Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE 13 - The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
LECTURE 13 - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Origin of military service; its cause and limits. ~ It was made a general obligation by Charlemagne. ~ Allodial lands were originally exempt from taxation. ~ Origin of benefices. ~ Change in the position of the German chiefs in consequence of their territorial settlement. ~ Their wealth. ~ No public treasury. ~ The aerarium and fiscus of the old Roman republic. ~ Formation of the private domain of the kings of France. ~ Character of benefices. ~ Error of Montesquieu on this subject.
I have indicated some of the new relations which became progressively established between the proprietors of allodial lands and the services that resulted from them. I have to occupy you today with the consideration of military service and benefices.
Originally, military service was imposed on a man by virtue of his quality, his nationality before the conquest, and not by reason of his wealth. After the conquest, there was no legal obligation to it whatever; it was a natural result of the position occupied by the Franks—who were constantly called upon to defend what they had conquered—and of their taste for warlike expeditions, and for pillage. It was, also, a kind of moral obligation which each man owed to the chief whom he had chosen. This connexion continued the same as in Germany; the chief proposed an expedition to his men, and if they approved of it, they set out. Thus, we find Theodoric proposed to the Austrasian Franks an expedition against Thuringia. Often the warriors themselves summoned their chief to conduct them on some particular expedition, threatening to forsake him, and seek another chief, in the event of his refusal. Under the Merovingians, a kind of regularity, some sort of legal obligation, was introduced into the military con-vocations, and a penalty was inflicted upon those who did not present themselves. The obligation was imposed, and the penalty inflicted, even in cases where no movement was required in defence of the country. The proprietors of allodial lands were not exempted; many, doubtless, went on their own free choice, but the feeble were constrained. This was, however, an obligation attached rather to the quality of a free man, a Frank, or an associate, than to property.
Not until the reign of Charlemagne, do we see the obligation to military service imposed on all free men, proprietors of freeholds, as well as of benefices, and regulated by property qualifications. This service now appeared no longer as a voluntary act; it was no longer the consequence of the simple relation between a chief and his associates, but a truly public service imposed on every individual of the nation, in proportion to the nature and extent of his territorial possessions. Charlemagne was very vigilant in seeing that the system of recruiting which he had established, should be faithfully carried out; we have a proof of this in his capitulary, issued in the form of instructions to the missi dominici, in the year 812. This is an exceedingly minute account of the particulars and charges of military service. These charges remained under the same conditions during the reigns of Charlemagne’s immediate successors. Under Charles the Bald, they were restricted to the case of an invasion of the country by a foreigner (landwehr). The relation of the vassal to his lord, at that time, prevailed completely over that of the citizen to the chief ruler of the state.
Although allodial lands were exempt from imposts, properly so called, more because there were no general imposts whatever than because of any special immunity from them possessed by allodial lands, yet we find the kings used every favourable opportunity to attempt to attach imposts to men and lands, which they believed rightfully exempt from them; complaints were made of these attempts as acts of injustice; they were resisted, and sometimes redress was sought, as under Chilperic, in 578, in Austrasia; under Theodebert, in 547; and under Clovis II., in 615. We find also, that, on the occasion of great and alarming emergencies, the kings imposed certain charges on proprietors, without distinction, requiring them to lend their assistance, either to the poor, or to the state. Thus, Charlemagne, in 779, during a famine, and Charles the Bald, in 877, in order to pay the tribute due to the Normans, made such general claims. In both these cases, the charge was adjusted to the quality of persons and properties.
There is reason to believe that, originally, allodial lands did not exist in large numbers, especially among the Franks.
There is no ground for supposing that the Franks took possession of, and shared the lands, wherever they made expeditions and conquests. They rather cared for the booty which they carried off, and the cattle which they took with them, instead of forming a settlement themselves. For a long time, the greater part of the Franks did not often forsake their first habitations on the banks of the Meuse and the Rhine; thither they returned after their expeditions.
We may conclude that lands were most probably distributed in the following manner. Each chief took a portion for himself and his associates, who lived on the land of their chief. It would be absurd to suppose that each band would dissolve itself, and the separated individuals then retire each to his isolated share of land; there were no individual shares, or, certainly, but few. This is sufficiently proved by the fact that the greater number of Franks appear to have been without landed property, living as cultivators on the lands, and in thevillae of a chief, or of the king. Often, even, a man would place himself not only under the protection, but at the disposal of another, to serve him during his life, on condition of being fed and clothed, and yet without ceasing to be free. This kind of contract, the formula for which has been preserved, must have been very common, and explains the circumstance that so large a number of free men are found to have lived and served on lands not belonging to themselves. Probably, the number of Franks who became successively proprietors, by means of benefices, was greater than the number of those who were primitively allodial proprietors.
The larger number of small allodial proprietors were gradually robbed of their possessions, or reduced to the condition of tributaries, by the usurpation of their neighbours, or of powerful chiefs. Of this, there are innumerable examples. The laws made, from the seventh to the tenth century, give evidence of the tendency of large allodial estates or benefices to absorb small freeholds. The statute of Louis the Débonnair, referring to the complaints of the Spanish refugees in the south, explains pretty accurately the system according to which properties changed hands.
Donations to churches also tended incessantly to reduce the number of allodial estates. They would probably soon have disappeared altogether, had not a cause of an opposite character tended continually to create new ones. As allo-dial property was sure and permanent, while benefices were precarious and more dependent, the proprietors of benefices constantly sought to convert their benefices into allodial estates. The capitularies which remain to us prove this at every step. It is probable that large new allodial estates were thus created, but small ones tended to disappear.
Finally, under Charles the Bald, a singular circumstance presents itself. This was the very time when the system of allodial property was preparing, so to speak, to merge itself in the system of Beneficiary property, which is synonymous with feudalism; and precisely at that time the name of Allods is more frequent than ever. We find it applied to properties which are evidently benefices. This name still designated a property more surely hereditary and independent, and as benefices were ordinarily hereditary and independent, they were called allods, just in order to indicate their new character; and the king himself, whose interest it especially was that his benefices should not become allods, gave them this name, as if it had become their conventional designation. Sixty years previously, Charlemagne had made the greatest efforts to prevent benefices from becoming allods.
Having thus explained the nature and changes of allods, I pass on to the consideration of benefices.
Benefices, which constituted the cradle of the feudal system, were a natural result of the relations anciently subsisting in Germany between a chief and his associates. As the power of these chiefs resided only in the strength of their band of associates, all their attention was directed to the means of enlarging the number of these followers. Tacitus relates how, being charged with the maintenance and preservation of their followers, they gained and kept them by means of constant warfare, by dividing to them the spoils of the empire, by gifts of arms and horses. After the conquest, when the territorial establishment took place, the position of the chiefs was altered. Hitherto, in their wandering life, they had lived solely upon rapine; then they possessed two kinds of wealth, moveable booty and lands. They made their companions other presents, which engaged them in another kind of life. These riches, both moveable and fixed, remained for the chiefs, as for all others, as their personal and private property. The Frankish society had not then arrived at any ideas of public property. It consisted only of individuals, powerful by reason of their courage and their talent for war, by the antiquity of their family, and the renown of their name, who collected around them other individuals, who passed their life in the same precarious manner. The republics of antiquity did not commence thus. Rome had soon its public treasure—its aerarium. Till nearly the close of the republic, theaerarium still remained. Augustus established the fiscus, the treasury of the prince, which was destined to absorb the aerarium. The fiscus, at first, received only private gifts to the prince, but it soon usurped all the public revenues, till it became at length the only repository for public wealth. Thus, despotism transformed a public into a private domain. The states founded on the ruins of the Roman empire have followed an opposite course. At their commencement, all property was private property. It is in consequence of the development of civilization, and free institutions, that in almost all monarchies private domains have gradually become public property.
The private domains of the chiefs of bands, and particularly of the Frank-ish kings, were at first composed of lands taken from the inhabitants of the countries in which they established themselves. I have already stated that they did not take all the lands, but a large number of them. The share of the chief must have been considerable, as is indicated by the numerous domains of the chiefs of the first two races, in Belgium, in Flanders, and on the banks of the Rhine, where they first formed their settlements. Hullmann has given a list of a hundred and twenty-three domains beyond the Meuse belonging to the Carlovingian family.
The private property of the chiefs of conquered peoples were, to a great extent at least, incorporated into the domain of the conquering chief. Clovis subjected to himself successively several petty monarchs in his neighbour-hood—Ragnachair at Cambray, Chararich in Belgium, and Siegbert at Cologne; and took possession of all their personal property.
The substitution of the royalty of one family for that of another, augmented the private domain of the king; the new king would add to his own personal possessions the property of the dethroned king. Thus the large domains possessed by the family of the Pepins, in Belgium, and on the Rhine, became royal domains.
Legal confiscations, as a punishment for crime, cases in which no legal heir was to be found for property, unjust and violent confiscations—were other sources of personal wealth to kings.
In these ways, the private domain of the kings increased rapidly, and it was employed by them especially as a means of attaching their associates to them, and of gaining new ones. benefices, then, are as ancient as the establishment of the Franks on a fixed territory.
The fundamental question which has divided historians, whether those who are merely scholars or the philosophers, is—were benefices given for a time and revocable at will, or were they for life and yet revertible, or were they hereditary? Montesquieu has aimed at establishing a historical progression among these different modes; he asserts that benefices were at first revocable, being given for a time, then for life, and then hereditary. I believe he is mistaken, and that his mistake arises from an attempt to systematize history, and bring its facts into regular marching order. In the giving and receiving of benefices, two tendencies have always coexisted: on the one hand, those who had received benefices wished to retain them, and even to make them hereditary; on the other hand, the kings who granted them wished to resume them, or to grant them for only a limited period. All the disputes that occurred between kings and their powerful subjects, all the treaties which arose out of these disputes, all the promises which were made with a view to appease the dissatisfaction of malcontents, prove that the kings were in the habit of taking back, by violence, the benefices they had granted, and that the nobles attempted to retain them also by violence. The Mayors of the Palace acquired their power by placing themselves at the head of the large possessors of benefices, and by seconding their pretensions. Under the administration of Pepin the Short and Charlemagne, the struggle appeared to cease, because the kings had for a time great superiority in force; but, in reality, the kings were now the aggressors in their turn, who endeavoured to bring the benefices again into their own hands, and to preserve to themselves the free disposal of them. Under Charles the Bald, the kings again began to get feeble, and, in consequence the treaties and promises became again favourable to the beneficiaries. In fact, the history of benefices, from the time of Clovis till the full establishment of the feudal system, is only a perpetual struggle between these two opposing tendencies. An attentive and accurate examination of the facts will prove that the three modes of conceding benefices did not follow one another in regular chronological succession, but that they are to be found existing and operating simultaneously during the whole course of this period.