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History Primers. _Edited by_ J.R. GREEN.























[Illustration: MAP OF FRANCE.

_Shewing the Provinces._]

[Illustration: MAP OF FRANCE.

_Shewing the Departments._]




1. France. - The country we now know as France is the tract of land
shut in by the British Channel, the Bay of Biscay, the Pyrenees, the
Mediterranean, and the Alps. But this country only gained the name of
France by degrees. In the earliest days of which we have any account, it
was peopled by the Celts, and it was known to the Romans as part of a
larger country which bore the name of Gaul. After all of it, save the
north-western moorlands, or what we now call Brittany, had been
conquered and settled by the Romans, it was overrun by tribes of the
great Teutonic race, the same family to which Englishmen belong. Of
these tribes, the Goths settled in the provinces to the south; the
Burgundians, in the east, around the Jura; while the Franks, coming
over the rivers in its unprotected north-eastern corner, and making
themselves masters of a far wider territory, broke up into two
kingdoms - that of the Eastern Franks in what is now Germany, and that of
the Western Franks reaching from the Rhine to the Atlantic. These Franks
subdued all the other Teutonic conquerors of Gaul, while they adopted
the religion, the language, and some of the civilization of the
Romanized Gauls who became their subjects. Under the second Frankish
dynasty, the Empire was renewed in the West, where it had been for a
time put an end to by these Teutonic invasions, and the then Frankish
king, Charles the Great, took his place as Emperor at its head. But in
the time of his grandsons the various kingdoms and nations of which the
Empire was composed, fell apart again under different descendants of
his. One of these, _Charles the Bald_, was made King of the Western
Franks in what was termed the Neustrian, or "not eastern," kingdom, from
which the present France has sprung. This kingdom in name covered all
the country west of the Upper Meuse, but practically the Neustrian king
had little power south of the Loire; and the Celts of Brittany were
never included in it.

2. The House of Paris. - The great danger which this Neustrian kingdom
had to meet came from the Northmen, or as they were called in England
the Danes. These ravaged in Neustria as they ravaged in England; and a
large part of the northern coast, including the mouth of the Seine, was
given by Charles the Bald to Rolf or Rollo, one of their leaders, whose
land became known as the Northman's land, or Normandy. What most checked
the ravages of these pirates was the resistance of Paris, a town which
commanded the road along the river Seine; and it was in defending the
city of Paris from the Northmen, that a warrior named Robert the Strong
gained the trust and affection of the inhabitants of the Neustrian
kingdom. He and his family became Counts (_i.e._, judges and protectors)
of Paris, and Dukes (or leaders) of the Franks. Three generations of
them were really great men - Robert the Strong, Odo, and Hugh the White;
and when the descendants of Charles the Great had died out, a Duke of
the Franks, _Hugh Capet_, was in 987 crowned King of the Franks. All the
after kings of France down to Louis Philippe were descendants of Hugh
Capet. By this change, however, he gained little in real power; for,
though he claimed to rule over the whole country of the Neustrian
Franks, his authority was little heeded, save in the domain which he had
possessed as Count of Paris, including the cities of Paris, Orleans,
Amiens, and Rheims (the coronation place). He was guardian, too, of the
great Abbeys of St. Denys and St. Martin of Tours. The Duke of Normandy
and the Count of Anjou to the west, the Count of Flanders to the north,
the Count of Champagne to the east, and the Duke of Aquitaine to the
south, paid him homage, but were the only actual rulers in their own

3. The Kingdom of Hugh Capet. - The language of Hugh's kingdom was
clipped Latin; the peasantry and townsmen were mostly Gaulish; the
nobles were almost entirely Frank. There was an understanding that the
king could only act by their consent, and must be chosen by them; but
matters went more by old custom and the right of the strongest than by
any law. A Salic law, so called from the place whence the Franks had
come, was supposed to exist; but this had never been used by their
subjects, whose law remained that of the old Roman Empire. Both of these
systems of law, however, fell into disuse, and were replaced by rude
bodies of "customs," which gradually grew up. The habits of the time
were exceedingly rude and ferocious. The Franks had been the fiercest
and most untamable of all the Teutonic nations, and only submitted
themselves to the influence of Christianity and civilization from the
respect which the Roman Empire inspired. Charles the Great had tried to
bring in Roman cultivation, but we find him reproaching the young Franks
in his schools with letting themselves be surpassed by the Gauls, whom
they despised; and in the disorders that followed his death, barbarism
increased again. The convents alone kept up any remnants of culture; but
as the fury of the Northmen was chiefly directed to them, numbers had
been destroyed, and there was more ignorance and wretchedness than at
any other time. In the duchy of Aquitaine, much more of the old Roman
civilization survived, both among the cities and the nobility; and the
Normans, newly settled in the north, had brought with them the vigour of
their race. They had taken up such dead or dying culture as they found
in France, and were carrying it further, so as in some degree to awaken
their neighbours. Kings and their great vassals could generally read and
write, and understand the Latin in which all records were made, but few
except the clergy studied at all. There were schools in convents, and
already at Paris a university was growing up for the study of theology,
grammar, law, philosophy, and music, the sciences which were held to
form a course of education. The doctors of these sciences lectured; the
scholars of low degree lived, begged, and struggled as best they could;
and gentlemen were lodged with clergy, who served as a sort of private

4. Earlier Kings of the House of Paris. - Neither Hugh nor the next
three kings (_Robert_, 996-1031; _Henry_, 1031-1060; _Philip_,
1060-1108) were able men, and they were almost helpless among the
fierce nobles of their own domain, and the great counts and dukes around
them. Castles were built of huge strength, and served as nests of
plunderers, who preyed on travellers and made war on each other,
grievously tormenting one another's "villeins" - as the peasants were
termed. Men could travel nowhere in safety, and horrid ferocity and
misery prevailed. The first three kings were good and pious men, but too
weak to deal with their ruffian nobles. _Robert, called the Pious_, was
extremely devout, but weak. He became embroiled with the Pope on account
of having married Bertha - a lady pronounced to be within the degrees of
affinity prohibited by the Church. He was excommunicated, but held out
till there was a great religious reaction, produced by the belief that
the world would end in 1000. In this expectation many persons left their
land untilled, and the consequence was a terrible famine, followed by a
pestilence; and the misery of France was probably unequalled in this
reign, when it was hardly possible to pass safely from one to another of
the three royal cities, Paris, Orleans, and Tours. Beggars swarmed, and
the king gave to them everything he could lay his hands on, and even
winked at their stealing gold off his dress, to the great wrath of a
second wife, the imperious Constance of Provence, who, coming from the
more luxurious and corrupt south, hated and despised the roughness and
asceticism of her husband. She was a fierce and passionate woman, and
brought an element of cruelty into the court. In this reign the first
instance of persecution to the death for heresy took place. The victim
had been the queen's confessor; but so far was she from pitying him that
she struck out one of his eyes with her staff, as he was led past her to
the hut where he was shut in and burnt. On Robert's death Constance took
part against her son, _Henry I._, on behalf of his younger brother, but
Henry prevailed. During his reign the clergy succeeded in proclaiming
what was called the Truce of God, which forbade war and bloodshed at
certain seasons of the year and on certain days of the week, and made
churches and clerical lands places of refuge and sanctuary, which often
indeed protected the lawless, but which also saved the weak and
oppressed. It was during these reigns that the Papacy was beginning the
great struggle for temporal power, and freedom from the influence of the
Empire, which resulted in the increased independence and power of the
clergy. The religious fervour which had begun with the century led to
the foundation of many monasteries, and to much grand church
architecture. In the reign of _Philip I._, William, Duke of Normandy,
obtained the kingdom of England, and thus became far more powerful than
his suzerain, the King of France, a weak man of vicious habits, who lay
for many years of his life under sentence of excommunication for an
adulterous marriage with Bertrade de Montfort, Countess of Anjou. The
power of the king and of the law was probably at the very lowest ebb
during the time of Philip I., though minds and manners were less debased
than in the former century.

5. The First Crusade (1095 - 1100). - Pilgrimage to the Holy Land had
now become one great means by which the men of the West sought pardon
for their sins. Jerusalem had long been held by the Arabs, who had
treated the pilgrims well; but these had been conquered by a fierce
Turcoman tribe, who robbed and oppressed the pilgrims. Peter the Hermit,
returning from a pilgrimage, persuaded Pope Urban II. that it would be
well to stir up Christendom to drive back the Moslem power, and deliver
Jerusalem and the holy places. Urban II. accordingly, when holding a
council at Clermont, in Auvergne, permitted Peter to describe in glowing
words the miseries of pilgrims and the profanation of the holy places.
Cries broke out, "God wills it!" and multitudes thronged to receive
crosses cut out in cloth, which were fastened to the shoulder, and
pledged the wearer to the holy war or crusade, as it was called. Philip
I. took no interest in the cause, but his brother Hugh, Count of
Vermandois, Stephen, Count of Blois, Robert, Duke of Normandy, and
Raymond, Count of Toulouse, joined the expedition, which was made under
Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, or what we now call the
Netherlands. The crusade proved successful; Jerusalem was gained, and a
kingdom of detached cities and forts was founded in Palestine, of which
Godfrey became the first king. The whole of the West was supposed to
keep up the defence of the Holy Land, but, in fact, most of those who
went as armed pilgrims were either French, Normans, or Aquitanians; and
the men of the East called all alike Franks. Two orders of monks, who
were also knights, became the permanent defenders of the kingdom - the
Knights of St. John, also called Hospitallers, because they also lodged
pilgrims and tended the sick; and the Knights Templars. Both had
establishments in different countries in Europe, where youths were
trained to the rules of their order. The old custom of solemnly girding
a young warrior with his sword was developing into a system by which the
nobly born man was trained through the ranks of page and squire to full
knighthood, and made to take vows which bound him to honourable customs
to equals, though, unhappily, no account was taken of his inferiors.

6. Louis VI. and VII. - Philip's son, _Louis VI., or the Fat_, was the
first able man whom the line of Hugh Capet had produced since it mounted
the throne. He made the first attempt at curbing the nobles, assisted by
Suger, the Abbot of St. Denys. The only possibility of doing this was to
obtain the aid of one party of nobles against another; and when any
unusually flagrant offence had been committed, Louis called together the
nobles, bishops, and abbots of his domain, and obtained their consent
and assistance in making war on the guilty man, and overthrowing his
castle, thus, in some degree, lessening the sense of utter impunity
which had caused so many violences and such savage recklessness. He also
permitted a few of the cities to purchase the right of self-government,
and freedom from the ill usage of the counts, who, from their guardians,
had become their tyrants; but in this he seems not to have been so much
guided by any fixed principle, as by his private interests and feelings
towards the individual city or lord in question. However, the royal
authority had begun to be respected by 1137, when Louis VI. died, having
just effected the marriage of his son, _Louis VII._, with Eleanor, the
heiress of the Dukes of Aquitaine - thus hoping to make the crown really
more powerful than the great princes who owed it homage. At this time
lived the great St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, who had a wonderful
influence over men's minds. It was a time of much thought and
speculation, and Peter Abailard, an able student of the Paris
University, held a controversy with Bernard, in which we see the first
struggle between intellect and authority. Bernard roused the young king,
Louis VII., to go on the second crusade, which was undertaken by the
Emperor and the other princes of Europe to relieve the distress of the
kingdom of Palestine. France had no navy, so the war was by land,
through the rugged hills of Asia Minor, where the army was almost
destroyed by the Saracens. Though Louis did reach Palestine, it was with
weakened forces; he could effect nothing by his campaign, and Eleanor,
who had accompanied him, seems to have been entirely corrupted by the
evil habits of the Franks settled in the East. Soon after his return,
Louis dissolved his marriage; and Eleanor became the wife of Henry,
Count of Anjou, who soon after inherited the kingdom of England as our
Henry II., as well as the duchy of Normandy, and betrothed his third son
to the heiress of Brittany. Eleanor's marriage seemed to undo all that
Louis VI. had done in raising the royal power; for Henry completely
overshadowed Louis, whose only resource was in feeble endeavours to take
part against him in his many family quarrels. The whole reign of Louis
the Young, the title that adhered to him on account of his simple,
childish nature, is only a record of weakness and disaster, till he died
in 1180. What life went on in France, went on principally in the south.
The lands of Aquitaine and Provence had never dropped the old classical
love of poetry and art. A softer form of broken Latin was then spoken,
and the art of minstrelsy was frequent among all ranks. Poets were
called troubadours and _trouvères_ (finders). Courts of love were held,
where there were competitions in poetry, the prize being a golden
violet; and many of the bravest warriors were also distinguished
troubadours - among them the elder sons of Queen Eleanor. There was much
license of manners, much turbulence; and as the Aquitanians hated
Angevin rule, the troubadours never ceased to stir up the sons of Henry
II. against him.

7. Philip II. (1180 - 1223). - Powerful in fact as Henry II. was, it was
his gathering so large a part of France under his rule which was, in the
end, to build up the greatness of the French kings. What had held them
in check was the existence of the great fiefs or provinces, each with
its own line of dukes or counts, and all practically independent of the
king. But now nearly all the provinces of southern and western France
were gathered into the hand of a single ruler; and though he was a
Frenchman in blood, yet, as he was King of England, this ruler seemed to
his French subjects no Frenchman, but a foreigner. They began therefore
to look to the French king to free them from a foreign ruler; and the
son of Louis VII., called _Philip Augustus_, was ready to take advantage
of their disposition. Philip was a really able man, making up by address
for want of personal courage. He set himself to lower the power of the
house of Anjou and increase that of the house of Paris. As a boy he had
watched conferences between his father and Henry under the great elm of
Gisors, on the borders of Normandy, and seeing his father overreached,
he laid up a store of hatred to the rival king. As soon as he had the
power, he cut down the elm, which was so large that 300 horsemen could
be sheltered under its branches. He supported the sons of Henry II. in
their rebellions, and was always the bitter foe of the head of the
family. Philip assumed the cross in 1187, on the tidings of the loss of
Jerusalem, and in 1190 joined Richard I. of England at Messina, where
they wintered, and then sailed for St. Jean d'Acre. After this city was
taken, Philip returned to France, where he continued to profit by the
crimes and dissensions of the Angevins, and gained, both as their enemy
and as King of France. When Richard's successor, John, murdered Arthur,
the heir of the dukedom of Brittany and claimant of both Anjou and
Normandy, Philip took advantage of the general indignation to hold a
court of peers, in which John, on his non-appearance, was adjudged to
have forfeited his fiefs. In the war which followed and ended in 1204,
Philip not only gained the great Norman dukedom, which gave him the
command of Rouen and of the mouth of the Seine, as well as Anjou, Maine,
and Poitou, the countries which held the Loire in their power, but
established the precedent that a crown vassal was amenable to justice,
and might be made to forfeit his lands. What he had won by the sword he
held by wisdom and good government. Seeing that the cities were capable
of being made to balance the power of the nobles, he granted them
privileges which caused him to be esteemed their best friend, and he
promoted all improvements. Though once laid under an interdict by Pope
Innocent III. for an unlawful marriage, Philip usually followed the
policy which gained for the Kings of France the title of "Most Christian
King." The real meaning of this was that he should always support the
Pope against the Emperor, and in return be allowed more than ordinary
power over his clergy. The great feudal vassals of eastern France, with
a strong instinct that he was their enemy, made a league with the
Emperor Otto IV. and his uncle King John, against Philip Augustus. John
attacked him in the south, and was repulsed by Philip's son, Louis,
called the "Lion;" while the king himself, backed by the burghers of his
chief cities, gained at Bouvines, over Otto, the first real French
victory, in 1214, thus establishing the power of the crown. Two years
later, Louis the Lion, who had married John's niece, Blanche of Castile,
was invited by the English barons to become their king on John's
refusing to be bound by the Great Charter; and Philip saw his son
actually in possession of London at the time of the death of the last
of the sons of his enemy, Henry II. On John's death, however, the barons
preferred his child to the French prince, and fell away from Louis, who
was forced to return to France.

8. The Albigenses (1203 - 1240). - The next great step in the building
up of the French kingdom was made by taking advantage of a religious
strife in the south. The lands near the Mediterranean still had much of
the old Roman cultivation, and also of the old corruption, and here
arose a sect called the Albigenses, who held opinions other than those
of the Church on the origin of evil. Pope Innocent III., after sending
some of the order of friars freshly established by the Spaniard,
Dominic, to preach to them in vain, declared them as great enemies of
the faith as Mahometans, and proclaimed a crusade against them and their
chief supporter, Raymond, Count of Toulouse. Shrewd old King Philip
merely permitted this crusade; but the dislike of the north of France to
the south made hosts of adventurers flock to the banner of its leader,
Simon de Montfort, a Norman baron, devout and honourable, but harsh and
pitiless. Dreadful execution was done; the whole country was laid waste,
and Raymond reduced to such distress that Peter I., King of Aragon, who
was regarded as the natural head of the southern races, came to his
aid, but was defeated and slain at the battle of Muret. After this
Raymond was forced to submit, but such hard terms were forced on him
that his people revolted. His country was granted to De Montfort, who
laid siege to Toulouse, and was killed before he could take the city.
The war was then carried on by _Louis the Lion_, who had succeeded his
father as Louis VIII. in 1223, though only to reign three years, as he
died of a fever caught in a southern campaign in 1226. His widow,
Blanche, made peace in the name of her son, _Louis IX._, and Raymond was
forced to give his only daughter in marriage to one of her younger sons.
On their death, the county of Toulouse lapsed to the crown, which thus
became possessor of all southern France, save Guienne, which still
remained to the English kings. But the whole of the district once
peopled by the Albigenses had been so much wasted as never to recover
its prosperity, and any cropping up of their opinions was guarded
against by the establishment of the Inquisition, which appointed
Dominican friars to _inquire_ into and exterminate all that differed
from the Church. At the same time the order of St. Francis did much to
instruct and quicken the consciences of the people; and at the
universities - especially that of Paris - a great advance both in thought
and learning was made. Louis IX.'s confessor, Henry de Sorbonne,
founded, for the study of divinity, the college which was known by his
name, and whose decisions were afterwards received as of paramount

9. The Parliament of Paris. - France had a wise ruler in Blanche, and a
still better one in her son, _Louis IX._, who is better known as _St.
Louis_, and who was a really good and great man. He was the first to
establish the Parliament of Paris - a court consisting of the great
feudal vassals, lay and ecclesiastical, who held of the king direct, and
who had to try all causes. They much disliked giving such attendance,
and a certain number of men trained to the law were added to them to
guide the decisions. The Parliament was thus only a court of justice and
an office for registering wills and edicts. The representative assembly
of France was called the States-General, and consisted of all estates of
the realm, but was only summoned in time of emergency. Louis IX. was the
first king to bring nobles of the highest rank to submit to the judgment
of Parliament when guilty of a crime. Enguerrand de Coucy, one of the
proudest nobles of France, who had hung two Flemish youths for killing a
rabbit, was sentenced to death. The penalty was commuted, but the
principle was established. Louis's uprightness and wisdom gained him
honour and love everywhere, and he was always remembered as sitting
under the great oak at Vincennes, doing equal justice to rich and poor.
Louis was equally upright in his dealings with foreign powers. He would
not take advantage of the weakness of Henry III. of England to attack
his lands in Guienne, though he maintained the right of France to
Normandy as having been forfeited by King John. So much was he respected
that he was called in to judge between Henry and his barons, respecting
the oaths exacted from the king by the Mad Parliament. His decision in
favour of Henry was probably an honest one; but he was misled by the
very different relations of the French and English kings to their
nobles, who in France maintained lawlessness and violence, while in

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Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeHistory of France → online text (page 1 of 8)