Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything


Books Menu

Author Catalog
Title Catalog
Sectioned Catalog


- Medieval Europe - 6/25 -

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 imperial.

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 (_capitula_).

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

Medieval Europe - 6/25

Previous Page     Next Page

  1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9   10   11   20   25 

Schulers Books Home

 Games Menu

Dice Poker
Tic Tac Toe


Schulers Books Online

books - games - software - wallpaper - everything