Gaul. Romans. Franks. Charlemagne. Carolingian Period.
The extinct tribes which once thinly peopled the soil of France have left but scanty traces of their existence in the weapons of ornaments dug out of gravel-beds and river courses. However interesting they may be to the student of ethnology and of the origin of man, they find no place in history; for neither in blood, nor manners, nor speech have they lefty any mark on the land they inhabited. Very different are those tribes whom Caesar met when he first entered Gaul. The history of France may well begin with the words which open his famous chronicle Gaul is all divided into three parts."
Of the inhabitants of these divisions, the Belgians, Gauls, and Iberians, the third were in all ways different from the others; for the Iberians were a race of other origin, shorter, darker of complexion, less sociable, less bright, of more tenacity, possessed of that power of resistance which those whom stronger races drive out of the plains into the mountains quickly learn. On the northward and southward slopes of the Pyrenees, amid the fastnesses of that great chain and in the Basque provinces of Spain, this race still dwells, easily discerned by characteristics of speech and appearance, which mark them off alike from Spaniards and Frenchmen.
The Belgians and the Gauls were blood-relations. The former, dwelling chiefly in the northern districts of France, were later comers than their kinsmen the Gauls, stronger men and of a finer development. The Gauls, the men of central France, were a bright intelligent people, full of vivacity, frank and open of disposition, brave and scornful of tactics, as though all strategy, were a lie and a disgrace. The Belgians seem, to have been more staid, less active, less easily cast down, more thoughtful; they were not without a physical and moral resemblance to their neighbors and distant cousins the Germans. From these two tribes has sprung the modern Frenchmen, who to this day, according to his part of France, bears the mark and sign of one or other origin.
When Julius Caesar entered (58 B.C.), he found these natives in a half-barbarous state, split up into clans, each with its elected chieftain, its Druids or priests, and its body of warriors or horsemen; while below these was an undistinguished company of servile men, women, and children, who did all works of peace for their idle fighting aristocracy. Each clan lived to itself, with little or no power of combining even with its nearest neighbors. Its home was usually an open village of circular wattled huts, with one family dwelling in each hut. Sometimes, in places of strength and importance, the Gaul built himself a fortified town enclosed by earthworks, perched sometimes, like Alesia, on a strong hill-top, or entrenched in dark recesses of wood and marsh. The more close the tightening of the Celtic clanship, the more completely did each little community live to itself, apart from other clans; so that in spite of the great difficulties of the country, Caesar found the reduction of it a tolerably easy task.
Before Caesars days Gaul had already known something of foreign invasion. On her northern and eastern frontiers were the Germans; in the south stood the Greek city of Massilia, the ancient rival of Carthage; and in 122 B.C. Caius Sextius had founded the town which bore his name, Aquae Sextiae, now Aix in Provence, whence, as from a center, the Roman occupation spread through the district watered by the Rhone and its tributaries, unbtil it received the name of Gallia Braccata, and became a province of the republic. Narbonne (Narbo Martius, founded 118 B.C.) was the new capital of the district, the first Roman municipium on the soil of Gaul. But invasion took an entirely new character when Caesar was made proconsul (59 B.C.) He entered on his great conquest in the following year, and the reduction of the whole country was complete by 50 B.C. In the course of those years the great Roman penetrated to the utmost limits of Gaul, beat down all opposition, crushed the Helvetians back into their Swiss home; he defeated the Germans who had made secure lodgment in the Sequanian lands, and drove them into the Rhine; broke the resistance of the Nervii, all but exterminating that gallant tribe; severed the connection between Gaul and Britain, on which the Armoricans especially relied, by two expeditions across the Channel, in which he gained a great addition of glory, if little fresh power; the conquest of far-off Britain fired the imaginations of men; finally he brought the long wars to a close by the submission of Vercingetorix under the walls of Alesia.
Thenceforward Caesar, having conquered the Gauls, became their emperor. He saw what boundless supplies of force, of enthusiasm and intelligence, were now at his disposal; with Gallic support and his own devoted legions, he was now able to give law to Rome herself. Meanwhile, he did all in his power of Gaul, - lightened her tribute, mitigated slavery, forbade human sacrifices, repressed the Druids. The country lost its independence, and became the docile pupil and follower of Roman civilized life.
For more than four hundred years the Roman domination influenced Gaul. At the beginning of the time the natives were savages, dwelling in a wild land of forests and wastes, a thinly scattered company of unsociable clans, without towns or roads or industries; at the end they had fine cities, and much cultivated land, wore the Roman dress, had adopted the Roman law, and had exchanged their own tongue for a new form of the common Latin language.
After the murder of Julius Caesar, the administrative genius of Augustus found wide scope for its activity in Gaul. Lyons was the new capital, whence his four great roadways and his civilization radiated out in every direction. Several of the later emperors vied with him in their interest in Gallic affairs: Caligula spent much time at Lyons, and, in his grotesque way, encouraged letters there; Claudius was a native of that city, and threw open the senate to the Gallic chiefs; he established schools, emancipated slaves, and taught the Gauls the equality of all men under the law; Nero, with his Greek sympathies, delighted in Porvence, though he cared little for the rest of the country then called "Imperial" Gaul. All through this period new ideas, new pleasures and efforts, characterize the life of Gaul; and after the fall; of Civilis in 70 A.D., no one in all the country dreams of any further struggle in behalf of the independence she had finally lost.
All things were now preparing for the next great influence which should affect the Gallic race. for nearly a century, though Gaul and Rome seemed together to tread the downward path towards ruin, the Roman ideas as to justice, law, and order, were fitting the Gallic mind for the reception of Christianity. And Christianity soon came. In 160 or 161 A.D. we find a bishop of Lyuons, Pothinus, and with him the well-known name of Irenaeus. These men ministered at first to Greek and other settlers, for the early church of Lyons long bore marks of a Greek not a Latin origin. Gradually, however, the life-giving ideas and doctrines of Christianity spread abroad among the Gauls, and churches sprang up at Autun, Dijon, Besancon, and other towns within comparatively easy reach of Lyons. Roman Christendom, however, did little for Gaul till the middle of the 3d century (244 A.D.)., when seven Latin bishops were sent thither, and formed new centers of Christian life in the land at Limohes, Tours, and even Paris, whither came Dionysius with a little company of brethren in 251. Henceforward Christianity spread swiftly; and though in the next century St Martin of Tours still found heathen temples to overthrow and multitudes of country pagans to convert, still we may say generally that in three generations from the time of the Roman mission of 244 A.D. all Gaul had embraced the Christian faith.
These were also the days of what is called "the Gallo-Roman empire"; of the provincial emperors who strove to sever the Eastern from the Western world. Along her northern frontier also Gaul saw the establishment of the two Germanies, districts on the left bank of the Rhine, where German warriors held their lands by feudal tenure of the sword. Thus as Gaul herself languished under the loss of her independence and the influence of the moral corruption of Rome she began to become aware of the two powers which were destined to mould her character the Christian Church, and the fierce Germans. They advance upon her from south and north; when they meet, the Gaul bows the head before them, and in new union the feudalism of the Teuton and Christianity of the Latins begin their task of education. The combination of the institutions of Germany with those of the church forms the basis on which the history of France is reared.
The Germans, who now began to overrun the soil of Gaul, were a very different race from those with whom they came into contact. Stronger and larger in frame, they were also more stable and enduring than the Gauls. Far back they claimed the same ancestry; in language and in personal characteristics alike we can trace the connection. Yet, thanks to climate and circumstances, the two races were by this time completely severed, alien in speech, ideas, institutions, and tastes. The German was a hunter, a man of independence of character; the Gaul lived in his clan, and shrank from personal freedom; slaves were unknown in Germany, while they swarmed in Gaul; the Gaul had an organized faith, a regular hierarchy between him and the supernatural; the German worshipped, independent and alone, without human mediator, in the depths of his forests. The fighting-men who grouped themselves round a German chief were his free comrades, connected with him only by a personal tie, each prepared to act independently if his time came, and to build up for himself a lordship of his own. On many sides these men now began to press into Gaul. The Goths, after wandering apparently from Scandinavia to the Black Sea and thence into western Europe, settled down, - the ostrogoths in Italy, the Visigoths in Spain and southern France. The Burgundian Vandals, from Low Germany about the Elbe and Vistula, now began to stream over into eastern Gaul, fivinf their name to a large district of the country; the Franks, an aggregate of northern tribes, Low Germans of the center and the west, were destined to be the chief conquerors of the land, the authors of her modern name.
But before the German had become master of Gaul, the Christian Church had already firmly established itself. Thanks to the support he received from Christianized Gaul, Constantine was enabled (312 A.D.) to enter Rome in triumph, and to assure the victory to the church in her struggle against paganism. Henceforth the church, which had always endeavored in her organization to copy the civil power, was officially modeled on the lay institutions of the later empire; her dioceses corresponded in position and extent to those of the civil administration; the chief clergy became important magistrates. The bishop of each city with his clergy took the place of the older curials, the members of the civil municipality; the old relations of church and state were profoundly modified by the rise of the bishop of Rome to the position of supreme pontiff, a title given up by the emperor. In the downfall of Roman society in the fourth century, the clergy alone retained some power, and showed promise of the future. The lay power struggled hard for a while against the German invasion specially against the Franks; the church stayed in the cities, secure and growing stronger against the day when she too would have to face the invader, and to convert him from a heathen foe into a firm ally and friend.
In the 5th century the Germans ceased to plunder and ravage, and began to settle it is the age in which Gaul exchanges her Latin for her Teutonic masters. Early in the century a vast horde crossed the Rhine on the ice in mid-winter, and streamed over northern, central, even southern Gaul, passing thence a little later into Spain. In 412 Ataulf the Visigoth settled down in the valley of the Rhone, and allied himself with Rome; the Burgundians also occupied the Sequanian lands. These two tribes were friendly towards the older inhabitants, and were recognized as peaceable settlers by the imperial power; they showed that they deserved well of the falling empire by the gallant and successful resistance with which in 450 the Visigoths and Gallo-Romans defeated the terrible hordes of Attila at Chalons-sur-Marne. Yet the empire thus saved for a time could not be saved from internal decay; confusion reigned throughout Gaul, the Germans and the Gallo-Romans struggling as it were in the dark for possession; and when in 476 the empire of the West finally went under, Ewarik (or Euric), the prudent Visigoth, was left as master of all that had belonged to Rome beyond the alps towards the west. The Arian Goths, with Toulose as their capital, might have secured their authority over all France if the church had accepted the views of Ewarik, and if that vigorous prince had lived. He died, however, in 485, leaving behind him only a weak boy as his successor; and far to the north the fierce Frankish warriors had already taken as their chief the youthful Hlodowig (Clovis). The Franks, a loose confederation of Germanic tribes, were in existence in the third century on the right bank of the Rhine, an for a long time showed no wish to migrate into Gaul. By degrees one of these tribes, the Salians, headed by a family called the Merewings or Merwings (the Merovingians), began to take the lead; they soon made themselves formidable by their incursions on norther Gaul, and established themselves masters of the left bank of the lower Rhine. As the Roman power declined along that district, their authority increased; early in the 5th century they had spread from the Rhine to the Somme. Another leading tribe of Franks, the Ripuarians, whose home lay on the Rhine about Cologne, less tempted towards Gaul, seemed to hold themselves in reserve for the future.
In 481 Hilderic, chief of the Salian Franks died, leaving behind him a boy of fifteen, Hlodowig or Clovis. This youth, endowed with unusual vigor and fierceness, soon won a great reputation among the Franks, and in 486 broke in on the only Roman power now left in northern Gaul, the degenerate legions commanded by the patrician Syagrius of Soissons. These were swept away like the autumn leaves before the wind, and Hlodowig settled down in the lands which he had won. Here he at once came into contact with Christianity; Remigius bishop of Rheimsbecoming his friend and adviser long before he adopted the Christian faith. It was probably through his influence that the young king married Hlotehild, niece of the Burgundian king, a Christian maiden. In the quiet years which followed, Hlofowig doubtless became more and more inclined towards his wifes belief; and when, in repelling the invasion of the Allemans in 496 he believed that the "god of Hlotehild" had heard his vow, he at once declared his gratitude and his conversion. Some thousands of his wild warriors followed him to the font, as willingly and with as little thought as they would have followed him to death or victory. From this moment the firm alliance between the church and the Frank began, an alliance which affected both; the church became more warlike and aggressive, the Frank grew more civilized, and learnt the art of ruling.
With their headquarters fixed in northern Gaul, the Franks, under Hlodowigs command, reduced first their cousins the Burgundians (500 A.D.) and then (507) the Visigoths under Alaric. All France, with exception of a rich strip of land between the mountains and the Gulf of Lyons, afterwards called Septimania, was overrun and plundered. This done, Hlodowig spent the rest of his days securing his dominion by the destruction of all powerful neighbors or competitors; for the grim Frank, vigorous and ambitious, knew neither scruple nor pity, and the clergy round his throne passed over crimes which they were powerless to prevent. When he died in 511 the settlement of the German on the soil of Gaul had been accomplished, and Hlodowig, who has no claim to honor as a man of constructive power, still stands out in history as the founder of a new world in France. To him France owes that feudal relation which has so deeply marked her story; in him the church first made that connection with feudalism, which lowered her character, while it strengthened her power and influence. Not without reason does France inscribe on the first page of her history this German conqueror, a robber a liar, a murderer,- for it is from him that modern France rightly dates her beginning.
The origins of feudalism are simple enough. when the Franks came in under Hlodowig, they were a host of free and equal German under the king of their choice. The belief that he brought with him a graduated hierarchy of chieftains, who at once established a complete "feudal system" on the conquered soil is no longer tenable. No doubt the most influential and vigorous of Hlodowigs followers got most in the distribution of lands and spoils; still, in theory at least, all free Franks were equal, and in the new settlement of the country each man according to his strength took what he could get. The older conditions of the Germanic peoples had died out of the Salians life; the institutions which appear in an indistinct form in the Germania of Tacitus had already undergone great change; the family of tribes, with common rule of usage and very slight bonds of political union, is, as Professor Stubbs remarks (Constitutional History, i. p. 36), "singularly capable of entering into new combinations; singularly liable to be united and dissolved in short-lived confederations." It was one of their late-formed confederacies over which Hlodowig, with the vigor of barbarous youth, had now come to rule. The Salian law, a collection of the cust6oms of Frankish law in the 5th century, gives us a fairly clear view of the condition of those who streamed over into Gaul at this great chieftains back. We learn from it that among the Franks the kingly office was fully recognized, and though the form of election by the nation is preserved, the choice is limited to the members of a single family, so that hereditary succession partly prevails. The king, once chosen, is the realhead of the nation; he has not as yet run any risk of becoming a fainéant; he appoints the rulers of provinces, if we may use this Roman term, - that is, the grafs who are set over certain aggregations of hundreds; and the graf or reeve, to take the English form of the word, is an administrative officer, who carries out the sentences of the courts of justice. The king also appoints the officers who collect the royal dues in the "vills" which had succeeded in the place of the primitive "marks" of the Gemanic peoples. Round the kings person is his "comitatus," his aggregate of immediate followers, who forms his guard, and are the germ of the later feudal nobility. The nation in arms forms the equal council, in which all men give voice and vote alike; justice is administered by a hundred-court or mall, composed of qualified landowners; if any one is aggrieved by their decision, he can appeal directly to the king. It is round this "hundred" that the Frankish system really moves, for it is out of a group of hundreds that a district with its graf is formed; and there seems to be no court of law superior to that of the hundred. All political questions are of course the affair of the national council. There is in the Salian law no trace of a primitive nobility; though the old system of common land has disappeared, giving place to separate ownership, the land does not carry with it any special honor; the Franks are still very far from any ideas as to a territorial nobility.
These were the institutions which Hlodowig transplanted out of the districts of the lower Rhine into Gaul. They came into contact with the tenacious Gallic temper, and the masterful organization of the Romans. The Franks, with singular energy and success, adapted themselves to their new place as conquerors; and, giving and taking, laid the foundations of modern French life. Their settlement was slow and unsystematic; the king receiving a large portion of the soil as his domain, granted out of it benefices for his immediate friends and followers. These gifts were at first held on pleasure, and were liable to be resumed at any time; after a while this precarious tenure suited neither party; these fiefs became first life-holdings, and finally hereditary possessions, held on tenure of service of some kind. The greater chiefs, with the king, took their share of conquered lands, asserting their rights to an alodial holding, and, if they chose to do so, granting out benefices from these districts to their followers. The common sort of Franks, who were neither kings friends nor independent chiefs and their friends, took what they could get, their share of the spoil as it fell to them; and as their strong arms were useful and marketable possessions, we may be sure that many of them grouped themselves round the king, and if they were fortunate, were rewarded with small benefices. A considerable part of the land wads left in the hands of Gallo-Romans undisturbed, and became tributary the tribute being a kind of rent paid by the old owners to their new masters.
Thus the Franks were spread over the whole surface of the soil; they were at home in the country, and shunned the cities; civic life was distasteful to them; the air of the streets too confined for those who loved the forest and the chase as ail Germans did. Consequently; in the towns the Gallo-Roman bishops retained sole authority, ruling by the Roman law, and preserving the last remains of the civilization of the past. The church, however, was far from confining herself within these civic limits; though she stood aloof from feudalism at first, deeming her own ways better, she soon showed a consciousness that the center of power no longer lay in the cities, and that her influence must be felt at the kings court. Consequently, we soon find the bishops grouping themselves round the king, acting as his advisers, modifying the Germanic ideas, and in turn receiving new ambitions from their masters. Ere long the bishops will begin to take place in the feudal hierarchy, and will form a recognized part of the new nobility of the realm; though for a very long time the Franks clearly regarded the clerical life as unsuited to their character, and left the influence and fortunes of the church entirely in Gallo-Roman hands.
Before Hlodowig died (511) he had destroyed all the old chieftains and knights who ruled in Gaul. He took the place of Roman and Goth; the Visigoth shrank away southward; the Burgundian became tributary; the Frank was recognized as undisputed master of all the country; the northern barrier lines between Gaul and Germany perished; as fresh bands of Franks poured into northern France from time to tome, the Austrasian princes renewed the Germanic influence over Gaul; and for five centuries the history of France must be regarded as in most respects subordinate to that of Germany.
Germanic use prevailed in the new kingdom, and when Hlodowig was gone, his four sons all became kings, each representing one of the divisions of the original invasion. Theodorik, the eldest, took the north-eastern part, and became king of what ere long began to be called Austrasia; he lay on both banks of the Rhine, and was almost entirely German, with his capital at Metz. Hildebert, eldest son of Hlotehild, had the central district, the country round Paris, with Paris as his capital. Hlodlomir, the ext, was king of Orlenas, and had western Gaul along the Loire. The youngest, Hlothar, was king over the old Salian land, the north-western corner of Gaul, with his capital at Soissons. The partition was a division of estate rather than of governments; the four kings regarded the country north of the Loire as their home, and divided out all beyond that river at will by arbitrary lines. As yet a king was little more than a leader in war, and his free men, his "leudes," looked to him to give them plentiful employment in that way, even compelling him at times to go on expeditions against his own better judgment. Thus it fell out that this first partition did not weaken the Franks; they attacked their neighbors on every hand. In one of these wars (in 524) Hlodomir, king of Orleans, was killed; his brothers seized his inheritance, and on Hildeberts death (558) Glothar of Soissons became sole king of the Franks; in 555 he had taken possession of Austrasia. Hlothars rule bring the name of Neustria into prominence. The two branches of the Frankish power become clearly distinguishable, - the German Austrasians coming down to Lorraine, and including the eastern part of Champagne, as these districts were later called, and the Gallic Neustria covering almost all modern France. And Neustria settled quickly into a monarchy of more modern type. Round Hlothar were grouped his reeves or counts; the clergy made their court to him; the "leudes" now became the kings "trusty men"; not a few Gallo-Romans also held office under him.
On Hlothars death (561) the Frankish kingdom, was once more divided into fourt parts- Austrasia, Paris, Soissons, and Burgundy, - the eldest son, Sigebert (as in the earlier partition), taking the north-eastern country. When Haribert, king of Paris, died in 567, Hilperik, his brother, king of Soissons, seized his share, and became king of Neustria. And now the three Frankish kingdoms of Austrasia, Neustria, and Burgundy take definite forms. Speaking generally, Austrasia lay between the Meuse and the rhine, Neustria between the Meuse and the Loire, though Austrasia trenched somewhat on Neustria on one hand, and stretched far up and even beyond the Rhine on the other side. Burgundy included the upper waters of these rivers, and of the Saone as well. The rivalry lay between the Austrasians and the Neustrians; the Burgundians, being the weakest and most peaceful of the three, sided sometimes with the one, sometimes with the other. This rivalry finds its expression in the half-legendary strife between the haughty high-born Brunhild, wife of Sigebert, king of Austrasia, and Fredegond, the low-born mistress of Hilberik, king of Neustria.
Before the end of the 6th century we discern a new power rising into distinctness, - the power of the mayor of the palace, an officer, as his name denoted, having great authority in the kings court, elected by the chiefs, and acting almost independently of his master. In Neustria we usually find the mayor of the palace siding with the royal power; in Austrasia, where the nobility were much stronger, he checks overshadows the king; in Burgundy he is only an insignificant person, being of inferior importance to the patrician, whose office, as the name tells us, was a relic of past Roman days. Another, and a far more beneficial influence, also appeared at this time; the Benefictines came across from Italy, and spreading through out France, formed many centers of fresh life in the confusion of the land. They revived the faith in industry, well-nigh destroyed by the Franks; they did something to rescue the older inhabitants from misery, and culture and letters, thanks to their well-directed energies, again raised their heads.
At the end of the century the two queens, Brunhild and Fredegond, were the two rulers of all the country; for Brunhild had charge of her two grandsons, Theodebert II., king of Austrasia, and Theodoric II., king of Burgundy, while Fredegond governed Neustria for the youthful Hlothar II. So early does the extraordinary prominence of regency appear in French history. After Fredergonds death in 598, Brunhild seized on almost the whole of Neustria, and for a while seemed once more to unite the Merwing lordship under her rule. Her chief aim was the establishment of a solid monarchy in Austrasia, which should curb the power of the nobles; they, in opposition to her, placed at their head two brothers, Arnulf bishop of Metz, and Pippin of Landen, the ancestor of that great family under the auspices of which modern society laid its foundations in both Germany and France, the great Karling or Carolingian dynasty. Led by these two men, heads of the lay and spiritual aristocracies, the Austrasian nobles met the aged queen; her army deserted her, leaving her with her four great-grandchildren in the hands of Hlothar II., the nominal chief. He put the children to death at once, and after shameful indignities, the queen, it is said, was tied to the heels of a wild horse and so dashed to pieces. Her death was a triumph of aristocracy over monarchy. Hlothar II,. now sole king of Franks, was entirely in the hands of the mayor of the palace, who became a real power in the state, representing the interests of the nobles as against the centralizing tendencies of the kings.
This victory of Neustria, though it paved the way for the eventual domination of the Carolings, was in itself "the triumph of weakness over strength, of the Gallo-Romans and the priests" (Sismondi). The victorious nobles endeavored to secure their supremacy. the bishops, who were now found sitting in the assembly of the "leudes," drew up a new ordinance, a "perpetual constitution," a first attempt to substitute ideas of justice in the place of custom based on force. This, however, in the nature of things, could not check the growing power of the nobles, especially in Austrasia; though for a time royalty, under Dagobert (628-638) showed a good front in Neustria. In him the Merwing monarchy reached its highest point; his splendid court at Paris laid the foundations, not altogether sound ones, of the civilization of France. At his death his monarchy crumbled away. Children were kings in both Austrasia and Neustria; we reach the days of the "do-naught" princes, the rois fainéants, and of the struggle between the mayors of Austrasia and Neustria. Ebroin, the Neustrian, for a time hold out against rivals; but the Asutrasians placed at their head the representatives of the caroling family, Martin and Pippin, grandsons of Pippin of Landen; and, Ebroin having been assassinated, Neustria had nothing wherewith to resist the onslaught of the German Franks. Led by Pippin of Heristal, they burst into the valley of the Seine, and at Testry in the Vermandois, the long struggle of the two Frankish powers came at last on an end (687). There the Neustrians under Berthar, mayor of the palace to Theodoric III., were entirely defeated, and henceforth, though the line of Merwing kings lasts till 752, they become insignificant and powerless. We turn our eyes with pleasure towards the rising splendor of the Caroling house. France finds herself on the skirts of a new Roman empire, of which the seat is in Germany, and which in its main features belongs to German not to French history.
To no small extent the Neustrian Franks had lost their old Germanic vigor before this time; perhaps among the chief symptoms of change is the fact that many Frankish names may be read among the upper clergy of the time. In the absence of sufficient evidence it is impossible to say how far they had condescended to learn the "rustic Latin" which the older inhabitants all spoke, the parent of the modern French language; still, there can be do doubt that they must have spoken it to some extent, if not as their sole speech. Now, however, the Austrasian conquerors began to bring things back to a German form. The ancient "Fields of March" are held again; thither come the warriors in arms as of old; German conceptions as to justice seem again to prevail over the more orderly Roman law. The new-comers are above all things an army; and it is the fortune of the Austrasians, not only that they have soldiers and love fighting, but that they have great captains at their head. From Testry (687) to the end of his life in 714, Pippin of Heristal was unquestioned master of all Franks, the kings under him being utterly insignificant. While he kept his Neustrian subjects submissive, he applied the enthusiasms of the sword and the cross to the wild Germans on his eastern border. Under him began the heroic labors of those English monks whose is the high honor of having first introduced the Christian faith among the pagan Teutons.
On Pippins death things seemed likely to fall back into confusion; the Neustrians shook off the yoke of their German lords, and Austrasia was threatened at once from every side; Frisians and Saxons, as well as Neustrian Franks, overran the country, vainly opposed by Pippins widow, Plectrude, who ruled in the name of her grandson, a child. Austrasia, however, was saved by the energy of Pippins natural son Charles, whom Plectrude had thrown into prison, and who now emerged as a strong leader of the nobles. He defeated the Neustrians at Vincy, near Cambrai, in 717, repelled the Saxons from the Rhine, reduced Plectrude, who had taken refuge at Cologne, and became undoubted head of the Franks, as his father had been before him. His fathers rise had been the work of the lay and spiritual nobility; the power of Charles was based on the sword alone; he was regarded by the churchmen as their foe; he took of their lands to reward his soldiers, punishing the noble bishops while he encouraged the more popular monks. Though the clergy treated his memory with vindictive anger, the lay lords were firm on his side, and enabled him to found the great dynasty of the Carolings. For it was their ready sword which won him the victory of Poiteiers (or Tours), in which Europe set a limit to the advance of Asia, in 732. The Arabs, possessors of almost the whole of Spain, had for several years poured over the Pyrenees into southern Gaul; held in check awhile by the vigorous Odo (or Eudes) king of Aquitaine, they proved at last too strong for him, and he appealed to Charles to rescue him. The Franks responded nobly to the call, and in a few years Charles had driven the Saracens out of all their points of vantage north of the Pyrenees. It is said that to the battle of Poitiers Charles owes his name of "Martel," the Hammer, for the vigor with which he smote the Mussulmans. Other accounts have been given of this soubriquet; on the whole the common explanation of it is the most probable and the best supported. All the rest of his life this great duke of the Franks struggled against the pertinacious foes who attacked his frontiers. His power may be said to have been limited by the Rhine to the north and east, and by the Loire to the south.
Just before his death he divided his dukedom between his sons Carloman and Pippin the Short. As usual, the elder had the Germanic share, but under the influence of Boniface, the English monk and missionary, whom he made archbishop of Mainz,he after six years of successful rule, laid down the burden of power and became a Benedictine monk. His ducal rights he handed over to his brother Pippin, who had become sole duke of Franks. His father and brother had opposed the power of the bishops by the help of the monks; it remained for Pippin to go a step farther, and linking together the monks with the papacy, to win for himself the name of king. The monks had been the papal militia for the conversion of Germans; the converted Germans in their turn became firm friends of the Frankish dukes. The head of the whole movement was St Boniface, the founder of the church in Germany; he it was who, acting under command of Pope Zachary, crowned Pippin king of Franks in the cathedral at Soissons. Pippin thereby became lord by a new title of the eastern and western Francia, or Frank-land, ruling over a large part of modern Germany and of modern France north of the Loire at least. The last of the Merwing shadow-kings, Hilderik III., was deposed, and thrust into the convent of St Omer, where he shortly after died, and the race became extinct. On three sides Pippin was called to combat three powers, foes of his new royalty, foes also of the Church of Rome. The pagan Saxons did not detain him long; in one campaign he extorted from them the right to send his monks among them as missionaries; the rest he left to time. the Lombards, under their king Haistuff (Astophus), had seized Ravenna, and threatened Rome herself, and Pope Stephen fled to Pippin for help. The Frank king crossed the Alps, and compelled Haistuff to give up to the Church of Rome the town of Ravenna, the Emilia, the Pentapolis, and the duchy of Rome itself. This is the famous "Donation of Pippin," the foundation of that temporal power of the papacy the end of which we have seen with our own eyes. The papacy raised up the Franks as their champions and defenders; they were set as a counterpoise to the grand claims of the empire at Constantinople, and as antagonists to enemies in Italy. No wonder it before long the papacy saw its advantage in the restoration of an empire of the West under new auspices, and if Germany in return willingly interfered in the affairs of Italy. The political life of modern Europe now begins. The rest of Pippins reign was chiefly occupied with the resistance he found in southern Gaul. In 758 he took Narbonne, the capital of the Arabs, and drove the Mahometans out; he attacked the Aquitanians, who, after their wont, made tenacious resistance. On the death of their duke Waiffer, he overran their whole country, though he never occupied it permanently. Centuries must elapse before northern and southern Gaul could become one France.
In 768 Pippin died at Paris,leaving his dominions to his two sons Charles and Carloman. In 771 Carloman also died, Charles became sole king of Franks. The reign of "Charlemagne" is begun, the great German lord who in fact and legend filled all the world. The seat of his fathers power lay, on the whole, in Neustria, and his chief struggles had been for dominion over Aquiataine; the seat the of the power of Charles himself lay on or near the Rhine; his three chief palaces were at Engelenheim, Aix-la-Chapelle, and Nimwegen. His whole temper, history, relations, were strictly German; the part played in his life by Neustria and Aquitaine was, by comparison, insignificant, for Charles the Great belongs to worlds history, not to the history of France.
His first task after his fathers death was to complete the reduction of Aquitaine for here war had broken out again when Pippins death seemed to the southerners to give them their opportunity. Charles beat the old Duke Hunold in the field, and drove him to take refuge with the Lombard, where some time later he fell, helping to defend Verona against his and their hereditary foe. The struggle in Aquitaine, hopeless if vexations, lingered on, until at last the wise king, as imperial ideas grew stronger in him, saw that this one hope of success with them lay in giving them an independent life of their own, under due restrictions. He therefore set over them his little son Hlodowig as king, and appointed William Courtnez, count of Toulouse, as his tutor. The child was established at Toulouse, and brought up as an Aquitanian. The south retained its distinctive characteristics, and was saved from the degradation of having to fall back to the lower level in art and civilization which prevailed among the Franks. The kingdom of Aquitaine had for its southern frontier the river Ebro in Spain, and crossing the mountains reached the open sea just belowBavonne; the northern frontier at first was less well-defined; before the end of the8th century it was pushed on as far as to the Loire.
And just as Hlodowig was established in Aquiatiane, so in 776 Charles set his second son Pippin over the Lombards, thereby securing his permanent influence over the see of Rome. The papacy throughout leant on him for support, and was even content to recognize his supremacy. For a quarter of a century Charles life was spent in ceaseless wars on every side, in which he slowly though surely beat down the resistance of heathen Saxons, of Huns, of Lombards, of Saracens. Within the limits of modern France, after the pacification of Aquitaine, the only war was that against the Armoricans, inhabitants of Brittany, - a slow stubborn contest, which lasted till near the end of his life. For a short time Brittany became a portion of the empire, without, however, in the least losing any part of its independent character.
By 796 Charles had secured his ascendancy throughout Europe, so that when in 799 Pope Leo III. was ejected from Rome by the citizens, he fled to him for refuge and help; and Charles in the autumn of 800 replaced him on the pontifical throne, receiving in return, on Christmas day, the solemn titles of Emperor of the Romans, Augustus; and certainly, if ever the great echoes of the past were to be awakened, they could not have been aroused for a worthier prince. "A Latin priest gave to a German soldier the name of that which had ceased to exist," says La Vallee. None the less was Charles a real emperor, ruling over subject princes; the Germans and the Romance peoples alike accepted his sway; and for fourteen years, with less of fighting and more or organization, Charles the Great proved that he was worthy of his high title and revived office of Emperor of the West. In 806 at Thionville he settled the succession to his empire; but as death bereft him of his eldest son Charles and his second son Pippin, he was obliged in 813 to make a fresh arrangement. He made Hlodowig, the one surviving son of his second wife Hildegond, his heir and successor, crowned him, and saw him saluted emperor. After this, he lingered a few months, and died early in 814 at Aix-la-Chapelle. It was doubted whether he should be buried there or at St Denis, where his parents bones had been laid. Austrasia, however, prevailed over Neustria, the German over the Frenchmen, and he lies at rest these thousand years past in the church he himself had built in the city he loved so well.
The state of what is now France under his care was this. The land was cutasunder at the Loire; to the north of that river was Francia Occidentalis, the earlier Nesutria and Burgundy; to the south of the Loire layHlodowigs kingdom of Aquitaine, governed by Roman law, and home of precious remains of Roman culture. In Francia Occidentalis were Frankish nobles, the clergy, the free Franks, the inhabitants of cities, and the slaves, the last in ever-growing numbers. The first and second of these classes soon began to secure their position as great feudal lords, half-independent. They laid the foundations of that system of feudal noblesse which became almost omnipotent under the weaker Carolingian princes, which brought about the revolution placing Hugh Capet on the throne, which resisted the centralizing tendencies of the monarchy under Louis XI. and Louis XIII., which became the devout servants of the Great Monarch, and finally ended with the monarchy at the Revolution. The reign of Charles the Great is the time at which these nobles began to see that their strength was based on the land; their position grew more territorial, their allegiance and honors less personal. Charles endeavored to resist this tendency, but his hand could not be everywhere, and the nobles on the whole held their own, though so long as he lived they still bent before his power.
The administration of Gaul at this time was in appearance fairly complete, though it doubtless often failed in its practical application. Handed down from former days, in the larger towns there were always two chief personages, the count and the bishop, of whom the former officer was of Frankish origin, the latter of Roman. To a considerable extent, as was the case throughout all early Christinedom, the functions and jurisdiction of the bishops originally answered very closely to those of the lay power, the church-organization being copied from the organization of the empire. Now each of these greater officers had his own jurisdiction and court; each administered therein law, the bishop according to the Roman order, the count according to Frankish usage; and, though their functions might sometime clash, on the whole they joined in preserving peace and quiet within the walls. The counts also attended to the war-force and collected the taxes, while the bishops, on their side, were charged with the teaching and the moral life of their flocks. Between them they preserved considerable amount of municipal life and character in the ancient cities. Under the counts we find local officers whose business it is to hold lesser courts in the bourgs and villages round about. These were the centeniers, or hundred-men; there were also here and there traces, as in England; of a lower division into decuries or tythings; the counts has also their "viguers," their "viscounts," as they were afterwards called, who represented them, and they also appointed (if the work were not done by the Missi Dominici, the imperial commissioners) officers called scabini (echevins, or in German Schoffen), local judges who held lesser courts in country places. In addition to these courts, each chief and each considerable churchman held his own pleas; by these the condition of the free Franks, of the slaves, and of such persons as were still just above the servile state, was decided, all questions between them and those above them adjudged, with no very happy results in the main.
The emperor, honestly desiring, so far as he could, to arrest the downward progress of the feeble free Franks and of the still more wretched slaves, sent forth the above named Missi Dominici to travel through the different districts of the empire, and to see with their own eyes the state of the people. Usually, they went out in pairs, a layman and an ecclesiastic, so that the secular and church courts and benefices should each be inspected by a man of the same order as the lord whom they visited. They traversed the districts assigned to them in circuit four times a year, held courts to which even the counts were bound to come, looked into the details of government, reformed gross abuses, reported to their master on all persons, even the highest, appointed when needed fresh scabini and others, removed unworthy persons, looked to the poor, protecting them as far as possible from want and wants kinsman the oppressor. The great evil of the time was injustice defended by bribery; the local judges could not resist the powerful or wealthy ill-doer, and so the wrongs of the poor remained unredressed. The Missi, with more or less success, endeavored to lessen these evils. We may believe that in the main the clergy worked willingly with them: they had closer relations with and warmer sympathies for the poor folk; they administered a more stable and intelligent code of laws; they were the depositories of learning and desired to educate those around them; even in the worst times the humane morality of the Gospel gleams forth. In the days of Charles the Great all churchmen turned to the emperor and paid willing allegiance to him; the ancient political coolness between the Carolings and the episcopate entirely disappears.
The elements of society in Gaul at this time may be easily summed up. There were great Frankish lords, gradually diminishing in numbers as they grew in power and territorial independence; there were great bishops, chiefly in the cities, and lordly abbots in country places, who were all by degrees becoming assimilated in condition to the Frankish nobles; there was also a rustic clergy, whose state was poor in the extreme; then there were the free Franks, scarcely above the level of slaves, and ever slipping down into the servile class; the Gallo-Romans in much the same condition; and lastly the slaves, who are said to have formed nine-tenths of the population. The picture is one of great wretchedness, oppression, injustice; the great Charles himself felt no sure ground under his feet in dealing with the social condition of his subjects. It is clear that society must pass through vast changes before anything like an orderly and flourishing community could exist and that even the splendid climate and soil of Gaul would long do little to better the condition of its inhabitants. The wretched period which comes to Gaul after the death Charles is the time in which, from the older relations of chief, free Frank, and slave of war, we pass gradually and almost insensibility to the later feudal relation of lord and vassal and serf. The coming time was, as has been said by Hallam, "the age of the bishops;" but in fact the bishops were only doing in their sphere what the lay chiefs were also achieving in theirs, - laying the foundations of a feudal independence which was for ever striving to lapse into feudal anarchy.
On the death of Charles the Great, the eyes of all turned hopefully to his only surviving son the gentle Hlodowig, Louis the Pious. His father had summoned him to Aix-la-Chapelle, had made him emperor, and then had sent him again to Aquitaine till his time should come. In him all sweet qualities of piety, morality, culture, seemed to find their home. His Aquitanian rule had brought with it until blessings to the south; he, too, had learnt their best lore, had become acquainted with their art, their poetry, above all with the Roman law; he was a man of thirty-five when he became emperor, would be the organizing Augustus following the creative Caesar. His soul was full of high and conscientious aims; he would make reforms which should regenerate without weakening society; he would restore the clergy to high authority, would give full powers to the great lords, would save free Franks from slavery, and thus secure harmony and peace throughout his vast dominions. How different was the actual result! This noble prince, so dignified, earnest right-minded, of "sound mind in sound body," gentle and simple, had all the dangerous virtues which grow to be calamities in rough times; his monkish tastes, his Christian forbearance, his want of an unscrupulous will, all pointed towards failure. Even within his house he was not master; and in the broad wild territories of the empire he was destined to a like failure. On the death of his first wife, Hermingond, who had borne him three sons, Hlothar, Pippin, and Hludwig, he marired Judith, daughter of Welf the Bavarian, a dangerous and ambitious lady. Her son Charles, afterwards styled "the Bald," brought the emperor many troubles, for the natural jealousies sprang up between the children of the first bed and the second wife and her son. War soon followed, in which personal ambitions were seconded by the ancient enmity between German and Gallic Franks. Struggle followed struggle, partition led to partition; there is no drearier piece of history than Nithards short chronicle of those years. The unlucky Hlodowig was buffeted about, now deposed, then restored again; now bowing his head before the clergy of Roman France at Compiegne, now recalled to rule, as it seemed, by the unanimous voice of his sons and his subjects. The main result was the separation, which then began, of France from Germany. In the midst of it Hlodowig the Pious died in 840, and was buried at Metz.
His death was the signal for the final disruption of the empire of Charles the Great. Hlothar, his eldest-born son, took the imperial name, and claimed supreme headship over the Franks. The Bavarian or German Hludwig, and Charles, who represented the Franks in France, both resisted; the Franks in Italy, Aquitaine, and Gothia, rallied to the emperor. War broke out at once. As soon as ever the Aquitanians had joined his forces Hlothar challenged his brothers to battle, and they at once accepted his wager. On the banks of the Cure, near Troyes, was fought the great battle of Fontanet, which brought the griefs of the age to a point. There the whole Frankish race struggled for the mastery. From Italy, Austrasia, Aquitaine, Gothia, came the emperors supporters; Germany, Neustria, Burgundy, supported Charles and Hludwig. The carnage was terrible; Fontanet is the burial ground of the old Frankish life; free Franks are heard of no more; "there remained in Gaul only lords and serfs; all things are made ready for the increasing of feaudalism." Hlothar was entirely defeated and fled northwards to Aix-la-Chapelle; Charles and Bavarian Hludwig were masters of the field. When next year the two brothers found themselves once more menaced by the emperor, they met with all their forces at Strasburg, and took solemn oath each to other, Hludwig swearing in the "Roman" tongue, the earliest French in existence, and Cahrles the Blad in the "Teudisc" or German; and the armies standing round them repeated the worst, the German Franks in German, the Gallic Franks in French. The next of the oaths is preserved for us in Nithard, they are a striking evidence of the way in which Germany and France were asserting each its independent character. The "Romance tongue," the speech of the common people in France, their modification of the Latin they had learnt long before, henceforth took the place of the Latin language on the one side, and of the native Germanic speech of the Franks on the other; henceforth the name of Frenchman may come into use.
As a result of this agreement between Charles and Hludwig, Hlothar was driven back to Aix-la-Chapelle. He thence fled to Lyons, to be near his southern friends; and, finally, finding himself completely overborne by their opposition, he made with them the famous Treaty of Verdun in 843, in which three kingdoms were distinctly marked off: - France for Charles the Bald; Germany for Ludwig the Bavarian; for the emperor Italy and a long narrow strip lying between Germany and France, a conventional district, which a little later received from its lord, the second Hlothar, the conventional name of Lothartingia or Lorraine. Charles the Bald had for his kingdom all Gaul west of the Scheldt, the Meuse, the Saone, and Rhone; it ran down to the Mediterranean, and was thence bounded by the Pyrenees and the Atlantic. It included therefore the chief part of modern France. It was Charles the Bald also who allowed the county of Paris to become a part of the duchy of France, so that the dukes of France were also counts of Paris; from this arrangement sprang eventually the decision of the momentous question as to what city should become the capital of modern France. In this manner the magnificent empire of Charles the Great came to an end, and in its place arose the nations of Europe. Speaking of the year 841, Nithard tells us that throughout the breadth of France the utmost confusion and rapine oppressed the people; in thirty years there had been five partitions of the Frankish empire, each marked with its own violence and misery; and the condition of the inhabitants, groaning under the ambitions foreign rule of quarrelsome princes, was as bad as well could be. The time, however, was now coming in which the greater lords of Nesutria began to forget their German interests and nature, and to move towards a national French life. At first their action was chiefly disruptive, aiming at a local territorial independence; lay lord sand great bishops alike pushed their pretensions to the farthest point; hostile to the imperial ideas of Germany, they had no sympathy with any national ideas for France. Nor is this strange, for France can hardly in any sense be said to have existed in their day. We have reached the time in the which feudalism emerges from its earliest stages, and strives to lay the foundations of its independence. From the Treaty of Verdum in 843 to the accession of Hugh Capet in 987, France passes through a dreary and confused period of formation.
Charles the Bald is a fit representative of such an age; he passed a long life sweeping together territories under his nominal sovereignty, and endeavoring to secure to himself the imperial dignity and the commanding position of his great namesake and grandfather; and though he was at the outset king of Neustria, his interests lay far more outside than inside France; the instincts and sympathies of Charles, as of all family, were German. His schemes and struggles, rewarded in the end with apparent success, - for just before his death he was crowned king of Italy and emperor, - in reality were fatal to the Caroling dynasty. He bought his advancement first by subservience to the greater clergy, and afterwards by granting to the feudal lords the charter clergy, and afterwards by granting to the feudal lords the charter of their independence. After the Treaty of Verdun had apparently given to Charles the Bald undisputed lordship over the western portion of the empire, three states still resisted his authority: - Brittany, which, under Nomenoe, asserted and secured her independence; Septimania, which drove out his armies for a while; and Aquitaine, in which the vices of Pippin gave Charles a footing, and made a way to his success. For several years his whole energies were engaged in these bootless struggles, while at the same time his coasts were being ravaged by the Northmen. He was obliged to pay a heavy scot before he could deliver at one time the rich valley of the Somme, at another the walls of Paris herself, from their devastations. In a capitulary of 877, the last year of his reign, we have the levy of a contribution in order to buy them off from the Seine. In 855 the death of the emperor Hlothar was the signal for a fresh division of lands, in which Charles got his share in Lorraine and the kingdom of Provence. His fortunes, however, scarcely mended; overshadowed by nobles and bishops, his tenure of his kingly throne was ever precarious. The great lords, seeing in him a tendency towards resistance of their claims, called in German aid to dispossess him; and Ludwig the German came to their help. The inhabitants of Gaul, roused by the appearance on their soil of these German antagonists, rose and drove them back to the Rhine. Charles seized the opportunity of strengthening himself, as he hoped, by appealing to the church; the church by its spokesman, the great Hincmar of Rheims, replied by accepting the call, by declaring her authority over kings, and by tracing the lines of Episcopal and royal power: - "If kings rule after Gods will, they are subject to none; if they be great sinners, then is their judgment in the hands of the bishops." Hincmar, in these words, stretched wide the rule by which the clergy had claimed to exercise judicial functions in the case of ordinary malefactors. And thus the clergy rewarded thesmevles for having saved Charles from the hands of the nobles and the Germans. The reins of power were now entirely left in Hincmanrs hands, and the dreary capitularies of the reign bear evidence in every page of the overwhelming influence of th4e clergy. Not satisfied with his supremacy in church and state, the great archbishop pressed forward into philosophical and theological controversy, and took his share in those discussions which heralded the incoming of scholasticism. He opposed the views and influences of John Scotus Erigena, the head of the palace school of Charles, and may be perhaps said to have given that direction to thought and speculation which marks in the main the course of the whole philosophy of the schools.
Towards the end of his reign there was only one prince, Ludwig the German, who shared with him the vast empire of Charles the Great. And in 875 on the death of Ludwig II., emperor and king of Italy, a handful of bishops and counts assembled at Pavia offered the imperial crown to both these princes. Charles arriving first was forthwith proclaimed "protector, lord and king of Italy" by the pope. In the next year Ludwig, the German also died, and Charles, not content with the imperial dignity, which he already possessed, nor with the ample extent of the territories nominally subject to him, desired to restore the old imperial unity, and to obtain the crown of Germany in addition to those of the west and south. The sons of Ludwig naturally resisted; and then, in order to secure the hearty aid of his followers, he held the diet of Quiersy-sur-Oise (Carisiacum) in which was drawn up the great capitulary sometimes styled the magna Charta of French feudalism. Beneath a cumbrous covering of words, and connecting the hereditary succession of his own son with his large concessions to his nobles, Charles in fact conceded hereditary rights to all freeholders. Any lord who should desire to renounce the world might leave his benefices and honors to his son, or otherwise as might seem goods was brought to an end by death might leave his dignity to his son (Baluze, Capitularies, ii. p. 259), and thus in definite terms the hereditary usage of centuries became hereditary right. Hitherto, in France at least, a fiefholder held at his lords pleasure, and was, in theory, liable to deprivation at any time; henceforth , he was as secure in law as in fact, and could transmit his lands and dignities to his son without risk of loss. The title of duke or count is henceforth attached to one family; as the royal and the imperial power become weaker, the great families grow in strength; until a century of fainéant Caroling comes at last to an end, and their place is taken by the representative of one of the great houses, the duke of France and count of Paris. Then the new kingdom of France with its new capital will begin with Hugh Capet in 975. For the family of the counts of Paris had come to occupy the ground abandoned by the Carolings; they were the champions of the Gallic people against the Northmen. Only twenty-seven years after the death of Charles the Great, in 841, Rouen had fallen into Norman hands, opening the way for them up the rich Seine valley as far as to Paris. From that moment the city had no peace; and in 861 Charles the bald invested a brave adventure, Robert the Strong, with the county of Paris, and set him to resist the invaders. Bravely he struggled against them, and in the end gave up his life in defence of his people. In so doing he laid the foundations of the first French monarchy: his two sons were, to all practical intents, local kings of France; his great-grandson was Hugh Capet. Very different was the career of Charles the Bald. His famous order to his assembled lords, "Let each man defend himself in his fortress," with which high sanction for castle building and local independence he dismissed his feudal levies to shift for themselves, showed that the center of power was completely gone. The king abandoned his people to any one who would defend them; their defenders rose to greatness, and the Caroling house sank into supine nothingness. Yet he still struggled, though in vain, against the sons of Ludwig the German; after an unsuccessful campaign in North Italy, death overtook him as he was recrossing the Mont Cenis pass (877). Louis his son succeeded him, the Louis II. of French historians, the "Stammerer." He had been for ten years king of Aquitaine, and, when he succeeded to his fathers throne, found himself little but the slave and puppet of the great nobles. He soon died (879), leaving a kingship weakened and divided. His two sons, Louis III. in the north and Carloman in the south, were set on their thrones by the nobles, headed by Count Hugh, "first of abbots." These also soon died, - Louis in 882, Carloman in 884; and the representatives of the caroling family were reduced to two princes of the name of Charles, - Charles the Fat, the emperor, son of Ludwig the German, and Charles "the Simple," "the Fool," a child of five years, youngest son of the stammering king. To the emperor fell the nominal sovereignty over the chief part of the caroling territories. He, however, was incapable, lazy, a most degenerate shoot of the great house of Pippin. In France he did almost nothing; the Northmen scourged the land incessantly, and in 885-886 laid terrible siege to Paris. The citizens, led by their bishop Gozlin, by Hugh "first of abbots" (for he was abbot of St Martin at Tours as well as of St Denis), and byOdo (or Eudes), count of Paris, made heroic and dauntless resistance. In vain did Hrolf the Northman press the town with active siege or dull blockade; the death of Gozlin and Hugh could not shake the fortitude of the defenders; Count Eudes repulsed attack after attack, and held his own. At last Charles the Fat appeared on Montmartre with a great host of Germans; and the Parisians hoped to see vengeance taken on their pagan foes. Charles the Fat, however, had none of their heroism; he contented himself with buying the Northmen off. As they retired, the citizens rushed out and inflicted one great blow on them, and the great siege was over. Charles withdrew into germany, and in 887 was deposed and abandoned by all. he died the next year at Reichenau.
On his death in 888 the nobles of France, irritated against their half-foreign Caroling lords, chose Eudes, the stout defender of Paris, the elder son of Robert the Strong, as their king; he ruled over the land between the Meuse and the Loire, and was the forerunner of the Capetian line of princes, the first person who may be spoken of as a French king. The Carolings still spoke German, and had small love for France; the family of Robert the Strong was patriotic and vigorous, and had shown in the great siege that it might be trusted for defence. In the election of Eudes we see the victory of the feudal lordsover the imperial or royal power; we feel that the Frankish name and influence are dying out, and that another set of lords and defenders is rising up to cope with the Northmen, and to reduce the land into something like order. Eudes ruled from 888 to 893, striving manfully against the Northmen, whom he so far quelled as to induce them to cease from their devastations of France, and to turn their arms against the English shores. He tired in vain to conquer the southern part of France, and after a long struggle was fain to leave them in their independence. Then the southern lords held a great assembly with the Caroling party of the north at Rheims in 893, and elected Charles the Simple their king. He placed himself under the protection of Arnulf, king of Germany, who formally invested him with the kingdom, of France, and sent soldiers to assert his claims. This was quite natural; for in the eyes of the Carolings the head of the German branch was the head of the whole family; all other members of it were his vassals, them he protected, to him they swore allegiance. After a struggle of some years Eudes died, and Charles then became sole king of France. Robert, brother of Eudes, received the great title of duke of France; and these two personages headed the two parties, the Germanic Carolings and the French-speaking nobles.
Charles the Simple reigned undisturbed for many years perhaps he was not altogether so foolish as his name declares him. In his day the Northmen, hitherto mere depredators, became permanent settlers in France. Everything there was so weak and defenceless that the invaders had only to choose; the miserable people, the old Celtic inhabitants of Gaul, welcomed their settling; it was a relief form the infinite woes under which the land was suffering. One band of Northmen established themselves on the Loire; another, under Hrolf, the fierce leader of the attack on Paris, settled at Rouen (911) and subdued all the country round, on both sides of the Seine. An orderly and strong government once more grew up in France, and Charles the Simple, advised by the churchmen, made terms with Hrolf, giving him his daughter Gisela to wife, and on due feudal tenure granting him the lands he had won by the sword (912). The stout pagan was baptized by the name of Robert; his followers, after their fashion, loyalty did as he had done, and the history of Normandy began: Hrolf becomes Duke Robert, his people become Frenchmen. The duchy soon grew into a compact and orderly state, prosperous and vigorous; Norman towns and churches sprang up on all hands, French manners and speech soon ruled supreme, and in all the arts of peace, in building, commerce, letters, the Norman forthwith took the lead. The noble Scandinavian race, destined to influence so large a portion of the worlds history, herein made worthy mark on the soil and the institutions of France.
Soon after this time the French lords, headed by Robert, duke of France, the "king of the barons," second son of Robert the Strong, rose against their Caroling king, and shut him up in Laon, the last stronghold of his family; thence he fled into Lorraine. On the death of Robert, the barons made Rodolf of Burgundy their king, and continued the strife and Charles, falling into the hands of Hubert of Vermandois, was held by him as a hostage till his death in 929. Rodolf then became indisturbed king till he too died in 936. The barons under the guidance of Hugh "the White" or "the Great," son of Robert, the greatest man of his age, sent over to England for Louis, son of Charles, who had been carried thither by his mother for safety. This is that "Louis dOutremer," "Louis from Over-sea," who now became king; after showing unusual vigor in a struggle with Otho the Greater of Germany, who claimed the kingship over France, he was recognized by all in 941. His reign could be nothing but the miserable record of a struggle against the great lords, Hugh the Great and Richard of Normandy. In this perpetual and wearisome strife he spent his latter days, and died, still a young man, in 954. He was the only man of energy among all the later Carolings. His son Lothair succeeded; his was a long and inglorious reign, ending in 986. His son Louis followed, ruling for a single year. He died childless in 987; and the only heir to the throne- if the feudal lords chose to recognize an hereditary claim- was his uncle Charles, duke of Lorraine. The barons did not choose to be so tied; they set the Caroling prince aside and elected Hugh duke of France, to be king. He was afterwards solemnly crowned at Rheims by Archbishop Adalberon.
Thus did Hugh Capet, founder of a great dynasty, come to the throne. With him begins the true history of the kingdom of France; we have reached the epoch of the feudal monarchy.
Read the rest of this article:
France - Table of Contents