Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE 9 - The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe
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LECTURE 9 - François Guizot, The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe 
The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, trans. Andrew R. Scoble, Introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Primitive institutions of the Franks. ~ Sketch of the history of the Frankish monarchy. ~ The Franks in Germany. ~ Their settlement in Belgium and in Gaul. ~ Character and authority of their chiefs after their establishment in the Roman Empire. ~ Early Frankish chieftains. ~ Clovis: his expeditions, wars, and conquests. ~ Decisive preponderance of the Franks in Gaul.
In order to pursue the object of this course, I now proceed to give a sketch of the Franks similar to that which I have already given of the Anglo-Saxons. I shall study with you their primitive institutions, seek out their leading principle, and compare it with that type of representative government which we have just delineated. But before we enter upon the examination of Frankish institutions, I think it advisable briefly to refer to the leading events in the history of France. The institutions of a people cannot be thoroughly understood without a knowledge of their history. I shall devote this lecture to a view of the establishment of the Frankish monarchy; on a future occasion we will trace its progress under the first and second races of its kings.
I shall not now delay to discuss the somewhat uncertain origin of the Franks; there is reason to believe that, in Germany, they did not constitute a separate and homogeneous nation. They were a confederation of tribes settled in the country between the Rhine, the Maine, the Weser, and the Elbe. The Romans seem to have been long ignorant of their existence even after the conquest of Gaul, and history mentions them, for the first time, during the reign of Gordian, about the middle of the third century. A song, composed in celebration of the victories of Aurelian had the following refrain:
After this period, we find the different tribes of Franks advancing from East to West with rather rapid progress. At the beginning of the fourth century, we meet with the Salian Franks settled in Belgium, and the Ripuarian Franks on the two banks of the Rhine. These peoples established themselves on the frontiers of Gaul, sometimes by force, and sometimes with the consent of the emperors, who, after having defeated the barbarians, frequently assigned them lands on which to settle. This was the course pursued by Probus, Constantine, Julian, Constantius, and many others.
The chiefs thus established in the Roman territory retained, over their barbarian comrades, their ancient and independent authority, and received at the same time, from the emperors, certain titles to which were applied certain functions, and a certain amount of authority over the Romans in their district. Thus we find them adorned with the names of Dux, Magister militae, Comes littoris, and so forth. Their position was almost identical with that of the leaders of the wandering Tartar tribes in the Russian empire, who are elected by the men of their tribe, but receive their title and a certain jurisdiction from the Emperor of Russia—retaining their independent life, but bound at the same time to render military service, and to pay a tribute of furs.
Childeric, the chief of a Frankish tribe at Tournai, had received the title of Magister militae from the empire. When, in consequence of domestic quarrels and treason, he was forced to take refuge in Thuringia, his tribe submitted in 460 to Egidius, master of the Roman militia at Soissons. In 1653, the tomb of Childeric was discovered at Tournai, and several pieces of money were found in it, which are now deposited in the National Library, at Paris.
At the termination of the fifth century, the epoch of the dissolution of the empire, when the provinces were left, according to the expression of Tacitus,magis sine domino quam cum libertate,2 nearly all these local chieftains, Romans as well as barbarians, became independent, and no longer recognised the sovereignty of Rome. Siagrius, the son of Egidius, was appointed King of the Romans at Soissons. He made war with Clovis, in his own name and on his own account.
The Frankish chiefs, who had thus become petty sovereigns, penetrated still farther into the empire. Clodion, who had settled at Cambrai, carried his incursions to the banks of the Somme. Meroveus was present at the battle of Chalons-sur-Marne, at which Attila was conquered. It was, however, under the command of their chieftain Clovis, that these bands of Franks, who originally formed colonies on the frontiers, entered Gaul definitively as conquerors. Clovis was the son of Childeric, who reigned at Tournai; and he succeeded his father in 481. He probably wielded a certain amount of authority in the name of the empire. Saint Remy, in a letter, gives him the title of Magister militae. Other Frankish chiefs were, about this period, almost in the same position as Clovis: Ragnachar ruled at Cambrai, Sigebert at Cologne, and Renomer at Mans. Clovis was the most ambitious, the ablest, and the most fortunate of them all.
His nearest neighbour was Siagrius, who governed at Soissons. In 486, Clovis sent him a defiance; Siagrius accepted it, and appointed the battlefield at Nogent, near Soissons. Siagrius was conquered, and took refuge with Alaric, king of the Visigoths, who gave him up to his conqueror. In 491, Clovis conquered the district of Tongres, now the district of Liege. In 496, he penetrated still further in the same direction; he entered the country of the Alemanni, against whom Sigebert, king of Cologne, had requested his assistance. He defeated them at Tolbiac, and became a Christian in consequence of this victory. A party of the conquered Alemanni took refuge in Rhoetia under the protection of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths: there, under the name of Suevi, they became the stem of the Suabians. Another body remained on the banks of the Rhine, and became subject to Sigebert and Clovis. Thus this chieftain extended his dominion in the vicinity of the Rhine. At the same time he overcame most of the Frankish chiefs, his neighbours, and subjected their tribes to his power. In 497, he led an expedition against the Armoricans in the West. In 500, he fell upon the Burgundians in the East, took advantage of their dissensions, and gained a victory between Dijon and Langres. In 507, he advanced into the centre of France, through Anjou and Poitou; near Poitiers, he attacked Alaric II., king of the Visigoths, and killed him. He penetrated as far as Angoulême, Bordeaux, and Toulouse; and boasted of having conquered Aquitaine. In 508, Clovis received the title of Patrician from Anastasius, the Emperor of the East. In 509, he returned to the Rhine, defeated his ancient ally, Sigebert, king of Cologne, and subjugated the Ripuarian Franks. In 511, he died, after having led his Frankish warriors, and extended his dominion, over the various parts of Gaul.
The wars and conquests of Clovis had little resemblance to what we understand by the same words at the present day. The principal object of the Frankish expeditions was to make booty, and carry off slaves; this is what was called conquest in those days. The victor sometimes imposed a tribute; but there resulted from his victory hardly any permanent possession, and no civil settlement. Among other proofs of this assertion, I may instance the small number of the warriors who accompanied Clovis, who was never attended, on his expeditions, by more than five or six thousand men. Now, with this number, no civil settlement, not even a military occupation, was possible. When the conqueror had withdrawn, the conquered people gradually resumed their independence—a new chieftain arose. Rarely did the conquerors settle in the lands which they had subjected; thus it was necessary incessantly to make the same conquests over again.
For a detailed narrative of these events, I refer you to the general histories of France, especially to the work of M. Sismondi.3
Naowhere do we obtain a better picture of the manners of the Greeks in the heroic age than that supplied by the Iliad. A similar authority, with reference to the expeditions and manners of the Germanic people, exists in the poem of the Nibelungen. There you will best be able to obtain a correct knowledge and thorough comprehension of the state of society, and the nature of the wars at this epoch.
At the death of Clovis, in 571, the Frankish monarchy was definitively established; for he had made the Frankish name and people the most formidable and least contested power in Gaul.
[1. ]A thousand Franks, a thousand Sarmatians, / Once indeed we slew.
[2. ]More without a ruler than with liberty.
[3. ]Guizot refers here to Jean Charles Léonard Sismondi (1773–1842), an influential Swiss historian and economist. Among his most important works were Nouveaux principes d’économie politique (New Principles of Political Economy), De la richesse commerciale, ou Principes d’économie politique appliquée à la législation du commerce (On Commercial Wealth: Principles of Political Economy Applied to Commercial Legislation), Études sur les constitutions des peuples libres (Studies on the Constitutions of Free Peoples).