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History of the Middle Ages

Schmidt Number: S-0983

On-line since: 31st May, 2018

Lecture VII


13 December, 1904

A week ago, we studied the contrast between what is today France, on the one hand, and Austria and Germany on the other, as it had developed in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries.

We saw that the Western Empire was distinguished by the traces left of the old Roman culture; and that the Church had soon acquired authority by itself becoming the owner of large tracts of land. So it came to a struggle between the secular nobility and the ambitious Church. The Church had been endowed, especially by Charlemagne, with immense stretches of landed property, so that it became the confederate of the secular rulers, because it was brought into feudal relationships both with those beneath and those above it.

Those who were defeated had come into feudal relationship with the conquerors; the nobles developed into vassals of the king, and thus the kingdom grew stronger and stronger. The Western Empire was continually concerned with the opposition between the vassals and the Church. It was different in the Eastern Empire. Here the old feelings of independence, the sentiment of freedom still persisted, so that the tribal dukes would not consent to enter into a situation of dependence. Thus the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries were filled with continual efforts of the so-called kings — who were indeed elected, but actually were only kings to their own tribes — to bring the dukes of the other tribes into dependence on themselves.

History tells of many struggles of this kind. The Carlovingians were succeeded, after the Frankish Conrad, by a Saxon dynasty, and much is told of the deeds of Henry I, Otto I, II & III and Henry II, as well as of the subsequent Frankish kings, Conrad II and Henry III, IV &V. These kings who, in the Eastern Empire, were elected, had, nevertheless, no say in the constitution or legislation of the tribes. Thus, it is much more important to know what the empire actually signified at that time, than to form an accurate picture of the individual battles.

There were very large dukedoms, which had arisen in the way described. During the original migrations into these regions, some individuals had acquired large properties, and had become more and more powerful; smaller owners became dependent on them, and were obliged to surrender their property as fiefs, and then to pay tribute.

Thus, the tribal dukes gradually absorbed the small properties, and by giving others some part of their large property on feudal tenure, secured for themselves the right to have a recognised number of fighting men at their disposal, and to paid a definite sum.

Thus, through the absorption of the smaller properties by the greater, the Saxon, Frankish, Swabian, Bavarian and other dukedoms came into existence. Gradually, too, the jurisdiction of the cantonal law court was transferred to the so-called high court of justice, which had been thrust upon the vassals and peasants by the dukes. The Church, according to its regulations, must exercise its jurisdiction through provosts. Even the king was nothing but a large landowner. He had vassals, fighting men whom he had forced into his service; moreover he had acquired demesnes, and with them he had established his authority in various places. The relationship of the duke to the king was also only that of a vassal, because he paid a fixed tribute to the court. Jurisdiction was a ducal concern. Only in the frontier region against the Magyars, Wends and Danes, was jurisdiction exercised by the margraves and counts-palatine. There were no large States with central administration and uniform armies. Hence arose the eternal wars of kings against rebellious dukes who did not wish to furnish tribute. Then it gradually became necessary for the Church to make a move.

It was consistent with piety to insist upon the Church paying its dues to the king. It was Otto I, in particular who in all piety, in all ecclesiastical orthodoxy, obliged the Church to render this tribute. The bishops were compelled to do as other vassals did. Church property was divided into two parts, of which one was tilled by the serfs for the bishops, on whom they became completely dependent. Another district remained in less definite relationship; there the peasants had to attend to the fields for the king, in the name of the bishop.

Because of new enemies, the emperors saw themselves forced into a closer relationship with the Church. Powerful enemies threatened Central Europe. The Normans gave up their incursions, after having again and again harassed the tribes, and eventually been conquered by Arnulf of Carinthia at the battle of Tours. They had acquired Brittany for themselves.

Then, from the east, Finnish-Ugrian tribes made inroads, and the invasions of these Magyars caused indescribable terror. Old accounts tell of the horrible brutality of their victorious campaign. The merit of having driven them back is generally ascribed to Henry I and Otto I. To a certain extent this is correct. But the incursions of the Magyars were not to be compared with the declaration and conduct of later wars.

The Magyars invaded at a moment when the dukes were specially rebellious, and Henry I had to begin by asking for a truce in order to create for himself at least some kind of united army. This closing of the ranks was only affected in the department of military affairs, by urgent need.

We have seen how jurisdiction gradually passed over to the land owners, the dukes and kings. Increasingly undignified relationships were formed. A number of people, who had formerly been free peasants had to surrender all they possessed, to come under the sway of the large landowners. Then they were employed not only in agriculture, but as messengers, craftsmen, and on military service. A kind of trade was growing up, especially as a result of the enhanced productivity of the soil, which was constantly increasing, thanks to the employment of so many workmen. At the same time, a definite class of artisans was developing. Hitherto there had been nothing of the kind. As already mentioned, the necessary work in the house was attended to by slaves and women. The only handicrafts had been those of the smith and the goldsmith. But now, through these developments, a new class of artisans and tradesmen was being formed. In places where there were suitable markets, fortified settlements were established all over Europe. Hither came the discontented among those who were unfairly treated, so that the congestion became greater and greater. This trait of the time forced the king to rely on the cities for support.

Calvary was needed against the Magyar horsemen. This cavalry formed the basis of the class of knights which arose during this period. All these must be combined together to obtain a true picture of the course things were taking at that time. This is more important than a detailed appreciation of those battles.

In the fighting on the marshes in 933, among the copper mines in 955, the Magyars were defeated, and suffered such terrible discomfiture that their appetite for more invasions really failed. They founded an empire for themselves in the vicinity of the Danube, in what is today Hungary. At that time the emperors were obliged to rely on the Church; Christianity was politically exploited. The Magyars were converted to Christianity especially by the bishopric of Passau. TO understand what was passing in the souls of men in those days, we must not reckon with later conceptions. There dwelt in the hearts of the people an intensive faith, religious feeling enhanced to sentimental enthusiasm. They listened to the clergy in all matters and were content to be led by them in all their concerns. The dukes and kings favoured this kind of servility. From Charlemagne onward, they had depended on this lordship over souls.

Thus, the clergy became the best and strongest counsellors, and crept into the hearts and souls of the people.

Moreover, it happened that at that time a very strong influence was exercised through the Arabs, not only, as described above, from scientific sources, there were also literary influences, which gave the soul of the Middle Ages a new character. A great accumulation of sagas, fairy tales, legends, sentiments and pictures were implanted in the folk-soul; and this soul-influence transmitted from the East to Europe, was so intensive that we see the originally rough soul of the Germanic peoples assuming milder manners. Moreover their piety became permeated by an element of great importance, namely, the cult of the Virgin Mary, and the altered position of women which arose from it. He who does not appreciate this, knows nothing of the history of the Middle Ages. He shuts his eyes to such facts as that the great mass of the people were often seized with epidemic fear. Fear of this king seized the people about the year 1000 (during the reign of the Emperor Otto III. 983–1002), which was to bring about the end of the world. This great event, to be prepared for by penitential exercises and pilgrimages, stirred the whole of Germany. The Emperor Otto III himself undertook a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Adelbert of Prussia. All this resulted from the folk-soul of the time. He who does not understand this, fails also to understand the rise of the later Crusades. Here also material causes have been sought for the movement, but he who sees it in that light only, is talking beside the point.

The secularism of the bishops and abbots could not remain without reaction, without opposition, and so we can understand the strong movement towards reform which emanated from Cluny. The influence of the Cluniacs was immensely powerful; that it was possible to enforce the “Truce of God” was proof of this.

At a time when there was nowhere a uniformly governed empire, we can estimate what it meant for the endeavours of the Cluny monks to succeed in so limiting the law of might for some days of the week — from Friday to Monday — that during this interval no feuds were fought out. It must be remembered that, at that time, there was still no proper administration of justice; the law of might had full sway. The harsh struggle between the German emperors and the popes was carried out, not merely from selfish interests, but also, on the part of the Church, from fanaticism. The pope felt himself to be the representative of Christ, as well as lord of the secular domain — as if the empire of Christ gave him also secular authority.

Pope Gregory VII, who forced the Emperor Henry IV to the Canoses submission, was originally a Cluny monk, and had acquired his fanaticism there. It was a tendency of the papacy to declare: Just as there are two rulers in the solar system — the Sun and the Moon — so also in human life; the Pope is the Sun, the King is the Moon, receiving his light only from the Church. This opinion found acceptance and was recognised as legitimate even by the great poet Dante, who, in connection with the allocation of authority, characterised the supremacy of the clerical over the secular powers as right and proper. Now, this contest between emperor and pope had reached such dimensions, because in the meanwhile a certain unifying process had been going on. The different dukedoms had been soldered together by external authority. The dukes now saw themselves obliged to render military service and definite tribute to the emperor. All the following countries: Italy, Burgundy, Lorraine, France, Austria and Hungary, Saxony and Poland stood, for a time, in feudal relationship to the German crown.

Thus in the 11th century a certain unity had been established. This increased the power of the Church. At the death of Henty III, it was not secular princes who were appointed guardians of the young king, but the Archbishops, Hanno of Cologne, and later, Adalbert of Bremen.

The permeation of the folk-soul with religious sentiment had led to a blind belief in authority. Now Rome's chance had come. A clever policy was introduced from Rome. The clergy must be detached from all secular interests, so as to have only the one thing before their eyes: preaching and the control of the people. For this purpose, the clergymen must be made completely independent. Thus in the 11th century, celibacy of the clergy became involved with the world through self-chosen blood-ties, would lose his independence and be unable to give such untrammeled service.

This gave the clergy and the popes a tendency towards the development of an inflexible will: only one thing before their eyes — the authority of the Church. So it came about that, with the possession of the bishoprics, the Church could demand a say in the government. Formerly, secular princes had possession of every bishopric which was vacant. Now the decision was to depend on spiritual interests alone; and authority was enhanced, because all appointments were in the hands of the Church. From this arose the quarrel about Investiture, to which Henry IV would not consent, and which led to his submission at Canossa.

All this was comprised in the contest between secular and spiritual power. We saw, in the case of Clovis, that the God of the Christians was his God, because he led the armies to victory; and now we see how the Church itself is acquiring authority. This must be understood, if we are to grasp the new conditions which brought about the Crusades.

We have seen, in connection with the Franks, what had become of the tribes that had been forced from their dwellings by the folk migrations. We saw how Christianity had become authoritative in all circumstances of life, how monasteries and bishoprics had become the central point of the new settlements, and that it was not in spiritual matters alone that the monks were the leaders of the people; they instructed them also in the cultivation of various fruits, were themselves the builders of the churches, and so on.

The cities were content to establish themselves around the bishoprics, and everywhere we see powerful influence of the Church.

We see the influence of the Moors entering into Science and Literature. Through the Crusades, we shall learn to know another influence of very great importance; it likewise came from the East. It was through these influences that the great inventions and discoveries were made. For over there in China and the East, many things were well-known of which the West had no idea: the manufacture of paper, silk-weaving, the use of gunpowder, etc. Thus, on these lines the first impulse was given to the great inventions.

So from two sides we have seen mighty impulses exercising their influence on mediaeval humanity. Keep this in mind together with the founding of the cities, and you will feel that a century was dawning which would give a powerful impetus to evolution. To follow this in the right way, it is not enough merely to absorb it into you understanding. No one really understands the events who tries to grasp them with his understanding only, and not with feeling, who cannot enter into the subtleties of the fold-soul and grasp what is carried on and accomplished within it. To him, the words of Faust apply:


:"And what the spirit of the times men call,
Is merely their own spirit after all
Wherein, distorted oft, the times are glass's."

(Ana Swanwick's translation.)




Last Modified: 04-Jul-2018
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