Thus fell through and disappeared, in 843, by virtue of the treaty of Verdun, the second of Charlemagne’s grand designs, the resuscitation of the Roman Empire by means of the Frankish and Christian masters of Gaul.
Continuing Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays,
our selection from A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times by François P. G. Guizot. published in 1869. The selection is presented in ten easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Empire of the Franks Splits and Decays.
When the two brothers had thus sworn, the two armies, officers and men, took, in their turn, a similar oath, going bail, in a mass, for the engagements of their kings. Then they took up their quarters, all of them, for some time, between Worms and Mayence, and followed up their political proceeding with military fetes, precursors of the knightly tournaments of the Middle Ages.
A place of meeting was fixed,” says the contemporary historian Nithard, “at a spot suitable for this kind of exercises. Here were drawn up, on one side, a certain number of combatants, Saxons, Vasconians, Austrasians, or Britons; there were ranged, on the opposite side, an equal number of warriors, and the two divisions advanced, each against the other, as if to attack. One of them, with their bucklers at their backs, took to flight as if to seek, in the main body, shelter against those who were pursuing them; then suddenly, facing about, they dashed out in pursuit of those before whom they had just been flying. This sport lasted until the two kings, appearing with all the youth of their suites, rode up at a gallop, brandishing their spears and chasing first one lot and then the other. It was a fine sight to see so much temper among so many valiant folk, for, great as was the number and the mixture of different nationalities, no one was insulted or maltreated, though the contrary is often the case among men in small numbers and known one to another.”
After four or five months of tentative measures or of incidents which taught both parties that they could not, either of them, hope to completely destroy their opponents, the two allied brothers received at Verdun, whither they had repaired to concert their next movement, a messenger from Lothair, with peaceful proposals which they were unwilling to reject. The principal was that, with the exception of Italy, Aquitaine, and Bavaria, to be secured without dispute to their then possessors, the Frankish empire should be divided into three portions, that the arbiters elected to preside over the partition should swear to make it as equal as possible, and that Lothair should have his choice, with the title of emperor. About mid-June, 842, the three brothers met on an island of the Saene, near Chalons, where they began to discuss the questions which divided them; but it was not till more than a year after, in August, 843, that assembling, all three of them, with their umpires, at Verdun, they at last came to an agreement about the partition of the Frankish empire, save the three countries which it had been beforehand agreed to accept. Louis kept all the provinces of Germany of which he was already in possession, and received besides, on the left bank of the Rhine, the towns of Mayence, Worms, and Spire, with the territory appertaining to them. Lothair, for his part, had the eastern belt of Gaul, bounded on one side by the Rhine and the Alps, on the other by the courses of the Meuse, the Saene, and the Rhone, starting from the confluence of the two latter rivers, and, further, the country comprised between the Meuse and the Scheldt, together with certain countships lying to the west of that river. To Charles fell all the rest of Gaul: Vasconia or Biscaye, Septimania, the marshes of Spain, beyond the Pyrenees; and the other countries of Southern Gaul which had enjoyed hitherto, under the title of the kingdom of Aquitaine, a special government subordinated to the general government of the empire, but distinct from it, lost this last remnant of their Gallo-Roman nationality, and became integral portions of Frankish Gaul, which fell by partition to Charles the Bald, and formed one and the same kingdom under one and the same king.
Thus fell through and disappeared, in 843, by virtue of the treaty of Verdun, the second of Charlemagne’s grand designs, the resuscitation of the Roman Empire by means of the Frankish and Christian masters of Gaul. The name of emperor still retained a certain value in the minds of the people, and still remained an object of ambition to princes; but the empire was completely abolished, and, in its stead, sprang up three kingdoms, independent one of another, without any necessary connection or relation. One of the three was thenceforth France.
In this great event are comprehended two facts: the disappearance of the empire and the formation of the three kingdoms which took its place. The first is easily explained. The resuscitation of the Roman Empire had been a dream of ambition and ignorance on the part of a great man, but a barbarian. Political unity and central, absolute power had been the essential characteristics of that empire. They became introduced and established, through a long succession of ages, on the ruins of the splendid Roman Republic destroyed by its own dissensions, under favor of the still great influence of the old Roman senate though fallen from its high estate, and beneath the guardianship of the Roman legions and Imperial praetorians. Not one of these conditions, not one of these forces, was to be met with in the Roman world reigned over by Charlemagne. The nation of the Franks and Charlemagne himself were but of yesterday; the new Emperor had neither ancient senate to hedge at the same time that it obeyed him, nor old bodies of troops to support him. Political unity and absolute power were repugnant alike to the intellectual and the social condition, to the national manners and personal sentiments of the victorious barbarians. The necessity of placing their conquests beyond the reach of a new swarm of barbarians and the personal ascendancy of Charlemagne were the only things which gave his government a momentary gleam of success in the way of unity and of factitious despotism under the name of empire. In 814 Charlemagne had made territorial security an accomplished fact; but the personal power he had exercised disappeared with him. The new Gallo-Frankish community recovered, under the mighty but gradual influence of Christianity, its proper and natural course, producing disruption into different local communities and bold struggles for individual liberties, either one with another, or against whosoever tried to become their master.
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