The Romance of Reality
Author of "Half-Hours with the Best American Authors," "Tales from the Dramatists," etc.
IN FIFTEEN VOLUMES
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
THE HUNS AT ORLEANS 7
THE WOOING OF CLOTILDE 18
THE RIVAL QUEENS 29
ROLAND AT RONCESVALLES 40
CHARLEMAGNE AND THE AVARS 47
THE CROWNING OF CHARLEMAGNE 58
PETER THE HERMIT 69
THE COMMUNE OF LAON 81
HOW BIG FERRE FOUGHT FOR FRANCE 94
BERTRAND DU GUESCLIN 103
JOAN OF ARC, THE MAID OF ORLEANS 116
THE CAREER OF A KNIGHT-ERRANT 133
LOUIS THE POLITIC AND CHARLES THE BOLD 147
CHARLES THE BOLD AND THE SWISS 158
BAYARD, THE GOOD KNIGHT 166
EPISODES IN THE LIFE OF A TRAITOR 176
ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S DAY 188
KING HENRY OF NAVARRE 197
THE MURDER OF A KING 210
RICHELIEU AND THE CONSPIRATORS 218
THE PARLIAMENT OF PARIS 233
A MARTYR TO HIS PROFESSION 251
THE MAN WITH THE IRON MASK 257
VOLTAIRE'S LAST VISIT TO PARIS 264
THE DIAMOND NECKLACE 271
THE FALL OF THE BASTILLE 281
THE STORY OF THE SAINTE AMPOULE 287
THE FLIGHT OF THE KING 298
THE END OF THE TERROR 306
THE BURNING OF MOSCOW 316
NAPOLEON'S RETURN FROM ELBA 327
THE PRUSSIAN WAR AND THE PARIS COMMUNE 337
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
CITY OF ORLEANS 8
THE VOW OF CLOVIS 25
THE CORONATION OF CHARLEMAGNE 63
A MARRIAGE FEAST IN BRITTANY 82
COLUMN OF JULY, PLACE DE LA BASTILLE 100
JOAN OF ARC AT ORLEANS 125
A DUEL OF KNIGHTS 133
LOUIS XI 147
THE DUKE OF GUISE AT THE FRENCH COURT 189
EQUESTRIAN STATUE OF HENRY IV 196
CHAMBER OF MARY D' MEDICI 212
CATHEDRAL OF NOTRE DAME, PARIS 242
VOLTAIRE'S LAST VISIT TO PARIS 265
MARIE ANTOINETTE AND HER CHILDREN 274
THE LAST VICTIMS OF THE REIGN OF TERROR 307
THE CITY OF MOSCOW 317
ARC DE TRIOMPHE AND CHAMPS ELYSEES, PARIS 327
NAPOLEON'S RETURN FROM ELBA 332
SCENE FROM THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR 340
THE HUNS AT ORLEANS.
On the edge of a grand plain, almost in the centre of France, rises a rich and beautiful city, time-honored and famous, for it stood there before France had begun and while Rome still spread its wide wings over this whole region, and it has been the scene of some of the most notable events in French history. The Gauls, one of whose cities it was, named it Genabum. The Romans renamed it Aurelian, probably from their Emperor Aurelian. Time and the evolution of the French language wore this name down to Orleans, by which the city has for many centuries been known.
The broad Loire, the longest river of France, sweeps the foot of the sloping plain on which the city stands, and bears its commerce to the sea. Near by grows a magnificent forest, one of the largest in France, covering no less than ninety-four thousand acres. Within the city appears the lofty spires of a magnificent cathedral, while numerous towers rise from a maze of buildings, giving the place, from a distance, a highly attractive aspect. It is still surrounded by its mediaeval walls, outside of which extend prosperous suburbs, while far and wide beyond stretches the fertile plain.
Such is the Orleans of to-day. In the past it was the scene of two striking and romantic events, one of them associated with the name of Joan of Arc, the most interesting figure in French history; the other, which we have now to tell, concerned with the terrible Attila and his horde of devastating Huns, who had swept over Europe and threatened to annihilate civilization. Orleans was the turning-point in the career of victory of this all-conquering barbarian. From its walls he was driven backward to defeat.
Out from the endless wilds of Scythia had poured a vast swarm of nomad horsemen, ill-favored, fierce, ruthless, the scions of the desert and seemingly sworn to make a desert of Europe. They were led by Attila, the "Scourge of God," as he called himself, in the tracks of whose horse's hoofs the grass could never grow again, as he proudly boasted.
Writers of the time picture to us this savage chieftain as a deformed monster, short, ill-formed, with a large head, swarthy complexion, small, deep-seated eyes, flat nose, a few hairs in place of a beard, and with a habit of fiercely rolling his eyes, as if to inspire terror. He had broad shoulders, a square, strong form, and was as powerful in body as he was ready and alert in mind. The man had been born for a conqueror, and Europe was his prey.
The Scythians adored the god of war, whom they worshipped under the shape of an iron cimeter. It was through the aid of this superstition that Attila raised himself to dominion over their savage and tameless hordes. One of their shepherds, finding that a heifer was wounded in the foot, followed the track of blood which the animal had made, and discovered amid the long grass the point of an ancient sword. This he dug from the earth in which it was buried and presented to Attila. The artful chief claimed that it was a celestial gift, sent to him by the god of war, and giving him a divine claim to the dominion of the earth. Doubtless his sacred gift was consecrated with the Scythian rites,—a lofty heap of fagots, three hundred yards in length and breadth, being raised on a spacious plain, the sword of Mars placed erect on its summit, and the rude altar consecrated by the blood of sheep, horses, and probably of human captives. But Attila soon proved a better claim to a divine commission by leading the hordes of the Huns to victory after victory, until he threatened to subjugate, if not to depopulate, all Europe. It was in pursuance of this conquering career that he was brought, in the year 451, to the banks of the Rhine and the borders of the future realm of France, then still known as Gaul, and held by the feeble hand of the expiring empire of Rome.
The broad Rhine proved but a feeble obstacle to the innumerable cavalry of the Huns. A bridge of boats was quickly built, and across the stream they poured into the fair provinces of Gaul. Universal consternation prevailed. Long peace had made the country rich, and had robbed its people of their ancient valor. As the story goes, the degenerate Gauls trusted for their defence to the prayers of the saints. St. Lupus saved Troyes. The prayers of St. Genevieve turned the march of Attila aside from Paris. Unluckily, most of the cities of the land held neither saints nor soldiers, and the Huns made these their helpless prey. City after city was taken and ruined. The fate of Metz will serve as an example of the policy of the Huns. In this city, as we are told, priests and infants alike were slain, and the flourishing city was so utterly destroyed that only a chapel of St. Stephen was left to mark its site. Its able-bodied inhabitants were probably reserved to be sold as slaves.
And now, in the prosecution of his ruinous march, Attila fixed his camp before the walls of Orleans, a city which he designed to make the central post of the dominion which he hoped to establish in Gaul. It was to be his fortified centre of conquest. Upon it rested the fate of the whole great province.
Orleans lay behind its walls trembling with dread, as the neigh of the Hunnish horses sounded in its ears, as the standards of the Hunnish host floated in the air. Yet it was not quite defenceless. Its walls had been recently strengthened. Behind them lay a force of soldiers, or of armed citizens, who repelled the first assaults of the foe. An army was known to be marching to its relief. All was not lost.
Forty years earlier Rome had fallen before Alaric, the Goth. The empire was now in the last stages of decreptitude. Yet by fortunate chance it had an able soldier at the head of its armies, AEtius, the noblest son of declining Rome. "The graceful figure of AEtius," says a contemporary historian, "was not above the middle stature; but his manly limbs were admirably formed for strength, beauty, and agility; and he excelled in the martial exercises of managing a horse, drawing the bow, and darting the javelin. He could patiently endure the want of food or of sleep; and his mind and body were alike capable of the most laborious efforts. He possessed the genuine courage that can despise not only dangers but injuries; and it was impossible either to corrupt, or deceive, or intimidate the firm integrity of his soul."
When the Huns invaded Gaul, this skilled and valiant commander flew to its relief. To his Roman army he added an army of the Visigoths of Southern Gaul, under their King Theoderic, and marched to the rescue of the land. But the gathering of this army took precious time, during which the foe wrought ruin upon the land. The siege of Orleans had begun by the time AEtius was fairly ready to begin his march.
In that seemingly doomed city all was terror and dismay. A speedy capture, a frightful massacre, or a no less frightful enslavement to the savage Huns, was the dread of the trembling inhabitants. They had no saint to rescue them by his prayers. All their hope lay in the arms of their feeble garrison and the encouraging words of their bishop, in whose heart alone courage seemed to keep alive.
Anianus was the name of this valiant and wise churchman, whose counsels of hope alone sustained the despairing citizens, whose diligence and earnestness animated the garrison in its defence. The siege was fierce, the defence obstinate, the army of relief was known to be on its way, if they could but hold out till it came. Anianus, counting the days and hours with intense anxiety, kept a sentinel on the lookout for the first signs of the advancing host of Romans and Goths. Yet hours and days went by, and no sign of flashing steel or floating banner could be seen, until the stout heart of the bishop himself was almost ready to give way to the despair which possessed so many of the citizens.
The Huns advanced point by point. They were already in the suburbs. The walls were shaking beneath the blows of their battering-rams. The city could not much longer be held. At length came a day which threatened to end with Orleans in the hands of the ruthless foe. And still the prayed-for relief came not. Hope seemed at an end.
While such of the people as could not bear arms lay prostrate in prayer, Anianus, hopeful to the last, sent his messenger to the ramparts to look for the banners of the Roman army. Far and wide, from his lofty outlook, the keen-eyed sentinel surveyed the surrounding country. In vain he looked. No moving object was visible, only the line of the forest and the far-off bordering horizon. He returned with this discouraging tidings.
"Go again," said the bishop. "They should have been here before now. Any minute may bring them. Go again."
The sentinel returned, and again swept the horizon with his eyes, noting every visible object, seeing nothing to give him hope. With heavy tread he returned to the bishop, and reported his failure.
"They must be near!" cried Anianus, with nervous impatience. "Go; look once more. Let nothing escape your eyes."
Back went the messenger, again mounted the rampart, again swept the plain with his eyes. Nothing,—ah! what was that, on the horizon, at the very extremity of the landscape, that small, faint cloud, which he had not seen before? He watched it; it seemed to grow larger and nearer. In haste he returned to the bishop with the hopeful news.
"I have seen a distant mist, like a far-off cloud of dust," he said. "It is moving. It comes nearer."
"It is the aid of God!" burst from the lips of the bishop, his heart suddenly elate with joy. And from the expectant multitude, through whose ranks ran like wildfire the inspiring tidings, burst the same glad cry, "It is the aid of God!"
Crowds ran in all haste to the ramparts; hundreds of eyes were fixed on the far-off, mist-like object; every moment it grew larger and more distinct; flashes, as of steel, color, as of standards, were gradually perceived; at last a favorable wind blew aside the dust, and to their joyful eyes, under this gray canopy, appeared the waving folds of banners, and under them, in serried array, the squadrons of the Roman and Gothic troops, pressing forward in all haste to the relief of the beleaguered city.
Well might the citizens cry, "It is the aid of God!" The army of AEtius had come not a day, not an hour, too soon. The walls had given way before the thundering blows of the battering-rams. A breach had been made through which the Huns were swarming. Only for the desire of Attila to save the city, it might have been already in flames. As it was, the savage foes were breaking into the houses in search of plunder, and dividing such citizens as they had seized into groups to be led into captivity, when this cry of glad relief broke loudly upon the air.
The news that had aroused the citizens quickly reached the ears of Attila. A strong army of enemies was at hand. There was no time to occupy and attempt to defend the city. If his men were assailed by citizens and soldiers in those narrow streets they might be slaughtered without mercy. Prudence dictated a retreat.
Attila was as prudent as he was daring. The sound of trumpets recalled his obedient hordes. Out they swarmed through the openings which had permitted their entrance. Soon the army of the Huns was in full retreat, while the advancing host of Romans and Goths marched proudly into the open gates of the delivered city, with banners proudly floating and trumpets loudly blaring, while every heart within those walls was in a thrill of joy. Orleans had been saved, almost by magic as it seemed, for never had been peril more extreme, need more pressing. An hour more of delay, and Orleans, perhaps the whole province of Gaul, had been lost.
We may briefly conclude the story of this invasion of the Huns. Attila, convinced of the strength and spirit of his enemy, retreated in haste, foreseeing ruin if he should be defeated in the heart of Gaul. He crossed the Seine, and halted not until he had reached the plains of Chalons, whose level surface was well adapted to the evolutions of the skilled horsemen who formed the strength of his hordes.
As he retreated, the Romans and Goths followed, pressing him sharply, making havoc in his rear-guard, reaching Chalons so closely upon his march that the Goths, under Torismond, the young and valiant son of their king, were able to seize a commanding height in the midst of the field, driving back the Huns who were ascending from the opposite side.
The battle that followed was one of the decisive battles of history. Had the Huns won the victory, all western Europe might have become their prey. The victory of AEtius was the first check received by this mighty horde in their career of ruin and devastation. The conflict, as described by the historians of the time, was "fierce, various, obstinate, and bloody, such as could not be paralleled, either in the present or in past ages." The number of the slain is variously estimated at from three hundred thousand to about half that number. Exaggerated as these estimates undoubtedly are, they will serve to indicate the ferocity and bloody nature of the struggle. For a time it seemed as if the Huns would win. Led by their king, they broke through the centre of the allies, separated their wings, turned their whole strength against the Goths, and slew Theodoric, their king, at the head of his men.
But the victory which seemed theirs was snatched from them by the valiant Torismond, who descended from the height he had seized, assailed the Huns with intrepid courage, and so changed the fortune of the field that Attila was obliged to retreat,—vanquished for the first time in his long career. The approach of night alone saved the Huns from a total defeat. They retired within the circle of their wagons, and remained there as in a fort, while the triumphant allies encamped upon the field.
That night was one of anxiety for Attila. He feared an attack, and knew that the Huns, dismounted and fighting behind a barricade, were in imminent danger of defeat. Their strength lay in their horses. On foot they were but feeble warriors. Dreading utter ruin, Attila prepared a funeral pile of the saddles and rich equipments of the cavalry, resolved, if his camp should be forced, to rush into the flames, and deprive his enemies of the glory of slaying or capturing the great barbarian king.
The attack did not come. The army of AEtius was in no condition for an assault. Nor did it seem safe to them to attempt to storm the camp of their formidable antagonist, who lay behind his wagons, as the historians of the time say, like a lion in his den, encompassed by the hunters, and daring them to the attack. His trumpets sounded defiance. Such troops as advanced to the assault were checked or destroyed by showers of arrows. It was at length determined, in a council of war, to besiege the Huns in their camp, and by dread of starvation to force them into battle on unequal terms, or to a treaty disgraceful to their king.
For this Attila did not wait. Breaking camp he retreated, and by crossing the Rhine acknowledged his defeat. The Roman empire had won its last victory in the west, and saved Gaul for the Franks, whose day of conquest was soon to come.
THE WOOING OF CLOTILDE.
A beautiful, wise, and well-learned maiden was Clotilde, princess of Burgundy, the noblest and most charming of the daughters of the Franks. Such was the story that the voice of fame whispered into the ear of Clovis, the first of the long line of Frankish kings. Beautiful she was, but unfortunate. Grief had marked her for its own. Her father had been murdered. Her two brothers had shared his fate. Her mother had been thrown into the Rhone, with a stone around her neck, and drowned. Her sister Chrona had taken religious vows. She remained alone, the last of her family, not knowing at what moment she might share their fate, dwelling almost in exile at Geneva, where her days were spent in works of charity and piety.
It was to her uncle, Gondebaud, king of the Burgundians, that she owed these misfortunes. Ambition was their cause. The fierce barbarian, in whom desire for a throne outweighed all brotherly feeling, had murdered his brother and seized the throne, leaving of the line of Chilperic only these two helpless girls, one a nun, the other seemingly a devotee.
To the ears of Clovis, the king of the Franks, came, as we have said, the story of the beauty and misfortunes of this Burgundian maiden, a scion like himself of the royal line of Germany, but an heir to sorrow and exposed to peril. Clovis was young, unmarried, and ardent of heart. He craved the love of this famed maiden, if she should be as beautiful as report said, but wisely wished to satisfy himself in this regard before making a formal demand for her hand. He could not himself see her. Royal etiquette forbade that. Nor did he care to rouse Gondebaud's suspicions by sending an envoy. He therefore adopted more secret measures, and sent a Roman, named Aurelian, bidding him to seek Geneva in the guise of a beggar, and to use all his wit to gain sight of and speech with the fair Clotilde.
Clothed in rags, and bearing his wallet on his back, like a wandering mendicant, Aurelian set out on his mission, travelling on foot to Geneva. Clovis had entrusted him with his ring, as proof of his mission, in case he should deem the maiden worthy to be the bride of his king. Geneva was duly reached, and the seeming pilgrim, learning where the princess dwelt, and her habits of Christian charity towards strangers, sought her dwelling and begged for alms and shelter. Clotilde received him with all kindness, bade him welcome, and, in pursuance of the custom of the times, washed his feet.
Aurelian, who had quickly made up his mind as to the beauty, grace, and wit of the royal maiden, and her fitness to become a king's bride, bent towards her as she was thus humbly employed, and in a low voice said,—
"Lady, I have great matters to announce to thee, if thou wilt deign to grant me secret speech."
Clotilde looked up quickly, and saw deep meaning in his face. "Surely," she thought, "this is no common beggar."
"Say on," she remarked, in the same cautious tone.
"Clovis, king of the Franks, has sent me to thee," said Aurelian. "If it be the will of God, he would fain raise thee to his high rank by marriage, and that thou mayst be satisfied that I am a true messenger, he sendeth thee this, his ring."
Clotilde joyfully took the ring, her heart beating high with hope and desire for revenge. Dismissing her attendants, she warmly thanked the messenger for his caution, and declared that nothing could give her greater joy than to be bride to Clovis, the great and valorous king who was bringing all the land of Gaul under his rule.
"Take in payment for thy pains these hundred sous in gold and this ring of mine," she said. "Return promptly to thy lord. If he would have my hand in marriage, let him send messengers without delay to demand me of my uncle Gondebaud; and bid him direct his messengers, as soon as they obtain permission, to take me away in haste. If they delay, I fear all will fail. Aridius, my uncle's counsellor, is on his way back from Constantinople. If he should arrive, and gain my uncle's ear, before I am gone, all will come to naught. Haste, then, and advise Clovis that there be no delay."
Aurelian was willing enough to comply with her request, but he met with obstacles on the way. Starting back in the same disguise in which he had come, he made all haste towards Orleans, where he dwelt, and where he hoped to learn the location of the camp of the warlike Clovis. On nearing this city, he took for travelling companion a poor mendicant, whom fortune threw in his way, and with whom he journeyed for miles in the intimacy of the highway. Growing weary as night approached, and having confidence in his companion, Aurelian fell asleep by the wayside, leaving the beggar to watch.
Several hours passed before he awoke. When he did so it was to find, to his intense alarm, that his companion had vanished and his wallet had gone, and with it the gold which it contained and Clotilde's precious ring. In dismay Aurelian hurried to the city, reached his home, and sent his servants in all directions in search of the thievish mendicant, whom he felt sure had sought some lurking-place within the city walls.
His surmise was correct. The fellow was found and brought to him, the wallet and its valuable contents being recovered intact. What was to be done with the thief? Those were not days of courts and prisons. Men were apt to interpret law and administer punishment for themselves. Culprits were hung, thrashed, or set at liberty. Aurelian weighed the offence and decided on the just measures of retribution. The culprit, so says the chronicle, was soundly thrashed for three days, and then set free.
Having thus settled this knotty question of law, Aurelian continued his journey until Clovis was reached, told him what he had seen and what heard, and gave him Clotilde's ring and message. Clovis was alike pleased with the favorable report of his messenger and with the judicious advice of the maiden. He sent a deputation at once to Gondebaud, bidding the envoys to make no delay either in going or returning, and to demand of Gondebaud the hand of his niece in marriage.
They found Gondebaud, and found him willing. The request of the powerful Clovis was not one to be safely refused, and the Burgundian king was pleased with the idea of gaining his friendship, by giving him his niece in marriage. His consent gained, the deputation offered him a denier and a sou, according to the marriage customs of the Franks, and espoused Clotilde in the name of Clovis. Word was at once sent to Clovis of their success, and without delay the king's council was assembled at Chalons, and preparations made for the marriage.
Meanwhile, news startling to Clotilde had reached Geneva. Aridius was on his way back. He had arrived at Marseilles, and was travelling with all speed towards Burgundy. The alarmed woman, in a fever of impatience, hastened the departure of the Franks, seemingly burning with desire to reach the court of the king, really cold with fear at the near approach of the shrewd Aridius, whose counsel she greatly dreaded. Her nervous haste expedited matters. Gondebaud formally transferred her to the Franks, with valuable gifts which he sent as a marriage portion, and the cortege set out, Clotilde in a covered carriage, her attendants and escort on horseback. And thus slowly moved away this old-time marriage-train.
But not far had they left the city behind them when Clotilde's impatience with their slow movement displayed itself. She had kept herself advised. Aridius was near at hand. He might reach Geneva that very day. Calling to her carriage the leaders of her escort, she said,—
"Good sirs, if you hope to take me into the presence of your lord, you must find me better means of speed than this slow carriage. Let me descend, mount on horseback, and then away as fast as we may. Much I fear that, in this carriage, I shall never see Clovis, your king."
Learning the reason of her haste, they did as requested, and mounted on one of their swiftest steeds, Clotilde swept onward to love and vengeance, leaving the lumbering carriage to follow with her female attendants at its slow will.
She was none too soon. Not long had she left her uncle's court before Aridius reached it. Gondebaud, who had unbounded respect for and confidence in him, received him joyfully, and said, after their first greetings,—
"I have just completed a good stroke of policy. I have made friends with the Franks, and given my niece Clotilde to Clovis in marriage."
"You have?" exclaimed Aridius, in surprise and alarm. "And you deem this a bond of friendship? To my poor wit, Gondebaud, it is a pledge of perpetual strife. Have you forgotten, my lord, that you killed Clotilde's father and drowned her mother, and that you cut off the heads of her brothers and threw their bodies into a well? What think you this woman is made of? If she become powerful, will not revenge be her first and only thought? She is not far gone; if you are wise you will send at once a troop in swift pursuit, and bring her back. She is but one, the Franks are many. You will find it easier to bear the wrath of one person than for you and yours to be perpetually at war with all the Franks."
Gondebaud saw the wisdom of these words, and lost no time in taking his councillor's advice. A troop was sent, with orders to ride at all speed, and bring back Clotilde with the carriage and the treasure.
The carriage and the treasure they did bring back; but not Clotilde. She, with her escort, was already far away, riding in haste for the frontier of Burgundy. Clovis had advanced to meet her, and was awaiting at Villers, in the territory of Troyes, at no great distance from the border of Burgundy. But before reaching this frontier, Clotilde gave vent to revengeful passion, crying to her escort,—
"Ride right and left! Plunder and burn! Do what damage you may to this hated country from which Heaven has delivered me!"
Then, as they rode away on their mission of ruin, to which they had obtained permission from Clovis, she cried aloud,—
"I thank thee, God omnipotent, for that I see in this the beginning of the vengeance which I owe to my slaughtered parents and brethren!"
In no long time afterwards she joined Clovis, who received her with a lover's joy, and in due season the marriage was celebrated, with all the pomp and ceremony of which those rude times were capable.
Thus ends the romantic story told us by the chronicler Fredegaire, somewhat too romantic to be accepted for veracious history, we fear. Yet it is interesting as a picture of the times, and has doubtless in it an element of fact—though it may have been colored by imagination. Aurelian and Aridius are historical personages, and what we know of them is in keeping with what is here told of them. So the reader may, if he will, accept the story as an interesting compound of reality and romance.
But there is more to tell. Clotilde had an important historical part to play, which is picturesquely described by the chronicler, Gregory of Tours. She was a Christian, Clovis a pagan; it was natural that she should desire to convert her husband, and through him turn the nation of the Franks into worshippers of Christ. She had a son, whom she wished to have baptized. She begged her husband to yield to her wishes.
"The gods you worship," she said, "are of wood, stone, or metal. They are nought, and can do nought for you or themselves."
"It is by command of our gods that all things are created," answered Clovis. "It is plain that your God has no power. There is no proof that he is even of the race of gods."
Yet he yielded to her wishes and let the child be baptized. Soon afterwards the infant died, and Clovis reproached her bitterly.
"Had he been dedicated to my gods he would still be alive," he said. "He was baptized in the name of your God, and you see the end; he could not live."
A second son was born, and was also baptized. He, too, fell sick.
"It will be with him as with his brother," said Clovis. "You have had your will in baptizing him, and he is going to die. Is this the power of your Christ?"
But the child lived, and Clovis grew less incredulous of the God of his wife. In the year 496 war broke out between him and a German tribe. The Germans were successful, the Franks wavering, Clovis was anxious. Before hurrying to the front he had promised his wife—so says Fredegaire—to become a Christian if the victory were his. Others say that he made this promise at the suggestion of Aurelian, at a moment when the battle seemed lost. However that be, the tide of battle turned, the victory remained with the Franks, the Germans were defeated and their king slain.
Clotilde, fearing that he would forget his promise, sent secretly to St. Remy, bishop of Rheims, to come and use his influence with the king. He did so, and fervently besought Clovis to accept the Christian faith.
"I would willingly listen to you, holy father," said Clovis, "but I fear that the people who follow me will not give up their gods. I am about to assemble them, and will repeat to them your words."
He found them more ready than he deemed. The story of his promise and the victory that followed it had, doubtless, strongly influenced them. Before he could speak, most of those present cried out,—
"We abjure the mortal gods; we are ready to follow the immortal God whom Remy preaches."
About three thousand of the Franks, however, refused to give up their old faith, and deserted Clovis, joining the Frankish King of Cambrai—who was before long to pay dearly for this addition to his ranks.
Christmas-day, 496, was fixed by Remy for the ceremony of baptism of the king and his followers, and on that day, with impressive ceremonies, Clovis the king and about three thousand of his warriors were made Christians, and the maker of the French nation was received into the fold of the Church. From that time forward Clovis won victory after victory over his surrounding enemies. He had been born leader of a tribe. He died king of a nation.
As regards Gundebaud, the result proved as Aridius predicted, whether or not through the personal influence of Clotilde upon her husband. Clovis broke his truce with Gondebaud, and entered Burgundy with an army. Gondebaud was met and defeated at Dijon, partly through the treachery of his brother, whom Clovis had won over. He fled to Avignon and shut himself up in that stronghold. Clovis pursued and besieged him. Gondebaud, filled with alarm, asked counsel of Aridius, who told him that he had brought this upon himself.
"I will save you, though," he said. "I will feign to fly and go over to Clovis. Trust me to act so that he shall ruin neither you nor your land. But you must do what I ask."
"I will do whatever you bid," said Gondebaud.
Aridius thereupon sought Clovis, in the guise of a deserter from Gondebaud. But such was his intelligence, the charm of his conversation, the wisdom and good judgment of his counsel, that Clovis was greatly taken with him, and yielded to his advice.
"You gain nothing by ravaging the fields, cutting down the vines, and destroying the harvests of your adversary," he said, "while he defies you in his stronghold. Rather send him deputies, and lay on him a tribute to be paid you every year. Thus the land will be preserved, and you be lord forever over him who owes you tribute. If he refuse, then do what pleases you."
Clovis deemed the advice good, did as requested, and found Gondebaud more than willing to become his tributary vassal. And thus ended the contest between them, Burgundy becoming a tributary province of France.
THE RIVAL QUEENS.
From the days of Clovis to the days of Charles Martel and Charlemagne the history of the Frankish realm, so far as its kingship is concerned, is almost a blank. It was an era of several centuries of incompetent and sluggish monarchs, of whom we can say little more than that they were born and died; they can scarcely be said to have reigned. But from the midst of this dull interregnum of Merovingian sluggards comes to us the story of two queens, women of force and power, whose biography is full of the elements of romance. As a picture of the manners and customs of the Merovingian epoch we cannot do better than to tell the stories of these queens, Fredegonde and Brunehild by name, whose rivalry and enmity, with their consequences, throw a striking light on the history of those obscure times.
What is now France was at that time divided into three kingdoms, Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy, King Chilperic reigning over Austrasia; King Sigebert over Neustria. But the power behind the throne lay in the wives of these kings, with whom alone we have to do. Contrasted characters they were,—Fredegonde wicked, faithless, self-seeking; Brunehild patriotic and devoted to the good of her country; yet in the end wickedness triumphed, and honesty died a violent and frightful death. With this preliminary we may proceed with our tale.
Fredegonde was the daughter of poor peasants, who dwelt in the vicinity of Montdidier in Picardy. But so striking and notable was her beauty that at an early age she was made, under circumstances of which we are not informed, one of the ladies in waiting on Queen Andovere, the first wife of King Chilperic. The poor queen was destined to suffer from the artfulness of her maid. The beauty of Fredegonde quickly attracted the attention of the king, and her skilful and unscrupulous arts soon made her a power in the court. The queen was in her way; but no long time passed before, on the pretext of a spiritual relationship with her husband which rendered the marriage illegal, the hapless Andovere was repudiated and banished to a convent.
But Chilperic was not yet ready to marry a peasant. He chose for his second wife Galsuinthe, daughter of the king of the Visigoths. This marriage lasted a still shorter time than the other. Galsuinthe was found strangled in her bed; and now, no longer able to restrain his passion for the beautiful and artful maid of honor, Chilperic married Fredegonde, and raised the peasant maiden to the throne for which she had so deeply and darkly wrought.
The marriage of Galsuinthe had been preceded by that of her younger sister, Brunehild, who became the wife of Sigebert, brother of Chilperic and king of Austrasia. The murder of Galsuinthe was ascribed by Brunehild to Fredegonde, with excellent reason if we may judge from her subsequent career, and from that day on an undying hatred existed between the two queens. To this the stirring incidents of their after lives were due. War broke out between the two kings, probably inspired by Brunehild's thirst for revenge for her sister's death on the one hand, and the ambition and hatred of Fredegonde on the other. Sigebert was successful in the field, but treachery soon robbed him of the fruits of victory. He was murdered in his tent (in the year 575) by two assassins in the pay of Queen Fredegonde.
This murder gave Chilperic the ascendancy. Sigebert's army disbanded, and Brunehild, as the only means of preserving her life, sought an asylum in the cathedral of Paris. And now the scene becomes one of rapid changes, in which the unscrupulous Fredegonde plays the leading part. Chilperic, not daring to offend the church by slaying the fugitive queen under its protection, sent her to Rouen. Here the widowed lady, her beauty rendered more attractive by her misfortunes, was seen and loved by Merovee, the son of Chilperic by his first wife, then in that town on a mission from his father. Fired with passion for the hapless queen, he married her privately, the Bishop of Rouen sealing their union.
This imprudent action soon became known at the court of Chilperic, and the ambitious Fredegonde hastened to turn it to her advantage. Merovee was heir to the throne of Chilperic. He was in her way, and had now given her a pretext for his removal. Chilperic, who seems to have been the weak slave of her designs, would have seized both Merovee and his bride but for the Austrasians, who demanded that their queen Brunehild should be restored to them, and enforced their demands with threats. She was surrendered; but Merovee, under the influence of his step-mother, was imprisoned, then shorn and shut up in a monastery, and afterwards became a fugitive, and was urged to head a rebellion against his father. Such was the terror, however, which the unhappy youth entertained for his cruel step-mother, that he put an end to his existence by suicide, inducing a faithful servant to strike him dead.
Fredegonde's success in getting rid of one of the heirs to the throne, only partly satisfied her ambitious views. There was another son, Clovis, brother of Merovee. To rid herself of him the wily queen took another course. Three of her own children had recently died, and she ascribed their death to Clovis, whom she accused of sorcery. He was seized under this charge, thrown into prison, and there ended his career, a poniard-thrust closing his brief tale of life. The tale of murders in this direction was completed by that of the repudiated Queen Andovere, who was soon found strangled in the convent to which she had been consigned.
Fredegonde had thus rid herself of all claimants to the throne outside of herself and her descendants, Galsuinthe having left no children. Though death had recently robbed her of three children, one survived, a son named Clotaire, then a few months old. Her next act of treachery was to make away with her weak and confiding husband, perhaps that she might reign alone, perhaps through fear that Chilperic might discover her guilty relations with Landry, an officer of the court, and subsequently mayor of the palace. Whatever the reason, soon after these events, King Chilperic, while in the act of dismounting on his return from the chase, was struck two mortal blows by a man who took to rapid flight, while all around the cry was raised, "Treason! it is the hand of the Austrasian Childebert against our lord the king!"
The readiness with which this cry was raised seemed evidence of its falsity. Men ascribed it and the murder to emissaries of Fredegonde. But, heedless of their opinions, she installed herself as sovereign guardian of her infant son, and virtual reigning queen of Neustria. It was now the year 584. Fredegonde had by her beauty, ambition, boldness, and unscrupulousness raised herself from the lowly rank of a peasant's daughter to the high position of sovereign over a great dominion, a queenship which she was to hold during the remainder of her life, her strong will, effrontery, artifice, skill in deception, and readiness to strengthen her position by crime, enabling her to overcome all resistance and maintain her ascendancy over the restless and barbarous elements of the kingdom she ruled. She was a true product of the times, one born to become dominant over a barbarous people.
Gregory of Tours tells a story of Chilperic and Fredegonde, which will bear repetition here. In addition to the sons of Chilperic, of whom the queen disposed as we have seen, he had a daughter, Rigouthe by name, whom he promised in marriage to Prince Recared, son of the king of the Visigoths of Spain.
"A grand deputation of Goths came to Paris to fetch the Frankish princess. King Chilperic ordered several families in the fiscal domains to be seized and placed in cars. As a great number of them wept and were not willing to go, he had them kept in prison that he might more easily force them to go away with his daughter. It is said that several, in their despair, hung themselves, fearing to be taken from their parents. Sons were separated from fathers, daughters from mothers, and all departed with deep groans and maledictions, and in Paris there reigned a desolation like that of Egypt. Not a few, of superior birth, being forced to go away, even made wills whereby they left their possessions to the churches, and demanded that, so soon as the young girl should have entered Spain, their wills should be opened just as if they were already in their graves.
"When King Chilperic gave up his daughter to the ambassadors of the Goths, he presented them with vast treasures. Queen Fredegonde added thereto so great a quantity of gold and silver and valuable vestments that, at the sight thereof, the king thought he must have nought remaining. The queen, perceiving his emotion, turned to the Franks, and said to them,—
"'Think not, warriors, that there is here aught of the treasures of former kings. All that ye see is taken from my own possessions, for my most glorious king has made me many gifts. Thereto have I added of the fruits of my own toil, and a great part proceeds from the revenues I have drawn, either in kind or in money, from the houses that have been ceded unto me. Ye yourselves have given me riches, and ye see here a portion thereof; but there is here nought of the public treasure.'
"And the king was deceived into believing her words. Such was the multitude of golden and silver articles and other precious things that it took fifty wagons to hold them. The Franks, on their part, made many offerings; some gave gold, others silver, sundry gave horses, but most of them vestments.
"At last the young girl, with many tears and kisses, said farewell. As she was passing through the gate an axle of her carriage broke, and all cried out 'Alack!' which was interpreted by some as a presage. She departed from Paris, and at eight miles' distance from the city she had her tents pitched. During the night fifty men arose and, having taken a hundred of the best horses, and as many golden bits and bridles, and two large silver dishes, fled away, and took refuge with King Childebert. During the whole journey whoever could escape fled away with all that he could lay hands on. It was required also of all the towns that were traversed on the way that they should make great preparations to defray expenses, for the king forbade any contribution from the treasury. All the charges were met by extraordinary taxes levied upon the poor."
In this story there is probably much exaggeration, but it has its significance as a picture of life in the dark ages, from one to the manner born. So far as Fredegonde was concerned, the marriage of Rigouthe removed from her path one possible future rival for the throne.
Twice in the foregoing pages Childebert of Austrasia has been mentioned. Who was this Childebert, it may be asked? He was the son of Brunehild, whom the Austrasians had preserved after the murder of their king, and as a guardian for whom they had insisted on the return, by Chilperic, of the captive queen. Brunehild from that time reigned in Austrasia during the minority of her son, and in a manner in striking contrast with the reign of her wicked rival.
Unlike the latter, she was a princess by birth, and of that race of Gothic kings who had preserved some traces of the Roman civilization. Fredegonde was a barbarian, Brunehild a scion of a semi-civilization and far superior to her rival in culture and intellectual power. As a queen she did so much for her country that her name as a public benefactor was long afterwards remembered in the land. The highways, the bridges, all the public works of the state received her careful attention, so much so that the Roman roads in Austrasia received, and long retained, the name of "Brunehild's Causeways." Her name was associated with many other things in the land. In a forest near Bourges men long pointed out "Brunehild's castle," at Etampes was shown "Brunehild's tower," and near Cahors "Brunehild's fort." A more interesting evidence of her activity for the good of her people for ages existed in the by-word of "Brunehild's alms," which long retained the evidence of her abundant charities. She protected men of letters,—a rare production in that day,—and in return we find one of them, Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, dedicating poems to her.
But the life of Queen Brunehild was far from being a quiet one. In addition to her conflicts with her mortal foe, Queen Fredegonde, she had her own nobles to fight against. They seem to have detested her from the fact that her palace was filled with royal officers and favorites, whose presence excited the jealousy of the great landholders and warriors. But Brunehild protected them, with unyielding courage, against their foes, and proved herself every inch a queen. It was a semblance of the Roman imperial monarchy which she wished to establish in Austrasia, and to her efforts in this direction were due her struggles with the turbulent lords of the land, whose opposition gave her more and more trouble as time went on.
A story of this conflict is told by Gregory of Tours. One of the palace officers of the queen, Lupus, a Roman by birth, but made by her duke of Champagne, "was being constantly insulted and plundered by his enemies, especially by Ursion Bertfried. At last, having agreed to slay him, they marched against him with an army. At the sight, Brunehild, compassionating the evil case of one of her lieges unjustly presented, assumed a manly courage, and threw herself among the hostile battalions, crying, 'Stay, warriors; refrain from this wicked deed; persecute not the innocent; engage not, for a single man's sake, in a battle which will desolate the country!' 'Back, woman!' said Ursion to her; 'let it suffice thee to have ruled under thy husband's sway. Now it is thy son that reigns, and his kingdom is under our protection, not thine. Back! if thou wouldst not that the hoofs of our horses trample thee under as the dust of the ground!' After the dispute had lasted some time in this strain, the queen, by her address, at last prevented the battle from taking place."
The words of Ursion were prophetic. To be trampled under horses' hoofs into the dust was the final fate of the queen, though for many years yet she was to retain her power and to keep up her strife with the foes who surrounded her. Far nobler of soul than Fredegonde, she was as strong in all those qualities which go to make a vigorous queen.
But we must hasten on to the end of these royal rivals. Fredegonde died quietly in Paris, in 597, powerful to her death, and leaving on the throne her son Clotaire II., whom she had infected with all her hatred against the queen of Austrasia. Brunehild lived till 614, thirty-nine years after the death of her husband Sigebert, and through the reigns of her son and two of her grandsons, who were but puppets in her hands. Her later years were marked by lack of womanly virtue, and by an unscrupulousness in ridding herself of her enemies significant of barbarous times. At length, when she had reached the advanced age of eighty years, she was deserted by her army and her people whom the crimes imputed to her had incensed, and fell into the hands of her mortal foe, Clotaire II., in whom all the venom of his cruel mother seemed retained.
After having subjected the aged queen to base and gross insults and severe tortures, the crowned wretch had her paraded on a camel in front of his whole army, and then tied by one arm, one foot, and hair of her head to the tail of an unbroken horse, which dashed and kicked her to pieces as he rushed away in affright, before the eyes of the ferocious Clotaire and his army.
By the death of Brunehild and her sons, whom Clotaire also put to death, this king became master of Austrasia, and thus lord of all the Frankish realm, the successor in power of the two queens whose story stands out so prominently in that dark and barbarous age.
ROLAND AT RONCESVALLES.
From the long, straight ridge of the Pyrenees, stretching from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, and dividing the land of France from that of Spain, there extend numerous side-hills, like buttresses to the main mountain mass, running far into the plains on either side. Between these rugged buttresses lie narrow valleys, now spreading into broad amphitheatres, now contracting into straightened ravines, winding upward to the passes across the mountain chain. Dense forests often border these valleys, covering the mountain-sides and summits, and hiding with their deep-green foliage the rugged rocks from which they spring. Such is the scene of the celebrated story which we have next to tell.
All these mountain valleys are filled with legends, centring around a great event and a mighty hero of the remote past, whose hand and sword made famous the little vale of Roncesvalles, which lies between the defiles of Sizer and Val Carlos, in the land of the Basques. This hero was Roland, the nephew of the great emperor Charlemagne, who has been given by romantic fiction the first place among the legendary Paladins of France, and made memorable in epic poetry as the hero of the celebrated "Orlando Furioso" of Ariosto, and the less notable "Orlando Innamorato" of Boiardo.
All these stories are based upon a very slender fabric of history, which would have been long since forgotten had not legend clung to it with so loving a hand, and credited its hero with such a multitude of marvellous deeds. The history of the event is preserved for us by Eginhard, the secretary and annalist of Charlemagne. He takes few words to tell what has given rise to innumerable strophes.
In the year 778, Charlemagne invaded Spain, then almost wholly in the hands of the Saracens. His march was a victorious one until Saragossa was reached. Here he found himself before a well-supplied, strongly-fortified, and fully-garrisoned city, while his own army was none too well provided with food. In the end he found it expedient to retreat, leaving Saragossa still in Saracen hands.
The retreat was conducted without loss until the Pyrenees were reached. These were crossed by the main body of the army without hostile disturbance, leaving to follow the baggage-train and a rear-guard under the king's nephew Roland, prefect of the Marches of Brittany, with whom were Eginhard, master of the household, and Anselm, count of the palace; while legend adds the names of Oliver, Roland's bosom friend, the warlike Archbishop Turpin, and other warriors of renown.
Their route lay through the pass of Roncesvalles so narrow at points that only two, or at most three men could move abreast, while the rugged bordering hills were covered with dense forest, affording a secure retreat for an ambushing foe. It was when the main body of the army was miles in advance, and the rear-guard struggling up this narrow defile, that disaster came. Suddenly the surrounding woods and mountains bristled with life. A host of light-armed Basque mountaineers emerged from the forest, and poured darts and arrows upon the crowded columns of heavily-armed Franks below. Rocks were rolled down the steep declivities, crushing living men beneath their weight. The surprised troops withdrew in haste to the bottom of the valley, death pursuing them at every step. The battle that followed was doubtless a severe and hotly-contested one; the prominent place it has gained in tradition indicates that the Franks must have defended themselves valiantly; but they fought at a terrible disadvantage, and in the end they were killed to a man. Then the assailants, rich with the plunder which they had obtained from the baggage-wagons and the slain bodies, vanished into the forests whence they came, leaving to Charlemagne, when he returned in search of Roland and his men, only the silence of death and the livid heaps of the slain in that terrible valley of slaughter.
Such is the sober fact. Fancy has adorned it with a thousand loving fictions. In the valleys are told a multitude of tales connected with Roland's name. A part of his armor has given its name to a flower of the hills, the casque de Roland, a species of hellebore. The breiche de Roland, a deep fissure in the mountain crest, is ascribed to a stroke of his mighty blade. The sound of his magic horn still seems to echo around those rugged crests and pulse through those winding valleys, as it did on the day when, as legend says, it was borne to the ears of Charlemagne miles away, and warned him of the deadly peril of his favorite chieftain.
This horn is reputed to have had magical powers. Its sound was so intense as to split all other horns. The story goes that Roland, himself sadly wounded, his fellows falling thickly around him, blew upon it so mighty a blast that the veins and nerves of his neck burst under the effort. The sound reached the ears of Charlemagne, then encamped eight miles away, in the Val Carlos pass.
"It is Roland's horn," he cried. "He never blows it except the extremity be great. We must hasten to his aid."
"I have known him to sound it on light occasions," answered Ganalon, Roland's secret foe. "He is, perhaps, pursuing some wild beast, and the sound echoes through the wood. It would be fruitless to lead back your weary host to seek him."
Charlemagne yielded to his specious argument, and Roland and all his followers died. Charles afterwards discovered the body with the arms extended in the form of a cross, and wept over it his bitterest tears. "There did Charlemagne," says the legend, "mourn for Orlando to the very last day of his life. On the spot where he died he encamped and caused the body to be embalmed with balsam, myrrh, and aloes. The whole camp watched it that night, honoring his corpse with hymns and songs, and innumerable torches and fires kindled in the adjacent mountains."
At the battle of Hastings the minstrel Taillefer, as we have elsewhere told, rode before the advancing Norman host, singing the "Song of Roland," till a British hand stilled his song and laid him low in death. This ancient song is attributed, though doubtfully, to Turold, that abbot of Peterborough who was so detested by Hereward the Wake. From it came many of the stories which afterwards were embodied in the epic legends of mediaeval days. To quote a few passages from it may not be amiss. The poet tells us that Roland refused to blow his magic horn in the beginning of the battle. In the end, when ruin and death were gathering fast around, and blood was flowing freely from his own veins, he set his lips to the mighty instrument, and filled vales and mountains with its sound.
"With pain and dolor, groan and pant, Count Roland sounds his Olifant: The crimson stream shoots from his lips; The blood from bursten temple drips; But far, oh, far, the echoes ring, And in the defiles reach the king, Reach Naymes and the French array; ''Tis Roland's horn,' the king doth say; 'He only sounds when brought to bay,' How huge the rocks! how dark and steep The streams are swift; the valleys deep! Out blare the trumpets, one and all, As Charles responds to Roland's call. Round wheels the king, with choler mad The Frenchmen follow, grim and sad; No one but prays for Roland's life, Till they have joined him in the strife. But, ah! what prayer can alter fate? The time is past; too late! too late!"
The fight goes on. More of the warriors fall. Oliver dies. Roland and Turpin continue the fight. Once more a blast is sent from the magic horn.
"Then Roland takes his horn once more; His blast is feebler than before, But still it reaches the emperor; He hears it, and he halts to shout, 'Let clarions, one and all, ring out!' Then sixty thousand clarions ring, And rocks and dales set echoing. And they, too, hear,—the pagan pack; They force the rising laughter back: 'Charles, Charles,' they cry, 'is on our track!' They fly; and Roland stands alone,— Alone, afoot; his steed is gone."
Turpin dies. Roland remains the sole survivor of the host, and he hurt unto death. He falls on the field in a swoon. A wounded Saracen rises, and, seeing him, says,—
"Vanquished, he is vanquished, the nephew of Charles! There is his sword, which I will carry off to Arabia." He knew not the power of the dying hero.
"And as he makes to draw the steel, A something does Sir Roland feel; He opes his eyes, says nought but this, 'Thou art not one of us, I wis,' Raises the horn he could not quit, And cracks the pagan's skull with it.... And then the touch of death that steals Down, down from head to heart he feels; Under yon pine he hastes away On the green turf his head to lay; Placing beneath him horn and sword, He turns towards the Paynim horde, And there, beneath the pine, he sees A vision of old memories; A thought of realms he helped to win, Of his sweet France, of kith and kin, And Charles, his lord, who nurtured him."
And here let us take our leave of Roland the brave, whose brief story of fact has been rounded into so vast a story of fiction that the actual histories of few men equal in extent that of this hero of romance.
CHARLEMAGNE AND THE AVARS.
Striking is the story which the early centuries of modern Europe have to tell us. After the era of the busy building of empire in which the sturdy old Romans were the active agents, there came an era of the overthrow of empire, during which the vast results of centuries of active civilization seemed about to sink and be lost in the seething whirlpool of barbarism. The wild hordes of the north of Europe overflowed the rich cities and smiling plains of the south, and left ruin where they found wealth and splendor. Later, the half-savage nomades of eastern Europe and northern Asia—the devastating Huns—poured out upon the budding kingdoms which had succeeded the mighty empire of Rome, and threatened to trample under foot all that was left of the work of long preceding ages. Civilization had swung downward into barbarism; was barbarism to swing downward into savagery, and man return to his primitive state?
Against such a conceivable fate of Europe Charlemagne served as a mighty bulwark, and built by his genius an impermeable wall against the torrent of savage invasion, saying to its inflowing waves, "Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther." Attila, the "Scourge of God," in the track of whose horses' hoofs "no grass could grow," met his only great defeat at Chalons-sur-Marne, on the soil of Gaul. He died in Hungary; his hordes were scattered; Europe again began to breathe. But not long had the Huns of Attila ceased their devastations when another tribe of Hunnish origin appeared, and began a like career of ravage and ruin. These called themselves Avars. Small in numbers at first, they grew by vanquishing and amalgamating other tribes of Huns until they became the terror and threatened to become the masters of Europe. Hungary, the centre of Attila's great circle of power, was made their place of abode. Here was the palace and stronghold of their monarchs, the Chagans, and here they continued a threat to all the surrounding nations, while enjoying the vast spoils which they had wrung from ruined peoples.
Time passed on; civilization showed feeble signs of recovery; France and Italy became its abiding-places; but barbarian invasion still threatened these lands, and no security could be felt while the hordes of the north and east remained free to move at will. This was the task that Charlemagne was born to perform. Before his day the Huns of the east, the Saxons of the north, the Moors of the south kept the growing civilization of France in constant alarm. After his day aggression by land was at an end; only by sea could the north invade the south.
The record of the deeds of Charlemagne is a long one. The Saxons were conquered and incorporated into the kingdom of the Franks. Then collision with the Avars took place. The story of how Charlemagne dealt with these savage hordes is one of the most interesting episodes in the extended tale of his wars, and we therefore select it for our present theme. The Avars had long been quiet, but now again began to stir, making two invasions, one of Lombardy, the other of Bavaria. Both were repelled. Stung by defeat, they raised a greater army than before, and in 788 crossed the Danube, determined in their savage souls to teach these proud Franks a lesson, and write on their land in blood the old story of the prowess and invincibility of the Huns. To their alarm and astonishment they found themselves not only checked, but utterly routed, thousands of them being left dead upon the field, and other thousands swallowed up by the Danube, in their wild effort to swim that swollen stream.
This brings us to the record of the dealings of Charlemagne with the Huns, who had thus dared to invade his far-extending kingdom. Vast had been the work of this mighty monarch in subduing the unquiet realms around him. Italy had been made a part of his dominions, Spain invaded and quieted, and the Saxons, the fiercest people of the north, forced to submit to the power of the Franks. Now the Avars of Hungary, the most dangerous of the remaining neighbors of Charlemagne's great empire, were to be dealt with.
During the two years succeeding their defeat, overtures for peace passed between the Avars and Charlemagne, overtures which, perhaps, had their chief purpose in the desire to gain time to prepare for war.
These nomadic hordes were celebrated alike for their cunning and their arrogance,—cunning when they had an object to gain, arrogance when they had gained it. In their dealings with Charlemagne they displayed the same mixture of artfulness and insolence which they had employed in their dealings with the empire of the East. But they had now to do with a different man from the weak emperors of Constantinople. Charlemagne continued his negotiations, but prepared for hostilities, and in the spring of 791 put himself at the head of a powerful army, prepared to repay the barbarian hordes with some of the havoc which they had dealt out to the other nations of Europe.
It was no light task he had undertaken, and the great general made ready for it with the utmost care and deliberation. He was about to invade a country of great resources, of remarkable natural and artificial defences, and inhabited by a people celebrated for their fierceness and impetuosity, and who had hitherto known little besides victory. And he was to leave behind him in his march a kingdom full of unquiet elements, which needed the presence of his strong arm and quick mind to keep it in subjection. He knew not but that the Saxons might rise upon his march and spread ruin upon his path. There was one way to avoid this, and that he took. Years before, he had incorporated the Lombards with his army, and found them to fight as valiantly for him as against him. He now did the same with the Saxons, drafting a large body of them into his ranks, with the double purpose of weakening the fighting power of the nation, and employing their fierce courage in his own service. All winter the world of the Franks was in commotion, preparing for war. The chroniclers of the times speak of "innumerable multitudes" which the great conqueror set in motion in the early spring.
The army marched in three grand divisions. One entered Bavaria, joined to itself recruits raised in that country, and descended the Danube in boats, which carried also an abundance of provisions and military stores. A second division, under Charlemagne himself, marched along the southern side of the river; and a third, under his generals Theoderic and Meginfried, along its northern banks. The emperor had besides sent orders to his son Pepin, king of Italy, bidding him to lead an army of Lombards and other Italians to the frontier of Hungary, and co-operate with the other troops.
Before telling the story of the expedition, it behooves us to give some account of the country which the king of the Franks was about to invade, and particularly to describe the extraordinary defences and interior conditions with which it is credited by the gossipy old Monk of St. Gall, the most entertaining, though hardly the most credible, writer of that period. All authors admit that the country of the Avars was defended by an ingenious and singular system of fortifications. The account we propose to give, the Monk of St. Gall declares that he wrote down from the words of an eye-witness, Adelbart by name, who took part in the expedition. But one cannot help thinking that either this eye-witness mingled a strong infusion of imagination with his vision, or that the monk added fiction to his facts, with the laudable purpose of making an attractive story. Such as it is, we give it, without further comment.
Nine concentric circles of palisaded walls, says the garrulous old monk, surrounded the country of the Avars, the outer one enclosing the entire realm of Hungary, the inner ones growing successively smaller, the innermost being the central fortification within which dwelt the Chagan, with his palace and his treasures. These walls were made of double rows of palisades of oak, beech, and pine logs, twenty feet high and twenty feet asunder, the interval between them being filled with stone and lime. Thus was formed a great wall, which at a distance must have presented a singular appearance, since the top was covered with soil and planted with bushes and trees.
The outermost wall surrounded the whole country. Within it, at a distance of twenty Teutonic, or forty Italian, miles, was a second, of smaller diameter, but constructed in the same manner. At an equal distance inward was a third, and thus they continued inward, fortress after fortress, to the number of nine, the outer one rivalling the Chinese wall in extent, the inner one—the ring, as it was called—being of small diameter, and enclosing a central space within which the Avars guarded the accumulated wealth of centuries of conquest and plunder.
The only places of exit from these great palisaded fortifications were very narrow gates, or sally-ports, opening at proper intervals, and well guarded by armed sentinels. The space between the successive ramparts was a well-wooded and thickly-settled country, filled with villages and homesteads, so close together that the sound of a trumpet could be heard from one to the other, and thus an alarm from the exterior be conveyed with remarkable rapidity throughout the whole land.
This and more the veracious Monk of St. Gall tells us. As to believing him, that is quite another matter. Sufficient is told by other writers to convince us that the country was guarded by strong and singular defences, but the nine concentric circles of breastworks, surpassing the Chinese wall in length and size, the reader is quite privileged to doubt.
Certainly the defences failed to check the advance of the army of Charlemagne. Though he had begun his march in the spring, so extensive were his preparations that it was September before he reached the banks of the river Enns, the border line between Bavaria and Hungary. Here the army encamped for three days, engaged in prayers for victory, and here encouraging news came to Charlemagne. His son Pepin, with the Duke of Friuli, had already invaded Hungary, met an army of the Avars, and defeated it with great slaughter. The news of this success must have invigorated the army under Charlemagne. Breaking camp, they invaded the country of the Avars, advancing with the usual impetuosity of their great leader. One after another the Hungarian lines of defence were taken, until three had fallen, while the country between them was laid waste. No army appeared in the path of the invaders; sword in hand, Charlemagne assailed and broke through the strong walls of his foes; soon he reached the river Raab, which he followed to its junction with the Danube.
Until now all had promised complete success. Those frightful Huns, who had so long kept Europe in terror, seemed about to be subdued and made subjects of the great monarch of the Franks. But, through that fatality which so often ruins the best-laid plans of men, Charlemagne suddenly found himself in a perilous and critical situation. His army was composed almost wholly of cavalry. As he lay encamped by the Danube, a deadly pestilence attacked the horses, and swept them off with such rapidity that a hasty retreat became necessary. Nine-tenths of the horses had perished before the retiring army reached Bavaria. Good fortune, however, attended the retreat. Had the Avars recovered from the panic into which their successive defeats had thrown them, they might have taken a disastrous revenge upon the invaders. But as it was, Charlemagne succeeded in retiring without being attacked, and was able to take with him the valuable booty and the host of prisoners which were the trophies of his victorious progress.
He fully intended to return and complete the conquest of Hungary in the spring, and, to facilitate his advance, had a bridge of boats constructed, during the winter, across the Danube. He never returned, as it happened. Circumstances hindered. But in 794 his subject, the margrave Eric, Duke of Friuli, again invaded Hungary, which had in the interval been exhausted by civil wars. All the defences of the Avars went down before him, and his victorious troops penetrated to that inner fortress, called the Ring, which so long had been the boasted stronghold of the Chagans, and within whose confines were gathered the vast treasures which the conquering hordes had accumulated during centuries of victory and plunder, together with the great wealth in gold and silver coin which they had wrung by way of tribute from the weak rulers of the Eastern Empire. A conception of the extent of this spoil may be gathered from the fact that the Greek emperor during the seventh century paid the Avars annually as tribute eighty thousand gold solidi, and that on a single occasion the Emperor Heraclius was forced to pay them an equal sum.
In a nation that had made any progress towards civilization this wealth would have been distributed and perhaps dissipated. But the only use which the half-savage Avars seem to have found for it was to store it up as spoil. For centuries it had been accumulating within the treasure-house of the Ring, in convenient form to be seized and borne away by the conquering army which now broke into this long-defiant stronghold. The great bulk of this wealth, consisting of gold and silver coin, vessels of the precious metals, garments of great value, rich weapons and ornaments, jewels of priceless worth, and innumerable other articles, was taken to Aix-la-Chapelle, and laid at the feet of Charlemagne, to be disposed of as he saw fit. So extensive was it, that, as we are told, fifteen wagons, each drawn by four oxen, were needed to convey it to the capital of the mighty emperor.
Charlemagne dealt with it in a very different manner from that pursued by the monarchs of the Avars. He distributed it with a liberal hand, the church receiving valuable donations, including some of the most splendid objects, a large share being set aside for the pope, and most of the balance being given to the poor and to the royal officers, nobles, and soldiers. The amount thus divided was so great that, as we are told, the nation of the Franks "became rich, whereas they had been poor before." That treasure which the barbarian invaders had been centuries in collecting from the nations of Europe was in a few months again scattered far and wide.
Eric's invasion was followed by one from Pepin, king of Italy, who in his turn entered the Ring, took the wealth which Eric's raiders had left, demolished the palace of the Chagan, and completely destroyed the central stronghold of the Avars. They were not, however, fully subdued. Risings afterwards took place, invading armies were destroyed, and not until 803 was a permanent conquest made. The Avars in the end accepted baptism and held themselves as vassals or subjects of the great Frankish monarch, who permitted them to retain some of their old laws and governmental forms. At a subsequent date they were nearly exterminated by the Moravians, and after the year 827 this once powerful people disappear from history. Part of their realm was incorporated with Moravia, and remained so until the incursion of the Magyars in 884.
As regards the location of the Ring, or central stronghold of the Avars, it is believed to have been in the wide plain between the Danube and the Theiss, the probable site being the Pusste-Sarto-Sar, on the right of the Tatar. Traces of the wonderful circular wall, or of the palisaded and earth-filled fortifications of the Avars, are said still to exist in this locality. They are known as Avarian Rings, and in a measure sustain the old stories told of them, though hardly that of the legend-loving Monk of St. Gall and his romancing informant.
THE CROWNING OF CHARLEMAGNE.
Charlemagne, the great king, had built himself an empire only surpassed by that of ancient Rome. All France was his; all Italy was his; all Saxony and Hungary were his; all western Europe indeed, from the borders of Slavonia to the Atlantic, with the exception of Spain, was his. He was the bulwark of civilization against the barbarism of the north and east, the right hand of the church in its conflict with paganism, the greatest and noblest warrior the world had seen since the days of the great Caesar, and it seemed fitting that he should be given the honor which was his due, and that in him and his kingdom the great empire of Rome should be restored.
Augustulus, the last emperor of the west, had ceased to reign in 476. The Eastern Empire was still alive, or rather half-alive, for it was a life without spirit or energy. The empire of the west had vanished under the flood of barbarism, and for more than three centuries there had been no claimant of the imperial crown. But here was a strong man, a noble man, the lord and master of a mighty realm which included the old imperial city; it seemed fitting that he should take the title of emperor and rule over the western world as the successor of the famous line of the Caesars.
So thought the pope, Leo III., and so thought his cardinals. He had already sent to Charlemagne the keys of the prison of St. Peter and the banner of the city of Rome. In 799 he had a private interview with the king, whose purpose no one knew. In August of the year 800, having settled the affairs of his wide-spread kingdom, Charlemagne suddenly announced in the general assembly of the Franks that he was about to make a journey to Rome. Why he went he did not say. The secret was not yet ready to be revealed.
On the 23d of November the king of the Franks arrived at the gates of Rome, a city which he was to leave with the time-honored title of Emperor of the West. "The pope received him as he was dismounting; then, on the next day, standing on the steps of the basilica of St. Peter and amidst general hallelujahs, he introduced the king into the sanctuary of the blessed apostle, glorifying and thanking the Lord for this happy event."
In the days that followed, Charlemagne examined the grievances of the Church and took measures to protect the pope against his enemies. And while he was there two monks came from Jerusalem, bearing with them the keys of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary, and the sacred standard of the holy city, which the patriarch had intrusted to their care to present to the great king of the Franks. Charlemagne was thus virtually commissioned as the defender of the Church of Christ and the true successor of the Christian emperors of Rome.
Meanwhile, Leo had called a synod of the Church to consider whether the title of emperor should not be conferred on Charles the Great. At present, he said, the Roman world had no sovereign. The throne of Constantinople was occupied by a woman, the Empress Irene, who had usurped the title and made it her own by murder. It was intolerable that Charles should be looked on as a mere patrician, an implied subordinate to this unworthy sovereign of the Eastern Empire. He was the master of Italy, Gaul, and Germany, said Leo. Who was there besides him to act as Defender of the Faith? On whom besides could the Church rest, in its great conflict with paganism and unbelief?
The synod agreed with him. It was fitting that the great king should be crowned emperor, and restore in his person the ancient glory of the realm. A petition was sent to Charles. He answered that, however unworthy the honor, he could not resist the desire of that august body. And thus was formally completed what probably had been the secret understanding of the pope and the king months before. Charles, king of the Franks, was to be given the title and dignity of Charles, Emperor of the West.
The season of the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas-day of the year 800, duly came. It was destined to be a great day in the annals of the Roman city. The chimes of bells which announced the dawning of that holy day fell on the ears of great multitudes assembled in the streets of Rome, all full of the grand event that day to be consummated, and rumors of which had spread far and wide. The great basilica of St. Peter was to be the scene of the imposing ceremony, and at the hour fixed its aisles were crowded with the greatest and the most devoted and enthusiastic assemblage it had ever held, all eager to behold and to lend their support to the glorious act of coronation, as they deemed it, fixed for that day, an act which, as they hoped, would restore Rome to the imperial position which that great city had so many centuries held.
It was a noble pile, that great cathedral of the early church. It had been recently enriched by costly gifts set aside by Charles from the spoils of the Avars, and converted into the most beautiful of ornaments consecrated to the worship of Christ. Before the altar stood the golden censers, containing seventeen pounds weight of solid gold. Above gleamed three grand coronas of solid silver, of three hundred and seven pounds in weight, ablaze with a glory of wax-lights, whose beams softly illuminated the whole great edifice. The shrine of St. Peter dazzled the eyes by its glittering "rufas," made of forty-nine pounds of the purest gold, and enriched by brilliant jewels till they sparkled like single great gems. There also hung superb curtains of white silk, embroidered with roses, and with rich and intricate borders, while in the centre was a splendid cross worked in gold and purple. Suspended from the keystone of the dome hung the most attractive of the many fine pictures which adorned the church, a peerless painting of the Saviour, whose beauty drew all eyes and aroused in all souls fervent aspirations of devoted faith. Never had Christian church presented a grander spectacle; never had one held so immense and enthusiastic an audience; for one of the greatest ceremonies the Christian world had known was that day to be performed.
Through the wide doors of the great church filed a procession of bronzed veterans of the Frankish army; the nobility and the leading people of Rome; the nobles, generals, and courtiers who had followed Charlemagne thither; warriors from all parts of the empire, with their corslets and winged helmets of steel and their uniforms of divers colors; civic functionaries in their gorgeous robes of office; dignitaries of the church in their rich vestments; a long array of priests in their white dalmatics, until all Christendom seemed present in its noblest and most showy representatives. Heathendom may have been represented also, for it may be that messengers from the great caliph of Bagdad, the renowned Haroun al Raschid, the hero of the "Arabian Nights' Entertainments," were present in the church. Many members of the royal family of Charlemagne were present to lend dignity to the scene, and towering above them all was the great Charles himself, probably clad in Roman costume, his garb as a patrician of the imperial city, which dignity had been conferred upon him. Loud plaudits welcomed him as he rose into view. There were many present who had seen him at the head of his army, driving before him hosts of flying Saracens, Saxons, Lombards, and Avars, and to them he was the embodiment of earthly power, the mighty patron of the church, and the scourge of pagans and infidels; and as they gazed on his noble form and dignified face it seemed to some of them as if they looked with human eyes on the face and form of a representative of the Deity.
A solemn mass was sung, with all the impressive ceremony suitable to the occasion. As the king rose to his feet, or while he still kneeled before the altar and the "confession,"—the tomb of St. Peter,—the pope, as if moved by a sudden impulse, took up a splendid crown which lay upon the altar, and placed it on his brow, saying, in a loud voice,—
"Long life and victory to Charles, the most pious Augustus, crowned by God the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans!"
At once, as if this were a signal for the breaking of the constrained silence, a mighty shout rose from the whole vast assembly. Again and again it was repeated, and then broke out the solemn chant of the litany, sung by hundreds of voices, while Charlemagne stood in dignified and patient silence. Whether or not this act of the pope was a surprise to him we have no assurance. Eginhard tells us that he declared that he would not have entered the church that day if he had foreseen the pope's intentions; yet it is not easy to believe that he was ignorant of or non-consenting to the coming event. At the close of the chant Leo prostrated himself at the feet of Charlemagne, and paid him adoration, as had been the custom in the days of the old emperors. He then anointed him with holy oil. And from that day forward Charles, "giving up the title of patrician, bore that of emperor and Augustus."
The ceremonies ended in the presentation from the emperor to the church of a great silver table, and, in conjunction with his son Charles and his daughters, of golden vessels belonging to the table of five hundred pounds' weight. This great gift was followed, on the Feast of the Circumcision, with a superb golden corona to be suspended over the altar. It was ornamented with gems, and contained fifty pounds of gold. On the Feast of the Epiphany he added three golden chalices, weighing forty-two pounds, and a golden paten of twenty-two pounds' weight. To the other churches also, and to the pope, he made magnificent gifts, and added three thousand pounds of silver to be distributed among the poor.
Thus, after more than three centuries, the title of Augustus was restored to the western world. It was destined to be held many centuries thereafter by the descendants of Charlemagne. After the division of his empire into France and Germany, the imperial title was preserved in the latter realm, the fiction—for it was little more—that an emperor of the west existed being maintained down to the present century.
As to the influence exerted by the power and dominion of Charlemagne on the minds of his contemporaries and successors, many interesting stories might be told. Fable surrounded him, legend attached to his deeds, and at a later date he shared the honor given to the legendary King Arthur of England, of being made a hero of romance, a leading character in many of those interminable romances of chivalry which formed the favorite reading of the mediaeval age.
But we need not go beyond his own century to find him a hero of romance. The monk of the abbey of St. Gall, in Switzerland, whose story of the defences of the land of the Avars we have already quoted, has left us a chronicle full of surprising tales of the life and doings of Charles the Great. One of these may be of interest, as an example of the kind of history with which our ancestors of a thousand years ago were satisfied.
Charlemagne was approaching with his army Pavia, the capital of the Lombards. Didier, the king, was greatly disquieted at his approach. With him was Ogier the Dane (Ogger the monk calls him), one of the most famous captains of Charlemagne, and a prominent hero of romance. He had quarrelled with the king and had taken refuge with the king of the Lombards. Thus goes on the chronicler of St. Gall:
"When Didier and Ogger heard that the dread monarch was coming, they ascended a tower of vast height, where they could watch his arrival from afar off and from every quarter. They saw, first of all, engines of war such as must have been necessary for the armies of Darius or Julius Caesar.
"'Is not Charles,' asked Didier of Ogger, 'with this great army?'
"But the other answered, 'No.' The Lombard, seeing afterwards an immense body of soldiery gathered from all quarters of the vast empire, said to Ogger, 'Certainly, Charles advances in triumph in the midst of this throng.'
"'No, not yet; he will not appear so soon,' was the answer.
"'What should we do, then,' rejoined Didier, who began to be perturbed, 'should he come accompanied by a larger band of warriors?'
"'You will see what he is when he comes,' replied Ogger; 'but as to what will become of us I know nothing.'
"As they were thus parleying, appeared the body of guards that knew no repose; and at this sight the Lombard, overcome with dread, cried, 'This time it is surely Charles.'
"'No," answered Ogger, 'not yet.'
"In their wake came the bishops, the abbots, the ordinaries of the chapels royal, and the counts; and then Didier, no longer able to bear the light of day or to face death, cried out with groans, 'Let us descend and hide ourselves in the bowels of the earth, far from the face and the fury of so terrible a foe.'
"Trembling the while, Ogger, who knew by experience what were the power and might of Charles, and who had learned the lesson by long consuetude in better days, then said, 'When you shall behold the crops shaking for fear in the fields, and the gloomy Po and the Ticino overflowing the walls of the city with their waves blackened with steel, then may you think that Charles is coming.'
"He had not ended these words when there began to be seen in the west, as it were a black cloud raised by the north-west wind or by Boreas, which turned the brightest day into awful shadows. But as the emperor drew nearer and nearer, the gleam of arms caused to shine on the people shut up within the city a day more gloomy than any kind of night. And then appeared Charles himself, that man of steel, with his head encased in a helmet of steel, his hands garnished with gauntlets of steel, his heart of steel and his shoulders of marble protected by a cuirass of steel, and his left hand armed with a lance of steel which he held aloft in the air, for as to his right hand, he kept that continually on the hilt of his invincible sword. The outside of his thighs, which the rest, for their greater ease in mounting on horseback, were wont to leave unshackled even by straps, he wore encircled by plates of steel. What shall I say concerning his boots? All the army were wont to have them invariably of steel; on his buckler there was naught to be seen but steel; his horse was of the color and the strength of steel.
"All those who went before the monarch, all those who marched by his side, all those who followed after, even the whole mass of the army, had armor of the like sort, so far as the means of each permitted. The fields and the highways were covered with steel; the points of steel reflected the rays of the sun; and this steel, so hard, was borne by people with hearts still harder. The flash of steel spread terror throughout the streets of the city. 'What steel! alack, what steel!' Such were the bewildered cries the citizens raised. The firmness of manhood and of youth gave way at sight of the steel; and the steel paralyzed the wisdom of graybeards. That which I, poor tale-teller, mumbling and toothless, have attempted to depict in a long description, Ogger perceived at one rapid glance, and said to Didier, 'Here is what you so anxiously sought,' and whilst uttering these words he fell down almost lifeless."
If our sober chronicler of the ninth century could thus let his imagination wander in speaking of the great king, what wonder that the romancers of a later age took Charlemagne and his Paladins as fruitful subjects for their wildly fanciful themes!
PETER THE HERMIT.
In the last decade of the eleventh century there might have been seen, wandering through every part of France and Germany, a man of singular appearance. Small of stature, almost dwarfish in size, emaciated by rigid austerities, angular and ungainly in form, clad in a woollen tunic over which he wore a serge cloak that came down to his heels, his head and feet bare, and mounted on an ass that seemed to have practised the same austerities as its master, this singular person rode up and down the land, rousing everywhere as he went the wildest enthusiasm. Miserable as he seemed in body, he was a man of active and earnest mind, of quick intellect, keen and penetrating eye, and an ease, fluency, and force of speech that gave him the power to sway multitudes and stir up the soul of Europe as no man before him had ever done.
This man was Peter the Hermit, the father of the Crusades. He had been a soldier in his youth; afterwards a married man and father of a family; later a monk and recluse; then a pilgrim to Jerusalem, now he was an envoy from Simeon, patriarch of Jerusalem, to arouse the nations of Europe with the story of the cruelties to which Christian pilgrims were subjected by the barbarous Turks.
The pope, Urban II., had blessed his enterprise; and then, dressed and mounted as described, and bearing in his arms a huge cross, the inspired envoy rode throughout the Teutonic lands, everywhere recounting with vehement speech and with the force of fiery indignation the sufferings of the Christians and the barbarities of the Turks, and calling on all pious souls to take arms in defence of the Holy Sepulchre and for the emancipation of the Holy Land from infidel control.
"We saw him at that time," says Guibert de Nogent; his contemporary, "scouring city and town, and preaching everywhere. The people crowded around him, heaped presents upon him, and celebrated his sanctity by such great praises that I remember not that like honor was ever rendered to any other person. In all that he did or said he seemed to have in him something divine, insomuch that people went so far as to pluck hairs from his mule to keep as relics."
Never had mankind been more excited. All Europe was aroused, indignant, fiery. The Holy Sepulchre must be rescued, Palestine must be in the hands of the Christians, the infidel Turks must be driven from that sacred soil and punished for the indignities they had heaped upon pilgrims, Europe must march to Asia, and win salvation by driving the unbelieving barbarian from the land sanctified by the feet of Christ.
Everywhere men rose, seized their arms and prepared for the march, of whose length and dangers few of them dreamed. "The most distant islands and savage countries," says William of Malmesbury, "were inspired by this ardent passion. The Welshman left his hunting, the Scotchman his fellowship with vermin, the Dane his drinking-party, the Norwegian his raw fish." So far extended the story of the mission of Peter the Hermit; while in France, Germany, and the other lands in which he made his indignant and fiery appeals, the whole population seemed ready to rise and march en masse to the Holy Land.
In 1095, taking advantage of this enthusiasm, Urban II., the pope, called a council at Clermont, in Auvergne, where numbers of clergymen and multitudes of people assembled. Here, after the council, the pope mounted a platform which rose in the midst of a great open space, and around which extended a vast throng of knights, nobles, and common people. Peter the Hermit stood by the pope's side, and told the story of the miseries and humiliations of the Christians in Jerusalem in that fiery and fluent oratory which had stirred the soul of all Europe. Pope Urban followed in an impassioned address, recounting the sufferings of the Christian pilgrims, and calling upon the people of France to rise for their deliverance.
"Men of France," he said, "men from beyond the mountains, nations chosen and beloved of God, right valiant knights, recall the virtues of your ancestors, the virtue and greatness of King Charlemagne and your other kings; it is from you above all that Jerusalem awaits the help she invokes, for to you, above all nations, God has vouchsafed signal glory in arms. Christians, put an end to your own misdeeds and let concord reign among you while in those distant lands. If necessary, your bodies will redeem your souls.... These things I publish and command, and for their execution I appoint the end of the coming spring."
His eloquent words roused the mass to madness. From the throng rose one general cry, "God wills it! God wills it!" Again and again it was repeated as if it would never end, while swords waving in the air, banners floating on high, and every indication of applause and approval, attested the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd.
"If the Lord God were not in your soul, you would not all have uttered the same words," cried the pope, when he could make himself heard. "In the battle, then, be those your war-cry, those words that came from God. In the army of our Lord let nought be heard but that one shout, 'God wills it! God wills it!' Whosoever hath a wish to enter upon this pilgrimage, let him wear upon his breast or his brow the cross of the Lord, and let him who, in accomplishment of his desire, shall be willing to march away, place the cross behind him, between his shoulders; for thus he will fulfil the precept of the Lord, who said, 'He that doth not take up his cross and follow me, is not worthy of me.'"
These words aroused a new enthusiasm. The desire to assume the cross spread like a contagion through the crowd. Adhemar, bishop of Puy, was the first to receive it from the pope's hands. This emblem was of red cloth, sewed on the right shoulder of the coat, or fastened on the front of the helmet. In haste the crowd sought materials to make it. The passion for wearing the cross spread like wild fire through Europe. Peter the Hermit, seconded by the pope, had given birth to the Crusades.
The first outburst of enthusiasm was, as always, the strongest. It has been said that in the spring of 1096 six million souls took the road to Palestine. This is, doubtless, a vast exaggeration, but great numbers set out, and an immense multitude of ignorant and enthusiastic people pushed tumultuously towards the Holy Land, in advance of the organized armies of the First Crusade.
As early as the 8th of March, 1096, great mobs—they cannot fairly be called armies—began their journey towards Palestine. They were not only composed of armed men; women and children made up part of them; whole families abandoned their villages; and without organization or provisions, or a knowledge of what lay before them, the ignorant and enthusiastic mass pushed onward with unquestioning faith.
The first body of these enthusiasts, led by a poor knight called Walter the Penniless, was cut to pieces by the natives of Bulgaria, a few only reaching Constantinople. A second multitude, forty thousand strong, was headed by Peter the Hermit. It was similar in character to the preceding. Whenever a town came in sight on their way, the children eagerly asked if that were Jerusalem. The elders were little better informed. Onward they went, through Hungary, through Bulgaria, through the provinces of the Greek empire, everywhere committing excesses, everywhere treated as enemies by the incensed people, until the line of march was strewn with their dead bodies. Peter the Hermit sought to check their excesses, but in vain; and when, at length, a miserable remnant of them reached Constantinople, the Emperor Alexius hastened to convey them across the Bosphorus, to save the suburbs of his city from their ravages.
In Asia Minor they were assailed by the Turks, and numbers of them slain; and when, in the spring of the next year, Godfrey de Bouillon and the other Crusader chiefs, with a real army of knights and men-at-arms, reached that locality, and marched to besiege Nicaea, the first important Turkish stronghold on their line of march, they saw coming to meet them a miserable band, with every indication of woful destitution, at whose head appeared Peter the Hermit. It was the handful of destitute wanderers that remained from the hundreds of thousands who had set out with such high hopes a year before.