From the Crusades to the Middle of the Fifteenth Century - Rise of Some New Powers

The most remarkable general feature of European society about the time of the Crusades was the papal influence. Between the pontiffs and the German emperors there was kept up a perpetual struggle for power; but for a long time the advantage was almost always with the popes. The treatment which some of the emperors received from them was extremely humiliating. Frederick Barbarossa was compelled to kiss the feet of his holiness, Alexander III, and to appease him by a large cession of territory, after having indignantly denied his supremacy, and refused the customary homage. Henry VI, while doing homage on his knees, had his imperial crown kicked off by Pope Celestinus, who, however, made some amends for this indignity by the gift of Naples and Sicily. Henry had expelled the Normans from these territories, which now became appendages of the German empire (1194). In the beginning of the thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III was imagined to have permanently established the powers of the Holy See, and its right to confer the imperial crown; but this proved far from being the case. In the time of Frederick II , who succeeded Otho IV (1212), the old contentions rose to more than the usual height, and two factions sprung up in Italy, known by the names of Guelphs and Ghibellines, the former maintaining the supremacy of the popes, and the latter that of the emperors. Frederick maintained the contest which now arose between himself and the popes with much spirit; but on his death (1250) the splendor of the empire was for a considerable time obscured. At length Rodolph of Hapsbourg, a Swiss baron, was elected emperor (1274). Rodolph became the founder of the House of Austria, and ruled with both vigor and moderation. His son Albert I was the means of causing the inhabitants of Switzerland to assert and obtain their liberty, by his attempting to bind them in subjection to one of his children, and then using force to compel them. In the pass of Morgarten, a small army of four or five hundred of these brave mountaineers defeated an immense host of Austrians (1315). Sixty pitched battles, it is said, were fought between the contending parties; but 'the spirit of William Tell, who appeared at this time, and of his patriot countrymen, rose above all attempts to enslave them; and the Swiss cantons secured a freedom which their descendants enjoy to this day. The further history of Germany, for nearly a century, is not politically important. Disputes between the emperors and the papacy still continued, though the balance of advantage was now oftener against the church.

About the beginning of the fifteenth century, the great papal schism, as it has been called, took place. It arose from there being no fewer than three different claimants for the chair of St. Peter - Gregory XII, who was owned pope by the Italian states; Benedict XIII, by France; and Alexander V, a native of Candia, by a number of the cardinals. This schism proved very hurtful to the authority of the church, though in that respect it benefited the interests of society, and contributed to open men's eyes. The appearance of John Huss at this time aided in producing that effect. Huss proclaimed the same opinions as the great English reformer Wicklife. He was branded of course by the clergy as a heretic and propagator of sedition. The general council of the church, held at Constance (1414), concocted no fewer than thirty-nine articles in which Huss is said to have erred. Some of the points he denied having professed, and others he offered to support by argument; but his voice was drowned by the clamors of bigotry. His hair was cut in the form of a cross; upon his head was put a paper mitre, painted with the representation of three devils; and he was delivered over to the secular judge, who condemned both him and his writings to the flames. A similar fate shortly after befell his disciple, Jerome of Prague, who is said to have exhibited the eloquence of an apostle and the constancy of a martyr at the stake (1416). In revenge for these cruelties, the Hussites' of Bohemia kept up a war with the empire for twenty years; and it was only after having their right to express their opinions acknowledged that they desisted. The great schism lasted for many years. A Neapolitan archbishop, named Bari, was elected and deposed by the resident cardinals at Rome within a few months. Boniface IX and Innocent VI were each temporarily his successors. The result of the lengthened dispute may be stated to be, that papal authority was greatly weakened; the government of the church was brought down among a class of ecclesiastics that had never before tasted the sweets of power; and future popes were obliged to resort to such questionable practices for the maintenance of their dignity, that men in general began to lose respect for their sanctity, and a foundation was laid for changes which it fell to Luther and others to effect.

The period which witnessed these transactions was remarkable for the continued wars between France and England. In the beginning of the twelfth century, the famous dispute for supremacy arose between Thomas-r -Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry II, which ended in the death of the prelate (1171), but in the triumph of his principles. The be ginning of the thirteenth century is memorable in English history, as having witnessed the granting of the Magna Charta by King John; and towards the conclusion of it appeared Edward I, whose name is associated with the first great attempts to subdue the Scots on the part of England. The bravery of Wallace and of others averted that calamity for ever. Wales was not so fortunate; and Ireland had already become a conquered province.

During this period, several of those countries in the north of Europe, which have made a considerable figure in modern history, for the first time attracted attention. The greatest of these was Russia. In the middle of the thirteenth century, the tribes of Tartary made a complete conquest of this country, and for about a hundred years they maintained their supremacy. At length Ivan ascended the throne of Moscow (1462), and overcoming the Tartars, established a kingdom of his own, and was able to form an alliance with the Emperor Maximilian of Germany, who did not hesitate to style him brother. This was the first entrance of Russia into European politics.

Before the end of the fourteenth century, the Christian religion had penetrated into Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, and Poland; but it failed in producing any immediate beneficial effect. The political events which took place in these countries, however, were very various at this period, but proved too unimportant in their results to admit of being even outlined here.