University students and high school seniors always come across these two words ‘Carolingian’ and ‘Caroline’ – the latter in reference to some remote islands – not to Queen Caroline of Somewhere. Let us delve a bit and find out more about both.
The Carolingian Empire refers to a mass of territories in Western Europe, ruled by the family of Charlemagne (q.v.) who lived from 768 – 814. Believe it or not the word ‘Carolingian’ derives from Charlemagne, and the complete phrase refers to a dynasty.
Ancestors of Charlemagne, Frankish aristocrats all, fought their way to supreme power under the Merovingian Kings – and from this we discover the origin of the term ‘Carolingian’. It was Charlemagne’s father Pepin III (son of Charles Martel q.v. and also known as ‘The Short’ who deposed the last of the Merovingians, Childeric III.
With Charlemagne at last in the seat of power, his Empire covered all modern France, plus part of Spain, Germany as far as the River Elbe, and much of Italy. He was crowned Emperor of the West by Pope Leo III in 800 (when he was thirty-two). This is when another mysterious phrase emerges – ‘The Carolingian Renaissance’ – referring to the Court of Learning and Study set up by the Emperor, who found most of the citizens in Europe dull, unwise, savage and uncultured. He was a bit of a savage himself, but a learnéd one.
Following the division of the Empire at the Treaty of Verdun (843), unavoidable civil war broke out between the Carolingians, exacerbated by frequent invasions by the Vikings, who were beginning to feel their mettle at this stage. To add to this, the ambitions of rival factions within the family helped worsen the situation, subjecting the Empire to unacceptable strain.
Still, Carolingians ruled as best they could in Germany until 911 and France until 987. It must be said that this dynasty governed a huge part of Europe wisely and well as long as it lasted; many other monarchies tried to emulate the Carolingian model, mostly in vain, though the Capets in France did tolerably well, as did the Plantagenets in England and Stuarts in both Scotland and England, while the Tudors gave England a notorious name for treachery and politicking. Russia’s Romanovs combined violence with ignorance and their reigns led directly to the Revolution, the Irish Kings, forever fighting each other, hardly helped their country towards stability.
The Caroline Islands
Though most people have never heard of them, the Caroline Islands number 963! You can find them in the north-west Pacific Ocean; they have been inhabited for more than two thousand years. Intrepid navigators found them in the sixteenth century.
Around 1885 they were Spanish, governed by them peacefully enough.In 1899 the Germans had them, for the usual reasons, and after 1914 the Japanese moved in, using the islands as a mostly naval base for military use during World War II.
After the War, in 1947, when cleaning and clearing up operations were set in motion by the Allies, the Carolines, Marshall and Mariana islands became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific (administered by the United States). In 1979 the Marshal Islands left Trust territory and the Northern Marianas in 1986.
The eastern part of the Caroline Islands became the Federated States of Micronesia, gaining independence in 1990. The western part became Palau or Belau (both names accepted), which became independent in 1994. And here comes the bit I expect you knew, students of the world! Micronesia and Palau have signed ‘Compacts of Free Association’ with the United States, which in practice means the US is responsible for their defence. In moments of deep thought, one wonders if Mr Obama knows that . . .