History of France

The Franks, a tribe of German origin, had marched from their hereditary possessions on the Lower Rhine to the Meuse and the Sambre, A. D. 486. From this place, their warlike king, Clovis, led them forth to war and plunder. After he had conquered and put to death the last Roman governor, Syagrius, in Soissons, and made himself master of the country between the Seine and the Loire, he advanced against the Alemanni, who were in possession. of an extensive kingdom on both banks of the Rhine. Ile defeated them in the great battle of Zülpich (between Bonn and Aix), and subjected their country on the Moselle and the Lahr. In the heat of the battle, Clovis had sworn, that if the doubtful combat should terminate in his favor, he would embrace the faith of his Christian wife; and in the same year, he, with 3,000 nobles of his train, received baptism in the waters of the Rhine. But Christianity produced no emotions of pity in his savage heart. After he had extended the Frank empire to the Rhone on the east, and to the Garonne on the south, he attempted to secure the whole territory to himself and his posterity, by putting to death the chiefs of all the Frank tribes.

The wickedness of the father was inherited by his four sons, who, after Clovis's death, divided the Frank empire between them; the eldest received the eastern kingdom, Austrasia, with the capital, Metz; the three younger sons shared the western territory, Neustria, and Burgundy, which was connected with it. But the empire was again from time to time united. The history of the kingly house of Merovingians displays a frightful picture of human depravity. The murders of brothers and relatives, bloody civil wars, and the explosion of unbridled passions, fill its annals. The savage enormities of the two queens, Brunhilda and are particularly dreadful. These horrors at length destroyed all the power of the race of Clovis, so that they are distinguished in history as sluggish kings, whilst the steward of the royal possessions (Mayor of the palace) gradually obtained possession of all the powers of government. A. visit to the yearly assemblies of the people (Marzfelder), upon a carriage drawn by four oxen, was at last the only occupation of the imbecile Merovingians. At first, each of the three kingdoms had its own mayor, until the brave and shrewd Pepin of Heristal succeeded in uniting the mayoralties of Neustria and Burgundy with that of Austrasia, and making them hereditary in his own family. From this time, Pepin's descendants, who were called dukes of Franconia, possessed the regal power, whilst the Merovingians were kings in nothing but name.

Pepin of Heristal, and his son Charles Martel, had gained the confidence of the nation by their warlike deeds, and the favor of the priests by their zeal in the propagation of Christianity. Both parties were instrumental in raising Pepin the Little, the son of Charles Martel, to the throne of the Franks. For when the assembly of the nation deposed the last imbecile representative of the Merovingians (Childeric III), and proclaimed the chief steward, Pepin, king, the pope confirmed the election, in hope of finding in the Frank ruler a support against the Longobards and the iconoclastic emperor of Byzantium. In return for the royal consecration, which was first performed by Boniface, and afterwards by Pope Stephen himself, Pepin endowed the Roman chair with the portion of coast on the Adriatic sea, southwards from Ravenna. This was the foundation of the temporal power of the pope.

Pepin reigned for sixteen years with vigor and renown over the Frank empire, which extended far into South and Central Germany, and which, at his death, he divided between his two sons, Charles and Carloman. About three years afterwards, A. D. 771, Carloman died, and Charlemagne (Charles the Great) was declared sole ruler of the Franks, by the voice of the estates of the Empire. He conducted many wars, and advanced Christian cultivation and civil order. For the purpose of securing the boundaries of his kingdom and extending Christianity, he made war for thirty-one years on the Saxon confederation, which was formed by various Pagan tribes on the Weser and Elbe. Charles took the fortress of Eresburg, on the south of the Teutoburger forest, destroyed the national palladium - the statue of Arminius, and compelled the Saxons to a peace. He next proceeded against the Longobard king, Desiderius, in obedience to , the summons of Pope Adrian. With an army collected together near Geneva, he crossed the St. Bernard, stormed the passes of the Alps, and conquered Pavia. Desiderius ended his days in a cloister. Charles erected the Lombard throne in Milan, united Upper Italy to the kingdom of the Franks, and confirmed the gifts made by Pepin to the pope.

During the absence of Charles, the Saxons had expelled the Frank garrisons and reestablished their ancient boundaries. Charles again marched into their country, subdued them, and compelled the chiefs of the tribes to submit at Paderborn. Their warlike duke, Witikind, alone, fled to the Danes and refused to confirm the treaty. In the two following yeas, Charles fought against the Moors in Spain, took Pampelona and Saragossa, and united the whole country, as far as the Ebro, to his own kingdom, as a Spanish province. But during his return, his rear, under the command of Roland, suffered a defeat in the valley of Roncesvalles, in which the bravest champions of the Franks were destroyed. Roland's battle at Ronces valles was a favorite theme with the poets of the middle ages. The Saxons took advantage of his absence to make a fresh insurrection, and pursued their devastating course as far as the Rhine. Charles hastened to the spot, gave them repeated overthrows, and subdued their land afresh. But when he attempted to employ them as militia against the Slavonic tribes in the East, they fell upon the Frank troops who were marching with them, at the Suntal (between Hanover and Hameln), and slew them. This demanded vengeance. The Frank emperor marched through the land, plundering and destroying, and then held a court of judgment at Verden on the Aller. 4,500 prisoners expiated with their blood the crime of their brethren. Upon this, hostilities were resumed with fresh violence. But the battle on the Hase, which terminated to the disadvantage of the Saxons, put an end to the war. Witikind and the other chiefs took an oath of fealty and military service, and allowed themselves to be baptised. The people followed their example. Eight bishoprics provided for the maintenance and extension of Christianity among the Saxons. Another insurrection, however, was occasioned a few years afterwards, by the oppressive arriere-ban,, and the unwonted payment of tithes to the Church, which resulted in 10,000 Saxon families being carried away from their homes, and colonies of Franks being established in their place. To oppose the Slavonic tribes to the east of the Elbe, Charles founded the Margraviate of Brandenburg.

Shortly after, Thassilo duke of Bavaria, attempted to render himself independent of the Frank power, by the assistance of the Avars, who lived to the east. He was overpowered, and expiated his breach of faith by perpetual confinement within the walls of the cloisters of Fulda. Bavaria was hereupon incorporated with the 'Frank empire, and Charles established the Eastern Margraviate as a check upon the wild Avars. When Charlemagne had reduced all the lands from the Ebro and the Appenines to the Eider, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Raab and the Elbe, he repaired to Rome at the conclusion of the century. It was here that, during the festival of Christmas, he was invested with the crown of the Roman empire, in the church of St. Peter, by Leo III, whom he had defended against a mob of insurgents. It was hoped, that by this means, western Christen dom might be formed into a single body, of which the Pope was to become the spiritual, and Charles the secular head. It was at this time that the long-existing variance between the Western (Roman Catholic), and the Eastern (Greek Catholic) churches, terminated in a complete separation.

The domestic policy of Charlemagne was not less fertile of results than the foreign. 1. He improved the government and the administration of justice by abolishing the office of duke, dividing the whole kingdom into provinces, and appointing counts and deputies for the conduct of the affairs of justice, and clerks of the treasury for the management of the crown lands and the collection of imposts. The laws were confirmed by the popular assemblies (maifelder) in which every freeman had a share. 2. He promoted the cultivation Of the land, and the education of the people. Agriculture and the breeding of cattle were encouraged, farms and villages sprang up, and barren heaths were converted into arable fields. He founded conventual schools and cathedrals, had the works of the ancient Roman writers transcribed, and formed a collection of old German heroic ballads. Learned men, like the British monk, Alcuin, and the historian Eginhard, from the Odenwald, had ample reason to congratulate themselves on his encouragement and support. 3. He favored the clergy and the church. It was by his means that the former obtained their tithes and vast gifts and legacies; church music was improved, missionaries supported, and churches and monasteries erected. Ingelheim on the Rhine, and Aix, were his favorite places of residence. He lies buried in the latter town.

The son of Charlemagne, Louis the Débonnaire (the Gentle) was better fitted for the repose of a cloister than for the government of a warlike nation. A too hasty division of his kingdom among his three sons, Lothaire, Pepin, and Louis, was the occasion of much sorrow to himself, and confusion to the empire. For when, at a later period, he proposed an alteration in favor of his fourth son, Charles the Bald, the fruit of a second marriage, the elder sons took up arms against their father. Louis, faithlessly deserted by his vassals on "the field of lies," near Strasburg, and betray ed to his own sons, was compelled by Lothaire to do penance in the church and to abdicate his throne; and was afterwards shut up for some time in a cloister. It is true that Louis procured his father's reinstatement; but when the weak emperor, after the death of Pepin, by a new division of the kingdom, deprived Louis of Germany, in favor of his brothers, Lothaire and Charles, Louis raised his standard against him. This broke the old emperor's heart. Full of sorrow, he ended his days on a small island of the Rhine, near Ingelheim. The hostile brothers now turned their arms against each other. A bloody civil war depopulated the country, so that at last, after a battle of three days' duration, at Fontenaille in Burgundy, the Frank nobility refused to obey the arriere-ban, and by this means brought about the treaty of partition of Verdun. By virtue of this treaty, Lothaire received the imperial dignity, together with Italy, Burgundy, and Lorraine; Charles the Bald, western Franconia (France); and Louis the German, the lands on the right bank of the Rhine - Spire, Worms, and Mayence.

This division was followed by 'a time of great confusion, during which Europe was severely harassed, on the south by the Arabs; on the east, by the Slavi; and on the north and west, by the Normans. To oppose these predatory inroads, the Carlovingian monarchs, who were all men of weak and narrow minds, were obliged to restore the ducal office in the different provinces, and to sanction the hereditary authority of the Margraves, so that, in a short time, all the power fell into the hands of the nobles. By the rapid deaths of most of the posterity of Louis the Débonnaire, nearly the whole of the empire of Charlemagne devolved upon Charles the Fat, A. D. 876, a prince weak and indolent, and simple almost to imbecility. Incapable of resisting the valiant Normans, he purchased a disgraceful peace from them

This proceeding so exasperated the German princes, that they decreed his deposition, at Tribur on the Rhine, and elected his nephew, the brave Arnulf, as his successor. Arnulf governed with vigor. He overthrew the Normans at Louvain, and called in the aid of the wild Magyars, or Hungarians, from the Ural, a people expert in horsemanship and archery, and who were now, under their valiant captain Arpad, occupying the plains on the Danube (named after them Hungary), against the Slavi and Avars. The Avars were either subjected or compelled to retreat. But the strangers (the Hungarians) soon became a more dreadful scourge to Germany than either the Slavi or the Avars. They made their predatory inroads and exacted a yearly tribute, even under Louis the Child, the youthful son of Arnulf, who died in the flower of his age, after a glorious campaign in Italy. This still continued, when, after the early death of this last of the Carlovingian race, the German nobles, among whom the dukes of Saxony, Franconia, Lorraine, Swabia, and Bavaria were preeminent for power, met together and elected Duke Conrad of Franconia, emperor. Germany thus became an elective empire.

The rule of the Carlovingians survived longest in France, but it possessed neither strength nor dignity. Under Charles the Simple, who had ascended the French throne after the deposition and subsequent death of Charles the Fat, the dukes and counts rendered themselves entirely independent, and one of the most powerful among them, Hugh of Paris, kept the imbecile king in strict confinement. France, on the other hand, was delivered from the devastating forays of the Normans, by Charles admit ting duke Rollo into the province named after them Normandy, on condition that he and his followers would suffer themselves to be baptized, and recognize the king as their suzerain (feudal sovereign). The Normans, a people readily susceptible of civilization, soon acquired the language, manners, and customs of the Franks. Charles the Simple was followed by two other kings of the Carlovingian race; but their power was at last so limited that they possessed nothing but the town of Laon, with the sur rounding country; every thing else had fallen into the hands of the insolent nobility. After the death of the Childless Louis V, Hugh Capet, son and heir of Hugh of Paris, assumed the title of king, and put to death in prison Louis' uncle Charles of Lorraine, who attempted to assert his right to the throne by force of arms.

The first successors of Hugh Capet possessed but little power and a narrow territory. The dukes and counts of the different provinces looked upon the king, who, properly, was only lord of France, as their equal, and only allowed him the first rank among themselves, in so far as they were obliged to recognize him as their feudal superior. The nobles dared not weaken the rights that appertained to him in this capacity, lest they should afford an example of breach of faith to their own subjects, and encourage them to similar behavior towards themselves. For the rest, the possessions of the great vassals were independent counties and principalities, which had no closer connection with the French throne than the western territories on the Seine, Loire, and Garonne, which belonged to the king of England or the eastern (Burgundian) lands on the Rhone and the Jura, which were portions of the German empire.

But in the attempt to increase the kingly power, the house of Capet were not less aided by their good fortune than by their wisdom. It was fortunate, that, owing to the lengthened lives of most of their kings, the throne was seldom vacant, that there was almost always a son of age to succeed his father, and that, consequently, there was never an interregnum. But it was wisdom in the first kings to have their eldest sons crowned during their lives, and to make them their partners in the government, so that, on the death of the father, little or no change was suffered. The most important kings after Hugh Capet were Louis VII, who undertook the second crusade, and during his absence intrusted the government in France to the politic Abbot Suger of St. Denis; Philip Augustus II, who wrested Normandy and the other territories in the west from the English king, John Lackland; and Louis VIII, who enlarged his dominions on the south by the war against the Albigenses. But the reigns which had the greatest influence upon the history of France were those of St. Louis and Philip the Fair. The former improved the laws, and caused the royal courts of justice to be looked upon as the highest in the land, and the disputes of the nobles among themselves, or with their vassals to be brought before them for decision: the latter, on the other hand, increased the consequence of the towns by granting various privileges and liberties to the citizens, and by being the first who summoned the representatives of the towns to the diet during his contest with the pope. After the death of Philip's three sons, who reigned one after the other, but left no male heirs, the French throne passed to the house of Valois, A. D. 1328.

Philip VI of Valois, brother's son of Philip the Fair, inherited the French throne. But Edward III of England also asserted his claims, as son of a daughter of Philip the Fair. Without regard to the Salic law, which prohibited the succession of females, he assumed the title of king of France, and made war upon Philip. After a bloody contest of a few years, the battle of Crecy was fought, in which the English were the victors, and the flower of the French chivalry, together with John, the blind king of Bohemia, fell on the field. The possession of the important town of Calais was the fruit of the victory. Philip died in the following year, and his son, John the Good, succeeded to the contested crown. Eager to obliterate the memory of Crecy, he attacked the English army, which was under the command of Edward III's heroic son, the Black Prince, but suffered a decisive defeat at Poictiers, and was obliged to proceed as a captive to the capital of England. Whilst he was absent, the kingdom was governed by the crown prince (Dauphin). During his rule, an insurrection broke out in Paris and over the whole land, which was attended with great devastations and outrages, until the imperfectly-armed citizens and peasants were subdued by the French knights, and visited with severe punishment. Shortly after this, a peace was established between France and England, by which Calais and the south-west of France was surrendered to the English, and a heavy ransom promised for John, whilst Edward, on the other hand, renounced his pretensions to the French throne. But when the collection of the ransom money was delayed, John voluntarily returned into captivity, and died in London.

John's son, Charles V (the Wise), healed the wounds of his country. He quieted men's minds by his moderate government, and by prudence and valor recovered the lands that had been lost on the Loire and the Garonne; so that when the Black Prince fell a victim to wasting disease, and Edward III shortly followed him into the grave, nothing remained to the English of all their conquests but Calais. But under his successor, Charles VI, who became insane shortly after coming of age, France again fell into a state of confusion and lawlessness. Two powerful court parties, headed by the uncle of the king (the duke of Burgundy), and the king's brother (the duke of Orleans), contended for the government whilst the burghers rebelled against the heavy imposts, and demanded an increase of their privileges. About the same time in which the towns were waging war against the knights in Germany, the Swiss peasants were contending against the nobility, and a dangerous popular insurrection, under Wat Tyler and others, was making rapid progress in Eng. land, the citizen and peasant class rose against the court and the nobility in Flanders and France also. But want of union among the insurgents gave the latter the victory, and the outbreak was followed by a diminution of the privileges of the people. The Burgundian party favored the citizens, the Orleans party the nobility.

The chivalrous king, Henry V of England, took advantage of these circumstances to renew the war with France. He demanded the former pos sessions back again and when this was refused, he entered France by Calais, and renewed at Agincourt, on the Somme, the days of Crecy and Poi tiers, A. D. 1415. The French army, four times the number of its opponents, was overthrown, and the flower of the French chivalry either fell in the field, or were taken prisoners by the enemy; nothing stood between the victor and Paris, where party violence had just now attained its high est point, and murders and insurrections were matters of daily occurrence. The Orleans party joined the Dauphin, whilst the Burgundian party, with the queen Isabella, united themselves with the English, and acknowledged Henry V and his descendants as the heirs of the French crown. The whole of the country to the north of the Loire was soon in the hands of the English. But Henry V was snatched away by death in the midst of his hero ic course, in the same year in which the crazy Charles VI sank into the grave, and the Dauphin took possession of the throne under the title of Charles VII. But this made little difference to France. The English and their allies proclaimed Henry VI, who was scarcely a year old, the rightful ruler of the country, and retained their superiority in the field so that they already held Orleans in siege.

In this necessity, the MAID OF ORLEANS, a peasant girl of Dom Remy in Lorraine, who gave out that she had been summoned to the redemption of France by a heavenly vision, aroused the sinking courage of Charles and his soldiers. Under her banner, the town of Orleans was delivered, the king conducted to Rheims to be crowned, and the greater part of their conquests wrested from the English. The faith in her heavenly mission inspired the French with courage and self-confidence, and filled the English with fear and despair. This effect remained after Joan of Arc had fallen into the hands of the latter, and had been given up to the flames on a pretended charge of blasphemy and sorcery. The English lost one province after another; and when Philip the Good of Burgundy reconciled himself with the king, Calais soon became their last and only possession in the land of France. Paris opened its gates and received Charles with acclamations. He reigned over France in peace for twenty-five years; but he was a weak man, who suffered himself to be guided by women and favorites. He was followed by Louis XI, a crafty but politic prince, who, by cunning, violence, and unexampled tyranny, rendered the power of the throne absolute, and enlarged and consolidated his empire. He robbed the nobility of all their choicest privileges, and gradually united all the great fiefs with the crown. He then, by the assistance of the Swiss (whose hardy youth he and his successor engaged as mercenaries), overthrew Charles the Bold, and made himself master of the dukedom of Burgundy. The stings of conscience and the fear of men tortured him in the lonely castles where he spent the last years of his life, A. D. 1483. His two successors, Charles VIII and Louis XII, conquered Brittany, bat dissipated the strength of the kingdom in their expeditions to Italy.