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A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times
The Communes And The Third Estate.
by Guizot, M.

The history of the Merovingians is that of barbarians invading Gaul and settling upon the ruins of the Roman empire. The history of the Carlovingians is that of the greatest of the barbarians taking upon himself to resuscitate the Roman empire, and of Charlemagne's descendants disputing amongst themselves for the fragments of his fabric, as fragile as it was grand. Amidst this vast chaos and upon this double ruin was formed the feudal system, which by transformation after transformation became ultimately France. Hugh Capet, one of its chieftains, made himself its king. The Capetians achieved the French kingship. We have traced its character and progressive development from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, through the reigns of Louis the Fat, of Philip Augustus, of St. Louis, and of Philip the Handsome, princes very diverse and very unequal in merit, but all of them able and energetic. This period was likewise the cradle of the French nation. That was the time when it began to exhibit itself in its different elements, and to arise under monarchical rule from the midst of the feudal system. Its earliest features and its earliest efforts in the long and laborious work of its development are now to be set before the reader's eyes.

The two words inscribed at the head of this chapter, the Communes and the Third-Estate, are verbal expressions for the two great facts at that time revealing that the French nation was in labor of formation. Closely connected one with the other and tending towards the same end, these two facts are, nevertheless, very diverse, and even when they have not been confounded, they have not been with sufficient clearness distinguished and characterized, each of them apart. They are diverse both in their chronological date and their social importance. The Communes are the first to appear in history. They appear there as local facts, isolated one from another, often very different in point of origin, though analogous in their aim, and in every case neither assuming nor pretending to assume any place in the government of the state. Local interests and rights, the special affairs of certain populations agglomerated in certain spots, are the only objects, the only province of the communes. With this purely municipal and individual character they come to their birth, their confirmation, and their development from the eleventh to the fourteenth century; and at the end of two centuries they enter upon their decline, they occupy far less room and make far less noise in history. It is exactly then that the Third Estate comes to the front, and uplifts itself as a general fact, a national element, a political power. It is the successor, not the contemporary, of the Communes; they contributed much towards, but did not suffice for its formation; it drew upon other resources, and was developed under other influences than those which gave existence to the communes. It has subsisted, it has gone on growing throughout the whole course of French history; and at the end of five centuries, in 1789, when the Communes had for a long while sunk into languishment and political insignificance, at the moment at which France was electing her Constituent Assembly, the Abbe Sicyes, a man of powerful rather than scrupulous mind, could say, "What is the Third Estate? Everything. What has it hitherto been in the body politic? Nothing. What does it demand? To be something."

These words contain three grave errors. In the course of government anterior to 1789, so far was the third estate from being nothing, that it had been every day becoming greater and stronger. What was demanded for it in 1789 by M. Sicyes and his friends was not that it might become something, but that it should be everything. That was a desire beyond its right and its strength; and the very Revolution, which was its own victory, proved this. Whatever may have been the weaknesses and faults of its foes, the third estate had a terrible struggle to conquer them; and the struggle was so violent and so obstinate that the third estate was broken up therein, and had to pay dearly for its triumph. At first it obtained thereby despotism instead of liberty; and when liberty returned, the third estate found itself confronted by twofold hostility, that of its foes under the old regimen and that of the absolute democracy which claimed in its turn to be everything. Outrageous claims bring about in-tractable opposition and excite unbridled ambition. What there was in the words of the Abbe Sicyes in 1789 was not the verity of history; it was a lying programme of revolution.

We have anticipated dates in order to properly characterize and explain the facts as they present themselves, by giving a glimpse of their scope and their attainment. Now that we have clearly marked the profound difference between the third estate and the communes, we will return to the communes alone, which had the priority in respect of time. We will trace the origin and the composition of the third estate, when we reach the period at which it became one of the great performers in the history of France by reason of the place it assumed and the part it played in the states-general of the kingdom.

In dealing with the formation of the communes from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, the majority of the French historians, even M. Thierry, the most original and clear-sighted of them all, often entitle this event the communal revolution. This expression hardly gives a correct idea of the fact to which it is applied. The word revolution, in the sense, or at least the aspect, given to it amongst us by contemporary events, points to the overthrow of a certain regimen, and of the ideas and authority predominant thereunder, and the systematic elevation in their stead of a regimen essentially different in principle, and in fact. The revolutions of our day substitute, or would fain substitute, a republic for a monarchy, democracy for aristocracy, political liberty for absolute power. The struggles which from the eleventh to the fourteenth century gave existence to so many communes had no such profound character; the populations did not pretend to any fundamental overthrow of the regimen they attacked; they conspired together, they swore together, as the phrase is according to the documents of the time—they rose to extricate themselves from the outrageous oppression and misery they were enduring, but not to abolish feudal sovereignty and to change the personality of their masters. When they succeeded they obtained those treaties of peace called charters, which brought about in the condition of the insurgents salutary changes accompanied by more or less effectual guarantees. When they failed or when the charters were violated, the result was violent reactions, mutual excesses; the relations between the populations and their lords were tempestuous and full of vicissitudes; but at bottom neither the political regimen nor the social system of the communes was altered. And so there were, at many spots without any connection between them, local revolts and civil wars, but no communal revolution.

One of the earliest facts of this kind which have been set forth with some detail in history clearly shows their primitive character; a fact the more remarkable in that the revolt described by the chroniclers originated and ran its course in the country among peasants with a view of recovering complete independence, and not amongst an urban population with a view of resulting in the erection of a commune. Towards the end of the tenth century, under Richard II., Duke of Normandy, called the Good, and whilst the good King Robert was reigning in France, "In several countships of Normandy," says William of Jumiege, "all the peasants, assembling in their conventicles, resolved to live according to their inclinations and their own laws, as well in the interior of the forests as along the rivers, and to reck nought of any established right. To carry out this purpose these mobs of madmen chose each two deputies, who were to form at some central point an assembly charged to see to the execution of their decrees. As soon as the duke (Richard II.) was informed thereof, he sent a large body of men-at-arms to repress this audaciousness of the country districts and to scatter this rustic assemblage. In execution of his orders, the deputies of the peasants and many other rebels were forthwith arrested, their feet and hands were cut off, and they were sent away thus mutilated to their homes, in order to deter their like from such enterprises, and to make them wiser, for fear of worse. After this experience the peasants left off their meetings and returned to their ploughs."

It was about eighty years after the event when the monk William of Jumiege told the story of this insurrection of peasants so long anterior, and yet so similar to that which more than three centuries afterwards broke out in nearly the whole of Northern. France, and which was called the Jacquery. Less than a century after William of Jumiege, a Norman poet, Robert Wace, told the same story in his Romance of Rou, a history in verse of Rollo and the first dukes of Normandy: "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, of travail, and of fatigue; every day our beasts are taken from us for forced labor and services . . . why put up with all this evil, and why not get quit of travail? Are not we men even as they are? Have we not the same stature, the same limbs, the same strength—for suffering? Bind we ourselves by oath; swear we to aid one another; and if they be minded to make war on us, have we not for every knight thirty or forty young peasants ready and willing to fight with club, or boar-spear, or arrow, or axe, or stones, if they have not arms? Learn we to resist the knights, and we shall be free to hew down trees, to hunt game, and to fish after our fashion, and we shall work our will on flood and in field and wood."

These two passages have already been quoted in Chapter XIV. of this history in the course of describing the general condition of France under the Capetians before the crusades, and they are again brought forward here because they express and paint to the life the chief cause which from the end of the tenth century led to so many insurrections amongst the rural as well as urban populations, and brought about the establishment of so many communes.

We say the chief cause only, because oppression and insurrection were not the sole origin of the communes. Evil, moral and material, abounds in human communities, but it never has the sole dominion there; force never drives justice into utter banishment, and the ruffianly violence of the strong never stifles in all hearts every sympathy for the weak. Two causes, quite distinct from feudal oppression, viz., Roman traditions and Christian sentiments, had their share in the formation of the communes and in the beneficial results thereof.

The Roman municipal regimen, which is described in M. Guizot's L'Essais sur l'Histoire de France (1st Essay, pp. 1-44), did not everywhere perish with the empire; it kept its footing in a great number of towns, especially in those of Southern Gaul, Marseilles, Arles, Nismes, Narbonne, Toulouse, &c. At Arles the municipality actually bore the name of commune (communitas), Toulouse gave her municipal magistrates the name of Capitouls, after the Capitol of Rome, and in the greater part of the other towns in the south they were called Consuls. After the great invasion of barbarians from the seventh to the end of the eleventh century, the existence of these Roman municipalities appears but rarely and confusedly in history; but in this there is nothing peculiar to the towns and the municipal regimen, for confusion and obscurity were at that time universal, and the nascent feudal system was plunged therein as well as the dying little municipal systems were. Many Roman municipalities were still subsisting without influencing any event of at all a general kind, and without leaving any trace; and as the feudal system grew and grew they still went on in the midst of universal darkness and anarchy. They had penetrated into the north of Gaul in fewer numbers and with a weaker organization than in the south, but still keeping their footing and vaunting themselves on their Roman origin in the face of their barbaric conquerors. The inhabitants of Rheims remembered with pride that their municipal magistracy and its jurisdiction were anterior to Clovis, dating as they did from before the days of St. Remigius, the apostle of the Franks. The burghers of Metz boasted of having enjoyed civil rights before there was any district of Lorraine: "Lorraine," said they, "is young, and Metz is old." The city of Bourges was one of the most complete examples of successive transformations and denominations attained by a Roman municipality from the sixth to the thirteenth century under the Merovingians, the Carlovingians, and the earliest Capetians. At the time of the invasion it had arenas, an amphitheatre, and all that characterized a Roman city. In the seventh century, the author of the life of St. Estadiola, born at Bourges, says that "she was the child of illustrious parents who, as worldly dignity is accounted, were notable by reason of senatorial rank; and Gregory of Tours quotes a judgment delivered by the principals (primores) of the city of Bourges. Coins of the time of Charles the Bald are struck with the name of the city of Bourges and its inhabitants (Bituriges). In 1107, under Philip I., the members of the municipal body of Bourges are named prud'hommes. In two charters, one of Louis the Young, in 1145, and the other of Philip Augustus, in 1218, the old senators of Bourges have the name at one time of bons hommes, at another of barons of the city. Under different names, in accordance with changes of language, the Roman municipal regimen held on and adapted itself to new social conditions."

In our own day there has been far too much inclination to dispute, and M. Augustin Thierry has, in M. Guizot's opinion, made far too little of, the active and effective part played by the kingship in the formation and protection of the French communes. Not only did the kings, as we shall presently see, often interpose as mediators in the quarrels of the communes with their laic or ecclesiastical lords, but many amongst them assumed in their own domains and to the profit of the communes an intelligent and beneficial initiative. The city of Orleans was a happy example of this. It was of ancient date, and had prospered under the Roman empire; nevertheless the continuance of the Roman municipal regimen does not appear there clearly as we have just seen that it did in the case of Bourges; it is chiefly from the middle ages and their kings that Orleans held its municipal franchises and its privileges; they never raised it to a commune, properly so called, by a charter sworn to and guaranteed by independent institutions, but they set honestly to work to prevent local oppression, to reform abuses, and make justice prevail there. From 1051 to 1281 there are to be found in the Recueil des ordonnances des rois seven important charters relating to Orleans. In 1051, at the demand of the people of Orleans and its bishop, who appears in the charter as the head of the people, the defender of the city, Henry I. secures to the inhabitants of Orleans freedom of labor and of going to and fro during the vintages, and interdicts his agents from exacting anything upon the entry of wines. From 1137 to 1178, during the administration of Suger, Louis the Young in four successive ordinances gives, in respect of Orleans, precise guarantees for freedom of trade, security of person and property, and the internal peace of the city; and in 1183 Philip Augustus exempts from all talliage, that is, from all personal impost, the present and future inhabitants of Orleans, and grants them divers privileges, amongst others that of not going to law-courts farther from their homes than Etampes. In 1281 Philip the Bold renews and confirms the concessions of Philip Augustus. Orleans was not, within the royal domain, the only city where the kings of that period were careful to favor the progress of the population, of wealth, and of security; several other cities, and even less considerable burghs, obtained similar favor; and in 1155 Louis the Young, probably in confirmation of an act of his father, Louis the Fat, granted to the little town of Lorris, in Gatinais (nowadays chief place of a canton in the department of the Loiret), a charter, full of detail, which regulated its interior regimen in financial, commercial, judicial, and military matters, and secured to all its inhabitants good conditions in respect of civil life. This charter was in the course of the twelfth century regarded as so favorable that it was demanded by a great number of towns and burghs; the king was asked for the customs of Lorris (consuetudines Lauracienses), and in the space of fifty years they were granted to seven towns, some of them a considerable distance from Orleanness. The towns which obtained them did not become by this qualification communes properly so called in the special and historical sense of the word; they had no jurisdiction of their own, no independent magistracy; they had not their own government in their hands; the king's officers, provosts, bailiffs, or others, were the only persons who exercised there a real and decisive power. But the king's promises to the inhabitants, the rights which he authorized them to claim from him, and the rules which he imposed upon his officers in their government, were not concessions which were of no value or which remained without fruit. As we follow in the course of our history the towns which, without having been raised to communes properly so called, had obtained advantages of that kind, we see them developing and growing in population and wealth, and sticking more and more closely to that kingship from which they had received their privileges, and which, for all its imperfect observance and even frequent violation of promises, was nevertheless accessible to complaint, repressed from time to time the misbehavior of its officers, renewed at need and even extended privileges, and, in a word, promoted in its administration the progress of civilization and the counsels of reason, and thus attached the burghers to itself without recognizing on their side those positive rights and those guarantees of administrative independence which are in a perfect and solidly constructed social fabric the foundation of political liberty.

Nor was it the kings alone who in the middle ages listened to the counsels of reason, and recognized in their behavior towards their towns the rights of justice. Many bishops had become the feudal lords of the episcopal city; and the Christian spirit enlightened and animated many amongst them just as the monarchical spirit sometimes enlightened and guided the kings. Troubles had arisen in the town of Cambrai between the bishops and the people. "There was amongst the members of the metropolitan clergy," says M. Augustin Thierry, "a certain Baudri de Sarchainville, a native of Artois, who had the title of chaplain of the bishopric. He was a man of high character and of wise and reflecting mind. He did not share the violent aversion felt by most of his order for the institution of communes. He saw in this institution a sort of necessity beneath which it would be inevitable sooner or later, Willy nilly, to bow, and he thought it was better to surrender to the wishes of the citizens than to shed blood in order to postpone for a while an unavoidable revolution. In 1098 he was elected Bishop of Noyon. He found this town in the same state in which he had seen that of Cambrai. The burghers were at daily loggerheads with the metropolitan clergy, and the registers of the Church contained a host of documents entitled Peace made between us and the burghers of Noyon. But no reconciliation was lasting; the truce was soon broken, either by the clergy or by the citizens, who were the more touchy in that they had less security for their persons and their property. The new bishop thought that the establishment of a commune sworn to by both the rival parties might become a sort of compact of alliance between them, and he set about realizing this noble idea before the word commune had served at Noyon as the rallying cry of popular insurrection. Of his own mere motion he convoked in assembly all the inhabitants of the town, clergy, knights, traders, and craftsmen. He presented them with a charter which constituted the body of burghers an association forever under magistrates called jury-men, like those of Cambrai. 'Whosoever,' said the charter, 'shall desire to enter this commune shall not be able to be received as a member of it by a single individual, but only in the presence of the jurymen. The sum of money he shall then give shall be employed for the benefit of the town, and not for the private advantage of any one whatsoever. If the commune be outraged, all those who have sworn to it shall be bound to march to its defence, and none shall be empowered to remain at home unless he be infirm or sick, or so poor that he must needs be himself the watcher of his own wife and children lying sick. If any one have wounded or slain any one on the territory of the commune, the jurymen shall take vengeance therefor.'"

The other articles guarantee to the members of the commune of Noyon the complete ownership of their property, and the right of not being handed over to justice save before their own municipal magistrates. The bishop first swore to this charter, and the inhabitants of every condition took the same oath after him. In virtue of his pontifical authority he pronounced the anathema, and all the curses of the Old and New Testament, against whoever should in time to come dare to dissolve the commune or infringe its regulations. Furthermore, in order to give this new pact a stronger warranty, Baudri requested the king of France. Louis the Fat, to corroborate it, as they used to say at the time, by his approbation and by the great seal of the crown. The king consented to this request of the bishop, and that was all the part taken by Louis the Fat in the establishment of the commune of Noyon. The king's charter is not preserved, but, under the date of 1108, there is extant one of the bishop's own, which may serve to substantiate the account given:—

"Baudri, by the grace of God Bishop of Noyon, to all those who do preserve and go on in the faith:

"Most dear brethren, we learn by the example and words of-the holy Fathers, that all good things ought to be committed to writing, for fear lest hereafter they come to be forgotten. Know, then, all Christians present and to come, that I have formed at Noyon a commune, constituted by the counsel and in an assembly of clergy, knights, and burghers; that I have confirmed it by oath, by pontifical authority, and by the bond of anathema; and that I have prevailed upon our lord King Louis to grant this commune and corroborate it with the king's seal. This establishment formed by me, sworn to by a great number of persons, and granted by the king, let none be so bold as to destroy or alter; I give warning thereof, on behalf of God and myself, and I forbid it in the name of pontifical authority. Whosoever shall transgress and violate the present law, be subjected to excommunication; and whosoever, on the contrary, shall faithfully keep it, be preserved forever amongst those who dwell in the house of the Lord."

This good example was not without fruit. The communal regimen was established in several towns, notably at St. Quentin and at Soissons, without trouble or violence, and with one accord amongst the laic and ecclesiastical lords and the inhabitants.

We arrive now at the third and chief source of the communes, at the case of those which met feudal oppression with energetic resistance, and which, after all the sufferings, vicissitudes, and outrages, on both sides, of a prolonged struggle, ended by winning a veritable administrative, and, to a certain extent, political independence. The number of communes thus formed from the eleventh to the thirteenth century was great, and we have a detailed history of the fortunes of several amongst them, Cambrai, Beauvais, Laon, Amiens, Rheims, Etampes, Vezelay, &c. To give a correct and vivid picture of them we will choose the commune of Laon, which was one of those whose fortunes were most checkered as well as most tragic, and which after more than two centuries of a very tempestuous existence was sentenced to complete abolition, first by Philip the Handsome, then by Philip the Long and Charles the Handsome, and, finally, by Philip of Valois, "for certain misdeeds and excesses notorious, enormous, and detestable, and on full deliberation of our council." The early portion of the history connected with the commune of Laon has been narrated for us by Guibert, an abbot of Nogent-sous-Coucy, in the diocese of Laon, a contemporary writer, sprightly and bold. "In all that I have written and am still writing," says he, "I dismiss all men from my mind, caring not a whit about pleasing anybody. I have taken my side in the opinions of the world, and with calmness and indifference on my own account I expect to be exposed to all sorts of language, to be as it were beaten with rods. I proceed with my task, being fully purposed to bear with equanimity the judgments of all who come snarling after me."

Laon was at the end of the eleventh century one of the most important towns in the kingdom of France. It was full of rich and industrious inhabitants; the neighboring people came thither for provisions or diversion; and such concourse led to the greatest disturbances. "The nobles and their servitors," says M. Augustin Thierry, "sword in hand, committed robbery upon the burghers; the streets of the town were not safe by night or even by day, and none could go out without running a risk of being stopped and robbed or killed. The burghers in their turn committed violence upon the peasants, who came to buy or sell at the market of the town." "Let me give as example," says Guibert of Nogent, "a single fact, which, had it taken place amongst the Barbarians or the Scythians, would assuredly have been considered the height of wickedness, in the judgment even of those who recognize no law. On Saturday the inhabitants of the country places used to leave their fields, and come from all sides to Laon to get provisions at the market. The townsfolk used then to go round the place, carrying in baskets, or bowls, or otherwise, samples of vegetables, or grain, or any other article, as if they wished to sell. They would offer them to the first peasant who was in search of such things to buy; he would promise to pay the price agreed upon; and then the seller would say to the buyer, 'Come with me to my house to see and examine the whole of the articles I am selling you.' The other would go; and then, when they came to the bin containing the goods, the honest seller would take off and hold up the lid, saying to the buyer, 'Step hither, and put your head or arms into the bin, to make quite sure that it is all exactly the same goods as I showed you outside.' And then when the other, jumping on to the edge of the bin, remained leaning on his belly, with his head and shoulders hanging down, the worthy seller, who kept in the rear, would hoist up the thoughtless rustic by the feet, push him suddenly into the bin, and, clapping on the lid as he fell, keep him shut up in this safe prison until he had bought himself out."

In 1106 the bishopric of Laon had been two years vacant. It was sought after and obtained for a sum of money, say contemporaries, by Gaudri, a Norman by birth, referendary of Henry I., King of England, and one of those Churchmen who, according to M. Augustin Thierry's expression, "had gone in the train of William the Bastard to seek their fortunes amongst the English by seizing the property of the vanquished." It appears that thenceforth the life of Gaudri had been scarcely edifying; he had, it is said, the tastes and habits of a soldier; he was hasty and arrogant, and he liked beyond everything to talk of fighting and hunting, of arms, of horses, and of hounds. When he was repairing with a numerous following to Rome, to ask for confirmation of his election, he met at Langres Pope Pascal II., come to France to keep the festival of Christmas at the abbey of Cluny. The pope had no doubt heard something about the indifferent reputation of the new bishop, for, the very day after his arrival at Langres, he held a conference with the ecclesiastics who had accompanied Gaudri, and plied them with questions concerning him. "He asked us first," says Guibert of Nogent, who was in the train, "why we had chosen a man who was unknown to us. As none of the priests, some of whom did not know even the first rudiments of the Latin language, made any answer to this question, he turned to the abbots. I was seated between my two colleagues. As they likewise kept silence, I began to be urged, right and left, to speak. I was one of those whom this election had displeased; but with culpable timidity I had yielded to the authority of my superiors in dignity. With the bashfulness of youth I could only with great difficulty and much blushing prevail upon myself to open my mouth. The discussion was carried on, not in our mother tongue, but in the language of scholars. I therefore, though with great confusion of mind and face, betook myself to speaking in a manner to tickle the palate of him who was questioning us, wrapping up in artfully arranged form of speech expressions which were softened down, but were not entirely removed from the truth. I said that we did not know, it was true, to the extent of having been familiar by sight and intercourse with him, the man of whom we had made choice, but that we had received favorable reports of his integrity. The pope strove to confound my arguments by this quotation from the Gospel: 'He that hath seen giveth testimony.' But as he did not explicitly raise the objection that Gaudri had been elected by desire of the court, all subtle subterfuge on any such point became useless; so I gave it up, and confessed that I could say nothing in opposition to the pontiff's words; which pleased him very much, for he had less scholarship than would have become his high office. Clearly perceiving, however, that all the phrases I had piled up in defence of our election had but little weight, I launched out afterwards upon the urgent straits wherein our Church was placed, and on this subject I gave myself the more rein in proportion as the person elected was unfitted for the functions of the episcopate."

Gaudri was indeed very scantily fitted for the office of bishop, as the town of Laon was not slow to perceive. Scarcely had he been installed when he committed strange outrages. He had a man's eyes put out on suspicion of connivance with his enemies; and he tolerated the murder of another in the metropolitan church. In imitation of rich crusaders on their return from the East, he kept a black slave, whom he employed upon his deeds of vengeance. The burghers began to be disquieted, and to wax wroth. During a trip the bishop made to England, they offered a great deal of money to the clergy and knights who ruled in his absence, if they would consent to recognize by a genuine Act the right of the commonalty of the inhabitants to be governed by authorities of their own choice. "The clergy and knights," says a contemporary chronicler, "came to an agreement with the common folk in hopes of enriching themselves in a speedy and easy fashion." A commune was therefore set up and proclaimed at Laon, on the model of that of Noyon, and invested with effective powers. The bishop, on his return, was very wroth, and for some days abstained from re-entering the town. But the burghers acted with him, as they had with his clergy and the knights: they offered him so large a sum of money that "it was enough," says Guibert of Nogent, "to appease the tempest of his words." He accepted the commune, and swore to respect it. The burghers wished to have a higher warranty; so they sent to Paris, to King Louis the Fat, a deputation laden with rich presents. "The king," says the chronicler, "won over by this plebeian bounty, confirmed the commune by his own oath," and the deputation took back to Laon their charter sealed with the great seal of the crown, and augmented by two articles to the following purport: "The folks of Laon shall not be liable to be forced to law away from their town; if the king have a suit against any one amongst them, justice shall be done him in the episcopal court. For these advantages, and others further granted to the aforesaid inhabitants by the king's munificence, the folks of the commune have covenanted to give the king, besides the old plenary court dues, and man-and-horse dues [dues paid for exemption from active service in case of war], three lodgings a year, if he come to the town, and, if he do not come, they will pay him instead twenty livres for each lodging."

For three years the town of Laon was satisfied and tranquil; the burghers were happy in the security they enjoyed, and proud of the liberty they had won. But in 1112 the knights, the clergy of the metropolitan church, and the bishop himself had spent the money they had received, and keenly regretted the power they had lost; and they meditated reducing to the old condition the serfs emancipated from the yoke. The bishop invited King Louis the Fat to come to Laon for the keeping of Holy Week, calculating upon his presence for the intimidation of the burghers. "But the burghers, who were in fear of ruin," says Guibert of Nogent, "promised the king and those about him four hundred livres, or more, I am not quite sure which; whilst the bishop and the grandees, on their side, urged the monarch to come to an understanding with them, and engaged to pay him seven hundred livres. King Louis was so striking in person that he seemed made expressly for the majesty of the throne; he was courageous in war, a foe to all slowness in business, and stout-hearted in adversity; sound, however, as he was on every other point, he was hardly praiseworthy in this one respect, that he opened too readily both heart and ear to vile fellows corrupted by avarice. This vice was a fruitful source of hurt, as well as blame, to himself, to say nothing of unhappiness to many. The cupidity of this prince always caused him to incline towards those who promised him most. All his own oaths, and those of the bishops and the grandees, were consequently violated." The charter sealed with the king's seal was annulled; and on the part of the king and the bishop, an order was issued to all the magistrates of the commune to cease from their functions, to give up the seal and banner of the town, and to no longer ring the belfry chimes which rang out the opening and closing of their audiences. But at this proclamation, so violent was the uproar in the town, that the king, who had hitherto lodged in a private hotel, thought it prudent to leave, and go to pass the night in the episcopal palace, which was surrounded by strong walls. Not content with this precaution, and probably a little ashamed of what he had done, he left Laon the next morning at daybreak, with all his train, without waiting for the festival of Easter, for the celebration of which he had undertaken his journey.

All the day after his departure the shops of the tradespeople and the houses of the innkeepers were kept closed; no sort of article was offered for sale; everybody remained shut up at home. But when there is wrath at the bottom of men's souls, the silence and stupor of the first paroxysm are of short duration. Next day a rumor spread that the bishop and the grandees were busy "in calculating the fortunes of all the citizens, in order to demand that, to supply the sum promised to the king, each should pay on account of the destruction of the commune as much as each had given for its establishment." In a fit of violent indignation the burghers assembled; and forty of them bound themselves by oath, for life or death, to kill the bishop and all those grandees who had labored for the ruin of the commune. The archdeacon, Anselm, a good sort of man, of obscure birth, who heartily disapproved of the bishop's perjury, went nevertheless and warned him, quite privately, and without betraying any one, of the danger that threatened him, urging him not to leave his house, and particularly not to accompany the procession on Easter-day. "Pooh!" answered the bishop, "I die by the hands of such fellows!" Next day, nevertheless, he did not appear at matins, and did not set foot within the church; but when the hour for the procession came, fearing to be accused of cowardice, he issued forth at the head of his clergy, closely followed by his domestics and some knights with arms and armor under their clothes. As the company filed past, one of the forty conspirators, thinking the moment favorable for striking the blow, rushed out suddenly from under an arch, with a shout of "Commune! commune!" A low murmur ran through the throng; but not a soul joined in the shout or the movement, and the ceremony came to an end without any explosion. The day after, another solemn procession was to take place to the church of St. Vincent. Somewhat reassured, but still somewhat disquieted, the bishop fetched from the domains of the bishopric a body of peasants, some of whom he charged to protect the church, others his own palace, and once more accompanied the procession without the conspirators daring to attack him. This time he was completely reassured, and dismissed the peasants he had sent for. "On the fourth day after Easter," says Guibert of Nogent, "my corn having been pillaged in consequence of the disorder that reigned in the town, I repaired to the bishop's, and prayed him to put a stop to this state of violence. 'What do you suppose,' said he to me, 'those fellows can do with all their outbreaks? Why, if my blackamoor John were to pull the nose of the most formidable amongst them, the poor devil durst not even grumble. Have I not forced them to give up what they called their commune, for the whole duration of my life?' I held my tongue," adds Guibert; "many folks besides me warned him of his danger; but he would not deign to believe anybody."

Three days later all seemed quiet; and the bishop was busy with his archdeacon in discussing the sums to be exacted from the burghers. All at once a tumult arose in the town; and a crowd of people thronged the streets, shouting "Commune! commune!" Bands of burghers armed with swords, axes, bows, hatchets, clubs, and lances, rushed into the episcopal palace. At the news of this, the knights who had promised the bishop to go to his assistance if he needed it came up one after another to his protection; and three of them, in succession, were hotly attacked by the burgher bands, and fell after a short resistance. The episcopal palace was set on fire. The bishop, not being in a condition to repulse the assaults of the populace, assumed the dress of one of his own domestics, fled to the cellar of the church, shut himself in, and ensconced himself in a cask, the bung-hole of which was stopped up by a faithful servitor. The crowd wandered about everywhere in search of him on whom they wished to wreak their vengeance. A bandit named Teutgaud, notorious in those times for his robberies, assaults, and murders of travellers, had thrown himself headlong into the cause of the commune. The bishop, who knew him, had by way of pleasantry and on account of his evil mien given him the nickname of Isengrin. This was the name which was given in the fables of the day to the wolf, and which corresponded to that of Master Reynard. Teutgaud and his men penetrated into the cellar of the church; they went along tapping upon all the casks; and on what suspicion there is no knowing, but Teutgaud halted in front of that in which the bishop was huddled up, and had it opened, crying, "Is there any one here?" "Only a poor prisoner," answered the bishop, trembling. "Ha! ha!" said the playful bandit, who recognized the voice, "so it is you, Master Isengrin, who are hiding here!" And he took him by the hair, and dragged him out of his cask. The bishop implored the conspirators to spare his life, offering to swear on the Gospels to abdicate the bishopric, promising them all the money he possessed, and saying that if they pleased he would leave the country. The reply was insults and blows. He was immediately despatched; and Teutgaud, seeing the episcopal ring glittering on his finger, cut off the finger to get possession of the ring. The body, stripped of all covering, was thrust into a corner, where passers-by threw stones or mud at it, accompanying their insults with ribaldry and curses.

Murder and arson are contagious. All the day of the insurrection and all the following night armed bands wandered about the streets of Laon searching everywhere for relatives, friends, or servitors of the bishop, for all whom the angry populace knew or supposed to be such, and wreaking on their persons or their houses a ghastly or a brutal vengeance. In a fit of terror many poor innocents fled before the blind wrath of the populace; some were caught and cut down pell-mell amongst the guilty; others escaped through the vineyards planted between two hills in the outskirts of the town. "The progress of the fire, kindled on two sides at once, was so rapid," says Guibert of Nogent, "and the winds drove the flames so furiously in the direction of the convent of St. Vincent, that the monks were afraid of seeing all they possessed become the fire's prey, and all the persons who had taken refuge in this monastery trembled as if they had seen swords hanging over their heads." Some insurgents stopped a young man who had been body-servant to the bishop, and asked him whether the bishop had been killed or not; they knew nothing about it, nor did he know any more; he helped them to look for the corpse, and when they came upon it, it had been so mutilated that not a feature was recognizable. "I remember," said the young man, "that when the prelate was alive he liked to talk of deeds of war, for which to his hurt he always showed too much bent; and he often used to say that one day in a sham-fight, just as he was, all in the way of sport, attacking a certain knight, the latter hit him with his lance, and wounded him under the neck, near the tracheal artery." The body of Gaudri was eventually recognized by this mark, and "Archdeacon Anselm went the next day," says Guibert of Nogent, "to beg of the insurgents permission at least to bury it, if only because it had once borne the title and worn the insignia of bishop. They consented, but reluctantly. It were impossible to tell how many threats and insults were launched against those who undertook the obsequies, and what outrageous language was vented against the dead himself. His corpse was thrown into a half-dug hole, and at church there was none of the prayers or ceremonies prescribed for the burial of, I will not say a bishop, but the worst of Christians." A few days afterwards, Raoul, Archbishop of Rheims, came to Laon to purify the church. "The wise and venerable archbishop," says Guibert, "after having, on his arrival, seen to more decently disposing the remains of some of the dead and celebrated divine service in memory of all, amidst the tears and utter grief of their relatives and connections, suspended the holy sacrifice of the mass, in order to deliver a discourse, touching those execrable institutions of communes, whereby we see serfs, contrary to all right and justice, withdrawing themselves by force from the lawful authority of their masters."

Here is a striking instance of the changeableness of men's feelings and judgments; and it causes a shock even when it is natural and almost allowable. Guibert of Nogent, the contemporary historian, who was but lately loud in his blame of the bishop of Laon's character and conduct, now takes sides with the reaction aroused by popular excesses and vindictiveness, and is indignant with "those execrable institutions of communes," the source of so many disturbances and crimes. The burghers of Laon themselves, "having reflected upon the number and enormity of the crimes they had committed, shrank up with fear," says Guibert, "and dreaded the judgment of the king." To protect themselves against the consequences of his resentment, they added a fresh wound to the old by summoning to their aid Thomas de Marle, son of Lord Enguerrand de Coucy. "This Thomas, from his earliest youth, enriched himself by plundering the poor and the pilgrim, contracted several incestuous marriages, and exhibited a ferocity so unheard of in our age, that certain people, even amongst those who have a reputation for cruelty, appear less lavish of the blood of common sheep than Thomas was of human blood. Such was the man whom the burghers of Laon implored to come and put himself at their head, and whom they welcomed with joy when he entered their town. As for him, when he had heard their request, he consulted his own people to know what he ought to do; and they all replied that his forces were not sufficiently numerous to defend such a city against the king. Thomas then induced the burghers to go out and hold a meeting in a field where he would make known to them his plan. When they were about a mile from the town, he said to them, 'Laon is the head of the kingdom; it is impossible for me to keep the king from making himself master of it. If you dread his arms, follow me to my own land, and you will find in me a protector and a friend.' These words threw them into an excess of consternation; soon, however, the popular party, troubled at the recollection of the crime they had committed, and fancying they already saw the king threatening their lives, fled away to the number of a great many in the wake of Thomas. Teutgaud himself, that murderer of Bishop Gaudri, hastened to put himself under the wing of the Lord of Marie. Before long the rumor spread abroad amongst the population of the country-places near Laon that that town was quite empty of inhabitants; and all the peasants rushed thither and took possession of the houses they found without defenders. Who could tell, or be believed if he were to attempt to tell, how much money, raiment, and provision of all kinds was discovered in this city? Before long there arose between the first and last comers disputes about the partition of their plunder; all that the small folks had taken soon passed into the hands of the powerful; if two men met a third quite alone they stripped him; the state of the town was truly pitiable. The burghers who had quitted it with Thomas de Marle had beforehand destroyed and burned the houses of the clergy and grandees whom they hated; and now the grandees, escaped from the massacre, carried off in their turn from the houses of the fugitives all means of subsistence and all movables to the very hinges and bolts."

The rumor of so many disasters, crimes, and reactions succeeding one another spread rapidly throughout all districts. Thomas de Marle was put under the ban of the kingdom, and visited with excommunication "by a general assembly of the Church of the Gauls," says Guibert of Nogent, "assembled at Beauvais;" and this sentence was read every Sunday after mass in all the metropolitan and parochial churches. Public feeling against Thomas de Marle became so strong that Enguerrand de Bowes, Lord of Coucy, who passed, says Suger, for his father, joined those who declared war against him in the name of Church and King. Louis the Fat took the field in person against him. "Men-at-arms, and in very small numbers, too," says Guibert of Nogent, "were with difficulty induced to second the king, and did not do so heartily; but the light-armed infantry made up a considerable force, and the Archbishop of Rheims and the bishops had summoned all the people to this expedition, whilst offering to all absolution from their sins. Thomas de Marle, though at that time helpless and stretched upon his bed, was not sparing of scoffs and insults towards his assailants; and at first he absolutely refused to listen to the king's summons." But Louis persisted without wavering in his enterprise, exposing himself freely, and in person leading his infantry to the attack when the men-at-arms did not come on or bore themselves slackly. He carried successively the castles of Crecy and Nogent, domains belonging to Thomas de Marle, and at last reduced him to the necessity of buying himself off at a heavy ransom, indemnifying the churches he had spoiled, giving guarantees for future behavior, and earnestly praying for re-admission to the communion of the faithful. As for those folks of Laon, perpetrators of or accomplices in the murder of Bishop Gaudri, who had sought refuge with Thomas de Marle, the king showed them no mercy. "He ordered them," says Suger, "to be strung up to the gibbet, and left for food to the voracity of kites, and crows, and vultures."

There are certain discrepancies between the two accounts, both contemporaneous, which we possess of this incident in the earliest years of the twelfth century, one in the Life of Louis the Fat, by Suger, and the other in the Life of Guibert of Nogent, by himself. They will be easily recognized on comparing what was said, after Suger, in Chapter XVIII. of this history, with what has just been said here after Guibert. But these discrepancies are of no historical importance, for they make no difference in respect of the essential facts characteristic of social condition at the period, and of the behavior and position of the actors.

Louis the Fat, after his victory over Thomas de Marle and the fugitives from Laon, went to Laon with the Archbishop of Rheims; and the presence of the king, whilst restoring power to the foes of the commune, inspired them, no doubt, with a little of the spirit of moderation, for there was an interval of peace, during which no attention was paid to anything but expiatory ceremonies and the restoration of the churches which had been a prey to the flames. The archbishop celebrated a solemn mass for the repose of the souls of those who had perished during the disturbances, and he preached a sermon exhorting serfs to submit themselves to their masters, and warning them on pain of anathema from resisting by force. The burghers of Laon, however, did not consider every sort of resistance forbidden, and the lords had, no doubt, been taught not to provoke it, for in 1128, sixteen years after the murder of Bishop Gaudri, fear of a fresh insurrection determined his successor to consent to the institution of a new commune, the charter of which was ratified by Louis the Fat in an assembly held at Compiegne. Only the name of commune did not recur in this charter; it was replaced by that of Peace-establishment; the territorial boundaries of the commune were called peace-boundaries, and to designate its members recourse was had to the formula, All those who have signed this peace. The preamble of the charter runs, "In the name of the holy and indivisible Trinity, we Louis, by the grace of God king of the French, do make known to all our lieges present and to come that, with the consent of the barons of our kingdom and the inhabitants of the city of Laon, we have set up in the said city a peace-establishment." And after having enumerated the limits, forms, and rules of it, the charter concludes with this declaration of amnesty: "All former trespasses and offences committed before the ratification of the present treaty are wholly pardoned. If any one, banished for having trespassed in past time, desire to return to the town, he shall be admitted and shall recover possession of his property. Excepted from pardon, however, are the thirteen whose names do follow;" and then come the names of the thirteen excepted from the amnesty and still under banishment. "Perhaps," says M. Augustin Thierry, "these thirteen under banishment, shut out forever from their native town at the very moment it became free, had been distinguished amongst all the burghers of Laon by their opposition to the power of the lords; perhaps they had sullied by deeds of violence this patriotic opposition; perhaps they had been taken at haphazard to suffer alone for the crimes of their fellow-citizens." The second hypothesis appears the most probable; for that deeds of violence and cruelty had been committed alternately by the burghers and their foes is an ascertained fact, and that the charter of 1128 was really a work of liberal pacification is proved by its contents and wording. After such struggles and at the moment of their subsidence some of the most violent actors always bear the burden of the past, and amongst the most violent some are often the most sincere.

For forty-seven years after the charter of Louis the Fat the town of Laon enjoyed the internal peace and the communal liberties it had thus achieved; but in 1175 a new bishop, Roger de Rosoy, a man of high birth, and related to several of the great lords his neighbors, took upon himself to disregard the regimen of freedom established at Laon. The burghers of Laon, taught by experience, applied to the king, Louis the Young, and offered him a sum of money to grant them a charter of commune. Bishop Roger, "by himself and through his friends," says a chronicler, a canon of Laon, "implored the king to have pity on his Church, and abolish the serfs' commune; but the king, clinging to the promise he had received of money, would not listen to the bishop or his friends," and in 1177 gave the burghers of Laon a charter which confirmed their peace-establishment of 1128. Bishop Roger, however, did not hold himself beaten. He claimed the help of the lords his neighbors, and renewed the war against the burghers of Laon, who, on their side, asked and obtained the aid of several communes in the vicinity. In an access of democratic rashness, instead of awaiting within their walls the attack of their enemies, they marched out without cavalry to the encounter, ravaging as they went the lands of the lords whom they suspected of being ill-disposed towards them; but on arriving in front of the bishop's allies, "all this rustic multitude," says the canon-chronicler, "terror-stricken at the bare names of the knights they found assembled, took suddenly to flight, and a great number of the burghers were massacred before reaching their city." Louis the Young then took the field to help them; but Baldwin, Count of Hainault, went to the aid of the Bishop of Laon with seven hundred knights and several thousand infantry. King Louis, after having occupied and for some time held in sequestration the lands of the bishop, thought it advisable to make peace rather than continue so troublesome a war, and at the intercession of the pope and the Count of Hainault he restored to Roger de Rosoy his lands and his bishopric on condition of living in peace with the commune. And so long as Louis VII. lived, the bishop did refrain from attacking the liberties of the burghers of Laon; but at the king's death, in 1180, he applied to his successor, Philip Augustus, and offered to cede to him the lordship of Fere-sur-Oise, of which he was the possessor, provided that Philip by charter abolished the commune of Laon. Philip yielded to the temptation, and in 1190 published an ordinance to the following purport: "Desiring to avoid for our soul every sort of danger, we do entirely quash the commune established in the town of Laon as being contrary to the rights and liberties of the metropolitan church of St. Mary, in regard for justice and for the sake of a happy issue to the pilgrimage which we be bound to make to Jerusalem." But next year, upon entreaty and offers from the burghers of Laon, Philip changed his mind, and without giving back the lordship of Fere-sur-Oise to the bishop, guaranteed and confirmed in perpetuity the peace-establishment granted in 1128 to the town of Laon, "on the condition that every year at the feast of All Saints they shall pay to us and our successors two hundred livres of Paris." For a century all strife of any consequence ceased between the burghers of Laon and their bishop; there was no real accord or good under-standing between them, but the public peace was not troubled, and neither the Kings of France nor the great lords of the neighborhood interfered in its affairs. In 1294 some knights and clergy of the metropolitan chapter of Laon took to quarrelling with some burghers; and on both sides they came to deeds of violence, which caused sanguinary struggles in the streets of the town and even in the precincts of the episcopal palace. The bishop and his chapter applied to the pope, Boniface VIII., who applied to the king, Philip the Handsome, to put an end to these scandalous disturbances. Philip the Handsome, in his turn, applied to the Parliament of Paris, which, after inquiry, "deprived the town of Laon of every right of commune and college, under whatsoever name." The king did not like to execute this decree in all its rigor. He granted the burghers of Laon a charter which maintained them provisionally in the enjoyment of their political rights, but with this destructive clause: "Said commune and said shrievalty shall be in force only so far as it shall be our pleasure." For nearly thirty years, from Philip the Handsome to Philip of Valois, the bishops and burghers of Laon were in litigation before the crown of France, the former for the maintenance of the commune of Laon in its precarious condition and at the king's good pleasure, the latter for the recovery of its independent and durable character. At last, in 1331, Philip of Valois, "considering that the olden commune of Laon, by reason of certain misdeeds and excesses, notorious, enormous, and detestable, had been removed and put down forever by decree of the court of our most clear lord and uncle, King Philip the Handsome, confirmed and approved by our most dear lords, Kings Philip and Charles, whose souls are with God, we, on great deliberation of our council, have ordained that no commune, corporation, college, shrievalty, mayor, jurymen, or any other estate or symbol belonging thereto, be at any time set up or established at Laon." By the same ordinance the municipal administration of Laon was put under the sole authority of the king and his delegates; and to blot out all remembrance of the olden independence of the commune, a later ordinance forbade that the tower from which the two huge communal bells had been removed should thenceforth be called belfry-tower.

The history of the commune of Laon is that of the majority of the towns which, in Northern and Central France, struggled from the eleventh to the fourteenth century to release themselves from feudal oppression and violence. Cambrai, Beauvais, Amiens, Soissons, Rheims, Vezelay, and several other towns displayed at this period a great deal of energy and perseverance in bringing their lords to recognize the most natural and the most necessary rights of every human creature and community. But within their walls dissensions were carried to extremity, and existence was ceaselessly tempestuous and troublous; the burghers were hasty, brutal, and barbaric,—as barbaric as the lords against whom they were defending their liberties. Amongst those mayors, sheriffs, jurats, and magistrates of different degrees and with different titles, set up in the communes, many came before very long to exercise dominion arbitrarily, violently, and in their own personal interests. The lower orders were in an habitual state of jealousy and sedition of a ruffianly kind towards the rich, the heads of the labor market, the controllers of capital and of work. This reciprocal violence, this anarchy, these internal evils and dangers, with their incessant renewals, called incessantly for intervention from without; and when, after releasing themselves from oppression and iniquity coming from above, the burghers fell a prey to pillage and massacre coming from below, they sought for a fresh protector to save them from this fresh evil. Hence that frequent recourse to the king, the great suzerain whose authority could keep down the bad magistrates of the commune or reduce the mob to order; and hence also, before long, the progressive downfall, or, at any rate, the utter enfeeblement of those communal liberties so painfully won. France was at that stage of existence and of civilization at which security can hardly be purchased save at the price of liberty. We have a phenomenon peculiar to modern times in the provident and persistent effort to reconcile security with liberty, and the bold development of individual powers with the regular maintenance of public order. This admirable solution of the social problem, still so imperfect and unstable in our time, was unknown in the middle ages; liberty was then so stormy and so fearful, that people conceived before long, if not a disgust for it, at any rate a horror of it, and sought at any price a political regimen which would give them some security, the essential aim of the social estate. When we arrive at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century, we see a host of communes falling into decay or entirely disappearing; they cease really to belong to and govern themselves; some, like Laon, Cambrai, Beauvais, and Rheims, fought a long while against decline, and tried more than once to re-establish themselves in all their independence; but they could not do without the king's support in their resistance to their lords, laic or ecclesiastical; and they were not in a condition to resist the kingship, which had grown whilst they were perishing. Others, Meulan and Soissons, for example (in 1320 and 1335), perceived their weakness early, and themselves requested the kingship to deliver them from their communal organization, and itself assume their administration. And so it is about this period, under St. Louis and Philip the Handsome, that there appear in the collections of acts of the French kingship, those great ordinances which regulate the administration of all communes within the kingly domains. Hitherto the kings had ordinarily dealt with each town severally; and as the majority were almost independent, or invested with privileges of different kiwis and carefully respected, neither the king nor any great suzerain dreamed of prescribing general rules for communal regimen, nor of administering after a uniform fashion all the communes in their domains. It was under St. Louis and Philip the Handsome that general regulations on this subject began. The French communes were associations too small and too weak to suffice for self-maintenance and self-government amidst the disturbances of the great Christian community; and they were too numerous and too little enlightened to organize themselves into one vast confederation, capable of giving them a central government. The communal liberties were not in a condition to found in France a great republican community; to the kingship appertained the power and fell the honor of presiding over the formation and the fortunes of the French nation.

But the kingship did not alone accomplish this great work. At the very time that the communes were perishing and the kingship was growing, a new power, a new social element, the Third Estate, was springing up in France; and it was called to take a far more important place in the history of France, and to exercise far more influence upon the fate of the French father-land, than it had been granted to the communes to acquire during their short and incoherent existence.

It may astonish many who study the records of French history from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, not to find anywhere the words third estate; and a desire may arise to know whether those inquirers of our day who have devoted themselves professedly to this particular study, have been more successful in discovering that grand term at the time when it seems that we ought to expect to meet with it. The question was, therefore, submitted to a learned member of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, M. Littre, in fact, whose Dictionnaire etymologique de la Langur Francaise is consulted with respect by the whole literary world, and to a young magistrate, M. Picot, to whom the Acacdemie des Sciences morales et politiques but lately assigned the first prize for his great work on the question it had propounded, as to the history and influence of states-general in France; and here are inserted, textually, the answers given by two gentlemen of so much enlightenment and authority upon such a subject.

M. Littre, writing on the 3d of October, 1871, says, "I do not find, in my account of the word, third estate before the sixteenth century. I quote these two instances of it: 'As to the third order called third estate . . .' (La Noue, Discours, p. 541); and 'clerks and deputies for the third estate, same for the estate of labor (laborers).' (Coustumier general, t. i. p. 335.) In the fifteenth century, or at the end of the fourteenth, in the poems of Eustace Deschamps, I have—
'Prince, dost thou yearn for good old times again?
In good old ways the Three Estates restrain.

"At date of fourteenth century, in Du Cange, we read under the word status, 'Per tres status concilii generalis Praelatorum, Baronum, nobilium et universitatum comitatum.' According to these documents, I think it is in the fourteenth century that they began to call the three orders tres status, and that it was only in the sixteenth century that they began to speak in French of the tiers estat (third estate). But I cannot give this conclusion as final, seeing that it is supported only by the documents I consulted for my dictionary."

M. Picot replied on the 3d of October, 1871, "It is certain that acts contemporary with King John frequently speak of the 'three estates,' but do not utter the word tiers-etat (third estate). The great chronicles and Froissart say nearly always, 'the church-men, the nobles, and the good towns.' The royal ordinances employ the same terms; but sometimes, in order not to limit their enumeration to the deputies of closed cities, they add, the good towns, and the open country (Ord. t. iii p. 221, note). When they apply to the provincial estates of the Oil tongue it is the custom to say, the burghers and inhabitants; when it is a question of the Estates of Languedoc, the commonalties of the seneschalty. Such were, in the middle of the fourteenth century, the only expressions for designating the third order.

"Under Louis XI., Juvenal des Ursins, in his harangue, addresses the deputies of the third by the title of burghers and inhabitants of the good towns. At the States of Tours, the spokesman of the estates, John de Rely, says, the people of the common estate, the estate of the people. The special memorial presented to Charles VIII. by the three orders of Languedoc likewise uses the word people.

"It is in Masselin's report and the memorial of grievances presented in 1485 that I meet for the first time with the expression third estate (tiers-etat). Masselin says, 'It was decided that each section should furnish six commissioners, two ecclesiastics, two nobles, and two of the third estate (duos ecclesiasticos, duos nobiles, et duos tertii status.)' (Documents inedits sur l'Histoire de France; proces-verbal de Masselin, p. 76.) The commencement of the chapter headed Of the Commons (du commun) is, 'For the third and common estate the said folks do represent . . .' and a few lines lower, comparing the kingdom with the human body, the compilers of the memorial say, 'The members are the clergy, the nobles, and the folks of the third estate. (Ibid. after the report of Masselin, memorial of grievances, p. 669.)

"Thus, at the end of the fifteenth century, the expression third estate was constantly employed; but is it not of older date? There are words which spring so from the nature of things that they ought to be contemporaneous with the ideas they express; their appearance in language is inevitable, and is scarcely noticed there. On the day when the deputies of the communes entered an assembly, and seated themselves beside the first two orders, the new comer, by virtue of the situation and rank occupied, took the name of third order; and as our fathers used to speak of the third denier (tiers denier), and the third day (tierce journee), so they must have spoken of the (tiers-etat) third estate. It was only at the end of the fifteenth century that the expression became common; but I am inclined to believe that it existed in the beginning of the fourteenth.

"For an instant I had imagined, in the course of my researches, that, under King John, the ordinances had designated the good towns by the name of third estate. I very soon saw my mistake; but you will see how near I found myself to the expression of which we are seeking the origin. Four times, in the great ordinance of December, 1335, the deputies wrest from the king a promise that in the next assemblies the resolutions shall be taken according to the unanimity of the orders 'without two estates, if they be of one accord, being able to bind the third.' At first sight it might be supposed that the deputies of the towns had an understanding to secure themselves from the dangers of common action on the part of the clergy and noblesse, but a more attentive examination made me fly back to a more correct opinion: it is certain that the three orders had combined for mutual protection against an alliance of any two of them. Besides, the States of 1576 saw how the clergy readopted to their profit, against the two laic orders, the proposition voted in 1355. It is beyond a doubt that this doctrine served to keep the majority from oppressing the minority whatever may have been its name. Only, in point of fact, it was most frequently the third estate that must have profited by the regulation.

"In brief, we may, before the fifteenth century, make suppositions, but they are no more than mere conjectures. It was at the great States of Tours, in 1468, that, for the first time, the third order bore the name which has been given to it by history."

The fact was far before its name. Had the third estate been centred entirely in the communes at strife with their lords, had the fate of burgherdom in France depended on the communal liberties won in that strife, we should see, at the end of the thirteenth century, that element of French society in a state of feebleness and decay. But it was far otherwise. The third estate drew its origin and nourishment from all sorts of sources; and whilst one was within an ace of drying up, the others remained abundant and fruitful. Independently of the commune properly so called and invested with the right of self-government, many towns had privileges, serviceable though limited franchises, and under the administration of the king's officers they grew in population and wealth. These towns did not share, towards the end of the thirteenth century, in the decay of the once warlike and victorious communes. Local political liberty was to seek in them; the spirit of independence and resistance did not prevail in them; but we see growing up in them another spirit which has played a grand part in French history, a spirit of little or no ambition, of little or no enterprise, timid even and scarcely dreaming of actual resistance, but honorable, inclined to order, persevering, attached to its traditional franchises, and quite able to make them respected, sooner or later. It was especially in the towns administered in the king's name and by his provosts that there was a development of this spirit, which has long been the predominant characteristic of French burgherdom. It must not be supposed that, in the absence of real communal independence, these towns lacked all internal security. The kingship was ever fearful lest its local officers should render themselves independent, and remembered what had become in the ninth century of the crown's offices, the duchies and the countships, and of the difficulty it had at that time to recover the scattered remnants of the old imperial authority. And so the Capetian kings with any intelligence, such as Louis VI., Philip Augustus, St. Louis, and Philip the Handsome, were careful to keep a hand over their provosts, sergeants, and officers of all kinds, in order that their power should not grow so great as to become formidable. At this time, besides, Parliament and the whole judicial system was beginning to take form; and many questions relating to the administration of the towns, many disputes between the provosts and burghers, were carried before the Parliament of Paris, and there decided with more independence and equity than they would have been by any other power. A certain measure of impartiality is inherent in judicial power; the habit of delivering judgment according to written texts, of applying laws to facts, produces a natural and almost instinctive respect for old-acquired rights. In Parliament the towns often obtained justice and the maintenance of their franchises against the officers of the king. The collection of kingly ordinances at this time abounds with instances of the kind. These judges, besides, these bailiffs, these provosts, these seneschals, and all these officers of the king or of the great suzerains, formed before long a numerous and powerful class. Now the majority amongst them were burghers, and their number and their power were turned to the advantage of burgherdom, and led day by day to its further extension and importance. Of all the original sources of the third estate, this it is, perhaps, which has contributed most to bring about the social preponderance of that order. Just when burgherdom, but lately formed, was losing in many of the communes a portion of its local liberties, at that same moment it was seizing by the hand of Parliaments, provosts, judges, and administrators of all kinds, a large share of central power. It was through burghers admitted into the king's service and acting as administrators or judges in his name that communal independence and charters were often attacked and abolished; but at the same time they fortified and elevated burgherdom, they caused it to acquire from day to day more wealth, more credit, more importance and power in the internal and external affairs of the state.

Philip the Handsome, that ambitious and despotic prince, was under no delusion when in 1302, 1308, and 1314, on convoking the first states-general of France, he summoned thither "the deputies of the good towns." He did not yet give them the name of third estate; but he was perfectly aware that he was thus summoning to his aid against Boniface VIII. and the Templars and the Flemings a class already invested throughout the country with great influence and ready to lend him efficient support. His son, Philip the Long, was under no delusion when in 1317 and 1321 he summoned to the states-general "the commonalties and good towns of the kingdom" to decide upon the interpretation of the Salle law as to the succession to the throne, "or to advise as to the means of establishing a uniformity of coins, weights, and measures;" he was perfectly aware that the authority of burgherdom would be of great assistance to him in the accomplishment of acts so grave. And the three estates played the prelude to the formation, painful and slow as it was, of constitutional monarchy, when, in 1338, under Philip of Valois, they declared, "in presence of the said king, Philip of Valois, who assented thereto, that there should be no power to impose or levy talliage in France if urgent necessity or evident utility did not require it, and then only by grant of the people of the estates."

In order to properly understand the French third estate and its importance, more is required than to look on at its birth; a glance must be taken at its grand destiny and the results at which it at last arrived. Let us, therefore, anticipate centuries and get a glimpse, now at once, of that upon which the course of events from the fourteenth to the nineteenth century will shed full light.

Taking the history of France in its entirety and under all its phases, the third estate has been the most active and determining element in the process of French civilization. If we follow it in its relation with the general government of the country, we see it at first allied for six centuries to the kingship, struggling without cessation against the feudal aristocracy and giving predominance in place thereof to a single central power, pure monarchy, closely bordering, though with some frequently repeated but rather useless reservations, on absolute monarchy. But, so soon as it had gained this victory and brought about this revolution, the third estate went in pursuit of a new one, attacking that single power to the foundation of which it had contributed so much and entering upon the task of changing pure monarchy into constitutional monarchy. Under whatever aspect we regard it during these two great enterprises, so different one from the other, whether we study the progressive formation of French society or that of its government, the third estate is the most powerful and the most persistent of the forces which have influenced French civilization.

This fact is unique in the history of the world. We recognize in the career of the chief nations of Asia and ancient Europe nearly all the great facts which have agitated France; we meet in them mixture of different races, conquest of people by people, immense inequality between classes, frequent changes in the forms of government and extent of public power; but nowhere is there any appearance of a class which, starting from the very lowest, from being feeble, despised, and almost imperceptible at its origin, rises by perpetual motion and by labor without respite, strengthens itself from period to period, acquires in succession whatever it lacked, wealth, enlightenment, influence, changes the face of society and the nature of government, and arrives at last at such a pitch of predominance that it may be said to be absolutely the country. More than once in the world's history the external semblances of such and such a society have been the same as those which have just been reviewed here, but it is mere semblance. In India, for example, foreign invasions and the influx and establishment of different races upon the same soil have occurred over and over again; but with what result? The permanence of caste has not been touched; and society has kept its divisions into distinct and almost changeless classes. After India take China. There too history exhibits conquests similar to the conquest of Europe by the Germans; and there too, more than once, the barbaric conquerors settled amidst a population of the conquered. What was the result? The conquered all but absorbed the conquerors, and changelessness was still the predominant characteristic of the social condition. In Western Asia, after the invasions of the Turks, the separation between victors and vanquished remained insurmountable; no ferment in the heart of society, no historical event, could efface this first effect of conquest. In Persia, similar events succeeded one another; different races fought and intermingled; and the end was irremediable social anarchy, which has endured for ages without any change in the social condition of the country, without a shadow of any development of civilization.

So much for Asia. Let us pass to the Europe of the Greeks and Romans. At the first blush we seem to recognize some analogy between the progress of these brilliant societies and that of French society; but the analogy is only apparent; there is, once more, nothing resembling the fact and the history of the French third estate. One thing only has struck sound judgments as being somewhat like the struggle of burgherdom in the middle ages against the feudal aristocracy, and that is the struggle between the plebeians and patricians at Rome. They have often been compared; but it is a baseless comparison. The struggle between the plebeians and patricians commenced from the very cradle of the Roman republic; it was not, as happened in the France of the middle ages, the result of a slow, difficult, incomplete development on the part of a class which, through a long course of great inferiority in strength, wealth, and credit, little by little extended itself and raised itself, and ended by engaging in a real contest with the superior class. It is now acknowledged that the struggle at Rome between the plebeians and patricians was a sequel and a prolongation of the war of conquest, was an effort on the part of the aristocracy of the cities conquered by Rome to share the rights of the conquering aristocracy. The families of plebeians were the chief families of the vanquished peoples; and though placed by defeat in a position of inferiority, they were not any the less aristocratic families, powerful but lately in their own cities, encompassed by clients, and calculated from the very first to dispute with their conquerors the possession of power. There is nothing in all this like that slow, obscure, heart-breaking travail of modern burgherdom escaping, full hardly, from the midst of slavery or a condition approximating to slavery, and spending centuries, not in disputing political power, but in winning its own civil existence. The more closely the French third estate is examined, the more it is recognized as a new fact in the world's history, appertaining exclusively to the civilization of modern, Christian Europe.

Not only is the fact new, but it has for France an entirely special interest, since—to employ an expression much abused in the present day— it is a fact eminently French, essentially national. Nowhere has burgherdom had so wide and so productive a career as that which fell to its lot in France. There have been communes in the whole of Europe, in Italy, Spain, Germany, and England, as well as in France. Not only have there been communes everywhere, but the communes of France are not those which, as communes, under that name and in the middle ages, have played the chiefest part and taken the highest place in history. The Italian communes were the parents of glorious republics. The German communes became free and sovereign towns, which had their own special history, and exercised a great deal of influence upon the general history of Germany. The communes of England made alliance with a portion of the English feudal aristocracy, formed with it the preponderating house in the British government, and thus played, full early, a mighty part in the history of their country. Far were the French communes, under that name and in their day of special activity, from rising to such political importance and to such historical rank. And yet it is in France that the people of the communes, the burgherdom, reached the most complete and most powerful development, and ended by acquiring the most decided preponderance in the general social structure. There have been communes, we say, throughout Europe; but there has not really been a victorious third estate anywhere, save in France. The revolution of 1789, the greatest ever seen, was the culminating point arrived at by the third estate; and France is the only country in which a man of large mind could, in a burst of burgher's pride, exclaim, "What is the third estate? Everything."

Since the explosion, and after all the changes, liberal and illiberal, due to the revolution of 1789, there has been a common-place, ceaselessly repeated, to the effect that there are no more classes in French society —there is only a nation of thirty-seven millions of persons. If it be meant that there are now no more privileges in France, no special laws and private rights for such and such families, proprietorships, and occupations, and that legislation is the same, and there is perfect freedom of movement for all, at all steps of the social ladder, it is true; oneness of laws and similarity of rights, is now the essential and characteristic fact of civil society in France, an immense, an excellent, and a novel fact in the history of human associations. But beneath the dominance of this fact, in the midst of this national unity and this civil equality, there evidently and necessarily exist numerous and important diversities and inequalities, which oneness of laws and similarity of rights neither prevent nor destroy. In point of property, real or personal, land or capital, there are rich and poor; there are the large, the middling, and the small property. Though the great proprietors may be less numerous and less rich, and the middling and the small proprietors more numerous and more powerful than they were of yore, this does not prevent the difference from being real and great enough to create, in the civil body, social positions widely different and unequal. In the professions which are called liberal, and which live by brains and knowledge, amongst barristers, doctors, scholars, and literates of all kinds, some rise to the first rank, attract to themselves practice and success, and win fame, wealth, and influence; others make enough, by hard work, for the necessities of their families and the calls of their position; others vegetate obscurely in a sort of lazy discomfort. In the other vocations, those in which the labor is principally physical and manual, there also it is according to nature that there should be different and unequal positions; some, by brains and good conduct, make capital, and get a footing upon the ways of competence and progress; others, being dull, or idle, or disorderly, remain in the straitened and precarious condition of existence depending solely on wages. Throughout the whole extent of the social structure, in the ranks of labor as well as of property, differences and inequalities of position are produced or kept up and co-exist with oneness of laws and similarity of rights. Examine any human associations, in any place and at any time, and whatever diversity there may be in point of their origin, organization, government, extent, and duration, there will be found in all three types of social position always fundamentally the same, though they may appear under different and differently distributed forms; 1st, men living on income from their properties, real or personal, land or capital, without seeking to increase them by their own personal and assiduous labor; 2d, men devoted to working up and increasing, by their own personal and assiduous labor, the real or personal properties, land or capital they possess; 3d, men living by their daily labor, without land or capital to give them an income. And these differences, these inequalities in the social position of men, are not matters of accident or violence, or peculiar to such and such a time, or such and such a country; they are matters of universal application, produced spontaneously in every human society by virtue of the primitive and general laws of human nature, in the midst of events and under the influence of social systems utterly different.

These matters exist now and in France as they did of old and elsewhere. Whether you do or do not use the name of classes, the new French social fabric contains, and will not cease to contain, social positions widely different and unequal. What constitutes its blessing and its glory is, that privilege and fixity no longer cling to this difference of positions; that there are no more special rights and advantages legally assigned to some and inaccessible to others; that all roads are free and open to all to rise to everything; that personal merit and toil have an infinitely greater share than was ever formerly allowed to them in the fortunes of men. The third estate of the old regimen exists no more; it disappeared in its victory over privilege and absolute power; it has for heirs the middle classes, as they are now called; but these classes, whilst inheriting the conquests of the old third estate, hold them on new conditions also, as legitimate as binding. To secure their own interests, as well as to discharge their public duty, they are bound to be at once conservative and liberal; they must, on the one hand, enlist and rally beneath their flag the old, once privileged superioritics, which have survived the fall of the old regimen, and, on the other hand, fully recognize the continual upward movement which is fermenting in the whole body of the nation. That, in its relations with the aristocratic classes, the third estate of the old regimen should have been and for a long time remained uneasy, disposed to take umbrage, jealous and even envious, is no more than natural; it had its rights to urge and its conquests to gain; nowadays its conquests have been won, the rights are recognized, proclaimed, and exercised; the middle classes have no longer any legitimate ground for uneasiness or envy; they can rest with full confidence in their own dignity and their own strength; they have undergone all the necessary trials, and passed all the necessary tests. In respect of the lower orders, and the democracy properly so called, the position of the middle classes is no less favorable; they have no fixed line of separation; for who can say where the middle classes begin and where they end? In the name of the principles of common rights and general liberty they were formed; and by the working of the same principles they are being constantly recruited, and are incessantly drawing new vigor from the sources whence they sprang. To maintain common rights and free movement upwards against the retrograde tendencies of privilege and absolute power, on the one hand, and on the other against the insensate and destructive pretensions of levellers and anarchists, is now the double business of the middle classes; and it is at the same time, for themselves, the sure way of preserving preponderance in the state, in the name of general interests, of which those classes are the most real and most efficient representatives.

On reaching, in our history, the period at which Philip the Handsome, by giving admission amongst the states-general to the "burghers of the good towns," substituted the third estate for the communes, and the united action of the three great classes of Frenchmen for their local struggles, we did well to halt a while, in order clearly to mark the position and part of the new actor in the great drama of national life. We will now return to the real business of the drama, that is, to the history of France, which became, in the fourteenth century, more complex, more tragic, and more grand than it had ever yet been.


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