HotFreeBooks.com
Medieval Europe
by H. W. C. Davis
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But if the Church as a scheme of government was a doubtful blessing to those who gave her their allegiance, the Church as a home of spiritual life was invested with a grandeur and a charm which were and are apparent, even to spectators standing at the outer verge of her domain. We may compare the religion of the Middle Ages to an alpine range, on the lower slopes of which the explorer finds himself entangled in the mire and undergrowth of pathless thickets, oppressed by a still and stifling atmosphere, shut off from any view of the sky above or the pleasant plains beneath. Ascending through this sheltered and ignoble wilderness, he comes to free and windswept pastures, to the white solitude of virgin snowfields, to brooding glens and soaring peaks robed in the light or darkness of a mystery which he is as little able to define as to resist. Far below him, illimitably vast and yet infinitely little, extends the prospect of the lower levels which, whether beautiful or sordid, are too remote to seem a part of the new world in which he finds himself, and strike his senses only as a foil and a background to the severer hues, the more majestic lines and contours of the snow-capped mountain-ranges. On such heights of moral exaltation the medieval mystics built their tabernacles and sang their Benedicite, calling all nature to bear witness with them that God in His heaven was very near, and all well with a universe which existed only to fulfil His word. It was a noble optimism; and those who embraced it are the truest poets of the Middle Ages, none the less poets because they expressed their high imaginings in life instead of language. Philosophers they neither were nor sought to be; the temperament which feels the mystery of things most keenly is not that which probes into the how and why; but the world of their dreams was at least superior to ours in being founded upon an ever-present and overwhelming reverence for the truth behind the veil. The vision of the mountain-peaks, however clouded, was worth the toil of the ascent; and there was reason in the docility with which the vulgar bowed themselves before the forms and ceremonies and rules of outward conduct which the visible Church prescribed; since they believed that so they might find the way, in this life or a better, to that higher rule of service, exemplified in the finest characters of their experience, which as Scripture said and the saints testified was perfect life and freedom. It is no wonder that they were disposed to go further still; to stake their earthly fortunes and the future of society on the bidding of those among the elect who from time to time descended among them, like Moses from the mountain, with transfigured faces and the message of a new revelation. And if the result was sometimes calamitous or pitiable, there were compensating gains; a matter-of-fact prosperity is not altogether preferable to enlistment in the forlorn hope of idealism. Had medieval society been more consistently secular and sceptical, it might have been more prosperous, more stable, the nursery of more balanced natures and the theatre of more orderly careers. But there would have been the less to learn from the ethical and political conceptions of the age. What appeals to us in the medieval outlook upon life is, first, the idea of mankind as a brotherhood transcending racial and political divisions, united in a common quest for truth, filled with the spirit of mutual charity and mutual helpfulness, and endowed with a higher will and wisdom than that of the individuals who belong to it; secondly, a profound belief in the superiority of right over might, of spirit over matter, of the eternal interests of humanity over the ambitions and the passions of the passing hour. Without Christianity these articles of faith could scarcely have passed into the common heritage of men; and, without the Church, it is in the last degree improbable that Christianity would have survived that age of semi-barbarism in which the foundations of the modern world were laid.



VII

THE MEDIEVAL STATE

Between the years 1100 and 1500 A.D. the state-system of Europe passed through changes amounting in their sum-total to a revolution. But the changes which endured, whether they affected political boundaries or constitutions, came about by slow instalments. At no stage of the development was there any general cataclysm such as had followed the dissolution of the Frankish Empire, and was to follow the advent of Napoleon. New ideas matured slowly in the medieval mind; by the twelfth century the forces making for social stability had grown until they balanced those of disruption; and it was only in the age of the Renaissance that the equilibrium was again destroyed. In the interim the vested interests of property and privilege, of religious and secular authority, presented a firm front to the anarchists and radicals. The Jacquerie in France and Wat Tyler's followers in England, the Albigeois of Languedoc and the Hussites of Bohemia, were overwhelmed by armies of conservatives spontaneously banded together in defence of the established order;—while this spirit prevailed among the ruling classes, there was little fear that a revolution of any kind would be effected by a sudden stroke. As in domestic politics, so too in international relations, these solidly established states were habitually inert, strong in defence, but irresolute and sluggish in attack. The age produced no conqueror to sweep through Europe like a whirlwind, because the implements of conquest on the grand scale had either been destroyed or had not yet come into existence. The peoples of Europe had emerged from the nomadic stage of culture, and they were not yet organised as so many armed camps. The feudal host was hard to mobilise, harder still to keep in the field, and at the best an unmanageable weapon; a standing army of mercenary soldiers would have called for taxation heavier and more regular than any ruler dared to demand, or any people could afford to pay. The wars of the Middle Ages have therefore, with few exceptions, a stamp of futility and pettiness. Ambitious enterprises were foredoomed to failure, and powers apparently annihilated by an invading host recovered strength as soon as it had rolled away. In short, on the European and on the national stage alike, medieval politics meant the eternal recurrence of the same problems and disputes, the eternal repetition of the same palliatives and the same plan of campaign. It is true that political science made more progress than the art of war. But substantial reforms of institutions were effected only in a few exceptional communities—in Sicily under the Normans and Frederic II, in England under Henry II and Edward I, in France under Philip Augustus and his successors. Even in these cases the progress usually consists in elaborating some primitive expedient, in developing some accepted principal to the logical conclusion. The more audacious innovators, a Montfort, an Artevelde, a Frederic II, were tripped up and overthrown as soon as they stepped beyond the circle of conventional ideas. It will therefore suffice for our present purpose to state in the barest outline the leading events of international politics, and the chief advances in the theory of government, which signalised the Middle Ages.

Extensive diplomatic combinations, though continually planned, seldom came to the birth and very rarely led to any notable result. The existence of some common interests was recognised; no power viewed with indifference any movement threatening the existence of the Papacy, which represented religious unity, or of the crusading principalities which formed the outer bulwark of Western Christendom; the principle of the Balance of Power, though not yet crystallised into a dogma, was so far understood that the inordinate growth of any single power alarmed the rest, even though they stood in no imminent danger of absorption. Therefore whenever the Empire gained the upper hand over the Church, whenever a new horde of Asiatics appeared on the horizon, whenever France seemed about to become a province of England, or Italy a province of France, the alarm was sounded by the publicists, and there ensued a general interchange of views between the monarchies; treaty was piled on treaty, alliance parried with alliance, as industriously as at any time in modern history. But the peoples seldom moved, and the agitation of the ruling classes effervesced in words. It is altogether exceptional to find two of the greater states uniting for the humiliation of a third, as England and the Empire united against Philip Augustus of France. Few medieval battles were so far-reaching in their consequences as Bouvines (1214), to which England owes her Magna Carta, Germany the magnificent and stormy autumn of the Hohenstauffen dynasty, France the consolidation of her long-divided provinces under an absolutist monarchy.

At ordinary times there were in medieval Europe two groups of states with separate interests and types of polity. They were divided from one another by a broad belt of debatable territory, extending from Holland to the coast of Provence—the northern lands of the Carolingian Middle Kingdom.

To the west lay the monarchies of the Iberian peninsula, of France, England, and Scotland; connected by their interest in the trade of the Atlantic seaboard, by a common civilisation in which the best elements were of French origin, but most of all by their preoccupation with the political questions arising out of England's claim to a good half of the territory of France. The rivalry of these two great powers, which dated in a rudimentary form from the Norman Conquest of England, became acute when Henry II, heir in his mother's right to England and Normandy, in that of his father to Anjou and Touraine, married Eleanor the duchess of Aquitaine and the divorced wife of Louis VII (1152). Developing from one stage to another, it alternately made and unmade the fortunes of either nation for four hundred years, until Charles VII of France brought his wars of reconquest to a triumphant conclusion by crushing, in Guyenne, the last remnants of the English garrison and of the party which clung to the English allegiance (1453). In the interval there had been sharp vicissitudes of failure and success: the expulsion of the English by Philip Augustus from Normandy, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou; the capture of Calais and recovery of Aquitaine by Edward III and the Black Prince; the almost complete undoing of their work by Charles V and Bertrand Duguesclin; the union of the French and English crowns (1420), resulting from the victories of Henry V and the murderous feud of the Burgundian and Armagnac factions; the apparition of Jeanne d'Arc as the prophetess of French nationalism, and the regeneration of the French monarchy by a new race of scientific statesmen. All the West had been shaken by this secular duel. For Scotland it spelled independence, for Navarre the loss of independence; in Castile it set on the throne the new dynasty of Trastamare; to Aragon the result was the appearance of a new rival in Mediterranean commerce, the frustration of hopes which had centred round Provence and Languedoc, the imperilling of others which were fixed on Italy. With each successive triumph of French over English arms, the influence of France penetrated farther to the south and east; and by the marriages or military successes of princes of the French blood-royal, new territories were joined to the sphere of the western nations. Under St. Louis the counties of Toulouse and Provence became French appanages; his brother, Charles of Anjou, added to Provence the derelict kingdom of Naples; and Sicily only escaped from the rule of the Angevins by submission to the House of Aragon. After the victories of Charles V the Valois dukes of Burgundy, supported by the influence now of France and now of England, sketched the outlines of a new Middle Kingdom, stretching from the Jura to the Zuyder Zee, and chiefly composed of lands which had hitherto been attached to the Empire.



The eastern group of nations is widely different in character. It includes a greater number of states, even if we omit from the reckoning the great German principalities which were, by the end of the Middle Ages, all but sovereign powers; and it is less homogeneous in culture. The Empire forms the centre of the group, and round the Empire the minor states are grouped like satellites: on the west, Savoy and Provence; south of the Alps, Venice, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Sicily— the last-named independent until 1194, and the private property of the Hohenstauffen from that date till 1268; on the east the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia and Poland, and the Russian principalities; on the north the three Scandinavian powers. Large as it is, this group only includes one state of the first rank; for the Norman kingdom, though a masterpiece of constructive statesmanship, was important in European politics rather as a second and a makeweight than as a principal, and would have been more admired than feared but for the accidents which made the Norman alliance so valuable to the Holy See. When Naples and Sicily were held by German Emperors, the Empire towered like a colossus above the states of Scandinavia, the Slav and the Magyar. But even without this support, the Empire might have continued to dominate two- thirds of Europe, if the imperial resources had not been swallowed up by the wars of Italy, and if the Emperors who came after the interregnum had given the national interest priority over those of their own families. In fact, however, the mischief of the Mezentian union between Italy and Germany survived their separation; as in western so in central Europe, the course of political development was largely determined by the persistent and disastrous efforts of a Teutonic to absorb a Latin nationality. But whereas the English attacks on France were directly responsible for the growth of a French national state, the failure of Germany left Italy but half emancipated from the foreigner, and more disintegrated than she had been at any period in the past. And whereas England, by her failure, was reduced for a while to a secondary rank among the nations, the purely German Empire of the fifteenth century was still the leading power east of the Rhine. This was partly the result of calamities to neighbouring nations which could neither be foreseen or obviated. While Western Europe was shielded, in the later Middle Ages, from the inroads of alien races, Eastern Europe felt the impact of the last migratory movements emanating from Central Asia and the Moslem lands. In the thirteenth century the advance guards of the Mongol Empire destroyed the medieval kingdom of Poland, and reduced the Russian princes to dependence upon the rulers of the Golden Horde. In the fifteenth, the advance of the Turks along the Danube completed the ruin of the Magyar state, already weakened by the feuds of aristocratic factions. But, apart from these favourable circumstances, the resources of Germany were irresistible when they could be concentrated. Twice after the Great Interregnum the integrity of the Empire was threatened by the Bohemian kingdom. On the first occasion, when Ottocar II had extended his power into the German lands between Bohemia and the Adriatic, he was overthrown by Rudolf of Hapsburg at the battle of the Marchfeld (1278); and a new Hapsburg principality was formed out of the reconquered lands to guard the south-east frontier against future incursions of Czech or Magyar. On the second, when the Hussite levies carried their devastations and their propaganda into all the neighbouring provinces of the Empire (1424-1434), crusade after crusade was launched against Bohemia until the heretics, uniformly victorious in the field, were worn out by the strain of their exertions against superior numbers, and all the more moderate spirits recognised that such triumphs must end in the ruin and depopulation of Bohemia. The case was the same in the Baltic, where the struggle with Danish ambitions was left to the princes and the free towns. Waldemar II (1202-1241), who had planned to revive the Scandinavian Empire of the great Canute, the conqueror of England, saw his ambitious edifice crumble to pieces while it was still in the making; even the Union of Kalmar (1397), by which the crowns of Norway and Sweden and Denmark were vested in a single dynasty, could not save the rich prize of the Baltic trade from falling into German hands. Germany, even when ill-governed and a prey to the ambitions of provincial dynasties, was still grande chose et terrible, as more than one political adventurer learned to his cost. The energy, the intelligence and the national spirit of a great people made good all the errors of statesmen and all the defects of institutions.



Late in the fifteenth century the Germans were mortified to discover that, although a nation, they had not become a state. They found that the centre of political power had shifted westward, that the destinies of Europe were now controlled by the French, the English and the Spaniards. These nations had perfected a new form of autocracy, more vigorous, more workmanlike in structure, than any medieval form of government. Germany in the meanwhile had clung to all that was worst and feeblest in the old order; her monarchy, and the institutions connected with it, had been reduced to impotence. The same process of decay had operated in the minor states of the eastern group. In Scandinavia, in Hungary, in the Slavonic lands, the tree of royal power was enveloped and strangled by the undergrowth of a bastard feudalism, by the territorial power of aristocracies which, under cover of administrative titles, converted whole provinces into family estates and claimed over their tenants the divine right of unlimited and irresponsible sovereignty. To investigate all the reasons for the political backwardness of these eastern peoples would carry us far afield. But one reason lies on the surface. Outside the free towns they had produced no middle class; and their towns were neither numerous nor wealthy enough to be important in national politics. They were not even represented in the national assemblies. In consequence the sovereigns of these states were obliged to govern by the help of aristocratic factions; to purchase recognition by the grant of larger and larger privileges; and for the sake of power to strip themselves of the resources which alone could give their power any meaning. But good government in the Middle Ages was only another name for a public-spirited and powerful monarchy. Such monarchies existed in the western states; they rested upon the shoulders of a middle class of small landowners and wealthy merchants, too weak to defend themselves in a state of nature, a war of all against all, but collectively strong enough to overawe the forces of anarchy.

It may seem strange that this class, which desired strong government for purely practical and material reasons, should uniformly have accepted hereditary kingship as the one form of government practicable in a large community. Even where there was the warrant of tradition for recourse to free election, the better governed states preferred that the supreme power should pass automatically from father to son. The explanation is to be found in the motives which prompted the Athenians, under widely different circumstances, to choose their magistrates by lot. The grand danger, to be avoided at all costs, was that a disputed succession would leave the daily work of government in abeyance and open the door for destructive party-conflicts. If continuity and stability of government were assured, all would go well. The work of a ruler was not supposed to demand exceptional abilities; he existed to do justice, to secure every man in the possession of his own, to apply the law without respect of persons. For these purposes a high sense of duty was the main requisite. The wisest heads of the community would be at the king's service for the asking; he could hardly go wrong if he heard attentively and weighed impartially the counsel which they had to offer. Admitting that he would be all the more efficient for possessing some practical capacity, some experience of great affairs, was it not probable that a man of average intelligence, who had been trained from his youth to fill the kingly office, would acquit himself better than some self-made adventurer of genius, who had paid more attention to the arts of winning place and popularity than to the work that would be thrown upon him when he reached the goal of his ambition? When we further recollect that hereditary kingship was sanctioned by use and wont, was the most intelligible symbol of national unity, and possessed as of right all the prerogatives which were necessary for effective government, it is no wonder that even those to whom doctrines of popular sovereignty and a social contract were perfectly familiar acquiesced contentedly in a form of government which the modern world regards as unreasonable and essentially precarious.

But a monarchy, however energetic, however public-spirited, was powerless until based on the firm foundations of an organised executive, an expert judicature, and an assembly representative in fact if not in form. No medieval state was so uniformly fortunate as Germany in finding kings of exceptional character and talent. Yet Germany, from the beginning to the end of the Middle Ages, was badly governed. This was not due solely to the circumstance that the German monarchy was in principle elective. It is true that the German crown was often purchased by ill-advised concessions; but a greater source of weakness was the inability of the Emperors to make the most of the prerogatives which they retained, and which the nation desired that they should exercise. Imperial justice was dilatory and inefficient because the imperial law court followed the Emperor; because the professional was liable to be overruled by the feudal element among the judges; because the rules of procedure were uncertain and the decisions based not upon a scientific jurisprudence but on provincial custom. The Diet of the Empire was weak, both in deliberation and as a legislature; because the towns and the lesser nobility had no respect for resolutions in framing which they had not been consulted. The executive was necessarily inefficient or unpopular; because the highest offices were claimed as a right by princes who, if laymen, owed their rank to the accident of birth or, if ecclesiastics, could only be good servants of the State by becoming unworthy servants of the Church. The Emperor who confided in his natural counsellors was ill-served; and if he relied upon new men, selected solely for their loyalty and qualifications, he incurred the reproach of tyranny or submission to unworthy favourites. The evils thus rooted in the German constitution had existed at an earlier date in France and England. To eradicate them was the object of the constitutional changes devised by the Plantagenets in England, by the later Capetian kings in France. And in essentials there is a strong likeness between the work of the two dynasties. But in England the policy of construction was earlier adopted, proceeded more rapidly, and produced an edifice which was more durable because established on a broader basis.

The first stage of the policy was to organise the administration of those parts of each kingdom which, not having been absorbed in privileged fiefs, were still subject to the royal justice and contributory to the royal revenue. Owing to the foresight of William the Conqueror, there were few such fiefs in England; only in two palatine earldoms (Durham and Cheshire), on the Welsh and northern borders, and on the lands of a few prelates, was the king permanently cut off from immediate contact with the subject population. With these exceptions the face of England was divided into shires, and administered by sheriffs who were nominees of the Crown, dismissable at pleasure. The shires again were divided into hundreds governed under the sheriff by subordinate officials. But for the most important duties of executive routine the sheriff alone was responsible; he collected the revenue, he led the militia, he organised the Watch and Ward and Hue and Cry which were the medieval equivalents for a constabulary; finally, he presided over the shire moot in which the freeholders gathered at stated intervals to declare justice and receive it. The shires were periodically visited by Justices in Eyre (analogous to the Frankish missi) who heard complaints against the sheriff, inspected his administration, tried criminals, and heard those civil suits (particularly cases of freehold) which were deemed sufficiently important to be reserved for their decision. These itinerant commissioners were selected from the staff of the royal law court (Curia Regis), a tribunal which, in the thirteenth century, was subdivided into the three Courts of Common Law and acquired a fixed domicile at Westminster. The shire courts and the royal court were alike bound by the statute-law, so far as it extended; but, in the larger half of their work, they had no guides save the local custom, as expounded by the good men of the shire court, and the decisions recorded on the rolls of the royal court. From the latter source was derived the English Common Law, a system of precedents which, in spite of curious subtleties and technicalities, remains the most striking monument of medieval jurisprudence. In and after the fourteenth century it was supplemented by Equity, the law of the Chancellor's court, to which those suitors might repair whose grievances could not be remedied at Common Law, but were held worthy of special redress by the king in his character of a patron and protector of the defenceless. Lastly, on the fiscal side, the work of the sheriffs and of the judges was supervised by the Exchequer, a chamber of audit and receipt, to which the sheriffs rendered a half-yearly statement, and in which were prepared the articles of inquiry for the itinerant justices. Originally a branch of the Curia Regis and a tribunal as well as a treasury, the Exchequer always remains in close connection with the judicial system, since one of the three Courts of Common Law is primarily concerned with suits which affect the royal revenue. Such was the English scheme of administration, and mutatis mutandis it was reproduced in France. Here the royal demesne, small in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was enormously enlarged by the annexations of Philip Augustus and the later Capets, who brought under their immediate control the larger part of the Angevin inheritance, the great fiefs of Toulouse and Champagne, and many smaller territories. To provide for the government of these acquisitions, there was built up, in the course of the thirteenth century, an administrative hierarchy consisting of provosts, who correspond to the bailiffs of English hundreds, of baillis and senechaux who resemble the English sheriffs, of enqueteurs who perambulate the demesne making inspections and holding sessions in the same manner as the English Justices in Eyre. All these functionaries are controlled, from the time of St. Louis, by the Chambre des Comptes and the Parlement, the one a fiscal department, the other a supreme court of first instance and appeal. Within the Parlement there is a distinction between the Courts of Common Law and the Chambre des Reqeutes which deals with petitions by the rules of Equity.

The vices of both systems were the same. The local officials were too powerful within their respective spheres; neither inspectors nor royal courts proved adequate as safeguards against corruption and abuses of authority, which were the more frequent because the vicious expedients of farming and selling offices had become an established practice. Otherwise the English system was superior to that of France, particularly in making use for certain purposes of local representatives as an additional check upon the servants of the Crown. The English shire was in fact as well as in law a community with a true corporate character (communitas), and possessed a public assembly which was a law court and a local parliament in one. Though the ordinary suitor counted for little, the secondary landowners, united by ties of local sentiment and personal relationship, took a lively interest and an active share in the business of the shire court, upholding the local custom against sheriffs and judges, serving as jurors, as assessors of taxes, as guardians of the peace, and (from the fourteenth century) as petty magistrates. Whether elected by their fellows or the nominees of the Crown, these functionaries were unpaid, and regarded themselves as the defenders of local liberty against official usurpations. In France the district of the bailli, and still more that of his subordinate the prevot, was an arbitrary creation, without natural unity or corporate sentiment; there was therefore no organised resistance to executive authority, and no reason why the Crown should court the goodwill of the landed gentry. In the lower grades of the Plantagenet system a powerful middle class served a political apprenticeship; under the Capets all power and responsibility were jealously reserved to the professional administrator. In England the next step in constitutional development, the addition to the national assembly of a Third Estate, was brilliantly successful, since the House of Commons was chiefly recruited from families which had long been active partners in local administration. In France the Third Estate, though constantly summoned in the fourteenth century, proved itself politically impotent.

Both in France and in England (after 1066) the national assembly began as a feudal council, composed of the prelates and barons who held their lands and dignities directly from the Crown. But that of France was, before the twelfth century, seldom convened, sparsely attended, and generally ignored by the greater feudatories, a conference of partisans rather than a parliament. In England the Great Council of the Norman dynasty, inheriting the prestige and the claims of the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot, held from the first a more respectable position. Even a William I or a Henry II scrupulously adhered to the principle of consulting his magnates on projects of legislation or taxation; under the sons and grandson of Henry II the pretensions of the assembly were enlarged and more pertinaciously asserted. The difficulties of the Crown were the opportunity of Church and Baronage. The Great Council now claimed to appoint and dismiss the royal ministers; to withhold pecuniary aid and military service until grievances had been redressed; to limit the prerogative, and even to put it in commission when it was habitually abused. In fact the English nobility of this period, thwarted as individuals in their ambitions of territorial power, found in their collective capacity, as members of the opposition in the Council, a new field of enterprise and self-aggrandisement. In France there was no such parliamentary movement, because the fundamental presupposition of success was wanting; because it was hopeless to appeal to public opinion, against a successful and venerated monarchy, in the name of an assembly which had never commanded popular respect. Under these circumstances it was natural that very different consequences should ensue in the two countries, when the reformation of their national assemblies was taken in hand by Edward I and his contemporary, Philippe le Bel. The problem before the two sovereigns was the same—to create an assembly which should be recognised as competent to tax the nation. The solutions which they adopted were closely alike; representatives of the free towns were brought into the Etats Generaux, of free towns and shires into the English Parliament; in each case a Third Estate was grafted upon a feudal council. But the products of the two experiments were different in temper and in destiny. The States General, practically a new creation, neither knew what powers to claim or how to vindicate them. They turned the power of the purse to little or no account; they discredited themselves in the eyes of the nation by giving proofs of feebleness and indecision in the first great crisis with which they were called to deal, the interregnum of anarchy and conspiracy that ensued upon the capture of King John at Poitiers (1356). The result was that the States General, occasionally summoned to endorse the policy or register the decrees of the monarchy, remained an ornamental feature of the French constitution. In England, on the other hand, the Commons accepted the position of auxiliaries to the superior Estates in their contests with the Crown; and the new Parliament pursued the aims and the tactics of the old Great Council, with all the advantages conferred by an exclusive right to grant taxation. For more than two hundred years it was a popular assembly in form and in pretension alone. The most active members of the Lower House were drawn from the lower ranks of the territorial aristocracy; and the Commons were bold in their demands only when they could attack the prerogative behind the shield of a faction quartered in the House of Lords. But the alliance of the Houses transformed the character of English politics. Before Parliament had been in existence for two centuries, it had deposed five kings and conferred a legal title upon three new dynasties; it had indicated to posterity the lines upon which an absolutism could be fought and ruined without civil war; and it had proved that the representative element in the constitution might overrule both monarchy and aristocracy, if it had the courage to carry accepted principles to their logical conclusion.

Even in England a medieval Parliament was scarcely a legislature in our sense of the word. Legislation of a permanent and general kind was an occasional expedient. New laws were usually made in answer to the petitions of the Estates; but the laws were framed by the King and the Crown lawyers, and often took a form which by no means expressed the desires of the petitioners. The most important changes in the law of the land were not made, but grew, through the accumulated effect of judicial decisions. The chief function of Parliaments, after the voting of supplies, was to criticise and to complain; to indicate the shortcomings of a policy which they had not helped to make. Except as the guardians of individual liberty they cannot be said to have made medieval government more scientific or efficient. In the fifteenth century the English Commons criticised the government of the Lancastrian dynasty with the utmost freedom; but it was left for Yorkist and Tudor despots to diagnose aright the maladies of the body politic. Englishmen and Frenchmen alike were well advised when, at the close of the Middle Ages, they committed the task of national reconstruction to sovereigns who ignored or circumvented parliamentary institutions. A parliament was admirable as a check or a balance, as a symbol of popular sovereignty, as a school of political intelligence. But no parliament that had been brought together in any medieval state was fitted to take the lead in shaping policy, or in reforming governmental institutions.



VIII

THE EXPANSION OF EUROPE—THE CRUSADES

Neither the internal development of the medieval state nor the international politics of medieval Europe can be explained without constant reference to class distinctions. First, there is a sharp line dividing each state horizontally and marking off the privileged few from the unprivileged many, the rulers from the ruled. Below the line are the traders, artisans, and cultivators of the soil; above it the landlords, the officeholders, and the clergy. If an industrial community, here and there a Milan or a Ghent, succeeds in asserting political independence, the phenomenon is regarded as anomalous and revolutionary; still graver is the head-shaking when mere peasants, like the Swiss, throw off what is called their natural allegiance. And such cases of successful rebellion are rare. It is true that in England, in France, and in the Spanish kingdoms there are privileged towns which receive the right of representation in national assemblies; but this concession to the power of the purse is strictly limited; the spokesmen of the burgesses are not invited to express opinions until asked for subsidies or military aid. Government is the affair of the King and the privileged classes. But again there is a division within the privileged classes, a vertical line of cleavage between the various grades of the lay and clerical aristocracies. The prelate and the baron, the knight and the priest, harmonious enough when it is a question of teaching the unprivileged their place, are rivals for social influence and political power, are committed to conflicting theories of life. The ecclesiastic, enrolled in an order which is recruited from every social grade, makes light of secular rank and titles; he claims precedence over every layman; he holds that it is the business of the Church to command, of princes to obey. The lay feudatory, born into a hereditary caste of soldiers, regards war as the highest vocation for a man of honour, is impatient of priestly arrogance, and believes in his heart that the Church ought not to meddle with politics. It would be a mistake to think of the two privileged classes as always at strife with one another and their social inferiors. But the great wars of Pope and Emperor, the fourteenth-century revolts of French and English peasants, are not events which come suddenly and unexpectedly; each such outbreak is like the eruption of a volcano, a symptom of subterranean forces continually in conflict. The state of peace in medieval society was a state of tension; equilibrium meant the unstable balance of centralising and centrifugal forces. And this was one reason why wars, condemned in the abstract by the Church, were frequently regarded with favour by sober statesmen and by idealists. In more ways than one a successful war might serve to heal or salve the feuds of rival classes. It offered an outlet for the restless and anarchic energies of feudalism; sometimes it ended in conquests with which the landless could be permanently endowed. It might offer new markets to the merchant, a field of emigration to the peasant, a new sphere of influence to the national clergy. Better still, it might evoke common sentiments of patriotism or religion, and create in all classes the consciousness of obligations superior to merely selfish interests.

Such statecraft may perhaps seem rude and barbarous to us. The idea of a nation as a system of classes, and of national unity as a condition only to be realised when all classes combine for some purpose extraneous to the everyday life of the nation, is foreign to our thought. We believe that by making war upon class privileges we have given to the State a less divided and more organic character. We maintain that the State exists to realise an immanent ideal, which we express by some such formula as "the greatest good of the greatest number." But we are still so far from a reconciliation of facts with theories that we must hesitate before utterly condemning the medieval attitude towards war. In place of classes we have interests, which are hard to unite and often at open variance. Our statesmen balance one interest against another, and consider war legitimate when it offers great advantages to the interests most worth conciliating. Nor have we yet succeeded in giving to the average citizen so elevated a conception of the purpose for which the State exists that he can think of national policy as something different from national selfishness. It is easier to criticise the enthusiasts who urged medieval nations to undertake "some work of noble note," remote from daily routine, than it is to discover and to preach a nobler enterprise on behalf of a less visionary ideal. It helps us to understand, though it does not compel us to accept, the medieval theory, when we find modern poets and preachers glorifying war as a school of patriotism or of national character.

Wars of conquest were less frequent in the Middle Ages than we might expect, and were usually waged on a small scale. Their comparative infrequency, in an age of militarism, must be explained by reference both to current morality and to economic conditions. For an attack upon a Christian power it was necessary that some just cause should be alleged. Public opinion, educated by the Church to regard Western Christendom as a single commonwealth, demanded that some respect should be shown to the ordinary moral code, even in international relations. Furthermore the medieval state, loosely knit together and bristling with isolated fortresses, showed in defeat the tenacious vitality of the lower organisms, and could not be entirely reduced without an expenditure, on the invader's part, which the methods of medieval state-finance were powerless to meet. Edward I failed to conquer the petty kingdom of Scotland; and the French provinces which were ceded to Edward III escaped from his grasp in a few years. The profitable wars were border wars, waged against the disunited tribes of Eastern Europe, or the decadent Moslem states of the Mediterranean. And such wars were of common occurrence, sometimes undertaken by the nationalities most favourably situated for the purpose, sometimes by self-expatriated emigrants in search of a new home.

Thanks to the teaching of the Church, a large proportion of the border wars were converted into Crusades for the propagation of the faith or the extermination of the unbeliever or the defence of holy places. Often enough the religious motive was introduced as an afterthought, and gave a thin veil of respectability to operations which it would otherwise have been difficult to excuse. In some cases, however, those who enlisted as the soldiers of the Church were sacrificing their material interests for the good, as they supposed, of their own souls and the Christian commonwealth. There was nothing essentially Christian in this spirit of self-devotion; it had long been epidemic in the Mohammedan world, and accounts for the most successful encroachments of Islam upon Europe and the Eastern Empire. The impulse affected Western Christendom for a relatively short period of time, only once or twice producing movements at all commensurable with those which had emanated from Arabia, Asia Minor, and Africa, and leading to no conquests that can rank in magnitude with the caliphates of Bagdad, Cordova, and Cairo. But the Christian Crusade is in one sense more remarkable than the Mohammedan Jehad. Western Europe had long ago emerged from the nomadic stage, and even the ruling classes of Western Christendom, cosmopolitan as they may seem to us, were attached to their native soil by many ties. If the upheaval was smaller in the West than in the East, the material to be set in motion was more stubborn and inert, the prizes to be held before the eyes of the believer were more impalpable and dubious. There were ventures near at hand for which the Church could find volunteers without the slightest difficulty. But those which she was more particularly bent on forwarding were distant, hazardous, and irksome; the majority of the men who went on her great Crusades had no prospect of any temporal advantage. In the end those enterprises to which she gave her special countenance proved the least successful. It was not in the Eastern Mediterranean but in Spain, in Lower Italy, and in Central Europe, that the frontiers of Western Christendom were permanently advanced. For the historian, however, the failures have an interest not inferior to that of the more productive enterprises.

The age of border wars and border colonies begins long before the appearance of a true crusading spirit. In German history the movement of expansion dates from Henry the Fowler; when he captured Brandeburg (928) and annexed the heathen tribes between the Elbe and Oder, he inaugurated a policy of settlement and colonisation which the German Margraves of those regions were to pursue, slowly and methodically for more than two hundred years. In its later stages the policy was sometimes assisted by Crusaders; from the first it made many converts to Christianity, and was furthered by the foundation of frontier sees and churches subject to the German archbishops of Hamburg and Magdeburg. But the men who directed the policy were purely secular and selfish. The greatest of them, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony from 1142 to 1180, and Albert the Bear, Margrave of Brandenburg from 1134 to 1170, concentrated their energies upon the development and extension of their principalities, exploited the Slavs, plotted against one another and their Christian neighbours, neglected national interests, and frankly made the Church the instrument of their ambitions. Yet in the craft of state-building they showed exceptional sagacity, enlisting as their allies the traders of the Baltic, the peasants of North Germany and the Low Countries. Under their rule and that of their most successful imitators, the Teutonic Knights in Prussia, cities such as Lubeck (founded 1143) and Dantsic (colonised 1308) became centres of German trade and culture; while the open country in the basins of the Elbe and Oder was covered with newly settled villages of German immigrants. The effects of this colonisation have extended far beyond the lands immediately affected and the limits of medieval history. The new colonies laid the foundations of modern Prussia and modern Saxony. To their existence is due the connection of Poland and Bohemia with the state system of medieval Europe, and the consequent division of the Slavonic peoples into a western and an eastern group; the westward expansion of the Russian Empire was forestalled and prevented by these early pioneers of German and of Roman influence. Only less important was the German advance along the Danube, from the river Inn to Vienna and the Hungarian frontier, which was mainly directed by successive heads of the family of Babenberg (971-1246), first as Margraves and afterwards as Dukes of Austria. The Hapsburg power, like that of the Hohenzollerns, is partly an inheritance from medieval frontiersmen who drove a German wedge into the heart of a Slavonic territory.

The history of these German colonies often reminds us how naturally such business ventures came to be regarded as a species of crusade. In 1147 a large body of German pilgrims, enlisted for the Second Crusade, were allowed to fulfil their vows by serving against the Slav in the armies of Saxony and Brandenburg. The Babenberg dukes, grown weary of their monotonous work on the Danube, roamed eastward to conquer Egypt or Palestine, westward to exterminate the Albigensians of Languedoc and the infidels in Spain. And when we turn from Germany to the Spanish peninsula, the alliance between religious fervour and commercial enterprise is still more striking. The Christian reconquest of Spain and Portugal began two or three generations before the Council of Clermont; but, from the first, the southward advance against the rulers of Cordova foreshadows the age of the Crusades. In Spain, as in the German marks, the pioneers of Christendom were often ruffianly, and always fought with an eye to the main chance. Among them are mere desperadoes like the Cid Campeador (d. 1099), who serves and betrays alternately the Christian and the Moorish causes, founds a principality at the expense of both religions, but is finally claimed as a hero and a martyr by his native Castile, because he has the good fortune to die in her allegiance. Many conquistadores of more reputable character settled down contentedly amongst a tributary and unconverted Moorish population, whose manners and vices they adopted. But in Spain the racial antipathies of Moors and Christians were always aggravated by religious zeal. Several times it seemed as though Spanish Christianity was in danger of complete extinction. In the tenth century two great rulers of Cordova, Abderrahman III and Al Mansur, drove back the Castilians to the northern mountains and raided the inmost recesses of the Christian territories. Somewhat later the Wild Berber hordes of the Almoravides and the Almohads, crossing from Africa to usurp the Ommeiad dominions and carry on the holy war with greater energy, aroused new fears and provoked in the threatened kingdoms a fanaticism equal to their own. The Spanish Christians appealed for help to their northern neighbours; armies of volunteers from Normandy, from Aquitaine, and from Burgundy, poured over the Myrenees to strike a blow for the Cross against the Crescent, and incidentally to gain rich spoils or found a colony. The movement was early taken under the patronage of Rome. Gregory VII offered papal commissions to the immigrants, on condition that they would hold their conquests as vassals of the Holy See (1073). And thenceforth each new enterprise against the Moors was officially recognised as a service to the Catholic Church.

Still, even in Spain, the tendency was for material ambitions to gain the upper hand. All classes in the Christian kingdoms benefited by the wresting of a new province from the infidel. The nobles received new fiefs; the burghers flocked into the cities evacuated by the Moors, or were encouraged, by large grants of privileges, to build new cities; round the cities clustered communities of peasants, who joyfully exchanged the barren security of the northern uplands for the risks and the prizes of the river valleys. No kings were so popular as those who planned and carried to a successful conclusion these ventures for the common good. One such ruler, James the Great of Aragon, has left us in his memoirs a faithful and instructive account of the use to which he and his subjects turned one of these so-called Crusades. At six years of age he had succeeded to a divided kingdom and the shadow of a royal prerogative. At fourteen he began a hard struggle, for the mastery of his rebellious barons and cities, which lasted five years and earned for him more credit than substantial success. When at length the rebels sued for peace, he was obliged to grant it without exacting compensation; the Crown remained as poor after the victory as before it. A little later he conceived the idea of attacking the Moors in the Balearic Isles, "either to convert them and turn that kingdom to the faith of our Lord, or else to destroy them." He propounded his plan to the Cortes (1229); and in a moment dissension was changed to harmony, civil indifference to loyal enthusiasm. The barons said that to conquer a Saracen kingdom set in the sea would be the greatest deed done by Christians for a hundred years. They would give an aid, they would find contingents, they would serve in person; always on the understanding that each should share in the spoils proportionately to the size of his contingent. The Archbishop of Tarragona, speaking for the clergy, said that now at last his eyes had seen the salvation of the Lord. He could not serve; he was too old for that; but his men and his money were the King's for this sacred undertaking, and he would gladly give a dispensation to any bishop or abbot who would go with the King; always provided that the clerical Crusaders were to share in the booty on the same terms as the laymen. To the same purpose, with the same stipulation, spoke the trading-cities. The expedition was a brilliant success. Majorca was reduced by the efforts of the whole expedition; Minorca capitulated without a struggle; and the Archbishop of Tarragona, by special licence from the King, conquered Ivica for himself. But the Moors were neither extirpated nor converted. Those of Majorca became the tenants of the Crusaders between whom that island was divided. Those of Minorca paid an annual tribute to the King. In both islands they were guaranteed the use of their native customs and religion. Surveying the Crusade many years after it was completed, James expresses the highest satisfaction with the results. From Minorca he receives not only the agreed tribute, but whatever else he chooses to demand. As for Majorca, the Lord has so increased it that it produces twice as much as in the days of Moorish rule.

We are now in a position to understand the complex nature of the motives which animated the preachers, the generals, and the soldiers of the Crusades; for these enterprises are a continuation on a greater scale of the German, Spanish, and Norman wars of conquest.

Like the wars of Spain, the Crusades were suggested by fears of a Mohammedan advance; the signal for the First Crusade was given by the successes of the Seljuk Turks under Alp Arslan and Malik Shah (1071-1092). These uncivilised and fanatical usurpers of the caliphate of Bagdad overran the whole of Asia Minor and of Syria in twenty years; they dealt a heavy blow to the Eastern Empire on the field of Manzikert (1071), and founded in Asia Minor the sultanate of Roum; they established smaller principalities in Syria. The rulers of Constantinople sent urgent appeals for help to the West; and pilgrims returning from the Holy Places complained loudly of the insults and persecutions by which the conquerors manifested their hostility to the Christian faith. Gregory VII, immediately after his election, was moved to plan an expedition for the defence of the Eastern Empire, which he justly regarded as the bulwark of Europe against Islam. He issued a general appeal to the princes of Europe for help and personal service; he even proposed to accompany the relieving force. But Gregory, though not without imagination, lacked the power of firing popular enthusiasm, and aroused mistrust by the admission that he intended using the Crusade in the first instance against the Normans of Lower Italy. Few volunteers were forthcoming, and his own energies were diverted to another channel by the outbreak of the War of Investitures. It was left for Urban II to revive Gregory's project, in another and more popular form, at a moment when Henry IV seemed a beaten and a broken man, and the unity of the Seljuk power had been shattered by the death of Malik Shah. In reality the danger from the Turks was then a thing of the past; but, even if Urban was correctly informed of their weakness, it needed little knowledge of history to warn him that one aggressive movement of Islam only died away to be succeeded by another. Like Gregory, he desired to strengthen the Eastern Empire; but his plan was new—to found a Latin state in Palestine for the defence of Jerusalem and the south-east Mediterranean. As with the First Crusade, so with the Second and the Third; each was a response to new victories of Mohammedan princes. The Second Crusade (1147) was proclaimed in consequence of the fall of Edessa, the north-east outpost of the Latin Kingdom. The Third (1189) was designed to recover Jerusalem and to cripple the sultanate of Egypt, which, under Saladin, seemed on the eve of absorbing not only Syria, but also Asia Minor and the Euphrates valley. The signal failure of an expedition for which armies were raised by the Emperor, the Kings of France and England, and many lesser princes, left the power of Egypt an object of almost superstitious awe. The Fifth Crusade (1217) and the Seventh (1248) expended their best energies in fruitless and disastrous descents on the Nile Delta.

To this view of the Crusades, as a business of high political importance, the best of the laymen who led the Christian armies were sincerely attached. Many others, equally sincere but governed more by sentiment than reason, were moved by the desire to see the Holy Places and secure them as the common property of Christendom. But the most pertinacious and successful of the commanders went eastward, as their kinsmen went across the Elbe or the Alps or the Pyrenees, to carve out for themselves new principalities at the expense of Byzantine or Saracen, it did not matter which. Naturally the sovereign princes who took the Cross do not fall into this category. For them an expedition might be either an adventure, or the grudging fulfilment of a penance, or a bid for the esteem of their subjects; but it was often a conscious sacrifice of self-interest and national interests to a higher duty. However low their motives, it would not have paid them to turn aside from the task enjoined upon them by European opinion. Even Frederic II, the least Christian of Crusaders, who only accomplished his vow to put the Pope his adversary in the wrong, fulfilled his undertaking to the letter before he ventured to return. But a Crusade controlled by men of lower rank tended to be a joint-stock company of freebooters. For every Crusade the Pope was, to a certain point, responsible. He issued the appeal, he tuned the pulpits; he invited contributions from the laity and exacted them from the national churches; he provided for the enforcement by ecclesiastical censures of all Crusading vows. In the choice of leaders, and in the preliminary councils of war, he had a claim to be consulted. One or more of his legates normally accompanied the armies. But, if the generals chose to ignore his suggestions and to override his representatives, after the march had once begun he was powerless. Usually, it is true, his views would appeal to the rank and file, exempt as they were from the temptations presented to their leaders. But the Common soldiers could only leave the host if they had the means of paying for themselves the expenses of the homeward journey. Often they protested against the uses to which their arms were put; but very seldom were they able to enforce a change of policy.



These general statements may be illustrated from the First and Fourth Crusades.

Godfrey of Bouillon and his fellow-leaders, when they passed through Constantinople (1097), did homage to the Emperor Alexius for any lands that they might conquer. The transaction may not have been voluntary; this homage was the price demanded for a safe-conduct through the Greek dominions. But later events proved that the chief Crusaders were resolved not to hold their conquests as fiefs from the Holy See, for which they were nominally fighting. As they drew near to the Holy Land, it became clear that the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre was a subordinate consideration with them. At Tarsus and at Antioch there were fierce disputes between rival claimants to the conquered territories. Baldwin separated from the main army to found a seignory for himself at Edessa. Bohemund remained behind, when Antioch was once assigned to him, for fear that any rival should rob him of his prize. Raymond of Toulouse turned aside to reduce Tripoli, and was with the greatest difficulty constrained to continue the march. The final result of a war in which the loss of men must be reckoned by tens of thousands was the establishment of the four states of Jerusalem, Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli. To extend the boundaries of these colonies, and to consolidate them under the suzerainty of the Crown of Jerusalem, was the work of their rulers for the next eighty years. These princes were esteemed as champions of the Cross; to assist them in the defence of their territories the military orders of the Temple and the Hospital were founded under the sanction of the Church; apart from the great relieving expeditions, such as those of 1101 and 1147 and 1189, annual fleets of soldier-pilgrims arrived to take part in the operations of the year. But there is little to show that either the Kings of Jerusalem or their great vassals ever justified their position by pursuing an unselfish policy. That the dominions which they ruled were imperfectly colonised cannot be made a reproach against them; only for knights and merchants had the Holy Land any attractions. But the inevitable weakness of the Frankish states was aggravated by their feuds and reciprocal ill-faith.

More than a hundred years elapsed before another expedition of this kind started for the East. The Second Crusade, inspired by St. Bernard acting as the half-reluctant spokesman of the Holy See, was ill-organised, ill-directed, and so disastrous a failure that it was followed by a perceptible reaction against the idealistic policy of which it was the outcome. It revealed to Europe the inefficiency of forces raised with more regard to the pious motives than to the efficiency of the recruits, and laid bare the calculating selfishness of the Latin principalities. But the principal leaders, Louis VII of France and the Emperor Conrad II, could not be charged with insincerity. They made gross mistakes, but were faithful to the purpose with which they set out. Similarly in the Third Crusade, though part of the failure can be directly attributed to the national jealousies of the various contingents, and to the quarrels of Richard I with the more important of his colleagues, the recovery of Jerusalem remained from first to last the dominants object of the army. There were cases of petulance, of unnecessary meddling in the squalid disputes of the Latin settlers, of readiness to depart on the first honourable excuse. But there was no disposition to make the pilgrimage a commercial undertaking. It was otherwise in 1203 when the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade set out from Venice, leaving behind them the papal legate and openly defying the injunctions of Innocent III, whose appeal to Christendom was nominally the warrant for their venture.

No kings sailed with them; from the first the movement had been in the hands of turbulent feudatories, inspired by chivalry rather than religion. Their leader, Boniface of Montferrat, the patron of all the troubadours and knights-errant of the South, was a sworn friend of the Pope's worst enemy, Philip of Suabia, the brother and successor of the Emperor Henry VI. Boniface had been elected to the command without the sanction of the Pope; and from an early date was in league with Philip to turn the Crusade against Constantinople. This plan was for a time concealed from the army, in which a majority of the common soldiers were bent upon recovering the Holy Sepulchre. But the nobles, with whom lay the last word, were ready for whatever adventure the course of events might suggest. Their original hope was to conquer Egypt,—an infinitely more tempting prey than Palestine, where the chief fruits of any success would be claimed by the remnants of the standing garrison. To obtain ships from Venice they undertook on her behalf the siege of Zara; their first feat of arms was the conquest of a Christian city, the only offence of which was that it disputed the Venetian supremacy in the Adriatic. At Zara they were invited by Philip's envoys to attack Constantinople, to overthrow the Emperor Alexius III, and to substitute for him another Alexius, son of the deposed Isaac Angelus and brother-in-law to Philip. The proposal received enthusiastic support from the Venetians, whose great commercial interests in the Greek capital had been often assailed by the fanaticism of the city-populace. The Venetians held the key of the situation, since, if they withdrew their transports, the army could neither go forward nor return in safety; and the nobles, who needed little persuasion, were able to convince the more earnest pilgrims that Philip's offer must of necessity be accepted, though Alexius III was on friendly terms with the Pope and had been expected to assist the Crusade. To palliate the flagrant treachery a promise was exacted from the pretender that, when installed as Emperor, he would help in the conquest of Egypt with men, money, and supplies.

On July 17th, 1203, the army entered Constantinople, after a short siege. Alexius III escaped by flight and Alexius IV was installed in his place. Still the Crusaders lingered in a city the outward splendour of which appealed irresistibly to their imagination and their avarice. The winter, they said, was approaching, and their candidate far from secure upon the throne; they would wait for the spring. Before that date, and in spite of their countenance, he had fallen before a nationalist rebellion (January 1204); and the army hailed the opportunity of reuniting the Greek Church to Rome and partitioning the Greek Empire among themselves. An agreement was made with the indispensable Venetians for the election of a Latin Emperor, to be endowed with one-fourth of the provinces; the booty of Constantinople and the remaining lands of the Empire were to be divided equally between the Venetians and the remaining leaders. For the second time Constantinople was carried by storm; a fire destroyed a large part of the city; and the Crusaders completed the devastation by three days of indiscriminate plunder and massacre. Neither the treasures of the churches nor the priceless monuments and statues of the public places were spared. The sum-total of the booty was thought to be equal to all the wealth of Western Europe; but when it came to the official division all that the knights obtained was twenty marks apiece; ten were the portion of a priest, and five of a foot-soldier. The other articles of the treaty, which had been referred for form's sake to the Pope, were executed without awaiting his reply. The Venetian candidate, Count Baldwin of Flanders, was elected to the Empire and received the Asiatic provinces. Boniface of Montferrat obtained, as a solatium, the kingdom of Thessalonica, embracing roughly the modern provinces of Thessaly and Macedonia; his followers were allowed to establish themselves by degrees in Central Greece and the Morea. The Venetians took the islands of the Ionian Sea, the Cyclades, and Aegina and Negropont; the provinces of Albania, Acarnania, and Aetolia; the city of Adrianople with the adjacent territories, and other possessions of less note.

The Pope, compelled to recognise accomplished facts, merely demanded three concessions: that the Latin faith should be established as the official religion of the Empire; that the possessions of the Greek Church should be handed over to the Latin clergy; and that the Crusaders should continue their pilgrimage at the end of a year. Only the first of these points was conceded. The Crusade of Innocent III ended, like that of Urban II, in the creation of a string of feudal states and commercial factories. But in 1204 there was hardly the attempt to justify what had been done in the name of religion. The Venetians behaved from first to last as commercial buccaneers; a fickle and frivolous ambition, rather than calculating villainy, characterised their highborn associates. Plainly, these were the only materials available for a Crusade; the collapse of the Crusading policy was near at hand.

A few romantic careers illuminate the monotonously sordid annals of the Latin Empire, threatened from within by the feuds of the rival baronial houses, from without by the Bulgarians, the Greek despots of Epirus, and the Greek Emperors of Nicaea. Henry of Flanders, the second Latin Emperor (1205-1216), the one constructive statesman produced by the Crusade; William of Champlitte, who overran the Morea with but a hundred knights, was hailed by the oppressed Greeks as a liberator, and founded the Principality of Achaea (1205-1209) only to lose it through the treachery of a lieutenant; Niccolo Acciajuoli (+1365), the Florentine banker, who rose to be Lord of Corinth, Count of Malta, and administrator of Achaea—these were men who on a greater stage might have achieved durable renown. But the subject Greeks were not to be Latinised by a handful of energetic seigneurs and merchants; one by one, as opportunities occurred, the provinces of the Latin Empire deserted to the allegiance of Nicaea. Adrianople and Thessalonica were lost in 1222, the Asiatic territories by 1228; in 1261 Michael Palaeologus recovered Constantinople, which was to remain the possession of his family until the capture by the Turks (1453). In Greece and the islands the colonists maintained a foothold long after the fall of the Latin Empire. But the last of the Frankish Dukes of Athens fell, with all his chivalry, fighting against the Catalan Company (1311), a horde of freebooters half-Christian and half-Turkish in its composition. Achaea, after years of ignominious subjection to the Angevins of Naples, was similarly conquered by the Company of Navarre (1380). In a maimed condition the two states survived these calamities; but the Greeks and the Venetians were enabled to absorb the richest parts of the peninsula; the last traces of Frankish blood and institutions were swept away by the Turkish conquerors of the fifteenth century. Before these grim invaders the Venetians and the Knights of St. John, the last representatives of Western power, slowly evacuated the Eastern Mediterranean.

The story of this brilliant and ephemeral episode in the expansion of Europe is closed by the Venetian peace of 1479 with the Sultan, and by the fall of Rhodes, the stronghold of the Knights, before the Turkish arms (1522). But in Malta, down to the commencement of the ninteenth century, might be seen the strange and scandalous spectacle of a Crusading Order, emancipated from the old vows and obligations, yet still allowed to exercise a medieval tyranny in memory of the services which their remote predecessors had rendered to the Cross. The other Orders had vanished, not less ignominiously, at earlier dates. The Templars, who had evacuated Syria to live on their European estates and ply the trade of bankers, were proscribed on charges of heresy, by Pope Clement V (1312), to gratify the brutal greed of a French king. The Teutonic Knights, better counselled by their Grand Master, Hermann of Salza (1210-1239), looked about for a new field of conquest; they found it on the lower Vistula, where they settled with the countenance of the Pope, the Emperor, and the King of Poland to reduce the heathen Slavs. But, embroiled with their Polish protector by their territorial ambitions, they were reduced, after 1466, to narrow boundaries in East Prussia; and hardly a voice was raised in their favour when the last Grand Master, a Hohenzollern by birth, became a Protestant and bequeathed the lands of the Order to his own family (1525).

From the adventures of the Frankish colonists we turn with relief to notice the last expiring flashes of enthusiasm in the armies equipped for their relief. The Germans and Hungarians of the Fifth Crusade (1217) showed more sincerity than worldly wisdom in delegating the chief command to a papal legate, and in following to the bitter end his reckless plan of campaign. Inspired with the hope of expelling Islam from the Eastern Mediterranean, they would neither be content with Damietta, which they conquered, nor with the Holy Land, which was offered in exchange by the Sultan of Egypt. They would have all or nothing, and they lost even Damietta in the end. Their discomfiture by the Nile floods, which they had forgotten to take into their reckoning, was a tragi-comic ending to a campaign in which greed and discord had been expiated by extraordinary daring. St. Louis, in his Crusades of 1248 and 1270, flew in the face of common prudence and was thought a pious fool, even by the barons who were too loyal to disobey his call. But it is such follies that make history something better than a Newgate Calendar of the crimes of common sense. He was no general; his attack on Egypt was foredoomed to failure, and was made more disastrous by neglect of ordinary precautions; that on Tunis, undertaken in the heat of an African summer, ended, as might have been expected, in his own death and the decimation of his followers by disease. Even as an example these expeditions were all but fruitless. Yet, when the worst has been said of the Crusades and those who led them, there are moments in the quixotic career of St. Louis which haunt the fancy and compel our admiration: his bearing when, a captive of the Egyptian Sultan, he refused, even under threats of torture, to barter a single Christian fortress for his freedom; his lonely watch in Palestine, when for three years he patiently awaited the reinforcements that were never sent; his death-bed, when he prayed for strength to despise good fortune and not to fear adversity. Ideals may fade, but the memories of those who realise them are the world's abiding possession.

If we ask what results of a more tangible sort remained from the Crusades, when the service of the Holy Sepulchre had become a legend, and the name of Crusade a byeword for whatever enterprises are most impractical and visionary, the answer must be, that they affected Europe chiefly in a negative sense and through indirect channels. They helped to discredit the conception of the Church militant; they relieved Europe of a surplus population of feudal adventurers; and they accelerated the impoverishment of those other feudal families which took an occasional part in the Holy War. It has never been proved that they led to wholesale emancipation of serfs, or wholesale enfranchisement of towns; though it is true that all such expeditions meant an increased demand for ready money. To Western civilisation they contributed very little, the truth being that there was little to be learned from the Mohammedans in Syria. It is through Palermo and Toledo, where Christianity and Islam met and mixed in peaceful intercourse, that the knowledge of Arab science and philosophy filtered into Europe. The Fourth Crusade was an exception to the general rule; it is no accident that Venetian art and architecture developed rapidly when the republic was brought into close and friendly relations with Constantinople. Through these relations, and through studying the masterpieces brought home by the Crusaders, Venetian artists recovered the antique feeling for pure form, and founded a school which was classical in spirit, Christian only in external and unessential features. The learning and literature which the Eastern Empire inherited from Rome and Athens had no attraction for Venetian merchant princes. But north of the Alps, and especially at Paris, the thirteenth century saw an increasing interest in the Greek language, and in Greek books, so far as they were useful to theologians or scholastic disputants. Politically the Fourth Crusade is memorable for its effect upon the Italian balance of power. It gave Venice an advantage over her commercial rivals, Pisa and Genoa, which she never lost; it gave her also a unique position as an intermediary between East and West; and it placed her at the head of an empire comparable to those of Athens and of Carthage, the great sea-powers of antiquity. But the nation-states of Northern Europe, who had borne the burden and heat of the Crusades, were less affected by them, politically or otherwise, than were the city-states of Italy.



IX

THE FREE TOWNS

Scattered broadcast over the territory of every medieval state are towns endowed with special privileges, and ruled by special magistrates. Some of these towns—particularly in Italy, Southern France, and the Rhineland—stand on the sites, and even within the walls, of ancient municipia, those miniature Homes which the statecraft of the Empire had created as seats of government and schools of culture. But, even in Italy, the medieval town is indebted to classical antiquity for nothing more than mouldering walls and aqueducts and amphitheatres and churches. The barbarians had ignored the institutions of the municipium, though it often served them as a fortress or a royal residence or a centre of administration. The citizens were degraded to the level of serfs; they became the property of a king, a bishop, or a count, and were governed by a bailiff presiding over a seignorial court. Only at the close of the Dark Ages, with the development of handicrafts and a commercial class, was it found necessary to distinguish between the town and the manorial village; and to a much later time the small town preserved the characteristics of an agricultural society. Many a burgess supplemented the profits of a trade by tilling acres in the common fields and grazing cattle on the common pastures; pigs and poultry scavenged in the streets; the farmyard was a usual adjunct of the burgage tenement. Whether small or great, the town was a phenomenon sufficiently unfamiliar to vex the soul of lawyers reared upon Teutonic custom. They recognised that they were dealing with a new form of community; but they were not prepared to define it or to generalise about it. They preferred to treat each town as sui generis, an awkward anomaly, a privileged abuse.

Indeed, definition was no easy matter, for medieval towns differed infinitely in size, in government, and in the ingredients of their population. In one respect they are all alike; the most energetic and influential, though not necessarily the greater number, of the inhabitants are artisans or traders. But side by side with the industrial colony stand older interests, which often struggle hard against the ascendancy of commerce. In the town or near it there may be an abbey or a castle or a cathedral or a royal palace, to which the very existence of the burgess community is due. The townsmen, profiting by the custom and the protection of the great, have grown rich and independent; they have bought privileges or have usurped them. But they have still to reckon with the servants, the retainers, and the other partisans of a superior always on the watch to recover his lost rights of property and jurisdiction; the forces of the common enemy are permanently encamped within the walls. Again, if the town lies on a frontier or in newly-conquered country, it will be as much a fortress as a mart; a number of the residents will be knights or men-at-arms who hold their lands by the tenure of defending the town; and these burgesses will be naturally indifferent to the interests of the traders. Finally, in the Mediterranean lands, with their long tradition of urban society, we find the nobles of the neighbourhood resorting to the town, building town-houses, and frequently caballing among themselves to obtain control of the town's government. Often a long time elapses before the class which conceived the idea of municipal liberty is able to get the better of these hostile forces; and still more often the hardly-won privileges are wrested from those for whom they were intended, are cancelled, or are made the monopoly of an oligarchic ring.

Still, the aims of the medieval burgess are more uniform, from one place to another and from one generation to another, than we might anticipate in ages when information travelled slowly, and when the relations of every town to its lord were settled by a separate treaty. In modern Europe the town is an administrative district of the state, and is organised upon a standard pattern. In medieval Europe the town-charter was frequently a compromise with the caprices and the interests of a petty seignor; and even kings were inclined to deal with the towns which stood upon the royal demesne in a spirit of the frankest opportunism. Moreover, the inclination of all lords was to meddle with their burgesses no further than seemed necessary to ensure the full and punctual discharge of all services and pecuniary dues. So long as these were guaranteed, the internal affairs of the town might be left for the residents to settle as seemed good to them. But, as to the main conditions of the compact, each of the contracting parties holds clear-cut and unwavering views. The lords are agreed that privileges of trade and tenure may safely be granted if the chief magistrates are nominated by, and accountable to themselves. The townsfolk, on the other hand, assume that promises of free tenure and free trade will be worth nothing unless accompanied by the permission to elect all magistrates and councils.

Sometimes the victory rests with the lord, and sometimes with the burgesses. Accordingly, there are two kinds of chartered town. The larger class includes communities enjoying certain privileges under the rule of seignorial functionaries. A smaller class consists of those which are not only privileged but "free," that is, self-governing bodies corporate. The distinction between the two classes is not precise enough to satisfy a modern lawyer. Often a "free" town is obliged to allow the lord some voice in the appointment of magistrates; while the humblest body of traders may enjoy the right of doing justice in a market-court without the interference of a bailiff. The one class shades off into the other, if only for the reason that "freedom" is usually won by a gradual process of bargaining or encroachment on the part of towns which are already privileged. The higher type is simply a later stage in the natural course of municipal development.

If we analyse the privileges of those towns which remain in leading-strings, the first in order of time and of importance is the town-peace, which only the king or his delegate can grant. Invested with this peace the town becomes, like a royal palace or the shrine of a saint, a sanctuary protected by special pains and penalties; the burgess stands to the king in the same relation as the widow and the orphan; to do him wrong is an outrage against the royal majesty. Next comes the right of trade. The burgesses are allowed to commute their servile dues and obligations for a fixed money-rent, that they may be at liberty for pursuits more lucrative than agriculture. They also receive a licence to hold a weekly market, and possibly a yearly fair as well; it is agreed that all disputes of traders, which arise in fair or market, shall be decided according to the law of merchants, the general usage of the commercial world; and a safe-conduct is granted to all strangers who resort to either gathering for lawful purposes. At first the tolls of the fair and market are collected by the lord, and the law-merchant is administered in the court of his bailiff. Often, however, he ends by leasing both the tolls and the commercial jurisdiction to the townsmen. When they are permitted (as in Flanders and in England) to form a merchant-gild, it is with this body that such bargains are concluded; and the gild usually purchases from the lord a quantity of other privileges—the monopoly of certain staple industries in the town and neighbourhood; rights of pre-emption over all imported wares; and the power of making by-laws to regulate wages, prices, the hours of labour, and the quality of manufactured goods. Where the lord is a sovereign prince, he is often induced to make concessions of a wider scope: freedom from inland tolls and from customs at the seaports; the right of making reprisals upon native and foreign enemies who rob the merchants or infringe the privileges of the town; immunity, in civil suits, from every jurisdiction but that of the town-court.

It would be easy to multiply examples of this type of town, but we can only mention here a few whose history and customs are particularly instructive. One of the oldest is St. Riquier in Ponthieu, a notable instance of an industrial community dating from Carolingian times and fostered by the policy of a great religious house. The second half of the eleventh century is remarkable for the speculative acumen displayed by lay and secular lords in fostering the development of new commercial centres; the Norman bourg of Breteuil, founded in 1060 by a seneschal of William the Conqueror, deserves special consideration as a model extensively imitated in England, Wales, and Ireland; the Suabian towns of Allensbach and Radolfszell, chartered by the great Abbey of Reichenau a few years later, are monuments of German seignorial enterprise. Lorris en Gatinais, a town on the demesne of the French monarchy, received from Louis VI a set of privileges which became the standard for the numerous villes de bourgeoisie founded under the immediate sway of the Capetian dynasty.

But the charters thankfully accepted by new colonies or embryonic market-centres were insufficient to satisfy the aspirations of older and greater cities. At the very time when far-sighted seigneurs are scattering commercial privileges broadcast, there begins among the urban classes of North France, of Flanders, and of some Italian provinces, an agitation for more extensive rights, for "free" municipal constitutions of our second type. In these regions the popular cry is "Commune," novum ac pessimum nomen; and it is blended with complaints of feudal tyranny, which often develop, since the seigneur of the town is commonly a bishop or an abbot, into complaints against the Church. The commune is a sworn confederacy (conjuratio), which bears some resemblance both to the fraternities established for the enforcement of the Truce of God (supra, p. 103) and to the merchant-gilds. But it has also new and striking features. It is formed in defiance of authority, and for the purpose of seizing rights which are legally vested in the seigneur or the Crown. It is hostile to the ruling classes of society; and the object of the members is to establish a republican form of government within their city. They are largely merchants or artisans; but they concern themselves with wider interests than those of trade, and often insist that no man, of whatever avocation, shall remain in the city unless he joins the commune.

We should be glad to know more of the bold spirits who directed the communal movement in this early stage. They startled contemporaries by their radicalism, and their conduct gives the lie to our preconceived idea that a townsman is a man of peace. These medieval burgesses were accustomed to defend their rights by force; there is nothing abnormal in the rule of the merchant-gild of Valenciennes that the gild-brethren should always bring their weapons with them to the market, and should ride in armed companies to distant fairs. The Milanese and the men of Ghent are typical in their greed for empire, in their readiness to strike a blow for their own profit whenever war is in the land. If the seigneurs of such cities gave cause for dissatisfaction, they found that they had brought a hornet's nest about their ears. In the struggle for liberties the popular party displayed a high courage which rose superior to defeat, though in the hour of triumph it was too often sullied by ferocious acts of vengeance. They threw themselves with intelligence and energy into the feuds of other interests and classes, backing the Church against the State, the State against the baronage, or the weaker against the stronger of two rival lords. The policy of the towns was often double-faced, material and separatist; but it also embodied ideals of justice and of citizenship which were destined to prevail in the struggle for existence, and to produce a wholesome reformation in the structure of society.

The communal programme was not realised in a day; the struggle for free governments, which began in the eleventh century, was continued into the thirteenth and fourteenth; and the forces of the movement were already exhausted in North France and Italy before it reached a head in South France or in Germany. Naturally, in a conflict waged over so wide an area for several hundred years, the watchwords were often modified, and many different patterns of town government were devised. In its later stages the movement was more peaceful, and the purse was often found a better argument than the sword; the communal parties ceased to be democratic, though they never ceased to be republican; and power was practically if not formally monopolised by a municipal patriciate. The mass-meeting of the burgesses, all-powerful in the days when the commune was an organised rebellion, gradually became insignificant in the older communes, and in many of the late foundations was never recognised at all, its powers being distributed among the craft-gilds meeting in their separate assemblies. Concurrent with this diminution in the importance of the ordinary burgess, there is a tendency to restrict the franchise by demanding higher and higher qualifications from the candidates. The commune, in fact, sinks almost to the level of a trades union or a benefit society, and membership is valued chiefly as a title to exclusive rights of trade and poor-relief. The political aspect of the institution is almost forgotten in countries where the power of the state gains ground upon the centrifugal forces of society; and, in those communes which preserve the dignity of states, an internecine conflict between the rich and poor, the rulers and the ruled, usually becomes the main feature of domestic politics.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse