Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE XI.: THE RISE OF CENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT. * - General History of Civilization in Europe
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
LECTURE XI.: THE RISE OF CENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT. * - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE RISE OF CENTRALIZED GOVERNMENT.*
We have now reached the threshold of modern history, in the proper sense of the term. We now approach that state of society which may be considered as our own, and the institutions, the opinions, and the manners which were those of France forty years ago, are those of Europe still, and, notwithstanding the changes produced by our revolution, continue to exercise a powerful influence upon us. It is in the sixteenth century, as I have already told you, that modern society really commences.
Before entering into a consideration of this period, let us review the ground over which we have already passed. We have discovered among the ruins of the Roman empire, all the essential elements of modern Europe; we have seen them separate themselves and expand, each on its own account, and independently of the others. We have observed, during the first historical period, the constant tendency of these elements to separation, and to a local and special existence. But scarcely has this object appeared to be attained; scarcely have feudalism, municipal communities, and the clergy, each taken their distinct place and form, when we have seen them tend to approximate, unite, and form themselves into a general social system, into a national body, a national government. To arrive at this result, the various countries of Europe had recourse to all the different systems which existed among them: they endeavored to lay the foundations of social union, and of political and moral obligations, on the principles of theocracy, of aristocracy, of democracy, and of monarchy. Hitherto all these attempts have failed. No particular system has been able to take possession of society, and to secure it, by its sway, a destiny truly public. We have traced the cause of this failure to the absence of general interests and general ideas; we have found that everything, as yet, was too special, too individual, too local; that a long and powerful process of centralization was necessary, in order that society might become at once extensive, solid, and regular, the object which it necessarily seeks to attain. Such was the state in which we left Europe at the close of the fourteenth century.
Europe, however, was then very far from understanding her own state, such as I have now endeavored to explain it to you. She did not know distinctly what she required, or what she was in search of. Yet she set about endeavoring to supply her wants as if she knew perfectly what they were. When the fourteenth century had expired, after the failure of every attempt at political organization, Europe entered naturally, and as if by instinct, into the path of centralization. It is the characteristic of the fifteenth century that it constantly tended to this result, that it endeavored to create general interests and general ideas, to raise the minds of men to more enlarged views, and to create, in short, what had not, till then, existed on a great scale—nations and governments.
The actual accomplishment of this change belongs to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, though it was in the fifteenth that it was prepared. It is this preparation, this silent and hidden process of centralization, both in the social relations and in the opinions of men—a process accomplished, without premeditation or design, by the natural course of events—that we have now to make the subject of our inquiry.
It is thus that man advances in the execution of a plan which he has not conceived, and of which he is not even aware. He is the free and intelligent artificer of a work which is not his own. He does not perceive or comprehend it, till it manifests itself by external appearances and real results; and even then he comprehends it very incompletely. It is through his instrumentality, however, and by the development of his intelligence and freedom, that it is accomplished. Conceive a great machine, the design of which is centered in a single mind, though its various parts are intrusted to different workmen, separated from, and strangers to each other. No one of them understands the work as a whole, nor the general result which he concurs in producing; but every one executes, with intelligence and freedom, by rational and voluntary acts, the particular task assigned to him. It is thus, that by the hand of man, the designs of Providence are wrought out in the government of the world. It is thus that the two great facts which are apparent in the history of civilization come to coexist; on the one hand, those portions of it which may be considered as fated, or which happen without the control of human knowledge or will; on the other hand, the part played in it by the freedom and intelligence of man, and what he contributes to it by means of his own judgment and will.
In order that we may clearly understand the fifteenth century; in order that we may give a distinct account of this prelude, if we may use the expression, to the state of society in modern times, we will separate the facts which bear upon the subject into different classes. We will first examine the political facts—the changes which have tended to the formation either of nations or of governments. Thence we will proceed to the moral facts: we will consider the changes which took place in ideas and in manners; and we shall then see what general opinions began, from that period, to be in a state of preparation.
In regard to political facts, in order to proceed with quickness and simplicity, I shall survey all the great countries of Europe, and place before you the influence which the fifteenth century had upon them—how it found them, how it left them.
I shall begin with France. The last half of the fourteenth, and the first half of the fifteenth century, were, as you all know, a time of great national wars against the English. This was the period of the struggle for the independence of the French territory and the French name against foreign domination.* It is sufficient to open the book of history, to see with what ardor, notwithstanding a multitude of treasons and dissensions, all classes of society in France joined in this struggle, and what patriotism animated the feudal nobility, the burghers, and even the peasantry. If we had nothing but the story of Joan of Arc to show the popular spirit of the time, it alone would suffice for that purpose. Joan of Arc sprang from among the people; it was by the sentiments, the religious belief, the passions of the people, that she was inspired and supported. She was looked upon with mistrust, with ridicule, with enmity even, by the nobles of the court and the leaders of the army; but she had always the soldiers and the people on her side. It was the peasants of Lorraine who sent her to succor the citizens of Orleans. No event could show in a stronger light the popular character of that war, and the feeling with which the whole country engaged in it.
Thus the nationality of France began to be formed. Down to the reign of the house of Valois, the feudal character prevailed in France; a French nation, a French spirit, French patriotism, as yet had no existence. With the princes of the house of Valois begins the history of France, properly so called.* It was in the course of their wars, amid the various turns of their fortune, that, for the first time, the nobility, the citizens, the peasants, were united by a moral tie, by the tie of a comman name, a common honor, and by one burning desire to overcome the foreign invader. We must not, however, at this time, expect to find among them any real political spirit, any great design of unity in government and institutions, according to the conceptions of the present day. The unity of France, at that period, dwelt in her name, in her national honor, in the existence of a national monarchy, no matter of what character, provided that no foreigner had anything to do with it. It was in this way that the struggle against the English contributed strongly to form the French nation, and to impel it towards unity.
At the same time that France was thus forming herself in a moral point of view, she was also extending herself physically, as it may be called, by enlarging, fixing, and consolidating her territory. This was the period of the incorporation of most of the provinces which now constitute France. Under Charles VII [1422—1461] after the expulsion of the English, almost all the provinces which they had occupied—Normandy, Angoumois, Touraine, Poitou, Saintonge, etc., became definitively French. Under Louis XI [1461—1483], ten provinces, three of which have been since lost and regained, were also united to France—Roussillon and Cerdagne, Burgundy, Franche-Comté, Picardy, Artois, Provence, Maine, Anjou, and Perche. Under Charles VIII and Louis XII [1483—1515] the successive marriages of Anne with these two kings gave France Brittany. Thus, at the same period, and during the course of the same events, France, morally as well as physically, acquired at once strength and unity.
Let us turn from the nation to the government, and we shall see the accomplishment of events of the same nature; we shall advance towards the same result. The French government had never been more destitute of unity, of cohesion, and of strength, than under the reign of Charles VI [1380—1422], and during the first part of the reign of Charles VII.* At the end of this reign , the appearance of everything was changed. There were evident marks of a power which was confirming, extending, organizing itself. All the great resources of government, taxation, military force, and administration of justice, were created on a great scale, and almost simultaneously. This was the period of the formation of a standing army and permanent militia—the compagnies-d’ordonnance, consisting of cavalry, and the free archers, the infantry. By these companies, Charles VII re-established a degree of order in the provinces, which had been desolated by the license and exactions of the soldiery, even after the war had ceased. All contemporary historians expatiate on the wonderful effects of the compagnies-d’ordonnance. It was at this period that the taille, one of the principal revenues of the crown, was made perpetual; a serious inroad on the liberty of the people, but which contributed powerfully to the regularity and strength of the government.* At the same time the great instrument of power, the administration of justice, was extended and organized; parliaments were multiplied, five new parliaments having been instituted in a short space of time:—under Louis XI, the parliaments of Grenoble (in 1451), of Bordeaux (in 1462), and of Dijon (in 1477); under Louis XII, the parliaments of Rouen (in 1499), and of Aix (in 1501).† The parliament of Paris also acquired, about the same time, much additional importance and stability, both in regard to the administration of justice, and the superintendence of the police within its jurisdiction.
Thus, in relation to the military force, the power of taxation, and the administration of justice, that is to say, in regard to those things which form its essence, government acquired in France, in the fifteenth century, a character of unity, regularity, and permanence, previously unknown; and the feudal powers were finally superseded by the power of the state.
At the same time, too, was accomplished a change of very different character; a change not so visible, and which has not so much attracted the notice of historians, but still more important, perhaps, than those which have been mentioned:—the change effected by Louis XI in the mode of governing.
A great deal has been said about the struggle of Louis XI [1461—1483] against the grandees of the kingdom, of their depression, and of his partiality for the citizens and the inferior classes. There is truth in all this, though it has been much exaggerated, and though the conduct of Louis XI towards the different classes of society more frequently disturbed than benefited the state. But he did something of deeper import. Before his time the government had been carried on almost entirely by force, and by mere physical means. Persuasion, address, care in working upon men’s minds, and in bringing them over to the views of the government—in a word, what is properly called policy—a policy, indeed, of falsehood and deceit, but also of management and prudence—had hitherto been little attended to. Louis XI substituted intellectual for material means, cunning for force, Italian for feudal policy. Take the two men whose rivalry engrosses this period of our history, Charles the Bold* and Louis XI: Charles is the representative of the old mode of governing; he has recourse to no other means than violence; he constantly appeals to arms; he is unable to act with patience, or to address himself to the dispositions and tempers of men in order to make them the instruments of his designs. Louis XI, on the contrary, takes pleasure in avoiding the use of force, and in gaining an ascendancy over men, by conversation with individuals, and by skilfully bringing into play their interests and peculiarities of character. It was not the public institutions or the external system of government that he changed; it was the secret proceedings, the tactics, of power. It was reserved for modern times to attempt a still greater revolution; to endeavor to introduce into the means, as well as the objects, of public policy, justice in place of self-interest, publicity instead of cunning. Still, however, a great step was gained by renouncing the continued use of force, by calling in the aid of intellectual superiority, by governing through the understandings of men, and not by overturning everything that stood in the way of the exercise of power. This is the great change which, among all his errors and crimes, in spite of the perversity of his nature, and solely by the strength of his powerful intellect, Louis XI has the merit of having begun.†
From France I turn to Spain; and there I find movements of the same nature. It was also in the fifteenth century that Spain was consolidated into one kingdom. At this time an end was put to the long struggle between the Christians and Moors, by the conquest of Grenada. Then, too, the Spanish territory became centralized: by the marriage of Ferdinand the Catholic, and Isabella, the two principal kingdoms, Castile and Aragon, were united under the same dominion. In the same manner as in France, the monarchy was extended and confirmed. It was supported by severer institutions, which bore more gloomy names. Instead of parliaments, it was the Inquisition* that had its origin in Spain. It contained the germ of what it afterwards became; but at first it was of a political rather than a religious nature, and was destined to maintain civil order rather than defend religious faith. The analogy between the countries extends beyond their institutions; it is observable even in the persons of the sovereigns. With less subtlety of intellect, and a less active and intriguing spirit, Ferdinand the Catholic, in his character and government, strongly resembles Louis XI. I pay no regard to arbitrary comparisons or fanciful parallels; but here the analogy is strong and observable in general facts as well as in minute details.
A similar analogy may be discovered in Germany. It was in the middle of the fifteenth century, in 1438, that the house of Austria came to the empire;* and that the imperial power acquired a permanence which it had never before possessed. From that time election was merely a sanction given to hereditary right. At the end of the fifteenth century, Maximilian I definitively established the preponderance of his house and the regular exercise of the central authority; Charles VII was the first in France who, for the preservation of order, created a permanent militia; Maximilian, too, was the first in his hereditary dominions, who accomplished the same end by the same means. Louis XI had established in France, the post-office for the conveyance of letters; Maximilian I introduced it into Germany. In the progress of civilization the same steps were everywhere taken, in a similar way, for the advantage of central government.
The history of England in the fifteenth century consists of two great events—the war with France abroad, and the contest of the two Roses at home.† These two wars, though different in their nature, were attended with similar results. The contest with France was maintained by the English people with a degree of ardor which went entirely to the profit of royalty. The people, already remarkable for the prudence and determination with which they defended their resources and treasures, surrendered them at that period to their monarchs, without foresight or measure. It was in the reign of Henry V that a considerable tax, consisting of custom-house duties, was granted to the king for his lifetime, almost at the beginning of his reign. The foreign war was scarcely ended, when the civil war, which had already broken out, was carried on; the houses of York and Lancaster disputed the throne. When at length these sanguinary struggles were brought to an end, the English nobility were ruined, diminished in number, and no longer able to preserve the power which they had previously exercised. The coalition of the great barons was no longer able to govern the throne. The Tudors ascended it; and with Henry VII, in 1485, begins the era of political centralization, the triumph of royalty.
Monarchy did not establish itself in Italy, at least under that name; but this made little difference as to the result. It was in the fifteenth century that the fall of the Italian republics took place. Even where the name was retained, the power became concentrated in the hands of one, or of a few families. The spirit of republicanism was extinguished. In the north of Italy, almost all the Lombard republics merged in the Duchy of Milan. In 1434, Florence fell under the dominion of the Medicis. In 1464, Genoa became subject to Milan. The greater part of the republics, great and small, yielded to the power of sovereign houses; and soon afterwards began the pretensions of foreign sovereigns to the dominion of the north and south of Italy; to the Milanese and kingdom of Naples.
Indeed, to whatever country of Europe we cast our eyes, whatever portion of its history we consider, whether it relates to the nations themselves or their governments, to their territories or their institutions, we everywhere see the old elements, the old forms of society, disappearing. Those liberties which were founded on tradition were lost; new powers arose, more regular and concentrated than those which previously existed. There is something deeply melancholy in this view of the fall of the ancient liberties of Europe. Even in its own time it inspired feelings of the utmost bitterness. In France, in Germany, and above all, in Italy, the patriots of the fifteenth century resisted with ardor, and lamented with despair, that revolution which everywhere produced the rise of what they were entitled to call despotism. We must admire their courage and feel for their sorrow; but at the same time we must be aware that this revolution was not only inevitable, but useful. The primitive system of Europe—the old feudal and municipal liberties—had failed in the organization of a general society. Security and progress are essential to social existence. Every system which does not provide for present order, and progressive advancement for the future, is vicious, and speedily abandoned. And this was the fate of the old political forms of society, of the ancient liberties of Europe in the fifteenth century. They could not give to society either security or progress. These objects naturally became sought for elsewhere; to obtain them, recourse was had to other principles and other means; and this is the import of all the facts to which I have just called your attention.
To this same period may be assigned another circumstance which has had a great influence on the political history of Europe. It was in the fifteenth century that the relations of governments with each other began to be frequent, regular, and permanent. Now, for the first time, became formed those great combinations by means of alliance, for peaceful as well as warlike objects, which, at a later period, gave rise to the system of the balance of power. European diplomacy originated in the fifteenth century. In fact you may see, towards its close, the principal powers of the continent of Europe, the Popes, the Dukes of Milan, the Venetians, the German Emperors, and the Kings of France and Spain, entering into a closer correspondence with each other than had hitherto existed; negotiating, combining, and balancing their various interests. Thus at the very time when Charles VIII set on foot his expedition to conquer the kingdom of Naples,* a great league was formed against him, between Spain, the Pope, and the Venetians. The league of Cambray was formed some years later (in 1508), against the Venetians. The holy league directed against Louis XII succeeded, in 1511, to the league of Cambray. All these combinations had their rise in Italian policy; in the desire of different sovereigns to possess its territory; and in the fear lest any of them, by obtaining an exclusive possession, should acquire an excessive preponderance. This new order of things was very favorable to the career of monarchy. On the one hand, it belongs to the very nature of the external relations of states that they can be conducted only by a single person, or by a very small number, and that they require a certain degree of secrecy: on the other hand, the people were so little enlightened that the consequences of a combination of this kind quite escaped them. As it had no direct bearing on their individual or domestic life, they troubled themselves little about it; and, as usual, left such transactions to the discretion of the central government. Thus diplomacy, in its very birth, fell into the hands of kings; and the opinion, that it belongs to them exclusively; that the nation, even when free, and possessed of the right of voting its own taxes, and interfering in the management of its domestic affairs, has no right to intermeddle in foreign matters;—this opinion, I say, became established in all parts of Europe, as a settled principle, a maxim of common law.* Look into the history of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and you will observe the great influence of that opinion, and the obstacles it presented to the liberties of England in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I. It is always under the sanction of the principle, that peace and war, commercial relations, and all foreign affairs, belong to the royal prerogative, that absolute power defends itself against the rights of the country. The people are remarkably timid in disputing this portion of the prerogative; and their timidity has cost them the dearer, for this reason, that, from the commencement of the period into which we are now entering (that is to say, the sixteenth century), the history of Europe is essentially diplomatic. For nearly three centuries, foreign relations form the most important part of history. The domestic affairs of countries began to be regularly conducted; the internal government, on the Continent at least, no longer produced any violent convulsions, and no longer kept the public mind in a state of agitation and excitement. Foreign relations, wars, treaties, alliances, alone occupy the attention and fill the page of history; so that we find the destinies of nations abandoned in a great measure to the royal prerogative, to the central power of the state.
It could scarcely have happened otherwise. Civilization must have made great progress, intelligence and political habits must be widely diffused, before the public can interfere with advantage in matters of this kind. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the people were far from being sufficiently advanced to do so. Observe what occurred in England, under James I, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. His son-in-law, the Elector Palatine, who had been elected king of Bohemia, had lost his crown, and had even been stripped of his hereditary dominions, the Palatinate. Protestantism everywhere espoused his cause; and, on this ground, England took a warm interest in it. There was a great manifestation of public opinion in order to force James to take the part of his son-in-law, and obtained for him the restoration of the Palatinate. Parliament insisted violently for war, promising ample means to carry it on. James was indifferent on the subject; he made several attempts to negotiate, and sent some troops to Germany; he then told parliament that he required £900,000 sterling, to carry on the war with any chance of success. It is not said, and indeed it does not appear, that his estimate was exaggerated. But parliament shrunk back with astonishment and terror at the sound of such a sum, and could hardly be prevailed upon to vote £70,000 sterling, to reinstate a prince, and reconquer a country three hundred leagues distant from England.* Such were the ignorance and political incapacity of the public in affairs of this nature; they acted without any knowledge of facts, or any consideration of consequences. How then could they be capable of interfering in a regular and effectual manner? This is the cause which principally contributed to make foreign relations fall into the hands of the central power; no other was in a condition to conduct them, I shall not say for the public benefit, which was very far from being always consulted, but with anything like consistency and good sense.
It may be seen, then, that in whatever point of view we regard the political history of Europe at this period—whether we look upon the internal condition of different nations, or upon their relation with each other—whether we consider the means of warfare, the administration of justice, or the levying of taxes, we find them pervaded by the same character; we see everywhere the same tendency to centralization, to unity, to the formation and preponderance of general interests and public powers. This was the hidden working of the fifteenth century, which, at the period we are speaking of, had not yet produced any very apparent result, or any actual revolution in society, but was preparing all those consequences which afterwards took place.
I shall now bring before you a class of facts of a different nature; moral facts, such as stand in relation to the development of the human mind and the formation of general ideas. In these again we shall discover the same phenomena, and arrive at the same result.
I shall begin with an order of facts which has often engaged our attention, and under the most various forms, has always held an important place in the history of Europe—the facts relative to the Church. Down to the fifteenth century, the only general ideas which had a powerful influence on the masses were those connected with religion. The Church alone was invested with the power of regulating, promulgating, and prescribing them. Attempts, it is true, at independence, and even at separation, were frequently made; and the Church had much to do to overcome them. Down to this period, however, she had been successful. Creeds rejected by the Church had never taken any general or permanent hold on the minds of the people; even the Albigenses had been repressed. Dissension and strife were incessant in the Church, but without any decisive and striking result. The fifteenth century opened with the appearance of a different state of things. New ideas, and a public and avowed desire of change and reformation, began to agitate the Church herself. The end of the fourteenth and beginning of the fifteenth century were marked by the great schism of the West, resulting from the removal of the papal chair to Avignon, and the creation of two popes, one at Avignon, and the other at Rome. The contest between these two papacies is what is called the great schism of the West.* It began in 1378. In 1409, the Council of Pisa endeavored to put an end to it by deposing the two rival popes and electing another. But instead of ending the schism, this step only rendered it more violent.
There were now three popes instead of two; and disorders and abuses went on increasing. In 1414, the Council of Constance assembled, convoked by desire of the Emperor Sigismund. This council set about a matter of far more importance than the nomination of a new pope; it undertook the reformation of the Church. It began by proclaiming the indissolubility of the universal council, and its superiority over the papal power. It endeavored to establish these principles in the Church, and to reform the abuses which had crept into it, particularly the exactions by which the court of Rome obtained money. To accomplish this object the council appointed what we should call a commission of inquiry, in other words, a Reform College, composed of deputies to the council, chosen in the different Christian nations. This college was directed to inquire into the abuses which polluted the Church, and into the means of remedying them, and to make a report to the council, in order that it might deliberate on the proceedings to be adopted. But while the council was thus engaged, the question was started, whether it could proceed to the reform of abuses without the visible concurrence of the head of the Church, without the sanction of the pope. It was carried in the negative through the influence of the Roman party supported by some well-meaning but timid individuals. The council elected a new pope, Martin V, in 1417. The pope was instructed to present, on his part, a plan for the reform of the Church. This plan was rejected, and the council separated. In 1431, a new council assembled at Basel with the same design. It resumed and continued the reforming labors of the Council of Constance, but with no better success. Schism broke out in this assembly as it had done in Christendom. The pope removed the council to Ferrara, and afterwards to Florence. A portion of the prelates refused to obey the pope, and remained at Basel, and, as there had formerly been two popes, so now there were two councils. That of Basel continued its projects of reform; named as its pope, Felix V; some time afterward removed to Lausanne; and dissolved itself in 1449, without having effected anything.
In this manner papacy gained the day, remained in possession of the field of battle, and of the government of the Church. The council could not accomplish that which it had set about; but it did something else which it had not thought of, and which survived its dissolution. Just at the time the Council of Basel failed in its attempts at reform, sovereigns were adopting the ideas which it had proclaimed, and some of the institutions which it had suggested. In France, and with the decrees of the Council of Basel, Charles VII formed the Pragmatic Sanction,* which he proclaimed at Bourges in 1438; it authorized the election of bishops, the suppression of annates (or first-fruits), and the reform of the principal abuses introduced into the Church. The pragmatic sanction was declared in France to be a law of the state. In Germany, the Diet of Mayence adopted it in 1439, and also made it a law of the German empire. What spiritual power had tried without success, temporal power seemed determined to accomplish.
But the projects of the reformers met with a new reverse of fortune. As the council had failed, so did the pragmatic sanction. It perished very soon in Germany. It was abandoned by the Diet in 1448, in virtue of a negotiation with Nicholas V. In 1516, Francis I abandoned it also, substituting for it his concordat with Leo X.* The reform attempted by princes did not succeed better than that set on foot by the clergy. But we must not conclude that it was entirely thrown away. In like manner as the council had done things which survived it, so the pragmatic sanction had effects which survived it also, and will be found to make an important figure in modern history. The principles of the Council of Basel were strong and fruitful. Men of superior minds, and of energetic characters, had adopted and maintained them. John of Paris, D’Ailly, Gerson, and many distinguished men of the fifteenth century, had devoted themselves to their defence. It was in vain that the council was dissolved; it was in vain that the pragmatic sanction was abandoned; their general doctrines respecting the government of the Church, and the reforms which were necessary, took root in France. They were spread abroad, found their way into parliaments, took a strong hold of the public mind, and gave birth first to the Jansenists, and then to the Gallicans.† This entire series of maxims and efforts tending to the reform of the Church, which began with the Council of Constance, and terminated in the four propositions of Bossuet, emanated from the same source, and was directed to the same object.‡ It is the same fact which has undergone successive transformations. Notwithstanding the failure of the legal attempts at reform made in the fifteenth century, they indirectly had an immense influence upon the progress of civilization; and must not be left out of its history.
The councils were right in trying for a legal reform, for it was the only way to prevent a revolution. Nearly at the time when the Council of Pisa was endeavoring to put an end to the great western schism, and the Council of Constance to reform the Church, the first attempts at popular religious reform broke out in Bohemia. The preaching of John Huss,* and his progress as a reformer, commenced in 1404, when he began to teach at Prague. Here, then, we have two reforms going on side by side; the one in the very bosom of the Church,—attempted by the ecclesiastical aristocracy itself,—cautious, embarrassed, and timid; the other originating without the Church, and directed against it,—violent, passionate, and impetuous. A contest began between these two powers, these two parties. The council enticed John Huss and Jerome of Prague to Constance, and condemned them to the flames as heretics and revolutionists. These events are perfectly intelligible to us now. We can very well understand this simultaneous existence of separate reforms, one undertaken by governments, the other by the people, hostile to each other, yet springing from the same cause, and tending to the same object, and, though opposed to each other, finally concurring in the same result. This is what happened in the fifteenth century. The popular reform of John Huss was stifled for the moment; the war of the Hussites broke out three or four years after the death of their master; it was long and violent, but at last the empire was successful in subduing it. The failure of the councils in the work of reform, their not being able to attain the object they were aiming at, only kept the public mind in a state of fermentation. The spirit of reform still existed; it waited but for an opportunity again to break out, and this it found at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Had the reform undertaken by the councils been brought to any good issue, perhaps the popular reform would have been prevented. But it was impossible that one or the other of them should not succeed, for their coincidence shows their necessity.
Such, then, is the state, in respect to religious creeds, in which Europe was left by the fifteenth century: an aristocratic reform attempted without success, with a popular suppressed reform begun, but still ready to break out anew.
It was not solely to religious creeds that the human mind was directed, and about which it busied itself at this period. It was in the course of the fourteenth century, as you all know, that Greek and Roman antiquity was (if I may use the expression) restored to Europe. You know with what ardor Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and all their contemporaries, sought for Greek and Latin manuscripts, published them, and spread them abroad; and what general joy was produced by the smallest discovery in this branch of learning. It was in the midst of this excitement that the classical school took its rise; a school which has performed a much more important part in the development of the human mind than has generally been ascribed to it. But we must be cautious of attaching to this term, classical school, the meaning given to it at present. It had to do, in those days, with matters very different from literary systems and disputes. The classical school of that period inspired its disciples with admiration, not only for the writings of Virgil and Homer, but for the entire frame of ancient society, for its institutions, its opinions, its philosophy, as well as its literature. Antiquity, it must be allowed, whether as regards politics, philosophy, or literature, was greatly superior to the Europe of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is not surprising, therefore, that it should have exercised so great an influence; that lofty, vigorous, elegant, and fastidious minds should have been disgusted with the coarse manners, the confused ideas, the barbarous modes of their own time, and should have devoted themselves with enthusiasm, and almost with veneration, to the study of a state of society, at once more regular and more perfect than their own. Thus was formed that school of bold thinkers which appeared at the commencement of the fifteenth century, and in which prelates, jurists, and men of learning were united by common sentiments and common pursuits.*
In the midst of this movement happened the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, 1453, the fall of the Eastern empire, and the influx of the fugitive Greeks into Italy. These brought with them a greater knowledge of antiquity, numerous manuscripts, and a thousand new means of studying the civilization of the ancients. You may easily imagine how this must have redoubled the admiration and ardor of the classic school. This was the most brilliant period of the Church, especially in Italy, not in respect of political power, but of wealth and luxury. The Church gave herself up to all the pleasures of an indolent, elegant, licentious civilization; to a taste for letters, the arts, and social and physical enjoyments. Look at the way in which the men who played the greatest political and literary parts at that period passed their lives—Cardinal Bembo,* for example—and you will be surprised by the mixture which it exhibits of luxurious effeminacy and intellectual culture, of enervated manners and mental vigor. In surveying this period, indeed, when we look at the state of opinions and of social relations, we might imagine ourselves living among the French of the eighteenth century. There was the same desire for the progress of intelligence, and for the acquirement of new ideas; the same taste for an agreeable and easy life, the same luxury, the same licentiousness; there was the same want of political energy and of moral principles, combined with singular sincerity and activity of mind. The literati of the fifteenth century stood in the same relation to the prelates of the Church as the men of letters and philosophers of the eighteenth did to the nobility. They had the same opinions and manners, lived agreeably together, and gave themselves no uneasiness about the storms that were brewing round them. The prelates of the fifteenth century, and Cardinal Bembo among the rest, no more foresaw Luther and Calvin, than the courtiers of Louis XIV foresaw the French revolution. The analogy between the two cases is striking and instructive.
We observe, then, three great facts in the moral order of society at this period—on one hand, an ecclesiastical reform attempted by the Church itself; on another a popular, religious reform; and lastly, an intellectual revolution, which formed a school of free-thinkers; and all these transformations were prepared in the midst of the greatest political change that has ever taken place in Europe, in the midst of the process of the centralization of nations and governments.
But this is not all. The period in question was also one of the most remarkable for the display of physical activity among men. It was a period of voyages, travels, enterprises, discoveries, and inventions of every kind. It was the time of the great Portuguese expedition along the coast of Africa; of the discovery of the new passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope, by Vasco de Gama; of the discovery of America, by Christopher Columbus; of the wonderful extension of European commerce. A thousand new inventions started up; others already known, but confined within a narrow sphere, became popular and in general use. Gunpowder changed the system of war; the compass changed the system of navigation. Painting in oil was invented, and filled Europe with masterpieces of art. Engraving on copper, invented in 1406, multiplied and diffused them. Paper made of linen became common. Finally, between 1436 and 1452, was invented printing,—printing, the theme of so many declamations and common-places, but to whose merits and effect no common-places or declamations will ever be able to do justice.
From all this, some idea may be formed of the greatness and activity of the fifteenth century; a greatness which, at the time, was not very apparent; an activity of which the results did not immediately take place. Violent reforms seemed to fail; governments acquired stability. It might have been supposed that society was now about to enjoy the benefits of better order, and more rapid progress. The mighty revolutions of the sixteenth century were at hand; the fifteenth century prepared them.—They shall be the subject of the following lecture.
[* ] For the history of the period covered by this lecture, see Duruy’s Middle Ages, and special histories of the several countries.
[* ] The Hundred Years’ War (1336-1453) between France and England was a contest due (1) to rivalry over certain feudal possessions in France and Flanders, and (2) to the claim of the English king, Edward III (1327-1377), to the French throne. The first period (1336-1360), in which the English gained victories at Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), ended in the treaty of Bretigny, by which Edward obtained feudal possession of Aquitaine and a few other provinces, and gave up all claim to the French crown. In the second period (1360-1420) Aquitaine was overrun by the French, the war renewed by Henry V (1413-1422) of England, and the French humiliated through internal quarrels and English victories, notably Agincourt (1415). By the treaty of Troyes (1420) the crowns of the two countries were to be united on the head of the English king after the death of the reigning French sovereign (Charles VI). The war was renewed (third period, 1420-1453) because the French people refused to carry out the treaty, and on the death of Charles VI (1422) recognized his son, Charles VII, as king. The French, inspired by Jeanne d’Arc, finally drove out the English, who at the end of the war, in 1453, retained on the Continent only Calais.
[* ] Philip VI, the first king of the house of Valois, came to the throne in 1328. H.
[* ] The insanity of Charles VI, the dissensions among the nobility, and the success of the English in the Hundred Years’ War, were all contributory causes to this.
[* ] The general term taille, or tax, seems here appropriated to the particular tax made perpetual in the reign of Charles VII, who frequently levied money by his own authority. In general the kings did not claim the absolute prerogative of imposing taxes without the consent of the States-General; though they often in emergencies violently stretched their power. The taille was commonly assessed by respectable persons chosen by the advice of the parish priests—a privilege of importance to the tax-payers, who were allowed some voice in the repartition of the tax. This is, however, entirely distinct from that consent of the people to the tax which the theory of the French constitution made requisite. It is asserted that this perpetual taille was granted by the States-General in 1439, but this does not appear in the terms of any ordinance.
One thing is certain, that this tax, whether at first established with or without the concurrence of the States-General, was perpetual, and managed without any check upon the crown. The two acts of the reign of Charles VII, the establishment of a standing military force, and a perpetual tax for its support, were the great events of the period, and fatal to the liberties of France. There was henceforth but little check to the increasing power of the crown. The nobles lost their political influence; the people gained nothing. The precedent was improved by succeeding monarchs, until the absolute despotism of the crown was completely established.
The taille was a land tax, but, instead of falling uniformly on all lands, was levied only on land held by commoners.
[† ] The parliament of Grenoble was established in 1453; that of Dijon in 1479. The term parliament in French history denotes always a judicial and not a legislative body. For a long time there was but a single parliament, that of Paris, the organization of which was defined by Philip the Fair in 1302. The first division came when the provincial parliament at Toulouse was created in 1443. The other provincial parliaments are indicated above.
[* ] Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, was defeated and slain at Nancy (1477), and Burgundy was annexed to France, thus ending a long rivalry and contest.
[† ] For an excellent sketch of French history during the period of this chapter, see Duruy’s History of France, pages 148-283.
[* ] The Inquisition was an organization under authority of the Church for the detection, punishment, and suppression of heresy. The idea that it was a duty of the Church to ferret out and punish heresy had been common from the early days. The outburst of heretical ideas in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—for example, the Albigenses—occasioned a more definite organization of inquisitorial processes. The name was borrowed from the duties of certain civil officers of France touching taxation. A formal tribunal was created, and by papal authority it soon became the special function of the Dominicans to carry on the work. It found strongest foothold in Spain. There it had a political function in part, but only because the unorthodox in matters of religion—the Jews, the Moors, and, later, the Protestants—were also usually independent in their political thinking, and hence were regarded as a menace to the government.
[* ] The house of Hapsburg (Austria) occupied the throne of Austria and of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany from 1438 to 1740.
[† ] The Hundred Years’ War, 1336-1453; the Wars of the Roses, 1455-1485.
[* ] See page 380, note.
[* ] The same idea is recognized in the constitutions of all free republics. The treaty-making power, and the conduct of international and diplomatic business, are placed in the hands of the executive. The attempt of the people, or even of the legislature, to dictate or guide matters in this field generally produces confusion and international discord. When, however, the question of war and its expenses is involved, modern ideas demand that the people, or their representatives, should be consulted.
[* ] Allowance should be made for the fact that the parliament did not have full confidence in James, and that he did not give unqualified assent to their desire for war.
[* ] The quarrel between Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and Philip IV of France resulted in the election of a Frenchman as pope in 1305 (Clement V), who transferred the papal throne to Avignon (1309), where it was under the domination of the French king until 1376, when it was restored to Rome. During this period of “Babylonian captivity” the papacy lost authority with other nations, and even, at last, with some of the clergy. In 1378, upon the death of Gregory XI, a dispute arose between the French and the Italian cardinals over the election of his successor. Each party elected a pope, one of whom sat at Rome, the other at Avignon. Two popes, two capitals, and a divided Church were fatal to papal authority.
[* ] See page 273, note. This Pragmatic Sanction recognized the authority of general councils as superior to that of the pope, restored to churches and abbeys the right of electing their heads, forbade the payment of annates, and permitted the reception and publication in France of papal bulls only after the king’s approval.
[* ] The Concordat increased both papal and kingly power by placing the selection of bishops and abbots in the hands of the king, by giving the pope the annates or first year’s revenue of every ecclesiastical benefice within the king’s nomination. The principle that the pope was subordinate to the general council was given up.
[† ] The Jansenists and the Gallicans differed on points of theology, but were at one in opposing the claims of supremacy in the Church contended for and exercised by the pope.
[‡ ] These propositions, drawn up by Bossuet, were decreed by a convocation of the French clergy assembled by Louis XIV, in 1682, and are called the Quatuor Propositiones Cleri Gallicani. They declare that power and authority are given by God to the Vicar of Christ in spiritual, but not in temporal things; that this power is limited and restrained by the laws of the Church and general councils; and that the sentence of the pope is not unchangeable unless sanctioned by the Church Catholic; [and that the rules and usages received in France and in the Gallican Church shall remain unchangeable]. These decrees are the foundation of the independence of the Gallican Church. H.
[* ] The fundamental feature marking the views of Huss was the placing of the Scriptures above the ordinances and dogmas of the Church as a basis for theological opinion. This, carried to its logical conclusion, was necessarily a repudiation of the final authority of both Church and pope as interpreters of theological belief.
[* ] The influence of the revival of learning on the subsequent civilization of Europe is too important to be discussed in a few words. The fact that the lecturer at the outset limited himself to “the history of the exterior events of the visible and social world” is his excuse for not tracing the development of the human mind during these momentous centuries. The revival of classical study was but one phase of the Renaissance. It is possible to trace the development of the movement. The nature and various stages in the progress of the revival are seen in (1) the Arabian schools in Spain, (2) scholasticism, (3) the growth and spread of schools and universities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, (4) the rise of modern languages and literatures of Europe, (5) the humanists and the revival of classic learning, (6) the spread of Greek learning after the fall of Constantinople, (7) new scientific methods, (8) printing, and the spread of literature.
[* ] Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), Italian scholar and cardinal; loose in his life; princely in his method of living; a devotee of literature, and a writer of pure and classic taste. See Symonds, Renaissance in Italy, ii, page 409.