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Complete Works of D.H. Lawrence, Page 902

D. H. Lawrence

  The Franks kept the land in some sort of order, by the help of the clergy. Councils were held from time to time. There were courts of justice in each district, presided over by a count, whom the king appointed. But as a rule each great landlord made his men bring their disputes before him, and he settled all matters, with the help of his clerk or priest. The chiefs took no notice of the king’s court. Life was wild and disorderly. A good deal of land fell out of cultivation.

  The Gallo-Romans were really better off under the Franks than under the later Roman government. The Franks never extorted exorbitant, ruinous taxes. They depended on free gifts. Again, the Germans had always a higher sense of individual freedom than the southerners. They never had personal slaves. They disliked slaves in their household, they could not endure the personal service of slaves. The sight of fields being worked by gangs of men under an overseer was displeasing to them. Already, when the Roman power broke down, the Gallo-Roinans had begun to be afraid of their slave-gangs. Already much land was divided into plots, with cottages or huts.

  Now the old Roman villa with its splendours and its barracks for slaves disappeared. The manor-house took its place, with a dove-cot, a church near by, and then the cluster of huts where the labourers lived. The land round about the manor-house belonged to the lord of the manor. Beyond this, the estate was broken up into little plots, and each plot was worked by a freeman or a slave, or even by a poor Frank. So we see that the condition of the slave was much improved, he had his own house for himself and his family, and his own possessions, few as they were, and his own life to himself. But the condition of the freeman sank. Just like a slave, the freeman had to go to work in his master’s fields. For the master or lord kept no labourers. The broad lands round the manor were tilled by the men who lived in the village. Before they touched their own fields they must all, slave, freeman and poor Frank alike, put in so many days of work on the master’s estate. When the manor lands were finished, then the serf might begin on his own.

  Still, each man had a soul of his own. The priests were all Gallo-Romans, as were most of the workers on the land. They helped their fellow-countrymen where they could. The Franks were careless task-masters. All went well in years of plenty. In times of bad harvest, many serfs with their families starved to death.

  Thus the Gauls possessed their own land again, they had their own huts, each a piece of his mother-earth. But they were serfs. And they were to remain so for hundreds of years. The spirit of German independence and individual liberty had combined with the old Roman ideal of social unity, and the first signs of real European life appeared. But it was all crude and low.

  The division of the country among the three sons of Clovis was a misfortune, for these three quarrelled. The Frankish kings even strove to keep up the war-spirit, for they despised a settled life as being fit only for women and churchmen. With their long yellow hair and their fierce ways, these kings were either warrior chiefs or nothing. So the fierce and endless fighting went on, trampling the face of Gaul, which might else have been a pleasant land again. For a hundred years the weary wreckage continucd, whilst the Gallo-Romans laboured and the priests and bishops tried to keep some order. But the bishops were almost as bad as the nobles, so greedy for land, so arrogant, so fierce and eager to make war.

  In 628 the good king Dagobert became king of all Gaul, and pacified the land. When he died the old turmoil went on. The king of the north-east, Neustria, fought the king of the north-west, Austrasia. Further south, kings went for nothing, the nobles smashed at one another in endless fray. The land was weary and war-tattered.

  In these days the first rude castles were built. The pleasant country houses and villas and open manors that remained from Gallo-Roman days were no use. The Frankish nobles built themselves strongholds with thick walls and unbreakable towers, dark, ugly dens with no windows and no warmth, bitter cold and unhealthy to live in, but secure. Most of the old pleasant houses were destroyed. New ugly buildings frowned from some strong position, huts clustered at their base or by the road not far off.

  Churches also were built, and fine abbeys, in a new style, in which the Roman manner was modified by the German spirit. Everywhere the German spirit was pervading old forms, to give birth to a new world. More monasteries arose, refuge for war-wearv mortals. But these had to be built strong as fortresses, since bishops and abbots fought as ferociously as dukes and counts.

  In G87 Pippin of Heristal won the battle of Testrv, over the western Franks, the Neustrians, and became chief of all the Frankish nation. He was a good fighter, and wise. He favoured the monks against the too-greedy and impudent bishops, and he proceeded to pacify the land. But no sooner was internal fighting hushed, than external enemies appeared. First the ferocious, pagan Saxons broke over the Rhine. Then the Mohammedans appeared.

  The Franks were still German in speech, German in spirit and in manners. Indeed, from the banks of the Rhine to the Seine the land was rather West Germany than Northern France. The Gallo-Romans of the south hated the northerners. But the worst enemies of the Franks were no longer the Visigoth of the south or the Burgundian of the east, but the wild Saxon of the north, and the Mohammedan from Spain.

  Again Gaul was between two fires. No sooner were the Saxons driven over the Rhine than the Mohammedans appeared over the Pyrenees. By 718 the Arabs or Moors had finally defeated the Visigoths in Spain. Then the dark armies poured into Southern Gaul. They defeated the Visigoths there, sacked Bordeaux, marched on Tours.

  Charles Martel, chief of all the Franks, came down to Aquitaine against the great Arab general Abd-el-Rahman. Beliind Abd-el-Rahman the Arabs were drawn up on their swift and beautiful horses, glittering with armour of fine, thin steel, their faces dark and fierce, their dark beards flowing. They were a great, beautiful host. Behind Charles Martel stood the ranks of tall, blond Franks, Germans, armed with their huge battle-axes. The dark sons of Arabia and Africa faced the young power of Europe. The long and bloody battle of Tours was fought between the two. But the light Arabs with their scimitars could not stand against the whirling battle-axes of the Franks. There was monstrous slaughter, and the Arabs fell back towards the south. But they were not driven out of Francc. For years they held the south of Aquitaine and Septimania, along the Mediterranean.

  In 768 Charles, afterwards called Charlemagne, became king of the Franks. Charlemagne is one of the most famous figures in all history. He was a true Frankish- German, tall, with beautiful bright hair and fresh colouring. German was his native tongue, German the language of his household. But he spoke Latin, and understood Greek. He wore the Frankish dress: that is, a linen shirt and drawers next his skin; above these, a tunic with a silken hem, and breeches of the same stuff as the tunic; then he wrapped his knees and legs down to the ankles with strips of linen; in winter he had a loose overcoat of fur, ermine or otter, short but warm; and over this he wore a coloured Frankish cloak, and slung across him by a gold or silver belt, a scabbarded sword. He hated foreign dress. He lived and ate among the Franks just as one of themselves, without show.

  Yet he was one of the greatest of men. As a fighter and vast conqueror he is to be compared only with Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon. He fought against twelve nations, and spread his great empire from the Elbe to the Pyrenees, and away south down Italy as far as Rome. The great Haroun el Raschid, greatest of the Arab Caliphs, wished to be the friend of so splendid a conqueror, though he despised all other Europeans.

  But Charlemagne was great in many ways. He was learned, and did all he could for education in Francia. He built many fine buildings, bridges, roads. He tried to encourage agriculture, and prevent famine. He was much beloved by all his subjects; and he seemed to stand alone in the world in his greatness. Only the great Haroun el Raschid could compare with him, of all men living at that day.

  Amid the squalor of misery and discord in Italy in the Dark Ages, the popes, bishops of Rome, gradually rose to power. The Pope was head of the Church, and in every land the Church was g
rowing stronger and stronger. Kings depended on bishops, and were afraid of them. The Frankish kings, wisely, had been friends of the popes.

  In 799, however, the Roman citizens rose against Pope Leo III., and would have destroyed him for his many crimes. Leo had already shown himself submissive to the Frankish king. Now he fled to Charles. The king received him gladly, and they agreed to give one another kindness for kindness. Charles with his armies restored the Pope to Rome. In return, whilst he was celebrating mass at the Vatican on Christmas Day of the year 800, Pope Leo suddenly stepped forward, poured a vial of oil over Charles’s head, and crowned him with a golden crown. All the greatest Franks and Romans were present. No doubt they knew what was to happen, for immediately they cried aloud: ‘Hail, Charles Augustus, crowned of God, great and peaceful Emperor of the Romans! Long life and victory!’

  Thus once more a great leader was hailed as Augustus in Rome. The empire of the West had vanished. There was nothing truly Roman left. And yet, in Rome itself, a Christian priest crowned a German soldier, and gave him the title that Nero and Hadrian had borne. This strange event shows what power Rome still had over the minds of men. This was really the beginning, also, of the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted almost to our own day.

  Charles was now the Emperor Charles the Great. He ruled as emperor over a great part of Europe. And the rest of his reign passed fairly quietly. He had to go out against the Northmen or Danes, who were ravaging North Germany. He repressed them so strongly that the Danes were forced to depend more on their ships, and thus began their invasions of Britain, France, and the Mediterranean lands.

  The Emperor tried hard to settle his land of France peacefully and well. Every town had its two governors, the bishop and the count, whilst through the country were sent commissioners, before whom all wrong could be laid. They judged even the counts. Charlemagne made himself head of the Church, to keep the bishops in check.

  But it was not much use. The poorer freemen were at the mercy of the greedy, fighting chieftains and bishops. The poorer Franks, who had come to Gaul as free warriors, and who had remained proud and independent, having free farms or small estates of their own, now sank again. Many were killed in the wars. Those remaining were threatened all the time by rich landowners. So they put themselves under the protection of some lord, and paid tribute of service. The same was the case with Gallic freemen. They all became bond, sinking down towards serfdom. This process seemed inevitable in the Dark Ages. It seemed as if the mass of men must be serfs or slaves, at the mercy of the few. In Charlemagne’s day nine-tenths of the people of Gaul were serfs, one-tenth only were free, and many of these were priests and monks. When Charles gave the learned Englishman Alcuin the present of an estate, we learn that 20,000 serfs went with the land, and were included in the gift. Yet this was not a large estate. So low was the value of men.

  The serfs on the estates of churchmen and on the king’s own land were not so badly off. They were not badly treated, some even came to hold property and to be deemed worthy to be warriors. In years of plenty they were content. But agriculture was very badly managed, and some years there was terrible scarcity. In 805 and 806 thousands of serfs with their families just starved to death. During times like these, many men begged to be admitted into monasteries, to become monks: so many, indeed, that the king had to forbid further admissions.

  We are bound to feel that these Gallo-Romans, ancestors of the modern French, were during this period spiritless, made for slavery. The Franks never levied armies from the Gallic people — evidently considering them unfit for military purposes. Charlemagne struggled to improve the condition of the great servile masses of these serfs or villeins. But they were too apathetic, and the Franks were too contemptuous of them altogether to trouble about them. The Gallo-Romans dragged on their degraded existence, caring nothing for freedom, filled with strange and sometimes horrible superstitions, loving to make pilgrimages to shrines, neglecting all work, desiring to inflict strange penances on themselves, and performing mysterious rites before trees and groves and springs, using charms and practising magic, and willing to commit strange crimes.

  Charlemagne died in 814, and was buried in his own town of Aix-la-Chapelle. His great empire soon fell to pieces, the old darkness sank over the lands. Great lords warred on one another, the lesser lords were killed off. The descendants of Charlemagne, emperors they called themselves, tried to reign. But they were weak and effortless.

  Gradually the Franks dropped their German speech. The bishops and clergy, the teachers, the instructors, were all Gallo-Romans, and spoke a sort of Latin. It was easier for the Franks to learn the Gallic language, the ‘ Romana Rustica ‘ as it was called, the Rustic Latin, than for the Gauls to learn the difficult German. At one time all intelligent Franks spoke both languages. Then gradually the German was forgotten; by 850 or 900 the Romance language was the language of the Franks in Gaul, as well as of the Gallo-Romans.

  As kings grew weaker, dukes and counts grew stronger, till they were really independent lords of their own great lands. Great dukes of Gothia, Gascony, Burgundy, Brittany, Aquitaine, counts of Toulouse, Flanders, Vermandois — these were stronger than any poor Caroling king, in their own regions. Thus the Feudal System begins. In the ninth century the terrible Northmen began to invade France, and the dukes and lords began to build the huge feudal castles against them. In the tenth century the Northmen settled along the Seine. Their land became Normandy: there was a new duke, Duke of Normandy: and soon the Normans were speaking French, they were more French than the Frenchmen. Yet they were pure Germans by blood, Danes.

  An adventurer, Robert the Strong, became Duke of France, that is of the small middle region round Paris. In 987 the Carolingian line died out and Hugh Capet, Duke of France, was proclaimed King of France: that is, he was mere war-leader or war-lord of all the dukes and counts, who remained independent as before. And so now at last, with Hugh Capet, the real kingdom of France begins, separate from Germany altogether, separate from Italy and Rome, the French lords having one head, one leader.

  Chapter IX. The Popes and the Emperors

  At first, as we know, the popes were only bishops of Rome, without any power in the world, save over their clergy and congregations. But as the Christian Church grew, and Christians became numerous, the bishop became master of the considerable moneys of the Church, and of the increasing property in land and goods. So that soon he was important in Rome, having great authority over the people in the city.

  After the departure of the emperors from Rome, the bishops were left supreme in the capital. They claimed that they were the successors of St. Peter, and that Jesus had put the government of the souls of men into the hands of Peter: therefore they, the bishops of Rome, were governors of the spiritual life of Christians. And as the spiritual life is much higher than the temporal life, so the governors of the spiritual realm are much greater than the governors of the world: thus the Bishop of the Christians, the Papa, or Pope, as he came to be called, was much higher in authority than an emperor. So the Pope Leo preached in 446, and so the Pope Gelasius plainly wrote to the Emperor Anastasius at Constantinople, in 494.

  In the time of Gregory the Great, 590-604, the Roman world in Italy was already in ruins, and the Christian Church was the only organised power. In Italy, in Sicily, even in farther provinces, the Church had acquired rich lands, looked after by deacons or subdcacons, and ruled by bishops. But as yet the bishops were ministers of peace. The rents and produce of the Church estates were brought to the mouth of the Tiber, and on the four great sacred festivals, the Pope divided their quarterly allowance to the clergy, to his domestics, to the monasteries, the churches, the places of burial, the alms-houses, and the hospitals of Rome and of the diocese of Rome. On the first day of the month he distributed to the poor, according to season, their allowance of corn, wine, cheese, oil, vegetables, fish, cloth, and money, and such was the misery of Italy at that time that many nobles were glad to accept the Pope’s bounty, for they h
ad nothing left of their own. The sick, the helpless, pilgrims, and strangers were relieved every hour, and Gregory was not in vain called the Father of his Country. For he had to stand alone against the terrible attacks of the Lombards on Rome, reasoning with them and persuading them. Besides all this, he sent out missionaries, and England was converted by his means.

  But as the years went on, the civil life of Italy grew more chaotic. The city of Rome had no defences, and no real government. The senators and chief citizens elected the Pope, and when they were displeased with him, murdered him or drove him out or forced him to his knees. The country round Rome was turned into wilderness.

  The Church of Constantinople, moreover, now called the Greek Church, was very antagonistic to the Roman Church. The Patriarch of Constantinople proudly called himself the Universal Bishop, and tried to make the Bishop of Rome submit to his authority, which the popes of Rome refused to do. At the same time the emperors at Constantinople still claimed to rule over Italy, incapable as they often were. About 730 the Emperor in Constantinople began a great quarrel with the Italian Church, about the use of images. The Roman Christians loved their statues of the Mother of Jesus, and the Infant, their statues of Jesus, and their Crucifixes. The Byzantine rulers wanted these images abolished and destroyed. There was a tremendous struggle again between East and West, religious this time. The bishops of Rome stuck to their images, crucifixes and shrines, and the western Christians loved them for it. So the Roman Church triumphed, the Byzantines were driven back, to spread their Greek Church up the Black Sea to Russia, leaving Western Europe alone.

  The popes became more popular, the bishops grew stronger. But the times were wretched, there was no security anywhere. The rich bishops in Gaul, ruling like princes, often forgot or ignored the distracted popes at Rome. Then the Mohammedan power rose up. It had begun its first attacks on Eastern Christendom in 630, and it spread victorious along the Mediterranean. Christians must fight Moslems, and the Pope, the great head of Christendom, must stand clear to his people. Again, the Frankish princes, Charles Martel, Pippin, Charlemagne, found that they needed some support, some stay in the disordered world. They made themselves firm friends with the tempest-tossed popes of Rome, and the popes helped the princes in return to the kingly and the imperial crown. So the popes became established as powerful heads of Christendom.