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´╗┐Title: Medieval Europe
Author: Davis, H. W. Carless (Henry William Carless)
Language: English
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No. 13

























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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

[Illustration: The Barbarian Kingdoms and Frankish Empire]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The work of Otto I was skilfully done, since it survived the follies of
his son and grandson. For twenty years after his death (973) the titular
rulers of the Empire were boys and women-regents. At Rome, in Germany,
on the western and eastern frontiers all the beaten factions and
humiliated rivals plucked up courage to make another bid for victory.
The old Empress Adelaide, and her daughter-in-law the Empress Theophano,
divided or disputed the control of the administration until 991; from
that date till 998 the elder woman, freed from interference by the death
of Theophano, exercised a great though a declining influence. Neither
Empress was competent to handle the singular difficulties of the
situation. Adelaide, though true to the German ambitions of her husband,
was guided by personal prejudice in the selection of her ministers.
Theophano, a woman of remarkable abilities and attainments, despised the
monotonous intricacies of German politics, encouraged both her husband
and her son to regard Italy as the worthiest field for the activities of
an Emperor, and in Italy looked rather to Rome and the South than to
Lombardy. It was the church party, both in Germany and in Lombardy,
which in these years kept the subjects of the Empire true to their
allegiance. The German dukes were less disinterested. But the precedents
which Otto I had established proved invaluable when his son was required
to deal with a rebellion, or had the opportunity of appointing to a
vacant dukedom.

The blame for the chimerical ambitions of Otto II and Otto III is
usually thrown upon Theophano, that brilliant missionary of Byzantine
culture and Byzantine political ideas. But the influence which perverted
the judgement of these Emperors, until they became a byeword in Europe,
was something more impalpable than the will-force of a domineering
woman. They were born into the misty morning twilight of the medieval
renaissance, of an age when intellectual curiosity was awakening, when
philosophy, the sciences and Latin literature were studied with a lively
but uncritical enthusiasm, when the rhetorician and the sophist were the
uncrowned kings of intelligent society. The philosophy was little more
than school-logic, derived at second or third hand from Aristotle, the
science a grotesque amalgam of empiricism and tradition. The Latin
classics, apart from their use as a source of tropes and commonplaces,
only served to inspire a superstitious and uncomprehending reverence for
ancient Rome. Of this new learning Otto II and his son were naive
disciples. They could not sufficiently admire the encyclopaedic Gerbert,
the most fashionable and incomparably the ablest teacher of their day.
Otto II and his court listened patiently for hours while Gerbert
disputed with a Saxon rival concerning the subdivisions of the genus
philosophy. Otto III invited Gerbert to come to court and cure him of
"Saxon rusticity"; he deluged the complaisant tutor with Latin verses,
consulted him in affairs of state, and finally promoted him to the
Papacy. Gerbert was in fact a subtle and ambitious politician, who
filled the chair of Peter with no small degree of credit. But his more
serious talents would never have found their opportunity save for his
skill in ministering to the pseudo-classicism of rustic Saxons.

Each of these Emperors turned his back on Germany at the first
opportunity. Each met in Italy with bitter disillusionment and an
untimely fate.

Otto II, in whose idealism there was a trace of his father's concrete
ambition, planned the conquest of South Italy and Sicily. The scheme was
not impracticable as the Hohenstauffen were afterwards to prove. And in
the year 980 it could be justified as advantageous to the whole of
Christian Europe. A new Saracen peril was impending in the Western
Mediterranean. A new dynasty of Mohammedan adventurers, the Fatimites,
had arisen on the coast of Northern Africa and had made themselves
masters of Egypt (969). Five years before that event they had already
occupied Sicily; in 976 they turned their attention to Italy. The south
of the peninsula was divided between the Eastern Empire and Pandulf
Ironhead, the lord of Capua, who had established an ephemeral despotism
on the ruins of Lombard and Byzantine power. Even he could not face the
Arabs in the open field, and his death (981) was followed by the
partition of his lands and bitter strife among his sons. Unless Otto
intervened it was not unlikely that Italy, south of the Garigliano,
would become a province of the Caliphate of Cairo. Otto, however, was
ill-qualified to be the general of a crusade. His military experience
had been gained in petty operations against the Danes and Slavs, and in
an invasion of France vaingloriously begun but ending in humiliation
(978). Full of self-confidence he led a powerful force into Apulia,
intending to expel first the Greeks and then the Arabs. He captured Bari
and Taranto without difficulty; but he had no sooner entered Calabria
than he allowed himself to be entrapped by the Emir of Sicily. On the
field of Colonne (982) he lost the flower of his army and barely escaped
capture by flight to a passing merchant vessel. Next year he died, in
the midst of feverish preparations to wipe out this disgrace. It was
left for the despised Greeks to repel the Arabs from the mainland;
Sicily remained a Mohammedan possession till the coming of the Normans

It is easier to sympathise with the policy of Otto II than with the man
himself. The case is reversed when we turn to the career of his son.
Otto III, an infant at his father's death, escaped from female tutelage
in 996, and made his first Italian expedition as an autocrat of sixteen.
He went to free the Papacy from the bondage of a Roman faction, the
party of the infamous John XII, again rearing its head under a new
leader. The boy-ruler suppressed the rebels with some gratuitous
cruelty. But he was not without noble ambitions or the capacity of
appreciating finer natures than his own. Called upon to nominate a Pope
he selected his cousin Bruno, a youth little older than himself, but a
statesman and an idealist, who set himself to assert the authority of
the Holy See over the national Churches, partly no doubt in the
interests of the Empire but more in those of morality and discipline.
Unhappily Bruno died before his influence had eradicated from the
Emperor's character the weaknesses fostered by scheming flatterers and
an injudicious education. Gerbert, who succeeded Bruno with the title of
Sylvester II, encouraged his pupil in a career of puerile extravagances.
While the new Pope extended his jurisdiction and magnified his office,
the young Emperor was planning to revive in Rome the ancient glories of
the Caesars. Otto built a palace on the Aventine; he imitated the
splendour and travestied the ceremonial of the Byzantine court; he
devised pompous legends to be inscribed on his seal and on his crown. In
the year 1000 he made a solemn pilgrimage to Aachen and opened the vault
of Charles the Great; another to Poland, to pray at the shrine of his
martyred friend, St. Adalbert, in Gnesen. Meanwhile the serious business
of the Empire was neglected; the Slavonic states shook off the German
connection; the eastern frontier was unguarded. Even the Romans, whom he
cherished as his peculiar people, despised his vagaries and rose in
insurrection. This was the awakening. Alive at last to the difference
between his dreams and his true position, he quitted the Eternal City to
wander aimlessly in Italy, and died broken-hearted at the age of

It would obviously be unjust to judge the Holy Roman Empire of the first
Otto by the tragicomic aberrations of his immediate successors. Their
careers illustrate, in an extreme form, the temptations to which an
Emperor was exposed; but neither of them understood the essence of the
institution. Far from idealising the Empire overmuch they did not make
it ideal enough. The true conception of Empire eluded their grasp and
was unaffected by their failure. The policy of Otto the Great is
justified by the fact that he, like Charles the Great, gave to a
national monarchy the character of a religious office and the sense of a
sacred mission. To appreciate his achievement we need only compare the
German monarchy, as it stood in the year 1000, after a generation of
misgovernment had marred the architect's design, with that of the Capets
in France or of the House of Egbert in England. The difference is not
only in size or outward splendour. The Holy Roman Empire stood for a
nobler theory of royal and national Duty.



Before discussing the origins or the effects of feudalism it is well to
form a definite conception of the system as we find it in the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries, when it is the basis of local government, of
justice, of legislation, of the army and of all executive power. In this
period the lawyers have arrived at the doctrine that all lands is held
from the King either mediately or directly. The King is himself a great
landowner with demesnes scattered over the length and breadth of the
realm; the revenues of these estates supply him with the larger part of
his permanent income. The King is surrounded by a circle of
tenants-in-chief, some of whom are bishops and abbots and ecclesiastical
dignitaries of other kinds; the remainder are dukes, counts, barons,
knights. All of these, laymen and churchmen alike, are bound to perform
more or less specific services in return for their lands; the most
important is military service, with a definite quota of knights, which
they usually render at their own charge; but they are also liable to pay
aids (_auxilia_) of money in certain contingencies, to appear regularly
at the King's council and to sit as assessors in his law court. They
hold their lands in fact upon a contract; but the precise obligations
named in this contract do not exhaust their relation to the King. In a
vague and elastic sense they owe him honour (_obsequium_) and loyalty
(_fidelitas_). They must do all in their power to uphold his interests
and exalt his dignity. He on his side is bound to consult them
collectively, in all matters of importance, and to maintain them
individually in the rights and possessions which he has granted to them.
These personal and indefinite ties should not be renounced, on either
side, without some very serious reason--gross treachery, gross neglect
of duty, gross abuse of power or privilege.

These tenants-in-chief have on their estates a number of sub-tenants,
who are bound to them by similar contracts and a similar personal
relation. The homage of the sub-tenant to his immediate lord ought to be
qualified by a reservation of the allegiance which all subjects owe to
the King. Whether this reservation shall be made or, when made, shall
have any practical consequences, will depend upon the King's resources
and personality. Where effective, it means that he can claim from the
sub-tenants the discharge of certain national duties, can call on them
for military service, can judge them in his court, can tax them with the
consent of his council, that is of their lords; on the other hand, it
means that these sub-tenants may not allege the commands of their lord
as an excuse for making war upon the King or committing any breach of
the public peace. Where the general duty of allegiance has lapsed into
oblivion, the tenant-in-chief is in all but name a dependent king, and
the feudal state becomes a federation under a hereditary president, who
occasionally arbitrates between the members of the federation and
occasionally leads them out to war.

The other members of the feudal state group themselves or are forcibly
grouped under the rule of different persons in the feudal hierarchy. In
the open country the soil is partly tilled by small free-holders, who
pay to this or that lord a rent in money, kind, or services. Like the
feudal sub-tenants these free-holders are, for most purposes, subject to
the jurisdiction of their lord; though in the well organised state the
royal judges protect them against the grosser forms of violence. But the
greater part of the land is divided between servile village-communities,
who give up perforce a large proportion of their working-days to the
cultivation of the lord's demesne. The tendency of feudal law is to
treat these peasants as slaves, to deny them the assistance of the royal
law-courts, to regard them as holding their land at the will of their
lord. In practice the lord finds that he cannot insist upon the full
measure of his legal right. Though he has the right to reclaim all
runaways, it is difficult to hunt them down; though he can fix the
measure of his own demands, it is dangerous and unprofitable to arouse a
spirit of mutiny. A judge from whom his serfs have no appeal in matters
that concern their tenure, he finds it politic to make and to observe
definite contracts, which remain unaltered from one generation to
another. Hence the condition of the serfs, though hard, is less
precarious than we might suppose if we only studied what the feudal
lawyer has to say about them. Turning from the country to the towns, we
find that all are subject to a lord or to the King; that some are only
half-emancipated communities of serfs; that in others the burgesses have
the status of small free-holders; that in a minority, but a growing
minority, of cases the burgesses have established the right to deal
collectively with the lord, to be regarded as _communes_ or free
cities. In these cases there is a form of popular self-government under
elected magistrates. Through the magistrates the town pays a fixed rent
to the former lord; usually it claims the special protection of the
King, and comes to hold the position of a tenant-in-chief (_une
seigneurie collective populaire_). No society could be, in spirit and
in organisation, more anti-feudal than the free town of the Middle Ages;
but it can only secure a safe existence by obtaining a definite position
in the feudal hierarchy. In fact, the clergy are the only considerable
class who succeed in resisting the universal tendency to feudalise all
landed property and to find for every man a lord. Even they are
compelled to make large concessions to the spirit of the age. It is only
at the cost of long and ruinous conflicts that bishops and other
prelates establish some distinction between their position and that of
the ordinary tenant-in-chief. Even so it remains the law that the
principal endowments of every religious foundation are fiefs held under
a feudal contract of service. More successful, though not less
difficult, was the struggle against the theory that the parish-priest is
the vassal of his patron and may, by recognising his obligations as a
vassal, acquire the vassal's privilege of passing on his office to his

Such then was feudalism in the concrete. It is the negation of all that
we hold to be most important in the conceptions of the state and
citizenship. In effect, though not altogether in theory, it subordinates
the obligations of the citizen to those which the individual incurs by
entering on a voluntary contract. This contract may or may not be made
with the ruler of the state; in the majority of cases it is made with a
fellow-citizen. Though honourable, according to current ideas, this
contract always leaves to the lord some loopholes for the exercise of
arbitrary and capricious authority; it impairs, if it does not destroy,
the rule of law. Again, the effect of the system is to throw the main
burden of national defence, and the main control of the royal power,
upon a close hereditary caste of landowners. The standard of public duty
is lowered; the government becomes either an absolutism or an oligarchy,
and in either case studies chiefly the interests of a class which
despises industry and holds privilege to be the necessary basis of
society. Under feudalism the powers of the Crown, executive, judicial,
administrative, are often granted away to be held by the same tenure as
the fiefs over which they are exercised. And thus is created the worst
form of civil service that we can conceive; a corps of hereditary
officials, who can only be checked or removed with extreme difficulty,
who render no account of the sums which they collect under the name of
fines or dues, who are seldom educated to the point of realising that,
even in their private interest, honesty is the best policy. If this
system had developed to its logical conclusion, if the principles of
feudal government had not been mitigated by revolt from below and
interested tyranny from above, the only possible end would have been a
state of particularism and anarchy compared with which the Germany of
the fifteenth century, or the Italy of the eighteenth, might be called
an earthly paradise.

The very defects of the feudal system are, however, the best proof that
it was the natural and inevitable product of social evolution. A legal
theory so complex, so repugnant to the best traditions both of Roman and
barbarian government, could not have obtained general recognition, as
part of the natural order of things, unless it had grown up by degrees,
unless it had been the outcome of older usages and institutions. A form
of social organisation so cumbrous and so dangerous could hardly have
survived for centuries unless it had solved difficulties of unusual
urgency and magnitude. Let us then consider, in their historical order,
the antecedents of feudalism and the reasons of state by which it was

Before the downfall of the Roman Empire the duties of local government
were slipping from the grasp of the imperial executive. With or without
official consent, the great proprietors--already held responsible for
the taxes, the military service, and the good conduct of their
dependents--were assuming rights of jurisdiction. When Gaul was
reorganised by the Merovingians, these private courts of law continued
to exist; and they were even legally recognised (by Clotaire II in 614)
as institutions of public utility. A certain number of great estates
were further protected by special charters of privilege
(_immunitas_) which forbade public officials to enter them for the
purposes of making arrests, of holding courts, of collecting fines and
levying distraints. The owners were obliged to surrender any person
accused of a grave crime, but otherwise did justice at their pleasure.

This system of immunity was greatly extended by the Carolingian
sovereigns, but with two important changes. (1) Henceforward the
privilege was seldom granted to laymen, but was bestowed as a matter of
course on the estates of bishops and of religious houses. (2) The
holders of such ecclesiastical estates were compelled to vest their
powers of police and justice in the hands of laymen (_advocati_)
chosen either by the central power or by some approved form of election.
The intention of these changes was to use the private courts for the
maintenance of public order, to extract the sting from a dangerous
privilege, and to make it a serviceable instrument of royal policy. But
only one half of the scheme was permanent. By the middle of the ninth
century, when _immunitas_ had been granted to all religious foundations,
the Carolingians allowed the right of choosing the _advocati_ to slip
from their feeble grasp. The privileged estates remained, but the royal
control over their internal government was gone. They became
ecclesiastical seignories; whatever checks were imposed upon
the power of their rulers came from the lay-nobles who were their
neighbours, or from the subject population. Partly from respect for
custom and tradition, partly from motives of self-interest, the great
ecclesiastical landowners sided with the Crown, even in the tenth
century, when the fortunes of royalty were at their lowest ebb. But for
this support a price had to be paid; the old privileges were maintained
and even augmented by grants of the power of life and death
(_hautejustice, blut-bann_). Thus came into existence the class of
ecclesiastical princes, who throughout the Middle Ages maintained a
state, and wielded a power, comparable with that of any lay feudatory.

The ecclesiastical _immunitas_, as early as the ninth century, was
in the eyes of all ambitious landowners the model of a privileged
estate. But it was by another road that the layman arrived at the
position of a petty sovereign. Speaking broadly, there are two stages in
his progress. First, he comes into the position of a royal tenant,
holding his lands in exchange for services and fealty. Secondly, he
acquires, by delegation or usurpation, a greater or smaller part of the
royal authority over his own dependents.

(1) The idea of a personal contract between the free warrior and his
lord, by which the former places himself at the disposition of the
latter and promises unlimited service, is one which occurs in many
primitive societies and is peculiar to no one branch of the human race.
Tacitus noticed, as one feature of German life in his time, the free
war-band (_comitatus_) who lived in the house of their chief,
followed him to battle, and thought it the last degree of infamy to
return alive from the field on which he had fallen. The Merovingian
kings maintained a bodyguard of this kind (_antrustions_). Under
the Carolingians such followers appear in the host, in the royal
household, in every branch of the administration. They are the most
trusted agents of the King and possess considerable social consequence.
They are called _vassi_, a name formerly applied to any kind of
dependent, but now reserved for free men rendering free services to the
King or some other lord, and subject to his jurisdiction. So valuableare
these followers that, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the power
of the great is largely measured by the number of _vassi_ whom they
can put into the field.

Various considerations suggested to Frankish rulers and nobles the
expediency of endowing these followers with land, and of granting land
to no tenant unless he would take the vassal's oath. Usually land was
the only form of pay which the lord could give; and it always served as
a material guarantee of faithful service, since it could be resumed
whenever the vassal made default. In days when law and morality availed
little as the sanctions of contracts, the landlord naturally desired to
bind his tenant to him by a personal obligation; and there were obvious
advantages in providing that every tenant should be liable to aid his
lord with arms. The estates granted to vassals were known as benefices
(_beneficia_); they foreshadowed the lay-fief of later times. But
there are some distinctions to be drawn. The benefice was not _de
jure_ heritable; it escheated on the death of either lord or tenant.
The service was not measured with the same precision as in later times.
The military duties of the beneficed vassal were not different in kind
or degree from those of the ordinary freemen. Finally, the idea had not
yet arisen that vassals were superior in status to the rest of the
community. The importance of the vassal depended entirely on his wealth
and his rank in the King's employ. Only in the old age of the
Carolingian Empire, when the class of free landowners, acknowledging no
lord, had been almost ground out of existence by official oppression and
the intolerable burden of military service, was the burden of national
defence thrown entirely upon vassals. Then, as the sole military class
in the community, they acquired the consideration which, in early stages
of social development, is the monopoly of those who are trained to arms.

(2) It was natural that the tie of vassalage should be imposed on every
important official; and natural also to regard his office as a benefice,
tenable for life or during good behaviour. At an early date we find
cases of conquered princes--a Duke of Aquitaine, a Duke of Bavaria, a
King of Denmark--who take the vassal's oath and agree to hold their
former dominions as a _beneficium_. So again a member of the royal
house does homage and promises service in return for his appanage. More
common, and more important for the future, is the practice of treating
counts as vassals. All over the Frankish Empire the county was the
normal unit of local administration. The count led the military levies,
collected the royal dues, enforced the laws, maintained the peace, and
was a judge with powers of life and death. The Carolingians controlled
their counts by means of itinerant inspectors (_missi dominici_);
but with the disruption of their Empire this check was destroyed, while
the power of the count survived. By that time the office had often
become hereditary, on the analogy of the _beneficium_, and the
count appropriated to his own use the profits of his office. In such
cases his county became a small principality, classed by lawyers as a
fief, but often ruled without any reference to the interests of the
royal overlord. The fiefs of Anjou, Champagne and Flanders began in this
way as hereditary countships. Sometimes, again, we find that a great
vassal obtains, by grant of usurpation, the prerogatives of a count over
his own lands; examples are the prince-bishops of Trier (898 A.D.),
Hamburg (937), and Metz (945).

The first effect of this striking change in the nature of landed
property and of public office was to substitute for the centralised
state of the Carolingians a lax federal system, in which each unit was a
group of men attached to the person of a hereditary superior. This
nascent feudalism was often brutal, always summary and short-sighted, in
its methods of government. The feudal group was engaged in a perpetual
struggle for existence with neighbouring groups. Feudal policy was
aggressive; for every lord had his war-band, whom he could only hold
together by providing them with adventure and rich plunder; nor could
any lord regard himself as safe while a neighbour of equal resources
remained unconquered. Furthermore, as though the disintegration of
society had not gone far enough, every great fief was in constant danger
of civil war and partition. As the lord had treated the King, so he in
turn was treated by his vassals. He endowed them with lands, he allowed
them to found families, he gave them positions of authority; and then
they defied him. In the eleventh century the great fief bristled with
castles held by chief vassals of the lord; in the small county of Maine
alone we hear of thirty-five such strongholds; generally speaking they
were centres of rebellion and indiscriminate rapine. Such feudalism was
not a system of government; it was a symptom of anarchy.

Yet feudalism had not always been a mere tyranny of the military class
over the unarmed population. Like the Roman Empire, that of the Franks
had forfeited respect and popularity by misgovernment, by feeble
government, by insupportable demands on the personal service of the
subject. The land-owner was a less exacting master than the Empire;
often he could defend his tenants from imperial exactions. During the
invasions of the Northmen and Hungarians, he was impelled by his own
interest to guard his estates to the best of his ability. Therefore
common men looked to their landlord, or looked about them for a
landlord, to whom they could commend themselves. The great estate was
the ark of refuge from the general flood of social evils. In the
eleventh century the situation changed. The Hungarian tide of invasion
was rolled back by a Henry the Fowler and an Otto the Great; the
Northmen enrolled themselves as members of the European commonwealth.
The petty feudal despot was no longer needed. From a protector he had
degenerated into a pest of society. The great political problem of the
age was to make him innocuous. It was taken in hand, and it was settled,
by a variety of means.

In France the Church took the lead of the repressive movement,
endeavouring to mitigate the horrors of private war by certain
restrictions upon the combatants. During the eleventh century it was not
unusual for the bishop of a diocese to secure the co-operation of
representative men, from all classes of society, in proclaiming a local
Truce of God (_Treuga Dei_). This Truce, which all men were invited
to swear that they would observe, forbade the molestation of
ecclesiastics, peasants and other non-combatants; provided that
cultivated land should not be harried or cattle carried off; and named
certain seasons when no war should be waged. A typical agreement of this
kind enjoins that all private hostilities shall be suspended from
Wednesday evening to Monday morning in each week; from the beginning of
Advent till a week after the Epiphany; from the beginning of Lent till a
week after Easter; from the Rogation Days till a week after Pentecost.
The Truce of God was approved by the Crown both in France and in
Germany; even in the twelfth century it was still recommended by church
councils as a useful expedient. But it was seldom effectual. There was
no machinery for enforcing it; and those who swore to uphold it were so
divided by conflicting class interests that they could not co-operate
with any cordiality. The second of these defects, though not the first,
can also be perceived in the German system of the Land-peace.
Periodically we find an Emperor constraining a particular province, or
even the whole German kingdom, to accept a set of rules which are partly
modelled on those of the _Treuga Dei_ and partly in the nature of
criminal legislation. Thus in 1103 the magnates of the kingdom were
required to swear that for the next four years they would not molest
ecclesiastics, merchants, women, or Jews; that during the same period
they would neither burn nor break into private houses; that they would
not kill or wound or hold to ransom any man. In regard to the last rule
the magnates insisted on some modification; it was finally provided that
a man meeting a private enemy on the high-road might attack him, but
might not pursue him if he took refuge in a private house. The general
Land-peaces of Frederic Barbarossa (1152) and Frederic II (1235) are the
most important enactments of this kind; but they deviate widely from the
original type. They are permanent; they aim at the total suppression of
lawless self-help; they are codes of criminal law which, if thoroughly
enforced, would have opened a new era in German history. As the case
stands--they are only the evidence of an unrealised project of reform.

It was not by confederations of this kind, whether spontaneous or
compulsory, that feudalism could be bridled. The twelfth and thirteenth
centuries, the great age of medieval statesmanship, saw other and more
effectual remedies applied. In the free cities of France, Italy, the
Netherlands and Germany, the commercial classes perfected a form of
association which, however faulty in other respects, was successful in
excluding feudalism from the principal centres of urban industry. In the
larger states, whether kingdoms or not, the rulers, supported by the
Church and the commons, bestirred themselves to slay the many-headed
Hydra. Feudalism was not extirpated, but it was brought under the law.
In many districts it defied repression. To the end of the Middle Ages
the Knights of Suabia and the Rhineland maintained the predatory
traditions of the Dark Ages; and everywhere feudalism remained a force
inimical to national unity. But the great feudatories who survived into
the age of Machiavelli and of the new despotisms had usually some claims
upon the respect of their subjects. The Duchy of Brittany, the
Burgundian inheritance, the German electorates, were mainly
objectionable as impeding the growth of better communities--better
because more comprehensive, more stable, more fitted to be the nurseries
of great ideas and proud traditions.

It remains to speak of chivalry, that peculiar and often fantastic code
of etiquette and morals which was grafted upon feudalism in the eleventh
and succeeding centuries. The practical influence of chivalry has been
exaggerated. Chivalrous ethics were in great measure the natural product
of a militarist age. Bravery and patriotism, loyalty and truthfulness,
liberality and courtesy and magnanimity--these are qualities which the
soldier, even in a semi-civilised society, discovers for himself. The
higher demands of chivalric morality were as habitually disregarded as
the fundamental precepts of the Christian faith. The chivalric statesmen
of the Middle Ages, from Godfrey of Bouillon to Edward III and the Black
Prince, appear, under the searchlight of historical criticism, not less
calculating than Renaissance despots or the disciples of Frederic the
Great of Prussia. But something less than justice has been rendered to
the chivalric ideal. The ethics which it embodied were arbitrary and
one-sided; but they represent a genuine endeavour to construct, if only
for one class, a practicable code of conduct at a time when religion too
often gloried in demanding the impossible. Chivalry degenerated into
extravagance and conventional hyperbole; but at the worst it had the
merit of investing human relationships and human occupations with an
ideal significance. In particular it gave to women a more honourable
position than they had occupied in any social system of antiquity. It
rediscovered one half of human nature. But for chivalry the Beatrice of
Dante, the Laura of Petrarch, Shakespeare's Miranda and Goethe's
Marguerite, could not have been created, much less comprehended.

Chivalry in the oldest discoverable form was the invention of the
Church. The religious service by which the neophyte was initiated as a
knight has been traced back to the time of Otto III, when it appears in
the liturgy of the Roman churches. But the ceremony was not in general
use, outside Italy, before the age of the Crusades. It was Urban II who
inspired the knighthood of northern Europe with the belief that they
were _Dei militia_, the soldiers of the Church; and it is significant
that warfare against the unbeliever ranks prominently among the duties
enjoined upon the new-made knight, though it does not stand alone. The
defence of the true faith and of the Church is also inculcated; merit
might be acquired in persecuting heretics or in fighting for the Pope
against an unjust Emperor. Nor are the claims of the widow, the orphan
and the defenceless totally forgotten. But the perfect knight of the
Church was the Templar, the soldier living under the rule of a religious
order and devoting his whole energies to the cause of the Holy
Sepulchre. It was a remarkable innovation when St. Bernard, the mirror
of orthodox conservatism, undertook to legislate for the Order of the
Temple; for the primitive Church had hardly tolerated wars in self-
defence. From one point of view it was a wholesome change of attitude in
the moral leaders of society, that they should recognise war and a
military class as inevitable necessities, that they should undertake to
moralise and idealise the commonest of occupations. But the resolve was
marred in the execution. In the desire to be practical, the Church set
up too low an aim and translated Christianity into precepts which were
only suited for one short stage of medieval civilisation, the stage of
the Crusades.

In the long run the poet had far more influence than the priest upon the
chivalric classes. It is remarkable how uniformly Popes and Councils set
their faces against the bloodshed and extravagant futilities of the
tournament; still more remarkable that even threats of excommunication
could not deter the most orthodox of knights from seeking distinction
and distraction in these mimic wars. Equally significant is the growth
of the _service des dames_ which, although invested by troubadours
and minnesingers with a halo of religious allegory, was disliked by the
Church, not merely from a dread of possible abuses, but as inherently
idolatrous. The cult of the Virgin, while doing honour to the new
conception of womanhood, was also a protest against a secular
romanticism. Here and there a Wolfram von Eschenbach essays the feat of
reconciling poetry with religion in the picture of the perfect knight.
But the school of _courtoisie_ prevailed; the most celebrated of
the troubadours are mundane, not to say profane; Walther von der
Vogelweide, with his bitter attacks upon the Papacy, is more typical of
his class than Wolfram with his allegory of Parsifal and the Sangraal.
It was in Provence, on the eve of the Albigensian Crusade, in the
society which was most indifferent to official Christianity and most
hostile to the clergy, that chivalry was most sedulously preached and
developed in the most curious detail. In the hands of the troubadours it
became a gospel of pageantry and fanfaron, of artificial sentiments and
artificial heroisms, cloaking the materialism, the sensuality and the
inordinate ostentation of a theatrical and frivolous society,
intoxicated with the pride of life.



An institution is not necessarily discredited when we discover that it
has grown from small beginnings, has been applied under new conditions
to new purposes, and in the course of a long history has been defended
by arguments which are demonstrably false. The child, no doubt, is
father of the man; but the man is something different from, and may well
be something better than, his infant self. We must not attach undue
importance to the study of origins. On the other hand we cannot afford
to neglect them. However slight the fibres by which the present is
rooted in the past, to observe them is to realise the continuity of
human development--the most important, the most obvious, and the most
neglected of the lessons that history can teach. It is true that the
roots, however strong and however deeply set, are insufficient to
account for the characteristics of the plant which springs from them.
But it is also true that neither plants nor institutions can altogether
shed the husk of their immaturity. They are not entirely adapted to the
conditions under which they reach their full development. The Papacy in
the zenith of its power and renown is partly new and partly old. When we
consider the papal theory, as it floated before the mind of a Gregory
VII or an Innocent III, it produces in us the same impression of
symmetry, logical consistency and completeness, which we experience on
entering for the first time one of the great medieval churches. But when
once we have grasped the design of the architect, we shall usually find
that he has conformed in some respects to unmeaning traditions inherited
from an earlier period, and further that his work incorporates the
remnants of an older, simpler structure. Here are pillars of massive
girth altogether disproportionate to the delicate arches which they
carry; there an old tower has been buttressed to make it capable of
supporting a new spire. For all the builder's cunning, we can yet
distinguish between the new and the renovated. So it is with the papal
apologia in the great days of papal policy. A sentence from the laws of
ancient Rome dovetails with an axiom stolen from the philosophers of the
Porch or the Academy. Fables of Gallic or Egyptian origin are invoked to
corroborate the canons of Nicene and Chalcedonian synods. A text from a
Hebrew prophet is interpreted by the fancy of an African expositor. The
fabric composed of these incongruous elements has in truth a unity of
purpose; but the design is so disguised and so perverted by the
recalcitrance of the materials, that we are irresistibly impelled to ask
how and why they came to be employed.

More than any other human institution the Papacy has suffered from a
supposed necessity of justifying every forward step by precedent and
reference to authority. Twice in the course of sixteen centuries the
Holy See has ventured on a startling change of front, and has been
sorely embarrassed to rebut the charge of inconsistency. One such change
was silently effected at the close of the seventeenth century, when the
Popes ceased to concern themselves more than was unavoidable with
international affairs. This was a great change; yet not so great as that
made in the latter part of the eleventh century, by Gregory VII. For he
revolutionised the whole theory of papal prerogative. Neither a profound
lawyer nor a profound theologian, he regarded the past history of his
office with the idealism of a poet, and looked into its future with the
sanguine radicalism of a Machiavelli or a Hobbes. Gregory VII conceived
of Christendom as an undivided state; of a state as a polity dominated
by a sovereign; of a sovereign as a ruler who must be either absolute or
useless. And who, he asked, but the heir of the Prince of the Apostles
could presume to claim a power so tremendous? For us the audacity of his
pretensions is excused by the lofty aims which they were meant to serve.
To conciliate contemporary opinion it was necessary that the new claims
should be represented as the revival of old rights, as the logical
corollaries of undisputed truths. And this course involved as its
consequence an industrious, if partially unconscious, perversion of past
history. For the Popes who had gone before him claimed powers which,
though extensive, were capable of definition; which, though startling,
could in the main be defended by appeal to well-established usage. The
new policy led to this paradoxical situation, that precedents were
diligently invoked to prove the Pope superior to all precedents.

With Gregory VII the primacy of Western Christendom assumed a new
character. But the primacy, in one form or another, had for centuries
belonged to the Roman See. So much his remote predecessors had achieved,
and their success is all the more remarkable when we remember how few of
them had been distinguished statesmen. It is no matter for surprise
that, in the course of nine troubled centuries, some Bishops of Borne
had proved incompetent and others had betrayed the interests committed
to their charge. It is, however, surprising that the Roman See was able
to assume and hold the leading position among Western bishops without
rendering much service to the extension or the organisation of the

Of all the early Popes, save Leo I and Gregory I, it is true that we may
be tolerably at home in the history of their times without knowing much
about them. No Pope is ranked among the leading Western Fathers. The
only considerable theologian who occupied the Holy See, before the year
1000, is Gregory I; and the highest praise which we can give his
writings is that they imparted new life to some ideas of St. Augustine.
It is as statesmen, not as thinkers, that the early Popes appeal to our
attention. Yet their practical achievements scarcely account for the
reverence which they inspired. The one great mission which Rome set on
foot was that of Augustine to England. The other evangelists of the Dark
Ages found their inspiration elsewhere, in the monasteries of Ireland or
of Gaul and Germany. If we consider the progress of theological science,
and of ecclesiastical organisation, we find that the great controversies
were resolved, and the great legislative assemblies convened, in the
Eastern Empire. It was but rarely that Rome asserted her right to speak
in the name even of the Western Church; the record of the early Popes
who attained to such a momentary pre-eminence was not such as the West
could recollect with satisfaction. In fact, it was due to other causes
than the merits of individual Popes that Rome became and remained the
religious metropolis of Europe.

How, then, are we to account for her triumphant progress? Hobbes
suggested one explanation when he called the Papacy "the ghost of the
Roman Empire." And it is true that the later Emperors found it
convenient to confer special privileges on the bishops of their ancient
capital. But they adopted this policy too late, when reverence for the
Empire was already declining in the West. By imperial grants the Papacy
gained no substantial powers, while individual Popes lost credit and
independence by their special connection with the New Rome on the
Bosporus. They were compelled to play an ignominious part in the
squabbles of the Eastern Churches, they were loaded with onerous secular
duties; they became the emblems and the agents of an alien tyranny,
mistrusted alike by the barbarian invaders and the nominal subjects of
the Empire.

Other critics have explained the prestige of the Papacy as the fruit of
successful impostures. For this hypothesis there is little to be said.
One or two Popes, not the greatest, have condescended to use forged
title-deeds. But the effect of these frauds has been much exaggerated.
The most famous of them are the _Donation of Constantine_ and the
_False Decretals_. The former, though probably of Roman origin, was
little used at Rome, and only served to justify the modest beginnings of
the temporal power. The latter are of more importance, and are sometimes
regarded as opening an era of new pretensions. In fact they are little
more than reiterations and amplifications of very ancient claims. Though
frequently quoted by the canon lawyers, they are not indispensable links
in the claim of historical proofs and precedents. They are chiefly
significant as attesting the general desire of churchmen to find some
warrant for a vigorous exercise of the papal prerogative. A primate with
real powers was desired, not only by the clergy of the national churches
as a bulwark against the brutal oppression of the State, but also by all
religious thinkers as a symbol of corporate unity and a guarantee of
doctrinal uniformity.

No theory can be regarded as supplying a satisfactory explanation of
papal authority, unless it explains this general belief in the necessity
for a visible Head of the Western Church. In part the necessity was
political. Exposed to the common danger of secular tyranny, the national
churches looked for safety in federation; and they notified their union
in the only way that uneducated laymen could understand, by announcing
their subjection to a single spiritual sovereign. But there remained the
problem of justifying this act of independence amounting to rebellion.
The justification was found in two arguments, the one historical, the
other doctrinal; the one based upon the Roman legend of St. Peter, the
other on the acknowledged importance of holding fast to right tradition.
Each of these arguments calls for some consideration.

St. Peter, says the legend, was invested with the primacy among the
Apostles; such is the plain meaning of the Saviour's declaration, _Tu
es Petrus_. St. Peter founded the Roman Church and instituted the
Roman bishopric. To Linus, the first bishop, Peter bequeathed his Divine
commission and his knowledge of the Christian verities. From Linus these
gifts descended without diminution to one after another in the unbroken
chain of his successors. Hence Rome is entitled to the same pre-eminence
among the churches which Peter held among his brethren. To examine the
historical basis of the legend would be a lengthy and unprofitable task.
Of St. Peter's connection with the Eternal City we know nothing certain,
except that he preached and suffered there. If bishops existed in his
time, there is some reason for thinking that the office was collegiate,
and that the committee of bishops was less important then in the
spiritual life of the community than at a later time. Not until the
second century did the episcopate become monarchical and the holder of
the office the supreme authority within the Church by which he was
elected. The change was complete by the time of Irenaeus, who wrote
_circa_ 180 A.D.; to him we owe our earliest catalogue of Roman
bishops, beginning with Linus and ending with Eleutherus, the twelfth
from Peter and the contemporary of Irenaeus. The later names in the list
are doubtless those of authentic bishops; the earlier may be in some
sense historical, the names of famous presbyters or of men who made
their mark on the old episcopal committee. A point of secondary interest
is that Irenaeus speaks of bishops, not of Popes; this title came into
use a hundred years after his time. More important is the fact that, in
the third century, when our documents become more copious, Rome is
generally recognised as first in dignity among the churches (_ecclesia
principalis_), but has no appellate jurisdiction and no legislative
powers. It is only admitted that, when disputes arise on points of
tradition, her testimony is entitled to special honour, as that of a
church which preserves the memory of Peter's teaching. As doctrinal
controversies become more acute and more fundamental, the importance of
tradition is emphasised, the authority of those who voice it is
magnified. Ultimately all the pretensions of the Holy See are founded on
the claim that she possesses the only undefiled tradition. But it was
not until long after the third century that the consequences of the
claim were realised even by the claimants.

If we were invited, at the present day, to suggest a means of conserving
intact a body of doctrinal definitions and disciplinary law, we should
not naturally select some mode of oral transmission as the safest
available. Yet this expedient has found much favour in the past. Even
among the Jews, with their extreme respect for sacred books, the written
word was made of none account by the traditions of expositors. The
votaries of the Greek mystic cults deliberately avoided writing down
their more important formulae. Several considerations were in favour of
this curious policy. There were no scientific canons for the
interpretation of written texts; allegorising commentators read their
own wild fancies into the plainest sentences. The only way of meeting
them was to fall back on the traditional interpretation. We use the
texts to test the traditions; but criticism in its early stages pursues
the opposite course, and as a natural consequence rates tradition above
Scripture. Other reasons which discouraged the use of writing were,
first, the fear that no literary skill might be equal to the difficulty
of accurate statement; secondly, the natural reluctance of the religious
mind to let the deepest truths be exposed to the vulgar scoffs and
criticism of the uninitiated; thirdly, some remnant of the primitive
superstition that the formulae of a ritual are magic spells, which would
lose their potency if published to the world; and, finally, the natural
instinct of a sacerdotal class to reserve the knowledge of deepest
mysteries to a select inner circle. For all these reasons a jealously
guarded tradition, commonly designated as the _arcana_ or _secreta_, was
to be found in all the early Christian Churches. To give a few examples:
the Apostles' Creed, the distinctive symbol of the Roman Church, was
preserved by oral tradition only down to the fourth century, and was not
imparted to any catechumen until the time of his baptism. The minute
rules of penitential discipline were first committed to writing by
Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, towards the close of the
seventh century; and this innovation was sharply criticised by some
ecclesiastical synods. Most remarkable of all is the reluctance of the
churches to write down the essential, operative parts of the Mass.
Written copies are first mentioned in the fourth century, and it was not
until a much later period that the diversities of local tradition were
corrected by the issue of a standard text. It might be supposed that the
non-existence of official copies was due to the want of any device, such
as printing, by which they could be cheaply multiplied. But there is a
curious fact which suggests that publication was considered undesirable.
One section of the Canon of the Mass was called the secret part
(_secretum_), and was recited by the celebrant in an undertone, that it
might not become known to the congregation. Similarly, all literary
exposition of such central doctrines as the Atonement, or the Trinity,
was deprecated by early theologians, who pass by them with the remark
that they are known to the initiate.

This cult of secrecy engendered difficulties which are written large
upon the page of history. Disputes arose about the wording of the
creeds, about the canon of the Scriptures, about the number and nature
of the mortal sins, and the penances which they should entail.
Periodically a curious investigator raised a storm by claiming that he
had discovered a flaw in the traditional formulae, or a mistake in the
sense which was currently attached to them. The one way of meeting such
doubts was to compare the traditions of the older churches. This could
be done by a provincial synod or a general council. But of these
tribunals the former was unsatisfactory, as its decisions were of merely
local validity and might be overruled by the voice of the universal
Church. The general council was hard to convene, particularly after a
rift had opened between the Eastern and the Western Churches. It was
easier to select as the final arbiter a bishop whose knowledge of
tradition was derived from an apostolic predecessor. In the East there
were three such sees (Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria), but in the West
Rome alone satisfied the necessary conditions. And the Bishops of Rome
could claim, with some show of reason, that their tradition was derived
from a worthier source, and had been better guarded against contagion,
than that of any other Apostolic Church. Was it not a well-established
fact that Rome had preserved an unwavering front in the face of the
heretical Arius, when even Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria had

Recourse to Rome as the oracle of the faith was so obvious an expedient,
given the prevailing attitude towards tradition, that we can only be
surprised to find how slow and gradual was the triumph of the Roman
claims. The victory of logic was retarded both by the pride and by the
common sense of the other Western Churches. On the one hand, the See of
Carthage clung to the old ideal of Christendom as a confederation of
self-governing churches, which might consult one another as they pleased
but recognised no superior except a general council. Carthage carried
with her the whole Church of Africa, and furnished an example which less
illustrious communities were proud to imitate. The conquest of Africa by
the Vandal heretics was necessary before the African Christians would
consent to look to Rome as their spiritual metropolis. On the other
hand, the rulings of the Roman bishops were justly suspected of being
tempered by regard for expediency. Sometimes they relaxed penitential
discipline, for fear of driving the weaker brethren to apostasy.
Sometimes, under pressure from Constantinople, they proposed an
ambiguous compromise with heresy. Such considerations were but gradually
overborne by the pressure of circumstances. The spread of Arianism and
the irruption of the Teutons (themselves often Arians) at length
compelled the churches to take the obvious means of preserving their
imperilled uniformity and union.

It is in the acts of the Council of Sardica (343 A.D.) that we find the
first explicit recognition of the Pope as an arbiter and (we may almost
say) a judge of appeal. This council was merely a gathering of Western
bishops, and the canons which it passed were never accepted by the
Church of Africa. So doubtful was their validity that the Popes of the
next generation disingenuously asserted that they had been passed at the
earlier and more famous Council of Nicaea (325). Yet even at Sardica the
Pope was only endowed with one definite prerogative. Henceforward any
bishop condemned by a provincial synod might appeal to him; he could
then order a second trial to be held, and could send his legates to sit
among the judges; but he could not hear the case in his own court. More
striking than this decree are the words of the letter which the Council
addressed to Pope Julius: "It will be very right and fitting for the
priests of the Lord, from every province, to refer to their Head, that
is to the See of Peter." This recommendation was readily obeyed by the
Churches of Gaul and Spain. Questions from their bishops poured in upon
the Popes, who began to give their decisions in the form of open
letters, and to claim for these letters the binding force of law. Pope
Liberius (352-366 A.D.) appears to have commenced the practice, although
the earliest of the extant "Decretals" is from the pen of Pope Siricius
(385). Sixty years after Siricius' time, when the Western Empire was in
its death-agony, this claim to legislative power was formally confirmed
by the Emperor Valentinian III (445). But for some time after the
Council of Sardica the new prerogative was used with the greatest
caution. The Popes of that period use every precaution to make their
oracular answers inoffensive. They assure their correspondents that Rome
enjoins no novelties; that she does not presume to decide any point on
which tradition is silent; that she is merely executing a mandate which
general councils have laid upon her. Those who evince respect for her
claims are overwhelmed with compliments. A decretal of Innocent I
(402-417) begins as follows:--

"Very dear brother, the Church's rules of life and conduct are well
known to a priest of your merit and dignity. But since you have urgently
inquired of us concerning the rule which the Roman Church prescribes, we
bow to your desire and herewith send you our rules of discipline,
arranged in order."

On the other hand, no opportunity is lost of calling attention to the
Roman primacy. Pope Siricius (384-398) writes in one of his letters: "We
bear the burdens of all who are oppressed; it is the Apostle Peter who
speaks in our person." Through the more confidential and domestic
utterances of these Popes there runs a vein of haughty self-assertion.
In the homilies of Leo I (440-461) the text _Tu es Petrus_ rings
like a trumpet note; here we have the Roman ruler communing with his
Roman people, the pride of empire taking a new shape amidst the ruins of
that secular empire which the pagan Romans of the past had built up.

In the general chaos produced by the barbarian migrations the
consequence of the Papacy, as compared with that of other Western sees,
was considerably enhanced by various causes: by the ruin of Carthage,
the most unsparing of her critics; by the progressive deterioration of
the other churches, which was most marked in those provinces where the
barbarians were most readily converted; by the rising tide of ignorance,
which overwhelmed all rival conceptions of Christendom and blotted out
the past history of the Church. So great was this ignorance that
Innocent I could claim, without much fear of contradiction, that "no man
has founded any church in Italy, Sicily, Gaul, Spain, or Africa,
excepting those whom Peter and his successors have ordained as priests."
In the Italian peninsula there were three churches--Ravenna, Milan,
Aquileia--which obstinately refused to consider themselves mere
offshoots from the See of Peter. But the legend struck root and throve,
as successive Popes associated themselves with missions to the
unconverted tribes and with reforms in the barbarian churches.

Among the earlier events which contributed to make the Roman belief the
standard for all Western Christendom we need only mention the conquests
of the orthodox Frankish monarchy; the official conversions from
Arianism of the Burgundians (516) and the Visigoths in Spain (586); the
extirpation of the Vandals and Ostrogoths by Justinian's generals; the
missions of Augustine to England, of Wilfrid, Willibrord, and Boniface
to the Germans; the submission of the Frankish Church under the
influence of Boniface and Pepin the Short (748). Naturally the moral
influence of Rome in the northern lands was augmented by the revival of
the Western Empire, which meant the co-operation of Pope and Emperor in
the extension of the Christian Republic. Cyril and Methodius, the
Apostles of the Slavs, found it necessary to renounce the allegiance of
the Greek Church, and to place their converts under the protection of
Rome (866). It was from Rome that St. Adalbert went forth on his
ill-starred but glorious mission to the Prussians (997); and it was a
Pope, Sylvester II, who earned the glory of uniting the Hungarian people
to Western Christendom (1000). Finally, Canute the Great, of Denmark and
of England, came in the manner of a pilgrim (1027) to lay the homage of
his Scandinavian subjects on the altar of St. Peter. The Popes reaped
where they had not sown; but the harvest was rich and splendid.

No less important was the political character which the papal office
assumed with the revival of the Empire. Already under Gregory the Great
we can trace the beginnings of a temporal power. Naturally and
necessarily the Pope, already like other bishops a functionary charged
with important secular duties, took upon himself the protection and
government of Rome and the surrounding duchy, when the rulers of
Byzantium shook off these unprofitable responsibilities. Naturally and
excusably he claimed, over his vast Italian estates, the powers of
jurisdiction which every landowner was assuming as a measure of
self-defence against oppression or unbridled anarchy. In the time of
Pepin the Short a further step was taken. The Frank, unwilling to
involve himself in Italy yet anxious to secure the Holy See against the
Lombards, recognized Pope Stephen II as the lawful heir of the derelict
imperial possessions. And Charles the Great, both as King and as
Emperor, confirmed the donation of his father. To make the Pope an
independent sovereign was indeed a policy which he refused to entertain.
His ideal was that of the Eastern Emperors: himself as the head of State
and Church, the Pope as the Patriarch of all the churches in the Empire,
elected with the Emperor's approval, ruling the clergy with the
Emperor's counsel, enjoying over the lands of his see the largest
privileges bestowed on any bishop, but still in all secular affairs a
subject of the Empire. But on the other hand arose at Rome a different
conception of the Pope's prerogative. Long ago Pope Gelasius had
formulated the principle, more useful to his remote successors than
himself, of the Two Powers, Church and State, both derived from God and
both entitled to absolute power in their respective spheres. On this
principle the State should not interfere with episcopal elections, or
with matters of faith and discipline; it should not exercise
jurisdiction over the priesthood who are servants of the Church, or over
Church estates since they are held in trust for God and the poor. This
view was proclaimed to the world by Leo III, who caused to be set up in
the Lateran a mosaic representing in an allegory his relations to the
Empire. St. Peter sits enthroned above; Charles and Leo kneel to right
and left, in the act of receiving from the Apostle the pallium and the
gonfalon, the symbols of their respective offices.

No powerful Emperor ever accepted the Gelasian principle entire. To
refute it was, however, difficult, so well did it harmonise with the
current conception of the State. Under the later Carolingians it became
the programme both of reformers and of mere ecclesiastical politicians.
The new monasteries, founded or reorganised under the influence of
Cluny, placed themselves beneath the special protection of the Pope,
thus escaping from secular burdens. The national hierarchies hailed the
forgeries of the Pseudo-Isidore as the charter of ecclesiastical
liberty. Pope Nicholas I took his stand at the head of the new movement,
and gave it a remarkable development when he asserted his jurisdiction
over the adulterous Lothaire II (863). Nicholas died before he couldgive
further illustrations of his claim to be supreme, even over kings,
in matters of morality and faith. From his time to that of Hildebrand
there was no Pope vigorous enough to make a similar example. Dragged
down by their temporal possessions to the level of municipal seigneurs
and party instruments, the Popes from 867 to 962 were, at the best, no
more than vigorous Italian princes. To that level they returned after
the period of the Saxon Ottos (962-1002). In those forty years there
were glimpses of a better future; the German Pope, Gregory V, allied
himself to Cluny (996-999); as Sylvester II (999-1003) the versatile
Gerbert of Aurillac--at once mathematician, rhetorician, philosopher,
and statesman--entered into the romantic dreams of his friend and pupil,
Otto III, and formed others on his own behalf which centred round the
Papacy rather than the Empire. Sylvester saw in imagination the Holy See
at the head of a federation of Christian monarchies. But fate was no
kinder to him than to Otto; he outlived his boy patron only by a year.



Modern life has travelled so far beyond medieval Christianity that it is
only with an effort we retrace our steps to the intellectual position of
a St. Bernard, a St. Francis, or the _Imitatio Christi_. Apart from
the difficulties of an unfamiliar terminology, we have become estranged
from ideas which then were commonplaces; beliefs once held to be
self-evident and cardinal now hover on the outer verge of speculative
thought, as bare possibilities, as unproved and unprovable guesses at
truth. Our own creeds, it may be, rest upon no sounder bottom of logical
demonstration. But they have been framed to answer doubts, and to
account for facts, which medieval theories ignored; and in framing them
we have been constrained partly to revise, partly to destroy, the
medieval conceptions of God and the Universe, of man and the moral law.

This is not the place for a critique of medieval religion. But, unless
we bear in mind some essential features of the Catholic system of
thought, we miss the key to that ecclesiastical statesmanship which
dominates the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The programme of the
great Popes, from Gregory VII to Boniface VIII, must appear a tissue of
absurdities, of preposterous ambitions and indefensible actions, unless
it is studied in relation to a theology as far remote from primitive
Christianity as from the cults and philosophies of classical antiquity.

The first article in this theology is the existence of a personal God
who, though all-pervading and all-powerful, does not reveal Himself
immediately to the human beings whom He has created to be His
worshippers, and does not so order the world that events shall always
express His will and purpose. He has endowed man with a sinful nature,
and has permitted His universe to be invaded by evil intelligences of
superhuman power and malignancy, who tempt man to destruction and are
bent upon subverting the Divine order of which they form a part. He is
supremely benevolent, and yet He only manifests the full measure of this
quality when His help is invoked by prayer; His goodwill often finds
expression in miracles--that is, in the suspending or reversing of the
general laws which He has Himself laid down for the regulation of the
universe and human destinies. He is inscrutable and incomprehensible;
yet to be deceived as to the nature of His being is the greatest of all
sins against His majesty. The goal of the religious life is personal
communion with Him, the intuitive apprehension and spontaneous
acceptance of His will, the Beatific Vision of His excellencies. But
this state of blessedness cannot be reached by mere self-discipline; the
prayers, the meditations, the good works of the isolated and
uninstructed individual, can only serve to condone a state of
irremediable ignorance. The avenue to knowledge of Him lies through
faith; and faith means the unquestioning acceptance of the twofold
revelation of Himself which He has given in the Scriptures and in the
tradition of the Church. The two revelations are in effect reduced to
one by the statement that only the Church is competent to give an
authoritative exposition of the sacred writings. Upon the Church hangs
the welfare of the individual and the world. Without participation in
her sacraments the individual would be eternally cut off from God;
without her prayers the tide of evil forces would no longer be held in
check by recurring acts of miraculous intervention, but would rise
irresistibly and submerge the human race.

A society charged with these tremendous duties, the only organ of the
Divine will and affording the only assurance of salvation, must
obviously be superior to all mundane powers. It would be monstrous if
her teaching were modified, if her powers of self-government were
restricted, to suit the ambitions or the so-called common sense of a lay
ruler. The Church stands to the State in the relation of the head to the
members, of the soul to the body, of the sun to the moon. The State
exists to provide the material foundations of the Christian society, to
protect the Church, to extend her sphere and to constrain those who
rebel against her law. In a sense the State is ordained by God, but only
in the sense of being a necessary condition for the existence of a
Christian Commonwealth. Logically the State should be the servant of the
Church, acting with delegated powers under her direction.

But theories, however logical, must come to terms with facts, or vanish
into the limbo of chimeras. The power of the Hildebrandine Church was
subject to serious limitations. On certain questions of importance the
national hierarchies were inclined to side with the State against the
Pope; and thus, for example, the claims of the Curia to tax the clergy,
and to override the rights of ecclesiastical patrons, were restricted at
one time or another by concordats, or by secular legislation such as the
English statutes of Provisors and Praemunire. Where the whole of the
clerical order presented a solid front, it was sometimes possible to
make good a claim against which there was much to be said on grounds of
common sense; as, for instance, benefit of clergy,--the exclusive
jurisdiction of the Church over criminous ecclesiastics,--which was
enforced even against a sovereign so powerful and so astute as Henry II
of England. But, in the last resort, the pretensions of the Church
depended for success upon a public opinion which was hard to move. Not
because the average layman was critical or anti-clerical, but because he
was illogical and unimaginative, he remained cold to any programme of
reform which could only be justified by long trains of deductive
reasoning; his natural impulse was against violent innovations, and he
felt rather than argued that the State, as the ultimate guarantee of
social order, must be maintained even at some cost of theological
consistency. Until he could be convinced that high moral issues and his
own salvation were at stake, it was useless or dangerous to
excommunicate his king and to lay his country under interdict. For want
of lay support the Church failed to make good such important claims as
those of immunity from national taxation and of jurisdiction in cases of
commercial contract. More striking still, she was prevented from
establishing the Inquisition in states where that tribunal would have
found no lack of work.

Still, in spite of clerical divisions and lay conservatism, "the freedom
of the Church" was an ideal which commanded universal homage; and it was
necessary for the most obstinate opponent of ecclesiastical privilege to
make it clear that his policy involved no real attack upon this freedom.
Otherwise, defeat was certain. Thrice in two hundred years the cry for
freedom was raised against the Holy Roman Empire; and three prolonged
conflicts ended in the discomfiture of the most resolute and resourceful
statesmen who ever held that office-Henry IV (1056-1105), Henry V
(1106-1125), Frederic Barbarossa (1152-1190), and Frederic II
(1212-1250). In the first of these great conflicts the question at issue
was the reformation of the national clergy and their emancipation from
secular authority. Henry IV paid for his assertion of prerogative and
custom, both by the ignominious though illusory surrender at Canossa
(1077), and by the unparalleled humiliations of his latter days, when he
was compelled, as the prisoner of his own son, not only to abdicate but
also to sign a confession of infamous offences against religion and
morality. Henry V, reviving the plans of the father whom he had betrayed
and entrapped, was reduced through very weariness to conclude the
Concordat of worms (1122)--a renunciation which only ended in something
less than absolute defeat for the Empire, because the imperial
concessions were interpreted with more regard to the letter than the
spirit. In the second struggle the immediate issue was the freedom of
papal elections, the ultimate question whether Pope or Emperor should
shape the Church's policy; and Frederic Barbarossa was compelled, after
a schism of seventeen years' duration to surrender claims which dated
from the time of Charles the Great, and to make peace with Alexander
III, whom he had sworn that he would never recognise (Treaty of Anagni,
1176). Henry VI, the son of Barbarossa, when he joined the kingdom of
Sicily to the Empire through his marriage with Constance, the heiress of
the Norman throne, sowed the seed of a new conflict, and bequeathed to
Frederic II the perilous ideal of an Italy united under a Hohenstauffen
despotism. Ecclesiastical freedom now became a euphemism for the
preservation of the temporal power, and for the project of a federal
Italy, owning allegiance to a papal suzerain. Frederic II, who came
nearer to success in a more far-reaching policy than any of his
predecessors, was worn out by the steady alternation of successes with
reverses, and left his sons and grandson to reap the bitter harvest of a
failure which he had barely realised.

The moral issue dwindles to smaller proportions in each successive stage
of this titanic duel between the titular representatives of State and
Church; and from first to last the Papacy depended largely upon allies
who were pursuing their own objects in the Church's name. The German
princes, the Normans of Lower Italy and Sicily, the Lombard communes,
all contributed in varying degrees to the defeat of the Henries and the
Frederics. The German princes brought Henry IV to his knees at two
critical moments in the reign; the majority of them held obstinately
aloof from the Italian wars of Barbarossa; and Frederic II, who
endeavoured to buy their neutrality by extravagant concessions, found
himself confronted by German rebels and pretenders towards the close of
his career (1246-1250), when the Italian situation appeared to be
changing in his favour. The Normans intervened more than once in the
Wars of Investitures to shelter a fugitive Pope or rescue Rome from
German armies; the Lombards, as we shall relate elsewhere, were the
chief barrier between Rome and Frederic Barbarossa, between Frederic II
and Germany. Charles of Anjou was the latest and most efficient champion
of the papal cause; and he lives in history as the forerunner of the
conscienceless and shameless statesmanship of the Renaissance epoch. And
yet, when we have allowed for the utility of these alliances, the
question remains why radical communes, rebellious feudatories, and
adventurers in search of kingdoms, found it worth their while to enlist
in the service of the Church, and to endure the restrictions which such
a service inevitably entailed. The true strength of the Church lay in
her moral influence. It was a handful, even among the clergy, who
devoted themselves heart and soul to the ideal of society which she set
up. Still her ideal was in possession of the field; it might be
subjected to a negative and sceptical criticism by an isolated
philosopher, by a heretical sect, or by an orthodox layman smarting
under priestly arrogance; but when the forces of the Church were
mobilised, the indifferent majority stood aside and shrugged their
shoulders. The way of Rome might not be the way of Christ; but if the
Apostolic misinterpreted the lessons of Scripture and tradition, from
whom could a better rule of life be learned? An erring Church was better
than no Church at all. In the thirteenth century, when papal extortions
were a subject of complaint in every European state, Frederic II put
himself forward as the champion of the common interest, and appealed
from the Pope to the bar of public opinion. It was his turn today, he
said with perfect truth; the turn of kings and princes would come when
the Emperor was overthrown. His eloquence made some impression; but his
fellow-sovereigns could not or would not prevent the Pope from taxing
their clergy and recruiting their subjects for the Holy War against the
secular chief of Christendom, the head and front of whose offending was
that he opposed the interests of the State to the so-called rights of
the Church.

It is no mere accident that the heyday of sacerdotal pretensions
coincided with the golden age of the religious orders; that the
Hildebrandine policy took shape when the Cluniac movement was
overflowing the borders of France into all the adjacent countries; that
Alexander III was a younger contemporary of St. Bernard, and that the
death-grapple between Empire and Papacy followed hard upon the
foundation of the mendicant fraternities by St. Francis and St. Dominic.
The monks and the friars were the militia of the Church. Not that the
medieval orders devoted themselves to a political propaganda with the
zeal and system of the Jesuits in the sixteenth century. The
serviceswhich the Cluniacs and the Cistercians, the Dominicans and the
Franciscans, rendered to the militant Papacy were more impalpable and
indirect. From time to time, it is true, they were entrusted with
important missions--to raise money, to preach a crusade, to influence
monarchs, to convert or to persecute the heretic; St. Bernard, the
founder of Clairvaux and the incarnation of the monastic spirit, was for
twenty years (1133-1153) the oracle to whom Pope after Pope resorted for
direction. But even in St. Bernard's time, and even when the reigning
Pope was his nominee or pupil, there was a certain divergence between
the theories for which he stood and the actual policy of the Curia. It
was, for example, against his better judgment that he organised the
Second Crusade in deference to the express commands of Pope Eugenius
III; and on the other hand, the Papacy preserved towards the pioneers of
scholasticism an attitude which he thought unduly lenient. Rome was more
broad-minded than Clairvaux, more alive to realities, more versed in
statecraft and diplomacy; while Clairvaux fostered a nobler conception
of the spiritual life, and was more consistent in withholding the Church
from secular entanglements. The qualities which made the monk
invaluable as a leader of public opinion also made him an incalculable
and intractable factor in political combinations. He was most useful as
the missionary and the embodiment of an ecclesiastical idea which,
unconsciously perhaps but none the less emphatically, attacked the
foundations of the secular State. The founders of the great orders,
whether they found their inspiration (with St. Bernard) in the Rule of
Benedict, or rather strove (with St. Francis) to follow literally the
commission imposed by Christ upon his twelve Apostles, returned upon a
past in which the State and Caesar were nothing to the Christian but
"the powers that be." The monastic or mendicant order, designed as an
exemplar of the Christian society, was a voluntary association governed
by the common conscience, as expressed in the will of representative
chapters and an elected superior. The absolute obedience of the monk or
friar was self-imposed, the consequence of a vow only accepted from one
who had felt the inner call and had tested it in a severe probation. In
virtue of his self-surrender he became dead to the world, a citizen of
the kingdom of heaven upon earth. No secular duties could be lawfully
demanded of him; he had migrated from the jurisdiction of the State to
that of God. The religious orders claimed the right to be free from all
subjection save that of the Church, as represented by the Pope. Though
far from holding the State a superfluous invention--they regarded it as
a Divine instrument to curb the lawless passions of the laity--they
demanded that all other ministers of God, from the archbishop to the
humblest clerk in orders, should enjoy the same exemption as themselves
on condition of accepting the same threefold obligation--Poverty,
Obedience, Chastity. It was consequently in the religious orders that
the chief movements for reforming the medieval clergy found their
warmest partisans; and the same school supplied the theoretical basis
for each new claim of privilege. The Orders were the salt of the Church,
so long as they preserved the spirit of their founders. But they were
also responsible for the insanely logical pretensions which characterise
the Church's policy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and it
was with reason that Wycliffe, the greatest medieval critic of the
sacerdotal theory, attacked the Mendicant Orders as typifying all that
was worst in the hierarchy of his age.

Naturally enough the monastic spirit has been often treated as an
absolute antithesis to the lay statesmanship which it so bitterly
opposed. But in fact they sprang from the same root of a discontent,
which was wholly reasonable, with the anarchical conditions of the early
Middle Ages. The religious reformer, stunned and bewildered by the
wrong-doing of men and the manifest inequity of fortune, argued that a
world so irredeemably bad must be regarded as an ordeal for the faith of
the believer. Man was afflicted in this life that he might realise the
supreme value of the life to come. He was surrounded by evil that he
might learn to hate it. He was placed in society that he might school
himself to control the immoral and non-moral instincts which society
calls into play. The political reformers, at least in their more
disinterested moods, were animated by the same belief in an all-wise
Providence, but drew different deductions from it. The God who created
man as a social being could not have intended that society should remain
perpetually unjust. He must have intended that it should approximate,
however imperfectly, to the idea of justice which He has revealed. The
State is a divine institution, and therefore man must do his best to
reform the State. The lay ruler, as the representative of justice, is
God's steward and even in a sense His priest. Frederic II, whom his
contemporaries denounced as an apostate and blasphemer, only expressed
in a particularly daring form the tradition of medieval royalty when he
styled himself, or allowed his flatterers to style him, the Corner-Stone
of the Church, the Vicar of God, the New Messiah.

Similarly, the heretics and rationalists, whose criticism was even more
dangerous to the Church than the open violence of the State, had more in
common with their opponents than we should infer from the duration and
the character of the disputes which they provoked. In the background of
medieval history, and developing _pari passu_ with the feud of
Papacy and Empire, there was a war, of arguments and persecution,
against free thought, in which the religious Orders figured as the
protagonists of orthodoxy. Berengar of Tours, who challenged the
doctrine of transubstantiation and so endangered the basis of the
sacerdotal theory, lived in the age when a regenerated Papacy was arming
for the war on secularism; it was Hildebrand himself who pronounced the
final sentence on the first of the heresiarchs. The age of Henry V and
of the Concordat of Worms saw the rise of a medieval Puritanism in
Languedoc and Flanders. Between the Concordat of Worms and the schism of
Frederic Barbarossa lies the age of Abelard,--the metaphysical
free-lance who made philosophy the talk of the street-corner and the
marketplace,--and of Arnold of Brescia, who demanded that the Church
should be reduced to apostolic poverty. To the youthful days of Frederic
II belong the Albigensian Crusade, the futile campaign of authority
against Averroes and Aristotle, the heresy-hunts of volunteer
inquisitors in Italy and Germany. While the same Emperor was trying
conclusions with Innocent IV, the Papal Inquisition became a permanent
branch of the ecclesiastical executive; and the Mendicant Orders, who
supplied the inquisitors, simultaneously took upon themselves the harder
task of converting the universities from the cult of Aristotle to a
belief in the Christian scholasticism formulated by Albertus Magnus and
Aquinas. The weapons of this interminable and many-sided controversy
were as rude as the age which forged them: on the one side, coarse
invective and irreverent paradox; on the other, scandalous imputations,
spiritual censures, the sword, the prison, and the stake. For the
medieval attitude towards heterodoxy was unflinching and uncompromising.
To remain sceptical when the Church had defined was as the sin of
witchcraft or idolatry. The existence of the rebel was an insult to the
Most High, a menace to the salvation of the simple; he was a diseased
limb of the body politic, calling for sharp surgery. And yet these
nonconformists were anything but unbelievers. The free-thinkers of the
schools, apart from a few obscure eccentrics, only desired to find a
rational basis for the common creed or to eliminate from it certain
articles which, on moral grounds and grounds of history, they
stigmatised as mere interpolations. The offence of Berengar was that he
attacked a dogma which had been an open question within the last two
hundred years; of Abelard, that he offered his own theories on some
points in regard to which the orthodox tradition was mute or
inconsistent. As for the sectaries, their offence usually consisted in
exaggerating one or other of three doctrines which the Church
acknowledged in a more moderate shape. Either, like the Poor Men of
Lyons, they desired that the Church should return to primitive
simplicity; or, like the Albigeois, they harped upon the Pauline
antithesis between the spirit and the flesh, pushed to extremes the
monastic contempt for earthly ties, and exalted the Christian Devil to
the rank of an evil deity, supreme in the material universe. Or,
finally, with Joachim of Corazzo and the Fraticelli, they developed the
cardinal idea of the more orthodox mystics, the belief in the inner
light, and taught that the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life. In
short, all were guilty, not of repudiating Christianity, but of
interpreting the Christian doctrine in a sense forbidden by authority.
Beneath all differences there was unity; behind the controversy,
agreement. There are no feuds more bitter, no recriminations more
unjust, than those of men who look at the same faith from different

In justice to the official Church it must be remembered that, whether
she had to deal with kings or heretics, the peculiar nature of her power
forced her to work through instruments which she was powerless to keep
in hand, and in which she had placed her confidence with the temerity of
desperation. There can be no greater contrast than that between the
Hildebrandine programme and the measures by which it was incompletely
realised. To enforce the celibacy of the clergy the mobs of Milan and
the South-German cities were commissioned to rabble married priests. To
make an end of simony the German princes were encouraged in a policy of
provincial separatism, a premium was placed on perjured accusations, and
a son was suborned to betray his father. That the tide of the
Albigensian heresy might be stemmed, Innocent III launched against the
brilliant civilisation of Languedoc the brutal and avaricious feudalism
of the North. Sometimes the error was recognised after it had been
committed. But no experience could cure the official Church of the
delusion that every volunteer must be credited with the purest motives
until the contrary is proved. The same ignorance of human nature
characterised her methods of administrative routine. Even if, for the
sake of argument, we admit the truth of the principles which were
alleged to justify the Papal Inquisition, or the censorship of the
bishops' courts, or the appellate jurisdiction of the Curia, the fact
remains that these institutions were so organised and so conducted that
the most flagrant abuses were only to be expected. A system which, if
staffed with saints, would have been barely tolerable, became iniquitous
when it was committed to the charge of petty officials, ill-paid, ill-
supervised, and ill-selected. To a great extent the crimes and follies
of the medieval Church were those of a complex bureaucracy in a
half-civilised state. Such a system fails through being too ambitious;
the founders have neither the technical experience requisite for a
satisfactory arrangement of details, nor the subordinates who can repair
the defects of the machine by the efficiency and honesty with which they
tend it; and yet because the aim is grandiose, because the supporters of
the scheme proclaim their readiness and their capacity to regenerate the
State and human nature, they are hailed as the prophets of a new order;
they are allowed to plead the excellence of their motives in extenuation
of all and any means; and they end by creating new evils without
appreciably diminishing the old.

But if the Church as a scheme of government was a doubtful blessing to
those who gave her their allegiance, the Church as a home of spiritual
life was invested with a grandeur and a charm which were and are
apparent, even to spectators standing at the outer verge of her domain.
We may compare the religion of the Middle Ages to an alpine range, on
the lower slopes of which the explorer finds himself entangled in the
mire and undergrowth of pathless thickets, oppressed by a still and
stifling atmosphere, shut off from any view of the sky above or the
pleasant plains beneath. Ascending through this sheltered and ignoble
wilderness, he comes to free and windswept pastures, to the white
solitude of virgin snowfields, to brooding glens and soaring peaks robed
in the light or darkness of a mystery which he is as little able to
define as to resist. Far below him, illimitably vast and yet infinitely
little, extends the prospect of the lower levels which, whether
beautiful or sordid, are too remote to seem a part of the new world in
which he finds himself, and strike his senses only as a foil and a
background to the severer hues, the more majestic lines and contours of
the snow-capped mountain-ranges. On such heights of moral exaltation the
medieval mystics built their tabernacles and sang their
_Benedicite_, calling all nature to bear witness with them that God
in His heaven was very near, and all well with a universe which existed
only to fulfil His word. It was a noble optimism; and those who embraced
it are the truest poets of the Middle Ages, none the less poets because
they expressed their high imaginings in life instead of language.
Philosophers they neither were nor sought to be; the temperament which
feels the mystery of things most keenly is not that which probes into
the how and why; but the world of their dreams was at least superior to
ours in being founded upon an ever-present and overwhelming reverence
for the truth behind the veil. The vision of the mountain-peaks, however
clouded, was worth the toil of the ascent; and there was reason in the
docility with which the vulgar bowed themselves before the forms and
ceremonies and rules of outward conduct which the visible Church
prescribed; since they believed that so they might find the way, in this
life or a better, to that higher rule of service, exemplified in the
finest characters of their experience, which as Scripture said and the
saints testified was perfect life and freedom. It is no wonder that they
were disposed to go further still; to stake their earthly fortunes and
the future of society on the bidding of those among the elect who from
time to time descended among them, like Moses from the mountain, with
transfigured faces and the message of a new revelation. And if the
result was sometimes calamitous or pitiable, there were compensating
gains; a matter-of-fact prosperity is not altogether preferable to
enlistment in the forlorn hope of idealism. Had medieval society been
more consistently secular and sceptical, it might have been more
prosperous, more stable, the nursery of more balanced natures and the
theatre of more orderly careers. But there would have been the less to
learn from the ethical and political conceptions of the age. What
appeals to us in the medieval outlook upon life is, first, the idea of
mankind as a brotherhood transcending racial and political divisions,
united in a common quest for truth, filled with the spirit of mutual
charity and mutual helpfulness, and endowed with a higher will and
wisdom than that of the individuals who belong to it; secondly, a
profound belief in the superiority of right over might, of spirit over
matter, of the eternal interests of humanity over the ambitions and the
passions of the passing hour. Without Christianity these articles of
faith could scarcely have passed into the common heritage of men; and,
without the Church, it is in the last degree improbable that
Christianity would have survived that age of semi-barbarism in which the
foundations of the modern world were laid.



Between the years 1100 and 1500 A.D. the state-system of Europe passed
through changes amounting in their sum-total to a revolution. But the
changes which endured, whether they affected political boundaries or
constitutions, came about by slow instalments. At no stage of the
development was there any general cataclysm such as had followed the
dissolution of the Frankish Empire, and was to follow the advent of
Napoleon. New ideas matured slowly in the medieval mind; by the twelfth
century the forces making for social stability had grown until they
balanced those of disruption; and it was only in the age of the
Renaissance that the equilibrium was again destroyed. In the interim the
vested interests of property and privilege, of religious and secular
authority, presented a firm front to the anarchists and radicals. The
Jacquerie in France and Wat Tyler's followers in England, the Albigeois
of Languedoc and the Hussites of Bohemia, were overwhelmed by armies of
conservatives spontaneously banded together in defence of the
established order;--while this spirit prevailed among the ruling
classes, there was little fear that a revolution of any kind would be
effected by a sudden stroke. As in domestic politics, so too in
international relations, these solidly established states were
habitually inert, strong in defence, but irresolute and sluggish in
attack. The age produced no conqueror to sweep through Europe like a
whirlwind, because the implements of conquest on the grand scale had
either been destroyed or had not yet come into existence. The peoples of
Europe had emerged from the nomadic stage of culture, and they were not
yet organised as so many armed camps. The feudal host was hard to
mobilise, harder still to keep in the field, and at the best an
unmanageable weapon; a standing army of mercenary soldiers would have
called for taxation heavier and more regular than any ruler dared to
demand, or any people could afford to pay. The wars of the Middle Ages
have therefore, with few exceptions, a stamp of futility and pettiness.
Ambitious enterprises were foredoomed to failure, and powers apparently
annihilated by an invading host recovered strength as soon as it had
rolled away. In short, on the European and on the national stage alike,
medieval politics meant the eternal recurrence of the same problems and
disputes, the eternal repetition of the same palliatives and the same
plan of campaign. It is true that political science made more progress
than the art of war. But substantial reforms of institutions were
effected only in a few exceptional communities--in Sicily under the
Normans and Frederic II, in England under Henry II and Edward I, in
France under Philip Augustus and his successors. Even in these cases the
progress usually consists in elaborating some primitive expedient, in
developing some accepted principal to the logical conclusion. The more
audacious innovators, a Montfort, an Artevelde, a Frederic II, were
tripped up and overthrown as soon as they stepped beyond the circle of
conventional ideas. It will therefore suffice for our present purpose to
state in the barest outline the leading events of international
politics, and the chief advances in the theory of government, which
signalised the Middle Ages.

Extensive diplomatic combinations, though continually planned, seldom
came to the birth and very rarely led to any notable result. The
existence of some common interests was recognised; no power viewed with
indifference any movement threatening the existence of the Papacy, which
represented religious unity, or of the crusading principalities which
formed the outer bulwark of Western Christendom; the principle of the
Balance of Power, though not yet crystallised into a dogma, was so far
understood that the inordinate growth of any single power alarmed the
rest, even though they stood in no imminent danger of absorption.
Therefore whenever the Empire gained the upper hand over the Church,
whenever a new horde of Asiatics appeared on the horizon, whenever
France seemed about to become a province of England, or Italy a province
of France, the alarm was sounded by the publicists, and there ensued a
general interchange of views between the monarchies; treaty was piled on
treaty, alliance parried with alliance, as industriously as at any time
in modern history. But the peoples seldom moved, and the agitation of
the ruling classes effervesced in words. It is altogether exceptional to
find two of the greater states uniting for the humiliation of a third,
as England and the Empire united against Philip Augustus of France. Few
medieval battles were so far-reaching in their consequences as Bouvines
(1214), to which England owes her Magna Carta, Germany the magnificent
and stormy autumn of the Hohenstauffen dynasty, France the consolidation
of her long-divided provinces under an absolutist monarchy.

At ordinary times there were in medieval Europe two groups of states
with separate interests and types of polity. They were divided from one
another by a broad belt of debatable territory, extending from Holland
to the coast of Provence--the northern lands of the Carolingian Middle

To the west lay the monarchies of the Iberian peninsula, of France,
England, and Scotland; connected by their interest in the trade of the
Atlantic seaboard, by a common civilisation in which the best elements
were of French origin, but most of all by their preoccupation with the
political questions arising out of England's claim to a good half of the
territory of France. The rivalry of these two great powers, which dated
in a rudimentary form from the Norman Conquest of England, became acute
when Henry II, heir in his mother's right to England and Normandy, in
that of his father to Anjou and Touraine, married Eleanor the duchess of
Aquitaine and the divorced wife of Louis VII (1152). Developing from one
stage to another, it alternately made and unmade the fortunes of either
nation for four hundred years, until Charles VII of France brought his
wars of reconquest to a triumphant conclusion by crushing, in Guyenne,
the last remnants of the English garrison and of the party which clung
to the English allegiance (1453). In the interval there had been sharp
vicissitudes of failure and success: the expulsion of the English by
Philip Augustus from Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou; the
capture of Calais and recovery of Aquitaine by Edward III and the Black
Prince; the almost complete undoing of their work by Charles V and
Bertrand Duguesclin; the union of the French and English crowns (1420),
resulting from the victories of Henry V and the murderous feud of the
Burgundian and Armagnac factions; the apparition of Jeanne d'Arc as the
prophetess of French nationalism, and the regeneration of the French
monarchy by a new race of scientific statesmen. All the West had been
shaken by this secular duel. For Scotland it spelled independence, for
Navarre the loss of independence; in Castile it set on the throne the
new dynasty of Trastamare; to Aragon the result was the appearance of a
new rival in Mediterranean commerce, the frustration of hopes which had
centred round Provence and Languedoc, the imperilling of others which
were fixed on Italy. With each successive triumph of French over English
arms, the influence of France penetrated farther to the south and east;
and by the marriages or military successes of princes of the French
blood-royal, new territories were joined to the sphere of the western
nations. Under St. Louis the counties of Toulouse and Provence became
French appanages; his brother, Charles of Anjou, added to Provence the
derelict kingdom of Naples; and Sicily only escaped from the rule of the
Angevins by submission to the House of Aragon. After the victories of
Charles V the Valois dukes of Burgundy, supported by the influence now
of France and now of England, sketched the outlines of a new Middle
Kingdom, stretching from the Jura to the Zuyder Zee, and chiefly
composed of lands which had hitherto been attached to the Empire.

[Illustration: France]

The eastern group of nations is widely different in character. It
includes a greater number of states, even if we omit from the reckoning
the great German principalities which were, by the end of the Middle
Ages, all but sovereign powers; and it is less homogeneous in culture.
The Empire forms the centre of the group, and round the Empire the minor
states are grouped like satellites: on the west, Savoy and Provence;
south of the Alps, Venice, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Sicily--
the last-named independent until 1194, and the private property of the
Hohenstauffen from that date till 1268; on the east the kingdoms of
Hungary and Bohemia and Poland, and the Russian principalities; on the
north the three Scandinavian powers. Large as it is, this group only
includes one state of the first rank; for the Norman kingdom, though a
masterpiece of constructive  statesmanship, was important in European
politics rather as a second and a makeweight than as a principal, and
would have been more admired than feared but for the accidents which
made the Norman alliance so valuable to the Holy See. When Naples and
Sicily were held by German Emperors, the Empire towered like a colossus
above the states of Scandinavia, the Slav and the Magyar. But even
without this support, the Empire might have continued to dominate two-
thirds of Europe, if the imperial resources had not been swallowed up by
the wars of Italy, and if the Emperors who came after the interregnum
had given the national interest priority over those of their own
families. In fact, however, the mischief of the Mezentian union between
Italy and Germany survived their separation; as in western so in central
Europe, the course of political development was largely determined by
the persistent and disastrous efforts of a Teutonic to absorb a Latin
nationality. But whereas the English attacks on France were directly
responsible for the growth of a French national state, the failure of
Germany left Italy but half emancipated from the foreigner, and more
disintegrated than she had been at any period in the past. And whereas
England, by her failure, was reduced for a while to a secondary rank
among the nations, the purely German Empire of the fifteenth century was
still the leading power east of the Rhine. This was partly the result of
calamities to neighbouring nations which could neither be foreseen or
obviated. While Western Europe was shielded, in the later Middle Ages,
from the inroads of alien races, Eastern Europe felt the impact of the
last migratory movements emanating from Central Asia and the Moslem
lands. In the thirteenth century the advance guards of the Mongol Empire
destroyed the medieval kingdom of Poland, and reduced the Russian
princes to dependence upon the rulers of the Golden Horde. In the
fifteenth, the advance of the Turks along the Danube completed the ruin
of the Magyar state, already weakened by the feuds of aristocratic
factions. But, apart from these favourable circumstances, the resources
of Germany were irresistible when they could be concentrated. Twice
after the Great Interregnum the integrity of the Empire was threatened
by the Bohemian kingdom. On the first occasion, when Ottocar II had
extended his power into the German lands between Bohemia and the
Adriatic, he was overthrown by Rudolf of Hapsburg at the battle of the
Marchfeld (1278); and a new Hapsburg principality was formed out of the
reconquered lands to guard the south-east frontier against future
incursions of Czech or Magyar. On the second, when the Hussite levies
carried their devastations and their propaganda into all the
neighbouring provinces of the Empire (1424-1434), crusade after crusade
was launched against Bohemia until the heretics, uniformly victorious in
the field, were worn out by the strain of their exertions against
superior numbers, and all the more moderate spirits recognised that such
triumphs must end in the ruin and depopulation of Bohemia. The case was
the same in the Baltic, where the struggle with Danish ambitions was
left to the princes and the free towns. Waldemar II (1202-1241), who had
planned to revive the Scandinavian Empire of the great Canute, the
conqueror of England, saw his ambitious edifice crumble to pieces while
it was still in the making; even the Union of Kalmar (1397), by which
the crowns of Norway and Sweden and Denmark were vested in a single
dynasty, could not save the rich prize of the Baltic trade from falling
into German hands. Germany, even when ill-governed and a prey to the
ambitions of provincial dynasties, was still _grande chose et
terrible_, as more than one political adventurer learned to his cost.
The energy, the intelligence and the national spirit of a great people
made good all the errors of statesmen and all the defects of

[Illustration: Holy Roman Empire under Frederick Barbarossa]

Late in the fifteenth century the Germans were mortified to discover
that, although a nation, they had not become a state. They found that
the centre of political power had shifted westward, that the destinies
of Europe were now controlled by the French, the English and the
Spaniards. These nations had perfected a new form of autocracy, more
vigorous, more workmanlike in structure, than any medieval form of
government. Germany in the meanwhile had clung to all that was worst and
feeblest in the old order; her monarchy, and the institutions connected
with it, had been reduced to impotence. The same process of decay had
operated in the minor states of the eastern group. In Scandinavia, in
Hungary, in the Slavonic lands, the tree of royal power was enveloped
and strangled by the undergrowth of a bastard feudalism, by the
territorial power of aristocracies which, under cover of administrative
titles, converted whole provinces into family estates and claimed over
their tenants the divine right of unlimited and irresponsible
sovereignty. To investigate all the reasons for the political
backwardness of these eastern peoples would carry us far afield. But one
reason lies on the surface. Outside the free towns they had produced no
middle class; and their towns were neither numerous nor wealthy enough
to be important in national politics. They were not even represented in
the national assemblies. In consequence the sovereigns of these states
were obliged to govern by the help of aristocratic factions; to purchase
recognition by the grant of larger and larger privileges; and for the
sake of power to strip themselves of the resources which alone could
give their power any meaning. But good government in the Middle Ages was
only another name for a public-spirited and powerful monarchy. Such
monarchies existed in the western states; they rested upon the shoulders
of a middle class of small landowners and wealthy merchants, too weak to
defend themselves in a state of nature, a war of all against all, but
collectively strong enough to overawe the forces of anarchy.

It may seem strange that this class, which desired strong government for
purely practical and material reasons, should uniformly have accepted
hereditary kingship as the one form of government practicable in a large
community. Even where there was the warrant of tradition for recourse to
free election, the better governed states preferred that the supreme
power should pass automatically from father to son. The explanation is
to be found in the motives which prompted the Athenians, under widely
different circumstances, to choose their magistrates by lot. The grand
danger, to be avoided at all costs, was that a disputed succession would
leave the daily work of government in abeyance and open the door for
destructive party-conflicts. If continuity and stability of government
were assured, all would go well. The work of a ruler was not supposed to
demand exceptional abilities; he existed to do justice, to secure every
man in the possession of his own, to apply the law without respect of
persons. For these purposes a high sense of duty was the main requisite.
The wisest heads of the community would be at the king's service for the
asking; he could hardly go wrong if he heard attentively and weighed
impartially the counsel which they had to offer. Admitting that he would
be all the more efficient for possessing some practical capacity, some
experience of great affairs, was it not probable that a man of average
intelligence, who had been trained from his youth to fill the kingly
office, would acquit himself better than some self-made adventurer of
genius, who had paid more attention to the arts of winning place and
popularity than to the work that would be thrown upon him when he
reached the goal of his ambition? When we further recollect that
hereditary kingship was sanctioned by use and wont, was the most
intelligible symbol of national unity, and possessed as of right all the
prerogatives which were necessary for effective government, it is no
wonder that even those to whom doctrines of popular sovereignty and a
social contract were perfectly familiar acquiesced contentedly in a form
of government which the modern world regards as unreasonable and
essentially precarious.

But a monarchy, however energetic, however public-spirited, was
powerless until based on the firm foundations of an organised executive,
an expert judicature, and an assembly representative in fact if not in
form. No medieval state was so uniformly fortunate as Germany in finding
kings of exceptional character and talent. Yet Germany, from the
beginning to the end of the Middle Ages, was badly governed. This was
not due solely to the circumstance that the German monarchy was in
principle elective. It is true that the German crown was often purchased
by ill-advised concessions; but a greater source of weakness was the
inability of the Emperors to make the most of the prerogatives which
they retained, and which the nation desired that they should exercise.
Imperial justice was dilatory and inefficient because the imperial law
court followed the Emperor; because the professional was liable to be
overruled by the feudal element among the judges; because the rules of
procedure were uncertain and the decisions based not upon a scientific
jurisprudence but on provincial custom. The Diet of the Empire was weak,
both in deliberation and as a legislature; because the towns and the
lesser nobility had no respect for resolutions in framing which they had
not been consulted. The executive was necessarily inefficient or
unpopular; because the highest offices were claimed as a right by
princes who, if laymen, owed their rank to the accident of birth or, if
ecclesiastics, could only be good servants of the State by becoming
unworthy servants of the Church. The Emperor who confided in his natural
counsellors was ill-served; and if he relied upon new men, selected
solely for their loyalty and qualifications, he incurred the reproach of
tyranny or submission to unworthy favourites. The evils thus rooted in
the German constitution had existed at an earlier date in France and
England. To eradicate them was the object of the constitutional changes
devised by the Plantagenets in England, by the later Capetian kings in
France. And in essentials there is a strong likeness between the work of
the two dynasties. But in England the policy of construction was earlier
adopted, proceeded more rapidly, and produced an edifice which was more
durable because established on a broader basis.

The first stage of the policy was to organise the administration of
those parts of each kingdom which, not having been absorbed in
privileged fiefs, were still subject to the royal justice and
contributory to the royal revenue. Owing to the foresight of William the
Conqueror, there were few such fiefs in England; only in two palatine
earldoms (Durham and Cheshire), on the Welsh and northern borders, and
on the lands of a few prelates, was the king permanently cut off from
immediate contact with the subject population. With these exceptions the
face of England was divided into shires, and administered by sheriffs
who were nominees of the Crown, dismissable at pleasure. The shires
again were divided into hundreds governed under the sheriff by
subordinate officials. But for the most important duties of executive
routine the sheriff alone was responsible; he collected the revenue, he
led the militia, he organised the Watch and Ward and Hue and Cry which
were the medieval equivalents for a constabulary; finally, he presided
over the shire moot in which the freeholders gathered at stated
intervals to declare justice and receive it. The shires were
periodically visited by Justices in Eyre (analogous to the Frankish
_missi_) who heard complaints against the sheriff, inspected his
administration, tried criminals, and heard those civil suits
(particularly cases of freehold) which were deemed sufficiently
important to be reserved for their decision. These itinerant
commissioners were selected from the staff of the royal law court
(_Curia Regis_), a tribunal which, in the thirteenth century, was
subdivided into the three Courts of Common Law and acquired a fixed
domicile at Westminster. The shire courts and the royal court were alike
bound by the statute-law, so far as it extended; but, in the larger half
of their work, they had no guides save the local custom, as expounded by
the good men of the shire court, and the decisions recorded on the rolls
of the royal court. From the latter source was derived the English
Common Law, a system of precedents which, in spite of curious subtleties
and technicalities, remains the most striking monument of medieval
jurisprudence. In and after the fourteenth century it was supplemented
by Equity, the law of the Chancellor's court, to which those suitors
might repair whose grievances could not be remedied at Common Law, but
were held worthy of special redress by the king in his character of a
patron and protector of the defenceless. Lastly, on the fiscal side, the
work of the sheriffs and of the judges was supervised by the Exchequer,
a chamber of audit and receipt, to which the sheriffs rendered a
half-yearly statement, and in which were prepared the articles of
inquiry for the itinerant justices. Originally a branch of the Curia
Regis and a tribunal as well as a treasury, the Exchequer always remains
in close connection with the judicial system, since one of the three
Courts of Common Law is primarily concerned with suits which affect the
royal revenue. Such was the English scheme of administration, and
_mutatis mutandis_ it was reproduced in France. Here the royal
demesne, small in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was enormously
enlarged by the annexations of Philip Augustus and the later Capets, who
brought under their immediate control the larger part of the Angevin
inheritance, the great fiefs of Toulouse and Champagne, and many smaller
territories. To provide for the government of these acquisitions, there
was built up, in the course of the thirteenth century, an administrative
hierarchy consisting of provosts, who correspond to the bailiffs of
English hundreds, of _baillis_ and _senechaux_ who resemble the English
sheriffs, of _enqueteurs_ who perambulate the demesne making inspections
and holding sessions in the same manner as the English Justices in Eyre.
All these functionaries are controlled, from the time of St. Louis, by
the _Chambre des Comptes_ and the _Parlement_, the one a fiscal
department, the other a supreme court of first instance and appeal.
Within the _Parlement_ there is a distinction between the Courts of
Common Law and the _Chambre des Reqeutes_ which deals with petitions by
the rules of Equity.

The vices of both systems were the same. The local officials were too
powerful within their respective spheres; neither inspectors nor royal
courts proved adequate as safeguards against corruption and abuses of
authority, which were the more frequent because the vicious expedients
of farming and selling offices had become an established practice.
Otherwise the English system was superior to that of France,
particularly in making use for certain purposes of local representatives
as an additional check upon the servants of the Crown. The English shire
was in fact as well as in law a community with a true corporate
character (_communitas_), and possessed a public assembly which was
a law court and a local parliament in one. Though the ordinary suitor
counted for little, the secondary landowners, united by ties of local
sentiment and personal relationship, took a lively interest and an
active share in the business of the shire court, upholding the local
custom against sheriffs and judges, serving as jurors, as assessors of
taxes, as guardians of the peace, and (from the fourteenth century) as
petty magistrates. Whether elected by their fellows or the nominees of
the Crown, these functionaries were unpaid, and regarded themselves as
the defenders of local liberty against official usurpations. In France
the district of the _bailli_, and still more that of his subordinate the
_prevot_, was an arbitrary creation, without natural unity or corporate
sentiment; there was therefore no organised resistance to executive
authority, and no reason why the Crown should court the goodwill of the
landed gentry. In the lower grades of the Plantagenet system a powerful
middle class served a political apprenticeship; under the Capets all
power and responsibility were jealously reserved to the professional
administrator. In England the next step in constitutional development,
the addition to the national assembly of a Third Estate, was brilliantly
successful, since the House of Commons was chiefly recruited from
families which had long been active partners in local administration. In
France the Third Estate, though constantly summoned in the fourteenth
century, proved itself politically impotent.

Both in France and in England (after 1066) the national assembly began
as a feudal council, composed of the prelates and barons who held their
lands and dignities directly from the Crown. But that of France was,
before the twelfth century, seldom convened, sparsely attended, and
generally ignored by the greater feudatories, a conference of partisans
rather than a parliament. In England the Great Council of the Norman
dynasty, inheriting the prestige and the claims of the Anglo-Saxon
Witenagemot, held from the first a more respectable position. Even a
William I or a Henry II scrupulously adhered to the principle of
consulting his magnates on projects of legislation or taxation; under
the sons and grandson of Henry II the pretensions of the assembly were
enlarged and more pertinaciously asserted. The difficulties of the Crown
were the opportunity of Church and Baronage. The Great Council now
claimed to appoint and dismiss the royal ministers; to withhold
pecuniary aid and military service until grievances had been redressed;
to limit the prerogative, and even to put it in commission when it was
habitually abused. In fact the English nobility of this period, thwarted
as individuals in their ambitions of territorial power, found in their
collective capacity, as members of the opposition in the Council, a new
field of enterprise and self-aggrandisement. In France there was no such
parliamentary movement, because the fundamental presupposition of
success was wanting; because it was hopeless to appeal to public
opinion, against a successful and venerated monarchy, in the name of an
assembly which had never commanded popular respect. Under these
circumstances it was natural that very different consequences should
ensue in the two countries, when the reformation of their national
assemblies was taken in hand by Edward I and his contemporary, Philippe
le Bel. The problem before the two sovereigns was the same--to create an
assembly which should be recognised as competent to tax the nation. The
solutions which they adopted were closely alike; representatives of the
free towns were brought into the Etats Generaux, of free towns and
shires into the English Parliament; in each case a Third Estate was
grafted upon a feudal council. But the products of the two experiments
were different in temper and in destiny. The States General, practically
a new creation, neither knew what powers to claim or how to vindicate
them. They turned the power of the purse to little or no account; they
discredited themselves in the eyes of the nation by giving proofs of
feebleness and indecision in the first great crisis with which they were
called to deal, the interregnum of anarchy and conspiracy that ensued
upon the capture of King John at Poitiers (1356). The result was that
the States General, occasionally summoned to endorse the policy or
register the decrees of the monarchy, remained an ornamental feature of
the French constitution. In England, on the other hand, the Commons
accepted the position of auxiliaries to the superior Estates in their
contests with the Crown; and the new Parliament pursued the aims and the
tactics of the old Great Council, with all the advantages conferred by
an exclusive right to grant taxation. For more than two hundred years it
was a popular assembly in form and in pretension alone. The most active
members of the Lower House were drawn from the lower ranks of the
territorial aristocracy; and the Commons were bold in their demands only
when they could attack the prerogative behind the shield of a faction
quartered in the House of Lords. But the alliance of the Houses
transformed the character of English politics. Before Parliament had
been in existence for two centuries, it had deposed five kings and
conferred a legal title upon three new dynasties; it had indicated to
posterity the lines upon which an absolutism could be fought and ruined
without civil war; and it had proved that the representative element in
the constitution might overrule both monarchy and aristocracy, if it had
the courage to carry accepted principles to their logical conclusion.

Even in England a medieval Parliament was scarcely a legislature in our
sense of the word. Legislation of a permanent and general kind was an
occasional expedient. New laws were usually made in answer to the
petitions of the Estates; but the laws were framed by the King and the
Crown lawyers, and often took a form which by no means expressed the
desires of the petitioners. The most important changes in the law of the
land were not made, but grew, through the accumulated effect of judicial
decisions. The chief function of Parliaments, after the voting of
supplies, was to criticise and to complain; to indicate the shortcomings
of a policy which they had not helped to make. Except as the guardians
of individual liberty they cannot be said to have made medieval
government more scientific or efficient. In the fifteenth century the
English Commons criticised the government of the Lancastrian dynasty
with the utmost freedom; but it was left for Yorkist and Tudor despots
to diagnose aright the maladies of the body politic. Englishmen and
Frenchmen alike were well advised when, at the close of the Middle Ages,
they committed the task of national reconstruction to sovereigns who
ignored or circumvented parliamentary institutions. A parliament was
admirable as a check or a balance, as a symbol of popular sovereignty,
as a school of political intelligence. But no parliament that had been
brought together in any medieval state was fitted to take the lead in
shaping policy, or in reforming governmental institutions.



Neither the internal development of the medieval state nor the
international politics of medieval Europe can be explained without
constant reference to class distinctions. First, there is a sharp line
dividing each state horizontally and marking off the privileged few from
the unprivileged many, the rulers from the ruled. Below the line are the
traders, artisans, and cultivators of the soil; above it the landlords,
the officeholders, and the clergy. If an industrial community, here and
there a Milan or a Ghent, succeeds in asserting political independence,
the phenomenon is regarded as anomalous and revolutionary; still graver
is the head-shaking when mere peasants, like the Swiss, throw off what
is called their natural allegiance. And such cases of successful
rebellion are rare. It is true that in England, in France, and in the
Spanish kingdoms there are privileged towns which receive the right of
representation in national assemblies; but this concession to the power
of the purse is strictly limited; the spokesmen of the burgesses are not
invited to express opinions until asked for subsidies or military aid.
Government is the affair of the King and the privileged classes. But
again there is a division within the privileged classes, a vertical line
of cleavage between the various grades of the lay and clerical
aristocracies. The prelate and the baron, the knight and the priest,
harmonious enough when it is a question of teaching the unprivileged
their place, are rivals for social influence and political power, are
committed to conflicting theories of life. The ecclesiastic, enrolled in
an order which is recruited from every social grade, makes light of
secular rank and titles; he claims precedence over every layman; he
holds that it is the business of the Church to command, of princes to
obey. The lay feudatory, born into a hereditary caste of soldiers,
regards war as the highest vocation for a man of honour, is impatient of
priestly arrogance, and believes in his heart that the Church ought not
to meddle with politics. It would be a mistake to think of the two
privileged classes as always at strife with one another and their social
inferiors. But the great wars of Pope and Emperor, the
fourteenth-century revolts of French and English peasants, are not
events which come suddenly and unexpectedly; each such outbreak is like
the eruption of a volcano, a symptom of subterranean forces continually
in conflict. The state of peace in medieval society was a state of
tension; equilibrium meant the unstable balance of centralising and
centrifugal forces. And this was one reason why wars, condemned in the
abstract by the Church, were frequently regarded with favour by sober
statesmen and by idealists. In more ways than one a successful war might
serve to heal or salve the feuds of rival classes. It offered an outlet
for the restless and anarchic energies of feudalism; sometimes it ended
in conquests with which the landless could be permanently endowed. It
might offer new markets to the merchant, a field of emigration to the
peasant, a new sphere of influence to the national clergy. Better still,
it might evoke common sentiments of patriotism or religion, and create
in all classes the consciousness of obligations superior to merely
selfish interests.

Such statecraft may perhaps seem rude and barbarous to us. The idea of a
nation as a system of classes, and of national unity as a condition only
to be realised when all classes combine for some purpose extraneous to
the everyday life of the nation, is foreign to our thought. We believe
that by making war upon class privileges we have given to the State a
less divided and more organic character. We maintain that the State
exists to realise an immanent ideal, which we express by some such
formula as "the greatest good of the greatest number." But we are still
so far from a reconciliation of facts with theories that we must
hesitate before utterly condemning the medieval attitude towards war. In
place of classes we have interests, which are hard to unite and often at
open variance. Our statesmen balance one interest against another, and
consider war legitimate when it offers great advantages to the interests
most worth conciliating. Nor have we yet succeeded in giving to the
average citizen so elevated a conception of the purpose for which the
State exists that he can think of national policy as something different
from national selfishness. It is easier to criticise the enthusiasts who
urged medieval nations to undertake "some work of noble note," remote
from daily routine, than it is to discover and to preach a nobler
enterprise on behalf of a less visionary ideal. It helps us to
understand, though it does not compel us to accept, the medieval theory,
when we find modern poets and preachers glorifying war as a school of
patriotism or of national character.

Wars of conquest were less frequent in the Middle Ages than we might
expect, and were usually waged on a small scale. Their comparative
infrequency, in an age of militarism, must be explained by reference
both to current morality and to economic conditions. For an attack upon
a Christian power it was necessary that some just cause should be
alleged. Public opinion, educated by the Church to regard Western
Christendom as a single commonwealth, demanded that some respect should
be shown to the ordinary moral code, even in international relations.
Furthermore the medieval state, loosely knit together and bristling with
isolated fortresses, showed in defeat the tenacious vitality of the
lower organisms, and could not be entirely reduced without an
expenditure, on the invader's part, which the methods of medieval
state-finance were powerless to meet. Edward I failed to conquer the
petty kingdom of Scotland; and the French provinces which were ceded to
Edward III escaped from his grasp in a few years. The profitable wars
were border wars, waged against the disunited tribes of Eastern Europe,
or the decadent Moslem states of the Mediterranean. And such wars were
of common occurrence, sometimes undertaken by the nationalities most
favourably situated for the purpose, sometimes by self-expatriated
emigrants in search of a new home.

Thanks to the teaching of the Church, a large proportion of the border
wars were converted into Crusades for the propagation of the faith or
the extermination of the unbeliever or the defence of holy places. Often
enough the religious motive was introduced as an afterthought, and gave
a thin veil of respectability to operations which it would otherwise
have been difficult to excuse. In some cases, however, those who
enlisted as the soldiers of the Church were sacrificing their material
interests for the good, as they supposed, of their own souls and the
Christian commonwealth. There was nothing essentially Christian in this
spirit of self-devotion; it had long been epidemic in the Mohammedan
world, and accounts for the most successful encroachments of Islam upon
Europe and the Eastern Empire. The impulse affected Western Christendom
for a relatively short period of time, only once or twice producing
movements at all commensurable with those which had emanated from
Arabia, Asia Minor, and Africa, and leading to no conquests that can
rank in magnitude with the caliphates of Bagdad, Cordova, and Cairo. But
the Christian Crusade is in one sense more remarkable than the
Mohammedan Jehad. Western Europe had long ago emerged from the nomadic
stage, and even the ruling classes of Western Christendom, cosmopolitan
as they may seem to us, were attached to their native soil by many ties.
If the upheaval was smaller in the West than in the East, the material
to be set in motion was more stubborn and inert, the prizes to be held
before the eyes of the believer were more impalpable and dubious. There
were ventures near at hand for which the Church could find volunteers
without the slightest difficulty. But those which she was more
particularly bent on forwarding were distant, hazardous, and irksome;
the majority of the men who went on her great Crusades had no prospect
of any temporal advantage. In the end those enterprises to which she
gave her special countenance proved the least successful. It was not in
the Eastern Mediterranean but in Spain, in Lower Italy, and in Central
Europe, that the frontiers of Western Christendom were permanently
advanced. For the historian, however, the failures have an interest not
inferior to that of the more productive enterprises.

The age of border wars and border colonies begins long before the
appearance of a true crusading spirit. In German history the movement of
expansion dates from Henry the Fowler; when he captured Brandeburg (928)
and annexed the heathen tribes between the Elbe and Oder, he inaugurated
a policy of settlement and colonisation which the German Margraves of
those regions were to pursue, slowly and methodically for more than two
hundred years. In its later stages the policy was sometimes assisted by
Crusaders; from the first it made many converts to Christianity, and was
furthered by the foundation of frontier sees and churches subject to the
German archbishops of Hamburg and Magdeburg. But the men who directed
the policy were purely secular and selfish. The greatest of them, Henry
the Lion, Duke of Saxony from 1142 to 1180, and Albert the Bear,
Margrave of Brandenburg from 1134 to 1170, concentrated their energies
upon the development and extension of their principalities, exploited
the Slavs, plotted against one another and their Christian neighbours,
neglected national interests, and frankly made the Church the instrument
of their ambitions. Yet in the craft of state-building they showed
exceptional sagacity, enlisting as their allies the traders of the
Baltic, the peasants of North Germany and the Low Countries. Under their
rule and that of their most successful imitators, the Teutonic Knights
in Prussia, cities such as Lubeck (founded 1143) and Dantsic (colonised
1308) became centres of German trade and culture; while the open country
in the basins of the Elbe and Oder was covered with newly settled
villages of German immigrants. The effects of this colonisation have
extended far beyond the lands immediately affected and the limits of
medieval history. The new colonies laid the foundations of modern
Prussia and modern Saxony. To their existence is due the connection of
Poland and Bohemia with the state system of medieval Europe, and the
consequent division of the Slavonic peoples into a western and an
eastern group; the westward expansion of the Russian Empire was
forestalled and prevented by these early pioneers of German and of Roman
influence. Only less important was the German advance along the Danube,
from the river Inn to Vienna and the Hungarian frontier, which was
mainly directed by successive heads of the family of Babenberg
(971-1246), first as Margraves and afterwards as Dukes of Austria. The
Hapsburg power, like that of the Hohenzollerns, is partly an inheritance
from medieval frontiersmen who drove a German wedge into the heart of a
Slavonic territory.

The history of these German colonies often reminds us how naturally such
business ventures came to be regarded as a species of crusade. In 1147 a
large body of German pilgrims, enlisted for the Second Crusade, were
allowed to fulfil their vows by serving against the Slav in the armies
of Saxony and Brandenburg. The Babenberg dukes, grown weary of their
monotonous work on the Danube, roamed eastward to conquer Egypt or
Palestine, westward to exterminate the Albigensians of Languedoc and the
infidels in Spain. And when we turn from Germany to the Spanish
peninsula, the alliance between religious fervour and commercial
enterprise is still more striking. The Christian reconquest of Spain and
Portugal began two or three generations before the Council of Clermont;
but, from the first, the southward advance against the rulers of Cordova
foreshadows the age of the Crusades. In Spain, as in the German marks,
the pioneers of Christendom were often ruffianly, and always fought with
an eye to the main chance. Among them are mere desperadoes like the Cid
Campeador (_d._ 1099), who serves and betrays alternately the Christian
and the Moorish causes, founds a principality at the expense of both
religions, but is finally claimed as a hero and a martyr by his native
Castile, because he has the good fortune to die in her allegiance. Many
_conquistadores_ of more reputable character settled down contentedly
amongst a tributary and unconverted Moorish population, whose manners
and vices they adopted. But in Spain the racial antipathies of Moors and
Christians were always aggravated by religious zeal. Several times it
seemed as though Spanish Christianity was in danger of complete
extinction. In the tenth century two great rulers of Cordova,
Abderrahman III and Al Mansur, drove back the Castilians to the northern
mountains and raided the inmost recesses of the Christian territories.
Somewhat later the Wild Berber hordes of the Almoravides and the
Almohads, crossing from Africa to usurp the Ommeiad dominions and carry
on the holy war with greater energy, aroused new fears and provoked in
the threatened kingdoms a fanaticism equal to their own. The Spanish
Christians appealed for help to their northern neighbours; armies of
volunteers from Normandy, from Aquitaine, and from Burgundy, poured over
the Myrenees to strike a blow for the Cross against the Crescent, and
incidentally to gain rich spoils or found a colony. The movement was
early taken under the patronage of Rome. Gregory VII offered papal
commissions to the immigrants, on condition that they would hold their
conquests as vassals of the Holy See (1073). And thenceforth each new
enterprise against the Moors was officially recognised as a service to
the Catholic Church.

Still, even in Spain, the tendency was for material ambitions to gain
the upper hand. All classes in the Christian kingdoms benefited by the
wresting of a new province from the infidel. The nobles received new
fiefs; the burghers flocked into the cities evacuated by the Moors, or
were encouraged, by large grants of privileges, to build new cities;
round the cities clustered communities of peasants, who joyfully
exchanged the barren security of the northern uplands for the risks and
the prizes of the river valleys. No kings were so popular as those who
planned and carried to a successful conclusion these ventures for the
common good. One such ruler, James the Great of Aragon, has left us in
his memoirs a faithful and instructive account of the use to which he
and his subjects turned one of these so-called Crusades. At six years of
age he had succeeded to a divided kingdom and the shadow of a royal
prerogative. At fourteen he began a hard struggle, for the mastery of
his rebellious barons and cities, which lasted five years and earned for
him more credit than substantial success. When at length the rebels sued
for peace, he was obliged to grant it without exacting compensation; the
Crown remained as poor after the victory as before it. A little later he
conceived the idea of attacking the Moors in the Balearic Isles, "either
to convert them and turn that kingdom to the faith of our Lord, or else
to destroy them." He propounded his plan to the Cortes (1229); and in a
moment dissension was changed to harmony, civil indifference to loyal
enthusiasm. The barons said that to conquer a Saracen kingdom set in the
sea would be the greatest deed done by Christians for a hundred years.
They would give an aid, they would find contingents, they would serve in
person; always on the understanding that each should share in the spoils
proportionately to the size of his contingent. The Archbishop of
Tarragona, speaking for the clergy, said that now at last his eyes had
seen the salvation of the Lord. He could not serve; he was too old for
that; but his men and his money were the King's for this sacred
undertaking, and he would gladly give a dispensation to any bishop or
abbot who would go with the King; always provided that the clerical
Crusaders were to share in the booty on the same terms as the laymen. To
the same purpose, with the same stipulation, spoke the trading-cities.
The expedition was a brilliant success. Majorca was reduced by the
efforts of the whole expedition; Minorca capitulated without a struggle;
and the Archbishop of Tarragona, by special licence from the King,
conquered Ivica for himself. But the Moors were neither extirpated nor
converted. Those of Majorca became the tenants of the Crusaders between
whom that island was divided. Those of Minorca paid an annual tribute to
the King. In both islands they were guaranteed the use of their native
customs and religion. Surveying the Crusade many years after it was
completed, James expresses the highest satisfaction with the results.
From Minorca he receives not only the agreed tribute, but whatever else
he chooses to demand. As for Majorca, the Lord has so increased it that
it produces twice as much as in the days of Moorish rule.

We are now in a position to understand the complex nature of the motives
which animated the preachers, the generals, and the soldiers of the
Crusades; for these enterprises are a continuation on a greater scale of
the German, Spanish, and Norman wars of conquest.

Like the wars of Spain, the Crusades were suggested by fears of a
Mohammedan advance; the signal for the First Crusade was given by the
successes of the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan and Malik Shah
(1071-1092). These uncivilised and fanatical usurpers of the caliphate
of Bagdad overran the whole of Asia Minor and of Syria in twenty years;
they dealt a heavy blow to the Eastern Empire on the field of Manzikert
(1071), and founded in Asia Minor the sultanate of Roum; they
established smaller principalities in Syria. The rulers of
Constantinople sent urgent appeals for help to the West; and pilgrims
returning from the Holy Places complained loudly of the insults and
persecutions by which the conquerors manifested their hostility to the
Christian faith. Gregory VII, immediately after his election, was moved
to plan an expedition for the defence of the Eastern Empire, which he
justly regarded as the bulwark of Europe against Islam. He issued a
general appeal to the princes of Europe for help and personal service;
he even proposed to accompany the relieving force. But Gregory, though
not without imagination, lacked the power of firing popular enthusiasm,
and aroused mistrust by the admission that he intended using the Crusade
in the first instance against the Normans of Lower Italy. Few volunteers
were forthcoming, and his own energies were diverted to another channel
by the outbreak of the War of Investitures. It was left for Urban II to
revive Gregory's project, in another and more popular form, at a moment
when Henry IV seemed a beaten and a broken man, and the unity of the
Seljuk power had been shattered by the death of Malik Shah. In reality
the danger from the Turks was then a thing of the past; but, even if
Urban was correctly informed of their weakness, it needed little
knowledge of history to warn him that one aggressive movement of Islam
only died away to be succeeded by another. Like Gregory, he desired to
strengthen the Eastern Empire; but his plan was new--to found a Latin
state in Palestine for the defence of Jerusalem and the south-east
Mediterranean. As with the First Crusade, so with the Second and the
Third; each was a response to new victories of Mohammedan princes. The
Second Crusade (1147) was proclaimed in consequence of the fall of
Edessa, the north-east outpost of the Latin Kingdom. The Third (1189)
was designed to recover Jerusalem and to cripple the sultanate of Egypt,
which, under Saladin, seemed on the eve of absorbing not only Syria, but
also Asia Minor and the Euphrates valley. The signal failure of an
expedition for which armies were raised by the Emperor, the Kings of
France and England, and many lesser princes, left the power of Egypt an
object of almost superstitious awe. The Fifth Crusade (1217) and the
Seventh (1248) expended their best energies in fruitless and disastrous
descents on the Nile Delta.

To this view of the Crusades, as a business of high political
importance, the best of the laymen who led the Christian armies were
sincerely attached. Many others, equally sincere but governed more by
sentiment than reason, were moved by the desire to see the Holy Places
and secure them as the common property of Christendom. But the most
pertinacious and successful of the commanders went eastward, as their
kinsmen went across the Elbe or the Alps or the Pyrenees, to carve out
for themselves new principalities at the expense of Byzantine or
Saracen, it did not matter which. Naturally the sovereign princes who
took the Cross do not fall into this category. For them an expedition
might be either an adventure, or the grudging fulfilment of a penance,
or a bid for the esteem of their subjects; but it was often a conscious
sacrifice of self-interest and national interests to a higher duty.
However low their motives, it would not have paid them to turn aside
from the task enjoined upon them by European opinion. Even Frederic II,
the least Christian of Crusaders, who only accomplished his vow to put
the Pope his adversary in the wrong, fulfilled his undertaking to the
letter before he ventured to return. But a Crusade controlled by men of
lower rank tended to be a joint-stock company of freebooters. For every
Crusade the Pope was, to a certain point, responsible. He issued the
appeal, he tuned the pulpits; he invited contributions from the laity
and exacted them from the national churches; he provided for the
enforcement by ecclesiastical censures of all Crusading vows. In the
choice of leaders, and in the preliminary councils of war, he had a
claim to be consulted. One or more of his legates normally accompanied
the armies. But, if the generals chose to ignore his suggestions and to
override his representatives, after the march had once begun he was
powerless. Usually, it is true, his views would appeal to the rank and
file, exempt as they were from the temptations presented to their
leaders. But the Common soldiers could only leave the host if they had
the means of paying for themselves the expenses of the homeward journey.
Often they protested against the uses to which their arms were put; but
very seldom were they able to enforce a change of policy.

[Illustration: The Crusaders]

These general statements may be illustrated from the First and Fourth

Godfrey of Bouillon and his fellow-leaders, when they passed through
Constantinople (1097), did homage to the Emperor Alexius for any lands
that they might conquer. The transaction may not have been voluntary;
this homage was the price demanded for a safe-conduct through the Greek
dominions. But later events proved that the chief Crusaders were
resolved not to hold their conquests as fiefs from the Holy See, for
which they were nominally fighting. As they drew near to the Holy Land,
it became clear that the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre was a subordinate
consideration with them. At Tarsus and at Antioch there were fierce
disputes between rival claimants to the conquered territories. Baldwin
separated from the main army to found a seignory for himself at Edessa.
Bohemund remained behind, when Antioch was once assigned to him, for
fear that any rival should rob him of his prize. Raymond of Toulouse
turned aside to reduce Tripoli, and was with the greatest difficulty
constrained to continue the march. The final result of a war in which
the loss of men must be reckoned by tens of thousands was the
establishment of the four states of Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and
Tripoli. To extend the boundaries of these colonies, and to consolidate
them under the suzerainty of the Crown of Jerusalem, was the work of
their rulers for the next eighty years. These princes were esteemed as
champions of the Cross; to assist them in the defence of their
territories the military orders of the Temple and the Hospital were
founded under the sanction of the Church; apart from the great relieving
expeditions, such as those of 1101 and 1147 and 1189, annual fleets of
soldier-pilgrims arrived to take part in the operations of the year. But
there is little to show that either the Kings of Jerusalem or their
great vassals ever justified their position by pursuing an unselfish
policy. That the dominions which they ruled were imperfectly colonised
cannot be made a reproach against them; only for knights and merchants
had the Holy Land any attractions. But the inevitable weakness of the
Frankish states was aggravated by their feuds and reciprocal ill-faith.

More than a hundred years elapsed before another expedition of this kind
started for the East. The Second Crusade, inspired by St. Bernard acting
as the half-reluctant spokesman of the Holy See, was ill-organised,
ill-directed, and so disastrous a failure that it was followed by a
perceptible reaction against the idealistic policy of which it was the
outcome. It revealed to Europe the inefficiency of forces raised with
more regard to the pious motives than to the efficiency of the recruits,
and laid bare the calculating selfishness of the Latin principalities.
But the principal leaders, Louis VII of France and the Emperor Conrad
II, could not be charged with insincerity. They made gross mistakes, but
were faithful to the purpose with which they set out. Similarly in the
Third Crusade, though part of the failure can be directly attributed to
the national jealousies of the various contingents, and to the quarrels
of Richard I with the more important of his colleagues, the recovery of
Jerusalem remained from first to last the dominants object of the army.
There were cases of petulance, of unnecessary meddling in the squalid
disputes of the Latin settlers, of readiness to depart on the first
honourable excuse. But there was no disposition to make the pilgrimage a
commercial undertaking. It was otherwise in 1203 when the soldiers of
the Fourth Crusade set out from Venice, leaving behind them the papal
legate and openly defying the injunctions of Innocent III, whose appeal
to Christendom was nominally the warrant for their venture.

No kings sailed with them; from the first the movement had been in the
hands of turbulent feudatories, inspired by chivalry rather than
religion. Their leader, Boniface of Montferrat, the patron of all the
troubadours and knights-errant of the South, was a sworn friend of the
Pope's worst enemy, Philip of Suabia, the brother and successor of the
Emperor Henry VI. Boniface had been elected to the command without the
sanction of the Pope; and from an early date was in league with Philip
to turn the Crusade against Constantinople. This plan was for a time
concealed from the army, in which a majority of the common soldiers were
bent upon recovering the Holy Sepulchre. But the nobles, with whom lay
the last word, were ready for whatever adventure the course of events
might suggest. Their original hope was to conquer Egypt,--an infinitely
more tempting prey than Palestine, where the chief fruits of any success
would be claimed by the remnants of the standing garrison. To obtain
ships from Venice they undertook on her behalf the siege of Zara; their
first feat of arms was the conquest of a Christian city, the only
offence of which was that it disputed the Venetian supremacy in the
Adriatic. At Zara they were invited by Philip's envoys to attack
Constantinople, to overthrow the Emperor Alexius III, and to substitute
for him another Alexius, son of the deposed Isaac Angelus and
brother-in-law to Philip. The proposal received enthusiastic support
from the Venetians, whose great commercial interests in the Greek
capital had been often assailed by the fanaticism of the city-populace.
The Venetians held the key of the situation, since, if they withdrew
their transports, the army could neither go forward nor return in
safety; and the nobles, who needed little persuasion, were able to
convince the more earnest pilgrims that Philip's offer must of necessity
be accepted, though Alexius III was on friendly terms with the Pope and
had been expected to assist the Crusade. To palliate the flagrant
treachery a promise was exacted from the pretender that, when installed
as Emperor, he would help in the conquest of Egypt with men, money, and

On July 17th, 1203, the army entered Constantinople, after a short
siege. Alexius III escaped by flight and Alexius IV was installed in his
place. Still the Crusaders lingered in a city the outward splendour of
which appealed irresistibly to their imagination and their avarice. The
winter, they said, was approaching, and their candidate far from secure
upon the throne; they would wait for the spring. Before that date, and
in spite of their countenance, he had fallen before a nationalist
rebellion (January 1204); and the army hailed the opportunity of
reuniting the Greek Church to Rome and partitioning the Greek Empire
among themselves. An agreement was made with the indispensable Venetians
for the election of a Latin Emperor, to be endowed with one-fourth of
the provinces; the booty of Constantinople and the remaining lands of
the Empire were to be divided equally between the Venetians and the
remaining leaders. For the second time Constantinople was carried by
storm; a fire destroyed a large part of the city; and the Crusaders
completed the devastation by three days of indiscriminate plunder and
massacre. Neither the treasures of the churches nor the priceless
monuments and statues of the public places were spared. The sum-total of
the booty was thought to be equal to all the wealth of Western Europe;
but when it came to the official division all that the knights obtained
was twenty marks apiece; ten were the portion of a priest, and five of a
foot-soldier. The other articles of the treaty, which had been referred
for form's sake to the Pope, were executed without awaiting his reply.
The Venetian candidate, Count Baldwin of Flanders, was elected to the
Empire and received the Asiatic provinces. Boniface of Montferrat
obtained, as a solatium, the kingdom of Thessalonica, embracing roughly
the modern provinces of Thessaly and Macedonia; his followers were
allowed to establish themselves by degrees in Central Greece and the
Morea. The Venetians took the islands of the Ionian Sea, the Cyclades,
and Aegina and Negropont; the provinces of Albania, Acarnania, and
Aetolia; the city of Adrianople with the adjacent territories, and other
possessions of less note.

The Pope, compelled to recognise accomplished facts, merely demanded
three concessions: that the Latin faith should be established as the
official religion of the Empire; that the possessions of the Greek
Church should be handed over to the Latin clergy; and that the Crusaders
should continue their pilgrimage at the end of a year. Only the first of
these points was conceded. The Crusade of Innocent III ended, like that
of Urban II, in the creation of a string of feudal states and commercial
factories. But in 1204 there was hardly the attempt to justify what had
been done in the name of religion. The Venetians behaved from first to
last as commercial buccaneers; a fickle and frivolous ambition, rather
than calculating villainy, characterised their highborn associates.
Plainly, these were the only materials available for a Crusade; the
collapse of the Crusading policy was near at hand.

A few romantic careers illuminate the monotonously sordid annals of the
Latin Empire, threatened from within by the feuds of the rival baronial
houses, from without by the Bulgarians, the Greek despots of Epirus, and
the Greek Emperors of Nicaea. Henry of Flanders, the second Latin
Emperor (1205-1216), the one constructive statesman produced by the
Crusade; William of Champlitte, who overran the Morea with but a hundred
knights, was hailed by the oppressed Greeks as a liberator, and founded
the Principality of Achaea (1205-1209) only to lose it through the
treachery of a lieutenant; Niccolo Acciajuoli (+1365), the Florentine
banker, who rose to be Lord of Corinth, Count of Malta, and
administrator of Achaea--these were men who on a greater stage might
have achieved durable renown. But the subject Greeks were not to be
Latinised by a handful of energetic seigneurs and merchants; one by one,
as opportunities occurred, the provinces of the Latin Empire deserted to
the allegiance of Nicaea. Adrianople and Thessalonica were lost in 1222,
the Asiatic territories by 1228; in 1261 Michael Palaeologus recovered
Constantinople, which was to remain the possession of his family until
the capture by the Turks (1453). In Greece and the islands the colonists
maintained a foothold long after the fall of the Latin Empire. But the
last of the Frankish Dukes of Athens fell, with all his chivalry,
fighting against the Catalan Company (1311), a horde of freebooters
half-Christian and half-Turkish in its composition. Achaea, after years
of ignominious subjection to the Angevins of Naples, was similarly
conquered by the Company of Navarre (1380). In a maimed condition the
two states survived these calamities; but the Greeks and the Venetians
were enabled to absorb the richest parts of the peninsula; the last
traces of Frankish blood and institutions were swept away by the Turkish
conquerors of the fifteenth century. Before these grim invaders the
Venetians and the Knights of St. John, the last representatives of
Western power, slowly evacuated the Eastern Mediterranean.

The story of this brilliant and ephemeral episode in the expansion of
Europe is closed by the Venetian peace of 1479 with the Sultan, and by
the fall of Rhodes, the stronghold of the Knights, before the Turkish
arms (1522). But in Malta, down to the commencement of the ninteenth
century, might be seen the strange and scandalous spectacle of a
Crusading Order, emancipated from the old vows and obligations, yet
still allowed to exercise a medieval tyranny in memory of the services
which their remote predecessors had rendered to the Cross. The other
Orders had vanished, not less ignominiously, at earlier dates. The
Templars, who had evacuated Syria to live on their European estates and
ply the trade of bankers, were proscribed on charges of heresy, by Pope
Clement V (1312), to gratify the brutal greed of a French king. The
Teutonic Knights, better counselled by their Grand Master, Hermann of
Salza (1210-1239), looked about for a new field of conquest; they found
it on the lower Vistula, where they settled with the countenance of the
Pope, the Emperor, and the King of Poland to reduce the heathen Slavs.
But, embroiled with their Polish protector by their territorial
ambitions, they were reduced, after 1466, to narrow boundaries in East
Prussia; and hardly a voice was raised in their favour when the last
Grand Master, a Hohenzollern by birth, became a Protestant and
bequeathed the lands of the Order to his own family (1525).

From the adventures of the Frankish colonists we turn with relief to
notice the last expiring flashes of enthusiasm in the armies equipped
for their relief. The Germans and Hungarians of the Fifth Crusade (1217)
showed more sincerity than worldly wisdom in delegating the chief
command to a papal legate, and in following to the bitter end his
reckless plan of campaign. Inspired with the hope of expelling Islam
from the Eastern Mediterranean, they would neither be content with
Damietta, which they conquered, nor with the Holy Land, which was
offered in exchange by the Sultan of Egypt. They would have all or
nothing, and they lost even Damietta in the end. Their discomfiture by
the Nile floods, which they had forgotten to take into their reckoning,
was a tragi-comic ending to a campaign in which greed and discord had
been expiated by extraordinary daring. St. Louis, in his Crusades of
1248 and 1270, flew in the face of common prudence and was thought a
pious fool, even by the barons who were too loyal to disobey his call.
But it is such follies that make history something better than a Newgate
Calendar of the crimes of common sense. He was no general; his attack on
Egypt was foredoomed to failure, and was made more disastrous by neglect
of ordinary precautions; that on Tunis, undertaken in the heat of an
African summer, ended, as might have been expected, in his own death and
the decimation of his followers by disease. Even as an example these
expeditions were all but fruitless. Yet, when the worst has been said of
the Crusades and those who led them, there are moments in the quixotic
career of St. Louis which haunt the fancy and compel our admiration: his
bearing when, a captive of the Egyptian Sultan, he refused, even under
threats of torture, to barter a single Christian fortress for his
freedom; his lonely watch in Palestine, when for three years he
patiently awaited the reinforcements that were never sent; his
death-bed, when he prayed for strength to despise good fortune and not
to fear adversity. Ideals may fade, but the memories of those who
realise them are the world's abiding possession.

If we ask what results of a more tangible sort remained from the
Crusades, when the service of the Holy Sepulchre had become a legend,
and the name of Crusade a byeword for whatever enterprises are most
impractical and visionary, the answer must be, that they affected Europe
chiefly in a negative sense and through indirect channels. They helped
to discredit the conception of the Church militant; they relieved Europe
of a surplus population of feudal adventurers; and they accelerated the
impoverishment of those other feudal families which took an occasional
part in the Holy War. It has never been proved that they led to
wholesale emancipation of serfs, or wholesale enfranchisement of towns;
though it is true that all such expeditions meant an increased demand
for ready money. To Western civilisation they contributed very little,
the truth being that there was little to be learned from the Mohammedans
in Syria. It is through Palermo and Toledo, where Christianity and Islam
met and mixed in peaceful intercourse, that the knowledge of Arab
science and philosophy filtered into Europe. The Fourth Crusade was an
exception to the general rule; it is no accident that Venetian art and
architecture developed rapidly when the republic was brought into close
and friendly relations with Constantinople. Through these relations, and
through studying the masterpieces brought home by the Crusaders,
Venetian artists recovered the antique feeling for pure form, and
founded a school which was classical in spirit, Christian only in
external and unessential features. The learning and literature which the
Eastern Empire inherited from Rome and Athens had no attraction for
Venetian merchant princes. But north of the Alps, and especially at
Paris, the thirteenth century saw an increasing interest in the Greek
language, and in Greek books, so far as they were useful to theologians
or scholastic disputants. Politically the Fourth Crusade is memorable
for its effect upon the Italian balance of power. It gave Venice an
advantage over her commercial rivals, Pisa and Genoa, which she never
lost; it gave her also a unique position as an intermediary between East
and West; and it placed her at the head of an empire comparable to those
of Athens and of Carthage, the great sea-powers of antiquity. But the
nation-states of Northern Europe, who had borne the burden and heat of
the Crusades, were less affected by them, politically or otherwise, than
were the city-states of Italy.



Scattered broadcast over the territory of every medieval state are towns
endowed with special privileges, and ruled by special magistrates. Some
of these towns--particularly in Italy, Southern France, and the
Rhineland--stand on the sites, and even within the walls, of ancient
_municipia_, those miniature Homes which the statecraft of the
Empire had created as seats of government and schools of culture. But,
even in Italy, the medieval town is indebted to classical antiquity for
nothing more than mouldering walls and aqueducts and amphitheatres and
churches. The barbarians had ignored the institutions of the
_municipium_, though it often served them as a fortress or a royal
residence or a centre of administration. The citizens were degraded to
the level of serfs; they became the property of a king, a bishop, or a
count, and were governed by a bailiff presiding over a seignorial court.
Only at the close of the Dark Ages, with the development of handicrafts
and a commercial class, was it found necessary to distinguish between
the town and the manorial village; and to a much later time the small
town preserved the characteristics of an agricultural society. Many a
burgess supplemented the profits of a trade by tilling acres in the
common fields and grazing cattle on the common pastures; pigs and
poultry scavenged in the streets; the farmyard was a usual adjunct of
the burgage tenement. Whether small or great, the town was a phenomenon
sufficiently unfamiliar to vex the soul of lawyers reared upon Teutonic
custom. They recognised that they were dealing with a new form of
community; but they were not prepared to define it or to generalise
about it. They preferred to treat each town as _sui generis_, an
awkward anomaly, a privileged abuse.

Indeed, definition was no easy matter, for medieval towns differed
infinitely in size, in government, and in the ingredients of their
population. In one respect they are all alike; the most energetic and
influential, though not necessarily the greater number, of the
inhabitants are artisans or traders. But side by side with the
industrial colony stand older interests, which often struggle hard
against the ascendancy of commerce. In the town or near it there may be
an abbey or a castle or a cathedral or a royal palace, to which the very
existence of the burgess community is due. The townsmen, profiting by
the custom and the protection of the great, have grown rich and
independent; they have bought privileges or have usurped them. But they
have still to reckon with the servants, the retainers, and the other
partisans of a superior always on the watch to recover his lost rights
of property and jurisdiction; the forces of the common enemy are
permanently encamped within the walls. Again, if the town lies on a
frontier or in newly-conquered country, it will be as much a fortress as
a mart; a number of the residents will be knights or men-at-arms who
hold their lands by the tenure of defending the town; and these
burgesses will be naturally indifferent to the interests of the traders.
Finally, in the Mediterranean lands, with their long tradition of urban
society, we find the nobles of the neighbourhood resorting to the town,
building town-houses, and frequently caballing among themselves to
obtain control of the town's government. Often a long time elapses
before the class which conceived the idea of municipal liberty is able
to get the better of these hostile forces; and still more often the
hardly-won privileges are wrested from those for whom they were
intended, are cancelled, or are made the monopoly of an oligarchic ring.

Still, the aims of the medieval burgess are more uniform, from one place
to another and from one generation to another, than we might anticipate
in ages when information travelled slowly, and when the relations of
every town to its lord were settled by a separate treaty. In modern
Europe the town is an administrative district of the state, and is
organised upon a standard pattern. In medieval Europe the town-charter
was frequently a compromise with the caprices and the interests of a
petty seignor; and even kings were inclined to deal with the towns which
stood upon the royal demesne in a spirit of the frankest opportunism.
Moreover, the inclination of all lords was to meddle with their
burgesses no further than seemed necessary to ensure the full and
punctual discharge of all services and pecuniary dues. So long as these
were guaranteed, the internal affairs of the town might be left for the
residents to settle as seemed good to them. But, as to the main
conditions of the compact, each of the contracting parties holds
clear-cut and unwavering views. The lords are agreed that privileges of
trade and tenure may safely be granted if the chief magistrates are
nominated by, and accountable to themselves. The townsfolk, on the other
hand, assume that promises of free tenure and free trade will be worth
nothing unless accompanied by the permission to elect all magistrates
and councils.

Sometimes the victory rests with the lord, and sometimes with the
burgesses. Accordingly, there are two kinds of chartered town. The
larger class includes communities enjoying certain privileges under the
rule of seignorial functionaries. A smaller class consists of those
which are not only privileged but "free," that is, self-governing bodies
corporate. The distinction between the two classes is not precise enough
to satisfy a modern lawyer. Often a "free" town is obliged to allow the
lord some voice in the appointment of magistrates; while the humblest
body of traders may enjoy the right of doing justice in a market-court
without the interference of a bailiff. The one class shades off into the
other, if only for the reason that "freedom" is usually won by a gradual
process of bargaining or encroachment on the part of towns which are
already privileged. The higher type is simply a later stage in the
natural course of municipal development.

If we analyse the privileges of those towns which remain in
leading-strings, the first in order of time and of importance is the
town-peace, which only the king or his delegate can grant. Invested with
this peace the town becomes, like a royal palace or the shrine of a
saint, a sanctuary protected by special pains and penalties; the burgess
stands to the king in the same relation as the widow and the orphan; to
do him wrong is an outrage against the royal majesty. Next comes the
right of trade. The burgesses are allowed to commute their servile dues
and obligations for a fixed money-rent, that they may be at liberty for
pursuits more lucrative than agriculture. They also receive a licence to
hold a weekly market, and possibly a yearly fair as well; it is agreed
that all disputes of traders, which arise in fair or market, shall be
decided according to the law of merchants, the general usage of the
commercial world; and a safe-conduct is granted to all strangers who
resort to either gathering for lawful purposes. At first the tolls of
the fair and market are collected by the lord, and the law-merchant is
administered in the court of his bailiff. Often, however, he ends by
leasing both the tolls and the commercial jurisdiction to the townsmen.
When they are permitted (as in Flanders and in England) to form a
merchant-gild, it is with this body that such bargains are concluded;
and the gild usually purchases from the lord a quantity of other
privileges--the monopoly of certain staple industries in the town and
neighbourhood; rights of pre-emption over all imported wares; and the
power of making by-laws to regulate wages, prices, the hours of labour,
and the quality of manufactured goods. Where the lord is a sovereign
prince, he is often induced to make concessions of a wider scope:
freedom from inland tolls and from customs at the seaports; the right of
making reprisals upon native and foreign enemies who rob the merchants
or infringe the privileges of the town; immunity, in civil suits, from
every jurisdiction but that of the town-court.

It would be easy to multiply examples of this type of town, but we can
only mention here a few whose history and customs are particularly
instructive. One of the oldest is St. Riquier in Ponthieu, a notable
instance of an industrial community dating from Carolingian times and
fostered by the policy of a great religious house. The second half of
the eleventh century is remarkable for the speculative acumen displayed
by lay and secular lords in fostering the development of new commercial
centres; the Norman _bourg_ of Breteuil, founded in 1060 by a
seneschal of William the Conqueror, deserves special consideration as a
model extensively imitated in England, Wales, and Ireland; the Suabian
towns of Allensbach and Radolfszell, chartered by the great Abbey of
Reichenau a few years later, are monuments of German seignorial
enterprise. Lorris en Gatinais, a town on the demesne of the French
monarchy, received from Louis VI a set of privileges which became the
standard for the numerous _villes de bourgeoisie_ founded under the
immediate sway of the Capetian dynasty.

But the charters thankfully accepted by new colonies or embryonic
market-centres were insufficient to satisfy the aspirations of older and
greater cities. At the very time when far-sighted seigneurs are
scattering commercial privileges broadcast, there begins among the urban
classes of North France, of Flanders, and of some Italian provinces, an
agitation for more extensive rights, for "free" municipal constitutions
of our second type. In these regions the popular cry is "Commune,"
_novum ac pessimum nomen;_ and it is blended with complaints of
feudal tyranny, which often develop, since the seigneur of the town is
commonly a bishop or an abbot, into complaints against the Church. The
commune is a sworn confederacy (_conjuratio_), which bears some
resemblance both to the fraternities established for the enforcement of
the Truce of God (_supra_, p. 103) and to the merchant-gilds. But
it has also new and striking features. It is formed in defiance of
authority, and for the purpose of seizing rights which are legally
vested in the seigneur or the Crown. It is hostile to the ruling classes
of society; and the object of the members is to establish a republican
form of government within their city. They are largely merchants or
artisans; but they concern themselves with wider interests than those of
trade, and often insist that no man, of whatever avocation, shall remain
in the city unless he joins the commune.

We should be glad to know more of the bold spirits who directed the
communal movement in this early stage. They startled contemporaries by
their radicalism, and their conduct gives the lie to our preconceived
idea that a townsman is a man of peace. These medieval burgesses were
accustomed to defend their rights by force; there is nothing abnormal in
the rule of the merchant-gild of Valenciennes that the gild-brethren
should always bring their weapons with them to the market, and should
ride in armed companies to distant fairs. The Milanese and the men of
Ghent are typical in their greed for empire, in their readiness to
strike a blow for their own profit whenever war is in the land. If the
seigneurs of such cities gave cause for dissatisfaction, they found that
they had brought a hornet's nest about their ears. In the struggle for
liberties the popular party displayed a high courage which rose superior
to defeat, though in the hour of triumph it was too often sullied by
ferocious acts of vengeance. They threw themselves with intelligence and
energy into the feuds of other interests and classes, backing the Church
against the State, the State against the baronage, or the weaker against
the stronger of two rival lords. The policy of the towns was often
double-faced, material and separatist; but it also embodied ideals of
justice and of citizenship which were destined to prevail in the
struggle for existence, and to produce a wholesome reformation in the
structure of society.

The communal programme was not realised in a day; the struggle for free
governments, which began in the eleventh century, was continued into the
thirteenth and fourteenth; and the forces of the movement were already
exhausted in North France and Italy before it reached a head in South
France or in Germany. Naturally, in a conflict waged over so wide an
area for several hundred years, the watchwords were often modified, and
many different patterns of town government were devised. In its later
stages the movement was more peaceful, and the purse was often found a
better argument than the sword; the communal parties ceased to be
democratic, though they never ceased to be republican; and power was
practically if not formally monopolised by a municipal patriciate. The
mass-meeting of the burgesses, all-powerful in the days when the commune
was an organised rebellion, gradually became insignificant in the older
communes, and in many of the late foundations was never recognised at
all, its powers being distributed among the craft-gilds meeting in their
separate assemblies. Concurrent with this diminution in the importance
of the ordinary burgess, there is a tendency to restrict the franchise
by demanding higher and higher qualifications from the candidates. The
commune, in fact, sinks almost to the level of a trades union or a
benefit society, and membership is valued chiefly as a title to
exclusive rights of trade and poor-relief. The political aspect of the
institution is almost forgotten in countries where the power of the
state gains ground upon the centrifugal forces of society; and, in those
communes which preserve the dignity of states, an internecine conflict
between the rich and poor, the rulers and the ruled, usually becomes the
main feature of domestic politics.

In spite of these changes in principles and spirit, the organs of
communal government are almost everywhere the same. The executive power
is vested in a board or committee, called in Italy the _consules_, in
France the _echevins, jurati_, or _syndics_, in Germany the _Rath_
(council). Commonly this board has a president, known in France and
England as the mayor, in Germany as the burgomaster, who represents the
body-corporate in all negotiations with the seigneur or the Crown or
other communes. One or more councils (_sapientes, pares_, etc.) are
often found assisting the executive with their advice; and in the older
type of commune the mass-meeting plays a conspicuous part, not only
electing magistrates and councils, but also voting taxes, auditing the
accounts of expenditure, and deciding on all questions of exceptional
importance. Where the general assembly is non-existent or moribund,
offices are filled either by co-optation or by elections in the
assemblies of the craft-gilds, or are even allowed to descend by
hereditary right. As the popular control over the executive declines,
jealousy of the executive leads to some disastrous changes: to the
multiplication of offices, to the shortening of terms of office, to
the creation of innumerable checks and balances, to the organisation of
this or that powerful interest or party as a state within the state. But
the morbid pathology of the communes in their last stage of decline is a
subject with which we need not here concern ourselves. These intricate
expedients, which are best exemplified in the constitution of
fourteenth-century Florence, weakened the government but could not make
it more impartial or more tolerant. By the end of the Middle Ages, the
ordinary burgess was prepared to hail the advent of a royal bailiff or a
self-constituted despot, as the only cure for the inveterate disorders
incident to freedom.

It is refreshing to turn back from the period of disillusionment to that
of sanguine expectations, and to study the commune in the period of
infancy and growth, when no other refuge from anarchy and oppression was
open to the industrial classes, and when emancipated serfs were still
intoxicated with the dream of liberty.

Curiously enough, the communal revolution began most quietly in the land
where it was ultimately responsible for the fiercest conflicts. The
cities of North Italy gained their first instalments of freedom, at
different periods in the eleventh century, by bargains or by usurpations
of which few records have come down to us. At Pisa we hear of an
agreement between the bishop and the citizens (1080-1085) under which
the latter are permitted to form a peace-association, to hold
mass-meetings, and to elect _consules_ who shall co-operate with
the bishop in the government. At Genoa, on the other hand, the commune
appears (in 1122) after several earlier _conjurationes_ have been
successfully resisted and dispersed. Probably the case of Pisa is more
typical than that of Genoa, since we usually hear of a commune for the
first time when it is already a fully developed institution. In most of
the North Italian cities it was at the expense of a bishop that the
commune was established. Legally the change meant the transference, from
the bishop or another seigneur to the town, of powers derived by
delegation from the Emperor; and it took place in the course of the
Investitures contest, when the bishops, conscious of simony and other
offences which made their position insecure, were more concerned to
dissuade their citizens from siding with the party of ecclesiastical
reform than to fulfil their duties as officials of the Empire. The
Emperors themselves, hard-pressed in the struggle with the Papacy and
eager to purchase support at any price, contributed to the success of
the communal movement by the charters which they bestowed on some
important cities.

In Northern France the situation was less favourable to the towns. Often
indeed it suited the policy of the Capets to weaken an over-mighty
subject by protecting his rebellious serfs. But the bishops and the lay
seigneurs offered a pertinacious opposition to all demands for
enfranchisement; the King was a timid and vacillating ally, always
inclined to desert the cause of the townsfolk for a bribe, always in
fear that the movement might spread to his demesne. Whatever his
sympathies, he could do little, when it came to blows, but stand aside
and watch the conflict. Two examples will serve to illustrate the
general features of these feuds between municipalities and lords.

(1) In 1070 the men of Le Mans were driven to rebellion by the
lawlessness of the local baronage, and by the oppressions of the
governor whom an absentee count had put over them. They formed a
commune, and compelled the more timid of their enemies to swear that
they would recognise it. Others they caught and hanged or blinded; and
they made systematic war against the castles of the neighbourhood, which
they took one by one and burned to the ground--and this, says the
outraged chronicler, in Lent and even on Good Friday! The citizens
themselves thought no season too sacred for such a crusade against
anarchy; once, when their militia went out to attack a castle, the
bishop and his clergy were induced to lead the vanguard, bearing crosses
and consecrated banners. But after a time the fortune of war turned
against the commune; the militia were routed and the count's lieutenant
recovered the castle which dominated Le Mans. The citizens offered their
allegiance to the Count of Anjou, if he would deliver them. He came to
the rescue, the governor fled, the castle was surrendered by the
garrison and at once demolished. But, before the citizens had settled
their future relations with Anjou, an English army appeared, led by
William the Conqueror, their lawful suzerain. The Angevins effaced
themselves; the citizens, making a virtue of necessity, opened their
gates to the King; and since he would only confirm their ancient
liberties, the existence of the commune was abruptly terminated (1073).

(2) At Laon in the next generation there was a wilder and more
calamitous rising against the misrule of the bishop. His name was
Waldric; he had been Chancellor to Henry I of England, and was elected
by the chapter of Laon (1106) because of the great wealth which he had
accumulated, none too honestly, in the course of his short official
career. Much of his private fortune was expended in procuring the Pope's
approval of his very irregular election. The remainder was soon
squandered in extravagant and riotous living; and the bishop then began
to exploit his seignorial rights in Laon. His extortions were the more
resented since he kept no order; the environs of the city swarmed with
brigands and footpads, and kidnappers were allowed to work their will
inside the city. At length the burgesses seized an opportunity, when the
bishop was away in England, to set up a commune. On his return he was
obliged to accept the situation and to recognise the commune in return
for a substantial payment. But he further recouped himself by debasing
the local currency, till it was practically worthless; and he gratified
his spite against the citizens by an atrocious crime. Professing to have
discovered a conspiracy against his life, he arrested the Mayor and
caused the unhappy man to be blinded by a black slave, whom he employed
as his bodyguard and executioner. The friends of the Mayor complained to
the Pope; but the bishop got before them with his own version of the
story, and by the help of bribery secured an honourable acquittal. By
the same arguments he induced the King to quash the charter of the
commune, and then seemed master of the situation. But the men of Laon
conspired to kill him as he was going in state to the cathedral; he was
with difficulty rescued by his knights, and found it necessary to
garrison the episcopal palace with villeins from his country estates.
Arrogant as ever, he boasted of his power and the satisfaction that he
would exact; the time was coming, he said, when his black slave should
pull the noses of the most respected citizens, and the fellows would not
dare to grunt. He was soon undeceived. The mob of Laon stormed the
palace and massacred the defenders; they found the bishop in the
cellars, disguised as a peasant and hiding in an empty cask; they
dragged him forth by the hair of his head, and hacked him to pieces in
the street (1112). When a calmer mood returned, the citizens were
appalled at the prospect of the King's indignation. Those who were
conscious of guilt fled from the city, which was left half-deserted. The
barons and the serfs of the surrounding country swooped like vultures
upon Laon, pillaged the empty houses and fought with one another for the
spoil. For the next sixteen years the remnant of the citizens lived a
miserable existence as the mere serfs of Waldric's successors. In 1128
the King permitted them to associate under a Mayor, for the better
maintenance of the public peace; but they were denied the title of a
commune, and continued to be subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop.

These dramas of oppression and retaliation, though characteristic in the
sense that they reveal the worst faults and the best excuses of the
communal movement, were happily exceptional in Northern France; not
because oppression was rare, but because rebellions defeated their own
object. No seignorial concessions were worth the parchment on which they
were inscribed, without a confirmation from the King; and it was not the
King's interest to condone sacrilege or overt treason against a feudal
lord. Hence the founders of a North French commune preferred to keep
their agitation within the bounds of law. They invoked the King's help,
and he, for an adequate consideration, destroyed seignorial rights by a
few strokes of the pen; which he did the more readily since his lawyers
had formulated the doctrine that communes were tenants of the Crown,
liable to military service and to taxation at the royal pleasure. From
the close of the twelfth century there was a firm alliance between the
Third Estate and the French monarchy. On the whole it was more
advantageous to the King than to the communes. Under St. Louis and his
successors, when the power of the feudatories was broken, the commune
presented itself as an obstacle in the path of central government. On
one pretext or another, here because of faction-fights and there for
mismanagement of the communal finances, the cities lost their charters
and passed under the rule of royal commissioners. It was a poor
compensation that the Third Estate obtained the right of sending
delegates to the States General of the Kingdom. Representation brought
new liabilities without corresponding rights. The Third Estate, holding
jealously aloof from the estates of the nobles and the clergy, was
powerless against a determined sovereign.

The French commune, in fact, was a special expedient for the cure of a
transitory evil. Republican institutions were in France an exotic
growth, inconsistent with national traditions, and only welcome to
classes which had neither the political intelligence nor the material
resources to maintain their own ideals in the face of persistent
opposition. It is significant that the charters of the French communes
were frequently cancelled with the approval of the citizen assemblies.
The situation was different in Flanders and North Italy, where the city
was the natural unit of society, and the burgher class, enriched by
foreign trade, were strong enough to negotiate on equal terms with their
nominal superiors. Cities such as Ghent and Milan were shielded from
contact with the great monarchies until the habit of self-government was
firmly rooted in the citizens. When at last they were confronted with
the absolutist claims of the Capets or the Hohenstauffen, these cities
did not shrink from a direct appeal to arms; and the wars which they
waged for independence are not the least interesting chapter of medieval

Flanders was vexed by a problem of over-population, for which neither
the continuous exodus of emigrants nor the systematic reclaiming of
marsh-lands offered a permanent solution. At an early date her
middle-classes discovered the grand principle of modern industry: that
by manufacturing for foreign markets the production of wealth can be
accelerated to an indefinite degree, and the most prolific communities
maintained in affluence upon a sterile or restricted territory. The
superfluous labour of the Flemish countryside flocked into towns, at the
bidding of Flemish capital, and found remunerative employment in the
weaving trade. From 1127 onwards these towns were bargaining with the
Counts of Flanders for emancipation. Bruges, Ypres, Lille and Ghent were
only the most successful among forty thriving communities which, at the
close of the twelfth century, enjoyed a large measure of self-government
but found their liberties threatened by the King of France. To meet the
danger the Flemish communes embarked on the stormy sea of politics. At
first they fought the King, in the name of the Count, and made their
first appearance as a military power on the disastrous field of Bouvines
(1214), which cost Count Ferrand his liberty and the communes the flower
of their militia. The successors of Ferrand sank deeper and deeper into
dependence on the Capets, until the communes were forced in self-defence
to assume the leading role. At Courtrai (in 1302) they turned the tables
on the Crown, and took an ample vengeance for Bouvines, by a terrible
slaughter of French knights and men-at-arms, demonstrating to a startled
Europe that feudal tactics were obsolete, and that pikemen on foot were
a match for the best mailed cavalry. Cheated by a treacherous Count of
the due fruits of their victory, the Flemish communes nursed their
resentment and waited for new opportunities, while consoling themselves
with savage persecution of the nobles, the clergy, and all others whom
they suspected of French sympathies. The ambition of Edward III came at
length to their assistance; under the leadership of Jacques van
Artevelde, a merchant-prince and demagogue of Ghent, they signed a
treaty with the English King for the invasion and conquest of France
(1339). It was a brief and ill-starred alliance, ruinous to Flemish
trade and abruptly ended by the fall of Artevelde, whom his
fellow-citizens tore limb from limb under the impression that he was
aiming at a tyranny (1345). But events soon justified the bold proposals
of the fallen statesman. In 1369 the heiress of the county was given to
a French prince of the blood; the French party in Flanders reared their
heads; Bruges, to the alarm and fury of all patriots, joined the foreign
cause from jealousy of Ghent. War broke out between the two great
rivals; and the men of Ghent, commanded by Philip, the son of Jacques
van Artevelde, gained the upper hand. Victorious in a pitched battle,
they pursued the beaten army into Bruges, massacred the partisans of
France, and put the city to the sack. No other commune dared to imitate
the policy of Bruges, or to dispute the supremacy of Ghent in Flanders.
The younger Artevelde, like his father before him, stood out for a brief
moment as the dictator of a league of free republics. But the generals
of France had profited by their hard experience in the wars with
England; at Roosebeke (1382) the men of Ghent, charging the French
cavalry "like wild boars," found themselves outflanked, and were crushed
by the weight of superior science and numbers. They fought with the fury
of despair, neither expecting nor receiving quarter. More than twenty
thousand of the citizens fell in the battle, and were left, by the
King's order, unburied on the field. The corpse of Artevelde, who had
been suffocated in the press, was hanged on a gibbet for a warning to
all demagogues. With him died the day-dream of an independent Flanders.
Though her cities remained prosperous, they were destined to be
successively the subjects of the Burgundian, the Spaniard, and the
Austrian. It was only in 1831 that Flanders at length became a province
in a kingdom based on the Walloon nationality.

The Italian communes present, in their sharp vicissitudes of fortune, a
spectacle not less dramatic and infinitely more momentous for the
general history of Europe. In Italy, as in Flanders, the fair ideal of
civic freedom was blurred and defaced by party feuds and personal
ambitions, by the fickleness and passion of the mob, by the lust of
conquest and the fratricidal jealousies of neighbouring republics. Yet
to the influence of this ideal we must attribute both the solidarity of
the Italian city-state and the wealth of individual genius which it
fostered. The Italian Renaissance was little more than the harvest-time
of medieval Italy, the glorious evening of a day which had dawned with
the Fourth Crusade and had reached high noon in the lifetimes of Dante
and Giotto. In the fifteenth century the aptitudes which had ripened in
the intense and crowded life of turbulent republics were concentrated
upon art and letters. The leisure and the security which the specialist
demands were bought by renouncing the Utopian visions of the past. But
the growth of technical dexterity was a poor compensation for the
narrowing of interests; the individual was sacrificed to make the
artist; and art, too, suffered by the divorce from practical affairs. If
we are moved to impatience by the waste of life and energy involved in
the turmoils of medieval Italy, we must remember that in no atmosphere
less electric would the national energies have matured so early, or
piled achievement on achievement with such feverish speed.

[Illustration: (map) The Alps and North Italy]

The city, from time immemorial the meeting-ground for the best elements
in Italian society, had become in the early Middle Ages the one bulwark
between the Italian middle-classes and a particularly lawless form of
feudalism; and it had served this purpose well. The number of these
cities, their population and resources, the luxury of the citizens, the
splendour of the palaces and public buildings, were the admiration of
all Europe at a time when the Flemish burghers still lived in wooden
houses and the Flemish cities were still rudely protected by palisades
and earthen ramparts. Nature had done much for Italy. Thanks to the
central situation of the peninsula, the trade between Northern Europe
and the Mediterranean converged upon her seaports and the Alpine passes
which stand above the valley of the Po. The untiring industry of Italian
capital and labour made Lombardy and Tuscany the homes of textile
manufactures, of scientific cultivation, of banking and finance. In
every port of the Levant, the Aegean and the Black Sea, the shipmen and
merchants of Venice, Benoa, and Pisa hunted for trade like
sleuth-hounds, and fought like wolves to secure a preference or a
monopoly. By land and sea the rule of life was competition for territory
and trade. War was a normal and often a welcome incident in the quest
for wealth; few Italians were free from the belief that conquests are a
short cut to prosperity, that trade follows the flag, and that the gain
of one community must be another's loss. Within the city walls, class
strove with class and family with family. Riot, massacre, and
proscription were the normal instruments of party warfare; minorities
conspired from fear of proscription, and majorities proscribed in order
to forestall conspiracy. Boundless, indeed, was the vitality of
republics which, under such conditions, not only throve, but also held
at bay the ablest sovereigns and the most formidable troops of Europe.

The best and the worst features of the communal regime are illustrated
in the resistance of the Lombard cities to Frederic Barbarossa, the
first Emperor who formulated and applied to Italy a scheme of absolutist
government. Between 1154 and 1176 the Lombards turned the course of
history. They prepared the way for Innocent III to plant his foot upon
the necks of kings, and for Innocent IV to destroy the House of
Hohenstauffen. That this would be the result of their stand for liberty,
neither they nor the other parties to the struggle could foretell. But
on both sides it was felt that the greatest issues were at stake. The
question was whether Italy should, once for all, accept a German yoke;
whether the Papacy should become a German patriarchate; whether free
institutions, both in Church and State, should give place to a

The question did not take this shape from the beginning. When Frederic
first intervened in Lombardy he came to protect the smaller cities
against the imperialist ambitions of Milan, to restore the public peace,
to investigate innumerable complaints of force and fraud. Many of the
cities hailed him as a deliverer; against him were only the clients of
Milan, or those who, on a humbler scale, aspired to emulate her policy.
Even so it was no easy matter to chastise the most insignificant of the
contumacious communes; and Milan, who refused point-blank to give
satisfaction for her lawless acts of conquests, or even to renounce what
she had won, could not safely be attacked.

Two circumstances were against the Emperor. Any war against the Lombards
must be a war of sieges; but the military science of the age was more
skilful in defence than in attack. And no war could be carried to a
prosperous conclusion without Italian help; for it was impossible to
interest the German princes in the wars of Italy, or to exact
substantial help from them. The first of these difficulties Frederic
Barbarossa never overcame. With the second he was more successful in the
middle period of the conflict (1158-1162); and it was then that the
representatives of Lombard independence were most nearly overwhelmed.

In 1158 he came back from Germany to besiege Milan, having carefully
concluded treaties with her rivals in Lombardy, in the Mark of Verona,
in Emilia and the Marches. With their help he starved the impregnable
city into a surrender on terms dictated by himself. In these there was
nothing to excite suspicion or alarm. It was a matter of course that the
Milanese should take the oath of allegiance and emancipate the enslaved
cities. He stipulated further for a palace in the city, and for the
restitution of all imperial prerogatives (_regalia_) which the
consuls had usurped; but the full import of these latter articles only
became clear some two months later, when he announced his future policy
at a Diet held on the plain of Roncaglia. He disclaimed the intention of
ruling as a tyrant, but demanded that his lawful rights should be
respected. As guardian of the public peace, he would permit no private
wars to be waged and no leagues to be formed among the cities. As lord
of the land, he claimed, under the title of _regalia_, a formidable
list of rights and dues which the jurists of Bologna had compiled at the
expense of much historical research. It included the nomination of the
highest magistrate in every city; the supreme jurisdiction in appeals
and criminal causes; the control of mints, markets, and highways; and
rights of purveyance and taxation. Some of these had been in abeyance
from time immemorial; most of them had been exercised by the cities for
more than fifty years. Frederic held that no prescription could avail
against the Crown; and, if this attitude seemed more appropriate to a
Justinian than to a King of the Lombards, there was still something to
be said for his claims on grounds of public policy. Till a strong
monarchy was re-established in Italy, city would oppress city, and the
strong would rob the weak. But such a monarchy could only be maintained
if an ample revenue were assured, and if the powers arrogated by the
communes were curtailed.

Even those cities which had originally supported Frederic began to waver
when they saw the logical consequences of his policy. They were not
disposed to cavil at any measures that he might take against Milan. But
to deal with friend and foe on the same principles struck them as
injustice. To run the risk of enslavement by a neighbour was an evil;
but it was worse to lose for ever the prospect of enslaving others. And
what guarantee was there that the new absolutism, once firmly in the
saddle, would always be benevolent, or would always be represented by
officials of integrity? The claims of the Emperor might be in a sense
historical; but the cities knew, if he did not, that the so-called
restoration of _regalia_ was in effect a revolution. The time was
nearly ripe for general defection; loyalty was strained to
breaking-point when Frederic began to appoint for each city a resident
commissioner (_podesta_), empowered to exercise the regalian rights
and to collect the revenue accruing from them. But Milan was still
feared and hated. When she alleged that her recent treaty of
capitulation was infringed by the decrees of Roncaglia, and when she
expelled the envoys whom Frederic had sent to instal a _podesta_,
the other cities rallied to the imperial cause. There was one notable
exception. The little commune of Crema had been ordered to destroy her
walls; she refused, and made common cause with her great neighbour.

The imperial ban was issued against both cities (April 1159); troops
were hurriedly called up from Germany, and contingents were obtained
from the Italian allies, until Frederic had in the field a force
estimated at 100,000 men. But for six months he was held in check by the
resistance of Crema, which he had planned to reduce with a small force
while the main bulk of his levies were gathering for the siege of Milan.
The attack on Crema was cordially seconded by the citizens of the
neighbouring Cremona, who gave their assistance in diverting the
watercourses which ran through the city, and lent Frederic the most
famous of living engineers to make his siege-machines. Crema was
completely invested; and every known method of assault was tried. The
moat was filled with fascines, and movable towers of wood, so high as to
overtop the battlements, were brought up to the walls; which were also
attacked with rams, and undermined by sappers working in the shelter of
huge penthouses. But breaches were no sooner made than repaired; every
scaling-party was repulsed; and the defenders derided the Emperor in
opprobrious songs. For once in his life he descended to bluster and
ferocious inhumanity. He swore that he would give no quarter, he
executed captives within sight of the walls, and he suspended his
hostages in baskets from the most exposed parts of the siege-towers.
Fortunately for his fame he relented, when hunger and the desertion of
their master-engineer compelled the Cremesi to sue for terms. They
received permission to depart with as much property as they could carry
on their backs. The rest fell to the imperial army; and the men of
Cremona were commissioned to demolish the city, which they did with a
goodwill. The turn of Milan followed; the Emperor, warned by experience,
fell back upon the slow and costly, but irresistible method of blockade.
At the end of eight months (May 1161-Feb. 1162) the city was
surrendered, evacuated, and condemned to destruction--a sentence which
it was found impossible to execute completely, so solid were the
ramparts and so vast the buildings they enclosed. For the moment all
resistance seemed at an end. The policy outlined at Roncaglia could at
length be put in force through the length and breadth of Lombardy; and
Frederic departed for Germany, leaving trustworthy lieutenants to
complete the vindication of his Italian rights. It only remained to try
conclusions with a recalcitrant Pope and the evasive Normans of the
South. The Emperor already saw himself in imagination the master of
Italy, and even of the Western Mediterranean. Five years passed without
bringing him nearer to his goal. Then Frederic returned to effect the
expulsion of Alexander III from Rome. He succeeded in this object, and
was crowned in St. Peter's by the anti-Pope of his own choosing (August
1167). It was the highest point of his fortunes, and the calamities
which followed were so unforeseen and terrible that contemporaries saw
in them the hand of God. While he was still in Rome, a pestilence broke
out which cost him two thousand knights and his best counsellors. He was
forced to fly from the infected city. On his way to the north he found
the road barred by a new and formidable coalition. The Lombard League
had come into existence--an alliance organised by Cremona, hitherto the
staunchest of imperial allies, and closely linked with Venice, which
Frederic had regarded as a negligible quantity. Of the intentions of the
League there could be no doubt. The members were already engaged in the
rebuilding of Milan; they had admitted to their inmost councils a legate
of Alexander III; they announced that they would only render to the
Emperor his ancient and undoubted rights. Frederic would not trust
himself in their vicinity. Accompanied by a handful of knights he
escaped ignominiously to the north, taking a circuitous route through
Savoy. The Leaguers no longer troubled to mask their true intentions. As
a token of their unity they built the city of Alessandria, named after
Frederic's bitterest enemy, the lawful Pope; and they solemnly
repudiated the appellate jurisdiction of the imperial law-court (1168).

Six years elapsed before Frederic could return to demand satisfaction,
and even then he could only muster some eight thousand men. From October
1174 to April 1175 he was engaged, first in besieging Alessandria, and
then in making fruitless overtures to the League for a compromise. By
the end of 1175 he was virtually blockaded in Pavia with a dwindling
remnant of his army. Reinforced in the spring, he made a rapid march on
Milan, in the hope of taking unawares the headquarters of the League.
But the Lombards were forewarned, and met him, at Legnano (29th May
1176), with a force outnumbering his by more than two to one. The battle
was hotly contested. The Lombard vanguard, composed of cavalry,
scattered before the onslaught of the Germans. The Emperor then led a
charge which penetrated to the centre of the enemy's position. Here was
the banner of Milan, mounted on a triumphal car (_carroccio_) and
guarded by picked burgesses, who had sworn to defend their trust to the
death. Round them the fighting raged for hours; the Germans made no
impression on their ranks, and by degrees the Lombard troops who had
fled returned to renew the battle. At length the imperial
standard-bearer was slain, and Frederic himself unhorsed. Thinking all
was lost, the imperialists fled confusedly towards Pavia, which they
reached after suffering more loss in the flight than in the battle.
Frederic, cut off from his followers, only escaped capture by hiding for
some days until the road to Pavia was clear.

Legnano was no overwhelming catastrophe, but it was ominous that citizen
levies had defeated German knights in a fair field. Frederic's
counsellors insisted that it was foolhardiness to pursue the war
interminably, when at any moment the papal interest might gain the upper
hand in Germany. Peace must be made at any cost with Alexander, and he
would accept no peace from which the Lombards were excluded. Frederic
yielded to the inevitable with a good grace. A treaty was concluded with
the Pope in the same year (November 1176); a few months later, a six
years' truce with the Lombards was arranged at Venice; and at Constance,
in 1183, this was converted into a lasting peace. In form there was a
compromise. The cities, while retaining the regalia and the free
election of their consuls, recognised their allegiance to the Emperor
and his appellate jurisdiction. In reality the Emperor had surrendered
everything of value, and the cities ignored any stipulations in the
treaty which were unfavourable to them.

So matters remained until Frederic II, the grandson of Barbarossa,
having firmly established himself in his Sicilian heritage, began to
meditate a closer union between his dominions north and south of the
Alps. The better to secure his communications with Germany, he prepared
to enforce in Lombardy the imperial rights reserved at Constance (1226).
At once the dormant Lombard League revived. The Alpine passes were so
effectually blockaded that Frederic was left entirely dependent on his
Sicilian forces. He turned the flank of the League at length, by an
alliance with Ezzelin da Romano, the tyrant of Verona, which gave him
access to the Brenner pass; but the League retaliated by lending support
to his rebellious son, Henry, King of the Germans. So began another war
in Lombardy. Legnano was brilliantly avenged on the field of Cortenuova
(1237), where the Emperor routed the Milanese and captured the
_carroccio_, the symbol of their independence. But he, like his
grandfather, was worn out by the difficulties of siege warfare; and in
1240 he turned southward to reduce the States of the Church. One more
attempt he made on Lombardy in the winter of 1247-1248. But a disastrous
fiasco destroyed his hopes and gave a mortal blow to his prestige. For
five months he blockaded Parma, and the city was at the last gasp, when
he imprudently dismissed a part of his troops. The garrison saw their
opportunity, and made a desperate sortie while the Emperor was absent on
a hunting expedition. They surprised and burned the strongly fortified
camp which he had named Victoria; his baggage and even his crown jewels
were captured; more than half of his army were slain or taken, and the
rest fled in confusion to Cremona (18th February 1248). It was necessary
for Frederic to beat a retreat, and he appeared no more in Lombardy. His
son Enzio, whom he left to represent him, was captured next year by the
Bolognese and sentenced to perpetual captivity.

Frederic died in 1250; and from this year we may date both the
disruption of the Empire and the decadence of the free Italian commune.
What he had failed to effect, with the united power of Sicily and
Germany behind him, was accomplished by a score of petty local
dynasties. At Milan the Visconti completed the enslavement which the
Delia Torre had first planned; at Verona it was the Scaligeri who
entered on the imperial inheritance; at Ferrara, the Este; at Padua the
Carrara; at Mantua, the Gonzaga. The tide of despotism rose slowly but
surely, until in the fifteenth century Venice alone remained to remind
Italy of the possibility of freedom.

It is to Germany, rather than Italy or Flanders, that we must look for
the last and perhaps the most fruitful phase in the development of
medieval town life. Free institutions were acquired by the German towns
comparatively late; and although it was the Lombard commune which they
aspired to reproduce, they never succeeded in securing so large a
measure of independent power, or in making themselves the capitals of
petty States. The Hohenstauffen, like the early Capets, were sensible of
the advantages to be gained by alliance with the Third Estate; but
Frederic II was obliged to renounce the right of creating free imperial
cities within the fiefs of the great princes; and most towns were left
to bargain single-handed with their immediate lords. Shut off from any
prospects of territorial sovereignty, the towns, even those which held
from the Empire, were also excluded from the Diet until the close of the
fifteenth century. Trade afforded the only outlet for their activities.
But in trade they engaged with such success that, by the close of the
Middle Ages, Augsburg rivalled Florence as a centre of cosmopolitan
finance, and the Baltic towns had developed a commerce comparable to
that of the Mediterranean. It was the Baltic trade which gave birth to a
new form of municipal league, the famous Hansa. The nucleus of this
association was an alliance formed between Lubeck and Hamburg to protect
the traffic of the Elbe. Other cities were induced to affiliate
themselves, and in 1299 the Hansa absorbed the older Gothland League of
which Wisby was the centre. By the year 1400 there were upwards of
eighty Hanseatic cities, lying chiefly in the lower Rhineland, in
Saxony, in Brandenburg, and along the Baltic coast; but the commercial
sphere of the League extended from England to Russia and from Norway to

The Hanseatic cities were subject to many different suzerains, and were
federated only for the protection of their trade. The League was loosely
knit together; there was a representative congress which met at
irregular intervals in Lubeck; but the delegates had no power to bind
their cities. There was only a small federal revenue, no standing fleet
or army, and no means of coercing disobedient members save by exclusion
from trade privileges. Yet this amorphous union ranked for some purposes
as an independent power. The Hansa policed the Baltic and the waterways
and high roads of North Germany; it owned factories (steelyards) in
London, Bruges, Bergen, and Novgorod; it concluded commercial treaties,
and on occasion it waged wars. In the fourteenth century it monopolised
the Baltic trade, and was courted by all the nations which had interests
in that sea. In the fifteenth it began to decline, and in the age of the
Reformation sank into insignificance. New sea-Powers arose; England and
the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, came into competition with the
Hanso; the growth of territorialism in Germany sapped the independence
of the leading members of the league; and the Baltic trade, like that of
the Mediterranean, became of secondary importance when the Portuguese
had discovered the Cape route to India, and when the work of Columbus,
Cortes, and Pizarro opened up a New World in the Western hemisphere.

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