Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE IX.: OF MONARCHY. - General History of Civilization in Europe
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LECTURE IX.: OF MONARCHY. - François Guizot, General History of Civilization in Europe 
General History of Civilization in Europe by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, edited, with critical and supplementary notes, by George Wells Knight (New York: D Appleton and Co., 1896).
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I endeavored, at our last meeting, to determine the essential and distinctive character of modern society as compared with the primitive state of society in Europe; and I believed I had found it in this fact, that all the elements of the social state, at first numerous and various, were reduced to two—the government on one hand, and the people on the other. Instead of finding, in the capacity of ruling forces and chief agents in history, the clergy, kings, burghers, husbandmen, and serfs, we now find in modern Europe, only two great objects which occupy the historical stage—the government and the nation.
If such is the fact to which European civilization has led, such, also, is the result to which our researches should conduct us. We must see the birth, the growth, the progressive establishment of this great result. We have entered upon the period to which we can trace its origin: it was, as you have seen, between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries that those slow and hidden operations took place which brought society into this new form, this definite state. We have also considered the first great event which, in my opinion, evidently had a powerful effect in impelling Europe into this road; I mean the crusades.
About the same period, and almost at the very time when the crusades broke out, that institution began to increase, which has perhaps chiefly contributed to the formation of modern society, and to the fusion of all the social elements into two forces, the government and the people. This institution is monarchy.
It is evident that monarchy has played a vast part in the history of European civilization. Of this we may convince ourselves by a single glance. We see the development of monarchy proceed, for a considerable time, at the same rate as that of society itself: they had a common progression. And not only had they a common progression, but with every step that society made towards its definitive and modern character, monarchy seemed to increase and prosper; so that, when the work was consummated—when there remained, in the great states of Europe, little or no important and decisive influence but that of the government and the public—it was monarchy that became the government.
It was not only in France, where the fact is evident, that this happened, but in most of the countries of Europe. A little sooner or later, and under forms somewhat different, the history of society in England, Spain, and Germany, offers us the same result. In England, for example, it was under the Tudors that the old particular and local elements of English society were dissolved and mingled, and gave way to the system of public authorities;* this, also, was the period when monarchy had the greatest influence. It was the same thing in Germany, Spain, and all the great European states.
If we leave Europe, and cast our eyes over the rest of the world, we shall be struck with an analogous fact. Everywhere we shall find monarchy holding a great place, and appearing as the most general and permanent, perhaps, of all institutions; as that which is the most difficult to exclude where it does not exist, and, where it does exist, the most difficult to extirpate. From time immemorial it has had possession of Asia. On the discovery of America, all the great states of that continent were found, with different combinations, under monarchical governments. When we penetrate into the interior of Africa, wherever we meet with nations of any extent, this is the government which prevails. And not only has monarchy penetrated everywhere, but it has accommodated itself to the most various situations, to civilization and barbarism: to the most peaceful manners, as in China, and to those in which a warlike spirit predominates. It has established itself not only in the midst of the system of castes, in countries whose social economy exhibits the most rigorous distinction of ranks, but also in the midst of a system of equality, in countries where society is most remote from every kind of legal and permanent classification. In some places despotic and oppressive; in others favorable to the progress of civilization and even of liberty; it is like a head that may be placed on many different bodies, a fruit that may grow from many different buds.
In this fact we might discover many important and curious consequences. I shall take only two; the first is, that such a result cannot possibly be the offspring of mere chance, of force or usurpation only; that there must necessarily be, between the nature of monarchy considered as an institution, and the nature either of man as an individual or of human society, a strong and intimate analogy. Force, no doubt, has had its share, in both the origin and progress of the institution; but when we meet with a result like this, when we see a great event develop itself or recur during a long series of ages, and in the midst of many different situations, we should never ascribe it to force. Force performs a great and daily part in human affairs; but it is not the principle which governs their movements: there is always, superior to force, and the part which it performs, a moral cause which governs the general course of events. Force, in the history of society, resembles the body in the history of man. The body assuredly holds a great place in the life of man, but is not the principle of life. Life circulates in it, but does not emanate from it. Such is also the case in human societies; whatever part force may play in them, it does not govern them, or exercise a supreme control over their destinies; this is the province of reason, of the moral influences which are hidden under the accidents of force, and regulate the course of society. We may unhesitatingly declare that it was to a cause of this nature, and not to mere force, that monarchy was indebted for its success.
A second fact of almost equal importance is the flexibility of monarchy, and its faculty of modifying itself and adapting itself to a variety of different circumstances. Observe the contrast which it presents; its form reveals unity, permanence, simplicity. It does not exhibit that variety of combinations which are found in other institutions; yet it accommodates itself to the most dissimilar states of society. It becomes evident then that it is susceptible of great diversity, and capable of being attached to many different elements and principles, both in man as an individual and in society.
It is because we have not considered monarchy in all its extent; because we have not, on the one hand, discovered the principle which forms its essence and subsists under every circumstance to which it may be applied; and because, on the other hand, we have not taken into account all the variations to which it accommodates itself, and all the principles with which it can enter into alliance;—it is, I say, because we have not considered monarchy in this twofold, this enlarged point of view, that we have not thoroughly understood the part it has performed in the history of the world, and have often been mistaken as to its nature and effects.
This is the task which I should wish to undertake with you, so as to obtain a complete and precise view of the effects of this institution in modern Europe, whether they have flowed from its intrinsic principle, or from the modifications which it has undergone.
There is no doubt that the strength of monarchy, that moral power which is its true principle, does not reside in the personal will of the man who for the time happens to be king; there is no doubt that the people in accepting it as an institution, that philosophers in maintaining it as a system, have not meant to accept the empire of the will of an individual—a will essentially arbitrary, capricious, and ignorant.
Monarchy is something quite different from the will of an individual, though it presents itself under that form. It is the personification of legitimate sovereignty—of the collective will and aggregate wisdom of a people—of that will which is essentially reasonable, enlightened, just, impartial,—which knows naught of individual wills, but by the title of legitimate monarchy, earned by these conditions, has the right to govern them. Such is the meaning of monarchy as understood by the people, and such is the motive of their adhesion to it.
Is it true that there is a legitimate sovereignty, a will which has a right to govern mankind? They certainly believe that there is; for they endeavor, have always endeavored, and cannot avoid endeavoring, to place themselves under its empire. Conceive, I shall not say a people, but the smallest community of men; conceive it in subjection to a sovereign who is such only de facto, to a power which has no other right but that of force, which does not govern by the title of reason and justice; human nature instantly revolts against a sovereignty such as this. Human nature, therefore, must believe in legitimate sovereignty. It is this sovereignty alone, the sovereignty de jure, which man seeks for, and which alone he consents to obey. What is history but a demonstration of this universal fact? What are most of the struggles which harass the lives of nations but so many determined impulses towards this legitimate sovereignty, in order to place themselves under its empire? And it is not only the people, but the philosophers, who firmly believe in its existence and incessantly seek it. What are all the systems of political philosophy but attempts to discern the legitimate sovereignty? What is the object of their investigations but to discover who has the right to govern society? Take theocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, democracy; they all boast of having discovered the seat of legitimate sovereignty; they all promise to place society under the authority of its rightful master. This, I repeat, is the object of all the labor of philosophers, as well as of all the efforts of nations.
How can philosophers and nations do otherwise than believe in this legitimate sovereignty? How can they do otherwise than strive incessantly to discover it? Let us suppose the simplest case; for instance, some act to be performed, either affecting society in general, or some portion of its members, or even a single individual; it is evident that in such a case there must be some rule of action, some legitimate will to be followed and applied. Whether we enter into the most minute details of social life, or participate in its most momentous concerns, we shall always meet with a truth to be discovered, a law of reason to be applied to the realities of human affairs. It is this law which constitutes that legitimate sovereignty towards which both philosophers and nations have never ceased, and can never cease, to aspire.
But how far can legitimate sovereignty be represented, generally and permanently, by an earthly power, by a human will? Is there anything necessarily false and dangerous in such an assumption? What are we to think in particular of the personification of legitimate sovereignty under the image of royalty? On what conditions, and within what limits, is this personification admissible? These are great questions, which it is not my business now to discuss, but which I cannot avoid noticing, and on which I shall say a few words in passing.
I affirm, and the plainest common sense must admit, that legitimate sovereignty, in its complete and permanent form, cannot belong to any one; and that every attribution of legitimate sovereignty to any human power whatever is radically false and dangerous. Hence arises the necessity of the limitation of every power, whatever may be its name or form; hence arises the radical illegitimacy of every sort of absolute power, whatever may be its origin, whether conquest, inheritance, or election. We may differ as to the best means of finding the legitimate sovereignty; they vary according to the diversities of place and time; but there is no place or time at which any power can legitimately be the independent possessor of this sovereignty.
This principle being laid down, it is equally certain that monarchy, under whatever system we consider it, presents itself as the personification of the legitimate sovereignty. Listen to the supporters of theocracy; they will tell you that kings are the image of God upon earth, which means nothing more than that they are the personification of supreme justice, truth, and goodness. Turn to the jurists; they will tell you that the king is the living law; which means, again, that the king is the personification of the legitimate sovereignty, of that law of justice which is entitled to govern society. Interrogate monarchy itself in its pure and unmixed form; it will tell you that it is the personification of the state, of the commonwealth. In whatever combination, in whatever situation, monarchy is considered, you will find that it is always held out as representing this legitimate sovereignty, this power, which alone is capable of lawfully governing society.
We need not be surprised at this. What are the characteristics of this legitimate sovereignty, and which are derived from its very nature? In the first place, it is single; since there is but one truth, one justice, so there can be but one legitimate sovereignty. It is, moreover, permanent, and always the same, for truth is unchangeable. It stands on a high vantage-ground, beyond the reach of the vicissitudes and chances of this world, with which it is only connected in the character, as it were, of a spectator and a judge. Well, then, these being the rational and natural characteristics of the legitimate sovereignty, it is monarchy which exhibits them under the most palpable form, and seems to be their most faithful image. Consult the work in which M. Benjamin Constant* has so ingeniously represented monarchy, as a neutral and moderating power, raised far above the struggles and casualties of society, and never interfering but in great and critical conjunctures. Is not this, so to speak, the attitude of the legitimate sovereignty, in the government of human affairs? There must be something in this idea peculiarly calculated to strike the mind, for it has passed, with singular rapidity, from books into the actual conduct of affairs. A sovereign has made it, in the constitution of Brazil, the very basis of his throne. In that constitution, monarchy is represented as a moderating power, elevated above the active powers of the state, like their spectator and their judge.†
Under whatever point of view you consider monarchy, when you compare it with the legitimate sovereignty, you will find a great outward resemblance between them—a resemblance with which the human mind must necessarily have been struck. Whenever the reflection or the imagination of men has especially turned towards the contemplation or study of legitimate sovereignty, and of its essential qualities, it has inclined towards monarchy.* Thus in the times when religious ideas preponderated, the habitual contemplation of the nature of God impelled mankind towards the monarchical system. In the same manner, when the influence of jurists prevailed in society, the habit of studying, under the name of law, the nature of the legitimate sovereignty, was favorable to the dogma of its personification in the institution of monarchy. The attentive application of the human mind to the contemplation of the nature and qualities of the legitimate sovereignty, when there were no other causes to destroy its effect, has always given strength and consideration to monarchy, as being its image.
There are, too, certain junctures, which are particularly favorable to this personification; such, for example, as when individual forces display themselves in the world with all their uncertainties; all their waywardness; when selfishness predominates in individuals, either through ignorance and brutality, or through corruption. At such times, society, distracted by the conflict of individual wills, and unable to attain, by their free concurrence, to a general will, which might hold them in subjection, feels an ardent desire for a sovereign power, to which all individuals must submit; and, as soon as any institution presents itself which bears any of the characteristics of legitimate sovereignty, society rallies round it with eagerness; as people, under proscription, take refuge in the sanctuary of a church. This is what has taken place in the wild and disorderly youth of nations, such as those we have passed through. Monarchy is wonderfully suited to those times of strong and fruitful anarchy, if I may so speak, in which society is striving to form and regulate itself, but is unable to do so by the free concurrence of individual wills. There are other times when monarchy, though from a contrary cause, has the same merit. Why did the Roman world, so near dissolution at the end of the republic, still subsist for more than fifteen centuries, under the name of an empire, which, after all, was nothing but a lingering decay, a protracted death-struggle? Monarchy, alone, could produce such an effect; monarchy, alone, could maintain a state of society which the spirit of selfishness incessantly tended to destroy. The imperial power contended for fifteen centuries against the ruin of the Roman world.
It thus appears that there are times when monarchy, alone, can retard the dissolution, and times when it, alone, can accelerate the formation of society. And it is, in both cases, because it represents, more clearly than any other form of government can do, the legitimate sovereignty, that it exercises this power over the course of events.
Under whatever point of view you consider this institution, and at whatever period you take it, you will find, therefore, that its essential character, its moral principle, its true meaning, the cause of its strength, is, its being the image, the personification, the presumed interpreter, of that single, superior, and essentially legitimate will, which alone has a right to govern society.
Let us now consider monarchy under the second point of view, that is to say, in its flexibility, the variety of parts it has performed and of effects it has produced. Let us endeavor to account for this character, and ascertain its causes.
Here we have an advantage; we can at once return to history, and to the history of our own country. By a concurrence of singular circumstances, monarchy in modern Europe has put on every character which it has ever exhibited in the history of the world. European monarchy has been, in some sort, the result of all the possible kinds of monarchy. In running over its history, from the fifth to the twelfth century, you will see the variety of aspects under which it appears, and the extent to which we everywhere find that variety, complication, and contention, which characterize the whole course of European civilization.
In the fifth century, at the time of the great invasion of the Germans, two monarchies were in existence—the barbarian monarchy of Clovis,* and the imperial monarchy of Constantine. They were very different from each other in principles and effects.
The barbarian monarchy was essentially elective. The German kings were elected, though their election did not take place in the form to which we are accustomed to attach that idea. They were military chiefs, whose power was freely accepted by a great number of their companions, by whom they were obeyed as being the bravest and most competent to rule. Election was the true source of this barbarian monarchy, its primitive and essential character.
It is true that this character, in the fifth century, was already somewhat modified, and that different elements were introduced into monarchy. Different tribes had possessed their chiefs for a certain space of time; families had arisen, more considerable and wealthier than the rest. This produced the beginning of hereditary succession; the chief being almost always chosen from these families.† This was the first principle of a different nature which became associated with the leading principle of election.
Another element had already entered into the institution of barbarian monarchy—I mean the element of religion. We find among some of the barbarian tribes—the Goths, for example—the conviction that the families of their kings were descended from the families of their gods or of their deified heroes, such as Odin. This, too, was the case with Homer’s monarchs who were the issue of gods or demi-gods, and, by this title, objects of religious veneration, notwithstanding the limited extent of their power.
Such was the barbarian monarchy of the fifth century, whose primitive principle still predominated, though it had itself grown diversified and wavering.
I now take the monarchy of the Roman empire, the principle of which was totally different. It was the personification of the state, the heir of the sovereignty and majesty of the Roman people. Consider the monarchy of Augustus or Tiberius: the emperor was the representative of the senate, of the assemblies of the people, of the whole republic.*
Was not this evident from the modest language of the first emperors—of such of them, at least, as were men of sense and understood their situation? They felt that they stood in the presence of the people, who themselves had lately possessed the sovereign power, which they had abdicated in their favor; and addressed the people as their representatives and ministers. But in reality they exercised all the power of the people, and that, too, in its most exaggerated and fearful form. Such a transformation it is easy for us to comprehend; we have witnessed it ourselves; we have seen the sovereignty transferred from the people to the person of a single individual; this was the history of Napoleon. He also was a personification of the sovereignty of the people; and constantly expressed himself to that effect. “Who has been elected,” he said, “like me, by eighteen millions of men? who is, like me, the representative of the people?” and when, upon his coins, we read on one side République Française, and on the other Napoléon Empereur, what is this but an example of the fact which I am describing, of the people having become the monarch?
Such was the fundamental character of the imperial monarchy; it preserved this character during the three first centuries of the empire; and it was, indeed, only under Diocletian that it assumed its complete and definitive form.* It was then, however, on the eve of undergoing a great change; a new kind of monarchy was about to appear. During three centuries Christianity had been endeavoring to introduce into the empire the element of religion. It was under Constantine that Christianity succeeded, not in making religion the prevailing element, but in giving it a prominent part to perform. Monarchy here presents itself under a different aspect; it is not of earthly origin: the prince is not the representative of the sovereignty of the public; he is the image, the representative, the delegate of God. Power descends to him from on high while, in the imperial monarchy, power had ascended from below. These were totally different situations, with totally different results. The rights of freedom and political securities are difficult to combine with the principle of religious monarchy; but the principle itself is high, moral, and salutary. I shall show you the idea which was formed of the prince, in the seventh century, under the system of religious monarchy. I take it from the canons of the Council of Toledo.
“The king is called rex because he governs with justice. If he acts justly (recte) he has a legitimate title to the name of king; if he acts unjustly, he loses all claim to it. Our fathers, therefore, said with reason, rex ejus eris si recta facis: si autem non facis, non eris. The two principal virtues of a king are justice and truth (the science of truth, reason).
“The depositary of the royal power, no less than the whole body of the people, is bound to respect the laws. While we obey the will of heaven, we make for ourselves, as well as our subjects, wise laws, obedience to which is obligatory on ourselves and our successors, as well as upon all the population of our kingdom. * * *
“God, the creator of all things, in constructing the human body, has raised the head aloft, and has willed that from it should proceed the nerves of all the members, and he has placed in the head the torches of the eyes, in order to throw light upon every dangerous object. In like manner he has established the power of intelligence, giving it the charge of governing all the members, and of prudently regulating their action. * * * * * *
“It is necessary then to regulate, first of all, those things which relate to princes, to provide for their safety, and protect their life, and then those things which concern the people, in such a manner, that in properly securing the safety of kings, that of the people may be, at the same time, and so much the more effectually, secured.”*
But, in the system of religious monarchy, there is almost always another element introduced besides monarchy itself. A new power takes its place by its side; a power nearer to God, the source whence monarchy emanates, than monarchy itself. This is the clergy, the ecclesiastical power which interposes between God and kings, and between kings and people, in such sort, that monarchy, though the image of the Divinity, runs the hazard of falling to the rank of an instrument in the hands of the human interpreters of the Divine will. This is a new cause of diversity in the destinies and effects of the institution.
The different kinds of monarchy, then, which, in the fifth century, made their appearance on the ruins of the Roman empire, were, the barbarian monarchy, the imperial monarchy, and religious monarchy in its infancy. Their fortunes were as different as their principles.
In France, under the first race,* barbarian monarchy prevailed. There were, indeed, some attempts on the part of the clergy to impress upon it the imperial or religious character; but the system of election, in the royal family, with some mixture of inheritance and of religious notions, remained predominant.
In Italy, among the Ostrogoths, the imperial monarchy overcame the barbarous customs. Theodoric considered himself as successor of the emperors. It is sufficient to read Cassiodorus† to perceive that this was the character of his government.
In Spain, monarchy appeared more religious than elsewhere. As the councils of Toledo,‡ though I shall not call them absolute, were the influencing power, the religious character predominated, if not in the government, properly so called, of the Visigothic kings, at least in the laws which the clergy suggested to them, and the language they made them speak.
In England, among the Saxons, manners remained almost wholly barbarous. The kingdoms of the heptarchy were little else than the territories of different bands, every one having its chief. Military election appears more evidently among them than anywhere else. The Anglo-Saxon monarchy is the most faithful type of the barbarian monarchy.
Thus, from the fifth to the seventh century, at the same time that all these three sorts of monarchy manifested themselves in general facts, one or other of them prevailed, according to circumstances, in the different states of Europe.
Such was the prevailing confusion at this period, that nothing of a general or permanent nature could be established; and, from vicissitude to vicissitude, we arrive at the eighth century without finding that monarchy has anywhere assumed a definitive character.
Towards the middle of the eighth century, and with the triumph of the second race of the Frank kings, events assume a more general character, and become clearer; as they were transacted on a larger scale, they can be better understood and have more evident results. The different kinds of monarchy were shortly destined to succeed and combine with one another in a very striking manner.
At the time when the Carlovingians replaced the Merovingians, we perceive a return of the barbarian monarchy. Election reappeared; Pippin got himself elected at Soissons.* When the first Carlovingians gave kingdoms to their sons, they took care that they should be acknowledged by the chief men of the states assigned to them. When they divided a kingdom, they desired that the partition should be sanctioned in the national assemblies. In short, the elective principle, under the form of popular acceptance, again assumed a certain reality. You remember that this change of dynasty was like a new inroad of the Germans into the west of Europe, and brought back some shadow of their ancient institutions and manners.
At the same time, we see the religious principle more clearly introducing itself into monarchy, and performing a part of greater importance. Pippin was acknowledged and consecrated by the pope. He felt that he stood in need of the sanction of religion; it was already become a great power, and he sought its assistance. Charlemagne adopted the same policy; and religious monarchy thus developed itself. Still, however, under Charlemagne, religion was not the prevailing character of his government; the imperial system of monarchy was that which he wished to revive. Although he allied himself closely with the clergy, he made use of them, and was not their instrument. The idea of a great state, of a great political combination,—the resurrection, in short, of the Roman empire, was the favorite day-dream of Charlemagne.
He died, and was succeeded by Louis the Pious. Everybody knows the character to which the royal power was then, for a short time, reduced. The king fell into the hands of the clergy, who censured, deposed, re-instated, and governed him; a monarchy subordinate to religious authority seemed on the point of being established.
Thus, from the middle of the eighth to the middle of the ninth century, the diversity of the three kinds of monarchy became manifested by events important, closely connected, and clear.
After the death of Louis the Pious, during the state of disorder into which Europe fell, the three kinds of monarchy almost equally disappeared; everything became confounded. At the end of a certain time, when the feudal system had prevailed, a fourth kind of monarchy presented itself, differing from all those which had been hitherto observed: this was feudal monarchy. It is confused in its nature, and cannot easily be defined. It has been said that the king, in the feudal system of government, was the suzerain over suzerains, the lord over lords; that he was connected by firm links, from degree to degree, with the whole frame of society; and that, in calling around him his own vassals, then the vassals of his vassals, and so on in gradation, he exercised his authority over the whole mass of the people, and showed himself to be really a king. I do not deny that this is the theory of feudal monarchy: but it is a mere theory, which has never governed facts. This pretended influence of the king by means of a hierarchical organization, these links which are supposed to have united monarchy to the whole body of feudal society, are the dreams of speculative philosophers. In fact, the greatest part of the feudal chieftains at that period were completely independent of the monarchy; many of them hardly knew it even by name, and had few or no relations with it: every kind of sovereignty was local and independent. The name of king, borne by one of these feudal chiefs, expresses not so much a fact as a remembrance. Such is the state in which monarchy presents itself in the course of the tenth and eleventh centuries.
In the twelfth, at the accession of Louis the Fat, things began to change their aspect.* The king was more frequently spoken of; his influence penetrated into places which it had not previously reached; he assumed a more active part in society. If we inquire into this title, we recognize none of those titles of which monarchy had previously been accustomed to avail itself. It was not by inheritance from the emperors, or by the title of imperial monarchy, that this institution aggrandized itself, and assumed more consistency. Neither was it in virtue of election, or as being an emanation from divine power: every appearance of election had vanished; the principle of inheritance definitively prevailed; and notwithstanding the sanction given by religion to the accession of kings, the minds of men did not appear to be at all occupied with the religious character of the monarchy of Louis the Fat. A new element, a character hitherto unknown, was introduced into monarchy; a new species of monarchy began to exist.
Society, I need hardly repeat, was at this period in very great disorder, and subject to constant scenes of violence. Society, in itself, was destitute of means to struggle against this situation, and to recover some degree of order and unity. The feudal institutions,—those parliaments of barons, those seignorial courts,—all those forms under which, in modern times, feudalism has been represented as a systematic and orderly state of government,—all these things were unreal and powerless; there was nothing in them which could afford the means of establishing any degree of order or justice; so that, in the midst of social anarchy, no one knew to whom recourse could be had, in order to redress a great injustice, remedy a great evil, to constitute something like a state. The name of king remained, and was borne by some chief whose authority was acknowledged by a few others. The different titles, however, under which the royal power had been formerly exercised, though they had no great influence, yet were far from being forgotten, and were recalled on various occasions. It happened that, in order to re-establish some degree of order in a place near the king’s residence, or to terminate some difference which had lasted a long time, recourse was had to him; he was called upon to intervene in affairs which were not directly his own; and he intervened as a protector of public order, as arbitrator, as redresser of wrongs. The moral authority which continued to be attached to his name gained for him, by little and little, this great accession of power.
Such was the character which monarchy began to assume under Louis the Fat, and under the administration of Suger.* Now, for the first time, seems to have entered the minds of men the idea, though very incomplete, confused, and feeble, of a public power, unconnected with the local powers which had possession of society, called upon to render justice to those who could not obtain it by ordinary means, and capable of producing, or at least commanding, order;—the idea of a great magistracy, whose essential character was to maintain or re-establish the peace of society, to protect the weak, and to decide differences which could not be otherwise settled. Such was the entirely new character, in which, reckoning from the twelfth century, monarchy appeared in Europe, and especially in France. It was neither as barbarian monarchy, as religious monarchy, nor as imperial monarchy, that the royal power was exercised; this kind of monarchy possessed only a limited, incomplete, and fortuitous power;—a power which I cannot more precisely describe than by saying that it was, in some sort, that of the chief conservator of the public peace.
This is the true origin of modern monarchy; this is its vital principle, if I may so speak; it is this which has been developed in the course of its career, and, I have no hesitation in saying, has ensured its success. At different periods of history we observe the reappearance of the various characters of monarchy; we see the different kinds of monarchy which I have described, endeavoring, by turns, to recover the preponderance. Thus, the clergy have always preached religious monarchy; the civilians have labored to revive the principle of imperial monarchy; the nobility would sometimes have wished to renew elective monarchy, or maintain feudal monarchy. And not only have the clergy, the civilians, and the nobility, attempted each to give their own principle a predominance in the monarchy, but monarchy itself has made them all contribute towards the aggrandizement of its own power. Kings have represented themselves sometimes as the delegates of God, sometimes as the heirs of the emperors, or as the first noblemen of the land, according to the occasion or public wish of the moment; they have illegitimately availed themselves of these various titles, but none of them has been the real title of modern monarchy, or the source of its preponderating influence. It is, I repeat, as depositary and protector of public order, of general justice, and of the common interest,—it is under the aspect of a chief magistracy,* the center and bond of society, that modern monarchy has presented itself to the people, and, in obtaining their adhesion, has made their strength its own.
You will see, as we proceed, this characteristic of the monarchy of modern Europe, which began, I repeat, in the twelfth century, under the reign of Louis the Fat, confirm and develop itself, and become at length, if I may so speak, the political physiognomy of the institution. It is by this that monarchy has contributed to the great result which now characterizes European society, the reduction of all the social elements to two—the government and the nation.†
Thus it appears, that, at the breaking out of the crusades, Europe entered upon the path which was to conduct her to her present state: you have just seen monarchy assume the important part which it was destined to perform in this great transformation. We shall consider, at our next meeting, the different attempts at political organization, made from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, in order to maintain, by regulating it, the order of things that was about to perish. We shall consider the efforts of feudalism, of the Church, and even of the free cities, to constitute society according to its ancient principles, and under its primitive forms, and thus to defend themselves against the general change which was preparing.
[* ] The nobility of England had been much weakened by the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century, and with the accession of Henry VII, the first of the Tudors (1485), was begun the policy of upbuilding the power of the king by breaking down that of the nobles, and by rendering the commons subservient. This policy characterized the entire Tudor dynasty (1485-1603). Respect for the public authority was greatly increased during this period.
[* ] Henri Benjamin Constant de Rebecque (1757—1830), French publicist and statesman, an ardent admirer and advocate of constitutional government, and especially monarchy; the author of many political essays and pamphlets in favor of constitutionalism, which were published collectively under the title Cours de Politique Constitutionelle.
[† ] The constitution of Brazil, sworn to by the first emperor, Dom Pedro I, March 25, 1824, was variously modified during the ensuing ten years.
[* ] The present century has witnessed a decided tendency away from monarchy towards even extreme democracy. The necessity of a strong central administrative power in each government is admitted, but that this must take the form of monarchy is not claimed by modern political scientists. That the legislative power should be in the hands of the people is generally conceded. Possibly it may be affirmed that at present (1896) there is a slight tendency towards reaction from extreme democracy.
[* ] See page 90, note.
[† ] Nevertheless the right to elect whomsoever they pleased remained in the people—the tribe. The establishment of hereditary succession in a given tribe depended more upon the personal character of the descendants in a family once elected, than upon any deliberate change of custom on the part of the tribe.
[* ] It was in form rather than in reality that even the first emperors ruled as representatives of the people. Myers, in his History of Rome (p. 119), has the following neat statement of the matter: “Octavius carefully veiled his really absolute sovereignty under the forms of the old republican state. The senate still existed, but so completely subjected were its members to the influence of the conqueror, that the only function it really exercised was the conferring of honors and titles and abject flatteries on its master. All the republican officials remained, but Octavius absorbed and exercised their chief powers and functions. He had the powers of consul, tribune, censor, and Pontifix Maximus. All the republican magistrates—the consuls, the tribunes, the prætors—were elected as usual, but they were simply the nominees and creatures of the emperor. They were the effigies and figure-heads to delude the people into believing that the republic still existed. Never did a people seem more content with the shadow after the loss of the substance.”
[* ] See page 37, note.
[* ] Forum judicum, i, lib. 2; tit. i, l. 2, l. 4.
[* ] The Merovingian dynasty, 481-751.
[† ] Marcus Aurelius Cassiodorus (468(?)-568), Roman historian and statesman, whose writings, Variarum Epistolarum Libri XII, are the principal source of information on Italy and the Ostrogothic kingdom in the sixth century.
[‡ ] The Church Councils of Toledo constituted the legislative assembly in the Visigothic kingdom. See page 85.
[* ] See page 60, note, and 90, note.
[* ] Louis VI (the Fat) came to the throne in 1108.
[* ] Suger was Abbot of St. Denis and minister of Louis VI (the Fat). His idea of monarchy is well, if not completely, expressed in his own words: “It is the duty of kings to repress, by their power and the innate right of their office, the audacity of the nobles who rend the state by ceaseless wars, desolate the poor, and destroy the churches.”
[* ] This is true of constitutional monarchy, but hardly of such forms of monarchy as existed on the continent of Europe prior to the nineteenth century. The monarchy of Louis XIV was a revival of the fact, if not of the theory, of imperial monarchy, which centered in the rulers all powers by absorption, not by any representative functions.
[† ] For a good account of the facts of French history underlying this lecture, consult Duruy’s History of France.