oath of innocence.

When , a few months later, Charlemagne is ‘jumped’ by the Pope (according to the version in the Royal Annals) at the Christmas ceremony when he rises from prayer to put his crown back on – it is hard not to see this as a calculated move to protect himself on the part of the Pope.

Whether or not a horoscope was a factor behind the Pope’s actions; it seems too opportunist - and too much of a large and lucky coincidence that Christmas day – the only day when he would find Charlemagne crownless at his feet – was also, fortuitously, the perfect astrological moment.

3/16/2015 at 7:55 AM

Delightful !

3/16/2015 at 9:44 AM


3/20/2015 at 11:29 PM

I did an interesting follow up today. I ran some transit charts for some of the events in Charlemagne's life, assuming he was born in 742 -- his father's death, his three coronations, the Battle of Roncevaux, and his death.

The charts for his father's death, for the battle, and for his own death are only interesting if the question is whether astrology works. There's not much there that would persuade anyone. The chart for his father's death shows an approaching conflict that is fated in some way (Mars to natal South Node). The chart for the Battle of Roncevaux suggests nothing more than a bad day. The chart for his death shows some difficulties, but none of the traditional indications of death.

The charts for his three coronations are, I think, much more interesting because they can potentially tell us whether the dates were chosen by astrologers.

The chart for his coronation as king of the Franks (768) doesn't show any indication that the date was chosen for astrological reasons. The only striking feature is the exact transit of Mars to his natal South Node. That's the same aspect that was just coming into play in the chart for his father's death. It suggests culmination of a conflict around his fate. If you believe in astrology, this might be a near-perfect description of the event, but I don't think any astrologer would be thinking it was a good time for a coronation.

The chart of his coronation as king of Lombards (774) is even less likely to have been chosen by an astrologer. The notable feature is that his natal North and South Nodes are square the transiting North and South Nodes, forming a Grand Cross. This type of aspect lasts for some time. It's not something you can fix by waiting a day or two. It's also just generally odd that it has the Sun in Cancer, a weak, watery sign, when waiting just two weeks would put the Sun in Leo, a royal sign.

I think an astrologer of the time might have warned Charlemagne that being crowned on that date he would never be able to solidify his hold on Lombardy and that it would always be a drain on him. My impression is that if any astrologer chose this date for the coronation it had to be a Lombard astrologer hoping to undermine Charlie's authority.

Finally, the chart of his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor (800) is a beautiful chart, exactly what an astrologer might choose if it had to be some time in the winter of 800/01. I already discussed that one, so I won't go through it again.

I spent quite a bit of time today thinking about how odd these results are. My gut says that Charlemagne can't have had a court astrologer until after 774, so tonight I looked it up -- Alcuin joined Charlemagne's court in 782 ;)

None of this is proof of anything, of course, but it's an indication of how we can eke out a few additional insights about our ancestors just by entering into their world view while we're researching.

3/20/2015 at 11:43 PM

I've enjoyed the "what would Charlemagne's astrologer have done?" discussion quite a lot. Thank you.

3/20/2015 at 11:49 PM

I'm happy to hear that. I think I'm done. At this point all my astrology buddies are running the other way. They seem to think that my questions are just an excuse to chat about genealogy ;)

3/21/2015 at 1:17 AM

Make your own astrological tree? What an interesting idea!

There was a statistician named Michel Gauquelin who spent a lifetime doing charts for famous people and looking for the similarities. He claimed to have proven that a statistically significant number of famous athletes and soldiers have a prominent Mars, politicians a prominent Jupiter, etc.

One of the things he discovered is that planetary patterns run in families. That's not news to astrologers. It's one of life's mysteries.

I was playing with this a few years ago. I ran just few charts for relatives. My natal chart has the Moon in Capricorn. So do the natal charts for two of my three sisters, our mother, her mother, and her mother. The odds of having the Moon in Capricorn are 1 in 12, so it's just a short run and not at all statistically significant. But it "feels" odd.

I stopped there. I never thought of creating something like an astrological tree. It wouldn't be hard to do something like that. Charts are generated by computers nowadays. There are plenty of Internet sites that will generate a free birth chart online. If you had a list of dates and places of birth you could easily do charts for all your great grandparents in half an hour.

3/27/2015 at 10:44 AM

I don't know ... but if we could do the math . my theory is that most people share a grandparent somewhere in their lineage ... .. but if it was restricted to certain bloodlines then we would know who to blame for the mess this world is in ...LOL :-) ... I know I have some relatives that did their part .

3/27/2015 at 4:05 PM

I just think that there were discontinuities in astrology, and people's reliance on it. Alcuin (and Bede) were interested in standardisng dates. Without this there could not be true astrology. Of course even without standardised dates there could be some sort of astrology; neolithic sites all over the place prove that they could predict equinoxes etc long before they could write. And there was a good and precise dating system during Roman times. But once you lost two consuls in Rome you had to find a new system. It did not come all at once. You can see in (for example) Chaucer that his audience were supposed to be highly sophisticated in astrological/astronomical phenomena. But no reason to suppose that 600 years before anyone had the same degree of knowledge.


3/27/2015 at 5:05 PM

Mark, that view seemed more certain a generation ago than it does now. One of the turning points was James Holden's A History of Horoscopic Astrology (1996).

Even before then, modern astrologers knew that there are hundreds of surviving medieval works that have never been translated. The "old school " academics from Oxford, Cambridge, and other universities didn't need translations. They spoke Latin and Greek, so they worked with the originals, if they had any interest at all.

Now, there are a handful of scholars who are devoting much of their careers to translating these old works. Every new translation brings a better understanding of concepts like sect, mutual reception, essential dignities and finding the almuten, firdaria, whether a planet is combust, etc., as well as great differences from modern astrology in simple things like house systems. It also becomes increasingly clear what we've known all along -- that astrology was an integral part of medicine (the four humors).

The problem was never one of not having standardized dates. They had the Easter tables to make the necessary conversions. The problem was level of contact with centers of culture. Italy and Spain recovered Greco-Roman astrology from the Arabs long before France, which was a backwater. And, the Jews either recovered astrology by about the 8th century, or had it all along.

As a broad outline for western Europe (outside the cultural centers in Italy and Spain, and outside the Jewish community in any given city), there was a rise of astrology under Charlemagne that only lasted through the reign of his son Louis the Pious.

Another peak from the 11th through 13th centuries, after the First Crusade through Aquinas. This was the period that also brought Aristotle back to Europe.

Another peak at the Renaissance through the 17th century with the fashion for Greco-Roman antiquity, carrying through the Elizabethans and the later rise of Rosrucianism and secret societies.

Then the final peak in the 19th and early 20th centuries with the fashion for hermetic lodges and esotericism in general.

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