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Tag Archives: Charlemagne

Leadership of Churchmen and Nobles in the Middle Ages

churchmen

The civilizations of India, China and the Moslem world progressed to about the year 1500 A.D., but what had been happening in western Europe in the centuries after Roman power began to decline and barbarian tribesmen had overrun the lands once part of the proud Roman Empire? What had taken the place of Roman might, government and law in western Europe? As Rome’s rule faded away, western Europe entered a period known as the Middle Ages or the medieval period. For a long time there was neither a single empire nor nations as we know them to day. Central governments, such as there were, had little power. Warfare and violence were the rule rather than the exception. Bands of armed men roamed the countryside robbing and killing. Commerce dwindled from a stream to a mere trickle and cities diminished in number, size and importance. Men’s interest in art and learning became less and less. Only in the churches and monasteries where the men of God prayed and worked was there peace and learning. During the later Middle Ages forces were at work which were to bring about great changes in western Europe. For most people, however, the years from about 500 A.D. to 1300 A.D. were years of grinding toil on the little farms that encircled the villages. They were years of obedience to, and fear of, the grim armour clad fighting men who lived in the castles and manor houses dotting the countryside. They were years when the knowledge that had been developed by the Greeks and Romans was largely forgotten and the new learning of the Moslems was as yet little known. They were also years of ever growing religious faith. During that time the Catholic Church was not only the guardian of men’s consciences and souls; it …

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The Thirty Years War 1618 – 1625

bohemia

EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN I of the Holy Roman Empire walked up to a wild lion and pulled out its tongue; his enemies set his house on fire, tried to poison him and ambushed him twenty times; wild bears attacked him three times, stupid servants ignited powder kegs near him and five boats capsized under him, but always he escaped unharmed. He was a greater general than Julius Caesar, a brilliant musician, scholar and inventor. All these stories were proof that Maximilian was a great hero — but they were written by authors whom Maximilian himself hired to do the job. He supplied some of the plots himself and he made sure the stories were properly heroic. Then he had them illustrated by the finest artists of Europe. In real life, Maximilian was indeed a bold soldier and a fine hunter and he was also a shrewd emperor. He did not have much power and one reason he had tales written about him was to encourage the German princes and dukes to give him more authority. Maximilian’s powers were weak because the Holy Roman Empire — Germany as it was later known — was a freak among European lands. The empire was as wealthy as other lands. It had a great trading league, the Hanse; the wealthiest bankers in Europe, the Fuggers; and more people than any neighbouring land. It even had fierce professional soldiers, the Landsknecht‚ who were feared throughout Europe. The empire was made up of scores of petty governments — principalities, dukedoms, margravates, landgravates and cities — which were united under the emperor only in the loosest way. Even its name was freakish, for the Holy Roman Empire was not particularly holy, it was far from Rome and it was so divided into tiny kingdoms that it was almost …

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Gentlemen, Scholars and Princes 1400 – 1507

One day in the fifteenth century, the Turkish potentate of Babylonia decided to send gifts to the greatest ruler in Italy. He consulted his counselors and men who had traveled widely in Europe, asking them who best deserved this honour. They agreed that one Italian court outshone the rest and that his court must surely be the home of Italy’s mightiest sovereign. They did not name Milan, the home of the proud Sforza, nor Florence, the city of the clever Medici. The most magnificent court in Italy, they said, was at Ferrara, the capital of the dukes whose family name was d’Este and to Ferrara the Turkish potentate’s ambassadors carried the presents. Ferrara was small, a mere toy state in comparison to Milan or Florence. Actually, it was not an independent state at all. Like several of its neighbours in central Italy, Ferrara had for centuries belonged to the Church. Its duke paid an annual tribute to the pope for the privilege of governing his family dukedom himself. Even so, the Turkish potentate’s advisers had made no mistake. No court in Italy could match the splendor of the court commanded by the dukes of little Ferrara. During the Renaissance, there were many such small cities that won fame. It all depended on their rulers — the ambitious dukes or counts or sometimes, commoners who had gained riches and power. With their money, they, too, hired fine artists, sculptors and architects; they, too, collected manuscripts and things of beauty. So the small cities were as much part of the new age as Florence or Milan. In that new age, Ferrara was a place of old fashioned grandeur. Its dukes, the d’Estes, had come to power in the last days of chivalry. In 200 years, the d’Estes had turned Ferrara into a …

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The Conquest of England 1066-1265

england

IN THE DIM LIGHT of early morning, the Frenchmen were preparing for battle. Squires helped the knights put on their armour, grooms brought up the horses‚ archers tested their bows, foot soldiers began to assemble, while mounted messengers hurried busily here and there. The date was October 14, 1066 and before the sun set that day a kingdom would change hands and a new era in English history would begin. The battle, one of the most decisive ever fought, would be known as the Battle of Hastings. The cause of the battle was ambition — the driving ambition of Duke William of Normandy to win himself a kingdom and a crown. The son of a Viking pirate chief, William inherited the French duchy of Normandy in 1035, when he was only eight years old. At the age of twenty he began to govern Normandy himself and he proved to be a stern and able ruler. Under his firm guidance, Normandy prospered and its population increased, until William had become the French king’s most powerful vassal. Unable to seek new lands and glory in France, because of his feudal oath of loyalty to the king, William decided to invade England. Anglo-Saxon England was a loosely knit, rural land which had never really recovered from the Viking raids. The petty kingdoms ruled by Anglo-Saxon chiefs had finally been absorbed into the Viking empire of King Canute. Then, during Edward the Confessor’s reign, the country again became weak as the feudal lords struggled with each other for power. One of these lords, Harold Godwinson, seized the English crown for himself. Three weeks after Harold had taken the throne‚ Duke William crossed the English channel with an army of 5000 men and landed 41 Pevensey Beach. Now King Harold and his hastily gathered army …

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Feudal France 814-1314

france

AFTER THE BREAKUP OF CHARLEMAGNE’S Empire, France, the western half of the empire, was ruled by a series of weak kings. They were so weak that they were known as the “do-nothing kings,” and indeed, they could do nothing to stop their powerful and greedy nobles from fighting among themselves. Finally the Carolingian line came to an end and the Franks, as the French were then called, elected a new king. He was Hugh Capet, a relative of the famous Count Odo who had directed the defense of Paris against the Vikings. With Hugh began the line of Capetian kings who were to rule France for many generations. The king actually held several positions. He was the sovereign of a vaguely defined nation called France; at the same time he was the feudal lord of his own lands and overlord, of Suzerain, of all other French lords. He was supposed to be defender of the realm, protector of the poor and champion of justice, but he was actually little more than a figurehead, for he had neither soldiers nor money enough to enforce his authority. Like the German monarchs, the Capetian kings faced the problem of winning control of the powerful lords. Also like the Germans, they took the first step by establishing good relations with the Church. In their coronation oath, the French kings swore to defend the Church. In return, for hundreds of years, the Church supported the monarchy against the feudal lords. The hereditary fief of the French kings was the Ile de France, a small, compact area surrounding Paris and it was infested by lawless vassals who terrorized the roads leading to the city. King Louis VI waged war against them. The French nicknamed him Louis the Fat, but his enormous size did not harm his …

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The Castle, the Manor and the Knight 900-1300

knight

COUNT LEON, lord of the vast domain of Grandpré, stirred and waved away his servants. As he opened his eyes, the first rays of the sun were slanting through the narrow windows of his bedchamber. He stared sleepily at the tapestry hanging on the thick stone wall. It depicted a stag hunt and he enjoyed looking at it, for there were few things in the world he loved more than hunting. For a few minutes he lay there, listening to the sounds drifting up from the courtyard –the clop of horses’ hoofs‚ the creak of leather, the clatter of boots on cobblestones. The castle was coming awake. Some of the count’s people would be going to the fields that lay beyond the castle walls and the moat. As far as the eye could see, the land belonged to Count Leon. Although this castle was his principal residence, he had other holdings as well — manors and manor houses, farmlands and forests. It did not occur to the count to feel grateful for his wealth and position and power. After all, they were his right; he had inherited them from his father, who had in turn inherited them from his father, who had been granted the land as a fief by the king. Getting up from his massive bed, Count Leon began to dress, not bothering to call his servants to attend him. He put on a short shirt over the white linen undergarments he wore even when he slept. He pulled long hose up over his legs, then slipped a tunic over his head and belted it at the waist. Finally, he thrust his feet into soft boots, combed his shoulder-length hair with his fingers and went out the door. The count’s clothes were little different from those worn by …

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Fury from the North 814-1042

viking

“. . FROM THE FURY OF THE NORTHMEN, Good Lord, deliver us.” Until recent times, this line was included in the prayer book used by the Church of England. The raids of the Norse Vikings on Britain were so terrible that the victims never forgot them. For generations the memory of the savage Norsemen was kept alive and Englishmen repeated this prayer for more than a thousand years. It was not only Britain that felt the fury of the Norsemen; they raided the European continent as well. The Norsemen’s ships themselves seemed to threaten terror. The hull of a Viking ship was long and narrow, bristling with sweeping oars and studded with round, brightly painted shields. The square sail was painted with coloured stripes and the towering bow was carved into a dragon’s head. When the ships reached shore, their threat of terror proved to be no empty one. A swarm of blond, heavily bearded warriors leaped from the decks and stormed inland, looting, burning, killing. A French chronicler, writing of the Viking invasions, said, “They destroyed houses and razed monasteries and churches to the ground and brought to their death the servants of our holy religion by famine and sword, or sold them beyond the sea. They killed the dwellers in the land and none could resist them. . . . The Northmen ceased not to take Christian people captive and to kill them and to destroy churches and houses and burn villages. Through the streets lay bodies of the clergy, of laymen, nobles and others, of women, children and suckling babes. There was no road nor place where the dead did not lie; and all who saw Christian people slaughtered were filled with sorrow and despair.” The Norsemen, or Northmen, came from the Scandinavian lands which would later …

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The Abbasids: Glory and Decay A.D. 750-1258

baghdad

UNDER THE Omayyads, who ruled from 661 to 750, Islam had grown into a mighty empire. Arabic had become its language, while the Arabs, in turn, had picked up useful skills from the peoples they had conquered. The state had grown rich from the tribute paid by non-Moslems and the land tax paid by landowners. Though the caliphs were mainly concerned with pleasure and power, they had not neglected religion completely. They had built the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus — two magnificent sanctuaries which were the holiest places in Islam after the Kaaba and the Medina mosque. The believers had become divided, as they would remain divided, into Sunnites and Shiites. Now it was the turn of the Abbasids, who were to rule over the eastern part of the Arab Empire from 750 to 1258. Their first century of power was the Golden Age of Islam. Of all thirty-seven Abbassid caliphs, three stand out above the rest: al-Mansur, Harun al-Raschid and al-Mamun. Although he reigned after his brother the Bloodshedder, al-Mansur (754-775) was the real founder of the dynasty. It was he who firmly established it in power. He crushed a rebellion of Shiites. He raided the border strongholds of the Byzantines. He appointed the first vizier, or chief advisor. This practice, copied from the courts of the Persian emperors, was carried on by all the caliphs who came after him. BAGHDAD AND ITS RULERS Al-Mansur’s greatest achievement was building Baghdad, the fabled city of The Arabian Nights. He himself chose the site on the banks of the Tigris. Constructed in four years by a hundred thousand architects and workmen, Baghdad became the imperial capital of the Abbasids. It also became one of the greatest centres of trade in the world. To …

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The Church and the Empire A.D. 527-1261

empire

CHRISTIANITY, as the official religion of Byzantium‚ was under the control of the government. The emperor was the head of both church and state and high church officials in the East recognized him as the religious leader of the land. One of them wrote, “Nothing should happen in the Church against the command or will of the Emperor.” The church organization was similar to that of the state. As its head, but under the emperor, was the patriarch of Constantinople, who was appointed by the emperor. The appointment had to be approved by high church officials, but actually they never went against the emperor’s wishes. The emperor also had power to remove the patriarch from office. Under the patriarch were the metropolitans and archbishops, who had charge of large cities and important centers in the provinces. Then came the bishops and their staffs, which included the local priests. Unlike the priests of the West, those of the East were usually married. All the high-ranking officials of the church were unmarried and came from monasteries — places where monks and other religious men lived by themselves and spent their lives in prayer and service to God. MONASTERIES AND CONVENTS There were a great many monasteries in the East and many similar places for women, called convents. Many of these institutions helped the poor. Some provided hospitals, while others ran schools where the children of the poor could be educated. In time there came to be so many monasteries that they created problems for the empire. Many people went to live in them to escape from the army, or from the burden of public office. Monasteries became very wealthy, holding great tracts of land. Since they were usually not subject to taxes, the empire lost a large portion of its land-tax money …

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