Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Complete Works of D.H. Lawrence, Page 901

D. H. Lawrence

  ‘ Where the carcase is, the eagles will be.’ For years the lands of the Gallic freemen had been passing into desolation, for years the German peasants had been filtering in, settling on the deserted fields. Now the German eagles began to hover over helpless Gaul. On the last night of the year 406 myriads of Vandals, Huns, Goths, Alans crossed the Rhine and poured over Gaul. We know how the cities suffered. Whilst things were so bad, from time to time the miserable peasants rose in terrible murderous uprisings, slaying and burning devilishly, then starving and dying themselves, then sinking back to a condition worse than before.

  In 412 the Visigoths, already half Roman in their ways, came and occupied the southern region. They merely took half the forest land and gardens, two-thirds of all the cultivated lands, and worked these mostly with the Gauls or Provincials already established there. The big, good-natured Burgundians did the same on the Rhone. So that the Visigoths and Burgundians were really a blessing to south and east Gaul. They saved the land from enemies, they destroyed nothing, they were amiable masters and neighbours, they left the natives working as before, and only took a good portion of the produce.

  Then in 451 came Attila with the Huns. Attila was defeated at Chalons, but Gaul was ruined. The north was gutted, and Theodoric was dead. After the death of their king the Goths broke into horrible civil war. Peace was restored for a time, but by the end of the century their land too was destroyed, smashed up. Everywhere, in Burgundy the same, there was murderous fighting, destruction, desolation. The whole country was swamped in ruin. ‘ The ocean sweeping over it could not have added to the desolation.’ Cattle had been killed or driven off, man exterminated; fields returned into heath-land and forest; wolves and bears lurked in the ruined streets of Roman cities. Gaul was a desert of desolation. Italy was not much better. The weakness of the Romans and the ferocity of the barbarians had gutted civilised Europe.

  Through all this only the light of Christianity flickered. Dukes, counts, governors, these annihilated one another. The government was wiped out. All was howling, weltering insecurity. Only the Christian bishops and clergy kept their souls clear and their minds strong. In the spoiled cities the bishops took authority, to prevent the whole place turning into a den of thieves and murderers, wolves and bears. The Roman law-courts, called basilicas, became Christian churches, and in these buildings the clergy exhorted and commanded the demoralised people. Even Attila had been forced to reverence one bishop, Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, for the fierce Hun found this Christian leader such a noble, commanding presence, unafraid.

  Rome was ended, Gaul was left a waste, stranded region, with only the Christian bishops keeping their heads erect in the wreckage. New power must come from somewhere, new life, new force, new strength to build up another Gaul. And where was the force to come from? Not from the south, for the south was spent. The bishops quite rightly looked to the north. They looked carefully to the most powerful of the tribes of northern Germans. These tribes were the Franks. The bishops had now to look to the Franks as masters or servants. They must depend on the fierce but manly barbarians of the north, and forget the corrupt, foolish Romans.

  Chapter VIII. The Franks and Charlemagne

  In the darkest ages of the fifth and sixth centuries Christianity alone kept hope alive. In the terrible welter and insecurity of Gaul, some men were weary to death of fighting, robbing, burning, thieving, snatching; they wanted peace and the stillness of the soul above all things. Then the monastic life suggested itself. Men seeking the life of the mind and spirit gathered together in the religious houses, or monasteries, where, shut off from the howling desert world, they could think, and write, and pray, and hope. They worked in their fields and kept some spots on the earth sunny and clear. They went among the people, helping, encouraging, teaching, keeping the soul alive and preventing men from sinking back into brutish emptiness. Their lives were a continued protest against the degraded, hopeless slavery of Roman Gaul. Man cannot live without hope, and it was the monks and priests who kept the hope alive in the countryside, the bishops and clergy who fed it in the towns.

  At the same time the people mingled all kinds of superstitions with the Christian beliefs. If they had worshipped some strange pagan goddess at a well, a goddess to whom they brought flowers, then they put a statue of the Virgin Mary in place of the idol of the goddess, and it was Mary who performed miracles with the water, and whose voice was heard at night from the bubbling of the spring, and to whom flowers or even other sacrifices were offered. Many sacred trees of the Druids were cut down. But at other times a crucifix was nailed to a bough, and Jesus became the Son of the mystic Tree; or else a little chapel or shrine was built in the shade of the oak, and here the gifts to the terrible deity of the Druids were hung up in offering to the new God, the new golden bough, the golden Jesus. So the mistletoe was sacred to Jesus. And even now it is the symbol of the kiss of love and increase in our Christmas festivities. So the old and new religions mingled in the Gallic Christianity, the two spirits became one, Jesus is the fruit of the Tree.

  Even this measure of peace was to be disturbed again. In the south the Visigothic and the Burgundian kingdoms were Christian, but they belonged to the eastern Christianity, not the Roman. In the north the German Franks were still pagan. The Franks had long been friends and allies of the Roman people. As allies of the Romans for many years they defended the left bank of the Rhine. As Roman power faded away, they came to possess these lands of the left side of the Rhine. These were the first Frankish lands, and always the centre of the Frankish people, the territories we now call Alsace, Lorraine, Luxemburg, Belgium. For the Franks did not like emigrating far from the Rhine.

  The Franks were not a single tribe, but probably a confederacy of Germans from many tribes. Frank means a man armed with a franciscus, or axe: a German axe-fighter. They were a loose, brave, barbarous, pagan people, hardly united at all. One of their tribes to the north was the Salian. They were settled by the marshy Rhine mouths. The Salians were very brave, and had caused endless trouble by their ceaseless raids into Northern Gaul. They became the most important of the Franks. Their chiefs were the Merwings, one of the most considerable families in all the confederation. We know that a Merwig or Merwing led the Franks against Attila, and watched that king from the north, until he crossed the Rhine.

  In the year 481 a boy of fifteen, Clovis, became heir to the kingship of the Salian Franks. His tribe was small, counting four thousand fighting men, but very brave, sprung from those Batavian Germans whom the Romans respected so deeply. Clovis was faithfully followed, and made headway. By the time he was twenty he was head of a large army of Franks, his own Salians forming the core of the fighting force.

  At Soissons the shadow of the Roman name was kept up in the court of Syagrius. All Gaul was III the hands of barbarians, except Armorica (Brittany), and the land stretching from Brittany to the Frankish borders. Armorica was a free Gallic republic. Syagrius, in the Roman name, ruled over the broad district between the Loire and the Meuse, the district of which Paris is the real centre, but which Syagrius feebly governed from Soissons. He administered justice between the Germans and the Gauls, and hoped one day to gather all the north into a kingdom.

  This was not destined to take place. In 486 the young Frank Clovis fell upon Syagrius. Syagrius fled south for his life, to Toulouse, the capital of the young Visigothic king Alaric. Clovis sent messengers and warriors down to the Mediterranean, to Alaric in Toulouse, demanding the surrender of Syagrius. Alaric, not seeing what a deadly neighbour he was bringing himself, delivered up Syagrius, who was promptly slain by Clovis.

  The Franks now occupied the territories of the unfortunate Syagrius, and Clovis was possessed of a large district, bounded by the Rhine on the north, the Loire on the south, Burgundy on the east, and Armorica on the west. Gaul was now swallowed up by barbarians, the Gallo-Romans had no land of their own. Only Armorica, a corner, remained free.

  The Roman Church of Gaid was established in the north, in
the territories of Syagrius. Rheims was the most famous bishopric. The bishops had now a new power to encounter; the Franks were upon them. The Franks were pagan, but then the bishops always had hopes of the wild, uncivilised Germanic tribes, for if they could convert them, they would have great influence over them. So the great desire of the Gallic bishops was to convert the Franks. If they could convert them they could use them, and establish the power of the Gallic Church upon them.

  Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, was an astute man. Whilst Clovis was still very young, he had been very friendly to him. The friendship continued, but still Remigius dared not press the young pagan to desert his old faith. At last Clovis, having become more powerful, wished to marry, and to marry a princess. Remigius no doubt artfully suggested the fair Clotilde, a Christian of the Roman Church, and niece to the king of Burgundy. So Clovis married Clotilde.

  Remigius had taught Clotilde carefully. He knew the Germans were always very soft and pliant towards their young wives. He knew also that women in his time depended on Christianity for their freedom and equality, for all pagans kept their wives in the background. If Clotilde had a Christian husband she would be a free Christian woman. If not, she would be an obscure pagan wife. It was no wonder that women were the most ardent missionaries in private life, in the first days.

  But Clovis was still only a petty prince among the Franks. In 496 the Allemanni, the All-men, the famous German confederacy who had their home about the headwaters of the Rhine, pushed towards Gaul, and pressed on the Franks in Alsace. The Franks of the south called on the Franks of the north. Clovis came down with his Salian army. A great battle took place between the united Franks and the Allemanni. The battle was going against the Franks. In his wild excitement, feeling that he was losing, in the midst of battle Clovis thought of his queen at home. Without knowing what he was doing, he cried out as he fought that if the God of his Clotilde would grant him victory, he would accept her faith. So he swept on in a new rush, the tide of battle turned, the Allemanni were utterly routed.

  In their joy nearly all the tribes in the confederation of Franks submitted to the overlordship of Clovis, and he had a great people under him. Now came the time to fulfil his vow. But in his cool mind he was unwilling to do so. He hesitated. Clotilde and Remigius persuaded and persuaded him. At last he consented. He was baptized in Rheims Cathedral, with three thousand of his warriors, whom he had commanded or exhorted to accept the new faith along with him. Remigius, or St. Remy as we now call him, was delighted. He performed the ceremony with all possible splendour, and it seemed to the barbarians as if they were entering heaven itself.

  The bishops now handed over the relics of the old Roman legions, their standards and trophies, to Clovis, and Clovis became master of Northern Gaul, save only for Armorica. He was a Christian of the true Latin or Roman Church, as were all the Gallic clergy. But the Burgundians and the Goths were heretic Arians, belonging to the eastern form of Christianity. So the bishops hated them.

  Clovis was the drawn sword of the bishops. First he attacked the Burgundians, and defeated their king Gonde- bald in 500. Then he ravaged Provence, the old Roman province just round Marseilles, and gave it to a friend, Theodoric the Ostrogoth. Then he looked at the great kingdom of the Goths, stretcliing away from the south to the Bay of Biscay and the Loire, a rich land.

  ‘ It much displeases me,’ said Clovis in 507, ‘ that the Goths, being Arians, should own a part of Gaul. Let us go and, God helping, seize their land.’ So they swooped down, the Frankish hosts on the Visigoths. Clovis met Alaric in single combat. Alaric was slain, his army routed. The Franks began to ravage the country. Theodoric the Ostrogoth came against his former friend, and saved just a strip of the Visigothic kingdom along the Mediterranean round Narbonne to the Pyrenees. This the Visigoths kept for three centuries longer. It was called Septimania.

  The Franks treated the Visigothic land shamefully, and then, when weary of it, retired north, carrying off rich spoil and countless captives. The Gallo-Romans of Aquitaine, amazed at their orthodox friends from the north, conceived a hatred against them that lasted for hundreds of years, a hatred far surpassing anything they ever felt for their more humane conquerors the Goths.

  Meanwhile the Emperor of the East had sent an embassy to Clovis, bearing orders to confer the title of Consul Romanus on the barbarian. Clovis was pleased. With great pomp he celebrated the investiture. In the cathedral of Tours, Martin, Bishop of Tours, invested the Frankish chieftain with the purple tunic and mantle, and with a diadem. So Clovis rode through the streets, amid the acclamations of the people. He was a Roman Consul, as Julius Caesar had been before him. The Gallo-Romans were much moved, for they ever looked back to their days of Roman greatness.

  Clovis was now raised above any other Germanic chief or king. He tried to establish himself more securely by killing off any head of a tribe he could lay his hands on. One after another he murdered them, and made himself king of their tribes. At last all the Meroving chiefs had perished, Clovis’ own relations, and he was sole head of the Franks, acknowledged by all.

  4 Woe is me!’ he said at last,’ for I am left as a sojourner in the midst of strangers. I have now no kinsman to help me, if misfortune comes.’ But he said this like a cunning fox, hoping to draw forward any man who pretended to belong to his royal house. If any had come forward, Clovis would at once have dispatched him. But there was none to come.

  Clovis and his Franks were no governors. They could not rule a country. They could only spoil it. The Gallic bishops clustered round his throne flattering him and cunningly using him. The Franks paid to their bishops all the reverential homage they had yielded to their mysterious pagan priests in the past. Clovis loaded the Church with gifts and lands, till it was said the Gallo- Romans recovered through their clergy what they lost through the wars. For the clergy and bishops were all Gallo-Romans. No Frank would dream of taking holy orders. A Frank would live by his sword. So the Gallo- Romans had the Church of Gaul entirely in their own hands, and in this indirect way they governed their own country. For bishops advised and instructed the Frankish princes.

  So, in the towns, and on the great Church estates all over the country the Gallic bishops erected their palaces. Just as counts and dukes had had the cities in their power in late Roman days, so the bishops had them now. The bishops were the sole riders, magistrates, protectors of the towns. They were the established landed aristocracy. They really had the warlike, barbarian kings in their power. They became a proud, worldly, domineering race, most unchristian.

  Clovis died in 511, and the territories in Gaul were roughly divided among his three sons. The settlement of the land went on slowly, for the Franks were very German in feeling; they kept returning to their old homes by the Rhine, and new bodies of Franks continually passed into Gaul.

  When the Franks did settle it was in a very irregular manner. They avoided towns, for they disliked being crowded and shut up. The Gallo-Romans had the cities to themselves. The Franks dispersed themselves in little knots or groups in the countryside, each group almost separate and independent of all the others. The kings had great territories. On these lands they owned certain manor-houses, and with his whole court the king rode from one big farm to another. When he had exhausted the hunting and the provision of one manor or villa, he and his following mounted horse and rode away to camp in another. They caroused, gambled and hunted all day long, when no fighting was to be done. They also practised military sports, that kept them busy.

  The king as we know gave large tracts of land to the bishops and to the Church. He also granted fiefs or estates to his friends, the warriors who fought with him, or the men whom he liked. The greater chiefs, however, who had followed the king independently, took greater lands for themselves, and assumed full, free power over it. So that after Clovis’ time we have the kings moving about to their various houses on their own territories, to hunt and sport; we have the more independent chiefs living with their own following on other territorie
s; and we have the smaller estates which the king had given to his friends, and which he might any time take back again.

  The Franks, indeed all the Germans, did not attach themselves to land. They counted the man everything, the land nothing. The Frankish king would not deign to call himself king of France or Francia. He was a king of men, king of the Franks. The land was only the hunting-ground and the provision-field of men.

  So the king paid not the slightest heed to the cultivation of his territories. On the land which he reserved as his own, the Gallo-Romans were living and working. Most of these were left as they were, and only compelled to give tribute, to provide the king with all he wanted. It was the same on the territories of the great chiefs. Many of the Gallo-Roman gentlemen and freemen remained as they were, in their villas or huts, but they had to give tribute to the Frankish chieftain, yield up corn and cattle and service at his demand. Real tribute meant personal service, labour in the fields of the overlord. When a Frank was given a farm or manor of his own, if it were not occupied he took possession. If it were occupied he got rid of the occupant, installed himself, and worked the land with his captives or slaves. This Frank, having received his land from the king as reward for fighting services, was still a king’s man. He must fight for the king. But he paid no tribute, unless it were in certain provisions. He was almost independent. Only the great independent chiefs held their lands without paying any tribute at all. The commoner Franks who came into Gaul took their share of what they could get — captives, cattle, goods, money. With these they sheltered themselves under a great chieftain, and either asked him to give them a farm, for which they would pay tribute, or else some post in his household. Some of them sank very low, became mere servants or serfs; some remained free farmers.