The Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 07
Author: Various
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The National Alumni






An Outline Narrative of the Great Events, xiii CHARLES F. HORNE

Dante Composes the Divina Commedia (A.D. 1300-1318), 1 RICHARD WILLIAM CHURCH

Third Estate Joins in the Government of France (A.D. 1302), 17 HENRI MARTIN

War of the Flemings with Philip the Fair of France (A.D. 1302), 23 EYRE EVANS CROWE

First Swiss Struggle for Liberty (A.D. 1308), 28 F. GRENFELL BAKER

Battle of Bannockburn (A.D. 1314), 41 ANDREW LANG

Extinction of the Order of Knights Templars Burning of Grand Master Molay (A.D. 1314), 51 F. C. WOODHOUSE HENRY HART MILMAN

James van Artevelde Leads a Flemish Revolt Edward III of England Assumes the Title of King of France (A.D. 1337-1340), 68 FRANCOIS P. G. GUIZOT

Battles of Sluys and Crecy (A.D. 1340-1346), 78 SIR JOHN FROISSART

Modern Recognition of Scenic Beauty Crowning of Petrarch at Rome (A.D. 1341), 93 JACOB BURCKHARDT

Rienzi's Revolution in Rome (A.D. 1347), 104 RICHARD LODGE

Beginning and Progress of the Renaissance (Fourteenth to Sixteenth Century), 110 JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS

The Black Death Ravages Europe (A.D. 1348), 130 J. F. C. HECKER GIOVANNI BOCCACCIO

First Turkish Dominion in Europe Turks Seize Gallipoli (A.D. 1354), 147 JOSEPH VON HAMMER-PURGSTALL

Conspiracy and Death of Marino Falieri at Venice (A.D. 1355), 154 MRS. MARGARET OLIPHANT

Charles IV of Germany Publishes His Golden Bull (A.D. 1356), 160 SIR ROBERT COMYN

Insurrection of the Jacquerie in France (A.D. 1358), 164 SIR JOHN FROISSART

Conquests of Timur the Tartar (A.D. 1370-1405), 169 EDWARD GIBBON

Dancing Mania of the Middle Ages (A.D. 1374), 187 J. F. C. HECKER

Election of Antipope Clement VII Beginning of the Great Schism (A.D. 1378), 201 HENRY HART MILMAN

Genoese Surrender to Venetians (A.D. 1380), 213 HENRY HALLAM

Rebellion of Wat Tyler (A.D. 1381), 217 JOHN LINGARD

Wycliffe Translates the Bible into English (A.D. 1382) 227 J. PATERSON SMYTH

The Swiss Win Their Independence Battle of Sempach (A.D. 1386-1389) 238 F. GRENFELL BAKER

Union of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (A.D. 1397), 243 PAUL C. SINDING

Deposition of Richard II Henry IV Begins the Line of Lancaster (A.D. 1399), 251 JOHN LINGARD

Discovery of the Canary Islands and the African Coast Beginning of Negro Slave Trade (A.D. 1402), 266 SIR ARTHUR HELPS

Council of Constance (A.D. 1414), 284 RICHARD LODGE

Trial and Burning of John Huss The Hussite Wars (A.D. 1415), 294 RICHARD CHENEVIX TRENCH

The House of Hohenzollern Established in Brandenburg (A.D. 1415), 305 THOMAS CARLYLE

Battle of Agincourt English Conquest of France (A.D. 1415), 320 JAMES GAIRDNER

Jeanne d'Arc's Victory at Orleans (A.D. 1429), 333 SIR EDWARD S. CREASY

Trial and Execution of Jeanne d'Arc (A.D. 1431), 350 JULES MICHELET

Charles VII Issues His Pragmatic Sanction Emancipation of the Gallican Church (A.D. 1438), 370 W. HENLEY JERVIS RENE F. ROHRBACHER

Universal Chronology (A.D. 1301-1438), 385 JOHN RUDD



Jeanne d'Arc stands, banner in hand, during the coronation of Charles VII, before the high altar at Rheims (page 347), Frontispiece Painting by J. E. Lenepveu.

Richard II resigns the crown of England to Henry, Duke of Lancaster, son of John of Gaunt, at London, 262 Painting by Sir John Gilbert.





Fifty years ago the term "renaissance" had a very definite meaning to scholars as representing an exact period toward the close of the fourteenth century when the world suddenly reawoke to the beauty of the arts of Greece and Rome, to the charm of their gayer life, the splendor of their intellect. We know now that there was no such sudden reawakening, that Teutonic Europe toiled slowly upward through long centuries, and that men learned only gradually to appreciate the finer side of existence, to study the universe for themselves, and look with their own eyes upon the life around them and the life beyond.

Thus the word "renaissance" has grown to cover a vaguer period, and there has been a constant tendency to push the date of its beginning ever backward, as we detect more and more the dimly dawning light amid the darkness of earlier ages. Of late, writers have fallen into the way of calling Dante the "morning star of the Renaissance"; and the period of the great poet's work, the first decade of the fourteenth century, has certainly the advantage of being characterized by three or four peculiarly striking events which serve to typify the tendencies of the coming age.

In 1301 Dante was driven out of Florence, his native city-republic, by a political strife. In this year, as he himself phrases it, he descended into hell; that is, he began those weary wanderings in exile which ended only with his life, and which stirred in him the deeps that found expression in his mighty poem, the Divina Commedia.[1] Throughout his masterpiece he speaks with eager respect of the old Roman writers, and of such Greeks as he knew—so we have admiration of the ancient intellect. He also speaks bitterly of certain popes, as well as of other more earthly tyrants—so we have the dawnings of democracy and of religious revolt, of government by one's self and thought for one's self, instead of submission to the guidance of others.

More important even than these in its immediate results, Dante, while he began his poem in Latin, the learned language of the time, soon transposed and completed it in Italian, the corrupted Latin of his commoner contemporaries, the tongue of his daily life. That is, he wrote not for scholars like himself, but for a wider circle of more worldly friends. It is the first great work in any modern speech. It is in very truth the recognition of a new world of men, a new and more practical set of merchant intellects which, with their growing and vigorous vitality, were to supersede the old.

In that same decade and in that same city of Florence, Giotto was at work, was beginning modern art with his paintings, was building the famous cathedral there, was perhaps planning his still more famous bell-tower. Here surely was artistic wakening enough.

If we look further afield through Italy we find in 1303 another scene tragically expressive of the changing times. The French King, Philip the Fair, so called from his appearance, not his dealings, had bitter cause of quarrel with the same Pope Boniface VIII who had held the great jubilee of 1300. Philip's soldiers, forcing their way into the little town of Anagni, to which the Pope had withdrawn, laid violent hands upon his holiness. If measured by numbers, the whole affair was trifling. So few were the French soldiers that in a few days the handful of towns-folk in Anagni were able to rise against them, expel them from the place and rescue the aged Pope. He had been struck—beaten, say not wholly reliable authorities—and so insulted that rage and shame drove him mad, and he died.

Not a sword in all Europe leaped from its scabbard to avenge the martyr. Religious men might shudder at the sacrilege, but the next Pope, venturing to take up Boniface's quarrel, died within a few months under strong probabilities of poison; and the next Pope, Clement V, became the obedient servant of the French King. He even removed the seat of papal authority from Rome to Avignon in France, and there for seventy years the popes remained. The breakdown of the whole temporal power of the Church was sudden, terrible, complete.


Following up his religious successes, Philip the Fair attacked the mighty knights of the Temple, the most powerful of the religious orders of knighthood which had fought the Saracens in Jerusalem. The Templars, having found their warfare hopeless, had abandoned the Holy Land and had dwelt for a generation inglorious in the West. Philip suddenly seized the leading members of the order, accused it of hideous crimes, and confiscated all its vast wealth and hundreds of strong castles throughout France. He secured from his French Pope approval of the extermination of the entire order and the torture and execution of its chiefs. Whether the charges against them were true or not, their helplessness in the grip of the King shows clearly the low ebb to which knighthood had fallen, and the rising power of the monarchs. The day of feudalism was past.[2]

We may read yet other signs of the age in the career of this cruel, crafty King. To strengthen himself in his struggle against the Pope, he called, in 1302, an assembly or "states-general" of his people; and, following the example already established in England, he gave a voice in this assembly to the "Third Estate," the common folk or "citizens," as well as to the nobles and the clergy. So even in France we find the people acquiring power, though as yet this Third Estate speaks with but a timid and subservient voice, requiring to be much encouraged by its money-asking sovereigns, who little dreamed it would one day be strong enough to demand a reckoning of all its tyrant overlords.[3]

Another event to be noted in this same year of 1302 took place farther northward in King Philip's domains. The Flemish cities Ghent, Liege, and Bruges had grown to be the great centres of the commercial world, so wealthy and so populous that they outranked Paris. The sturdy Flemish burghers had not always been subject to France—else they had been less well to-do. They regarded Philip's exactions as intolerable, and rebelled. Against them marched the royal army of iron-clad knights; and the desperate citizens, meeting these with no better defence than stout leather jerkins, led them into a trap. At the battle of Courtrai the knights charged into an unsuspected ditch, and as they fell the burghers with huge clubs beat out such brains as they could find within the helmets. It was subtlety against stupidity, the merchant's shrewdness asserting itself along new lines. King Philip had to create for himself a fresh nobility to replenish his depleted stock.[4]

The fact that there is so much to pause on in Philip's reign will in itself suggest the truth, that France had grown the most important state in Europe. This, however, was due less to French strength than to the weakness of the empire, where rival rulers were being constantly elected and wasting their strength against one another. If Courtrai had given the first hint that these iron-clad knights were not invincible in war, it was soon followed by another. The Swiss peasants formed among themselves a league to resist oppression. This took definite shape in 1308 when they rebelled openly against their Hapsburg overlords.[5] The Hapsburg duke of the moment was one of two rival claimants for the title of emperor, and was much too busy to attend personally to the chastisement of these presumptuous boors. The army which he sent to do the work for him was met by the Swiss at Morgarten, among their mountain passes, overwhelmed with rocks, and then put to flight by one fierce charge of the unarmored peasants. It took the Austrians seventy years to forget that lesson, and when a later generation sent a second army into the mountains it was overthrown at Sempach. Swiss liberty was established on an unarguable basis.[6]

A similar tale might be told of Bannockburn, where, under Bruce, the Scotch common folk regained their freedom from the English.[7] Courtrai, Morgarten, Bannockburn! Clearly a new force was growing up over all Europe, and a new spirit among men. Knighthood, which had lost its power over kings, seemed like to lose its military repute as well.

The development of the age was, of course, most rapid in Italy, where democracy had first asserted itself. In its train came intellectual ability, and by the middle of the fourteenth century Italy was in the full swing of the intellectual renaissance.[8] In 1341 Petrarch, recognized by all his contemporary countrymen as their leading scholar and poet, was crowned with a laurel wreath on the steps of the Capitol in Rome. This was the formal assertion by the age of its admiration for intellectual worth. To Petrarch is ascribed the earliest recognition of the beauty of nature. He has been called the first modern man. In reading his works we feel at last that we speak with one of our own, with a friend who understands.[9]


Unfortunately, however, the democracy of Italy proved too intense, too frenzied and unbalanced. Rienzi established a republic in Rome and talked of the restoration of the city's ancient rule. But he governed like a madman or an inflated fool, and was slain in a riot of the streets.[10] Scarce one of the famous cities succeeded in retaining its republican form. Milan became a duchy. Florence fell under the sway of the Medici. In Venice a few rich families seized all authority, and while the fame and territory of the republic were extended, its dogeship became a mere figurehead. All real power was lodged in the dread and secret council of three.[11] Genoa was defeated and crushed in a great naval contest with her rival, Venice.[12] Everywhere tyrannies stood out triumphant. The first modern age of representative government was a failure. The cities had proved unable to protect themselves against the selfish ambitions of their leaders.

In Germany and the Netherlands town life had been, as we have seen, slower of development.[13] Hence for these Northern cities the period of decay had not yet come. In fact, the fourteenth century marks the zenith of their power. Their great trading league, the Hansa, was now fully established, and through the hands of its members passed all the wealth of Northern Europe. The league even fought a war against the King of Denmark and defeated him. The three northern states, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, fell almost wholly under the dominance of the Hansa, until, toward the end of the century, Queen Margaret of Denmark, "the Semiramis of the North," united the three countries under her sway, and partly at least upraised them from their sorry plight.[14]

On the whole this was not an era to which Europe can look back with pride. The empire was a scene of anarchy. One of its wrangling rulers, Charles IV, recognizing that the lack of an established government lay at the root of all the disorder, tried to mend matters by publishing his "Golden Bull," which exactly regulated the rules and formulae to be gone through in choosing an emperor, and named the seven "electors" who were to vote. This simplified matters so far as the repeatedly contested elections went; but it failed to strike to the real difficulty. The Emperor remained elective and therefore weak.[15]

Moreover, in 1346 the "Black Death," most terrible of all the repeated plagues under which the centuries previous to our own have suffered, began to rear its dread form over terror-stricken Europe.[16] It has been estimated that during the three years of this awful visitation one-third of the people of Europe perished. Whole cities were wiped out. In the despair and desolation of the period of scarcity that followed, humanity became hysterical, and within a generation that oddest of all the extravagances of the Middle Ages, the "dancing mania," rose to its height. Men and women wandered from town to town, especially in Germany, dancing frantically, until in their exhaustion they would beg the bystanders to beat them or even jump on them to enable them to stop.[17]

France and England were also in desolation. The long "Hundred Years' War" between them began in 1340. France was not averse to it. In fact, her King, Philip of Valois, rather welcomed the opportunity of wresting away Guienne, the last remaining French fief of the English kings. France, as we have seen, was regarded as the strongest land of Europe. England was thought of as little more than a French colony, whose Norman dukes had in the previous century been thoroughly chastised and deprived of half their territories by their overlord. To be sure, France was having much trouble with her Flemish cities, which were in revolt again under the noted brewer-nobleman, Van Artevelde,[18] yet it seemed presumption for England to attack her—England, so feeble that she had been unable to avenge her own defeat by the half-barbaric Scots at Bannockburn.

But the English had not nearly so small an opinion of themselves as had the rest of Europe. The heart of the nation had not been in that strife against the Scots, a brave and impoverished people struggling for freedom. But hearts and pockets, too, welcomed the quarrel with France, overbearing France, that plundered their ships when they traded with their friends the Flemings. The Flemish wool trade was at this time a main source of English wealth, so Edward III of England, than whom ordinarily no haughtier aristocrat existed, made friends with the brewer Van Artevelde, and called him "gossip" and visited him at Ghent, and presently Flemings and English were allied in a defiance of France. By asserting a vague ancestral claim to the French throne, Edward eased the consciences of his allies, who had sworn loyalty to France; and King Philip had on his hands a far more serious quarrel than he realized.[19]

In England's first great naval victory, Edward destroyed the French fleet at Sluys and so started his country on its wonderful career of ocean dominance. Moreover, his success established from the start that the war should be fought out in France and not in England.[20] Then, in 1346, he won his famous victory of Crecy against overwhelming numbers of his enemies. It has been said that cannon were effectively used for the first time at Crecy, and it was certainly about this time that gunpowder began to assume a definite though as yet subordinate importance in warfare. But we need not go so far afield to explain the English victory. It lay in the quality of the fighting men. Through a century and a half of freedom, England had been building up a class of sturdy yeomen, peasants who, like the Swiss, lived healthy, hearty, independent lives. France relied only on her nobles; her common folk were as yet a helpless herd of much shorn sheep. The French knights charged as they had charged at Courtrai, with blind, unreasoning valor; and the English peasants, instead of fleeing before them, stood firm and, with deadly accuracy of aim, discharged arrow after arrow into the soon disorganized mass. Then the English knights charged, and completed what the English yeomen had begun.

Poitiers, ten years later, repeated the same story; and what with the Black Death sweeping over the land, and these terrible English ravaging at will, France sank into an abyss of misery worse even than that which had engulfed the empire. The unhappy peasantry, driven by starvation into frenzied revolt, avenged their agony upon the nobility by hideous plunderings and burnings of the rich chateaux.[21] A partial peace with England was patched up in 1360; but the "free companies" of mercenary soldiers, who had previously been ravaging Italy, had now come to take their pleasure in the French carnival of crime, and so the plundering and burning went on until the fair land was wellnigh a wilderness, and the English troops caught disease from their victims and perished in the desolation they had helped to make. By simply refusing to fight battles with them and letting them starve, the next French king, Charles V, won back almost all his father had lost; and before his death, in 1380, the English power in France had fallen again almost to where it stood at the beginning of the war.

Edward III had died, brooding over the emptiness of his great triumph. His son the Black Prince had died, cursing the falsity of Frenchmen. England also had gone through the great tragedy of the Black Death and her people, like those of France, had been driven to the point of rebellion—though with them this meant no more than that they felt themselves over-taxed.[22]

The latter part of the fourteenth century must, therefore, be regarded as a period of depression in European civilization, of retrograde movement during which the wheels of progress had turned back. It even seemed as though Asia would once more and perhaps with final success reassert her dominion over helpless Europe. The Seljuk Turks who, in 1291, had conquered Acre, the last European stronghold in the Holy Land, had lost their power; but a new family of the Turkish race, the one that dwells in Europe to-day, the Osmanlis, had built up an empire by conquest over their fellows, and had begun to wrest province after province from the feeble Empire of the East. In 1354 their advance brought them across the Bosporus and they seized their first European territory.[23] Soon they had spread over most of modern Turkey. Only the strong-walled Constantinople held out, while its people cried frantically to the West for help. The invaders ravaged Hungary. A crusade was preached against them; but in 1396 the entire crusading army, united with all the forces of Hungary, was overthrown, almost exterminated in the battle of Nicopolis.

Perhaps it was only a direct providence that saved Europe. Another Tartar conqueror, Timur the Lame, or Tamburlaine, had risen in the Far East.[24] Like Attila and Genghis Khan he swept westward asserting sovereignty. The Sultan of the Turks recalled all his armies from Europe to meet this mightier and more insistent foe. A gigantic battle, which vague rumor has measured in quite unthinkable numbers of combatants and slain, was fought at Angora in 1402. The Turks were defeated and subjugated by the Tartars. Timur's empire, being founded on no real unity, dissolved with his death, and the various subject nations reasserted their independence. Yet Europe was granted a considerable breathing space before the Turks once more felt able to push their aggressions westward.


Toward the close of this unlucky fourteenth century a marked religious revival extended over Europe. Perhaps men's sufferings had caused it. Many sects of reformers appeared, protesting sometimes against the discipline, sometimes the doctrines, of the Church. In Germany Nicholas of Basel established the "Friends of God." In England Wycliffe wrote the earliest translation of the Bible into any of our modern tongues.[25] The Avignon popes shook off their long submission to France and returned to Italy, to a Rome so desolate that they tell us not ten thousand people remained to dwell amid its stupendous ruins. Unfortunately this return only led the papacy into still deeper troubles. Several of the cardinals refused to recognize the Roman Pope and elected another, who returned to Avignon. This was the beginning of the "Great Schism" in the Church.[26] For forty years there were two, sometimes three, claimants to the papal chair. The effect of their struggles was naturally to lessen still further that solemn veneration with which men had once looked up to the accepted vicegerent of God on earth. Hitherto the revolt against the popes had only assailed their political supremacy; but now heresies that included complete denial of the religious authority of the Church began everywhere to arise. In England Wycliffe's preachings and pamphlets grew more and more opposed to Roman doctrine. In Bohemia John Huss not only said, as all men did, that the Church needed reform, but, going further, he refused obedience to papal commands.[27] In short, the reformers, finding themselves unable to purify the Roman Church according to their views, began to deny its sacredness and defy its power.

At length an unusually energetic though not oversuccessful emperor, Sigismund, the same whom the Turks had defeated at Nicopolis, persuaded the leaders of the Church to unite with him in calling a grand council at Constance.[28] This council ended the great schism and restored order to the Church by securing the rule of a single pope. It also burned John Huss as a heretic, and thereby left on Sigismund's hands a fierce rebellion among the reformer's Bohemian followers. The war lasted for a generation, and during its course all the armies of Germany were repeatedly defeated by the fanatic Hussites.[29]

Another interesting performance of the Emperor Sigismund was that, being deep in debt, he sold his "electorate" of Brandenburg to a friend, a Hohenzollern, and thus established as one of the four chief families of the empire those Hohenzollerns who rose to be kings of Prussia and have in our own day supplanted the Hapsburgs as emperors of Germany.[30] Also worth noting of Sigismund is the fact that during the sitting of his Council of Constance he made a tour of Europe to persuade all the princes and various potentates to join it. When he reached England he was met by a band of Englishmen who waded into the sea to demand whether by his imperial visit he meant to assert any supremacy over England. Sigismund assured them he did not, and was allowed to land. We may look to this English parade of independence as our last reminder of the old mediaeval conception of the Emperor as being at least in theory the overlord of the whole of Europe.


By this time England had in fact recovered from her period of temporary disorder and depression. King Richard II, the feeble son of the Black Prince, had been deposed in 1399,[31] and a new and vigorous line of rulers, the Lancastrians, reached their culmination in Henry V (1415-1422). Henry revived the French quarrel, and paralleled Crecy and Poitiers with a similar victory at Agincourt.[32] The French King was a madman, and, aided by a civil war among the French nobility, Henry soon had his neighbor's kingdom seemingly helpless at his feet. By the treaty of Troyes he was declared the heir to the French throne, married the mad King's daughter, and dwelt in Paris as regent of the kingdom.[33]

The Norman conquest of England seemed balanced by a similar English conquest of France. But the chances of fate are many. Both Henry and his insane father-in-law died in the same year, and while Henry left only a tiny babe to succeed to his claims, the French King left a full-grown though rather worthless son. This young man, Charles VII, continued to deny the English authority, from a safe distance in Southern France. He made, however, no effort to assert himself or retrieve his fortunes; and the English captains in the name of their baby King took possession of one fortress after another, till, in 1429, Orleans was the only French city of rank still barring their way from Charles and the far south.[34]

Then came the sudden, wonderful arousing of the French under their peasant heroine, Jeanne d'Arc, and her tragic capture and execution.[35] At last even the French peasantry were roused; and the French nobles forgot their private quarrels and turned a united front against the invaders. The leaderless English lost battle after battle, until of all France they retained only Edward III's first conquest, the city of Calais.

France, a regenerated France, turned upon the popes of the Council of Constance, and, remembering how long she had held the papacy within her own borders, asserted at least a qualified independence of the Romans by the "Pragmatic Sanction" which established the Gallican Church.[36]

This semi-defiance of the Pope was encouraged by King Charles, who, in fact, made several shrewd moves to secure the power which his good-fortune, and not his abilities, had won. Among other innovations he established a "standing army," the first permanent body of government troops in Teutonic Europe. By this step he did much to alter the mediaeval into the modern world; he did much to establish that supremacy of kings over both nobles and people which continued in France and more or less throughout all Europe for over three centuries to follow.

Another sign of the coming of a new and more vigorous era is to be seen in the beginning of exploration down the Atlantic coast of Africa by the Portuguese, and their discovery and settlement of the Canary Isles. As a first product of their voyages the explorers introduced negro slavery into Europe[37]—a grim hint that the next age with increasing power was to face increasing responsibilities as well.

An even greater change was coming, was already glimmering into light. In that same year of King Charles' Pragmatic Sanction (1438), though yet unknown to warring princes and wrangling churchmen, John Gutenberg, in a little German workshop, had evolved the idea of movable type, that is, of modern printing. From his press sprang the two great modern genii, education and publicity, which have already made tyrannies and slaveries impossible, pragmatic sanctions unnecessary, and which may one day do as much for standing armies.


A.D. 1300-1318


Out of what may be called the civil and religious storm-and-stress period through which the Middle passed into the modern age, there came a great literary foregleam of the new life upon which the world was about to enter. From Italy, where the European ferment, both in its political and its spiritual character, mainly centred, came the prophecy of the new day, in a poet's "vision of the invisible world"—Dante's Divina Commedia—wherein also the deeper history of the visible world of man was both embodied from the past and in a measure predetermined for the human race.

Dante's great epic was called by him a comedy because its ending was not tragical, but "happy"; and admiration gave it the epithet "divine." It is in three parts—Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and Paradiso (paradise). It has been made accessible to English readers in the metrical translations of Carey, Longfellow, Norton, and others, and in the excellent prose version (Inferno) of John Aitken Carlyle, brother of Thomas Carlyle.

Dante (originally Durante) Alighieri was born at Florence in May, 1265, and died at Ravenna September 14, 1321. Both the Divina Commedia and his other great work, the Vita Nuova (the new life), narrate the love—either romantic or passionate—with which he was inspired by Beatrice Portinari, whom he first saw when he was nine years old and Beatrice eight. His whole future life and work are believed to have been determined by this ideal attachment. But an equally noteworthy fact of his literary career is that his works were produced in the midst of party strifes wherein the poet himself was a prominent actor. In the bitter feuds of the Guelfs and Ghibellines he bore the sufferings of failure, persecution, and exile. But above all these trials rose his heroic spirit and the sublime voice of his poems, which became a quickening prophecy, realized in the birth of Italian and of European literature, in the whole movement of the Renaissance, and in the ever-advancing development of the modern world.

Church's clear-sighted interpretations of the mind and life of Dante, and of the history-making Commedia, attest the importance of including the poet and his work in this record of Great Events.

The Divina Commedia is one of the landmarks of history. More than a magnificent poem, more than the beginning of a language and the opening of a national literature, more than the inspirer of art and the glory of a great people, it is one of those rare and solemn monuments of the mind's power which measure and test what it can reach to, which rise up ineffaceably and forever as time goes on marking out its advance by grander divisions than its centuries, and adopted as epochs by the consent of all who come after. It stands with the Iliad and Shakespeare's plays, with the writings of Aristotle and Plato, with the Novum Organon and the Principia, with Justinian's Code, with the Parthenon and St. Peter's. It is the first Christian poem; and it opens European literature, as the Iliad did that of Greece and Rome. And, like the Iliad, it has never become out of date; it accompanies in undiminished freshness the literature which it began.

We approach the history of such works, in which genius seems to have pushed its achievements to a new limit. Their bursting out from nothing, and gradual evolution into substance and shape, cast on the mind a solemn influence. They come too near the fount of being to be followed up without our feeling the shadows which surround it. We cannot but fear, cannot but feel ourselves cut off from this visible and familiar world—as we enter into the cloud. And as with the processes of nature, so it is with those offsprings of man's mind by which he has added permanently one more great feature to the world, and created a new power which is to act on mankind to the end. The mystery of the inventive and creative faculty, the subtle and incalculable combinations by which it was led to its work, and carried through it, are out of reach of investigating thought. Often the idea recurs of the precariousness of the result; by how little the world might have lost one of its ornaments—by one sharp pang, or one chance meeting, or any other among the countless accidents among which man runs his course. And then the solemn recollection supervenes that powers were formed, and life preserved, and circumstances arranged, and actions controlled, and thus it should be; and the work which man has brooded over, and at last created, is the foster-child too of that "Wisdom which reaches from end to end, strongly and sweetly disposing of all things."

It does not abate these feelings that we can follow in some cases and to a certain extent the progress of a work. Indeed, the sight of the particular accidents among which it was developed—which belong perhaps to a heterogeneous and wildly discordant order of things, which are out of proportion and out of harmony with it, which do not explain it; which have, as it seems to us, no natural right to be connected with it, to bear on its character, or contribute to its accomplishment; to which we feel, as it were, ashamed to owe what we can least spare, yet on which its forming mind and purpose were dependent, and with which they had to conspire—affects the imagination even more than cases where we see nothing. We are tempted less to musing and wonder by the Iliad, a work without a history, cut off from its past, the sole relic and vestige of its age, unexplained in its origin and perfection, than by the Divina Commedia, destined for the highest ends and most universal sympathy, yet the reflection of a personal history, and issuing seemingly from its chance incidents.

The Divina Commedia is singular among the great works with which it ranks, for its strong stamp of personal character and history. In general we associate little more than the name—not the life—of a great poet with his works; personal interest belongs more usually to greatness in its active than its creative forms. But the whole idea and purpose of the Commedia, as well as its filling up and coloring, are determined by Dante's peculiar history. The loftiest, perhaps, in its aim and flight of all poems, it is also the most individual; the writer's own life is chronicled in it, as well as the issues and upshot of all things. It is at once the mirror to all time of the sins and perfections of men, of the judgments and grace of God, and the record, often the only one, of the transient names, and local factions, and obscure ambitions, and forgotten crimes of the poet's own day; and in that awful company to which he leads us, in the most unearthly of his scenes, we never lose sight of himself. And when this peculiarity sends us to history, it seems as if the poem which was to hold such a place in Christian literature hung upon and grew out of chance events, rather than the deliberate design of its author. History, indeed, here, as generally, is but a feeble exponent of the course of growth in a great mind and great ideas. It shows us early a bent and purpose—the man conscious of power and intending to use it—and then the accidents among which he worked; but how the current of purpose threaded its way among them, how it was thrown back, deflected, deepened by them, we cannot learn from history.

It presents a broken and mysterious picture. A boy of quick and enthusiastic temper grows up into youth in a dream of love. The lady of his mystic passion dies early. He dreams of her still, not as a wonder of earth, but as a saint in paradise, and relieves his heart in an autobiography, a strange and perplexing work of fiction—quaint and subtle enough for a metaphysical conceit; but, on the other hand, with far too much of genuine and deep feeling. It is a first essay; he closes it abruptly as if dissatisfied with his work, but with the resolution of raising at a future day a worthy monument to the memory of her whom he has lost. It is the promise and purpose of a great work. But a prosaic change seems to come over his half-ideal character. The lover becomes the student—the student of the thirteenth century—struggling painfully against difficulties, eager and hot after knowledge, wasting eyesight and stinting sleep, subtle, inquisitive, active-minded and sanguine, but omnivorous, overflowing with dialectical forms, loose in premise and ostentatiously rigid in syllogism, fettered by the refinements of half-awakened taste and the mannerisms of the Provencals.

Boethius and Cicero and the mass of mixed learning within his reach are accepted as the consolation of his human griefs; he is filled with the passion of universal knowledge, and the desire to communicate it. Philosophy has become the lady of his soul—to write allegorical poems in her honor, and to comment on them with all the apparatus of his learning in prose, his mode of celebrating her. Further, he marries; it is said, not happily. The antiquaries, too, have disturbed romance by discovering that Beatrice also was married some years before her death. He appears, as time goes on, as a burgher of Florence, the father of a family, a politician, an envoy, a magistrate, a partisan, taking his full share in the quarrels of the day.

Beatrice reappears—shadowy, melting at times into symbol and figure—but far too living and real, addressed with too intense and natural feeling, to be the mere personification of anything. The lady of the philosophical Canzoni has vanished. The student's dream has been broken, as the boy's had been; and the earnestness of the man, enlightened by sorrow, overleaping the student's formalities and abstractions, reverted in sympathy to the earnestness of the boy, and brooded once more on that saint in paradise, whose presence and memory had once been so soothing, and who now seemed a real link between him and that stable country "where the angels are in peace." Round her image, the reflection of purity and truth and forbearing love, was grouped that confused scene of trouble and effort, of failure and success, which the poet saw round him; round her image it arranged itself in awful order—and that image, not a metaphysical abstraction, but the living memory, freshened by sorrow, and seen through the softening and hallowing vista of years, of Beatrice Portinari—no figment of imagination, but God's creature and servant. A childish love, dissipated by heavy sorrow—a boyish resolution, made in a moment of feeling, interrupted, though it would be hazardous to say, in Dante's case, laid aside, for apparently more manly studies, gave the idea and suggested the form of the "sacred poem of earth and heaven."

And the occasion of this startling unfolding of the poetic gift, of this passage of a soft and dreamy boy into the keenest, boldest, sternest of poets, the free and mighty leader of European song, was, what is not ordinarily held to be a source of poetical inspiration—the political life. The boy had sensibility, high aspirations, and a versatile and passionate nature; the student added to this energy, various learning, gifts of language, and noble ideas on the capacities and ends of man. But it was the factions of Florence which made Dante a great poet.

The connection of these feuds with Dante's poem has given to the Middle-Age history of Italy an interest of which it is not undeserving in itself, full as it is of curious exhibitions of character and contrivance, but to which politically it cannot lay claim, amid the social phenomena, so far grander in scale and purpose and more felicitous in issue, of other western nations. It is remarkable for keeping up an antique phase, which, in spite of modern arrangements, it has not yet lost. It is a history of cities. In ancient history all that is most memorable and instructive gathers round cities; civilization and empire were concentrated within walls; and it baffled the ancient mind to conceive how power should be possessed and wielded by numbers larger than might be collected in a single market-place. The Roman Empire, indeed, aimed at being one in its administration and law; and it was not a nation nor were its provinces nations, yet everywhere but in Italy it prepared them for becoming nations. And while everywhere else parts were uniting and union was becoming organization—and neither geographical remoteness nor unwieldiness of number nor local interests and differences were untractable obstacles to that spirit of fusion which was at once the ambition of the few and the instinct of the many; and cities, even where most powerful, had become the centres of the attracting and joining forces, knots in the political network—while this was going on more or less happily throughout the rest of Europe, in Italy the ancient classic idea lingered in its simplicity, its narrowness and jealousy, wherever there was any political activity. The history of Southern Italy, indeed, is mainly a foreign one—the history of modern Rome merges in that of the papacy; but Northern Italy has a history of its own, and that is a history of separate and independent cities—points of reciprocal and indestructible repulsion, and within, theatres of action where the blind tendencies and traditions of classes and parties weighed little on the freedom of individual character, and citizens could watch and measure and study one another with the minuteness of private life.

Dante, like any other literary celebrity of the time, was not less from the custom of the day than from his own purpose a public man. He took his place among his fellow-citizens; he went out to war with them; he fought, it is said, among the skirmishers at the great Guelf victory at Campaldino; to qualify himself for office in the democracy, he enrolled himself in one of the guilds of the people, and was matriculated in the "art" of the apothecaries; he served the state as its agent abroad; he went on important missions to the cities and courts of Italy according to a Florentine tradition, which enumerates fourteen distinct embassies, even to Hungary and France. In the memorable year of jubilee, 1300, he was one of the priors of the Republic. There is no shrinking from fellowship and cooperation and conflict with the keen or bold men of the market-place and council hall, in that mind of exquisite and, as drawn by itself, exaggerated sensibility. The doings and characters of men, the workings of society, the fortunes of Italy, were watched and thought of with as deep an interest as the courses of the stars, and read in the real spectacle of life with as profound emotion as in the miraculous page of Vergil; and no scholar ever read Vergil with such feeling—no astronomer ever watched the stars with more eager inquisitiveness. The whole man opens to the world around him; all affections and powers, soul and sense, diligently and thoughtfully directed and trained, with free and concurrent and equal energy, with distinct yet harmonious purposes, seek out their respective and appropriate objects, moral, intellectual, natural, spiritual, in that admirable scene and hard field where man is placed to labor and love, to be exercised, proved, and judged.

The outlines of this part of Dante's history are so well known that it is not necessary to dwell on them; and more than the outlines we know not. The family quarrels came to a head, issued in parties, and the parties took names; they borrowed them from two rival factions in a neighboring town, Pistoia, whose feud was imported into Florence; and the Guelfs became divided into the Black Guelfs, who were led by the Donati, and the White Guelfs, who sided with Cerchi. It is still professed to be but a family feud, confined to the great houses; but they were too powerful and Florence too small for it not to affect the whole Republic. The middle classes and the artisans looked on, and for a time not without satisfaction, at the strife of the great men; but it grew evident that one party must crush the other and become dominant in Florence; and of the two, the Cerchi and their White adherents were less formidable to the democracy than the unscrupulous and overbearing Donati, with their military renown and lordly tastes; proud not merely of being nobles, but Guelf nobles; always loyal champions, once the martyrs, and now the hereditary assertors, of the great Guelf cause. The Cerchi, with less character and less zeal, but rich, liberal, and showy, and with more of rough kindness and vulgar good-nature for the common people, were more popular in Guelf Florence than the Parte Guelfa; and, of course, the Ghibellines wished them well.

Both the contemporary historians of Florence lead us to think that they might have been the governors and guides of the Republic—if they had chosen, and had known how; and both, though condemning the two parties equally, seem to have thought that this would have been the best result for the state. But the accounts of both, though they are very different writers, agree in their scorn of the leaders of the White Guelfs. They were upstarts, purse-proud, vain, and coarse-minded; and they dared to aspire to an ambition which they were too dull and too cowardly to pursue, when the game was in their hands. They wished to rule; but when they might, they were afraid. The commons were on their side, the moderate men, the party of law, the lovers of republican government, and for the most part the magistrates; but they shrank from their fortune, "more from cowardice than from goodness, because they exceedingly feared their adversaries." Boniface VIII had no prepossessions in Florence, except for energy and an open hand; the side which was most popular he would have accepted and backed. But he said, "Io non voglio perdere gli uomini perle femminelle."[38] If the Black party furnished types for the grosser or fiercer forms of wickedness in the poet's hell, the White party surely were the originals of that picture of stupid and cowardly selfishness, in the miserable crowd who moan and are buffeted in the vestibule of the Pit, mingled with the angels who dared neither to rebel nor be faithful, but "were for themselves"; and whoever it may be who is singled out in the setta dei cattivi, for deeper and special scorn—he,

"Che fece per vilta il gran rifinto,"[39]

the idea was derived from the Cerchi in Florence.

Of his subsequent life, history tells us little more than the general character. He acted for a time in concert with the expelled party, when they attempted to force their way back to Florence; he gave them up at last in scorn and despair; but he never returned to Florence. And he found no new home for the rest of his days. Nineteen years, from his exile to his death, he was a wanderer. The character is stamped on his writings. History, tradition, documents, all scanty or dim, do but disclose him to us at different points, appearing here and there, we are not told how or why. One old record, discovered by antiquarian industry, shows him in a village church near Florence, planning with the Cerchi and the White party an attack on the Black Guelfs. In another, he appears in the Val di Magra, making peace between its small potentates; in another, as the inhabitant of a certain street in Padua. The traditions of some remote spots about Italy still connect his name with a ruined tower, a mountain glen, a cell in a convent. In the recollections of the following generation, his solemn and melancholy form mingled reluctantly, and for a while, in the brilliant court of the Scaligers; and scared the women, as a visitant of the other world, as he passed by their doors in the streets of Verona. Rumor brings him to the West—with probability to Paris, more doubtfully to Oxford. But little that is certain can be made out about the places where he was honored and admired, and, it may be, not always a welcome guest, till we find him sheltered, cherished, and then laid at last to rest, by the lords of Ravenna. There he still rests, in a small, solitary chapel, built, not by a Florentine, but a Venetian. Florence, "that mother of little love," asked for his bones, but rightly asked in vain. His place of repose is better in those remote and forsaken streets "by the shore of the Adrian Sea," hard by the last relics of the Roman Empire—the mausoleum of the children of Theodosius, and the mosaics of Justinian—than among the assembled dead of St. Croce, or amid the magnificence of Santa Maria del Fiore.

The Commedia, at the first glance, shows the traces of its author's life. It is the work of a wanderer. The very form in which it is cast is that of a journey, difficult, toilsome, perilous, and full of change. It is more than a working out of that touching phraseology of the Middle Ages in which "the way" was the technical theological expression for this mortal life; and "viator" meant man in his state of trial, as "comprehensor" meant man made perfect, having attained to his heavenly country. It is more than merely this. The writer's mind is full of the recollections and definite images of his various journeys. The permanent scenery of the inferno and purgatorio, very variously and distinctly marked, is that of travel. The descent down the sides of the Pit, and the ascent of the Sacred Mountain, show one familiar with such scenes—one who had climbed painfully in perilous passes, and grown dizzy on the brink of narrow ledges over sea or torrent. It is scenery from the gorges of the Alps and Apennines, or the terraces and precipices of the Riviera. Local reminiscences abound. The severed rocks of the Adige Valley—the waterfall of St. Benedetto; the crags of Pietra-pana and St. Leo, which overlook the plains of Lucca and Ravenna; the "fair river" that flows among the poplars between Chiaveri and Sestri; the marble quarries of Carrara; the "rough and desert ways between Lerici and Turbia," and whose towery cliffs, going sheer into the deep sea at Noli, which travellers on the Corniche road some thirty years ago may yet remember with fear. Mountain experience furnished that picture of the traveller caught in an Alpine mist and gradually climbing above it; seeing the vapors grow thin, and the sun's orb appear faintly through them; and issuing at last into sunshine on the mountain top, while the light of sunset was lost already on the shores below:

"Ai raggi, morti gia' bassi lidi,"[40]

or that image of the cold dull shadow over the torrent, beneath the Alpine fir:

"Un' ombra smorta Qual sotto foglie verdi e rami nigri Sovra suoi freddi rivi, l'Alpe porta;"[41]

or of the large snowflakes falling without wind among the mountains:

"d'un cader lento Piovean di fuoco dilatate falde Come di neve in Alpe senza vento."[42]

Of these years, then, of disappointment and exile the Divina Commedia was the labor and fruit. A story in Boccaccio's life of Dante, told with some detail, implies, indeed, that it was begun, and some progress made in it, while Dante was yet in Florence—begun in Latin, and he quotes three lines of it—continued afterward in Italian. This is not impossible; indeed, the germ and presage of it may be traced in the Vita Nuova. The idealized saint is there, in all the grace of her pure and noble humbleness, the guide and safeguard of the poet's soul. She is already in glory with Mary the Queen of Angels. She already beholds the face of the Ever-blessed. And the envoye of the Vita Nuova is the promise of the Commedia. "After this sonnet" (in which he describes how beyond the widest sphere of heaven his love had beheld a lady receiving honor and dazzling by her glory the unaccustomed spirit)—"After this sonnet there appeared to me a marvellous vision, in which I saw things which made me resolve not to speak more of this blessed one until such time as I should be able to indite more worthily of her. And to attain to this, I study to the utmost of my power, as she truly knows. So that it shall be the pleasure of Him, by whom all things live, that my life continue for some years, I hope to say of her that which never hath been said of any woman. And afterward, may it please him, who is the Lord of kindness, that my soul may go to behold the glory of her lady, that is, of that blessed Beatrice, who gloriously gazes on the countenance of Him, qui est per omnia secula benedictus." It would be wantonly violating probability and the unity of a great life to suppose that this purpose, though transformed, was ever forgotten or laid aside. The poet knew not, indeed, what he was promising, what he was pledging himself to—through what years of toil and anguish he would have to seek the light and the power he had asked; in what form his high venture should be realized.

But the Commedia is the work of no light resolve, and we need not be surprised at finding the resolve and the purpose at the outset of the poet's life. We may freely accept the key supplied by the words of the Vita Nuova. The spell of boyhood is never broken, through the ups and downs of life. His course of thought advances, alters, deepens, but is continuous. From youth to age, from the first glimpse to the perfect work, the same idea abides with him, "even from the flower till the grape was ripe." It may assume various changes—an image of beauty, a figure of philosophy, a voice from the other world, a type of heavenly wisdom and joy—but still it holds, in self-imposed and willing thraldom, that creative and versatile and tenacious spirit. It was the dream and hope of too deep and strong a mind to fade and come to naught—to be other than the seed of the achievement and crown of life. But with all faith in the star and the freedom of genius, we may doubt whether the prosperous citizen would have done that which was done by the man without a home. Beatrice's glory might have been sung in grand though barbarous Latin to the literati of the fourteenth century; or a poem of new beauty might have fixed the language and opened the literature of modern Italy; but it could hardly have been the Commedia. That belongs, in its date and its greatness, to the time when sorrow had become the poet's daily portion and the condition of his life.

But such greatness had to endure its price and its counterpoise. Dante was alone—except in his visionary world, solitary and companionless. The blind Greek had his throng of listeners; the blind Englishman his home and the voices of his daughters; Shakespeare had his free associates of the stage; Goethe, his correspondents, a court, and all Germany to applaud. Not so Dante. The friends of his youth are already in the region of spirits, and meet him there—Casella, Forese; Guido Cavalcanti will soon be with them. In this upper world he thinks and writes as a friendless man—to whom all that he had held dearest was either lost or imbittered; he thinks and writes for himself.

So comprehensive in interest is the Commedia. Any attempt to explain it, by narrowing that interest to politics, philosophy, the moral life, or theology itself, must prove inadequate. Theology strikes the keynote; but history, natural and metaphysical science, poetry, and art, each in their turn join in the harmony, independent, yet ministering to the whole. If from the poem itself we could be for a single moment in doubt of the reality and dominant place of religion in it, the plain-spoken prose of the Convito would show how he placed "the Divine Science, full of all peace, and allowing no strife of opinions and sophisms, for the excellent certainty of its subject, which is God," is single perfection above all other sciences, "which are, as Solomon speaks, but queens or concubines or maidens; but she is the 'Dove,' and the 'perfect one'—'Dove,' because without stain of strife; 'perfect,' because perfectly she makes us behold the truth, in which our soul stills itself and is at rest." But the same passage shows likewise how he viewed all human knowledge and human interests, as holding their due place in the hierarchy of wisdom, and among the steps of man's perfection. No account of the Commedia will prove sufficient which does not keep in view, first of all, the high moral purpose and deep spirit of faith with which it was written, and then the wide liberty of materials and means which the poet allowed himself in working out his design.

Doubtless his writings have a political aspect. The "great Ghibelline poet" is one of Dante's received synonymes; of his strong political opinions, and the importance he attached to them, there can be no doubt. And he meant his poem to be the vehicle of them, and the record to all ages of the folly and selfishness with which he saw men governed. That he should take the deepest interest in the goings-on of his time is part of his greatness; to suppose that he stopped at them, or that he subordinated to political objects or feelings all the other elements of his poem, is to shrink up that greatness into very narrow limits. Yet this has been done by men of mark and ability, by Italians, by men who read the Commedia in their own mother tongue. It has been maintained as a satisfactory account of it—maintained with great labor and pertinacious ingenuity—that Dante meant nothing more by his poem than the conflicts and ideal triumphs of a political party. The hundred cantos of that vision of the universe are but a manifesto of the Ghibelline propaganda, designed, under the veil of historic images and scenes, to insinuate what it was dangerous to announce; and Beatrice, in all her glory and sweetness, is but a specimen of the jargon and slang of Ghibelline freemasonry. When Italians write thus, they degrade the greatest name of their country to a depth of laborious imbecility, to which the trifling of schoolmen and academicians is as nothing. It is to solve the enigma of Dante's works by imagining for him a character in which it is hard to say which predominates, the pedant, mountebank, or infidel. After that we may read Voltaire's sneers with patience, and even enter with gravity on the examination of Father Hardouin's historic doubts. The fanaticism of an outraged liberalism, produced by centuries of injustice and despotism, is but a poor excuse for such perverse blindness.

Dante was not a Ghibelline, though he longed for the interposition of an imperial power. Historically he did not belong to the Ghibelline party. It is true that he forsook the Guelfs, with whom he had been brought up, and that the White Guelfs, with whom he was expelled from Florence, were at length merged and lost in the Ghibelline party; and he acted with them for a time. But no words can be stronger than those in which he disjoins himself from that "evil and foolish company," and claims his independence—

"A te fia bello Averti fatto parte per te stesso."[43]

Dante, by the Divina Commedia, was the restorer of seriousness in literature. He was so by the magnitude and pretensions of his work, and by the earnestness of its spirit. He first broke through the prescription which had confined great works to the Latin, and the faithless prejudices which, in the language of society, could see powers fitted for no higher task than that of expressing, in curiously diversified forms, its most ordinary feelings. But he did much more. Literature was going astray in its tone, while growing in importance; the Commedia checked it. The Provencal and Italian poetry was, with the exception of some pieces of political satire, almost exclusively amatory, in the most fantastic and affected fashion. In expression, it had not even the merit of being natural; in purpose, it was trifling; in the spirit which it encouraged, it was something worse. Doubtless it brought a degree of refinement with it, but it was refinement purchased at a high price, by intellectual distortion and moral insensibility. But this was not all. The brilliant age of Frederick II, for such it was, was deeply mined by religious unbelief. However strange this charge first sounds against the thirteenth century, no one can look at all closely into its history, at least in Italy, without seeing that the idea of infidelity—not heresy, but infidelity—was quite a familiar one; and that, side by side with the theology of Aquinas and Bonaventura, there was working among those who influenced fashion and opinion, among the great men, and the men to whom learning was a profession, a spirit of scepticism and irreligion almost monstrous for its time, which found its countenance in Frederick's refined and enlightened court. The genius of the great doctors might have kept in safety the Latin schools, but not the free and home thoughts which found utterance in the language of the people, if the solemn beauty of the Italian Commedia had not seized on all minds. It would have been an evil thing for Italian, perhaps for European, literature if the siren tales of the Decameron had not been the first to occupy the ears with the charms of a new language.

Dante's all-surveying, all-embracing mind was worthy to open the grand procession of modern poets. He had chosen his subject in a region remote from popular thought—too awful for it, too abstruse. He had accepted frankly the dogmatic limits of the Church, and thrown himself with even enthusiastic faith into her reasonings, at once so bold and so undoubting—her spirit of certainty, and her deep contemplations on the unseen and infinite. And in literature, he had taken as guides and models, above all criticism and all appeal, the classical writers. But with his mind full of the deep and intricate questions of metaphysics and theology, and his poetical taste always owing allegiance to Vergil, Ovid, and Statius—keen and subtle as a schoolman—as much an idolater of old heathen art and grandeur as the men of the Renaissance—his eye is yet as open to the delicacies of character, to the variety of external nature, to the wonders of the physical world—his interest in them as diversified and fresh, his impressions as sharp and distinct, his rendering of them as free and true and forcible, as little weakened or confused by imitation or by conventional words, his language as elastic and as completely under his command, his choice of poetic materials as unrestricted and original, as if he had been born in days which claim as their own such freedom and such keen discriminative sense of what is real in feeling and image—as if he had never felt the attractions of a crabbed problem of scholastic logic, or bowed before the mellow grace of the Latins. It may be said, indeed, that the time was not yet come when the classics could be really understood and appreciated; and this is true, perhaps fortunate. But admiring them with a kind of devotion, and showing not seldom that he had caught their spirit, he never attempts to copy them. His poetry in form and material is all his own. He asserted the poet's claim to borrow from all science, and from every phase of nature, the associations and images which he wants; and he showed that those images and associations did not lose their poetry by being expressed with the most literal reality.


A.D. 1302


At the commencement of the fourteenth century, when the power of Philip IV of France (surnamed the "Fair") was at its height, contentions arose between him and Pope Boniface VIII over the taxation of the clergy, and the right of nomination to vacant bishoprics and benefices within the dominions of the French King.

Affairs reached a crisis when Philip laid claim to the county of Melgueil, which the Bishop of Maguelonne held in fief from the holy see. Boniface provoked Philip by a chiding bull, and added to the provocation by sending to the King, as negotiator in their differences, Bernard de Saisset, whom the Pope, in spite of the King, had created Bishop of Pamiers.

This tactless prelate made matters worse by an arrogant attitude, and afterward spoke of the King, who received him in sombre silence, as "that debaser of coinage, that proud and dumb image that knows nothing but to stare at people without saying anything."

Ignoring his ambassadorial privileges, Philip had him arrested and imprisoned as a French subject, on a charge of treason, heresy, and blasphemy, and sent his chancellor, Peter Flotte, and William de Nogaret, to the Pope, to demand the prelate's degradation and deprivation of his see.

The Pope, who meanwhile had launched his famous "Ausculta, fili," bull, received Philip's ambassadors, but their interview was marked by a violent scene: "My power!" exclaimed the Pope, "the spiritual power embraces and includes the temporal power!"

"So be it!" replied Flotte, "but your power is verbal; that of the King, real."

To deliberate on the remedies for the abuses of which he deemed the King guilty, the Pope summoned all the superior clergy of France to an assembly at Rome.

Philip and his council resolved to fight the enemy with its own weapons, to enlist public opinion on their side, and to shelter themselves behind a great national manifestation; the three estates of France were convoked at Notre Dame in Paris, the 10th of April, 1302, to take cognizance of the differences between the King and the Pope. For the first time since the establishment of the kingdom of France, the town deputies were called to sit in a body in a national assembly, alongside of prelates and barons; this great event was the official acknowledgment of the middle class as the "Third Estate," and attested that henceforth the villages, the towns, the communities formed a collective entity, a political order.

It is a singular thing that the first states-general was freely convoked by the most despotic of the kings of the Middle Ages, and that he had the idea to seek in them moral power and support.

The attempt would seem foolhardy in a prince so little popular as Philip the Fair; but Philip in reality risked nothing, and knew it; the feudality did not possess sufficient union, the people did not have enough force to profit on this occasion against the Crown. Besides, the Pope was more unpopular than the King, and had been so for a much longer time; the nobility, which, since the reign of St. Louis, had coalesced to resist clerical jurisdiction, had not changed in sentiment; as to the people, filled with the remembrance of St. Louis, they loved the King still, better than the Pope, notwithstanding the oppressions of Philip, and besides it was easy to foresee that the mayors, consuls, aldermen, jurats or magistrates, who were to represent their cities in the great assembly at Paris, dazzled with the unaccustomed role to which they were called, and desirous to please the King in their personal interest or in that of their towns, would be under the control of the adroit lawyers who were prepared to work on their minds and to direct the debates. The bull, nevertheless, if its exact tenor had been known, might well have produced in many respects a contrary effect to the wishes of the King. The reproaches of Boniface touching the debasement of the coinage and the royal exactions, reproaches which so irritated Philip, might have met with other sentiments from the townsmen. The chancellor, Peter Flotte, foresaw this; he distributed among the public, instead of the original bull, a species of resume in which he had assembled, in a few lines, in the crudest terms, the most exorbitant pretensions of Boniface, at the same time suppressing everything which touched on the troubles of the nation against the King.

"Boniface, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to Philip, King of the French; fear God and observe his commandments. We want you to know that you are subject to us temporarily as well as spiritually; that the collation of the benefices and the prebends—revenues attached to the canonical positions—do not belong to you in any way; that if you have care of the vacant benefices, it is to reserve their revenue for their successors; that if you have misapplied any of these benefices, we declare that collation invalid and revoke it, declaring as heretics all those who think otherwise.

"Given in the Lateran in the month of December, etc."

At the same time they caused to be circulated a pretended answer to the pretended bull:

"Philip, by the Grace of God, King of the French, to Boniface, who gives out that he is sovereign pontiff, little or no salutations! May your very great Fatuity know that we are subject to no one as regards temporal power: that the collation of vacant churches and prebends belongs to us by Royal Right; that the incomes belong to us; that the collations made and to be made by us are valid in the past and in the future, and that we will manfully protect their possessors toward and against all. Those who think otherwise we take to be fools and insane."

This brutal letter was not destined to be sent to its address, but to abase the pontifical dignity, or at least the person of the Pope, in the eyes of the French public. The spirit of the people must have been greatly changed if this end could be thus attained by a means which formerly would have drawn universal indignation on the head of the sacrilegious monarch.

The attack of Philip, on the contrary, was completely effectual. The prelates arrived at the states-general timid, irresolute, neutralized by the difficulties of their position between the King and the Pope; the lords and the townsmen hastened thither irritated against the bull, heated by the violence of the royal answer. The members of the assembly were influenced each by the other according to their arrival; the pungent and wily eloquence of Peter Flotte did the rest. The chancellor, as the first of the great crown officers and the king's chief justice, opened the states by a long harangue in which, speaking in the name of Philip, he exposed with much force and ingenuity the enterprises of the court of Rome and its wrongs toward the kingdom and the Church.

"The Pope confers the bishoprics and the rectories on strangers and unknown individuals who never become residents. The prelates no longer have benefices to give to nobles whose ancestors founded the churches, and to other lettered persons; from which results also that gifts are no longer given to the churches. The Pope imposes on the churches and benefices pensions, subsidies, exactions of all kinds. The bishops are kept from their ministry, being obliged to go to the holy see to carry presents—always presents. All these abuses have done nothing but increase under the actual pontificate, and increase every day—conditions that can no longer be tolerated. That is why I command you as your master and pray you as your friend to give me counsel and help."

The Chancellor added that the King had resolved, on his own initiative, to remedy the encroachments that his officers had made on the rights of the Church, and would have done so sooner had he not feared the appearance of submitting to the menaces and orders of the Pope, who pretended to reduce to a condition of vassalage the most noble kingdom of France, which had never been raised but from God. Peter Flotte dwelt especially on this latter argument, and appealed in turn to the interests of the nobility and of the clergy, and to national pride. The fiery Count of Artois arose, and exclaimed that even if the King submitted to the encroachments of the Pope, the nobility would not suffer them, and that the gentry would never acknowledge any temporal superior other than the King. The nobility and the Third Estate confirmed these words by their acclamations, and swore to sacrifice their properties and lives to defend the temporal independence of the kingdom. A Norman advocate, named Dubosc, procurator of the commune of Coutances, accused the Pope, in writing, of heresy for having wanted to despoil the King of the independence of the crown which he held from God. The embarrassment of the clergy was extreme; the members of the Church, fearing to be crushed in the crash between King and Pope, asked time for deliberation; their declaration in the assembly then being held, was insisted upon; already cries arose around them that whoever did not subscribe to the oath would be held as an enemy of the State; they acquiesced, satisfied apparently by an appearance of violence which would serve them for an excuse at Rome. They acknowledged themselves obliged, in common with the other orders, to defend the rights of the King and of the kingdom, whether they held estates from the King or not; then they prayed the King to be allowed to go to the council convoked by the Pope; the King and the barons declared themselves formally opposed.

The three orders then separated, so as to write to the court at Rome each its own side of the affair; the letters of the nobility and of the Third Estate—which as may be imagined were all prepared in advance by the agents of the King, and were only subscribed to and sealed by the assistants—were addressed, not to the Pope, but to the college of cardinals. The despatch of the barons expresses rudely the tortuous and unreasonable enterprises of him who, at present, is at the seat and government of the Church, and declares that neither the nobility nor the universities nor the people require correction or imposition of any trouble, whether by the authority of the Pope or anyone else—unless it be from their sire, the King. This letter is signed, not only by the principal lords of the kingdom, but also by several great barons of the empire.

The epistle of the mayors, aldermen, jurats, consuls, universities, communes, and communities of the towns of the kingdom of France has not been preserved. It is known only, by the answer that the cardinals made, that it was conceived in the same spirit as the letter of the barons. The letter of the clergy is quite in another style: the clerks address their very holy father and very holy sire, the Pope; expose to him the complaints of the King and of the nobility; the necessity in which they find themselves engaged to defend the King's rights, and the anger of the laity; the imminent rupture of France with the Roman Church—and even of the people with the clergy in general—and conjure the highest prudence of the Pope to conserve the ancient union by revoking the convocation of the ecclesiastical council.

The states-general were dissolved immediately after the unique seance which had so well responded to the desires of the King. The means employed to attain this result were not entirely loyal, nor was public opinion altogether free; it was but slightly enlightened on the grave debates that the authorities affected to submit to it. Nevertheless it was an important matter, this call to the French nation, and it must be acknowledged that the genius of France responded in proclaiming national independence, and in repelling the intervention of the court of Rome in the internal politics of the country.


A.D. 1302


Toward the beginning of the thirteenth century the people of Flanders, whose country had been for centuries a feudal dependency of France, were considerably advanced in wealth and importance. They had become restive under the French rule, and their discontent ripened into settled hostility. Common commercial interests drew them into friendship with England, and in the quarrel between Philip the Fair and Edward I, 1295, concerning Edward's rule in Guienne (Aquitaine) the Flemings allied themselves with the English King.

In 1297 Philip invaded Flanders and gained several successes against the Flemings, who were feebly aided by King Edward. In 1299 the two kings settled their quarrel, and the Flemings were left to the vengeance of Philip, for in the pacification the court of Flanders was not included. A French army entered the Flemish territory, inflicted two defeats upon the Count's troops, and received the submission of the Count. Philip annexed Flanders to his crown and appointed a governor over the Flemings. In less than two years they rose in furious revolt. The insurrection began at Bruges, May 18, 1302, when over three thousand Frenchmen in that city were massacred by the insurgents. This massacre was called the "Bruges Matins." Such an outrage upon the French crown could not but bring upon the Flemings all the forces that Philip was able to muster. The two leading actions of the ensuing war—that at Courtrai, known as the "Battle of the Spurs," on account of the number of gilt spurs captured by the Flemings, and the engagement at Mons-la-Puelle—are described in the course of the narrative which follows. As a result of the battle of Courtrai the French nobility were nearly destroyed, and Philip found it necessary to recreate his titled bodies.

The Flemings prepared to resist the storm. They chose Guy of Juliers, grandson of the Count of Flanders, to be their commander. Though a cleric, he did not hesitate to obey the call, in order to avenge his family, so cruelly betrayed by the French King. His brother, made prisoner at Furnes by the Count d'Artois, had perished in that rude Prince's keeping. His first attempt was to induce the people of Ghent to join the insurrection, but its rich burgesses preferred French rule to that of the Count of Flanders. Bruges, however, was supported by all the lesser and maritime towns of Flanders. Guy of Namur, a son of the Count, who had escaped to Germany, also returned with a body of soldiers from that country, and reassured the Flemings. These surprised one of the ducal manors, in which were five hundred French, and then took Courtrai, occupying the town, but not the castle. It was immediately besieged, as well as that of Cassel, the people of Ypres rallying to the French cause. The French garrison of the town of Courtrai sent pressing messengers for aid, and Robert of Artois marched with seven thousand knights and forty thousand foot, of which one-fourth were archers. The Flemish were but twenty thousand, of which none but the chiefs had horses. Neither was their armor nor their weapons of a perfect kind, the latter being a lance like a boar-spear, or a knotted stick pointed with iron, and called in Flemish a "good day." The princes of Juliers and Namur posted their combatants on the road which leads from Courtrai to Ghent, behind a canal that communicated with the river Lys. A priest came with the host, but, there being no time to receive the communion, each man took some earth in his mouth. The counts then knighted Pierre Konig and the chiefs of bands, and took their station on foot with the rest.

The French had nine battalions or divisions, their archers or light troops being Lombards or Navarrese and Provencals. These the constable placed foremost, to commence the fight and harass the Flemings by their missiles. But the Count d'Artois overruled this manoeuvre, and called it a Lombard trick, reproaching the Constable de Nesle with appreciating the Flemings too highly because of his connection with them. (He had married a daughter of the Count of Flanders.) "If you advance as far as I shall," replied the Count, "you will go far enough, I warrant." So saying he put spurs to his horse and led on his knights; on which the Count d'Artois and the French squadrons charged also. This formidable cavalry could not reach the Flemings, but fell one over the other into the canal, which they had not perceived, and which was five fathoms wide and three deep. The Flemish counts, seeing the disorder, instantly passed the canal on either side to take advantage of it, and fell on the discomfited French. The battle was but a massacre. Numbers of the French nobles perished—the Count d'Artois, Godfrey of Brabant and his son, the counts of Eu and of Albemarle, the Constable and his brother, De Tanquerville, Pierre Flotte, the Chancellor, and Jacques de St. Pol—in all some six thousand knights. Louis of Clermont and one or two others escaped, to the damage of their reputation. This battle of Courtrai was fought on July 11, 1302.

Had the war not been one exclusively of defence on the part of the Flemings, or had they had ambitious and adventurous chiefs, such a disaster might have endangered the throne of France. It was the Flemish democracy which had conquered, and its chiefs contented themselves with reducing the remaining cities, and expelling the gentry and rich citizens as of French inclinations. This reaction extended from Flanders into Brabant and Hainault. Philip in the mean time exerted all his activities and resources. Had he been an English king he would have called his parliament together, and have found national support and national supplies. The French King preferred having recourse to a recoinage. In 1294 he had forbidden any persons to keep plate unless they possessed an annual revenue of six thousand livres. He now ordered his bailies to deliver up their plate, and all non-functionaries to send half of theirs. Those who did so received payment in the new coin, and lost one-half thereby. A tax of one-fifth, or 20 per cent., of the annual revenue was levied on the land, and a twentieth was levied on the movable property. In the following year the King found it more advantageous to order that all prelates and barons should, for every five hundred livres of yearly revenue in land, furnish an armed and mounted gentleman for five months' service, while the non-noble was to furnish and keep up six infantry soldiers (sergens de pied) for every hundred hearths. This decree was a return to feudal military service, occasioned, no doubt, by the general disaffection caused by the raising of the war supplies in money. As if to recompense all classes for the severity of the exaction, Philip published an ordonnance of reform for the protection of both laymen and ecclesiastics from the arbitrary encroachments or interference of his officers.

Having thus set his realm in order, and collected an army of seventy thousand men at Arras, the King marched to meet the Flemings, who in equal force had mustered in the vicinity of Dovai. They kept, as at Courtrai, on the defensive; and the King of France, too cautious to attack them, allowed the whole autumn to pass, and returned to France after a campaign as inefficient as inglorious.

Philip had been long involved in a controversy with Pope Boniface VIII, and the quarrel still continued. It was not till some time after the battle of Courtrai that the King at last, delivered from the menacing hostility of Rome, had leisure to turn his mind and efforts again toward Flanders. During the year 1303 he had sought to keep the Flemings at bay by bodies of Lombard and Tuscan infantry, whom his Florentine banker persuaded him to hire, and by Amadeus V, Duke of Savoy, who brought soldiers of that country to his aid. Although the long lances and more perfect armor of these troops gave them some advantage over the Flemings, the latter took and burned Therouanne, overran Artois, and laid siege to Tournai. Amadeus of Savoy, unable to overcome the Flemings by arms, recommended Philip to do so by treaty, and the King accordingly concluded a pacification, one condition of which was that the Count of Flanders should be released from prison to negotiate terms of fresh accommodation. The Flemings received the aged Count with respect; but he brought no terms which they were willing to accept; and he returned, as he had pledged his word, to captivity at Compiegne, where he soon after died.

For the campaign of the following year Philip, in lieu of Italian infantry, took sixteen Genoese galleys into his pay, commanded by Rainier de Grimaldi. This admiral passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and assailed the maritime towns and shipping of Flanders. Guy of Namur mustered to oppose them a fleet of greater numbers; but the Genoese, accustomed to naval warfare, defeated the Flemings and took Guy of Namur prisoner. Philip, at the same time, assembled a large army at Tournai, and marched to Mons-la-Puelle, near Lille, where the Flemings, to the number of seventy thousand, were encamped within a circumvallation of cars and chariots. There was no Robert of Artois on this occasion to precipitate a rash onslaught, and by Philip's order the southern light troops harassed the Flemings all day with arrows and missiles, allowing them no repose. Toward the evening many of the French withdrew to refresh themselves and take off their armor; the King himself was of this number; the Flemings, perceiving this slackness, and divining the cause, poured forth from their encampment in three divisions, which at first drove all before them, and reached as far as the King's tent, then in full preparation for supper. The monarch himself, without armor or helmet, was fortunately not recognized; his secretary, De Boville, and two Parisians of the name of Gentien, whom Philip had always about his person, were slain before his eyes. The King withdrew, but it was to arm, mount on horseback, and cry out to his followers to stand their ground. He himself, says Villani, "one of the strongest and best made men of his time," fought valiantly until his brother Charles and most of the barons, recovering from the first panic, came to his rescue, and the Flemings were finally repulsed and put to the rout. William of Juliers fell on the side of the Flemings; the son of the Duke of Burgundy and many others on that of the French. Philip immediately laid siege to Lille, deeming the Flemings totally discomfited. They had, however, rallied, obtained reenforcements at Bruges and at Ghent, and in three weeks appeared to the number of fifty thousand before the King's camp at Lille, crying for battle. Philip called a council, and observed that "even a victory would be dearly purchased over a party so desperate."

The Duke of Brabant and the Count of Savoy therefore undertook to negotiate with the Flemings, and Philip consented to grant them fair terms. He recognized their independent rights, agreed to liberate Robert, eldest son of Guido, Count of Flanders, as well as all those in captivity. He granted Robert and his son the fiefs which belonged to him in France, especially that of Nevers, and promised to give him investiture of the County of Flanders. The Flemings, on their side, consented to pay two hundred thousand livres, and to leave the King of France in possession of the three towns of Lille, Douai, and Bethune, that part of Flanders in which French was spoken. It was thus, at least, that the French interpreted the treaty, while the Flemings afterward alleged that French Flanders was merely a pledge for the payment of the money, not an alienation to the crown of France.


A.D. 1308


Owing to the fact that the house of Hapsburg had its origin in Switzerland, the accession of Rudolph I, founder of the Hapsburg dynasty, to the throne of Germany (1273), with the virtual headship of the Holy Roman Empire, was an event of great importance in the history of the Swiss cantons. To this day the paternal domains whence the Hapsburg family takes its name are a part of Swiss territory. The local administration, as well as such imperial offices as still remained in the free communities of Switzerland, were largely in the hands of this family long before it gave sovereigns to the empire itself. Its chiefs were the chosen champions or advocates of the district.

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