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- Medieval Europe - 5/25 -

(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 Gaul.

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 _Risorgimento_.

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 sources.

(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

Medieval Europe - 5/25

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