Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Medieval Civilization:
 The Crusades

 Growth Of Commerce And Its Results

 Formation Of France

 England And The Other States

 The Renaissance

 The Papacy In The New Age

 The Reformation

 Summary - Medieval Civilization

 Read More Articles About: Medieval Civilization

Formation Of France

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

WHEREVER the influences which were described in the last chapter had an opportunity to work under favorable political conditions, only one result was possible a national consciousness began to arise and the national government began to be more directly an expression of that consciousness : governments, in other words, began to exist having reality as well as a name to be. The improvement of the intellectual conditions, which will be the subject of the next chapter, rendered also essential service in the same direction, in the growth of general intelligence and the creation of a wider community of ideas. But the connection of the intellectual advance with the formation of state governments is less direct and immediate than that of the results which followed an increasing commerce. We have just seen in how many directions these results were a direct attack upon the older feudal conditions and institutions, and it is naturally in order now to examine the special efforts which were made by the forming governments to take advantage of these new influences, and in doing so to sketch the forms of government and constitution resulting in the various states of the time.

In two of the leading states of Europe governments which may be called really national were established in France and England. Their history is consequently of greater interest to us and will occupy us most fully. One other country, Spain, arrived at a government which embraced the whole territory of the state, but which was not supported, as in the other two cases, by a thoroughly united national feeling. In neither Italy nor Germany was any true general government for the whole state established, for reasons which we have already seen ; but in both cases some interesting political results are to be noticed and many indications that a genuine national feeling and spirit existed, though unable to express it-self through political institutions, while in many of the minor states which arose in portions of these countries, governments, which were really national in everything except extent of territory, were formed.

In the case of France the great fact at the opening of its national history was feudalism. We have seen how completely that system prevailed in the France of the tenth century, and the prevalence of feudalism meant the existence of two fatal obstacles in the way of the formation of any efficient national government. It meant the geographical subdivision of the country into independent fragments, and it meant the subdivision of the general authority in the same way, so that the usual functions of a general government could no longer be exercised throughout the state by the nominal central power, but were exercised in fragments by local powers. We have seen also how the Capetian dynasty arose out of this feudalism itself, and though possessed in theory of very extensive powers, had in reality only so much power as it could derive from its own family resources.

These facts indicate clearly enough the twofold task which lay before the Capetian dynasty at the beginning of its history, and which it performed so faithfully and so successfully. It must reconstruct the geographical unity of France by bringing all the fragments into which its territory had been separated under its own immediate control a task which was to be rendered doubly difficult by the fact that several of the largest of these fragments were in the possession of a foreign sovereign, the king of England. It had, in the second place, to recover the prerogatives usurped by the rulers of these fragments so that it might itself exercise them in fact as well as possess them in theory, and in doing so it must, in great measure, create the national institutions through which these functions of a central government could be exercised.

The first four Capetian kings, from Hugh Capet to Philip I., do not seem to have been altogether unconscious of the great problems which they had to solve, but their situation was such that they could do but little. The first steps were necessarily very slow, and it should be considered by no means a small contribution to the final result that they were able to strengthen the hold of the Capetian family upon the throne of France, as they unquestionably did, to prevent any further loss of royal power and maintain the respect for the kingship in the turbulent society of the time, and also to continue and confirm the alliance with the church, which had aided so greatly the rise of their family and from which it had still so much to gain. In comparison with these more general and negative, but not therefore unimportant, results, any specific gains which these kings made were insignificant. Philip I. does not rank in history as a very strong or energetic king, but he saw clearly enough what was the first necessary step to be taken, the consolidation of his own feudal state, the duchy of France, and he bequeathed that policy to his successor.

With Louis VI., the Fat, in 1108, the work was taken vigorously and successfully in hand, and the succession opens of the great Capetian sovereigns of the sovereigns who may justly be called great in the work of constructing France, if not in any wider sense. The chief work of Louis's reign was to overthrow the small nobles who were his vassals as duke, and who liad been making themselves as independent in their smaller territories as the great vassals liad throughout the greater France, and some of whom had brought it to such a pass that it was almost impossible for the king to travel with freedom from one part of his domain to another. This work he practically accomplished, and he centralized the duchy to such an extent that later kings had its undivided resources to draw upon in the more severe struggle which was before them.

This struggle with the great nobles he also began with vigor, though without any very marked success. In Flanders, Champagne, and Aquitaine he asserted the rights of the king and attempted to maintain them with force, and he carried on an almost continuous war with his great rival the Duke of Normandy. Earlier Capetian kings had recognized the great strength of the dukes of Normandy and the importance of having them as allies or of weakening their power as opportunity offered, but the accession of Duke William to the English throne in 1066 liad greatly increased the danger from this source. The continual quarrels in the English royal family through the whole period furnished an opportunity which could be turned to advantage by the French kings, and Louis supported the son of Robert against Henry L, though in the end unsuccessfully. The position of the English in France was stronger, indeed, at the close of Louis's reign than at the beginning, by reason of the marriage of Henry's daughter Matilda with the Count of Anjou, who had been Louis's ally. The great gain of Louis's life was the centralization of the duchy and the decidedly stronger position which the king had gained throughout all central France.

In the next reign, that of Louis VII., the territory held by the English kings upon the continent was extended so widely that it threatened the very existence of an independent France. The wide fiefs which had been brought together by the dukes of Aquitaine, covering nearly a quarter of the present territory of France, fell to an heiress, Eleanor, on the death of her father, William X., the last duke. Louis VI. had not neglected the opportunity and had secured the hand of Eleanor for his son Louis. But there existed between this pair, apparently, a complete incompatibility of temper. Eleanor had but little respect for Louis, and her conduct was not altogether proper, at least not in the eyes of her somewhat austere husband, and on his return from the second crusade the marriage was annulled. But such a prize did not long remain unsought, and in the same year she married young Henry of Anjou, son of Matilda, who already was in possession of all the English provinces on the continent, and soon after succeeded to the English throne. By this marriage the whole of western France was united under Henry II., considerably more than one-third its present area, and a far larger portion than that directly under the control of the Capetian king. But these lands were only loosely held together, and they were feudally subject to Louis. It is interesting to notice that Henry was not willing to lead his army in person against his suzerain when Louis had thrown himself into Toulouse to defend that city against his attack, the feudal theory proving itself so strong even in such a case. But Louis could make no headway against so large a power, though he tried to do what he could and aided the rebellious sons of Henry against their father.

His successor, Philip Augustus, made it the great object of his reign to enlarge the royal domain, that is, the part of France directly under the king's government. The domain was enlarged when, for any reason, one of the great nobles, a count or a duke, had given up his territory to the king, so that there was no longer standing between the rear vassals and the king a great lord who held the territory as his own little principality, more or less completely closed against the royal interference, but the king had taken his place, and the small nobles of the territory were brought into immediate dependence upon him, and he had now possession both of the rights of the old count or duke, and also of the more extensive rights of the national sovereign, which might at last be exercised. Sometimes, also, the kings got possession of rear fiefs before the county or duchy was finally absorbed, and in both these ways, though mainly by the first, the new kingdom of France was forming and the royal power of the Capetian family was extending itself over the national territory by the disappearance of the great nobles who had been its peers at the beginning of its history.

The long reign of Philip Augustus was a time of most rapid progress in this geographical reconstruction of France. The county of Artois, the king secured by his marriage ; the counties of Vermandois and Amiens soon after as the result of a disputed succession. These ac-cessions greatly enlarged the domain toward the north-east. But the great problem was to recover the lands held by the English, and at this Philip labored all his life. The constant quarrels in the English royal family —of Henry II. with his sons, of Richard and John, of John and Arthur, and finally between John and the English barons greatly aided his efforts, and Philip was always on the side opposed to the reigning king. Before the reign of John he had made only very slight gains, the most important being the suzerainty of the county of Auvergne, which Henry II. had been forced, just before his death, to transfer to Philip. But Philip's abandonment of the third crusade, while it was still unfinished, and his return to France to take advantage of the absence of Richard are evidences of the power of political motives over his mind, and of his superior realization of the duties of his office, as compared with the English king.

Immediately after the accession of John came the opportunity for which he had waited. In 1200, John deprived one of his vassals, the eldest son of Hugues, Count de la Marche, of his promised bride and married her himself. The count took arms with the support of other nobles of Poitou, and appealed for justice to John's suzerain, King Philip. Philip summoned John to appear before his feudal court and make answer. When the court met, early in 1202, John did not appear, and sentence was pronounced that he had failed to meet his feudal obligations, and had therefore forfeited all the fiefs which he held of the king of France.' Philip proceeded to execute the sentence immediately by force of arms. He had the feudal law clearly on his side. John further prejudiced his case by his murder of Arthur in the next year. He was hampered also by many enemies, and though he may have been physically brave and mentally able, he was morally a coward, and his defence against Philip's attack was weak in the extreme. Speedily all of Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Touraine, and parts of Poitou and Saintonge, were in Philip's possession, never to be recovered as fiefs by the English. The great victory of Bouvines, which Philip gained in 1214, over the Emperor Otto IV., and the Count of Flanders, allies of John, raised the prestige of the king to its highest point, and excited a popular enthusiasm which may almost be called national. The reign of Philip Augustus had multiplied the area of the royal domain by three, had strengthened the position of the king beyond the possibility of rivalry or even successful resistance from any single noble, and had given it the sanction of uninterrupted success.

The reign of his son, Louis VIII., lasted only three years, but it made no break in the line of advance. More territory was recovered from the English, including the important city of La Rochelle, and the hold of the king on southeastern France was strengthened.

With Louis IX., St. Louis, we have another long reign, and another period of enormous advance, relatively not so great in territory as that under Philip Augustus, but one which left the royal power, at its close, institution-ally much farther along on the road to absolutism.

Louis IX. was only eleven years old at his father's death, but his mother, Blanche of Castile, who assumed the regency, was worthy to be sovereign in the Capetian line. The great nobles, however, had now begun to realize to what end events were carrying them, and to see, as they had to some extent before this, that their only hope of resisting the policy of the crown was to be found in concerted action. They consequently took ad-vantage of Louis's minority to form combinations among themselves to deprive the queen of the regency, and in intent, to check the advance of the royal power by arms. The skill of the queen-regent, however, defeated all their plans, and a similar result attended another attempt of the sort after Louis reached his majority. All these unsuccessful efforts in the end really aided the royal cause. In 1259, Louis made a treaty with Henry III., of England, by which, for certain small fiefs added to his land in the southwest of France, Henry abandoned all claims to Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Poitou, and agreed to hold Guienne as a fief from Louis. A treaty of the year before with the King of Aragon had made a similar division of disputed lands in the southeast. Louis also profited by the results of the bloody extermination of the Albigenses which had been begun in the reign of Philip Augustus. The attempt of Raymond VII., Count of Toulouse, to better his condition by joining one of the coalitions of nobles against the king had resulted in his losing some of his lands to the king, and he was obliged to renew his consent to the earlier treaty, by which the king's brother, Alfonso, Count of Poitiers, was to succeed to Toulouse at Raymond's death. This happened in 1249. In the year after Louis's death Alfonso him-self died without heirs, and the great county of Toulouse was joined to the crown.

To offset somewhat these great accessions of territory under the direct control of the king, the system of appanages must be noted, begun, in a large way, by Louis VIII. to provide for his younger sons. The provinces, however, which were separated by this arrangement from the domain and made to depend feudally upon some prince of the royal house, were not ceded to him in full sovereignty, and the system did not lead to the formation of a new series of independent principalities, nor prove as dangerous to the royal authority as might seem probable.

Louis's son, Philip III., though without originality of his own or strength of character, followed faithfully the example set by his father, and was well served by officers trained in that school. The great fiefs of Toulouse and Champagne were added to the domain, the jurisdiction of the royal courts enlarged, the development of a supreme court advanced, the king's authority enforced in the great fiefs which remained in every way possible, the independence of the communes weakened, and quietly and without exciting open opposition the royal authority strengthened in all directions. The growth of a strong central government was now so well begun, in other words, that it could go on almost of itself under a sovereign who was able to do but little to direct the process.

The regular alternation which seems curiously enough to prevail in the Capetian dynasty during most of the medieval portion of its history brings us, with the accession of Philip IV., to another strong king, and to an epoch of almost revolutionary progress. But this was almost wholly institutional. From this time on to the close of the long English war, no great accession of territory was made, though many small ones were, like the seizure of Lyons by Philip IV. France was now almost constructed geographically. The great central portion was under the direct government of the king, except so far as the appanages interfered with this. Guienne, Brittany, Burgundy, and Flanders were the only great fiefs still remaining independent, and, with the exception of Guienne, they remained so until the end of the middle ages, and the most of Flanders was never recovered. To these must be added, to complete the later French territory, Provence, which, though not a fief of France, was held by a long series of French princes and was finally absorbed by France under Louis XI.

The early deaths of the three sons of Philip the Fair, and the exclusion of their daughters from the succession by the so-called Salie law, make a natural close for the first period of Capetian history. With the accession of the house of Valois the Hundred Years' War with the English begins.

The great increase of territory directly subject to the control of the king during the period which closes with the death of Charles IV., the last of the direct line, had necessitated a corresponding development of the institutional side of the monarchy to provide the means required to exercise the real government which became more and more possible. The reign of Philip Augustus marked an epoch in this direction, as it did in the geographical extension of the royal power, and that of St. Louis was even more distinguished for institutional than for territorial growth.

The problem of administration, of making the central power effectively felt in all the details of local government throughout the domain, was the earliest which demanded solution. The older administrative agent, the prévôt, served very well when the domain was small, but was inadequate in the changed situation. He was wholly feudal in character, administered a very small territory, and was not well under control.

In the bailli Philip Augustus developed a most effective agent of the central power. Free from feudal influence, appointed by the king and entirely dependent upon him, transferred at intervals from one region to another, he was held under a strict control. In the district to which he was appointed, he directly represented the royal authority in the local enforcement of its regulations of all kinds, and in the care of its financial interests, and also in military and even judicial matters, and formed a close bond of connection between the central government and every locality. Besides the special functions of this new officer, he had. the general duty of looking after the interests of the king, and of extending his power and domain whenever any opportunity offered. In this direction the services of the baillis to the crown were as effective as in their strictly official capacity, and not infrequently their zeal in interfering with the local nobility to the king's advantage carried them on faster and farther than the kings thought it wise to follow. In the great territories afterward added to the domain in the south, this officer was known as the sénéchal, but had the same duties with some differences of detail. The supervision of the central government over all parts of the state was carried a step further by St. Louis in his more regular employment of enquêteurs, officers occasionally used before and corresponding in duties to the missi of Charlemagne. Intended to over-see the conduct of the local officers and to insure justice, they became, under the stronger government of Philip the Fair, agents of royal oppression and exaction.

Probably the most difficult task which the kings had to perform in creating the state was to establish national courts superior to the local feudal courts, and, in connection with them, to enforce peace and good order an orderly and judicial settlement of disputes instead of an appeal to force. The minute regulations with which the feudal law itself, as it began to be formed, had surrounded the practice of private war, mimicking on a small scale the provisions of international law and even more formal in character, are the evidences of an attempt on the part of feudalism itself to escape from some of the worst evils of unchecked license. The Truce of God was able to aid in this direction during a time when the church was the only general power capable of enforcing the requirements of such a truce. But it was not possible for the evil to be entirely done away with, and good order to be really maintained, until the general causes, whose operation we noticed in the last chapter, had fin-ally transformed society and created so strong a demand for security as to give the central government such effective support as would enable it to enforce obedience to the law. This transformation of society was by no means complete in the last half of the thirteenth century, but it had advanced so far that its influence can be distinctly seen, and the operation of the royal courts may begin to be called national.

The original court of the king, the curia regis, was an assembly of court officials, vassals, and magnates subject to the king, which met at short intervals, at his summons, to perform a great variety of functions judicial, advisory, and semi-legislative--functions which were to be performed after a time, with the increasing complexity of government, by separate bodies differentiated from this original court. Under the early Capetian kings the portion of France under its actual jurisdiction was very small, and its means of enforcing any decree were very limited. In the period which follows, down to the reign of St. Louis, the wider extension of the royal power affected the court in two directions. In one there is to be seen a constantly increasing respect paid to the court on the part of the feudal lords, and a growing tendency to submit to its decrees, a tendency which, though not by any means universal as yet, was marked enough to be a sure sign of the increasing respect paid to the king. In another direction, in the court itself, there is evident the gradual formation from its members of a small body, constantly present and especially devoted to the study of the law a result which followed naturally from the increasing business of the court.

This latter fact is the first indication of the next important advance. From the reign of St. Louis the judicial business of the court was regularly in the hands of a permanent body of specially trained men, selected by the king, and this body now began to be called the Parle-ment. The lords and high clergy still attended occasion-ally, when especially summoned, in cases which particularly concerned their own interests, but the supreme court of the kingdom had now been separated from the earlier general body, the curia regis, and had begun its separate development.

Along with this evolution of the supreme court there went also a great increase of respect and of business in the case of the subordinate national courts, those held by the prévôts and the baillis. There are, also, two other facts to be noticed in the same connection, as of the utmost importance in the national centralization. One is the introduction of a system of appeals, and the other, the revived study of the Roman law.

The development of a series of royal courts might serve a good purpose in centralizing the domain, even if their action were confined to that, but would be of little use in binding all France together, if the feudal courts of the great fiefs, which were still left, remained supreme and independent. Under St. Louis and his son, the right of appeal, which had existed before in some parts of the kingdom, was definitely established for all France the right of appeal to the royal courts, local and supreme, from all feudal courts of whatever grade, including those of the greatest and most independent lords, like the king of England in his capacity as duke of Guienne.

That the establishment of this right of appeal from themselves to the king revolutionized the whole situation and involved in reality the total destruction of their political independence, the barons do not seem to have clearly perceived ; but that they certainly resisted this advance of the royal power with some determination is evident from the numerous ordinances which were made in the following period against the means they were employing to maintain the independence of their courts. But their power of resistance was greatly undermined by the theory of the kingship, which had always existed in the feudal law, and which was now greatly developed under the influence of the Roman law. If the king was considered to be the supreme source of law and justice, and if the right of the baron to hold a court was only a delegated right, then there was no ground on which an appeal to the royal courts could be denied.

It was in the thirteenth century, especially in its latter half, that the revived study of the Roman law began to have a decided practical influence upon the formation of the modern state and modern law. We cannot enter here into the special influence which it had in the field of law itself, less decisive in France than in Germany, but far more extensive everywhere on the continent than in England. It is its influence upon institutions and the development of government which we must regard.

The channel through which the principles of the Roman law were brought at this time into an immediate influence upon the institutional side of the national growth, was the position obtained by the professional body of trained lawyers, now beginning to be formed. These men were soon employed as judges in the subordinate courts, and gradually made their way into the Parlement itself, and thus that body became more and more separated as a permanent institution exercising the judicial functions of the curia regis practically alone. And along another line also the same connection of the Roman law with the state was made through the influence of the lawyers in the other body which was just now forming from the curia regis, the Estates General.

It was by infusing its spirit into the progress which had begun, and directing it to certain :ideals, rather than as a source of actual institutions that the Roman law affected the result. It was the law of a thoroughly centralized state. Its spirit was that of a, complete absolutism. All its principles and maxims looked to the king as the centre and source of the whole institutional life of the state. The supreme right to judge, to administer, to legislate, and to tax was possessed by the sovereign. This was the theory of the state which the lawyers were drawing from the Roman law everywhere, even, to some extent at least, in England. As the practical management of public affairs of all sorts passed more and more into the hands of men trained in these ideas, and as the Roman law gradually came to be regarded as the con-trolling law in all new cases, the actual facts were made to conform more and more exactly to the theory. This new influence was, thus, a tremendous reinforcement to the primitive theory of the kingship which had come down to the Capetians from the earlier dynasties and which had lived through the age of feudal disintegration, a theory which had been itself formed after the conquest very largely on the Roman model. But it must be re-membered that it was not now mere theory. The influence exerted upon the growth of the state was far more decisive than that of any mere theory could have been, for it was the controlling ideal of the men who were most active in shaping the new institutions. A recent writer has said of this influence : "It was this more than all other causes combined which effected the transformation of the feudal medieval sovereignty into the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth century," 1 and one feels hardly justified in calling the statement an exaggeration.

During the last part of this period three other institutions of great importance began their growth, though their great development was to lie in the time of the English war which followed. These were the standing army, the system of national taxation, and the Estates General.

With the enlargement of the domain, and the more important and more distant wars which followed, the feudal levies and the older general levy proved themselves insufficient and less to be depended upon than in earlier times. Before the reign of Philip Augustus there are instances of the employment of paid soldiers, and their use constantly increased. With their employment, and the other increasing expenses of the state, the necessity arose for a larger income than the feudal revenues supplied. Some points connected with the origin of general taxation are not clear, but the first steps toward it seem to have been taken in the introduction, under Philip Augustus, of a money composition for military service not performed. During the English wars the method of this tax changed somewhat. The kings of that time were not always in a position to maintain all that their predecessors had gained, and the Estates General attempted to compel a recognition of their right to grant a tax before it could be legally collected, but with-out final success. The right of the king to impose taxes was in the end recognized. It was not until the close of the Hundred Years' War, in the middle of the fifteenth century, that these two things were definitely established, a regularly organized standing army, and an equally well organized and permanent system of taxation, imposed by the king and collected throughout the kingdom by his agents. It can be seen at once that when this point was reached the central government was independent of the feudal system. It had recovered from its vassals two of its most important functions, the loss of which in the ninth and tenth centuries had forced it to submit to the feudal regime. The failure of the Estates General to make good their claim to vote the taxes had rendered the crown independent also of the people, and with its assumption, in addition of the right of legislation, it be-came the only factor in the government. The absolute monarchy was complete.

The institutions which we have been considering up to this point are all institutions of centralization. Their tendency was to increase very greatly the power of the king, to undermine all forms of local independence, and to bring the control of public matters of every kind more and more completely into the king's hands. Now we come to the beginning of an institution which contained within itself a possibility of most serious danger for this growing absolutism. It is the Estates General, States General the appearance, or reappearance, of a public assembly having legislative functions.

Leaving one side the uncertain and not yet sufficiently investigated question as to the exact character of the earlier institution into which the representatives of the cities were now admitted, it is clear that in all the states of Europe there was such an institution already in existence. The king's vassals and the magnates of the realm, lay and ecclesiastical, came together at his summons the clergy meeting sometimes, though by no means frequently, by themselves--to perform a variety of functions as occasion demanded, sometimes judicial and this whether the curia regis was a different body or not to decide cases that arose under the feudal law, and to determine what customs should be recognized as having the force of law, or to give advice in new cases. These last were acts which would correspond most nearly to legislation of anything during the feudal period, when real legislation seems to have been wholly wanting, except in so far as that name may be given to the royal edicts which were occasionally issued. Into this body, representatives of the Third Estate were now admitted, in all the leading countries of Europe, and it gradually assumed a more definite organization and clearer legislative functions. France was the last of the larger states to take this step, the Spanish states of Aragon and Castile were the first, soon after the middle of the twelfth century ; Sicily followed in 1232, Germany in 1255, England in 1265, and France in 1302. In-stances of the appearance of representatives of the towns in the earlier body may be found in some cases before, but the definite beginning of the new institution was at the dates given.

The special occasion which led to the creation of this new institution is itself significant of the progress which the royal authority had made. One of the most important resources of the early Capetians had been the wealth of the church. But they had drawn from this source, in the way of a general levy on the revenues of ecclesiastics, only with the consent of the pope, granted in each case for some object of which the pope approved. Now Philip the Fair felt himself strong enough to dispense with this consent, and to demand that the clergy should be subject, like other classes, to the state's rapidly forming tax system. The pope took up at once the defence of his rights, and the conflict, begun on the question of taxation, rapidly involved a great variety of points concerning the position of virtual political independence within the state, which the church asserted for itself. Upon some one or other of these points all the strong Capetian kings Louis VI., Philip Augustus, and St. Louis had come into collision with the papacy. Now the state was so nearly centralized that the war was waged on all these issues at once, and seemed to involve the whole relation of the church to the state.

It was most likely for its general effect to make an imposing display of the fact that the whole nation was behind him in this conflict, or at least that he controlled the nation, that Philip called together the first Estates General in 1302. In doing this, he gave it a really representative character, and a definiteness of composition which made it a new institution. The members of the first two estates, the clergy and the nobles, were summoned personally and attended in person or by proxy. The towns of the whole kingdom, summoned through the baillis, elected representatives to form the Third Estate.

It was the power of money which had raised the Third Estate to a position in the community somewhere near the other two. It was not to obtain their consent to a tax, however, that representatives of the Third Estate had been summoned to the Estates General. The immediate object was to obtain the support of all orders for the king's general policy. It was not very long, how-ever, before the kings showed themselves disposed to submit the question of taxation to the sanction of the Estates, in order that the collection of it might be easier. In doing this, the kings put into their hands an extremely dangerous weapon against themselves, if the Estates General had been able to use it. It was not entirely their fault that they were not. The fact that this assembly was at first only an advisory body, and had no power of independent action, that the rights of legislation and of taxation were practically in the hands of the king, was a most serious obstacle to the formation of a constitutional monarchy, but not an absolutely fatal one. The Estates General still had within itself the possibilities of the English Parliament. If it could have obtained a solid popular support and a leadership that would have commanded general respect, if there had been throughout France a general experience and understanding of self-government as a reserve fund upon which it could have drawn, it might have gained all that was gained in the sister kingdom. It was the lack of these that was fatal.

The epoch of rapid geographical and institutional growth under the Capetian kings of the direct line was succeeded by a long period of confusion and disaster, in which the national development in both these directions almost entirely ceased. Soon after the accession of Philip VI., the first king of the house of Valois, the Hundred Years' War with England began. In its real meaning it was a struggle over the last English possessions in France. Philip VI. had immediately taken up the old policy of weakening the English hold on Guienne by intrigue and by every other means at hand, and Edward III. was not slow to defend himself. It was a result, however, of the more truly national character which both states had now assumed, that the war involved wider issues than in its earlier stages the question of the supremacy of England over Scotland, and of France over Flanders, and finally for a time the dangerous possibility dangerous alike for England and for France that the English king might actually make good that claim to the throne of France which had been advanced at first mainly as a war measure.

The Hundred Years' War opened with a series of disasters for the French, and of great victories for the English, against overwhelming odds, which are in them-selves suggestive of the difference between the two nations. The French armies, still composed chiefly of nobles, their contempt for the foot-soldier increased by decisive victories over the Flemings recently gained, were filled with over-confidence in the face of English armies which seemed to be composed almost wholly of footmen. But the English foot-soldiers were different men from any that the French had met before. They had a sturdy self-reliance, and a feeling that they were a match for their noble enemies which were the outgrowth of their history, recent as well as ancient of a long past which the French had once shared with them, but with which, in their military system as in other things, the French had broken much more completely than the English. The result was the battles of Crecy and of Poi-tiers and the anarchy which followed in France.

The king was a prisoner in England ; the dauphin was young and had not yet begun to display the capacity for government which he showed as king ; the nearest prince of the blood, Charles of Navarre, was a selfish schemer ; and a feeling had arisen that the king and the nobles had proved themselves unfit to deal with the situation. There was an opportunity for the Estates General to seize upon the control of affairs, and to begin the formation of a constitution which the leaders of the Third Estate quickly recognized.

The demands which the circumstances enabled them to make, some of which were granted them for the time being, were closely like the most important principles which were being slowly expressed in the English constitution. They demanded the right to vote the taxes and to control their expenditure, that the king's ministers should be held responsible to the law, that the ad-ministration of justice should be without favor or bribery, and that they should have the right to select certain members of the king's council, and, also, the concession of periodical meetings for the Estates General, and these demands were put somewhat after the English fashion in the form of conditions attached to grants of money.

If these points had been permanently established in the French constitution, it would have been the sudden creation of a limited monarchy, the introduction in a single decade of overpowering restraints upon the king, with no history of steady growth behind them. The whole history of France had been tending in the opposite direction, and in this fact was the great weakness of such an attempt at revolution, and the main cause of its failure. It had no strong leadership, and it had no general popular support. The career of Etienne Marcel is extremely interesting, but it was not without its demagogic features. The nobles lent no support to the at-tempt, and the whole of French history did not produce a leader from the middle class like Stephen Langton, or one from the nobles like Simon de Montfort. The Paris mob also had, in the middle of the fourteenth century, too great an influence on the course of events, and exhibited at that early date the characteristic features and fatal results which have appeared in almost every century since, and which are so familiar to us in the history of the French Revolution and of the Commune. This attempt to form a limited monarchy, and the similar one which circumstances again allowed in 1413, met with no final success, and the growth of the absolute monarchy went on, delayed, but not changed in character.

With the next king, Charles V., the Wise, a strong and skilful king again succeeded a weak one, and the royal power recovered its losses and made new progress.' When he had well prepared for it, he renewed the English war, which had been closed for a time by the treaty of Brétigny, and, by wisely avoiding pitched battles, he wearied out his enemy and recovered nearly all Guienne. He enforced the right of appeal to the national courts, forbade private war, enlarged greatly the paid army, avoided meeting the Estates General and strengthened the king's hold upon the taxing power, and made further progress in getting its collection into the hands of royal officers. The right of the king to decree a new tax not consented to by those who were to pay it does not seem to have been yet recognized ; but the consent was obtained from no regular body, sometimes from assemblies approaching in character to the Estates General, some-times from provincial estates, sometimes from cities, and when once granted the tax was collected permanently without a new grant, and was even increased by the king with no consent asked, and in this way France was gradually brought to regard the right of taxation as a prerogative of the king's.

After Charles V. came the long reign of the weak and insane Charles VI., filled with confusion and with civil contests between the utterly selfish princes of the blood and their adherents, and closed with the almost fatal triumph of Henry V. of England.

His son, Charles the Victorious, was the last king of France whose reign can be said to have been wholly in the middle ages and occupied entirely with the old problems. His place was created for him by the great popular movement to which Joan of Arc gave leadership, and which reveals to us in the clearest light the depth of the national feeling which had now come into existence in France. By this the English were expelled, to be prevented from ever returning by their own civil War of the Roses, and by the wholly changed international conditions which confronted the new monarchy of the Tudors at the close of that war. But if Charles VII. did not make his own place, he knew how to occupy it when it had been made for him. The finances were brought into good condition, the army was thoroughly organized, the state made independent of the feudal levies, and the right of the king to impose taxes finally established.

The nobles did not allow these concluding steps in the progress to absolutism to be taken without protest and combinations to prevent them, but their greatest effort, under the lead of princes of the royal house, was made under the next king, Louis XI., and when he had succeeded in breaking up the League of the Public Weal the last really dangerous resistance to the royal power was overcome. Louis followed the same policy as his father, and at the close of his reign the absolute monarchy was complete in all essential particulars. A last trace of institutional check upon the legislative right of the sovereign remained, until a little later, in the power of the supreme court the Parlement to reject a royal edict in whole or in part the rights of registration and of remonstrance and a few other finishing touches were left to be made by Richelieu and Mazarin. But when the king had gathered into his hands the uncontrolled right to legislate, to tax,' and to maintain a standing army, the process of centralization was finished, and the king was the state as really as in the case of Louis XIV.

In the reign of Louis XI., also, territorial acquisitions were begun again, the duchy of Burgundy was seized on the death of Charles the Bold, and the county of Provence, which lay, not in France, but in the old kingdom of Burgundy, was annexed a partial compensation for the loss of Flanders, which now passed to the House of Hapsburg. In the next reign the last of the great fiefs acquired, Brittany, was brought in by the marriage of Charles VIII. with its heiress.

But the reign of Charles VIII. belongs really in modem political history. The ambition of the now completely formed French nation and of its sovereign for foreign conquests, and the attempt of Charles to establish the French in Italy, are its leading facts. Louis XI. had seen the rise of the new interests and the beginning of the international combinations which were made to secure them, but he was still so occupied with the old problems that he had not been able to take a part in the game at all proportionate to the strength of France. Now the old problems were settled, so far as they need be, and the new interests were taking their place to direct the royal policy.

In some of the later reigns the relics of the feudal power were to make new efforts to recover the position in the state which they had lost, but these efforts were hope-less from the beginning, and feudalism as a political power disappeared with the English wars. As a system of social rank and of exclusive legal privileges and exemptions it remained until the French Revolution. The kings had carried on a long contest with feudalism, and had finally completely overthrown it, but they were not hostile to a nobility, and freely bestowed upon the nobles pensions and titles and high favor at court as some compensation for the political independence which had been destroyed.'

The purpose of this sketch has been not so much to give an outline of the institutional history of France during these centuries as to make evident, if possible, how the central government was continually growing in strength and the king becoming with every generation more and more independent of the feudal nobles and the real ruler of their lands.

It has been given so much more in detail than the history of the other states will be, not merely because of the important influence of the absolutism thus formed upon all later history, but also because it is, to a considerable extent, typical of what took place, sooner or later; almost everywhere upon the continent, certainly in results if not always in processes.

Home | More Articles | Email: