Medieval Empire - Volume I - Herbert Fisher - ebook
Opis

In this essay I do not aspire to recount the narrative of the empire, or to instruct trained historians. Nor do I propose to trace the history of the imperial idea, which Mr. Bryce has exhibited in a work which it would be impertinence in me to commend. My object is to examine the working of the imperial idea during that portion of medieval history when, having assumed a definite theological shape, it operated as a powerful influence over the destinies of Germany and Italy. I wish to see how the machine of imperial government worked in these countries from the revival of the empire by Otto I. to the downfall of the Hohenstauffen dynasty. It seemed, however, necessary by way of introduction to explain why the empire survived at all, and why it was revived in 962.

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MEDIEVAL EMPIRE - VOLUME I

A History of the Holy Roman Empire in the High Middle Ages

Herbert Fisher

PERENNIAL PRESS

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All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

Copyright © 2016 by Herbert Fisher

Published by Perennial Press

Interior design by Pronoun

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ISBN: 9781518373893

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I: THE SURVIVAL OF THE IMPERIAL IDEA

CHAPTER II: THE RACES OF GERMANY

CHAPTER III: THE GERMAN MONARCHY AND THE GERMAN RACES

CHAPTER IV: LEGISLATION IN GERMANY

CHAPTER V: THE IMPERIAL COURT AND THE LAW OF INHERITANCE

CHAPTER VI: IMPERIAL FINANCE

CHAPTER VII: THE EMPIRE AND THE GERMAN NOBILITY

CHAPTER I: THE SURVIVAL OF THE IMPERIAL IDEA

~

THERE IS NO LESSON WHICH mankind has been so slow to learn as the necessity of continuous political and social change. Each succeeding form of social and of political structure has seemed final to the men who lived under it. The greatest thinkers of antiquity, Plato and Aristotle, while recognizing the fragility of existing politics, concur in their belief that fate holds no surprises garnered in her hand. Society goes through a necessary cycle of changes. Progress is followed by degeneration, degeneration by progress, and almost all the political inventions have been already made. The mysteries of Nature may indeed, according to Plato, bring to birth a generation of men in whose hands the State will reach ideal perfection; but the ideal can be forecast by the philosopher; no long and painful prologue of evolution necessarily stands between it and the present world; and it is conceived of rather as a fixed though brittle state, than as a moving and continuous process. Even the amazing revolution of things, which is summed up in the downfall of Greek City States and the foundation of the Roman Empire, did not Affect this deeply-rooted tendency of the human mind. The destinies of man were now conceived to be bound up with the fortunes of a new polity, but the polity was to be as durable as man himself, and though bricks and stones might crumble and perish, yet the city and the Empire of Rome were the imperishable guardians of human peace and safety. Was there not an ancient auspice that Mars, Terminus, and Juventas had refused to give place to Jove himself? The boundaries of the empire would never recede. Rome, founded on an eternal pact between Virtue and Fortune, would be young and warlike to the end of the world.

To the believing Christian too, the riddle of history presented no difficulties. The origin, the intention, and the end alike of the general and of the individual life were known to him. “We,” wrote Lactantius, “who are instructed in the science of truth by the Holy Scriptures know the beginning of the world and its end.” To expose the contradictions of the ancient philosopher and the crudities of the ancient creeds, to confront the perplexities of science with the certainties of faith, were the main tasks of the early Christian apologists, and nowhere was Christianity more powerful to mould and transmute current conceptions than in the domain of historical retrospect and prophecy.

It had not escaped the notice of the early Christians that the rise of Christianity synchronized with the foundation of the Roman Empire. While the empire was spreading peace and order over the civilized world, Christianity was attempting to found a kingdom in the soul of man. There was indeed a strict parallelism between the political and the religious manifestations of the divine purpose throughout history. As Abraham had divulged the will of God at the beginning of the Assyrian Empire, as the fountains of Hebrew prophecy had been outpoured during the lifetime of Romulus and his immediate successors, so Christ had come to reveal the final purpose of God at the birth of the Augustan age. Three great empires had passed away; the work of Ninus and Cyrus and Alexander was utterly dissolved, but the Roman Empire was founded to be the strong and beneficent agent through which the teaching of Christ was to be stamped upon the world. The Roman Emperor was indeed unworthy of the divine honours which his subjects lavished upon him, but he was chosen by God, he was second to God, and he deserved the loyalty and obedience of the Christian sectaries. The city of Rome was not indeed to be eternal as the Roman poets had prophesied, for mankind were not to occupy the world for ever. But the city would at any rate last till the coming of Antichrist, and the emperors were deserving of the prayers of the Christians since it was only by the Roman Empire that that awful event could be retarded. The Sybilline prophecies, which were accepted as sacred by the early fathers, and which were throughout the Middle Ages believed to exist in the Lateran, confirmed the belief in the divine purpose of the empire. It was observed too that the three languages in which, after the labours of St. Jerome, the Scriptures were written, were all languages of the Roman Empire, that the birth of Christ had synchronized with an unexampled period of universal peace; and it is one of the most remarkable facts in literary history that Virgil, the poet of the young empire, should have so caught the mystic feeling of the far-off medieval Church as to be mistaken for the prophet of the new creed. The correspondence too between ecclesiastical and civil institutions, between the Mosaic and civil law, was soon noted, and it was a natural inference that since the institutions of the Church lad been closely modelled upon those of the empire, the empire had been preordained to be the receptacle and, so to speak, the outer shell of Christian belief. The ablest ecclesiastical writer of the ninth century, Walafrid Strabo, sums up his work upon Christian institutions by a detailed comparison of the civil and ecclesiastical hierarchy as it existed in his day. “As the Emperors of the Romans,” he wrote, “are reported to have governed the world, so the Pope of the Roman see, as vicar of St. Peter, is raised above the whole Church.” The patricians, as being next in dignity to the emperor, correspond to the patriarchs; the archbishops who are above metropolitan rank, to the kings; the metropolitans to the dukes, the bishops to the counts, and so on down to the lowest rank in either hierarchy.

Indeed the idea of the perpetuity, unity, and sanctity of the Roman Empire was too strongly rooted in the Christian and pagan breast to perish in the rude blasts of the barbaric invasions. All the memories of the past, all the hopes for the future, were bound up in this great polity, which still appeared to be the only possible bulwark of social order. In the poem of Rutilius Namatianus, written just after Alaric’s sack of Rome, we have a touching and eloquent appeal to the eternal city from a Gaul who felt the full splendour of her traditions. “Never,” he writes, “have the stars in their everlasting motions beheld a fairer empire. What had the Assyrians, what had the Medes, the Parthian or the Macedonian tyrants to compare with it? It was not that thou hadst more spirit or more force, but that thou hadst more counsel and judgment. Continue to give laws which will last into Roman centuries. Alone thou needst not fear the fatal distaff.”

This was the cry of a Romanized pagan; but the barbarians too felt the magic of the Roman name, and even in the midst of their ravages respected the majesty of empire. Theodoric, who practically conquered Italy for the Goths, received the patrician dignity from Zeno, and held Italy in virtue of an Imperial pragmatic. The letters of his secretary Cassiodorius show us that he preserved the imperial machinery of government, and anxiously consulted for the maintenance of Roman “civility,” as well as for the preservation of the architectural splendours of Rome. Theodoric knew Byzantium too well to dream of subverting the imperial system or even of supplementing or correcting the Roman law, and when the Gothic ambassadors of Witiges were making their apology before Belisarius, the general of Justinian, they laid stress upon the fact that the Goths had never attempted to legislate, but had always accepted the imperial code. The Franks were more powerful and savage than the Goths; they were further removed from the seat of the empire, and were settled in a country in which the material evidences of Roman power were less strikingly displayed; but their conquest was prepared by a long process of Germanic infiltration, and when the final crash came it was due to the smart impact of a small warrior band capable of destroying the tottering superstructure of the political fabric, but incapable of creating institutions or materially disturbing the habits of urban life. So Clovis received titles from Byzantium, the Frankish chancery preserved Roman forms, and the Frankish administration readily adapted itself to Roman traditions. To the mind of the Byzantine official the Franks were a people who might indeed be formidable, but who held a defined and privileged position under the Roman Empire. They were allowed to coin gold, and they possessed the peculiarly Roman privilege of assisting at the games of Troy. But that they had broken away from Constantinople would have been admitted neither by themselves nor by any one else.

Some people felt that the Barbaric invasion was a tragedy unexampled in history. The poet-barrister Agathias of Constantinople was persuaded by his friends to abandon his verses and his briefs that he might chronicle the cataclysm, which was overwhelming the empire of Justinian, and his call to serious historical writing is recorded in one of the most touching and impressive passages of autobiography. But the importance of this epoch-making event was intentionally obscured in the West, and the whole influence of the Latin Church was exerted to preach a misleading view of historical continuity. In his commentary on the book of Daniel, Jerome, following St. Hippolytus, had interpreted the four empires of the king’s dream to be respectively those of the Babylonians, the Medes, the Macedonians, and the Romans. It followed from this that the Roman Empire, being the last of the four, would endure till the end of the world, and although Orosius and Augustine differed in their attribution of the second and the third empires, all historians were agreed that the Roman Empire ushered in the final age of mankind. No superstition has ever been so fatal to true historical perspective. It prevented every writer in the Middle Ages from forming a just estimate of the barbaric invasion. The four monarchies pursue and pervert historians into the enlightened days of Charles V.

The unimportance of the Western emperors after Theodosius, the illegitimacy of their elections, and the superior brilliance and prestige of the unvanquished Constantinople over the oft-conquered Rome, contributed to maintain the idea of the unity of the empire, and it is a striking fact that the fall of the Western Empire in 476 is only observed by one contemporary, Marcellinus, and that his remark is not repeated until the days of Paul the Deacon and Theophanes, when the West had become thoroughly Christianized, and was feeling the mighty hand of the Frank. The re-conquest of Italy by Justinian in the sixth century led to the destruction of an interesting attempt to found an united Italian kingdom out of the Gothic and Latin races, and paved the way for the states of the Church and for the long political paralysis of Italy. But the sixteen years of Justinian’s rule in Italy gave back to the Western world the Roman law, the memory of which would otherwise have perished; the Roman law became the law of the Church; upon it was based the Visigothic code, and each of the nations of the West, as it rose in the scale of civilization, came in an increasing measure to apprehend its value.

But of all the forces which perpetuated and moulded the idea of the empire the most powerful was that of the Church. Not only had the early apologists of Christianity bequeathed to posterity definite views as to the divine mission of Rome, but events were forcing the head of the Christian Church into the position of the Western representative of the imperial system. Few pages of history are more instructive than those which portray the lives of the Popes from the beginning of the fifth to the beginning of the ninth century. We watch the gradual weakening of the imperial hold over the West, and the gathering strength of the Papacy among the barbarian peoples. We trace the growth of a continuous papal policy which is felt and acted on even by the feebler members of that long series. As we read the Liber Pontificalis we seem to hear the unremitting ring of hammer and mallet which was converting pagan into Christian Rome. If a Pope could not govern, he could at least leave his mark in stone or marble upon the city which contained the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul. By degrees he came to be considered the chief officer and protector of the western capital, and when the Lombard invasions snapped the connection between Rome and Ravenna, it was he who made himself responsible for the defence of Rome, and for the conduct of imperial policy in that part of Italy.

In the letters of Gregory the Great, and in the Liber Diurnus, we have a picture of the policy of the Bishop of Rome during the domination of these Arian invaders. The Pope sends to Constantinople for troops and money, he ransoms captives, makes truces and treaties with the enemy, and corresponds with a Lombard princess who has been converted to the Roman faith. When a bishop, whose diocese happens to lie in the Lombard territory, is ordained in Rome, he must swear that, so far as he may, he will preserve peace between the Republic and the race of Lombards; and a Pope at the end of the seventh century prays that the emperor with the most brave and faithful armies of the Roman Republic may subdue the rebels. Indeed, nothing is more remarkable than the continued loyalty of the Pope to the eastern empire during the seventh and the eighth centuries. The Greek was odious in Italy, and his language, as the language of heresy, was carefully ignored by the Roman Church. The second exarch Narses had become a bye-word for avarice and extortion, and when a Greek emperor appeared in Italy, it was only like Justinian II. to slaughter the clergy of Ravenna, or like Constans II. to pillage the temples and churches of Rome. Yet the prayers of the faithful were invited for the lives and safety and victory of the Church’s most tranquil and Christian lords, that by their regal virtues God might grant manifold victories, cause the Christian republic to subdue kill races to itself, and rejoice the heart by the full restoration of the ancient sway of the Roman Empire.

The main reasons for this tenacious loyalty lay in the fact of the Lombard conquest. If the Greek was odious, the Lombard was two-fold more so. He was a heretic, he was a barbarian, and he even usurped an imperial title. If the exarchate was supported by the Papacy, it was because it represented imperial authority and orthodox civilization against unorthodox and heretical barbarism. But when once the exarchate was conquered, the task of upholding the empire in the West necessarily devolved upon the Pope alone. There was a moment when it seemed in Italy that the functions of empire and Papacy would be combined in the person of the Bishop of Rome, and the idea was characteristically expressed in the famous forgery of the Donation of Constantine.

This document was composed somewhere between the years 754 and 774; that is to say, in the interval between the fall of the Greek Government at Ravenna and the first intervention of Charles the Great in Italy. There can be little question now but that it emanated from the Roman clergy, whose aspirations it embodied. The Emperor Constantine, on leaving Rome for Byzantium, was asserted to have raised the Roman clergy to senatorial dignity, to have given them the privilege of riding on white horses, and of wearing the insignia of patrician rank. To the bishop who presided over this freshly ennobled order of ecclesiastics he surrendered the government of Italy, or the western regions of the empire. Thus a legal justification was provided for the large secular powers which had been, as a matter of fact, exercised by the Popes during the Lombard period, and for any extension of those powers, which the circumstances of the time might demand. To the orthodox Roman mind at this particular epoch, when the Court of Byzantium was no less heretical than the Court of Pavia, it might seem as if the only hope for Christianity lay in the extension of the papal dominion in the west. The fusion of the empire and Papacy, if not in name, yet in fact, was an idea which may have floated for a while before the Italian mind. That it was never translated into fact was due to the physical impotence of the Papacy to cope with the Lombards. But it was of inestimable importance to the future, that even that transient idea received a fixed shape in the forged Donation. For embodied as it was in the false decretals of the ninth century, it kept alive the conception of the imperial functions of the Papacy in days when the actual Popes were but shadows of a name, and their office the cat’s-paw of mean and violent factions. It gave, as it were, a final seal to those ecclesiastical conceptions of the empire which had been growing ever since the Church became conscious of herself.

But the influence of this forgery was not generally felt till the middle of the ninth century, when it found its way into the false decretals. At the juncture at which it was concocted, the future of Latin Christianity depended not upon the Pope, but, as the prophetic soul of Avitus of Vienne more than two centuries before had plainly declared, upon the Frankish king.

It is impossible here to trace the course of papal diplomacy from the first letter of Stephen to Charles Martel in 752 to the imperial coronation of Charles the Great by Leo III., on Christmas Day, 800. But there can be little doubt that Charles, in accepting the imperial crown, had no intention of impairing the unity of the empire. Charles, indeed, was a Frank, and proud of his Frankish origin, but he was deeply penetrated by ecclesiastical and classical traditions. He rejoiced in settling ecclesiastical questions, and he collected round his court the most famous theologians and classics of his age. To his own intimate circle of scholar friends he was known as King David, a title which aptly expresses the ideal of a man who found equal satisfaction in sacred music and in the slaughter of the Philistines. It is not necessary to suppose that his respect for the Church would have made him the tool of the Papacy, or even that he would have deviated from his natural course to suit papal ambitions. The Church in Gaul was at this time thoroughly independent of Italy, and though it is true that the Dionysian collection of canons was received north of the Alps, yet Roman decrees and Roman synods were more infrequent and less influential, and theoretically not more authoritative than the decrees of provincial or of national synods, held at the behest of the king of the Franks. Charles then went on his own way, and his own way was the way of all his barbaric predecessors—of Odoacer, of Theodoric, of Ataulph, and of Clovis. As early as 782 he was negotiating with the Empress Irene for a marriage alliance between the two courts, and as late as 798 he is still in communication with Byzantium.When the imperial crown was placed upon his head, owing to pressure of the Roman populace, he felt surprised and annoyed at the precipitancy which had anticipated his aims, and involved him in a dubious relation to the eastern court. At any rate, in 802 there is an exchange of embassy between Aix and Constantinople, and although the Frankish historians are silent upon the point, we are informed by Theophanes that the ambassadors of Charles and of the Pope petitioned for the hand of the Empress Irene herself, in order that the East and the West might be united under a single sceptre. When these negotiations failed, the coup d’état of the Pope was covered with the decent cloak of a legal fiction. The Annals of Lorsch, which represent the official view of the Frankish Court, declare that the eastern empire became vacant on the death of Constantine, since Irene, being a woman, was unable to succeed; that, accordingly, it seemed good to the Pope and the fathers of his council, and the rest of the Christian people, that Charles should be elected emperor. God had put Rome, the ancient capital of the Cæsars, Italy, and Gaul into his hands, and the whole of the Christian people had petitioned him to take the imperial title. It was thus that the emperor’s adherents justified his action. The whole course of Charles’ subsequent life shows him to have been keenly desirous to maintain the unity, and to live up to the idea of the Roman Empire. Just as Constantine transferred his capital to New Rome, so Charles appeared to his contemporaries to be building a new Rome at Aix. In the imperial palace, which was connected with the cathedral by a portico, two rows of frescoes symbolized the continuity of the empire and the aims of the emperor. On the one side were pictures of Ninus and Cyrus and Phalaris, the favourite representatives of pre- Roman tyranny; of Romulus and Remus founding Rome, of the blind and unfortunate Hannibal, of the conquests of Alexander, of the expansion of the Roman Empire. On the other side were depicted the exploits of Constantine and Theodosius, who, throughout the Middle Ages, were held up to the imitation of Christian kings, and signal passages from the lives of the Frankish sovereigns, such as Charles Martel conquering the Frisians, Pippin giving law to Aquitaine, and Charles the Great battling with the Slaves. In the title which the Frankish king assumed in 800, and which appears in all the imperial documents subsequent to that date, we have a compendious statement of the various aspects which were united in his office. He is “the most serene Augustus,” the bearer of the Roman imperial title. He is “crowned by God.” He is “the great pacific emperor governing the Roman Empire.” His mission is that of the first Augustus, to spread peace and civilization through the world, and his work is specially connected with the city of Rome. Lastly, he is, “through the mercy of God, king of the Franks and Lombards.” In a letter to Leo III., written in 796, Charles lays down his conception of the proper relations between the king and the Pope. “It is our duty,” he writes, “with the aid of divine religion, to protect with our arms the holy Church of Christ from the incursions of pagans and the devastations of the infidel without, and within to support the Catholic faith. It is your duty, most holy father, to raise your hands to God with Moses, and to help on our campaign.” The idea was reflected in the contemporary Mosaics of the Lateran, which depict Christ giving the keys to St. Peter and the standard to Constantine, while on the other side of the main group St. Peter reaches the pallium to Leo III. and the standard to Charles. The Pope and the Frank were the joint and equal rulers of Rome.

The influence which Charles exercised over medieval conceptions of kingly duty cannot be too strongly stated. He became for all time the type of secular force placed at the service of religion. The circumstances which provoked his various visits to Italy, and especially the story of Pope Leo, blinded and mutilated by a Roman faction, fleeing to the emperor for help and afterwards crowning him in St. Peter’s, deepened the impression of the ancillary relation of empire to Papacy. In the Kaiserkronik, which was written by a clerk of Regensburg between 1147 and 1152, the story says that Leo was the brother of Charles. One night as Charles was sleeping, the Pope appeared before him and bade him go to Rome. In obedience to the mysterious summons Charles asked leave of his father Pippin to go to pray at the Capitol. The leave was granted. Charles was received kindly by his brother and invited to become the advocate of the Roman see. But after he has returned home, the Romans rise in insurrection against the Pope and put out his eyes. Leo then travels disguised as a pilgrim to the court of Ingelheim. He reveals his condition to his brother, who, as advocate of the papal see, exclaims that he is bound to protect Christendom with the sword. A crusade was proclaimed, and “never did so great an expedition wind over the St. Bernard Pass or the Triental from Kerlingen to Rome.” For three days and nights Charles encamped on the Monte Mario overlooking the Tiber, engaged in prayer. Then early in the morning of the fourth day the voice of God addressed him, and told him to go into the city. For seven days and nights he remained in the palace of the Lateran, and then solemnly tried the insurgents. In response to the prayers of the Frankish king, the Pope received back his sight, and through the special and frequent inspiration of an angel and an apostle Charles proceeded to confirm the Donation of Constantine, and exacted from each of the lords of the land an oath, that he would never further that which was wrong. Then, as the empire was vacant, owing to the death of Irene and her son, Charles received the golden crown of Constantine. His character is summed up in the following words: “Charles was a true vicar of God. He won the heathen to Christianity.”

No one in fact has sooner received popular canonization than the great Frank. Before the end of the ninth century a thick cloud of legend has gathered round his name. In 968 an Italian monk, Benedict of Soracte, invented for him an imaginary voyage to Alexandria and Constantinople, the indispensable compliment of a saintly life. The Chronicle of Turpin, which was composed between 1100 and 1150 to attest the authenticity of the relics of St. James and Compostella, gave a wide circulation to this fictitious pilgrimage, and when Godfrey of Viterbo wrote his pantheon for Henry VI., two mountains in Sicily went under the names of Roland and Oliver, the two companions of Charles who had accompanied him to that island on his return from the Holy Land. Although in Germany the Caroline legend was less generally diffused than was the case in Italy and France, yet the Church would not willingly allow the memory of so notable a champion to die. The German chroniclers, who for the most part represent the monastic tradition, can bestow no higher compliment upon an emperor than that he was a worthy successor of Charles. “After Charles the Great,” said Thietmar, of Otto the First, “no such ruler or defender of his country has occupied the royal chair.” His grandson, Otto the Third, clearly formed his policy upon the same model. He attempted to restore the empire to its dimensions under Charles, and next to Rome he preferred Aix to all other cities in his dominions. So great indeed was his veneration for the first Frankish emperor that he excavated his tomb in the cathedral of Aix. The legend went that Charles was found sitting fresh and upright upon his throne, clad in his imperial robes, with the crown on his head and his sword at his side, and the gospels on his knees, as if in the flesh as well as in the spirit he were still ruling the lives of men.

The devotion of the German emperors and of the Christian Church to the shade of Charles the Great culminated in his canonization by Pascal III. at the instance of Frederick Barbarossa in 1164. A life of the “Apostle and Confessor,” as he was termed by Frederick, was composed at the emperor’s desire, and founded upon the fictions of the Chronicle of Turpin. In the lessons and in the hymns, which form part of the office of St. Charlemagne, and which were read and sung in church all through the Middle Ages, and in Navarre as late as the seventeenth century, we have a living witness to the place which this great warrior continued to hold in the medieval mind.

It is impossible to suppose that at the death of Charles the Great there was any definite body of opinion either as to the precise character or as to the precise obligations of the imperial office. The Frankish chancery was proverbially conservative, and the words “regnum” and “imperium” were used interchangeably both before and after the coronation of 800. According to the view of Charles, the empire might be bequeathed in the same way as the kingdom, though it could not, like the kingdom, be divided. Charles would never have countenanced the idea that the empire was the gift of the Roman plebiscite, still less that it was the gift of the papal chair. Both Charles, in 813, and Lewis, in 817, dispose of the imperial crown, and it is worthy of note that not only Lewis, but even the papal chancery reckon the beginning of the new reign from the death of Charles on January 28, 814, and not from the coronation by Stephen IV. at Reims, in October, 816. So again Lothair dates his assumption of imperial power not from his coronation by the Pope, but from his arrival in Italy, it clear proof that up to this point, at any rate, the Papacy was not regarded as the source of imperial power. At the same time, the emperor, as head of Christianity, was felt to be specially connected with the Pope, and the Pope made every effort to insist upon that connection. In 816 Stephen IV. travelled to Reims, carrying with him the golden crown of Constantine. The alleged motive of his visit was the confirmation of the peace and of the unity of the Church. But his real objects were more specific. In the first place, he wished to obtain the new ruler’s confirmation of the gifts which had been previously made to the Church by Pippin and by Charles; and, in the second place, he wished to place the imperial crown upon Lewis’ head, and thereby to connect once more the dignity of the empire with its special obligations to the Roman see. The biographer of Lewis, Ermoldus Nigellus, expresses the sentiment of the occasion in the following lines, which he puts into the mouth of his hero:

“Tu sacer antistes, ego rex sum christicolarum

Servemus populum dogmate, lege, fide.

Ut mea progenies Petri servavit honorem,

Sic ego servabo praesul amore dei.”

The example of Pascal was consistently followed by his successors, and by the time of Otto the First it had become the established practice of the Popes to confer the imperial crown, and to exact of the recipient confirmations of the special privileges of the Roman see.

But although papal confirmation was undoubtedly valued, as giving additional validity to the designation of the last emperor and to the consent of the Frankish notables, it cannot be said that at any time in the ninth century the Papacy was regarded as the exclusive source of imperial power. No clearer instance can be given of the confusion of claims and ideas on this point than the story of the election of Charles the Bald in 875. A year before his death, Lewis the Second, the most capable and vigorous of the later Carolingians, met Pope John the Eighth and Lewis the German at a conference at Verona. It may be presumed that the succession to the empire was the subject of their deliberations, and it may be guessed that no conclusion satisfactory to all parties was arrived at. At any rate, on the death of Lewis the emperor, his name-sake the German sent his son Carloman into Italy as the successor specially designated by the deceased monarch. But it appears, according to one authority, that the widowed empress Engelberga had likewise been designated, so that there were two competitors for the imperial office, basing their respective claims upon the will of the last emperor, not upon the will of the Pope. John the Eighth, however, was playing his own game. He represented that the great Nicholas had once upon a time, by divine inspiration, recognized Charles as the heir to the empire. It is, at any rate, certain that the successor of Nicholas, Hadrian the Second, had in 872 secretly promised the empire to the, Neustrian.

John therefore invited Charles into Italy, and Charles was crowned at Rome, but so little authority was attaching to the mere act of papal coronation, that Charles had the election twice solemnly confirmed, once by Italian bishops and others at Pavia, and again by the Cisalpines at Pontigny; and so little was the new honour appreciated north of the Alps, that the emperor was accused of having abandoned the good old Frankish customs for the vain fashions of Greek imperialism.

But the victory once achieved, the Papacy rapidly made good its position. “You are not,” wrote John the Eighth to the Archbishop of Milan, Anspert, in 897, “to accept a king without our consent. For he who is to be ordained by us to the empire, must be by us first and foremost invited and elected.” On these principles, at the next vacancy the Pope disposes freely of the crown. He sounds Lewis, he sounds Boso of Provence, he finally offers the vacant dignity to Charles the Fat; and it is expected of the emperor designate and of the crowned king of Italy that, before entering the Roman territory, he will confirm all those privileges of the see of St. Peter’s, the maintenance of which represented in papal eyes one of the chief functions of the emperor. From the coronation of Charles the Fat in 881 to the coronation of Otto in 936, the Pope becomes in fact the disposer of the imperial crown. At the beginning of the ninth century “imperium” and “regnum” might easily have been confounded. The imperial office might have been treated like a slice of territory, and transmitted from father to son. If that had been the case, its symbolic value would rapidly have been dissolved, and the idea of its special connection with Rome and the Roman see would have perished. The rivalries which divided the Carolingian house, the industry of the Popes, and the exalted view of the papal power which, through the influence of the False Decretals, spread over Western Europe during the latter half of the ninth century, averted this consummation. By the end of the ninth century it was an established principle that whoever wished to become emperor of the West must go to Rome to get crowned by the Pope in the Church of St. Peter’s.

In the divisions which ensued after the death of Charles the Great, it might well have been expected that all idea of the unity of the empire would have faded away. Not only was the empire partitioned and repartitioned, but it was partitioned after 842 upon lines which more or less corresponded with those of race and language. Still, in spite of the blood which flowed at Fontanet, the idea of the unity of the Carolingian kingdom was never lost. That idea was always preserved by two powerful influences. In the first place, the Carolingian sovereigns belonged to the same family, and at recurrent and not infrequent intervals returned to a sense of their common kinship. Between 842, the date of the treaty of Verdun, and 877, the date of the reunion of the various portions of the empire under the sway of Charles the Bold, there are no less than thirteen cases of treaties, conferences, or pacts made between different branches of the Carolingian family. At these meetings measures were concerted against the Danes, bishops missi and counts were sent to hold pleas and to punish offenders throughout the length and breadth of the empire, and provision was made for the needs of the Church. In these conventions the regnum or empire of Charles the Great was treated as a unity. At the meeting of Lewis, Charles, and Lothair, at Savonnieres, in 862, it is provided that the faithful missi then appointed shall correct all abuses in each of the kingdoms, and that every one, whosoever be his lord, shall have right and justice at his hands. The care of the Roman Church even, which was the special obligation of the imperial office, was not only divided among the three sons of Lewis, in the arrangement made by him in 831, but was redivided in 867 between Lewis and Charles at Metz. That these barbarous descendants of Charles the Great either realized or valued the special connection between the city of Rome and the imperial title is far from probable. But they felt, in a dim way, from time to time, that to their family had it fallen to protect Christian civilization from the forces which threatened to destroy it both from within and from without. It is not that any distinctively imperial ideas prompt them to come together. They do not unite because the empire is necessarily one. That would have been a conception too Roman, too ecclesiastical, and too abstract; and besides, a political combination could only be effected by an acknowledgment that all the contracting parties were equal in rank. The words “imperium” and “imperator” are, consequently, never mentioned in these diplomatic documents. But although formally the later Carolings were not acting to preserve the imperial idea, in substance they were helping to preserve it. The protection of the Roman Church, the maintenance of justice and order through Western Christendom, the repression of the barbarian and the heathen, these were the obligations of the Roman emperor, and these were the ends which they proposed to themselves to obtain.

It should be remembered, too, that in the midst of the political disintegration consequent upon the death of Charles the Great, one institution still retained its unity and its traditions. The Church was not indeed sufficiently strong during the ninth century to preserve its buildings or its farms from the Northman or the Saracen, or to impress any continuous or vigorous policy upon the feeble dynasty which held the empire in joint possession, but it was able during these dark and troubled times to maintain the idea of the unity of Latin Christendom, and to insist upon the essentially religious character of temporal sovereignty. Indeed, in proportion as the temporal power of the Carolings declined, the Church grew bolder in its enunciation of the necessary supremacy of spiritual over lay authority. As the strength of the Frankish kings decayed, they were taught to regard it as the gift of God, bestowed for the benefit of the holy Church, and the consolation of the faithful. If a king were good, he ruled by the gift, if he were wicked, by the permission of his Creator. A dictum of Pope Gelasius was frequently quoted, according to which the world was governed by two powers, the temporal and the spiritual; but the temporal sovereign could not usurp spiritual functions, for Christ alone could be both king and priest, and priests, in virtue of their spiritual power were superior to kings; first, because kings were consecrated by priests, whereas priests could not be consecrated by kings; and secondly, because priests are accountable to God for the actions of their temporal sovereign. The example of Hosiah was invoked, to show that a prince might be struck with leprosy for usurping the priestly office, and the model of a kingly life was found in the biographies of Constantine and Theodosius, or in St. Augustine’s picture of the “Happy Emperor.” It was pointed out that from the time when Constantine presided over the Council of Nicea, it had become customary for emperors to summon councils of the Church and to serve the cause of ecclesiastical discipline; and it was remembered that the same emperor had told his bishops that, while they as clerks were exempt from the jurisdiction of laymen, be as emperor was liable to the jurisdiction of clerks. Indeed the crown of kingship was the counsel of bishops, and it was for the king to alleviate the hardships of the law by the equity of the canons passed in the councils of the Church. The imperial armies, instead of being employed in fratricidal and intestine strife, should be hurled against the heathen with the view of enlarging the boundaries of the Christian faith, and it was the one prayer of the Church that the barbarians should be subjected to the most Christian emperor, not that the subjects of that emperor should be crushed and barbarized by taxation.

In the Roman missal for Good Friday there is a prayer which is still used in the Austrian empire: “Oremus et pro Christianissimo Imperatore nostro N. ut Deus et Dominus noster subditas illi fiat omnes barbaras nationes ad nostram perpetuam pacem.” It can be traced back to the missals of the eighth century, and it is one of the notes which is most frequently struck by writers of the Carolingian Age. In a time when all culture was monopolized by the Church, it would have been surprising if the highest political office in the world had not been conceived as an instrument for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen.

A letter of Lewis II., written to Basil of Constantinople in 871, expresses with great clearness the view which an emperor of the ninth century held of the origin and functions of his office. “You say,” he writes, “that the imperial title is not either paternal or suitable to my race. The statement is ridiculous. How is the title unsuitable to my race when we know that Roman emperors (to cut a long list short) have been created from Spaniards, Isaurians, and Cazars? You cannot truly assert that these nations are more distinguished either in religion or in virtue. And yet you do not refuse to admit emperors from them. Further, as to what you say about our not ruling over the whole of Francia, accept, brother, a brief reply. We do rule over the whole of Francia, because we undoubtedly hold what those hold with whom we are one in flesh and blood, and one through the Lord of Life. Further, your beloved fraternity signifies to us that it is surprising that we are called emperor of the Romans and not of the Franks. But you must know that if we were not emperor of the Romans we could not be emperor of the Franks. For we have received this name and dignity from the Roman, among whom this sublime and exalted appellation first shone forth. We have undertaken to govern divinely the Roman race and city, and to defend and exalt the mother of all the Churches of God. It was from Rome that our race received its original authority first to obtain the monarchy and afterwards the empire. For the princes of the Franks were first called kings and then emperors; those, that is to say, who have been anointed emperors by the Roman pontiffs with the holy oil.”

The misfortunes of the later Carolingians could not obliterate the conviction that the empire was destined to last till the appearance of Antichrist. In a famous letter, written to Queen Gerberga, wife of Lewis the Simple, shortly before 945, Adzo, bishop of Luxueil, speculates upon the coming of Antichrist. He points out that the Greek and the Persian empires have each been great and glorious in their own time; but the Roman Empire had surpassed them all, and subdued all nations of the world to the position of tributaries. The apostle Paul had said that Antichrist would not come into the world unless there were first dissension. That meant that all the kingdoms of the earth must revolt from the Roman Empire. This time had not yet come, for although the Roman Empire was in a large manner destroyed, yet so long as kings of the Franks remained, the dignity of Rome would not perish. “Some, however, of our doctors,” so he continues, “say that one of the kings of the Franks will govern the Roman Empire, whole and entire. He will belong to the last age of the world, and will be the greatest and last of all kings, who, after prosperously governing his kingdom, will come in the end to Jerusalem, and lay down his sceptre and his crown on the Mount of Olives.”

This singular letter had not been written many years when the King of Saxony, Otto the First, restored the empire, which had fallen into decline. That a representative of those Saxons who, for thirty-three years, had taxed all the powers of Charles the Great to subdue them, should have succeeded to the office which Charles had held is to be accounted for by several considerations. The Carolingian house had died out in the eastern half of Francia, and the western branch was less powerful than the Dukes of Normandy and of Paris. During the last years of the Austrasian Carolings, Saxony and Frisia were devastated by the Northmen and the Danes; Utrecht, Cologne, and Trèves were burnt to the ground; and Aix served as a stable for the horses of the invader. In the first nineteen years of the tenth century Germany was harried eight times by the Hungarians, and a bastard, a child, and an injudicious Franconian successively displayed their political incompetence. Then the Saxons saved Germany. A great victory on the Dyle in 891 put an end to the inroads of the Northmen. Two great victories, won by the first two Saxon kings in 935 and in 955 respectively, settled for ever the western boundaries of Hungary; and once again learning and religion revived among the Saxon nation which had won for itself these triumphs, and which in purity of blood, in pride of race, and in martial habits was pre-eminent among the German peoples. Classical scholars were invited to leave Italy for the Saxon Court like that Gunzo of Novara, who is said to have introduced the writings of Plato and of Aristotle into Germany, and Greeks, Spaniards, and Irish followed in their train. A high-born ecclesiastic like Bruno, brother of Otto the Great, who is reported to have learnt Greek at Utrecht, and to have restored to Germany the almost forgotten seven liberal arts, discussed problems of philosophy with Greek and Latin doctors, neglected his food for the sweet music of Prudentius, and never travelled without his bookbox. The Comedies of Terence were read seriously by an archbishop and travestied by a nun, for if theology was regarded as the end of all human studies, secular literature was the instrument by which that end could be attained. Even Otto the First himself, who knew Frankish and Slavonic, set himself painfully to learn Latin in middle life.

The achievements of the first two Saxon kings, Henry the Fourth and Otto the First, caused them to be looked up to as the natural defenders of Latin Christianity against barbarism. The intellectual atmosphere of the Saxon Court was sufficient to generate imperial ambitions. The political condition of Italy soon afforded a pretext for intervention.

In the year 950 Lothair, the titular King of Italy, suddenly died. He was the son of Hugh of Provence, a wicked adventurer, who, having for twenty years in vain tried to get possession of Rome and of Lombardy, had eventually in 945 retired to his home in France, renouncing all his Italian claims. He was married to a Burgundian princess, Adelheid, the daughter of Rudolf the Second of Burgundy, who had died in 937, leaving a boy of ten years old as heir to his throne. The Pope at this time was Agapitus II., a Roman by birth and a man of shrewd sense, who had already corresponded upon ecclesiastical matters with Otto, and who may, for aught we know, have written to him letters such as Stephen III. wrote to Charles Martel. For the Pope was in the hands of the Roman Alberic, who ruled the city and its neighbourbood with a rod of iron for twenty-two years ( 932-954) under the title of the Prince and Senator of all the Romans. He would naturally desire to be rescued from the hands of a man whose face appeared upon the papal coins, whose agents ruled among the Sabine hills, and who disposed of the papal office at his own pleasure. There was a still more important factor in the situation than Agapitus. Immediately on the death of Lothair, the Lombard crown was seized by Berengar of Ivrea for himself and for his son Adalbert. Berengar was a name not unknown to Italian history. A Berengar of Ivrea, grandfather of this man, had gone nearer to forming an Italian kingdom than anyone since the death of Theodoric. The grandson may have felt that he too was capable of expelling the Saracens, and of uniting the Italians into a polity. He had suffered under the foreign domination of Hugh of Provence, and had actually at one time fled across the Alps to Otto for protection against the Provençal. It was natural that he should seize the Lombard crown, and that by way of extinguishing Provençal claims he should wish to marry the widow of Lothair to his son.

This step brought Otto into Italy. The widow was twenty and beautiful. She was imprisoned by the father of her suitor. She implored help of Otto. The Saxon was a widower of thirty-eight, but he was romantic, bold, unconventional, and restless. He felt himself more or less responsible for Burgundian princes and princesses, for he had intervened to restore order in the kingdom in 948, and had taken the young king Conrad under his protection. He had, perhaps, received letters from the Pope; he had undoubtedly been in communication with the Imperialist party in Rome. He certainly knew that the city of Rome was in the hands of an upstart tyrant, who was giving himself a quaint, unprecedented title. He had probably been told that lie was the greatest monarch since Charles the Great, as he clearly was. He was no mere vigorous barbarian like his father, the Fowler, and, though far from being a saint, he was possessed by a large sense of duty. He knew that he ruled over the German capital of the Carolingian Empire, and that not fifty years ago the German Arnulf, a bastard, had besieged Rome and won the imperial crown. The German duchies were in the hands of friends and relatives. The enterprise was romantic, honourable, and safe. In 951 he crossed the Brenner.

The event of this invasion only partially realized the Saxon’s hopes. Civil war in Germany recalled Otto before he had obtained the Roman crown. Yet something had been accomplished. Otto had married the widow, and had opened negotiations with the Pope for the imperial coronation, which were probably defeated by Alberic. For a time he was actual master of Lombardy, and though he does not appear to have been crowned with the iron crown, he had styled himself king of the Lombards.