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MODERN FRENCH HISTORICAL WORKS 1826 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XX - Essays on French History and Historians 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XX - Essays on French History and Historians, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by John C. Cairns (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985).
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MODERN FRENCH HISTORICAL WORKS
Westminster Review, VI (July, 1826), 62-103. Headed: “Art. IV.—Histoire Physique, Civile, et Morale de Paris, depuis les premiers temps historiques jusqu’à nos jours: contenant par ordre chronologique, la description des accroissemens successifs de cette ville et de ses monumens anciens et modernes; la notice de toutes ses institutions, tant civiles que religieuses; et, à chaque période, le tableau des moeurs, des usages, et des progrès de la civilisation. Ornée de gravures représentant divers plans de Paris, ses monumens et ses édifices principaux [1821-25], Par J[acques] A[ntoine] Dulaure, de la Société Royale des Antiquaires de France. Seconde édition, considérablement augmentée en texte et en planches. 10 vols. 8vo. Paris [ Guillaume], 1823. / Histoire des Français. Par J[ean] C[harles] L[éonard] Simonde de Sismondi Les neuf premiers volumes. [Ultimately 31 vols.] 8vo. Paris [. Treuttel and Würtz], 1821, 1823, 1826.” Running titles. “Modern French Historical Works— / Age of Chivalry.” Unsigned Not republished Identified in Mill’s bibliography as “A review of Dulaure’s History of Paris and Sismondi’s History of France. In the 11th number of the Westminster Review” (MacMinn, 7). There is no separate copy of this essay in Mill’s library, Somerville College.
For comment on the article, see xxxiii-xxxvii and xcv above.
Modern French Historical Works
though we have not, like so many of our contemporaries, made it our grand occupation, to impress our countrymen with a deep sense of their own wisdom and virtue, and to teach them how proud they ought to be of every thing English, more especially of every thing that is English and bad; we are far from being unconscious how much they have really to be proud of, and in how many respects they might be taken as models by all the nations of the world. If we saw them in any danger of forgetting their own merits, we too might preach them a sermon on that hacknied text. But it is not their failing to underrate themselves, or to overrate other nations. They are more in need of monitors than of adulators; and we cannot but think that it may be of some use to them to know, that if there are some points in which they are superior to their neighbours, there are others in which they are inferior; that they may learn something from other nations, as well as other nations from them.
While the Quarterly Review is labouring to convince us that we are a century and a half in advance of our nearest continental neighbours,[*] it is impossible to shut our eyes to the fact, that those neighbours are at present making a much greater figure in the world of literature than ourselves. This is something quite new in the history of the two countries; it certainly was not the case before the French revolution; but it undoubtedly is the case now. While our littérateurs, with the usual fate of those who aim at nothing but the merely ornamental, fail of attaining even that; an entirely new class of writers has arisen in France, altogether free from that frivolousness which characterized French literature under the ancien régime, and which characterizes the literature of every country where there is an aristocracy. They write as if they were conscious that the reader expects something more valuable from them than mere amusement. Though many of them are highly gifted with the beauties of style, they never seem desirous of shewing off their own eloquence; they seem to write because they have something to say, and not because they desire to say something. In philosophy, they do not sacrifice truth to rhetoric; in history they do not sacrifice truth to romance. This change in the character of French literature is most of all remarkable in their historical compositions. The historians of ci-devant France were justly charged with despising facts, and considering, not what was true, but what would give scenic interest to their narrative; the French historians of the present day are distinguished by almost German research, and by a scrupulousness in producing vouchers for their minutest details, which forbids the idea of their having any thing in view but truth.
In the last five years France has produced many historical works of great importance; more than were ever produced by one nation within the same space of time. Some of these have been already mentioned in this journal;[*] others we may perhaps take a future opportunity of making known to our readers. At the present moment, two of the most important lie before us; and we have derived so much instruction as well as gratification from their perusal, that we purpose giving in the present article some account of their contents.
M. Dulaure has named his work a history of Paris: the title is less attractive than the book. It is a history of Paris, even in the ordinary sense; but if it had been no more, we should have left it to antiquaries, and to the amateurs of steeples, columns, and old tomb-stones. M. Dulaure’s work, as a topographical history, is admirable; but it has other and far greater merits. Our histories of London are histories of buildings,[†] but his subject is men. His history of Paris is a chapter of the history of mankind. After describing the city of Paris as it existed at each period of its history, he does what is not often done by antiquaries, he condescends to bestow some attention upon the inhabitants. This part of his book, which, we are happy to observe, has been detached from the rest, and printed as a separate work in two octavo volumes, is not so much a history of Paris, as a history of civilization in France; which is, to a great degree, the history of civilization in Europe. In it we may read how men were governed, and how they lived and behaved, in the good old times; subjects on which little is said in the vulgar histories, and that little is but little to be relied upon. M. Dulaure has one merit, which is not a common one with historians: he pays great regard to facts, and little to assertions. He has not been satisfied with taking upon trust from one author, what he had already taken upon trust from another. His work is not a mere register of the opinions of his predecessors, predecessors who did but register the opinions of their contemporaries. His ideas, such as they are, are his own.
M. de Sismondi is already known to the public as a historian. His History of France, though it has not done every thing which a history of France might have done, may be pronounced worthy of his reputation; and, when completed, will supply an important desideratum in literature. Indeed, when it is considered in what spirit, and with what objects, all former histories of France had been written, it is matter of congratulation that they were as dull in manner as they were dishonest in their purpose, and deceptious in their tendency; and that the sphere of their mischievousness was considerably narrowed, by the happy impossibility of reading them. We have in our own history a standing example how deep a root party lies may take in the public mind, when a writer, in whom the arts of the most consummate advocate are combined with all the graces of style, employs his skill in giving them the colour of truth.[*] It is most fortunate, therefore, that the first readable history of France should be the production of a writer who is of no party, except that of human nature; who has no purpose to serve except that of truth, and whose only bias is towards the happiness of mankind. The chief defect of M. de Sismondi’s work, considered as a popular history, is the prolixity of the three first volumes; a space which, we should think, might have been better occupied than in relating how one dull, uninteresting battle or murder was succeeded by another exactly similar, in the reigns of the rois fainéans, or of the grandsons of Louis the Debonair. M. de Sismondi, perhaps, may urge in his defence, that his object was, to give a practical feeling of the state of society which he was describing: that, dull as these incidents are, their incessant recurrence was the sole characteristic of the period; a period the most distracted and miserable which is recorded in history: that to have merely related a battle and a murder or two, as a specimen of the rest, would have made but a feeble impression; and that it was necessary to convince the reader by tedious experience, that the history of the times consisted of nothing else. How far this apology might avail M. de Sismondi with ordinary readers, we do not consider ourselves perfectly qualified to judge: for ourselves, we think that our incredulity would have yielded to a less ponderous argument than three mortal volumes. It is but just to state, that these volumes do give, in a high degree, that practical feeling of the times, which they are apparently designed to convey, and that the reader who will have patience to go through them (for without reading them he will not fully understand the history of the subsequent period), will be amply repaid by the never-flagging interest which is kept up throughout the other six volumes.
All that is published of M. de Sismondi’s work, and the more novel and interesting part of M. Dulaure’s, relate to the middle ages; and to that period we shall, in the present article, confine our remarks; reserving the privilege of making ample use, on future occasions, of the important information which M. Dulaure has furnished relative to the later period of the French monarchy. Our purpose at present is, to do something towards forming, if possible, a correct estimate of what is called the age of chivalry. Hitherto, in this country especially, we have judged of that age from two or three of the facts, and no more: and even of those we have looked only at one side. The works before us are almost the first, in which any pains have really been taken to discover the truth with regard to the age of chivalry. In these, however, an ample stock of facts has been collected, and the subject is now ripe for a deliberate examination. All these facts lead but to one conclusion; and that conclusion is so directly at variance with the conceptions ordinarily entertained respecting the age of chivalry, that the very enunciation of it will be startling to the majority of readers; and it will not be embraced upon any evidence not absolutely irresistible. We are persuaded, however, that the more narrowly the records of the period are looked into, and the more accurately its real history becomes known, the more strictly conformable this conclusion will appear to historical truth.
The conclusion is, that the compound of noble qualities, called the spirit of chivalry (a rare combination in all ages) was almost unknown in the age of chivalry; that the age so called was equally distinguished by moral depravity and by physical wretchedness; that there is no class of society at this day in any civilized country, which has not a greater share of what are called the knightly virtues, than the knights themselves; that, far from civilizing and refining the rest of the world, it was not till very late, and with great difficulty, that the rest of the world could succeed in civilizing them.
If this conclusion be true, it must be obvious that there is not in all history a truth of greater importance. There is scarcely any portion of history the misapprehension of which has done more to rivet the most mischievous errors in the public mind. The age of chivalry was the age of aristocracy, in its most gigantic strength and wide-extending sway; and the illusions of chivalry are to this hour the great stronghold of aristocratic prejudices. All that is aristocratic in European institutions comes to us from those times. In those times lived our ancestors, whose wisdom and virtue are found so eminently serviceable in bearing down any attempt to improve the condition of their descendants. All those whose great grandfathers had names, and who think it more honourable (as it certainly is less troublesome) to have had brave and virtuous ancestors, than to be brave and virtuous themselves; all those who, loving darkness better than light, would have it thought that men have declined in morality in proportion as they have advanced in intelligence; all, in short, whose interest or taste leads them to side with the few in opposition to the many, are interested in upholding the character of the age of chivalry. “On nous a dit,” says M. de Sismondi,
que la plus basse superstition, que l’ignorance et la brutalité des manières, que l’asservissement des basses classes, que l’anéantissement de toute justice, de tout frein salutaire pour les plus hautes, n’avaient point empêché cet héroïsme universel que nous avons nommé la chevalerie, et qui n’exista jamais que dans des fictions brillantes. Plutôt que de perdre cette douce illusion, et de détruire ce monde poétique, ferons-nous violence à l’histoire, et nous refuserons-nous à voir qu’un semblable état social n’a jamais produit que l’intolérable souffrance et l’avilissement de la féodalité?*
Before we proceed to indicate, for we can but indicate, the evidence of the important proposition which is the grand result both of M. Dulaure’s and of M. de Sismondi’s work, we think it proper to exhibit a specimen of what may be termed a mild, candid, and well-bred mode of dealing with unwelcome assertions; for we are not, as yet, entitled to call them truths. It always gives us pleasure to meet with these virtues in a controversialist; and the serviles in France, to do them justice, seem nowise inferior to their English brethren in these points. No sooner did M. Dulaure’s work make its appearance than the hue and cry was raised against it. The sort of arguments, with which the book and its author were assailed, are nearly decisive of the great merit of both. Invective in general, and imputation of enmity to religion, royalty, and his country, in particular, these, together with defamation of his private character, are the reply which has been made to M. Dulaure’s work.†
We own that we are in general predisposed in favour of a man whom we hear accused by a certain class of politicians of being an enemy to his country. We at once conclude, that he has either actually rendered, or shown himself disposed to render, some signal service to his country. We conclude, either that he has had discernment to see, and courage to point out, something in his own that stands in need of amendment, or something in another country which it would be for the advantage of his own to imitate; or that he has loved his country well enough to wish it free from that greatest of misfortunes, the misfortune of being successful in an unjust cause; or (which is the particular crime of M. Dulaure), that he has given his countrymen to know, that they once had vices or follies which they have since corrected, or (what is worse still), which they have yet to correct. Whoever is guilty of any one of these crimes in this country, is a fortunate man if he escapes being accused of un-English feelings. This is the epithet which we observe to be appropriated to those, whose wish is that their country should deserve to be thought well of. The man of English feelings is the man whose wish is, that his country should be thought well of; and, above all, should think well of itself, particularly in those points wherein it deserves the least. The modern English version of the maxim Spartam nactus es, hanc exorna,[*] may be given thus—England is your country, be sure to praise it lustily. This sort of patriotism is, it would appear, no less in request with certain persons in France, than with the corresponding description of persons in England. Accordingly, M. Dulaure’s bold exposure of the vices and follies of his countrymen in the olden time, has been thought by many persons extremely un-French. But he shall speak for himself.
L’histoire, quoique très-instructive, lorsqu’elle est écrite avec une sévère fidélité, a des parties qui peuvent paraître désolantes aux lecteurs peu familiarisés avec ses tableaux austères; aux lecteurs habitués au régime des panégyriques et des complimens; aux lecteurs pénétrés d’un aveugle respect pour les temps passés et pour les personnes revétues de la puissance; aux lecteurs trompés par des historiens qui, dans la crainte des persécutions, ou dans l’espoir des récompenses, ont altéré les traits les plus caractéristiques des personnages historiques.
Si l’on présente à ces lecteurs mal disposés des vérités qui leur sont inconnues, des vérités contraires à leurs préventions, à leurs idées reçues, ils s’irritent contr’elles, ne pouvant les vérifier, ils les révoquent en doute, ou accusent l’auteur d’être inexact, même infidèle. C’est ce qu’ils ont fait pour mon Histoire de Paris.
On m’a, en conséquence de ces préventions, adressé plusieurs reproches, et surtout celui d’avoir écrit en ennemi de la France. Je n’ai écrit qu’en ennemi de la barbarie, qu’en ennemi des erreurs et des crimes qui l’accompagnent. J’aime beaucoup mon pays, mais j’aime autant la vérité. [And wherefore should he love truth, but for the sake of his country?]
On m’a encore accusé d’avoir de préférence cité les crimes, et passé sous silence les actes de vertu. Ignore-t-on que, dans les temps malheureux dont j’ai décrit les moeurs, les vices étaient la règle générale, et les actes de vertu les exceptions.
Je devais abondamment décrire le mal, puisque le mal abondait; mais je n’ai pas négligé le peu de bien que les monumens historiques m’ont fourni. . . . Qu’on me cite une action, justement célèbre, justement louable, et non étrangère à mon sujet, que je n’aie mentionnée honorablement?
On s’est permis de dire que la publication de mon Histoire de Paris était un scandale sans exemple. Ce reproche, qui doit s’adresser plutôt aux personnages historiques qu’à l’historien, prouve que celui qui me l’adresse n’a lu ni Tacite, ni Suétone, ni les monumens de notre histoire, ni Grégoire de Tours, ni nos annales, ni nos chroniques, ni les écrits de l’abbé Suger, ni des milliers de pièces où les actions scandaleuses se reproduisent à chaque page. Il n’a pas lu non plus les Homélies du pape saint Grégoire-le-Grand, qui dit. Si du récit d’un fait véritable il résulte du scandale, il vaut mieux laisser naitre le scandale que de renoncer à la vérité.[*]
Je pourrais ramener les lecteurs de bonne foi; je ne réussirais jamais à persuader ceux qui ont pris le parti de se refuser à l’évidence.*
The countryman who, being present at a dispute in Latin, discovered which of the disputants was in the wrong, by taking notice which of them it was who lost his temper, would have had little difficulty in deciding between M. Dulaure and his ultra antagonists.
The tone of fearless honesty in the above passage, and the beautiful simplicity of its style, are maintained throughout the work, and may serve, once for all, as a specimen of its general character. Our whole remaining space will be far from sufficient to do justice to the more important subject of this article.
We premise, that whatever we may say against the age of chivalry, is or is not to be applied to chivalry itself, according to the ideas which the reader may attach to the term. If by chivalry be meant the feelings, habits or actions of an ordinary chevalier, we shall easily shew it to have been not admirable, but detestable. But if by chivalry be meant those virtues, which formed part of the ideal character of a perfect knight, it would be absurd to deny its beneficial tendency, or to doubt that the estimation in which those virtues were held contributed to render them more prevalent than they otherwise would have been, and by that means to elevate the moral condition of man. We propose only to inquire, to what extent any such virtues really were prevalent during the age of chivalry.
A few introductory observations on the feudal system (and on so hacknied a subject we promise that they shall be few) are an indispensable introduction to a view of that state of society of which the feudal system formed so important a feature.
It is now acknowledged, and therefore needs not here be proved, that the feudal system was not the work of contrivance, of skill devising means for the attainment of an end, but arose gradually, and, as it were, spontaneously, out of the pre-existing circumstances of society; and that the notion of its having been introduced into the countries of western Europe by their Gothic and Teutonic conquerors is wholly erroneous. It is now known that those barbarians were very like any other barbarians; and that without any refined notions of feudal or any other sort of polity, they spread themselves over the land and appropriated it. Their kings, like all other kings, had exactly as much power as they could get; that is to say, in a rude nation, more or less according to circumstances. Originally they enjoyed, during good behaviour, a considerable share of voluntary obedience, but had little power of enforcing any obedience which was not voluntary. They became powerful sovereigns, however, when the followers of a single chief, scattered in small parties over a large country, acquired the habit of looking to the king and not to their countrymen in a body, for protection in case of need.
The vigorous monarchs of the second race, from Pépin d’Héristal to Charlemagne, at first under the title of Maires du Palais, afterwards under that of kings, extended the Frankish empire over Germany, Italy, and a great part of Spain, as well as over Belgium and France. The military talents of these sovereigns, and the accession of power which they derived from their vast territorial acquisitions, put a finishing hand to the change which had been going on from the time of Clovis downwards, and the government of Charlemagne may be considered a despotic monarchy. As such, it shared the fate of other despotisms. After a few generations, the sceptre fell into the hands of princes entirely destitute of spirit and ability; the reins of government became relaxed; the power of the state became unequal to the protection of its subjects; disorder at first insensibly crept in, but soon advanced with gigantic strides; and the empire, which had spread itself from one end of Europe to the other, became incapable of opposing effectual resistance to the most contemptible aggressor.
In the despotic governments of Asia, this series of events has always been, from the beginning of history, of periodical recurrence. A Pepin founds a great empire, a Charlemagne consolidates it, which it then becomes the occupation of a series of Lothaires to lose. By the time it has reached the condition of Germany and France in the third and fourth generations of the descendants of Charlemagne, internal revolt or foreign invasion subverts the old dynasty, and establishes a new one; which, after a time, degenerates, and is in its turn displaced. Events took another turn among the conquerors of Europe. They had as yet no standing armies; the nurseries of that class of military adventurers who have always so much abounded in Asia, the materials and instruments of revolutions. Nor was a Genghis or a Timour found among the pirates of the north. The enemies whom Europe had to dread were a race who sought, not conquest, but plunder. The Danes or Normans, repelled from our own country by the vigour of Alfred, fell with redoubled fury upon France, and reduced its northern provinces almost to the condition of a desert. The government, which had, by this time, fallen into the last stage of decrepitude, could still less protect its subjects against these invaders, than it could protect them against one another.
A state of anarchy has this advantage over a despotism, that it invariably works its own cure. When the monarch could no longer protect his subjects, they were forced to protect themselves. Protect themselves they could not, except by combination: and they therefore combined. Where all were left to their own resources, it of course happened, that some had resources, and some had not. Those who had, were able to command assistance, and could therefore protect themselves: those who had not, were reduced to seek protection from others. The monarch, to whom they had been accustomed to look for protection, being no longer capable of affording it, their next recourse was to their strongest neighbour. Land was at that time the only source of wealth; the great landholder alone had the means of fortifying a castle, and maintaining a sufficient number of warriors to defend it. To him, therefore, all his neighbours, and among the rest the smaller landholders, had recourse. To induce the superior to extend his protection over their land and its produce, they had no return to offer except their aid in defending his. Here we see the principle of the feudal system. The forms of that system arose gradually; we have not room to show how.
The combination, which to its weaker members had been intended only as a means of defence, gave to its stronger head an accession of strength for purposes of attack. The weaker communities or principalities had often to sustain aggressions from the stronger; which they sometimes found themselves able to resist, and sometimes not. In the latter case, the same motives which had induced individuals to place themselves under the protection of a combination, induced the head of that combination, when in his turn attacked, to place himself under the protection of the head of a stronger combination than his own. And thus arose by degrees the great feudal principalities which we hear of for the first time during the decline of the Carlovingian race, and some of which were large and powerful kingdoms, when the authority of the feeble descendant of Charlemagne did not extend beyond the city of Laon and its vicinity.
In England, during the reign of Edward the Confessor, the formation of the feudal system had already proceeded thus far. Godwin Earl of Wessex, Leofric Earl of Mercia, Siward Earl of Northumberland, and others, were virtually independent princes, any one of them capable of coping single-handed with the acknowledged monarch of their common country. It has been supposed that the feudal system was introduced into England at the Conquest. But this is only so far true, that the great lords had not, until that epoch, become the vassals of the crown. In France and Germany, this last step in the formation of the feudal system was taken at a much earlier date; but in what manner, and when, is left, like every thing that is valuable in the history of that remote period, to inference and conjecture. It appears probable that the chiefs who, under the name of dukes and counts, had already exercised, by the king’s appointment, a delegated authority in the municipal towns, and who, in the decline of the royal power, had gradually withdrawn themselves from subjection, became the heads of all the greater combinations: or perhaps that the heads of those combinations found it convenient to obtain, from the petty prince who was still called king of France, a nominal delegation of his nominal authority, to facilitate the establishment of their ascendancy over the fortified towns; for an expiring authority always lingers in the towns for some time after it has lost all footing in the country. The transition was easy (when feudal ideas gained vigour) from this relation to the scarcely less nominal one of lord and vassal; for the paramountcy of the king was for many years almost a nominal privilege.
Thus arose the feudal system: of the workings of which we shall now attempt a rapid sketch. Our examples and proofs will be drawn chiefly from France. This, to an English reader, requires explanation. Our reasons for not selecting our own country as the theatre on which to exhibit feudality and its train of effects, are these:—In the first place, no one has yet been found to perform for England the service which has been performed by M. Dulaure for his own country; the toilsome and thankless service of dragging into light the vices and crimes of former days: and, secondly, the feudal system never existed in its original purity, in England. The kings of England enjoyed, from the Conquest downwards, a degree of power which the kings of continental Europe did not acquire till many generations later. There were no Godwins and Leofrics after the Conquest. The lands having come into the possession of the followers of the Conqueror at different times, as they were successively forfeited by their Saxon proprietors, all the various territorial acquisitions of a great baron were rarely situated in one part of the island, he was never strong enough in any one of his fiefs to establish his independence in that one, while the attempt, even if successful, would have involved the forfeiture of the rest. The king, therefore, was always stronger than any one, or any two or three, of his vassals. They could resist him only when combined. It is difficult to say how much of our present liberty we may not owe to this fortunate vigour of the royal authority, which compelled the barons to have recourse to parliaments, as the single means of effectual opposition to the encroachments of the king. This comparative strength of the general government of the country mitigated many of the worst evils of the feudal system. Great crimes could not be committed with the same impunity in England as in France. Private wars never prevailed to the same extent: it being the interest of the king to make himself the arbiter of all disputes, and his power being in general sufficient to enforce obedience. It was only in times of acknowledged civil war, such as the calamitous period which followed the usurpation of Stephen, that England was subject to those evils from which France never was free.
In Germany, on the other hand, the principal feudatories not only made themselves independent, but remained so. It is in France that we must contemplate the feudal system, if we wish to observe it in both its stages; the feudal aristocracy and the feudal monarchy; the period in which the great vassals were independent princes, and the period in which they were subjects. Each of these periods had its peculiar characteristics: we will begin with the first.
In the year 987, Hugh Capet, one of the chiefs who at that time shared France among them, usurped the throne. We have already stated the narrow limits, within which the possessions of the descendant of Charlemagne were at that time confined. Hugh Capet therefore acquired, as king of France, little territory beyond what he had previously held as count of Paris; a domain greatly inferior to that of the dukes of Burgundy or Normandy, or the counts of Flanders or Poitiers. It extended, in length, from Laon to Orleans, in breadth from Montereau to Pontoise. He and his immediate successors, being princes of no talent, instead of enlarging their territory or extending their influence, allowed what power they had to slip out of their hands; and, in the reign of Philip, third in descent from Hugh Capet, we find their authority bounded by the walls of five towns, Paris, Orleans, Etampes, Melun, and Compiègne.
The combinations which gave birth to the feudal system had, to a certain extent, answered their end. They afforded considerable protection against foreign, and some degree of protection against internal, assailants. The seed was put into the ground with some chance that he who sowed would be enabled to reap: and, from this time, progression in wealth and civilization recommenced. But, though some security to person and property is absolutely necessary to enable wealth to accumulate at all, the feudal system is a decisive experiment how small a portion of security will suffice.
Three classes composed, at this early period, the population of a feudal kingdom: the serfs who produced food, the nobles, or military caste, who consumed it, and a class of freemen who were neither nobles nor serfs: but this class, among the laity at least, soon terminated its short-lived existence. A class of freemen it can scarcely be called. Their freedom, the sort of freedom which they enjoyed, excluded them from protection, without exempting them from tyranny. The slave was at least secure from the oppressions of all masters but his own; the freeman was, like uninclosed land, the common property of all. We learn from the capitularies, or ordinances, of the Carlovingian race, that the ingenui, or free-born, were frequently forced to perform menial offices in the houses of the seigneurs: if poor, they were compelled to follow the nobles to the wars; if rich, they were amerced in an amount exceeding their property.* They were thus driven to seek subsistence and comparative security by becoming the slaves of their oppressors. As for the serfs, they were, literally, in the condition of domestic cattle; their master considered them as such, and treated them in the same manner, or rather, much more cruelly, because he feared them more. They were liable, at his will, to the infliction of any amount of stripes; to the loss of their ears, eyes, nose, feet, or hands, and, finally, of their lives. Power absolutely unchecked, in the hands of such men as the feudal chieftains, men utterly unaccustomed to control any impulse of passion, had its customary effect. We are informed that a hundred and fifty lashes were a frequent punishment for the most trivial fault.*
In order to form some further conception of this state of society, we have to imagine a perpetual civil war: war, not between two great divisions of the nation, which might rage in one district, leaving the others in tranquillity, but between every landed proprietor and his next neighbour.
That the knights of old were very easily affronted, is acknowledged by their panegyrists themselves. Even in these days, when that salutary instrument of moral discipline, the gallows, renders the consequences of an affront offered to an irascible neighbour somewhat less serious than formerly, we are not wont to regard irascible characters with much veneration or esteem. But we invest the irascible characters of former days with all the courage of a captain of dragoons, and so delighted are we with our own romantic conceptions, that we are ready to fall down and worship their imaginary original. When a knight was insulted, or thought fit to consider himself so, our notion is, that with scrupulous regard to all the niceties of modern honour, he sent his squire with a defiance to his enemy, challenging him to single combat. Possibly some knights might have been found who were thus punctilious; but the generality of them had a much less refined notion of the point of honour. Assassination, indeed, though horribly frequent, was but the exception, not the rule; or society must have ceased to exist. It was the labourers, and other cattle, on the offender’s estate, who in general paid the penalty of their master’s offence. The insulted party sallied out of his castle, and without any previous notice, proceeded to devastate the lands of his enemy; destroying the crops, burning the habitations, and carrying away both the species of live stock above spoken of. This done, he made haste to seek shelter in his castle, before his enemy had time to call together his vassals and pursue him. The other party, if he did not succeed in overtaking the plunderers, retaliated by entering upon the domain of the aggressor, and doing all the mischief he could. If they met, a battle took place; and woe to the vanquished! If unfortunate enough to be taken prisoner, he was subjected to the most excruciating torments, until forced to comply with whatever demands the victor’s rapacity might dictate. Catasta was the name of the most usual instrument of torture. The prisoner, being placed on an iron cage, or chained down upon an iron bed, was exposed, in that situation, to fire. One of M. Dulaure’s anecdotes will serve for illustration. Theobald V, Count of Chartres and Blois, a contemporary of our Henry II, and one of the most powerful feudatories north of the Loire, was engaged in hostilities with Sulpice, Seigneur of Amboise. His enemy fell into his hands, was put in irons, and exposed every day to the catasta. In vain did he offer large sums by way of ransom; the rapacity of the conqueror would be satisfied with nothing less than the possession of the town and castle of Chaumont. The required concession was at length extorted from the agonized captive: but his vassals still held the place, and refused to surrender it. His life speedily fell a sacrifice to this horrible torture.*
The celebrated anecdote of King John and the Jew’s teeth,[*] as it has, besides the cruelty, something whimsical in it, fixes itself in the memory; and is perpetually quoted as an extraordinary instance of the cruel treatment to which the Jews were subject in that reign. Yet what is this, compared to what we here see practised by one seigneur upon another? Judge what must have been the treatment of the mere knight, and still more that of the burgess and the slave.
The fortresses, in which the terrified cultivators took refuge, were generally strong enough to defy any means of attack which the art of war at that time afforded. But the strongest castle might be taken by treachery or surprise, and, on these occasions, men, women and children were cut to pieces. This, indeed, was in a manner the law of war. On the storming of a place, it was the ordinary course of events. We hear much of the horrible butcheries which were practised in the wars of religion, on the storming of a town. We imagine, few are aware that these butcheries were neither new nor extraordinary; that they were no more than what the barons practised in their most ordinary wars, both foreign and domestic, when they had not even the imaginary dictates of their horrible superstition to plead in excuse.
It was an easy transition from these exploits to highway robbery. This practice, we are accordingly informed, was universal among the poorer nobility. Any honest employment would have been disgraceful: they wanted money, if they had cities to pillage, it was well; if not, they pillaged travellers. An Indian Brahmin, when his profession fails him, is at liberty to engage in the occupations of that caste which is next in rank to his own: on a similar principle, the greatest chieftains of France, princes of the blood, and even kings themselves, when they could no longer support themselves by their respective vocations of governing and fighting, betook themselves to the profession of a highwayman as the next in dignity. Eudes I, Duke of Burgundy; another Eudes, brother to King Henry I; Philip, a son of King Philip I, and that monarch himself, are numbered among the high-born predecessors of Cartouche and Turpin. What was to them only an occasional resource, was to an inferior class of nobles their daily bread. Sometimes they sallied out, and waylaid pedlars on the highway, or pilgrims journeying with valuables to some sacred place: at other times they seized the peasants in the public market, stripped them of what they had, and detained them prisoners, or put them to the torture, to extort the disclosure of hidden treasure.
When Louis VI, surnamed le Gros, the fourth descendant of Hugh Capet who filled the throne, and the first who was worthy of it, arrived at the age of manhood, the royal authority was at the lowest ebb. For many years of his life, he found full occupation in reducing his immediate subjects, the petty landholders of the royal domain, to a moderate degree of obedience. A description of the state in which he found that portion of France, may serve as a specimen of what must have been the condition of the remainder.
The rural counts, viscounts, and barons, who held immediately of the king, in the duchy of France, had availed themselves of Philip’s weakness to shake off his authority altogether, in the castles in which they had fortified themselves. From these castles they sallied forth and fell upon the travellers and traders (marchands) who passed within reach of their retreat, unless the latter consented to redeem themselves with a high ransom, they equally abused their strength against the monasteries, and against all the ecclesiastical lords. Sometimes they went and lodged with them, together with their squires, their soldiers, their horses, and their dogs, and required that the religious establishment whose forced hospitality they were enjoying, should defray the expense of their maintenance for months; sometimes they levied contributions in money or in kind, upon the peasants of the bishops or monks, as a compensation for the protection which these warriors promised to extend towards them. The barons, in particular, who were vassals of any ecclesiastical body, seemed to think that their vassalage itself gave them a title to the spoil of their clerical superiors.*
Louis, who was not only king of France, but the immediate feudal superior of these freebooters, found himself not only no match for their united strength, but scarcely able to cope with the lord of a castle single-handed. He prudently limited his first undertakings to the protection of the monasteries against the extortions of the nobility. By this means he obtained the sanction of the church, and the co-operation of the abbey troops, by whose aid he repressed the disorders of the principal Châtelains, and brought most of them into comparative subjection to his authority.
The names and designations of some of these worthies have been preserved to us. Hugh de Pompone, Seigneur of Crécy, and Châtelain of Gournay, infested with his depredations, not only the highway, but the river Marne, stopping passengers by land and water, and levying contributions. When attacked by Louis, this bandit was defended by his father, Guy, Count of Rochefort, and by Theobald, Count of Champagne. The fortress of Montlhéri, the patrimony and residence of a branch of the Montmorency family, was the retreat of a band of robbers, who desolated the whole country from Corbeil to Châteaufort, and interrupted all communication between Paris and Orleans. Hugh, Seigneur of Puiset, a place situated not far from the road which connects Chartres with Orleans, plundered travellers to the very gates of Chartres. Louis reduced his castle, and retained him for some time in confinement; but on his succeeding, by the death of an uncle, to the county of Corbeil, the relinquishment of this inheritance in favour of Louis was the price of his release. This lesson produced no change in his habits of life. No sooner was Louis occupied in another quarter, than he rebuilt, in violation of an express engagement, the fortifications of Puiset, seized the king’s peasants in the public market-place, and extorted sums of money by way of ransom.
But these were vulgar trespasses, hardly worthy of mention. It was reserved for Thomas de Marne, a baron of Picardy, to exemplify in its perfection the true greatness of villainy. “This seigneur,” says the abbot of Nogent.[*] quoted by M. de Sismondi,
had, from his earliest youth, continually augmented his riches by the pillage of travellers and pilgrims, and extended his domain by incestuous marriages with rich heiresses, his relations. His cruelty was so unheard-of, that even butchers, who nevertheless pass for unfeeling, are more sparing of the sufferings of the cattle which they are slaying, than he was of the sufferings of men for he was not contented with punishing them by the sword, for determinate faults, as people are accustomed to do, he racked them by the most horrible tortures. When he wished to extort a ransom from his captives, he hung them up by some delicate part of the body; or laid them upon the ground, and, covering them with stones, walked over them; beating them at the same time, until they promised all that he required, or perished under the operation.*
It was not until the twenty-second year of his reign, that Louis could subjugate this demon in human form. For eighteen years at least of this long interval, he continued his execrable mode of life; and might have continued it longer, had he not, when besieged in his castle of Coucy, been mortally wounded and taken prisoner in a sortie. “The king,” says M. de Sismondi, “tried to induce him, in his last moments, to release the traders whom he had kidnapped on the highway; whom he kept in prison to extort a ransom, or tortured for his amusement: but even in the agonies of death Coucy refused all mercy, and seemed to regret the loss of dominion over his prisoners, much more than the termination of life.”[†] Thus perished Thomas de Marne. But his eldest son Enguerrand de Coucy trod faithfully in his steps; and succeeded in making head against the whole power of the king. After being vainly besieged in the castle of la Fère, he was taken into favour, and received in marriage a princess of the blood royal.
In 1109, says M. Dulaure, one of those horrible occurrences, so frequent in the annals of feudality, took place at the castle of la Roche-Guyon on the Seine. The lord of this castle, Guy de la Roche-Guyon, is praised by contemporary writers for renouncing the practices of his father and grandfather: “Il était enclin à se conduire en homme probe et honnête, et s’abstenait de pillage et de vol: ‘Peut-être,’ adds one author, ‘se serait-il laissé aller aux habitudes de ses pères, s’il eût plus longuement vécu.’ ”† This chief, whom the chronicler supposes to have died just in time to save his virtue, was assassinated by Guillaume his brother-in-law, who, with the aid of several knights, laid an ambuscade in the chapel of the castle, and murdered Guy, his wife and children, and every other human being in the place. Had this been all, he might have retained the castle to the end of his natural life: but he was suspected by the neighbouring barons of being in an understanding with the English. They resolved to dislodge him. Being besieged in the castle, he opened the gates, stipulating for his life and liberty. It seems that some of the besiegers were not parties to the capitulation. Guillaume was massacred, together with the rest of the besieged: we are not told whether by those who had not engaged for his safety, or by those who had.
In this state was the royal domain, under the fifth of the Capets. But enough of causes; it is time to look at effects. Of the seventy-three years which composed the reigns of Hugh Capet, his son, and grandson, forty-eight were years of famine; being two out of three. Of these famines, pestilence was almost a uniform, cannibalism a frequent, accompaniment.* So much for the feudal system, and the perpetual civil war which was its consequence. In the long reign of Charlemagne we hear only of two famines; and even under the feeble Louis le Débonnaire, whose reign was disgraced by so many rebellions, there is only mention of one.† So much more destructive of security was feudal order, than what elsewhere goes by the name of civil war; and so endurable a thing is even despotism, compared with “liberty,” when all the liberty is for a few barons, and the mass of the people are slaves.
In this country, it has been the interest of the powerful, that the abominations of the clergy in the middle ages should be known; and accordingly they are known. But it has not been the interest of the powerful in this country, that the abominations of the barons should be known; and consequently they are not simply unknown, but their authors are believed to have been patterns of the noblest virtues. The clergy were, in reality, by many degrees the less wicked of the two. They at all times administered better justice to their vassals, than the military chiefs; they at all times discouraged depredations and private wars. True it is, that in their eyes these were secondary offences; it was not for such crimes that interdicts and excommunications were sent forth: these were reserved for the man who married his fourth cousin, or who presumed to summon an ecclesiastic before a secular court. Robbery and murder were not, it is true, sins of so black a dye as the foregoing; they were sins, however, and, as such, were condemned. To the exertions of the clergy was owing the truce of God, one of the most curious traits in the character of the times. In a council composed of laymen and ecclesiastics, held in the diocese of Perpignan, it was resolved that three days and two nights in each week should be allowed to the nobles, to fight, burn, and plunder, under certain restrictions; by which concession it was hoped to induce them to suspend those recreations during the remainder of the week. This attempt to compromise with the vices of the times, was not, we are told, at first, altogether unsuccessful. But the compact was not adopted in all the districts of France, nor even in the royal domain; and as there existed no means of enforcing its observance, it fell every where into desuetude. It being thought that the time allowed for pillage was possibly not quite long enough, it was enlarged to four days and three nights, and at length to nearly six days and five nights; but the shortest intermission of mutual devastation was more than could be endured.*
During the succeeding reigns, the power of the crown was gradually on the increase, and that of the great feudatories on the wane. Many of the most powerful fiefs became, by marriage or otherwise, integral parts of the English or French monarchies. The expulsion of the English from the north of France, by Philip Augustus, added their possessions to the royal domain; and the enfranchisement of the large towns, which uniformly allied themselves with the king against their old masters, enabled him to break the power of the feudal aristocracy. While this great change in the frame of society was going on, no improvement took place in the moral habits of the nobility. They continued to rob on the highway, and to quarrel and fight with one another, as before. Nor was it till long after the reign of Saint Louis, that the châtelains of France universally abandoned the profession of a highwayman. “Tels,” says M. Dulaure,
étaient les chevaliers du douzième et treizième siècle, dont la loyauté tant exaltée dans les romans, dans les compositions poétiques, et sur notre scène moderne, se trouve constamment démentie par l’histoire. Ces hommes auxquels on attribue tant d’exploits glorieux, tant d’actions généreuses et honorables, n’étaient que des brigands impitoyables, des misérables dignes de figurer dans les bagnes ou les cachots de Bicétre. Je révèle ici une des nombreuses impostures de nos écrivains.†
It is not asserted, that there were no exceptions to this general depravity. All which is contended for is, that the virtuous characters of those days were as much less virtuous than those of our own, as the wicked characters were more wicked, and that they were proportionally much more rare. Such is not the impression conveyed by the romances of chivalry; and it is the misfortune of modern writers, that they have mistaken the romances of chivalry for the history of chivalry. We shall be told, that romances are good evidence of manners. We answer with M. Roederer:‡ of manners, yes: of the characters of their heroes, not at all. The romances of chivalry did not even profess to represent the knights as they were, but as they ought to be. What would be thought of a writer who should seriously infer, that in the time of Richardson the character of an English gentleman resembled that of Sir Charles Grandison?[*]
Even Mr. Hallam does not believe in the reality of knights-errant; of persons who travelled about, liberating captives, and redressing wrongs.[†] But a romance must have a hero, and a hero must be a character to be admired. There never was a state of society (howsoever depraved) in which the character of a redresser of wrongs was not admired; on the contrary, it is admired in the direct ratio of the frequency of grievous wrongs. The romances of the east abound with good viziers: when the hero is a vizier, we may be sure he is always a good one: and how often does a good vizier arise? About as often as a good king: once in two hundred years.
One would expect to find the most admirable models of chivalrous virtue among those whose names and actions history has celebrated, and who were most admired by their contemporaries.* In these respects no chevalier ever exceeded Richard Coeur de Lion. A few anecdotes, therefore, of his life, will go far to illustrate, not only the practical morality of the age, but moreover its theoretical standard of moral approbation. This mirror of chivalry is first introduced to our notice in the character of a rebellious and treacherous son, intrusted by his father with the government of a province, and exciting that province to rebel. As Duke of Aquitaine, we find him carrying off the wives and daughters of his principal vassals; and, after keeping them until he was weary of possession, giving them away in presents to his followers.* When reconciled to his father, he turns round upon his former partizans, invades their territories, captures their towns, and loads them with exactions.† Again and again received into favour, again and again did he rebel. At length his father died, and he succeeded to the throne. His first act, in this new situation, was to place his father’s treasurer, Stephen of Tours, seneschal of Anjou, in irons: nor did he release him until (says Roger de Hoveden) he had delivered up all the late king’s money, and his own, to the last penny.‡
He appears to no greater advantage as a champion of the cross. It is related of him, that, when walking in the streets of Messina, he heard the cry of a hawk proceeding from the house of a peasant. A hawk, in England, was to plebeians a prohibited bird. Richard, forgetting that he was no longer in England, but in a country where the peasants had knives, and knew how to use them, entered the house, and took possession of the bird; but an assembled crowd speedily put him to flight. The same imperious temper and despotic habits soon after led him to commit a still greater outrage. A monastery, situated on the strait of Messina, appeared to him a convenient place for lodging his magazines: with him, to desire and to seize were one; he turned out the monks, and put a party of soldiers into their place. Disgusted at these and other acts of oppression, the inhabitants of Messina shut the gates upon Richard and his troops; a conflict ensued, and he forced his way into the place.§ Another anecdote, which is related of him while at Messina, is strikingly characteristic of his jealous and vindictive disposition. In the crusading army he had no rival in warlike exercises, except a French knight, named Guillaume des Barres. On one occasion, while the knights were exercising without the walls, an ass passed by loaded with reeds, which then, as now, were used in that country as vine props. They seized the reeds, and commenced a mock fight. Richard and Guillaume des Barres were opposed to one another. Their reeds were shivered at the first shock, but the reed of Guillaume tore Richard’s cloak. This insignificant mischance provoked Richard to such a degree of fury, that he rushed upon his adversary, and strove violently to unhorse him. In this endeavour he was defeated, which inflamed his passion still more; he swore that he would be for ever the enemy of Guillaume des Barres, and was mean enough to require that the king of France should withdraw his protection from that knight, and banish him from Messina. Nor was it till long after, that, by the entreaties of Philip, aided by those of all the barons and prelates in the army, who placed themselves on their knees before him, he was prevailed upon to restrain his resentment during such time as he and Guillaume should both wear the badge of the crusade.*
The conduct of Coeur de Lion, after the surrender of Acre, was even in that age remarkable for its ferocity. The garrison and inhabitants were to remain prisoners for forty days, at the expiration of which term, if not previously ransomed, they were to be at the mercy of the conqueror. Not being ransomed, they were, by Richard’s order, put to death in cold blood.†
On his return to England, having laid siege to Nottingham, he erected a gibbet within sight of the walls, and hanged several men-at-arms whom he had taken prisoners, to strike terror into the besieged.‡
At a later period, we find him raising the wind in a manner truly royal, by turning off his chancellor,[*] and declaring all the acts of that functionary null and void; obliging those whose titles were thus invalidated, to purchase valid ones, or forfeit their right.
We soon after find him swearing a truce with the king of France, and violating it immediately.§ Nor was this his last breach of faith. After resigning, by solemn treaty, the paramountcy of Auvergne to his rival the king of France, and even undertaking to aid him in enforcing the right against the unwilling Auvergnats, he broke the treaty, and made an alliance with the Auvergnats against their new liege lord. He very soon broke his faith with them too, and concluding a separate truce, looked on quietly, and saw them subdued. The truce expired, and hostilities renewed between the two kings. Richard had the assurance to renew his correspondence with the Auvergnats, claim their performance of the engagement which he himself had violated, and exhort them to renew the war. They were too prudent to be again deceived; and the royal troubadour consoled himself by composing satirical verses upon what he termed their breach of faith.¶
But the reader has probably had enough of the “glory of chivalry.”[*] To be the glory of chivalry, indeed, nothing was necessary but the reputation of military prowess: a reputation founded upon achievements in war, and superiority in jousts and tournaments. The pomp and pageantry which adorned these exhibitions have captivated the imaginations, not only of contemporaries but of posterity; and when the imagination is gained, the reason, as experience shows, very seldom fails to follow. That the characteristics of a knight were undaunted courage and the most ardent desire of glory, is a proposition which has hitherto been taken for granted by the admirers, and hardly denied by the impugners of chivalry; and when we wish to say of any one that he is a pattern of all the military virtues, our expression is, that he is worthy of the age of chivalry. Now this proceeds, as it appears to us, upon a complete misapprehension. That courage and the love of glory were not uncommon among the knights, it would be absurd to doubt; since these are qualities which are never wanting, where there are dangers, and a public opinion. But that either quality was universal among them is the dream of a romancer; and we will venture to affirm, that there is more real courage in a single regiment of the British or French army in the year 1826, than there was in the whole chivalry of France or England five centuries ago.
We must not be misled by the great estimation in which military prowess was held. This is no proof of its universality, but the reverse. When particular examples of any virtue are extravagantly praised, it is a certain sign that the virtue is rare. It is pertinently remarked (we believe, by M. Dulaure), that there are at this day hundreds in the French army who possess all the heroic qualities which immortalized Bayard,* but who are utterly unknown, precisely because there are so many. Thus it is that we continue to talk of the continence of Scipio; yet, what mighty matter did this continence amount to? He did not ravish a beautiful woman, whom the fortune of war had thrown into his hands.[†] Now, if this be greatness, what subaltern officer, we were going to say, common soldier, in the British army, is not as great a man as Scipio? As a proof of Scipio’s continence, the story is ridiculous; but, as a proof of the lawless and brutal incontinence of his contemporaries, this one anecdote, though it be but an anecdote, is worth a thousand volumes.
The ardour of the knights for military enterprises was indeed universal. But this ardour was no proof of exalted courage. Their military enterprises exposed them to hardly any danger. Cased in impenetrable armour, they could in general defy all attempts on life or limb; and the battles of chivalry, how destructive soever to the almost unarmed infantry, were rarely fatal to the men-at-arms. It might be, that a few knights were trampled on by horses, or crushed, in falling, by the weight of their armour. But if unhorsed, and at the victor’s mercy, their lives were scarcely ever in any danger, except from private vengeance; it was neither esteemed dishonourable to give, nor to accept, a ransom; it was the law of war. To compare the courage of an average knight, with that of a modern private soldier, would be like drawing a comparison, for endurance of cold, between a man wrapped up in furs, and a barefooted and naked savage.*
Trifling, however, as was the danger of their warlike enterprises, they always courted in preference the least hazardous even of these. In their hostilities with one another, we have already mentioned that it was their great endeavour, after devastating the country, to escape to their strongholds without the risk of an engagement. They always preferred to encounter the inhabitants of the towns, who were destitute of defensive armour, and of whom they might hope to cut down thousands without the loss of a man. If, indeed, we look for real courage in the feudal times, we must seek it among those brave citizens, who did not fear, under such tremendous disadvantages, to face these terrible opponents in the field, in defence of all that they held dear. Among the few pages of the feudal annals which it gives pleasure to read, is that which records the glorious struggle which the burgesses of Flanders, forsaken and sold by their ally Edward I of England, maintained against Philippe le Bel and the whole chivalry of France. Thousands and thousands of them were cut to pieces; but they triumphed!
The taste of the chevaliers for tournaments, and other warlike exercises, may be as easily explained as their love of military adventure. M. de Sismondi treats both merely as the resources of désoeuvré savages to expel ennui. They sought excitement in the lists and in the field, as our German ancestors sought it by staking their liberty on the throw of a die. “Un esprit inquiet, un vague désir d’aventures, le besoin d’émotions, et l’espoir d’améliorer sa condition par la violence plus que par l’industrie, formaient alors le caractère de la noblesse Française.”* The following passage characterizes chivalry with equal vigour and accuracy. We give it in the original, because it is at the same time a specimen of the style of M. de Sismondi’s work:
Les paysans, les bourgeois, tous ceux qui travaillaient pour gagner leur misérable vie, qui se trouvaient sans cesse vexés, opprimés, insultés par leurs supérieurs, ne demandaient que le repos, et une sûreté que l’ordre public était loin de leur garantir, mais les nobles étaient, au contraire, dévorés par l’ennui, et souvent aussi aiguillonnés par la cupidité, leur esprit, qui n’avait reçu aucune culture, qui ne soupçonnait pas même les avantages de l’instruction, ne trouvait aucune ressource dans la solitude ou la vie domestique: toute occupation laborieuse ou lucrative leur était interdite, elle dérogeait à la noblesse, elle les assimilait à ces vilains qu’ils faisaient travailler comme des bêtes de somme et qu’ils maltraitaient comme des ennemis. Les cours plénières, les tournois, les pas d’armes se présentent à notre imagination comme les divertissemens de cette noblesse brillante. Nous y voyons les riches récompenses décernées à la valeur, et nous oublions que même pour ceux qui pouvaient en jouir, huit jours de fête étaient achetés par une année de langueur et de solitude. Mais tandis que les serfs de chaque baron lui fournissaient le pain, la viande, peut-être la laine et le lin dont il avait besoin pour sa consommation habituelle, il fallait qu’il achetât les armes, les équipages, les habits somptueux avec lesquels il voulait paraître aux fêtes chevaleresques, et lui qui ne produisait rien, qui ne vendait rien, il n’avait jamais de l’argent, il ne pouvait s’en procurer que par la rapine et par la guerre: la cupidité avait donc bien plus de part que l’amour du danger à cet empressement avec lequel il courait partout où il entendait le bruit des armes La cupidité et l’ennui étaient les deux mobiles de la noblesse, la vanité concourait avec l’ennui pour entretenir cette passion pour les tournois que les excommunications de l’église ne pouvaient modérer; car Grégoire IX avait de nouveau, le 27 Février 1228, frappé d’anathème ceux qui combattaient dans les jeux de lance (hastiludia) et soumis leurs terres à l’interdit. La cupidité et l’ennui conduisaient les gentilshommes Français partout où la vue du sang ruisselant réveillait l’âme engourdie, et où le pillage livrait au guerrier cet or qu’aucune honnête industrie ne pouvait lui procurer.†
M. de Sismondi’s two great stimuli, cupidity and ennui, were quite capable of leading them into danger, but it required another sort of qualities to bring them successfully out of it. As often as the demand for excitement and the demand for plunder brought a large number of them together in one enterprise, the same passions invariably hurried them into irregularities which put to hazard, if they did not frustrate, the success of the expedition. Their impatience of subordination made them regardless of discipline, and uncontrollable by the authority of their commander; their habitual thoughtlessness rendered them incapable of directing their own conduct, and they would not suffer it to be directed by any one else. Let the admirer of chivalry read the history of any enterprise of real danger in which they were ever engaged; of any of the crusades for example, more especially of the two last; let him mark, not only the rapine and cruelty, but the stupidity, the supineness, the headlong confidence, the incapacity of foreseeing and providing against the most obvious difficulties, which rendered their whole career one series of blunders and misfortunes. If he weighs all this, and moreover bethinks himself of the peculiar character of their warfare, by which even personal prowess was made to depend almost entirely on the steeds, the armour, and the bodily strength of the combatants,* he must acknowledge that the far-famed knights of the middle ages were nearly as destitute even of the military virtues, in any extended sense of the term, as they were of all other virtues whatsoever.
So much for the “cheap defence of nations.” Now for the “nurse of manly sentiment and heroic virtue.”[*]
The characteristic virtues of chivalry, according to Mr. Hallam, were loyalty, courtesy, and munificence.[†] Its claim to these qualities has in general been allowed; and it has, on this foundation, been without further question admitted to have been the great refiner of manners, and purifier of morals. Is this notion well grounded, or not? Let us inquire.
If by munificence be meant, according to Mr. Hallam’s definition, “disdain of money,”[‡] meaning disdain of wealth, not only this quality did not characterize the age of chivalry, but the diametrically opposite qualities did. In no age was the thirst for plunder a more all-engrossing passion, nor the source of more numerous or greater crimes. But if it be only meant, that the wealth which was lightly got was lightly squandered; that the feudal chief was profuse in bestowing upon the instruments of his strength, or the ministers of his vanity or his amusement, gifts which cost him nothing but the groans of his bondmen, or the blood of those of his neighbour; the little value set upon wealth thus obtained, is only a proof how lightly the crimes by which it was purchased weighed upon the conscience of the offender. When all that had been got by one crime had been expended, what could be more obvious than, by another crime, to get more?
Loyalty is defined by Mr. Hallam to mean, fidelity to engagements. By courtesy, was meant, not only ceremonious politeness, but good feeling and good conduct towards each other, and particularly towards prisoners.[§] Of both these qualities there were shining examples towards the conclusion of the age of chivalry. There was but little of either in the earlier period; and at no time were these virtues very commonly practised. While the feudal nobility retained their turbulent independence, no perfidy was thought too odious in order to gain an end, nor any abuse of power too flagrant when practised upon the defenceless. The treacherous devices which they employed to entrap one another, the horrid cruelties which they practised upon one another when entrapped, the assassinations which they sometimes perpetrated, sometimes (though more rarely) suborned, and of which the altar was not unfrequently the scene, are topics which we have already in some measure illustrated, and have not room to exhibit further. When one baron took a fancy to the wife of another, it appears, from several instances related by M. de Sismondi, that he made no scruple of carrying off the object of his passion, and marrying her; so much for the loyalty, the courtesy, and we will add, the religion, of the times.*
But when the greater barons ceased to be independent sovereigns, and the smaller barons and knights to be subjects and retainers of those sovereigns; when their exploits came to be performed in national armies, and their virtues and vices to be exhibited on a great theatre, exposed to the view of whole nations; they then became, for the first time, amenable to a sort of public opinion. It is when individuals come under the influence of public opinion, that they begin to exhibit some glimmerings of virtue. But what kind of virtue? This will depend upon the kind of public to whose opinion they are amenable. The only public to which the knights of chivalry were amenable, was a public composed of one another. The opinion which other classes might form concerning their conduct, was a matter of too little importance to them to be at all regarded.
The consequences of this situation well deserve to be traced. Though it is not true of every individual that his interest makes his morality, it is strictly true of every class of men. When a set of persons are so situated as to be compelled to pay regard to the opinion of one another, but not compelled to pay any regard to the opinion of the rest of the world, they invariably proceed to fabricate two rules of action; one rule for their behaviour to one another, another rule for their behaviour to all persons except themselves. This was literally, strictly, what the chevaliers did. A chevalier was bound by the opinion of the chevaliers to keep his word with another chevalier, and to treat him, when a prisoner, with gentleness and respect. His own interest would prompt him to do so, if a man of common prudence; since he could not know how soon he might be a prisoner, and might have occasion to be released upon parole, or promise of ransom. But we are not to suppose that it was necessary for a knight to fulfil his engagements with any one except a knight. Exactly as the profligate man of fashion of the present day will pay a gaming debt to the last farthing, though it leave him pennyless, while he internally resolves never to pay his tradesmen at all: so would a baron keep his word with another baron, and break his word, and his oath too, with a low-born bourgeois.
History, though conversant only with events upon a great scale, affords abundant evidence to bear out this assertion. Notwithstanding the rapacity and avarice of the barons, their profusion rendered them in general needy. The towns, which at first were part of their domain, amenable to their jurisdiction and subject to their arbitrary exactions, took advantage of their wants to purchase, among other privileges, that of having an adminstration of justice and a municipal government of their own. This was a concession which nothing but the most pressing necessities could ever have extorted from those haughty superiors, and which they never afterwards thought of without resentment. No opportunity was missed of resuming the concession, and re-establishing their former supremacy over the town; retaining, however, the purchase-money of freedom. The pages of M. de Sismondi exhibit such numerous examples of this kind of perfidy, that it is impossible to suppose that it could have been considered at all disgraceful. Every privilege, in fact, which a town could succeed in wringing from the penury of its lord, was the commencement of a long struggle between the town and the seigneur; the seigneur struggling to get back his power, the townsmen to prevent him. If the lord succeeded, any new attempt to throw off his authority was called rebellion, and treated accordingly; for this also see Sismondi, passim.
King John of France, who was taken prisoner at Poitiers, is related to have said, that if truth and good faith had disappeared from the earth, they ought to be found on the lips and in the hearts of monarchs. This John, who was surnamed the Good, and who, if the anecdote be authentic, could talk in such magnifient terms about justice and good faith, had solicited and obtained from the pope, a few years before, for himself and his successors, a curious sort of privilege: it was that of violating all vows made and to be made, all oaths taken and to be taken, which they could not conveniently keep, quae servare commode non possetis, commuting them for other pious works.*
This John, who was a contemporary of the Black Prince and of Bertrand du Guesclin, and who lived, therefore, in the halcyon days of chivalrous virtue, had, it seems, but an indifferent opinion of the knights of his day. He accused the French knights of having become insensible to honour and fame: Honoris et famae, proh dolor! neglectâ pulchritudine.† The same prince, on hearing the song of Roland, observed, Il y a long-temps qu’on ne voit plus de Roland en France. An old captain, who was present, did not deny the fact, but threw all the blame of it upon the monarch himself: On en verrait encore s’ils avaient un Charlemagne à leur tête.‡ Deceived, like ourselves, by romances, even the chevaliers of that day looked back, it seems, with admiration, to the imaginary heroism of their forefathers. Yet this was the most shining period of the age of chivalry. It was also the last. A few years after, chivalry silently expired. The use of fire-arms became general. Cuirasses, as it turned out, were not bullet-proof. The chevaliers tried hard to render them so, by making them thicker and thicker, heavier and heavier, till at last (says Lanoue) Il n’y avait homme de trente ans qui n’en fût estropié.§ Finding that all this would not save them from gunpowder, the cowards forsook the field, and abandoned the defence of their country and their liege-lord to hired soldiers—to plebeians.
Such was the age of chivalry. But to all our denunciations of the vices of that age, one glorious exception must be made. Either the whole testimony of history is false, or Saint Louis never violated his word, nor swerved from what he thought the dictates of his conscience. Historians have not done justice to Saint Louis. He has been pictured as a virtuous man, but a slave to priestcraft. Nothing can be more unfounded. His mind was strongly tinctured with the superstitions of the age; he conceived the deity not as an indulgent father, but as an irritable and jealous master; all this is true: but it is not true that he was priest-ridden; for he several times resisted not only his clergy, but the pope himself.* He followed the dictates of his own mind. His ideas of religious duty were his own; and every action of his life was governed by them. He thought it his duty to persecute, and he did persecute; he thought it his duty to be an ascetic, and he was an ascetic; but he also thought it his duty to keep his word, and he kept it inviolably; he thought it a sin even to retain what his predecessors had unjustly acquired, and he made restitution with the most scrupulous exactness. He was a perfect specimen of a mind governed by conviction; a mind which has imperfect and wrong ideas of morality, but which adheres to them with a constancy and firmness of principle, in its highest degree perhaps the rarest of all human qualities.
When we contemplate one who in so barbarous an age, and under all the temptations of power, although misled by a bad religion, did not make that religion a substitute for morality, but devoted himself to the fulfilment of his real duties, with the same earnestness as his imaginary ones, we admire even the power over himself which his austerities display; we lament the erroneousness of his opinions, but we venerate the man. Very differently are we affected by the religion which characterized the times. The knights and nobles of the day were as pious, many of them, as Saint Louis himself; but how different a piety! All his intolerance was theirs, without a spark of his virtue. When we read of their crusades, their pilgrimages, and their persecutions, we are apt, by a natural mistake, to speak of their fanaticism. But fanaticism is far too respectable a name. Fanaticism supposes principle: the notion of fulfilling a duty. Their fires were kindled not to fulfil a duty, but to escape from its fulfilment. They thought to strike a bargain with Omnipotence; to compound for one crime by practising another. It was not from principle, but from mere selfishness, that they burned heretics, slaughtered Saracens, and plundered Jews. They imagined that he who sacrificed hecatombs of unbelievers to the God of mercy, was freed from every moral obligation towards his fellow-men. Never did their religion for a moment stand in the way of their passions. In sacking a town, neither priests, nor nuns, nor crosses, nor relics, were sacred to them.† In their private wars, the church lands, being an easier prey, were even less respected than those of one another; nor were their devastations restrained by that excommunication which encroachments upon that species of property invariably entailed. But they had been taught that by giving way to their darling passions, their avarice and cruelty, against the miscreants who denied the faith, they atoned for the indulgence of the same passions against the true believers. The publication of a crusade, especially against the emperor or the Albigenses, was commonly accompanied by an offer to the champions of the cross, of—what? Remission of all sins, past and future, in the other world, together with permission to rob their creditors in this. They were exempted, during the crusade, from the payment of interest on their debts. The cunning priests, who added this earthly recompense to the heavenly one, knew well the sort of persons with whom they had to deal. That some of the crusading knights were mainly influenced by motives of religion, is as true, as that some were influenced by the desire of military glory; but the great bulk were influenced by nothing but M. de Sismondi’s “deux mobiles de la noblesse,” cupidity and ennui.
There is one feature in the chivalrous character which has yet to be noticed; we mean, its gallantry. And this we shall think it necessary to examine the more fully, because we are persuaded that nine-tenths of the admiration of chivalry are grounded upon it. We own it is hard to speak ill of men who could make vows to their lady-love that they would wear a scarf over one eye till they should have signalized her charms by some exploit, or who could leave the ranks and challenge one another to single combat, to settle which man of them adored the most beautiful mistress. We trust, however, that without treason to the fair sex, of which we profess ourselves devoted admirers, it may be permitted to doubt whether these fopperies contributed much to the substantial happiness of women, or indicated any real solicitude for their welfare. To us it seems very clear, that such demonstrations of eagerness, not to make a woman happy, but to make the whole world acknowledge the pre-eminence of her charms, had their source in mere vanity, and the love of distinction; and that the knight who fought a duel concerning the beauty of his mistress, because she was his mistress, would have done the same thing for his falcon, if it had been the fashion.
If it could be proved that women, in the middle ages, were well treated, it would be so decisive a proof of an advanced stage of civilization, as it would require much evidence to rebut. That they were so treated, however, is not to be believed without proof. That a knight prided himself upon the beauty of his mistress, and deemed his honour concerned in maintaining it at the sword’s point, is no proof. In the Asiatic kingdoms, in which, above all countries in the world, women are not only practically ill-treated, but theoretically despised, the whole honour of a family is considered to be bound up in its women. If their seclusion is intruded upon; if the foot of a stranger profanes the zenana, the disgrace is indelible. This is one species of foppery: the gallantry of the middle ages was another: and, like the ceremonious politeness which distingished alike the chevaliers and the orientals, they characterize that period in the progress of society, which may be termed the age of false refinement, and which is situated half way between savage and civilized life.
Good treatment of women, we have already observed, is one of the surest marks of high civilization. But it seems to be very little considered, in what good treatment of women consists. It does not consist in treating them as idols to be worshipped, or as trinkets to be worn for display; any more than in shutting them up like jewels in a case, removed from the light of the sun and the sight of men. In both cases, this treatment is a proof that they are valued; else why are so much pains taken about them? But in both cases they are valued exactly like beautiful trinkets; the value set upon them is quite compatible with perfect indifference to their happiness or misery.
Professor Millar, perhaps the greatest of philosophical inquirers into the civilization of past ages, has observed, with truth, that during the savage state, when the attention of men is wholly engrossed by the pursuit of the necessaries of life, the pleasures of sex are little regarded, and little valued; but as soon as the satisfaction of their more pressing wants gives leisure to cultivate the other enjoyments within their reach, these pleasures are among the first which engage their attention. If the savage state is, of all others, that in which the sexual passion is weakest, the half-savage state, or the state immediately bordering on barbarism, is that in which it is strongest.[*] This remark explains the treatment of women in feudal Europe, as well as in Asia, different as their condition in these two states of society may appear. In Asia, where food could always be obtained with comparatively trifling labour, and where very little clothing and lodging were necessary either to existence or to comfort, the savage or hunting state seems never to have existed; the pleasures of sex were probably cultivated from the beginning, and, man abusing his natural superiority, the women were made slaves. In Europe, on the contrary, as among the North American Indians, women were not valued as sources of pleasure, and were not valuable for the labour of hunting, in that state of society the only kind of hard labour. No motives, therefore, existed for reducing them to bondage; and when these barbarians over-spread the Roman empire, and, possessing themselves of the land, began to lead an idle life instead of a laborious one, this new state of society found the women free. From this circumstance arose the different situation of women in Asia and in feudal Europe. In the latter, where they were free, to obtain the woman who was the object of desire became often a matter of extreme difficulty, and generally could not be effected without her own consent: in the former, where they were slaves, to obtain any number of women independently of their consent, became, to a rich man, a matter of no difficulty at all; and his solicitude was transferred to the means of keeping them.
We thus see that the seclusion of women in Asia, and the idolatry of them in Europe, were both marks of the same low state of civilization. The latter, no doubt, gave to some women for a time more power. But we must not overrate the value of this power to their happiness. The question is not, how much power a knight would give his mistress leave to fancy she exercised over him, in order that she might consent to his obtaining power over her; but in what manner he employed his power over her when obtained. Of the domestic lives of the knights, we have hardly any direct information; and in the absence of any, we may proceed upon the general presumption, that men who were brutal towards one another, would not be less brutal towards their wives. Allowing that a woman who had been an object of desire, and who was still a source of vanity from her personal charms, might command tolerable treatment on account of those charms, while they lasted, and on account of her children at a later period; we profess ourselves not to be of the number of those who sympathize exclusively with beautiful women. Although the heroines of romances were somehow always beautiful, it may yet be inferred, from the inherent probabilility of the thing, that there were ugly women in those days as well as in our own; though we are left to conjecture what sort of treatment may peradventure have been undergone by such ill-fated females, if any such there were. A knight who had to maintain at the point of the sword, that his lady was the most beautiful lady in the whole world, would, in common prudence, attach himself to some fair one, whose pretensions to that character might be maintained without subjecting him to any extraordinary degree of ridicule. We know, in point of fact, that a small number of beautiful women engrossed all the admiration and all the vows of all the knights, and that the large and unattractive majority were altogether neglected. It is the treatment of them, however, and not that of their more attractive sisters, which is the test of civilization.
There is positive evidence, how little regard was paid by a warrior of the age of chivalry, to the feelings even of the object of his passion, when he had the power of gratifying that passion independently of her consent. If a baron happened to be smitten by the charms of the daughter of one of his vassals, he demanded of her father, as a matter of course, that she should be yielded up to his embraces.* The frequency of rapes and abductions, even in the case of women of elevated rank, is another important proof how little connection the foppish gallantry of that age had with the real happiness of the sex affected to be adored. We have mentioned in a former page the chivalrous treatment of the Gascon ladies by Coeur de Lion. Matilda, daughter of Malcolm III, King of Scotland, while residing in England previously to her marriage with our Henry I, is well known to have taken the habit of a nun, “not,” says Hume, “with a view of entering into a religious life, but merely in consequence of a custom, familiar to the English ladies, who protected their chastity from the brutal violence of the Normans, by taking shelter under that habit, which, amidst the horrible licentiousness of the times, was yet generally revered.”*
We reject the giants of romance; why should we continue to believe in the reality of the knights-errant, their antagonists? Yet if both are the representatives of really existing personages, let us remember that the knights who liberated imprisoned damsels were few, while the giants who held these damsels in durance were many; and that the prototypes of the giants were knights and noblemen, though they were not knights-errant.
Though it is almost unnecessary to add, that whatever portion of power or good treatment the women enjoyed, was confined entirely to the women of rank, and that all other women were, like their husbands, slaves; we will, however, conclude our observations on this subject, by a very sensible passage from M. Roederer’s work, already alluded to, in which this as well as some other very pertinent observations are forcibly put. The age of chivalry, he says,
Fut pour les femmes, ainsi que les hommes, une période d’abjection et de malheur. Ne regardant pas le bonheur des seigneurs qui opprimaient la nation comme partie du bonheur de la nation, ou comme une compensation de son malheur, je ne compte pas non plus la gloire des châtelaines dans le bilan des femmes Françaises du même temps. Celles-ci vivaient dans l’oppression comme leurs pères, leurs maris, leurs enfans. On pourrait même contester à ces dames de château, qui brillaient de tant d’éclat sur les amphithéâtres d’un tournoi, qui étaient pour la confrérie des chevaliers l’objet d’un culte religieux et d’une adoration solennelle; on pourrait leur contester un bonheur correspondant à de si belles apparences, et demander si cette idolâtrie qui leur était vouée, n’était pas une des pompes de la grandeur de ces temps-là, l’ostentation intéressée d’une courtoisie profitable, ou l’exagération d’une servilité réelle sous des apparences passionnées; et si, dans l’intérieur de la société domestique, les grandes dames n’étaient pas exposées comme les autres à toute la rudesse d’une domination sans frein?
(Louis XII et François Ier, Vol. I, pp. 297-8.)
We have dwelt so long upon the period of the feudal aristocracy, that we have not time to give a detailed character of the feudal monarchy; and perhaps it will be better, before attempting the task, to wait for the additional materials which we may expect to find in the next portion of M. de Sismondi’s history. We shall content ourselves with mentioning a few facts, merely to show that the aristocracy did not change its character during the two or three centuries which followed its subjugation by the crown.
Enguerrand de Coucy, having seized two young noblemen, who, with their preceptor, had trespassed on his forests in pursuit of rabbits, hanged them all three. In the reign of any other prince than Saint Louis, he might possibly have come off with impunity. Saint Louis at first intended to put him to death, but at the intercession of all the great barons, he contented himself with imposing a heavy fine, and three years exile in Palestine, with the forfeiture of the seignorial rights of haute justice, and garenne: of keeping rabbits, and of judging men.*
Guy de Montfort assassinated Henry, son of Richard, Duke of Cornwall, before the altar, at Viterbo.†
Saint Louis besieged the castle of La Roche de Gluy upon the Rhone, to punish its lord for practising robbery on the highway: having made himself master of the castle, he restored it to its owner, first stipulating for the discontinuance of his depredations.‡
The next person of whom we shall make mention is Amalric, Viscount of Narbonne, who, having the droit de justice, violated the laws, and, what was of more consequence, offended the monarch, by putting to death two of his own vassals, notwithstanding their appeal to the royal court. Amalric’s sovereign was far from being a Saint Louis; he imprisoned the rebellious vassal for a time, then took him from prison and put him at the head of an army.§
Jourdain de l’Isle, sire (seigneur) of Casaubon, after receiving the royal pardon eighteen times for different offences, was hanged the nineteenth for rape, rapine, and murder. This happened under Charles IV, in 1323.
Hannot and Pierre de Léans were hanged in 1332, for assassinating la demoiselle Péronne d’Estreville in the church.
Mathieu de Houssaie was condemned to a gibbet in 1333; Jourdan Ferron, a damoiseau or page, in the same year. In the following year eleven nobles were executed (suppliciés) for the assassination of Emeri Béranger.
Adam de Hordain, another knight, was hanged in 1348, and so on.¶ It was not till the climax of the power of Louis XIV, that the nobles were reduced into perfect obedience to the laws.
As the king’s government, however, increased in strength, assassination became too dangerous to be openly practised, and a safer mode of taking vengeance upon an enemy now came into vogue. Accusations of poisoning became frequent, and gained general credit. The imperfection of the courts of justice, and the peculiar nature of this crime, generally prevented the fact from being judicially proved; but the generality of the suspicion is a sufficient proof of the spirit of the times. Another mode of getting rid of an enemy was suggested by the superstitions of the day. The practice of enchantments, for the destruction of particular persons, became very frequent. The efficacy of these operations was imaginary, but the intention was real. Waxen images, says M. Dulaure, play a very conspicuous part in French history. A waxen image was constructed, as nearly as possible resembling the person intended to be destroyed; a priest was employed to baptise the image by the name of the intended victim, and it was then tortured, mutilated, or pierced through and through, with the proper forms of incantation. The effect of the operation thus performed upon the image, was supposed to be felt by its human namesake in his own person.
The gradual disuse of trial by battle, which was abolished by Saint Louis in his own domains, and discouraged every where, both by him and his successors; the substitution of technical procedure in the king’s court, and the gradual supercession of the seignorial jurisdictions by the royal ones, gave rise and encouragement to another sort of crime, judicial perjury. This, which is perhaps the most pernicious of offences, because it destroys the efficacy of the remedy against all others, and the frequency of which is, for that and other reasons, one of the most decisive tests of the moral depravity of a nation, became, if we may credit historians, horribly frequent. Corruption in the judges also became a common offence.*
When the nobles no longer enjoyed any power of their own, except over their serfs and domestics, they had no chance for importance but by resorting to the court, and rivalling with one another in magnificence and servility.† The means of magnificence had to be squeezed out of their vassals, whose situation consequently became more miserable than ever.‡ The same cause brought about a considerable change in the manners of the nobility. No longer permitted to seek excitement in private wars, they sought it in the licentiousness of a court. Intrigue took the place of rape, as poisoning had done of assassination. The manners of the later period of the age of chivalry, and of the age which immediately succeeded it, as they are pictured in Brantôme[*] and other works of his day, were dissolute to a degree never since equalled. Nor did their debauchery resemble the refined gallantry of the court of Louis XV; it was coarse and gross to a degree of which even the language of Rabelais is hardly an exaggeration. To sum up all in few words: when the vices of a highwayman ended, the vices of a courtier began.
We had intended to quote some striking anecdotes of the times; such as the expedition of the pastoureaux, the destruction of the Templars, the pretended conspiracy of the lepers to poison the fountains and subvert Christianity: and to have sketched the persecutions of the Jews and of the Albigenses, and the still more extraordinary persecution of the mendicant Franciscans, for offending the pope, by denying that their meat was their own at the moment when they were putting it into their mouths. But these, and innumerable other interesting facts, which M. Dulaure and M. de Sismondi have recorded, we must content ourselves with exhorting the reader to gather from those authors themselves. Both works are as delightful in style, as they are important in matter. The manner of M. Dulaure is characterized by extreme neatness and exquisite simplicity, and carries the reader along with it, by its deep earnestness, and high tone of moral feeling. To one who is daily sickened by the repulsive tone of heartless levity, and recklessness about good and evil, which is one of the besetting sins of our own literature in the present day, this quality of M. Dulaure’s work renders it peculiarly attractive.* M. de Sismondi’s style is more diffuse, but almost always sprightly, and frequently eloquent. His eloquence, however, flows naturally from him; neither he nor M. Dulaure is infected by that rage for fine writing, which is the bane of all real eloquence; they never declaim, never hunt after common-place metaphors, but speak the plain and unaffected language of men who wish that the reader should think of their ideas more than of themselves.
There is little appearance in M. Dulaure’s work of a generalizing, that is, of a philosophical, mind: he states the facts as he finds them, praises and censures where he sees reason, but does not look out for causes and effects, or parallel instances, nor applies the general principles of human nature to the state of society he is describing, to show from what circumstances it became what it was. It is true he does not profess to be a historian, but only to sketch a tableau moral M. de Sismondi aims much more at generalization; and the reflections with which he frequently commences his chapters, exhibit far more of the genuine philosophy of history, than is to be found in any other work on the middle ages (those of Professor Millar excepted)[*] with which we are acquainted.
The badness of those ages will now be thoroughly understood by a large class of readers in France. In this country, we cannot hope that it will be comprehended as yet. There is no popular book on the middle ages in our language; nor any book in which the truth is plainly and fully told concerning chivalry and its times. Millar’s Historical View of the English Government, though admirable as far as it goes, is rather a history of institutions, than of morals and manners, and when it does touch upon the latter, is not detailed enough to give any thing like a vivid conception of the times. The design of the work, moreover, is confined to our own country. Yet he is almost the only writer we have, who has made the middle ages a subject of philosophical investigation. There is, indeed, Mr. Hallam; but we should be much surprised if the nation which has produced a Millar, could admire or read the History and Government of Europe during the Middle Ages. This work appears to us equally faulty in the design and in the execution. In the first place, the design is fundamentally bad. The work is neither a history of Europe, nor a history of European civilization. Considered as a history of Europe, it is the most meagre of abstracts. Conceive an attempt to write “the history of France from its conquest by Clovis to the invasion of Naples by Charles VIII,” in one chapter of ninety-nine quarto pages! It is evident that nothing worth relating of the history of France could be included in that compass: it is not a historical sketch, but a chronological table, or the table of contents to a historical work; and it is long since we remember to have read ninety-nine duller pages. If, on the other hand, the work was intended to be a history, not of Europe, but of its civilization, why encumber it with several hundred pages of tiresome and useless narrative? Even in the dissertations, which compose the remainder of the work, we cannot help seeing much more of pretension than of real merit. Mr. Hallam is not wanting in liberality; his leanings are in general towards the side of the many; his incidental remarks are frequently pointed in expression, and occasionally soar somewhat above the level of common-place. But he has neither discernment enough to see through any reigning error, nor philosophy enough to trace the causes and consequences of the things which he describes; but deals out little criticisms and little reflections, and little scraps of antiquarian lore, which neither throw any light upon the condition of mankind in the middle ages, nor contribute either to support or illustrate any important principle: in fine, he has succeeded in rendering a sketch of one of the most remarkable states of society ever known, at once uninstructive and tiresome. The best part of his work is that which relates to our own country. In this part he must be allowed the merit of having resorted to the original authorities, and established several interesting points of constitutional history. But considering him as a historian of the middle ages, we are compelled to pronounce his work an utter failure. Its want of merit is rendered still more striking, when compared with the merit of other writers. To appreciate Mr. Hallam, it is not even necessary to have read Millar; it is sufficient to have read Sismondi.
[[*] ]Richard Chenevix, “History and Prospects of English Industry,” Quarterly Review, XXXIV (June, 1826), 47.
[[*] ]E.g., in John Stuart Mill, “Mignet’s French Revolution,” Westminster Review, V (Apr., 1826), 385-98 (reprinted above, pp. 1-14), and in five articles, probably by Henry Southern: “Court of Louis XIV and the Regency,” ibid., II (July, 1824), 121-49; “Barante, Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne,” ibid. (Oct., 1824), 442-62; “Montlosier’s French Monarchy,” ibid., III (Jan., 1825), 35-48; “The Chronicles of Froissart,” ibid., IV (July, 1825), 1-20; and “Private Memoirs of Madame du Hausset,” ibid., V (Jan., 1826), 249-62.
[[†] ]Mill may have in mind such works as James Peller Malcolm, London redivivum, 4 vols. (London: Rivington, et al., 1802-07), and David Pugh (“David Hughson”), London: Being an Accurate History and Description, 6 vols. (London: Stratford, 1805-09), but he ignores other works, such as Henry Hunter, The History of London, 2 vols. (London: Stockdale, 1811), which is not a history merely “of buildings.”
[[*] ]The reference is almost certainly to David Hume, whose History of England was frequently criticized by Mill on these grounds.
[* ]Introduction, pp. xx-xxi.
[† ]The following note appended to the preface of the second edition, may serve as a specimen of the frantic rage which the work has kindled in the ultra-royalist writers, and of the dignified calmness with which their reproaches have been met by M. Dulaure.
[[*] ]Cicero, Epistolarae ad Atticum, in Opera, 10 vols. (Leyden: Elzevir, 1642), Vol. III, p. 111 (IV, vi, 2).
[[*] ]St. Gregory I, Homiliarum in Ezechielem prophetam, in Opera omnia, Vols. LXXV-LXXIX of Patrologiae cursus completus, series latina, ed. Jacques Paul Migne (Paris: Migne, 1849), Vol. LXXVI, col. 842.
[* ][Dulaure,] Preface to the Second Edition. [Vol. I, pp. ii-vii. Mill’s square-bracketed addition.]
[* ]Dulaure, Vol. I, p. 460.
[* ]Ibid., p. 461.
[* ]Ibid., Vol. II, p. 142n.
[[*] ]See Matthew Paris, Angli historia major, ed. William Wats (London: Hodgkinson, 1640), p. 229.
[* ][Translated from] Sismondi, Vol. V, pp. 10-11.
[* ][Translated from] Sismondi, Vol. V, pp. 94-5.
[[†] ]Ibid., pp. 210-11.
[† ]Dulaure, Vol. II, pp. 136-7. [Dulaure refers to “l’abbé Suger et les grandes Chroniques.”]
[* ]Dulaure, Vol. II, pp. 154-60.
[† ]Ibid., Vol. I, p. 462.
[* ]Ibid., Vol. II, p. 152.
[† ]Ibid., p. 343.
[‡ ]See a recent work of considerable merit, intituled, Louis XII, et François I, par P.L. Roederer, [2 vols. (Paris: Bossange, 1825),] Vol. II, p. 252.
[[*] ]Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753-54), 3rd ed., 7 vols. (London: Richardson, 1754).
[[†] ]Henry Hallam, View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1818), p. 552.
[* ]M. Dulaure admits, that there were some estimable men; but he finds them chiefly among the clergy. He mentions only one name among the barons; Charles Count of Flanders, surnamed the Good. [Vol. II, p. 196.] M. de Sismondi has given us some account of this personage; and a few anecdotes concerning the most estimable nobleman of his day, may not be uninteresting, as illustrative of the ideas of the times. He kept, we are told, three doctors of theology in his house, who, every night, after supper, read and expounded the Bible. He enacted severe laws against profane swearing, and was “marvellously severe and rigorous” in executing those which had already been enacted against witches and necromancers. He banished all Jews and usurers from his territories; declaring, in language oddly compounded of feudal and theological ideas, “qu’il ne les voulait souffrir jusqu’à ce qu’ils eussent satisfait et amendé le meurtre par eux commis du fils de leur seigneur.” ([Pierre d’] Oudegherst, Annales et Chroniques de Flandre [2 vols. (Ghent: de Goesin-Verhaeghe; Paris: Janet, ), Vol. I, p. 360; Mill is quoting from Sismondi, Vol. V, p. 205.]) We are next informed of the precautions of this enlightened prince to obviate famine. These consisted in prohibiting les cervoises, (probably beer), destroying all the dogs and calves, and forcing the corn-dealers to open their granaries and sell their corn at a reasonable price. This last act of despotism brought on a quarrel between him and van der Strate, a great corn-dealer, and the head of one of the most powerful families in Flanders. In the course of the dispute, insulting doubts having been intimated concerning the title of the van der Strates to be considered of free condition, that family were so incensed at the affront, that they murdered the good count at the foot of the altar. His successor [Guillaume Cliton] revenged his death by causing a hundred and eleven persons to be precipitated from a high tower. (Sismondi, Vol. V, pp. 205-7.)
[* ]Sismondi, Vol. VI, p. 36. See also p. 27.
[† ][Jacques Nicolas Augustin] Thierry, Histoire de la Conquête de l’Angleterre par les Normands [(1825), 2nd ed., 4 vols. (Paris: Sautelet, 1826)], Vol. III, p. 337.
[‡ ]Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 30. [See Roger (of Hoveden), Annalium pars prior et posterior, in Rerum anglicarum scriptores, ed. Henry Savile (London: Bishop, et al., 1596), p. 373.]
[§ ]Thierry, Histoire, Vol. IV, pp. 36-7.
[* ]Sismondi, Vol. VI, pp. 101-2.
[† ]Ibid., pp. 111-12. It is worthy of remark, that the other great historical example of royal chivalry, the Black Prince, also caused several thousand persons to be massacred in cold blood at Limoges. The circumstance is related by Froissart, by whom it is disapproved [Jean Froissart, Chroniques, in Collection des chroniques nationales françaises écrites en langue vulgaire du treizième au seizième siècle, ed. Jean Alexandre Buchon, 48 vols. (Paris: Verdière, 1824-26), Vol. V, p. 220.] In the later period of chivalry, which has never been sufficiently distinguished from the earlier, increasing civilization had mitigated considerably the horrors of knightly vengeance.
[‡ ]Thierry, Histoire, Vol. IV, p. 84.
[[*] ]Hubert Walter.
[§ ]Thierry, Histoire, Vol. IV, pp. 114-15. The words of an old writer [Bertrand de Born] on this occasion, are characteristic: The two kings, says he, after this truce, would no longer occupy themselves in war, but only in hunting, amusements, and doing evil to their men: “E en far tort à lor baros.” Choix des Poésies Originales des Troubadours, publié par [François Just Marie] Raynouard [6 vols. (Paris: Didot, 1816-21),] Vol. V, p. 93 (apud Thierry, ibid.).
[¶ ]Ibid., pp. 120-2.
[[*] ]Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, in Works, 8 vols. (London: Dodsley, et al., 1792-1827), Vol. III, p. 111.
[* ]It may not be impertinent here to remark, that when Bayard lived, knighthood, in its original character, had long been extinct; that Bayard himself had never received the accolade, but was a chevalier by birth, like most of the noblemen of his day, that he was not even called, during his life, the chevalier Bayard, but Captain Bayard, le capitaine Bayard and that the title of knight without fear and without reproach, supposed to have been conferred upon him by the suffrage of his contemporaries as the peculiar reward of his eminent virtue, was in reality a common title of courtesy, shared with him by many other warriors of the time. (See the work of M. Roederer, already referred to [Louis XII et François Ier, Vol. II, pp. 280-3].)
[[†] ]See Livy (Latin and English), 14 vols., trans. B.O. Foster, et al. (London: Heinemann: New York: Putnam’s Sons; and [Vols. VI-XIV] Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1919-59), Vol. VII, pp. 190-4 (xxvi, 50, 1-14).
[* ]See an able chapter on chivalry in M. Roederer’s work. M. Roederer, after quoting Mr. Hallam for the remark, that the battles of chivalry were an affair of very little danger, reproaches his countrymen with having suffered an Englishman to be the first man to whom this observation occurred. If he had read further, he would have seen that Mr. Hallam, though he made the remark, knew not how to apply it. We believe, that M. Roederer himself is the first writer who has turned it to the proper account. [Roederer, “De l’esprit chevaleresque attribué à François Ier, et de la chevalerie,” Sect. 5 in Vol. II of Louis XII et François Ier, pp. 238-94; for the reference to Hallam’s View (Vol. I, pp. 358-60 in the 1st ed.) and Roederer’s comment, see pp. 260, 261n.]
[* ]Sismondi, Vol. VII, p. 108.
[† ]Ibid., pp. 122-3.
[* ]“Dans toutes les guerres du moyen âge,” says M. de Sismondi, “on aurait pu dire que ce qu’on nommait bravoure était en raison inverse du vrai courage; celui qui par ses armes était le plus redoutable, était aussi celui qui risquait le moins.” (Vol. VI, p. 364.)
[[*] ]For both phrases, see Burke, Reflections, p. 111.
[[†] ]View, Vol. II, p. 549.
[[‡] ]Ibid., p. 551.
[[§] ]Ibid., p. 549.
[* ]The mild and respectful treatment of prisoners, so universal in modern Europe, being in general ascribed to the refining influence of chivalry on modern manners, we quote from M. de Sismondi the following anecdote, which speaks for itself. The event related took place in the reign of our Henry I, and was several years posterior to the first crusade. “Au commencement de l’année 1119, le roi Henri se vit encore abandonné par un autre de ses vassaux, sur la fidélité duquel il n’avait pas cru pouvoir concevoir un doute. C’était Eustache de Breteuil, à qui il avait donné en mariage Juliane, sa fille naturelle. Eustache profitant de l’embarras où il voyait son beau-père, lui avait demandé en don la tour d’Ivry, qui avait appartenu à ses prédécesseurs. Henri ne voulut pas s’en dessaisir; mais afin de donner au comte de Breteuil une garantie que cette tour ne serait jamais employée à lui nuire, il obligea Harenc (c’était le nom de l’homme qui en avait le commandement) à remettre, comme ôtage, son fils au comte de Breteuil, tandis qu’il se fit livrer à lui-même les deux filles que le comte avait eues de sa fille Juliane. Il semblait ainsi avoir établi entr’eux une garantie mutuelle, qui lui aurait répondu de leur fidélité, si la violence des passions, chez ces hommes féroces, avait pu être enchaînée, ou par les liens du sang, ou par le danger de leurs proches. Eustache de Breteuil, qui ne pouvait croire que ses filles courussent aucun danger entre les mains de leur grand-père, somma le gouverneur de la tour d’Ivry de lui ouvrir cette forteresse, s’il ne voulait pas que son fils fût livré sous ses yeux aux plus horribles tourmens, et comme celui-ci se refusait à perdre son château et à violer son serment, Eustache fit à l’instant arracher les yeux du jeune homme, et les envoya au malheureux Raoul de Harenc. Raoul vint se jeter aux pieds de Henri, et lui demander justice de l’outrage qui lui avait été fait sous la foi royale. La pitié pour un brave et fidèle chevalier, le ressentiment contre son gendre, l’emportèrent dans le coeur du roi d’Angleterre sur l’amour de son sang; il abandonna à la vengeance de Raoul ses propres petites-filles, qu’il gardait en ôtage, et auxquelles, par de terribles représailles. Raoul fit arracher les yeux et couper le nez. Le gouverneur d’Ivry annonça ensuite au comte de Breteuil que sa barbarie était retombée sur ses enfans, qu’ils étaient mutilés comme son fils l’avait été, mais que leur vie lui répondait encore de la vie de son fils, et que la tour ne lui serait point livrée. A la nouvelle de cette effroyable vengeance, le comte de Breteuil arbora les drapeaux de France, et commença à faire la guerre à son beau-père. Toutefois les habitans de Breteuil ne voulurent pas le seconder dans sa rébellion; ils ouvrirent la ville à Henri. Juliane, qui s’y trouvait alors, n’eut que le temps de se réfugier dans la citadelle, elle y fut assiégée par le roi son père; les vivres lui manquaient, et elle fut bientôt réduite à offrir de capituler. Son père ne voulut lui accorder que des conditions honteuses: le pont qui unissait la citadelle à la ville, avait été coupé; le roi d’Angleterre ne permit point qu’il fût rétabli pour donner passage à Juliane. Il exigea qu’après avoir relevé ses habits au-dessus de sa ceinture, exposée au froid du mois de Février, à la vue et à la risée de toute l’armée, elle se fit dévaler avec des cordes du haut des murs, jusque dans le fossé plein d’eau, où il la fit reprendre.” (Sismondi, Vol. V, pp. 139-41.) This anecdote, as the reader will perceive, illustrates several features of the times at once.
[* ]Dulaure, Vol. III, p. 184 [citing Clement VI, Letter to King John and Queen Joanna of France, in Luc d’Achery, Spicilegium (1655-77), new ed., 3 vols. (Paris: Montalant, 1723), Vol. III, p. 724].
[† ]Roederer, Louis XII et François ler, Vol. II, p. 251.
[‡ ]Ibid., p. 290.
[§ ]Ibid., p. 268.
[* ]See Sismondi, Vol. VIII, pp. 101-3, and Vol. VII, pp. 201-4, 308-9.
[† ]See, among innumerable other examples, the description of the sacking of Strasburg, in Sismondi, Vol. IV, p. 128.
[[*] ]John Millar, An Historical View of the English Government (London: Strahan, Cadell, and Murray, 1787), pp. 36-7, 79-81.
[* ]See, for example, the account of the birth and parentage of William the Conqueror, in Sismondi, Vol. IV, pp. 239-40. The story is curious, and characteristic of the times. It resembles an anecdote related of the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar [See William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum anglorum, ed. Thomas Duffus Hardy, 2 vols. (London: English Historical Society, 1840), Vol. I, p. 236 (Bk. II, Sect. 148); Mill probably (see the next footnote) took the reference from David Hume. The History of England (1754-62), 8 vols. (London: Cadell, et al., 1823), Vol. I, pp. 122-3.]
[* ]Hume, Vol. I, pp. 318-19. See, in Dr. [Robert] Henry’s History of Great Britain (1771-93), [2nd ed., 12 vols. (London: Strahan and Cadell, 1788-95),] Vol. VI, pp. 347-8, the remarkable words of a great council of the clergy on this occasion.
[* ]Sismondi, Vol. VIII, p. 98.
[† ]Ibid., p. 219.
[‡ ]Dulaure, Vol. III, p. 54.
[§ ]Sismondi, Vol. IX, p. 412.
[¶ ]Dulaure, Vol. III, p. 260.
[* ]See ibid., Vol. III, pp. 242-3, for a remarkable instance. See also Sismondi, Vol. IX, p. 195. “Le siècle,” (says he) “dont nous faisons l’histoire, est celui de la plus grande corruption de l’ordre judiciaire; il n’y a pas un des procès intentés sous Philippe le Bel, qui ne porte des marques intrinsèques de faux témoignage.”
[† ]See a striking instance of their servility even as early as the reign of Philip Augustus (Sismondi, Vol. VI, p. 154.)
[‡ ]Ibid., Vol. VIII, p. 428. He compares their condition to that of the subjects of Turkey.
[[*] ]Pierre de Bourdeille, abbé de Brantôme, Mémoires, 6 vols. (Leyden: Sambix, 1665-66).
[* ]It is a quality, however, by no means peculiar to M. Dulaure; several other French writers of the present day are distinguished by it in an equal, perhaps in a still greater degree. M. Roederer, in the work from which we have had occasion to quote, is a striking example.
[[*] ]In addition to Millar’s Historical View, Mill may have in mind his Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society (London: Richardson and Murray, 1771).