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Earl, while originally the English counties, each under its own Alderman, were not of a size to encourage the usurpation of their governors. From that era the provincial governors began to overpower the royal authority as they had done on the continent, and England under Edward the Confessor was not far removed from the condition of France under Charles the Bald.
The feeble reigns of Charles the Simple in France, and Lewis the Infant in Germany, were commencing, and Italy was divided between Guy and Berenger, at the time that Alfred-unaffected by foreign revolutions and unembarrassed by the insubordination of the great nobles, which palsied the strength of the continental kings was called upon to oppose with the whole force of his realm a combination of the Northmen more formidable than any which it had yet been his fortune to resist.
The veteran Hastings, driven from the Scheld by a victory which shed lustre on the close of the reign of Arnulph, concentrated his forces at Boulogne and determined on a fresh invasion of England. From the magnitude of his armament, and the combinations which the hoary and experienced pirate effected with the Danes already settled in East Anglia and Northumbria, it appears that he meditated no less than the conquest of the whole island. We are led to think of other conquests, and other menaces of invasion issuing from that coast of the channel, when we are told that having assembled a fleet of 250 ships, he "transported" his whole force "at one time, with their horses withal," and landed them safely on the coast of Sussex. In the fastnesses of the great wood which even now overspreads the Wealden or central districts of Sussex and Kent-the Sylva Anderida, or Coed Andred of the Britons-120 miles in length and 30 in breadth, they were able to maintain themselves building a fort of timber, while their allies in the north were exhausting the strength of Alfred's forces. The war raged for three years from the Humber to the south coast, and from the mouth of the Thames to Exeter and to Chester on the borders of north Wales; and a fortified camp on the river Lea within reach of London, already a place of importance, but not as yet the capital, was held by the main body of the army of Hastings till it was broken up in consequence of a skilful manœuvre of Alfred.
Meanwhile a murrain of cattle, and a pestilential disorder, lessened his resources, and carried off a vast number of his noblest generals and bravest soldiers. But the genius of Alfred prevailed against all difficulties. The war had been waged by sea as well as by land; but a number of ships built on his own skilful models, of a size and proportion differing from that both of the Danish and Frisian vessels, gave him the superiority. All the efforts of the bold and experienced pirate were foiled, and, his dreams of conquest abandoned, he fled for ever from the shores of England. This crowning success of Alfred's career freed his kingdom from apprehension of foreign invasion, and reduced to submission the Northmen already settled in the country. Living three years afterwards glorious and beloved, he left his kingdom united and well regulated, unshaken in its political organization, unimpaired in its material prosperity, notwithstanding the ravages to which it had been exposed, and making advances in civilization and knowledge, in trade and in naval power, a state of affairs in strong contrast with that of the other European kingdoms.
Our third and last point of view of the political state of Europe in the ninth century was to be taken from this era. It has been gradually opening to us from just before the middle of the century, when we saw the empire of Charlemagne divided into three great kingdoms. We have followed the progress of its dismemberment until, at the close of the century, we see it split into several small kingdoms and a number of other almost independent states, connected by slender ties with the sovereignties of which they were nominally members. But the tendency to dissolution was not stayed at this point; the relaxation of the bonds of central authority still increased, and if we extend our view into the tenth century we shall find that before its close every lord of a domain asserted within his own seignory independent sovereign rights, with the reservation only of a suzerainty to the national king or to some one of the great feudatories similar to that which was the only badge of their own subjection to the chief of the state.
Empires of unwieldy bulk, like that of Charlemagne, have several times been dissolved by the usurpation of provincial
governors, as is recorded both in antient history and in that of the Mahomedan dynasties of the east; and some persons have been satisfied with supposing that they discover in that analogy a sufficient cause of the phenomenon the principal crises of which we have now followed. Others have assigned the decay of the empire to the incapacity of Charlemagne's successors;-if they had possessed the genius and character of its founder it would have still subsisted. According to others, the Normans have to answer for its ruin; their constant invasions, the misery and despair of the people shattered the powers of government and brought about all the evil.
Another solution of the problem has been given by several writers, but M. Thierry has developed its principles with the greatest ingenuity." According to him, the dismemberment of the empire of Charlemagne was brought about by the antagonism of races. On the death of Charles, when the powerful hand which held together so many different nations was withdrawn, they first separated, and then grouped themselves according to their several varieties of origin, language and manners; and under this influence was accomplished the formation of new states. No doubt there was a strong antagonism between the different populations; and the division of the empire after the civil wars among the sons of Lewis le Debonnair originated in a feeling of nationality as well as in the ambition of the princes. It appeared more distinctly in the struggle for Eudes the elective king of France against the legitimate king Charles the Simple—a struggle which was only terminated by the exclusion of the Carlovingian dynasty and the accession of Hugh Capet in the following century.
But the dismemberment of the empire did not merely arise from the struggle of origin or nationality; for the races were divided in the interior of almost all the kingdoms into which it was divided. We have already remarked the divergency of political opinion between the Franks of Germany and the Franks of Gaul. We saw them ranged under opposite banners at the great battle of Fontenai, uniting themselves, though of the same race, with the mixed societies in which they lived. Geographical posi
(10) Lettres sur l'histoire de France. XI and XII.
tion, personal interests and other special causes evidently had their share in bringing about the greater divisions, and the consideration of race is still more foreign to the question of the causes of the dismemberment of the duchies and counties and lordships into which each kingdom was subdivided. There was in them no such struggle of origin or nationality, and yet there was separation, dismemberment, the same as among the great masses of population of which the kingdoms were formed.
It is therefore necessary that we should penetrate below the surface of events to ascertain the principle which was most influential in the dissolution of the empire of Charlemagne and the formation of the new states. It appears to have had its origin in the instincts and the habits of the conquering race. These were opposed to centralization and tended to separation and independence. A great consolidated empire was incompatible with the genius and habits of the Franks.
If we know anything of the character of the antient Germans, independence-individuality, was its predominant feature. Every member of the tribe had a hand in raising the chief of their election on the buckler, a voice in the free deliberations of its assemblies. He was attached to his chief, but his service was in great measure voluntary. In foreign inroads he followed the bravest and the best. In that simple state of society, there is little inequality of rank. The warriors were the associates of their chief, they shared his dangers, his pleasures, and the spoils of his enterprises. It has been justly and beautifully said that "personal independence, the pleasure of enjoying existence vigorously and unrestrained, amidst the uncertainties of the world and of life, the luxury of action without labour, the love of a destiny full of adventure, of unforseen events, of inequality and of danger, are the ruling principle of the barbarian state." It is the same in the original races of the St Lawrence and Keiskamma as it was among the long-haired tribes who roamed through the forests from the Rhine to the Danube. May not vestiges of the same idiosyncrasy be traced now in individual characters of our own race which the transmuting and civilizing processes of a thousand have not sufficed to eradicate?
Conquest made some difference in the relative positions of the
members of the invading tribes. It raised the chief to a barbarian royalty which affected the exclusive privileges of their new rank. But large portions of the conquered territories were parcelled out among his followers. The leading men were still his companions and formed his court, his leudes, his peers. The brotherhood of arms has always involved a certain sense of equality. In later ages, when the distinctions of rank had become still greater, knighthood conferred the privilege of companionship with princes. Even at this day kings address their nobles as cousins. Charlemagne had his peers. The tenure on which the Franks held their lands is not very well defined. Service in war was its principal element. The ties which united them to their chief admitted of a large share of independence. Isolated on their domains, that element in the German character had full scope for its developement. They too had their followers of lesser rank, their companions and subportionists of their lands, who held of them, as they did of the king. The conquered race, freeholders or serfs, gradually attached themselves to their new lords. The bond that existed between the conquerors, the individual attachment of man to man, the principle of fidelity, was carried into the new society. In it we discover the germs of that organization which a century later became feudality, and in the communities thus formed, we find the origin of the states which, each under its own lord, rose to independence in the dismemberment of the empire.
The system of Charlemagne may be viewed under a twofold aspect, one pointing to the Roman, the other to the German institutions. In his imperial capacity his leading idea was centralization. All power emanated from the sovereign; in the provinces it was delegated to officers nominated by him, who represented the proconsuls and prefects of the old imperial system. In his name they raised forces, administered justice, maintained order and received tribute. Imperial commissioners, missi dominici, specially dispatched from the seat of government, sustained the unity of its administration, enforced its decrees, reported misrule and rectified abuses. But Charlemagne was king of the Franks, as well as emperor. The German element of his government is discovered in the national assemblies, belonging to the free institutions of the Franks, in the relations subsisting between the sovereign and his great officers-the military patronage;-in their judicial forms. It entered therefore largely into the provincial government.