Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE 10 - The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe
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LECTURE 10 - 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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Division of territory among the sons of the Frankish kings. ~ Rapid formation and disappearance of several Frank kingdoms. ~ Neustria and Austrasia; their geographical division. ~ Early predominance of Neustria. ~ Fredegonde and Brunehaut. ~ Elevation of the Mayors of the Palace. ~ True character of their power. ~ The Pepin family. ~ Charles Martel. ~ Fall of the Merovingians.
I have already explained to you how we must understand the historical phrase which attributes to Clovis the foundation of the French monarchy. In the sense and within the limits which I have indicated, Clovis, at his death, was king of the whole of France, excepting the kingdoms of the Burgundians and Visigoths. After his decease, each of his four sons received a portion of his dominions. Theodoric ruled at Metz, Chlodomir at Orleans, Childebert at Paris, and Clotaire at Soissons. The nature of this division has given rise to considerable dissension among learned men; but I think the question may be easily solved. In order to retain his power, it was necessary for the chieftain or king to possess large private domains; in all his warlike expeditions, he acquired for himself large tracts of territory; Clovis had thus obtained immense landed property wherever he had made a conquest. At his death, these estates were divided among his children, as were also his other possessions, flocks, herds, jewels, money, treasures of all kinds: these supplied their owners with the surest means of attaining power. Moreover, it was the custom of the Frankish kings to associate their sons with them in the government, by sending them to reside in that district or province which was afterwards to constitute their kingdom. They thus endeavoured to secure the prevalence of hereditary right over election. The sons of the king became in their turn the natural chieftains of the countries in which they actually possessed the most power. Thus we find that Clotaire II., in 622, associated with himself his son Dagobert, and sent him to Austrasia. Dagobert did the same, in 633, for his son Sigebert.
From this division of private domains and participation in royal power, it was easy to pass to the political partition of the kingdom. It is more difficult to discover whether these partitions were made by the dying king, in his own authority, or by the national assembly. At a later period, under the second race, we find Pepin, Charlemagne and Louis the Débonnair, positively obtaining the consent of the assembly of barons to the division of their states among their children. Facts are not so clear and authentic under the Merovingians. However, as the accession of the second race was a return to old Germanic manners, it is probable that, in the time of Clovis and his successors, every heir, on receiving his portion, was obliged to gain the consent of the chiefs of the country. Five partitions of this kind occurred under the Merovingians; in 511, after the death of Clovis; in 561, after Clotaire I.; in 638, after Dagobert I.; in 656, after Clovis II. From 678 to 752, the whole monarchy was actually united under the authority of the Pepin family, who were originally Mayors of the Palace of Austrasia, and nominally under that of titular kings, the first four and the sixth of whom descended from the kings of Neustria, and the fifth and seventh from those of Austrasia. The kingdoms which were constituted by the five partitions which I have just mentioned, were those of Metz, Orleans, Paris, Soissons, Austrasia, Burgundy, Neustria, and Aquitaine.
I shall not here speak of the vicissitudes and perpetual dismemberments of these various kingdoms at various times. I should have only to relate a long series of wars and murders. The ancient kingdom of Burgundy was conquered by the children of Clovis I.; a new kingdom of Burgundy arose, in which the kingdom of Orleans was incorporated. The new kingdom of Burgundy was invaded, sometimes by the kings of Neustria, sometimes by those of Austrasia. The kingdom of Aquitaine appears for a moment only under Childebert II., son of Clotaire II., in 628, and about 716, under Eudes, duke of Aquitaine, who declared himself an independent monarch. At length, these four kingdoms disappeared; the fundamental conflict and division was between the kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia, the two largest, and last surviving.
The geographical division of the kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia is uncertain and variable. We find the kings of Austrasia possessing countries far distant from the center of their government—countries, too, which seem to be naturally placed by their position under the sway of the kings of Neustria. Thus, they were the masters of Auvergne, and their dominion extended almost as far as Poitou. These incoherent possessions had their origin in the frequent expeditions of the two countries against each other, or into distant lands which belonged to neither of them. We can, however, obtain some few distinct boundary lines; the forest of Ardennes separated Austrasia from Neustria; Neustria comprised the country between the Meuse and the Loire; Austrasia consisted of that between the Meuse and the Rhine.
This division had a far greater importance than that of a mere geographical division; and there is a deeper cause for the successive disappearance of the other Frankish kingdoms, and the final predominance of these two.
The countries which composed Austrasia were the first which were inhabited by the Franks. They adjoined Germany, and were connected with those portions of the Frankish confederacy which had not crossed the Rhine. They were, therefore, the cradle, the first fatherland, of the Franks. Moreover, after their expeditions, these tribes frequently returned with their booty to their ancient settlement, instead of establishing themselves in their new conquests. Thus Theodoric, son of Clovis, in the fifth century, led a great expedition into Auvergne, and returned afterwards to Austrasia. Roman civilization and manners had been almost completely expelled from that bank of the Rhine; the ancient German manners predominated there. In the countries which composed Neustria, on the other hand, the Franks were less numerous, more scattered, more separated from their ancient fatherland and fellow-countrymen. The ancient inhabitants of the country surrounded them on every side. The Franks were there like colonies of barbarians transported into the midst of Roman civilization and a Roman people. This state of things could not but lead to a far more profound and reasonable distinction between the two kingdoms, than could be occasioned by a purely geographical division. On one side was the kingdom of the Germano-Franks, on the other that of the Romano-Franks.
Historic testimony positively confirms this probable deduction from facts. Austrasia is termed Francia Teutonica, and Neustria, Francia Romana. The German language prevailed in the former country, and the Roman in the latter. Finally, under the first race of kings, events bear the evident impress of this fundamental distinction, or rather, they are its natural result. When considering them in a general manner, it is impossible to recognize this character. I shall now give a summary of the principal proofs.
I. The original predominance of the kingdom of Neustria. This is an incontestable fact. Four kings, after Clovis, and before the destruction of the royal authority by the Mayors of the Palace, united the whole Frankish monarchy under one head. These were kings of Neustria; Clotaire I., from 558 to 561; Clotaire II., from 613 to 628; Dagobert I., from 631 to 638; and Clovis II., from 655 to 656. This predominance of Neustria was the natural result, 1st, Of the establishment of Clovis in Neustria; 2ndly, Of the central position of that kingdom with reference to the rest of Gaul; 3rd, Of the superior civilization and wealth which accrued to it from its Roman population; 4th, Of the rapid extension which the royal authority obtained in it, in consequence of the prevalence of Roman ideas and customs; 5th, Of the continualfluctuations occasioned in Austrasia, by the proximity of the German barbarians, by wars against the Thuringians and Saxons, and by other causes.
II. The state of the two kingdoms, during the epoch of Fredegonde and Brunehaut, from 598 to 623. The struggle was constant between Neustria and Austrasia, under the name of these two queens. The power of Chilperic and of Fredegonde in Neustria was greater than that of the kings of Austrasia and of Brunehaut. Fredegonde acted upon a country in which the only Roman administration still prevailed; Brunehaut endeavoured in vain to overcome the rude independence of the chiefs of the German bands, who had become large landed proprietors. Her boldness and ability failed in its opposition to the Austrasian and Burgundian aristocracy. The Austrasian aristocracy formed a secret alliance with that of Neustria. The fall and death of Brunehaut were evidently a triumph of the Austrasian aristocracy, which, being stronger and more compact than that of Neustria, imposed upon Clotaire II. the execution of his queen. The remnants of Roman despotism were overcome in Austrasia by the German aristocracy, and the consequences of that event were the enfeeblement of the royal authority and the predominance of Austrasian influence.
III. The elevation of the Mayors of the Palace, and the fall of the Merovingian race, are the third proof of the great fact which I have mentioned. The elevation of the Mayors of the Palace must be ascribed to the same causes in both kingdoms. It is an error to interpret this fact as the conflict of the victorious Franks against the Gauls and Romans. These last, more moulded to despotism, had found a ready access to the court of the barbarian kings, and it has been inferred from this, that it was in order to counteract their influence, that the German aristocracy created the Mayors of the Palace. This is an error; the Mayors of the Palace were the work and instrument of the barbarian aristocracy, whether Roman or Gallic, in opposition to the royal authority.
It has also been said that the kings were desirous of attaching to themselves one of the most powerful members of the territorial aristocracy, in order to control or oppress the others. This might have been the case originally, but the Mayor of the Palace soon found it more advantageous to make himself the leader and instrument of the nobility. He promoted their interests, and assumed the character of a protector to the large proprietors with whom, finally, his appointment rested. From this time forth, the royal authority was almost a dead letter.
The same phenomenon is observable in both kingdoms; but the Austrasian aristocracy was more purely German, and more compact, than that of Neustria. It was consequently more powerful, and its Mayors of the Palace became more deeply rooted in their authority. Thus we behold the family of Pepin gain the royal power by a progressive elevation, from 630 to 75. This family was descended from Carloman, the wealthy proprietor of the domain of Haspengau, situated on the Meuse, between the district of Liege and the duchy of Brabant. It was thoroughly German, and naturally placed itself at the head of the Franco-German aristocracy.
The fall of the Merovingians was, therefore, the work of Austrasia, and, as it were, a second conquest of Roman France, by Germanic France. The kings of Roman France were unable to maintain their position, and the Neustrian Mayors of the Palace, the leaders of a mingled aristocracy of Franks and Gauls, were incompetent to take their place. It was from the banks of the Rhine and from Belgium, that is, from the ancient fatherland of the Franks, that the new conquerors came—and these conquerors were the chiefs of a purely Germanic aristocracy.
This was, undoubtedly, the true character of the fall of the Merovingians, and of the elevation of the Carlovingians, who founded a new Frankish monarchy in that Gaul in which the Neustrian Franks had so greatly degenerated. Thus we shall perceive, at this epoch, and in consequence of this revolution, a marked return towards the primitive institutions and manners of the Franks. This is perceptible, indeed, even in the manner in which the revolution was effected. The details of this event fully con firm what we have first said regarding the general progress of affairs. The Pepin family had laboured for a century to place itself at the head of the Frankish nation. It derived its support not merely from the great landed aristocracy, but also from the patronage of the warriors employed in military expeditions. The development of the power of this family, in the first point of view, was the work of Pepin the Old and of Pepin de Heristal; under the second, it was the work of Charles Martel in particular. His continual wars against the Transrhenane Germans, against the Saracens, and against the petty tyrants of the interior, rendered him a more powerful warrior-chief than any of his ancestors. But Charles Martel employed other means also to attach his companions to his person. He seized the property of the church, and distributed it amongst them. He did not take this property, however, in so absolute a manner as is supposed. The various churches were in the habit of farming out their property for a fixed annual income, and ecclesiastical estates thus farmed out were called precaria. Frequently the kings, when desirous of rewarding one of their chiefs, ordered a chapter to farm out an estate to the favourite for a very moderate rent, under the title of a precarium. Charles Martel, at first, merely generalised this practice. A very large number of his comrades received from him favours of this kind; in the first instance, they received the ecclesiastical estates only for two or three years; but, when that term had expired, the tenants were unwilling to restore what they had appropriated to themselves by the habit of enjoyment. The conflict of the church against the usurping proprietors long perplexed the kings of the second race. As they often required the help of the clergy, they strove to appease their complaints. Pepin the Short and Charlemagne restored to them a large portion of their property which had formerly been granted to their warriors as precaria; or at least, increased the amount paid to the church by the new proprietors, who obstinately refused to consider themselves mere tenants.
The predominance of the Pepin family had commenced before the time of Charles Martel, by their possessing the hereditary office of Mayor of the Palace. During the life of that great chieftain, there were several inter-reigns in Austrasia and Neustria, and he continued to exercise the supreme authority with the simple title of Duke of the Franks. At his death, his children, Pepin and Carloman, divided the kingdom between them, Pepin, still preserving some respect for appearances, made Childeric III. king in Neustria; and soon, by the abdication of his brother Carloman, he found himself Duke of Austrasia, as well as the all-powerful Mayor of the Palace in Neustria. Such was, however, the influence already possessed by the idea of the hereditary legitimacy of the crown, that Pepin did not venture to seize, in the name of force alone, upon the throne which was considered to belong rightfully to the descendants of Clovis. He sought to justify his employment of force by popular election, and an appeal to religion. As the head of an aristocracy, he was obliged frequently to defer to its will, and to give it a share of authority. He revived the ancient assemblies of the large landowners, and restored to them their part in public affairs. Thenceforward he might consider himself certain of his election; but even this did not suffice him. He thought that his usurpation needed a more august and sacred sanction. He gained over to his interests Boniface, bishop of Mayence, and charged him to sound Pope Zachary, who, on his side, was hard pressed by the Lombards, and needed the assistance of the Frankish chieftain. When Pepin was sure of the pontiff’s concurrence, he sent Burckhardt, bishop of Wurtzburg, and Fulrad, abbot of St. Denis, to propose to him this question, in the form of a case of conscience. “When there is a king in fact and a king by right, which is the true king?” The pope replied, that he who actually exercised the royal authority ought also to possess the royal title. In 752, Pepin convoked the national assembly at Soissons; he was there elected king, and afterwards consecrated by Bishop Boniface. In 754, Pope Stephen III. made a journey into France, and again consecrated Pepin with his two sons and his wife Bertrade. The pope ordered the Franks, on pain of excommunication, to take none as kings who did not belong to the family of Pepin, and the Franks swore an oath:Ut nunquam de alterius lumbis regem in aevo praesumant eligere.1
A second dynasty was thus established almost in the same manner as the first had been. The principal warrior-chief, the most powerful of the large landowners, has himself elected by his companions, con fines future elections to members of his own family, and obtains the sanction of religion to his election. He holds the actual power from his fathers and from himself; he is desirous of holding the rightful power from God and from the people. German manners and institutions reappear, but in association with Christian ideas. Here is a second conquest of Gaul, accomplished by German warriors, and sanctioned, in the name of the Roman world, no longer by the Emperor, but by the Pope. The church has inherited the moral ascendancy of the empire.
[1. ]That they never undertake to choose from the loins of another a king for all time.