The History Of France

History Of Europe During The Middle Ages
Book: Book I:
Author: Hallam, Henry

Part Three

In analyzing the characters of heroes it is hardly possible to separate
altogether the share of fortune from their own. The epoch made by Charlemagne
in the history of the world, the illustrious families which prided themselves
in him as their progenitor, the very legends of romance, which are full of his
fabulous exploits, have cast a lustre around his head, and testify the
greatness that has embodied itself in his name. None, indeed, of Charlemagne's
wars can be compared with the Saracenic victory of Charles Martel; but that
was a contest for freedom, his for conquest; and fame is more partial to
successful aggression than to patriotic resistance. As a scholar, his
acquisitions were probably little superior to those of his unrespected son;
and in several points of view the glory of Charlemagne might be extenuated by
an analytical dissection. ^a But rejecting a mode of judging equally uncandid
and fallacious, we shall find that he possessed in everything that grandeur of
conception which distinguishes extraordinary minds. Like Alexander, he seemed
born for universal innovation: in a life restlessly active, we see him
reforming the coinage and establishing the legal divisions of money; gathering
about him the learned of every country; founding schools and collecting
libraries; interfering, but with the tone of a king, in religious
controversies; aiming, though prematurely, at the formation of a naval force;
attempting, for the sake of commerce, the magnificent enterprise of uniting
the Rhine and Danube; ^b and meditating to mould the discordant codes of Roman
and barbarian laws into an uniform system.

[Footnote a: Eginhard attests his ready eloquence, his perfect mastery of
Latin, his knowledge of Greek so far as to read it, his acquisitions in logic,
grammar, rhetoric, and astronomy. But the anonymous authors of the life of
Louis the Debonair attribute most of these accomplishments to that unfortunate

[Footnote b: See an essay upon this project in the Memoirs of the Academy of
Inscriptions, t. xviii. The rivers which were designed to form the links of
this junction were the Altmuhl, the Regnitz, and the Main; but their want of
depth, and the sponginess of the soil, appear to present insuperable
impediments to its completion.]

The great qualities of Charlemagne were, indeed, alloyed by the vices of
a barbarian and a conqueror. Nine wives, whom he divorced with very little
ceremony, attest the license of his private life, which his temperance and
frugality can hardly be said to redeem. Unsparing of blood, though not
constitutionally cruel, and wholly indifferent to the means which his ambition
prescribed, he beheaded in one day four thousand Saxons - an act of atrocious
butchery, after which his persecuting edicts, pronouncing the pain of death
against those who refused baptism, or even who ate flesh during Lent, seem
scarcely worthy of notice. This union of barbarous ferocity with elevated
views of national improvement might suggest the parallel of Peter the Great.
But the degrading habits and brute violence of the Muscovite place him at an
immense distance from the restorer of the empire.

A strong sympathy for intellectual excellence was the leading
characteristic of Charlemagne, and this undoubtedly biassed him in the chief
political error of his conduct - that of encouraging the power and pretensions
of the hierarchy. But, perhaps, his greatest eulogy is written in the
disgraces of succeeding times and the miseries of Europe. He stands alone,
like a beacon upon a waste, or a rock in the broad ocean. His sceptre was the
bow of Ulysses, which could not be drawn by any weaker hand. In the dark ages
of European history the reign of Charlemagne affords a solitary resting-place
between two long periods of turbulence and ignominy, deriving the advantages
of contrast both from that of the preceding dynasty and of a posterity for
whom he had formed an empire which they were unworthy and unequal to maintain.

[Footnote c: The Life of Charlemagne, by Gaillard, without being made perhaps
so interesting as it ought to have been, presents an adequate view both of his
action and character. Schmidt, Hist. des Allemands, tome ii., appears to me a
superior writer.

An exception to the general suffrage of historians in favor of
Charlemagne is made by Sismondi. He seems to consider him as having produced
no permanent effect; the empire, within half a century, having been
dismembered, and relapsing into the merest weakness: - "Tellement la grandeur
acquise par les armes est trompeuse, quand elle ne se donne pour appui aucune
institution bienfaisante; et tellement le regne d'un grand roi demeure
sterile, quand il ne fonde pas la liberte de ses concitoyens." (Vol. iii. p.
97.) But certainly some of Charlemagne's institutions were likely to prove
beneficial if they could have been maintained, such as the Scabini and the
Missi Dominici. And when Sismondi hints that Charlemagne ought to have given
a charte constitutionnelle, it is difficult not to smile at such a proof of
his inclination to judge past times by a standard borrowed from the theories
of his own. M. Guizot asks whether the nation was left in the same state in
which the emperor found it. Nothing fell with him, he remarks, but the
central government, which could only have been preserved by a series of men
like himself. (Essais sur l'Hist. de France, pp. 276-294; Hist. de la
Civilisation en France, Lecon ii. p. 39.) Some, indeed, of his institutions
cannot be said to have long survived him; but this again must be chiefly
attributed to the weakness of his successors. No one man of more than common
ability arose in the Carlovingian dynasty after himself, a fact very
disadvantageous to the permanence of his policy, and perhaps rather
surprising; though it is a theory of Sismondi that royal families naturally
dwindle into imbecility, especially in a semi-barbarous condition of society.]

Pepin, the eldest son of Charlemagne, died before him, leaving a natural
son, named Bernard. ^d Even if he had been legitimate, the right of
representation was not at all established during these ages; indeed, the
general prejudice seems to have inclined against it. Bernard, therefore, kept
only the kingdom of Italy, which had been transferred to his father; while
Louis, the younger son of Charlemagne, inherited the empire. ^e But, in a
short time, Bernard, having attempted a rebellion against his uncle, was
sentenced to lose his eyes, which occasioned his death [A.D. 817] - a cruelty
more agreeable to the prevailing tone of manners than to the character of
Louis, who bitterly reproached himself for the severity he had been persuaded
to use.

[Footnote d: A contemporary author, Thegan, ap. Muratori, A.D. 810, asserts
that Bernard was born of a concubine. I do not know why modern historians
represent it otherwise.]

[Footnote e: [Note XI.]]

Under this prince, called by the Italians the Pious, and by the French
the Debonair, or Good-natured, ^f the mighty structure of his father's power
began rapidly to decay. I do not know that Louis deserves so much contempt as
he has undergone; but historians have in general more indulgence for splendid
crimes than for the weaknesses of virtue. There was no defect in Louis'
understanding or courage; he was accomplished in martial exercises, and in all
the learning which an education, excellent for that age, could supply. No one
was ever more anxious to reform the abuses of administration; and whoever
compares his capitularies with those of Charlemagne will perceive that, as a
legislator, he was even superior to his father. The fault lay entirely in his
heart; and this fault was nothing but a temper too soft and a conscience too
strict. ^g It is not wonderful that the empire should have been speedily
dissolved; a succession of such men as Charles Martel, Pepin, and Charlemagne,
could alone have preserved its integrity; but the misfortunes of Louis and his
people were immediately owing to the following errors of his conduct.

[Footnote f: These names, as a French writer observes, meant the same thing.
Pius had, even in good Latin, the sense of mitis, meek, forbearing, or what
the French call debonnaire. Synonymes de Rouband, tom. i. p. 257. Our
English word debonair is hardly used in the same sense, if indeed it can be
called an English word; but I have not altered Louis' appellation, by which he
is so well known.]

[Footnote g: Schmidt, Hist. des Allemands, tom. ii., has done more justice
than other historians to Louis' character. Vaissette attests the goodness of
his government in Aquitaine, which he held as a subordinate kingdom during his
father's life. It extended from the Loire to the Ebro, so that the trust was
not contemptible. - Hist. de Languedoc, tom. i. p. 476.]

Soon after his accession Louis thought fit to associate his eldest son,
Lothaire, to the empire, and to confer the provinces of Bavaria and Aquitaine,
as subordinate kingdoms, upon the two younger, Louis and Pepin. The step was,
in appearance, conformable to his father's policy, who had acted towards
himself in a similar manner. But such measures are not subject to general
rules, and exact a careful regard to characters and circumstances. The
principle, however, which regulated this division was learned from
Charlemagne, and could alone, if strictly pursued, have given unity and
permanence to the empire. The elder brother was to preserve his superiority
over the others, so that they should neither make peace nor war, nor even give
answer to ambassadors, without his consent. Upon the death of either no
further partition was to be made; but whichever of his children might become
the popular choice was to inherit the whole kingdom, under the same
superiority of the head of the family. ^h This compact was, from the
beginning, disliked by the younger brothers; and an event, upon which Louis
does not seem to have calculated, soon disgusted his colleague Lothaire.
Judith of Bavaria, the emperor's second wife, an ambitious woman, bore him a
son, by name Charles, whom both parents were naturally anxious to place on an
equal footing with his brothers. But this could only be done at the expense
of Lothaire, who was ill disposed to see his empire still further dismembered
for this child of a second bed. Louis passed his life in a struggle with
three undutiful sons, who abused his paternal kindness by constant rebellions.

[Footnote h: Baluzii Capitularia, tom. i. p. 575.]

These were rendered more formidable by the concurrence of a different
class of enemies, whom it had been another error of the emperor to provoke.
Charlemagne had assumed a thorough control and supremacy over the clergy; and
his son was perhaps still more vigilant in chastising their irregularities,
and reforming their rules of discipline. But to this, which they had been
compelled to bear at the hands of the first, it was not equally easy for the
second to obtain their submission. Louis therefore drew on himself the
inveterate enmity of men who united with the turbulence of martial nobles a
skill in managing those engines of offence which were peculiar to their order,
and to which the implicit devotion of his character laid him very open. Yet,
after many vicissitudes of fortune, and many days of ignominy, his wishes were
eventually accomplished. [A.D. 840.] Charles, his youngest son, surnamed the
Bald, obtained, upon his death, most part of France, while Germany fell to the
share of Louis, and the rest of the imperial dominions, with the title, to the
eldest, Lothaire. [A.D. 847.] This partition was the result of a sanguinary,
though short, contest; and it gave a fatal blow to the empire of the Franks.
For the treaty of Verdun, in 843, abrogated the sovereignty that had been
attached to the eldest brother and to the imperial name in former partitions:
each held his respective kingdom as an independent right. ^i This is the epoch
of a final separation between the French and German members of the empire.
Its millenary was celebrated by some of the latter nation in 1843. ^j

[Footnote i: Baluzii Capitularia, tom. ii. p. 42; Velly, tome ii. p. 75. The
expressions of this treaty are perhaps equivocal; but the subsequent conduct
of the brothers and their family justifies the construction of Velly, which I
have followed.]

[Footnote j: The partition, which the treaty of Verdun confirmed, had been
made by commissioners specially appointed in the preceding year. "Le nombre
total des commissaires fut porte a trois cents; ils se distribuerent toute la
surface de l'empire, qu'ils s'engagerent a parcourir avant le mois d'aout de
l'annee suivante: cet immense travail etoit en effet alors necessaire pour se
procurer les connoissances qu'on obtient aujourd'hui en un instant, par
l'inspection d'une carte geographique: malheureusement on ecrivoit a cette
epoque aussi peu qu'on lisoit. Le rapport des commissaires ne fut point mis
par ecrit, ou point depose dans les archives. S'il nous avoit ete conserve,
ce seroit le plus curieux de tous les monumens sur l'etat de l'Europe au moyen
age." (Sismondi, Hist. des Franc. iii. 76.) For this he quotes Nithard, a
contemporary historian.

In the division made on this occasion the kingdom of France, which fell
to Charles the Bald, had for its eastern boundary, the Meuse, the Saone, and
the Rhone; which, nevertheless, can only be understood of the Upper Meuse,
since Brabant was certainly not comprised in it. Lothaire, the elder brother,
besides Italy, had a kingdom called Lorraine, from his name (Lotharingia),
extending from the mouth of the Rhine to Provence, bounded by that river on
one frontier, by France on the other. Louis took all beyond the Rhine, and
was usually styled The Germanic.]

The subsequent partitions made among the children of these brothers are
of too rapid succession to be here related. In about forty years the empire
was nearly reunited under Charles the Fat, son of Louis of Germany [Emperor
A.D. 881; King of France, 885]; but his short and inglorious reign ended in
his deposition. [A.D. 887.] From this time the possession of Italy was
contested among her native princes; Germany fell at first to an illegitimate
descendant of Charlemagne, and in a short time was entirely lost by his
family; two kingdoms, afterwards united, were formed by usurpers out of what
was then called Burgundy, and comprised the provinces between the Rhone and
the Alps, with Franche Comte, and great part of Switzerland. ^k In France the
Carlovingian kings continued for another century; but their line was
interrupted two or three times by the election or usurpation of a powerful
family, the counts of Paris and Orleans, who ended, like the old mayors of the
palace, in dispersing the phantoms of royalty they had professed to serve. ^l
[Kings of France: Eudes, A.D. 887; Charles the Simple, 898; Robert (?), 922;
Ralph, 923; Louis IV., 936; Lothaire, 954; Louis V., 986; counts of Paris.]
Hugh Capet, the representative of this house upon the death of Louis V.,
placed himself upon the throne; thus founding the third and most permanent
race of French sovereigns. Before this happened, the descendants of
Charlemagne had sunk into insignificance, and retained little more of France
than the city of Laon. The rest of the kingdom had been seized by the
powerful nobles, who, with the nominal fidelity of the feudal system,
maintained its practical independence and rebellious spirit. ^m

[Footnote k: These kingdoms were denominated Provence and Transjurane
Burgundy. The latter was very small, comprising only part of Switzerland; but
its second sovereign, Rodolph II., acquired by treaty almost the whole of the
former; and the two united were called the kingdom of Arles. This lasted from
933 to 1032, when Rodolph III. bequeathed his dominions to the Emperor Conrad
II. - Art de verifier les Dates, tom. ii. pp. 427-432.]

[Footnote l: The family of Capet is generally admitted to possess the most
ancient pedigree of any sovereign line in Europe. Its succession through
males is unequivocally deduced from Robert the Brave, made governor of Anjou
in 864, and father of Eudes King of France, and of Robert, who was chosen by a
party in 922, though, as Charles the Simple was still acknowledged in some
provinces, it is uncertain whether he ought to be counted in the royal list.
It is, moreover, highly probable that Robert the Brave was descended, equally
through males, from St. Arnoul, who died in 640, and consequently nearly
allied to the Carlovingian family, who derive their pedigree from the same
head. See Preuves de la Genealogie de Hughes Capet, in l'Art de verifier les
Dates, tom. i. p. 566.]

[Footnote m: Note XII.]

At the close of the ninth century there were twenty-nine hereditary fiefs
of the crown. At the accession of Hugh Capet, in 987, they had increased to
fifty-five. (Guizot, Civilis en France, Lecon 24.) Thierry maintains that
those between the Loire and the Pyrenees were strictly independent and bound
by no feudal tie. (Letters sur l'Hist. de France, Lett. IX.)]

These were times of great misery to the people, and the worst, perhaps,
that Europe has ever known. Even under Charlemagne, we have abundant proofs
of the calamities which the people suffered. The light which shone around him
was that of a consuming fire. The free proprietors who had once considered
themselves as only called upon to resist foreign invasion, were harassed by
endless expeditions, and dragged away to the Baltic Sea, or the banks of the
Drave. Many of them, as we learn from his Capitularies, became ecclesiastics
to avoid military conscription. ^n But far worse must have been their state
under the lax government of succeeding times, when the dukes and counts, no
longer checked by the vigorous administration of Charlemagne, were at liberty
to play the tyrants in their several territories, of which they now became
almost the sovereigns. The poorer landholders accordingly were forced to bow
their necks to the yoke; and, either by compulsion or through hope of being
better protected, submitted their independent patrimonies to the feudal

[Footnote n: Capitularia, A.D. 805. Whoever possessed three mansi of allodial
property was called upon for personal service, or at least to furnish a
substitute. Nigellus, author of a poetical Life of Louis I., seems to
implicate Charlemagne himself in some of the oppressions of his reign. It was
the first care of the former to redress those who had been injured in his
father's time. - Recueil des Historiens, tome vi. N. B. I quote by this title
the great collection of French historians, charters and other documents
illustrative of the middle ages, more commonly known by the name of its first
editor, the Benedictine Bouquet. But as several learned men of that order
were successively concerned in this work, not one half of which has yet been
published, it seemed better to follow its own title-page.]

But evils still more terrible than these political abuses were the lot of
those nations who had been subject to Charlemagne. They, indeed, may appear
to us little better than ferocious barbarians; but they were exposed to the
assaults of tribes, in comparison of whom they must be deemed humane and
polished. Each frontier of the empire had to dread the attack of an enemy.
The coasts of Italy were continually alarmed by the Saracens of Africa, who
possessed themselves of Sicily and Sardinia, and became masters of the
Mediterranean Sea. ^o Though the Greek dominions in the south of Italy were
chiefly exposed to them, they twice insulted and ravaged the territory of Rome
[A.D. 846-849]; nor was there any security even in the neighborhood of the
maritime Alps, where, early in the tenth century, they settled a piratical
colony. ^p

[Footnote o: These African Saracens belonged to the Aglabites, a dynasty that
reigned at Tunis for the whole of the ninth century, after throwing off the
yoke of the Abbassite Khalifs. They were overthrown themselves in the next
age by the Fatimites. Sicily was first invaded in 827; but the city of
Syracuse was only reduced in 878.]

[Footnote p: Muratori, Annali d'Italia, ad. ann. 906. et alibi. These
Saracens of Frassineto, supposed to be between Nice and Monaco, were
extirpated by a count of Provence in 972. But they had established themselves
more inland than Frassineto. Creeping up the line of the Alps, they took
possession of St. Maurice, in the Valais, from which the feeble kings of
Transjurane Burgundy could not dislodge them.]

Much more formidable were the foes by whom Germany was assailed. The
Sclavonians, a widely extended people, whose language is still spoken upon
half the surface of Europe, had occupied the countries of Bohemia, Poland, and
Pannonia, ^q on the eastern confines of the empire, and from the time of
Charlemagne acknowledged its superiority. But at the end of the ninth
century, a Tartarian tribe, the Hungarians, overspreading that country which
since has borne their name, and moving forward like a vast wave, brought a
dreadful reverse upon Germany. Their numbers were great, their ferocity
untamed. They fought with light cavalry and light armor, trusting to their
showers of arrows, against which the swords and lances of the European armies
could not avail. The memory of Attila was renewed in the devastations of
these savages, who, if they were not his compatriots, resembled them both in
their countenances and customs. All Italy, all Germany, and the south of
France felt this scourge; ^r till Henry the Fowler, and Otho the Great, drove
them back by successive victories within their own limits. [A.D. 934-954],
where, in a short time, they learned peaceful arts, adopted the religion and
followed the policy of Christendom.

[Footnote q: I am sensible of the awkward effect of introducing this name from
a more ancient geography, but it saves a circumlocution still more awkward.
Austria would convey an imperfect idea, and the Austrian dominions could not
be named without a tremendous anachronism.]

[Footnote r: In 924 they overran Languedoc. Raymond-Pons, Count of Toulouse,
cut their army to pieces; but they had previously committed such ravages, that
the bishops of that province, writing soon afterwards to Pope John X., assert
that scarcely any eminent ecclesiastics, out of a great number, were left
alive. - Hist. de Languedoc, tome ii. p. 60. They penetrated into Guienne, as
late as 951. - Flodoardi Chronicon, in Recueil des Historiens, tome viii. In
Italy they inspired such terror that a mass was composed expressly deprecating
this calamity: Ab Ungarorum nos defendas jaculis! In 937 they ravaged the
country as far as Benevento and Capua. - Muratori, Ann. d'Italia.]

If any enemies could be more destructive than these Hungarians, they were
the pirates of the north, known commonly by the name of Normans. The love of
a predatory life seems to have attracted adventurers of different nations to
the Scandinavian seas, from whence they infested, not only by maritime piracy,
but continual invasions, the northern coasts both of France and Germany. The
causes of their sudden appearance are inexplicable, or at least could only be
sought in the ancient traditions of Scandinavia. For, undoubtedly, the coasts
of France and England were as little protected from depredations under the
Merovingian kings, and those of the Heptarchy, as in subsequent times. Yet
only one instance of an attack from this side is recorded, and that before the
middle of the sixth century, ^s till the age of Charlemagne. In 787 the
Danes, as we call those northern plunderers, began to infest England, which
lay most immediately open to their incursions. Soon afterwards they ravaged
the coasts of France. Charlemagne repulsed them by means of his fleets; yet
they pillaged a few places during his reign. It is said that, perceiving one
day, from a port in the Mediterranean, some Norman vessels, which had
penetrated into that sea, he shed tears, in anticipation of the miseries which
awaited his empire. ^t In Louis' reign their depredations upon the coast were
more incessant, ^u but they did not penetrate into the inland country till
that of Charles the Bald. The wars between that prince and his family, which
exhausted France of her noblest blood, the insubordination of the provincial
governors, even the instigation of some of Charles' enemies, laid all open to
their inroads. They adopted an uniform plan of warfare both in France and
England; sailing up navigable rivers in their vessels of small burden, and
fortifying the islands which they occasionally found, they made these
entrenchments at once an asylum for their women and children, a repository for
their plunder, and a place of retreat from superior force. After pillaging a
town they retired to these strongholds or to their ships; and it was not till
872 that they ventured to keep possession of Angers, which, however, they were
compelled to evacuate. Sixteen years afterwards they laid siege to Paris, and
committed the most ruinous devastations on the neighboring country. As these
Normans were unchecked by religious awe, the rich monasteries, which had stood
harmless amidst the havoc of Christian war, were overwhelmed in the storm.
Perhaps they may have endured some irrecoverable losses of ancient learning;
but their complaints are of monuments disfigured, bones of saints and kings
dispersed, treasures carried away. St. Denis redeemed its abbot from
captivity with six hundred and eighty-five pounds of gold. All the chief
abbeys were stripped about the same time, either by the enemy, or for
contributions to the public necessity. So impoverished was the kingdom, that
in 860 Charles the Bald had great difficulty in collecting three thousand
pounds of silver to subsidize a body of Normans against their countrymen. The
kings of France, too feeble to prevent or repel these invaders, had recourse
to the palliative of buying peace at their hands, or rather precarious
armistices, to which reviving thirst of plunder soon put an end. At length
Charles the Simple, in 918, ceded a great province, which they had already
partly occupied, partly rendered desolate, and which has derived from them the
name of Normandy. Ignominious as this appears, it proved no impolitic step.
Rollo, the Norman chief, with all his subjects, became Christians and
Frenchmen; and the kingdom was at once relieved from a terrible enemy, and
strengthened by a race of hardy colonists. ^v

[Footnote s: Greg. Turon. l. iii. c. 3.]

[Footnote t: In the ninth century the Norman pirates not only ravaged the
Balearic isles, and nearer coasts of the Mediterranean, but even Greece. - De
Marca, Marca Hispanica, p. 327.]

[Footnote u: Nigellus, the poetical biographer of Louis, gives the following
description of the Normans: -

Nort quoque Francisco dicuntur nomine manni.
Veloces, agiles, armigerique nimis: Ipse quidem populus late pernotus
Lintre dapes quaerit, incolitatque mare.
Pulcher adest facie, vultuque statuque decorus. - l. iv.

He goes on to tell us that they worshipped Neptune - Was it a similarity of
name, or of attributes, that deceived him?

[Footnote v: An exceedingly good sketch of these Norman incursions, and of the
political situation of France during that period, may be found in two Memoirs
by M. Bonamy, Mem. de l'Acad. des Inscript. tomes xv. and xvii. These I have
chiefly followed in the text. [Note XIII.]]


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