HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
Charlemagne And His Government.
by Guizot, M.

What, then, was the government of this empire of which Charlemagne was proud to assume the old title? How did this German warrior govern that vast dominion which, thanks to his conquests, extended from the Elbe to the Ebro, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean; which comprised nearly all Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the north of Italy and of Spain, and which, sooth to say, was still, when Charlemagne caused himself to be made emperor, scarce more than the hunting-ground and the battle-field of all the swarms of barbarians who tried to settle on the ruins of the Roman world they had invaded and broken to pieces? The government of Charlemagne in the midst of this chaos is the striking, complicated, and transitory fact which is now to be passed in review.

A word of warning must be first of all given touching this word government, with which it is impossible to dispense. For a long time past the word has entailed ideas of national unity, general organization, and regular and efficient power. There has been no lack of revolutions which have changed dynasties and the principles and forms of the supreme power in the State; but they have always left existing, under different names, the practical machinery whereby the supreme power makes itself felt and exercises its various functions over the whole country. Open the Almanac, whether it be called the Imperial, the Royal, or the National, and you will find there always the working system of the government of France; all the powers and their agents, from the lowest to the highest, are there indicated and classed according to their prerogatives and relations. Nor have we there a mere empty nomenclature, a phantom of theory; things go on actually as they are described—the book is the reflex of the reality. It were easy to construct, for the empire of Charlemagne, a similar list of officers; there might be set down in it dukes, counts, vicars, centeniers, and sheriffs (seabini), and they might be distributed, in regular gradation, over the whole territory; but it would be one huge lie; for most frequently, in the majority of places, these magistracies were utterly powerless and themselves in complete disorder. The efforts of Charlemagne, either to establish them on a firm footing or to make them act with regularity, were continual, but unavailing. In spite of the fixity of his purpose and the energy of his action, the disorder around him was measureless and insurmountable. He might check it for a moment at one point; but the evil existed wherever his terrible will did not reach, and wherever it did the evil broke out again so soon as it had been withdrawn. How could it be otherwise? Charlemagne had not to grapple with one single nation or with one single system of institutions; he had to deal with different nations, without cohesion, and foreign one to another. The authority belonged, at one and the same time, to assemblies of free men, to landholders over the dwellers on their domains, and to the king over the "leudes" and their following. These three powers appeared and acted side by side in every locality as well as in the totality of the State. Their relations and their prerogatives were not governed by any generally- recognized principle, and none of the three was invested with sufficient might to prevail habitually against the independence or resistance of its rivals. Force alone, varying according to circumstances and always uncertain decided matters between them. Such was France at the accession of the second line. The co-existence of and the struggle between the three systems of institutions and the three powers just alluded to had as yet had no other result. Out of this chaos Charlemagne caused to issue a monarchy, strong through him alone and so long as he was by, but powerless and gone like a shadow when the man was lost to the institution.

Whoever is astonished either at this triumph of absolute monarchy through the personal movement of Charlemagne, or at the speedy fall of the fabric on the disappearance of the moving spirit, understands neither what can be done by a great man, when without him society sees itself given over to deadly peril, nor how unsubstantial and frail is absolute power when the great man is no longer by, or when society has no longer need of him.

It has just been shown how Charlemagne by his wars, which had for their object and result permanent and well-secured conquests, had stopped the fresh incursions of barbarians, that is, had stopped disorder coming from without. An attempt will now be made to show by what means he set about suppressing disorder from within and putting his own rule in the place of the anarchy that prevailed in the Roman world which lay in ruins, and in the barbaric world which was a prey to blind and ill-regulated force.

A distinction must be drawn between the local and central governments.

Far from the centre of the State, in what have since been called the provinces, the power of the emperor was exercised by the medium of two classes of agents, one local and permanent, the other despatched from the centre and transitory.

In the first class we find:—

1st. The dukes, counts, vicars of counts, centeniers, sheriffs (scabini), officers or magistrates residing on the spot, nominated by the emperor himself or by his delegates, and charged with the duty of acting in his name for the levying of troops, rendering of justice, maintenance of order, and receipt of imposts.

2d. The beneficiaries or vassals of the emperor, who held of him, sometimes as hereditaments, more often for life, and more often still without fixed rule or stipulation, lands; domains, throughout the extent of which they exercised, a little bit in their own name and a little bit in the name of the emperor, a certain jurisdiction and nearly all the rights of sovereignty. There was nothing very fixed or clear in the position of the beneficiaries and in the nature of their power; they were at one and the same time delegates and independent, owners and enjoyers of usufruct, and the former or the latter character prevailed amongst them according to circumstances. But, altogether, they were closely bound to Charlemagne, who, in a great number of cases, charged them with the execution of his orders in the lands they occupied.

Above these agents, local and resident, magistrates or beneficiaries, were the missi dominici, temporary commissioners, charged to inspect, in the emperor's name, the condition of the provinces; authorized to penetrate into the interior of the free lands as well as of the domains granted with the title of benefices; having the right to reform certain abuses, and bound to render an account of all to their master. The missi dominici were the principal instruments Charlemagne had, throughout the vast territory of his empire, of order and administration.

As to the central government, setting aside for a moment the personal action of Charlemagne and of his counsellors, the general assemblies, to judge by appearances and to believe nearly all the modern historians, occupied a prominent place in it. They were, in fact, during his reign, numerous and active; from the year 776 to the year 813 we may count thirty-five of these national assemblies, March-parades and May-parades, held at Worms, Valenciennes, Geneva, Paderborn, Aix-la-Chapelle, Thionville, and several other towns, the majority situated round about the two banks of the Rhine. The number and periodical nature of these great political reunions are undoubtedly a noticeable fact. What, then, went on in their midst? What character and weight must be attached to their intervention in the government of the State? It is important to sift this matter thoroughly.

There is extant, touching this subject, a very curious document. A contemporary and counsellor of Charlemagne, his cousin-german Adalbert, abbot of Corbic, had written a treatise entitled Of the Ordering of the Palace (De Ordine Palatii), and designed to give an insight into the government of Charlemagne, with especial reference to the national assemblies. This treatise was lost; but towards the close of the ninth century, Hincmar, the celebrated archbishop of Rheims, reproduced it almost in its entirety, in the form of a letter or of instructions, written at the request of certain grandees of the kingdom who had asked counsel of him with respect to the government of Carloman, one of the sons of Charles the Stutterer. We read therein,

"It was the custom at this time to hold two assemblies every year. . . In both, that they might not seem to have been convoked without motive, there were submitted to the examination and deliberation of the grandees . . . and by virtue of orders from the king, the fragments of law called capitula, which the king himself had drawn up under the inspiration of God or the necessity for which had been made manifest to him in the intervals between the meetings."

Two striking facts are to be gathered from these words: the first, that the majority of the members composing these assemblies probably regarded as a burden the necessity for being present at them, since Charlemagne took care to explain their convocation by declaring to them the motive for it and by always giving them something to do; the second, that the proposal of the capitularies, or, in modern phrase, the initiative, proceeded from the emperor. The initiative is naturally exercised by him who wishes to regulate or reform, and in his time it was especially Charlemagne who conceived this design. There is no doubt, however, but that the members of the assembly might make on their side such proposals as appeared to them suitable; the constitutional distrusts and artifices of our times were assuredly unknown to Charlemagne, who saw in these assemblies a means of government rather than a barrier to his authority. To resume the text of Hincmar:—

"After having received these communications, they deliberated on them two or three days or more, according to the importance of the business. Palace-messengers, going and coming, took their questions and carried back the answers. No stranger came near the place of their meeting until the result of their deliberations had been able to be submitted to the scrutiny of the great prince, who then, with the wisdom he had received from God, adopted a resolution which all obeyed."

The definitive resolution, therefore, depended upon Charlemagne alone; the assembly contributed only information and counsel.

Hinemar continues, and supplies details worthy of reproduction, for they give an insight into the imperial government and the action of Charlemagne himself amidst those most ancient of the national assemblies.

"Things went on thus for one or two capitularies, or a greater number, until, with God's help, all the necessities of the occasion were regulated.

"Whilst these matters were thus proceeding out of the king's presence, the prince himself, in the midst of the multitude, came to the general assembly, was occupied in receiving the presents, saluting the men of most note, conversing with those he saw seldom, showing towards the elders a tender interest, disporting himself with the youngsters, and doing the same thing, or something like it, with the ecclesiastics as well as the seculars. However, if those who were deliberating about the matter submitted to their examination showed a desire for it, the king repaired to them and remained with them as long as they wished; and then they reported to him with perfect familiarity what they thought about all matters, and what were the friendly discussions that had arisen amongst them. I must not forget to say that, if the weather were fine, everything took place in the open air; otherwise, in several distinct buildings, where those who had to deliberate on the king's proposals were separated from the multitude of persons come to the assembly, and then the men of greater note were admitted. The places appointed for the meeting of the lords were divided into two parts, in such sort that the bishops, the abbots, and the clerics of high rank might meet without mixture with the laity. In the same way the counts and other chiefs of the State underwent separation, in the morning, until, whether the king was present or absent, all were gathered together; then the lords above specified, the clerics on their side, and the laics on theirs, repaired to the hall which had been assigned to them, and where seats had been with due honor prepared for them. When the lords laical and ecclesiastical were thus separated from the multitude, it remained in their power to sit separately or together, according to the nature of the business they had to deal with, ecclesiastical, secular, or mixed. In the same way, if they wished to send for any one, either to demand refreshment, or to put any question and to dismiss him after getting what they wanted, it was at their option. Thus took place the examination of affairs proposed to them by the king for deliberation.

"The second business of the king was to ask of each what there was to report to him, or enlighten him touching the part of the kingdom each had come from. Not only was this permitted to all, but they were strictly enjoined to make inquiries, during the interval between the assemblies, about what happened within or without the kingdom; and they were bound to seek knowledge from foreigners as well as natives, enemies as well as friends, sometimes by employing emissaries, and without troubling themselves much about the manner in which they acquired their information. The king wished to know whether in any part, in any corner of the kingdom, the people were restless, and what was the cause of their restlessness; or whether there had happened any disturbance to which it was necessary to draw the attention of the council-general, and other similar matters. He sought also to know whether any of the subjugated nations were inclined to revolt; whether any of those that had revolted seemed disposed towards submission; and whether those that were still independent were threatening the kingdom with any attack. On all these subjects, whenever there was any manifestation of disorder or danger, he demanded chiefly what were the motives or occasion of them."

There is need of no great reflection to recognize the true character of these assemblies: it is clearly imprinted upon the sketch drawn by Hincmar. The figure of Charlemagne alone fills the picture: he is the centre-piece of it and the soul of everything. 'Tis he who wills that the national assemblies should meet and deliberate; 'tis he who inquires into the state of the country; 'tis he who proposes and approves of or rejects the laws; with him rest will and motive, initiative and decision. He has a mind sufficiently judicious, unshackled, and elevated to understand that the nation ought not to be left in darkness about its affairs, and that he himself has need of communicating with it, of gathering information from it, and of learning its opinions. But we have here no exhibition of great political liberties, no people discussing its interests and its business, interfering effectually in the adoption of resolutions, and, in fact, taking in its government so active and decisive a part as to have a right to say that it is self-governing, or, in other words, a free people. It is Charlemagne, and he alone, who governs; it is absolute government marked by prudence, ability, and grandeur.

When the mind dwells upon the state of Gallo-Frankish society in the eighth century, there is nothing astonishing in such a fact. Whether it be civilized or barbarian, that which every society needs, that which it seeks and demands first of all in its government, is a certain degree of good sense and strong will, of intelligence and innate influence, so far as the public interests are concerned; qualities, in fact, which suffice to keep social order maintained or make it realized, and to promote respect for individual rights and the progress of the general well-being. This is the essential aim of every community of men; and the institutions and guarantees of free government are the means of attaining it. It is clear that, in the eighth century, on the ruins of the Roman and beneath the blows of the barbaric world, the Gallo-Frankish nation, vast and without cohesion, brutish and ignorant, was incapable of bringing forth, so to speak, from its own womb, with the aid of its own wisdom and virtue, a government of the kind. A host of different forces, without enlightenment and without restraint, were everywhere and incessantly struggling for dominion, or, in other words, were ever troubling and endangering the social condition. Let there but arise, in the midst of this chaos of unruly forces and selfish passions, a great man, one of those elevated minds and strong characters that can understand the essential aim of society and then urge it forward, and at the same time keep it well in hand on the roads that lead thereto, and such a man will soon seize and exercise the personal power almost of a despot, and people will not only make him welcome, but even celebrate his praises, for they do not quit the substance for the shadow, or sacrifice the end to the means. Such was the empire of Charlemagne. Amongst annalists and historians, some, treating him as a mere conqueror and despot, have ignored his merits and his glory; others, that they might admire him without scruple, have made of him a founder of free institutions, a constitutional monarch. Both are equally mistaken. Charlemagne was, indeed, a conqueror and a despot; but by his conquests and his personal power he, so long as he was by, that is, for six and forty years, saved Gallo-Frankish society from barbaric invasion without and anarchy within. That is the characteristic of his government and his title to glory.

What he was in his wars and his general relations with his nation has just been seen; he shall now be exhibited in all his administrative activity and his intellectual life, as a legislator and as a friend to the human mind. The same man will be recognized in every ease; he will grow in greatness, without changing, as he appears under his various aspects.

There are often joined together, under the title of Capitularies (capitula, small chapters, articles) a mass of Acts, very different in point of dates and objects, which are attributed indiscriminately to Charlemagne. This is a mistake. The Capitularies are the laws or legislative measures of the Frankish kings, Merovingian as well as Carlovingian. Those of the Merovingians are few in number and of slight importance, and amongst those of the Carlovingians, which amount to one hundred and fifty-two, sixty-five only are due to Charlemagne. When an attempt is made to classify these last according to their object, it is impossible not to be struck with their incoherent variety; and several of them are such as we should nowadays be surprised to meet with in a code or in a special law. Amongst Charlemagne's sixty-five Capitularies, which contain eleven hundred and fifty-one articles, may be counted eighty-seven of moral, two hundred and ninety-three of political, one hundred and thirty of penal, one hundred and ten of civil, eighty-five of religious, three hundred and five of canonical, seventy-three of domestic, and twelve of incidental legislation. And it must not be supposed that all these articles are really acts of legislation, laws properly so called; we find amongst them the texts of ancient national laws revised and promulgated afresh; extracts from and additions to these same ancient laws, Salle, Lombard, and Bavarian; extracts from acts of councils; instructions given by Charlemagne to his envoys in the provinces; questions that he proposed to put to the bishops or counts when they came to the national assembly; answers given by Charlemagne to questions addressed to him by the bishops, counts, or commissioners (missi dominici); judgments, decrees, royal pardons, and simple notes that Charlemagne seems to have had written down for himself alone, to remind him of what he proposed to do; in a word, nearly all the various acts which could possibly have to be framed by an earnest, far-sighted and active government. Often, indeed, these Capitularies have no imperative or prohibitive character; they are simple counsels, purely moral precepts. We read therein, for example,—

"Covetousness doth consist in desiring that which others possess, and in giving away nought of that which one's self possesseth; according to the Apostle it is the root of all evil."


"Hospitality must be practised."

The Capitularies which have been classed under the heads of political, penal, and canonical legislation are the most numerous, and are those which bear most decidedly an imperative or prohibitive stamp; amongst them a prominent place is held by measures of political economy, administration, and police; you will find therein an attempt to put a fixed price on provisions, a real trial of a maximum for cereals, and a prohibition of mendicity, with the following clause:—

"If such mendicants be met with, and they labor not with their hands, let none take thought about giving unto them."

The interior police of the palace was regulated thereby, as well as that of the empire:

"We do will and decree that none of those who serve in our palace shall take leave to receive therein any man who seeketh refuge there and cometh to hide there, by reason of theft, homicide, adultery, or any other crime. That if any free man do break through our interdicts, and hide such malefactor in our palace, he shall be bound to carry him on his shoulders to the public quarter, and be there tied to the same stake as the malefactor."

Certain Capitularies have been termed religious legislation in contradistinction to canonical legislation, because they are really admonitions, religious exhortations, addressed not to ecclesiastics alone, but to the faithful, the Christian people in general, and notably characterized by good sense, and, one might almost say, freedom of thought.

For example,

"Beware of venerating the names of martyrs falsely so called, and the memory of dubious saints."

"Let none suppose that prayer cannot be made to God save in three tongues [probably Latin, Greek, and Germanic, or perhaps the vulgar tongue; for the last was really beginning to take form], for God is adored in all tongues, and man is heard if he do but ask for the things that be right."

These details are put forward that a proper idea may be obtained of Charlemagne as a legislator, and of what are called his laws. We have here, it will be seen, no ordinary legislator and no ordinary laws: we see the work, with infinite variations and in disconnected form, of a prodigiously energetic and watchful master, who had to think and provide for everything, who had to be everywhere the moving and the regulating spirit. This universal and untiring energy is the grand characteristic of Charlemagne's government, and was, perhaps, what made his superiority most incontestable and his power most efficient.

It is noticeable that the majority of Charlemagne's Capitularies belong to that epoch of his reign when he was Emperor of the West, when he was invested with all the splendor of sovereign power. Of the sixty-five Capitularies classed under different heads, thirteen only are previous to the 25th of December, 800, the date of his coronation as emperor at Rome; fifty-two are comprised between the years 801 and 804.

The energy of Charlemagne as a warrior and a politician having thus been exhibited, it remains to say a few words about his intellectual energy. For that is by no means the least original or least grand feature of his character and his influence.

Modern times and civilized society have more than once seen despotic sovereigns filled with distrust towards scholars of exalted intellect, especially such as cultivated the moral and political sciences, and little inclined to admit them to their favor or to public office. There is no knowing whether, in our days, with our freedom of thought and of the press, Charlemagne would have been a stranger to this feeling of antipathy; but what is certain is, that in his day, in the midst of a barbaric society, there was no inducement to it, and that, by nature, he was not disposed to it. His power was not in any respect questioned; distinguished intellects were very rare; Charlemagne had too much need of their services to fear their criticisms, and they, on their part, were more anxious to second his efforts than to show towards him anything like exaction or independence. He gave rein, therefore, without any embarrassment or misgiving, to his spontaneous inclination towards them, their studies, their labors, and their influence. He drew them into the management of affairs. In Guizot's History of Civilization in France there is a list of the names and works of twenty-three men of the eighth and ninth centuries who have escaped oblivion, and they are all found grouped about Charlemagne as his own habitual advisers, or assigned by him as advisers to his sons Pepin and Louis in Italy and Aquitania, or sent by him to all points of his empire as his commissioners (missi dominici), or charged in his name with important negotiations. And those whom he did not employ at a distance formed, in his immediate neighborhood, a learned and industrious society, a school of the palace, according to some modern commentators, but an academy, and not a school, according to others, devoted rather to conversation than to teaching. It probably fulfilled both missions; it attended Charlemagne at his various residences, at one time working for him at questions he invited them to deal with, at another giving to the regular components of his court, to his children and to himself, lessons in the different sciences called liberal, grammar, rhetoric, logic, astronomy, geometry, and even theology and the great religious problems it was beginning to discuss.

Two men, Alcuin and Eginhard, have remained justly celebrated in the literary history of the age. Alcuin was the principal director of the school of the palace, and the favorite, the confidant, the learned adviser of Charlemagne. "If your zeal were imitated," said he one day to the emperor, "perchance one might see arise in France a new Athens, far more glorious than the ancient—the Athens of Christ." Eginhard, who was younger, received his scientific education in the school of the palace, and was head of the public works to Charlemagne, before becoming his biographer, and, at a later period, the intimate adviser of his son Louis the Debonnair. Other scholars of the school of the palace, Angilbert, Leidrade, Adalhard, Agobard, Theodulph, were abbots of St. Riquier or Corbie, archbishops of Lyons, and bishops of Orleans. They had all assumed, in the school itself, names illustrious in pagan antiquity; Alcuin called himself Flaeens; Angilbert, Homer; Theodulph, Pindar. Charlemagne himself had been pleased to take, in their society, a great name of old, but he had borrowed from the history of the Hebrews—he called himself David; and Eginhard, animated, no doubt, by the same sentiments, was Bezaleel, that nephew of Moses to whom God had granted the gift of knowing how to work skilfully in wood and all the materials which served for the construction of the ark and the tabernacle. Either in the lifetime of their royal patron, or after his death, all these scholars became great dignitaries of the Church, or ended their lives in monasteries of note; but, so long as they lived, they served Charlemagne or his sons not only with the devotion of faithful advisers, but also as followers proud of the master who had known how to do them honor by making use of them.

It was without effort and by natural sympathy that Charlemagne had inspired them with such sentiments; for he, too, really loved sciences, literature, and such studies as were then possible, and he cultivated them on his own account and for his own pleasure, as a sort of conquest. It has been doubted whether he could write, and an expression of Eginhard's might authorize such a doubt; but, according to other evidence and even according to the passage in Eginhard, one is inclined to believe merely that Charlemagne strove painfully, and without much success, to write a good hand. He had learned Latin, and he understood Greek. He caused to be commenced, and, perhaps, himself commenced the drawing up of the first Germanic grammar. He ordered that the old barbaric poems, in which the deeds and wars of the ancient kings were celebrated, should be collected for posterity. He gave Germanic names to the twelve months of the year. He distinguished the winds by twelve special terms, whereas before his time they had but four designations. He paid great attention to astronomy. Being troubled one day at no longer seeing in the firmament one of the known planets, he wrote to Alcuin, "What thinkest thou of this Mars, which, last year, being concealed in the sign of Cancer, was intercepted from the sight of men by the light of the sun? Is it the regular course of his revolution? Is it the influence of the sun? Is it a miracle? Could he have been two years about performing the course of a single one?" In theological studies and discussions he exhibited a particular and grave interest. "It is to him," say M.M. Ampere and Haureau, "that we must refer the honor of the decision taken in 794 by the Council of Frankfort in the great dispute about images; a temperate decision which is as far removed from the infatuation of the image-worshippers as from the frenzy of the image-breakers." And at the same time that he thus took part in the great ecclesiastical questions, Charlemagne paid zealous attention to the instruction of the clergy, whose ignorance he deplored. "Ah," said he one day, "if only I had about me a dozen clerics learned in all the sciences, as Jerome and Augustin were!" With all his puissance it was not in his power to make Jeromes and Augustins; but he laid the foundation, in the cathedral churches and the great monasteries, of episcopal and cloistral schools for the education of ecclesiastics, and carrying his solicitude still farther, he recommended to the bishops and abbots that, in those schools, "they should take care to make no difference between the sons of serfs and of free men, so that they might come and sit on the same benches to study grammar, music, and arithmetic." (Capitularies of 789, art. 70.) Thus, in the eighth century, he foreshadowed the extension which, in the nineteenth, was to be accorded to primary instruction, to the advantage and honor not only of the clergy, but also of the whole people.

After so much of war and toil at a distance, Charlemagne was now at Aix- la-Chapelle, finding rest in this work of peaceful civilization. He was embellishing the capital which he had founded, and which was called the king's court. He had built there a grand basilica, magnificently adorned. He was completing his own palace there. He fetched from Italy clerics skilled in church music, a pious joyance to which he was much devoted, and which he recommended to the bishops of his empire. In the outskirts of Aix-la-Chapelle "he gave full scope," said Eginhard, "to his delight in riding and hunting. Baths of naturally-tepid water gave him great pleasure. Being passionately fond of swimming, he became so dexterous that none could be compared with him. He invited not only his sons, but also his friends, the grandees of his court, and sometimes even the soldiers of his guard, to bathe with him, insomuch that there were often a hundred and more persons bathing at a time. When age arrived he made no alteration in his bodily habits; but, at the same time, instead of putting away from him the thought of death, he was much taken up with it, and prepared himself for it with stern severity. He drew up, modified, and completed his will several times over. Three years before his death he made out the distribution of his treasures, his money, his wardrobe, and all his furniture, in the presence of his friends and his officers, in order that their voice might insure, after his death, the execution of this partition, and he set down his intentions in this respect in a written summary, in which he massed all his riches in three grand lots. The first two were divided into twenty-one portions, which were to be distributed amongst the twenty-one metropolitan churches of his empire. After having put these first two lots under seal, he willed to preserve to himself his usual enjoyment of the third so long as he lived. But after his death or voluntary renunciation of the things of this world, this same lot was to be subdivided into four portions. His intention was, that the first should be added to the twenty-one portions which were to go to the metropolitan churches; the second set aside for his sons and daughters, and for the sons and daughters of his sons, and redivided amongst them in a just and proportionate manner; the third dedicated, according to the usage of Christians, to the necessities of the poor; and, lastly, the fourth distributed in the same way, under the name of alms, amongst the servants, of both sexes, of the palace for their lifetime. . . . As for the books, of which he had amassed a large number in his library, he decided that those who wished to have them might buy them at their proper value, and that the money which they produced should be distributed amongst the poor."

Having thus carefully regulated his own private affairs and bounty, he, two years later, in 813, took the measures necessary for the regulation, after his death, of public affairs. He had lost, in 811, his eldest son Charles, who had been his constant companion in his wars, and, in 810, his second son Pepin, whom he had made king of Italy; and he summoned to his side his third son Louis, king of Aquitaine, who was destined to succeed him. He ordered the convocation of five local councils which were to assemble at Mayence, Rheims, Chalons, Tours, and Arles, for the purpose of bringing about, subject to the king's ratification, the reforms necessary in the Church. Passing from the affairs of the Church to those of the State, he convoked at Aix-la-Chapelle a general assembly of bishops, abbots, counts, laic grandees, and of the entire people, and, holding council in his palace with the chief amongst them, "he invited them to make his son Louis king-emperor; whereto all assented, saying that it was very expedient, and pleasing, also, to the people. On Sunday in the next month, August 813, Charlemagne repaired, crown on head, with his son Louis, to the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle, laid upon the altar another crown, and, after praying, addressed to his son a solemn exhortation respecting all his duties as king towards God and the Church, towards his family and his people, asked him if he were fully resolved to fulfil them, and, at the answer that he was, bade him take the crown that lay upon the altar, and place it with his own hands upon his head, which Louis did amidst the acclamations of all present, who cried, 'Long live the emperor Louis!' Charlemagne then declared his son emperor jointly with him, and ended the solemnity with these words: 'Blessed be Thou, O Lord God, who hast granted me grace to see with mine own eyes my son seated on my throne!'" And Louis set out again immediately for Aquitaine.

He was never to see his father again. Charlemagne, after his son's departure, went out hunting, according to his custom, in the forest of Ardenne, and continued during the whole autumn his usual mode of life. "But in January, 814, he was taken ill," says Eginhard, "of a violent fever, which kept him to his bed. Recurring forthwith to the remedy he ordinarily employed against fever, he abstained from all nourishment, persuaded that this diet would suffice to drive away or at the least assuage the malady; but added to the fever came that pain in the side which the Greeks call pleurisy; nevertheless the emperor persisted in his abstinence, supporting his body only by drinks taken at long intervals; and on the seventh day after that he had taken to his bed, having received the holy communion," he expired about nine A.M., on Saturday, the 28th of January, 814, in his seventy-first year.

"After performance of ablutions and funeral duties, the corpse was carried away and buried, amidst the profound mourning of all the people, in the church he himself had built; and above his tomb there was put up a gilded arcade with his image and this superscription: 'In this tomb reposeth the body of Charles, great and orthodox emperor, who did gloriously extend the kingdom of the Franks, and did govern it happily for forty-seven years. He died at the age of seventy years, in the year of the Lord 814, in the seventh year of the Indiction, on the 5th of the Kalends of February.'"

If we sum up his designs and his achievements, we find an admirably sound idea and a vain dream, a great success and a great failure.

Charlemagne took in hand the work of placing upon a solid foundation the Frankish-Christian dominion by stopping, in the north and south, the flood of barbarians and Arabs—Paganism and Islamism. In that he succeeded: the inundations of Asiatic populations spent their force in vain against the Gallic frontier. Western and Christian Europe was placed, territorially, beyond reach of attacks from the foreigner and infidel. No sovereign, no human being, perhaps, ever rendered greater service to the civilization of the world.

Charlemagne formed another conception and made another attempt. Like more than one great barbaric warrior, he admired the Roman empire that had fallen, its vastness all in one, and its powerful organization under the hand of a single master. He thought he could resuscitate it, durably, through the victory of a new people and a new faith, by the hand of Franks and Christians. With this view he labored to conquer, convert, and govern. He tried to be, at one and the same time, Caesar, Augustus, and Constantine. And for a moment he appeared to have succeeded; but the appearance passed away with himself. The unity of the empire and the absolute power of the emperor were buried in his grave. The Christian religion and human liberty set to work to prepare for Europe other governments and other destinies.

Great men do great things which would not get done without them; they set their mark plainly upon history, which realizes a portion of their ideas and wishes; but they are far from doing all they meditate, and they know not all they do. They are at one and the same time instruments and free agents in a general design which is infinitely above their ken, and which, even if a glimpse of it be caught, remains inscrutable to them— the design of God towards mankind. When great men understand that such is their position and accept it, they show sense, and they work to some purpose. When they do not recognize the limits of their free agency, and the veil which hides from their eyes the future they are laboring for, they become the dupes, and frequently the victims, of a blind pride, which events, in the long run, always end by exposing and punishing.

Amongst men of his rank, Charlemagne has had this singular good fortune, that his error, his misguided attempt at imperialism, perished with him, whilst his salutary achievement, the territorial security of Christian Europe, has been durable, to the great honor, as well as great profit, of European civilization.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works