A History of Paris - Thomas Okey - ebook

The mediæval scribe in the fulness of a divinely-revealed cosmogony is wont to begin his story at the creation of the world or at the confusion of tongues, to trace the building of Troy by the descendants of Japheth, and the foundation of his own native city by one of the Trojan princes made a fugitive in Europe by proud Ilion's fall. Such, he was very sure, was the origin of Padua, founded by Antenor and by Priam, son of King Priam, whose grandson, yet another Priam, by his great valour and wisdom became the monarch of a mighty people, called from their fair hair, Galli or Gallici. And of the strong city built on the little island in the Seine who could have been its founder but the ravisher of fair Helen—Sir Paris himself? The naïve etymology of the time was evidence enough...

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Thomas Okey


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Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Okey

Published by Endymion Press

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ISBN: 9781531293079


CHAPTER I Gallo-Roman Paris

CHAPTER II The Barbarian Invasions—St. Genevieve—The Conversion of Clovis—The Merovingian Dynasty

CHAPTER III The Carlovingians—The Great Siege of Paris by the Normans—The Germs of Feudalism

CHAPTER IV The Rise of the Capetian Kings and the Growth of Feudal Paris

CHAPTER V Paris under Philip Augustus and St. Louis

CHAPTER VI Art and Learning at Paris

CHAPTER VII Conflict with Boniface VIII.—The States-General—The Destruction of the Knights-Templars—The Parlement

CHAPTER VIII Étienne Marcel—the English Invasions—The Maillotins—Murder of the Duke of Orleans—Armagnacs and Burgundians

CHAPTER IX Jeanne d’Arc—Paris under the English—End of the English Occupation

CHAPTER X Louis XI. at Paris—The Introduction of Printing

CHAPTER XI Francis I.—The Renaissance at Paris

CHAPTER XII Rise of the Guises—Huguenot and Catholic—the Massacre of St. Bartholomew

CHAPTER XIII Henry III.—The League—Siege of Paris by Henry IV.—His Conversion, Reign and Assassination

CHAPTER XIV Paris under Richelieu and Mazarin

CHAPTER XV The Grand Monarque—Versailles and Paris

CHAPTER XVI Paris under the Regency and Louis XV.—The brooding Storm

CHAPTER XVII Louis XVI.—The Great Revolution—Fall of the Monarchy

CHAPTER XVIII Execution of the King—Paris under the First Republic—the Terror—Napoleon—Revolutionary and Modern Paris


THE MEDIÆVAL SCRIBE IN THE fulness of a divinely-revealed cosmogony is wont to begin his story at the creation of the world or at the confusion of tongues, to trace the building of Troy by the descendants of Japheth, and the foundation of his own native city by one of the Trojan princes made a fugitive in Europe by proud Ilion’s fall. Such, he was very sure, was the origin of Padua, founded by Antenor and by Priam, son of King Priam, whose grandson, yet another Priam, by his great valour and wisdom became the monarch of a mighty people, called from their fair hair, Galli or Gallici. And of the strong city built on the little island in the Seine who could have been its founder but the ravisher of fair Helen—Sir Paris himself? The naïve etymology of the time was evidence enough.

But the modern writer, as he compares the geographical position of the capitals of Europe, is tempted to exclaim, Cherchez le marchand! for he perceives that their unknown founders were dominated by two considerations—facilities for commerce and protection from enemies: and before the era of the Roman road-makers, commerce meant facilities for water carriage. As the early settlers in Britain sailed up the Thames, they must have observed, where the river’s bed begins somewhat to narrow, a hill rising from the continuous expanse of marshes from its mouth, easily defended on the east and west by those fortified posts which, in subsequent times, became the Tower of London and Barnard’s Castle, and if we scan a map of France, we shall see that the group of islands on and around which Paris now stands, lies in the fruitful basin of the Seine, known as the Isle de France, near the convergence of three rivers; for on the east the Marne, on the west the Oise, and on the south the Yonne, discharge their waters into the main stream on its way to the sea. In ancient times the great line of Phœnician, Greek and Roman commerce followed northwards the valleys of the Rhone and of the Saone, whose upper waters are divided from those of the Yonne only by the plateau of Dijon and the calcareous slopes of Burgundy. The Parisii were thus admirably placed for tapping the profitable commerce of north-west Europe, and by the waters of the Eure, lower down the Seine, were able to touch the fertile valley of the Loire. The northern rivers of Gaul were all navigable by the small boats of the early traders, and, in contrast with the impetuous sweep of the Rhone and the Loire in the south and west, flowed with slow and measured stream: they were rarely flooded, and owing to the normally mild winters, still more rarely blocked by ice. Moreover, the Parisian settlement stood near the rich cornland of La Beauce, and to the north-east, over the open plain of La Valois, lay the way to Flanders. It was one of the river stations on the line of the Phœnician traders in tin, that most precious and rare of ancient metals, between Marseilles and Britain, and in the early Middle Ages became, with Lyons and Beaucaire, one of the chief fairs of that historic trade route which the main lines of railway traffic still follow to-day. The island now known as the Cité, which the founders of Paris chose for their stronghold, was the largest of the group which lay involved in the many windings of the Seine, and was embraced by a natural moat of deep waters. To north and south lay hills, marshes and forests, and all combined to give it a position equally adapted for defence and for commerce.

The Parisii were a small tribe of Gauls whose island city was the home of a prosperous community of shipmen and merchants, but it is not until the Conquest of Gaul by the Romans that Lutetia, for such was its Romanised name, joins the great pageant of history. It was —

“Armèd Cæsar falcon-eyed,”

who saw its great military importance, built a permanent camp there and made it a central entrepôt for food and munitions of war. And when in 52 B.C. the general rising of the tribes under Vercingétorix threatened to scour the Romans out of Gaul and to destroy the whole fabric of Cæsar’s ambition, he sent his favourite lieutenant, Labienus, to seize Lutetia where the Northern army of the Gauls was centred. Labienus crossed the Seine at Melun, fixed his camp on a spot near the position of the church of St. Germain l’Auxerrois, and began the first of the historic sieges for which Paris is so famous. But the Gaulish commander burnt the bridges, fired the city, and took up his position on the slopes of the hill of Lutetius (St. Genevieve) in the south, and aimed at crushing his enemy between his own forces and an army advancing from the north. Labienus having learnt that Cæsar was in a tight place, owing to a check at Clermont and the defection of the Eduans, by a masterly piece of engineering recrossed the Seine by night at the Point du Jour, where the double viaduct of the girdle railway crosses to-day, and when the Gauls awoke in the morning they beheld the bannered host of the Roman legions in battle array on the plain of Grenelle beneath. They made a desperate attempt to drive them against the river, but they lost their leader and were almost annihilated by the superior arms and strategy of the Romans. Labienus was able to join his master at Sens, and the irrevocable subjugation of the Gauls soon followed. With the tolerant and enlightened conquerors came the Roman peace, Roman law, Roman roads, the Roman schoolmaster; and a more humane religion abolished the Druidical sacrifices. Lutetia was rebuilt and became a prosperous and, next to Lyons, the most important of Gallo-Roman cities. It lay equidistant from Germany and Britain and at the issue of valleys which led to the upper and lower Rhine. The quarries of Mount Lutetius produced an admirable building stone, kind to work and hardening well under exposure to the air, whose white colour may have won for Paris the name of Leucotia, or the White City, by which it is sometimes known to ancient writers. Cæsar had done his work well, for so completely were the Gauls Romanised, that by the fifth or sixth century their very language had disappeared.

But towards the end of the third century three lowly wayfarers were journeying from Rome along the great southern road to Paris, charged by the Pope with a mission fraught with greater issues to Gaul than were the Cæsars and all their legions. Let us recall somewhat of the appearance of the city which Dionysius, Rusticus and Eleutherius saw as they neared its suburbs and came down what is now known as the Rue St. Jacques. After passing the arches of the aqueduct, two of which exist to this day, that crossed the valley of Arcueil and brought the waters of Rungis, Paray and Montjean to the baths of the imperial palace and the public fountains, they would discern on the hill of Lutetius to their right, the Roman camp, garrison and cemetery. Lower down to the east they would catch a glimpse of a great amphitheatre, capable of accommodating 10,000 spectators.

On their left, where now stands the Lycée St. Louis, would be the theatre of Lutetia, and further on, the imposing and magnificent palace of the Cæsars, with its gardens sloping down to the Seine. The turbulent little stream of the Bièvre flowed by the foot of Mons Lutetius on the east, entering the main river opposite the eastern limit of the civitas of Lutetia, gleaming white before them and girdled by the waters of the Seine. A narrow eel-shaped island, subsequently known as the Isle de Galilée, lay between the Isle of the Cité and the southern bank; two islands, the Isles de Notre Dame and des Vaches, divided by a narrow channel to the east, and two eyots, the Isles des Juifs and de Bussy, to the west. Another islet, the Isle de Javiaux or de Louviers, lay near the northern bank beyond the two eastern islands. Crossing a wooden bridge, where now stands the Petit Pont, they would enter the forum under a triumphal arch. Here would be the very foyer of the city; a little way to the left the prefect’s palace and the basilica, or hall of justice; to the right the temple of Jupiter. As they crossed the island they would find it linked to the northern bank by another wooden bridge (the Grand Pont) replaced by the present Pont Notre Dame. In the distance to the north stood Mons Martis (Montmartre), villas nestling on its slopes and crowned with the temples of Mars and Mercury, four of whose columns are preserved in the church of St. Pierre: to the west the aqueduct from Passy bringing its waters to the mineral baths located on the site of the present Palais Royal. A road, now the Rue St. Martin, led to the north; to the east, fed by the streams of Menilmontant and Belleville, lay the marshy land which is still known as the quarter of the Marais.

Denis, who by the mediæval hagiographers is invariably confused with Dionysius the Areopagite, and his companions, preached and taught the new faith unceasingly and met martyrs’ deaths. In the Golden Legend he is famed to have converted much people to the faith, and “dyde do make many churches, and at length was brought before the judge who dyde do smyte off the hedes of the thre felawes by the temple of Mercurye. And anone the body of Saynte Denys reysed hymselfe up and bare his hede beetwene his armes, as the angels ladde hym two leghes fro the place which is sayd the hille of the martyrs unto the place where he now resteth by his election and the purveance of god. And there was heard so grete and swete a melodye of angels that many that herd it byleuyd in oure lorde.”

The work that Denis and his companions began was more fully achieved in the fourth century by the rude Pannonion soldier, St. Martin, who also evangelised at Paris. He is the best-known of Gallic saints, and the story of his conversion one of the most popular in Christendom. When stationed at Amiens he was on duty one bitter cold day at the city gate, and espied a poor naked beggar asking alms. Soldiers in garrison are notoriously impecunious, and Martin had nothing to give; but drawing his sword he cleaved his mantle in twain, and bestowed half upon the shivering wretch at his feet. That very night the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a dream surrounded by angels, having on His shoulders the half of the cloak which Martin had given to the beggar. Turning to the angels, Jesus said: “Know ye who hath thus arrayed Me? My servant Martin, though yet unbaptised, hath done this.” After this vision Martin received baptism and remained steadfast in the faith. The illiterate and dauntless soldier became the fiery apostle of the faith, a vigorous iconoclast, throwing down the images of the false gods, breaking their altars in pieces and burning their temples. Of the Roman gods, Mercury, he said, was most difficult to ban, but Jove was merely stupid and brutish, and gave him least trouble.

On the 16th of March 1711, some workmen, digging a burial crypt for the archbishops of Paris under the choir of Notre Dame, came upon a wall, six feet below the pavement, which contemporary antiquarians believed to be the wall of the original Christian basilica over which the cathedral was built, but which modern authorities affirm to have been part of the old Gallo-Roman wall of the Cité. In the fabric of this wall the early builders had incorporated the remains of a temple of Jupiter, and among the débris were found the fragments of an altar raised to Jove in the reign of Tiberius Cæsar by the Nautæ, a guild of Parisian merchant-shippers, and the table of another altar on whose foyer still remained some of the very burnt wood and incense used in the last pagan sacrifice. The mutilated stones, with their rude Gallo-Roman reliefs and inscriptions, may be seen in the Frigidarium of the Thermæ, the old Roman baths by the Hôtel de Cluny, and are among the most interesting of historical documents in Paris. The Corporation of Nautæ Parisiaci, one of the most powerful of the guilds, among whose members were enrolled the chief citizens of Lutetia, who dedicated this altar to Jove, were the origin of the Commune or Civil Council of Paris, whose Provost was known as late as the fourteenth century as thePrévôt des Marchands d’Eau. Their device was the Nef, or ship, which is and has been throughout the ages, the arms of Paris, and which to this day may be seen carved on the vaultings of the Roman baths.

In the great palace of which these baths formed but a part was enacted that scene so vividly described in the pages of Gibbon, when, in 355, Julian, after his victories over the Alemanni and the Franks, was acclaimed Augustus by the rebellious troops of Constantius. He had admonished the sullen legions, angry at being detached from their victorious and darling commander for service on the Persian frontier, and had urged them to obedience, but at midnight the young Cæsar was awakened by a clamorous and armed multitude besieging the palace, and at early dawn its doors were forced; the reluctant Julian was seized and carried through the streets in triumph, lifted on a shield, and for diadem crowned with a military collar, to be enthroned and saluted as emperor. In after life the emperor-philosopher looked back with tender regret to the three winters he spent in Paris before his elevation to the imperial responsibilities and anxieties. He writes of the busy days and meditative nights he passed in his dear Lutetia, with its two wooden bridges, its pure and pleasant waters, its excellent wine. He dwells on the mildness of its climate, where the fig-tree, protected by straw in the winter, grew and fruited. One rigorous season, however, the emperor well remembered when the Seine was blocked by huge masses of ice. Julian, who prided himself on his endurance, at first declined the use of those charcoal fires which to this day are a common and deadly method of supplying heat in Paris. But his rooms were damp and his servants were allowed to introduce them into his sleeping apartment. The Cæsar was almost asphyxiated by the fumes, and his physicians to restore him administered an emetic. Julian in his time was beloved of the Lutetians, for he was a just and tolerant prince whose yoke was easy. He had purged the soil of Gaul from the barbarian invaders, given Lutetia peace and security, and made of it an important, imperial city. His statue, found near Paris, still recalls his memory in the hall of the great baths of the Lutetia he loved so well.

The so-called apostasy of this lover of Plato and worshipper of the Sun, who never went to the wars or travelled without dragging a library of Greek authors after him, was a philosophic reaction against the harsh measures, the bloody and treacherous natures of the Christian emperors, and the fierceness of the Arian controversy. The movement was but a back-wash in the stream of history, and is of small importance. Julian’s successors, Valentinian and Gratian, reversed his policy but shared his love for the fair city on the Seine, and spent some winters there. Lutetia had now become a rich and cultured Gallo-Roman city.


IN THE PROLOGUE TO FAUST, the Lord of Heaven justifies the existence of the restless, goading spirit of evil by the fact that man’s activity is all too prone to flag,—

“Er liebt sich bald die unbedingte Ruh.“

As with men so with empires: riches and inaction are hard to bear. It was not so much a corruption of morals as a growing slackness and apathy in public life and an intellectual sloth that hastened the fall of the Roman Empire. Owing to the gradual exhaustion of the supply of slaves its economic basis was crumbling away. The ruling class was content to administer and enjoy rather than to govern: unwilling or incompetent to grapple with the new order of things. For centuries the Gauls had been untrained in arms and habituated to look to the imperial legions for defence against the half-savage races of men, giants in stature and strength, surging like an angry sea against their boundaries.

The end of the fifth century is the beginning of the evil times of Gallic story: the confederation of Frankish tribes who had conquered and settled in Belgium saw successive waves of invasion pass by, and determined to have their part in the spoils. They soon overran Flanders and the north, and at length under Clovis captured Paris and conquered nearly the whole of Gaul. That fair land of France, “one of Nature’s choicest masterpieces, one of Ceres’ chiefest barns for corn, one of Bacchus’ prime wine cellars and of Neptune’s best salt-pits,” became the prey of the barbarian. The whole fabric of civilisation seem doomed to destruction, Gaul had become the richest and most populous of Roman provinces; its learning and literature were noised in Rome; its rhetoricians drew students from the mother city herself; it was the last refuge of Græco-Roman culture in the west. But at the end of the sixth century Gregory of Tours deplores the fact that in his time there were neither books, nor readers, nor scholar who could compose in verse or prose, and that only the speech of the rustic was understood. He playfully scolds himself for muddling prepositions and confusing genders and cases, but his duty as a Christian priest is to instruct, not to charm, and so he tells the story of his times in such rustic Latin as he knows. He draws for us a vivid picture of Clovis, his savage valour, his astuteness, his regal passion.

After the victory at Soissons over Syagrius, the shadowy king of the Romans, Clovis was met by St. Rémi, who prayed that a vase of great price and wondrous beauty among the spoil might be returned to him. “Follow us,” said the king, “to Soissons, where the booty will be shared.” Before the division took place Clovis begged that the vase might be accorded to him. His warriors answered: “All, glorious king, is thine.” But before the king could grasp the vase, one, jealous and angry, threw hisfrancisque at it, exclaiming: “Thou shalt have no more than falls to thy lot.” The broken vase was however apportioned to the king, who restored it to the bishop. But Clovis hid the wound in his heart, and at the annual review in the Champ de Mars near Paris, as the king strode along the line inspecting the weapons of his warriors, he stopped in front of the uncourtly soldier, took his axe from him, complained of its foul state, and flung it angrily on the ground. As the man stooped to pick it up Clovis, with his own axe, cleft his skull in twain, exclaiming: “Thus didst thou to the vase at Soissons.” “Even so,” says Gregory quaintly, “did he inspire all with great fear.”

At this point of our story we are met by the first of those noble women, heroic and wise, for whom French history is pre-eminent. In the early fifth century “saynt germayn of aucerre and saynt lew of troyes, elect of the prelates of fraunce for to goo quenche an heresye that was in grete brytayne, now called englond, came to nannterre for to be lodged and heberowed and the people came ageynst theym for to have theyr benyson. Emonge the people, saynt germayn, by thenseignemente of the holy ghoost, espyed out the lytel mayde saynt geneuefe, and made hyr to come to hym, and kyste hyr heed and demaunded hyr name, and whos doughter she was, and the people aboute hyr said that her name was geneuefe, and her fader seuere, and her moder geronce, whyche came unto hym, and the holy man sayd: is this child yours? They answerd: Ye. Blessyd be ye, said the holy man, whan god hath gyven to you so noble lignage, knowe ye for certeyn that the day of hyr natiyuyte the angels sange and halyowed grete mysterye in heuen with grete ioye and gladnes.”

Tidings soon came to Paris that Attila, the felon king of Hungary, had enterprised to destroy and waste the parts of France, and the merchants for great dread they had, sent their goods into cities more sure. Genevieve caused the good women of the town to “wake in fastynges and in orysons, and bade the bourgeyses that they shold not remeuve theyr goodes for by the grace of god parys shold have none harme.” At first the people hardened their hearts and reviled her, but St. Germain, who had meantime returned to Paris, entreated them to hearken to her, and our Lord for her love did so much that the “tyrantes approachyd not parys, thanke and glorye to god and honoure to the vyrgyn.” At the siege of Paris by Childeric and his Franks, when the people were wasted by sickness and famine, “the holy vyrgyne, that pyte constrayned her, wente to the sayne for to goe fetche by shyp somme vytaylles.” She stilled by her prayers a furious tempest and brought the ships back laden with wheat. When the city was at length captured, King Childeric, although a paynim, saved at her intercession the lives of his prisoners, and one day, to escape her importunate pleadings for the lives of some criminals, fled out of the gates of Paris and shut them behind him. The saint lived to build a church over the tomb of St. Denis and to see Clovis become a Christian. She died in 509, and was buried on the hill of Lutetius, which ever since has borne her name.

The faithful built a little wooden oratory over her tomb, which Clovis and his queen Clotilde replaced in 506 by a great basilica dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul,—whose length the king measured by the distance he could hurl his axe—and the famous monastery of St. Genevieve.

The conversion of Clovis is the capital fact of early French history. Clotilde had long importuned him to declare himself a Christian, and he had consented to the baptism of their firstborn, but the infant’s death within a week seemed an admonition from his own jealous gods. A second son, however, recovered from grievous sickness at his wife’s prayers, and this, aided perhaps by a shrewd insight into the trend of events, induced him to lend a more willing ear to the teachers of the new Faith. In 496 the Franks were at death grapple with their German foes at Tolbiac. Clovis, when the fight went against him, invoked the God of the Christians and prayed to be delivered from his enemies. His cry was heard and the advent of the new Lord of Battles was winged with victory.

The conversion of Clovis was a triumph for the Church: in her struggle with the Arian heresy in Gaul, she was now able to enforce the arguments of the pen by the edge of the sword. Her scribes are tender to his memory, for his Christianity was marked by few signs of grace. He remained the same savage monarch as before, and did not scruple to affirm his dynasty and extend his empire by treachery and by the assassination of his kinsmen. To the Franks, Jesus was but a new and more puissant tribal deity. “Long live the Christ who loves the Franks,” writes the author of the prologue to the Salic law; and when the bishop was one day reading the Gospel story of the Passion, the king, qui moult avait grand compassion, cried out: “Ah! had I been there with my Franks I would have avenged the Christ.” Nor was their ideal of kinship any loftier. Their realm was not a trust, but a possession to be divided among their heirs, and the jealousy and strife excited by the repeated partitions among sons, make the history of the Merovingian dynasty a tale of cruelty and treachery whose every page is stained with blood.

Clovis, in 508, made Paris the official capital of his realm, and at his death in 511 divided his possessions between his four sons—Thierry, Clodomir, Childebert and Clothaire. Clodomir after a short reign met his death in battle, leaving his children to the guardianship of their grandmother, Clotilde. One day messengers came to her in the old palace of the Cæsars on the south bank of the Seine from Childebert and Clothaire praying that their nephews might be entrusted to them. Believing they were to be trained in kingly offices that they might succeed their father in due time, Clotilde granted their prayer and two of the children were sent to them in the palace of the Cité. Soon came another messenger, bearing a pair of shears and a naked sword, and Clotilde was bidden to determine the fate of her wards and to choose for them between the cloister and the edge of the sword. An angry exclamation escaped her: “If they are not to be raised to the throne, I would rather see them dead than shorn.” The messenger waited to hear no more and hastened back to the two kings. Clothaire then seized the elder of the children and stabbed him under the armpit. The younger, at the sight of his brother’s blood, flung himself at Childebert’s feet, burst into tears, and cried: “Help me, dear father, let me not die even as my brother.” Childebert’s heart was softened and he begged for the child’s life. Clothaire’s only answer was a volley of insults and a threat of death if he protected the victim. Childebert then disentwined the child’s tender arms clasping his knees—he was but six years of age—and pushed him to his brother, who drove a dagger into his breast. The tutors and servants of the children were then butchered, and Clothaire became at his brother’s death, in 558, sole king of the Franks. The third child, Clodoald, owing to the devotion of faithful servants escaped, and was hidden for some time in Provence. Later in life he returned to Paris and built a monastery at a place still known by his name (St. Cloud) about two leagues from the city.

In the days of Siegbert and Chilperic, kings of Eastern and Western France, the consuming flames of passion and greed again burst forth, this time fanned by the fierce breath of feminine rivalry. Siegbert had married Brunehaut, daughter of the Visigoth king of Spain: Chilperic had espoused her sister, Galowinthe, after repudiating his first wife, Adowere. When Galowinthe came to her throne she found herself the rival of Fredegonde, a common servant, with whom Chilperic had been living. He soon tired of his new wife, a gentle and pliant creature, Fredegonde regained her supremacy and one morning Galowinthe was found strangled in bed. The news came to King Siegbert and Brunehaut goaded him to avenge her sister’s death. Meanwhile Chilperic had married Fredegonde, who quickly compassed the murder of her only rival, the repudiated queen, Adowere. Soon Chilperic drew the sword and civil war devastated the land. By foreign aid Siegbert captured and spoiled Paris and compelled a peace. Scarcely, however, had the victor dismissed his Germain allies, when Chilperic fell upon him again. Siegbert now determined to make an end. He entered Paris, and prepared to crush his enemy at Tournay. As he set forth, St. Germain, bishop of Paris, seized his horse’s bridle and warned him that the grave he was digging for his brother would swallow him too. When he reached Vitry two messengers were admitted to see him. As he stood between them listening to their suit he was stabbed on either side by two long poisoned knives: the assassins had been sent by Fredegonde.

But Fredegonde’s tale of blood was not yet complete. She soon learned that Merovée, one of Chilperic’s two sons by Adowere, had married Brunehaut. Merovée followed the rest of her victims, and Clovis, the second son, together with a sister of Adowere, next glutted her vengeance. “One day, after leaving the Synod of Paris,” writes St. Gregory, “I had bidden King Chilperic adieu and had withdrawn conversing with the bishop of Albi. As we crossed the courtyard of the palace (in the Cité) he said: ‘Seest thou not what I perceive above this roof?’ I answered, ‘I see only a second building which the king hath built.’ He asked again, ‘Seest thou naught else?’ I weened he spoke in jest and did but answer—’If thou seest aught else, prithee show it unto me.’ Then uttering a deep sigh, he said: ‘I see the sword of God’s wrath suspended over this house.’” Shortly after this conversation Chilperic having returned from the chase to his royal villa of Chelles, was leaning on the shoulder of one of his companions to descend from his horse, when Landeric, servant of Fredegonde, stabbed him to death.

Thirty years were yet to pass before the curtain falls on the acts of the rival queens, their sons and grandsons, but the heart revolts at the details of the wars and lusts of these savage potentates.

Battle and murder had destroyed Brunehaut’s children and her children’s children until none were left to rule over the realms but herself and the four sons of Thierry II. The nobles, furious at the further tyranny of a cruel and imperious woman, plotted her ruin, and in 613, when Brunehaut, sure of victory, marched with two armies against Clothaire II., she was betrayed near Paris to him, her implacable enemy. He reproached her with the death of ten kings, and set her on a camel for three days to be mocked and insulted by the army. The old and fallen queen was then tied to the tail of a horse: the creature was lashed into fury and soon all that remained of the proud queen was a shapeless mass of carrion. The traditional place where Brunehaut met her death is still shown at the corner of the Rue St. Honoré and the Rue de l’Arbre Sec. Thierry’s four sons had already been put to death. In 597 her rival Fredegonde, at the height of her prosperity, had died peacefully in bed, full of years, and was buried in the church of St. Vincent by the side of Chilperic, her husband.

Amid all this ruin and desolation, when the four angels of the Euphrates seem to have been loosed on Gaul, one force was silently at work knitting up the ravelled ends of the rent fabric of civilisation and tending a lamp which burned with the promise of ideals, nobler far than those which fed the ancient faith and polity. The Christian bishops were everywhere filling the empty curule chairs in the cities and provinces of Gaul. At the end of the sixth century, society lived in the Church and by the Church, and the sees of the archbishops and bishops corresponded to the Roman administrative divisions. All that was best in the old Gallo-Roman aristocracy was drawn into her bosom, for she was the one power making for unity and good government. From one end of the land to the other the bishops visited and corresponded with each other. They alone had communion of ideas, common sentiments and common interests. St. Gregory, bishop of Tours, was the son of a senator; St. Germain of Auxerre was a man of noble lineage, who had already exercised high public functions before he was made a bishop; St. Germain of Autun was ever on the move, now in Brittany, now at Paris, now at Arles, to crush heresy, to threaten a barbarian potentate, or to sear the conscience and, if need were, ban the person of a guilty Christian king.

By the end of the sixth century two hundred and thirty-eight monastic institutions had been founded in Gaul, and from the sixth to the eighth century, eighty-three churches were built. The monasteries were so many nurseries of the industry, knowledge and learning which had not perished in the barbarian invasions; so many cities of refuge from violence and rapine, where the few who thirsted after righteousness and burned with charity might find shelter and protection. “Every letter traced on paper,” said an old abbot, “is a blow to the devil.” The ecclesiastical and monastic schools took the place of the destroyed Roman day-schools, and whatever modicum of learning the Frankish courts could boast of, was due to the monks and nuns of their time; for some at least of these potentates when not absorbed in the gratification of their lusts, their vengeance, greed or ambition, were possessed by nobler instincts.

To St. Germain of Autun, made bishop in 555, Paris owes one of her earliest ecclesiastical foundations. His influence over Childebert, king of Paris, was great. He obtained an order that those who refused to destroy pagan idols in their possession were to answer to the king, and when Childebert and his warriors, seized by an irresistible fighting impulse, marched into Spain, and were bought off the siege and sack of Saragossa by the present of the tunic of St. Vincent, he induced the king to found the abbey and church of St. Vincent (St. Germain des Prés), to receive the relic and a great part of the spoil of Toledo, consisting of jewels, golden chalices, books and crucifixes of marvellous craftsmanship. In the same reign was begun on the site of the present sacristy of Notre Dame a great basilica, dedicated to St. Stephen, so magnificently decorated that it was compared to Solomon’s Temple for the beauty and the delicacy of its art. The church of Ste. Marie or Notre Dame, already existing in 365, stood on a site extending westward into the present Place du Parvis Notre Dame. During this great outburst of zeal and devotion, another monastery (St. Vincent le Rond), was established and dedicated to St. Vincent, which subsequently became associated with the name of the earlier St. Germain of Auxerre (l’Auxerrois).

A curious episode is found in Gregory’s Chronicle, which is characteristic of the times, and proves that a monastery and church of St. Julien le Pauvre were already in existence. An impostor, claiming to have the relics of St. Vincent and St. Felix, came to Paris, but refused to deposit them with the bishop for verification. He was arrested and searched, and the so-called relics were found to consist of moles’ teeth, the bones of mice, some bears’ claws and other rubbish: they were flung into the Seine and the impostor was put in prison. Gregory, who was lodging in the monastery of St. Julien le Pauvre, went into the church shortly after midnight to say matins, and found the creature, who had escaped from the bishop’s prison, lying drunk on the pavement. He had him dragged away into a corner, but so intolerable was the stench that the pavement was purified with water and sweet smelling herbs. When the bishops, who were at Paris for a synod, met at dinner the next day, the impostor was identified as a fugitive slave of the bishop of Tarbes.

Dagobert the Great, who came to the throne in 628, and his favourite minister, St. Eloy, goldsmith and bishop (founder of the convent in Paris which long bore his name), are enshrined in the hearts of the people in many a song and ballad: St. Eloy, with his good humour, his ruddy countenance, his eloquence, gentleness, modesty, wit, and wide charity, singing in the church processions à haute gamme jubilant et trépudiant like David of old before the ark: Dagobert, the Solomon of the Franks, the terror of the oppressor, the darling of the poor. The great king was fond of Paris and established himself there when not scouring his kingdom to administer justice or to crush his enemies. He was the second founder of the monastery of St. Denis, which he rebuilt and endowed with great magnificence, and to which he gave much importance by the establishment there of a great fair, which soon drew merchants from all parts of Europe. He was a patron of the arts and employed St. Eloy to make reliquaries for St. Denis and the churches in Paris, of such richness and beauty that they were admired of the whole of France.

The monkish scribes who wrote the Chronicles of St. Denis were not ungrateful to the memory of good King Dagobert, for it is there related that one day, as a holy anchorite lay sleeping on his stony couch on an island, being heavy with years, a venerable, white-haired man appeared to him and bade him rise and pray for the soul of King Dagobert of France. As he arose he beheld out at sea a crowd of devils bearing the king away in a little boat towards Vulcan’s Cauldron, beating and tormenting him cruelly, who called unceasingly on St. Denis of France, on St. Martin and St. Maurice. Then thunder and tempest rolled down from heaven, and the three glorious saints appeared to him, arrayed in white garments. He was much affrighted, and on asking who they were, was answered: “We be they whom Dagobert hath called, and are come to snatch him from the hands of the devils and bear him to Abraham’s bosom.” The saints then vanished from before him and sped against the devils and reft the soul from them, which they were tormenting with threats and buffetings, and bare it to the joys perdurable of Paradise, chanting the words of the Psalmist Beatus quem eligisti.


CHAOS AND MISERY FOLLOWED THE brilliant reign of Dagobert. In half a century his race had faded into the feeble rois fainéants, degenerate by precocious debauchery, some of whom were fathers at fourteen or fifteen years of age and in their graves before they were thirty. The bow of power is to him who can bend it, and in an age when human passions are untamed, the one unpardonable vice in a king is weakness. Soon the incapable, impotent and irresolute Merovingians were thrust aside by the more puissant Carlovingian race.

Charles Martel, although buried with the Frankish kings at St. Denis, was content with the title of Duke of the Franks, and hesitated to proclaim himself king. He, like the other mayors of the palace, ruled through feeble and pensioned puppets when they did not contemptuously leave the throne vacant. In 751 Pepin the Short sent two prelates to sound Pope Zacchary, who, being hard pressed by the Lombards, lent a willing ear to their suit, agreed that he who was king in fact should be made so in name, and authorised Pepin to assume the title of king. Chilperic III., like a discarded toy, was relegated to a monastery at St. Omer, and Pepin the Short anointed at Soissons by St. Boniface bishop of Mayence, from that sacred “ampul full of chrism” which a snow-white dove had brought in its mouth to St. Rémi wherewith to anoint Clovis at Rheims. In the year 754 Stephen III., the first pope who had honoured Paris by his presence, came to ask the reward of his predecessor’s favour and was lodged at St. Denis. There he anointed Pepin anew, with his sons Charles and Carloman, and compelled the Frankish chieftains, under pain of excommunication, to swear allegiance to them and their descendants.

The city of Lutetia had much changed since the messengers of Pope Fabianus entered five centuries before. On that southern hill where formerly stood the Roman camp and cemetery were now the great basilica and abbey of St. Genevieve. The amphitheatre and probably much of the palace of the Cæsars were in ruins, all stripped of their marbles to adorn the new Christian churches. The extensive abbatial buildings and church, resplendent with marble and gold, on the west, dedicated to St. Vincent, were henceforth to be known as St. Germain of the Meadows (des Prés), for the saint’s body had been translated from the chapel of St. Symphorien in the vestibule to the high altar of the abbey church a few weeks before the pope’s arrival at St. Denis. The Cité was still held within decayed Gallo-Roman walls, and the Grand and Petit Ponts of wood crossed the arms of the Seine. On the site of the old pagan temple to Jupiter by the market-place stood the church Our Lady: to the south-east stood the church of St. Stephen. The devotion of the Nautæ had been transferred from Apollo to St. Nicholas, patron of shipmen, Mercury had given place to St. Michael, and to each of those saints oratories were erected. Other churches and oratories adorned the island, dedicated to St. Gervais, and St. Denis of the Prison (de la chartre), by the north wall where, abandoned by his followers, the saint was visited by his divine Lord, who Himself administered the sacred Host. A nunnery dedicated to St. Eloy, where three hundred pious nuns diffused the odour of Jesus Christ through the whole city, occupied a large site opposite the west front of Notre Dame. Near by stood a hospital, founded and endowed a century before by St. Landry, bishop of Paris, for the sick poor, which soon became known as the Hostel of God (Hôtel Dieu). The old Roman palace and basilica had been transformed into the official residence and tribunal of justice of the Frankish kings. On the south bank stood the church and monastery of St. Julien le Pauvre. A new Frankish city was growing on the north bank, bounded on the west by the abbey of St. Vincent le Rond, and on the east by the abbey of St. Lawrence. Houses clustered around the four great monasteries, and suburbs were in course of formation. The Cité was still largely inhabited by opulent merchants of Gallo-Roman descent, who were seen riding along the streets in richly decorated chariots drawn by oxen.