1694-1778 Voltaire.

The works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 26) online

. (page 19 of 19)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 26) → online text (page 19 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

derers from their own country. The most favorable
times for this house were during the reigns of
Charles V. and Francis V. James V., who was
father of Mary Stuart, sat on the throne of Scot-
land ; and after his death, his widow, Mary of Lor-
raine, mother of this Mary, was appointed regent of
the kingdom, and it was during her administration
that the troubles first began to break out under pre-
tence of religion, as we shall hereafter see.

I shall not dwell any longer on this review of the
kingdoms of the North in the sixteenth century ; hav-
ing already examined the terms on which Germany,
England, France, Italy, and Spain, stood with one
another, I have hereby acquired a sufficient intro-
ductory knowledge to the interests of the North and
South, and shall now examine more particularly into
the state of Europe.



THE western empire still subsisted in name; but
it had been for a long time only a burdensome title,
as may appear from its having been refused by the
ambitious Edward III. of England, when offered
to him by the electors, in 1348. Charles IV., who
was looked upon as the lawgiver of the empire, could
Vol. 26 20

306 Ancient and Modern History.

not obtain permission of Pope Innocent VI. and the
barons of Rome to be crowned emperor in that city
until he had promised not to lie a night within the
walls. His famous Golden Bull, by limiting the
number of electors, restored some order in Germany,
which had before been a continued scene of anarchy.
This law was, at its first institution, considered as
fundamental, but has since been frequently departed
from. In his time all the cities of Lombardy were
actually free and independent of the empire except-
ing only in some particular rights. Every lord in
Germany and Lombardy remained sovereign of his
own territories during all the succeeding reigns.

The times of Wenceslaus, Robert, Josse, and Sig-
ismund were times of darkness, in which there
appeared no trace of the imperial dignity, except in
the Council of Constance, which was assembled by
Sigismund, and in which that emperor shone forth
in full glory.

The emperors had no longer any demesnes, having
ceded them at different times to the bishops and
cities, either to procure themselves a support against
the power of the lords of great fiefs, or to raise
money. They had now nothing left but the subsidy
of the Roman months, which was paid only in time
of war, and for defraying the expenses of the vain
ceremony of the emperor's coronation at Rome,
which still subsisted. It was absolutely necessary,
therefore, to elect a chief who was powerful of him-
self, and this first brought the sceptre into the house

Germany and the Empire. 307

of Austria. A prince was wanting, whose domin-
ions might on the one hand have a communication
with Italy, and on the other be capable of opposing
the incursions of the Turks; and this advantage
Germany found in Albert II., who was duke of
Austria, and king of Bohemia and Hungary;
this first fixed the imperial dignity in his house,
and the throne became hereditary, without ceasing
to be elective. Albert and his successors were chosen
on account of the large dominions they possessed ;
and Rudoph of Hapsburg, one of the stocks of that
house, had formerly been selected because he had
none. The reason of this seeming contradiction is
obvious ; Rudolph was elected at a time when the
houses of Saxony and Suabia had given reason to
fear their becoming despotic, and Albert II., when
the house of Austria was thought sufficiently pow-
erful to defend the empire, and yet not to enslave it.

Frederick III. ascended the imperial throne by this
title. Germany was in his time in a state of inability
and peace. It was not so powerful as it might have
been ; and we have already seen that this prince was
very far from being the sovereign of Christendom,
as his epitaph imports.

Maximilian L, while he was yet only king of the
Romans, began his career in the most glorious man-
ner by the victory of Guinegate, which he gained
over the French in 1479, and the treaty he made with
them in 1492, by which he secured the possession of
Franche-Comte, Artois, and Charolais. But as he

308 Ancient and Modern History.

drew nothing from the Low Countries, which
belonged to his son, Philip the Fair, nor from the
people of Germany, and very little from his domin-
ions in France, he would never have been of any
consideration in Italy had it not been for the League
of Cambray, and Louis XII., who did everything for

At first the pope and the Venetians prevented him,
in the year 1508, from coming to Rome to be
crowned emperor ; and he took the title of emperor-
elect, as he could not be crowned emperor by the
pope. We see him after the League of Cambray,
and in the year 1513, receiving the daily pension of
a hundred crowns from the English king, Henry
VIII. His German dominions furnished him with
men to take the field against the Turks, but he
wanted those riches with which France, England,
and Italy carried on their wars at that time.

Germany had become in reality a republic of
princes and cities, notwithstanding that its chief in
his edicts spoke in the strain of absolute master of
the whole world. It had been divided in the year
1500 into six circles; and the directors of these cir-
cles being sovereign princes, and the generals and
colonels paid by the provinces and not by the
emperor, this establishment, by linking together the
several parts of the empire, secured the liberty of the
whole. The imperial chamber, which Had the pass-
ing of final judgment, being paid by the princes and
cities, and not having its seat in the particular

Germany and the Empire. 309

demesnes of the monarch, proved another support to
the public liberty. It is true it could never carry its
decrees into execution against powerful princes,
unless seconded by the empire ; but this very abuse
of liberty was a proof of its real existence ; this is
so notorious that the aulic court, which was first
formed in 1512, and was entirely under the direction
of the emperors, soon proved the strongest support
of their authority.

Germany, under this form of government, was at
that time as happy a state as any in the world. In-
habited by a warlike people, who were capable of the
greatest military operations, there was no proba-
bility of the Turks being ever able to subdue it. Its
lands were good, and so well cultivated that the
inhabitants were at least under no necessity, as for-
merly, of seeking for other settlements : at the same
time they were neither so rich nor so poor, nor so
united, as to be in a condition to make the conquest
of all Italy.

But what were at that time its pretensions upon
Italy and the Roman Empire? The same as those
of the Othos and the imperial house of Suabia had
been; the same as those which had cost such a
deluge of blood and which had undergone so many
alterations since Julius II., who was patriarch as
well as pontiff of Rome, had the imprudence, instead
of rousing the ancient Roman courage, to call in the
assistance of foreigners. Rome had nothing left
but to repent of her folly ; for since that time there

310 Ancient and Modern History.

had always been a private war between the empire
and the pontificate, as well as between the preten-
sions of the emperor and the liberties of the Italian
provinces. The title of Caesar was only a source of
contested rights, undetermined disputes, exterior
grandeur, and real weakness. These times were no
longer those in which the Othos created kings, and
imposed tributes on them. If Louis XII. had main-
tained a good understanding with the Venetians,
instead of taking up arms against them, the emperors
would, in all probability, never have set foot again in
Italy. But from the divisions among the Italian
princes, and the nature of the pontifical government,
it unavoidably happened that a great part of this
country was always to be a prey to foreigners.



WE find that there are few absolute sovereigns in
Europe ; the emperors before Charles V. had never
ventured to aim at despotic power. The popes,
though much more the masters of Rome than for-
merly, had much less power in the Church ; the
crowns of Hungary and Bohemia, like the other
kingdoms in the North, were elective ; and an elec-
tion necessarily supposes a contract between prince
and people. The kings of England could neither
make laws nor break them, without the consent of

Customs XV. and XVI. Centuries. 311

their parliaments. Isabella of Castile had acknowl-
edged the rights of the Cortes, which were all the
estates of the kingdom. Ferdinand the Catholic, of
Aragon, had not been able to abolish the authority
of the grand justiciary of that kingdom, who looked
upon himself as entitled to be the judge of kings.
France alone was changed into a state purely mon-
archical, after the reign of Louis XI. A happy form
of government when a king like Louis XII.
appeared, who, by his love for his people, made
amends for all the faults he committed with regard
to other nations.

The civil government of Europe was greatly
improved by the stop which had everywhere been put
to the private wars between the feudal lords. The
custom of duels, however, was still continued.

The popes by their decrees, which were always
wise, and, what is more, always beneficial to Chris-
tendom, when their own private interests were not
concerned, had anathematized these combats; but
they were still permitted by several of the bishops ;
and the parliaments of Paris sometimes ordered
them ; witness the famous one between Legris and
Carrouges, in the reign of Charles V. There were
several other duels fought by order of the courts.
The same evil practice was likewise kept up in Ger-
many, Italy, and Spain, with the sanction of cer-
tain forms, which were looked upon as essential;
particularly that of confessing and taking the sacra-
ments before they prepared for murder. The good

Ancient and Modern History.

Chevalier Bayard always heard a mass before he
v/ent into the field to fight a duel. The combatants
always chose a second, who was to take care that
their weapons were equal, and to make diligent
search that neither of them had any spell about him ;
for nothing on earth was so credulous as a knight.

Some of these knights have been known to leave
their own country and go into foreign parts in search
of a duel, without any other motive than that of sig-
nalizing themselves. Duke John of Bourbon, in the
year 1414, caused it to be proclaimed that he was
going to England with sixteen other knights, to fight
to extremity, that he might avoid idleness and merit
the favor of the fair lady whom he served.

Tournaments, though condemned by the popes,
were practised everywhere. They always went by
the name of Ludi Gallici, or the French games ;
because one Geoffrey de Preuilly had, in the eleventh
century, published a body of rules to be observed in
them. Upward of one hundred knights had been
killed in these games ; but this only served to make
them more in vogue.

It was thought that the death of Henry II., who
was killed at a tournament held in 1599, would have
abolished this custom forever; but the idle lives
of the great, long use, and the passions revived
these games at Orleans, in less than a year after the
tragical death of Henry; when Henry of Bour-
bon, duke of Montpensier and a prince of the
blood lost his life by a fall from his horse. After

Customs XV. and XVI. Centuries. 313

this an entire stop was put to tournaments;
but a faint image of them remained in the Pas
d'Armes, held by Charles IX. and Henry III., the
year after the massacre of St. Bartholomew : for in
those bloody times they always intermixed feats and
diversions with their barbarous proscriptions. This
Pas d'Armes was not attended with any danger, as
the combatants did not engage with sharp weapons.
There was no tournament held on the marriage of
the duke of Joyeuse, in 1581. The word "tourna-
ment " is therefore very improperly given by
L'Etoile in his " Journal," to the show exhibited on
this occasion. The grandees did not fight at all ;
and what L'Etoile calls a tournament was only a
warlike ballet or interlude, exhibited in the gardens
of the Louvre, by a company of hired performers;
and was a performance given to the court, and not
given by the court itself. The games which still
continued to go by the name of tournaments were
only carousals.

We may, therefore, date the suppression of tour-
naments from the year 1560. With these games
expired the ancient spirit of chivalry, which never
appeared again but in romances. This kind of
spirit was very prevalent in the time of Francis I,
and Charles V. Francis was a knight in the true
sense of the word, and Charles aimed at being such.
They would give each other the lie in public, and
afterward meet in the most friendly manner ; and it
is known that the emperor put himself into the hands

314 Ancient and Modern History.

of the king of France upon no other security than
that of his word of honor, which the king was not
capable of violating. There are several occurrences
in the reigns of these two princes which savor greatly
of the heroic and fabulous ages; but Charles V.
approached nearer to our modern times in the refine-
ment of his politics.

The art of war, the law of arms, and the offensive
and defensive weapons made use of in those days
were entirely different from what they are at present.

The emperor Maximilian had introduced the arms
made use of by the Macedonian phalanx, which were
spears of eighteen feet in length, and were used by
the Swiss in the wars of Milan ; but they were soon
laid aside for the two-handed sword.

The harquebus, or firelock, had become a necessary
weapon against the steel ramparts by which the
gendarmerie of those days were defended. No hel-
met or cuirass was proof against these. The gendar-
merie, which they called the battalion, fought on
foot as well as on horseback : the French gendarm-
erie was in most estimation in the fifteenth century.

The German and Spanish infantry were reputed
the best. The war-cry was almost everywhere laid

As to the government of states at this time, I find
cardinals at the head of the administration in almost
every kingdom. In Spain I see Cardinal Ximenes,
who ruled under Isabella of Castile during her life ;
and after her death was appointed regent of the king-

Customs XV. and XVI. Centuries. 315

dom, who, always clad in the habit of a Franciscan
friar, placed his chief pride in treading under foot
the Spanish grandeur; who raised an army at his
own expense, and afterward led it in person into
Africa and took the city of Oran ; in a word, who
had made himself absolute, till young Charles V.
drove him from the helm of power and obliged him
to retire to his archbishopric of Toledo, where he
died of grief.

In France, I see Louis XII. governed by Cardinal
d'Amboise, and Cardinal Duprat prime minister to
Francis I. Henry VIII. of England was, for the
space of twenty years, entirely under the direction
of Cardinal Wolsey, a man as vainglorious as
d'Amboise, and who, like him, wanted to be pope,
and, like him, failed in the attempt. Charles V.
made his preceptor, Cardinal Adrian, who was
afterward pope, his prime minister in Spain ; and
Cardinal de Granvelle had afterward the govern-
ment of Flanders. Lastly, Cardinal Martinusius was
master of Hungary, under Ferdinand, brother of
Charles V.

Though we see so many military states governed
by churchmen, this did not proceed merely from
those princes being more ready to place their con-
fidence in a priest, of whose power they could stand
in no apprehension, than in the general of an army,
who might in time become formidable to them ; but
also, because the churchmen were generally men
of more knowledge, and more capable of managing

316 Ancient and Modern History.

public affairs than either the military officers or tht

It was not till this century that those cardinals,
who were the king's subjects, took precedency of the
chancellor of the kingdom. They disputed it with
the electors of the empire, and yielded it to the chan-
cellors in France and England ; and this again is one
of those contradictions which pride had introduced
into the republic of Christendom. By the registers
of the English parliament we find that Lord Chan-
cellor Warham had precedence of Cardinal Wolsey
till the year 1516.

The title of majesty began now to be assumed by
kings, and the ranks of the several sovereigns were
settled at Rome. The first place was, without con-
tradiction, assigned to the emperor ; after him came
the king of France, without a competitor ; the kings
of Castile, Aragon, Portugal, and Sicily took rank
in turns with the king of England ; then came Scot-
land, Hungary, Navarre, Cyprus, Bohemia, and
Poland; and, last of all, Denmark and Sweden.
Great disputes arose afterward from this settling of
the precedency. The kings, almost to a man, wanted
to be equal in rank with each other ; but not one of
them attempted to dispute the chief place with the
emperors, who thus preserved their rank while they
lost their authority.

All the customs in civil life were different from
ours ; the doublet and short cloak was the common
dress in all courts. The gentlemen of the law every-

Customs XV. and XVI. Centuries. 317

where wore a long and close robe, which fell half
way down their legs.

In the time of Francis I. there were but two
coaches in the city of Paris ; one for the queen and
<he other for Diana of Poitiers. The men and
women all rode on horseback.

Riches were now so much increased that Henry
VIII. of England, in 1519, promised three hundred
and thirty-three thousand gold crowns in dowry
with his daughter, Mary, who was to be married to
the son of Francis I. This was a larger sum than
had ever yet been given by anyone.

The interview between Francis I. and Henry was
ji long time famous for its magnificence. Their
camp was called the " Field of the Cloth of Gold ; "
tmt this momentary parade, this stretch of luxury,
did not imply that general magnificence, nor those
useful contrivances which are so common in our
v v imes, and which so far exceed the pomp of a single
day. The hand of industry had not then changed
v'heir sorry wooden dwellings into sumptuous pal-
aces; the thatched roofs and mud walls still
remained in the streets of Paris. The houses in
London were still worse built, and the manner of liv-
ing there harder. The greatest noblemen, when they
went into the country, carried their wives behind
them on horseback ; princesses themselves travelled
fa no other manner, or covered with a riding-cloak
of waxed cloth in rainy weather; and this dress
they wore oven when they went to the palace. This

3 1 8 Ancient and Modern History.

custom continued till the middle of the seventeenth
century. The magnificence of Francis I., Charles
V., Henry VIII., and Leo X. was only for days of
public solemnity; whereas, at present, the shows
and entertainments which we see every day, the
number of gilt coaches, and the multitude of lamps
which are lighted up during the night-time in the
streets of all our great cities, exhibit far greater
riches and plenty than the most brilliant ceremonies
of the monarchs of the sixteenth century.

In the reign of Louis XII. they first began to sub-
stitute gold and silver stuffs, in room of the costly
furs they were formerly wont to wear. These stuffa
were the manufactures of Italy, there being none
made at that time in Lyons. Gold work was in gen-
eral very clumsy, Louis XII. having by an ill-judged
sumptuary law forbidden its use throughout his
kingdom ; so that the French were obliged to send
to Venice for all their plate. By this means the
goldsmiths were all reduced to poverty ; and Louis
XII. at length wisely revoked this law.

Francis I., who in the latter part of his life became
an economist, prohibited the wearing of gold and
silver stuffs, which prohibition was afterward
renewed by Henry II., but had these laws been
strictly observed they would have ruined the manu-
factures of Lyons. What chiefly determined the gov-
ernment to enact these laws was the consideration of
being obliged to have all the silk from foreigners.
In the reign of Henry II., none but bishops were per-

Customs XV. and XVI. Centuries. 319

mitted to wear silk. The princes and princesses had
the distinguishing privileges of wearing dresses of
red silk or woollen stuff. At length, in the year
1563, none but princes and bishops were allowed to
wear shoes made of silk.

All these sumptuary laws only show that the views
of the government were very narrow, and that the
ministers thought it easier to put a check on industry
than to encourage it.

Mulberry trees were then cultivated only in Italy
and Spain, and gold wire was made nowhere but at
Milan and Venice; and yet the French fashions
had already insinuated themselves into the courts of
Germany, England, and Lombardy. The Italian his-
torians complain that after the journey which
Charles VIII. made into Italy, the people affected to
dress themselves after the French fashion, and sent
to France for all their ornaments.

Pope Julius II. was the first who let his beard
grow, in order to inspire the people with a greater
respect for his person by a singularity of appearance.
Francis I., Charles V., and all the other kings fol-
lowed this example, which was immediately adopted
by their courtiers : but those of the long robe, who
always keep to the ancient customs, whatever they
are, still continued to shave their beards, while the
young military people affected an air of gravity and
age. This is a trifling observation ; but it claims a
place in the history of customs.

But that which is more worthy the attention of

320 Ancient and Modern History.

posterity, and of far greater consideration than all
the customs introduced by caprice, all the laws which
time has abolished, or the disputes of crowned heads,
which cease with themselves, is the reputation of the
arts, which will never cease. This reputation was,
during the sixteenth century, the lot of Italy alone.
Nothing more strongly calls to our mind the idea
of ancient Greece; for as the arts flourished in
Greece in the midst of foreign and domestic wars, so
they did likewise in Italy, and almost all of them
were carried to a height of perfection at the time
when Rome was sacked by the troops of Charles V.,
its coasts laid waste by the incursions of Barbarossa,
and the heart of the country rent in pieces by the
dissensions between the princes and the republics.

University of d

Southern Reg

Library Fac:

University ot

Southern Regiona

Library Facib ^

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 26) → online text (page 19 of 19)