In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Alliance between the Papacy and the Frankish House 2. Charles the Great (768-814) 3. Coronation of Charles the Great: 800 A.D. 4. Causes of Dissolution of Charlemagne’s Empire 5. Charlemagne’s Successors 6. Treaty of Verdun, 843.
- Alliance between the Papacy and the Frankish House
- Charles the Great (768-814)
- Coronation of Charles the Great: 800 A.D.
- Causes of Dissolution of Charlemagne’s Empire
- Charlemagne’s Successors
- Treaty of Verdun, 843
1. Alliance between the Papacy and the Frankish House:
The alliance between the Papacy and the Franks was in the nature of adversity bringing in strange bed-fellows.
The Italian Popes were willing to free themselves from the galling tutelage of Byzantium.
In 476, when the line of the Roman emperors in the west became extinct, the papal strength and prestige increased.
To all reasonableness, the Pope was the heir to the civil government in Italy and the popes had achieved de facto independence in Rome. Justinian’s re-conquest of Italy and the stationing of a Byzantine Duke in Rome were very much humiliating to the popes and the Lombard invasion of Byzantine Empire in Italy was considered by the popes a suitable occasion to emancipate themselves from the Byzantine control.
The imperial government of Byzantium did nothing to prevent the Lombard advance towards exarchate of Ravenna. The popes, under the circumstances, had of necessity to assume civil control and save the city of Rome from the Lombard attack. At times the popes found it politic to side with the Lombard’s.
It was at a critical moment of the Lombard invasion of Italy that Pope Gregory I (590-604) came to occupy the papal throne. The invading Lombard’s had seized the papal lands in north Italy and menaced papal lands in central Italy as well as Rome itself.
Gregory thought it advisable to remain on good terms with Byzantium but it was he rather than the Byzantine Duke that saved Rome from capture by the Lombard King Agilulf and the Lombard Duke of Spoleto.
During the pontificate of Gregory II (715-31) the Lombard’s menaced what was left of the papal lands in central and north-central Italy. Gregory II allied himself with the Lombard’s and even prevented the levy of a tax on Italy by the Byzantine government. An expedition sent from Byzantium to enforce obedience was beaten off with the help of the Lombard’s.
This Lombard-Papal alliance lasted till the end of Gregory’s life and ‘he Lombard king Liutprand honored this friendship by handing over to Gregory all lands conquered within the Roman Duchy of Byzantium but not belonging to the papacy.
It goes without saying that Lombard-Papal alliance could at best be a temporary, opportunistic step. In fact, the real danger to the papal state in Italy was the Lombard king rather than the Byzantine emperor.
Pope Gregory III (731-41) was sufficiently conscious of this and took the momentous step of turning to the rising Frankish house for support against the Lombard menace. The price for the bargain offered by Gregory was a protectorate over the city of Rome to Charles Martel for the aid to be rendered.
But three missions to Charles Martel did not succeed. Gregory’s successor Stephen II however, succeeded in getting response from Charles Martel’s son Pipin the short. Pipin at the moment (751) was as much in need of papal support as the latter was in need of that of the former.
The Frankish mayor of the palace Pipin decided to overthrow the phantom Merovingian dynasty and make himself King both in fact and name. Naturally, he needed a seeming legal authorization for a completely illegal act. Pope saw in this implied recognition or authorization which he accorded, the advantage of a valuable precedent.
At this psychological moment the Lombard king Aistulf drove the Byzantines out of the exarchate of Ravenna and made himself the undisputed master of the whole of north and north-central Italy, and in the next year threatened Rome itself. Stephen II became a supplicant at the door of Pipin.
The Pope betook himself to the court of Pipin, anointed him King and in return received from Pipin the promise of the gift of all lands taken from the empire by the Lombard’s to the papacy as also the protection of the Franks.
Pipin kept his promise by undertaking two expeditions against Aistuif, the Lombard king and by an actual deed donated all the territories of the Byzantine Empire taken from the Lombard’s to the Pope as temporal possession to be held by the Pope as an Italian prince. This prevented Lombard conquest of Italy and unification of Italy under the same control. The Italian unification had to wait till 1870.
The motives behind the papal alliance with the Frankish house are clear enough. The Popes were out to supplant the Byzantine Empire in Italy and to assume both clerical as well as civil control of the country.
This was prompted by secular ambition and also by the fact that under the circumstances of the time the Byzantine emperors were busy in defending themselves near at home which precluded their sending any material help to the importunities of the Pope under pressure of Lombard invasion.
The strength of the Frankish house and its nearness to Rome must have been further grounds for the Pope to appeal to the Franks for aid. Moreover, the Iconoclastic controversy had embittered the relations between the papacy and Byzantium.
From the Frankish point of view support of the papacy was deemed as an authorization of a perfectly illegal act of overthrowing the sham Merovingian dynasty. This apart, the Franks were Christians of only two hundred years’ standing and naturally the converts’ zeal was there in them, and it was considered an act of piety to render services to the Church.
Lordship over the Lombard’s and protectorate over Rome as was inherent in the position of Patricius, and protectorate over the papacy Patricius were certainly quite in line with the growing power and prestige of the Frankish house.
Under Pipin’s successor Charles the Great or Charlemagne, who by inheritance was the overlord of the Lombard’s and the protector of the Papal States, the need for help again arose. The Lombard’s renewed their attack. Charles answered the Papal appeal for help with no loss of time.
He overran all Lombardy, conquered the Lombard duchies of Benevento and Spoleto, and himself assumed the title of Lombard king. The Lombard kingdom was absorbed into the Frankish. Additional campaigns brought Corsica, Dalmatia and Istria under the Frankish kingdom which had now grown into an empire.
The alliance between the Papacy and the Frankish house was thus giving dividends. The same process of depending on the Frankish help led Pope Leo III, when man-handled by enemies, to run to Charles the Great then in Westphalia in the midst of his campaigns.
Charles escorted Leo to Rome, held a seeming enquiry into the allegations against Leo and after declaring him clear of all these charges replaced him on the Papal chair.
Leo III saw in Charles the emperor of the west, in fact, if not in name. Somewhat due to his personal gratitude, somewhat due to his realization of the inescapable Frankish truth that Charles was going to be the emperor of the west whether the papacy liked it or not, led emperor for him to crown Charles as Emperor (800).
The alliance between the papacy and the Franks, thus culminated in the coronation of Charles the Great and the breaking off of Italy from the Eastern Empire.
2. Charles the Great (768-814):
The Frankish custom prescribed division of the kingdom among the sons of the king. In conformity with this old and evil custom, the Frankish kingdom was divided by Pipin between his two sons—Charles and Carloman, as he lay dying in 768.
It seemed for a time that civil war between brothers, Charles master of all the Frankish lands of Austrasia and Neustria, from the Main to the Channel, as well as of the western half of the newly acquired Aquitaine, and Carloman master of Burgundy, Swabia, whole of the Mediterranean coast from the Alps to the border of Spain and eastern Aquitaine, would end the rising power of the Frankish monarchy.
The reason for such a possibility was .that Charles and Carloman were never friendly. But Providence saved the situation; Carloman died in 771 leaving Charles master of the entire Frankish realm. Carloman’s widow and son fled to Lombardy where they got asylum in the court of Desiderius.
“If Carloman had been granted many days on earth, we may be sure that the history of the last quarter of the eighth century would have repeated the old fratricidal wars of the Merovings.”
Character of his Wars:
Charles’ reign, was, in large part, a chronicle of wars, the purposes of which were:
(i) To extend the frontiers of his dominions,
(ii) To establish and defend the frontiers, and
(iii) To convert the heathens to Christianity. His policy, therefore, was not solely aggressive.
True to the Frankish ideal and tradition, Charles considered himself the champion of Christianity against the heathen Saxons, Slavs, Saracens, etc., and as such we often find that his conquests were followed by baptism of the conquered people and establishment of bishoprics in the conquered territories.
Charles led no less than fifty-four campaigns both in person and through his sons and other lieutenants. Five of these were against the Lombard’s, eighteen against the Saxons, three against the Frisians and the Danes, four against the Slavs, two against the Gascons, five against the Moslems in Italy, two against the Byzantines, and two against the Bretons.
The year 790 was such a remarkably peaceful year that the chronicler commented: This year was without war. It must, however, be mentioned that it was successful warfare that earned Charles the appellation The Great or Charlemagne.
By inheritance Charles was the overlord of the Lombard’s and Protector of the papacy.
The title Patricius conferred on Pipin by the papacy was also his legitimate inheritance. At the initial stage of his reign Charles married the daughter of Desiderius, the Lombard king despite protestation by the Pope, for the Lombard’s and the papacy were sworn enemies; and for a time it seemed that the long and traditional relationship between the Frankish monarchy and the papacy was going to be married.
But after a year Charles repudiated the marriage with the daughter of the Lombard king and sent her back to her father. This at once restored the cordiality between the Pope and Charles.
Desiderius was very much resentful of Charles’ conduct in repudiating the marriage. Further, he bore the traditional enmity to the papacy. He renewed his attack against Rome. Charles answered the appeal of the Pope; he also remembered the resentment of the Lombard king at the repudiation of the marriage.
Charles besieged the Lombard capital Pavia for nine months and fighting Lombard continuously, he overran the whole of Lombardy. He also conquered the Lombard duchies of Benevento and Spoleto; the Lombard kingdom was annexed to the Frankish. He also assumed the crown of Lombardy.
It must, however, be noted here that his conquest of the duchy of Benevento was never complete. From Lombardy Charles made for Italy where he was received with all honour. He confirmed Pipin’s grant of the ex-archate of Ravenna to the Pope, which strengthened the temporal power of the Pope.
Yet Charles ‘made it quite clear that as Patricius of the Romans and the Protector of the Holy See he regarded himself as the actual sovereign of this territory, to whose orders the Popes must harken in governing it.’ The effect of the Lombard conquest was the breaking up of a power which might have formed the nucleus of a united Italy.
The Bavarians were the second German nation to be incorporated to the Frankish dominions. Bavaria was theoretically under the suzerainty of the Emperor for a long time past, but in reality, it enjoyed autonomy under its own dukes, which was tantamount to independence. The Bavarian church was also similarly autonomous of the Pope.
Thus it was to the interest of both the Pope and the Emperor to reduce Bavaria to complete subjection. Tassilo, duke of Bavaria rebelled in 788 and contested his theoretical allegiance to the Frankish crown. Charles invaded and conquered Bavaria and incorporated it into the Frankish empire after compelling Tassilo to renounce the claim of himself and his family over Bavaria.
Against the Saxons:
The third and the most important German nation to be conquered by Charles was the Saxons. The conquest of Saxony was difficult for various reasons. There were no towns in Saxony, as such; the Saxons could not have been conquered by taking any important stronghold. The whole country had to be overrun.
Again, the Saxons, like almost all other tribes of Germany were a fierce people, heathen in religion, with scant regard for law, human or divine. The task before Charles was doubly difficult as he wanted to accomplish a double conquest, conquest by arms and Christianity.
In 775 Charles overran the whole of Westphalia and received its submission. The Saxons of that part were all converted into Christianity. But their submission was more seeming than real; they detested Christianity and owed allegiance to Charles out of fear.
Eight campaigns were necessary before the turbulent Saxons, fighting under their national hero Witikind, could be subdued. The conquest begun by arms was completed by Christianity, which in its turn had to be completed by force. Bishoprics grew up in Verden, Bremen, Halberstadt, Hildresheim, Paderborn, Munster and Osnarbruck.
Against the Slavs:
While Charles was engaged in subduing the Saxons, his northern boundaries were being disturbed by the Abotrites, a section of the Slavic people. But their disunity and weakness made it easy for Charles to conquer them and even make them fight against the Saxons.
In the east the Slavs called the Bohemians were also threatening the boundaries of Charles’ dominions. Charles led a campaign against the Bohemians in 805-06 and compelled them to acknowledge his supremacy although they were eventually left more or less autonomous.
The Danes were a continual source of danger to the dominions of Charles. They were always inclined to render assistance to the Saxons. In order to prevent them from pursuing such a course, Charles established a Danish mark in the isthmus between the Saxons and the Danes.
Towards the Danube Charles extended his dominions by defeating the Huns whom he, finally, conquered and drove out of the Danubian region, Charles built up a ring of marches or marks in the north and the east. Towards the west he established the mark of Brittany. The only side to be controlled was the south.
Charles’ initial attempt against Spain was routed with a great loss. In order to stem the tide of the Saracen onslaught, he established a Spanish mark in 795 and in 797 he conquered Barcelona and added it to the Spanish mark. In this regard, Charlemagne was pursuing the policy of Charles Martel. He also drove the Saracens out of Corsica, Sardinia and Balearic isles.
Extent of Charles’ Empire: Limitations of his Policy of Conquest:
The conquests of Charles gave him a vast empire and the whole of the Germanic population except the Anglo-Saxons and the Scandinavians were brought within his empire. Beyond the actual boundaries of the German territories, the empire of Charles established a ring of n irks to protect the frontiers against external attacks.
But now the question arises: although at the time when Charles was operating, the southern Italy, Sicily was weak and almost unprotected, what prevented him from bringing those areas within his empire? Again, Spain hardly drew that amount of attention from Charles that would have won for him all the splendour of the Spanish wealth.
Charles, of course, gained a very important accession to strength and an extension to his empire by conquering what he called the Spanish mark—the territories between the Pyrenees and the Ebro. But ail the same he did not seek to go to the logical conclusion of his policy of conquest, neither in respect of Italy nor in respect of Spain.
In answer to these charges we may point out that:
(i) Charles was first a German and an Italian emperor next. Naturally, it was his German interests that determined the course of his conquests. The nature of the arrangements made for the protection of the German territories, by forming round them a ring of marks, will prove beyond doubt that Charles attached more importance to his German position than to the newly acquired imperial one.
(ii) In the second place, the completeness that he achieved in respect of the conquest of the German territories and the German peoples, his desperate and tedious wars against the Saxons, etc., also point to the same conclusion.
(iii) In the third place, we should remember the generally irreconcilable nature of the Saxon subjects of Charles. Whenever he withdrew his arms, the Saxons broke out into fresh rebellion. This was a hard fact to overlook. Naturally, Charles could not have possibly guided his energy more than what the circumstances permitted, Saxons never without leaving his own country open to Saxon conquest.
(iv) In the fourth place, Charles had Expansion waged numerous wars. Expansion of his empire had been considerable. If he had left out the prospects of sure success in south Italy and Sicily and the brilliant and the attractive prizes in Spain, it was due to his more pressing need for the security and consolidation of his German territories.
Had Charles been engaged in expansion without consolidation the admirably efficient administrative system which he had reared up would have been impossible and the posterior Europe would have been poorer in that they would have been deprived of the prodigious system of administration from which they borrowed so much,
(v) In the fifth place, it must be noted that the fatigue of incessant wars must have been telling upon the strength and finances of the empire. But above all it must be pointed out; the German interest was the supreme consideration that kept Charles away from the conquest of South Italy, Sicily or Spain.
And Hallam puts the situation as follows; “Italy, however, be the cause what it might, seems to have tempted Charlemagne far less than the dark forests of Germany.”
3. Coronation of Charles the Great: 800 A.D.:
Circumstances leading to the Coronation: After the fall of the Roman Empire, the parts held by the barbarians had no political relation with the central government of Rome and gradually the idea of an Empire died out. But soon the Christian church, through the spread of Christianity, furnished a kind of unity which the now-forgotten memories of the Empire could not and did not afford.
Since the west was Christianized by Rome, she had a sort of authority which kept the entire west united to her by the ties of common beliefs, ritual, practice and organisation.
If the barbarian-held parts were united to Rome by the common ties of religion, the rest of the broken-up Empire in the west during the sixth and the seventh centuries looked to Rome with thoughts and hopes that the Roman Empire was only in abeyance, not extinct, and a time would come when the empire would rise again.
But the deliverer, the leader of this revival was not to come from the feeble, corrupt and exhausted soil of Rome but from the Frankish house which had only recently been brought under the pale of Christianity.
The Popes of Rome were technically and legally under the authority of the Emperor at Constantinople, where form they received no protection, no was under help. There were also theological differences between Rome and Constantinople as were exemplified in the Iconoclastic controversy. The cruelty of Irene, the prejudice against women as a class, all this, made the authority of Constantinople hateful to Rome.
The Romans pushed themselves, for reasons both of security against the Lombard’s and hatred towards Constantinople, increasingly into the hateful to arms of the Frankish house. The growth of the Roman church by way of Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons, of the Germans and others, and also of the Frankish house and the close alliance between the two, made the revival of the Empire in the west possible.
Thirty years of wars and conquests brought the west under the single scepter of Charles. Further, he himself being a champion of Christianity, brought about a unity of conscience along with the union of the peoples of west under one scepter. Thus the stage was laid for the coronation which was to stress this religion-political unity all the more.
At this stage of the history of Rome we find the growth of a party hostile to the papacy, for it re- presented one man’s power, which the party did not like. The party wanted the revival of the glory of Rome under a Republic. In 798 a sedition broke out in Rome. Pope Leo III was attacked by a band of armed men headed by two officials of his court, was wounded and left for dead.
Leo with great difficulty escaped to Spoleto and thence went to Charles’ camp at Westphalia where the latter had been conducting the suppression of a revolt. Charles received his spiritual father with great respect, heard him and sent him back with a strong escort to Rome only to follow in person himself.
In the Autumn of 799 Charles appeared personally at Rome, held a seeming enquiry into the allegations against Leo, declared him innocent and reinstated him to the Papal chair.
The most active cause of the coronation was the fervent gratitude of Leo due to his deliverance by Charles. Soon after Leo paid the debt of gratitude by crowning his saviour as Emperor on the Christmas day, 800.
On the Christmas day when Charles head was attending the Service at St. Peter’s, the Pope rose from his chair as the reading of the gospel was finished and placed the imperial crown on the head of Charles, as he was kneeling in worship, with the following words- “To Charles Augustus crowned by God, the great and peace-loving Emperor, be life and victory.”
The Frankish warriors and the Italian clergy and the citizens joined in the cry and hailed him as Emperor.
Coronation a Surprise:
On the authority of Einhard, Charles’ secretary; we know that Charles was wont to declare that the whole proceedings of the coronation were forced on him and his consent was not obtained. He felt it so much and so strongly that he would say that he would never have entered St. Peter’s that day if he had smelt it before. It is natural for us to ask—why this reluctance?
That Charles used to declare, that the coronation was a surprise to him, cannot be doubted, for, there is no good reason why Einhard (also spelt as Eginhard) should have reported such a thing unless it were true, and particularly, after a long time when there could have been no motive to inspire him to distort the real fact.
But although it is quite possible that Charles was reluctant in receiving the crown in the manner it was actually given him, yet it is difficult to believe that it was a surprise. For, in the first place, his great power, his extensive conquests, his protection of the church and services in her behalf, all marked him out as the most suitable person for the imperial crown.
In the second place, only a short time before the coronation Charles had sent an ambassador to the court of Constantinople to broach the subject of his marriage with Queen Irene. It is quite legitimate to surmise that the proposal for contracting such a marriage was motivated by his desire to assume the crown of the west with a legal touch.
In fact, imperial crown was the goal towards which the policy of the Franks had for many years pointed and Charles ‘himself in sending before him to Rome many of his spiritual and temporal magnates, in summoning thither his son Pipin from a war against the Lombard’s of Benevento, had shown that he expected some more than ordinary results from his journey to the imperial city.
Moreover, Alcuin of York, the trusted adviser of Charles in matters religious and literary, appears, from one of his extant letters, to have sent as a Christmas gift to his royal pupil a carefully and superbly adorned copy of the Scriptures with the words—ad splendorem imperialis potentise. This has been taken as conclusive evidence that the plan had been settled before hand.
Further, as it has been pointed out, the Pope would not have ventured to take such a momentous step for which he had not at least the seeming consent from Charles. The assembly of the lay and the clerical persons seemed to have been prepared for the whole thing as is evidenced by their hailing the coronation by repeating what Leo uttered and this could not have remained a closed secret to Charles.
The only reasonable conclusion that we could arrive at, is that Charles probably had given a sort of a vague consent to his coronation. The Pope seized the opportunity on the Christmas day although Charles would have liked to receive it at a Charles different time and in a more diplomatic manner.
It has also been pointed out by some writers that Charles was unwilling to receive the crown because he foresaw the danger of receiving it from the hands of the Pope, the danger which actually followed Bryce rejects from the coronation. But Bryce rejects such a view the view and is of opinion that it was doubtful if Charles actually foresaw the future pretentions of the papacy.
It had also been argued that Charles was afraid of the jealous hostility of the Eastern Court and what he had actually wanted was to have legality for his imperial status. The precipitate action of the Pope only cut through all the deep laid schemes of Charles.
Was Coronation a revolt? What was its Legality?
There could hardly be any doubt that Charles was the most important personality of his times and Pope Leo III by choosing him the Emperor made the most suitable choice. The Romans were easily persuaded to believe that the act of choosing Charles was only meet and proper. But the question legitimately arises as to what extent the’ incident of coronation was legal.
It has been argued that although the Romans hailed and consented to such an act ‘it was nevertheless, a revolt.’ In fact, there is much to be said about or rather, against the legality of the coronation of Charles. Certainly, the Pope had no right to give away a crown which did not belong to him.
Further, it cannot be argued that the assembly of the lay and the clerical persons at St. Peter’s was the ancient ‘Senate and People of Rome’ who could elect their sovereign.
In fact, there grew up three theories about the coronation:
First, that Charles won the crown by his conquests and was indebted to none but himself. This theory was advanced by the imperial party.
Secondly, the Papal party at a later time argued that, the Pope by virtue of his power as the successor to St. Peter deposed the Emperor at Constantinople and conferred the crown on Charles.
Thirdly, the people of Rome claimed that by choosing Charles as their Emperor, they exercised their ancient right of electing their king.
From the above theories as well as from the contemporary records it is very difficult to put any technical character to the whole proceedings. It goes without saying that the Pope acted without any authority, for certainly, he had no right to give away the crown, and in so doing he revolted against the lawful authority of the Eastern Empire.
The coronation, therefore, besides its having been a revolt, was an illegal act. Bryce however, points out that Leo gave the crown not by virtue of any right as the head of the church but only as the instrument of God’s Providence, he being the only person capable of leading and defending the Christian Commonwealth.
Secondly, the coronation cannot be regarded as the right of the Roman people to elect their king for the simple reason that the assembly of persons at St. Peter’s did not represent the decayed ‘Senate and People of Rome’. Bryce, however, is of opinion that the Roman people did not elect Charles, but by their applause, they only accepted the Chief presented to them by the Pope in obedience to Divine Providence.
The chain of events leading to the coronation was more modest than has been claimed by many. For, it had not added to the power of Charlemagne, nor did it bring any additional dominion to his empire.
Thirdly, it has been pointed out, Charles did not Crown came seize the crown, he received it as naturally coming to Charles to him as the legitimate consequence of the power as legitimate that he had already been enjoying. Nevertheless, the consequence impression is irresistible that the act was irregular of power and illegal and it was for this that no legal explanation of the act was sought to be given by the contemporaries.
Bryce, however, concludes that none of the contemporary evidences, nor the subsequent theories about the event contained the whole truth. He says “Charles did not conquer, nor the Pope give nor the people elect. As the act was unprecedented, so it was extra-legal; it was a revolt of the ancient western empire against a daughter who had become a mistress.”
The whole proceedings were so much precipitate and without precedent that no better explanation is probably possible.
Barraclough rightly remarks that the Coronation of Charlemagne marked the ‘birth of western European civilization. That civilization had been in gestation for many generations; thence forward began its own independent existence’. From this event the Carolingian civilization was filled with a new life and spirit and began to look forward.
Importance of the Coronation:
Bryce points out that from the moment of the coronation of 800 A.D. ‘modern history begins’. Elsewhere he calls the event as the ‘central event of the Middle Ages’, one from which the world received much and without which the history of the world would have been different.
These apparently contradictory observations of Bryce are not actually paradoxical or irreconcilable. Indeed the coronation of Charles combined in it significance and consequences, at once immediate and farreaching, mediaeval and modern. By reason of the fact that it was the central event of the middle Ages, it did not cease to be the fountain head of many modern tendencies.
It brought about a revolution in the political concept of the Medieval Europe as it became the central event of the Middle Ages, and from it flowed influences, diverse and numerous which gave rise to problems which the succeeding generations had to grapple with.
The most immediate and ostensible effect of the coronation was the triumph of law and order over chaos and barbarism. The early Roman Empire had fallen into disruption, owes and miseries; lack of government, lack of security, both social and political, brought everything into a melting pot.
Charles’ coronation, by bringing about the unity of the whole of the Christendom with the exception of very few places, retrieved the Roman Empire from its ruins, and united ‘the last great emperor of Rome and the first great emperor of the west’.
Secondly, to be sure, there existed no Roman empire in reality, yet there was a common belief that it was not extinct, although in abeyance. The coronation registered this common belief that the Roman Empire was sure to rise again. So the event was never thought to be a strange one, for, it only translated into practice what the people had been cherishing in the heart of their hearts for more than two centuries.
The tradition of Western Europe organised as a whole under the Roman Emperor was still so strong that when it was actually reunited under a German, it seemed to the contemporaries that it was nothing more or less than a return to the Golden Age.
Thirdly, the immediate effect of the coronation so far as Germany was concerned, was the enhancement of the prestige of the German nation as a whole and Charlemagne as their representative, in particular.
Fourthly, the coronation took place under vague and uncertain circumstances. There was no clear definition of the rights or powers of the parties to it. The Pope gave something which he had not the right to give and the king received something which he had no legal right to do so, although, he had the power to accept.
Thus the vagueness of the whole proceedings gave handle to the papal party in subsequent times to assert their superiority over the Emperor and put forward fantastic papal claims. The imperial party also did much of the obeisance made by the Pope while crowning Charles as the Emperor—God’s chosen.
Again, the people of Rome shouted approval of the election of Charles as the Emperor and this led to their later claims to approve imperial elections. Thus the coronation ceremony brought in its train seeds of future struggle between the Empire and the Papacy, which was in fact, the central theme of the Middle Ages.
Fifthly, the real importance of the coronation as Banaclough remarks, lay in Charlemagne’s Separation independence even to equality with, the Empire in the East which still claimed legal Eastern over the west. In 812 when the emperor of the East accepted Charles as emperor in the west, a major achievement was secured.
By separating the empire into two independent ones left Western Europe free to develop on its own traditions unhindered by the oriental tradition.
Sixthly, in the separation of the Western Empire of the Pope triumphed. For, the Eastern Empire which failed to protect the Roman church and the Roman people both from the internal and external enemies forfeited the right to allegiance of the Roman people and the Pope.
Further, the Eastern Empire made itself all the more odious to the Romans by placing Irene, a woman, at once cruel and selfish to the imperial throne. The irrevocable breach between east and west was undoubtedly a turning point in history.
Seventhly, the coronation effected the fusion of the barbarian and Roman cultures and thus gave rise to a newer and more vigorous civilization.
Eighthly, from the coronation of Charles is to be traced the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire, a theocratic state, which continued to exist as the foundation of the European states-system for many centuries to follow. It was not until the end of the Napoleonic wars that the Holy Roman Empire was thoroughly disintegrated.
Ninthly, the coronation made the way straight for the foundation of a new and scientific administrative system which was brought into being by the efforts of Charles and which became the model for administrative improvements to the European states for many centuries to follow.
From the administrative system of Charles Europe gained much in masters of administrative expedients; it left an abiding influence upon the administrative contrivances of Europe of the subsequent centuries.
Tenthly peace and calm that resulted from the unity of the empire, comprising Roman, Christian and German elements, symbolized in the coronation, as also the patronage extended by Charles to art and learning gave rise to a very healthy and vigorous literature, the influence of which persisted throughout many centuries that followed and even well within the modern times.
But except for the above points of view the importance of the coronation cannot be, rather must not be overrated.
It did not make Charles ruler of the whole of the Western Europe. England, Spain and Scandinavian north, were not within his empire. Charles remained mainly and really a Frankish King drew his revenues from his Frankish lands, selected his ministers and servants from the Franks.
‘The seat of his power was still in the lands of his Frankish forbears between Rhine, Moselle and Meuse’. The empire of Charles fell because the Frankish kingdom became weak. The empire would have survived if the Frankish kingdom remained strong.
The coronation symbolizing the triumph of the German king, held out a model for the future German kings to undertake weary journeys to Rome for the papal recognition of their imperial dignity. The result was that, for seven hundred years the German kings could not free themselves of the idea that they must rule Italy.
Much of the energy of the German kings was spent in Italy and the question of the national unity of Germany was left unsolved. Thus we see, that the coronation besides having been the central event of the Middle Ages, marked the beginning of certain tendencies which influenced modern times. A new age commenced with the coronation of Charles.
Charles’ system of government was in the main a continuation of the old Merovingian with certain improvements here and there for rendering it more centralized. Following the old Merovingian custom Charles divided his vast dominions into administrative districts known as counties, at the head of each of which, there was a Count.
The frontier districts were, however, organised into marches and placed under border Counts.
The Counts were held responsible for the administration of their respective counties. The Counts seem to have held office for life and even there was a tendency to make the office hereditary. But they could be deposed for cause. They were by no means independent, but were assistants and subordinates to Charles.
All the dukedoms except those of Benevento, Brittany and Gascony, were abolished, for, they were too strong a menace to the unity of the empire. But in no circumstances were the existing dukes given an independent power of action. They were completely under the control of the Emperor.
At the centre there was the Emperor who stood at the top of the administrative framework. There was also a Diet or General Assembly, which used to meet at the spring time every year. It was a survival of the old Teutonic Folk Moot. This body met every year in spring for giving the Emperor advice and information.
It was not a legislative body but an advisory one and like all advisory bodies made recommendations and gave advice and information which the Emperor was at liberty either to accept or reject. This becomes manifest when we find that some of the decrees and capitularies of the reign of Charles were drawn in concurrence with the Diet and the rest at the free will of Charles himself.
Now, the method of linking up the counties with the centre was a novel one. It was a two-fold method. First, the Emperor had a direct control over the administration of the counties, for he had all the Counts under him and under his complete control.
Secondly, a more important one was the system of missi dominici. Charles had good reason for fear that the Counts who were often selected from the strongest local families would eventually make their offices hereditary and make the county the Count’s private jurisdiction.
To prevent such an eventuality and to supervise the Counts and check their frequent abuses of power, Charles created a new class of officials, missi dominici, the most characteristic part of his administration, who were itinerant commissioners and whose duty it was to visit at stated intervals all the parts of a given circuit. Their duties had been laid down elaborately in Charles’ capitularies about the missi in 802.
Charles ordered them “to investigate and report to him any inequality or injustice that might appear in the law as then constituted, to enquire diligently into every case where any man complained that he had been dealt with unjustly by any one, and in the fear of God to render justice to all, to the Holy churches of God, to the poor, to widows and orphans and to the whole people; they are not to be hindered in the doing of justice by the flattery or bribery of any one, by their partiality for their own friends or by the fear of powerful men.”
The missi were also intended to serve as a direct link between the people and the Emperor to whom they submitted their reports. A missi usually consisted of two, a lay man and a bishop or an abbot. This dual character of the missi represented the dual character of the Emperor as the head of the state and of the church.
It must be noted here that Charles had placed his three sons over the three parts of his empire. But these princes only served as a link between the Emperor and the Counts. Thus Charles’ administration became a thoroughly centralized one in spite of the fact that the Counts were selected from strong local families with considerable local influence.
Under Charles such German tribes as still had no written laws received their laws in a codified form. But it must be noted that Charles did not do anything to disturb the old basis of the German laws. Each group within the empire was allowed to retain its own local laws and customs.
But to meet the immediate problems of administration Charles drew up capitularies, orders and decrees which gave rise to a great body of laws under him.
Administration of justice was quite efficient. There were three sessions of the criminal courts in the counties during a year for trying the most serious criminal cases. Besides, there were courts for less serious crimes.
Freemen were not obliged to attend courts meant for less serious crimes. Apart from these there was a court of seven judges chosen for life from each locality, for every county. This body of judges acted as assessors of punishment.
Charles’ constant demand for military service compelled him to organize the military services on a new and more direct basis. He provided that military service should be restricted to some specific regions rather than extend over the whole empire. He also made military service dependent on property ownership.
Persons occupying three or more hides of lands were obliged to come fully equipped. This military organisation on the basis of ownership of land helped the development of feudalism.
The old Roman system of taxation had fallen off by the time of Charles. Citizens no longer paid taxes to the state except for certain kinds of private lands. They served the state in various capacities both in the civil and military departments. Public works, at least a few of them, were done with forced labour. The most burdensome duties were the judicial and military.
Freemen were obliged to attend the courts summoned by the Counts and to render- military service in the field. Charles’ constant demand for military services from the freemen compelled many of them to relegate themselves voluntarily to the position of the serfs in order to avoid services in distant lands and almost incessantly. This also gave rise to the feudal serfs.
Character of Charles’ Administration:
At the time when Charles became Emperor, it was commonly supposed that the Emperor held office directly from God and to God alone was the Emperor responsible for what he did. This divine origin of the Emperor made personal government inevitable. A close analysis of the government of Charles leaves us in no doubt that his government was very much personal.
Shortly after his coronation Charles compelled all his subjects to swear that they would be not only good citizens but also good Christians. Charles’ concept of the Empire was a theocratic one, wherein the Emperor was to be the head of both the state and the church and the citizens were to be both citizens and Christians.
Thus the first and foremost characteristic of Charles’ government was that it was personal both in lay and religious matters.
Charles by his personal efforts gave unity to the Empire and did much of the work of its governance. He moved from part to part of his empire, fighting rebels, administering justice, conducting trials, settling difficulties and problems of administration and keeping the governmental machinery in motion.
It was his personal efforts that succeeded in keeping the heterogeneous elements of his empire together. Everything was done in the name of the Emperor and with the consent or sanction of the Emperor. The different parts of the Empire, the different departments of the government, all converged in the person of the Emperor.
The Diet only had an advisory capacity. The capitularies, the orders and the decrees of Charles’ time bear unmistakably his personal impress. The Emperor was represented throughout the realm by his personal appointees, the Counts and the princes who held offices at the pleasure of the Emperor.
The missi dominici kept the Emperor abreast of all the up going on in the different parts of the Empire. The Pope was to be no better than a subordinate official of the Emperor for assisting him to discharge the ecclesiastical duties besides his secular ones.
Thus it is doubtless that the government of Charles was out and out a personal one. But then, was it despotism? Personal government is indeed the prelude to despotism. But Charles’ government although personal and centralized was full of regard for the Well-being of the people.
(i) He allowed the different parts of his realm to retain their local laws and customs. Where the existing laws could not or did not solve the rising problems, Charles drew up decrees and capitularies to fill up the gap. This was more or less a compromise between local sentiments and imperial control and took away much of the galling annoyances of a centralized and personal rule,
(ii) Charles’ system of obtaining information on every matter of state importance from the members of the Diet, which used to meet in spring time every year, kept him aware of the prevalent condition of the people and the country,
(iii) The nature of the duties that the missi dominici were obliged to perform, removed even the slightest chances of any miscarriage of justice, any maltreatment of persons and any corruption in the administration. This makes it clear that Charles was highly solicitous of the well-being of his subjects.
(iv) His patronage of art and learning and above all his special care to see education spread among his subjects showed him in a brighter light than many of the rulers of the world. He established schools and ‘laboured hard to instruct his subjects. His patronage of art and learning resulted in a revival of learning which is known as the Carolingian renaissance.
Thus the real motive of Charles’ personal government, was not self-aggrandizement but to seek after the welfare, both material and moral, of his subjects. So his rule, we may conclude, was a ‘personal rule without despotism’.
Charles’ Ecclesiastical Policy:
Charles was a devout Christian and a zealous supporter of the Christian religion. He regularly attended the Church and was very particular that rites celebrated in it should be performed with the greatest decorum. His attitude to Christianity and the Church determined his ecclesiastical policy. He made strenuous efforts to realize the ideal of Augustine’s City of God on earth.
His government was in aim, a theocracy that is based on divine precepts. With the enlargement of the Frankish dominions there was also an enforcement of his own religion on the non-Christians. His coronation at the hands of the Pope in 800 A.D., as if by inspiration, expressed the ideal of theocratic monarchy that he had in his mind.
Coronation gave him a holy character and he thought himself to be God’s anointed agent for the realization of God’s purpose.
But Charles made no mistake about his own position, for after coronation he showed an increasing tendency to insist on the omnipotence of his authority in matters ecclesiastical and moral as in civil. Charles’ reported displeasure, openly expressed, at the suddenness of the coronation by Pope Leo was possibly due to his willingness to avoid giving any handle to the Pope to lay any claim to indirect authority over the Emperor.
In any case, Charles made it clear from the very beginning that he was the supreme head of the state and the Church and because it would not be possible for him to look into the details of both, the Pope was to act as his deputy in matters ecclesiastical.
The very fact that soon after his coronation he compelled all his subjects above the age of twelve to take an oath of allegiance to him as the emperor, administered by the local clergy, made it clear that their allegiance was to the Emperor both as the head of the State and the Church.
Charles also impressed upon his contemporaries that his empire was Roman as well as Holy, and it was with him that the idea of the Holy Roman Empire had started.
As it has been pointed out above, the Pope was to be no more than a subordinate officer of the Emperor, and the Church no more than an imperial department. Although the undefined nature of the coronation of 800 A.D. had led to incessant controversy in subsequent times, yet under Charles the relations between the Emperor and the Papacy was nothing more or less than what has been stated above.
“Charlemagne himself, in fact and theory, was master of Empire, Papacy and Church. He was the God-given autocrat of Western Christendom.”
Charles kept up his authority over the Church by nominating bishops, controlling church property and summoning synods, and took a predominating share in the Church administration and in the definition of doctrine. The reform of the church in Gaul begun by Pipin was carried further by Charles.
His capitularies and syndical canons gave a new sacred character to the church as also gave the church guidance and protection. In a series of capitularies drafted by his learned bishops and enforced by his own authority, Charles defined the authority and provinces of metropolitan, confirmed the jurisdiction of the bishops and abbots over their subjects and ordered suits between clerks and other persons to be heard by bishop and court jointly.
That Charles considered the Papacy no more than a department under him is evident from his institution of missi dominici in which he compromised both lay and clerical officers.
Of the genuineness of his piety there can be no doubt. He was anxious to further the extension of Christianity, but he was no less anxious to purify the Church of the corruptions that threatened to destroy its vitality. He encouraged Benedictine Rule as the normal Rule for monks and enforced regular payment of tithes to the Church, and extended grant of immunities to church lands.
Under him if the bishops played an important part in secular government it was because they were king’s subordinates in their ecclesiastical functions also. Even in the settlement of doctrinal problems Charles acted in all intents and purposes as the Pope’s as well as bishops’ superior.
In three specific instances we find Charles having his own way in the settlement of doctrinal problems. In 787 when Iconoclasm that is image worship was renewed in parts of the Byzantine Empire with the Pope’s consent, Charles allowed the Frankish church to retain only images and pictures as illustrations but not for worship. The Pope had to keep silence.
Again in 794 at a synod at Frankfort Charles condemned the Adoptionist view of Christ held by the Spanish bishops. According to this view Christ was only the adopted son of God. Again, Charles retained, despite Pope’s wish to the contrary, the Frankish addition to the creed in regard to the Holy Ghost.
Charles’ ideal of theocratic monarchy had the widest meaning. Apart from the supremacy that he exercised over the state and the Church, and apart from the precepts of divinity on which he based his empire making Christianity and Roman almost synonymous, Charles showed an unusual capacity for working into the details of both the civil and the ecclesiastical matters of his empire.
He legislated on every possible ecclesiastical subject, church discipline, church property, education of the clergy, ecclesiastical punishments, rituals, church lands, church organisation, etc. His laws touched all ranks of the clergy.
He controlled the personnel of the clergy, appointed all important church officials, presided over synods and councils. He interfered in questions of religious dogmas and would not even hesitate to dictate the Pope, as he had actually done on one occasion, to conform to what he himself believed.
Although Charles was not free from vices that abounded in courts in those days, he tried his utmost to purify the Church, and many of the measures already mentioned above were adopted for no other purpose. Yet he had occasions to be often displeased with the conduct of the clergy and at times broke out in bitter reproof of their land-grabbing zeal.
He had even adversely commented on their personal character and pointed out their bad command over language and grammar.
“It was to this same clergy, whom he rebuked so bitterly for their worldly interests, that Charles turned to secure competent government officials, because he had nowhere else to turn. His policy, therefore, while it did produce some important results, was doomed—as is generally the case with the high intentioned rulers as expressed in legislation—to fall far short of its aim.”
Estimate of Charles:
Charles the Great also called Charlemagne, was undoubtedly one of the most towering personalities, who have left their impress upon the canvass of world history in bold strokes. Like most of those who led the world, Charlemagne was many great things in one and was so great just because the workings of his genius were so harmonious. Probably no one else has more thoroughly taken hold of the imagination of the people as did Charlemagne.
He was more than a barbarian warrior, more than an astute negotiator, he was in fact, a combination of rare qualities and it will be difficult to characterize him by any of the qualities chiefly. He was hardly inferior to Julius Caesar or Napoleon in respect of the qualities by which both of them impress us. He possessed the vivid and un-resting energy which swept him over
Europe in campaign after campaign, which sought a field for its workings in theology and science, in law and literature, no less than in politics and war. The epoch made by Charlemagne in the history of the world, the illustrious families which prided themselves in him as their progenitor, the very legends of romance which are full of his fabulous exploits, have cast a lusture around his head and testify to the greatness that has embodied itself in the name.
None indeed, of Charlemagne’s wars can be compared with the Saracenic victory of Charles Martel, but that was a contest for freedom, his for conquest; and fame is more partial to successful aggression Born for than to patriotic resistance.
Like Alexander, he universal seemed to have been born for universal innovation; innovation in life restlessly active, we see him reforming the coinage and establishing the legal divisions of money; gathering about him the learned of every country, founding schools and collecting libraries, interfering, but with the tone of a king, in religious controversies; aiming though prematurely, at the formation of a naval force; attempting for the sake of commerce the magnificent enterprise of uniting the Rhine and the Danube, and meditating to mould the discordant codes of the Roman and barbarian laws into a uniform system.
He was a great conqueror and undertook in person fifty-four expeditions. He extended his power from the Eyder on the north to the Ebro, the Mediterranean and Benevento to the south; from the Atlantic on the west to the Drave and Danube on the east. He not only maintained and extended his frontiers but also checked the barbarian invasions; helped the spread of Christianity and defended the Christians from the attacks of the Huns, Saracens, Saxons, and the Slavs.
Under him Germany ceased to be a land of disunited wandering tribes. It was by him that the first steps towards the formation of a German nation were taken. By uniting the lands of the Italians and the Franks, he profoundly affected the future history of Western Europe.
Again, he was a great organizer and ruler. The political organisation of his dominions brought all parts in a very close personal touch with him. His ‘missi-dominici’ system and local representatives kept his authority supreme and unquestioned all over the empire. “Few men have possessed the ruler’s genius to the same extent as Charlemagne.”
His inauguration of the Holy Roman Empire produced new ideas of supreme importance both’ to the empire and the Papacy. It was the direct cause of the theories which played a great part in later history.
And although the empire of Charlemagne soon broke up and although feudalism became a serious rival to imperialism, Charlemagne’s policy led to the establishment of kingdom which ensured a considerable measure of union and good government and in spite of serious weakness in them they marked a great improvement on the shapeless chaos of the previous times.
The ideal of a universal civilized Christian monarchy set up by Charlemagne permeated the subsequent political concept of Europe.
The great qualities of Charlemagne were not free from the vices of a barbarian and a conqueror. He married nine wives and divorced them one after another with little ceremony. This attests the license of his private life. His temperance and frugality could hardly redeem this barbarous aspect of his private life.
“Unsparing of blood, though not constitutionally cruel, and wholly indifferent to the- means which his ambition prescribed, he beheaded in one day four thousand Saxons—an act of atrocious butchery.” His persecuting Edicts pronouncing the pain of death for those who refused baptism were equally cruel and showed his utter intolerance of other faiths.
His character, therefore, was a mixture of barbarous ferocity and elevated views of national improvement and offers a nice analogy with that of Peter the Great of Russia. The character of Charlemagne had been, indeed, a union of grandeur and roguery, gold and alloy. But we are apt to overlook the vices which were more or less born of the limitations of the times in which Charlemagne lived.
These vices were like the black spots in the surface of the Sun or the Moon which do not come in view due to the brilliance of the other parts.
A strong sympathy for intellectual excellence was the leading characteristic of Charlemagne and this undoubtedly biased him in the chief political error of his conducts—that of encouraging the power and pretensions of the hierarchy.
Charlemagne was a diligent scholar, a good speaker and a fair poet. He spoke Latin, German and understood Greek. He was interested in music, astronomy, theology and law. But he never learnt to write. He had a great knowledge of grammar and would complain that he received letters from abbots and bishops which were ‘very correct in sentiment and very incorrect in grammar’.
Under his patronage learning revived. He ordered schools to be founded in every monastery, caused the manuscripts to be copied, ordered the compilation of Latin and German grammars, biographies, histories, etc. He also caused the collection of Frankish ballads. Under his orders the Text of the Bible was revised and corrected. As a builder, Charlemagne was none the less noteworthy.
He built a cathedral at Aachen, palaces at Aachen, Nimewegen, Engleheim and a long bridge at Mainz. He constructed a canal joining the Rhine and the Danube. He introduced the Romanesque style of architecture. But perhaps his greatest eulogy is written in the disgraces of the succeeding generations and the miseries of Europe. “He stands alone like a beacon upon a waste or a rock in the broad ocean.”
His scepter was the bow of Ulysses which could not have been drawn by any weaker hand, In the dark ages of European history the reign of Charlemagne affords a solitary resting place between two long periods of turbulence and ignominy deriving the advantages of contrast both from that of the preceding dynasty and of posterity for whom he had formed an empire which they were unworthy and unequal to maintain.
By the almost universal verdict he has been pronounced to be the most imposing personage that appears between the fall of Rome and the 15th century.
4. Causes of Dissolution of Charlemagne’s Empire:
(1) ‘Like the kingdom of Alexander and that of many another great conquerors, the mighty empire of Charlemagne fell to pieces soon after his death. “His scepter was the bow of Ulysses which could not be drawn by weaker hands.”
Charlemagne had indeed acquired a vast empire by his personal ability but the short time that he could devote for its consolidation was insufficient to weld various peoples with differences in race, language, tribe, temperament and custom into a national unity.
The population element of his empire, therefore, although lived under the same government and same religion lacked homogeneity and remained incoherent. And no sooner the commanding personality of Charlemagne was removed than these differences began to manifest themselves.
When the empire devolved on his successors, the strength to grasp the mighty scepter did not pass along with it. Charlemagne had made brilliant attempt to reorganize society after the model of the Roman Empire but he failed, and his kingdom went to pieces because of the weakness of his successors under whom lands, office and authority were usurped by their officials.
(2) But the empire foundered on many a rock. On the death of Charlemagne in 814, centrifugal forces within the empire soon got the upper-hand. The Carolingian custom of dividing the empire among the sons of the king was a dangerous scheme and it was rendered more so due to the absence of any definite and regular rules of succession.
The empire was regarded as a private possession and all the evils of dividing and re-dividing the empire cropped up once the reigning monarch was dead. Lewis, son of Charlemagne tried in vain to satisfy his three sons Lothar, Lewis and Charles by dividing and re-dividing his empire among them, culminating in the Treaty of Verdun (843) which had most destructive effects on the foundations of royal power.
(3) Charlemagne’s empire was not a homogeneous state with any uniform political tradition. The eastern and the western halves of the Frankish lands had fundamental differences relating to geographical conditions, regional variations, etc. The east was undeveloped compared to the west.
The Rhine land apart, there was no peace on the eastern frontiers. The western side had developed a political environment of the Roman provincial life. These differences naturally hindered homogeneity within the empire and on Charlemagne’s death these became all the more pronounced.
(4) The disintegration was further hastened by the racial differences that existed within the realm. No people more tenaciously resisted Frankish conquest and incorporation in the Frankish empire than the Saxons.
Charlemagne’s method of forcing his religion upon all peoples within his empire was not swallowed by all of them and once the external forces of disintegration lent aid to them they began to throw off the yoke of a common emperor.
(5) The internal forces of disintegration were aided by the external attacks by the barbarians. With Charlemagne’s death in 814, began a period of almost two centuries of attacks from all sides by heathen Norsemen, heathen Magyars and the infidel Saracens.
(6) The growing conflict between the empire and the papacy also contributed to no mean extent to the dissolution of the empire.
(7) The vastness of the empire was itself a weakness. The far-flung territories were ably kept together by an emperor like Charlemagne but in weaker hands the vastness proved its weakness. The Saxons who were never reconciled to the rule of Charlemagne delayed not in showing their fangs.
(8) Finally, the limitations of Charlemagne’s own vision also contributed to the debacle. In spite of his realization of the advantages of single rule over the empire, which for about a hundred years had shown themselves, Charlemagne did not conceive of any better settlement of his empire than the old disastrous custom of division among the sons.
He should have learnt the lessons of the history of the past hundred years and altered the rules of succession so that a better and firmer empire might be bequeathed by him to his successors.
5. Charlemagne’s Successors:
Lewis the Pious (814-40):
In 814 Charlemagne left his throne to his only surviving son Lewis, surnamed ‘The Pious’ who was a weak, good natured man thoroughly unsuited to bear imperial responsibility and whose place should have been a monastery rather than a palace.
Both by his virtues and his faults he paved the way for the decay of the Empire.
He was a doting husband, a loving father and a genuinely religious man. But what was bad of him was his lack of self-respect and determination and his fond subservience to his wife and the clergy.
His keen sense of virtue made him intolerant of the lasciviousness of his father’s court and the immoralities of his father himself. Soon after his accession, therefore, he cleansed his court at Aachen of its disreputable elements but retained able ministers devoted to the imperial system.
In his act of cleansing the court, he did not spare his own sisters whose life was nothing less than scandalous during his father’s later years. Chancellor Helisachar was relegated to his monastery. Count Wala was stripped of his official insignia and sent to the cloister of Corbey. Abbot Adalhard was compelled to dwell in the lonely monastery in an island by the Loire mouth.
Lewis’ chief interest was to reform and protect the Church which according to him was essential for religion and civilized government. Under him things ecclesiastical took precedence over all others. Bishops and abbots who shocked the pious by riding with cloak, sword and golden spurs just like the secular nobles were legally debarred from doing so.
Clerics of servile birth were put on par with the high- born clerics by providing that a serf could buy his freedom and be equal with his former lord. This was the way by which he saved his favourite and several others of his counselors from the insults and invectives of high-born clergy.
By legislation Lewis made fourteen monastic houses owe both military and civil responsibilities to the empire and sixteen others to pay money to the state, and all others to only pray for the welfare of the Emperor and the children of the empire. This had the effect of throwing more lands free from duty to the state.
Although eager to promote ecclesiastical interests Lewis would not surrender his imperial rights. He compelled Leo III to apologize for the unauthorized execution of conspirators. Pascal was made to exculpate himself from the death of two official’s over-loyal to the Frankish supremacy.
Imperial leave had to be taken for executing Roman notables who were under the protection of the Emperor. But the papacy scored a victory over Lewis.
The successive Popes, although loyal to the Emperor, were growing restive to become autonomous. On the death of Leo III, Stephen IV was elected to the papal chair in great haste and was consecrated without the imperial sanction.
Lewis did not object to this, on the contrary agreed to the proposal of the new pope that he should crown the emperor. Lewis received Stephen at Rheims in great state and allowed himself to be crowned for the second time. “Thus he loosened his own grasp on the Papacy at one moment, and allowed the Pope to tighten his grasp on the empire at the next.”
In the year following (817) he fell down from the wooden gallery that connected the palace at Aachen and the cathedral when it gave way. Lewis received injuries which kept him confined to bed for several weeks. But the net result of this accident was a morbidity that took him over which increased and did never leave him till his death.
An exaggerated asceticism characterized his manner of life and it was with difficulty that he was persuaded not to lay down the crown for retiring to a monastery. But he now decided to make a settlement of the inheritance of his wide dominions.
He took his inexperienced son of seventeen into partnership with himself so that on his death the succession might be well assured and at the same time he determined to give his younger sons appanages within the realm of his eldest son.
By the Partition of Aachen Lothar, his eldest son was made the co-Emperor and during his father’s life was given the Kingdom of Italy. Pipin, the second son was given Aquitaine, Lewis, the third son was assigned Bavaria and the wild marches to the east along the Danube.
It was supposed by Lewis the Pious that on his death his eldest son would inherit both the capitals Aachen and Rome and the largest share of the vast imperial dominion, and his brothers would possess only Aquitaine and Bavaria which would automatically keep them weak and therefore subservient to their brother.
In placing Italy under Lothar, Lewis disregarded the claims of his nephew Bernard who was placed in Italy by Charlemagne in 810. Moreover, his rule was particularly popular. As soon as the news of the signing of the Partition of Aachen was known, Bernard flew into rebellion and he received the spontaneous support of the Lombard’s and attempts were made to incite the Gauls as well.
But the rebellion was easily quelled and Bernard blinded.
The blinding of Bernard’s eyes was done so clumsily that he died of the shock (818). The death amid the general disapproval, had left Lewis remorseful and disconsolate, and the death of his wife, which soon followed, was taken by him as nothing less than divine displeasure.
He was on the point of abdicating his throne which, however, was prevented by his advisers who succeeded in inducing him to marry. He chose Judith the daughter of Welf the Count of Swabia as his wife (819). The new wedlock brought him a child who was named Charles, later surnamed ‘The Bald and that was the beginning of an unending chain of sufferings both for himself and his empire.
Lewis lack of control over the affairs of the state, his earlier public penance admitting his guilt in causing Bernard’s death and his doting over the new-born Charles-all combined to the bursting of the storm in 829. In that year Lewis allotted a share of his empire to Charles from Swabia.
In the court new advisers took control of affairs. Lothar ceased to be co-regent and was sent to Italy where his wounded pride had the fanning from the dismissed officers and all those were against the Emperor’s new advisers Pipin and Lewis the German, the two others sons of Lewis also felt insecure in the lack of stability of their father’s decisions.
For a time they deserted their father, yet they saw wisdom in retaining their father as Emperor rather than in placing their brother Lothar on the imperial throne. In the reaction that soon began Lothar found his cause lost and was content to remain king of Italy. The three other brothers, Pipin, Lewis the German, and Charles were to share the rest of the- empire, this, however, was not the end of the trouble.
Pipin and Lewis revolted against their father. Lothar who first joined his father, deserted him and sided with his brothers and it was he who persuaded the Pope Gregory IV to join them, who readily did so with the hope of negotiating a peace between the father and the sons in order to magnify the power of the papacy.
After prolonged negotiations Lewis agreed to meet the Pope and his sons at Alsace-where on his arrival he was deserted by his men and himself was taken prisoner by Lothar (833).
It was at Alsace that Pope Gregory claimed supremacy over the soul while the emperor was supreme over the body that is the spiritual sovereignty belonged to the Pope and material sovereignty to the emperor. Herein lay the repudiation of Charlemagne’s theory that the Holy Roman Emperor was both the spiritual and material sovereign and, therefore, superior to the Pope.
Lewis the Pious was forced to abdicate and even to do penance for his misgovernment. But the harsh treatment meted out to him by his faithless son Lothar made even the most determined enemies of Lewis to relent. The reaction led to Lewis’ restoration (834), although without power and as a tool in the hands of the contending factions.
From 834 till his death in 840 he ruled no doubt, but disorder had in the meantime become endemic. The Vikings were ravaging the coasts and Lewis was planning for fresh division of his empire. Pipin died in 838 and his son Pipin II, that is Lewis’ grandson, was disinherited and division of the territories was done, to benefit the latest born Charles. This led to first rebellion and when Lewis died in 840, his sons flew to arms.
Lewis the Pious was the last of the Carolingians who had held, however feebly, the link that had kept the Empire together. After his death it was the story of the break-up of the Empire under his successors.
Lothar who succeeded to his father’s throne still made a desperate bid to keep the Empire together, with the help of the Church. But his depleted strength due to Lewis the German and Charles’ success in gaining over the Eastern and the Western parts of the Empire to their cause through grants of benefices and honours prevented him from doing so.
Lewis and Charles joined hands to the fulfillment of their common ends and met Lothar on the field of Fontenay (June 25, 841) and won victory over him. This was the first of the dynastic quarrels of modern Europe fought out on the field of Fontenay.
Lothar wanted to fight still which made the two brothers Lewis the German and Charles to strengthen their alliance by meeting at Strasbourg in 842, where the famous Strasbourg Oath was taken in two vernaculars of the Eastern and Western parts of the Empire.
Lewis’ vassals swore in German while Charles’ vassals swore in French. ‘This was a presage of the future’, the birth of the French and German nations of the future. Lothar and his two brothers soon realized that they would not be able to conquer the opposite party and the only course open was a rapprochement. Both sides came to terms in August 843 and signed the treaty of Verdun.
6. Treaty of Verdun, 843:
According to the terms of the treaty of Verdun, Charlemagne’s Empire was partitioned among the three surviving sons of Lewis the Pious.
Lothar was allowed to retain the imperial title as also superiority over Rome.
This was a precedence reserved to Lothar, which he, as the eldest son, had already been enjoying. But all the three brothers were practically sovereign in their respective territories.
The Empire was divided into three kingdoms of fairly equal size with their boundaries drawn. To Charles the Bald was given Francia Occidental, that is, Neustria and Aquitaine; to Lothar the Emperor, who must possess the two capitals of Rome and Aachen, was given a long and narrow kingdom stretching from the North sea to the Mediterranean including northern half of Italy; to Lewis the German was given all east of the Rhine —Franks, Saxons, Bavaria, Austria, Carinthia with possible supremacies over Czechs in far off Bohemia and Moravia.
Needless to comment, that Lothar was left with a barren imperial title and an imposing kingdom but in reality he had the worst of the shares.
The partition of Verdun (843) was important for more than one reason. It finally broke up the Carolingian Empire. It was the first formal step in the dissolution of Charles’ empire. The treaty had just destroyed ‘the most fragile part of Charlemagne’s work—territorial unity; the very spirit of his government was thereupon to disappear’.
Though Lewis the German and Charles the Bald had restored to Lothar his capitals of Aachen and Rome and consented to respect him as elder brother, yet for all practical intents and purposes they became sovereigns with full equality of status with Lothar.
The treaty created France, Germany and Italy, rival kingdoms, born of fratricidal struggles, which were doomed to be eternally separated by warring interests. A more important result of the partition treaty of Verdun was the separation of the Gallic and German nationalities which marked the beginning, however feebly, of the German and the French nationalities.
The Teutonic intolerance of Gallo-Franks and the Church, found satisfaction in this separation.
It is usual to regard the Treaty of Verdun as reflecting the emergence of great monarchies of mediaeval and modern Europe and reflecting the dawning of the national sentiments and aspirations consequent upon the division of the Carolingian empire.
It has been remarked by Barraclough that the importance of the Treaty of Verdun lay primarily in its destructive effects on the foundations of the royal power. The Treaty of Verdun affected the foundations of the royal power, namely, the royal estates, personal obligations of the royal vassals to the crown, and the church. No less important were the effects on the higher clergy and the outstanding lay families.
The higher clergy and the outstanding lay families which served Charles the Great supported the policy of a united empire. It is not true, as Barraclough maintains that the absence of a strong hand at the top led to feudal anarchy.
As a matter of fact, the bulk of the aristocracy stood by the legitimate claimant. But as there was no constitutional machinery to decide such issues, appeal to arms had to be made in which aristocrats took sides.
It has been observed that ‘modern France and Germany owe their beginning to the division of 843.’ Modern Germany proclaims the era of 843 A.D., the beginning of her national existence. In fact, Germany celebrated her thousandth anniversary in 843 A.D.
But it has to be specially emphasized that antagonism of nationalities was a consequence of the Treaty of Verdun and not, as has been supposed by some, the treaty a consequence of the antagonism of nationalities.
‘By establishing between countries purely German and countries purely French an intermediate state, made up of territories in which the two languages and peoples were mixed, France and Germany were forcibly awakened to a consciousness of themselves.
The division was not the result of any consciousness of nationalities, despite the fact that the Strasbourg Oath was taken both in French and German languages, but was a matter of dynastic convenience.
“It was all but accident that the division by assigning Romance lands to Earls and German lands to Lewis provided a natural framework within which the French and the German nations could acquire their identities and grow.” It was by convenience and not by consciousness that the divisions the partition had effected, roughly corresponded to national unities.
Nevertheless, the Treaty of Verdun ‘marks the beginning of what the map of Europe was to become. The West-Frankish kingdom was the beginning of France, the East- Frankish kingdom of Germany’. Lothar’s kingdom having a mixed population and having no national basis was the weakest of the three and soon broke up into Italy, Burgundy and Lotharingia with separate sovereignties.
Another consequence that remained rather obscure, was the come-back staged by the Papacy through the peace-maker’s role in the Treaty of Verdun. So the Papacy remained and with this added status, the sovereignty exercised by Charlemagne over the Church was dimmed. What began with Pope Gregory IV ended with Pope Gregory VII.
The partition of the Empire although ended the fratricidal struggle did not give rest to the three brothers, yet there was nothing durable to take its place. The Vikings were attacking the coasts of all the three kingdoms.
Lewis the German had to fight the Slavs, Charles to fight his nephew Pipin II and oust him from Aquitaine and unavailingly try to put down his unruly magnates. Lothar who divided his kingdom among his three sons was perhaps the most uncomfortable of all.
Of the tangled political history of the fifty-five years that followed the Treaty of Verdun, the only point worth noting was the passing of the imperial scepter from one branch of the Carolingian line to another. After Lewis II and Charles the Bald the scepter passed into the hands of Charles the Fat who united all the dominions of his great-grandfather.
But it was not within his power to strengthen or defend or give life to the expiring monarchy. In 887 A.D. he was driven out of Italy and his death in the following year (888) is usually taken as the date of the extinction of the Carolingian Empire in the West.
The Carolingian Empire rapidly broke up into small kingdoms numbering seven. Charles the Fat’s nephew Arnulf who deposed him, received as his reward the kingdom of the East Franks, the West-Frankish noble elected Odo, count of Paris their king, Duke of Aquitaine took Charles the Simple to his court and made himself independent of Odo.
Burgundy was divided into two independent kingdoms, Boso, Count of Vienna making himself king of lower Burgundy and Count Rudolf of upper Burgundy. Likewise, Lombardy was divided into two independent kingdoms, Berengar, margrave of Friuli was elected king of the Lombard’s but Guido of Spoleto made war on him and occupied western part of Lombardy and assumed the title of king.
Thus there arose two kingdoms in Lombardy.