Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE X.: UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPTS AT THE UNIFICATION OF SOCIETY. - General History of Civilization in Europe
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LECTURE X.: UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPTS AT THE UNIFICATION OF SOCIETY. - 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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UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPTS AT THE UNIFICATION OF SOCIETY.
At the commencement of this lecture I wish, at once, to determine its object with precision. It will be recollected, that one of the first facts that struck us, was the diversity, the separation, the independence, of the elements of ancient European society.* The feudal nobility, the clergy, and the commons, had each a position, laws, and manners, entirely different; they formed so many distinct socities whose mode of government was independent of each other. They were in some measure connected, and in contact, but no real union existed between them; to speak correctly, they did not form a nation—a state.
The fusion of these distinct portions of society into one is, at length, accomplished; this is precisely the distinctive organization, the essential characteristic of modern society. The ancient social elements are now reduced to two—the government and the people; that is to say, diversity ceased and similitude introduced union. Before, however, this result took place, and even with a view to its prevention, many attempts were made to bring all these separate portions of society together, without destroying their diversity and independence. No positive attack was made on the peculiar position and privileges or on the distinctive nature of any portion, and yet there was an attempt made to form them into one state, one national body, to bring them all under one and the same government.
All these attempts failed. The result which I have noticed above, the union of modern society, attests their want of success. Even in those parts of Europe where some traces of the ancient diversity of the social elements are still to be met with—in Germany, for instance, where a real feudal nobility and a distinct body of burghers still exist; in England, where we see an established Church enjoying its own revenues and its own peculiar jurisdiction—it is clear that this pretended distinct existence is a shadow, a falsehood; that these special societies are confounded in general society, absorbed in the state, governed by the public authorities, controlled by the same system of polity, carried away by the same current of ideas, the same manners. Again I assert, that even where the form still exists, the separation and independence of the ancient social elements have no longer any reality.
At the same time, these attempts at rendering the ancient and social elements co-ordinate, without changing their nature, at forming them into national unity without annihilating their variety, are entitled to an important place in the history of Europe. The period which now engages our attention—that period which separates ancient from modern Europe, and in which was accomplished the metamorphosis of European society—is almost entirely filled with them. Not only do they form a principal part of the history of this period, but they had a considerable influence on after events, on the manner in which was effected the reduction of the various social elements to two—the government and the people. It is clearly, then, of great importance, that we should become well acquainted with all those endeavors at political organization which were made from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, for the purpose of creating nations and governments, without destroying the diversity of secondary societies placed by the side of each other. These attempts form the subject of the present lecture—a laborious and even painful task.
All these attempts at political organization did not, certainly, originate from a good motive; too many of them arose from selfishness and tyranny. Yet some of them were pure and disinterested; some of them had, truly, for their object the moral and social welfare of mankind. Society at this time, was in such a state of incoherence, of violence and iniquity, as could not but be extremely offensive to men of enlarged views—to men who possessed elevated sentiments, and who labored incessantly to discover the means of improving it. Yet even the best of these noble attempts miscarried; and is not the waste of so much courage—of so many sacrifices and endeavors—of so much virtue, a melancholy spectacle? And what is still more painful, a still more poignant sorrow, not only did these attempts at social melioration fail, but an enormous mass of error and of evil was mingled with them. Notwithstanding good intention, the majority of them were absurd, and show a profound ignorance of reason, of justice, of the rights of humanity, and of the conditions of the social state; so that not only were they unsuccessful, but it was right that they should be so. We have here a spectacle, not only of the hard lot of humanity, but also of its weakness. We may here see how the smallest portion of truth suffices so to engage the whole attention of men of superior intellect, that they forget every thing else, and become blind to all that is not comprised within the narrow horizon of their ideas. We may here see how the existence of ever so small a particle of justice in a cause is sufficient to make them lose sight of all the injustice which it contains and permits. This display of the vices and follies of man is, in my opinion, still more melancholy to contemplate than the misery of his condition; his faults affect me more than his sufferings. The attempts already alluded to will bring man before us in both these situations; still we must not shun the painful retrospect; it behooves us not to flinch from doing justice to those men, to those ages that have so often erred, so miserably failed, and yet have displayed such noble virtues, made such powerful efforts, merited so much glory.
The attempts at political organization which were formed from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries were of two kinds; one having for its object the predominance of one of the social elements—sometimes the clergy, sometimes the feudal nobility, sometimes the free cities—and making all the others subordinate to it, and in this way seeking to introduce unity; the other proposing to cause all the different societies to agree and to act together, leaving to each portion its liberty, and ensuring to each its due share of influence.
The attempts of the former kind are much more open to suspicion of self-interest and tyranny than the latter; in fact, they were not spotless; from their very nature they were essentially tyrannical in their mode of execution; yet some of them might have been, and indeed were, conceived with a pure motive, and with a view to the welfare and advancement of mankind.
The first attempt which presents itself, is the attempt at theocratical organization; that is to say, the design of bringing all the other societies into a state of submission to the principles and sway of ecclesiastical society.
I must here refer to what I have already said relative to the history of the Church.* I have endeavored to show what were the principles it developed—what was the legitimate part of each—how these principles arose from the natural course of events—the good and the evil produced by them. I have characterized the different stages through which the Church passed from the eighth to the twelfth century. I have pointed out the state of the imperial Church, of the barbarian Church, of the feudal Church, and lastly, of the theocratic Church. I take it for granted that all this is present in your recollection, and I shall now endeavor to show you what the clergy did in order to obtain the government of Europe, and why they failed in obtaining it.
The attempt at theocratic organization appeared at an early period, both in the acts of the court of Rome, and in those of the clergy in general; it naturally proceeded from the political and moral superiority of the Church; but, from the commencement, such obstacles were thrown in its way, that, even in its greatest vigor, it never had the power to overcome them.
The first obstacle was the nature itself of Christianity. Very different, in this respect, from the greater part of religious creeds, Christianity established itself by persuasion alone, by simple moral efforts; even at its birth it was not armed with power; in its earliest years it conquered by words alone, and its only conquest was the souls of men. Even after its triumph, even when the Church was in possession of great wealth and consideration, the direct government of society was not placed in its hands. Its origin, purely moral, springing from mental influence alone, was implanted in its constitution. It possessed a vast influence, but it had no power. It gradually insinuated itself into the municipal magistracies;* it acted powerfully upon the emperors and upon all their agents; but the positive administration of public affairs—the government, properly so called—was not possessed by the Church. Now, a system of government, a theocracy, as well as any other, cannot be established in an indirect manner, by mere influence alone; it must possess the judicial and ministerial offices, the command of the forces, be in receipt of the imposts, have the disposal of the revenues, in a word, it must govern—take possession of society. Force of persuasion may do much, it may obtain great influence over a people, and even over governments its sway may be very powerful; but it cannot govern, it cannot found a system, it cannot take possession of the future. Such has been, even from its origin, the situation of the Christian church; it has always sided with government,* but never superseded it, and taken its place; a great obstacle, which the attempt at theocratic organization was never able to surmount.
The attempt to establish a theocracy very soon met with a second obstacle. When the Roman empire was destroyed, and the barbarian states were established on its ruins, the Christian church was found among the conquered. It was necessary for it to escape from this situation; to begin by converting the conquerors, and thus to raise itself to their rank. This accomplished, when the Church aspired to dominion, it had to encounter the pride and the resistance of the feudal nobility. Europe is greatly indebted to the laic members of the feudal system in the eleventh century: the people were almost completely subjugated by the Church; sovereigns could scarcely protect themselves from its domination; the feudal nobility alone would never submit to its yoke, would never give way to the power of the clergy. We have only to recall to our recollection the general appearance of the middle ages, in order to be struck with the singular mixture of loftiness and submission, of blind faith and liberty of mind, in the connection of the lay nobility with the priests. We there find some of the remnants of their primitive situation. It may be remembered how I endeavored to describe the origin of the feudal system, its first elements, and the manner in which feudal society first formed itself around the habitation of the possessor of the fief. I remarked how in that society the priest was below the lord of the fief. Yes, and there always remained, in the hearts of the feudal nobility, a remembrance of this situation; they always considered themselves as not only independent of the Church, but as its superior,—as alone called upon to possess, and in reality to govern, the country; they were willing always to live on good terms with the clergy, at the same time insisting that each should perform his own part, the one not infringing upon the duties of the other. During many centuries it was the lay aristocracy who maintained the independence of society with regard to the Church; they boldly defended it when the sovereigns and the people were subdued. They were the first to oppose, and probably contributed more than any other power to the failure of the attempt at a theocratic organization of society.
A third obstacle stood much in the way of this attempt, an obstacle which has been but little noticed, and the effect of which has often been misunderstood.
In all parts of the world where a clergy made itself master of society, and forced it to submit to a theocratic organization, the government always fell into the hands of a married clergy, of a body of priests who were enabled to recruit their ranks from their own society. Examine history; look at Asia and Egypt; every powerful theocracy you will find to have been the work of a priesthood, of a society complete within itself, and which had no occasion to borrow of any other.
But the celibacy of the clergy placed the Christian priesthood in a very different situation; it was obliged to have recourse incessantly to lay society in order to continue its existence; it was compelled to seek at a distance, among all stations, all social professions, for the means of its duration. In vain, attachment to their order induced them to labor assiduously for the purpose of assimilating these discordant elements; some of the original qualities of these new-comers ever remained; citizens or gentlemen, they always retained some vestige of their former disposition, of their early habits. Doubtless the Catholic clergy, by being placed in a lonely situation by celibacy, by being cut off, as it were, from the common life of men, became more isolated, and separate from society; but then it was forced continually to have recourse to this same lay society, to recruit, to renew itself from it, and consequently to participate in the moral revolutions which it underwent; and I have no hesitation in stating it as my opinion, that this necessity, which was always arising, did much more to prevent the success of the attempt at theocratic organization, than the esprit de corps, strongly supported as it was by celibacy, did to forward it.
The clergy, indeed, found within its own body the most powerful opponents of this attempt. Much has been said of the unity of the Church, and it is true that it has constantly endeavored to obtain this unity, and in some particulars has had the good fortune to succeed. But we must not suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by high-sounding words, nor by partial facts. What society has offered to our view a greater number of civil dissensions, has been subject to more dismemberments than the clergy? What nation has suffered more from divisions, from agitations, from disputes than the ecclesiastical nation? The national churches of the majority of European states have been almost incessantly at variance with the Roman Court;* the Councils have been at war with the popes; heresies have been innumerable and ever springing up anew; schism always breaking out; nowhere was ever witnessed such a diversity of opinions, so much rancor in dispute, such minute parcelling out of power. The internal state of the Church, the disputations which have taken place, the revolutions by which it has been agitated, have been perhaps the greatest of all obstacles to the triumph of that theocratical organization which the Church endeavored to impose upon society.
All these obstacles were visibly in action even so early as the fifth century, even at the commencement of the great attempt of which we are now speaking. They did not, however, prevent the continuance of its exertions, nor retard its progress during several centuries. The period of its greatest glory, its crisis, as it may be termed, was the reign of Gregory the Seventh, at the end of the eleventh century. We have already seen that the predominant wish of Gregory was to render the world subservient to the clergy, the clergy to the pope, and to form Europe into one immense and regular theocracy.* In the scheme by which this was to be effected, this great man appears, so far as one can judge of events which took place so long ago, to have committed two great faults—one as a theorist, the other as a revolutionist. The first consisted in the pompous proclamation of his plan;† in his giving a systematical detail of his principles relative to the nature and the rights of spiritual power, of drawing from them beforehand, like a severe logician, their remotest, their ultimate consequences. He thus threatened and even attacked all the lay sovereignties of Europe, without having secured the means of success: not considering that success in human affairs is not to be obtained by such absolute proceedings, or by a mere appeal to a philosophic argument. Gregory the Seventh also fell into the common error of all revolutionists—that of attempting more than they can perform, and of not fixing the measure and limits of their enterprises within the bounds of possibility. In order to hasten the predominance of his opinions, he entered into a contest against the empire, against all sovereigns, even against the great body of the clergy itself. He never temporized—he consulted no particular interests, but openly proclaimed his determination to reign over all kingdoms as well as over all intellects; and thus raised up against him, not only all temporal powers, who discovered the pressing danger of their situation, but also all those who advocated the right of free inquiry, a party which now began to show itself, and dreaded and exclaimed against all tyranny over the human mind. It seemed indeed probable, on the whole, that Gregory the Seventh injured rather than advanced the cause which he wished to serve.*
This cause, however, still continued to prosper throughout the whole of the twelfth and down to the middle of the thirteenth century. This was the epoch of the greatest power and splendor of the Church. I do not think it can be said that during this period she made much progress; to the end of the reign of Innocent III she rather displayed her glory and power than increased them. But at this very moment of her apparently greatest success, a popular reaction seemed to declare war against her in almost every part of Europe. In the south of France broke out the heresy of the Albigenses, which carried away a numerous and powerful society. Almost at the same time similar notions and desires appeared in the north, in Flanders. Wickliffe, only a little later, attacked in England, with great talent, the power of the Church, and founded a sect which was not destined to perish. Sovereigns soon began to follow the bent of their nations. It was only at the beginning of the thirteenth century, that the emperors of the house of Hohenstaufen, who deservedly rank among the most able and powerful sovereigns of Europe, were overcome in their struggle with the Holy See;† yet before the end of the same century, Saint Louis, the most pious of monarchs, proclaimed the independence of temporal power, and published the first Pragmatic Sanction,* which has served as the basis of all the following.† At the opening of the fourteenth century began the quarrel between Philip the Fair with Boniface VIII: Edward I of England was not more obedient to the court of Rome.‡ At this epoch it is evident, that the attempt at theocratic organization had failed; the Church henceforward acted only upon the defensive; she no longer attempted to force her system upon Europe; but only considered how she might keep what she possessed. It is from the end of the thirteenth century that the emancipation of the laic society of Europe truly dates; it was then that the Church gave up her pretensions to its possession.
A long time before this she had renounced this pretension in the very sphere in which it appeared most likely for her to be successful. Long before in Italy itself, even around the very throne of the Church, theocracy had completely failed, and given way to a system its very opposite in character: to that attempt at democratic organization, of which the Italian republics are the type, and which displayed so brilliant a career in Europe from the eleventh to the sixteenth century.
It will be remembered, that, when speaking of the free cities, of their history, and of the manner of their formation, I observed that their growth had been more precocious and vigorous in Italy than in any other country; they were here more numerous, as well as more wealthy, than in Gaul, England, or Spain; the Roman municipal system had been preserved with more life and regularity. Besides this, the provinces of Italy were less fitted to become the habitation of its new masters than the rest of Europe. The lands had been cleared, drained, and cultivated; it was not covered with forests, and the barbarians could not here devote their lives to the chase, or find occupations similar to what had amused them in Germany. A part of this country, moreover, did not belong to them. The south of Italy, the Campagna di Roma, and Ravenna, were still dependent on the Greek emperors. Favored by distance from the seat of government, and by the vicissitudes of war, the republican system soon took root, and grew very fast in this portion of the country. Italy, too, besides having never been entirely subdued by the barbarians, was favored by the circumstance, that the conquerors who overran it did not remain its tranquil and lasting possessors. The Ostrogoths were destroyed and driven off by Belisarius and Narses; the kingdom of the Lombards was not permanent.* The Franks overthrew it under Pippin and Charlemagne, who, without exterminating the Lombard population, found it their interest to ally themselves with the ancient Italian inhabitants, in order to contend against the Lombards with more success. The barbarians, then, never became in Italy, as in the other parts of Europe, the exclusive and quiet masters of the territory and people. And thus it happened that the feudal system never made much progress beyond the Alps, where it was but weakly established, and its members few and scattered. Neither did the great territorial proprietors ever gain that preponderance here, which they did in Gaul and other countries, but it continued to rest with the towns. When this result clearly showed itself, a great number of the possessors of fiefs, moved by choice or necessity, left their country dwellings and took up their abode within the walls of some city. The barbarian nobles made themselves burgesses. It is easy to imagine what strength and superiority the towns of Italy acquired, compared with the other communities of Europe, by this single circumstance. What we have chiefly dwelt upon, as most observable in the character of town populations, is their timidity and weakness. The burgesses appear like so many courageous freedmen, struggling with toil and care against a master always at their gates. The fate of the Italian towns was widely different; the conquering and conquered populations here mixed together within the same walls; the towns had not the trouble to defend themselves against a neighboring master; their inhabitants were citizens, who, at least for the most part, had always been free; who defended their independence and their rights against distant foreign sovereigns; at one time against the kings of the Franks, and, at a later period, against the emperors of Germany.* This will in some measure account for the immense and precocious superiority of the Italian cities: while in other countries we see poor insignificant communities arise after great trouble and exertion; we here see shoot up, almost at once, republics—states.
Thus becomes explained, why the attempt at republican organization was so successful in this part of Europe. It repressed, almost in its childhood, the feudal system, and became the prevailing form in society. Still it was but little adapted to spread or endure; it contained but few germs of melioration, a necessary condition for the extension and duration of any form of government.
In looking at the history of the Italian republics, from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, we are struck with two facts, seemingly contradictory, yet still indisputable. We see passing before us a wonderful display of courage, of activity, and of genius; an amazing prosperity is the result: we see a movement and a liberty unknown to the rest of Europe. But if we ask what was the real state of the inhabitants, how they passed their lives, what was their real share of happiness, the scene changes; there is, perhaps, no history more sad and gloomy: no period, perhaps, during which the lot of man appears to have been more agitated, subject to more deplorable chances, and which abounds more in dissensions, crimes, and misfortunes. Another fact strikes us at the same moment; in the political life of the greater part of these republics, liberty was continuously diminishing. The want of security was so great, that the people were unavoidably driven to take shelter in a system less stormy, though less popular, than that in which the state existed. Look at the history of Florence, Venice, Genoa, Milan, or Pisa; in all of them we find the course of events, instead of aiding the progress of liberty, instead of enlarging the circle of institutions, tending to repress it; tending to concentrate power in the hands of a smaller number of individuals. In a word, we find in these republics, otherwise so energetic, so brilliant, and so rich, two things wanting—security of life, the first requisite in the social state, and the progress of institutions.*
From these causes sprung a new evil, which prevented the attempt at republican organization from extending itself. It was from without—it was from foreign sovereigns, that the greatest danger was threatened to Italy. Still this danger never succeeded in reconciling these republics, in making them all act in concert; they were never ready to resist in common the common enemy. This has led many Italians, the most enlightened, the best of patriots, to deplore, in the present day, the republican system of Italy in the middle ages, as the true cause which hindered it from becoming a nation; it was parcelled out, they say, into a multitude of little states, not sufficiently master of their passions to confederate, to constitute themselves into one united body. They regret that their country has not, like the rest of Europe, been subject to a despotic centralization which would have formed it into a nation, and rendered it independent of the foreigner.*
It appears, then, that republican organization, even under the most favorable circumstances, did not contain, at this period, any more than it has done since, the principle of progress, duration, and extension.† We may compare, up to a certain point, the organization of Italy, in the middle ages, to that of ancient Greece. Greece, like Italy, was a country covered with little republics, always rivals, sometimes enemies, and sometimes rallying together for a common object. In this comparison the advantage is altogether on the side of Greece. There is no doubt, notwithstanding the frequent iniquities that history makes known, but that there was much more order, security, and justice in the interior of Athens, Lacedemon, and Thebes, than in the Italian republics. See, however, notwithstanding this, how short was the political career of Greece, and what a principle of weakness is contained in this parcelling out of territory and power. No sooner did Greece come in contact with the great neighboring states, with Macedon and Rome, than she fell. These little republics, so glorious and still so flourishing, could not coalesce for defense. How much more likely was a similar result in Italy, where society and human reason had made no such strides as in Greece, and consequently possessed much less power.
If the attempt at republican organization had so little chance of stability in Italy where it had triumphed, where the feudal system had been overcome, it may easily be supposed that it was much less likely to succeed in the other parts of Europe.
I shall take a rapid survey of its fortunes.
There was one portion of Europe which bore a great resemblance to Italy; the south of France, and the adjoining provinces of Spain, Catalonia, Navarre, and Biscay. In these districts the cities had made nearly the same progress, and had risen to considerable importance and wealth. Many little feudal nobles had here allied themselves with the citizens; a part of the clergy had likewise embraced their cause; in a word, the country in these respects was another Italy. So also, in the course of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century, the towns of Provence, of Languedoc, and Aquitaine, made a political effort and formed themselves into free republics, as had been done by the towns on the other side of the Alps. But the south of France was connected with a very powerful branch of the feudal system, that of the north. The heresy of the Albigenses appeared. A war broke out between feudal France and municipal France. The history of the crusade against the Albigenses, commanded by Simon de Montfort, is well known: it was the struggle of the feudalism of the North against the attempt at democratic organization of the South.* Notwithstanding the efforts of Southern patriotism, the North gained the day; political unity was wanting in the South, and civilization was not yet sufficiently advanced there to enable men to bring it about. This attempt at republican organization was put down, and the crusade re-established the feudal system in the south of France.
A republican attempt succeeded better a little later, among the Swiss mountains. Here, the theatre was very narrow, the struggle was only against a foreign monarch, who, although much more powerful than the Swiss, was not one of the most formidable sovereigns of Europe.† The contest was carried on with a great display of courage. The Swiss feudal nobility allied themselves, for the most part, with the cities—a powerful help, which also raised the character of the revolution it sustained, and stamped it with a more aristocratical and stationary character than it seemingly ought to have borne.
I cross to the north of France to the free towns of Flanders, to those on the banks of the Rhine, and belonging to the Hanseatic League. Here the democratic organization completely triumphed in the internal government of the cities; but from its origin, it is evident, that it was not destined to take entire possession of society. The free towns of the North were surrounded, pressed on every side by feudalism, by barons, and sovereigns, to such an extent that they were constantly obliged to stand upon the defensive. It is scarcely necessary to say, that they did not trouble themselves to make conquests; they defended themselves sometimes well and sometimes badly. They preserved their privileges, but they remained confined to the inside of their walls. Within these, democratic organization was shut up and arrested; if we walk abroad over the face of the country, we find no semblance of it.
Such, then, was the state of the republican attempt: triumphant in Italy, but with little hope of duration and progress; vanquished in the south of Gaul; victorious upon a small scale in the mountains of Switzerland; while in the North, in the free communities of Flanders, the Rhine, and Hanseatic League, it was condemned not to appear outside their walls. Still, even in this state, evidently inferior to the other elements of society, it inspired the feudal nobility with prodigious terror. The barons became jealous of the wealth of the cities, they feared their power; the spirit of democracy stole into the country; insurrections of the peasantry became more frequent and obstinate. In nearly every part of Europe a coalition was formed among the nobles against the free cities. The parties were not equal; the cities were isolated; there was no correspondence or intelligence between them; all was local. It may be true that there existed, between the burgesses of different countries, a certain degree of sympathy; the success or reverses of the towns of Flanders, in their struggles with the dukes of Burgundy, excited a lively sensation in the French cities; but this was very fleeting, and led to no result; no tie, no true union became established between them; the free communities lent no assistance to one another. The position of feudalism was much superior; yet divided, and without any plan of its own, it was never able to destroy them. After the struggle had lasted a considerable time, when the conviction became settled that a complete victory was impossible, concession became necessary; these petty burgher republics were acknowledged, negotiated with and admitted as members of the state. A new plan was now begun, a new attempt was made at political organization. The object of this was to conciliate, to reconcile, the various elements of society—the feudal nobility, the free cities, the clergy, and monarchs—to make them live and act together, in spite of their rooted hostility. It is to this attempt at mixed organization that I have still to ask your attention.
I presume there is no one who is not acquainted with the nature of the States-General of France, the Cortes of Spain and Portugal, the Parliament of England, and the States of Germany. The elements of these various assemblies were much the same; that is to say, the feudal nobility, the clergy, and the cities or commons, there met together and labored to unite themselves into one sole society, into one same state, under one same law, one same authority. Whatever their various names, this was the tendency, the design of all.
Let us take, as the type of this attempt, the fact which most interests us, as well as being best known to us—the States-General of France. I say this fact is best known, while I am still sure that the term States-General awakens in none of you more than a vague and incomplete idea. Who can say what there was in it of stability, of regularity; the number of its members, the subjects of their deliberations, the times at which they were convoked, or the length of their sessions? Of all this we know nothing, and it is impossible to obtain from history any clear, general, satisfactory information respecting it. The best accounts we can gather from the history of France, as regards the character of these assemblies, would almost lead us to consider them as pure accidents, as the last political resort both of people and kings; the last resort of kings, when they had no money and knew not how to free themselves from embarrassment; the last resort of the people, when some evil became so great that they knew not what remedy to apply to it. The nobles formed part of the States-General; so did the clergy; but they came to them with little interest, for they knew well that it was not in these assemblies that they possessed the greatest influence, that it was not there that they took a true part in the government. The burgesses themselves were not eager to attend them; it was not a right which they were anxious to exercise, but rather a necessity to which they submitted. Again, what was the character of the political proceedings of these assemblies? At one time we find them perfectly insignificant, at others terrible. If the king was the stronger, their humility and docility were extreme; if the situation of the monarch was unfortunate, if he really needed the assistance of the States, they then became factious, either the instrument of some aristocratic intrigue, or of some ambitious demagogues. Their works died almost always with them; they promised much, they attempted much,—and did nothing. No great measure which has truly had any influence upon society in France, no important reform either in the general legislation or administration, ever emanated from the States-General. It must not, however, be supposed that they have been altogether useless, or without effect; they had a moral effect, of which in general we take too little account; they served from time to time as a protestation against political servitude, a forcible proclamation of certain guardian principles,—such, for example, as that a nation has the right to vote its own taxes, to take part in its own affairs, to impose a responsibility upon the agents of power. That these maxims have never perished in France, is mainly owing to the States-General; and it is no slight service rendered to a country, to maintain among its virtues, to keep alive in its thoughts, the remembrance and claims of liberty. The States-General has done us this service, but it never became a means of government; it never entered upon political organization; it never attained the object for which it was formed, that is to say, the fusion into one only body of the various societies which divided the country.*
The Cortes of Portugal and Spain offered the same general result, though in a thousand circumstances they differ. The importance of the Cortes varied according to the kingdoms, and times at which they were held; they were most powerful and most frequently convoked in Aragon and Biscay, during the disputes for the successions to the crown, and the struggles against the Moors. To some of the Cortes—for example, that of Castile, 1370 and 1373—neither the nobles nor the clergy were called. There were a thousand accidents which it would be necessary to notice, if we had time to look closely into events; but in the general sketch to which I am obliged to confine myself it will be enough to state that the Cortes, like the States-general of France, have been an accident in history, and never a system—never a political organization, or regular means of government.*
The lot of England has been different. I shall not, however, enter into any detail upon this subject at present, as it is my intention to devote a future lecture to the special consideration of the political life of England. All I shall now do is to say a few words upon the causes which gave it a direction totally different from that of the continental states.
And, first, there were no great vassals, no subjects sufficiently powerful to enter single-handed into a contest with the crown. The great barons were obliged, at a very early period, to coalesce, in order to make a common resistance. Thus the principle of association, and proceedings truly political, were forced upon the high aristocracy. Besides this, English feudalism—the little holders of fiefs—were brought by a train of circumstances, which I cannot here recount, to unite themselves with the burgher class, to sit with them in the House of Commons; and by this, the Commons obtained in England a power much superior to those on the Continent, a power really capable of influencing the government of the country. In the fourteenth century, the character of the English Parliament was already formed: the House of Lords was the great council of the king, a council effectively associated in the exercise of authority. The House of Commons, composed of deputies from the possessors of little fiefs, and from the cities, took, as yet, scarcely any part in the government, properly so called; but it asserted and established rights, it defended with great spirit private and local interests. Parliament, considered as a whole, did not yet govern; but already it was a regular institution, a means of government adopted in principle, and often indispensable in fact. Thus the attempt to bring together the various elements of society, and to form them into one body politic, one true state or commonwealth, did succeed in England while it failed in every part of the Continent.
I shall offer but one remark upon Germany, and that only in order to indicate the prevailing character of its history. The attempts made here at political organization, to melt into one body the various elements of society, were spiritless and coldly followed up. These social elements had remained here more distinct, more independent than in the rest of Europe. Were any proof of this wanting, it might be found in its later usages. Germany is the only country of Europe (I say nothing of Poland and the Slavonian nations, which entered so very late into the European system of civilization) in which feudal election has for a long time taken part in the election of royalty; it is likewise the only country of Europe in which ecclesiastical sovereigns were continued; the only one in which were preserved free cities with a true political existence and sovereignty. It is clear, therefore, that the attempt to fuse the elements of primitive European society into one social body, must have been much less active and effective in Germany than in any other nation.
I have now run over all the great attempts at political organization which were made in Europe, down to the end of the fourteenth or beginning of the fifteenth century. All these failed. I have endeavored to point out, in going along, the causes of these failures; to speak truly, they may all be summed up in one: society was not yet sufficiently advanced to adapt itself to unity; all was yet too local, too special, too narrow; too many differences prevailed both in things and in minds. There were no general interests, no general opinions capable of guiding, of bearing sway over particular interests and particular opinions. The most enlightened minds, the boldest thinkers, had as yet no just idea of administration or justice truly public. It was evidently necessary that a very active, powerful civilization should first mix, assimilate, grind together, as it were, all these incoherent elements; it was necessary that there should first be a strong centralization of interests, laws, manners, ideas; it was necessary, in a word, that there should be created a public authority and a public opinion. We are now drawing near to the period in which this great work was at last consummated. Its first symptoms—the state of manners, mind, and opinions, during the fifteenth century, their tendency towards the formation of a central government and a public opinion—will be the subject of the following lecture.
[* ] See page 29.
[* ] See Lectures V and VI.
[* ] See page 49 et seq.
[* ] See page 171.
[* ] This was especially true of the Gallican church. The statement as it stands is too broad. For some of the more important disputes between the councils and the popes, see page 305 et seq.
[* ] See page 181.
[† ] The reference here is to the Dictatus Papæ, a document among the papers of Gregory, containing a brief statement of his theory of the papacy and its superiority to all other earthly powers. There is, however, no evidence that this document was ever made public in Gregory’s time, hence the statement of the lecture is not well founded. For a copy of this document, see Matthews, Select Mediæval Documents, or Emerton’s Mediæval Europe, page 244.
[* ] There is abundant room for difference of opinion here. Certain it is that during the next century the papacy most nearly attained the supremacy which it sought. That this was due in great part to Gregory VII is generally admitted.
[† ] The Hohenstaufens occupied the imperial throne from 1138 to 1254. Frederick I (Barbarossa), 1152-1190, and Frederick II, 1212-1250, were the most noted members. Under Pope Innocent III, 1198-1216, the papacy reached its height, and the Hohenstaufens were humbled, though the empire temporarily recovered under Frederick II.
[* ] Louis IX (St. Louis) reigned in France from 1226 to 1270; during this time the royal power was greatly increased. The Pragmatic Sanction referred to, bearing date March, 1268, is now commonly believed to have been a later forgery. However that may be, St. Louis was strenuous and persistent in upholding the independence of the king in temporal affairs, and in its right to supervise ecclesiastical matters in France. See Guizot, History of France, chap. xviii.
[† ] The term Pragmatic Sanction is commonly applied to four ordinanees published at a subsequent date: 1. That of Charles VII, of France, issued at Bourges, in 1438, by which the papal power was limited, and the independence of the French Church in various particulars declared—conformably to the canons of the Council of Basel. This council commenced in 1431 and closed in 1449. It passed a great many canons declaring the pope subject to the decrees of general councils, limiting his powers, and decreeing the reformation of various abuses and corruptions of discipline and practice. The history of this council, as well as that of the earlier council held at Constance in 1414-’18, is deeply interesting. 2. The decree passed by Charles VI, emperor of Germany, in 1439, confirming the canons of the Council of Basel, is also called a Pragmatic Sanction. 3. The decree of Charles VI (1713) respecting the succession to the imperial throne. 4. The law of succession proclaimed by Charles III, of Spain, in 1759. H.
[‡ ] The attempt of Boniface VIII (1294-1303) to interfere in the government of France was met by the denial and nullification, from the French monarch (Philip the Fair) and States-General, of the pope’s supremacy over the state.
A bull of Boniface VIII (1296), Clericis Laicos, forbade the clergy to pay taxes to the secular power. Edward I outlawed all clergy in England who undertook to obey the bull. The statute of mortmain in England (1279) was also aimed at the power of the Church.
[* ] Ostrogothic kingdom, 493-555; Lombard kingdom, 568-774.
[* ] The struggles with the emperors of Germany began with the reign of Otho I (936-973), who revived the Holy Roman Empire and again extended its authority over Italy.
[* ] Professor Emerton gives the following admirable summary of Italian institutional history: “(1) Under the Carolingian system the city became in Italy the natural unit of administration. It fell under the control of the count, and most often this person was also the bishop. . . . (2) From the eleventh century on, an organized popular movement is visible and becomes more and more of a force until it displaces the episcopal government and puts in its place a democracy with elective magistrates, and a strong aristocratic element. (3) From the thirteenth century we notice the rise to power within the democracies of this aristocracy based upon certain well-marked families. (4) From the fifteenth century some one among the great families in each community forces its way to leadership, and produces a series of tyrants who carry on the business of the state, until they finally bring it out (5) into the petty ‘legitimate’ monarchy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”—Mediæval Europe, page 522. For the history of Italy during the period covered by the lecture, consult Hunt, History of Italy, or Sismondi, History of the Italian Republics.
[* ] Since this lecture was delivered the unification of Italy has been accomplished, so far as outward form goes, and the process of actual fusion of the various states that existed in Guizot’s time into one real Italy is rapidly progressing. One of the marked characteristics of the present century has been the tendency to consolidation and unification of national states, and Italy is a conspicuous example.
[† ] It is, of course, obvious that Guizot does less than exact justice to republican government here, as he does more than justice to monarchy in the preceding lecture. That a republic is likely to exhibit less fixedness of purpose and policy, and less firmness and force in administration, than is a monarchy, is true; but that the idea, the principle, of monarchy is essential to orderly government, the present century seems to have disproved.
[* ] The crusade against the Albigenses was twofold in its cause and its purpose: first, religious, to put down a growing heresy or tendency against conformity to the beliefs of the Church; second, political, to destroy the power of the lords of the south, notably Raymond of Toulouse, in whose territories the Albigenses were. That there was wide diversity of interest between the north and the south of France; that the municipalities of the south were numerous, prosperous, and powerful; that the outcome of the crusade was the absorption of the southern regions into dependence on the crown—all this is true. To regard the movement, however, as primarily or fundamentally a crusade against republican institutions as typified in the municipalities of southern France, is to miss much of its meaning.
[† ] According to the formerly accepted story—which seems to have been adopted by Guizot—the confederacy of the Swiss cantons took its origin in the united revolt (1307) of the three forest cantons, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, against the encroachments of Albert of Austria, a Hapsburg ruler. This account, first found in documents written at least two centuries after the supposed event, is now regarded as unhistorical. The essential known facts are these: The three cantons were in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries substantially in feudal dependence on the non-resident Hapsburg counts. Throughout the thirteenth century they were seeking to release themselves from this dependence. In 1231, Canton Uri, in 1240, Schwyz, were granted charters by the emperor releasing them from Hapsburg domination, and establishing their direct feudal dependence on the empire. In 1291 these two cantons and Unterwalden formed a permanent league; in 1309 their charters were confirmed by the Emperor Henry VII; in 1316 these charters were recognized by Emperor Ludwig. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the confederation grew, and the authority of the empire weakened. After 1340 no representative of the empire remained regularly in the cantons. The establishment of the independent republican governments was thus not a sudden process, but a gradual growth.
[* ] The first States-General of France, in the proper meaning of the word, as including the clergy, nobility, and commons or deputies from the towns, was convoked by Philip the Fair in 1302. The feudal nobility had before this time submitted to the appellant jurisdiction of the crown, exercised by the royal tribunals; they had also lost the legislative supremacy in their fiefs; and now, when the commons became a co-ordinate branch of the national legislature, they lost their last privilege of territorial independence. H.
[* ] The eities of Castile were early invested with chartered privileges, including civil rights and extensive property, on condition of protecting their country. The deputies of the cities are not, however, mentioned as composing a branch of the Cortes or general legislative council of the nation until 1169, and then in only one case. But from the year 1189 they became a regular and essential part of that assembly. Subsequently, through the exercise of the royal prerogative in withholding the writ of summons, and through the neglect of many cities in sending deputies, the representation became extremely limited, and the privilege itself was gradually lost; so that in 1480 only seventeen cities retained the right of sending representatives. The concurrence of the Cortes of Castile was necessary to all taxation and grants of money, and also to legislation in general, as well as to the determination of all great and weighty affairs. The nobles and clergy formed the two other estates of the Cortes; but they seem to have been less regularly summoned than even the deputies of the towns.
In the kingdom of Aragon, no law could be enacted or repealed without the consent of the Cortes; and by the “General Privilege,” a sort of Magna Charta, granted in 1283, this body was to be assembled every year at Saragossa—though it was afterwards summoned once in two years, and the place of assembling left to the discretion of the king. The Cortes of this kingdom consisted of four estates: the prelates; the commanders of military orders, who were reckoned as ecclesiastics; the barons; the knights or infanzones; and the deputies of the royal towns. This body by itself, when in session, and by a commission during its recess, exercised very considerable powers, both legislative and administrative. Valencia and Catalonia had also each its separate Cortes both before and after their union with Aragon. See Hallam, Middle Ages, vol. i, chap. iv. H.