Widukind and Charlemagne
The Frankish King Charlemagne scored one of his most important victories here against the legendary Saxon Duke Widukind. In Paderborn he came to an agreement with the Pope about the conditions for his coronation as emperor. And he built churches and monasteries everywhere in the region, brought culture and education to the people. At historic locations, you can find out why Emperor Charlemagne was called "great" (Karl der Große).
In 772, in his fourth year as King of the Franks, Charlemagne came to Westphalia for the first time. His objectives: the conversion of the pagan Saxons to Christianity and the extension of his Kingdom.
He was only partly successful. Again and again, he fought against his neighbours and didn't break the last resistance until 804. Previously he had built churches, monasteries and castles to consolidate his rule and also to spread the new faith peacefully.
Already in the year 777 he called a National Diet at his Palatinate in Paderborn, where he also received Pope Leo III in 799. Important for the city: Paderborn was the Bishop's seat in this year. Important also for the history of the world: The two powerful men arranged a meeting for the year 800 in Rome, where Charlemagne was crowned Emperor. Parts of the Paderborn Palatinate have been preserved and can be seen under the roof of the "Museum in the Imperial Palace". The remains of another royal court can be found in Lügde, where Charlemagne is supposed to have celebrated Christmas with his entourage in 784.
The Saxon wars dragged on for more than three decades, because Charlemagne had more than one opponent. Some of the tribal leaders surrendered almost without a fight and immediately, others resisted much longer. And Widukind defied the actually far superior Franks so long and so fiercely that he became a mythical hero figure. His story is told by the Widukind Museum in Enger.
In the town, you can trace the myth along hiking trails. The Widukind trail, for example, leads to the ancient ruins of the Castle Babilonie, which is closely linked with the Saxon hero.
There is hardly any historical certainty about Widukind; no one even knows what he looked like. The monument in his honour in Herford therefore above all reflects the idea of an "old-Germanic" hero figure that prevailed in the late 19th century. The only thing that is certain is: Widukind was baptised in 785. And evidently, he was laid to rest in the Collegiate Church in Enger. Also a thorough exploration of the tomb revealed nothing to contradict this story. Therefore: if in doubt, the legend applies.
The Saxon Wars
You can get a good idea of how hard the Frankish troops had it, when you visit the ruins of Iburg on the crest of the Teutoburg Forest over Bad Driburg. along the hiking trail, you can see how well fortified and well defended the place was more than 1200 years ago. Nevertheless, Charlemagne's troops took the castle in 772, largely destroyed it and built a church as a sign of their triumph, whose foundations are also preserved. According to legend, the Saxon tree shrine of Irminsul is supposed to have stood here, which Charlemagne felled and burned.
In 777 some Saxon tribes surrendered in Paderborn. Others waged a lengthy, gruelling guerilla war with the Franks that did not even end with the baptism of Widukind in 785.
Where Charlemagne had won, he proved a gracious ruler. So also parts of Saxon tribal law were incorporated into his legislation for the conquered territories. In addition, the founding of monasteries under his successors paved the way for an economic and cultural boom. An impressive example today is the UNESCO World Heritage site at Corvey. But that's a different story again.