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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times|
Decay And Fall Of The Carlovingians.
by Guizot, M.
|From the death of Charlemagne to the accession of Hugh Capet,—that is, from 814 to 987,—thirteen kings sat upon the throne of France. What then became, under their reign and in the course of those hundred and seventy-three years, of the two great facts which swayed the mind and occupied the life of Charlemagne? What became, that is, of the solid territorial foundation of the kingdom of Christian France, through efficient repression of foreign invasion, and of the unity of that vast empire wherein Charlemagne had attempted and hoped to resuscitate the Roman empire?
The fate of those two facts is the very history of France under the Carlovingian dynasty; it is the only portion of the events of that epoch which still deserves attention nowadays, for it is the only one which has exercised any great and lasting influence on the general history of France.
Attempts at foreign invasion of France were renewed very often, and in many parts of Gallo-Frankish territory, during the whole duration of the Carlovingian dynasty, and, even though they failed, they caused the population of the kingdom to suffer from cruel ravages. Charlemagne, even after his successes against the different barbaric invaders, had foreseen the evils which would be inflicted on France by the most formidable and most determined of them, the Northmen, coming by sea, and landing on the coast. The most closely contemporaneous and most given to detail of his chroniclers, the monk of St. Gall, tells in prolix and pompous, but evidently heartfelt and sincere terms, the tale of the great emperor's far-sightedness. "Charles, who was ever astir," says he, "arrived by mere hap and unexpectedly, in a certain town of Narbonnese Gaul. Whilst he was at dinner, and was as yet unrecognized of any, some corsairs of the Northmen came to ply their piracies in the very port. When their vessels were descried, they were supposed to be Jewish traders according to some, African according to others, and British in the opinion of others; but the gifted monarch, perceiving, by the build and lightness of the craft, that they bare not merchandise, but foes, said to his own folk, 'These vessels be not laden with merchandise, but manned with cruel foes.' At these words all the Franks, in rivalry one with another, run to their ships, but uselessly: for the Northmen, indeed, hearing that yonder was he whom it was still their wont to call Charles the Hammer, feared lest all their fleet should be taken or destroyed in the port, and they avoided, by a flight of inconceivable rapidity, not only the glaives, but even the eyes of those who were pursuing then.
"Pious Charles, however, a prey to well-grounded fear, rose up from table, stationed himself at a window looking eastward, and there remained a long while, and his eyes were filled with tears. As none durst question him, this warlike prince explained to the grandees who were about his person the cause of his movement and of his tears: 'Know ye, my lieges, wherefore I weep so bitterly? Of a surety I fear not lest these fellows should succeed in injuring me by their miserable piracies; but it grieveth me deeply that, whilst I live, they should have been nigh to touching at this shore, and I am a prey to violent sorrow when I foresee what evils they will heap upon my descendants and their people.'"
The forecast and the dejection of Charles were not unreasonable. It will be found that there is special mention made, in the chronicles of the ninth and tenth centuries, of forty-seven incursions into France of Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and Irish pirates, all comprised under the name of Northmen; and, doubtless, many other incursions of less gravity have left no trace in history. "The Northmen," says M. Fauriel, "descended from the north to the south by a sort of natural gradation or ladder. The Scheldt was the first river by the mouth of which they penetrated inland; the Seine was the second; the Loire the third. The advance was threatening for the countries traversed by the Garonne; and it was in 844 that vessels freighted with Northmen for the first time ascended this last river to a considerable distance inland, and there took immense booty. . . . The following year they pillaged and burnt Saintes. In 846 they got as far as Limoges. The inhabitants, finding themselves unable to make head against the dauntless pirates, abandoned their hearths, together with all they had not time to carry away. Encouraged by these successes, the Northmen reappeared next year upon the coasts and in the rivers of Aquitaine, and they attempted to take Bordeaux, whence they were valorously repulsed by the inhabitants; but in 848, having once more laid siege to that city, they were admitted into it at night by the Jews, who were there in great force; the city was given up to plunder and conflagration; a portion of the people was scattered abroad, and the rest put to the sword." Tours, Rouen, Angers, Orleans, Meaux, Toulouse, Saint-Lo, Bayeux, Evreux, Nantes, and Beauvais, some of them more than once, met the fate of Saintes, Limoges, and Bordeaux. The monasteries and churches, wherein they hoped to find treasures, were the favorite objects of the Nortlimen's enterprises; in particular, they plundered, at the gates of Paris, the abbey of St. Germain des Pres and that of St. Denis, whence they carried off the abbot, who could not purchase his freedom, save by a heavy ransom. They penetrated more than once into Paris itself, and subjected many of its quarters to contributions or pillage. The populations grew into the habit of suffering and fleeing; and the local lords, and even the kings, made arrangement sometimes with the pirates either for saving the royal domains from the ravages, or for having their own share therein. In 850, Pepin, king of Aquitaine, and brother of Charles the Bald, came to an understanding with the Northmen who had ascended the Garonne, and were threatening Toulouse. "They arrived under his guidance," says M. Fauriel, "they laid siege to it, took it and plundered it, not halfwise, not hastily, as folks who feared to be surprised, but leisurely, with all security, by virtue of a treaty of alliance with one of the kings of the country." Throughout Aquitaine there was but one cry of indignation against Pepin, and the popularity of Charles was increased in proportion to all the horror inspired by the ineffable misdeed of his adversary. Charles the Bald himself, if he did not ally himself, as Pepin did, with the invaders, took scarce any interest in the fate of the populations, and scarcely more trouble to protect them, for Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, wrote to him in 859, "Many folks say that you are incessantly repeating that it is not for you to mix yourself up with these depredations and robberies, and that every one has but to defend himself as best he may."
It were tedious to relate or even to enumerate all these incursions of the Northmen, with their monotonous incidents. When their frequency and their general character have been notified, all has been done that is due to them from history. However, there are three on which it may be worth while to dwell particularly, by reason of their grave historical consequences, as well as of the dramatic details which have been transmitted to us about them.
In the middle and during the last half of the ninth century, a chief of the Northmen, named Hastenc or Hastings, appeared several times over on the coasts and in the rivers of France, with numerous vessels and a following. He had also with him, say the chronicles, a young Norwegian or Danish prince, Bieern, called Ironsides, whom he had educated, and who had preferred sharing the fortunes of his governor to living quietly with the king, his father. After several expeditions into Western France, Hastings became the theme of terrible, and very probably fabulous stories. He extended his cruises, they say, to the Mediterranean, and, having arrived at the coasts of Tuscany, within sight of a city which in his ignorance he took for Rome, he resolved to pillage it; but, not feeling strong enough to attack it by assault, he sent to the bishop to say he was very ill, felt a wish to become a Christian, and begged to be baptized. Some days afterwards, his comrades spread a report that he was dead, and claimed for him the honors of a solemn burial. The bishop consented; the coffin of Hastings was carried into the church, attended by a large number of his followers, without visible weapons; but, in the middle of the ceremony, Hastings suddenly leaped up, sword in hand, from his coffin; his followers displayed the weapons they had concealed, closed the doors, slew the priests, pillaged the ecclesiastical treasures, and re-embarked before the very eyes of the stupefied population, to go and resume, on the coasts of France, their incursions and their ravages.
Whether they were true or false, these rumors of bold artifices and distant expeditions on the part of Hastings aggravated the dismay inspired by his appearance. He penetrated into the interior of the country in Poitou, Anjou, Brittany, and along the Seine; pillaged the monasteries of Jumieges, St. Vaudrille, and St. Evroul; took possession of Chartres, and appeared before Paris, where Charles the Bald, intrenched at St. Denis, was deliberating with his prelates and barons as to how he might resist the Northmen or treat with them. The chronicle says that the barons advised resistance, but that the king preferred negotiation, and "sent the Abbot of St. Denis, the which was an exceeding wise man," to Hastings, who, "after long parley, and by reason of large gifts and promises," consented to stop his cruisings, to become a Christian, and to settle in the count-ship of Chartres, "which the king gave him as an hereditary possession, with all its appurtenances." According to other accounts, it was only some years later, under the young king Louis III., grandson of Charles the Bald, that Hastings was induced, either by reverses or by payment of money, to cease from his piracies, and accept in recompense the countship of Chartres. Whatever may have been the date, he was, it is believed, the first chieftain of the Northmen who renounced a life of adventure and plunder, to become, in France, a great landed proprietor and a count of the king's. Prince Bieern then separated from his governor, and put again to sea, "laden with so rich a booty that he could never feel any want of wealth; but a tempest swallowed up a great part of his fleet, and cast him upon the coasts of Friesland, where he died soon after, for which Hastings was exceeding sorry."
A greater chieftain of the Northmen than Hastings was soon to follow his example, and found Normandy in France; but before Rolf, that is, Rollo, came and gave the name of his race to a French province, the piratical. Northmen were again to attempt a greater blow against France, and to suffer a great reverse.
In November, 885, under the reign of Charles the Fat, after having, for more than forty years, irregularly ravaged France, they resolved to unite their forces in order at length to obtain possession of Paris, whose outskirts they had so often pillaged without having been able to enter the heart of the place, in the Ile de la Cite, which had originally been and still was the real Paris. Two bodies of troops were set in motion; one, under the command of Rollo, who was already famous amongst his comrades, marched on Rouen; the other went right up the course of the Seine, under the orders of Siegfried, whom the Northmen called their king. Rollo took Rouen, and pushed on at once for Paris. Duke Renaud, general of the Gallo-Frankish troops, went to encounter him on the banks of the Eure, and sent to him, to sound his intentions, Hastings, the newly-made count of Chartres. "Valiant warriors," said Hastings to Rollo, "whence come ye? What seek ye here? What is the name of your lord and master? Tell us this; for we be sent unto you by the king of the Franks." "We be Danes," answered Rollo, "and all be equally masters amongst us. We be come to drive out the inhabitants of this land, and to subject it as our own country. But who art thou, thou who speakest so glibly?" "Ye have sometime heard tell of one Hastings, who, issuing forth from amongst you, came hither with much shipping and made desert a great part of the kingdom of the Franks?" "Yes," said Rollo, "we have heard tell of him; Hastings began well and ended ill." "Will ye yield you to King Charles?" asked Hastings. "We yield," was the answer, "to none; all that we shall take by our arms we will keep as our right. Go and tell this, if thou wilt, to the king, whose envoy thou boastest to be." Hastings returned to the Gallo-Frankish army, and Rollo prepared to march on Paris. Hastings had gone back somewhat troubled in mind. Now there was amongst the Franks one Count Tetbold (Thibault), who greatly coveted the countship of Chartres, and he said to Hastings, "Why slumberest thou softly? Knowest thou not that King Charles doth purpose thy death by cause of all the Christian blood that thou didst aforetime unjustly shed? Bethink thee of all the evil thou hast done him, by reason whereof he purposeth to drive thee from his land. Take heed to thyself that thou be not smitten unawares." Hastings, dismayed, at once sold to Tetbold the town of Chartres, and, removing all that belonged to him, departed to go and resume, for all that appears, his old course of life.
On the 25th of November, 885, all the forces of the North-men formed a junction before Paris; seven hundred huge barks covered two leagues of the Seine, bringing, it is said, more than thirty thousand men. The chieftains were astonished at sight of the new fortifications of the city, a double wall of circumvallation, the bridges crowned with towers, and in the environs the ramparts of the abbeys of St. Denis and St. Germain solidly rebuilt. Siegfried hesitated to attack a town so well defended. He demanded to enter alone and have an interview with the bishop, Gozlin. "Take pity on thyself and thy flock," said he to him; "let us but pass through this city; we will in no wise touch the town; we will do our best to preserve for thee and Count Eudes, all your possessions." "This city," replied the bishop, "hath been confided unto us by the Emperor Charles, king and ruler, under God, of the powers of the earth. He hath confided it unto us not that it should cause the ruin but the salvation of the kingdom. If peradventure these walls had been confided to thy keeping, as they have been to mine, wouldst thou do as thou biddest me?" "If ever I do so," answered Siegfried, "may my head be condemned to fall by the sword and serve as food to the dogs! But if thou yield not to our prayers, so soon as the sun shall commence his course, our armies will launch upon thee their poisoned arrows; and when the sun shall end his course, they will give thee over to all the horrors of famine; and this will they do from year to year." The bishop, however, persisted, without further discussion; being as certain of Count Eudes as he was of himself. Eudes, who was young and but recently made count of Paris, was the eldest son of Robert the Strong, count of Anjou, of the same line as Charlemagne, and but lately slain in battle against the Northmen. Paris had for defenders two heroes, one of the Church and the other of the Empire: the faith of the Christian and the fealty of the vassal; the conscientiousness of the priest and the honor of the warrior.
The siege lasted thirteen months, whiles pushed vigorously forward with eight several assaults, whiles maintained by close investment, and with all the alternations of success and reverse, all the intermixture of brilliant daring and obscure sufferings, that can occur when the assailants are determined and the defenders devoted. Not only a contemporary but an eye-witness, Abbo, a monk of St. Germain des Pres, has recounted the details in a long poem, wherein the writer, devoid of talent, adds nothing to the simple representation of events; it is history itself which gives to Abbo's poem a high degree of interest. We do not possess, in reference to these continual struggles of the Northmen with the Gallo-Frankish populations, any other document which is equally precise and complete, or which could make us so well acquainted with all the incidents, all the phases of this irregular warfare between two peoples, one without a government, the other without a country. The bishop, Gozlin, died during the siege. Count Eudes quitted Paris for a time to go and beg aid of the emperor; but the Parisians soon saw him reappear on the heights of Montmartre with three battalions of troops, and he re-entered the town, spurring on his horse and striking light and left with his battle-axe through the ranks of the dumfounded besiegers. The struggle was prolonged throughout the summer; and when, in November, 886, Charles the Fat at last appeared before Paris, "with a large army of all nations," it was to purchase the retreat of the Northmen at the cost of a heavy ransom, and by allowing them to go and winter in Burgundy, "whereof the inhabitants obeyed not the emperor."
Some months afterwards, in 887, Charles the Fat was deposed, at a diet held on the banks of the Rhine, by the grandees of Germanic France; and Arnulf, a natural son of Carloman, the brother of Louis III., was proclaimed emperor in his stead. At the same time Count Eudes, the gallant defender of Paris, was elected king at Compiegne and crowned by the Archbishop of Sens. Guy, duke of Spoleto, descended from Charlemagne in the female line, hastened to France and was declared king at Langres by the bishop of that town, but returned with precipitation to Italy, seeing no chance of maintaining himself in his French kingship. Elsewhere, Boso, duke of Arles, became king of Provence, and the Burgundian Count Rodolph had himself crowned at St. Maurice, in the Valais, king of transjuran Burgundy. There was still in France a legitimate Carlovingian, a son of Louis the Stutterer, who was hereafter to become Charles the Simple; but being only a child, he had been rejected or completely forgotten, and, in the interval that was to elapse ere his time should arrive, kings were being made in all directions.
In the midst of this confusion, the Northmen, though they kept at a distance from Paris, pursued in Western France their cruising and plundering. In Rollo they had a chieftain far superior to his vagabond predecessors. Though he still led the same life that they had, he displayed therein other faculties, other inclinations, other views. In his youth he had made an expedition to England, and had there contracted a real friendship with the wise King Alfred the Great. During a campaign in Friesland he had taken prisoner Rainier, count of Hainault; and Alberade, countess of Brabant, made a request to Rollo for her husband's release, offering in return to set free twelve captains of the Northmen, her prisoners, and to give up all the gold she possessed. Rollo took only half the gold, and restored to the countess her husband. When, in 885, he became master of Rouen, instead of devastating the city, after the fashion of his kind, he respected the buildings, had the walls repaired, and humored the inhabitants. In spite of his violent and extortionate practices where he met with obstinate resistance, there were to be discerned in him symptoms of more noble sentiments and of an instinctive leaning towards order, civilization, and government. After the deposition of Charles the Fat and during the reign of Eudes, a lively struggle was maintained between the Frankish king and the chieftain of the Northmen, who had neither of them forgotten their early encounters. They strove, one against the other, with varied fortunes; Eudes succeeded in beating the Northmen at Montfaucon, but was beaten in Vermandois by another band, commanded, it is said, by the veteran Hastings, sometime count of Chartres. Rollo, too, had his share at one time of success, at another of reverse; but he made himself master of several important towns, showed a disposition to treat the quiet populations gently, and made a fresh trip to England, during which he renewed friendly relations with her king, Athelstan, the successor of Alfred the Great. He thus became, from day to day, more reputable as well as more formidable in France, insomuch that Eudes himself was obliged to have recourse, in dealing with him, to negotiations and presents. When, in 898, Eudes was dead, and Charles the Simple, at hardly nineteen years of age, had been recognized sole king of France, the ascendency of Rollo became such that the necessity of treating with him was clear. In 911, Charles, by the advice of his councillors, and, amongst them, of Robert, brother of the late king, Eudes, who had himself become count of Paris and duke of France, sent to the chieftain of the Northmen Franco, archbishop of Rouen, with orders to offer him the cession of a considerable portion of Neustria and the hand of his young daughter Giscle, on condition that he became a Christian and acknowledged himself the king's vassal. Rollo, by the advice of his comrades, received these overtures with a good grace, and agreed to a truce for three months, during which they might treat about peace. On the day fixed, Charles accompanied by Duke Robert, and Rollo, surrounded by his warriors, repaired to St. Clair-sur-Epte, on the opposite banks of the river, and exchanged numerous messages. Charles offered Rollo Flanders, which the Northman refused, considering it too swampy; as to the maritime portion of Neustria, he would not be contented with it; it was, he said, covered with forests, and had become quite a stranger to the plough-share by reason of the Northmen's incessant incursions; he demanded the addition of territories taken from Brittany, and that the princes of that province, Berenger and Alan, lords, respectively, of Redon and Del, should take the oath of fidelity to him. When matters had been arranged on this basis, "the bishops told Rollo that he who received such a gift as the duchy of Normandy was bound to kiss the king's foot. 'Never,' quoth Rollo, 'will I bend the knee before the knees of any, and I will kiss the foot of none.' At the solicitation of the Franks he then ordered one of his warriors to kiss the king's foot. The Northman, remaining bolt upright, took hold of the king's foot, raised it to his mouth, and so made the king fall backward, which caused great bursts of laughter and much disturbance amongst the throng. Then the king and all the grandees who were about him, prelates, abbots, dukes, and counts, swore, in the name of the Catholic faith, that they would protect the patrician Rollo in his life, his members, and his folk, and would guarantee to him the possession of the aforesaid land, to him and his descendants forever. After which the king, well satisfied, returned to his domains; and Rollo departed with Duke Robert for the town of Rouen."
The dignity of Charles the Simple had no reason to be well satisfied; but the great political question which, a century before, caused Charlemagne such lively anxiety, was solved; the most dangerous, the most incessantly renewed of all foreign invasions, those of the Northmen, ceased to threaten France. The vagabond pirates had a country to cultivate and defend; the Northmen were becoming French.
No such transformation was near taking place in the case of the invasions of the Saracens in Southern Gaul; they continued to infest Aquitania, Septimania, and Provence; their robber-hordes appeared frequently on the coasts of the Mediterranean and the banks of the Rhone, at Aigues-Mortes, at Marseilles, at Arles, and in Camargue; they sometimes penetrated into Dauphine, Rouergue, Limousin, and Saintonge. The author of this history saw, at the commencement of the present century, in the mountains of the Cevennes, the ruins of the towers built, a thousand years ago, by the inhabitants of those rugged countries, to put their families and their flocks under shelter from the incursions of the Saracens. But these incursions were of short duration, and most frequently undertaken by plunderers few in number, who retreated precipitately with their booty. Africa was not, as Asia was, an inexhaustible source of nations burning to push onward, one upon another, to go wandering and settling elsewhere. The people of the north move willingly towards the south, where living is easier and pleasanter; but the people of the south are not much disposed to migrate to the north, with its soil so hard to cultivate, and its leaden skies, and into the midst of its fogs and frosts. After a course of plundering in Aquitania or in Provence, the Arabs of Spain and of Africa were eager to recross the Pyrenees or the Mediterranean, and regain their own lovely climate, and their life of easefulness that never palled. Furthermore, between Christians and Mussulmans the religious antipathy was profound. The Christian missionaries were not much given to carrying their pious zeal into the home of the Mussulman; and the Mussulmans were far less disposed than the pagans to become Christians. To preserve their conquests, the Arabs of Spain had to struggle against the refugee Goths in the Asturias; and Charlemagne, by extending those of the Franks to the Ebro, had given the Christian Goths a powerful alliance against the Spanish Mussulmans. For all these reasons, the invasions of the Saracens in the south of France did not threaten, as those of the Northmen did in the north, the security of the Gallo-Frankish monarchy, and the Gallo-Roman populations of the south were able to defend their national independence at the same time against the Saracens and the Franks. They did so successfully in the ninth and tenth centuries; and the French monarchy, which was being founded between the Loire and the Rhine, had thus for some time a breach in it, without ever suffering serious displacement.
A new people, the Hungarians, which was the only name then given to the Magyars, appeared at this epoch, for the first time, amongst the devastators of Western Europe. From 910 to 954, as a consequence of movements and wars on the Danube, Hungarian hordes, after scouring Central Germany, penetrated into Alsace, Lorraine, Champagne, Burgundy, Berry, Dauphine, Provence, and even Aquitaine; but this inundation was transitory, and if the populations of those countries had much to suffer from it, the Gallo-Frankish dominion, in spite of inward disorder and the feebleness of the latter Carlovingians, was not seriously endangered thereby.
And so the first of Charlemagne's grand designs, the territorial security of the Gallo-Frankish and Christian dominion, was accomplished. In the east and the north, the Germanic and Asiatic populations, which had so long upset it, were partly arrested at its frontiers, partly incorporated regularly in its midst. In the south, the Mussulman populations which, in the eighth century, had appeared so near overwhelming it, were powerless to deal it any heavy blow. Substantially France was founded. But what had become of Charlemagne's second grand design, the resuscitation of the Roman empire at the hands of the barbarians that had conquered it and become Christians?
Let us leave Louis the Debonnair his traditional name, although it is not an exact rendering of that which was given him by his contemporaries. They called him Louis the Pious. And so indeed he was, sincerely and even scrupulously pious; but he was still more weak than pious, as weak in heart and character as in mind, as destitute of ruling ideas as of strength of will; fluctuating at the mercy of transitory impressions, or surrounding influences, or positional embarrassments. The name of Debonnair is suited to him; it expresses his moral worth and his political incapacity, both at once.
As king of Aquitania, in the time of Charlemagne, Louis made himself esteemed and loved; his justice, his suavity, his probity, and his piety were pleasing to the people, and his weaknesses disappeared under the strong hand of his father. When he became emperor, he began his reign by a reaction against the excesses, real or supposed, of the preceding reign. Charlemagne's morals were far from regular, and he troubled himself but little about the license prevailing in his family or his palace. At a distance he ruled with a tight and a heavy hand. Louis established at his court, for his sisters as well as his servants, austere regulations. He restored to the subjugated Saxons certain of the rights of which Charlemagne had deprived them. He sent out everywhere his commissioners (missi dominici) with orders to listen to complaints and redress grievances, and to mitigate his father's rule, which was rigorous in its application, and yet insufficient to repress disturbance, notwithstanding its preventive purpose and its watchful supervision.
Almost simultaneously with his accession, Louis committed an act more serious and compromising. He had, by his wife Hermengarde, three sons, Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis, aged respectively nineteen, eleven, and eight. In 817 Louis summoned at Aix-la-Chapelle the general assembly of his dominions; and there, whilst declaring that "neither to those who were wisely-minded, nor to himself, did it appear expedient to break up, for the love he bare his sons and by the will of man, the unity of the empire, preserved by God himself," he had resolved to share with his eldest son, Lothaire, the imperial throne. Lothaire was in fact crowned emperor; and his two brothers, Pepin and Louis, were crowned king, "in order that they might reign, after their father's death and under their brother and lord, Lothaire, to wit: Pepin, over Aquitaine and a great part of Southern Gaul and of Burgundy; Louis, beyond the Rhine, over Bavaria and the divers peoplets in the east of Germany." The rest of Gaul and of Germany, as well as the kingdom of Italy, was to belong to Lothaire, emperor and head of the Frankish monarchy, to whom his brothers would have to repair year by year to come to an understanding with him and receive his instructions. The last-named kingdom, the most considerable of the three, remained under the direct government of Louis the Debonnair, and at the same time of his son Lothaire, sharing the title of emperor. The two other sons, Pepin and Louis, entered, notwithstanding their childhood, upon immediate possession, the one of Aquitaine and the other of Bavaria, under the superior authority of their father and their brother, the joint emperors.
Charlemagne had vigorously maintained the unity of the empire, for all that he had delegated to two of his sons, Pepin and Louis, the government of Italy and Aquitaine, with the title of king. Louis the Debonnair, whilst regulating beforehand the division of his dominion, likewise desired, as he said, to maintain the unity of the empire. But he forgot that he was no Charlemagne.
It was not long before numerous mournful experiences showed to what extent the unity of the empire required personal superiority in the emperor, and how rapid would be the decay of the fabric when there remained nothing but the title of the founder.
In 816 Pope Stephen IV. came to France to consecrate Louis the Debonnair emperor. Many a time already the Popes had rendered the Frankish kings this service and honor. The Franks had been proud to see their king, Charlemagne, protecting Adrian I. against the Lombards; then crowned emperor at Rome by Leo III., and then having his two sons, Pepin and Louis, crowned at Rome, by the same Pope, kings respectively of Italy and of Aquitaine. On these different occasions, Charlemagne, whilst testifying the most profound respect for the Pope, had, in his relations with him, always taken care to preserve, together with his political greatness, all his personal dignity. But when, in 816, the Franks saw Louis the Pious not only go out of Rheims to meet Stephen IV., but prostrate himself, from head to foot, and rise only when the Pope held out a hand to him, the spectators felt saddened and humiliated at the sight of their emperor in the posture of a penitent monk.
Several insurrections burst out in the empire; the first amongst the Basques of Aquitaine; the next in Italy, where Bernard, son of Pepin, having, after his father's death, become king in 812, with the consent of his grandfather Charlemagne, could not quietly see his kingdom pass into the hands of his cousin Lothaire at the orders of his uncle Louis. These two attempts were easily repressed, but the third was more serious. It took place in Brittany, amongst those populations of Armorica who were still buried in their woods, and were excessively jealous of their independence. In 818 they took for king one of their principal chieftains, named Morvan; and, not confining themselves to a refusal of all tribute to the king of the Franks, they renewed their ravages upon the Frankish territories bordering on their frontier. Louis was at that time holding a general assembly of his dominions at Aix-la-Chapelle; and Count Lantbert, commandant of the marches of Brittany, came and reported to him what was going on. A Frankish monk, named Ditcar, happened to be at the assembly: he was a man of piety and sense, a friend of peace, and, moreover, with some knowledge of the Breton king Morvan, as his monastery had property in the neighborhood. Him the emperor commissioned to convey to the king his grievances and his demands. After some days' journey the monk passed the frontier, and arrived at a vast space enclosed on one side by a noble river, and on all the others by forests and swamps, hedges and ditches. In the middle of this space was a large dwelling, which was Morvan's. Ditcar found it full of warriors, the king having, no doubt, some expedition on hand. The monk announced himself as a messenger from the emperor of the Franks. The style of announcement caused some confusion, at first, to the Briton, who, however, hasted to conceal his emotion under an air of good-will and joyousness, to impose upon his comrades. The latter were got rid of; and the king remained alone with the monk, who explained the object of his mission. He descanted upon the power of the Emperor Lotus, recounted his complaints, and warned the Briton, kindly and in a private capacity, of the danger of his situation, a danger so much the greater in that he and his people would meet with the less consideration, seeing that they kept up the religion of their Pagan forefathers. Morvan gave attentive ear to this sermon, with his eyes fixed on the ground, and his foot tapping it from time to time. Ditcar thought he had succeeded; but an incident supervened. It was the hour when Morvan's wife was accustomed to come and look for him ere they retired to the nuptial couch. She appeared, eager to know who the stranger was, what he had come for, what he had said, what answer he had received. She preluded her questions with oglings and caresses; she kissed the knees, the hands, the beard, and the face of the king, testifying her desire to be alone with him. "O king and glory of the mighty Britons, dear spouse of mine, what tidings bringeth this stranger? Is it peace, or is it war?" "This stranger," answered Morvan with a smile, "is an envoy of the Franks; but bring he peace or bring he war, is the affair of men alone; as for thee, content thee with thy woman's duties." Thereupon Ditcar, perceiving that he was countered, said to Morvan, "Sir king, 'tis time that I return; tell me what answer I am to take back to my sovereign." "Leave me this night to take thought thereon," replied the Breton chief, with a wavering air. When the morning came, Ditcar presented himself once more to Morvan, whom he found up, but still half-drunk, and full of very different sentiments from those of the night before. It required some effort, stupefied and tottering as he was with the effects of wine and the pleasures of the night, to say to Ditcar, "Go back to thy king, and tell him from me that my land was never his, and that I owe him nought of tribute or submission. Let him reign over the Franks; as for me, I reign over the Britons. If he will bring war on me, he will find me ready to pay him back."
The monk returned to Louis the Debonnair, and rendered account of his mission. War was resolved upon; and the emperor collected his troops, Allemannians, Saxons, Thuringians, Burgundians, and Aquitanians, without counting Franks or Gallo-Romans. They began their march, moving upon Vannes; Louis was at their head, and the empress accompanied him, but he left her, already ill and fatigued, at Angers. The Franks entered the country of the Britons, searched the woods and morasses, found no armed men in the open country, but encountered them in scattered and scanty companies, at the entrance of all the defiles, on the heights commanding pathways, and wherever men could hide themselves and await the moment for appearing unexpectedly. The Franks heard them, from amidst the heather and the brushwood, uttering shrill cries, to give warning one to another, or to alarm the enemy. The Franks advanced cautiously, and at last arrived at the entrance of the thick wood which surrounded Morvan's abode. He had not yet set out with the pick of the warriors he had about him; but, at the approach of the Franks, he summoned his wife and his domestics, and said to them, "Defend ye well this house and these woods; as for me, I am going to march forward to collect my people; after which to return, but not without booty and spoils." He put on his armor, took a javelin in each hand, and mounted his horse. "Thou seest," said he to his wife, "these javelins I brandish: I will bring them back to thee this very day dyed with the blood of Franks. Farewell." Setting out he pierced, followed by his men, through the thickness of the forest, and advanced to meet the Franks.
The battle began. The large numbers of the Franks, who covered the ground for some distance, dismayed the Britons, and many of them fled, seeking where they might hide themselves. Morvan, beside himself with rage, and at the head of his most devoted followers, rushed down upon the Franks as if to demolish them at a single stroke; and many fell beneath his blows. He singled out a warrior of inferior grade, towards whom he made at a gallop, and, insulting him by word of mouth, after the ancient fashion of the Celtic warriors, cried, "Frank, I am going to give thee my first present, a present which I have been keeping for thee a long while, and which I hope thou wilt bear in mind;" and launched at him a javelin, which the other received on his shield. "Proud Briton," replied the Frank, "I have received thy present, and I am going to give thee mine." He dug both spurs into his horse's sides, and galloped down upon Morvan, who, clad though he was in a coat of mail, fell pierced by the thrust of a lance. The Frank had but time to dismount and cut off his head, when he fell himself, mortally wounded by one of Morvan's young warriors, but not without having, in his turn, dealt the other his death-blow.
It spreads on all sides that Morvan is dead; and the Franks come thronging to the scene of the encounter. There is picked up and passed from hand to hand a head all bloody and fearfully disfigured. Ditcar the monk is called to see it, and to say whether it is that of Morvan; but he has to wash the mass of disfigurement, and to partially adjust the hair, before he can pronounce that it is really Morvan's. There is then no more doubt; resistance is now impossible; the widow, the family, and the servants of Morvan arrive, are brought before Louis the Debonnair, accept all the conditions imposed upon them, and the Franks withdraw with the boast that Brittany is henceforth their tributary. (Faits et testes de Louis le Picux, a poem by Ermold le Noir, in M. Guizot's Collection des Memoires relatifs L'Histoire de France, t. iv., p. 1-113.—Fauriel, Histoire de la Gaule, etc., t. iv., p. 77-88.)
On arriving at Angers, Louis found the Empress Hermengarde dying; and two days afterwards she was dead. He had a tender heart, which was not proof against sorrow; and he testified a desire to abdicate and turn monk. But he was dissuaded from his purpose; for it was easy to influence his resolutions. A little later, he was advised to marry again, and he yielded. Several princesses were introduced; and he chose Judith of Bavaria, daughter of Count Welf (Guelf), a family already powerful and in later times celebrated. Judith was young, beautiful, witty, ambitious, and skilled in the art of making the gift of pleasing subserve the passion for ruling. Louis, during his expedition into Brittany, had just witnessed the fatal result of a woman's empire over her husband; he was destined himself to offer a more striking and more long-lived example of it. In 823, he had, by his new empress Judith, a son, whom he called Charles, and who was hereafter to be known as Charles the Bald. This son became his mother's ruling, if not exclusive, passion, and the source of his father's woes. His birth could not fail to cause ill-temper and mistrust in Louis's three sons by Hermengarde, who were already kings. They had but a short time previously received the first proof of their father's weakness. In 822, Louis, repenting of his severity towards his nephew, Bernard of Italy, whose eyes he had caused to be put out as a punishment for rebellion, and who had died in consequence, considered himself bound to perform at Attigny, in the church and before the people, a solemn act of penance; which was creditable to his honesty and piety, but the details left upon the minds of the beholders an impression unfavorable to the emperor's dignity and authority. In 829, during an assembly held at Worms, he, yielding to his wife's entreaties and doubtless also to his own yearnings towards his youngest son, set at nought the solemn act whereby, in 817, he had shared his dominions amongst his three elder sons; and took away from two of them, in Burgundy and Allemannia, some of the territories he had assigned to them, and gave them to the boy Charles for his share. Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis thereupon revolted. Court rivalries were added to family differences. The emperor had summoned to his side a young Southron, Bernard by name, duke of Septimania and son of Count William of Toulouse, who had gallantly fought the Saracens. He made him his chief chamberlain and his favorite counsellor. Bernard was bold, ambitious, vain, imperious, and restless. He removed his rivals from court, and put in their places his own creatures. He was accused not only of abusing the emperor's favor, but even of carrying on a guilty intrigue with the Empress Judith. There grew up against him, and, by consequence, against the emperor, the empress, and their youngest son a powerful opposition, in which certain ecclesiastics, and, amongst them, Wala, abbot of Corbie, cousin-german and but lately one of the privy counsellors of Charlemagne, joined eagerly. Some had at heart the unity of the empire, which Louis was breaking up more and more; others were concerned for the spiritual interests of the Church which Louis, in spite of his piety and by reason of his weakness, often permitted to be attacked. Thus strengthened, the conspirators considered themselves certain of success. They had the empress Judith carried off and shut up in the convent of St. Radegonde at Poitiers; and Louis in person came to deliver himself up to them at Compiegne, where they were assembled. There they passed a decree to the effect that the power and title of emperor were transferred from Louis to Lothaire, his eldest son; that the act whereby a share of the empire had but lately beer assigned to Charles was annulled; and that the act of 817, which had regulated the partition of Louis's dominions after his death, was once more in force. But soon there was a burst of reaction in favor of the emperor; Lothaire's two brothers, jealous of his late elevation, made overtures to their father; the ecclesiastics were a little ashamed at being mixed up in a revolt; the people felt pity for the poor, honest emperor; and a general assembly, meeting at Nimeguen, abolished the acts of Compiegne, and restored to Louis his title and his power. But it was not long before there was revolt again, originating this time with Pepin, king of Aquitaine. Louis fought him, and gave Aquitaine to Charles the Bald. The alliance between the three sons of Hermengarde was at once renewed; they raised an army; the emperor marched against them with his; and the two hosts met between Colmar and Bale, in a place called le Champ rouge (the field of red). Negotiations were set on foot; and Louis was called upon to leave his wife Judith and his son Charles, and put himself under the guardianship of his elder sons. He refused; but, just when the conflict was about to commence, desertion took place in Louis's army; most of the prelates, laics, and men-at-arms who had accompanied him passed over to the camp of Lothaire; and the field of red became the field of falsehood (le Champ du mensonge). Louis, left almost alone, ordered his attendants to withdraw, "being unwilling," he said, "that any one of them should lose life or limb on his account," and surrendered to his sons. They received him with great demonstrations of respect, but without relinquishing the prosecution of their enterprise. Lothaire hastily collected an assembly, which proclaimed him emperor, with the addition of divers territories to the kingdoms of Aquitaine and Bavaria: and, three months afterwards, another assembly, meeting at Compiegne, declared the Emperor Louis to have forfeited the crown, "for having, by his faults and incapacity, suffered to sink so sadly low the empire which had been raised to grandeur and brought into unity by Charlemagne and his predecessors." Louis submitted to this decision; himself read out aloud, in the church of St. Medard at Soissons, but not quite unresistingly, a confession, in eight articles, of his faults, and, laying his baldric upon the altar, stripped off his royal robe, and received from the hands of Ebbo, archbishop of Rheims, the gray vestment of a penitent.
Lothaire considered his father dethroned for good, and himself henceforth sole emperor; but he was mistaken. For six years longer the scenes which have just been described kept repeating themselves again and again; rivalries and secret plots began once more between the three victorious brothers and their partisans; popular feeling revived in favor of Louis; a large portion of the clergy shared it; several counts of Neustria and Burgundy appeared in arms in the name of the deposed emperor; and the seductive and able Judith came afresh upon the scene, and gained over to the cause of her husband and her son a multitude of friends. In 834, two assemblies, one meeting at St. Denis and the other at Thionville, annulled all the acts of the assembly of Compiegne, and for the third time put Louis in possession of the imperial title and power. He displayed no violence in his use of it; but he was growing more and more irresolute and weak, when, in 838, the second of his rebellious sons, Pepin, king of Aquitaine, died suddenly. Louis, ever under the sway of Judith, speedily convoked at Worms, in 839, once more and for the last time, a general assembly, whereat, leaving his son Louis of Bavaria reduced to his kingdom in Eastern Europe, he divided the rest of his dominions into two nearly equal parts, separated by the course of the Meuse and the Rhone. Between these two parts he left the choice to Lothaire, who took the eastern portion, promising at the same time to guarantee the western portion to his younger brother Charles. Louis the Germanic protested against this partition, and took up arms to resist it. His father, the emperor, set himself in motion towards the Rhine, to reduce him to submission; but, on arriving close to Mayence, he caught a violent fever, and died on the 20th of June, 840, at the castle of Ingelheim, on a little island in the river. His last acts were a fresh proof of his goodness towards even his rebellious sons, and of his solicitude for his last-born. He sent to Louis the Germanic his pardon, and to Lothaire the golden crown and sword, at the same time bidding him fulfil his father's wishes on behalf of Charles and Judith.
There is no telling whether, in the credulousness of his good nature, Louis had, at his dying hour, any great confidence in the appeal he made to his son Lothaire, and in the impression which would be produced on his other son, Louis of Bavaria, by the pardon bestowed. The prayers of the dying are of little avail against violent passions and barbaric manners. Scarcely was Louis the Debonnair dead, when Lothaire was already conspiring against young Charles, and was in secret alliance, for his despoilment, with Pepin II., the late king of Aquitaine's son, who had taken up arms for the purpose of seizing his father's kingdom, in the possession of which his grandfather Louis had not been pleased to confirm him. Charles suddenly learned that his mother Judith was on the point of being besieged in Poitiers by the Aquitanians; and, in spite of the friendly protestations sent to him by Lothaire, it was not long before he discovered the plot formed against him. He was not wanting in shrewdness or energy; and, having first provided for his mother's safety, he set about forming an alliance, in the cause of their common interests, with his other brother, Louis the Germanic, who was equally in danger from the ambition of Lothaire. The historians of the period do not say what negotiator was employed by Charles on this distant and delicate mission; but several circumstances indicate that the Empress Judith herself undertook it; that she went in quest of the king of Bavaria; and that it was she who, with her accustomed grace and address, determined him to make common cause with his younger against their eldest brother. Divers incidents retarded for a whole year the outburst of this family plot, and of the war of which it was the precursor. The position of the young King Charles appeared for some time a very bad one; but "certain chieftains," says the historian Nithard, "faithful to his mother and to him, and having nothing more to lose than life or limb, chose rather to die gloriously than to betray their king." The arrival of Louis the Germanic with his troops helped to swell the forces and increase the confidence of Charles; and it was on the 21st of June, 841, exactly a year after the death of Louis the Debonnair, that the two armies, that of Lothaire and Pepin on the one side, and that of Charles the Bald and Louis the Germanic on the other, stood face to face in the neighborhood of the village of Fontenailles, six leagues from Auxerre, on the rivulet of Audries. Never, according to such evidence as is forthcoming, since the battle on the plains of Chalons against the Huns, and that of Poitiers against the Saracens, had so great masses of men been engaged. "There would be nothing untruthlike," says that scrupulous authority, M. Fauriel, "in putting the whole number of combatants at three hundred thousand; and there is nothing to show that either of the two armies was much less numerous than the other." However that may be, the leaders hesitated for four days to come to blows; and whilst they were hesitating, the old favorite not only of Louis the Debonnair, but also, according to several chroniclers, of the Empress Judith, held himself aloof with his troops in the vicinity, having made equal promise of assistance to both sides, and waiting, to govern his decision, for the prospect afforded by the first conflict. The battle began on the 25th of June, at daybreak, and was at first in favor of Lothaire; but the troops of Charles the Bald recovered the advantage which had been lost by Louis the Germanic, and the action was soon nothing but a terribly simple scene of carnage between enormous masses of men, charging hand to hand, again and again, with a front extending over a couple of leagues. Before midday the slaughter, the plunder, the spoliation of the dead—all was over; the victory of Charles and Louis was complete the victors had retired to their camp, and there remained nothing on the field of battle but corpses in thick heaps or a long line, according as they had fallen in the disorder of flight or steadily fighting in their ranks. . . . "Accursed be this day!" cries Angilbert, one of Lothaire's officers, in rough Latin verse; "be it unnumbered in the return of the year, but wiped out of all remembrance! Be it unlit by the light of the sun! Be it without either dawn or twilight! Accursed, also, be this night, this awful night in which fell the brave, the most expert in battle! Eye ne'er hath seen more fearful slaughter: in streams of blood fell Christian men; the linen vestments of the dead did whiten the champaign even as it is whitened by the birds of autumn!"
In spite of this battle, which appeared a decisive one, Lothaire made zealous efforts to continue the struggle; he scoured the countries wherein he hoped to find partisans: to the Saxons he promised the unrestricted re-establishment of their pagan worship, and several of the Saxon tribes responded to his appeal. Louis the Germanic and Charles the Bald, having information of these preliminaries, resolved to solemnly renew their alliance; and, seven months after their victory at Fontenailles, in February, 842, they repaired both of them, each with his army, to Argentaria, on the right bank of the Rhine, between Bale and Strasbourg, and there, at an open-air meeting, Louis first, addressing the chieftains about him in the German tongue, said, "Ye all know how often, since our father's death, Lothaire hath attacked us, in order to destroy us, this my brother and me. Having never been able, as brothers and Christians, or in any just way, to obtain peace from him, we were constrained to appeal to the judgment of God. Lothaire was beaten and retired, whither he could, with his following; for we, restrained by paternal affection and moved with compassion for Christian people, were unwilling to pursue them to extermination. Neither then nor aforetime did we demand ought else save that each of us should be maintained in his rights. But he, rebelling against the judgment of God, ceaseth not to attack us as enemies, this my brother and me; and he destroyeth our peoples with fire and pillage and the sword. That is the cause which hath united us afresh; and, as we trove that ye doubt the soundness of our alliance and our fraternal union, we have resolved to bind ourselves afresh by this oath in your presence, being led thereto by no prompting of wicked covetousness, but only that we may secure our common advantage in case that, by your aid, God should cause us to obtain peace. If, then, I violate—which God forbid—this oath that I am about to take to my brother, I hold you all quit of submission to me and of the faith ye have sworn to me."
Charles repeated this speech, word for word, to his own troops, in the Romance language, in that idiom derived from a mixture of Latin and of the tongues of ancient Gaul, and spoken, thenceforth, with varieties of dialect and pronunciation, in nearly all parts of Frankish Gaul. After this address, Louis pronounced and Charles repeated after him, each in his own tongue, the oath couched in these terms: "For the love of God, for the Christian people, and for our common weal, from this day forth and so long as God shall grant me power and knowledge, I will defend this my brother, and will be an aid to him in everything, as one ought to defend his brother, provided that he do likewise unto me; and I will never make with Lothaire any covenant which may be, to my knowledge, to the damage of this my brother."
When the two brothers had thus sworn, the two armies, officers and men, took, in their turn, a similar oath, going bail, in a mass, for the engagements of their kings. Then they took up their quarters, all of them, for some time, between Worms and Mayence, and followed up their political proceeding with military fetes, precursors of the knightly tournaments of the middle ages. "A place of meeting was fixed," says the contemporary historian Nithard, "at a spot suitable for this kind of exercises. Here were drawn up, on one side, a certain number of combatants, Saxons, Vasconians, Austrasians, or Britons; there were ranged, on the opposite side, an equal number of warriors, and the two divisions advanced, each against the other, as if to attack. One of them, with their bucklers at their backs, took to flight, as if to seek, in the main body, shelter against those who were pursuing them; then suddenly, facing about, they dashed out in pursuit of those before whom they had just been flying. This sport lasted until the two kings, appearing with all the youth of their suites, rode up at a gallop, brandishing their spears and chasing first one lot and then the other It was a fine sight to see so much temper amongst so many valiant folks, for great as were the number and the mixture of different nationalities, no one was insulted or maltreated, though the contrary is often the case amongst men in small numbers and known one to another."
After four or five months of tentative measures or of incidents which taught both parties that they could not, either of them, hope to completely destroy their opponents, the two allied brothers received at Verdun, whither they had repaired to concert their next movement, a messenger from Lothaire, with peaceful proposals which they were unwilling to reject. The principal was that, with the exception of Italy, Aquitaine, and Bavaria, to be secured without dispute to their then possessors, the Frankish empire should be divided into three portions, that the arbiters elected to preside over the partition should swear to make it as equal as possible, and that Lothaire should have his choice, with the title of Emperor. About mid June, 842, the three brothers met on an island of the Saone, near Chalons, where they began to discuss the questions which divided them; but it was not till more than a year after, in August, 843, that assembling all three of them, with their umpires, at Verdun, they at last came to an agreement about the partition of the Frankish empire, save the three countries which it had been beforehand agreed to except. Louis kept all the provinces of Germany of which he was already in possession, and received besides, on the left bank of the Rhine, the towns of Mayence, Worms, and Spire, with the territory appertaining to them. Lothaire, for his part, had the eastern belt of Gaul, bounded on one side by the Rhine and the Alps, on the other by the courses of the Meuse, the Saone, and the Rhone, starting from the confluence of the two latter rivers, and, further, the country comprised between the Meuse and the Scheldt, together with certain countships lying to the west of that river. To Charles fell all the rest of Gaul: Vasconia or Biscaye, Septimania, the marches of Spain, beyond the Pyrenees, and the other countries of Southern Gaul which had enjoyed hitherto, under the title of the Kingdom of Aquitaine, a special government subordinated to the general government of the empire, but distinct from it, lost this last remnant of their Gallo-Roman nationality, and became integral portions of Frankish Gaul, which fell by partition to Charles the Bald, and formed one and the same kingdom under one and the same king.
Thus fell through and disappeared, in 843, by virtue of the treaty of Verdun, the second of Charlemagne's grand designs, the resuscitation of the Roman empire by means of the Frankish and Christian masters of Gaul. The name of emperor still retained a certain value in the minds of the people, and still remained an object of ambition to princes; but the empire was completely abolished, and in its stead sprang up three kingdoms, independent one of another, without any necessary connection or relation. One of the three was thenceforth France.
In this great event are comprehended two facts; the disappearance of the empire and the formation of the three kingdoms which took its place. The first is easily explained. The resuscitation of the Roman empire had been a dream of ambition and ignorance on the part of a great man, but a barbarian. Political unity and central absolute power had been the essential characteristics of that empire. They became introduced and established, through a long succession of ages, on the ruins of the splendid Roman republic, destroyed by its own dissensions, under favor of the still great influence of the old Roman senate, though fallen from its high estate, and beneath the guardianship of the Roman legions and imperial pretorians. Not one of these conditions, not one of these forces, was to be met with in the Roman world reigned over by Charlemagne. The nation of the Franks and Charlemagne himself were but of yesterday; the new emperor had neither ancient senate to hedge at the same time that it obeyed him, nor old bodies of troops to support him. Political unity and absolute power were repugnant alike to the intellectual and the social condition, to the national manners and personal sentiments of the victorious barbarians. The necessity of placing their conquests beyond the reach of a new swarm of barbarians and the personal ascendency of Charlemagne were the only things which gave his government a momentary gleam of success in the way of unity and of factitious despotism under the name of empire. In 814, Charlemagne had made territorial security an accomplished fact; but the personal power he had exercised disappeared with him. The new Gallo-Frankish community recovered, under the mighty but gradual influence of Christianity, its proper and natural course, producing disruption into different local communities and bold struggles for individual liberties, either one with another, or against whosoever tried to become their master.
As for the second fact, the formation of the three kingdoms which were the issue of the treaty of Verdun, various explanations have been given of it. This distribution of certain peoples of Western Europe into three distinct and independent groups, Italians, Germans, and French, has been attributed at one time to a diversity of histories and manners; at another to geographical causes and to what is called the rule of natural frontiers; and oftener still to a spirit of nationality and to differences of language. Let none of these causes be gainsaid; they all exercised some sort of influence, but they are all incomplete in themselves and far too redolent of theoretical system. It is true that Germany, France, and Italy began, at that time, to emerge from the chaos into which they had been plunged by barbaric invasion and the conquests of Charlemagne, and to form themselves into quite distinct nations; but there were in each of the kingdoms of Lothaire, of Louis the Germanic, and of Charles the Bald, populations widely differing in race, language, manners, and geographical affinity, and it required many great events and the lapse of many centuries to bring about the degree of national unity they now possess. To say nothing touching the agency of individual and independent forces, which is always considerable, although so many men of intellect ignore it in the present day, what would have happened, had any one of the three new kings, Lothaire, or Louis the Germanic, or Charles the Bald, been a second Charlemagne, as Charlemagne had been a second Charles Martel? Who can say that, in such a case, the three kingdoms would have taken the form they took in 843?
Happily or unhappily, it was not so; none of Charlemagne's successors was capable of exercising on the events of his time, by virtue of his brain and his own will, any notable influence. Not that they were all unintelligent, or timid, or indolent. It has been seen that Louis the Debonnair did not lack virtues and good intentions; and Charles the Bald was clear-sighted, dexterous, and energetic; he had a taste for information and intellectual distinction; he liked and sheltered men of learning and letters, and to such purpose that, instead of speaking, as under Charlemagne, of the school of the palace, people called the palace of Charles the Bald the palace of the school. Amongst the eleven kings who after him ascended the Carlovingian throne, several, such as Louis III. and Carloman, and, especially, Louis the Ultramarine (d'Outremer) and Lothaire, displayed, on several occasions, energy and courage; and the kings elected, at this epoch, without the pale of the Carlovingian dynasty—Eudes in 887 and Raoul in 923—gave proofs of a valor both discreet and effectual. The Carlovingians did not, as the Merovingians did, end in monkish retirement or shameful inactivity even the last of them, and the only one termed sluggard, Louis V., was getting ready, when he died, for an expedition in Spain against the Saracens. The truth is that, mediocre or undecided or addle-pated as they may have been, they all succumbed, internally and externally, without initiating and without resisting, to the course of events, and that, in 987, the fall of the Carlovingian line was the natural and easily accomplished consequence of the new social condition which had been preparing in France under the empire.