Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE 18 - 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 18 - 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.
Simultaneous existence of three systems of institutions, after the settlement of the Franks in Gaul. ~ Conflict of these three systems. ~ Summary of this conflict, its vicissitudes, and results. ~ Its recurrence in local and central institutions. ~ Of local institutions under the Frankish monarchy. ~ Of the assemblies of free men. ~ Of the authority and jurisdiction of the great landowners in their estates. ~ Of the authority and jurisdiction of the dukes, counts, and other royal officers.
From the ancient condition of the barbarians in Germany, and from their new situation after their establishment in the Roman empire, there issued three systems of institutions, of different principles and results, which, from the fifth to the tenth century, co-existed at first for some time, and afterwards commingled and conflicted with each other with alternate success and defeat.
In their primitive state, in Germany, the Barbarians were all free; every individual was important—nothing of any moment could be undertaken or decided upon without the approbation and concurrence of the majority. Hence arose the common discussion of affairs of common interest, and the influence of election upon the choice of chiefs or judges—or in other words, the institutions of liberty.
The second principle with which we meet is the attachment and subordination of the tribesmen to their chief. Up to a certain point they were dependent upon him, even for their subsistence. This dependence increased after their territorial establishment. The authority of the chiefs over their comrades augmented; and the liberty of the latter diminished with their importance. They became beneficiaries or vassals, colonists, or even serfs; a hierarchy was formed among the landowners. Hence arose those aristocratic and hierarchical institutions which gave birth to the feudal system.
The power of the kings, originally very limited, became extended after conquest by the dispersion of the nation, the concession of benefices, and the predominance of the principle of hereditary succession to the throne. A conflict arose, not between the power of the king and the liberties of the citizens, but between the power of the king and that of the nobles, especially of the king’s own Leudes. The kings made attempts to found the entire government upon the monarchical principle, and, with this object, to place themselves in direct connexion with all their subjects. Under Charlemague, this attempt reached its apogee, and seemed likely to succeed. But the monarchical system succumbed beneath the feudal system.
Thus, free institutions, aristocratic institutions, monarchical institutions—local and general assemblies of free men to deliberate on common affairs, military, judicial, or others, in presence of or in concert with the king or his delegates—the subordination of the simple free man to the lord, of the vassal to the chieftain; the nobles administering justice, making war with each other, and imposing certain charges on their vassals; the progressive organization of the royal power; dukes, counts, royal officers, missi dominici, transacting public affairs and administering justice, even in opposition to the nobles—these are the three systems of facts, the three tendencies which present themselves to our notice during the period from the fifth to the tenth century. The conflict of these three tendencies constitutes the history of the public institutions of this epoch.
The system of free institutions rapidly declined. It succumbed beneath the system of the predominance of the great landowners, and of the hierarchy of benefices. A conflict arose between the principles of the feudal system, and the endeavours of the monarchical system. In the conflict of these two systems, however, we find remnants of the system of free institutions. These remnants were allied sometimes to the feudal, sometimes to the monarchical system—most frequently to the latter. Charlemagne attempted to render the institutions of liberty auxiliary to the triumph of the monarchical system. We observed something analogous to this in the history of the Anglo-Saxons; but there the system of free institutions never perished; the common deliberation of the free landowners, in the county-courts, always subsisted. Among the Franks, the simultaneity and conflict of the three systems were more distinct and animated; the first was the weakest and perished early.
In treating of the Franks, as of the Anglo-Saxons, we shall first examine their local institutions, and then their general institutions; and we shall everywhere meet with the great fact to which I have just alluded. We shall follow it in its vicissitudes, and we shall see, first, how the system of free institutions perished, in localities and at the centre; secondly, how the monarchical system was for a moment really successful and strongly predominant under Charlemagne alone; and thirdly, how the feudal system, that is to say, the aristocratic and hierarchical organization of territorial properties and sovereignties, could not but prevail, as it really did in the end.
of local institutions
In Frankish Gaul, as among the Anglo-Saxons, the territory was divided into counties, hundreds, and tythings.* The counts were called grafen, judices; the centeniers, centgrafen; and the tything-men, tungini, thingrafen. Each of these officers held a court, placitum, mallum, at which justice was administered, and the business of the district transacted. This court was at first an assembly of all the free men of the district; they were bound to attend, and a heavy fine was imposed as the penalty for non-attendance. There, as I have said, they distributed justice, and deliberated upon matters of common interest. Civil transactions, sales, wills, enfranchisements, were carried on in public. There, also, military convocations were made. The court or plaid of the tything-man, decanus, is seldom met with, and was of little importance, as in England. The powers of the courts or assemblies of free men, held by the centenarii and vicarii were somewhat limited; judgments could not be given upon questions involving property or personal liberty, unless it were in presence of the imperial envoys or the counts.
Such were the free institutions and the meetings for common deliberation, of separate localities. These primitive plaids correspond to the ancient assemblies of the Germans in Germany.
Besides the plaids of freemen, appears the jurisdiction of the nobles or important landowners over the persons who dwelt on their domains. The chieftain distributed justice to his comrades, or, as they had now become, his colonists. His jurisdiction was not, however, altogether arbitrary; his comrades were his assessors in his court. The conjuratores, who attested the truth of the facts stated, almost entirely settled the affair. If we consider these institutions in their origin, we find that the seignorial courts of justice, although obscure and somewhat inactive, existed simultaneously with the assemblies of freemen, exempt from the circumscription and jurisdiction of the officers of the crown. The jurisdiction of the churches was derived from the jurisdiction of the seigneurs, and both were exercised in virtue of the proprietorship of the domain, which rendered the landlord the patron of its inhabitants.
These are the first rudiments of that feudal organization which, by establishing the authority and jurisdiction of the seigneur over his tenants, vassals or colonists, constantly tended to destroy the authority and jurisdiction of the assemblies of free men. A conflict began between the feudal principle of hierarchical subordination, and the principle of the union of equals in common deliberation. This conflict commenced as early as the beginning of the epoch which now occupies our attention.
Let us now examine how the royal power was exercised in separate localities during this period. The dukes, counts, centeniers, and others, were probably at the outset, as I have already observed, not mere delegates of the king, but the natural chieftains, the most powerful and extensive landowners. It is quite erroneous to believe that, originally, a county corresponded to what is now called a department, and that the king appointed and sent a count to govern it as he now sends a prefect. The king, the head of the nation, naturally directed the most important man in the district to convoke together the free men of the district for military purposes, and to collect the revenues of the royal domains; and this person thus received a sort of appointment from the king. The increasing importance of the palace and court of the kings—the influence of Roman institutions and ideas, at length made this appointment the source of a title. The counts became Leudes, and vice versa, the Leudes became counts.
During a considerable period the hereditariness of these officers was not recognised. Some antiquaries even are of opinion that these employments were given for a fixed time only. There is more reason to believe that this point was not definitely determined, and that, in fact, these offices were long unlimited as to their duration, and always transferable; numerous instances can be brought in support of this theory. The Frankish kings frequently allowed the natural chieftains of the countries which they conquered to retain their former position and ancient rights. Thus the Bavarian dukes were hereditary. When Louis the Débonnair received the Spaniards into the south of France, he permitted their counts to retain their titles and jurisdiction.
The title of count became an object of ambition on account of the advantages connected therewith. The count possessed great power, a share of the fines, freda, and immense facilities for acquiring property in the district under his jurisdiction. These offices also supplied the kings with means for enriching their Leudes, or obtaining new ones. Under the Merovingians, perpetual instability prevailed in respect to these offices as well as to benefices; they were obtained by presents or purchased by money. Nevertheless, the office of count was frequently transmitted from father to son; this was natural, and usage could not fail to precede right; the count or duke, being almost always an important personage in his canton or town, independently of his office, his son, who succeeded to his importance, succeeded frequently to his office also.
Some writers have affirmed that there was a great distinction between the dukes and the counts; it has even been asserted that each duke had twelve counts under his orders. No such regularity existed in local administration. We meet with some counts equal in power to dukes; among the Burgundians, for example, some counts ruled over several provinces. We may say, however, that in general the duke was superior to the count. We may even presume that, originally, the office of duke was military, and that of the count, judicial; although the two missions frequently appear confounded. A formula of Marculf assimilates the dukes, counts, and patricians. The margraves were the counts of the marches or frontiers. The men of the court, the delegates of the king, finished by being counts everywhere.
Thus there co-existed the three systems of institutions which I have mentioned: 1. the assemblies of freemen, having authority and jurisdiction; 2. the great landowners, whether Beneficiary or allodial, lay or ecclesiastical, proprietors—having authority and jurisdiction; 3. the administrators or delegates of the king, having authority and jurisdiction.
In the midst of the disorders of the Merovingian race, we find that the assemblies of free men rapidly declined. Most of the free men ceased to attend. Some became powerful enough to aim at independence, others became so weak as to lose their freedom. The common deliberation of free men disappeared. The principle of the subordination of the individual to the individual, in virtue of protection, vassalage, patronage, or colonage, prevailed. Seignorial jurisdictions, both lay and ecclesiastical, became extended. Their extension and consolidation were the necessary consequence of the extension and consolidation of benefices. The diminution of the number of allodial estates, the increase of tributary lands, and the corresponding changes which were introduced into the condition of persons, necessarily removed the greater number of justiceables from the jurisdiction of the assemblies of free men and from that of the king. Even the care which was taken by the first Carlovingians to compel the seigneurs to administer justice, and to control their administration of it, proves the progress of this kind of jurisdiction.
The liberty allowed to every man to live under any law he pleased, could not but contribute also to this result; it tended to disperse society, for it placed men under the jurisdiction of those who had their own private code of laws; and thus it opposed union, and common deliberation. It was a kind of liberty, doubtless—a liberty necessary in the state of society which then existed; but this liberty, like almost all other liberties at this period, was a principle of isolation.
[* ] That is, of course, districts analogous to these divisions.