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A Short History of France
Sovereigns and rulers of France
Further Reading: The Art of Worldly Wisdom
A Short History of France by Mary Platt Parmele. First published in 1898. This edition published 2017 by Enhanced Media. All rights reserved.
One of the greatest achievements of modern research is the discovery of a key by which we may determine the kinship of nations. What we used to conjecture, we now know. An identity in the structural form of language establishes with scientific certitude that however diverse their character and civilizations, Russian, German, Englishman, Frenchman, Spaniard, are all but branches from the same parent stem, are all alike children of the Asiatic Aryan.
So skilful are modern methods of questioning the past, and so determined the effort to find out its secrets, we may yet know the origin and history of this wonderful Asiatic people, and when and why they left their native continent and colonized upon the northern shores of the Mediterranean. Certain it is, however, that, more centuries before the Christian era than there have been since, they had peopled Western Europe.
This branch of the Aryan family is known as the Keltic, and was older brother to the Teuton and Slav, which at a much later period followed them from the ancestral home, and appropriated the middle and eastern portions of the European Continent.
The name of Gaul was given to the territory lying between the Ocean and the Mediterranean, and the Pyrenees and the Alps. And at a later period a portion of Northern Gaul, and the islands lying north of it, received from an invading chieftain and his tribe the name Brit or Britain (or Pryd or Prydain).
If the mind could be carried back on the track of time, and we could see what we now call France as it existed twenty centuries before the Christian era, we should behold the same natural features: the same mountains rearing their heads; the same rivers flowing to the sea; the same plains stretching out in the sunlight. But instead of vines and flowers and cultivated fields we should behold great herds of wild ox and elk, and of swine as fierce as wolves, ranging in a climate as cold as Norway; and vast, inaccessible forests, the home of beasts of prey, which contended with man for food and shelter.
Let us read Guizot's description of life in Gaul five centuries before Christ:
"Here lived six or seven millions of men a bestial life, in dwellings dark and low, built of wood and clay and covered with branches or straw, open to daylight by the door alone and confusedly heaped together behind a rampart of timber, earth, and stone, which enclosed and protected what they were pleased to call—a town."
Such was the Paris and such the Frenchmen of the age of Pericles! And the same tides that washed the sands of Southern Gaul, a few hours later ebbed and flowed upon the shores of Greece—rich in culture, with refinements and subtleties in art which are the despair of the world to-day—with an intellectual endowment never since attained by any people.
The same sun which rose upon temples and palaces and life serene and beautiful in Greece, an hour later lighted sacrificial altars and hideous orgies in the forests of Gaul. While the Gaul was nailing the heads of human victims to his door, or hanging them from the bridle of his horse, or burning or flogging his prisoners to death, the Greek, with a literature, an art, and a civilization in ripest perfection, discussed with his friends the deepest problems of life and destiny, which were then baffling human intelligence, even as they are with us today. Truly we of Keltic and Teuton descent are late-comers upon the stage of national life.
There was no promise of greatness in ancient Gaul. It was a great, unregulated force, rushing hither and thither. Impelled by insatiate greed for the possessions of their neighbors, there was no permanence in their loves or their hatreds. The enemies of today were the allies of to-morrow. Guided entirely by the fleeting desires and passions of the moment, with no far-reaching plans to restrain, the sixty or more tribes composing the Gallic people were in perpetual state of feud and anarchy, apparently insensible to the ties of brotherhood, which give concert of action, and stability in form of national life. If they overran a neighboring country, it seemed not so much for permanent acquisition, as to make it a camping-ground until its resources were exhausted.
We read of one Massillia who came with a colony of Greeks long ages ago, and after founding the city of Marseilles, created a narrow, bright border of Greek civilization along the southern edge of the benighted land. It was a brief illumination, lasting only a century or more, and leaving few traces; but it may account for the superior intellectual quality which later distinguished Provence, the home of minstrelsy.
It requires a vast extent of territory to sustain a people living by the chase, and upon herds and flocks; hence the area which now amply maintains forty millions of Frenchmen was all too small for six or seven million Gauls; and they were in perpetual struggle with their neighbors for land—more land.
"Give us land," they said to the Romans, and when land was denied them and the gates of cities disdainfully closed upon their messengers, not land, but vengeance, was their cry; and hordes of half-naked barbarians trampled down the vineyards, and rushed, a tumultuous torrent, upon Rome.
The Romans could not stand before this new and strange kind of warfare. The Gauls streamed over the vanquished legions into the Eternal City, silent and deserted save only by the Senate and a few who remained intrenched in the Citadel; and there the barbarians kept them besieged for seven months, while they made themselves at home amid uncomprehended luxuries.
Of course Roman skill and courage at last dislodged and drove them back. But the fact remained that the Gaul had been there—master of Rome; that the iron-clad legions had been no match for his naked force, and a new sensation thrilled through the length and breadth of Gaul. It was the first throb of national life. The sixty or more fragments drew closer together into something like Gallic unity—with a common danger to meet, a common foe to drive back.
Hereafter there was another hunger to be appeased besides that for food and land; a hunger for conquest, for vengeance, and for glory for the Gallic name. National pride was born.
For years they hovered like wolves about Rome. But skill and superior intelligence tell in the centuries. It took long—and cost no end of blood and treasure; but two hundred years from the capture of Rome, the Gauls were driven out of Italy, and the Alps pronounced a barrier set by nature herself against barbarian encroachments.
Italy was not the only country suffering from the destroying footsteps of the Western Kelts. There had been long before an overflow of a tribe in Northern Gaul (the Kymrians), which had hewed and plundered its way south and eastward; until at the time of Alexander (B.C. 340) it was knocking at the gates of Macedonia.
Stimulated by the success at Rome fifty years earlier, they were, with fresh insolence, demanding "land," and during the centuries which followed, the Gallic name acquired no fresh lustre in Greece. Half-naked, gross, ferocious, and ignorant, sometimes allies, but always a scourge, they finally crossed the Hellespont (B.C. 278), and turned their attention to Asia Minor. And there, at last, we find them settled in a province called Gallicia, where they lived without amalgamating with the people about them, and four hundred years after Christ were speaking the language of their tribal home in what is now Belgium. And these were the Galatians—the "foolish Galatians," to whom Paul addressed his epistle; and we have followed up this Gallic thread simply because it mingles with the larger strand of ancient and sacred history with which we are all so familiar.
It is not strange that Roman courage became a byword. The fibre of Rome was toughened by perpetual strain of conflict. Even while she was struggling with Gaul and with the memories of the Carthaginian wars still fresh at Rome, the Goths were at her gates—their blows directed with a solidity superior to that of the barbarians who had preceded them. Where the Gauls had knocked, the Goths thundered.
Again the city was invaded by barbarian feet, and again did superior training and intelligence drive back the invading torrent and triumph over native brute force.
Such, in brief outline, was the condition of the centuries just before the Christian era.
It is easy now to read the meaning of these agitated centuries, and to recognize the preparation for the passing of the old and the coming of the new.
The making of a nation is not unlike bread or cake making. One element is used as the basis, to which are added other component parts, of varying qualities, and the result we call England, or Germany, or France. The steps by which it is accomplished, the blending and fusing of the elements, require centuries, and the process makes what we call—history.
It was written in the book of fate that Gaul should become a great nation; but not until fused and interpenetrated with two other nationalities. She must first be humanized and civilized by the Roman, and then energized and made free from the Roman by the Teuton.
The instrument chosen for the former was Julius Caesar, and for the latter—five centuries later—Clovis, the Frankish leader.
It is safe to affirm that no man has ever so changed the course of human events as did Julius Caesar. Napoleon, who strove to imitate him 1800 years later, was a charlatan in comparison; a mere scene-shifter on a great theatrical stage. Few traces of his work remain upon humanity to-day.
Caesar opened up a pathway for the old civilizations of the world to flow into Western Europe, and the sodden mass of barbarism was infused with a life-compelling current. This was not accomplished by placing before the inferior race a higher ideal of life for imitation, but by a mingling of the blood of the nations—a transfusion into Gallic veins of the germs of a higher living and thinking—thus making them heirs to the great civilizations of antiquity.
Was any human event ever fraught with such consequences to the human race as the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar?
The Gallic wars had for centuries drained the treasure and taxed the resources of Rome. Caesar conceived the audacious idea of stopping them at their source—in fact, of making Gaul a Roman province.
It was a marvellous exhibition, not simply of force, but of force wielded by supreme intelligence and craft. He had lived many years among this people and knew their sources of weakness, their internal jealousies and rivalries, their incohesiveness. When they hurled themselves against Rome, it was as a mass of sharp fragments. When the Goths did the same, it was as one solid, indivisible body. Caesar saw that by adroit management he could disintegrate this people while conquering them.
By forcibly maintaining in power those who submitted to him, being by turns gentle and severe, ingratiating here, terrifying there, he established a tremendous personal force; and during nine years carried on eight campaigns, marvels in the art of war, as well as in the subtler methods of negotiation and intrigue. He had successively dealt with all the Keltic tribes, even including Great Britain, subjugating either through their own rivalries, or by his invincible arm.
Equally able to charm and to terrify, he had all the gifts, all the means to success and empire, that can be possessed by man. Great in politics as in war, as full of resource in the forum as on the battle-field, he was by nature called to dominion.
It was not as a patriot, simply intent upon freeing Rome of an harassing enemy, that he endured those nine years in Gaul; not as a great leader burning with military ardor that he conducted those eight campaigns. The conquest of Gaul meant the greater conquest of Rome. The one was accomplished; he now turned his back upon the devastated country, and prepared to complete his great project of human ascendency.
Rome was mistress of the world; he—would be master of Rome.
In the early days of the conquest of Gaul a small island lying in the river Seine was chosen for the residence of the Roman Governors, and called Lutetia. The residence soon grew into the Palace of the Caesars; and then bridges spanned the river, and roads and aqueducts and faubourgs sprang into existence across the Seine, and Lutetia was swallowed up in Paris—so named for a Gallic tribe, the Parisii, which had once encamped there. Standing within the Palais de Justice on this island to-day, one is in direct touch with Rome when she was mistress of the world. The feet of the Caesars have pressed those stones. Those vaulted ceilings have looked down upon Julian the Apostate; he who upon his throne in the far East sighed for "Lutetia"—his "dear Lutetia."
At Passy and Montmartre, and where stands the Palais Royal, rich Romans had their suburban homes, and Roman legions were encamped where are now the Palais de Luxembourg and the Sorbonne. And with a mingling of Keltic and Latin, there had commenced a new form of human speech.
Not Paris alone, but all of Gaul felt the awakening touch of a great civilization, and with improved ideals in living there came another great advance. The human sacrifices and abhorrent practices of the Druidical faith were abandoned, and Jupiter and Minerva and the gods of Parnassus supplanted the grim deities of a more ancient mythology. But while Rome was a powerful teacher, she was a cruel mistress—and shackles were galling to these free barbarians. In the midst of universal misery there came tidings of something better than the gods of Parnassus, when in A.D. 160 Irenaeus came to Lyons and there established the first Church of Christ; and here it was that Marcus Aurelius ordered the persecution which was intended to stamp out the new and fanatical heresy.
While the Star of Empire was thus moving toward the West, another and brighter star had arisen in the East. So accustomed are we to the story, that we lose all sense of wonder at its recital.
Julius Caesar's brief triumph was over, Marc Antony had recited his virtues over his bier, Rome had wept, and then forgotten him in the absorbing splendors of his nephew Augustus. In an obscure village of an obscure country in Asia Minor the young wife of a peasant finds shelter in a stable, and gives birth to a son, who is cradled in the straw of a manger from which the cattle are feeding.
Can the mind conceive of human circumstances more lowly? The child grew to manhood, and in his thirty-three years of life was never lifted above the obscure sphere into which he was born; never spoke from the vantage-ground of worldly elevation; simply moving among people of his own station in life, mechanics, fishermen, and peasants, he told of a religion of love, a gospel of peace, for which he was willing to die.
Who would have dreamed that this was the germ of the most potent, the most regenerative force the world had ever known? That thrones, empires, principalities, and powers would melt and crumble before His name? Of all miracles, is not this the greatest?
The passionate ardor with which this religion was propagated in the first two centuries had no motive but the yearning to make others share in its benefits and hopes; and to this end to accept the belief that Jesus Christ had come in fulfilment of the promise of a Saviour—who should be sent to this world clothed with divine authority to establish a spiritual kingdom, in which he was King of kings, Lord of lords, Meditator between us and the Father, of whom he was the "only begotten Son."
The religion in its essence was absolutely simple. Its founder summed it up in two sentences: expressing the duty of man to man, and of man to God. That was all the theology he formulated.
For two centuries the religion of Christ was an elemental spiritual force. It appealed only to the highest attributes and longings of the human soul, and under its sustaining influence frail women, men, and even children were able to endure tortures, of which we cannot read even now without shuddering horror.
Nature's method of gardening is very beautiful. She carefully guards the seed until it is ripe, then she bursts the imprisoning walls and gives it to the winds to distribute. Precisely such method was used in disseminating Christianity. It was not for one people—it was for the healing of the nations, and its home was wherever man abides.
Nearly five decades after Christ's death upon the cross, Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus. The home of Christianity was effaced. At just the right moment the enclosing walls had broken, and freed to the winds the germs in all their primitive purity.
Imperial favor had not tarnished it, human ambitions had not employed and degraded it, nor had it been made into complex system by ingenious casuists. The pure spiritual truth, unsullied as it came from the hand of its founder, was scattered broadcast, as the band of Christians dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, naturally forming into communities here and there, which became the centres of Christian propagandism. Lyons in Gaul was such a centre.
The fires of persecution had been lighted here and there throughout the empire, and the Emperor Nero, under whom the Apostles Peter and Paul are said to have suffered martyrdom, had amused himself by making torches of the Christians at Rome. But until A.D. 177 Gaul was exempt from such horrors.
Marcus Aurelius—that peerless pagan—large in intelligence, exalted in character, and guided by a conscientious rectitude which has made his name shine like a star in the lurid light of Roman history, still failed utterly to comprehend the significance of this spiritual kingdom established by Christ on earth. He it was who ordered the first persecution in Gaul. In pursuance of his command, horrible tortures were inflicted at Lyons upon those who would not abjure the new faith.
A letter, written by an eye-witness, pictures with terrible vividness the scenes which followed. Many cases are described with harrowing detail, and of one Blandina it is said: "From morn till eve they put her to all manner of torture, marvelling that she still lived with her body pierced through and through and torn piecemeal by so many tortures, of which a single one should have sufficed to kill her; to which she only replied, 'I am a Christian.'"
The recital goes on to tell how she was then cast into a dungeon—her feet compressed and dragged out to the utmost tension of the muscles—then left alone in darkness until new methods of torture could be devised.
Finally she was brought, with other Christians, into the amphitheatre, hanging from a Cross to which she was tied, and there thrown to the beasts. As the beasts refused to touch her she was taken back to the dungeon to be reserved for another occasion, being brought out daily to witness the fate and suffering of her friends and fellow-martyrs; still answering the oft-repeated question, "I am a Christian."
The writer goes on to say, "After she had undergone fire, the talons of beasts, and every agony which could be thought of, she was wrapped in a network and thrown to a bull, who tossed her in the air"—and her sufferings were ended.
Truly it cost something to say "I am a Christian" in those days.
Marcus Aurelius probably gave orders for the persecution at Lyons, with little knowledge of what would be the nature of those persecutions, or of the religion he was trying to exterminate. Some of the hours spent in writing introspective essays would have been well employed in studying the period in which he lived, and the empire he ruled.
Paganism and Druidism, those twin monsters, receded before the advancing light of Christianity. Neither contained anything which could nourish the soul of man, and both had become simply badges of nationality.
Druidism was the last stronghold of independent Gallic life. It was a mixture of northern myth and oriental dreams of metempsychosis, coarse, mystical, and cruel. The Roman paganism which was superimposed by the conquering race was the mere shell of a once vital religion. Educated men had long ceased to believe in the gods and divinities of Greece, and it is said that the Roman augurs, while giving their solemn prophetic utterances, could not look at each other without laughing.
In the year 312—alas for Christianity!—it was espoused by imperial power. When the Emperor Constantine declared himself a Christian, there was no doubt rejoicing among the saints; but it was the beginning of the degeneracy of the religion of Christ. The faith of the humble was to be raised to a throne; its lowly garb to be exchanged for purple and scarlet; the gospel of peace to be enforced by the sword.
The empire was crumbling, and upon its ruins the race of the future and social conditions of modern times were forming. Paganism and Druidism would have been an impossibility. Christianity, even with its lustre dimmed, its purity tarnished, its simplicity overlaid with scholasticism, was better than these. The miracle had been accomplished. The great Roman Empire had said, "I am Christian."
A belief in the gods of Parnassus, which Rome had imposed upon Gaul, had now become a heresy to be exterminated. If fires were lighted at Lyons or elsewhere, they were for the extermination not of Christians, but of pagans, and of all who would depart from the religion of Christ as interpreted by Rome. It was a death-bed repentance for the cruel old empire, a repentance which might delay, but could not avert a calamitous ending, and an unexpected event was near at hand which would hasten the coming of the end.
It was in the year A.D. 375 that the Huns, a terrible race of beings, came out from that then mysterious but now historic region, lying between China and Russia, and surged into Europe under the leadership of Attila, sweeping before them as they came Goths, Vandals, and other Teutonic races, as if with a predetermined purpose of forcing the uncivilized Teuton into the lap of a perishing civilization in the south. Then having accomplished this, after the defeat of Attila at Châlons in A.D. 453, they disappeared forever as a race from the stage of human events.
This is the time when Paris was saved by Genevieve, the poor sheperdess, who, like an early Joan of Arc, awoke the people from the apathy of despair, and led them to victory—and is rewarded by an immortality as "Saint Genevieve," the patron saint of Paris. It would seem that the vigilance of the gentle saint has either slept or been unequal to the task of protecting her city at times!
It was the combined forces of the Goth and the Frank which drove this scourge out of Europe. Meroveus, or Meroveg, the leader of the Franks in this great achievement, once the terror of the Gallic people, was now their deliverer. He had won the gratitude of all classes, from bishops to slaves, throughout Gaul, and fate had thus opened wide a door leading into the future of that land.
Gaul had been Latinized and Christianized. Now one more thing was needed to prepare her for a great future. Her fibre was to be toughened by the infusion of a stronger race. Julius Caesar had shaken her into submission, and Rome had chastised her into decency of behavior and speech, but as her manners improved her native vigor declined. She took kindly to Roman luxury and effeminacy, and could no longer have thundered at the gates of her neighbors demanding "land."
The despotism of a perishing Roman Empire had become intolerable; and the thoughts of an overtaxed and enslaved people turned naturally to the Franks. They had rescued them from one terrible fate, might they not deliver them from another? And so it came about that the young savage Chlodoveg, or Clovis, grandson of Meroveus, found himself master of the fair land long coveted beyond the Rhine; and Gaul and Roman alike were submerged beneath the Teuton flood, while Clovis, sitting in the Palace of the Caesars, on the island in the Seine, was wearing the kingly crown, and independent and dynastic life had commenced in what was hereafter to be not Gaul, but France.
But the king of whom she had dreamed was of her own race; not this terrible Frank. Had she exchanged one servitude for another? Had she been, not set free, but simply annexed to the realm of the barbarian across the Rhine? Let us say rather that it was an espousal. She had brought her dowry of beauty and "land," that most coveted of possessions, and had pledged obedience, for which she was to be cherished, honored, and protected, and to bear the name of her lord.
It will be well not to examine too closely the conversion of Clovis to Christianity, any more than that of Constantine to the religion of Christ, or that of Henry VIII. to Protestantism. The only thing Clovis wanted of the gods was aid in destroying his enemies. At a certain dark moment, when the pagan deities failed him, and the tide of battle was turning against him, in desperation he offered to become a Christian, if the God of the Christians would save him. He kept his word. His victory was followed by Christian baptism, and the Church had won a great defender, whose ferocious instincts were thereafter to be directed toward the extermination of unbelievers. And while hewing and consolidating and bringing his kingdom into form, whether by treacheries or intrigues or assassination, this converted Frank was not alone defender of the faith, but of the orthodox faith. The Visigoth kingdom in Spain was given over to that heresy known as Arianism! So in a crusade, like another of a later date, he swept them over beyond the Pyrenees, thus establishing a frontier which always remained.
Such were the rough beginnings of France, geographically and historically.
Ancient heroes are said to be seen through a shadowy lens, which magnifies their stature. Let us hope that the crimes of the three or four generations immediately succeeding Clovis have been in like manner expanded; for it is sickening to read of such monstrous prodigality of wickedness; whole families butchered—husbands, wives, children, anything obstructing the path to the throne—with an atrocity which makes Richard III. seem a mere pigmy in the art of intrigue and killing. The chapter closes with the daughter and mother of kings (Brunhilde or Brunhaut), naked, and tied by one arm, one leg, and her hair to the tail of an unbroken horse, and amid jeers and shouts dashed over the stones of Paris (A.D. 600).
Upon the death of Clovis his inheritance was divided among four sons, who, with their wives and families and their tempestuous passions, afforded material for a great epic. Whether Fredegunde or Brunhilde was the more terrible who can say? But the story of these rival queens, with their loves and their hatreds and their ambitious, vengeful fury, is more like the story of demons than of women. But these conditions led to two results which played a great part in subsequent events. One was the exclusion of women from the succession by the adoption of the Salic Law. Then, in order to curb the degeneracy or to reinforce the inefficiency of the hereditary ruler, there was created the office of Maire du Palais, a modest title which contained the germ of the future, not alone of France, but of the world.
To imperfect human vision it would have seemed at the time a fatal mistake to bury out of sight the refinements which a Latin civilization had been for nearly five centuries planting in Gaul. But so often has this been repeated in the history of the world, one is compelled to recognize it as a part of the evolutionary method. Again and again have we seen old civilizations effaced by barbarians. But these barbarians with their coarseness and brutality have usually brought something better than refinement; a spirit so transforming, so vitalizing, that we are compelled to believe it was the end sought in the catastrophe we deplore: that is, a spirit of liberty, a sense of personal independence, without which the refinements of art, even reinforced by genius, are unavailing. Such was undoubtedly the invigorating leaven brought into Gaul by the Frank, although for a time he succumbed to the enervating Gallic influence, and, while conquering and subduing, was himself conquered and subdued.
The cultivated Roman in his toga appealed to the imagination of the fine barbarian; the habits of the Romanized cities were a tempting model for imitation. Bridges, aqueducts, palaces, with their splendid mingling of strength and beauty, fragments of which still linger to convince us of our inferiority, these were awe-inspiring to the Frank and filled him with longings to drink deep at this fountain of civilization. The heroic strain brought by Clovis was quickly enfeebled and debauched by luxury. The court of the Merovingian king became a miserable assemblage of half-Romanized barbarians covered with the frayed and worn-out mantle of imperialism. It is a strange picture we have of this descendant of Clovis, this Roi Fainéant (Do-nothing King) in a royal procession on a state occasion. Curled and perfumed, he emerges from the Palais des Thermes, attended in great pomp by Romans and Romanized Frankish warriors. Then, in remembrance of the primitive simplicity of his ancestral line, sitting alone in a wagon drawn by bullocks, he leads the pageant through the narrow streets of old Paris.
But while masquerading as a simple barbarian he was only a poor imitator of the vices and dregs of a perishing civilization. But in proof that virility was still a characteristic of the Frank in Gaul, we are told that while the Church and the offices of State were filled by Romans or Gallo-Romans, the army at this time was composed entirely of Franks.
With the degeneracy of these Rois Fainéants the kingdom of Clovis was gradually shrinking, and men were already waiting to seize the power as it fell from incompetent hands. When Clovis made gifts of large estates to reward, or to purchase, followers, Roman or Gallic, he laid the foundations of a system which would prove fatal to his successors. With these estates came titles and authority, multiplying and growing with each succeeding reign. A count, who was the chief officer of a county, was in fact the sovereign of a small state, and so on a smaller scale were a duke or a marquis. And it was to these smaller bodies that the power naturally gravitated as it vanished from the throne.
This meant disintegration into helpless fragments, and this meant the end of a Frankish kingdom, unless some power should arise great enough to compel the crumbling state to become homogeneous.
It was a Romanized-Frankish family dwelling in the Valley of the Rhine which saved the kingdom of Clovis from this fate. France had already fallen apart into an eastern and a western kingdom, known respectively as Austrasia and Neustria. A certain Duke of Austrasia, known as Pepin the Elder, was the forerunner of the Carlovingian line of kings. With him the centralizing force began to work with saving power. The one end kept in view was the restoration of the power of kingship—the strengthening of the power at the centre. To this end, from generation to generation, these early Pepins steadily moved. In 687 Pepin the Younger, grandson of the Elder, by a victory at Testry over Neustria, brought together these two sundered divisions under himself, with the new title Duke of the Franks. The Pepins had already succeeded in making the office of Maire du Palais hereditary in their family, and in the year A.D. 732, Charles, son and successor of Pepin the Younger, made himself forever the hero not of France alone, but of Christendom, by driving the Saracen invasion back over the Pyrenees, and was in turn succeeded by his son, Pepin the Short, who seized the Merovingian crown itself; this remarkable family, the appointed channel for the centralizing forces, reaching its climax in his son Charlemagne; creator of a Holy Roman Empire.
There had appeared an enemy to the true faith more to be feared than paganism.
Less than one hundred years after the death of Clovis, there had come out of Asia, that birthplace of religions, a new faith, which was destined to be for centuries the scourge of Christendom, and which to-day rules one-third of the human family. Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, had successively come with saving message to humanity, and now (A.D. 600) Mahomet believed himself divinely appointed to drive out of Arabia the idolatry of ancient Magianism (the religion of Zoroaster).
Christianity had passed through strange vicissitudes. Kings, emperors, popes, and bishops had been terrible custodians of its truths; and while many still held it in its primitive purity, ecclesiastics were fiercely righting over the nature of the Trinity, the divinity of the Virgin Mother, and the Church was shaken to its foundation by furious factions.
In this hour of weakness the Persians (A.D. 590) had conquered Asia Minor. Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary were profaned; the Holy Sepulchre had been burned, and the cross carried off amid shouts of laughter. Magianism had insulted Christianity, and no miracle had interposed! The heavens did not roll asunder, nor did the earth open her abysses to swallow them up. There was consternation and doubt in Christendom.
Such was the state of the Church when Mahometanism came into existence. "There is but one God, and Mahomet is his Prophet." Such was its battle-cry and its creed, and the moral precepts of the Koran were its gospel. There seems nothing in this to account for the mad enthusiasm and the passion for worship in its followers. But in less than a hundred years this lion out of Arabia had subjugated Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Northern Africa, and the Spanish Peninsula. Now, sword in one hand and the Koran in the other, the Mahometan had crossed the Pyrenees and was in Southern Gaul.
Under the strange magic of this faith the largest religious empire the world had known had sprung into existence, stretching from the Chinese Wall to the Atlantic; from the Caspian to the Indian Ocean; and Jerusalem, the metropolis of Christianity—Jerusalem, the Mecca of the Christian—was lost! The Crescent floated over the birthplace of our Lord, and, notwithstanding the temporary successes of the Crusades, it does to this day.
If the Pyrenees were passed the very existence of Christendom was threatened. Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, averted this danger when he stayed the infidel flood at the battle of Tours, A.D. 732.