Medieval Europe
by H. W. C. Davis
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No. 13

























All divisions of history into periods are artificial in proportion as they are precise. In history there is, strictly speaking, no end and no beginning. Each event is the product of an infinite series of causes, the starting-point of an infinite series of effects. Language and thought, government and manners, transform themselves by imperceptible degrees; with the result that every age is an age of transition, not fully intelligible unless regarded as the child of a past and the parent of a future. Even so the species of the animal and vegetable kingdoms shade off one into another until, if we only observe the marginal cases, we are inclined to doubt whether the species is more than a figment of the mind. Yet the biologist is prepared to defend the idea of species; and in like manner the historian holds that the distinction between one phase of culture and another is real enough to justify, and, indeed, to demand, the use of distinguishing names. In the development of single communities and groups of communities there occurs now and again a moment of equilibrium, when institutions are stable and adapted to the needs of those who live under them; when the minds of men are filled with ideas which they find completely satisfying; when the statesman, the artist, and the poet feel that they are best fulfilling their several missions if they express in deed and work and language the aspirations common to the whole society. Then for a while man appears to be the master of his fate; and then the prevailing temper is one of reasoned optimism, of noble exaltation, of content allied with hope. The spectator feels that he is face to face with the maturity of a social system and a creed. These moments are rare indeed; but it is for the sake of understanding them that we read history. All the rest of human fortunes is in the nature of an introduction or an epilogue. Now by a period of history we mean the tract of years in which this balance of harmonious activities, this reconciliation of the real with the ideal, is in course of preparing, is actually subsisting, and is vanishing away.

Such a period were the Middle Ages—the centuries that separate the ancient from the modern world. They were something more than centuries of transition, though the genius of a Gibbon has represented them as a long night of ignorance and force, only redeemed from utter squalor by some lingering rays of ancient culture. It is true that they began with an involuntary secession from the power which represented, in the fifth century, the wisdom of Greece and the majesty of Rome; and that they ended with a jubilant return to the Promised Land of ancient art and literature. But the interval had been no mere sojourning in Egypt. The scholars of the Renaissance destroyed as much as they created. They overthrew one civilisation to clear the ground for another. It was imperative that the old canons of thought and conduct should be reconsidered. The time comes in the history of all half-truths when they form the great obstacles to the pursuit of truth. But this should not prevent us from recognising the value of the half-truth as a guide to those who first discover it; nor should we fall into the error, common to all reformers, of supposing that they comprehend the whole when they assert the importance of the neglected half. Erasmus had reason on his side; but so, too, had Aquinas. Luther was in his rough way a prophet; but St. Bernard also had a message for humanity.

Medieval culture was imperfect, was restricted to a narrow circle of superior minds, offered no satisfaction to some of the higher faculties and instincts. Measure it, however, by the memories and the achievements that it has bequeathed to the modern world, and it will be found not unworthy to rank with those of earlier and later Golden Ages. It flourished in the midst of rude surroundings, fierce passions, and material ambitions. The volcanic fires of primitive human nature smouldered near the surface of medieval life; the events chronicled in medieval history are too often those of sordid and relentless strife, of religious persecutions, of crimes and conquests mendaciously excused by the affectation of a moral aim. The truth is that every civilisation has a seamy side, which it is easy to expose and to denounce. We should not, however, judge an age by its crimes and scandals. We do not think of the Athenians solely or chiefly as the people who turned against Pericles, who tried to enslave Sicily, who executed Socrates. We appraise them rather by their most heroic exploits and their most enduring work. We must apply the same test to the medieval nations; we must judge of them by their philosophy and law, by their poetry and architecture, by the examples that they afford of statesmanship and saintship. In these fields we shall not find that we are dealing with the spasmodic and irreflective heroisms which illuminate a barbarous age. The highest medieval achievements are the fruit of deep reflection, of persevering and concentrated effort, of a self forgetting self in the service of humanity and God. In other words, they spring from the soil, and have ripened in the atmosphere, of a civilised society.



Medieval history begins with the dissolution of the Western Empire, with the abandonment of the Latin world to German conquerors. Of the provinces affected by the catastrophe the youngest was Britain; and even Britain had then been Roman soil for more than three hundred years. For Italy, Spain, and Gaul, the change of masters meant the atrophy of institutions which, at first reluctantly accepted, had come by lapse of time to be accepted as part of the natural order. Large tracts of Europe lay outside the evacuated provinces; for the Romans never entered Ireland or Scandinavia or Russia, and had failed to subjugate Scotland and the greater part of modern Germany. But the Romanised provinces long remained the dominant force in European history; the hearth-fire of medieval culture was kindled on the ruins of the Empire. How far the victorious Teuton borrowed from the conquered provincial is a question still debated; the degree and the nature of Rome's influence on the new rulers varied in every province, indeed in different parts of the same province. The fact of the debt remains, suggesting a doubt whether in this case it was indeed the fittest who survived. The flaws in a social order which has collapsed under the stress of adverse fortunes are painfully apparent. It is natural to speak of the final overthrow as the judgment of heaven or the verdict of events. But it has still to be proved that war is an unfailing test of worth; we have banished the judicial combat from our law courts, and we should be rash in assuming that a process obviously absurd when applied to the disputes of individuals ought to determine the judgments of history on nationalities or empires.

The immediate and obvious causes which ruined the Western Empire were military and political—the shortcomings of a professional army and professional administrators. If asked whether these shortcomings were symptomatic of evils more generally diffused through other ranks and classes of society, we must go deeper in the analysis of facts. No a priori answer would be satisfactory.

The beginning and the end of the disaster were successful raids on Italy. Alaric and his Visigoths (401-410 A.D.) shattered the prestige and destroyed the efficiency of the government which ruled in the name of the feeble Honorius. The Ostrogoths under Theodoric destroyed the last simulacrum of an imperial power rooted in Italy (489-493 A.D.). After Theodoric had vanquished Odoacer, it was clear that the western provinces would not again acknowledge an Emperor acclaimed at Ravenna; although the chance remained that they might be reconquered and reorganised from Constantinople. This chance disappeared when the Lombards crossed the Alps (568 A.D.) and descended on the Po valley. From first to last Italy was the key to the West. And these successive shocks to imperial power in Italy were all due to one cause. All three of the invading hordes came from the Danube. The Roman bank of the great river was inadequately garrisoned, and a mistaken policy had colonised the Danubian provinces with Teutonic peoples, none the less dangerous for being the nominal allies (foederati) of the Empire. The Visigothic raids, which were in fact decisive, succeeded because the military defences of the Western Empire were already strained to breaking-point; and because the Roman armies were not only outnumbered, but also paralysed by the jealousies of rival statesmen, and divided by the mutinies of generals aspiring to the purple. The initial disasters were irreparable, because the whole machine of Roman officialdom came to a standstill when the guiding hand of Ravenna failed. Hitherto dependent on Italy, the other provinces were now like limbs amputated from the trunk. Here and there a local leader raised the standard of resistance to the barbarians. But a large proportion of the provincials made peace on the best terms they could obtain. Such are the essential facts.

Evidently the original error of the Romans was the undue extension of their power. This was recognised by no less a statesman than Augustus, the founder of the Empire; but even in his time it was too late to sound a retreat; he could only register a protest against further annexations. Embracing the whole of the Mediterranean littoral and a large part of the territories to the south, east, and north, the Empire was encumbered with three land frontiers of enormous length. Two of these, the European and the Asiatic, were perpetual sources of anxiety, and called for separate military establishments. That neither might be neglected in the interest of the other it was reasonable to put the imperial power in commission between two colleagues. Diocletian (284-305 A.D.) was the first to adopt this plan; from his time projects of partition were in the air and would have been more regularly carried out, had not experience shown that partitions led naturally to civil wars between rival Emperors. In 395, on the death of the great Theodosius, the hazardous expedient was given a last trial. His youthful sons, Arcadius and Honorius, were allowed to divide the Empire; but the line of partition was drawn with more regard to racial jealousies than military considerations. It extended from the middle Danube (near Belgrade) to a point near Durazzo on the Adriatic coast, and thence to the Gulf of Sidra. East of this line lay the sphere of Greek civilisation, the provinces which looked to Alexandria and Antioch and Constantinople as their natural capitals. West of it the prevailing language was Latin, and the higher classes of society modelled themselves upon the Italian aristocracy.

Founded upon a principle which appeals to our modern respect for nationality, this partition only gave a legal form to a schism which had been long in preparation. But in one respect it was disastrous. The defence of the Danube frontier was divided between the two governments; and that of the East, rating the impoverished Balkan peninsula as of secondary importance, and envisaging the problem from a wholly selfish point of view, left unguarded the great highways leading from the Danube into Italy. Stilicho, the great general who administered the West in the name of Honorius, ventured to meet this danger by intervening in the peninsula, and even in the political intrigues of Constantinople. He only succeeded in winning a precarious alliance with the Visigoths and the permanent ill-will of the Eastern Empire. He was left to deal single-handed with the first invaders of Italy; and the estrangement of the two imperial courts persisted after his untimely fall. The Western Empire, betrayed by the one possible ally, collapsed under the strain of simultaneous attacks along the whole line of the European frontier.

It has been alleged that the Roman armies were neither so robust nor so well disciplined in the fifth century as they had been in an earlier age. However this may be, they could still give a good account of themselves when matched on equal terms with the most warlike of the barbarians. It was in patriotism and in numbers, rather than in professional efficiency, that they failed when put to the supreme test.

The armies were now largely recruited with barbarians, who numbered more than half the fighting strength and were esteemed the flower of the Roman soldiery. Many of these hirelings showed an open contempt for their employers, and sympathised with the enemies whom they were paid to fight. Furthermore, each army, whatever its constituent elements, tended to be a hereditary caste, with a strong corporate spirit, respecting no authority but that of the general. The soldiers had no civic interests; but they had standing grievances against the Empire. Any political crisis suggested to them the idea of a mutiny led by the general, sometimes to obtain arrears of pay and donatives, sometimes to put their nominee upon the throne. The evil was an old one, dating from the latter days of the Republic, when Marius, in the interests of efficiency, had made military service a profession. But it was aggravated under the successors of Diocletian, as the barbarian element in the armies increased and the Roman element diminished. Its worst effects appeared in the years 406-407. The German inroads upon Italy and Gaul were then followed by the proclamation of military usurpers in Britain and on the Rhine; the Roman West was divided by civil war at the very moment when union was supremely important. Hence the strange spectacle of the Visigoths, still laden with the spoils of Rome, entering Gaul by invitation of the Empire to fight against imperial armies.

The problem of numbers had been earlier recognised, but not more adequately met. Diocletian is said to have quadrupled the armies, and in the fourth century they were far larger than they had been under Julius and Augustus; Constantine had revised the scheme of frontier-defence to secure the greatest possible economy of men. Still, under Honorius, we find that one vital point could only be defended by withdrawing troops from another. The difficulty of increasing the numbers was twofold. First, the army was mercenary, and taxation was already strained to the point of diminishing returns. Secondly, it was difficult to raise recruits among the provincials. The old principle of universal service had been abandoned by Valentinian I (364-375); and although compulsory levies were still made from certain classes, the Government had thought fit to prohibit the enlistment of those who contributed most to taxation. Every citizen was legally liable for the defence of local strongholds; but the use of arms was so unfamiliar, the idea of military service as a national duty was so far forgotten, that Stilicho, when the barbarians were actually in Italy, preferred the desperate measure of enlisting slaves to the obvious resource of a general call to arms. We find ourselves here confronted with a social malady which was more than an economic weakness. The Empire was, no doubt, a complex and expensive form of government superimposed upon a society which stood at a rudimentary stage of economic development. Barbarous methods of taxation and corrupt practices among the ruling classes had aggravated the burden to such a degree that the municipalities of the provinces were bankrupt, and the middle-class capitalist was taxed out of existence. For this and other reasons the population of the older provinces was stationary or declining. But there was still much wealth in the Empire; and the great landowners of the provinces could raise considerable armies among their dependants when they saw fit to do so. The real evil was a moral evil, the decay of civic virtue.

We do not mean that the ethics of private life had deteriorated from the standard of the past. This is incredible when we remember that Christianity was now the all but universal religion of the Empire; for Christianity, at its worst and weakest, laid more stress upon ethical duties, in the narrower sense, than any of the older religions. The provincial was a more moral being than the Goth or the Vandal. It is a mere superstition that every victorious race is chaste and frugal, just and law-abiding; or that ill success in the struggle for existence is a symptom of the contrary vices. In many respects the Greeks who submitted to Philip and Alexander were morally superior to the victors of Salamis and Plataea. Private and political morality may spring from the same root; but the one has often flourished where the other has been stunted. Perhaps this is only natural. Human nature seldom develops equally in all directions. Men who are intensely concerned with the right ordering of their relations to neighbours, friends and family, may well forget the larger community in which their private circle is contained. The Roman provincial had exceptional excuses for remaining indifferent to a state which claimed his loyalty, not in the name of nationality or religion, but in that of reason and the common good. Loyalty for him could only be an intellectual conviction. But, unless he could enter the privileged ranks of the army or the higher civil service, he had no opportunities of studying, still less of helping to decide, the questions of policy and administration with which his welfare was closely though indirectly linked. Political ideas only came before the private citizen under the garb of literature. The most admired authors only taught him to regret republican polities long out of date. The antiquarian enthusiasms which he acquired by his studies were in no way corrected by the experience of daily life. If a townsman, he was legally prohibited from changing his residence and even from travelling about the Empire, for fear that he might evade the tax-collector. If a rural landowner, he lived in a community which was economically self-sufficient, and consequently provincial to the last degree. The types of character which developed under such conditions were not wanting in amiable or admirable traits. The well-to-do provincial was often a scholar, a connoisseur in art and literature, a polished letter-writer and conversationalist, a shrewd observer of his little world, an exemplary husband and father, courteous to inferiors, warm-hearted to his friends. Sometimes he found in religion or philosophy an antidote to the pettiness of daily life, and was roused into rebellion against the materialism of his equals, the greed and the injustice of his rulers. But he despaired of bridging the gulf between the Empire, as he saw it, and the ideal commonwealth—City of God or Republic of the Universe—which his teachers held up to him as the goal of human aspirations. Rather he was inclined, like the just man of Plato, to seek the nearest shelter, to veil his head, and to wait patiently till the storm of violence and wrong should pass away.

It is hard to condemn such conduct when we remember the appalling contrast between the weakness of the individual and the strength of a social order coextensive with civilisation itself. But in this spirit of reasonable submission to a state of things which appeared fundamentally unreasonable, in this conviction that the bad could not be bettered by reforms of detail, there was more danger to society than in the crass indifference of the selfish and the unreflecting. When the natural leaders of society avow that they despair of the future, fatalism spreads like a contagious blight among the rank and file, until even discontent is numbed into silence. Nor does the evil end here. The idealists pay for their contempt of the real, not merely with their fortunes and their lives, but, worse still, with their intellectual patrimony. Just as a government deteriorates when it is no longer tested by continual reference to principles of justice, so a Utopia, however magnificent, fades from the mind of the believer when he ceases to revise it by comparison with facts, when it is no longer a reply to the problems suggested by workaday experience. Life and theory being once divorced, the theorist becomes a vendor of commonplaces, and the plain man is fortified in his conviction that he must take life as he finds it.

This analysis helps us to understand why the Western Empire, on the eve of dissolution, had already assumed the appearance of a semi-barbarian state. In those districts which had been lately settled with Teutonic colonists the phenomenon may be explained as resulting from over-sanguine attempts to civilise an intractable stock. But even in the heart of the oldest provinces the conditions were little better. Law and custom had conspired to sap the ideas and principles that we regard as essentially Roman. The civil was now subjected to the military power. The authority of the state was impaired by the growth of private jurisdictions and defied by the quasi-feudal retinues of the great. For civic equality had been substituted an irrational system of class-privileges and class-burdens. Law was ceasing to be the orderly development of general principles, and was becoming an accumulation of ill-considered, inconsistent edicts. So far had decay advanced through the negligence of those most vitally concerned that, if Europe was ever to learn again the highest lessons which Rome had existed to teach, the first step must be to sweep away the hybrid government which still claimed allegiance in the name of Rome. The provincials of the fifth century possessed the writings in which those lessons were recorded, but possessed them only as symbols of an unintelligible past. A long training in new schools of thought, under new forms of government, was necessary before the European mind could again be brought into touch with the old Roman spirit.

The great service that the barbarians rendered was a service of destruction. In doing so they prepared the way for a return to the past. Their first efforts in reconstruction were also valuable, since the difficulty of the work and the clumsiness of the product revived the respect of men for the superior skill of Rome. In the end the barbarians succeeded in that branch of constructive statesmanship where Rome had failed most signally. The new states which they founded were smaller and feebler than the Western Empire, but furnished new opportunities for the development of individuality, and made it possible to endow citizenship with active functions and moral responsibilities. That these states laboured under manifold defects was obvious to those who made them and lived under them. The ideal of the world-wide Empire, maintaining universal peace and the brotherhood of men, continued to haunt the imagination of the Middle Ages as a lost possibility. But in this case, as so often, what passed for a memory was in truth an aspiration; and Europe was advancing towards a higher form of unity than that which had been destroyed.



The barbarian states which arose on the ruins of the Western Empire were founded, under widely different circumstances of time and place, by tribes and federations of tribes drawn from every part of Germany. We expect to find, and we do find, infinite varieties of detail in their laws, their social distinctions, their methods of government. But from a broader point of view they may be grouped in two classes, not according to affinities of race, but according to their relations with the social order which they had invaded.

One group of kingdoms was founded under cover of a legal fiction; the Visigoths, the Ostrogoths, and the Burgundians claimed to be the allies of the Empire. At one time or another they obtained the recognition of Constantinople for their settlements. Their kings accepted or usurped the titles of imperial administrators, stamped their coins with the effigies of the reigning Emperor, dated their proclamations by the names of the consuls for the year, and in many other ways flaunted their nominal subjection as the legal basis of their actual sovereignty. This fiction did not prevent them from governing their new dominions in true Teutonic fashion, through royal bailiffs, who administered the state demesnes, and military officers (dukes, counts, etc.) who ruled with autocratic sway over administrative districts. Nor did the most lenient of them hesitate to provide for their armies by wholesale confiscations; the ordinary rule was to take from the great proprietor one-third or two-thirds of his estate for the benefit of the Teutonic immigrant. Further, we have ample evidence that the provincials found existence considerably more precarious under the new order. The rich were exposed to the malice of the false informer and the venal judge; the cultivators of the soil were often oppressed and often reduced from partial freedom to absolute slavery. Yet in some respects the invaders of this type were tolerant and adaptable. They left to the provincials the civil law of Rome, and even codified it to guard against unauthorised innovations; the Lex Romana Burgundionum and the Visigothic Breviarium Alarici are still extant as memorials of this policy. They realised the necessity of compelling barbarians and provincials alike to respect the elementary rights of person and property; Theodoric the Ostrogoth and Gundobad the Burgundian were the authors of new criminal codes, in the one case mainly, in the other partially, derived from Roman jurisprudence. Such rulers were not content with professing an impartial regard for both classes of their subjects; they frequently raised the better-class provincials to posts of responsibility and confidence. By a singular fatality the chief races of this group had embraced the Arian heresy, which was repudiated and detested by their subjects. Yet their great statesmen uniformly extended toleration to the rival creed, and even patronised the orthodox bishops, by whom they were secretly regarded as worse than the lowest of the heathen. This generosity was little more than common prudence. Numerically the conquerors were much inferior to the provincials; economically they had everything to lose by needless ill-treatment of those whom they exploited. But the best of them had studied the organisation of the Empire at close quarters, sometimes as captains in the imperial service, sometimes as neighbours of flourishing provinces in the years preceding the grand catastrophe; and knowledge rarely failed to produce in them some respect or even enthusiasm for the Respublica Romana. "When I was young," said King Athaulf the Visigoth, "I desired to obliterate the Roman name and to bring under the sway of the Goths all that once belonged to the Romans. But I learned better by experience. The Goths were licentious barbarians who would obey no laws; and to deprive the commonwealth of laws would have been a crime. So for my part I chose the glory of restoring the Roman name to its old estate." To such men the ideal of the future was a federation of states owing a nominal allegiance to the official head of the Empire, but cherishing an effective loyalty to all that was best in Roman law and culture.

The second group comprises the kingdoms which were founded in outlying provinces or comparatively late in time. The invaders of England, the Franks in Northern Gaul, the Alemanni and the Bavarians on the Upper Rhine and the Danube, the Lombards in Italy, the Vandals in Africa, never came completely under the spell of the past. The Vandals might have done so, but for their fanatical devotion to Arianism; for the province of Africa, in which they settled, was one of those which Roman statesmanship had most completely civilised. The Franks might have imitated the Visigoths and the Burgundians, if fortune had laid the cradle of their power in the valley of the Loire or the Rhone instead of the forests and marshes of the Netherlands. The Lombards and the Saxons showed no innate aversion to the ways and works of Rome; but they entered upon provinces which had already been impoverished and depopulated by the scourge of war. Such races proceeded rapidly with the construction of a new social and political order, because the past was a sealed book to them. Roman law vanished from England so completely as to leave it doubtful whether the Saxons ever came to terms with the provincials; it was tolerated but not encouraged by the Franks; it was in great measure set aside by the Lombards; it seems to have been unknown to the Alemanni and Bavarians. We shall see in the sequel the importance of these facts. The future of Europe lay not with the Goths or with the Burgundians, but with more ignorant or less impressionable races who, rather by good fortune than by choice, escaped the vices in missing the lessons of Roman civilisation. The Franks and the Saxons, as we find them described by Gregory of Tours and the Venerable Bede, were far from resembling the noble savage imagined by Tacitus and other idealists. But they were trained for future empire in the hard school of a northern climate.

All that concerns us in the history of these kingdoms can be briefly stated.

(1) Teutonic England hardly enters into European history before the year 800. In the fifth and sixth centuries a multitude of small colonies had been founded on the soil of Roman Britain by the three tribes of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who migrated thither from Jutland and Schleswig-Holstein. A few considerable kingdoms had emerged from this chaos by the time when the English received from Rome their first Christian teacher, St. Augustine: Kent, Sussex, and Wessex in the south; Mercia and East Anglia in the Midlands; Northumbria between the Humber and the Forth. The efforts of every ruler were devoted to the establishment of his personal ascendancy over the whole group. Such a supremacy was obtained by AEthelbert of Kent, the first royal convert to Christianity; by Edwin of Northumbria and his two immediate successors in the seventh century; by Offa of Mercia (757-796); and by Egbert of Wessex (802-839), whose power foreshadowed the later triumphs of the house of Alfred.

(2) Southern Gaul was divided in the fifth century between the Visigoths and the Burgundians. The former of these peoples entered the imperial service in 410, after the death of Alaric I, who had led them into Italy. His successors, Athaulf and Wallia, undertook to pacify Gaul and to recover Spain for the rulers of Ravenna; the second of these sovereigns was rewarded with a settlement, for himself and his followers, between the Loire and the Garonne (419). In the terrible battle of Troyes, against Attila the Hun (451), they did good service to the Roman cause; but both before and after that event they were chiefly occupied in extending their boundaries by force or fraud. At the close of the fifth century their power in Gaul extended from the Loire to the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Rhone valley, and along the Mediterranean seaboard farther east to the Alps. In Spain—which had been, since 409, the prey of the Vandals, Alans and Suevi—they found a more legitimate field for their ambitions. Between 466 and 484 they annexed every part of the peninsula except the north-west corner, which remained the last stronghold of their defeated competitors. The Burgundians, from less auspicious beginnings, had built up a smaller but yet a powerful kingdom. Transplanted by a victorious Roman general to Savoy (443) from the lands between the Necker and the Main, they had descended into the Rhone basin at the invitation of the provincials, to protect that fertile land alike against Teutonic marauders and Roman tax-collectors. By the year 500 they ruled from the Durance in the south to the headwaters of the Doubs and the Saone in the north, from the Alps and the Jura to the sources of the Loire.

(3) Italy was less fortunate than Gaul; in the fifth century she was ravaged more persistently, since Rome and Ravenna were the most tempting prizes that the West could offer to conquerors seeking a settlement or to mere marauders; and for yet another two centuries her soil was in dispute between the Eastern Empire and the Teutons. The strategic importance of the peninsula, the magic of the name of Rome, the more recent tradition that Ravenna was the natural headquarters of imperial bureaucracy in the West, were three cogent reasons why the statesmen of Constantinople should insist that Italy must be recovered whatever outlying provinces of the West were abandoned. For sixty years after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus (476) Italy was entirely ruled by barbarians; then for more than two hundred years there was an Imperial Italy or a Papal Italy continually at feud with an Ostrogothic or a Lombard Italy. It would have been better for the Italians if either the Ostrogoths or the Lombards had triumphed decisively and at an early date.

The Ostrogoths entered Italy from the north-east in 489, under the lead of Theodoric, the first and last statesman of their race. They came from the Middle Danube, where they had settled, with the leave of the Empire, after the death of Attila and the dissolution of his army. They were now in search of a more kindly habitation, and brought with them their wives, their children, and their household stuff on waggons. Their way was barred by Odoacer the Patrician—general of the Italian army and King of Italy in all but name. It cost them four years of hard fighting to overthrow this self-constituted representative of the Empire. After that they had no overt opposition to fear. To the Italians there was little difference between Odoacer and Theodoric. The change of rulers did not affect their material interests, since Theodoric merely appropriated that proportion of the cultivated land (one-third) which Odoacer had claimed for his followers. Nor was submission inconsistent with the loyalty demanded by the Eastern Empire; since for the moment it suited imperial policy to accept the Visigothic King as the successor of Odoacer. Theodoric reigned over Italy for thirty-three years (493-526). A tolerant and enlightened ruler, he spared no effort to give his rule a legal character, and to protect the Italians against oppression. Two eminent Romans, Liberius and Cassiodorus, acted successively as his confidential advisers and interpreted his policy to their countrymen. No attempt was made to fuse the Ostrogoths with the Italians. The invaders remained, an army quartered on the soil, subject for most purposes to their own law. But the law of the Italians was similarly respected; Theodoric applied the Roman law of crime impartially to both races; and he rigourously interdicted the prosecution of private wars and feuds. Unfortunately his subordinates were less scrupulous than himself. The Ostrogothic soldiery maintained the national character for lawlessness; the royal officers and judges were corrupt; men of means were harassed by blackmailers and false informers; the poor and helpless were frequently enslaved by force or fraud. The Italians could not forgive the Arian tenets of their new rulers, even though the orthodox were tolerated and protected. Naturally the clergy and the remnants of the Roman aristocracy sighed for an imperial restoration. And Theodoric, rightly or wrongly, came to suspect them all of treason. In his later years he meted out a terrible and barbarous justice to the supposed authors of conspiracy—notably to the Senator Boethius, who was beaten to death with clubs after a long period of rigourous imprisonment. Boethius has vindicated his own fair name, and blackened for ever that of Theodoric, by his immortal treatise, the Consolation of Philosophy, composed in hourly expectation of death. A Christian it would seem, but certainly nurtured on the precepts of Plato and the Stoics, Boethius turned in his extremity to these teachers for reassurance on the doubts which must always afflict the just man enmeshed in undeserved misfortune. Himself a philosopher only in his sublime optimism and his resolve to treat the inevitable as immaterial, Boethius rivets the attention by his absolute honesty. His book, revered in the Middle Ages as all but inspired, will be read with interest and sympathy so long as honest men are vexed by human oppression and the dispensations of a seemingly capricious destiny. But the footprints of the Ostrogoths are effaced from the soil of Italy; the name of Theodoric is scantily commemorated by some mosaics and a rifled mausoleum at Ravenna. Here at least Time has done justice in the end; from all that age of violent deeds and half-sincere ideals nothing has passed into the spiritual heritage of mankind but the communings of one undaunted sufferer with his soul and God.

Theodoric died in 526, bequeathing his crown to his only daughter's son. Eight years afterwards the boy king, worn out by premature excess, was laid in the grave; his mother was murdered to clear the path of an ambitious kinsman; and, while the succession was still in doubt, the Emperor Justinian launched upon Italy the still invincible armies of the Empire, led by Belisarius, the greatest general of the time and already famous as the deliverer of Africa from the Vandals (536). The intrigues of his court rivals, rather than the resources of the divided Ostrogoths, robbed Belisarius of a decisive victory, and prolonged the struggle for years after he had been superseded. But in 553 the last embers of resistance were quenched in blood. Italy, devastated and depopulated, was reorganised as an imperial province with an elaborate hierarchy of civil and military officials. The change was welcome to the orthodox clergy, the more so because Justinian gave large powers in local administration to their bishops. Of outward pomp there was enough to gild corruption and inefficiency with a deceptive splendour; but in fact the restored Empire was little more civilised, in the true sense of the word, than the barbarian states of the past and future. Upon the Italians the Emperor conferred the boon of his famous Corpus Juris, a compendium of that legal wisdom which constitutes the best title of Rome to the world's gratitude. For the future it was momentous that Italy learned, at this early date, to regard the Corpus as the perfection of legal wisdom. Through the Italian schools of later times (Ravenna, Bologna, etc.) the Corpus has influenced the law of every European state and has dictated the principles of scientific jurisprudence. But in the sixth century good laws availed nothing for want of good government.

In 568, only fifteen years after the restoration, the Lombards descended upon Italy from the Middle Danube, following the track of Theodoric and inspirited by the fame of his success. A few years made them masters of the North Italian plain still known as Lombardy. Within three-quarters of a century they had demonstrated the hollowness of the Byzantine power. The power of their kings, whose capital was Pavia, extended on the one side into Liguria and Tuscany, on the other into Emilia and Friuli; far away in the south, behind the line of fortresses which linked Rome with Ravenna, the semi-independent dukes of Spoleto and Benevento were masters of the land on both sides of the Apennines, excepting Naples and the toe of the Bruttian peninsula. Apart from these districts there remained in the imperial allegiance only the fisher-folk of the Venetian lagoons and the lands which afterwards were to be known as the Papal States. What the Byzantines achieved by the maintenance of this precarious foothold was nothing less than the political disruption of Italy. The Lombard duchies of the south were kept separate from the parent state; with the result that their ruins were built long afterwards into the fabric of a South Italian monarchy which was irreconcilably hostile to the political heirs of the Lombard kings. In many respects the Lombards showed capacity for governing a subject population. They adopted the Latin language; they forsook Arianism for Catholicism; they accommodated themselves to city life; they were liberal patrons of Italian art and industry. Although they introduced a strictly Teutonic form of administration, their rule compared not unfavourably with the makeshift methods of Byzantine statesmanship. In Imperial Italy we see the strange spectacle of a military despotism tempered by the usurped privileges and jurisdictions of the great proprietors, or by the ill-defined temporal pretensions of the bishops. In Lombard Italy matters were at least no worse. The Lombards were aliens; but so were the Greeks. The Greeks treated the Italians as inferiors. But the Lombards intermarried freely with their subjects, and the Lombard legislators (Rotharis, Luitprand) recognised no invidious privileges of race.

(4) Northern Gaul remains to be considered. It was here that the Frankish monarchy developed; and we deal last with the Franks because they were destined to harvest the chief fruits of barbarian conquest and colonisation. By the close of the eighth century Africa, Spain, and Britain were the only western provinces of the Empire in which they had failed to establish themselves as the sole or the dominant power; and moreover they had penetrated by that time farther into Central Europe than any Roman statesman, since Tiberius, had extended his schemes of conquest. The expansion of the Franks was a slow process, interrupted by periods of stagnation or relapse; and we can only trace it in the barest outline.

Known from an early date to the Romans as vagrant marauders, the Franks had been heavily chastised by most of the soldier emperors from Probus to Julian. Some of them were forcibly settled as serf-colonists on the left bank of the Rhine; others (the Salian Franks) appropriated to themselves a large part of Batavia, the marsh country at the mouths of the Scheldt and Rhine; a third group (the Ripuarians) occupied the lands between the Rhine and the Meuse, in the neighbourhood of Koln and Bonn. The Salians and Ripuarians counted as allies (foederati) of the Empire, at least from the time of Aetius; under whom, like the Visigoths, they fought against the Huns at Troyes (451). Their aggressions were checked on the West by the Roman governors of the country lying between the Somme and the Loire; and their power was impaired by the partition of the Salian people among a swarm of petty kings. But in 481, with the accession of Clovis to the throne of Tournai, there began a period of consolidation and advance. In 486 Clovis overthrew the Roman governor Syagrius and usurped his power. In 496 he annexed the purely Teutonic principality which the Alemanni had recently established in the country now known as Suabia. This victory was the occasion of his conversion to Christianity. The legend goes that, in the crisis of the final battle, Clovis appealed to the God of his pious wife: "I have called on my gods and they have forsaken me. To Thee I turn, in Thee will I believe, if Thou wilt deliver me." He kept his word, and was baptised by St. Remi, the Bishop of Rheims, thus becoming a member of the orthodox communion, and the hope of all the Gallic clergy, who had hitherto submitted with an ill grace to the heretical rulers of the Visigoths and the Burgundians. A crafty and ambitious savage, the King of Tournai quickly realised the advantage of alliance with the native Church. In the year 500 he turned upon the Burgundians in the hope of making them his tributaries. He failed in his object, for the Burgundian King made a timely feint of conversion to orthodoxy and otherwise conciliated the Gallo-Roman population. But over Alaric II the Visigoth, who had been so impolitic as to persecute orthodox bishops, the Franks secured an easy and dramatic triumph. "It irks me," said Clovis to his army, "that these Arians should rule in Gaul." The Aquitanians welcomed him as a Crusader; Alaric, after a single defeat, took refuge in his Spanish dominions, where he was left to rule in peace. At one stroke the power of the Franks had advanced from the Loire to the Pyrenees (507). The latter days of Clovis were prosperously occupied in exterminating rival Frankish dynasties and the more dangerous of his own kindred. He died, after a reign of thirty years, in the odour of sanctity: "God increased his kingdom every day, because he walked with an upright heart and did what was pleasing in the eyes of God." He was buried in the Gallo-Roman part of his dominions, at Paris, which he had chosen as his capital. The province of Syagrius, later known as Neustria or Western Francia, was the natural centre of the Frankish state, nor was Clovis indifferent to the traditions and the luxury of an older civilisation. In Aquitaine he posed as the representative of the Empire, and he rode through the streets of Tours in the purple robe of a consul, which he had received from the Emperor Anastasius. The hope at Constantinople was that he would treat Theodoric the Ostrogoth as he had already treated Alaric; this was the first of many occasions on which the network of imperial diplomacy was woven round a Frankish king. Church and Empire conspired to inflame the ambitions and enlarge the schemes of Merovingian and Carolingian conquerors.

But the Franks, more faithfully than any of their rivals, held to the barbarian usage of dividing a kingdom, in the manner of a family estate, equally between the sons of a dead sovereign. Logically pursued this custom of inheritance would have led to utter disintegration, such as Germany exhibited in the fourteenth century. Among the Franks a partition was followed, as a matter of course, by fratricidal conflicts and consequent reunion of the kingdom in the hands of the ultimate survivor; but even so the energies of the nation were squandered upon civil wars. The descendants of Clovis did little to augment the realm that he bequeathed to them; this little was done in the fifty years following his death. The Burgundians, Bavarians and Thuringians were subdued; Provence was bought from the Ostrogoths at the price of armed support against Justinian; the Saxons were compelled to promise tribute. From 561 to 688 the power and the morale of the Franks steadily declined. Dagobert I (628-638), the most renowned of the Merovingians after Clovis, could only chastise rebels and strengthen the defences of the eastern frontier. He released the Saxons from tribute; he was unable to prevent an adventurer of his own race, the merchant Samo, from organising the Slavs of Bohemia and the neighbouring lands in a powerful and aggressive federation. Already in his time the East Franks (Austrasians) refused to be governed from Neustria, and insisted that the son of Dagobert should be their king. After Dagobert the three kingdoms of Neustria, Austrasia and Burgundy asserted their right to separate administrations, even when subject to one king.

In each of these divisions the effective ruler was the Mayor of the Palace, a viceroy who kept his sovereign in perpetual tutelage. The later Merovingians were feeble puppets, produced before their subjects on occasions of state, but at other times relegated to honourable seclusion on one of their estates. The history of the Franks from 638 to 719 is that of conflicts between the great families of Neustria and Austrasia for the position of sole Mayor. At length unity was restored by the triumph of the Austrasian Charles Martel. His father had gained the same position, but it was left for the son to sweep away the last remaining competitors.

Charles Martel is the true founder of the Carolingian house, although his ancestors had long played a conspicuous part in Austrasian and national politics. He was not the inventor of feudalism, but was the first to see the possibility of basing royal power on the support of vassals pledged to support their lord, in every quarrel, with life and limb and earthly substance. To provide his vassals with fiefs he stripped the churches of many rich estates. But he atoned for the sacrilege upon the memorable field of Poitiers. In 711 the Arabs, having wrested northern Africa from the Byzantine Empire, entered Spain and overthrew Roderic, the last King of the Visigoths. With his death the cause of his nation collapsed. Though the Visigoths had long since accepted the orthodox creed and were in close alliance with the Spanish bishops, they were detested by the provincials, whom they had reduced to serfdom and brutally oppressed. Within ten years the soldiers of the Caliph were masters of Spain and turned their attention to southern Gaul.

The Frankish Duke of Aquitaine could neither protect his duchy nor obtain a lasting treaty. In the last extremity he turned to the Mayor of the Palace, whom he had hitherto regarded as an enemy. The appeal was answered; and Charles with a great Frankish host confronted the Arabs under the walls of Poitiers. For seven days neither side would make the first move; on the eighth the infidels attacked. The Frankish host was composed of infantry protected by mail-shirts and shields; against their close-locked lines, which resembled iron walls, the Arabs dashed themselves in vain. When the attack had been repelled in disorder, the Franks advanced, bearing down resistance by sheer weight and strength. The Emir Abderrahman fell on the field, and then night put an end to the conflict. Both armies camped on the field; but next morning the Arabs had vanished in full retreat for the Pyrenees (Oct. 732). The flood of Islam had received the first check; though Spain was not to be recovered by the Franks, they were held to have saved northern Europe. Modern criticism has remarked that the internal dissensions of Moslem Spain did better service than this victory to the cause of Christendom; that the Arabs continued to hold Septimania and sent raids into Provence. But for contemporaries there was no question that the Franks had established a claim to the special gratitude of the Church, and Charles to his anomalous position as an uncrowned King. The Mayor of the Palace was fully alive to the value of ecclesiastical support. He lent his support to the work of the English missionaries Willibrord and Boniface among the unconverted German tribes (Frisians, Hessians, Thuringians) over whom he claimed supremacy. He permitted Boniface to enrol himself as the servant of the Holy See. It is true that he would not form a political alliance with the Roman Church against the Lombards. Northern wars absorbed him; wars with the Frisians, the Saxons, the rebellious Bavarians, Alemannians, and Aquitanians. But from alliance with the Church to alliance with Rome was a natural step for his successors. Shortly before his death (741) he divided his power between his sons Carlmann and Pepin, giving Austrasia to the one, Neustria to the other. But Carlmann abdicated to become a monk (747) and Pepin his junior was left to continue the work of their father single-handed. Both brothers employed Boniface to reorganise and reform the clergy of their dominions; Pepin allowed the saint to take from all the Frankish bishops an oath of subjection to the Holy See; and accepted him as Archbishop of Mainz and primate of the German church. Three years later the Mayor obtained the permission of Pope Zacharias to depose the last of the Merovingian puppet-kings and to assume the regal style; the Pope justly recommending that he should have the title to whom the power belonged (751). So ended the line of Clovis, and with it the barbarian period of Frankish history. For the next sixty years the history of Europe is that of Carolingian conquests and essays in political reconstruction.

And now the growing connection with the Papacy acquired a new character. Since the beginning of the eighth century the Eastern Empire had forfeited the last claim to Italian allegiance by embracing the Iconoclastic heresy, a protest at once belated and premature against the growing materialism and polytheism of Catholic Christianity. Pope and Lombards made common cause to protect the images in imperial Italy. Gregory III excommunicated the iconoclasts (731); the Lombard King Aistulf seized Ravenna, the last important stronghold of the Byzantines in the peninsula (751). Too late the Papacy realised that the orthodox Lombard was a greater menace than the Greek heretic. Aistulf regarded Rome, in common with the other territories of the Empire, as his rightful spoil. For the first time the issue was raised between secular statesmanship scheming for Italian unity and a Roman bishop claiming sovereign power as the historical and indispensable adjunct of his office. Pope Stephen II visited the Frankish court to urge, not in vain, the claims of religion and of gratitude. By two raids across the Alps Pepin forced the Lombard to withdraw the claim on Rome, and furthermore to restore what had been conquered from the Empire. These territories, lying in Romagna and the Marches, the Frankish King conferred on the Pope, as the legitimate representative of imperial power (756). Pepin's Donation, made in defiance of Byzantine protests, greatly extended the temporal power which the predecessors of Stephen had long exercised in Rome and the neighbourhood. A shrewd expedient for crippling the most formidable rival of the Franks, it was to be the rock on which ideals then undreamed of were to founder. For it was the temporal power which provoked the last and mortal struggle of the Holy Roman Empire with the Papacy, which presented the most stubborn obstacle to the leaders of the Risorgimento.

Like his father, Pepin laboured hard to knit together the conquests of the early Merovingians, but without the same success. He expelled the Arabs from Narbonne; he recovered the duchy of Aquitaine and suppressed the ducal dynasty after eight hard-fought campaigns. But neither from the Saxons nor from the Bavarians could he win effective recognition of his suzerainty. What he had achieved in Aquitaine was seriously endangered when, on his deathbed, he followed the tradition of dividing his realm between his sons Carloman and Charles (768). Fortunately Charles, though harassed by the intrigues of his incompetent senior, weathered the storm of a new Aquitanian rising; he saw Carloman sink unlamented into an early grave (771) and easily obtained recognition as sole king. Then indeed he stood in a position singularly favourable for prosecuting a policy which should embrace and transcend the ambitions of his ancestors. Heir to a power extending from the Atlantic to the Bohemian border in the one direction, in the other from the North Sea and the Channel to the Alps and Pyrenees; the hereditary patron of the Roman Church; ruler of a hierarchy which had definitely accepted the ideal of a Christian Republic and desired to see Christian unity enforced by the sword of the secular power; lord of a military caste of vassals filled with the pride and lust of conquest; he had at his disposal the resources and supporters sufficient to make him, what Theodoric had idly dreamed of becoming, the supreme lord of the Teutonic peoples, the lieutenant of the Empire in all the western provinces. It was no ordinary man to whom this opportunity fell. Imperfectly educated, even for his age, but of ready wit and unbounded curiosity; a general whose iron will and superhuman energy seldom failed in leading his soldiers through difficulties and reverses to ultimate victory; a dreamer whose imagination kindled whenever he came into contact with the great ideas, Christian or pagan, of an older world; a practical statesman whose innate love of order and respect for justice were coupled with a gift for organisation and the power of extracting their best work from his subordinates, it is not for any want of natural qualifications that his claim to rank with the great world-heroes can be challenged. The shortcomings of his work are merely those of the race and the age to which he belonged. The highest statesmanship is only possible when the statesman has at his disposal the accumulated experience and the specialised capacity of a civilisation which is old and at the same time vigorous.

The policy of Charles in his period of sole rule (771-814) is Janus-headed; it looks forward and looks back. A true Austrasian, he is faithful to the old Frankish ideal of military conquest; but he gives it a new meaning, and besides fulfilling the projects of his predecessors goes beyond the horizon of their most ambitious enterprises. In his friendship for the Pope, in his care for ecclesiastical reform, he is his father's son; but the relations of the son with the Church have a new purpose and involve more than one breach with the past. His administration is largely guided by the traditional standard of royal duty; he is a notable steward of his demesnes; he is the reliever of the poor, the refuge of the defenceless, the champion of justice. But he is also a far-sighted reformer adapting old administrative methods to the requirements of a new political fabric. In fact, to epitomise all these antitheses in one, he is the heir of an old barbarian monarchy and also the founder of a new Empire.

The story of his conquests reads like the epitome of a lost romance—so varied are the incidents, so jejune the details afforded by contemporary sources.

(1) In 773 he crossed the Alps, at the prayer of Pope Hadrian, because the Lombard King Didier had seized some cities comprised in Pepin's Donation and was even threatening Rome. Pavia was starved into surrender, Didier relegated to a monastery; Charles annexed the whole of Lombard territory except Spoleto (which submitted to the Pope) and Benevento. He assumed the title of King of the Lombards; but beyond garrisoning a few towns and appointing a few Frankish counts made no attempt to displace Lombard officials or alter the Lombard modes of government. He visited Hadrian at Rome, renewed the Donation of Pepin, and concluded a pact of eternal friendship with the Papacy.

(2) Then followed the period of the Saxon wars, as much a crusade against German heathenism as the vindication of old and dubious claims to suzerainty. The first campaign against the Saxons had taken place in 772; their final submission was not made till 785. The Saxons were still in that stage of political development which Tacitus describes in his Germania, ruled by petty chiefs who set up a war-leader when there was need for common action, otherwise united only by racial sentiment and the cult of a tribal deity. But they were a warlike race, and found in this crisis a leader of genius, the famous Widukind. At last he set his followers the example of embracing Christianity. Charles acted as sponsor at his baptism, and Widukind became a loyal subject of his spiritual father. In a few years the whole of Saxony was dotted with mission churches; in a few generations the Saxons were conspicuous for their loyalty to the faith, and the Saxon bishops counted among the wealthiest and most influential of ecclesiastical princes. It was through Saxon rulers, descended from Widukind, that the imperial policy of Charles was revived in the tenth century and the imperial diadem appropriated by the German nation. Yet the Saxons sturdily adhered to their national laws and language; their obstinate refusal to be ruled by other races was a stumbling-block to the most masterful sovereigns that medieval Germany produced.

(3) During the years 786-787 Charles was threatened with a conspiracy against his power in Italy. Tassilo, the vassal Duke of Bavaria, aspired to independence and was induced by his wife, a daughter of King Didier, to make common cause with her nation; Areghis, the Lombard ruler of Benevento, had emphasised his independence by assuming the style and crown of a king. The two princes made common cause, but were detected before their plans had matured, and successively terrified into submission by the appearance of overwhelming armies on their borders.

The Lombard duchy was no permanent acquisition for the Franks, but that of Bavaria was suppressed, in consequence of a second plot (788). The addition of this large and wealthy province made the eastern half of the Frankish kingdom practically coextensive with medieval Germany, and almost equal in importance to the Romanised provinces of Gaul.

(4) As a natural precaution for the defence of Bavaria, Charles then turned against the Avars, a race akin to the Huns, who had settled on the middle Danube after the departure of the Lombards for Italy. The Avars invaded Bavaria and Friuli as allies of Tassilo (788); they were punished by three campaigns of extirpation (791-796), which broke their power and spared only a miserable remnant of their people. Their land was annexed but not settled; for Germany offered a more tempting field to the Frankish pioneers. Indeed, some of the surviving Avars were planted in the Ostmark (Austria), which Charles established as an outpost of Bavaria, to keep watch upon the Slavs.

(5) To Spain the Emperor first turned his attention in 777, when he was invited by the discontented emirs on the north of the Ebro to free them from the Caliph of Cordova. The next year saw his abortive march through the pass of Roncesvalles to the walls of Saragossa—an expedition immortalised in the Chanson de Roland, the earliest and most famous epic of the Charlemagne cycle, but fabulous from first to last, except in recording the fact that there was a certain Roland (warden of the Breton Mark) who fell in the course of the Frankish retreat. More substantial work was done in Spain during the last years of the reign. Navarre declared for the Franks and Christianity; the eldest son of Charles captured Tortosa at the mouth of the Ebro (811), and founded the Spanish Mark.

This lengthy catalogue only accounts for the more important of the wars in which Charles and his lieutenants were engaged. We must imagine, to complete the picture, a background of minor conflicts within and without the Empire—against the Slavs, the Danes, the Greeks, the Bretons, the Arabs, the Lombards of Benevento. These crowded years of war leave the Frankish Empire established as the one great power west of the Elbe and Adriatic. It did not include the Scandinavian lands or British Isles; the Franks were never masters of the northern seas. It had failed to expel the Arabs and Byzantines from the western Mediterranean; Spain, Sicily, even parts of Italy remain unconquered. Of recovering North Africa there could be no question. Still in magnitude the Frankish realm was a worthy successor of the Western Empire. On Christmas Day, 800, Charles was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III, in St. Peter's basilica at Rome; and his subjects vainly imagined that, by this dramatic ceremony, the clock of history had been put back four hundred years. Though the Age of the Barbarians had been ended by the greatest of them, the era which he inaugurated was an era not of revival but of new development.



The imperial policy of Charles the Great constitutes a preface to the history of the later Middle Ages. He holds the balance between nascent forces which are to distract the future by their conflicts. He pays impartial homage to ideas which statesmen less imperious or more critical will afterwards regard as irreconcilable. He is at one and the same time an autocrat, the head of a ruling aristocracy, and a popular ruler who solicits the co-operation of primary assemblies. From the highest to the lowest his subjects must acknowledge their unconditional and immediate allegiance to his person; yet he tolerates the existence of tribal duchies, he revives the Lombard kingdom, and creates that of Aquitaine, as appanages for his younger sons. He fosters the growth of territorial feudalism, and lends the sanction of royal authority to the claims of the lord upon his vassal; but simultaneously he contrives expedients for controlling feudalism and stifling its natural development. He exalts the Church, and he enslaves her. He is there to do the will of God as expounded by the clergy; but he disposes of sees and abbacies like vacant fiefs, he dictates to the Pope, he interferes with the liturgy, he claims a voice in the definition of dogma and the wording of the creed. Finally, and most striking, there is the antithesis between the two aspects of his power, the monarchical and the imperial.

The Franks left to Europe the legacy of two political conceptions. They perfected the system of barbarian royalty; they outlined the ideal of a power which should transcend royalty and embrace in one commonwealth all the Catholic kingdoms of the West. On the one hand they supplied a model to be imitated by an Egbert, a Henry the Fowler, a Hugh Capet. On the other hand they inspired the wider aims of the Ottos and the Hohenstauffen. It is therefore worth our while to understand what a Carolingian king was, and what a Carolingian Emperor hoped to be.

The king's power was based upon three supports: the general allegiance of his subjects, the more personal obligations of the vassals who were in his mund, the services and customs of the tenants on the royal demesne. It is from these last that he derives his most substantial revenue. He is the greatest landowner of his realm, until in the ninth century he dissipates his patrimony by grants of hereditary beneficia. The farming of the demesnes is an important branch of the public service; they are managed by bailiffs, who work under rules minutely elaborated by the king in the form of edicts, and who render their accounts to a minister of state, the Seneschal or steward of the household. The king is further the fountain of justice, the guardian of public order, the protector of peaceful industry and commerce. Accordingly he derives large profits from the fines of the law-courts, the forfeitures of criminals, the tolls of highways and markets, the customs levied at seaports and at frontier towns. In the exercise and exploitation of his prerogatives he is assisted by functionaries of whom most are household officers: the Chamberlain who keeps the royal hoard; the Constable (comes stabuli) who marshals the host; the Seneschal, or High Steward, who controls the demesnes; the Protonotary, by whose staff the royal letters and all documents of state are written out; the Arch-chaplain, to whom ecclesiastical suitors bring their petitions and complaints. Finally there are the Counts of the Palace, appointed from the chief races of the realm, who exercise the king's appellate jurisdiction in secular cases. But the king is bound by custom to govern with the counsel and consent of his great men—a Germanic tradition which no after growth of respect for Roman absolutism can destroy. A select body of influential nobles deliberates with the king on all questions of national importance. Their decisions are submitted for approval to a more general assembly (Mayfield), held annually in the spring or summer. By this assembly the military expedition of the year is discussed and sanctioned; here also are promulgated royal edicts (capitula).

The ordinary freeman, upon whom falls the ultimate burden of military service, has no voice in the debates of the Mayfield; but ordinances affecting the old customary laws of the several races which make up the kingdom (Salians, Ripuarians, Saxons, etc.) do not take effect till they have been accepted by popular assemblies in the provinces which they concern. And such revisions are infrequent. The royal prerogative in legislation is limited by a popular prejudice, which regards the customary law as sacred and immutable. The Capitularies are chiefly administrative ordinances; the "law of the land," which is the same everywhere and for all persons, is an ideal to be realised in England alone of medieval states. Elsewhere the king's law is a supplement, a postscript; the privilege of the free man is to live under the law of his province, his lord's fief or his free city.

In local administration the king relies, outside the tribal duchies, on counts whose districts are subdivisions of the old national provinces. The count, often a hereditary official, is a royal deputy for all purposes, military and civil. He collects the royal dues, leads the free men to the host, maintains the peace and administers justice. His tribunal is the old Germanic hundred-court, in which the free suitors ought to be the judges; but the suitors for this purpose are represented by a few doomsmen (scabini) chosen for their respectability and knowledge of the law. They are an ineffectual check upon the count, and it is a standing difficulty to find ways and means of compelling these local viceroys to act with common honesty. For this purpose the king annually appoints itinerant inspectors (missi dominici); in twos and threes they are dispatched on circuit to acquaint the count with royal instructions, to promulgate new legislation, and above all to receive and adjudicate upon the complaints of all who are oppressed. A comparatively late expedient, and the first part of the Carolingian system to disappear, these tours of inspection were the one safeguard against local misgovernment and the feudalising of official power. When they ceased, the Carolingian county too often became a hereditary fief exploited for the lord's sole benefit.

The Empire was not intended to supersede this system of royal government; kings no less than emperors were regarded as holding a definite rank and office in the Christian commonwealth. No traditions of imperial bureaucracy, except in a debased and orientalised form, were accessible to Charles the Great. In Gaul and Italy he had subjects who lived under a corrupt and mutilated Roman Law; but he was unacquainted with the scientific principles of the great jurists whose writings were the highest achievements of the Roman genius. To the best minds of the eighth century the Roman Empire appeared, not as to an Athaulf or a Theodoric, a masterpiece of human statesmanship, but rather a divine institution, providentially created before the birth of Christ to school the nations for the universal domination of His Church. The model of the Carolingian Emperors was not Augustus but Constantine the Great, the Most Christian ruler who made it his first business to protect the Church against heretic and heathen, to endow her with riches, to enforce her legislation. However his relation to the Pope might be conceived, the Emperor held his office as the first servant of the Church. What then were his practical duties? According to some he was pledged to restore the material unity of Christendom and to subdue all heathen peoples. This childlike ideal of his office no emperor could put into practice. Charles the Great waged no important wars after his coronation; he did not scruple to make peace with the Eastern Empire or even to exchange courtesies with Haroun al Rashid, the Caliph of Bagdad. He held, and the sanest of his counsellors agreed, that his first duty was to protect, unite and reform the societies over which the Church already exercised a nominal dominion. To conquer other Christian rulers was no more to be expected of him than that he should surrender his own royal prerogative; though it was desirable that they should do homage to him as the earthly representative of spiritual unity.

Within his own realms the imperial office was to make a difference in the spirit rather than the forms of government. The Empire raised to a higher power the dignity and the responsibilities which belonged to him as a king. He conceived himself bound to provide more carefully than ever for the maintenance of ecclesiastical and the betterment of secular law. His subjects were to realise that through their allegiance to him they were God's subjects, bound to observe the law of God as a part of the law of the Empire; he on his side was to be, to the best of his power, a moral censor, an educator, a religious missionary, a protector of the clergy, a defender of the faith.

When we turn from this noble dream to follow the history of the Carolingian Empire, the contrast between the real and the ideal is almost grotesque. Within a generation the Frankish realm is partitioned after the Merovingian fashion; all that remains as a guarantee of unity is the imperial title attached to one of several kingdoms, and the theory that the kings are linked in fraternal concord for the defence of Church and State against all enemies. Contemporaries laid the blame on the weakness of Lewis the Pious and the ambition of his sons. These causes undoubtedly accelerated the process of disruption; but others more impersonal and more gradual in their operation were at work below the surface of events.

(1) The first was the dawning of nationality. North of the Alps the subjects of the Empire fell into a Germanic group, lying chiefly east of the Rhine, and a Romance group nearly co-extensive with the modern France; Italy was sharply severed from both by geography, by differences of race and language, and by political tradition. In the Treaty of Verdun (843), which begins the process of political disintegration, these natural divisions are only half respected. The kingdom of the East Franks is wholly Germanic; that of the West Franks contains the Gallo-Roman provinces subdued by Clovis; but between them lies the anomalous Middle Kingdom, the portion of the titular Emperor, in which are united Italy, Provence, Burgundy, the valley of the Moselle and a large part of the Netherlands. In each re-distribution of territories among Carolingian princes the lines of partition approximate more closely to the boundaries of modern nations. Burgundy and Provence alone remain, after the year 888, as memorials of the Middle Kingdom. Italy becomes an independent state; the northern provinces (Lotharingia) are disputed between the East Franks and the West Franks. And already the rulers of the new states are identifying themselves with national sentiments and aspirations; it is not without reason that a later age has given to Lewis, the first King of the East Franks, the title of "the German."

(2) But, in the minds of ordinary men, national sentiment was little more than a contempt for those of alien race and speech. The nationalities were ready enough to separate one from the other; having done so, they split asunder into tribal or feudal groups. Thus in Germany the Saxons, Suabians, Bavarians, Thuringians, Franconians group themselves round provincial chieftains. West of the Rhine, where Roman rule had long since weakened tribal feeling, we can see a broad distinction between the North and South of Gaul, but in each half of the country the feudal principle is the dominating force; from the middle of the ninth century we remark the formation of those arbitrarily divided fiefs which play so large a part in French history. But of the feudal movement we shall speak elsewhere.

(3) Last but not least we must allow for the disappearance of that moral enthusiasm which Charles the Great had evoked in his subjects. His conception of the Empire was too large for narrow minds. They could see no reason in it. They were acutely alive to the sacrifices which it demanded in the present, and sceptical as to the advantages which it promised in the future. The idea of working for posterity does not naturally occur to half-civilised peoples; they live from hand to mouth, and are continually absorbed in the difficulties of the moment; they believe in the supremacy of chance or fate or providence, and speak of human forethought as presumptuous or merely futile. The imperial programme was cherished and publicly defended by a little clique of clerical statesmen; but they did not succeed in making many converts. When the last of the Carolingian Emperors was deposed (887), there were cries of lamentation from ecclesiastics. But among lay statesmen not a hand was raised to stay the process of disintegration. This Emperor, Charles the Fat, had succeeded by mere longevity in uniting all the dominions of his family under his immediate rule; but in three short years he dissipated whatever lingering respect attached to the idea for which he stood. In the words of the annalist "a crop of many kinglets sprang up over Europe." All the new pretenders came from the class of the great feudatories. Among the West Franks it was Eude the Count of Paris who seized the royal diadem; the East Franks elected Arnulf, Duke of Carinthia; Italy became an apple of discord between the margraves of Spoleto and Friuli; Burgundy was partitioned by two native families.

Yet within a hundred years there arose a reaction in favour of the imperial idea—a reaction of which Germany was the apostle, which Italy accepted, which made many converts in West Francia. There were new and sufficient reasons for returning to the discarded system. The national hierarchies, who had undermined the Frankish Empire to broaden the foundations of ecclesiastical privilege and influence, were discovering that they had set up King Stork in place of King Log; the exactions of an Augustus were as nothing compared with the lawless pillaging of the new feudalism; and elective sovereigns, ruling by the grace of their chief subjects, were powerless for good as well as harm. The lower ranks of laymen had no better cause to be content with the new order under which the small freeholder was oppressed, the peasant enslaved, the merchant robbed and held to ransom. The freedom of the aristocracy spelled misery for every other class. These self-constituted tyrants passed their lives in devastating faction fights. Worst of all, their divisions and their absorption in petty schemes of personal aggrandisement left Europe at the mercy of uncivilised invaders. In the ninth and tenth centuries, medieval society experienced the same ordeal to which the Roman Empire had been subjected in the fifth. From the North and from the East a new generation of barbarians, perceiving the patent signs of weakness, began to break through the frontiers in search of plunder and of settlements.

First came the Northmen from Norway and Denmark. Like the Saxons of the fourth century they were unrivalled seamen. Their fleets transported them from point to point faster than land forces could follow in pursuit; the great rivers served them as natural highways; and if beaten in a descent upon the land, they had always their ships as a safe refuge. To make treaties and to offer blackmail was a worse than useless policy; the Vikings came in bands which operated separately, or united in this year to scatter and form new combinations in the next. One leader could not bind another; to buy off one fleet was merely to invite the coming of a second. These pirates had begun to molest the British Isles and Frisia before the death of Charles the Great; but after the first partition of his Empire they fell on the whole coastline from the Elbe to the Pyrenees. Originally attracted by the hope of plunder they soon aimed at conquest; when, at the close of the ninth century, there was a sudden pause in the flood of armed emigration from the North, the Danelaw in England and Normandy on the opposite side of the Channel remained as alien colonies which the native rulers were obliged to recognise.

It was in Gaul that the ravages of the Normans were most severely felt, though for a few years they were the scourge of Frisia and the adjacent provinces. Germany and Italy had other enemies to fear. In the year 862 a new danger, in the shape of the Hungarians, appeared on the borders of Bavaria. They were an Asiatic people, from the northern slopes of the Ural Mountains, who had been moving westward since the commencement of the century. Contemporaries identified them with the Huns of Attila, and the resemblance was more than superficial. The Hungarians were of the Tartar race—nomads who lived by hunting and war, skilled in horsemanship and archery, utterly barbarous and a byeword for cruelty. The rapidity of their movements, and the distances to which their raids extended, are almost incredible. In 899 they swept through the Ostmark and reached the Lombard plain; in 915 they sacked Bremen; in 919 they harried the whole of Saxony and penetrated the old Middle Kingdom; in 926 they went into Tuscany and appeared in the neighbourhood of Rome; in 937 they even reached the walls of Capua. In fact, until the great victory of Otto I upon the Lech (955), they were the terror of two-thirds of Christian Europe. Italy, the most disunited of the new kingdoms, was further vexed by the Saracen pirates who roamed the Western Mediterranean. The only sea-power capable of dealing with them was that of the Byzantine Empire. The Greek fleet protected the southeast of Italy, but was powerless to save Sicily, which was conquered piecemeal for the Crescent (827-965). Farther north the seaports of Amalfi, Gaeta, Naples and Salerno paid tribute or admitted Saracen garrisons; in 846 Ostia and the Leonine quarter of Rome (including the basilica of St. Peter) were pillaged. Robber colonies established themselves on the river Garigliano, and at Garde-Frainet, the meeting-point of Italy and Provence.

The effect which these disasters produced on the minds of the sufferers is nowhere more clearly visible than in England. Here the House of Alfred was able, within a century of the partition made at Wedmore between the West Saxon kingdom and the Danes (878), to establish a kingdom of imperial pretensions, loosely knit together but more durable and more highly organised than any power which had arisen in Britain since the Roman period. In Germany the Saxon line, beginning with Henry the Fowler (919-936), was permitted to make the royal title hereditary, and to assert an effective suzerainty over the other tribal dukes. In France the House of Paris, after ruling for many years in the name of a degenerate Carolingian line, was invited in the person of Hugh Capet to assume the royal dignity (987). We have here a European movement in favour of monarchy; and on the heels of it follows another for the restoration of the Empire. The new royal dynasties did good work; even the weakest among them, that of France, served as a symbol of unity, as a rallying point for the clergy and all other friends of peace; but both on practical grounds and on grounds of sentiment they left much to be desired. National monarchy meant national wars and the right of national churches to misgovern themselves according to their several inclinations. Every year the rent in the seamless robe of Christendom grew wider; political unity was disappearing, and religious unity would soon go the same way. The kingly title made but a slight appeal to the imagination or the conscience; with whatever ceremonies a King was crowned, the real source of his power was the position which he held, independently of his office, as a chief of a tribal or a feudal group; of men who, as St. Odo bitterly remarked, being oppressed took to themselves a lord that with his help they might become oppressors. Sovereign power had lost all poetry and dignity; it was being perverted to serve petty ends. An Emperor was needed to restore a higher sense of justice, to exalt the spiritual above the material side of life.

So the idealists reasoned, and in Germany their arguments found willing converts. This may appear strange, since Germany had taken the lead in repudiating the Carolingian Empire, and Henry the Fowler, who established the new German monarchy, was the reverse of an idealist. But the truth was that the peculiar constitution of the German kingdom and the peculiar problems raised by German expansion towards the East were such as to make the ideal policy the safest. Though Henry the Fowler had sedulously limited his attention to German problems, his son, working on the same lines, found himself led by the natural sequence of events to cross the Alps, seize Italy and take the imperial crown from the Pope's hands.

Henry the Fowler, elected after nineteen years of nominal kingship and unbridled anarchy, defined his position by a series of compacts with the great Dukes. Suabia, Bavaria and Lotharingia became dependent principalities, whose rulers attended national Diets, occasionally appeared at court, and still more occasionally rendered military service. Under their sway the new feudalism, which they encouraged as the means of creating armies both for defence and for pursuing an independent foreign policy, took root and throve as a legal institution. Within the borders of the duchies Henry had little power except as the patron of the church. He claimed the right of nominating bishops—though in Bavaria this claim was not made good till the next reign—and religious foundations held their privileges by his grace. The ecclesiastical councils which legislated with his sanction were more important than the Diets composed indifferently of laymen and prelates. His general policy gave greater cause for satisfaction to the clergy than to the remainder of his subjects. The assertion of supremacy over Lotharingia (925), and Bohemia (929), and the defeat of the Hungarians at the Unstrut (933), were national achievements; but for nine years before the battle of the Unstrut the King had allowed the Hungarians to work their will in Bavaria and Suabia, having secured the immunity of his own duchy by a separate truce. He had chiefly employed those years in building strong towns for the defence of Saxony, and in extending Saxon power by the conquest of Brandenburg, Lusatia, Strelitz and Schleswig. These could only be called national services on the assumption that the crown was to remain the hereditary possession of his house; but the German kingship was elective. To the Church, however, nothing was more welcome than conquests gained at the expense of heathen Slavs and Danes. In her eyes this Saxon statesman was the forerunner of the Christian faith in the dark places of Europe. For all these reasons, then, the power of Henry and his successors remained a power resting upon ecclesiastical support. To strengthen the alliance of church and state must be the first object of a Saxon ruler.

For some years after his accession (936) Otto I was harassed by pretenders of his own family who allied themselves with one or more of the great Dukes. The Bavarians threatened to secede and form an independent nation; the Franconians rebelled when their right of waging private wars was called in question; the Lotharingians intrigued to make themselves an independent Middle Kingdom. All such malcontents found it easy to secure a brother or a son of the King as their nominal leader. Even when Otto had placed all the duchies in the hands of his own kinsmen or connections, his power was still precarious. For he claimed new rights which, though necessary to the maintenance of kingly power, did violence to feudal and provincial sentiment; while the Dukes whom he nominated usually took up the pretensions of their predecessors, and identified themselves with the interests of their subjects. It was more important than ever that the King should have the help of the clergy in educating public opinion. But in the most critical period (939-955) of the reign the German primate, Archbishop Frederic of Mainz, lent the weight of his influence and high personal reputation to the rebel cause. In another direction also Otto found the clergy the chief opponents of a cherished scheme. Organised missions were among the means on which he relied for civilising and extending his father's conquests in Slavonic territory. For this purpose he planned, with the approval of Rome, to make Magdeburg an archbishopric and the head of a Slavonic province. To this proposal the sees of Mainz and Halberstadt offered strenuous resistance, on the ground that it would curtail their jurisdictions (955). Twice, therefore, Otto had been sharply reminded that his authority over the German Church was insufficient for his purpose.

Meanwhile the train of events had drawn him into Italian politics. The Kingdom of Italy had been seized, in 926, by Hugh of Provence, an adventurer of Carolingian descent. In 937, on the death of Rudolph II of Burgundy, Hugh designed to seize this derelict inheritance. He was forestalled by Otto, who assumed the guardianship of the lawful heir of Burgundy, the young Conrad; a united kingdom of Italy and Burgundy would have been too dangerous a neighbour for the German Kingdom. Hugh, however, secured for his son, Lothair, the hand of Conrad's sister Adelaide, thus keeping alive the claims of his family for a future day. Somewhat later Otto retaliated by giving protection to an Italian foe of Hugh, the Margrave Berengar of Friuli, who came to the Saxon court and became the liegeman of the German King. In 950 this relation suddenly acquired political importance, through the unexpected deaths of Hugh and Lothair, and the succession of Berengar in Italy. Reminded of his oath to Otto, the new King repudiated his obligations as a vassal, and gave further provocation by ill-treating the widowed Adelaide. Otto was thus equipped with a double excuse for making war. And war was forced upon him by the ambitions of his brother Henry, Duke of Bavaria, and of his son Liutolf, Duke of Suabia. Both cast covetous glances on Italy, which was hopelessly divided and an easy prey for the first-comer. In 949 the Duke of Bavaria had seized Aquileia; in 951 the Duke of Suabia crossed the Alps ostensibly to champion Adelaide. Otto could not remain idle while two of his subjects and kinsmen contended over the spoils of Italy. He collected an army and followed hard on the footsteps of Liutolf. Berengar fled, the Dukes made peace with their suzerain, and Otto was free to dispose of the Italian kingdom (951).

It is possible that, if the opportunity had been forthcoming, he would at once have proceeded to Rome for an imperial coronation. But the Pope, who alone could make an Emperor, was the nominee of a Roman faction, headed by the ambitious Alberic the Senator who aspired to build up a secular lordship on the basis of the Papal patrimony. Otto was not invited to visit Rome. After some hesitation he decided, instead of himself assuming the unprofitable duties of an Italian King, to restore Berengar on condition of a renewal of homage. Perhaps the arrangement was intended to be temporary. Otto was still menaced by conspiracies in Germany; and Berengar might serve to guard Italy against ambitious Dukes, until the hands of his overlord were free for Italian adventures. Later events justify some such hypothesis. Within a few years the chief difficulties of Otto were removed. A great ducal rising collapsed; the Hungarians were so decisively beaten at the Lechfeld (955) that they ceased to trouble Germany; death relieved Otto of his most dangerous rivals, Archbishop Frederic of Mainz and his own son, Duke Liutolf. Then, in 960, arrived the long-delayed call from Rome. John XII, a dissipated youth of twenty-two, the son of Alberic (died 954) but devoid of his father's ability, invoked the aid of Germany to protect the temporal possessions against Berengar. Otto required no second summons. Descending upon Italy, he expelled his vassal, assumed the Italian crown at Pavia (961) and then repaired to Rome. Here in 962 he was crowned by the Pope as lord of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. For good or for evil the prerogative of Charles the Great was inseparably united to the German monarchy.

From this complicated series of events some interesting conclusions may be deduced. The Empire, which has so often been abused as a source of countless woes to Germany, was revived in the interests of a purely German policy. Unlike his son and his grandson, Otto I never submitted to the spell of Italy. Since the time of Charles the Great it had been taken for granted that the Empire could only be conferred by the Pope and only held by a King of Italy. Otto did not greatly value his Italian dominions, though circumstances forced him to reside in Italy for a large part of his later years. For a time he had thoughts of recovering Apulia and Calabria from the Greeks, Sicily from the Arabs. But he abandoned his claims against the Eastern Empire as the price of a marriage-alliance, and he left Sicily untouched. The Crown of Italy was valuable to him chiefly as a qualification for his imperial office. To the ecclesiastical duties of that office he was not indifferent. His bishops, though largely employed as secular administrators, were chosenwith some regard to their spiritual duties; he was a friend to the Cluniac movement for monastic reform. But clearly he did not visit Rome in pursuit of any plans for cleansing that Augean stable the Papacy. The vices of John XII were notorious; but, as a Pope who could legally confer the Empire, he was good enough for Otto's purpose. Only when John repented of his bargain and turned traitor was he evicted in favour of a more reputable successor (963). And John's successor was a layman until the time of his election. Otto's chief concern was to secure a trustworthy partisan; this remained the Saxon policy till the days of his grandson.

Otto was not indifferent to the splendour or the more ambitious claims of his office. He paraded before the world the benevolent protectorate which he exercised over the young rulers of Burgundy and France; he insisted upon the homage of the Polish and Bohemian dukes. He held magnificent Diets to celebrate his new position, and made great efforts to win recognition from the Byzantine court. But in substance his ambitions were those of a German national king. He had a keen sense of realities, a keen appreciation of concrete results; from first to last his thoughts centred round the problems of his native land. The extension of the eastern frontier, the alliance with the Church, the management of the duchies—these were his main achievements as they had been his main ambitions. But he had built better than he knew; and the Empire acquired before his death a nobler significance than he perhaps had ever contemplated.

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