1694-1778 Voltaire.

The works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) online

. (page 11 of 18)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) → online text (page 11 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


His brethren had only armed themselves in civil
wars, and against Christians: and perhaps if an
apotheosis is due to any man, this prelate, who died
fighting for his country, had a much better title to
heaven than so many obscure people, whose virtues,
if they had any, were of little or no real service to
the world.

The Normans continued to besiege the city for a
year and a half; during which time the inhabitants
suffered, with the utmost resolution, all the horrors
of famine and contagion, the general concomitants
of long sieges. At length the emperor Charles the
Fat, king of France, appeared upon the mount of



172 Ancient and Modern History.

Mars, since called Montmartre, with a body of forces
which he had brought to their relief; but he was
afraid to attack the Normans, and only came to pur-
chase a second shameful truce. The barbarians
raised the siege of Paris, to invest the city of Sens,
and pillage Burgundy, while Charles went to Mentz,
and called a parliament, which deprived him of a
throne he was so unworthy to possess.

The Normans continued their devastations ;
though enemies to the name of Christian, it never
once entered their thoughts to compel any one to
renounce Christianity. They were nearly the same
kind of people as the Franks, the Goths, the Alans,
the Huns, and the Heruli, who, when in search of
new settlements about the fourth century, were so
far from imposing a new religion on the Romans
that they very readily accommodated themselves to
theirs: in like manner the Turks, at the time they
ravaged the empire of the caliphs, conformed to the
Mahometan religion.

At length Rollo, or Raoul, the most illustrious of
these northern banditti, being driven out of Den-
mark, assembled in Scandinavia all those who were
willing to follow his fortunes : with these he went
in search of new adventures, founding his hopes of
future greatness on the weak and indefensible state
in which he knew Europe to be at that time. He
landed first in England, where his countrymen were
already established : but after two fruitless victories,
he turned his view towards France, which others



The Normans. 173

of the Norman race had found the means to ruin, but
had not been able to enslave.

Rollo was the only one of these barbarians who
ceased to deserve that name, by seeking for a settled
habitation. Having made himself master of Rouen
with very little trouble, instead of destroying it, he
ordered the towers and walls to be rebuilt, and made
it his arsenal, from whence he made excursions at
different times into England and France, always
making war with as much policy as fury. France
was at her last gasp under the reign of Charles the
Simple, who had indeed the name of king, but had
his monarchy more rent and divided by the dukes,
counts, and barons, his subjects, than even by the
Normans themselves. Charles the Fat had given
only money to the barbarians. Charles the Simple
offered Rollo his daughter, and with her a part of his
provinces.

Rollo, in 912, demanded Normandy, which Charles
thought himself very fortunate to give him. After
this he insisted upon Brittany, but here he met with
a refusal : however, in the end, Charles was obliged
to comply with his demands, and yield him that prov-
ince, and with such clauses, too, as the strongest
generally explains to his own advantage. Thus Brit-
tany, which a little before had been a kingdom,
became a fief of Neustria; and Neustria, which
quickly came to be called Normandy, from the name
of its conquerors, became a separate state, whose
dukes paid an empty homage to the crown of France.



174 Ancient and Modern History.

The archbishop of Rouen found means to per-
suade Rollo to become a Christian, that prince being
very ready to embrace a religion that secured to him
his power.

Those are truly conquerors who know how to
make laws. Their power is fixed on a solid basis,
whilst that of others passes away like a torrent.
Rollo, now grown peaceable, was the only law-giver
of his time on the Christian continent. It is well
known with what inflexibility he administered jus-
tice : he abolished theft among his Danes, who till
then had lived only by rapine. For a long time after
his death, the very mentioning of his name was a
sufficient order to the officers of justice to run and
suppress any act of violence; from here came the
custom, well known in Normandy, of crying Haro.
The Danes and Franks mingling together, produced
those heroes whom we shall see conquering Eng-
land, Naples, and Sicily.

CHAPTER XVII.

ENGLAND, TOWARD THE NINTH CENTURY.

THE English, now so powerful and famous
throughout the world, both in war and commerce,
who are governed by the love of their own laws,
and that spirit of freedom which consists in obeying
the laws only, were a very different people then to
what they are at present.

They had lately shaken off the Norman yoke ; but



England.

it was only to fall under that of the Saxons, who,
having conquered England about the sixth century,
were themselves conquered in the eighth by Charle-
magne. In 828 these usurpers divided the country
into seven cantons, which they called kingdoms:
these seven provinces were afterwards united under
King Egbert of the Saxon race, when the Normans
came to ravage England as well as France. It is
said that in 852 these pirates sailed up the Thames
with a fleet of three hundred vessels. The Eng-
lish defended themselves no better than their neigh-
bors, the Franks, had done : like them they bought
off their conquerors ; and one of their kings, named
Ethelbert, following the unhappy example of Charles
the Bald, gave them money. The same fault met
with the same punishment. The pirates made use of
this very money to conquer the country more effec-
tually ; in short, they overran the better half of the
island. Certainly the English, who are by nature
brave, and are so well defended by their situation,
must have had some very essential defects in their
government, since we find them always subdued by
people who should not seemingly have invaded them
with impunity. The relations of the dreadful rav-
ages that laid this wretched island waste, still sur-
pass those we have already seen in France. There
are certain periods in which the whole globe is but
one scene of slaughter, and these periods are but too
frequent.

It must certainly be pleasing to the reader to



176 Ancient and Modern History.

breathe a little after such a scene of horrors, and
to behold some great man arise, to rescue his bleed-
ing country from slavery, and govern her like a good
king.

I do not think that there ever was in the world
a man more worthy of the regard of posterity than
Alfred the Great, who did all this for his country,
supposing what is related of him to be true.

This prince succeeded his brother, Ethelred I., in
872, who left him only a contested right to the crown
and a kingdom more than ever divided into petty
sovereignties, most of them occupied by Danes.
Almost every year produced a succession of new
pirates, who came to invade the coasts and dispute
with the first usurpers the little that was left of
their former depredations.

Alfred, who was master only of a single province
in the west, was soon vanquished by these barba-
rians, in a pitched battle, and defeated by everybody :
yet he did not follow the example of his uncle
Butred, who, when driven by the Danes from a
small province of which he was king, retired to the
English college at Rome; on the contrary, though
alone and unassisted, he resolved to perish, or avenge
the wrongs of his country. He concealed himself
for six months in a shepherd's cottage in the middle
of a morass, without imparting the secret to anyone
but the earl of Devon, who still continued to defend
a weak fortress against the barbarians. After some
time this nobleman, having gathered together a



England. 177

body of forces, gained a small advantage over the
enemy. At this juncture Alfred, clothed in a shep-
herd's tattered dress, ventured into the Danish camp
as a player on the harp, where, after being eye-wit-
ness of the situation and defects of the camp, and
having learned that the barbarians were soon to cele-
brate a grand festival, he flew to inform the earl
of Devon of it, who had some troops in readiness,
and marching back to the Danes with this small but
resolute army, he surprised them in the midst of their
merriment, and gained a complete victory. The
Danes were at that time divided by internal factions ;
and Alfred, who was no less able a negotiator than
courageous warrior, was, to the general surprise,
unanimously chosen king by the Danes and English.
London was now the only place that remained to be
conquered, which he took, fortified, and embellished :
he then fitted out fleets, kept the English Danes in
subjection, and guarded his seacoasts against foreign
invasions; and finally employed himself, during a
peaceable reign of twelve years, in improving and
polishing his country. His laws were mild, but
strictly enforced. He was the first who appointed
juries and divided England into shires and counties,
and encouraged the spirit of commerce among his
subjects. We are told that he lent ships and money
to certain learned and enterprising men, who made
a voyage as far as Alexandria, and from thence
passing the isthmus of Suez, traded in the Persian
Gulf. He established militias, founded several coun-



iy8 Ancient and Modern History.

cils, and introduced that regularity throughout his
kingdom, which is the never-failing source of peace
and plenty.

It appears to me, that there never was a truly
great man who was not at the same time a person
of good understanding. Alfred founded the uni-
versity of Oxford, and sent to Rome for books, Eng-
land being at that time so barbarous as not to have
any of its own; nay, it is said that he even com-
plained that he had not one priest in all his kingdom
who understood Latin ; as for himself he was a per-
fect master of it, and was at the same time a tolerable
mathematician for the age he lived in : he had also
a competent knowledge of history, and some writers
pretend that he wrote poems in the Anglo-Saxon
tongue. All the time he had to spare from public
occupations was dedicated to study. By a prudent
economy he had it in his power to be liberal ; for we
find that he built several churches, but not one mon-
astery, being doubtless of opinion, that in a depopu-
lated state which wanted recruiting, it would have
been but ill serving his country to countenance those
numerous families, which, without parents or chil-
dren, perpetuate themselves at the expense of the
nation : for this reason it is, in all probability, that
we do not find his name in the catalogue of saints ;
but history, that reproaches him neither with crimes
nor weakness, places him in the first rank of those
heroes who have been of service to mankind, who,
without such extraordinary personages, would still



Spam.

have remained in a state little better than that of
savage beasts.



CHAPTER XVIII.

SPAIN AND THE MUSSULMANS DURING THE EIGHTH
AND NINTH CENTURIES.

WHEN I turn my eyes towards Spain, I behold mis-
fortunes and revolutions of another kind, which
merit our particular attention. Let us then in a few
words trace matters back to their source, and recall
to our remembrance that the Goths, who usurped this
kingdom, and became outwardly Christians, though
still as much barbarians as before, were expelled
from hence about the eighth century by the Mussul-
mans of Africa. I am of the opinion that the imbe-
cility of King Wamba, who on that account was
shut up in a monastery, was the original cause of
the downfall of this kingdom. To his weakness was
owing the ravages committed by his successors.
Witiza, a prince still more senseless than Wamba,
as he added cruelty to his other follies, caused his
subjects whom he feared, to be disarmed, and in so
doing deprived himself of the benefit of their assist-
ance.

Roderiguez, or Roderick, whose father this Wit-
iza had assassinated, murdered him in his turn, and
proved still more wicked than Witiza. We need
not therefore look any farther for the cause of the
superiority gained by the Mussulmans in Spain. I



180 Ancient and Modern History.

cannot say whether it is true that Roderick ravished
Florinda, called La Cava, or the wicked, the unhap-
pily famous daughter of Count Julian, who upon this
account called in the Moors to assist him in avenging
the honor of his family. Perhaps the adventure of
Cava is partly copied from that of Lucrece: and
indeed neither the one nor the other of these stories
seems founded on very authentic proofs. In my opin-
ion there wanted not the pretext of a rape, which
is commonly as difficult to prove as to commit, for
calling in the Africans ; for before that, in the reign
of King Wamba, Count Herwig, who was after-
wards king himself, had brought over an army of
Moors. Opas, archbishop of Seville, who was the
principal instrument in this great revolution, had
interests of a deeper concern to support than that of
a lady's honor. This prelate, who was son to the
usurper Witiza, who had been dethroned and mur-
dered by the usurper Roderick, was the person
whose ambition occasioned the calling in of the
Moors this second time. Count Julian found sufficient
reason, in being son-in-law to Witiza, to take up
arms against the reigning tyrant, and a bishop named
Toriza joined in the conspiracy with the count and
the archbishop Opas. Is it likely then that two bish-
ops should have thus trusted themselves with the
enemies of the Christian name, merely on account of
a woman?

But be that as it will, the Mahometans were the
masters, as they are to this day, of all that part of



Spain. 181

Africa which had formerly belonged to the Romans,
and had but a little time before founded the city of
Morocco, near Mount Atlas. The caliph Valid Al-
manzor, who was sovereign of that delightful part of
the world, had his residence at Damascus, in Syria.
His viceroy, Muzza, who at that time was governor
of Africa, made the entire conquest of all Spain, by
one of his lieutenants. Immediately after which he
sent his general, Tarik, over thither, who in 711
gained that famous battle in which the tyrant Rod-
erick lost his life. Some say that the Saracens did
not observe their engagements with Count Julian,
whom they doubtless mistrusted; but Archbishop
Opas was better satisfied with them, and swore fidel-
ity to the Mahometan government, under which he
continued to preserve a considerable authority over
the Christian churches, which were tolerated by the
conquerors.

As to King Roderick, he was so little regretted
that his widow Egilona publicly espoused young
Abdalis, son of the conqueror Muzza, by whose
arms her former husband had fallen, and who had
reduced her country and religion to a state of
slavery.

In the space of fourteen months all Spain was
brought under the subjection of the empire of the
caliphs, excepting a few scarcely habitable rocks and
caverns in the kingdom of Asturias, where Pelagius
Teudomer, the Goth, a relation of the late king Rod-
erick, had concealed himself, and thus preserved his



1 82 Ancient and Modern History.

liberty. I cannot conceive why authors have given
the title of king to this prince, though indeed worthy
of it, since the whole of his royalty consisted in
not being a slave. The Spanish historians, and those
who have followed their accounts, have made him
gain several great victories, fancied miracles in his
favor, have settled him a court, and given him his
son Favilla, and son-in-law Alphonso, as peaceable
successors of this pretended kingdom. But how can
it be supposed that the Mahometans, who under
Abd-er-Rahman in the year 734 had subdued one-
half of France, should have suffered this kingdom of
Asturias to remain unmolested on the other side
of the Pyrenees? It was a great point for the
Christians to be suffered to retire to these mountains
and live upon what they could get for paying a trib-
ute to these infidels; nor was it till about the year
759 that they began to be able to make head against
their conquerors, weakened by the many defeats they
had sustained from the arms of Charles Martel, and
their own intestine divisions; but the Christians,
still more divided among themselves than the Ma-
hometans, soon relapsed under the former yoke. In
783 Mauregato, to whom historians have been
pleased to give the title of king, had leave granted
him to govern Asturias and some other neigh-
boring territories, on paying homage and tribute to
the Mahometans ; and he even consented to furnish
one hundred beautiful young women every year for
Abd-er-Rahman 's seraglio. It had been for a long



CHARLES MARTEL. AT TOURB



Spain. 1 83

time a custom among the Arabs to exact such kind
of tributes from their vassals, and to this day the
caravans, among the presents which they make to
the wild Arabs, always give a certain number of
marriageable young women.

Historians tell us of a deacon named Veremond,
who succeeded this Mauregato, and was chief of
these mountain refugees, yielded the same homage,
and paid the same tribute of handsome women. But
is this a kingdom, or can such as these be called
kings ?

After the death of this Abd-er-Rahman, the emirs
or governors of the Spanish provinces aspired to
independency. We have already seen, under the
article of Charlemagne, that one of them, named
Ibna Larabi, had the imprudence to call that con-
queror in to his assistance. Now if there had really
been any Christian kingdoms existing at that time in
Spain, would not Charles have taken such kingdom
under his protection, preferably to joining his arms
with Mahometans? However, he took this emir
under his protection, obliging him to do him homage
for the dominions lying between the Ebro and the
Pyrenees, which the Mahometans then possessed.
We find that in 794 the Moor Abutar did homage to
Louis the Debonnaire, who at that time governed
Aquitaine under his father, with the title of king.

Some time afterwards the divisions among the
Spanish Moors began to increase, which the council
of Louis the Debonnaire turned to their own advan-



184 Ancient and Modern History.

tage; for they laid siege to Barcelona, which they
kept invested for two years, and at length Louis
entered it in triumph in the year 796. This was the
beginning of the decline of the Moorish Empire.
These conquerors were no longer supported by the
assistance of the Africans and the caliphs, whose
yokes they had thrown off. The successors of
Abd-er-Rahman having fixed the seat of their king-
dom at Cordova, were but ill obeyed by the govern-
ors of the more distant provinces.

At this favorable period it was that Alphonso, of
the race of Pelagius, began to render the Spanish
Christians who had retired into the mountains of
Asturias considerable assistance. He refused to pay
the customary tributes to masters whom he knew
himself in a condition to dispute with ; and after
having gained some few victories over them, he
found himself in the quiet possession of the king-
doms of Asturias and Leon, at the beginning of the
ninth century.

With this prince then we must first look for the
revival of Christian kings of Spain. Alphonso was
artful and cruel: he is called the Chaste, because
he was the first who refused to pay the tribute of
the hundred damsels to the Moors; but without
reflecting at the same time that it was not on account
of refusing this tribute that he incurred the war,
but because that being determined to shake off all
submission to the Moors, and be no longer tributary



Spain. 185

to them, he must have refused the tribute of the vir-
gins as well as every other kind of homage.

The success Alphonso had met with, in spite of the
many obstacles he had to encounter, emboldened
the Christians of Navarre to choose themselves a
king. The inhabitants of Aragon took up arms
under one of their counts : thus, towards the latter
end of the reign of Louis the Debonnaire, neither the
Moors nor the French retained any possessions in
those barren countries; but the rest of Spain still
continued under the dominion of the Mussulman
kings. It was at this time that the Normans ravaged
the coasts of Spain ; but being quickly repulsed, they
returned and plundered France and England.

We must not wonder to find the Spaniards of
Asturias, Leon, and Aragon, at that time barba-
rians. The military life, which succeeded their for-
mer servitude, had by no means civilized them ; and
they were in a state of such profound ignorance that
one of the Alphonsos, surnamed the Great, who was
king of Leon and Asturias, was obliged to have
Mahometan masters for his son.

I cannot get over my astonishment at seeing his-
torians so lavish of their titles to the kings of those
times. This Alphonso, whom they style the Great,
put out the eyes of four of his brothers; and his
whole life was one continued series of cruelties and
deceit. This king finished his career with making
his subjects take arms against him, and was obliged



1 86 Ancient and Modern History.

to resign his small kingdom to his son, in the year
910.

While these things were transacting, and the
Mahometans lost that part of Spain which borders
on France, they were extending their dominions on
every other side. If I consider their religion, I find it
embraced all over India, and the eastern parts of
Africa, where they traded. If I view their con-
quests, I find in the first place, that the caliph
Haroun-al-Raschid imposed a yearly tribute of ten
thousand crowns of gold, on the empress Irene ;
and that on the emperor Nicephorus refusing to pay
this tribute, Haroun seized upon the island of
Cyprus, and proceeded to ravage all Greece. In 826
the lieutenants of his grandson, Al-Mamun, a prince
otherwise estimable for his own learning, and the
love he bore the sciences, seized on Crete. At this
time the city of Candia was built by the Mahometans,
who have made themselves masters of it again in
our time.

In 828 these same Africans, who had subdued
Spain and made incursions into Sicily, returned
again to lay waste that fruitful island, being encour-
aged thereto by one of the natives, named Euphem-
ius, who having, after the example of his emperor
Michael, married a nun, and been prosecuted under
those very laws which the emperor had made to yield
to his desires, acted nearly the same part in Sicily
which Count Julian had done in Spain.

So badly were the eastern and western empires



Spain. 187

governed at that time that neither of the emperors
could drive the Mahometans out of Sicily. These
conquerors might have become masters of all Italy
had they only been united among themselves, but
their mistakes were the means of saving Rome, as
those of the Carthaginians had been heretofore. They
set sail from Sicily in 846, with a numerous fleet, and
sailing up the mouth of the Tiber, where they met
with nothing but a desert country, they proceeded to
Rome, which they besieged. They soon made them-
selves masters of the suburbs, and after plundering
the rich church of St. Peter without the walls, they
raised the siege, to meet and fight an army of French,
which was coming to the assistance of Rome, under
one of the emperor Lotharius's generals. They beat
the French army, but missed taking the city, which
had in the meantime been supplied with provisions ;
so that this expedition, which bid so fair to make
a very considerable conquest, through their own
misunderstandings ended in nothing more than an
incursion of barbarians. However, they returned
soon after with such a formidable army as seemed to
threaten the total destruction of Italy, and to turn
the capital of Christendom into a Mahometan town.
In this dangerous conjuncture Pope Leo IV., taking
up that authority which Lotharius's generals seemed
to have quitted, proved himself worthy, by defending
Rome, of being its sovereign. He employed the
church treasures in repairing the walls, raising tow-
ers, and stretching chains across the river Tiber.



1 88 Ancient and Modern History.

He armed the militia at his own expense, engaged
the people of Naples and Gaeta to come to the
defence of the coasts, and port of Ostia, taking at the
same time the prudent precaution of requiring hos-
tages from them, as well knowing that those who are
powerful enough to defend us, are likewise power-
ful enough to hurt us. He visited all the ports in
person, and received the Saracens at their landing,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) → online text (page 11 of 18)