Oliver J. (Oliver Joseph) Thatcher.

A short history of mediæval Europe online

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in this way, being successfully resisted by their lord and kept
in subjection. MontpelHer (1142), Toulouse (1188),
Beziers (1167), Laon (i 106-12), Lille, Ghent, Amiens,
and many others were compelled to fight hard for their char-
ters. Vezelay revolted five times and attempted to get a
charter, but was unsuccessful every time. Chateau Neuf,
near Tours, appealed to arms a dozen times, but never suc-
ceeded in acquiring a charter. Orleans was so thoroughly
chastised by Louis VIL for her attempt in 1137, that she
never again tried it.

The charters were far more easily purchased with money Clmrtcrsac-
than acquired by revolt. The nobles were always in need chase,
of money, and since the cities were rich, the common way
of obtaining a charter was by purchase. Even after a
charter had been secured it was not uncommon for a com-
mune to extend its power and prerogatives and ask for a
new charter in confirmation of its new privileges. The
cities in England, it may be said, always got their charters

2i6 A SJiort Histoi'y of Mcdiceval Europe

in central

by purchase, the movement there never taking on the char-
acter of a revolt. In Germany the cities were not allowed
any political liberties during the reign of the Hohenstaufen,
although they secured a great many restrictions upon the
arbitrary taxation of their lords ; but in, or after, the inter-
regnum, when the imperial power was either destroyed or
greatly weakened, they were able to emancipate themselves
entirely and secure their complete political independence.

It was only in the south and in the west of France that
the cities were successful in establishing themselves as com-
munes. In the central part, which was more directly under
No communes the control of the king, there were almost no communes.
The king was so near to them that he was able to check
their growth, or, at least, to keep them in partial depend-
ence. Orleans and Paris never became communes. All
such cities have been called " villes de bourgeoisie." This
distinction into two classes is arbitrary, because it is often
impossible to distinguish villes from communes. They
both received charters. The charters of the villes, how-
ever, simply guaranteed that the people of the city should
not be arbitrarily taxed or should have certain commercial
or other privileges. Generally these cities were not allowed
to rule themselves or to elect their officers. They were
subject to their king or lord and were ruled by the officers
whom he sent to them. In some of these " villes de bour-
geoisie," however, there was a certain amount of political
autonomy, and the people had a voice in the election of
some of their officers. Since the king's officers were always
present, these villes were always peaceable. The mob was
kept in check, and the finances of the city were well man-
aged and kept in good condition. Louis VII. gave a charter
of the above kind to the little ville Lorris, which was so
well adapted to the object for which it was intended that
it was afterward introduced into more than eighty villes in

The so called
villes de bour


TJie Development of the Cities 217

the central part of France. The charter of Beaumont-en -
Argonne was used in more than three hundred villes in the
northeast, especially in the archbishopric of Rheims, the
duchies of Luxemburg and Lorraine, and the county of
Chiny. This charter was very like that of the com-
mune. It provided for the election by the people of the
ville of a mayor and a kind of Board of Commissioners,
who administered the government, but rendered an account
of their work to their lord, the archbishop of Rheims.
They even had the right of administering justice to a cer-
tain extent, the Archbishop reserving for his court only the
more important cases. The distinction between such villes
and the communes would perhaps be made clear by saying
that the communes became feudal individuals while the
villes remained subject to feudal dues without ever becom-
ing feudal individuals and having vassals under them.

The number of these villes was greatly increased from
the eleventh century on, by the founding of many new
towns. In order to improve their estates or to increase
their incomes the lords often established new settlements New towns es-
which grew into towns or cities. The common name for
all such was "ville neuve," or new town. In order to
secure inhabitants for these, large inducements had to be
made. The lord generally published a charter and made
it known for many miles around that he intended to estab-
lish such a new town, and offered special rights and privi-
leges to all who would come and settle there. The ground
was generally parcelled out among those who came, a mar-
ket established, and the fullest protection guaranteed. Such
places were generally granted the right of asylum, so that
all criminals who fled there, except thieves and murderers,
were free from punishment or vengeance. Serfs who ran
away and lived here for a year and a day without being
claimed by their masters were then regarded as free men.

2i8 A Sliort History of Mcdicvval Europe

From this peculiar privilege the common name for such
towns came to be " places of safety " (salvitates). These and
other privileges made such towns very popular and suc-
ceeded in bringing many people within their walls. These
villes were ruled always by the ford who founded them.
Their inhabitants never gained their political independence
and did not elect their officials. The charters secured for
them only commercial or financial advantages, such as free-
dom from many of the most burdensome feudal dues.

Process of ac- It was generally a guild of merchants that began the agi-

?er!^"^^ ^ ^ ^'^'^' tation to secure a charter for a commune. When it was
determined to resist the lord, all the members took an oath
of fidelity, and the people of the town were also asked to
SAvear that they would support the common cause. Their
desires were then formulated, and if they were successful
their requests were granted and confirmed by a written
document called a charter. The charters which have been
preserved to us vary in size and character. Generally they
contain only the new points at issue between the city and
its lord. The old established customs and relations were
not mentioned because, since they were not in question, it
was not considered necessary to do so. While some cities
secured charters which dealt only with their particular
needs, and hence were local and special, many others de-
manded that their lord give them the same charter which
was in force in some other town. The charter of Soissons,
for example, was introduced into nearly all the communes
of the duchy of Burgundy.

The town which thus received a charter was thereby fit-

The commune ted into the feudal system just as if it were an individual.

vidual.^ " The commune then owed the regular feudal duties to its
lord, and might in its turn become a feudal lord and have
vassals of its own. The lord promised, above all, to pro-
tect the commune in all its rights and against all violence


The Dcvclopuioit of the Cities 219

of whatever kind, and the commune, tlirough its elective
officers, did homage to its lord and took the oath of fealty
to him. The charter generally limited and fixed the
amount of feudal dues which the lord might demand. He
no longer had the right to demand money when he chose,
but generally had to content himself with the payment of
a fixed sum each year. The feudal rights of the lord were
not destroyed, but merely curtailed and made definite.
The commune owed military service to its lord. In ac-
cordance with the ideas and customs of the times every
commune had the right of private war, and if it were of-
fended or injured by some commune or by some lord,
whether clerical or lay, m.ight arm its troops, secure allies,
and attack the offender. The intercommunal feuds and
wars added much to the violence of the times. On the
other hand, it often happened that many communes
leagued together to protect their common interests, espe-
cially their commerce, and so did much to preserve the
peace. Such were the leagues of the Hansa, of the Rhine,
and of Suabia.

The power in the commune was not generally vested in Limitation of
the whole body of its inhabitants, though there were a {<t\\ ni'cmbcrbhip.
cities, Lyon, Rouen, and some others, in which all inhab-
itants were members of the commune and had political
rights. It was more often the case that only the members
of one or more guilds exercised political rights. Ordina-
rily, however, the commune was not a republic, but a kind
of oligarchy or aristocracy. As the commune developed in
wealth and power, and membership in it increased in value,
it became more and more difficult to enter it, and the aris-
tocratic or oligarchic character of the ruling body became
more pronounced.

The internal organization of the conununes was not the
same in all places. Almost everyone that did not accept a

220 A SJiort History of Mediceval Europe

ready-made charter created offices to suit itself. The prin-
Officials. cipal officials bore different names in the different com-

munes. They were in some cities called consuls ; in others
there were a mayor and jurati, or men under oath to serve
the commune in the best way possible. In the north of
France they were called echevins or aldermen. Their
numbers also differed. Sometimes there were two, some-
times there were even twenty-four of them. Associated
with these was a council differing in size from one city to
another. Generally the method of election was very com-
plex. It was not uncommon for the members of the com-
mune to be divided into classes, generally according to
their occupations, each with the right to elect a certain
number of consuls. The bitter class feeling in the com-
mune, however, often made it impossible for the people to
agree on their officials, and especially in the south of France
it became common to call in a foreigner who was made
absolute master or podesta of the city. These officials, by
whatever name they were called, exercised power in the
city, both legislative and executive, and, within certain
limitations, judicial. The management of the finances of
the city was also in their hands. In order to attend to all
these duties they had to have the service of a large number
of helpers, such as tax-collectors, policemen, sheriffs, and
the like.
Violence and The commuues had gained their liberty but did not know
nieiit in't'he ho^v to prcservc it. Their members were invariably divided
into factions, and feuds and street brawls were common.
There were also social troubles coupled with the political
difficulties. The lower orders were often ranged against
the higher, the poor against the rich. The magistrates of
the cities were generally hard masters, and those outside
the ruling guilds were unmercifully imposed upon. This
led to the formation of guilds among those who in the ear-

nieiit in t


The DeveJopmcnt of the Cities 221

Her time had been without such organizations. They or-
ganized themselves for opposition, and sometimes succeeded
in acquiring membership in the commune. Even if they
failed to do this, they filled the city with violence. Peace
had to be restored by someone from without, generally the
king. Another cause of internal trouble was the bad ad-
ministration of the finances of the city. The officials of
the commune were often guilty of fraud and peculation,
and it was impossible to bring such offenders to justice,
because they refused to render any account of their doings
to the people. They claimed that they had done their
duty when they had made their reports to each other. It is
not surprising, therefore, that the cities often became bank-
rupt. The expenses of the communes, together with large
sums that were taken from the treasury in a fraudulent way,
far exceeded the regular income.

These two things, the insolvency of the communes and
their lawlessness were the real cause of their destruction.
The kings of France were now following steadily the policy
of collecting all power into their own hands, and the pro-
cess of centralization was becoming more and mare rapid.
The nobles were gradually yielding to the kings, and the

communes were made the object of a policy which, in the The king and

•' ' -^ the corn-

end, was sure to break them down. The ofiicials of the muncs.

king's treasury interfered in the administration of the fi-
nances of the communes and punished all maladministra-
tion by seizing the charter of the commune and declaring
it forfeited. The judicial jurisdiction of the communes was
limited in every way. The parlement, which exercised the
judicial power in France, tried to destroy the local tribu-
nals by increasing the number of cases which could be
settled only by the king or by his tribunal. The policy of
parlement and sovereign was to make the king's justice
prevalent throughout the land. The central authority also

222 A SJiort History of Mediaeval Europe

increased the taxes of the communes. As the king's power
grew he interfered more and more in the affairs of the com-
munes. He controlled their elections and inspected their
magistrates ; he imposed heavy fines on all those communes
which refused him obedience or offended him in the slight-
est way ; he placed all kinds of burdens on them in order
to break them down,, and Avhen the day of reckoning came
he had them in his power. He forced them to give up their
charters and all that these stood for, their political inde-
pendence and their privileges. They fell into the king's
hands and so increased his power. This p©licy toward the
communes may be said to date from Leuis IX. (1227-7©).
Under Philip IV. (i 285-1 314) the seizures became fre-
quent; and by the year 1400 the communes had lost all
their acquired liberties, sunk back into dependence on the
crown, and disappeared.



Because af the different racial elements which were found
there, the unification of Italy during the Middle Age was Why the unifi-
imp»ssible. The people of the peninsula, thoroughly im- hi^the MiddiJ
bued with the Raman civilization, the Greeks of the south, p^^^jy^l ''""
the Germans of ©devaker, the East Goths, the Lombards,
the Saracens, and the Normans, all were there ; and each
fought to obtain the mastery over all Italy. For political
honors they had powerful rivals in the Pope and the Em-
peror, the conflict between whom gave the cities the oppor- The cities ac-
tunity to depose the imperial officers and to establish a tions and su "-"
local independent government similar to that of the com- J^jj'^^k ''^eT^r^'
munes, described in the preceding chai)ter. Frederick I.
tried to reduce the cities to a position of dependence again,
but the Lombard League and the Pope were too strong for
him. The battle of Legnano (1176), and the treaty of
Constance (1183), gave the cities about all the independ-
ence they claimed, and left the Emperor little except his
title. After the death of Frederick II. few Emperors tried
to wield any authority in Italy.

The cities had thus acquired their liberty, but this was no
guaranty for peace and order. They were engaged in con-
stant feuds with each other. Only members of the ruling Feuds inside
guilds had a share in the government, and the class distinc- ^"e^'jties.'^'^
tions among the inhabitants formed a large disturbing ele-
ment. The higher and the lower nobility and tlie rich
merchants struggled for authority and disregarded the rights

224 -^ Short History of Mediceval Europe


and Guelf.

The five pow-
ers in Italy.

of the industrial classes. The pride and ambition of the
nobles led them into feuds which filled the streets with vio-
lence. To put an end to this confusion the cities began to
elect a dictator called a podesta (about 1200). The lower
orders of society were at the same time striving to win a
share in the government. They had organized themselves
into guilds and now united in a commune of their own with
a " captain of the people " (capitan del popolo) at its head,
as a rival of the podesta. War between the parties began.
The privileged classes sought the aid of the Emperor and
were called Ghibelline, while the common people joined
with the Pope and were called Guelf. These civil wars fill
the thirteenth century. They ended in the loss of freedom
and of the republican constitutions, and the cities fell int«
the hands of rulers called tyrants.

About 1300 the political condition of Italy was somewhat
as follows : In Piedmont the old feudal system was still in
force; several great barons, among them the counts t>f
Savoy, the ancestors of the present royal house of Italy, were
contending for supremacy. In Lombardy the cities were
ruled by tyrants. In IMilan the family of the Visconti
ruled, in Verona the Scaligers, in Padua the Carraresi, in
Mantua the Gonzaghi, in Ferrara the Estensi. In Tuscany
the cities were in the throes of civil war, but the end was
to be the same as in Lombardy. In the states of the
Church, the cities were about to break away from papal con-
trol. The long residence of the Popes in Avignon (1309-78)
permitted the rise of tyrannies in Urbino, Perugia, Rimini,
and elsewhere, while Bologna became a republic and Rome
tried several political experiments. Naples was the seat of
the kingdom of the Angevins, and Sicily had passed into
the possession of the Aragonese. Genoa and Venice were
independent republics. While the disunion at this time was
very great, the five powers which were to divide Italy among

Italy to the Invasion of Charles VIII 225

themselves in the fifteenth century were showing signs of
their coming strength. Their history may be briefly traced
along these lines :

Genoa and Venice owed their greatness to their com- Genoa,
merce. For some time Pisa was a strong rival of Genoa in
the commerce and control of the western Mediterranean,
but in the battle of Meloria (1284), just off Pisa, the Geno-
ese fleet was victorious and the power of Pisa was broken.
In 1 26 1 Genoa helped the Greek Emperor regain Constan-
tinople, and received as her reward the monopoly of the
trade in the Black Sea, and thus came into conflict with
Venice, which by the outcome of the fourth crusade had
gained the ascendency in the east. Tlie war between the
two cities lasted more than two hundred years, and ended in
the total defeat of the Genoese in the battle of Chioggia
(1380). After this Genoa declined while Venice became
the mistress of the Mediterranean.

Since 697 Venice had been ruled by a doge (duke) elected Venice,
by the people. The tendency in the city, however, was
toward an oligarchy. Toward the end of the twelfth cen-
tury the Great Council, consisting of four hundred and
eighty members, usurped the right to elect the doge. They
associated with him a small council of six, and for all more
important matters a council of sixty. In 1297 the oli-
garchy was completed by the act known as the " Closing of
the Great Council," by which this body declared itself to
be hereditary. In order to check all popular movements
the Great Council established the Council of Ten with un-
limited pohce powers. The bloody work of this Council
prevented all uprisings of the people and gave the govern-
ment of the city a stability and durability which were pos-
sessed by no other in Italy. Venice acquired not only the
islands of the eastern Mediterranean but also much territory
on the mainland of the Balkan peninsula. Then she turned

226 A SJiort History of Mediceval Europe



her arms toward Italy and conquered Treviso, Padua,
Vicenza, and other places. But her expansion on the main-
land of Italy during the fifteenth century brought her in
turn into conflict with Milan.

In Milan the Ghibelline Visconti overcame the family of
the Guelf della Torre and entered on a vigorous policy of
territorial extension. By the year 1350 the Visconti had
conquered and annexed all Lombardy. Gian Galeazzo
(1385-1402), the ablest of the family, pushed his conquests
so far to the south that he encroached on the territory of
Florence. The family of the Visconti died out, however,
in 1447, and the power in Lombardy was seized by several
condottieri, as the leaders of the mercenary bands were
called, who had been in the service of the Visconti and of
various cities. Every such leader now improved the oppor-
tunity and made himself master of some city. In Milan the
power was seized by Francesco Sforza, the most famous of
all the condottieri. The city engaged him to lead its troops
against the Venetians, and after securing a victory over them
he came back to Milan and compelled the people to ac-
knowledge him as their duke (1450).

The political history of Florence in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries is so confused by party struggles that we
cannot follow it here in detail. The Blacks and the Whites,
the old nobility, the old guilds, the new nobility of wealth,
and the guilds of the lower orders, all fought for recogni-
tion and power and added to the chaos of the times. Tak-
ing advantage of these troubles the Medici rose to power.
The Medici were a family of bankers that had grown rich
and now used their wealth to advance their political aspira-
tions. They saw that the power was really with the com-
mon people, and so threw in their lot with them. In this
way the head of the family became the real ruler of the city,
although he left the constitution intact. All the officials of

Italy to the Invasion of Charles VIII 227

the city were named by him and obeyed him. Lorenzo the
Magnificent (1469-92) finally swept away all the old re-
publican offices and ruled with a Privy Council of Seventy
of his own nomination. Under the Medici Florence made
war on her small neighbors and became master of all Tus-

During the residence of the Popes in Avignon Romesuf- Rome,
fered from the violent struggles between the rival factions
of her nobility as well as from the riotous conduct of the
people. The families of the Colon na and the Orsini filled
the streets with brawls. An uprising of the people in 1347
made Rienzi Tribune, with full powers to restore order. He
drove out the turbulent nobles, but became so puffed up over
his success that the people found him intolerable and exiled
him. He went to ai)peal to the Emperor, but was delivered
to the Pope, who kept him in prison for some time. The
Pope then determined to recover his power in Rome, and
sent Rienzi back to the city as his representative (1354).
His success was of short duration, however, and he lost his
life in an insurrection. Cardinal Albornoz was then sent
by the Pope into Italy, and recovered nearly all the towns
in the papal state. This led the Pope to take up his resi-
dence in Rome again (1377), although a rival Pope was
elected, who continued the papal court at Avignon till the
schism was healed by the Council of Constance (141 7).

The Papacy, yielding to the character of the times, be- The Papacy,
came more and more a political power. A Pope of the
fifteenth century differed very little in character from a
temporal ruler. The cities in his territory tried to make
themselves independent, and wars were constant. Nicholas
V. (1447-55), known as the first of the Renaissance Po])es,
was a great builder, and patron of learning. He collected
manuscripts and founded the Vatican library. He made
himself master of the city by sternly putting down the last

228 A Short History of MedicBval Europe


Charles Vlll.
invades Italy,

of the uprisings of the populace (1453). Sixtus IV. (147 1-
84) and Alexander VI. (1492-1503), on the other hand,
degraded their high office and covered it with shame.
They practised murder almost as a fine art, and their re-
finements in cruelty and lust have probably never been sur-
passed. Small wonder that the demand for a reform was
daily heard.

The Angevins lost Sicily to the Aragonese, but held
Naples till 1435, when Alphonso of Aragon made himself
master of southern Italy. The rule of the Angevins had
ruined the kingdom, however, and although Alphonso was
a model prince, a patron of learning and of the arts, he
was not able to establish his family in great power. His
son Ferdinand (1458-94) succeeded him as ruler of Naples,
but his misrule led to the revival of the Angevin claim,

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