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
28 October, 2012
Real Time Analytics
A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
The Capetians To The Time Of The Crusades.
by Guizot, M.

From 996 to 1108, the first three successors of Hugh Capet, his son Robert, his grandson Henry I., and his great-grandson Philip I., sat upon the throne of France; and during this long space of one hundred and twelve years the kingdom of France had not, sooth to say, any history. Parcelled out, by virtue of the feudal system, between a multitude of princes, independent, isolated, and scarcely sovereigns in their own dominions, keeping up anything like frequent intercourse only with their neighbors, and loosely united, by certain rules or customs of vassalage, to him amongst them who bore the title of king, the France of the eleventh century existed in little more than name: Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy, Aquitaine, Poitou, Anjou, Flanders, and Nivernais were the real states and peoples, each with its own distinct life and history. One single event, the Crusade, united, towards the end of the century, those scattered sovereigns and peoples in one common idea and one combined action. Up to that point, then, let us conform to the real state of the case, and faithfully trace out the features of the epoch, without attempting to introduce a connection and a combination which did not exist; and let us pass briefly in review the isolated events and personages which are still worthy of remembrance, and which have remained historic without having belonged exactly to a national history. Amongst events of this kind, one, the conquest of England, in 1066, by William the Bastard, duke of Normandy, was so striking, and exercised so much influence over the destinies of France, that, in the incoherent and disconnected picture of this eleventh century, particular attention must first be drawn to the consequences, as regarded France, of that great Norman enterprise.

After the sagacious Hugh Capet, the first three Capetians, Robert, Henry I., and Philip I., were very mediocre individuals, in character as well as intellect; and their personal insignificance was one of the causes that produced the emptiness of French history under their sway. Robert lacked neither physical advantages nor moral virtues: "He had a lofty figure," says his biographer Helgaud, archbishop of Bourgcs, "hair smooth and well arranged, a modest eye, a pleasant and gentle mouth, a tolerably furnished beard, and high shoulders. He was versed in all the sciences, philosopher enough and an excellent musician, and so devoted to sacred literature that he never passed a day without reading the Psalter and praying to the Most High God together with St. David." He composed several hymns which were adopted by the Church, and, during a pilgrimage he made to Rome, he deposited upon the altar of St. Peter his own Latin poems set to music. "He often went to the church of St. Denis, clad in his royal robes and with his crown on his head; and he there conducted the singing at matins, mass, and vespers, chanting with the monks and himself calling upon them to sing. When he sat in the consistory, he voluntarily styled himself the bishops' client." Two centuries later, St. Louis proved that the virtues of the saint are not incompatible with the qualities of the king; but the former cannot form a substitute for the latter, and the qualities of king were to seek in Robert. He was neither warrior nor politician; there is no sign that he ever gathered about him, to discuss affairs of state, the laic barons together with the bishops, and when he interfered in the wars of the great feudal lords, notably in Burgundy and Flanders, it was with but little energy and to but little purpose. He was hardly more potent in his family than in his kingdom. It has already been mentioned that, in spite of his preceptor Gerbert's advice, he had espoused Bertha, widow of Eudes, count of Blois, and he loved her dearly; but the marriage was assailed by the Church, on the ground of kinship. Robert offered resistance, but afterwards gave way before the excommunication pronounced by Pope Gregory V., and then espoused Constance daughter of William Taillefer, count of Toulouse; and forth-with, says the chronicler Raoul Glaber, "were seen pouring into France and Burgundy, because of this queen, the most vain and most frivolous of all men, coming from Aquitaine and Auvergne. They were outlandish and outrageous equally in their manners and their dress, in their arms and the appointments of their horses; their hair came only half way down their head; they shaved their beards like actors; they wore boots and shoes that were not decent; and, lastly, neither fidelity nor security was to be looked for in any of their ties. Alack! that nation of Franks, which was wont to be the most virtuous, and even the people of Burgundy, too, were eager to follow these criminal examples, and before long they reflected only too faithfully the depravity and infamy of their models." The evil amounted to something graver than a disturbance of court-fashions. Robert had by Constance three sons, Hugh, Henry, and Robert. First the eldest, and afterwards his two brothers, maddened by the bad character and tyrannical exactions of their mother, left the palace, and withdrew to Dreux and Burgundy, abandoning themselves, in the royal domains and the neighborhood, to all kinds of depredations and excesses. Reconciliation was not without great difficulty effected; and, indeed, peace was never really restored in the royal family. Peace was everywhere the wish and study of King Robert; but he succeeded better in maintaining it with his neighbors than with his children. In 1006, he was on the point of having a quarrel with Henry II., emperor of Germany, who was more active and enterprising, but fortunately not less pious, than himself. The two sovereigns resolved to have an interview at the Meuse, the boundary of their dominions. "The question amongst their respective followings was, which of the two should cross the river to seek audience on the other bank, that is, in the other's dominions; this would be a humiliation, it was said. The two learned princes remembered this saying of Eclesiasticus: 'The greater thou art, the humbler be thou in all things.' The emperor, therefore, rose up early in the morning, and crossed, with some of his people, into the French king's territory. They embraced with cordiality; the bishops, as was proper, celebrated the sacrament of the mass, and they afterwards sat down to dinner. When the meal was over, King Robert offered Henry immense presents of gold and silver and precious stones, and a hundred horses richly caparisoned, each carrying a cuirass and a helmet; and he added that all that the emperor did not accept of these gifts would be so much deducted from their friendship. Henry, seeing the generosity of his friend, took of the whole only a book containing the Holy Gospel, set with gold and precious stones, and a golden amulet, wherein was a tooth of St. Vincent, priest and martyr. The empress, likewise, accepted only two golden cups. Next day, King Robert crossed with his bishops into the territories of the emperor, who received him magnificently, and, after dinner, offered him a hundred pounds of pure gold. The king, in his turn, accepted only two golden cups; and, after having ratified their pact of friendship, they returned each to his own dominions."

Let us add to this summary of Robert's reign some facts which are characteristic of the epoch. In A.D. 1000, in consequence of the sense attached to certain words in the Sacred Books, many Christians expected the end of the world. The time of expectation was full of anxieties; plagues, famines, and divers accidents which then took place in divers quarters, were an additional aggravation; the churches were crowded; penances, offerings, absolutions, all the forms of invocation and repentance multiplied rapidly; a multitude of souls, in submission or terror, prepared to appear before their Judge. And after what catastrophes? In the midst of what gloom or of what light? These were fearful questions, of which men's imaginations were exhausted in forestalling the solution. When the last day of the tenth and the first of the eleventh centuries were past, it was like a general regeneration; it might have been said that time was beginning over again; and the work was commenced of rendering the Christian world worthy of the future. "Especially in Italy and in Gaul," says the chronicler Raoul Glaber, "men took in hand the reconstruction of the basilicas, although the greater part had no need thereof. Christian peoples seemed to vie one with another which should erect the most beautiful. It was as if the world, shaking itself together and casting off its old garments, would have decked itself with the white robes of Christ." Christian art, in its earliest form of the Gothic style, dates from this epoch; the power and riches of the Christian Church, in its different institutions, received, at this crisis of the human imagination, a fresh impulse.

Other facts, some lamentable and some salutary, began, about this epoch, to assume in French history a place which was destined before long to become an important one. Piles of fagots were set up, first at Orleans and then at Toulouse, for the punishment of heretics. The heretics of the day were Manicheans. King Robert and Queen Constance sanctioned by their presence this return to human sacrifices offered to God as a penalty inflicted on mental offenders against His word. At the same time a double portion of ire blazed forth against the Jews. "What have we to do," it was said, "with going abroad to make war on Mussulmans? Have we not in the very midst of us the greatest enemies of Jesus Christ?" Amongst Christians acts of oppression and violence on the part of the great against the small became so excessive and so frequent that they excited in country parts, particularly in Normandy, insurrections which the insurgents tried to organize into permanent resistance. "In several counties of Normandy," says William of Jumieges, "all the peasants, meeting in conventicles, resolved to live according to their own wills and their own laws, not only in the heart of the forests, but also on the borders of the rivers, and without care for any established rights. To accomplish this design, these mobs of madmen elected each two deputies, who were to form, at the central point, an assembly charged with the execution of their decrees. So soon as the duke (Richard II.) was informed thereof, he sent a large body of armed men to suppress this audacity in the country parts, and to disperse this rustic assembly. In execution of his orders, the deputies of the peasantry and many other rebels were forthwith arrested; their feet and hands were cut off, and they were sent home thus mutilated to deter their fellows from such enterprises, and to render them more prudent, for fear of worse. After this experience, the peasants gave up their meetings and returned to their ploughs."

This is a literal translation of the monkish chronicler, who was far from favorable to the insurgent peasants, and was more for applauding the suppression than justifying the insurrection. The suppression, though undoubtedly effectual for the moment, and in the particular spots it reached, produced no general or lasting effect. About a century after the cold recital of William of Jumieges, a poet-chronicler, Robert Wace, in his Romance of Rou, a history in verse of Rollo and the first dukes of Normandy, related the same facts with far more sympathetic feeling and poetical coloring. "The lords do us nought but ill," he makes the Norman peasants say; "with them we have nor gain nor profit from our labors; every day is, for us, a day of suffering, toil, and weariness; every day we have our cattle taken from us for road-work and forced service. We have plaints and grievances, old and new exactions, pleas and processes without end, money-pleas, market-pleas, road-pleas, forest-pleas, mill-pleas, black-mail-pleas, watch-and-ward-pleas. There are so many provosts, bailiffs, and sergeants, that we have not one hour's peace; day by day they run us down, seize our movables, and drive us from our lands. There is no security for us against the lords; and no pact is binding with them. Why suffer all this evil to be done to us and not get out of our plight? Are we not men even as they are? Have we not the same stature, the same limbs, the same strength—for suffering? All we need is courage. Let us, then, bind ourselves together by an oath: let us swear to support one another; and if they will make war on us, have we not, for one knight, thirty or forty young peasants, nimble and ready to fight with club, with boar-spear, with arrow, with axe, and even with stones if they have not weapons? Let us learn to resist the knights, and we shall be free to cut down trees, to hunt and fish after our fashion, and we shall work our will in flood and field and wood."

Here we have no longer the short account and severe estimate of an indifferent spectator; it is the cry of popular rage and vengeance reproduced by the lively imagination of an angered poet. Undoubtedly the Norman peasants of the twelfth century did not speak of their miseries with such descriptive ability and philosophical feeling as were lent to them by Robert Wace; they did not meditate the democratic revolution of which he attributes to them the idea and almost the plan; but the deeds of violence and oppression against which they rose were very real, and they exerted themselves to escape by reciprocal violence from intolerable suffering. Thence date those alternations of demagogic revolt and tyrannical suppression which have so often ensanguined the land and put in peril the very foundations of social order. Insurrections became of so atrocious a kind that the atrocious chastisements with which they were visited seemed equally natural and necessary. It needed long ages, a repetition of civil wars and terrible political shocks, to put an end to this brutal chaos which gave birth to so many evils and reciprocal crimes, and to bring about, amongst the different classes of the French population, equitable and truly human relations.

So quick-spreading and contagious is evil amongst men, and so difficult to extirpate in the name of justice and truth!

However, even in the midst of this cruel egotism and this gross unreason of the tenth and eleventh centuries, the necessity, from a moral and social point of view, of struggling against such disgusting irregularities, made itself felt, and found zealous advocates. From this epoch are to be dated the first efforts to establish, in different parts of France, what was called God's peace, God's truce. The words were well chosen for prohibiting at the same time oppression and revolt, for it needed nothing less than law and the voice of God to put some restraint upon the barbarous manners and passions of men, great or small, lord or peasant. It is the peculiar and glorious characteristic of Christianity to have so well understood the primitive and permanent evil in human nature that it fought against all the great iniquities of mankind and exposed them in principle, even when, in point of general practice, it neither hoped nor attempted to sweep them away. Bishops, priests, and monks were, in their personal lives and in the councils of the Church, the first propagators of God's peace or truce, and in more than one locality they induced the laic lords to follow their lead. In 1164, Hugh II., count of Rodez, in concert with his brother Hugh, bishop of Rodez, and the notables of the district, established the peace in the diocese of Rodez; "and this it is," said the learned Benedictines of the eighteenth century, in the Art of Verifying Dates, "which gave rise to the toll of commune paix or pesade, which is still collected in Rouergue." King Robert always showed himself favorable to this pacific work; and he is the first amongst the five kings of France, in other respects very different,—himself, St. Louis, Louis XII, Henry IV., and Louis XVI.,— who were particularly distinguished for sympathetic kindness and anxiety for the popular welfare. Robert had a kindly feeling for the weak and poor; not only did he protect them, on occasion, against the powerful, but he took pains to conceal their defaults, and, in his church and at his table, he suffered himself to be robbed without complaint, that he might not have to denounce and punish the robbers. "Wherefore at his death," says his biographer Helgaud, "there were great mourning and intolerable grief; a countless number of widows and orphans sorrowed for the many benefits received from him; they did beat their breasts and went to and from his tomb, crying, 'Whilst Robert was king and ordered all, we lived in peace, we had nought to fear. May the soul of that pious father, that father of the senate, that father of all good, be blest and saved! May it mount up and dwell forever with Jesus Christ, the King of kings!"

Though not so pious or so good as Robert, his son, Henry I., and his grandson, Philip I., were neither more energetic nor more glorious kings. During their long reigns (the former from 1031 to 1060, and the latter from 1060 to 1108) no important and well-prosecuted design distinguished their government. Their public life was passed at one time in petty warfare, without decisive results, against such and such vassals; at another in acts of capricious intervention in the quarrels of their vassals amongst themselves. Their home-life was neither less irregular nor conducted with more wisdom and regard for the public interest. King Robert had not succeeded in keeping his first wife, Bertha of Burgundy; and his second, Constance of Aquitaine, with her imperious, malevolent, avaricious, meddlesome disposition, reduced him to so abject a state that he never gave a gratuity to any of his servants without saying, "Take care that Constance know nought of it." After Robert's death, Constance, having become regent for her eldest son, Henry I., forthwith conspired to dethrone him, and to put in his place her second son, Robert, who was her favorite. Henry, on being delivered by his mother's death from her tyranny and intrigues, was thrice married; but his first two marriages with two German princesses, one the daughter of the Emperor Conrad the Salic, the other of the Emperor Henry III., were so far from happy that in 1051 he sent into Russia, to Kieff, in search of his third wife, Anne, daughter of the Czar Yaroslaff the Halt. She was a modest creature who lived quietly up to the death of her husband in 1060, and, two years afterwards, in the reign of her son Philip I., rather than return to her own country, married Raoul, count of Valois, who put away, to marry her, his second wife, Haqueney, called Eleonore. The divorce was opposed at Rome before Pope Alexander II., to whom the archbishop of Rheims wrote upon the subject, "Our kingdom is the scene of great troubles. The queen-mother has espoused Count Raoul, which has mightily displeased the king. As for the lady whom Raoul has put away, we have recognized the justice of the complaints she has preferred before you, and the falsity of the pre-texts on which he put her away." The Pope ordered the count to take back his wife; Raoul would not obey, and was excommunicated; but he made light of it, and the Princess Anne of Russia, actually reconciled, apparently, to Philip I., lived tranquilly in France, where, in 1075, shortly after the death of her second husband, Count Raoul her signature was still attached to a charter side by side with that of the king her son.

The marriages of Philip I. brought even more trouble and scandal than those of his father and grandfather. At nineteen years of age, in 1072, he had espoused Bertha, daughter of Florent I., count of Holland, and in 1078 he had by her the son who was destined to succeed him with the title of Louis the Fat. But twenty years later, 1092, Philip took a dislike to his wife, put her away and banished her to Montreuil-sur-Mer, on the ground of prohibited consanguinity. He had conceived, there is no knowing when, a violent passion for a woman celebrated for her beauty, Bertrade, the fourth wife, for three years past, of Foulques le Roehin (the brawler), count of Anjou. Philip, having thus packed off Bertha, set out for Tours, where Bertrade happened to be with her husband. There, in the church of St. John, during the benediction of the baptismal fonts, they entered into mutual engagements. Philip went away again; and, a few days afterwards, Bertrade was carried off by some people he had left in the neighborhood of Tours, and joined him at Orleans. Nearly all the bishops of France, and amongst others the most learned and respected of them, Yves, bishop of Chartres, refused their benediction to this shocking marriage; and the king had great difficulty in finding a priest to render him that service. Then commenced between Philip and the heads of the Catholic Church, Pope and bishops, a struggle which, with negotiation upon negotiation and excommunication upon excommunication, lasted twelve years, without the king's being able to get his marriage canonically recognized; and, though he promised to send away Bertrade, he was not content with merely keeping her with him, but he openly jeered at excommunication and interdicts. "It was the custom," says William of Malmesbury, "at the places where the king sojourned, for divine service to be stopped; and, as soon as he was moving away, all the bells began to peal. And then Philip would cry, as he laughed like one beside himself, 'Dost hear, my love, how they are ringing us out?'" At last, in 1104, the Bishop of Chartres himself, wearied by the persistency of the king and by sight of the trouble in which the prolongation of the interdict was plunging the kingdom, wrote to the Pope, Pascal II., "I do not presume to offer you advice; I only desire to warn you that it were well to show for a while some condescension towards the weaknesses of the man, so far as consideration for his salvation may permit, and to rescue the country from the critical state to which it is reduced by the excommunication of this prince." The Pope, consequently, sent instructions to the bishops of the realm; and they, at the king's summons, met at Paris on the 1st of December, 1104. One of them, Lambert, bishop of Arras, wrote to the Pope, "We sent as a deputation to the king the bishops John of Orleans and Galon of Paris, charged to demand of him whether he would conform to the clauses and conditions set forth in your letters, and whether he were determined to give up the unlawful intercourse which had made him guilty before God. The king, having answered, without being disconcerted, that he was ready to make atonement to God and the holy Roman Church, was introduced to the assembly. He came barefooted, in a posture of devotion and humility, confessing his sin and promising to purge him of his excommunication by expiatory deeds. And thus, by your authority, he earned absolution. Then laying his hand on the book of the holy Gospels, he took an oath, in the following terms, to renounce his guilty and unlawful marriage: 'Hearken, thou Lambert, bishop of Arras, who art here in place of the Apostolic Pontiff; and let the archbishops and bishops here present hearken unto me. I, Philip, king of the French, do promise not to go back to my sin, and to break off wholly the criminal intercourse I have heretofore kept up with Bertrade. I do promise that henceforth I will have with her no intercourse or companionship, save in the presence of persons beyond suspicion. I will observe, faithfully and without turning aside, these promises, in the sense set forth in the letters of the Pope, and as ye understand. So help me God and these holy Gospels!' Bertrade, at the moment of her release from excommunication, took in person the same oath on the holy Gospels."

According to the statement of the learned Benedictines who studiously examined into this incident, it is doubtful whether Philip I. broke off all intercourse with Bertrade. "Two years after his absolution, on the 10th of October, 1106, he arrived at Angers, on a Wednesday," says a contemporary chronicler, "accompanied by the queen named Bertrade, and was there received by Count Foulques and by all the Angevines, cleric and laic, with great honors. The day after his arrival, on Thursday, the monks of St. Nicholas, introduced by the queen, presented themselves before the king, and humbly prayed him, in concert with the queen, to countenance, for the salvation of his soul and of the queen and his relatives and friends, all acquisitions made by them in his dominions, or that they might hereafter make, by gift or purchase, and to be pleased to place his seal on their titles to property. And the king granted their request."

The most complete amongst the chroniclers of the time, Orderic Vital, says, touching this meeting at Angers of Bertrade's two husbands, "This clever woman had, by her skilful management, so perfectly reconciled these two rivals, that she made them a splendid feast, got them both to sit at the same table, had their beds prepared, the ensuing night, in the same chamber, and ministered to them according to their pleasure." The most judicious of the historians and statesmen of the twelfth century, the Abby Suger, that faithful minister of Louis the Fat, who cannot be suspected of favoring Bertrade, expresses himself about her in these terms: "This sprightly and rarely accomplished woman, well versed in the art, familiar to her sex, of holding captive the husbands they have outraged, had acquired such an empire over her first husband, the count of Anjou, in spite of the affront she had put upon him by deserting him, that he treated her with homage as his sovereign, often sat upon a stool at her feet, and obeyed her wishes by a sort of enchantment."

These details are textually given as the best representation of the place occupied, in the history of that time, by the morals and private life of the kings. It would not be right, however, to draw therefrom conclusions as to the abasement of Capetian royalty in the eleventh century, with too great severity. There are irregularities and scandals which the great qualities and the personal glory of princes may cause to be not only excused but even forgotten, though certainly the three Capetians who immediately succeeded the founder of the dynasty offered their people no such compensation; but it must not be supposed that they had fallen into the plight of the sluggard Merovingians or the last Carlovingians, wandering almost without a refuge. A profound change had come over society and royalty in France. In spite of their political mediocrity and their indolent licentiousness, Robert, Henry I., and Philip I., were not, in the eleventh century, insignificant personages, without authority or practical influence, whom their contemporaries could leave out of the account; they were great lords, proprietors of vast domains wherein they exercised over the population an almost absolute power; they had, it is true, about them, rivals, large proprietors and almost absolute sovereigns, like themselves, sometimes stronger even, materially, than themselves and more energetic or more intellectually able, whose superiors, however, they remained on two grounds—as suzerains and as kings: their court was always the most honored and their alliance always very much sought after. They occupied the first rank in feudal society and a rank unique in the body politic such as it was slowly becoming in the midst of reminiscences and traditions of the Jewish monarchy, of barbaric kingship, and of the Roman empire for a while resuscitated by Charlemagne. French kingship in the eleventh century was sole power invested with a triple character—Germanic, Roman, and religious; its possessors were at the same time the chieftains of the conquerors of the soil, the successors of the Roman emperors and of Charlemagne, and the laic delegates and representatives of the God of the Christians. Whatever were their weaknesses and their personal short-comings, they were not the mere titularies of a power in decay, and the kingly post was strong and full of blossoms, as events were not slow to demonstrate.

And as with the kingship, so with the community of France in the eleventh century. In spite of its dislocation into petty incoherent and turbulent associations, it was by no means in decay. Irregularities of ambition, hatreds and quarrels amongst neighbors and relatives, outrages on the part of princes and peoples were incessantly renewed; but energy of character, activity of mind, indomitable will and zeal for the liberty of the individual were not wanting, and they exhibited themselves passionately and at any risk, at one time by brutal and cynical outbursts which were followed occasionally by fervent repentance and expiation, at another by acts of courageous wisdom and disinterested piety. At the commencement of the eleventh century, William III., count of Poitiers and duke of Aquitaine, was one of the most honored and most potent princes of his time; all the sovereigns of Europe sent embassies to him as to their peer; he every year made, by way of devotion, a trip to Rome, and was received there with the same honors as the emperor. He was fond of literature, and gave up to reading the early hours of the night; and scholars called him another Maecenas. Unaffected by these worldly successes intermingled with so much toil and so many miscalculations, he refused the crown of Italy, when it was offered him at the death of the Emperor Henry II., and he finished, like Charles V. some centuries later, by going and seeking in a monastery isolation from the world and repose. But, in the same domains and at the end of the same century, his grandson William VII. was the most vagabondish, dissolute, and violent of princes; and his morals were so scandalous that the bishop of Poitiers, after having warned him to no purpose, considered himself forced to excommunicate him. The duke suddenly burst into the church, made his way through the congregation, sword in hand, and seized the prelate by the hair, saying, "Thou shalt give me absolution or die." The bishop demanded a moment for reflection, profited by it to pronounce the form of excommunication, and forthwith bowing his head before the duke, said, "And now strike!" "I love thee not well enough to send thee to paradise," answered the duke; and he confined himself to depriving him of his see. For fury the duke of Aquitaine sometimes substituted insolent mockery. Another bishop, of Angouleme, who was quite bald, likewise exhorted him to mend his ways. "I will mend," quoth the duke, "when thou shalt comb back thy hair to thy pate." Another great lord of the same century, Foulques the Black, count of Anjou, at the close of an able and glorious lifetime, had resigned to his son Geoffrey Martel the administration of his countship. The son, as haughty and harsh towards his father as towards his subjects, took up arms against him, and bade him lay aside the outward signs, which he still maintained, of power. The old man in his wrath recovered the vigor and ability of his youth, and strove so energetically and successfully against his son that he reduced him to such subjection as to make him do several miles "crawling on the ground," says the chronicle, with a saddle on his back, and to come and prostrate himself at his feet. When Foulques had his son thus humbled before him, he spurned him with his foot, repeating over and over again nothing but "Thou'rt beaten, thou'rt beaten!" "Ay, beaten," said Geoffrey, "but by thee only, because thou art my father; to any other I am invincible." The anger of the old man vanished at once: he now thought only how he might console his son for the affront put upon him, and he gave him back his power, exhorting him only to conduct himself with more moderation and gentleness towards his subjects. All was inconsistency and contrast with these robust, rough, hasty souls; they cared little for belying themselves when they had satisfied the passion of the moment.

The relations existing between the two great powers of the period, the laic lords and the monks, were not less bitter or less unstable than amongst the laics themselves; and when artifice, as often happened, was employed, it was by no means to the exclusion of violence. About the middle of the twelfth century, the abbey of Tournus, in Burgundy, had, at Louhans, a little port where it collected salt-tax, whereof it every year distributed the receipts to the poor during the first week in Lent. Girard, count of Macon, established a like toll a little distance off. The monks of Tournus complained; but he took no notice. A long while afterwards he came to Tournus with a splendid following, and entered the church of St. Philibert. He had stopped all alone before the altar to say his prayers, when a monk, cross in hand, issued suddenly from behind the altar, and, placing himself before the count, "How hast thou the audacity," said he, "to enter my monastery and mine house, thou that dost not hesitate to rob me of my dues?" and, taking Girard by the hair, he threw him on the ground and belabored him heavily. The count, stupefied and contrite, acknowledged his injustice, took off the toll that he had wrongfully put on, and, not content with this reparation, sent to the church of Tournus a rich carpet of golden and silken tissue. In the middle of the eleventh century, Adhemar II., viscount of Limoges, had in his city a quarrel of quite a different sort with the monks of the abbey of St. Martial. The abbey had fallen into great looseness of discipline and morals; and the viscount had at heart its reformation. To this end he entered into concert, at a distance, with Hugh, abbot of Cluni, at that time the most celebrated and most respected of the monasteries. The abbot of St. Martial died. Adhemar sent for some monks from Cluni to come to Limoges, lodged them secretly near his palace, repaired to the abbey of St. Martial after having had the chapter convoked, and called upon the monks to proceed at once to the election of a new abbot. A lively discussion, upon this point, arose between the viscount and the monks. "We are not ignorant," said one of them to him, "that you have sent for brethren from Cluni, in order to drive us out and put them in our places; but you will not succeed." The viscount was furious, seized by the sleeve the monk who was inveighing, and dragged him by force out of the monastery. His fellows were frightened, and took to flight; and Adhemar immediately had the monks from Cluni sent for, and put them in possession of the abbey. It was a ruffianly proceeding; but the reform was popular in Limoges and was effected.

These trifling matters are faithful samples of the dominant and fundamental characteristic of French society during the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, the true epoch of the middle ages. It was chaos, and fermentation within the chaos the slow and rough but powerful and productive fermentation of unruly life. In ideas, events, and persons there was a blending of the strongest contrasts: manners were rude and even savage, yet souls were filled with lofty and tender aspirations; the authority of religious creeds at one time was on the point of extinction, yet at another shone forth gloriously in opposition to the arrogance and brutality of mundane passions; ignorance was profound, and yet here and there, in the very heart of the mental darkness, gleamed bright centres of movement and intellectual labor. It was the period when Abelard, anticipating freedom of thought and of instruction, drew together upon Mount St. Genevieve thousands of hearers anxious to follow him in the study of the great problems of Nature and of the destiny of man and the world. And far away from this throng, in the solitude of the abbey of Bee, St. Anselm was offering to his monks a Christian and philosophical demonstration of the existence of God—"faith seeking understanding" (fides quoerens intellectuan), as he himself used to say. It was the period, too, when, distressed at the licentiousness which was spreading throughout the Church as well as lay society, two illustrious monks, St. Bernard and St. Norbert, not only went preaching everywhere reformation of morals, but labored at and succeeded in establishing for monastic life a system of strict discipline and severe austerity. Lastly, it was the period when, in the laic world, was created and developed the most splendid fact of the middle ages, knighthood, that noble soaring of imaginations and souls towards the ideal of Christian virtue and soldierly honor. It is impossible to trace in detail the origin and history of that grand fact which was so prominent in the days to which it belonged, and which is so prominent still in the memories of men; but a clear notion ought to be obtained of its moral character and its practical worth. To this end a few pages shall be borrowed from Guizot's History of Civilization in France. Let us first look on at the admission of a knight, such as took place in the twelfth century. We will afterwards see what rules of conduct were imposed upon him, not only according to the oaths which he had to take on becoming knight, but according to the idea formed of knighthood by the poets of the day, those interpreters not only of actual life, but of men's sentiments also. We shall then understand, without difficulty, what influence must have been exercised, in the souls and lives of men, by such sentiments and such rules, however great may have been the discrepancy between the knightly ideal and the general actions and passions of contemporaries.

"The young man, the esquire who aspired to the title of knight, was first stripped of his clothes and placed in a bath, which was symbolical of purification. On leaving the bath, he was clothed in a white tunic, which was symbolical of purity, and a red robe, which was symbolical of the blood he was bound to shed in the service of the faith, and a black sagum or close-fitting coat, which was symbolical of the death which awaited him as well as all men.

"Thus purified and clothed, the candidate observed for four and twenty hours a strict fast. When evening came, he entered church, and there passed the night in prayer, sometimes alone, sometimes with a priest and sponsors, who prayed with him. Next day, his first act was confession; after confession the priest gave him the communion; after the communion he attended a mass of the Holy Spirit; and, generally, a sermon touching the duties of knights and of the new life he was about to enter on. The sermon over, the candidate advanced to the altar with the knight's sword hanging from his neck. This the priest took off, blessed, and replaced upon his neck. The candidate then went and knelt before the lord who was to arm him knight. 'To what purpose,' the lord asked him, 'do you desire to enter the order? If to be rich, to take your ease and be held in honor without doing honor to knighthood, you are unworthy of it, and would be, to the order of knighthood you received, what the simoniacal clerk is to the prelacy.' On the young man's reply, promising to acquit himself well of the duties of knight, the lord granted his request.

"Then drew near knights and sometimes ladies to reclothe the candidate in all his new array; and they put on him, 1, the spurs; 2, the hauberk or coat of mail; 3, the cuirass; 4, the armlets and gauntlets; 5, the sword.

"He was what was then called adubbed (that is, adopted, according to Du Cange). The lord rose up, went to him and gave him the accolade or accolee, three blows with the flat of the sword on the shoulder or nape of the neck, and sometimes a slap with the palm of the hand on the cheek, saying, 'In the name of God, St. Michael and St. George, I make thee knight.' And he sometimes added, 'Be valiant, bold, and loyal.'

"The young man, having been thus armed knight, had his helmet brought to him; a horse was led up for him; he leaped on its back, generally without the help of the stirrups, and caracoled about, brandishing his lance and making his sword flash. Finally he went out of church and caracoled about on the open, at the foot of the castle, in presence of the people eager to have their share in the spectacle."

Such was what may be called the outward and material part in the admission of knights. It shows a persistent anxiety to associate religion with all the phases of so personal an affair; the sacraments, the most august feature of Christianity, are mixed up with it; and many of the ceremonies are, as far as possible, assimilated to the administration of the sacraments. Let us continue our examination; let us penetrate to the very heart of knighthood, its moral character, its ideas, the sentiments which it was the object to impress upon the knight. Here again the influence of religion will be quite evident.

"The knight had to swear to twenty-six articles. These articles, however, did not make one single formula, drawn up at one and the same time and all together; they are a collection of oaths required of knights at different epochs and in more or less complete fashion from the eleventh to the fourteenth century. The candidate swore, 1, to fear, reverence, and serve God religiously, to fight for the faith with all their might, and to die a thousand deaths rather than ever renounce Christianity; 2, to serve their sovereign-prince faithfully, and to fight for him and fatherland right valiantly; 3, to uphold the rights of the weaker, such as widows, orphans, and damsels, in fair quarrel, exposing themselves on that account according as need might be, provided it were not against their own honor or against their king or lawful prince; 4, that they would not injure any one maliciously, or take what was another's, but would rather do battle with those who did so; 5, that greed, pay, gain, or profit should never constrain them to do any deed, but only glory and virtue; 6, that they would fight for the good and advantage of the common weal; 7, that they would be bound by and obey the orders of their generals and captains who had a right to command them; 8, that they would guard the honor, rank, and order of their comrades, and that they would neither by arrogance nor by force commit any trespass against any one of them; 9, that they would never fight in companies against one, and that they would eschew all tricks and artifices; 10, that they would wear but one sword, unless they had to fight against two or more; 11, that in tourney or other sportive contest they would never use the point of their swords; 12, that being taken prisoner in a tourney, they would be bound, on their faith and honor, to perform in every point the conditions of capture, besides being bound to give up to the victors their arms and horses, if it seemed good to take them, and being disabled from fighting in war or elsewhere without their leave; 13, that they would keep faith inviolably with all the world, and especially with their comrades, upholding their honor and advantage, wholly, in their absence; 14, that they would love and honor one another, and aid and succor one another whenever occasion offered; 15, that, having made vow or promise to go on any quest or novel adventure, they would never put off their arms, save for the night's rest; 16, that in pursuit of their quest or adventure they would not shun bad and perilous passes, nor turn aside from the straight road for fear of encountering powerful knights or monsters or wild beasts or other hinderance such as the body and courage of a single man might tackle; 17, that they would never take wage or pay from any foreign prince; 18, that in command of troops of men-at-arms, they would live in the utmost possible order and discipline, and especially in their own country, where they would never suffer any harm or violence to be done; 19, that if they were bound to escort dame or damsel, they would serve her, protect her, and save her from all danger and insult, or die in the attempt; 20, that they would never offer violence to dame or damsel, though they had won her by deeds of arms, against her will and consent; 21, that, being challenged to equal combat, they would not refuse, without wound, sickness, or other reasonable hinderance; 22, that, having undertaken to carry out any enterprise, they would devote to it night and day, unless they were called away for the service of their king and country; 23, that if they made a vow to acquire any honor, they would not draw back without having attained either it or its equivalent; 24, that they would be faithful keepers of their word and pledged faith, and that, having become prisoners in fair warfare, they would pay to the uttermost the promised ransom, or return to prison, at the day and hour agreed upon, on pain of being proclaimed infamous and perjured; 25, that on re-turning to the court of their sovereign, they would render a true account of their adventures, even though they had sometimes been worsted, to the king and the registrar of the order, on pain of being deprived of the order of knighthood; 26, that above all things they would be faithful, courteous, and humble, and would never be wanting to their word for any harm or loss that might accrue to them."

It is needless to point out that in this series of oaths, these obligations imposed upon the knights, there is a moral development very superior to that of the laic society of the period. Moral notions so lofty, so delicate, so scrupulous, and so humane, emanated clearly from the Christian clergy. Only the clergy thought thus about the duties and the relations of mankind; and their influence was employed in directing towards the accomplishment of such duties, towards the integrity of such relations, the ideas and customs engendered by knighthood. It had not been instituted with so pious and deep a design, for the protection of the weak, the maintenance of justice, and the reformation of morals; it had been, at its origin and in its earliest features, a natural consequence of feudal relations and warlike life, a confirmation of the bonds established and the sentiments aroused between different masters in the same country and comrades with the same destinies. The clergy promptly saw what might be deduced from such a fact; and they made of it a means of establishing more peacefulness in society, and in the conduct of individuals a more rigid morality. This was the general work they pursued; and, if it were convenient to study the matter more closely, we might see, in the canons of councils from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, the Church exerting herself to develop more and more in this order of knight-hood, this institution of an essentially warlike origin, the moral and civilizing character of which a glimpse has just been caught in the documents of knighthood itself.

In proportion as knighthood appeared more and more in this simultaneously warlike, religious, and moral character, it more and more gained power over the imagination of men, and just as it had become closely interwoven with their creeds, it soon became the ideal of their thoughts, the source of their noblest pleasures. Poetry, like religion, took hold of it. From the eleventh century onwards, knighthood, its ceremonies, its duties, and its adventures, were the mine from which the poets drew in order to charm the people, in order to satisfy and excite at the same time that yearning of the soul, that need of events more varied and more captivating, and of emotions more exalted and more pure than real life could furnish. In the springtide of communities poetry is not merely a pleasure and a pastime for a nation; it is a source of progress; it elevates and develops the moral nature of men at the same time that it amuses them and stirs them deeply. We have just seen what oaths were taken by the knights and administered by the priests; and now, here is an ancient ballad by Eustache Deschamps, a poet of the fourteenth century, from which it will be seen that poets impressed upon knights the same duties and the same virtues, and that the influence of poetry had the same aim as that of religion:
Amend your lives, ye who would fain
The order of the knights attain;
Devoutly watch, devoutly pray;
From pride and sin, O, turn away!
Shun all that's base; the Church defend;
Be the widow's and the orphan's friend;
Be good and Leal; take nought by might;
Be bold and guard the people's right;—
This is the rule for the gallant knight.
Be meek of heart; work day by day;
Tread, ever tread, the knightly way;
Make lawful war; long travel dare;
Tourney and joust for lady fair;
To everlasting honor cling,
That none the barbs of blame may fling;
Be never slack in work or fight;
Be ever least in self's own sight;—
This is the rule for the gallant knight.
Love the liege lord; with might and main
His rights above all else maintain;
Be open-handed, just, and true;
The paths of upright men pursue;
No deaf ear to their precepts turn;
The prowess of the valiant learn;
That ye may do things great and bright,
As did great Alexander hight;—
This is the rule for the gallant knight.
A great deal has been said to the effect that all this is sheer poetry, a beautiful chimera without any resemblance to reality. Indeed, it has just been remarked here, that the three centuries under consideration, the middle ages, were, in point of fact, one of the most brutal, most ruffianly epochs in history, one of those wherein we encounter most crimes and violence; wherein the public peace was most incessantly troubled; and wherein the greatest licentiousness in morals prevailed. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that side by side with these gross and barbarous morals, this social disorder, there existed knightly morality and knightly poetry. We have moral records confronting ruffianly deeds; and the contrast is shocking, but real. It is exactly this contrast which makes the great and fundamental characteristic of the middle ages. Let us turn our eyes towards other communities, towards the earliest stages, for instance, of Greek society, towards that heroic age of which Homer's poems are the faithful reflection. There is nothing there like the contrasts by which we are struck in the middle ages. We do not see that, at the period and amongst the people of the Homeric poems, there was abroad in the air or had penetrated into the imaginations of men any idea more lofty or more pure than their every-day actions; the heroes of Homer seem to have no misgiving about their brutishness, their ferocity, their greed, their egotism, there is nothing in their souls superior to the deeds of their lives. In the France of the middle ages, on the contrary, though practically crimes and disorders, moral and social evils abound, yet men have in their souls and their imaginations loftier and purer instincts and desires; their notions of virtue and their ideas of justice are very superior to the practice pursued around them and amongst themselves; a certain moral ideal hovers above this low and tumultuous community, and attracts the notice and obtains the regard of men in whose life it is but very faintly reflected. The Christian religion, undoubtedly, is, if not the only, at any rate the principal cause of this great fact; for its particular characteristic is to arouse amongst men a lofty moral ambition by keeping constantly before their eyes a type infinitely beyond the reach of human nature, and yet profoundly sympathetic with it. To Christianity it was that the middle ages owed knighthood, that institution which, in the midst of anarchy and barbarism, gave a poetical and moral beauty to the period. It was feudal knighthood and Christianity together which produced the two great and glorious events of those times, the Norman conquest of England and the Crusades.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works