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after he had taken the cowl. His heterogeneous empire at once fell to pieces: his eldest son Lewis, who had already been crowned as his colleague in the empire by pope Sergius n., was left nothing but the kingdom of Italy with Death of which to support his imperial title. To Italy he Lothair, 855. was a good king, but beyond the Alps he met with neither respect nor obedience. His younger brothers Lothair and Charles divided between them the northern parts of their father's heritage. Lothair took Austrasia, Charles took Provence, and the intermediate Burgundian territory was parted between them.

Thus the unity of the Empire had already become a mockery, and the realm of Charles the Great was split into five kingdoms, owing each other ne.ither love nor homage nor succour in time of need.

CHAPTER XXV
THE DARKEST HOUR—A.D. 855-887

FROM THE DEATH OF LOTHAIR I. TO THE DEPOSITION
OF CHARLES THE FAT

Civil Wars following the death of Lothair I. — King Lewis and his rule in Germany—Troubles of Lothair n.—The Vikings in Neustria—The Edict of Pistres—Charles the Bald invades Austrasia—Treaty of Mersen— Charles made Emperor—Death of Lewis the German—War of his sons with Charles the Bald—Charles's successors in Neustria—Disastrous reign of Charles the Fat—He unites Germany, France, and Italy—The siege of Paris—Charles the Fat dethroned.

Evil as had been the years which followed the fight of Fontenay and the Partition of Verdun, there were .yet worse to come. It was the miserable peculiarity of the second half of the ninth century that it saw Christendom, for the first time since the commencement of the Dark Ages, begin to sink back towards primitive chaos and barbarism. After four hundred years of vacillating but permanent progress towards union, strength, and civilisation, it began to relapse, and to fall back into disunion, weakness, and ignorance. The reign of Charles the Great was to be for long years the high-water mark of progress. The succeeding age rapidly sinks away from it, and it is not till the middle of the tenth century that a rise is once more perceptible.

But of all the evil years those between 855 and 887 were to be the worst. The civil wars of the descendants of Lewis the Pious grew yet more numerous and ruinous; the raids of the Viking and the Saracen spread wider and wider; the rulers of the Frankish empire were struck by a blight, dying young or sinking with imbecility long before they attained middle age, till the race seemed destined to disappear from history with the fall of the cowardly, unwieldy, incompetent Charles the Fat in 887.

The new troubles began immediately on the death of the emperor Lothair. His three sons could not agree in the partition scheme which divided their father's realm. Lewis thought that his share—the kingdom of Italy—was far too small for the eldest son and the bearer of the imperial title; Lothair n. grudged the share of Burgundy which fell to his youngest brother Charles, and tried to seize the young man, in order to tonsure him and confine him in a monastery. Before any actual blow had been struck, pope Benedict in. succeeded in patching up a truce between the brothers, but they drew apart and sought alliances against each other, Lothair leaguing himself with his younger uncle Charles the Bald, civjl war on while Lewis became the friend of his elder uncle the death of and namesake Lewis of Germany. Two years Lothairllater the family grudge led to war under the most disastrous circumstances. Charles and Lothair n. had united their forces for a decisive campaign against the Danes, whose main army, under a certain Jarl Biorn, had concentrated itself in central France, and burnt Paris, Chartres, and Blois (857). Before the united strength of Neustria and Austrasia the Vikings drew back, and stockaded themselves in a great camp on the Seine-island of Oissel.1 Charles blocked their way down the river by bringing up a fleet, which he had lately built, to the next reach, and determined to starve them out. After a siege of three months it seemed likely that he would achieve his purpose; the Danes could neither beat him nor escape him. But just as they were about to yield there came to the king of Neustria the dire news that his brother Lewis with the whole host of Germany had crossed the Rhine, and was marching against him. Charles straightway raised the

1 An island or peninsula, enclosed by the Seine and its marshes, near Bougival, close to Paris, in department Seine-et-Oise.

siege of Oissel, allowed the Danes to burn his fleet and to escape, and turned eastward to resist king Lewis. Their armies met at Brienne-sur-Aube, but when Charles saw the overwhelming numbers of the Germans his heart failed him —as it often did in such a crisis—and he deserted his men and fled away into Burgundy. Deprived of their leader his vassals laid down their arms, and most of the Neustrian counts and bishops did homage to king Lewis. The German monarch was able to take possession of his brother's realm, and to proclaim himself king of the West Franks. His nephew Lothair n. sent to beg for peace from him, and it seemed that Lewis would become the suzerain of all the realms north of the Alps. But when he had sent away his German troops, and prepared to winter near Laon among the ,..,,„ Neustrians, the instability of his power was sud

Lewis the Ger- *

man wins and denly shown. Charles the Bald had secretly loses Neustna. raised a new army in Burgundy. He marched on Laon at mid-winter. The Neustrians refused to take arms against their old king, and Lewis, with a very small following, had to flee away into Germany, and abandon his lightly-won dominion over the West Franks. Eighteen months later the brothers made peace (860), but no treaty could undo the harm that the reckless ambition of Lewis had brought on all the Frankish realms. While the war was raging the Danes had swept unresisted across the land. One army had harried the Rhine-mouth and Flanders, another had sacked Amiens and Noyon; a third had entered the Mediterranean, sailed up the Rhone, and devastated the distant kingdom of Charles of Provence, the younger brother of Lothair n., a weakly youth racked by epileptic fits, who showed no power to defend his fertile land from the pirates. The last-named band had even extended their ravages to Italy, and sacked the flourishing port of Pisa in the realm of the emperor Lewis n.

From the time of his wicked invasion of Neustria onward, king Lewis the German, who had hitherto been the most fortunate of the Karling kindred, began to meet with troubles to which he had as yet been a stranger. While his attention had been directed to the West, his Slavonic vassals in the East, the Abotrites, rose in rebellion: when he led a host against them in 862, he encountered defeat and disaster. But a far worse blow came from the bosom of his own family: his eldest son Carloman, whom he had made governor in Carinthia and the Bavarian Ostmark, rose in rebellion against him. Twice conquered and twice pardoned (861 and p 863), the ungrateful prince took arms for a third troubles of time in 864, and compelled his father to grant Lewis the him a share in the kingdom. Feeling old age closing in upon him, and hoping to conciliate all his sons, Lewis the German now took the unwise step of dividing his realm in his own lifetime, just as his father Lewis the Pious had done. He made Carloman king of Bavaria and Carinthia, designated his second son and namesake Lewis to be ruler of Saxony, Thuringia, and Franconia, and his youngest born Charles the Fat to reign in Suabia and Rhaetia (865). He must have felt that the hand of Heaven was laid upon him in punishment for his own unfilial conduct to his father Lewis the Pious, for his sons dealt with him just as he had dealt with the old emperor thirty years before. They murmured about the boundaries of their heritages, and often took arms both against him and against each other. Four separate rebellions of one or another or all of the princes are recorded between 865 and 876. But Lewis the German was made of sterner stuff than his pious father. Time after time he beat down the risings of his undutiful sons, and after each victory had the constancy or the feebleness to restore them to their former honours.

In spite of these rebellions, and in spite of the successful revolt, first of the Abotrites, and then of the Moravians, both of whom succeeded in shaking off their dependence on the empire, Germany was yet the most fortunate of the five Frankish realms. The subjects of the three sons of Lothair I., who were now ruling the fragments of their father's 'middle kingdom,'

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