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Starting ruler Charlemagne

Surviving as Charlemagne


*Requires the Charlemagne DLC

Charlemagne is easily one of the most recognizable names in early Medieval history, and thus may be a tempting character to play as. However, be warned. Surviving as King Karl “the Great” of West Francia and the Karling dynasty is not easy. While Charlemagne spawns with a vast kingdom and is quick to inherit most of western and central Europe, he is surrounded by threats, both internal and external.

*This guide and its screenshots uses most but not all of the other available dlcs.

General Notes


Grifo Karling

One of Charlemagne's cousins, has randomized stats every game. Useful as he and his brother are young, unmarried, unlanded, and possess no claims on your realm. Has a strong claim on Bavaria as well.

King Karloman of Middle Francia

Your brother and enemy Karloman, his untimely death could be a huge victory for Charlemagne

Geographic size: Large realm capable of pulling a fairly large number of troops for external conquest. West Francia is generally more powerful than most of its external neighbors. The largest external threat is the Umayyad Caliphate which can generally roughly match West Francia. The tribal pagans of eastern Europe around Saxony can also be dangerous through sheer quantity of troops, although they are largely light infantry and inferior quality. Pagan defensive attrition is also extremely dangerous, but they lack the offensive power of West Francia.

Great starting ruler: Charlemagne himself spawns with the brilliant strategist trait, generally has over 20 martial and around ten in every other stat. He is still young at 26 and unmarried, and is an extremely desirable marriage catch, allowing flexible options for alliances or genetics. He is also fairly healthy and tends to survive until at least his fifties, usually into his late 60s or early 70s, excluding unnatural deaths.

Decent starting land: Charlemagne can have a demesne cap of around 7-8, and starts out with 5 counties, four near Frisia and Vermandois as its capital in northeast France. Consider taking out weaker vassals early and confiscating as much land as possible before granting it to new allies.

Duke of Aquitaine

One of your many powerful and disloyal vassals. Notice the Occitan culture

Good dynasty: Charlemagne generally has a lot of control over his small and largely unlanded family. Charlemagne’s mother is very loyal and possesses excellent intrigue stats. His brother Karloman is an enemy as king of Middle Francia, but typically dies very early into the game, which grants Middle Francia. After his death, your nephew Pepin will generally flee to Italy, but rarely causes threats from there. You have a twelve-year-old sister who can be educated in your preferred stats. Your Karling cousins Karl and Grifo both are relatively young, unmarried, and always spawn with a strong claim on Bavaria and no claims on your own territory, consider pushing their claim in Bavaria if an external ally is needed. Charlemagne also has several illegitimate family members, including a son and daughter, as well as three illegitimate uncles and an aunt. He also has some minor familial relations with certain vassals, such as the Jerome-Karling dynasty.


Diplomatic isolation: West Francia is surrounded by multiple enemies and will find few truly powerful allies. Bavaria can generally be relied on to be at least neutral to West Francia, and your cousin Tassilo III is its starting ruler. The Kingdom of Lombardy can also be a reasonably useful ally but is notoriously fickle and allying them can delay or stop the creation of the HRE. The pope is generally friendly but far from the height of its power. Outside of these, most independent nations will generally be outright hostile, barely neutral, or too far away to warrant anything. By the early 800s, viking raiders will also begin raiding around Normandy and the northernmost coastline. The Umayyad Caliphate is a dangerous foe, however, generally focuses on crushing the Spanish kingdom of Asturias before targeting West Francia, giving you time to prepare.

Disappointing economy/tech: Charlemagne is not particularly rich despite his vast kingdom, and his personal martial skill means he pulls a lot of personal troops to pay for when engaged in wars. During peacetime income is adequate but hardly amazing, and wars can tax and slow down the Francian economy. Many of the counties also lack many buildings, so early investment can sometimes be difficult. Also, with the earliest starting date, all technology is very low, and it will take time to unlock the more useful bonuses associated with higher tech. Fortunately, technology is equally low across your many enemies, so expect low fort levels and very few navies early on.

Internal instability: The biggest challenge to Charlemagne is the internal threats. Charlemagne’s vassals are largely nominal and generally band together against you. Powerful dukes and counts litter your realm, and do not hesitate to form factions and revolt constantly. The large geographic realm also encompasses many different powerful nobles of different cultures, including German, Occitan, Dutch, and minor instances of other foreign cultures. Much of your eastern and southern provinces will be dangerously disloyal, and your western and northern frontiers are only slightly better.

Prince Theoderic

The monk prince and strong claimant to your throne. Despite possessing no personal troops or vast fortune, your disloyal vassals will flock to his cause at every opportunity.

Claimants: The Kingdom of West Francia spawns with two claimants, both with strong claims. The first is your younger brother Karloman, king of Middle Francia. Middle Francia on its whole is not strong enough to take out a full strength West Francia, but it will not hesitate to strike if West Francia is dangerously weakened. However, Karloman is usually embroiled in his own internal revolts, sometimes from vassals attempting to install Charlemagne as king of Middle Francia. He is also unpopular with his vassals, and assassination is an option if he becomes too threatening or survives the first few years. The second claimant, Théoderic de Merohingi, is seemingly harmless, but far more dangerous. Théoderic de Merohingi is the heir to your immediate predecessor, the last of the de Merohingi line of kings. On the surface, he is hardly a threat, he is an unlanded monk with mediocre stats, unable to call forth an army or produce heirs. However, many of your vassals see him as a better (or more malleable) king of West Francia and will form constant factions to replace Charlemagne with him. He is also very respected by many vassals, so finding fellow plotters to remove him is difficult and rarely gives a significant assassination chance. He is also is extremely young at 19 and could potentially loom as a factional claim threat for decades.

Terrible succession laws: Agnatic gavelkind is the starting succession law, and the low technology in the 700s means it will be decades before enough legalism tech can be invested in to unlock better succession laws. Expect at least a couple gavelkind successions and try to plan marriages and children accordingly. Additionally, consider adopting agnatic-cognatic quickly as there are only four starting males outside of Charlemagne, and your brother rarely survives long.

Alright, enough notes, let’s get to gameplay.

Before unpausing

It is important to note playing as Charlemagne gives unique events, although these can be turned off in the pre-game settings. For the purposes of this guide, the events will be turned on. While some of these can be ignored/skipped, others grant significant alterations to the game. The most important event is that when King Karloman of Middle Francia dies, his land goes to Charlemagne instead of his son Pepin, and Pepin will instead flee abroad.

Charlemagne should have a few goals before unpausing. The immediate short-term goals should be 1) target your vassals and weaken them as much as possible before they turn on you. 2) Consolidate and centralize power into Charlemagne at least enough to have a stable succession. These short-term goals should be completed as soon as possible and ensuring stability within your realm comes first. It is okay to surrender or white peace out of certain offensive wars to prevent internal revolts, you don’t have to win everything. Losing Charlemagne early is unlucky and challenging, but not unwinnable. Long-term goals can include creating the HRE or West Francian empire, replacing the pope with one personally loyal to West Francia, or eliminating the last de Merohingi claimant. While these long-term goals generally spill into the next few generations, it may be helpful to try to set the foundations for these goals early. Before unpausing, it also beneficial to appoint your mother as spymaster, as she is extremely talented at intrigue and a stalwart Charlemagne loyalist.

Duke of Flanders

The Duke of Flanders, one of your more powerful and disloyal vassals

Early Gameplay

Count Nibuling of Vexin

The most dangerous Count in West Francia. Notice his large family hold multiple ducal and county titles

Once unpausing, it is important to quickly go on the offensive against your vassals before it is too late. Start by taking out the weak vassals at the county level, do this through a mix of plots to seize land, rightful imprisonment of scheming vassals (and revocation if possible), claim-fabricating on their land, and assassinations. Direct vassals with no family will their land to Charlemagne when killed, so check to see if Charlemagne is heir to anything unusual. Most vassals are randomly generated and may spawn with no family. It is generally inadvisable to go after the more powerful dukes simultaneously, instead try isolating and destroying them one at a time. It may be tedious, but it is very effective. First, lap up as much land as your demesne limit will allow. After that, keep targeting your disloyal vassals whenever possible, and give the extra land to new loyal vassals. Try to target foreign culture vassals and take advantage of every opportunity if they arise. When choosing candidates for new land, try to give land to people who are unlanded and whose possible heirs are also unlanded, who are Frankish, and who have good vassal traits such as content. The dukes of Aquitaine, West-Frisia, Franconia, Flanders, and the count of Vexin tend to be the most powerful vassals, but random generation can shift this game to game. Additionally, try to target faction members and leaders, especially as they grow in strength.

Pope Stephanus III

The pope is usually willing to help, but generally lacks the power and prestige to directly challenge Charlemagne's enemies. It would be unwise to prematurely anger him.

Taking out disloyal vassals one at a time before they can organize into a fully fledged revolt is extremely useful for expanding your own power while decreasing theirs. Large-scale civil wars can be and often are devasting, as it drains all your resources while your external enemies grow stronger. If a large revolt breaks out for whatever reason, and victory is uncertain, it may be worth to white peace out instead of bankrupting levies and finances. Charlemagne will remain king, but the vassals will not be imprisoned. However, this gives Charlemagne time to recover and begin taking them down one by one, while they are still bound by truce. Using the same strategies of rightful imprisonment of schemers, plotting to revoke land, and assassinating vassals still works under the truce. Many of the vassals also have gavelkind as well, so killing those with multiple children will split the land and make them collectively less powerful. It is also important to note Charlemagne does not have a particularly high vassal limit, so Charlemagne will likely have to create many new ducal titles. Give the ducal titles to a vassal with a single county (part of the de jure duchy), and transfer vassalage (again part of the de jure duchy if possible) if necessary. It is also important to note that not every vassal needs to be targeted and destroyed, although many of them do, vassals who are loyal will be Frankish, Catholic, and those with at least 40 opinion are much less likely to cause trouble. It is not worth making every vassal your enemy, although few will meet this approximate outline of vassal loyalty.

Almost immediately into the game, Charlemagne will be hit with two unique events. The first is an event that makes Karl and Karloman rivals. The second is the option to marry a daughter of the King of Lombardy, accepting will automatically marry Charlemagne to Princess Gerberga Alachisling of Lombardy. Declining will cost 30 prestige but allow Charlemagne to choose his own spouse. Regardless of the choice, it is usually worth it to ally Lombardy in some way, but this is entirely up to the player. The third event is a plot from Charlemagne’s mother encouraging Karloman to accept Charlemagne as king of the Franks, however, seemingly has no immediate effects. Charlemagne will also have the option to legitimize his son Pepin, and again this is up to the player. It is usually advisable to not legitimize him unless Charlemagne is not married to someone fertile.

During the playthrough, it may be tempting to declare war on Middle Francia to press Charlemagne’s claim. Middle Francia is smaller, less powerful, and embroiled in similar internal instability. However, declaring this war is usually unnecessary. Karloman of Middle Francia is a king with much lower stats, as well as a tendency to lead troops personally into battle, despite being a poor commander and fighter. He tends to die very young, and his death transfers his realm to Charlemagne. If he is surviving too long, assassination is always an option, and additionally his vassals are just as disloyal as Charlemagne’s and they may attempt to press your claim in a revolt for you. Théoderic de Merohingi also has a strong claim to Middle Francia, so his existence also pressures Karloman as well. If for whatever reason none of these opportunities arise, a full strength West Francia has a significant but surmountable advantage over a full strength Middle Francia.