What The Middle Ages Started With
Addition Of Christianity
German Conquest And The Fall Of Rome
What The Germans Added
Formation Of The Papacy
The Franks And Charlemagne
The Empire And The Papacy
Read More Articles About: Medieval Civilization
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE empire of Charlemagne passed at first into the hands of his son Louis and its formal unity was preserved. But Louis was by no means the equal of his father in strength and decision, and the control of affairs passed by degrees out of his hands to the bishops and the great nobles, to his sons, and even to his wife. The elements of disunion, repressed by Charlemagne, began to reappear ; but unity suffered less in his reign than the efficiency of the central government, which constantly declined the missi for example were rendered less effective by making the archbishop permanently one of the missi for his archbishopric.
On the death of Louis, his eldest son Lothaire became emperor, with a nominal supremacy over his two brothers, who had received subordinate kingdoms. A civil war between the brothers resulted in the treaty of Verdun, in 843, a rearrangement of territories which has probably had more influence on later times than any other ever made.
By this partition Lothaire retained the title of emperor, with Italy and a long, narrow strip of land connecting Italy with the North Sea, and including the rivers Rhone and Rhine, separating in this way the subkingdoms of his two brothers, one in what is now Germany, and the other in what is now France, and bringing his territory through its whole length into direct contact with theirs. Nearly or quite all this territory came to be connected at a later time with the empire, as held by the German king, but it was bound to Germany by only a very loose tie, and in it easily arose the semi-independent and finally independent little states of Europe, Holland and Belgium, and Switzerland and Savoy, while over other fragments of it France and Germany have been contending through nearly all later history.
On the death of the grandsons of Charlemagne their territories were still further divided, and the double process of separation and of the destruction of the central power went on without hinderance. For a moment, almost at the end of the Carolingian period, the empire was reunited under Charles the Fat, but he was entirely without power or capacity, and after a few years he was deposed (887), and the territorial unity of the empire was finally destroyed.
We call this the fall of the Carolingian empire, and it was so in one sense, but the term is unfortunate here as elsewhere in history, because it is apt to imply more than is meant. It must not be regarded as in any sense a fall or decline in civilization. It was more like a return to conditions which had prevailed under the Merovingian kings. These conditions had been dominated and con-trolled by three generations of remarkable princes, who had held in check successfully the worst tendencies of the time. Now, when the government passed into the hands of ordinary men, these conditions began to prevail again, but they prevailed with a difference. That the net result of the Carolingian empire had been a great gain has been made evident. The ideas of unity and order and good government had been so strengthened that a return to the situation of things in Merovingian times could never be complete, and those conditions could never be so dangerous as formerly. The great Carolingian princes had been compelled in one respect, indeed, to recognize and continue these conditions. They had been obliged, in order to accomplish their own purposes, to encourage and strengthen the growing feudal institutions, as we shall see later, and to give them legality. But whatever they may have done in this direction was far more than balanced by the vigor with which they subordinated these institutions to the state. Without their aid the feudal system would inevitably have developed as it did, though perhaps less rapidly. But with-out their strong control of the feudal powers in their formative period the idea that these powers were exercised under the superior rights of the general government might easily have disappeared, as it actually did here and there.
We are to regard this age, then, as continuing the Merovingian, but with decided gains over that period. On the surface, however, its most characteristic feature is the decline of the powers which the three great Carolingians had built up, and our first task is to ascertain the immediate causes of this decline, a thing not difficult to do.
It is not possible to attribute this decline, as we are perhaps at first tempted to do, to the weakness of the rulers. Some of them were certainly men of inferior ability, men who would be regarded as weak sovereigns even to-day, when, in general, a stupid king or an insane one is as good as any, or even better. But the most of them seem to have been men at least of ordinary ability. It was a time, however, when a man of ordinary ability could not be master of the situation. A king, in order really to govern such a turbulent society, would have required the extraordinary genius of a Charlemagne, if not something more, and no one had that. The family had produced about as many generations of genius as any in history, and it was rather because it did not continue to do this than because it sank below the level of average men that it proved unequal to its task.
Nor can the cause be found in those partitions of territory between the members of the family which are so frequent during the period. The old Frankish notion of equal division among the heirs apparently could not be shaken off by the Carolingians, and subdivision followed subdivision to the end of the period. This, no doubt, weakened the idea of unity, and occasionally aided the deeper causes of separation, but it must not be regarded in itself as a very efficient force in that direction. Had the general conditions been more favorable, such partitions might have gone further than they did without serious consequences, and, indeed, they might have been of assistance to the kings in maintaining a real control of affairs by reducing the size of the territory to be controlled.
More serious than these, as intensifying the general conditions with which a government had to contend, were the severe attacks which were made on all the boundaries of the empire during this age. Saracens, Hungarians, and Northmen were trying to force their way in from every direction. In the Carolingian period proper the most dangerous of these attacks was that of the North-men.' Following exactly the methods of the earlier Saxons, they appeared without warning upon the coast or up the rivers with their swift boats, collected what plunder they could in a sudden raid inland, and were off before resistance could be organized. The great rivers of Gaul opened to them the heart of the country, and the distance to which they ascended them shows most clearly how little general organization there was, and how entirely each locality was thrown upon its own resources for protection. This absence of a general system of defence, this necessity which was placed upon each locality of looking out for its own protection in the face of a constantly menacing danger, is a fact of primary importance at this time. It greatly strengthened those institutions which organized the means of private and local defence, institutions which similar conditions had produced in earlier times, and which had continued their development even under Charlemagne.
With this fact the fact that these institutions had now become very strong and grown into a great general organization, the feudal system, so strong that it was no longer possible to control its members or to prevent their exercise of royal prerogatives we have reached the deepest and most effective cause of the fall of the Carolingian power.
The feudal system was itself an offspring of the prevailing conditions and gave expression to them. Whether or not the later Carolingians would have been able to maintain an effective government if the feudal system had not been in the way to prevent, certain it is that this system had taken its beginning in a time when for one cause or another an effective government had not been maintained, in the last days of the empire and in the Merovingian period. Since then nothing had occurred to check its development, though Charlemagne had been able to prevent any evil results from it in his own time. It had now reached a point of development which made it in itself an active factor in the state independent of the conditions which had brought it into existence. It had established itself on firm foundations. It had absorbed to some extent already, and was absorbing more and more, the functions, powers, and rights of the central government. It had produced a body of men secure in their position, able to dictate terms to the monarch at critical moments as the price of their assistance,' and able to beat off the attacks of the Northmen where the state failed to do its duty. It had built up, in a word, little principalities everywhere which usurped for the locality the place of the state and divided the territory into small fragments tending toward complete independence.
So while the difficulty of intercommunication made it hard to maintain a real control of affairs at a distance, and while the ignorance and barbarism of the time made impossible those general ideas and common interests and feelings which are the foundation of a national government, the feudal system deprived the state of its organs of action. Its executive offices, its judicial system, its legislation, its income, and its army all passed into the hands of private individuals, and were made use of by them, theoretically, as representing the state, but in reality beyond its control. The king was practically shut up to whatever power the feudal lords might be willing to concede to him at the moment.
The origin of this system and the state of things resulting from it will be discussed in detail in the next chapter. Here it is necessary to fix in mind the fact that the Carolingian family, which had done not a little to give it definite form and position in the state, fell its victim and lost the throne because it could no longer control its own vassals.
But the declining power of the Carolingian family, and the fact that even in the small states into which their great empire had separated they could not really govern, is not the only fact of importance which this period signifies in the political history of the world. It was not an age of chaos alone. In the breaking up of the Carolingian empire the European nations as they exist today first took shape.
How much of real national consciousness there was in the states that separated from one another at this time it is not easy to say. There is danger that we may read into that earlier time, when it could hardly have existed, the idea of national feeling which we now have. Certainly patriotism and a feeling of race unity and of national pride do not appear as positive forces in history, whose workings can be clearly traced, till near the end of the middle ages.
There is evidence, however, that there was at least some slight national consciousness at this time ; that the people in one of these new states began to distinguish themselves from those in another, and, however much they might still be divided within the state, to look upon themselves as more closely related to one another than to the people of another state. The new languages had begun to form themselves a clear proof of the melting of Romans and Germans into a common people and these would help to form the idea of national distinctions. Common names for the people of the whole state seem to have come into use about this time. The church of each state had its own national organization, and this furnished one of the most powerful influences of the time, both in the formation of the new state governments and in the growth of a real national unity.
But whatever may be true of the formation of a national consciousness at this time and when the most is said it must have been very faint the modern nations did secure in this period their geographical outlines very much as they exist today, and separate political organizations were formed, corresponding to these territories and uniting them however loosely still uniting them into a single state. These political organizations have developed into the modern governments, and within the geographical limits thus secured the feeling of national unity, and patriotism grew up in the course of time.
Tt was in Germany that the Carolingian family was first permanently abandoned for a national dynasty. Arnulf, who was the last Carolingian who really ruled in Germany, was a man of energy, and the ten years and more of his reign, from 887 to 899, was a continual struggle against the Northmen and Slays. Against these external enemies he was successful, but he did nothing to prevent in some cases he aided the growth of the local feudal dominions which were as serious a danger. After him came a dozen years of minority rule, when naturally the local powers grew rapidly, and the devastating invasions of the Hungarians, which began within a year or two after the death of Arnulf, strengthened this tendency by increasing the confusion and insecurity with which the general government could not cope.
The feudal system did not reach its maturity quite so early in Germany as in France, not having grown up naturally there but being rather introduced from with-out. But the conditions which favored its growth were like those in France, and the results in the end were the same. The general insecurity of the times, the constant need of protection, the weakness or the distance of the central government, and perhaps the lack of any strong conception of a national unity, enabled the strong man of the locality to found a little state within the state, and to extend his power, if circumstances especially favored him, over a large territory.
The old tribal differences which still existed among the Germans, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Carolingians to obliterate them, came to the aid of these little substates it would be more accurate perhaps to say that these differences were the foundation on which they were first built. The Carolingians had abolished the old ducal office which represented a tribal royal power, and they had endeavored to prevent any continuance of the tribal life in the arrangements which they made for local government. During the time of their decline, however, the old tribal consciousness had begun to re-assert itself, and the ducal office to reappear, at first without any recognition or legal right, but as existing by force of circumstances and by common consent.
Aided by circumstances of this sort, a family having its original seat in the eastern part of the Saxon land, in a region exposed at once to the attacks of the Danes and of the Slays, had gradually extended its power, by the skill of its leadership and the bravery of its defence, over the whole tribe of the Saxons, and finally over the Thuringians also, and created a dominion which, under the ducal name, was really a little kingdom. Another family in Franconia the land of the east Franks had risen in a similar way, aided by the favor of King Arnulf, to a power almost as great, but it had made good its position only after a severe struggle with dangerous rivals. In Suabia and Bavaria the tribal spirit also revived and raised local leaders to the position of practically independent dukes. The feudal system was spreading very rapidly throughout Germany at this time, and its forms greatly helped on the rise of these local dynasties; but it is important to notice, as has been suggested, that these little states into which the east Frankish kingdom threatened to separate at the moment of the extinction of the Carolingian family there, were based at the outset rather on the old tribal differences than on feudal constructions.
It was the influence of the church of Germany a united organization, finding all its interests involved in the continuance of a united political government combined perhaps with a deep impression which the unity created by Charlemagne had made, and very possibly also aided by an incipient national consciousness, which prevented this threatened separation from being completely realized, and formed a new national government in the place of the one which had disappeared.
On the death of the last Carolingian, an assembly somewhat national in character came together to choose a new king. They turned naturally first to the Saxon duke Otto, the most powerful man in Germany, but he was now old and was not willing to undertake the bur-dens of the new office. By his influence Konrad, the duke of the eastern Franks, was elected king. This election was not made in forgetfulness of the rights of the Carolingians, whose representatives were still to be found west of the Rhine. Their claims were kept in mind, and it was thought indeed to be something in favor of Konrad that he was descended from a daughter of Louis the Pious. But there seems to have been no serious movement in favor of the old house, nor any feeling that it could adequately meet the needs and interests of the times.
Konrad was a brave and earnest man who had a high conception of the duties and rights of his office and strove manfully to realize that conception. But the difficulties were too great for him to overcome. He did not have in his own local power, and in the tribe of the Franks, which must be his main reliance in establishing a real government, strength enough to force the other local and tribal powers into obedience, and his reign was a failure in this respect. It is told us that at his death he recognized this fact, and saw that if a national government was to be made effective it could be done only by his great rival whose personal power was so much stronger than his own, by the duke of the Saxons. Following his advice, the Germans passed over the Franconian family and elected Henry the Saxon king, and from his accession in 918, the process of forming a national government for Germany really begins.
Of this national government Henry hardly more than lays the foundation, but he does this with great skill and with a statesman's recognition of the things that were possible in the circumstances. He brings the dukes to a formal obedience and to a recognition of the kingship, but he does this by diplomatic tact rather than by force of arms, and he leaves to them almost complete and in-dependent local control. It was too early yet to break their power in this particular. He organizes the national forces for a most successful resistance to the Hungarians, founds many fortified posts in north and east Germany which grow later into cities, leads the Saxons on rapidly in the line of development begun for them by Charlemagne, opens again the struggle with the Slays for the valley of the Elbe, and finally draws closer the alliance between the royal power which is forming and the church which can give it so great assistance.
It was by no means the least of his successes that he secured the quiet and undisputed succession of his son Otto to the throne. Otto does not seem to have had his father's diplomatic ability, but he was a man of strong determination and quick action, and he built rapidly on the foundations which his father had laid. The dukes and the semi-independent tribes seem to have recognized the fact that it was a life-and-death struggle for them, and they broke into open rebellion almost immediately after his accession. The victory over this open resistance, which Otto everywhere gained, enabled him to go further than his father had ventured. He deposed the old ducal families from their half royal position, set in their place devoted friends of his own, and made the duke once more, if not completely, yet more nearly, an officer of the state. Finally, he put beside the duke the pfalzgraf, or palatine count, to be a check on the ducal power and to administer the royal domain lands scattered through the duchy, and so not merely deprived the duke of one source of his power but also established an important means of direct connection between the central government and the locality. It was the first step, and a long one, toward a really consolidated government for the nation. If this policy could have been continued for a generation or two without interruption the work would have been done and a real state created corresponding to the language and the race. But this was not destined to be.
Hardly was Otto master of things at home when he was called upon to go to Italy and right wrongs which had been committed there, and he could not resist the temptation. The dream of the empire still lived in the German mind, and Otto was perhaps more ready to go than the Capetian princes of France were to embrace . similar opportunities offered to them, because his power at home was so much greater than theirs.
In Italy no one of the local powers into which the country had separated, there as everywhere else on the fall of the Carolingian empire, had been able to gain sufficient strength permanently to overcome the others, and to form the foundation of a united government as it had been the fortune of some to do in France and in Germany. The existence of the papacy at the head of a little state in central Italy, strengthened by rights of ecclesiastical rule which extended over Europe, had further complicated the situation, and Italy had been the scene of more constant civil strife than the other countries, and with far less meaning or result. It was consequently very easy for a foreign prince, not dependent upon the country for his resources, to exact at least a formal acknowledgment of his right to govern. In a first expedition Otto compelled a recognition of his right to settle disputed points and assumed the title of King of Lombardy. In a second, in 962, he was crowned Emperor of Rome.
This might seem to him, and to the men of his time, though it was not done apparently without some opposition in Germany, to be a very great extension of his power and a most glorious achievement for the German nation, but it was in reality a fatal step both for Germany and for Italy. By this step it was finally made impossible to organize a national government for Italy ; and the kings of Germany, in the place of their proper task, the consolidation of their own state, were given what seemed to them a more glorious mission, the re-construction of the Roman empire. But to do both things, in the face of the difficulties which each presented, was a human impossibility, and naturally the interest which they thought to be the smaller the German nation was sacrificed to the greater. Things were allowed at critical periods to go as they would, and the promising beginning of a national unity was broken into a hundred fragments.
In the case of Italy one can hardly lament the failure of the Italian people to form a truly national government as he does that of the Germans. Had such a government been formed it would undoubtedly have saved the Italians much political misery and tyranny, and very likely it would have made them a larger and a stronger state than they are today. But if it had been done either by the earlier Lombard kings or by some of the local nobles at the fall of Charlemagne's empire, Italy would probably have failed of the peculiar glories of her history ; the stimulating rivalries of the little municipal republics in the latter half of the middle ages would have been lacking, and the great results which seem to be in such close dependence upon these would have occurred more slowly, and very possibly in some other part of Europe.
In France the new family which was to take the place of the Carolingian formed its power in the neighborhood of Paris. From an unknown ancestor it rose into prominence very rapidly in the ninth century by the qualities which everywhere gave success in those times. ' Its members were good fighters and were able to protect their dependants. Its lands rapidly increased until they touched the Loire, and it went quickly up the ladder of feudal rank until finally a duchy was formed and the head of the family became duke of the French. No other of the local powers which had formed themselves in France-was as strong as this one, though it was not relatively so much stronger than the *others as the Saxon power was in Germany.
When Charles the Fat was deposed, the first attempt was made to transfer the crown to the new family, and Duke Eudes, or Odo, was made king in 888. But he was recognized only by a small part of France, and a Carolingian king was set up against him. For one hundred years the royal title passed back and forth between the two houses, neither having a secure hold upon it, though during far the larger part of the century the Carolingians were the recognized kings. Finally Duke Hugh the Great added the skill of the statesman and diplomatist to the warrior skill of his ancestors, and greatly strengthened and extended the influence of his house. His son, Hugh Capet, was elected king on the death of the Carolingian Louis V., in 987, and though Charles of Lorraine, who continued the Carolingian line, offered resistance, he was able to gain no general support, and the Capetian family secured final possession of the throne.
In the election of Hugh Capet it is probable that a conscious national feeling a realization of the distinction of race and language--was less directly a factor than in the corresponding revolution in Germany. But the conditions which had been making France different from Germany were the conditions which had undermined the power of the Carolingian family and given the Capetian family its position of superiority, and the substitution of the new family for the old upon the throne made it easy for the resulting differences to intensify and perpetuate themselves. France was becoming thoroughly feudal. It was the native land of the feudal system, and there that system had developed earliest and most completely. This new feudalism was especially strong toward the West. The Capetian was the most powerful of all the feudal families. The Carolingians represented an old power above feudalism. They clung closely to the East, the primitive seat of their power. The revolution in France meant the accession to power of the new and active forces which were to shape the future, in place of the old which had done their work, and one of the most important and direct results of their action, under the native dynasty thus placed in power, was the growth of a national consciousness, from the slight germ which existed at the beginning.
The real power which the first Capetians exercised as kings was, however, very slight. The whole of France was covered with feudal dominions like the duchy of France, some of them as strong, if not stronger, than their own. Normandy, Champagne, Burgundy, and Aquitaine were only the largest of a net-work of local principalities which occupied the whole territory and shut out the king from all direct contact with land or people.
The Capetian duchy of France was the source from which they drew their actual power, and, managed with skill, this was enough to form a solid foundation on which to build a more general authority. The national church, with its influence and its resources, was of enormous aid to them, and it was of no slight assistance to them also that they had on their side the theory of the kingship and of the prerogatives of a strong central government which had come down from the earlier Carolingian days. These were but shadowy prerogatives, and had no more real value than the great feudal lords might be willing to allow them, but they formed a perfectly distinct standard toward which every accession of strength by the Capetians was an advance. The first four generations of the new dynasty did but little more than to secure the hold of their family upon the throne, carefully obtaining the recognition of the son in the father's lifetime; but they lost nothing, and the way was prepared for a steady advance of the royal power from that time on.
In the setting up of these national governments in France and in Germany there are certain features common to both cases which are worthy of notice.
In neither does there seem to have been any strong feeling of attachment to the Carolingian house. How far one may be justified in reasoning from this is doubtful, but it would seem as if there was in both countries at least an unconscious judgment that the Carolingians represented a different condition of things from the one then present, and a desire to choose a royal house which would more perfectly correspond to the new development. Certainly in both countries it was a fatal weakness of that house that it had formed no local power ; that it did not have in its hands immediate domains, a duchy of its own which would have been strongly devoted to it and from which it could have drawn men and resources independent of the great feudal nobles. This was the corner-stone of the success of the Saxon family in Germany and of the Capetians in France. If the Carolingians had been great feudal nobles as well as kings they might possibly have held their own.
The influence of the church in both states, though acting independently, was exactly alike. In both cases, as the power of the Carolingians weakened and the subdivisions of the state became practically independent, and as there was a feeling manifested that a general government was not necessary and that the local governments were really better for the times; in other words, when there was an immediate danger of complete disintegration the church was one of the strongest influences in persuading men to continue the national government, and in effecting the transfer of the state to the new families which could give some promise of re-establishing a strong rule. And the reason in both cases also was the same, the danger which would threaten the general organization of the church if the state should fall apart into entirely separate fragments. In both cases, too, when the transfer had been made, the church, both in means and in influence, was one of the greatest resources of the new monarchy in its struggle to consolidate the state.
In England the various Saxon kingdoms which were established at the time of the conquest had been united early in the ninth century under the supremacy of Wes-sex. At the end of that century the strong energy and wisdom of Alfred a genius equal to Charlemagne's within his narrower kingdom and a character superior to his had laid broad and sound foundations for a national development. The judicial organization of the state was improved ; the military system was strengthened and tested in a long, and in the main successful, war ; the old and conflicting laws were formed into a new and enlarged body of legislation ; and learning and literature were aided and encouraged by the king's own example. But it was a beginning without results.
England lay directly in the way of the Northmen, and their invasion of the island was a veritable settlement like those of the earlier Teutonic invasions. Alfred's successors struggled long, but finally in vain, with the difficulties of the situation, and England was in the end annexed to the Scandinavian empire of Cnut the Great in the first part of the eleventh century. But Northmen and Saxons were not widely separated in race or language, and the blending of the two in a single people was not difficult. The Saxon monarchy, which was re-established in 1042, might easily have developed into the later nation, but another element still was to be added to the complex English character.
The Northmen had made one other permanent settlement besides that in England, in northern France, and had formed a little state there early in the tenth century, the duchy of Normandy, feudally dependent upon the king of France. There they had quickly lost their identity of race and language, and had developed a peculiar and interesting civilization. On the death of Edward the Confessor, the last king of England of the Saxon line, William, the duke of Normandy, asserted a right to the English crown and speedily made it good by force of arms.
With him came a new invasion of foreigners, to be absorbed by a long process into the English people, and a century later, with the accession of the Angevin kings, came another immigration of the same sort. So that even in England, though it had the advantage of the continental states, in its smaller size which rendered the task of a common government easier, a genuine national consciousness was formed only toward the close of the middle ages. But with the accession of William, in 1066, the state took on its final form, as had the German and the French states in the preceding century.
This new government presents, however, at its beginning a marked contrast to those of the other two countries ; the feudal system had not grown up in England under the Saxon kings as it had on the continent. The German elements, which were one of the sources of feudalism, had developed there into institutions which may rightly be called feudal, but the essential features of the historical feudal system were lacking, and no powerful baronage had been formed standing between the English people and the state, and exercising by right or by usurpation the royal prerogatives. In so far as William introduced the continental feudal system into England he seems to have taken pains to avoid the worst dangers with which it threatened the government. Adopting a practice which had been universal in the early days of feudalism, and which had not fallen out of use in the duchy of Normandy, he claimed the superior allegiance, enforced by an oath, of the vassals of every lord. The lands which he granted to his followers he scattered about in such a way that they could not be consolidated into little states within the state, and with his gifts of land he did not grant away royal prerogatives. He retained also, as the direct royal domains, much larger territories than he granted to any vassal.
The results were decisive. Feudalism was gradually introduced into England, and after a time, in the legal theory, the feudal principles came to control all land-holding, but there never grew up in England any such political system as on the continent. The king was at the very outset the strongest power in the state, and the period of legal absolute monarchy in English history is that of her Norman and first Angevin kings.
In Spain, as in Italy, there was nothing corresponding to a national government, but for a different reason. The old German kingdom of the Visigoths had fallen in the eighth century before the Saracen invasion. In the ninth century a row of Christian states began to form across the northern edge of the country, partly from the refugees who had saved themselves in the mountains of the northwest from submission to the Arabs and partly from the Frankish counties in Charlemagne's Spanish territory. By the middle of the eleventh century the kingdoms of Leon, Castile, Navarre, Aragon, and Barcelona had taken shape, and had begun the double process of pushing the Arabs further and further toward the south and of uniting with one another. Both these processes go on through all the remainder of medieval history, and, indeed, it is a fact which had important political consequences in modern history that the people of Spain were not united in a common national feeling even at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
We have, then, as the outcome of this period, a foundation laid for the later national development in the leading countries of Europe, each with its own peculiar features.
If we will look at the situation in each of the three great states England, France, and Germany just after the opening of modern history, say in the seventeenth century, and compare it with the state of things that existed in the eleventh century, we shall readily find the key to the inner political history of these countries during the intervening centuries.
In Germany, at the beginning of the eleventh century, the royal power, if not absolute or undisputed, was strong. The most essential steps had been taken toward consolidating the state and destroying the tendencies toward local independence, and there was every promise that the process would go on to complete success. In the seventeenth century we find the central power reduced to a mere name, with none of the characteristics whatever of a national government, and the territory occupied by the nation split up into hundreds of little states, to all intents and purposes entirely independent. In the time between these two dates something must have greatly weakened the royal power and allowed the disruptive forces, which the Saxon kings had apparently overcome, to act again and to bring about their natural results, results much more extreme indeed and more disastrous for the nation than those which were threatened at the beginning by the revival of the old tribal spirit.
In France, in the eleventh century, the royal power was hardly more than a mere theory, and the country was broken up into numerous fragments which were practically almost as independent as those of modern Germany. In the France of the seventeenth century we find, on the other hand, an almost ideal centralization. Every function of the general government, and almost every one of local government is exercised by Louis XIV., and scarcely a vestige is left of any constitutional check upon his irresponsible will. The intervening history must have been one of continuous centralization. The kings must have been able to destroy completely the feudal system, to force the nobles into obedience, and to recover without exception the prerogatives which they had usurped. French history must be the history of the formation of a real national government out of a feudal chaos.
When we examine English history in the seventeenth century we find the kings engaged in a final struggle to preserve the last relics of that absolutism which the Norman kings had exercised without a check, and that century does not close until they had virtually confessed defeat, and the real management of the state had passed into the hands of a legislative assembly representing both nobles and people an assembly strongly aristocratic in its spirit and composition, but started already, as is plainly to be seen, in the direction of a more democratic government. English domestic history during these centuries must have been very different from either French or German. In some way a virtual alliance must have been brought about between the nobles so much weaker at the start than the king and the representatives of a strong middle class, and together they must have carried on the work of limiting the royal power and of finding out constitutional checks upon the exercise of the king's prerogatives which should gradually transfer the real control of affairs to themselves.
The later medieval history of Germany is the history of the destruction of a promising national organization ; of France, the history of the construction of a complete absolutism ; of England, the history of the formation of a constitutionally limited monarchy.
The movement toward nation formation which follows the breaking up of Charlemagne's empire was only a slight and vaguely conscious beginning, but it was a beginning clearly and definitely, and of the very greatest interest. The importance of the step in advance which was taken when the nation came finally into conscious existence, as a result of the movement which begins at this time, cannot be stated in words nor in any way measured. The whole of civilization was lifted at once by that step to a higher plane. As in the opening age of civilization of which history tells us anything not by inference backward but by record the unit was the family, and later the tribe was formed by a union of families, and later still the city state by a coalition of tribes, and all ancient history centred about the strife of city state with city state, until one such city had grown into a great empire in which all city and race lines were obliterated in one vast unity which was neither city state nor yet nation, so by the end of the middle ages another stage in this line of progress was reached, and in modern times the unit of all political and public life and the acting force in what we call " international " politics has been the nation not the state, nor the government, but the living organism which expresses itself through the state a higher organism than any which had existed in the classic world. ' It may be characterized as a community of persons having a common language and race feeling, common interests, aspirations, and history, and occupying a definite territory in which city and country are indistinguishably blended, and feeling itself a fully independent and equal member of a larger system of things, once Christendom, now perhaps the whole world. One of the most profound forces of modern times made its way into history with the gradual formation of this idea, and the broadening of all thought and the stimulating of all activities which accompanied it.