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32.7 The French and the Germans Become Distinct

The Empire of Charlemagne did not outlive his son and successor, Louis the Pious. It fell apart into its main constituents. The Latinized Keltic and Frankish population of Gaul begins now to be recognizable as France, through this France was broken into a number of dukedoms and principalities, often with no more than a nominal unity; the German-speaking peoples between the Rhine and the Slavs to the east similarly begin to develop an even more fragmentary intimation of Germany. When at length a real emperor reappears in Western Europe (962), he is not a Frank, but a Saxon; the conquered in Germany have become the masters.

It is impossible here to trace the events of the ninth and tenth centuries in any detail, the alliances, the treacheries, the claims and acquisitions. Everywhere there was lawlessness war and as struggle for power. In 987 the nominal kingdom of France passed from the hands of Carlovingians, the last descendants of Charlemagne, into the hands of Hugh Capet, who founded a new dynasty. Most of his alleged subordinates were in fact independent, and willing to make war on the king at the slightest provocation. The dominions of the Duke, of Normandy, for example, were more extensive and more powerful than the patrimony of Hugh Capet. Almost the only unity of this France over which the king exercised a nominal authority lay in the common resolution of its great provinces to resist in corporation in any empire dominated either by a German ruler or by the Pope. Apart from the simple organization dictated by that common will, France was a mosaic of practically independent nobles. It was an era of castle-building and fortification, and what was called «private war» throughout all Europe.

The state of Rome in the tenth century is almost indescribable. The decay of the Empire of Charlemagne left the Pope without a protector, threatened by Byzantium and the Saracens (who had taken Sicily), and face to face with the unruly nobles of Rome. Among the most powerful of, these were two w omen, Theodora and Marozia, mother and daughter[1] who in succession held the Castle of St. Angelo (sec 1), which Theophylact, the patrician husband of Theodora, had seized with most of the temporal power of the Pope; these two women were as bold, unscrupulous, and dissolute as any male prince of the time could have been, and they are abused by historians as though they were ten times worse.

Marozia seized and imprisoned Pope John X (928), who speedily died under her care. She subsequently made her illegitimate son pope, under the title of John XI. After him her grandson, John XII, filled the chair of St. Peter. Gibbon’s account of the manners and morals of John XII takes refuge at last beneath a veil of Latin footnotes. This Pope, John XII, was finally degraded by the new German Emperor Otto, who came over the Alps and down into Italy to be crowned in 962.[2]

This new line of Saxon emperors, which thus comes into prominence, sprang from a certain Henry the Fowler, who was elected of German nobles, princes, and prelates in 919. In 936 he was succeeded as King by his son, Otto I, surnamed the Great, who was also elected to be his successor at Aix-la-Chapelle, and who finally descended upon Rome at the invitation of John XII, to be crowned emperor in 962. His subsequent degradation of John was forced upon him by that pope’s treachery. With his assumption of the imperial dignity, Otto I did not so much overcome Rome as restore the ancient tussle of Pope and Emperor for ascendancy to something like decency and dignity again. Otto I was followed by Otto 11 (973-983), and he again by a third Otto (983-1002).[3]

The struggle between the Emperor and the Pope for ascendancy over the Holy Roman Empire plays a large part in the history of the early Middle Ages, and we shall have presently to sketch its chief phases.

Though the church never sank quite to the level of John XII again, nevertheless the story fluctuates through phases of great violence, confusion, and intrigue. Yet the outer history of Christendom is not the whole history of Christendom. That the Lateran was as cunning, foolish, and criminal as most other contemporary courts has to be recorded; but if we are to keep due proportions in this, history, it must not be unduly emphasized. We must remember that through all those ages leaving profound consequences, but leaving no conspicuous records upon the historian’s page, countless men and women were touched By that Spirit of Jesus which still lived and lives still at the core of Christianity, that they led lives that were on the whole gracious and helpful, and that they did unselfish and devoted deeds. Through those ages such lives cleared the air and made a better world possible. Just as in the Moslem world the Spirit of Islam generation by generation produced its crop of courage, integrity, and kindliness.

[1]Gibbon mentions a second Theodora, the sister of Marozia.
[2]The period is a tangled one. The authority is Gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages. John X owed the tiara to his mistress, the elder Theodora, but he was “the foremost statesman of his age.” He fell in 928 owing to Marozia. John XI became Pope in 931 (after two Popes had intervened in the period 928-931); he was Marozia’s son, possibly by Pope Sergius III. John XII did not come at once after John XI, who died in 936; there were several Popes in between; and he became Pope in 955.—E. B.
[3]There were three dynasties of emperors in the early middle ages: Saxon: Otto I (962) to Henry II, ending 1024. Salian: Conrad II to Henry V, ending about 1125. Hohenstaufen: Conrad III to Frederic II, ending 1250. The Hohenstaufens were Swabian in origin. Then came the Hapsburgs with Rudolph I in 1273, who lasted until 1918.

« 32.6 The Personality of Charlemagne |Contents | 32.8 The Normans, the Saracens, the Hungarians and the Seljuk Turks »

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