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Career of Charlemagne, by Guizot, Francois P. G.

Life of Charlemagne

World History Center

Holy Roman Empire, The
Book: Chapter XV: The Empire As An International Power.
Author: Bryce, James
Date: 1901

Part Fifteen

That the Roman Empire survived the seemingly mortal wound it had received
at the era of the Great Interregnum, and continued to put forth pretensions
which no one was likely to make good where the Hohenstaufen had failed, has
been attributed to its identification with the German kingdom, in which some
life was still left. But this was far from being the only cause which saved
it from extinction. It had not ceased to be upheld in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries by the same singular theory which had in the ninth and
tenth been strong enough to re-establish it in the West. The character of
that theory was indeed somewhat changed, for if not positively less religious,
it was less exclusively so. In the days of Charles and Otto, the Empire, in
so far as it was anything more than a tradition from times gone by, rested
solely upon the belief that with the visible Church there must be coextensive
a single Christian state under one head and governor. But now that the
Emperor's headship had been repudiated by the Pope, and his interference in
matters of religion denounced as a repetition of the sin of Uzziah; now that
the memory of mutual injuries had kindled an unquenchable hatred between the
champions of the ecclesiastical and those of the civil power, it was natural
that the latter, while they urged, fervently as ever, the divine sanction
given to the imperial office, should at the same time be led to seek some
further basis whereon to establish its claims. What that basis was, and how
they were guided to it, will best appear when a word or two has been said on
the nature of the change that had passed on Europe in the course of the three
preceding centuries, and the progress of the human mind during the same

Such has been the accumulated wealth of literature, and so rapid the
advances of science among us since the close of the Middle Ages, that it is
not now possible by any effort fully to enter into the feelings with which the
relics of antiquity were regarded by those who saw in them their only
possession. It is indeed true that modern art and literature and philosophy
have been produced by the working of new minds upon old materials: that in
thought, as in nature, we see no new creation. But with us the old has been
transformed and overlaid by the new till its origin is forgotten: to them
ancient books were the only standard of taste, the only vehicle of truth, the
only stimulus to reflection. Hence it was that the most learned man was in
those days esteemed the greatest: hence the creative energy of an age was
exactly proportioned to its knowledge of and its reverence for the written
monuments of those that had gone before. For until they can look forward, men
must look back: till they should have reached the level of the old
civilization, the nations of mediaeval Europe must continue to live upon its
memories. Over them, as over us, the common dream of all mankind had power;
but to them, as to the ancient world, that golden age which seems now to
glimmer on the horizon of the future was shrouded in the clouds of the past.
It is to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries that we are accustomed to
assign that new birth of the human spirit - if it ought not rather to be
called a renewal of its strength and quickening of its sluggish life - with
which the modern time begins. And the date is well chosen, for it was then
first that the transcendently powerful influence of Greek literature began to
work upon the world. But it must not be forgotten that for a long time
previous there had been in progress a great revival of learning, and still
more of zeal for learning, which being caused by and directed towards the
literature and institutions of Rome, might fitly be called the Roman
Renaissance. The twelfth century saw this revival begin with that passionate
study of the legislation of Justinian, whose influence on the doctrines of
imperial prerogative has been noticed already. The thirteenth witnessed the
rapid spread of the scholastic philosophy, a body of systems most alien, both
in subject and manner, to anything that had arisen among the ancients, yet one
to whose development Greek metaphysics and the theology of the Latin fathers
had largely contributed, and the spirit of whose reasonings was far more free
than the presumed orthodoxy of its conclusions suffered to appear. In the
fourteenth century there arose in Italy the first great masters of painting
and song; and the literature of the new languages, springing into the fulness
of life in the Divina Commedia, adorned not long after by the names of
Petrarch and Chaucer, assumed at once its place as a great and ever-growing
power in the affairs of men.

Now, along with the literary revival, partly caused by, partly causing
it, there had been also a wonderful stirring and uprising in the mind of
Europe. The yoke of church authority still pressed heavily on the souls of
men; yet some had been found to shake it off, and many more murmured in
secret. The tendency was one which shewed itself in various and sometimes
apparently opposite directions. The revolt of the Albigenses, the spread of
the Cathari and other so-called heretics, the excitement created by the
writings of Wickliffe and Huss, witnessed to the fearlessness wherewith it
could assail the dominant theology. It was present, however skilfully
disguised, among those scholastic doctors who busied themselves with proving
by natural reason the dogmas of the Church: for the power which can forge
fetters can also break them. It took a form more dangerous because of a more
direct application to facts, in the attacks, so often repeated from Arnold of
Brescia downwards, upon the wealth and corruptions of the clergy, and above
all of the papal court. For the agitation was not merely speculative. There
was beginning to be a direct and rational interest in life, a power of
applying thought to practical ends, which had not been seen before. Man's
life among his fellows was no longer a mere wild beast struggle; man's soul no
more, as it had been, the victim of ungoverned passion, whether it was awed by
supernatural terrors or captivated by examples of surpassing holiness.
Manners were still rude, and governments unsettled; but society was learning
to organize itself upon fixed principles; to recognize, however faintly, the
value of order, industry, equality; to adapt means to ends, and conceive of
the common good as the proper end of its own existence. In a word, Politics
had begun to exist, and with them there had appeared the first of a class of
persons whom friends and enemies may both, though with different meanings,
call ideal politicians; men who, however various have been the doctrines they
have held, however impracticable many of the plans they have advanced, have
been nevertheless alike in their devotion to the highest interests of
humanity, and have frequently been derided as theorists in their own age to be
honoured as the prophets and teachers of the next.

Now it was towards the Roman Empire that the hopes and sympathies of
these political speculators as well as of the jurists and poets of the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were constantly directed. The cause may be
gathered from the circumstances of the time. The most remarkable event in the
history of the last three hundred years had been the formation of
nationalities, each distinguished by a peculiar language and character,and by
steadily increasing differences of habits and institutions. And as upon this
national basis there had been in most cases established strong monarchies,
Europe was broken up into disconnected bodies, and the cherished scheme of a
united Christian state appeared less likely than ever to be realized. Nor was
this all. Sometimes through race-hatred, more often by the jealousy and
ambition of their sovereigns, these countries were constantly involved in war
with one another, violating on a larger scale and with more destructive
results than in time past the peace of the religious community; while each of
them was at the same time torn within by frequent insurrections, and desolated
by long and bloody civil wars. The new nationalities were too fully formed to
allow the hope that by their extinction a remedy might be applied to these
evils. They had grown up in spite of the Empire and the Church, and were not
likely to yield in their strength what they had won in their weakness. But it
still appeared possible to soften, if not to overcome, their antagonism. What
might not be looked for from the erection of a presiding power common to all
Europe, a power which, while it should oversee the internal concerns of each
country, not dethroning the king, but treating him as an hereditary viceroy,
should be more especially charged to prevent strife between kingdoms, and to
maintain the public order of Europe by being not only the fountain of
international law, but also the judge in its causes and the enforcer of its

To such a position had the Popes aspired. They were indeed excellently
fitted for it by the respect which the sacredness of their office commanded;
by their control of the tremendous weapons of excommunication and interdict;
above all, by their exemption from those narrowing influences of place, or
blood, or personal interest, which it would be their chiefest duty to resist
in others. And there had been pontiffs whose fearlessness and justice were
worthy of their exalted office, and whose interference was gratefully
remembered by those who found no other helpers. Nevertheless, judging the
Papacy by its conduct as a whole, it had been tried and found wanting. Even
when its throne stood firmest and its purposes were most pure, one motive had
always biassed its decisions - a partiality to the most submissive. During
the greater part of the fourteenth century it was at Avignon the willing tool
of France: in the pursuit of a temporal principality it had mingled in and
been contaminated by the unhallowed politics of Italy; its supreme council,
the college of cardinals, was distracted by the intrigues of two bitterly
hostile factions. And while the power of the Popes had declined steadily,
though silently, since the days of Boniface the Eighth, the insolence of the
great prelates and the vices of the inferior clergy had provoked throughout
Western Christendom a reaction against the pretensions of all sacerdotal
authority. As there is no theory at first sight more attractive than that
which entrusts all government to a supreme spiritual power, which, knowing
what is best for man, shall lead him to his true good by appealing to the
highest principles of his nature, so there is no disappointment more bitter
than that of those who find that the holiest office may be polluted by the
lusts and passions of its holder; that craft and hypocrisy lead while
fanaticism follows; that here too, as in so much else, the corruption of the
best is worst. Some such disappointment there was in Europe now, and with it
a certain disposition to look with favour on the secular power: a wish to
escape from the unhealthy atmosphere of clerical despotism to the rule of
positive law, harsher, it might be, yet surely less corrupting. Espousing the
cause of the Roman Empire as the chief opponent of priestly claims, this
tendency found it, with shrunken territory and diminished resources, fitter in
some respects for the office of an international judge and mediator than it
had been as a great national power. For though far less widely active, it was
losing that local character which was fast gathering round the Papacy. With
feudal rights no longer enforcible, and removed, except in his patrimonial
lands, from direct contact with the subject, the Emperor was not, as
heretofore, conspicuously a German and a feudal king, and occupied an ideal
position far less marred by the incongruous accidents of birth and training,
of national and dynastic interests.

To that position three cardinal duties were attached. He who held it
must typify spiritual unity, must preserve peace, must be a fountain of that
by which alone among imperfect men peace is preserved and restored, law and
justice. The first of these three objects was sought not only on religious
grounds, but also from that longing for a wider brotherhood of humanity
towards which, ever since the barrier between Jew and Gentile, Greek and
barbarian, was broken down, the aspirations of the higher minds of the world
have been constantly directed. Placed in the midst of Europe, the Emperor was
to bind its tribes into one body, reminding them of their common faith, their
common blood, their common interest in each other's welfare. And he was
therefore above all things, professing indeed to be upon earth the
representative of the Prince of Peace, bound to listen to complaints, and to
redress the injuries inflicted by sovereigns or peoples upon each other; to
punish offenders against the public order of Christendom; to maintain through
the world, looking down as from a serene height upon the schemes and quarrels
of meaner potentates, that supreme good without which neither arts nor
letters, nor the gentler virtues of life, can rise and flourish. The
mediaeval Empire was in its essence what the modern despotisms that mimic it
profess themselves: the Empire was peace ^1: the oldest and noblest title of
its head was 'Imperator pacificus ^2.' And that he might be the peacemaker, he
must be the expounder of justice and the author of its concrete embodiment,
positive law; chief legislator and supreme judge of appeal, like his
predecessor, the compiler of the Corpus Iuris, the one and only source of all
legitimate authority. In this sense, as governor and administrator, not as
owner, is he, in the words of the jurists, Lord of the world; not that its
soil belongs to him in the same sense in which the soil of France or England
belongs to their respective kings: he is the steward of Him who has received
the nations for his inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for his
possession. It is, therefore, by him alone that the idea of pure right,
acquired not by force but by legitimate devolution from those whom God himself
had set up, is visibly expressed upon earth. To find an external and positive
basis for that idea is a problem which it has at all times been more easy to
evade than to solve, and one peculiarly distressing to those who could neither
explain the phenomena of society by reducing it to its original principles,
nor inquire historically how its existing arrangements had grown up. Hence
the attempt to represent human government as an emanation from divine: a view
from which all the similar but far less logically consistent doctrines of
divine right which have prevailed in later times are borrowed. As has been
said already, there is not a trace of the notion that the Emperor reigns by an
hereditary right of his own or by the will of the people, for such a theory
would have seemed to the men of the middle ages an absurd and wicked
perversion of the true order. Nor do his powers come to him from those who
choose him, but from God, who uses the electoral princes as mere instruments
of nomination. Having such an origin, his rights exist irrespective of their
actual exercise, and no voluntary abandonment, not even an express grant, can
impair them. Boniface the Eighth ^3 reminds the king of France, and
imperialist lawyers till the seventeenth century repeated the claim, that he,
like other princes, is of right and must ever remain subject to the Roman
Emperor. And the sovereigns of Europe long continued to address the Emperor
in language, and yield to him a precedence, which admitted the inferiority of
their own position ^4.

[Footnote 1: See esp. Aegidi, Der Furstenrath nach dem Luneviller Frieden, and
the passages by him quoted.]

[Footnote 2: The archbishop of Mentz addresses Conrad II on his election thus:
'Deus quum a te multa requirat tum hoc potissimum desiderat ut facias iudicium
et iustitiam et pacem patriae quae respicit ad te, ut sis defensor ecclesiarum
et clericorum, tutor viduarum et orphanorum.' - Wipo, Vita Chuonradi, c. 3,
ap. Pertz. So Pope Urban IV writes to Richard: 'Ut Imperii Romani fastigium
et eius culmen praesidens specialis advocati et defensoris praecipui circa
ecclesiam gerat officium et . . . inimicis consternatis eiusdem in pacis
pulchritudine sedeat populus Christianus et requie opulenta quiescat.' -
Raynald. Ann. Eccl. ad ann. 1263.

Compare also the 'Edictum de crimine laesae maiestatis' issued by Henry
VII in Italy: 'Ad reprimenda multorum facinora qui ruptis totius debitae
fidelitatis habenis adversus Romanum imperium, in cuius tranquillitate totius
orbis regularitas requiescit, hostili animo armati conentur nedum humana,
verum etiam divina praecepta, quibus iubetur quod omnis anima Romanorum
principi sit subiecta, scelestissimis facinoribus et rebellionibus demoliri,'
&c. - Pertz, M. G. H., legg. ii. p. 544.

See also a curious passage in the Life of St. Adalbert, describing the
beginning of the reign at Rome of the Emperor Otto III, and his cousin and
nominee Pope Gregory V: 'Laetantur cum primatibus minores civitatis: cum
afflicto paupere exultant agmina viduarum, quia novus imperator dat iura
populis; dat iura novus papa.']

[Footnote 3: 'Vicarius Iesu Christi et successor Petri transtulit potestatem
imperii a Graecis in Germanos ut ipsi Germani . . . possint eligere regem
Romanorum qui est promovendus in Imperatorem et monarcham omnium regum et
principum terrenorum. Nec insurgat superbia Gallicorum quae dicat quod non
recognoscit superiorem: mentiuntur, quia de iure sunt et esse debent sub rege
Romanorum et Imperatore.' - Speech of Boniface VIII, April 30, 1303 -
Pfeffinger, Corp. iur. publ. i. 377. It is curious to compare with this the
words addressed nearly five centuries earlier by Pope John VIII to Lewis, king
of Bavaria: 'Si sumpseritis Romanum imperium, omnia regna vobis subiecta
existent.' - Jafle, Reg. Pont. p. 281.]

[Footnote 4: So Alfonso, king of Naples, writes to Frederick III: 'Nos reges
omnes debemus reverentiam Imperatori, tanquam summo regi, qui est Caput ex Dux
regum.' - Quoted by Pfeffinger, i. 379. And Francis I (of France), speaking
of a proposed combined expedition against the Turks, says, 'Caesari
nihilominus principem ea in expeditione locum non gravarer ex officio cedere.'
- Marquard Freher, Script. rer. Germ. iii. 425. For a long time no European
sovereign save the Emperor ventured to use the title of 'Majesty.' The
imperial chancery conceded it in 1633 to the kings of England and Sweden; in
1641 to the king of France. - Zedler, Universal Lexicon, s.v. Majestat.]

There was in this theory nothing that was absurd, though much that was
impracticable. The ideas on which it rested are still unapproached in
grandeur and simplicity, still as far in advance of the average thought of
Europe, and as unlikely to find men or nations fit to apply them, as when they
were promulgated five hundred years ago. The practical evil which the
establishment of such a universal monarchy was intended to meet, that of wars
and hardly less ruinous preparations for war between the states of Europe,
remains what it was then. The remedy which mediaeval theory proposed has been
in some measure applied by the construction and reception of international
law; the greater difficulty of erecting a tribunal to arbitrate and decide,
with the power of enforcing its decisions, is as far from a solution as ever.

It is easy to see how it was to the Roman Emperor, and to him only, that
the duties and privileges above mentioned could be attributed. Being Roman,
he was of no nation, and therefore fittest to judge between contending states,
and appease the animosities of race. His was the imperial tongue of Rome, not
only the vehicle of religion and law, but also, since no other was understood
everywhere in Europe, the necessary medium of diplomatic intercourse. As
there was no Church but the Holy Roman Church, and he its temporal head, it
was by him that the communion of the saints in its outward form, its secular
side, was represented, and to his keeping that the sanctity of peace must be
entrusted. As direct heir of those who from Julius to Justinian had shaped
the existing law of Europe ^1, he was, so to speak, legality personified ^2;
the only sovereign on earth who, being possessed of power by an unimpeachable
title, could by his grant confer upon others rights equally valid. And as he
claimed to perpetuate the greatest political system the world had known, a
system which still moves the wonder of those who see before their eyes empires
as much wider than the Roman as they are less symmetrical, and whose vast and
complex machinery far surpassed anything the fourteenth century possessed or
could hope to establish, it was not strange that he and his government
(assuming them to be what they were entitled to be) should be taken as the
ideal of a perfect monarch and a perfect state.

[Footnote 1: For with the progress of society and the growth of commerce the
old feudal customs were through the greater part of Western Europe, and
especially in Germany, either giving way to or being remodelled and
supplemented by the civil law.]

[Footnote 2: 'Imperator est animata lex in terris.' - Quoted by Von Raumer, v.
81, from a letter of the bishops of Salzburg and Regensburg to Pope Gregory

Of the many applications and illustrations of these doctrines which
mediaeval documents furnish, it will suffice to adduce two or three. No
imperial privilege was prized more highly than the power of creating kings,
for there was none which raised the Emperor so much above them. In this, as
in other international concerns, the Pope soon began to claim a jurisdiction,
at first concurrent, then separate and independent. But the older and more
reasonable view assigned it, as flowing from the possession of supreme secular
authority, to the Emperor; and it was from him that the rulers of Burgundy,
Bohemia, Hungary, perhaps Poland also, received the regal title ^1. The
prerogative was his in the same manner in which that of conferring titles is
still held to belong to the sovereign in every modern kingdom. And so when
Charles the Bold, last duke of French Burgundy, proposed to consolidate his
wide dominions into a kingdom, it was from Frederick III that he sought
permission to do so. The Emperor, however, was greedy and suspicious, the
Duke uncompliant; and when Frederick found that terms could not be arranged
between them, he stole away suddenly, and left Charles to carry back, with
ill-concealed mortification, the crown and sceptre which he had brought
ready-made to the place of interview ^2.

[Footnote 1: Thus we are told of the Emperor Charles the Bald, that he
confirmed the election of Boso, king of Burgundy and Provence, 'Dedit Bosoni
Provinciam (sc. Carolus Calvus), et corona in vertice capitis imposita, eum
regem appellari iussit, ut more priscorum imperatorum regibus videretur
dominari.' - Regin. Chron, ad ann. 877. This statement is incorrect, but it
evidences the views of the time. Frederick II made his son Enzio (that famous
Enzio whose romantic history every one who has seen Bologna will remember)
king of Sardinia, and also erected the duchy of Austria into a kingdom,
although for some reason the title seems never to have been used; and Lewis IV
gave to Humbert of Dauphine the title of King of Vienne, A.D. 1336. Otto III
is said to have conferred the title of King on Boleslas of Poland.]

[Footnote 2: The Duke of Lithuania is said to have treated with Sigismund for
the bestowal on him of the title of King. - Cf. Pfeffinger, Corp. iur. publ.
i. 424.]

In the same manner, as representing what was common to and valid
throughout all Europe, nobility, and more particularly knighthood, centred in
the Empire. The great Orders of Chivalry were international institutions,
whose members, having consecrated themselves a military priesthood, had no
longer any country of their own, and could therefore be subject to no one save
the Emperor and the Pope. For knighthood was constructed on the analogy of
priesthood, and knights were conceived as being to the world in its secular
aspect exactly what priests, and more especially the monastic orders, were to
it in its religious aspect: to the one body was given the sword of the flesh,
to the other the sword of the spirit; each was universal, each had its
autocratic head ^1. Singularly, too, were these notions brought into harmony
with the feudal polity. Caesar was lord paramount of the world: its countries
great fiefs, whose kings were his tenants in chief, the suitors of his court,
owing to him homage, fealty, and military service against the infidel.

[Footnote 1: It is probably for this reason that the Ordo Romanus directs the
Emperor and Empress to be crowned (in St. Peter's) at the altar of St.
Maurice, the patron saint of knighthood.]

One illustration more of the way in which the empire was held to be
something of and for all mankind, cannot be omitted. Although from the
practical union of the imperial with the German throne none but Germans were
chosen to fill it ^1, it remained in point of law absolutely free from all
restrictions of country or birth. In an age of the most intense aristrocratic
exclusiveness, the highest office in the world was the only secular one open
to all Christians. The old writers, after debating at length the
qualifications that are or may be desirable in an Emperor, and relating how in
pagan times Gauls and Spaniards, Moors and Pannonians, were thought worthy of
the purple, decide that two things, and no more, are required of the candidate
for Empire: he must be free-born, and he must be orthodox ^2.

[Footnote 1: See especially Gerlach Buxtorff, Dissertatio ad Auream Bullam;
and Augustinus Stenchus, De Imperio Romano; quoted by Marquard Freher. It was
keenly debated, while Charles V and Francis I (of France) were rival
candidates, whether any one but a German was eligible. By birth Charles was
either a Spaniard or a Fleming; but this difficulty his partisans avoided by
holding that he had been, according to the civil law, in potestate of
Maximilian his grandfather. However, to say nothing of the Guidos and
Berengars of earlier days, the examples of Richard and Alfonso are conclusive
as to the eligibility of others than Germans. Edward III of England was, as
has been said, actually elected; Henry VIII was a candidate. And attempts
were frequently made to elect the kings of France. - Cf. Pfeffinger,
Vitriarius illustratus, 69 sqq.]

[Footnote 2: The mediaeval practice seems to have been that which still
prevails in the Roman Catholic Church - to presume the doctrinal orthodoxy and
external conformity of every citizen, whether lay or clerical, until the
contrary be proved. Of course when heresy was rife it went hard with
suspected men, unless they could either clear themselves or submit to recant.
But no one was required to pledge himself beforehand, as a qualification for
any office, to certain doctrines. And thus, important as an Emperor's
orthodoxy was, he does not appear to have been subjected to any test (in the
modern sense of the word), although the Pope pretended to the right of
catechizing him in the faith and rejecting him if unsound. In the Ordo
Romanus we find a long series of questions which the Pontiff was to
administer, but it does not appear, and is in the highest degree unlikely,
that such a programme was ever carried out. At the German coronation however
(performed in earlier days at Aachen, afterwards at Frankfort), the custom was
for the Emperor before he was anointed to declare his orthodoxy by an oath
taken on the famous copy of the Gospels which was held to have been used by
Charles, and on a casket containing earth soaked with the blood of the martyr

The charge of heresy was one of the weapons used with most effect against
Frederick II.]

It is not without a certain surprise that we see those who were engaged
in the study of ancient letters, or felt indirectly their stimulus, embrace so
fervently the cause of the Roman Empire. Still more difficult is it to
estimate the respective influence exerted by each of the three revivals which
it has been attempted to distinguish. The spirit of the ancient world by
which the men who led these movements fancied themselves animated, was in
truth a pagan, or at least a strongly secular spirit, in many respects
inconsistent with the associations which had now gathered round the imperial
office. And this hostility did not fail to shew itself when at the beginning
of the sixteenth century, in the fulness of the Renaissance, a direct and for
the time irresistible sway was exercised by the art and literature of Greece,
when the mythology of Euripides and Ovid supplanted that which had fired the
imagination of Dante and peopled the visions of St. Francis; when men forsook
the image of the saint in the cathedral for the statue of the nymph in the
garden; when the uncouth jargon of scholastic theology was equally distasteful
to the scholars who formed their style upon Cicero and the philosophers who
drew their inspiration from Plato. That meanwhile the admirers of antiquity
did ally themselves with the defenders of the Empire, was due partly indeed to
the false notions that were entertained regarding the early Caesars, yet still
more to the common hostility of both schools to the Papacy. It was as
successor of old Rome, and by virtue of her traditions, that the Holy See had
established so wide a dominion; yet no sooner did Arnold of Brescia and his
republicans arise, claiming liberty in the name of the ancient constitution of
the Roman city, than they found in the Popes their bitterest foes, and turned
for help to the secular monarch against the clergy. With similar aversion did
the Romish court view the revived study of the ancient jurisprudence, so soon
as it became, in the hands of the school of Bologna and afterwards of the
jurists of France, a power able to assert its independence and resist
ecclesiastical pretensions. In the ninth century, Pope Nicholas the First had
himself judged in the famous case of Teutberga, wife of Lothar, according to
the civil law: in the thirteenth, his successors ^1 forbade its study, and the
canonists strove to expel it from Europe ^2. And as the current of educated
opinion among the laity was beginning, however imperceptibly at first, to set
against sacerdotal tyranny, it followed that the Empire would find sympathy in
any effort it could make to regain its lost position. Thus the Emperors
became, or might have become had they seen the greatness of the opportunity
and been strong enough to improve it, the exponents and guides of the
political movement, the pioneers, in part at least, of the Reformation. But
the revival came too late to arrest, if not to adorn, the decline of their
office. The growth of a national sentiment in the several countries of
Europe, which had already gone too far to be arrested, and was urged on by
forces far stronger than the theories of catholic unity which opposed it,
imprinted on the resistance to papal usurpation, and even on the instincts of
political freedom, that form of narrowly local patriotism which they long
retained and have not yet wholly lost. It can hardly be said that upon any
occasion, except the gathering of the council of Constance by Sigismund, did
the Emperor appear filling a truly international place. For the most part he
exerted in the politics of Europe no influence greater than that of other
princes. In actual resources he stood below the kings of France and England,
far below his vassals the Visconti of Milan ^3. Yet this helplessness, such
was men's faith or their timidity, and such their unwillingness to make
prejudice bend to facts, did not prevent his dignity from being extolled in
the most sonorous language by writers whose imaginations were enthralled by
the halo of traditional glory which surrounded it.

[Footnote 1: Honorious II in 1229 forbade it to be studied or taught in the
University of Paris. Innocent IV published some years later a still more
sweeping prohibition.]

[Footnote 2: See v. Savigny, History of Roman Law in the Middle Ages, vol.
iii. pp. 81, 341-347.]

[Footnote 3: Charles the Bold of Burgundy was a potentate incomparably
stronger than the Emperor Frederick III from whom he sought the regal title.]

We are thus brought back to ask, What was the connection between
imperialism and the literary revival?