Page images

It was from the ranks of the privileged class, the Frankish nobility, that the governors of duchies and counties and the minor divisions of the Carlovingian empire were selected-very different persons from the proconsuls and prefects of the Roman Cæsars. Those magistrates were strangers, with no territorial rights, in the provinces they administered. Rome-Italy was their home. They had no more hold of the soil, no closer bond of union with the provincial populations, than the governors of colonies in our own times. Members of the great municipality under the forms of which the world was governed, patricians, senators, consuls,-and trained in a system of regular hierarchical subordination, they might amass wealth, but territorial aggrandizement, as a means of power, was foreign to their ideas.

The case of the great officers of the Carlovingian empire was different. At first, indeed, they were merely delegates of the sovereign, removable at his pleasure. But, even then, there were vassals who held, sometimes hereditarily, more frequently for life, domains through the extent of which they exercised, mostly in their own names, partly in that of the emperor, a certain jurisdiction and most of the rights of sovereignty. Some of the provincial governors combined both these characters-perhaps in the same province-delegates of the imperial authority, and independent on their own lands. Under such circumstances the tendency to identify the personal with the territorial dignity must have been very great. In the course of a few generations, as we have seen in the time of Charles the Bald, honours and jurisdictions became hereditary as well as domains, and the provinces were virtually independent states.

Advancing a step higher, we find the principle of division prevalent in the rules of succession which the customs of the Franks applied to the inheritance of their kings. It was coeval with the founder of the Merovingian line, for Clovis divided his states between his four sons. Charlemagne himself shared the inheritance of the dominions of Pepin with his brother Carloman; and so deeply rooted was the principle that, notwithstanding his great comprehensive idea of a consolidated empire and of central unity in the administration, we find the restorer of the western empire dividing his dominions between his sons. The custom was followed by his successors, with results more and more disastrous;

for to the animosities and the ambitious projects of the rival princes of his race may be attributed, perhaps more than to any other cause, the dismemberment of his empire. "A kingdom divided against itself cannot but fall."

Towards the close of the ninth century the political horizon was darkened by the sudden appearance of a portentous cloud which hung for a time on the frontier of civilization and then burst with fury on the fairest provinces of Europe. After a long and various peregrination from the borders of China, or the wilds of Siberia and Lapland, the Turkish hordes of Hungarians approaching the limits of the western empire settled in the Roman province of Pannonia, the modern kingdom of Hungary. Its occupiers the Moravians, who under their king Zwentibold had risen to preeminence over all the Sclavonian tribes, fled before them. Germany, Italy, France were blasted by the tempest; and for half the ensuing century Europe trembled at their name. The deliverance of Christendom was achieved by the Saxon princes, Henry the Fowler, who rose from a bed of sickness to battle and victory,-and Otho the Great, who finally broke the power of the Hungarians.

Such was the aspect of European affairs at the death of Alfred the Great. The dismemberment of the Carlovingian empire was complete, and anarchy universal. The royal authority was shattered, the ascendancy of the clergy quailed before the clash of arms. Power passed into the hands of the dukes and counts and lords among whom the territories were distributed; and the people found their only hope of safety in rallying round those who were able to defend the country. From this anarchy and dismemberment resulted, after a terrible crisis, the organization of the territorial aristocracy in a vast hierarchy, which, connecting all classes in a regular chain of subordination and with reciprocal rights and duties—from the king to the serf attached to the soilunder the name of the feudal system, governed Europe for many succeeding centuries.


On reference to the "Harmony of the Chroniclers," pp. 17, 18, it will be seen that the Saxon Chronicle (with which Ethelwerd and Simeon of Durham corres

pond) notices only one journey of Alfred to Rome-that which is here referred to,-while Asser, Florence of Worcester, and Huntingdon represent the young prince as making a second journey to Rome, in company with Ethelwulf, two years later. A subsequent entry in the Saxon Chronicle (inserted in the "Harmony" from a later MS.) suggests the idea that Alfred remained at Rome during the interval of the two journeys, and this would so far reconcile the two statements as they represent Ethelwulf and Alfred to have been at Rome together.

But there is the additional difficulty, in accepting this last entry as authentic, that it makes the Pope (Leo) consecrate Alfred king "after that he had heard that Ethelwulf was dead," whereas Leo himself died the same summer in which the two Saxon princes were at Rome, and Ethelwulf lived two years after his return; besides which, there is no sort of evidence or probability that Alfred did not at least accompany his father home.

Suspicion is said to attach to the whole account on the ground of the improbability that the young prince was consecrated king while he had elder brothers living. But all the Chronicles agree in that particular, and it is also clear that Alfred was a favourite son; so that, in an elective monarchy, and at a time when the several kingdoms of the Heptarchy were scarcely consolidated, and partitions of territory were a common practice, it might be the policy of Ethelwulf to obtain so high a sanction to the pretensions of the best beloved of his sons to some share in the succession. It may also be considered that the object of Ethelbald's rebellion during his father's absence may have been to defeat the plans of Ethelwulf in favour of Alfred.

It is also objected that Alfred's continued sojourn at Rome cannot be reconciled with his want of early education, as related by the chroniclers. In an age when it was a rare occurrence for a layman, of whatever rank, to be able to read or write, and particularly in the state of ignorance which Alfred himself describes as existing in his own times, there is no difficulty in accepting his own account of the late period at which he acquired the knowledge of letters, unless we adopt the suggestion of his having remained at Rome for a period of some duration. In his father's court his boyish years would probably be employed in active exercises and accomplishments, and his only mental acquirement might be learning by rote the old songs and ballads of his country which he afterwards took so much pains to learn to read. But if the young prince resided for great part of three years in a most lettered and polished court, under the guardianship of so enlightened a prelate as Pius IV, the total neglect of the first rudiments of education in such a case seems wholly unaccountable. We incline therefore, on the whole, to the commonly received tradition of the repeated visit, particularly as the accounts in the Chronicles are not conflicting and all that can be said is—that in some of them the notice of the second journey is omitted. Taking that view, the very tender years of Alfred joined to the limited period of his first visit, and the distractions and unsettled state of affairs during the second, may account for a neglect which to our ideas appears almost incredible.

[blocks in formation]


[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]

LEWIS the German, k. Bavaria, 840-876.

PEPIN k. of A- m. Evequitaine rard


[blocks in formation]


the bald, k.
of Fra. 840
Lorr. 869
Ital. & emp.
875: d. 877

[blocks in formation]

taine. d.

k. Fra.




nat. s. Ch. le LEWIS III

Gros,k. Ger- k. Neustria

many 887.


emp. and k.

Italy 896-9.

[blocks in formation]

c. of Paris.



k. Burg. 923.

[blocks in formation]

GISELDA m. Rollo

France d. of Nor


k. Aqui

[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »