[Frontispiece: Gambetta proclaiming the Republic of France. From the painting by Howard Pyle.]
A SHORT HISTORY OF FRANCE
MARY PLATT PARMELE
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Copyright, 1894, By
WILLIAM BEVERLEY HARISON
Copyright, 1898, 1905, 1906, By
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Early Conditions in Gaul
Julius Caesar's Conquest of Gaul Lutetia
Birth of Christianity Its Dissemination Its Espousal by the Roman Empire Hunnish Invasion
The Frank in Gaul Clovis Rois-Faineants Charles Martel Mahometanism Pepin Seizes the Crown
Charlemagne Holy Roman Empire Treaty of Verdun
Invasions by Northmen Normandy Given to Invaders Feudalism Decline of Kingship Ascendancy of the Church Hugh Capet "Truce of God" William the Conqueror
Social Structure of France Free Cities Their Creation and Enfranchisement The Crusades Philip Augustus War with King John of England Toulouse and the Albigensian War
Abelard Louis IX. End of Crusades Philip III. Philip IV. and Papacy Creation of States-General Popes at Avignon Knights Templar Exterminated Change in Succession
Edward III. Claims French Throne Crecy Poitiers Treaty of Bretigny Charles V. and Bertrand du Guesclin Death of Black Prince Charles VI. A Mad King Feud Between Houses of Orleans and Burgundy Siege of Orleans Joan of Arc Charles VII.
Standing Army Created Louis XI. The Passing of Mediaevalism Charles VIII. Invasion of Italy Louis XII. Francis I. Struggle for Throne of the German Empire The Reformation
The House of Guise Marie Stuart Francis II. His Death Regency of Catharine de' Medici Her Designs Coligny Henry of Navarre His Marriage Charles IX. St. Bartholomew's Eve Henry III. His Death Henry of Navarre King
Edict of Nantes Ravaillac Louis XIII. Regency of Maria de' Medici Richelieu The Fronde
Louis XIV. Four Great Wars Revocation of Edict of Nantes A Victorious Coalition Death of Louis XIV. Louis XV.
John Law Life at Versailles Marriage of Dauphin Unseen Currents Approaching Crisis Death of Louis XV.
Louis XVI. American Revolution Turgot Necker States-General Summoned National Assembly Destruction of Bastille Revolution Lafayette Varennes The Temple Triumphant Jacobins Execution of the King Charlotte Corday Execution of Queen Fate of the Dauphin Girondists Philippe Egalite Revolution Ended
France a Republic Napoleon Bonaparte Breaking Chains in Italy Campo Formio Campaign in Egypt An Empire Rapid Steps from Toulon to Versailles A New Map of Europe Maria Louisa Moscow Leipsic Elba
Louis XVIII. Return of Napoleon Waterloo St. Helena Bourbon Restoration Charles X. Louis Philippe Revolution Second Republic Louis Napoleon
Second French Republic The Coup d'Etat Napoleon III. A "Liberator" in Italy Peace of Villafranca Suez Canal An Empire in Mexico Franco-Prussian War Sedan
Third French Republic The Commune The Germans in Paris Reconstruction from Thiers to Loubet Affaire Dreyfus Law of Associations Separation of Church and State Conference at Algeciras Election of M. Fallieres Conclusion
Sovereigns and Rulers of France
Gambetta, proclaiming the Republic of France . . . Frontispiece
Coronation of Charlemagne
Burning of Joan of Arc at Rouen, May 30, 1431
Napoleon at the Battle of Rivoli, January 14, 1797
Josephine crowned Empress, December 2, 1804, in Notre Dame Cathedral
The Revolution of July 28, 1830
A SHORT HISTORY OF FRANCE.
One of the greatest achievements of modern research is the discovery of a key by which we may determine the kinship of nations. What we used to conjecture, we now know. An identity in the structural form of language establishes with scientific certitude that however diverse their character and civilizations, Russian, German, Englishman, Frenchman, Spaniard, are all but branches from the same parent stem, are all alike children of the Asiatic Aryan.
So skilful are modern methods of questioning the past, and so determined the effort to find out its secrets, we may yet know the origin and history of this wonderful Asiatic people, and when and why they left their native continent and colonized upon the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Certain it is, however, that, more centuries before the Christian era than there have been since, they had peopled Western Europe.
This branch of the Aryan family is known as the Keltic, and was older brother to the Teuton and Slav, which at a much later period followed them from the ancestral home, and appropriated the middle and eastern portions of the European Continent.
The name of Gaul was given to the territory lying between the Ocean and the Mediterranean, and the Pyrenees and the Alps. And at a later period a portion of Northern Gaul, and the islands lying north of it, received from an invading chieftain and his tribe the name Brit or Britain (or Pryd or Prydain).
If the mind could be carried back on the track of time, and we could see what we now call France as it existed twenty centuries before the Christian era, we should behold the same natural features: the same mountains rearing their heads; the same rivers flowing to the sea; the same plains stretching out in the sunlight. But instead of vines and flowers and cultivated fields we should behold great herds of wild ox and elk, and of swine as fierce as wolves, ranging in a climate as cold as Norway; and vast, inaccessible forests, the home of beasts of prey, which contended with man for food and shelter.
Let us read Guizot's description of life in Gaul five centuries before Christ:
"Here lived six or seven millions of men a bestial life, in dwellings dark and low, built of wood and clay and covered with branches or straw, open to daylight by the door alone and confusedly heaped together behind a rampart of timber, earth, and stone, which enclosed and protected what they were pleased to call—a town."
Such was the Paris and such the Frenchmen of the age of Pericles! And the same tides that washed the sands of Southern Gaul, a few hours later ebbed and flowed upon the shores of Greece—rich in culture, with refinements and subtleties in art which are the despair of the world to-day—with an intellectual endowment never since attained by any people.
The same sun which rose upon temples and palaces and life serene and beautiful in Greece, an hour later lighted sacrificial altars and hideous orgies in the forests of Gaul. While the Gaul was nailing the heads of human victims to his door, or hanging them from the bridle of his horse, or burning or flogging his prisoners to death, the Greek, with a literature, an art, and a civilization in ripest perfection, discussed with his friends the deepest problems of life and destiny, which were then baffling human intelligence, even as they are with us today. Truly we of Keltic and Teuton descent are late-comers upon the stage of national life.
There was no promise of greatness in ancient Gaul. It was a great, unregulated force, rushing hither and thither. Impelled by insatiate greed for the possessions of their neighbors, there was no permanence in their loves or their hatreds. The enemies of to-day were the allies of to-morrow. Guided entirely by the fleeting desires and passions of the moment, with no far-reaching plans to restrain, the sixty or more tribes composing the Gallic people were in perpetual state of feud and anarchy, apparently insensible to the ties of brotherhood, which give concert of action, and stability in form of national life. If they overran a neighboring country, it seemed not so much for permanent acquisition, as to make it a camping-ground until its resources were exhausted.
We read of one Massillia who came with a colony of Greeks long ages ago, and after founding the city of Marseilles, created a narrow, bright border of Greek civilization along the southern edge of the benighted land. It was a brief illumination, lasting only a century or more, and leaving few traces; but it may account for the superior intellectual quality which later distinguished Provence, the home of minstrelsy.
It requires a vast extent of territory to sustain a people living by the chase, and upon herds and flocks; hence the area which now amply maintains forty millions of Frenchmen was all too small for six or seven million Gauls; and they were in perpetual struggle with their neighbors for land—more land.
"Give us land," they said to the Romans, and when land was denied them and the gates of cities disdainfully closed upon their messengers, not land, but vengeance, was their cry; and hordes of half-naked barbarians trampled down the vineyards, and rushed, a tumultuous torrent, upon Rome.
The Romans could not stand before this new and strange kind of warfare. The Gauls streamed over the vanquished legions into the Eternal City, silent and deserted save only by the Senate and a few who remained intrenched in the Citadel; and there the barbarians kept them besieged for seven months, while they made themselves at home amid uncomprehended luxuries.
Of course Roman skill and courage at last dislodged and drove them back. But the fact remained that the Gaul had been there—master of Rome; that the iron-clad legions had been no match for his naked force, and a new sensation thrilled through the length and breadth of Gaul. It was the first throb of national life. The sixty or more fragments drew closer together into something like Gallic unity—with a common danger to meet, a common foe to drive back.
Hereafter there was another hunger to be appeased besides that for food and land; a hunger for conquest, for vengeance, and for glory for the Gallic name. National pride was born.
For years they hovered like wolves about Rome. But skill and superior intelligence tell in the centuries. It took long—and cost no end of blood and treasure; but two hundred years from the capture of Rome, the Gauls were driven out of Italy, and the Alps pronounced a barrier set by nature herself against barbarian encroachments.
Italy was not the only country suffering from the destroying footsteps of the Western Kelts. There had been long before an overflow of a tribe in Northern Gaul (the Kymrians), which had hewed and plundered its way south and eastward; until at the time of Alexander (B.C. 340) it was knocking at the gates of Macedonia.
Stimulated by the success at Rome fifty years earlier, they were, with fresh insolence, demanding "land," and during the centuries which followed, the Gallic name acquired no fresh lustre in Greece. Half-naked, gross, ferocious, and ignorant, sometimes allies, but always a scourge, they finally crossed the Hellespont (B.C. 278), and turned their attention to Asia Minor. And there, at last, we find them settled in a province called Gallicia, where they lived without amalgamating with the people about them, and four hundred years after Christ were speaking the language of their tribal home in what is now Belgium. And these were the Galatians—the "foolish Galatians," to whom Paul addressed his epistle; and we have followed up this Gallic thread simply because it mingles with the larger strand of ancient and sacred history with which we are all so familiar.
It is not strange that Roman courage became a byword. The fibre of Rome was toughened by perpetual strain of conflict. Even while she was struggling with Gaul and with the memories of the Carthaginian wars still fresh at Rome, the Goths were at her gates—their blows directed with a solidity superior to that of the barbarians who had preceded them. Where the Gauls had knocked, the Goths thundered.
Again the city was invaded by barbarian feet, and again did superior training and intelligence drive back the invading torrent and triumph over native brute force.
Such, in brief outline, was the condition of the centuries just before the Christian era.
It is easy now to read the meaning of these agitated centuries, and to recognize the preparation for the passing of the old and the coming of the new.
The making of a nation is not unlike bread or cake making. One element is used as the basis, to which are added other component parts, of varying qualities, and the result we call England, or Germany, or France. The steps by which it is accomplished, the blending and fusing of the elements, require centuries, and the process makes what we call—history.
It was written in the book of fate that Gaul should become a great nation; but not until fused and interpenetrated with two other nationalities. She must first be humanized and civilized by the Roman, and then energized and made free from the Roman by the Teuton.
The instrument chosen for the former was Julius Caesar, and for the latter—five centuries later—Clovis, the Frankish leader.
It is safe to affirm that no man has ever so changed the course of human events as did Julius Caesar. Napoleon, who strove to imitate him 1800 years later, was a charlatan in comparison; a mere scene-shifter on a great theatrical stage. Few traces of his work remain upon humanity to-day.
Caesar opened up a pathway for the old civilizations of the world to flow into Western Europe, and the sodden mass of barbarism was infused with a life-compelling current. This was not accomplished by placing before the inferior race a higher ideal of life for imitation, but by a mingling of the blood of the nations—a transfusion into Gallic veins of the germs of a higher living and thinking—thus making them heirs to the great civilizations of antiquity.
Was any human event ever fraught with such consequences to the human race as the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar?
The Gallic wars had for centuries drained the treasure and taxed the resources of Rome. Caesar conceived the audacious idea of stopping them at their source—in fact, of making Gaul a Roman province.
It was a marvellous exhibition, not simply of force, but of force wielded by supreme intelligence and craft. He had lived many years among this people and knew their sources of weakness, their internal jealousies and rivalries, their incohesiveness. When they hurled themselves against Rome, it was as a mass of sharp fragments. When the Goths did the same, it was as one solid, indivisible body. Caesar saw that by adroit management he could disintegrate this people while conquering them.
By forcibly maintaining in power those who submitted to him, being by turns gentle and severe, ingratiating here, terrifying there, he established a tremendous personal force; and during nine years carried on eight campaigns, marvels in the art of war, as well as in the subtler methods of negotiation and intrigue. He had successively dealt with all the Keltic tribes, even including Great Britain, subjugating either through their own rivalries, or by his invincible arm.
Equally able to charm and to terrify, he had all the gifts, all the means to success and empire, that can be possessed by man. Great in politics as in war, as full of resource in the forum as on the battle-field, he was by nature called to dominion.
It was not as a patriot, simply intent upon freeing Rome of an harassing enemy, that he endured those nine years in Gaul; not as a great leader burning with military ardor that he conducted those eight campaigns. The conquest of Gaul meant the greater conquest of Rome. The one was accomplished; he now turned his back upon the devastated country, and prepared to complete his great project of human ascendency.
Rome was mistress of the world; he—would be master of Rome.
In the early days of the conquest of Gaul a small island lying in the river Seine was chosen for the residence of the Roman Governors, and called Lutetia. The residence soon grew into the Palace of the Caesars; and then bridges spanned the river, and roads and aqueducts and faubourgs sprang into existence across the Seine, and Lutetia was swallowed up in Paris—so named for a Gallic tribe, the Parisii, which had once encamped there. Standing within the Palais de Justice on this island to-day, one is in direct touch with Rome when she was mistress of the world. The feet of the Caesars have pressed those stones. Those vaulted ceilings have looked down upon Julian the Apostate; he who upon his throne in the far East sighed for "Lutetia"—his "dear Lutetia."
At Passy and Montmartre, and where stands the Palais Royal, rich Romans had their suburban homes, and Roman legions were encamped where are now the Palais de Luxembourg and the Sorbonne. And with a mingling of Keltic and Latin, there had commenced a new form of human speech.
Not Paris alone, but all of Gaul felt the awakening touch of a great civilization, and with improved ideals in living there came another great advance. The human sacrifices and abhorrent practices of the Druidical faith were abandoned, and Jupiter and Minerva and the gods of Parnassus supplanted the grim deities of a more ancient mythology. But while Rome was a powerful teacher, she was a cruel mistress—and shackles were galling to these free barbarians. In the midst of universal misery there came tidings of something better than the gods of Parnassus, when in A.D. 160 Irenaeus came to Lyons and there established the first Church of Christ; and here it was that Marcus Aurelius ordered the persecution which was intended to stamp out the new and fanatical heresy.
While the Star of Empire was thus moving toward the West, another and brighter star had arisen in the East. So accustomed are we to the story, that we lose all sense of wonder at its recital.
Julius Caesar's brief triumph was over, Marc Antony had recited his virtues over his bier, Rome had wept, and then forgotten him in the absorbing splendors of his nephew Augustus. In an obscure village of an obscure country in Asia Minor the young wife of a peasant finds shelter in a stable, and gives birth to a son, who is cradled in the straw of a manger from which the cattle are feeding.
Can the mind conceive of human circumstances more lowly? The child grew to manhood, and in his thirty-three years of life was never lifted above the obscure sphere into which he was born; never spoke from the vantage-ground of worldly elevation; simply moving among people of his own station in life, mechanics, fishermen, and peasants, he told of a religion of love, a gospel of peace, for which he was willing to die.
Who would have dreamed that this was the germ of the most potent, the most regenerative force the world had ever known? That thrones, empires, principalities, and powers would melt and crumble before His name? Of all miracles, is not this the greatest?
The passionate ardor with which this religion was propagated in the first two centuries had no motive but the yearning to make others share in its benefits and hopes; and to this end to accept the belief that Jesus Christ had come in fulfilment of the promise of a Saviour—who should be sent to this world clothed with divine authority to establish a spiritual kingdom, in which he was King of kings, Lord of lords, Meditator between us and the Father, of whom he was the "only begotten Son."
The religion in its essence was absolutely simple. Its founder summed it up in two sentences: expressing the duty of man to man, and of man to God. That was all the theology he formulated.
For two centuries the religion of Christ was an elemental spiritual force. It appealed only to the highest attributes and longings of the human soul, and under its sustaining influence frail women, men, and even children were able to endure tortures, of which we cannot read even now without shuddering horror.
Nature's method of gardening is very beautiful. She carefully guards the seed until it is ripe, then she bursts the imprisoning walls and gives it to the winds to distribute. Precisely such method was used in disseminating Christianity. It was not for one people—it was for the healing of the nations, and its home was wherever man abides.
Nearly five decades after Christ's death upon the cross, Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus. The home of Christianity was effaced. At just the right moment the enclosing walls had broken, and freed to the winds the germs in all their primitive purity.
Imperial favor had not tarnished it, human ambitions had not employed and degraded it, nor had it been made into complex system by ingenious casuists. The pure spiritual truth, unsullied as it came from the hand of its founder, was scattered broadcast, as the band of Christians dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, naturally forming into communities here and there, which became the centres of Christian propagandism. Lyons in Gaul was such a centre.
The fires of persecution had been lighted here and there throughout the empire, and the Emperor Nero, under whom the Apostles Peter and Paul are said to have suffered martyrdom, had amused himself by making torches of the Christians at Rome. But until A.D. 177 Gaul was exempt from such horrors.
Marcus Aurelius—that peerless pagan—large in intelligence, exalted in character, and guided by a conscientious rectitude which has made his name shine like a star in the lurid light of Roman history, still failed utterly to comprehend the significance of this spiritual kingdom established by Christ on earth. He it was who ordered the first persecution in Gaul. In pursuance of his command, horrible tortures were inflicted at Lyons upon those who would not abjure the new faith.
A letter, written by an eye-witness, pictures with terrible vividness the scenes which followed. Many cases are described with harrowing detail, and of one Blandina it is said: "From morn till eve they put her to all manner of torture, marvelling that she still lived with her body pierced through and through and torn piecemeal by so many tortures, of which a single one should have sufficed to kill her; to which she only replied, 'I am a Christian.'"
The recital goes on to tell how she was then cast into a dungeon—her feet compressed and dragged out to the utmost tension of the muscles—then left alone in darkness until new methods of torture could be devised.
Finally she was brought, with other Christians, into the amphitheatre, hanging from a Cross to which she was tied, and there thrown to the beasts. As the beasts refused to touch her she was taken back to the dungeon to be reserved for another occasion, being brought out daily to witness the fate and suffering of her friends and fellow-martyrs; still answering the oft-repeated question, "I am a Christian."
The writer goes on to say, "After she had undergone fire, the talons of beasts, and every agony which could be thought of, she was wrapped in a network and thrown to a bull, who tossed her in the air"—and her sufferings were ended.
Truly it cost something to say "I am a Christian" in those days.
Marcus Aurelius probably gave orders for the persecution at Lyons, with little knowledge of what would be the nature of those persecutions, or of the religion he was trying to exterminate. Some of the hours spent in writing introspective essays would have been well employed in studying the period in which he lived, and the empire he ruled.
Paganism and Druidism, those twin monsters, receded before the advancing light of Christianity. Neither contained anything which could nourish the soul of man, and both had become simply badges of nationality.
Druidism was the last stronghold of independent Gallic life. It was a mixture of northern myth and oriental dreams of metempsychosis, coarse, mystical, and cruel. The Roman paganism which was superimposed by the conquering race was the mere shell of a once vital religion. Educated men had long ceased to believe in the gods and divinities of Greece, and it is said that the Roman augurs, while giving their solemn prophetic utterances, could not look at each other without laughing.
In the year 312—alas for Christianity!—it was espoused by imperial power. When the Emperor Constantine declared himself a Christian, there was no doubt rejoicing among the saints; but it was the beginning of the degeneracy of the religion of Christ. The faith of the humble was to be raised to a throne; its lowly garb to be exchanged for purple and scarlet; the gospel of peace to be enforced by the sword.
The empire was crumbling, and upon its ruins the race of the future and social conditions of modern times were forming. Paganism and Druidism would have been an impossibility. Christianity, even with its lustre dimmed, its purity tarnished, its simplicity overlaid with scholasticism, was better than these. The miracle had been accomplished. The great Roman Empire had said, "I am Christian."
A belief in the gods of Parnassus, which Rome had imposed upon Gaul, had now become a heresy to be exterminated. If fires were lighted at Lyons or elsewhere, they were for the extermination not of Christians, but of pagans, and of all who would depart from the religion of Christ as interpreted by Rome. It was a death-bed repentance for the cruel old empire, a repentance which might delay, but could not avert a calamitous ending, and an unexpected event was near at hand which would hasten the coming of the end.
It was in the year A.D. 375 that the Huns, a terrible race of beings, came out from that then mysterious but now historic region, lying between China and Russia, and surged into Europe under the leadership of Attila, sweeping before them as they came Goths, Vandals, and other Teutonic races, as if with a predetermined purpose of forcing the uncivilized Teuton into the lap of a perishing civilization in the south. Then having accomplished this, after the defeat of Attila at Chalons in A.D. 453, they disappeared forever as a race from the stage of human events.
This is the time when Paris was saved by Genevieve, the poor sheperdess, who, like an early Joan of Arc, awoke the people from the apathy of despair, and led them to victory—and is rewarded by an immortality as "Saint Genevieve," the patron saint of Paris. It would seem that the vigilance of the gentle saint has either slept or been unequal to the task of protecting her city at times!
It was the combined forces of the Goth and the Frank which drove this scourge out of Europe. Meroveus, or Meroveg, the leader of the Franks in this great achievement, once the terror of the Gallic people, was now their deliverer. He had won the gratitude of all classes, from bishops to slaves, throughout Gaul, and fate had thus opened wide a door leading into the future of that land.
Gaul had been Latinized and Christianized. Now one more thing was needed to prepare her for a great future. Her fibre was to be toughened by the infusion of a stronger race. Julius Caesar had shaken her into submission, and Rome had chastised her into decency of behavior and speech, but as her manners improved her native vigor declined. She took kindly to Roman luxury and effeminacy, and could no longer have thundered at the gates of her neighbors demanding "land."
The despotism of a perishing Roman Empire had become intolerable; and the thoughts of an overtaxed and enslaved people turned naturally to the Franks. They had rescued them from one terrible fate, might they not deliver them from another? And so it came about that the young savage Chlodoveg, or Clovis, grandson of Meroveus, found himself master of the fair land long coveted beyond the Rhine; and Gaul and Roman alike were submerged beneath the Teuton flood, while Clovis, sitting in the Palace of the Caesars, on the island in the Seine, was wearing the kingly crown, and independent and dynastic life had commenced in what was hereafter to be not Gaul, but France.
But the king of whom she had dreamed was of her own race; not this terrible Frank. Had she exchanged one servitude for another? Had she been, not set free, but simply annexed to the realm of the barbarian across the Rhine? Let us say rather that it was an espousal. She had brought her dowry of beauty and "land," that most coveted of possessions, and had pledged obedience, for which she was to be cherished, honored, and protected, and to bear the name of her lord.
It will be well not to examine too closely the conversion of Clovis to Christianity, any more than that of Constantine to the religion of Christ, or that of Henry VIII. to Protestantism. The only thing Clovis wanted of the gods was aid in destroying his enemies. At a certain dark moment, when the pagan deities failed him, and the tide of battle was turning against him, in desperation he offered to become a Christian, if the God of the Christians would save him. He kept his word. His victory was followed by Christian baptism, and the Church had won a great defender, whose ferocious instincts were thereafter to be directed toward the extermination of unbelievers. And while hewing and consolidating and bringing his kingdom into form, whether by treacheries or intrigues or assassination, this converted Frank was not alone defender of the faith, but of the orthodox faith. The Visigoth kingdom in Spain was given over to that heresy known as Arianism! So in a crusade, like another of a later date, he swept them over beyond the Pyrenees, thus establishing a frontier which always remained.
Such were the rough beginnings of France, geographically and historically.
Ancient heroes are said to be seen through a shadowy lens, which magnifies their stature. Let us hope that the crimes of the three or four generations immediately succeeding Clovis have been in like manner expanded; for it is sickening to read of such monstrous prodigality of wickedness; whole families butchered—husbands, wives, children, anything obstructing the path to the throne—with an atrocity which makes Richard III. seem a mere pigmy in the art of intrigue and killing. The chapter closes with the daughter and mother of kings (Brunhilde or Brunhaut), naked, and tied by one arm, one leg, and her hair to the tail of an unbroken horse, and amid jeers and shouts dashed over the stones of Paris (A.D. 600).
Upon the death of Clovis his inheritance was divided among four sons, who, with their wives and families and their tempestuous passions, afforded material for a great epic. Whether Fredegunde or Brunhilde was the more terrible who can say? But the story of these rival queens, with their loves and their hatreds and their ambitious, vengeful fury, is more like the story of demons than of women. But these conditions led to two results which played a great part in subsequent events. One was the exclusion of women from the succession by the adoption of the Salic Law. Then, in order to curb the degeneracy or to reinforce the inefficiency of the hereditary ruler, there was created the office of Maire du Palais, a modest title which contained the germ of the future, not alone of France, but of the world.
To imperfect human vision it would have seemed at the time a fatal mistake to bury out of sight the refinements which a Latin civilization had been for nearly five centuries planting in Gaul. But so often has this been repeated in the history of the world, one is compelled to recognize it as a part of the evolutionary method. Again and again have we seen old civilizations effaced by barbarians. But these barbarians with their coarseness and brutality have usually brought something better than refinement; a spirit so transforming, so vitalizing, that we are compelled to believe it was the end sought in the catastrophe we deplore: that is, a spirit of liberty, a sense of personal independence, without which the refinements of art, even reinforced by genius, are unavailing. Such was undoubtedly the invigorating leaven brought into Gaul by the Frank, although for a time he succumbed to the enervating Gallic influence, and, while conquering and subduing, was himself conquered and subdued.
The cultivated Roman in his toga appealed to the imagination of the fine barbarian; the habits of the Romanized cities were a tempting model for imitation. Bridges, aqueducts, palaces, with their splendid mingling of strength and beauty, fragments of which still linger to convince us of our inferiority, these were awe-inspiring to the Frank and filled him with longings to drink deep at this fountain of civilization. The heroic strain brought by Clovis was quickly enfeebled and debauched by luxury. The court of the Merovingian king became a miserable assemblage of half-Romanized barbarians covered with the frayed and worn-out mantle of imperialism. It is a strange picture we have of this descendant of Clovis, this Roi Faineant (Do-nothing King) in a royal procession on a state occasion. Curled and perfumed, he emerges from the Palais des Thermes, attended in great pomp by Romans and Romanized Frankish warriors. Then, in remembrance of the primitive simplicity of his ancestral line, sitting alone in a wagon drawn by bullocks, he leads the pageant through the narrow streets of old Paris.
But while masquerading as a simple barbarian he was only a poor imitator of the vices and dregs of a perishing civilization. But in proof that virility was still a characteristic of the Frank in Gaul, we are told that while the Church and the offices of State were filled by Romans or Gallo-Romans, the army at this time was composed entirely of Franks.
With the degeneracy of these Rois Faineants the kingdom of Clovis was gradually shrinking, and men were already waiting to seize the power as it fell from incompetent hands. When Clovis made gifts of large estates to reward, or to purchase, followers, Roman or Gallic, he laid the foundations of a system which would prove fatal to his successors. With these estates came titles and authority, multiplying and growing with each succeeding reign. A count, who was the chief officer of a county, was in fact the sovereign of a small state, and so on a smaller scale were a duke or a marquis. And it was to these smaller bodies that the power naturally gravitated as it vanished from the throne.
This meant disintegration into helpless fragments, and this meant the end of a Frankish kingdom, unless some power should arise great enough to compel the crumbling state to become homogeneous.
It was a Romanized-Frankish family dwelling in the Valley of the Rhine which saved the kingdom of Clovis from this fate. France had already fallen apart into an eastern and a western kingdom, known respectively as Austrasia and Neustria. A certain Duke of Austrasia, known as Pepin the Elder, was the forerunner of the Carlovingian line of kings. With him the centralizing force began to work with saving power. The one end kept in view was the restoration of the power of kingship—the strengthening of the power at the centre. To this end, from generation to generation, these early Pepins steadily moved. In 687 Pepin the Younger, grandson of the Elder, by a victory at Testry over Neustria, brought together these two sundered divisions under himself, with the new title Duke of the Franks. The Pepins had already succeeded in making the office of Maire du Palais hereditary in their family, and in the year A.D. 732, Charles, son and successor of Pepin the Younger, made himself forever the hero not of France alone, but of Christendom, by driving the Saracen invasion back over the Pyrenees, and was in turn succeeded by his son, Pepin the Short, who seized the Merovingian crown itself; this remarkable family, the appointed channel for the centralizing forces, reaching its climax in his son Charlemagne; creator of a Holy Roman Empire.
There had appeared an enemy to the true faith more to be feared than paganism.
Less than one hundred years after the death of Clovis, there had come out of Asia, that birthplace of religions, a new faith, which was destined to be for centuries the scourge of Christendom, and which to-day rules one-third of the human family. Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, had successively come with saving message to humanity, and now (A.D. 600) Mahomet believed himself divinely appointed to drive out of Arabia the idolatry of ancient Magianism (the religion of Zoroaster).
Christianity had passed through strange vicissitudes. Kings, emperors, popes, and bishops had been terrible custodians of its truths; and while many still held it in its primitive purity, ecclesiastics were fiercely righting over the nature of the Trinity, the divinity of the Virgin Mother, and the Church was shaken to its foundation by furious factions.
In this hour of weakness the Persians (A.D. 590) had conquered Asia Minor. Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary were profaned; the Holy Sepulchre had been burned, and the cross carried off amid shouts of laughter. Magianism had insulted Christianity, and no miracle had interposed! The heavens did not roll asunder, nor did the earth open her abysses to swallow them up. There was consternation and doubt in Christendom.
Such was the state of the Church when Mahometanism came into existence. "There is but one God, and Mahomet is his Prophet." Such was its battle-cry and its creed, and the moral precepts of the Koran were its gospel. There seems nothing in this to account for the mad enthusiasm and the passion for worship in its followers. But in less than a hundred years this lion out of Arabia had subjugated Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Northern Africa, and the Spanish Peninsula. Now, sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, the Mahometan had crossed the Pyrenees and was in Southern Gaul.
Under the strange magic of this faith the largest religious empire the world had known had sprung into existence, stretching from the Chinese Wall to the Atlantic; from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean; and Jerusalem, the metropolis of Christianity—Jerusalem, the Mecca of the Christian—was lost! The Crescent floated over the birthplace of our Lord, and, notwithstanding the temporary successes of the Crusades, it does to this day.
If the Pyrenees were passed the very existence of Christendom was threatened. Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, averted this danger when he stayed the infidel flood at the battle of Tours, A.D. 732.
The Merovingian kings, if not devout, were faithful sons of the Church, and when the pope appealed to the last Merovingian king to protect him from the Lombards, near the end of the eighth century, Pepin, then Maire du Palais, but holding supreme power, twice crossed the Alps with an army, wrested five cities and a large extent of territory from the enemies of the pope, which, upon parting, he tossed as a gift into the lap of the Church. And this, known as the Donation of Pepin, was the beginning of the temporal power of the popes in Italy. So when Pepin resolved to assume the crown, Pope Zacharias in gratitude sanctioned the audacious act, by sending his representative to place the symbol of power upon the head of this faithful son and usurper! (A.D. 751.)
But this was only the stepping-stone for a greater elevation. When Pope Adrian I. again needed protection from the Lombard, a greater than Pepin was wearing the crown his father had audaciously snatched.
Against the dark background of European history, and with the broad level of obscurity stretching over the ages at its feet, there rises one shining pinnacle. Considered as man or sovereign, Charlemagne is one of the most impressive figures in history. His seven feet of stature clad in shining steel, his masterful grasp of the forces of his time, his splendid intelligence, instinct even then with the modern spirit, all combine to elevate him in solitary grandeur.
Charlemagne found France in disorder measureless, and apparently insurmountable. Barbarian invasion without, and anarchy within; Saxon paganism pressing in upon the north, and Asiatic Islamism upon the south and west; a host of forces struggling for dominion in a nation brutish, ignorant, and without cohesion.
It is the attribute of genius to discern opportunity where others see nothing. Charlemagne saw rising out of this chaos a great resuscitated Roman Empire, which should be at the same time a spiritual and Christian empire as well. Saxons, Slavs, Huns, Lombards, Arabs, came under his compelling grasp; these antagonistic races all held together by the force of one terrible will, in unnatural combination with France. No political liberties, no popular assemblies discussing public measures; it is Charlemagne alone who fills the picture; it is absolutism—marked by prudence, ability, and grandeur, but still, absolutism.
The pope looked approvingly upon this son of the Church, by whose order 4,500 pagan heads could be cut off in one day, and a whole army compelled to baptism in an afternoon. Here was a champion to be propitiated. Charlemagne, on the other hand, saw in the Church the most compliant and effective means to empire.
His fertile mind was conceiving a vast design by which he might reign over a resuscitated Roman Empire. In the dual sovereignty of his dream, the pope was to be the spiritual and he the temporal head. Mutually dependent upon each other, the election of the pope would not be valid without his consent. Nor would the emperor be emperor until crowned by the pope. The Church might use him as a sword, but he would wear the Church as a precious jewel in his crown.
It was a splendid dream, splendidly realized; the most imposing of human successes, and the most impressive of human failures. It seems designed as a lesson for the human race in the transitory nature of power applied from without.
A pyramid of such colossal proportions could only be kept from falling in pieces by another Colossus like himself. The vast fabric resting upon one human will, passed with its creator; was gone like a shadow when he was gone.
It will be remembered that the Roman Empire in its decay fell into two parts, a Western and an Eastern empire. The dying embers of the Western empire, which had been fanned into a feeble flame in the sixth century by Justinian, Emperor of the East, were threatened with complete extinguishment by the Lombards in the eighth; from which calamity they were saved, as we have seen, by Pepin. So when the Franks were again appealed to, Charlemagne saw his opportunity. With plans fully matured he responded, and with the consent and acquiescence of the pope he took formal possession of the whole of Italy, annexing to his own dominions the crumbling wreck of a magnificent past. And when Leo III. placed upon his head the crown, and pronounced "Carolus-Magnus, by the grace of God Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire" (A.D. 800), the authority of the pope was placed upon unassailable heights, and France had become the centre of a world-wide dominion.
Little did pope or emperor dream of what was to happen; that after a brief and dazzling interlude the imperial crown would never be worn in France; and that the popes would for centuries be insulted and treated as contumacious vassals by German emperors. And France—France, the centre of this dream of a magnificent unity—in less than fifty years, with her native incohesiveness, and in the irony of fate, would have broken into fifty-nine fragments, loosely held together by a feeble Carlovingian king.
The plan of a dual sovereignty of pope and emperor might have been wise had both been immortal! But it was the triple division of the empire brought about by Charlemagne's three grandsons which overthrew the entire scheme of its founder.
Upon the death of Charlemagne, in A.D. 814, the crown and the sceptre of the empire passed to his son Louis (the later form of Clovis). This feeble son of Charlemagne, known as Louis the Debonnaire, struggled under the weight of the crumbling mass until his death in 840. Then Charlemagne's three ambitious grandsons fought for the great inheritance. Lothaire, who claimed the whole by right of primogeniture, was defeated at the battle of Fontenay in Burgundy, and by the treaty of Verdun in 843 the partition of the empire was consummated; the title of emperor passing to Lothaire, the eldest, along with Italy and a strip of territory extending to the North Sea, all west of that being arbitrarily called France, and all east of it Germany.
So the European drama was unfolding upon lines entirely unexpected. Not only had the empire fallen apart into three grand divisions, but France itself was disintegrating, was in fact a mass of rival states, with counts, princes, marquises, and a score of other petty potentates struggling for supremacy.
The rough outlines of something greater than France—the outlines of a future Europe—were being drawn. It is easy to see now what was then so incomprehensible: that from the chaos of barbarism left by the Teuton flood, there were emerging in that ninth century a group of states with definite outlines, and the larger organism of Europe was coming into form. The treaty of Verdun (843) had roughly separated Italy, France, and Germany. At the same time the Heptarchy in Britain had been consolidated into England under King Alfred; while an obscure Scandinavian adventurer named Rurik, quite unobserved, was bringing into political unity, and reigning at Kieff as Grand Duke over what was to become Russia. Spain, quite apart from all this movement, had entered upon those seven centuries of struggle with Saracen and Moor, that struggle of unmatched devotion and tenacity of purpose which is really the great epic of history.
Those ambitious and too powerful vassals were not the greatest evils menacing the Carlovingian kings. It was the incessant invasions of a race of barbarians coming out of the north, which was going to bury the past under a ruin of a different sort. There seemed no defence from these Northmen, as they were called, who swarmed like destroying insects upon the coast, up the rivers, and over the lands; three times sacked Paris, the scars to-day being visible in that impressive Roman ruin, the Palais des Thermes, the home of the Caesars, and of the Merovingian kings, which they partially burned.
Fortified castles with towers and moats and drawbridges sprang up all over the kingdom for the protection of the rich. After seven invasions all the old cities, Rouen, Nantes, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Orleans, Beauvais, had been devastated, and France in coat of mail was hiding behind stone walls.
In looking through the vista of centuries it is easy to read the eternal purpose in the chain of cause and effect; and also to see that events, no less than kings, have their pedigrees. The terrible child of the Northman was the Feudal System; which was again the father of those romantic and picturesque children, the Crusades; and these, the creators of a European civilization, whose children we are!
Who can imagine the course of history with any one of these removed—each an apparently inevitable step in the unfolding of a mighty design, utterly incomprehensible at the time?
Someone has said that "the Lord must like common people, because he made so many of them." The path for the common people in France at this time led through heavy shadows. But a darker time was approaching. A system of oppression was maturing which was soon to envelop them in the obscurity of darkest night.
Those Scandinavian freebooters called Northmen, and later Normans, were the scourge of the kingdom. Nothing was safe from their insolent courage and rapacity.
The rich could intrench themselves in stone fortresses, with moats and drawbridges, and be in comparative security, but the poor were utterly defenceless against this perennial destroyer. The result was a compact between the powerful and the weak, which was the beginning of the feudal system. It was in effect an exchange of protection for service and fealty.
You give us absolute control of your persons—your military service when required, and a portion of your substance and the fruit of your toil—and we will in exchange give you our fortified castles as a refuge from the Northmen. Such was the offer. It was a choice between vassalage, serfdom, or destruction outright.
Simple enough in its beginnings, this became a ramified system of oppression, a curious network of authority, ingeniously controlling an entire people. The conditions upon which was engrafted this compact were of great antiquity, had indeed been brought across the Rhine by the German conquerors; but the Northmen were the impelling cause of the swift development of feudalism in France.
Charlemagne had felt grave apprehensions of evil from these robber incursions, but could not have conceived of a result such as this, the most oppressive system ever fastened upon a nation, and one which would at the same time sap the foundations of royalty itself.
The theory was that the king was absolute owner of all the territory; the great lords holding their titles from him on condition of military service, their vassals pledging military service and obedience to them again on similar terms, and sub-vassals again to them repeating the pledge; and so on in descending chain, until at last the serf, that wretched being whom none looks up to nor fears, is ground to powder beneath the superimposed mass; no appeal from the authority, no escape from the caprice or cruelty of his feudal lord. Could any scales weigh, could any words measure the suffering which must have been endured? Is it strange that, with every aspiration thwarted, hope stifled, Europe sank into the long sleep of the Middle Ages?
It is easy to conceive that, under such a system, where all the affairs of the realm were adjusted by individual rulers with unlimited power, and where the great barons could make war upon each other without authorization from the king, by the time this nominal head of the entire system was reached there remained nothing for him to do. In fact, there was not left one vestige of kingly authority, and Carlovingian rulers were almost as insignificant as their Merovingian predecessors. France had, instead of one great sovereign, one hundred and fifty petty ones!
In A.D. 911 the Northmen were offered the province henceforth known as Normandy, upon condition of their acceptance of the religion and submission to the laws of the realm. Rollo, the disreputable robber-chief, took the oath of fealty to the King of France, his suzerain, and Christian baptism transformed him into respectable, law-abiding Robert, Duke of Normandy.
So, the enemy had become a vassal. The pirate of the North Sea had taken his place among the Christian chivalry of Europe, as one of the twelve peers of France. It was less than a century since the death of Charlemagne, and the office of king had grown almost as helpless as in the period of the Rois Faineants. Under the stress of the continuous invasions, by perfectly natural process the central authority had passed to the feudal magnates. Many of the feudal states had actually organized into independent governing bodies. The struggle with the Northmen ended, France, dismembered, exhausted, was lying prostrate. A king stripped of every kingly attribute at one extreme of the social system, and a people trampled into the very dust by feudal oppression at the other. Owners of nothing, not even of themselves, they might not fish in the streams, nor hunt in the forests, unless the privilege was bestowed; and with their lives spent in fighting the incessant private wars of their lords, there seemed no room for them in the world, nor for hope in their hearts. With the king effaced, and the people effaced, there remained only bands of feudal barons trying to efface each other!
As in the last days of the Merovingians, light came from an unexpected quarter. The tide turned toward centralization. Robert the Strong, a man of obscure family, who had laid down his life in a very heroic resistance to the Northmen, had won the titles "Count of Paris" and "Duke of France," which he bequeathed, with the estates attached to them, to his successors.
Somewhat after the manner of the Pepins, this powerful and resourceful family by sheer native ability grasped one after another the sources of power in the state; and in the year 987 the dynasty established by Pepin disappeared, and Hugh Capet, Count of Paris and Abbot, was declared by the Pope of Rome to be "King of France, in virtue of his great deeds." It was the ecclesiastical office of this descendant of Robert the Strong which gave the name to the dynasty that had come to save France a second time from disintegration. Because he was the wearer of the Chape, or Cope, the name Chapet, or Capet, became that of the line.
There now commenced a struggle between the antagonistic principles of royalty and aristocracy; a conflict which was going to last nearly five centuries, covering that dreary twilight known as the Dark Ages—a time when, had it not been for the Christian Church and for the torch of the Saracen in Spain, the light of civilization would really have been extinguished, and the slender thread of connection with a great past have been broken.
In the helpless misery existing in France at this time, the Church saw its opportunity. To that silent, humble, forgotten multitude without life or hope in the world, she offered refuge, peace, consolation, and thus forever bound to her the poor of Christendom; by this means establishing in the end an ecclesiastical dominion to which kings and peerage would be compelled to bow.
If one would know how kings submitted to the authority of the Church at this time, let him read the story of the good King Robert, second in the Capetian line, who for marrying the gentle Bertha, his cousin fourth removed, suffered the punishment of excommunication; was treated as a moral leper in his own palace; cut off from contact with human kind and from sound of human voice; the dishes from which he ate, the clothes he wore, destroyed, until repentant and heart-broken they consented to part and to break the bond of their union forever.
It was the despair in the heart of the nation which gave intensity to the religious instinct at this time. And when pestilence came, and neither rich nor poor could escape, conscience-stricken barons also trembled. A belief began to prevail that the end of the world was at hand. Did not the Book of Revelation say that one thousand years from the birth of Christ the great dragon was to be let loose and the earth was to be destroyed?
As the hour of doom approached, labor ceased, the fields were untouched, and when to pestilence and despair was added famine, then men's hearts failed them even under coats of mail. The Church came to the rescue with the "Truce of God," which, in the hope of appeasing an avenging God, forbade private wars during certain periods in the ecclesiastical year. Repentant barons, with a similar hope, made peace with their neighbors, and their swords rusted as they built monasteries and chapels; or some not yet obtaining peace, and perhaps restless with their occupation gone, made pilgrimages to Rome, to pray at the graves of Peter and Paul, and still others even to Jerusalem, that the breath from Calvary might whiten their sin-steeped souls.
It is interesting to note that among these penitent pilgrims, sixty years before the first Crusade, was that Duke of Normandy known as "Robert the Devil," whose pagan ancestor only a century before had been the terror of European civilization, and whose son, thirty years later, was to wear the crown of England.
In this way were the currents setting steadily toward the Holy Sepulchre as the panacea for human woes which were sent by an avenging God. These were the first stirrings of the breath of the coming storm which in eight successive waves was soon to sweep over Europe. The way was preparing for the great event of the Middle Ages.
Whatever its motives, the abstaining from slaughter, and the building of cathedrals and monasteries and abbeys, was weaving a mantle of beauty for France, which she still proudly wears. And the greatest of the builders was the Duke of Normandy; and it is to his dukedom the art student turns for the most perfect blending of grace and grandeur, characteristic of the early style. The marvel to which this is intended to draw attention is the preeminent position swiftly attained in France by this brilliant race, in every department of living. It would seem that France did not adopt this terrible child from the north, but that he adopted France, and changed and gave color to her whole future. It was a tempestuous element, but it was new life, and it is impossible to conceive of what that country would have been without this stimulating, brilliant infusion into its national life.
With such marvellous facility did this people adopt the speech and manners of their neighbors, that in the year 1066 they were prepared to instruct the Britons in the ways of a more polished civilization. Only a century before the birth of William the Conqueror, his ancestors had lived by looting. They were highwaymen and robbers by profession. His mother, a Norman peasant girl, daughter of a tanner, won the love of that gay duke known as "Robert the Devil." William, the child of this unconsecrated union, upon the death of his father succeeded to the dukedom. One of the steps in the rapid climb of this family of Rollo had been a marriage connecting them with the royal family of England. King Edward, William's remote cousin, died without an heir. Here was an opportunity. With sixty thousand Norman adventurers like himself, William started with the desperate purpose of invading England and wresting the crown from his cousin Harold.
It was not the first time the Northman had invaded England. But never before had he come bringing a higher civilization, and under the banner of the Church! In a few weeks Harold, last king of the Saxons, was dead, and William, Duke of Normandy, was William I., King of England.
Philip, King of France, saw with dismay his richest province ruled by a king of England, and his own vassal wearing a crown with power superior to his own! A door had thus opened through which would enter entangling complications and countless woes in the future.
While William was trampling England into the dust, and with pitiless hand rivetting a feudal chain upon the Saxons, another and greater centre of power was developing at Rome, where the monk Hildebrand, who had now become Pope Gregory VII., claimed a universal sovereignty from which there was no appeal. Christ was King of Kings. So, as His vicegerent upon earth, the authority of the pope was absolute in Christendom.
The moment of this supreme elevation in the Church was reached at Canossa, 1072, when Henry, the excommunicated Emperor of Germany, came barefooted, in winter, and prostrated himself before Gregory VII. If Charlemagne had worn the Church as a precious jewel in his crown in the ninth century, now in the eleventh the Church wore all the European states as a tiara of jewels in her mitre. With supreme wisdom, and with a sure instinct for power, her supremacy had been rooted first in the hearts of the people, then the mailed hand laid upon their rulers.
The corner-stone of the social structure in France was the dogma that work was degrading; and not only manual labor, but anything done with the object of producing wealth was a degradation. The only honorable occupation for a gentleman was either to pray or to fight.
Society in France was, therefore, divided into three classes: the Clergy, called the "First Estate"; the Nobility, composing the "Second Estate," and the working and trading classes, the "Third Estate," or Tiers Etat.
Out of reverence for their spiritual office, precedence in rank was given to the clergy. But the actual ruling class was the nobility. The business of the clergy was to minister to souls. The business of the nobility was warfare. That of the third estate, the toiling class, being to support the other two. And whatever existed in the form of property or wealth in feudal times was produced by the Tiers Etat.
The lowest stratum of the third estate was composed of "serfs." A serf belonged absolutely, with all that he possessed, to his lord. He was attached to his land, as are the trees which are rooted in it. There was, however, a class of serfs above this whom we should now call slaves, but who were by French law then designated as Freemen.
A freeman might go and come under certain restrictions. But this did not by any means imply that he was freed from the proprietor to whom he belonged, to whom he was inevitably bound for military service, or for such contributions or claims as might be levied upon him.
As was to be expected, it was in the cities that this half-emancipated class congregated; these cities as naturally becoming the centres of the various industries required to supply the necessities and luxuries of the two ruling classes. In this way there were being created various centres of wealth, which meant power, and which would have to be reckoned with in the future.
The thin edge of the wedge was inserted when individual freemen offered money to their hard-pressed feudal lords in exchange for certain privileges, and then for charters. And as more money was needed by proprietors for their lavish expenditures, more freedom and more charters were acquired, until, having purchased immunities and privileges enough to make them to some extent self-governing, the town became what was called a commune.
It was Louis VI., fifth king in the Capetian line, who completed this work of emancipation by recognizing the communes as free cities, and bestowing franchises clearly defining their rights. By this act the body of the manufacturing class, or burgesses, was recognized as a part of the body politic, and was enfranchised.
A free city was a small republic. The entire body of inhabitants must take the communal oath, and when summoned by the tolling of the bell must all appear at the meeting of the General Assembly for the purpose of choosing their magistrates. This done, the assembly dissolved, and the magistrates were left with a free hand to rule or ruin, until checked by popular outbreak or a new election.
As is always the case, time developed two classes: an inferior population, with a furious spirit of democracy, and a superior class, more conservative, and desirous of keeping peace with the great proprietors.
In this simple, humble fashion were the people groping toward freedom, and experimenting with the alphabet of self-government.
The acknowledgment of the free cities by Louis VI., was the first move toward an alliance between the king and the people; an alliance which would eventually wrest the power from the hands of the nobles. But that end was still far off. Another accession to the kingly power came in the succeeding reign when Louis VII. married Eleanor, daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine; and her great inheritance, the largest of the feudal states, was thereby annexed to the crown: a marriage which made some troublesome chapters in the history of two kingdoms, of which we shall hear later. But, in the duel between king and peerage, the balance of power was moving toward the throne.
At the time these things were happening that great event, the Crusades, had already commenced.
It was in 1095 that Peter the Hermit, returning from a pilgrimage, by command of the Pope went throughout Europe proclaiming the desecration of the holy places. At a council held at Clermont in France, 1095, the first Crusade was proclaimed by Urban II. Led by Peter the Hermit, a vast undisciplined host, without preparation, rushed indiscriminately toward Asia Minor, perishing by famine, disease, and the sword before they reached their goal. Undismayed by this, another Crusade was immediately organized under the direction of the greatest nobles in France; and in three years (1099) the Holy City had been captured, the Cross floated over the Holy Sepulchre, and Godfrey of Boulogne, leader of the expedition, was proclaimed King of Jerusalem.
France had inaugurated the most extraordinary movement in the history of civilization. Appealing as it did to the knightly and to the romantic ideal, what an opportunity was here for idle adventurous nobles, their occupation gone through changed conditions! If the Church, by "the Truce of God," had bid them sheathe their swords, now she bade them to be drawn in the defence of all that was sacred. The entire body of nobility would have rushed if it could to the Holy Land. Poor barons sold or mortgaged their lands and their castles, and the Third Estate grew rich, and the free cities still freer, upon the necessities of the hour. But all classes, from king to serf, were for the first time moved by a common sentiment; and not alone France, but the choicest and best of Europe was poured in one great volume of passionate zeal into those successive waves which eight times inundated Palestine. Private interests sacrificed or forgotten, life, treasure, all eagerly given, for what? That a small bit of territory a thousand miles distant be torn from profaning infidels, because it was the birthplace of a religion these champions failed to comprehend; a religion worn upon their battle-flags but not in their hearts.
The second Crusade, 1147, was led by Conrad, Emperor of Germany, and Louis VII. of France. The profligate conduct of Queen Eleanor, who accompanied her royal consort, led to serious political conditions. Louis appealed to the pope, who consented to the divorce he desired. This proved simply an exchange of thrones for the fascinating Eleanor. Henry II. of England, already the possessor of immense estates in France, inherited from his father, realized that with Aquitaine, Queen Eleanor's dowry, added to his own, and these again to Normandy, a marriage with the divorced wife of his rival would make him possessor of more than three times the size of the domain controlled by the French king.
The marriage was solemnized in 1152, and France saw her war with the feudal barons overshadowed by the fight for her very life with England, who had fastened this tremendous grasp upon her kingdom.
The first truly great Capetian king came with this emergency. Philip Augustus, son of Louis VII., in the year 1180, when only fifteen years of age, seized the reins with the hand of a born ruler. Before he was twenty-one he had broken up a combination of feudal barons against him. Then he turned to England. Queen Eleanor and her sons were conspiring against Henry II. So he made friends with them. The palace on the island in the Seine was an asylum where John and Richard might plot against their father. And when a third Crusade was planned, 1189, it had as leaders Philip Augustus of France, Richard I., who had just succeeded his father, Henry II., as King of England, and Barbarossa (Frederick I.), the great Emperor of Germany. Before the Holy Land was reached the wise and crafty Philip Augustus and the fiery Richard had quarrelled.
Philip had been carefully observing these two brothers who were successively to wear the crown of England. He knew the foibles of the romantic and picturesque Richard; and he also knew that John, corrupt to the core, was a traitor to whom no trust would be sacred. In his own cold-blooded fashion he intended to use them both.
John had conspired against his own father, now Philip would help him to supplant his brother, while Richard was safely occupied in Palestine. And when he had made John king, he, Philip Augustus, was to be rewarded by the gift of Normandy! With this in view, Philip returned to France. It was an ingenious plot, but all was spoiled by Richard's safe return from the thrilling adventures of the Crusade. In 1199, however, the crown passed naturally to John by the death of his brother, and this vicious son of Eleanor was King of England.
There were other means of recovering his lost possessions. Philip espoused the cause of the young Arthur, John's nephew, a rival claimant to the English throne. And when that ill-fated Prince was murdered, as is believed by the orders of his uncle, for this and other offences King John, as Duke of Normandy—thence vassal to the King of France—was summoned to be tried by his peers.
When after oft-repeated summons John refused to appear at Philip's court, by feudal law the King of France had legal authority to take possession of the dukedom.
In vain did King John strive to defend by arms his vanishing possessions. In the war which ensued, all north of the Loire was seized by Philip, and at one stroke he had mastered his enemies at home and abroad.
Not only were Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou restored to France, but they were hereafter to be held, not by dukes and counts, as before, but by the king, as a part of the royal domain. And kingship, towering high above all the great barons of France, had for the first time become a reality.
It was Philip's policy of expansion which gave color to his reign; not an expansion which would bring extension into foreign lands, but solidity and firmness of outline to France itself. We have seen how and why this policy was vigorously carried out in the north. The growth toward the south is a less pleasant story.
The province of Toulouse, nominally subject to France, was actually ruled by Raymond VI., "by grace of God" Count of Toulouse. Perhaps if this province had not possessed and controlled several ports on the Mediterranean, while France had none at all, it might not have been discovered that this home of the "gay science," and of minstrelsy, and of all that was gentle and refining, was in fact the nursery of a dangerous heresy, and that the poetic, music-loving children of Provence reviled the cross and worshipped the devil!
We can easily imagine that in this highly developed community there had arisen a spirit of inquiry into prevailing conditions and beliefs in the Church. And we can also imagine that a crafty sovereign saw in this an opportunity to serve his own ends. And so, Pope Innocent III. ordered a Crusade, and John de Montfort not only opened up the Mediterranean ports for Philip, but brought Toulouse, the greatest of the remaining feudal states, into subjection to the King of France; at the same time forever silencing the voice of the heretic, of the minstrel, and of the harp; even the speech, with its delicate inflections and musical intonations, disappeared, to be heard nevermore. Such, in brief, is the story of the "Albigensian War," so called on account of the heresy having been brought into Provence by the Albigenses from Switzerland.
After a century and a half Normandy was restored. Its reabsorption into France marked the parting of the ways in two kingdoms. Kingship was reinforced in one, and citizenship developed in the other. In England the nobles and the people drew closer together, resolved to defend themselves from a vicious king, and this determined effort to curtail the royal prerogative produced the Magna Charta, which forever secured the liberties of Englishmen (1215). In France, on the contrary, the power was moved in one volume toward the king and despotism. Both nations were in the hands of fate—a fate, too, which was using unscrupulous men to accomplish its great purposes for each.
But however we may disparage Philip's heart and aims, no one can deny the breadth and superiority of his mind and his statesmanship. He was a Charlemagne made on a smaller scale, and without a conscience. Not one of the successors of Clovis or of Pepin had so intelligently grasped the sources of permanent growth in a nation. He may have been false of tongue and unprincipled in deed, but he took the free cities under his personal protection, opened up trade with foreign lands, beautified Paris and France. He may, under the cloak of religion, have permitted unjustifiable cruelties against the most innocent, the most gifted province in Europe, in order to secure access to the sea for France. But he left the communes richer and happier, his kingdom freer from local tyrannies, transformed from a pandemonium of struggling knights and barons into the nearest approach yet realized to a modern state.
If the Crusades had strengthened the power of the Church, they had at the same time brought about an expansion of thought which was undermining it. Men were beginning to think, to inquire, and then to doubt. How could sensuality and vice at Rome be reconciled with a divine infallibility? If the ballad-poetry of Provence satirized the lives and manners of the priests, was it not dealing with what was true?
During the reign of Philip's father, a pale studious youth was pacing the cloisters on the banks of the Seine, by the side of Notre Dame. He was thinking upon these things. And "as he mused the fire burned." This was Abelard. The intellectual awakening brought about by the lectures of this most learned and accomplished man of his time produced an epoch. He spoke to his disciples in the open air, as no building could hold the thousands who hung upon his lips. This movement became localized; a faubourg of students was created with their multiform activities. It became a quarter by itself—a noisy, turbulent, agitated quarter—where the only luxury enjoyed was an expanding thought, and where Latin was the spoken language. And so it happened that the Quartier Latin came into existence.
But while the place remains, the man quickly passed off the scene. He was silenced, his teachings condemned by a Church council at Soissons, and he immured for life in the Monastery of Cluny, to be treasured in the heart of humanity as a martyr to truth, and as the lover of Eloise, in that sad romance of the twelfth century.
After a brief reign of three years Louis VIII., son and successor of Philip, was dead, and Louis IX., under the regency of his mother, "Blanche of Castile," was proclaimed king. The same family, which later gave Isabella to Spain, also bestowed upon France this wise, intrepid woman at a critical time.
With a boy of eleven and a woman of thirty-eight years upon the throne, the time seemed propitious for the barons to recover the power Philip had wrung from them, and to reduce kingship to its former humble position.
With this purpose a powerful coalition was formed, embracing the barons north and south, chief among whom was Raymond of Toulouse. By force of arms, and by diplomacy, Blanche of Castile met this crisis with astonishing courage and address. The free cities sprang to her assistance; and not only was the coalition broken, but there was formed a bond between the crown and the people, leaving the throne stronger than before.
Blanche showed great political wisdom in arranging for the marriage of her son with the daughter of the Count of Provence; thus capturing and securing the loyalty of this most powerful and disaffected state, which was making common cause with Toulouse against the king. And it is with mingled pity and rejoicing that we hear of Raymond VII. of Toulouse, once champion of the Albigenses—warrior, poet, troubadour, and heretic—scourge in hand and barefooted, at the porch of Notre Dame, doing penance for his sins against the Church.
With Louis IX. on the throne a new day had dawned for France. Louis was not a great soldier. His reign was not one of territorial expansion but of wise administration, giving permanence and solidity to what already existed. We are apt to think of Philip's heavenly minded grandson chiefly as a saint. But his service to the state was enduring and of the first magnitude, because it dealt with the sources of things. When he established a King's Court, which was a court of appeal from the rude justice, or injustice, of feudal counts, he undermined the foundation of feudal power. In bestowing the right of appeal, his protecting hand reached down to the poorest man in the realm. And when bewildered barons heard the uncomprehended language of the law-courts, and heard men not of their own order declaring private wars punishable by death, they felt their power slipping from under them, and that they were coming into a new sort of a world.
One of the greatest acts of this reign was the abolishing of the double allegiance, which had wrought such trouble since the Duke of Normandy's conquest of England. Feudal proprietors were forbidden to hold territory under a foreign king; and henceforth no conquered province could acknowledge allegiance to an English king; nor would an English king again be vassal to a king of France.
But in so fortifying his throne, this best of kings, and of men, would have been surprised had he been told that he was preparing the way for the greatest tragedy in history; that he was creating an absolute despotism which five hundred years later would require a revolution of unprecedented horror for its removal. Such was the fact. Every wise act in this reign was prompted by the spirit of fairness and justice. And if at the same time these acts were drawing all the forces in the state to a central point, under the control of a single hand, it was the best development for France under existing conditions.
Saint though he was, and almost fanatic in his devotion to the Church, Louis resisted the pope or the bishop, if unjust, with as much energy as one of his own barons; and, in the same spirit of fairness, would punish his own too zealous defenders who had infringed upon the feudal rights of the peerage.
This was Louis the king. But it is Louis the saint who holds the eye on the world's canvas. The real life was to him the life of the soul. Francis Assisi himself did not live in an atmosphere of greater spiritual exaltation than this devout and heavenly grandson of Philip Augustus! No monk in the Dark Ages attached such sanctity to relics! When a portion of the crown of thorns was sent to him from Jerusalem, he built that exquisite Sainte Chapelle for its reception; and barefooted, bare-headed, carried it himself in solemn procession from Vincennes to Paris, placing it with reverent hands in that shrine we may visit to-day.
Christian knighthood had reached its one perfect flower in Louis; and the Crusades fittingly closed with the life of the most saintly crusader. His first Crusade was disastrous, occupying years of his life; his mother, Blanche of Castile, dying during his absence. His second and last was more costly still. Near the ruins of Carthage, where he was in conflict with a Mohometan band, he was stricken with fever and died (1270).
Louis's brother, Charles of Anjou, is said to have led him into this fatal attempt, for his own purposes. Charles, of very different memory, was at this time, by invitation of the pope, occupying the double throne of Naples and Sicily. And he it was who provoked by his cruelties that frightful outbreak known as the "Sicilian Vespers," in 1283.
The Crusades had lasted from 1095 to 1270. The purpose for which they were undertaken had signally failed. Jerusalem, captured in the first Crusade, was lost in the second, and never recovered. And so ineffectual had been the expenditure of life, fortune, and enthusiasm that the last Crusade was not even fought in Palestine, but on the shores of North Africa.
But something had been accomplished which none had foreseen: a result of greater magnitude than territorial possession of the Holy Land. Through the broadening of men's views, and the common heritage of a great experience, a group of isolated kingdoms had been drawn into fraternal relations, and a European civilization had commenced.
There had been many surprises. Close contact had softened prejudices. The infidel had found that the crusader was something more than the most brutal and stupid of barbarians, as he had supposed; and the crusader, that the profaning infidel was not the monster he expected to find. In fact, the European discovered that in the Saracen and the Greek they met a civilization much more advanced, more learned, and more polished than their own. More civilization was brought out of the East than was carried into it by its Christian invaders. And it was through this strange and disastrous experience that the art and the thought of Europe received its first impulse toward a great future.
During the fifteen years of the reign of Louis's son, Philip III., France moved on under the momentum received from his father. But the succeeding reign of Philip IV. was epoch-making. That imperious, strong-willed son of Saint Louis demanded that the clergy should share the state's burden by contributing to its revenue. Pope Boniface VIII., imperious and strong-willed as he, immediately issued a bull, forbidding the clergy to pay, or the officers to receive, such taxes. The answer to this was a royal edict forbidding the exportation of precious metals (of course including money) from France to Italy, thus cutting off from the pope the large revenue from the Church in France.
The quarrel resolved itself at last into a question of the relative authority of king and pope in the kingdom. In order to fortify his position, and perhaps to show his contempt for clergy and barons alike, Philip took a step which profoundly affected the future of France. At a great council summoned to consider these papal claims, he commanded the presence not only of the ecclesiastics and nobles, the two governing estates, but also summoned the representatives of the towns and cities—the Tiers Etat! Prelate, baron, and bourgeois for the first time met in a Council of State.
A king who was the impersonation of absolutism had created the States-General (1302); had forged the instrument which would eventually effect for France a deliverance from monarchy itself!
The cause of the king was sustained by the council; the claims of the pope were rejected. Still not satisfied, Philip then audaciously proposed a general ecclesiastical council to determine whether Boniface legitimately wore the triple crown. When the old man died, as is said from the shock of this attempt, the king was master of the situation. Gifts had already been distributed among corrupt cardinals in the conclave. The papacy was at his feet, and might be in his hand. The most dissolute of his own archbishops was selected as his tool, and, as Clement V., succeeded to the chair of St. Peter. The centre of the ecclesiastical world was then removed from Rome to Avignon, where it could be under Philip's immediate direction, and the astonishing period in the history of the papacy, known as the Babylonian Captivity, which was to last for seventy years, under seven popes, had commenced.
The Knights Templar, those appointed guardians of the Holy Sepulchre and defenders of Jerusalem, it is to be supposed were not in sympathy with these things. Whatever the cause, their extermination was decreed. Accused of impossible crimes, the whole brotherhood was arrested in one day, and, at a summary trial, condemned, Philip himself, in that old palace on the island in the Seine, giving orders for the fagots to be laid, and the immediate execution of the grand master and many others.
Philip's death, occurring as it did soon after this sacrilege, was popularly believed to be a manifestation of God's wrath; and the death of his three sons, Louis, Philip, and Charles, who successively reigned during a period of only fourteen years, leaving the family extinct, seemed a further proof that a curse rested upon the house.
The question of the succession, for the first time since Hugh Capet, was in doubt. By the existing Salic Law only male descendants were eligible to the throne of France. The three sons of Philip IV. had died, leaving each a daughter, so the son of Charles of Valois, only brother of Philip IV., was the nearest in descent from Hugh Capet; and thus the crown passed to the Valois branch of the family in the person of Philip VI. (1328).
In this break in the line of succession, England saw an opportunity. The mother of Edward III., King of England, was Isabella, daughter of Philip IV. Edward claimed that he, as grandson of the French king, had a claim superior to that of the nephew. A strict interpretation of the Salic Law certainly vitiated his claim of heirship through the female line. But Edward did not stand upon such a trifle as that. The stake was great, and so was the opportunity. Now England might not alone recover her lost possessions in France, but might establish a legitimate claim to the whole.
So it was that an English army was once more upon French soil, and in 1346 Edward, with his toy cannon, had won the battle of Crecy, followed by the siege and capture of Calais, which for two hundred years was to remain an English port—a thorn in the side of France.
A part of the old kingdom of Burgundy, which was called Dauphiny, dropped into the lap of Philip, this first Valois king, during his reign. The old duke, being without an heir, offered to sell this bit of territory to the King of France upon the condition that it should be kept as the personal possession of the eldest sons of the kings of France. Thenceforth the title of Dauphin was worn by the heir to the throne, until it became extinct with the son of Louis XVI. And when the feeble Philip VI. died in 1350, his son John, the first dauphin, assumed the crown of France.
John, this second Valois king, was an anachronism. A man intended for the eleventh century had been set down in the fourteenth. The restoration of knightly ceremonial, tournaments at the Louvre, the details of a new Crusade which he was planning, and the distribution of new titles, these were the things occupying the mind of the king, while his kingdom, rent by factions within, was in a death-struggle with foes from without.
A fantastic Don Quixote, on a tottering throne, was fighting the most practical statesman and the strongest-armed warrior Europe held at the time.
With this weakness at the centre, France was again falling into fragments. There was even a resumption of private wars between nobles; and, most paralyzing of all, an empty treasury. Such time as he could spare from his main projects John gave to the affairs of the kingdom. First of all, taxes must be levied; and when the first tax was upon salt, King Edward condescended to make an historic witticism, saying "he had at last discovered who was the author of the Salic Law!"
In the various plans for raising money, it was important that the taxes should be levied so that the burden would fall upon those who could, and who would, pay. This meant the dwellers in the towns and cities; the bourgeoisie. They were the capitalists. But what if they should refuse? In order to secure the success of the measure, it was considered wise to obtain their consent in advance.
When King John asked permission of the States-General to tax them, a critical line was passed. That body for the first time realized its power. It might make its own terms. It demanded that the moneys collected, and their expenditure, should be under the direction of its officers. Then, growing bolder, it demanded reforms: Private wars must cease; the meetings of the States-General must be at appointed intervals, without being summoned by the king.
These meetings at Paris grew stormy. Gradually re-enforced with a vicious element, they were soon led by demagogues, became violent and revolutionary, and finally red caps and barricades, characteristic of Parisian mobs of a later period, brought the whole movement into the hands of the agents of "Charles the Bad," evil genius of his time, who saw his opportunity to use it in his own ambitious designs upon the throne. But France was to hear from the Tiers Etat again!
In 1356, Edward's son, the Black Prince, won a still greater victory than Crecy, at Poitiers, in which king John was captured and carried to London.
But Edward found that, while victories were comparatively easy, conquest was difficult. A generation had passed since the war began. So in 1360 both kingdoms were ready to consider terms of peace. By the treaty of Bretigny, Edward renounced the claim to the French throne, and received in full sovereignty the great inheritance Queen Eleanor had brought to Henry II. King John was to be released and his son held as hostage until the enormous ransom was paid. Of course the money could not be paid by impoverished France, for such a doubtful benefit, at least; and so the son and hostage made his escape. Then King John, faithful to his chivalrous creed, returned to London and captivity, dying in 1364.