Page images
PDF
EPUB

qualities, that we are perhaps in danger of doing him wrong by judging him from our own moral standpoint. He rises so far above that of the Dark Ages, that it scarcely occurs to the historian to judge him by their low standard. Yet it is by remembering what was the spirit of those times that his greatness is most readily recognised.

We shall have to deal with Charles in three main aspects, as conqueror, as organiser, and as the introducer of new theories of political life into the mind of Christendom. It is difficult to keep the three lines of activity clearly separate; for all through his reign, from first to last, Charles was equally busy in each of these capacities. To make clear the logical sequence of his doings it is sometimes necessary to override their chronological order.

At the first glance the most extraordinary of the achievements of Charles appears to be his huge additions to the territory of the Frankish realm by the annexation of the Conquests of Lombard kingdom, the Spanish march, Saxony, Charles. and the Slavonic lands of the Elbe and the Drave to the inheritance that he had been left by his father. These conquests represent a plan of operations deliberately undertaken, carried out with an unswerving hand, and brought to a successful finish. Charles had inherited from his father and grandfather the duty, which they had undertaken, of protecting Christian Europe from the Saracen, the Slav, and the heathen Saxon, the three enemies whom his ancestors had driven back, but had not crushed. Closely connected with this duty was the obligation to convert to Christianity the new subjects whom he might subdue, to deal with Saxon and Slav as Charles Martel had already dealt with Frisian and Thuringian, and so to push the outer defences of Christendom into those parts of central Europe which had hitherto been sunk in savagery and paganism. The Saracen alone it was impossible to convert. He might be expelled, but then, as now, it was found easier to exterminate the Moslem than to make him abandon Islam. To these altogether useful and salutary tasks, which Charles inherited from the great Mayors of the Palace, another was added, the less happy plan of cementing a close union with the Papacy by crushing the nation of the Lombards. Pippin had committed the Franks to this scheme, and Charles did but carry out his father's pledges. But by his action he destroyed a healthy and vigorous Christian state, the possible base for a strong Italian nationality, and committed the Frankish kingdom to a profitless union, which was to bring forth seven centuries of discord. What was worst of all, he firmly established the temporal power of the Papacy, a curse to blast Italy for a thousand years. The gains which he received in return,—the religious sanction bestowed on his royal power by the Pope, and the imperial title, were but doubtful boons. It was to be seen, ere the ninth century had expired, that the house of St. Arnulf, like all the dynasties that succeeded it, lost more than it gained by putting itself under obligations to the Roman See, and consenting to accept from the Pope's hands the style of emperor, and the vague commission to protect the unity of Christendom, —a commission which to the Roman pontiff meant little more than the duty of giving the Church all that she chose to crave.

Before proceeding to relate the earlier conquests of Charles the Great, it is necessary to explain the boundaries of his realm as it stood at the moment of the death of his brother Carloman. In Germany the border to north and south was held by the two vassal peoples of Frisia and Bavaria, both now Christian, and both reduced during the last fifty years to a more strict obedience to the Franks than they had ever known before, but still possessing their own native rulers, and not completely united to the monarchy. East of Frisia lay the Saxons, the race whom the Merovings, and the great . . . , mayors who succeeded them, had alike failed to

Limits of J

Charles's tame. After three hundred years of hard fightrealm. ing the Doundary of the Frank and Saxon remained where it had stood in the year 500. To the east of

[graphic][ocr errors]

Saxony lay races hardly yet known to the Franks, the Slavonic tribes of the Abotrites, Wiltzes, and Sorbs.

The duchy of Bavaria had as its eastern neighbours another group of Slavonic peoples, the races who had once formed the ephemeral kingdom of Samo,1 Czechs and Moravians on the upper Elbe, Carentanians on the Drave. Beyond these Slavs lay the realms of the Avar Chagan, now in a state of decadence owing both to civil wars and to rebellions of its Slavonic subjects.

Between Frisia and Bavaria the frontier of the realm of Charles was held by the Thuringians, now no longer under the rule of native princes, but divided up into Frankish counties, as the adjacent Suabia had also been, and forming like Suabia an integral part of Charles's monarchy. The neighbours of the Thuringians beyond the border were the Slavonic Sorbs.

The south-east frontier of the Frankish empire was formed by the main chain of the Alps, beyond which lay the Lombard realm of king Desiderius. Its south-western limit was the main chain of the Pyrenees, beyond which lay the Saracens of Spain, over whom at this moment Abderahman the Ommeyad had just succeeded in establishing his power, and had formed a state independent of the Abbaside caliphate (755).

Of all the neighbours of king Charles, it was Desiderius the Lombard who was first destined to feel the weight of the Frankish sword. He had not only received Carloman's widow Gerberga, when she fled from Burgundy, but had shown some intention of proclaiming her son king of the Franks. Yet it was not this machination against Charles that was the actual cause of war, but the relations of the Papacy with Desiderius. Hadrian I. had just been raised to the Papal throne. He was a Roman by birth, and a great hater of the Lombards. He refused the friendship and alliance which Desiderius proffered, and very shortly after he was consecrated began to 1 See p. 177

pick a quarrel with the unfortunate king. He demanded

Quarrel of the ^rom mm the important towns of Ferrara and Pope and the Faenza, as part of the Exarchate of Ravenna.

Lombards. They had been promised to gt . peter, he sa;d,

in 757, while Desiderius was struggling for the crown with king Ratchis, and must be handed over at once. Desiderius, thinking that Charles would be too much occupied beyond the Alps in settling the newly-annexed dominions of his brother to allow of his appearance in Italy, replied to the Pope's challenge by sending a host into the Pentapolis, and seizing Sinigaglia and Urbino. Shortly afterwards he raised the full force of the Lombard realm, and marched against Rome. Hadrian had expected this. He fortified and strongly garrisoned the city, and sent in haste to bid the lord of the Franks to come to the help of St. Peter, and force the unrighteous Lombards to carry out in full the treaty that king Pippin had imposed upon them. The news of the despatch of this embassy seems to have frightened Desiderius. He drew back to Viterbo, and, instead of pressing the siege of Rome, sent an embassy to Charles, to explain that the Pope's charges were unfounded, as he was not keeping back anything that really belonged to the Exarchate (772, autumn).

Desiderius, when he first attacked Rome, was not wrong in thinking that Charles was already occupied in the affairs of his own kingdom. He had that summer commenced the great undertaking of the conquest of Saxony, a task which was to tax his energies for the next twenty years. In the summer of 772 he had entered the land, compelled the Mid-Saxons or Engrians to give him hostages, and cut down in token of triumph the Irminsul, a holy tree reverenced by all the Saxon tribes, which stood in a grove near Paderborn, and was adorned with many rich offerings. On his return to Austrasia, Charles met the ambassadors of Hadrian and Desiderius at Thionville. He did not swerve for a moment from his father's policy of supporting the Papacy through thick and thin. He sent off ambassadors to bid Desiderius give up all the cities belonging to the Holy See that he was unlawfully occupying, and told him do justice to St. Peter without delay. The Lombard king was far too angry at this interference to grant the Frank's demands. He swore that he would restore nothing. This drew down Charles into Italy. Marching from Geneva he Charlesin. crossed Mont Cenis with one division of his army, vades Lomwhile his uncle Bernard with the rest followed the bardy> 773route of the Great St. Bernard. Desiderius on their approach fortified the Alpine gorges by Susa and Ivrea, and stood upon the defensive. But a chosen band of Franks turned his position at Susa by climbing over the hills, and when he saw himself outflanked, the Lombard king abandoned his lines, and fell back on Pavia, exactly as his predecessor Aistulf had done in the war with king Pippin. Charles followed in haste, and laid siege to Pavia, which held out for many months. Meanwhile Adelchis, the son of Desiderius, raised a second Lombard army, and took post in front of Verona. Leaving part of his army to maintain the blockade of Pavia, Charles marched against Adelchis, compelled him to fly, and captured Verona, and afterwards Brescia and Bergamo. The Lombard prince took to the sea, and sought Constantinople, where he endeavoured to obtain help from Constantine Copronymus, then in the midst of his Bulgarian war.

As king Desiderius held out in Pavia with the greatest obstinacy, and the siege was protracted for many months, Charles resolved to spend the spring of 774 in visiting Rome, and coming to a complete understanding with pope Hadrian. He reached the city in Holy Week, and celebrated the Easter festivities with great splendour: his communings with Hadrian ended in his confirming his father's grant to the Papacy of the whole Exarchate of Ravenna, from Ferrara and Charles at Commachio on the north, to Osimo on the south, Rome, 774. including all the places that had been in dispute between the Pope and the Lombard king. Later Roman writers pretended that Charles had even increased Pippin's liberal gift by adding to it north Tuscany, Parma and Modena, Venice, and even

« ՆախորդըContinue »