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HAVING narrated in the previous chapter the events of the Merovingian period, we have now to explain what were the institutions of that period, to show the nature of the constitution and organization of the Church and describe the various classes of society.

There is one very important general question which arises in regard to the Merovingian institutions. According to certain historians of the Roman school, the Roman institutions were retained after the occupation of Gaul under Clovis. The Merovingian officials, according to these writers, answer to the former Roman officials, the Mayor of the Palace, for instance, representing the former praepositus sacri cubiculi; the powers of the king were those formerly exercised by the Roman Emperor; the Germans brought no new institutions into Gaul; after much destruction they adopted the Roman. According to other historians, on the contrary, those who form a Germanic school, all the institutions which we find in the Merovingian period were of Germanic origin; they are the same as those which Tacitus describes to us in the De Moribus Germanorum. The Teutons, they assert, not only infused into the decaying Gallo-Roman society the new blood of a young and vigorous stock, but also brought with them from the German forests a whole system of institutions proper to themselves. The historians of both these schools have fallen into exaggeration. On the one hand, in the time of the Roman Empire, Gaul had never had a centralized administration of its own; it was nothing but a diocese (dioecesis) governed from Rome. And when Gaul had to provide for its own needs, it became necessary to create a new system of central administration; even the local administration was greatly modified by the necessity of holding the Gallo-Roman population in check, and the number of officials had to be increased. On the other hand, the Germanic institutions which had been suitable for small tribes on the further side of the Rhine were not fitted to meet the needs of a great State like the Frankish kingdom. A more complicated machinery became necessary. In point of fact the Merovingian institutions form a new system composed of elements partly Roman, partly Germanic; and the powerful influence of Christianity must not be left out of account. These elements were combined in varying proportions according to circumstances, and according to the needs and even the caprices of men. Moreover we must be careful not to think of the institutions as fixed and unchangeable. They are in a state of continual evolution, and those which obtained in Gaul in the time of Charles Martel are strikingly different from those which we find in the time of Clovis. It is the business of the historian to observe and to explain these changes.

During the whole of the Merovingian period the State is ruled by kings. The kingly office is hereditary and the sons succeed the father by an undisputed right. Each son inherits equally, and the kingdom is divided up into as many parts as there are sons. Daughters, who were excluded from possessing land, could not succeed to the kingdom. The people never interfered in the choice of the sovereign. It was only in rare cases that the great men elevated the king, to whom they had given their allegiance, on the shield and carried him round the camp. This was done by the Ripuarians when they put themselves under the rule of Clovis, after the assassination of their king; and again by the nobles of Chilperic's kingdom when they acknowledged Sigebert as their sovereign. In the case of an ordinary succession there was no special ceremony at which the king was invested with authority. Anointing was not practiced in the Merovingian period. The kings merely adopted the custom of making, on their accession, a progress through their dominions and imposing an oath of fidelity upon their subjects. This is called regnum circumire. Sons who were minors were placed under the guardianship of their nearest relative. At twelve years old they were declared, according to the provisions of the Salic law, to be of age, and were thenceforth supposed to govern in their own name.

The king's official title was Rex Francorum, irrespective of the particular part of the country which he ruled. Some epithet such as gloriosus or vir illuster was usually added. The kings were distinguished by their long hair, and the locks of a prince who was to be deprived of his status were shorn. Chlotar I and Childebert I asked Clotilda whether she would rather see the hair of her grandsons, the sons of Clodomir, cut short, or see them put to death. The lance was also a royal emblem. Guntram presented a lance to Childebert II in token that he recognized him as heir to his dominions. Clovis wore a diadem. All these kings surrounded themselves with great magnificence and sat in state upon a golden throne. When they entered a town they threw money among the crowd, and their subjects greeted them with acclamations in various languages.

The king ruled over Franks and Gallo-Romans alike. He ruled the former by right of birth, in virtue of having sprung from the family to which this privilege appertained; he ruled the latter, not, as has sometimes been suggested, by a delegated authority conferred upon Clovis by the Emperor Anastasius, but by right of conquest. Before long, too, all distinction between Franks and Gallo-Romans disappeared, and the king ruled all his subjects by hereditary right. The power of the king was almost absolute. He caused the ancient customary law of the barbarian peoples to be formulated or revised, as in the case of the Salic law and the laws of the Ripuarians and the Alemans. He did not of course create law; the customs which regulate the relations of men existed prior to the law and it would be difficult to refuse to recognize them. But the king ordered these customs to be formulated, and gave them, when formulated, a new authority. Further, he amended these laws, abrogating provisions which were contrary to the spirit of Christianity or the advance of civilization. Alongside of the laws peculiar to each of the races he made edicts applicable to all his subjects without exception. The capitularies begin long before the reign of Charles the Great; we have some which go back to the Merovingian period. The king who makes the law is also the supreme judge. He has his own court of justice, and all other courts derive their authority from him. He can even, in virtue of his absolute power, transgress the ordinary rules of justice and order persons who appear to him to be dangerous to be put to death without trial. Childebert II, for example, once invited one of his great men, named Magnovald, to his palace at Metz under the pretext of showing him some animal hunted by a pack of hounds, and while he was standing at a window enjoying this spectacle the king had him struck down by one of his men with an axe. Anyone who committed a crime by order of the king was declared immune from penalty. The king made war and peace at will, levied taxes at his pleasure, appointed all functionaries, and confirmed the election of bishops. All the forces of the State were in his hands. All his orders — they were known as banni — must be obeyed; the violation of any of them was punished with the extremely heavy fine of 60 gold solidi. All persons belonging to the king's household were protected by a wergeld three times as great as ordinary persons of the same class.

Against a despotic use of this power neither the great men nor the people possessed any remedy save that of revolt; and such revolts are frequent in the Merovingian period. No small number of these kings perished by the assassin's knife. One day one of his subjects told king Guntram: “We know where the axe is which cut off the heads of thy brothers, and its edge is still keen; ere long it shall cleave thy skull.” At Paris, on another occasion, Guntram assembled the people in a church and addressed them thus: “I adjure you, men and women here present, to remain faithful to me; slay me not as ye slew my brethren. Suffer me to live yet three years that I may bring up my nephews. If I die you will perish also, for you will have no king strong enough to defend you.” The government was thus a despotism tempered by assassination.

  Campus Martius and Campus Madius  

At the beginning of the Merovingian period there was no council having the right to advise the king and set limits to his power. The assemblies which Tacitus describes disappeared after the invasions. From time to time the great men assembled for a military expedition, and endeavored to impose their will upon the king. In 556 Chlotar I led an expedition against the Saxons. They tendered their submission, offering him successively the half of their property, their flocks, herds, and garments, and finally all they possessed. The king was willing to accept this offer, but his warriors forced their way into his tent and threatened to kill him if he did not lead them against the enemy. He was obliged to yield to their insistence and met with a severe defeat. But that is a case of violent action on the part of an army in revolt, not of advice given by an assembly regularly consulted. Such assemblies do not appear until the close of the Merovingian period, and then as a new creation. The bishops always made a practice of meeting in council, and at these meetings they passed canons which were authoritative for all Christians. During the civil wars the great laymen also began to meet in order to confer upon their common interests, and the bishops took part in these assemblies also. Each of the three kingdoms—tria regna as they are called by the chroniclers—had therefore its assemblies of this kind. The sovereign was obliged to reckon with them, and consulted them on general matters. Subsequently when the Carolingians had again united the kingdom, there was only one assembly. It was summoned regularly in the month of March and became known as the field of March—campus martius. The great men came thither in arms, and if war was decided on they took the field immediately against the enemy. Before long, however, as the cavalry had great difficulty in finding fodder in March, the assembly was transferred, about the middle of the seventh century, to the month of May, when there was grass for the horses in the meadows, and the campus martius became the campus madius. Those who were summoned to this assembly brought to the king gifts in money or in kind, which became the principal source of revenue of the State; they tried persons accused of high treason, and before them were promulgated the capitularies. The assembly was thus at once an army, a council, and a legal tribunal. The Carolingians made it the most important part of the machinery of government.

The Mayor of the Palace

The king was aided in the work of administration by numerous officials who both held posts in the royal household and performed administrative functions in the State. We may mention the Referendaries who drew up and signed diplomas in the name of the king; the Counts of the Palace, who directed the procedure before the royal tribunal; the Cubicularies who had charge of the treasuries in which the wealth of the king was laid up; the Seneschals, who managed (among other things) the royal table; the Marshals, who had constables under their order, and were Masters of the Horse, etc. Among these officials the foremost place was gradually taken by the Mayor of the Palace, whose office was peculiar to the Merovingian courts. Landed proprietors were in the habit of putting their various domains under the charge of majores, mayors; and a major domus, placed over these various mayors, supervised all the estates, and all the revenues from them were paid in to him. The Mayor of the Palace was at first the overseer of all the royal estates, and was also charged with maintaining discipline in the royal household. Being always in close relation with the king, he soon acquired political functions. If the king was a minor, it was his duty as nutricius to watch over his education. The dukes and counts, who came from time to time to the palace, fell under his authority, and before long he began to send them orders when they were in their administrative districts; and he acquired an influence in their appointment. As the whole of the administration centred in the palace he became in the end the head of the administration. He presided over the royal court of justice and often commanded the army. In the struggle of the great men against the royal house one of the points for which they contended was the right to impose upon the sovereign a mayor of the palace of their choice; and each division of Gaul (Neustria, Burgundy, and Austrasia) desired to have its own mayor. We have seen that a single family, descended from Arnulf and Pepin I, succeeded in getting the office of Mayor of the Palace into their own hands and rendered it hereditary. From 687-751, the Mayors of this family were the real rulers of the Frankish kingdom, and in 751 it was strong enough to seize the crown.

The court was frequented by a considerable number of persons. The young sons of the nobles were brought up there, being “commended” to the care of one or other of the great officials of the palace. They there served their apprenticeship to civil or military life, and might look forward to receiving later some important post. The officials engaged in local administration came frequently to the palace to receive instructions. Other great men resided there in the hope of receiving some favor. Besides these laymen, many ecclesiastics were there to be met with, bishops coming from their dioceses, clergy of the royal chapel, clergy in search of a benefice. All these persons were optimates of the king, his faithful servants, his leudes, that is to say “his people”(leute). A distinctive position among them was held by the autrustiones, who were the descendants of the Germanic comites. They formed the king's body-guard, and usually ate at the royal table. They took an oath to protect the king in all circumstances. They were often sent to defend frontier fortresses, and thus formed a kind of small standing army. They were also charged with important missions.

The kingdom was divided into districts known as pagi. In earlier times the pagi corresponded to the former Gallo-Roman “cities,” but in the northern part of the kingdom their number was increased. At the head of the pagus was the count. The king appointed the counts at his own pleasure, and could choose them from any class of society, sometimes naming a mere freedman. Leudastes, the Count of Tours who quarreled so violently with Bishop Gregory, had been born on an estate belonging to the royal treasury in the island of Rhe, and had been employed as a slave first in the kitchen, and afterwards in the bakery of King Charibert. Having run away several times he had been marked by having his ears clipped. Charibert's wife had only lately freed him when the king appointed him Count of Tours.

The counts were chosen not only from all classes of society, but from the various races of the kingdom. Among those who are known to us there are more Gallo-Romans than Franks. Within his district the count exercised almost every kind of authority. He policed it, and arrested criminals; he held a court of justice, he levied taxes and made disbursements for public purposes, paying over the residue each year into the royal treasury; he executed all the king's commands, and took under his protection the widow and the orphan. He was all-powerful alike for good and ill, and unfortunately the Merovingian counts, greedy of gain and ill-supervised, did chiefly evil: Leudastes of Tours was no isolated exception among them. To assist them in their numerous duties the counts appointed “vicars.” The vicar represented the count during his frequent absences; in some cases he administered a part of the district, while the count administered the remainder. Before long there were several vicars to each county and it was regularly subdivided into districts called vicariates. The “hundred-men” (centenarius) or thunginus of the Salic law was identified with the vicar and the terms became synonymous.

Often it was necessary to concentrate in the hands of a single administrator authority over several counties. In this case the king placed over the counts a duke. The duke was principally a military leader; he commanded the army, and the counts within his jurisdiction had to march under his orders. The duchy did not form a permanent administrative district like the county; it usually disappeared along with the circumstances that gave rise to the appointment. In certain districts however, in Champagne, in Alsace; and beyond the Jura on the shores of the Lake of Neuchatel, there were permanent duchies. In the kingdom of Burgundy we find the title patricius as that of an official who governed the part of Provence which was attached to Burgundy, and also appears to have held the chief military command in that kingdom.

Barbarian Law

The official who held the command in that part of Provence, which was a dependency of Austrasia, bore the title of rector. These titles were doubtless borrowed from the Ostrogoths, who were the masters of Provence from 508 to 536.

It remains to notice the organization of justice, finance, and the army. The races of Merovingian Gaul were not all under one law. Each race had its own; the principle was that the system of law varied according to the race of the persons who were to be judged. The Gallo-Romans continued to be judged according to the Roman law, especially the compilation made among the Visigoths and known under the name of the Breviarium Alarici. As it was in the region south of the Loire that the Gallo-Romans were least mixed with barbarian elements, it was in Aquitaine that the Roman law longest maintained its hold. The Burgundians and the Visigoths had already their own systems of law at the time when their kingdoms were overthrown by the Franks, and the men of these races continued to be judged by these laws throughout the whole of the Merovingian period. The Merovingian kings caused the customary laws of the other barbarian peoples to be preserved in writing. In all probability the earliest redaction of the Salic law goes back to Clovis, and is doubtless to be placed in the last years of his reign, after his victory over the Visigoths, 507-511. We cannot place it earlier, for the following reasons. The Germanic peoples did not use the Latin language until after they had become mixed with the Gallo-Roman population; in the scale of fines the monetary system of solidi is used, which only makes its appearance in the Merovingian period; further, the Salic law contains imitations of the Visigothic laws of Euric (466-484); finally, it is evident that the Franks are masters of the Visigoths, since they provide for the case of men dwelling beyond the Loire being cited before the tribunals. On the other hand, it is not possible to place the redaction much later, since the law is not yet leavened with the Christian spirit; only in later redactions does Christian influence appear. Similarly, there are incorporated in these later redactions capitularies emanating from the immediate successors of Clovis. The law of the Ripuarians, even in its most ancient portions, is later than the reign of Clovis; that of the Alemans does not appear to be earlier than the commencement of the eighth century, or that of the Bavarians earlier than 744-748. Other laws, like those of the Saxons and Thuringians, were not reduced to writing until the time of Charles the Great. These collections of laws must not be regarded as codes. The subjects are not coordinated; there are few rules of civil law; they are chiefly occupied with scales of fines and rules of procedure.

Justice was administered in the smaller cases by the centeniers or vicars, in the more important by the counts. Both classes of officials held regular courts called in Latin placita, in Germanic mall or malberg. The sittings of these courts took place at fixed periods and the dates were known beforehand. The vicars and counts were assisted by freemen known as rachimburgi or boni homines who sat with the officials, assisted them with their counsels, and intervened in the debates, and it was they who fixed the amount of the fines to be paid by the guilty party. At first the rachimburgi varied in number, before long however the presence of seven of them was requisite in order that a judgment might be valid. The rachimburgi were notables who gave a portion of their time to the public service; Charles the Great made a far-reaching reform when he substituted for them regular officials trained in legal knowledge, known as scabini. The counts also made progresses through their districts, received petitions from their subjects, and gave immediate judgment without observing the strict rules of procedure. Above the count's court of justice was the king's. It was held in one of the royal villae and presided over by the king, or, later on, by the Mayor of the Palace. The president of the court was assisted by “auditors,” more or less numerous according to the importance of the case; these were bishops, counts, or other great personages present at the palace. The king could call up before his court any cases that he pleased. He judged regularly the high officials, men placed under his mundium, cases of treason, and cases in which the royal treasury was interested. He received appeals from the sentences delivered in the count's court. The king's court also exercised jurisdiction in certain matters of beneficence; before it the slave was freed by the ceremony of manumission known as per denarium, and married persons made mutual donation of goods. In addition to his regular jurisdiction the king made a practice of travelling through his realm, hearing the complaints of his subjects, and redressing their grievances without waiting for all the delays of legal procedure. The Merovingian legal tribunals endeavored to introduce some degree of order into a state of society in which crimes were rife, and to substitute the regular action of law for private vengeance and family feud. Unfortunately they did not succeed.

Under the Merovingian kings the system of taxation established by the Romans gradually fell into disuse. This is not difficult to explain when we remember that this fiscal system was extremely complicated, and that the kings had really very little to provide for in the way of disbursements. The officials received no salaries, but had the enjoyment of the revenues of certain villae belonging to the royal treasury. When they went on circuit in the service of the king, private persons were obliged to furnish them with food, lodging, and means of transport. The army cost the king nothing, for his warriors had to provide their own equipment. The administration of justice was a source of revenue to the king in the shape of the confiscations and fines imposed by the courts. His expenses were limited to the maintenance of his court and the donations made to the great men and the churches, and these expenses were covered by his different revenues, which came chiefly from the royal domains. The kings became possessed of numerous villae scattered over the various districts of Gaul, and these properties were constantly augmented by purchases, donations, and advantageous exchanges. It is true that at the close of the Merovingian epoch the kings, in order to conciliate the great men, distributed among them a large number of these royal estates, and the treasury became impoverished.

In the second place, the kings levied, at least at the beginning of the period, a number of taxes direct and indirect, which were adaptations of the former Roman imposts. They raised customs dues (telonea) on the goods which passed through certain towns, others on goods passing along the high-roads, by a public bridge, or transported by river, and on goods exposed for sale in market. But these dues were often made over to the churches, abbeys, or private persons. Sometimes also the king levied a tax on men who were not of free condition. This was the old capitatio humana. Those who were liable to it were inscribed in a public register known as the polyptychum. But this impost gradually lost its importance. The queen Bathildis, who lived at the period when Ebroin was Mayor of the Palace, and was herself a former Breton slave, forbade the levying of this tax, because parents killed their children rather than pay for them. The tax became a customary due, of which the incidence was limited to certain persons; traces of it are found in the time of Charles the Great. Similarly the land tax, capitatio terrena, brought in less and less. Smitten by fear of the divine wrath Chilperic himself burned the registers in order to win back the favor of God. The capitatio terrena came to be limited to certain lands, as the capitatio humana was to certain persons. At the end of the Merovingian period it became necessary to create new imposts, and then the warriors were required to bring to the spring assembly gifts nominally voluntary, which soon became compulsory. The minting of coinage was in the earlier part of the period another source of revenue. For a long time the Frankish kings confined themselves to imitating the imperial currency; Theodebert was the first to place his name and effigy on the gold solidi. But his example was little followed. Down to the seventh century coinage was minted in Gaul bearing the names of former Emperors like Anastasius, Justin, and Justinian, whose types became permanent, or of contemporary Emperors like Heraclius (610-641). From the middle of the seventh century onward we find no coins bearing an effigy. On one side we find simply a man’s name —that of the monetarius — on the other that of the locality. More than 800 local names are found on the Merovingian coins. Evidently coining had become almost entirely free again; minters, provided with a royal authorization, went from place to place, converting ingots into specie. Charles the Great however resumed the exclusive right of coining.

  The Army

The composition of the army varied during the Merovingian period. The army of Clovis with which he conquered Gaul was an army of barbarians, to which some Roman soldiers, encamped in the country, had joined themselves. These Roman troops long preserved their name, their accoutrements, their insignia. Later it seems clear that certain of the barbarian tribes were liable to special military obligations, and in case of military expeditions were the first to take the field. The armies which descended from Gaul upon Italy in the sixth century were principally composed of Burgundian warriors. The Saxons established near Bayeux, the Taifali, whose name is found in the Poitivin district of Tiffauges, were for long distinctly military colonies whose members took the field at the first alarm of war. But soon the Gallo-Romans, too, find a place in the armies. Some of them doubtless asked leave to join an expedition which was likely to bring back spoil; thenceforward their descendants were under obligation to render military service. Others were obliged by the count or the duke to equip themselves, and in this way a precedent was created which bound their descendants. Thus certain free persons, whether Gallo-Romans or barbarians, are subject to the obligation of military service, just as certain persons are subject to the capitatio humana and certain lands to the capitatio terrena. These persons were obliged to arm themselves and march whenever the king summoned them to do so. But they were rarely all summoned at one time; the king first called on those who lived in the neighborhood of the scene of war. If it was for an expedition against Germany he summoned the fighting-men of Austrasia, for a war against Brittany he summoned the men of Tours, Poitiers, Bayeux, Le Mans, and Angers. All the men thus mustered served at their own expense and remained on campaign all summer; in winter they returned to their homes, to be recalled, if need were, the following spring. Charles the Great made a great reform in the military organization. He based the obligation to military service upon property, the principle being that everyone who possessed a certain number of mansi was obliged to serve. The number varied from year to year according to the number of fighting-men required.

We thus see how these institutions were incessantly transformed by the influence of circumstances and by human action. Roman and Germanic elements were combined in them in various proportions, and new elements were added to them. The Merovingian institutions thus came to form a new system; and from them arise by a series of transformations the institutions of Charles the Great.

Organisation of the Church

Only the Church, which connects itself with the Gallo-Roman Church, presents an appearance of greater fixity, since the Church claims to hold always the same dogmas and to be founded on stable principles. Nevertheless even the Church underwent an evolution along with the society which it endeavored to guide. We shall give our attention successively to the secular Church and the religious Orders.

No one could become a member of the secular clergy without the permission of the king. Anyone who desired the clerical office must also give certain guarantees of his moral fitness. His conduct must be upright and pure, and he must possess a certain amount of education. To have married a second time, or to have married a widow, debarred a man from the clerical office, and those who were married must break off all relations with their wives. Clerics were distinguished from laymen by their tonsure, they wore a special costume, the habitus clericalis, and they were judged according to the Roman Law. Each cleric was attached to a special church, which he ought not to leave without the written permission of his bishop; the councils impose the severest penalties upon priests wandering at large (gyrovagi).

The chief of the clergy was the bishop, who was placed over a diocese — parochia, as it was called in the Merovingian period. Theoretically there were as many bishops as there had been civitates in Roman Gaul, but the principle was not rigorously carried out. A number of the small cities mentioned in the Notitia Galliarum, had no bishop in the Merovingian period, for their territory was united to that of a neighboring city. This was the case in regard to the civitas Rigomagensium (Thorame) and the civitas Salinensium (Castellane) in the province of the Alpes Maritimae. On the other hand some of the cities were divided up. St Remigius established a bishopric at Laon which was not a Gallo-Roman city. Similarly a bishopric was created at Nevers. Out of the civitas of Nimes were carved the bishoprics of Uzes, Agde, and Maguelonne; out of Narbonne that of Carcassonne; out of Nyons that of Belley. This creation of new bishoprics was due to the progress of Christianity. Certain bishoprics which the Merovingian kings created in order to make the boundaries of the dioceses coincide with those of their share of the kingdom — such as that of Melun, formed out of that of Sens, and of Chateaudun, formed out of that of Chartres — had only a transient existence.

Theoretically the bishops were elected by the clergy and people of the city. The election took place in the cathedral, under the presidency of the metropolitan or of a bishop of the province; the faithful acclaimed the candidate of their choice, who immediately took possession of the episcopal chair. But under the Merovingians it is observable that the kings acquire little by little an influence in the elections. The sovereign made known his choice to the electors; in many cases he directly designated the prelate. He might, of course, choose the man most worthy of the post, but usually he was content to be bribed. “At this time”, says Gregory of Tours, “that seed of iniquity began to bear fruit that the episcopal office was sold by the kings or bought by the clerics”. In face of these pretentious of the monarchy the first councils of the Merovingian period, those of 533 and 538, did not fail to assert the ancient canonical rights. Before long however the bishops saw that they must take things as they were and make the best of them. They were prepared to recognize the intervention of the king as legitimate, while insisting that the king should not sell the episcopate and should observe the canonical regulations. “None shall buy the episcopal dignity for money”, runs the pronouncement of the Fifth Council of Orleans, of 549; “the bishop shall, with the king's consent and according to the choice of the clergy and the people, be consecrated by the metropolitan and the other bishops of the province”. These principles were recalled at the famous council of 614, but without the mention of the king: “On the decease of a bishop there shall be appointed in his place whoever shall have been elected by the metropolitan, the bishops of the province, and the clergy and people of the city, without hindrance and without gift of money”. Chlotar II in the edict confirming these canons modified the tenor of this article. While recognizing the right of election of the persons interested, he maintained the right of intervention of the prince. "If the elected person is worthy, he shall be consecrated, upon the order of the prince." From that time forward the established procedure was as follows. On the death of a prelate the citizens and the people of the civitas assemble, under the presidency of the metropolitan and the other bishops of the province. They choose the successor and make known to the king the act of election — consensus civium pro episcopatu. If the king approves, he transmits to the metropolitan the order to consecrate the bishop-elect, and invites the other bishops of the province to be present at the ceremony. If he is dissatisfied with the election, he requests the electors to choose another candidate, and sometimes he himself nominates him.

The power of the bishop was very great. All the clergy of the diocese were under his control, and in the episcopal city a certain number of clerics lived in the bishop's house and ate at his table. Chrodegang, bishop of Metz, laid down about the middle of the eighth century a very strict rule for these clergy, requiring them to live as a community: this was the origin of secular canons. Throughout the whole diocese the bishop reserved to himself certain religious functions. He alone had power to consecrate altars and churches, to bless the holy oils, to confirm the young and to ordain clergy. All other functions he delegated to the archpriests, whose appointment was either made or sanctioned by him. Only these archpriests had the right to baptize, and at the great festivals they alone had the right to say mass. The district under the authority of the archpriest soon came to be considered as a smaller parochia within the larger parochia. The archpriests were generally placed in the vici, the large country-towns. Under them were the clerics who served the oratories of the villae; these clerics were presented by the proprietors of the villae for institution by the bishop. The bishop was assisted in his work by an archdeacon who exercised oversight among the clergy and judged contentions arising among them. It was the bishop, too, who administered Church property, and this property was of large extent. Never were donations to the Church more abundant than in the Merovingian period. The benefactors of the Church were, first, the bishops themselves; Bertramn of Mans left to his see thirty-five estates. Then there were the kings, who hoped to atone for their crimes by pious donations, and rich laymen who to provide for the salvation of their souls despoiled their heirs. All property acquired by the Church was, according to the canons of the councils, inalienable. The Church always received and never gave back. In addition to landed property, the Church received from the kings certain financial privileges, such as exemption from customs-dues and market-tax. Often, too, the sovereign made over to the Church the right to levy dues at specified places. Further, since Moses had granted to the tribe of Levi, that is to say to the priests, the right of levying tithes upon the fruits of the earth and the increase of the cattle, the Merovingian Church claimed a similar contribution, and threatened with excommunication anyone who should fail to pay it. The tithe was generally paid by the faithful, but it was not made obligatory by the State. It only acquired that character in the time of Charles the Great. All this property was theoretically in the charge of the bishop of the diocese. He was required to divide it into four parts, one for the maintenance of the bishop and his household, one for the payment of the clergy of his diocese, one for the poor, and one for the building and repair of churches. Little by little, however, property became attached to secondary parishes and even to mere oratories.

The bishop had great influence within his city as well as in the State. In the city he acted as an administrator and carried out works of public utility. Sidonius of Mainz built an embankment along the Rhine, Felix of Nantes straightened the course of the Loire, Didier of Cahors constructed aqueducts. The bishop thus took the place of the former municipal magistrates, whose office had died out; he received the town to govern (ad gubernandum), by the end of the Merovingian period certain cities are already episcopal cities. The bishop maintains the cause of his parishioners before the officials of the State, and even before the king himself; he obtains for them alleviation of imposts and all kinds of favors. The bishops' protection was especially extended to a class of persons who formed as it were their clientage — widows, orphans, the poor, slaves, and captives. The poor of the city were formed into a regularly organized body, their names were inscribed on the registers of the Church, and they were known as the matricularii.

The bishops and the clergy in general enjoyed important legal privileges. From 614 onwards the clergy could only be judged on criminal charges by their bishops; the bishops themselves could only be cited before councils of the Church. But, still more important, laymen were glad to make the bishop the arbiter of their differences; they knew that they would find in him a judge more just and better instructed than the count. The Church could also give protection to malefactors; the criminal, once he had crossed the sacred threshold, could not be torn thence; it was commonly believed that frightful chastisements had smitten those who attempted to violate the rights of sanctuary.

It would be easy to show how grossly immoral was the Frankish race — the history of Gregory of Tours is filled with the record of horrible crimes — but at the same time they were profoundly credulous and superstitious. On Sundays, at the sound of the bells, they rushed in crowds to the churches. They frequently received the communion, and it was a terrible punishment to be deprived of it. Apart from the Church services the Franks were constantly at prayer. They believed not only in God but in the saints, whom they continually invoked, and they believed in their intervention in the affairs of this world. They were eager to procure relics, which had healing power. The Church had in its control sacraments, religion, healing virtue, and the bishop held the first place in the Church; he was felt to be invested with supernatural power, and the faithful held him in awe.

Above the bishop was the metropolitan. With a few rare exceptions, the metropolitan had his seat at the chief town of the Roman province. In the course of the fifth century, the province of Vienne was cut in two: there was one metropolitan at Vienne, another at Arles. The latter annexed to his jurisdiction the provinces of the Alpes Maritimae (Embrun) and of Narbonensis II (Aix). Thenceforward twelve metropolitan sees were distinguished: Vienne, Arles, Treves, Rheims, Lyons (to which was united Besancon), Rouen, Tours, Sens, Bourges, Bordeaux, Eauze and Narbonne. The metropolitan had the right to convoke provincial councils, and presided at them. He exercised a certain oversight over the bishops of the province, and it was to him that it naturally fell to act as judge among them. His title was simply that of bishop: the title archbishop does not appear until quite the end of the Merovingian period. The authority of the metropolitans was subordinate to that of the Frankish Church as a whole, which had as its organs the national councils. These councils were always convoked by the king, who exercised much influence in their deliberations. We have the cannons of numerous councils held between 511 and 614, which give us a mass of information regarding ecclesiastical organization and discipline. These canons are not much concerned with doctrine ; they recall the clergy to their duties, safeguard the property of the churches against the covetousness of laymen, and censure pagan customs such as augury and sortes sanctorum.

Relations with the Papacy

The Frankish Church honored the Papacy and regarded the bishop of Rome as the successor of St. Peter, but the Papacy had no effective power over this Church, except perhaps in the province of Arles. Reading the work of Gregory of Tours, which is so full of life and reflects so exactly the passions and ideas of the time, we do not find that the Pope plays any part in the narrative. The bishops are appointed without his intervention and they govern their churches without entering into relations with him. At the end of the sixth century, as we saw earlier, Gregory the Great maintained an active correspondence with Brunhild. He gives her advice, and his advice was, without doubt, listened to with respect. The pope takes no direct action, but he urges the queen to act. It is not difficult to see however that he was quite ready to supersede Brunhild in the task of directing the Frankish Church; he would like to make Candidus, who was the administrator of the papal patrimony in Provence, a kind of legate beyond the Alps. There can be no doubt that Gregory I, had he lived, would have succeeded by his able policy in re-establishing in Gaul the papal authority as it had been exercised by Leo I before the fall of the Empire. But after the death of Gregory in 604 relations between Rome and the Franks became very rare for more than a century. There are only one or two instances of such relations to which we can point. Pope Martin I (649-655), for example, requested the sons of Dagobert to assemble councils in order to combat the Monothelete heresy, which was supported by the Byzantine Emperors. Relations were not effectively resumed until the eighth century, but they were then to have an immense influence upon general history.

We have already seen how, in their opposition to the Emperors of Constantinople, the popes sought the aid of the Mayors of the Palace, and how this alliance was concluded. We have also noticed, in passing, how Boniface brought under the authority of the Holy See the Germanic races whom he converted to the Christian faith. But, besides this, with the aid of Carloman and Pepin (after 739), Boniface accomplished another task. After the death of Dagobert the Frankish Church had fallen into profound decadence, and Charles Martel had sunk it still lower by conferring bishoprics and abbeys on rude and ignorant laymen. These bishops and abbots never wore clerical vestments, but always sword and baldric. They dissipated the property of the Church and sought to bequeath their offices to their bastards. For eighty years no council was called. Every vestige of education and civilization was in danger of being swamped. A complete reform of the Church was necessary in the interests of society itself. To Carloman and Pepin belongs the merit of having perceived this, and they entrusted this great work to Boniface. Once more a series of councils was held, in the dominions of Carloman as well as in those of Pepin; there was even a general council of the whole kingdom in March 745 at Estinnes in Hainault. The ecclesiastical hierarchy was restored, measures were taken against priests of scandalous life; the clergy were encouraged to become better educated. Above all, this reformed clergy was placed under the authority of the Papacy; the road to Rome became familiar to them. On the one hand there was a political alliance between the popes and the Mayors of the Palace; on the other relations were renewed between the clergy of what had been Gaul and the Papacy. Thus was recovered the idea of Christian unity in one sole Church under the authority of the Pope, as the successor of the apostle Peter.


We have hitherto spoken chiefly of the secular Church, but in even a summary account of the Church of the Merovingian period a place must be found for the monasteries. As early as the fifth century, before the conquest of Clovis, famous abbeys had arisen upon Gallic soil. Such were Ligugé near Poitiers, Marmoutier and St. Martin in the territory of Tours, St. Honorat on one of the islands of Lerins, St. Victor at Marseilles. In the time of Clovis Caesarius founded in the town of Arles one monastery for men and another for women. Under Clovis and his successors monasteries rapidly increased in number. Childebert I founded that of St. Vincent, close to the gates of Paris, afterwards to be known as St. Germain-des-Près; Chlotar I founded St. Medard of Soissons, while Radegund, the Thuringian wife whom he had repudiated, built Ste Croix of Poitiers. To Guntram is due the foundation of St. Marcel of Chalon-sur-Saône, and the extension of St. Benignus of Dijon. Private persons followed the example of the kings. Aridius, a friend of Gregory of Tours, founded on one of his estates the monastery which from his name was known as St. Yrieix. All these monasteries were placed under the charge of the bishop, who visited them and if necessary recalled the monks to their duty. At the head of the household was placed an abbot, generally chosen by the founder or his descendants, but in some cases elected by the community, subject to the bishop's confirmation. Each monastery was independent of the rest, and had a rule — regula — of its own, based upon principles borrowed from the early monks in Egypt, from Pachomius, Basil and the writings of Cassian and Caesarius of Arles. The abbeys did not as yet form congregations obeying the same rule. Since they confined themselves to serving as a refuge for souls wounded in the battle of life, they had no influence on the outside world. They were not centres of the religious life radiating an influence beyond the walls of the cloister and exercising a direct action upon the Church. This type of monastic life was the creation of an Irish monk, Columbanus, who landed on the Continent about the year 585. He settled in the kingdom of Guntram, and established, in the neighborhood of the Vosges, three monasteries, Annegray, Luxeuil (known in Roman times for its medicinal baths), and Fontaines. These three houses were under his direction and he gave them a common rule, which was distinguished by its extreme severity. Obedience was required of the monk "even unto death," according to the example of Christ, who was faithful to His Father even unto the death of the cross. The smallest peccadillo, the least negligence in service, was punished with strokes of the rod. The monk must have no possessions; he must never even use the word "my." This rule became common to all the other abbeys which were founded subsequently by Columbanus himself or his disciples. For Columbanus did not remain undisturbed within the walls of Luxeuil. Twice he was torn from his refuge by Brunhild, whose orders he refused to obey. He wandered through Champagne, and under his influence a monastery arose at Rebais and convents for women at Faremoutiers and Jouarre. Later he found his way to the shores of the Lake of Constance in Alemannia where his disciple Gallus founded the monastery which bore his name, St. Gall. He ended his days on 23 November 615 in Italy, where the monastery of Bobbio claims him as its founder. Loyal disciples of his had reformed or founded in Gaul a large number of monasteries; in no similar period were so many founded as between the years 610 and 650. We can mention only the most famous — Echternach, Prüm, Etival, Senones, Moyenmoutier, St Mihiel-sur-Meuse, Malmédy, and Stavelot. Many of these monasteries received from one hundred to two hundred monks.

Spread of the Benedictine Rule

All these abbeys obeyed the same rule and were animated by the same spirit; they formed a sort of congregation. In general they declared themselves independent of the bishop — ad modum Luxovensium. They chose their abbots and administered their property freely. Moreover these monks did not confine themselves within the walls of their monasteries; they desired to play a part in the Church. St. Wandrille claimed that the monks should not merely be allowed to count the years which they spent in the cloister, but those also in which they travelled in the service of God. The disciples of Columbanus were preachers like himself; they proclaimed the necessity of penance, the expiation of every mistake according to a fixed scale, as in the rule of the monastery, and at this time penitentials began to be widely circulated. The sense of sin became very keen among the people, and they multiplied gifts to the Church in order to atone for their transgressions. The monks also became missionaries; each abbey was, so to speak, the head-quarters of a mission. St. Gall completed the conversion of the Alemans, Eustasius abbot of Luxeuil converted the heretical Warasci in the neighborhood of Besancon and went to preach the Gospel in Bavaria. But the very number of these monasteries caused the defects of the rule of Columbanus to be quickly perceived. This rule did not provide for the administration of the monastery; it did not prescribe, hour by hour, the employments of the day; then, again, it was too severe, too crushing, and often reduced men to despair. Now, about a hundred years earlier (c. 529), Benedict of Nursia had given to the monastery of Monte Cassino an admirable rule; this rule was not known in France until after the death of Columbanus and the remarkable growth of monasteries connected with him, but once known its advantages were soon recognized. All the questions which Columbanus had left unsettled here received a practical solution. It regulated the relations of the abbot with the monks and of the monks with one another; it prescribed the employments of the day and the hours to be divided between prayer, manual work, and study. Mystical speculations are left aside; there is something of the legal spirit of ancient Rome in these clearly-drawn precepts. The rule of St. Benedict at first appeared as a rival alongside of that of St Columbanus; but after the great ecclesiastical reform associated with the name of Boniface it reigned alone; and a little later Louis the son of Charles the Great imposed it (817) upon all the monasteries of his realm. The impetuous torrent which Columbanus had let loose was thus turned into a wide channel, in which its waters could flow calmly.

Classes of Society

Merovingian society was composed of remarkably definite gradations, each man having his fixed price, so to speak, marked by the wergeld. At the bottom of the scale was the slave. The Germans as well as the Romans had possessed slaves, and their number was increased in the Merovingian period. After a war the prisoners were often reduced to servitude; many of these unfortunates belonged to the Slav race, and the name slave gradually took the place of servus. There were also slave-dealers who went to seek their human merchandise overseas; young Anglo-Saxons were much sought after on account of their beauty. Then again, a man who could not pay his debts, or a fine inflicted by the courts, fell into servitude; and a freeman who married a slave lost his freedom. Slaves were looked on as chattels; the master could sell them or give them away at his pleasure. Anyone who stole or killed a slave paid a fine of thrity solidi, just the same amount as was paid for stealing a horse, and this compensation was paid to the master: the slave was not considered to have any family. Slaves were often very cruelly treated by their masters; Duke Rauching for example made his slaves put out torches by pressing them against their naked legs. The Church however took up their cause; it declared unions between slaves which had been blessed by the priest to be legitimate, and earnestly exhorted masters not to separate husband and wife, parents and children.

Slaves could escape from their condition by enfranchisement. In the Merovingian period there were two kinds of solemn enfranchisement, that per denarium before the king, by which the former slave acquired the rights of a Frankish freeman, and that of the Church, by which he became a free Roman. In both cases he was discharged from all obligation towards his former master, but remained in a certain dependence on the king, who fell heir to the property of slaves if they had no children born after their enfranchisement. But usually the slave was simply freed by a written statement to that effect given by the master, and a freedman of this kind, known as libertus or lidus, remained in a position of close dependence upon his former master. He could, it is true, plead in the courts and enter into binding agreements, but he paid his patron a yearly fee known as the lidimonium, and if he died without issue his patron became his heir. The freedman usually retained the land which he had cultivated as a slave, but instead of being a servilis holding it became a lidilis holding.

On the large estates there was a third class of holding, the mansi ingenuiles. These were held by the coloni, the descendants of the former Roman coloni. Theoretically these coloni were free, but they were bound to their holdings ; they could not quit them without the permission of the owner, and if they ran away they were brought back by force. But, on the other hand, so long as they paid their rent, they could not be expelled from their holdings and might cultivate them as they chose. They thus form an intermediate class between the slaves who were tied to one place and the freemen, to whom all roads stood open.

The freemen might belong either to the conquering race, the Franks, or the conquered race, the Gallo-Romans; and the two races were under different laws. The Salic law fixes the wergeld of a Salian Frank at two hundred solidi, that of the Roman at one hundred only. But we must not conclude from this that there was a great gulf fixed between the two races. Where both parties to a case were Gallo-Romans, they were judged according to the Roman law; when a Gallo-Roman was accused by a Frank, judgment was still given according to the Roman law; it was only in a case where a Frank was the defendant that the Salic law was applied, and it is quite natural that this law should be more severe upon the murder of a man of the same race than on that of a Roman. Besides, the further we advance in Merovingian history, the more the two races become intermingled. The Franks admired the Roman civilization and endeavored to assimilate it; they learned the common language of Gaul, which was in process of becoming Romanic; they even prided themselves on learning to speak pure Latin. The Gallo-Romans, on their part, adopted the military customs of the barbarians. They frequently gave Germanic names to their children. Both nations were Christian, and the common faith contributed to bring them together.

In theory all these freemen were equal, but little by little distinctions arose among them. In default of a nobility with hereditary privileges, there grew up an aristocracy, potentespriores, who exercised a powerful influence. These great men belonged generally to the ancient Gallo-Roman senatorial families, who held vast estates and possessed great wealth. From these families the king chose the great officers of state and the people of the cities chose their bishops; thus there was added to their wealth political power, or the veneration attaching to the sacred office of the priesthood. The Franks who possessed large estates became assimilated to these Roman senators and there thus grew up an aristocracy composed of members of the two races.

Origin of Vassalage

In consequence of the troublous times which were the rule in Gaul in the seventh century, the poor and the weak could not depend on the protection of the State, and sought protection from one or other of these powerful personages. They put themselves under his mundeburdis as it was called in Germanic; they "commended" themselves to him, according to the expression borrowed from Roman usage, and this expression is suitable enough, for they became in fact clients of these great men. The patron undertook to maintain his clients, to support them in law cases, to further their interests; in return, the client promised to serve his patron on all occasions, to defend him if he were attacked, and to take the field along with him if he attacked anyone else. Each of these great personages had thus under his orders a more or less numerous body of men. To mark these new social conditions new terms were created, or a new sense was given to ancient terms. The protector was called the senior; the client was called vassus. In the Salic law the term vassal simply meant a slave attached to the personal service of his master; at the close of the Merovingian period it always means one of these voluntary dependents. Those who felt the need of protection could "commend" themselves not only to wealthy private persons but also to royal officers, to the dukes and counts, to the officials of the palace; but above all they could commend themselves to the king himself. In that case the sovereign exercised a double authority over them; first, his public authority as king, and secondly a more special protection, parallel, in so far, to that of the seignior. In time the strength of the king came to depend in large measure on the number of his vassals. The subjection of the individual to the State was replaced by a personal subjection to the king, and the population of the country came to be composed of groups of men bound to one another by personal ties. Thus we find the germs of the feudal system already present in the seventh century.

A time was to come when to this subordination of persons there should be added a subordination of lands. In order to understand this evolution, which was to have so great a historical importance, we must first examine the conditions on which property was held.

The Merovingian Villa

With the exception of the towns the soil of Gaul was divided, in the Merovingian period, into large estates, called villae or fundi. These estates usually bore the name of their original holder; thus the villae called Victoriacus had belonged to a man named Victorius, and the modern villages which have descended from these villae have kept the old names. Variously transformed according to the district in which they lie, they are known today as Vitrac, Vitrec, Vitré, Vitrey or Vitry. Similarly villae bearing the name Sabiniacus have become our villages of Savignae, Savignec, Sevigné, Savigneux. Many of these estates, especially in the north and east, changed their names after the invasions, taking the names of their barbarian owners. Thus Theodonis villa, ThionvilleRamberti villare, RambervillersArnulfi curtis, Harcourt, Bodegiseli vallis, Bougival near Paris. In the seventh century some estates took the name of the saint to whom the church was dedicated: Dompiere, Dommartin, St Pierre, St Martin. Some villae again took their names from some particular variety of trees or plantations; Roboretum has become Rouvray, RouvresRosariae and Cannaberiae have given us the names of our modern villages Rosières and Chennevières. It often happened that through sale, exchange, or division among brothers, a villa was divided between several owners, but it none the less retained its unity and organization.

The lands of the villa were divided into two portions. One, consisting of the lands lying round about the house of the owner, was farmed directly by him. The other portion was divided up into lots or holdings (mansi), of which the owner gave the use to his slaves, his lidi, or to freemen; whence comes the distinction between mansi servileslidiles and ingenuiles, of which we have spoken above. Each tenant cultivated his holding for his own profit, but in return for its use was obliged to pay a rent to the owner and to render him certain services. The houses occupied by the tenants were either isolated, in the mountainous districts, or grouped together within a small area. A villa was self-sufficing; besides the cultivators there were the workmen who made or repaired the tools and implements. There was a mill and a wine-press which served the whole population of the villa, and often there was a forge also. It had its own chapel, of which the priest (often born on the estate) was appointed by the master, with the consent of the bishop. The woods surrounding the villa remained in possession of the land­owner, but he gave the tenants rights of user. Over all the dwellers on the estate he exercised a seigniorial jurisdiction.

There still existed, no doubt, alongside of the great estates or villae a number of small estates belonging to freemen. But these small estates tended to disappear in the course of the seventh century. The fact was that the small proprietors were unable to defend their estates; they had no inducement to sell them, for money would have been of little value to them; accordingly they "commended themselves" to some great man of the neighborhood, handing over their property to him. He in turn gave them the use of it for life, and thus they were at least certain of occupying it in security until the end of their days. Previously they had held their lands ex alode or de alode parentum, by inheritance from their ancestors, with the right of using it as they chose ; henceforth they held it per beneficium, in consequence of a grant made by the great seignior. When agreements of this kind became frequent, two varieties of landed property were distinguished, allodial lands which were held by the owner in person, and "benefices," of which the use was granted by a large proprietor to another person during the lifetime of the latter.

Origin of the Benefice  

Many circumstances contributed to multiply these benefices. The Church, which had large estates and could not get them all cultivated by its serfs, lidi and coloni, let parts of them to freemen, who cultivated them, and at the death of the tenant the land returned, in an improved condition, into the hands of the Church. This mode of tenure was already known to the Roman law (precarium). It sometimes happened that in exchange for a grant of this kind, the grantee made a gift to the Church of an estate of similar value belonging to himself. Thenceforward he had the usufruct of both estates, that of the Church as well as his own; but at his death the Church took possession of both. The grantee had the advantage during his life of a doubled income, and on his death the Church doubled its property. But it often happened that the Church, which was, as we know, very powerful, received the lands of private persons in the manner described without adding anything of its own, only conceding to the former owner a life-use of the property. Thus in various ways the allodial lands disappeared, and benefices became every day more numerous.

Up to this point we have seen the beneficiaries solicit the benefice and take the initiative in obtaining it. These beneficiaries remained bound by ties of gratitude to their benefactor, they exerted themselves to serve him and marched with him when he went to battle; they were his vassi. Before long a man's power was measured by the number of his vassi, the army of his clients; and then the great men, in order to increase their clientage, and consequently their influence, began themselves to offer benefices to those whom they desired to attach to themselves and gain as adherents.

The king, or the Mayor of the Palace who replaced him, needed to be able to count on the great men for the wars, whether foreign or civil, in which he engaged. Obligation towards the State was too abstract a conception to be understood, and the mere sense of duty was not strong enough to keep the great men loyal. The king therefore began to distribute lands to these great men. At first he gave them absolutely, but before long these lands were assimilated to the benefices. This evolution took place especially at the time when Charles Martel laid hands upon the property of the Church and distributed it in his own name to his warriors. The property of the Church was inalienable, it could not be given as an absolute possession. The warriors were only the life-tenants of it, and at their death it reverted to the Church. These estates were therefore simply ecclesiastical benefices, granted by the king or the mayor. Once this precedent had been established, estates granted by the king from his own lands were granted on the same conditions, merely for the lifetime of the grantee.

Charters of Immunity

Another great change took place about the same time. One reason why Charles Martel made grants of ecclesiastical property to his warriors was that they had now to support great expense. They served in his armies no longer as foot soldiers but as cavalry, and their equipment was very costly. The revenue of the lands which were granted to them served as an indemnity against the expenses of military service. Thus it came to be considered that the benefice carried with it the obligation of military service. Under Charles the Great, the holders of royal lands were bound to be first at the muster; and before long it was an understood thing that, when a private person who had granted benefices marched to the wars, all his beneficiaries, who were also his vassals, must accompany him. Thus at the end of the Merovingian period the characteristics of the later fief are taking shape. The eleventh century fief is the direct descendant of the eighth century benefice, of which we have just traced the origin.

Another characteristic of the fief is that the holder of it exercises thereon all the powers of the State: he levies taxes, administers justice, and summons the men of the fief to follow him to war. Now even in the Merovingian period on some of the great domains the State resigned a portion of its rights to the proprietor or seignior, and thus we find present, from this time onward, all the germs of the feudal system. We have seen how great were the powers of the count and the other royal officials: they often abused these powers, and the proprietors of the great estates complained to the king of their tyranny. In many cases the king listened to their complaints and gave them charters of immunity, forbidding all public officials to enter their estates, to claim right of lodging, to try causes, to levy the fredus or other impost, or to compel the men to attend the muster of the royal army. Thenceforward the men of this privileged territory had nothing more to do with the agents of the government; the agents of the proprietor took their place; and before long the proprietor himself levied the former state-taxes, judged cases in his private court, and regarded it as within his competence to deal with all offences committed upon his domain. He led his men in person to join the royal army, and he was naturally tempted to use them also in the prosecution of his private quarrels. If we remember the extent of some of the domains, which comprised a number of villae and were sometimes as large as a modern canton, we see how great was the area which was withdrawn from the authority of the royal officials, if not from that of the king himself. The estates which enjoyed these immunities were veritable seigniories. Alongside of the institutions of the State there had thus arisen another set of institutions which came into collision with the former and brought about the decay of the authority of the State. All the elements of feudalism—commendations, benefices, and immunities —are in existence without its being possible to say that feudalism is as yet constituted, because the elements are not combined into a system.

Industry and Commerce

But before this system came into operation Charles the Great was to re-establish a strong centralized government; he was to make these social forces serve the interests of the State itself, and by his genius was to restore with incomparable brilliancy that Frankish monarchy which at the close of the Merovingian period had seemed likely to disappear.

The Merovingian period as a whole is without doubt a melancholy period. It marks in history what must be called an eclipse of civilization, and it deserves to be described as a barbaric era. Nevertheless, it must not be imagined that the two hundred and seventy years which it includes were, so to speak, sunk in unbroken gloom. Even in this period it is possible to note some facts concerning industry and commerce, arts and letters.

Industry found refuge chiefly in the country districts, where each estate produced for itself all the supplies necessary to agricultural work and common life. The towns themselves took on a country-like air. The ancient buildings — temples, basilicas, baths—had been destroyed during the invasions and their ruins lay on the ground; the only considerable buildings now erected were churches. A sparse population occupied rather than filled the space surrounded by the half-ruined walls. Many houses had disappeared and wide areas lay vacant; these were turned into fields or vineyards, and thus in the interior of formerly populous cities there were closes and culturae. Outside the ramparts there rose, in many cases, a high-walled monastery—a sacred city alongside of the secular city-and these monasteries became new centres of population. Within the decayed cities we nevertheless find, at all events at first, some traces of industry. There is mention in the sixth and seventh centuries of workshops for the manufacture of cloth at Trêves, at Metz, and at Rheims. There were also potteries, and numerous specimens of their art have been found in the tombs. The Merovingians had a taste for finely wrought arms, for sword-belt buckles of damascene work, for jewellery, and gold-plate. The Merovingian goldsmiths were skilful. Eligius, son of a minter at Limoges, attained by the aid of his art to the highest posts; he became the counsellor of Dagobert and bishop of Noyon. There was also in the Merovingian period a certain amount of commercial activity. The Franks imported from abroad spices, papyrus, and silk fabrics. This merchandise was either brought to the ports of Marseilles, Arles, and Narbonne, or came by way of the Black Sea and the Danube. In the time of Dagobert a Frankish merchant named Samo went to trade on the banks of the Elbe, and there formed a great Slav kingdom which had its centre in Bohemia, and extended from the Havel to the Styrian Alps. The merchants of the town of Verdun formed an association in the time of Theudibert, about 540. The king aided them by lending them, at the request of the bishop Desiderius, 7000 aurei. They were thus enabled to put their business on a sound footing, and in the time of Gregory of Tours the wealth of these merchants was renowned. But commerce was chiefly in the hands of Byzantines and Jews. The Byzantines, who were generally known by the name of Syrians, whether they came from Asia or from Europe, had important trading-stations at Marseilles, at Bordeaux, at Orleans. When in 585 Guntram made his entry into the last-named city he was welcomed with cries of acclamation in the Syriac language. Simeon Stylites conversed with Syrian merchants who had seen Ste Geneviêve at Paris. In 591 a Syrian named Eusebius was even appointed bishop of Paris, and gave offices in the Church to his compatriots. The Jews, on their part, formed prosperous colonies. Maintaining friendly relations with their co-religionists in Italy, Spain, and the East, they were able to give a wide extension to their business, and, as the Christian Church forbade the lending of money at interest, all dealing in money, all banking business, was soon in their hands. Five hundred Jews were settled at Clermont-Ferrand; at Marseilles and Narbonne they were more numerous still. The Jew Priscus acted as agent in purchases made by King Chilperic, who held disputations with him concerning the Holy Trinity.

Venantius Fortunatus

Intellectual culture naturally declined during the Merovingian period. Nevertheless in the sixth century there are still two names which are celebrated in the history of literature, those of the poet Fortunatus and the historian Gregory of Tours. Fortunatus, it is true, was born in Italy and educated in the Schools of Ravenna; but his verses, with their wealth of mythological allusions, pleased the taste of the Frankish lords and the Merovingian kings, of whom he was to some extent a flatterer. He sang the praises of all the monarchs of his period, Charibert, Sigebert, and Chilperic; he even lavished on Fredegund his paid panegyrics: Omnibus excellens meritis Fredegundis opima.

Becoming the adviser of Queen Radegund he settled in her neighborhood at Poitiers. He there became first priest, and then bishop. It was at this period that he wrote those charming notes in verse, thanking Radegund for the delicacies which she sent him and describing, with a slightly sensual gourmandise, the pleasure he derived from a good dinner; but at the same time he finds a more energetic strain in which to deplore the sorrows of Thuringia. And, also doubtless at the request of his patroness, he wrote the fine hymns which the Church still uses in the Vexilla regis prodeunt and the Pange lingua.

Gregory of Tours

If Fortunatus was the sole poet of the Merovingian period Gregory of Tours is almost the sole historian. In his work, the History of the Franks, this troublous period lives again, with its vices, crimes, and passions. The portraits which he gives us of Chilperic, Guntram, and Brunhild are painted with extraordinary vividness. His work manifests real literary power. Critics sometimes speak of the naiveté of Gregory, but we must not deceive ourselves; this naïveté is a matter of deliberate art. Gregory does not of course observe strict grammatical correctness; he is by no means Ciceronian; he writes the language as it was spoken in his day. In a few passages only, where he is obviously writing with conscious effort, he employs rare and poetical expressions, as for example in the account of the baptism of Clovis, in the description of Dijon, in the narrative of his quarrels with Count Leudastes. But to these we prefer those pages where he lets himself go, and writes with his natural vigour, where he slips in malicious reflexions as it were unconsciously, or where he excoriates his adversaries. He has the real gift of story-telling and has justly been called the barbarian Herodotus. After his day all culture disappeared. A vast difference separates him from his continuator, the chronicler who has been named — we do not know for what reason — Fredegar. The chronicle of Fredegar is composed of scraps and fragments from various sources. One of the authors from whom extracts are made writes: “The world is growing old; the keenness of intelligence is becoming blunted in us; no one in the present age can compare with the orators of past times”, and this phrase might be applied to the whole of the work. Nevertheless there are still found in Fredegar attempts at portraits of some of the Mayors of the Palace, Bertoald, Protadius, Aega, whereas in the last chronicler of the period, the Neustrian who compiled the Liber Historiae Francorum, there is no longer anything of that kind; it is a very meagre chronicle of the rois fainéants. The lives of the saints, which are still numerous enough, are singularly monotonous; they rarely inform us of any facts and are as like each other as one ecclesiastical image is to another.

A certain number of churches were built during the Merovingian period, such as those of Clermont, Nantes, and Lyons, without counting the abbey churches such as St. Martin de Tours and St Vincent or St Germain-des-Près at Paris, but of these great buildings no trace remains to us. The only remnants of buildings of this period belong to less important edifices, such as the baptisteries of Riez in Provence and St Jean de Poitiers, the crypt of St Laurent at Grenoble, and of the abbey of Jouarre. The great churches which are known to us from descriptions generally have a nave and two side-aisles with a transept, and are in the form of a Latin cross. At the point of intersection of nave and transept there was a tower, which at first served by way of "Lantern," but afterwards to hang bells in. On the walls were placed numerous inscriptions, sentences taken from the Scriptures, verses in honor of the saints. Pictures recalled to the faithful the history of the saints or scenes from Scripture. Often, instead of pictures, the walls, as well as the floor, were covered with mosaic-work in which gold was freely used; a basilica at Toulouse was known for this reason as la Daurade. Sculpture in high relief was unknown, even in bas-reliefs the human figure appears very rarely after the sixth century. The artists could no longer even trace the outlines of animals, they drew conventional animals which are difficult to recognize, geometrical designs or roseate and foliate forms.

Merovingian Art

Some houses which Fortunatus describes to us seem still to have had a fine appearance. Such was the castle built by Nicetius, bishop of Treves, on a hill overlooking the Moselle. The single entrance gate was commanded by a tower; a mechanical contrivance raised water from the river to turn a mill. This is quite a medieval donjon-keep. There were great houses too at Bissonnum and Vereginis villa, belonging to the bishop Leontius of Bordeaux, where under porticoes formed by three rows of columns guests could promenade sheltered from rays of the sun. But such dwellings must have been exceptional; the ordinary houses surrounded by the necessary appurtenances must have resembled farms rather than castles. Merovingian art, however, is mainly represented by the numerous pieces of jewellery which have been discovered, as was mentioned earlier. This art is certainly of Oriental origin: it was practiced not among the Franks only, but among the other barbarian peoples of the West, and even here are found the same decorative ornaments.

In art as well as in literature the seventh century and beginning of the eighth are marked by a profound decadence. But just at the period of blackest barbarism the Frankish kingdom came into contact with Italy, the mother of arts and sciences, where the monuments of antiquity were preserved; and with England, where the monks still studied in their cloisters, and where the Venerable Bede had founded a school of worthy disciples. The Anglo-Saxons and the Italians brought to the Franks the treasures they had safely guarded; the Emperor Charles the Great recognized that it belonged to the duties of his office to spread enlightenment, to foster art and literature; and at length, after this night of darkness, there shone forth the brilliance of a true renaissance.