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MacLean, Simon

MacLean, Simon


Education: University of Glasgow, M.A., M.Phil.; University of London, Ph.D.


Office—School of History, University of St. Andrews, St. Katharine's Lodge, The Scores, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9AR, Scotland. E-mail—[email protected]


Historian, educator, and writer. University of St. Andrews, School of History, St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, lecturer.


The Reign of Charles III the Fat (876-888), University of London (London, England), 2000.

Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the End of the Carolingian Empire, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor and contributor, with Bjorn Weiler) Representations of Power in Medieval Germany 800-1500, Brepols (Turnhout, Belgium), 2006.

(Editor, with David Ditchburn and Angus Mackay) Atlas of Medieval Europe, 2nd edition, Routledge (London, England), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Past and Present, Early Medieval Europe, and War Studies Journal.


Simon MacLean is a historian whose interests include early medieval Europe (eighth to eleventh centuries), with an emphasis on the political, social, and cultural history of the Carolingian Empire and its successor kingdoms. He also teaches about and researches the Vikings, as well as kingship and queenship.

In his 2003 book Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the End of the Carolingian Empire, the author presents the first scholarly study of Charles III, who was the great-grandson of Charlemagne and served as emperor from 876 to 887, when he was disposed. In his book, the author analyzes the collapse of the pan-European Carolingian Empire through its last ruler. While many scholars have looked at the end of the empire as being brought on by inefficient and disastrous rulers, Mac- Lean challenges this conventional wisdom as both anachronistic and misdirected hindsight. The author argues that late-ninth-century politics within the Carolingian Empire was vital and offers a new way to examine the political history of the period along with new interpretations of medieval kingship, government, and even historical writing.

In his book, MacLean argues that one of the primary reasons for the end of the Carolingian dynasty was that, within a period of five years from 879 to 884, five Carolingian kings died, leaving only Charles to oversee the dynasty. When Charles sought out a way to create an heir, he was already ailing and was overthrown by the illegitimate son of Charles's brother, who conspired with an increasingly powerful aristocracy. "MacLean's fine study of late ninth-century politics reminds us not only that politics are local, but that they are, above all, personal," wrote John J. Contreni in History: Review of New Books.

Writing in the book's introduction, the author notes: "The conventional narrative of the end of the empire in the year 888 is still a story about the emergence of recognizable medieval kingdoms which would soon become modern nations—France, Germany, and Italy; about the personal inadequacies of late ninth-century kings as rulers; and about their powerlessness in the face of an increasingly independent, acquisitive and assertive aristocracy. This book is an examination of the validity of these assumptions, and aims to retell the story of the end of the Carolingian empire."

Following his introduction, the author examines how contemporary analysts have viewed Charles III. He outlines the rising power of the aristocracy and those he calls "supermagnates." After examining royal politics and regional power in the waning years of the Carolingian empire, MacLean explores the specifics of the empire's end, including the royal divorce and ultimately the final deposition of Charles the Fat in 887. The author writes in the book's introduction: "It is generally believed that Charles's loss of power reveals him to have been a failure, an unimaginative and personally weak do-nothing ruler in whose feeble grip the Carolingian empire, unprotected from internal conflict and Viking attack, was allowed to tear itself apart. The reign therefore symbolizes the end of an era." MacLean continues: "As a result of this, the issue of how the reign should be interpreted also has broader historiographical implications. The negative scholarly opinion which prevails about Charles the Fat is based less on critical study of the available evidence than on presuppositions about the course of Carolingian political history as a whole."

Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century received many strong reviews. Harry Rosenberg wrote in the Historian that the book is a "sturdy monograph" and noted that "an era and a monarch laughingly and badly represented" is reenvisioned "in the light of this detailed and precise review." Rosenberg noted the author's "great diligence, persistence, and imagination" and wrote that the author shows that "the contemporary historical sources have been ignored, abused by misinterpretation, or simply misread."

For his next book, MacLean served as the editor, with Bjorn Weiler, of Representations of Power in Medieval Germany 800-1500. The book features thirteen essays, including one by MacLean. The essayists focus on medieval Germany's political history and rulers. A special emphasis is placed on the representation of power in regional politics via a wide range of materials, from charters and material culture to love songs and literature. Among the topics discussed are the early Middle Ages, Carolingian Bavaria, Ottonian Germany, Frederick II, and the twelfth-century Renaissance.

MacLean is also the editor, with David Ditchburn and Angus Mackay, of the second edition of Atlas of Medieval Europe. The book begins with the fall of the Roman Empire and provides a history of medieval Europe to the beginning of the Renaissance. Using the most recent scholarly research, the more than fifty contributors provide insights into the major social, cultural, and political changes that occurred throughout the Middle Ages. Defining medieval Europe as the area from the Atlantic Coast to the Russian steppes, the book includes numerous illustrative maps with expert commentaries that help outline political and military developments, growth of cities, changing boundaries, and new patterns of settlement. A contributor to Medium Aevum called the atlas "a valuable work of reference," adding that "this second edition … offers welcome revisions."



MacLean, Simon, Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century: Charles the Fat and the End of the Carolingian Empire, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2003.


English Historical Review, April, 2005, Roger Collins, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century, p. 428.

Historian, fall, 2006, Harry Rosenberg, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century, p. 636.

History: Review of New Books, summer, 2004, John J. Contreni, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century.

History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October, 2004, Sarah Hamilton, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century, p. 627.

Medieval Review, August, 2005, Cullen Chandler, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century.

Medium Aevum, fall-winter, 2007, review of Atlas of Medieval Europe, p. 378.

Reference & Research Book News, August, 2006, review of Representations of Power in Medieval Germany 800-1500.

Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, January, 2006, Hans Hummer, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century, p. 231.


H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (April, 2005), Anna Taylor, review of Kingship and Politics in the Late Ninth Century.

University of St. Andrews School of History Web site, (April 28, 2008), faculty profile of author.

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