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When Fastrada married Charlemagne in 783, she was joining a court full of intellectuals, most of whom were foreigners. For the sake of storytelling, I couldn’t include all those scholars in my latest novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, but Alcuin of York appears as a secondary character. He is the master of the Palace School, teaching King Charles and his family.

Ever since I started researching 8th century Francia and Saxony, Alcuin has fascinated me. Although he lived more than 1,200 years ago, some of his ideas are relevant today. Below are a couple of gems I’ve come across.

In a letter to Meginfrid the chamberlain (although the real audience is King Charles), Alcuin outlined how the process of converting pagans to Christianity should work: teach first, then baptize, then expound on the Gospel. “And if any one of these three is lacking, the listener’s soul cannot enjoy salvation. Moreover, faith, as St. Augustine says, is a matter of will, not of compulsion. A person can be drawn to faith but cannot forced to it.”

Regarding the arts, he said, “My master Ecgberht used to tell me that the arts were discovered by the wisest of men, and it would be a deep and lasting shame if we allowed them to perish for want of zeal. But many are so faint-hearted as not care about knowing the reason for such things.”

That got me wondering: how did Alcuin become such a wise man? What was his origin story? See today’s post on English Historical Fiction Authors for the answer.

Charlemagne and Alcuin

Detail from 1830 painting by Jean-Victor Schnetz (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)