Imágenes de páginas

a succession of rulers as large minded and strong willed as Charlemagne, they could not have repeated the history of the ancient world. The tendency of the races that overthrew the empire was invincibly against centralization, and instead of a new Roman Empire in western Europe, appeared the Feudal System.



1. This system was the direct opposite of centralization. Under it all Christendom broke up into fragments; the king exerted but a loose general control, that continued to decrease for several centuries; and most of the real authority was exerted by the feudal lords from their fortified castles, which, for three hundred years, had been springing up over all the territory conquered from the Romans. It had its true origin in the marked personal assertion, the strong individuality of the Teutonic Race, which was, and is, one of its most prominent traits. While in their native barbarous state their armies were formed for their expeditions of foreign conquest, that proved so fatal to the Romans, on the voluntary principle. The prowess and fame of a leader, or chief, drew to him a multitude of warriors, longing for activity and booty. So long as he could lead them to success, to gain their individnal ends, they obeyed him. When he failed to reward their ambition they held themselves free to leave him.

2. It was not immense disciplined armies, but innumerable bands, organized in this way, that, through a long course of years, gradually overran Britain, Gaul, Spain and Italy. For four hundred years the civilized world had been accustomed to the control and protection of a distant ruler whose powerful armies rendered resistance vain, and all thought of organization for self-protection against the terrible barbarians was wanting when they were attacked. Each city or region defended itself as well as possible, or submitted at once. The

conquerors took what they wanted and passed on to other lands, or spread themselves out over the province. They usually settled in the country parts, fortifying the country seats of the richer inhabitants, or building themselves castles near the larger towns, to hold them in awe. The leader considered himself the owner of the conquered territory, and divided it among his followers, who settled themselves, each in his new domain, as its owner and ruler. The conquere? inhabitants were his subjects from whom he took tribute. The conquerors were few in number in proportion to the conquered; but there was little resistance throughout the old Roman provinces. Organization and spirit were wanting to them, and resistance wonld provoke complete ruin, since the conqueror could easily call to his aid any number of his fellows in return for a share of the spoils. Thus they gave what was demanded and made themselves content with what was left.

The cities paid tribute, the cultivators gave a portion of their harvests to the new rulers. The territory not given to his followers was considered the property of the original leader. In return for the gift each of the recipients of territory was held bound to aid him in his wars, and each larger chief stood in similar relations to the king of his tribe or nation. Out of this grew, at length, what was called the Feudal System, feudal being derived, by some, from the old German words “fee,” salary, and "od,” landed possessions a payment, or salary, in land, for services rendered, with a certain obligation to the giver.

3. The kings of the Franks -- the German nation that conquered Gaul — up to the time of Charlemagne, labored to consolidate their power and rule like the Roman emperors. But the genius of their race and the peculiarities of the situation were both opposed to that purpose. Charles Martel, Pepin, his son, and Charlemagne, his grandson, were all rulers of great vigor, and the last, apparently, succeeded for a time. But the military strength lay only in the scattered feudal

chieftains, each of whom sought to build up his own power on his own estates. It was not possible to maintain a strong central government for any length of time, or under an ordinary man. For two hundred years these petty lords grew in strength at the expense of the king. They were still held to him by the necessity of supporting him in war, by a system of checks, which, in time, were increased, and still more enlarged, when the people began to make themselves felt in the twelfth century; but from the fifth to the fifteenth century feudalism was the prevailing system in all the civilized European nations.

4. It was a very rude and violent period, but some of the most happy traits of modern life grew out of it. The isolation of the feudal lord in his fortified chateau or castle, where his wife and children were his only equals, combined with the constant influence of the church, gradually elevated the condition of the woman, the rudeness and violence of the time were modified by the rise of chivalry, which was, in great part, founded on this new respect for the gentler sex, and sympathy for her helpless condition when exposed, without a powful protector, to unrestrained insolence and passion; and the feudal system held all the elements of society in suspense until the mighty forces — revived learning, the printing press, and a new commerce and industry — were ready to take a prominent part in making it what we now find it -- far superior to the old society.

5. Feudalism held men apart, and individually subject to the refining influence of Christian precepts, from the fifth to the ninth century, when the romantic practice of chivalry became popular as a relief from the tedium of isolation, and a channel for the flow of the softer sentiments of respect for woman, of compassion for weakness, and, at the same time, a vent for the martial spirit which the constant conflicts of the time cultivated. The age of chivalry indicates that Christianity was powerfully moulding the character of the new nations. Working on qnalities as stern and rude as those of

the old Roman of the Republic, its partial control, the begin. nings of its power, were manifested in a romantic way. The isolation of feudal life, and a sense of wrong in employing all their energies in unceasing contests of ambition produced the chivalric outbreak and the crusades. The knights of chivalry were feudal lords and gentlemen, trained in all the warlike arts of the period and in all the courtesies which the new influence of female society produced. When starting forth as knight-errants, they were exhorted by the stern feudal warrior to valor, and by the Christian priest to gentleness toward the weak and defenseless, and they made it the business of life to wander about on horseback incased in armor, displaying their warlike accomplishments and combatting petty tyranny. There was little power in the king to right the wrongs of his subjects, and brutal violence in the feudal lords had no other effectual punishment. Chivalry flourished for more than five hundred years; but its most useful days were from 1000 to 1200. It was the first, and seems to later times a somewhat amusing indication of a more humane social state than the world had ever known.

6. The crusades commenced about 1100, the object being to rescue the sepulcher of the founder of Christianity from unbelievers. It first engaged the sympathy of the people at large, then of the feudal nobility and finally interested the ambition of kings. For two hundred years a large part of he best blood of Europe was poured out in Palestine in a vain effort to expel the Saracens from it. The transportation of armaments and supplies to that country from various parts of Europe gradually led to commerce and skill in navigation; so much of ancient civilization and knowledge as still existed in the Eastern, or Greek Empire at Constantinople, was introduced into modern Europe, which at the same time was relieved of its more turbulent and adventurous elements; and a heavy blow was given to the smaller feudal proprietors by the expense incurred in a distant expedition where they died without issue, reduced their families to poverty, or whence

they returned penniless to mortgaged estates.

It rapidly hastened the movement, begun by other influences, to reduce the number of feudal proprietors, and render government more vigorous over increasingly large territories.



1. Between 1000 and 1200 the independent and enterprising spirit -- the individualism — that we have seen at the base of European character, and which first produced the Feudal System, began to move among the masses in various


and laid the foundation for that influence of the People that was afterward to become the most powerful element in political life.

It first presented itself in the development of industrial arts and commerce in cities which obtained, as corporations, the rights, or a part of the rights, of the feudal proprietor, which they proceeded to exercise under the form of Free Cities in Germany, privileged Communes in France and commercial Republics in Italy.

2. A second development, highly favorable some centuries later to the reaction of popular freedom against centralizing despotism in the government, was the religious protest against the claims of the church over freedom of thought. This spirit grew up in Germany, and its first remote beginnings are to be found in the imperial title conferred by the pope on Charlemagne. In the course of time (A. D. 963) that title was inherited by the German rulers who, for a long time, struggled for the control of Italy and a feudal superiority over the popes. This was carried on for two centuries with much acrimony, in which the terms Guelph, the general name of those who supported the side of the popes, and Ghibellines, of those who rallied to the emperor, came to be the watchwords of Germany and Italy. The popes triumphed in this contest, which prevented the establishment of a vast and powerful political des

« AnteriorContinuar »