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THE BOY DUKE; 1157-1179


FATHER AND SONS; 1179-1183


KING HENRY’S HEIR; 1183-1189


















RICHARD AND FRANCE, 1194-1199          




The geographical area of that history which alone deserves the name has more than once changed. The early home of human society was in Asia. Greece and Italy successively became the theatres of the world’s drama, and in modern times the real progress of society has moved within the limits of Western Christendom. So, too, with the material history. At one period the growth of the life of the world is in its literature, at another in its wars, at another in its institutions. Sometimes everything circles round one great man; at other times the key to the interest is found in some complex political idea such as the balance of power, or the realization of national identity. The successive stages of growth in the more advanced nations are not contemporaneous and may not follow in the same order. The quickened energy of one race finds its expression in commerce and colonization, that of another in internal organization and elaborate training, that of a third in arms, that of a fourth in art and literature. In some the literary growth precedes the political growth, in others it follows it; in some it is forced into premature luxuriance by national struggles, in others the national struggles themselves engross the strength that would ordinarily find expression in literature. Art has flourished greatly both where political freedom has encouraged the exercise of every natural gift and where political oppression has forced the genius of the people into a channel which seemed least dangerous to the oppressor. Still, on the whole, the European nations in modern history emerge from somewhat similar circumstances. Under somewhat similar discipline, and by somewhat similar expedients, they feel their way to that national consciousness in which they ultimately diverge so widely. We may hope, then, to find, in the illustration of a definite section or well ascertained epoch of that history, sufficient unity of plot and interest, a sufficient number of contrasts and analogies, to save it from being a dry analysis of facts or a mere statement of general laws.


Such a period is that upon which we now enter; an epoch which in the history of England extends from the accession of Stephen to the death of Edward II; that is, from the beginning of the constitutional growth of a consolidated English people to the opening of the long struggle with France under Edward III. It is scarcely less well defined in French and German history. In France it witnesses the process through which the modern kingdom of France was constituted; the aggregation of the several provinces which had hitherto recognized only a nominal feudal supremacy, under the direct personal rule of the king, and their incorporation into a national system of administration. In Germany it comprises a more varied series of great incidents. The process of disruption in the German kingdom, never well consolidated, had begun with the great schism between North and South under Henry IV, and furnished one chief element in the quarrel between pope and emperor. During the first half of the twelfth century it worked more deeply, if not more widely, in the rivalry between Saxon and Swabian. Under Frederick I it necessitated the remodelling of the internal arrangement of Germany, the breaking up of the national or dynastic dukedoms. Under Frederick II it broke up the empire itself, to be reconstituted in a widely different form and with altered aims and pretensions under Rudolf of Hapsburg. This is by itself a most eventful history, in which the varieties of combinations and alternations of public feeling abound with new results and illustrations of the permanence of ancient causes.


In the relations of the Empire and the Papacy the same epoch contains one cycle of the great rivalry, the series of struggles which take a new form under Frederick I and Alexander III, and come to an end in the contest between Lewis of Bavaria and John XXII. It comprises the whole drama of the Hohenstaufen, and the failure of the great hopes of the world under Henry VII, which resulted in the constituting of a new theory of relations under the Luxemburg and Hapsburg emperors.


Whilst these greater actors are thus preparing for the struggle which forms the later history of European politics, Spain and Italy are passing through a different discipline. In the midst of all runs the history of the Church and the Crusades, which supplies one continuous clue to the reading of the period, a common ground on which all the actors for a time and from time to time meet.

But the interest of the time is not confined to political history. It abounds with character. It is an age in which there are very many great men, and in which the  great men not only occupy but deserve the first place in the historian’s eye. It is their history rather than the history of their peoples that furnishes the contribution of the period to the world’s progress. This is the heroic period of the middle ages,—the only period during which, on a great scale and on a great stage, were exemplified the true virtues which were later idealized and debased in the name of chivalry, —the age of John of Brienne and Simon de Montfort, of the two great Fredericks, of St. Bernard and Innocent III, and of St. Lewis and Edward I. It is free for the most part from the repulsive features of the ages that precede, and from the vindictive cruelty and political immorality of the age that follows. Manners are more   refined than in the earlier age and yet simpler and sincerer than those of the next; religion is more distinctly operative for good and less marked by the evils which seem inseparable from its participation in the political action of the world. Yet not even the thirteenth century was an age of gold, much less those portions of the twelfth and fourteenth which come within our present view. It was not an age of prosperity, although it was an age of growth; its gains were gained in great measure by suffering. If Lewis IX and Edward I taught the world that kings might be both good men and strong sovereigns, Henry III and Lewis VII taught it that religious habits and even firm convictions are too often insufficient to keep the weak from falsehood and wrong. The history of Frederick II showed that the race is not always to the swift or the battle to the strong, that of Conrad and Conradin that the right is not always to triumph, and that the vengeance which evil deeds must bring in the end comes in some cases very slowly and with no remedy to those who have suffered.


It is but a small section of this great period that we propose to sketch in the present volume; the history of our own country during this epoch of great men and great causes; but it comprises the history of what is one at least of England’s greatest contributions to the world’s progress. The history of England under the early kings of the house of Plantagenet unfolds and traces the growth of that constitution which, far more than any other that the world has ever seen, has kept alive the forms and spirit of free government; which has been the discipline that formed the great free republic of the present day; which was for ages the beacon of true social freedom that terrified the despots abroad and served as a model for the aspirations of hopeful patriots. It is scarcely too much to say that English history, during these ages, is the history of the birth of true political liberty. For, not to forget the services of the Italian republics, or of the German confederations of the middle ages, we cannot fail to see that in their actual results they fell as dead before the great monarchies of the sixteenth century, as the ancient liberties of Athens had fallen; or where the spirit survived, as in Switzerland, it took a form in which no great nationality could work. It was in England alone that the problem of national self-government was practically solved; and although under the Tudor and Stewart sovereigns Englishmen themselves ran the risk of forgetting the lesson they had learned and being robbed of the fruits for which their fathers had labored, the men who restored political consciousness, and who recovered the endangered rights, won their victory by argumentative weapons drawn from the storehouse of medieval English history, and by the maintenance and realization of the spirit of liberty in forms which had survived from earlier days. It is an introduction to the study of English history during the period of constitutional growth, that we shall attempt to sketch the epoch, not as a Contitutional History, but as an outline of the period and of the combinations through which the constitutional growth was working, the place of England in European history and the character of the men who helped to make her what she ultimately became. Before we begin, however, we may take a glance at the map of Europe at the point of time from which we start.


Eastern Europe, from the coasts of the Adriatic to the limits of Mahometan conquest eastward, was subject to the emperor who reigned at Constantinople, and may, except for its incidental connection with the Crusades, be left out of the present view. The northern portions were in the hands of half-civilized, half-Christianized races, which formed a barrier dangerous but efficacious between the Byzantine emperor and Western Christendom. The kingdom of Hungary, and the acquisitions of Venice on the east of the Adriatic fenced medieval Europe from the same enemies. Italy was divided between the Normans, who governed Apulia and Sicily, and the sway of the Empire, which under Lothar II—the Emperor who was on the throne when our period begins—had become little more than nominal south of the Alps; the independence of the imperial cities and small principalities reaching from the Alps to Rome itself was maintained chiefly by the inability of the Germans to keep either by administrative organization or by dynastic alliances a permanent hold upon it. With both the Republican north and the Normanized south, the political history of the Plantagenet kings came in constant connection; and even more close and continuous was the relation through the agency of the Church with Rome itself. At the opening of the period, Englishmen were not only studying in the universities of Italy, at Salerno, at Bologna, and at Pavia, but were repaying to Italy, in the services of prelates and statesmen, the debt which England had incurred through Lanfranc and Anselm. An English­man was soon to be pope. The Norman kings chose ministers and prelates of English birth; and the same Norman power of organization which worked in England under Henry I and Roger of Salisbury, worked in similar line in Sicily under King Roger and his posterity.


Looking northwards, we see Germany, in the middle of the twelfth century, still administered, although uneasily, under the ancient system of the four nations, Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, and Bavaria; four distinct nationalities which refused permanent combination. This system was, however, in its last decay. Its completeness was everywhere broken in upon by the great ecclesiastical principalities which the piety and policy of the emperors had interposed among the great secular states, to break the impulse of aggressive warfare, to serve as models of good order, and to maintain a direct hold in the imperial hands on territories which could not become hereditary in a succession of priests. Not only so; the debatable lands which lay between the great nations were breaking up into minor states: landgraves, margraves, and counts palatine were assuming the functions of dukes; the dukes, where they could not maintain the independence of kings, were seeing their powers limited and their territories divided. Thus Bavaria was soon to be dismembered to form a duchy of Austria; Saxony was falling to pieces between the archbishops of Cologne and the margraves of Brandenburg : Franconia between the Emperor and the Count Palatine; Swabia was the portion of the reigning imperial house, the treasury therefore out of which the Emperor had to carve rewards for his servants. Between the great house of the Welf in Saxony, Bavaria, and Lombardy, and the Hohenstaufen on the imperial throne and in Franconia and Swabia, subsisted the jealousy which was sooner or later to reach the heart of the Empire itself, to supply the force which threw the dislocated provinces into absolute division.


Westward was France under Lewis VII, divided from by the long narrow range of the Lotharingian provinces, over which the imperial rule was recognized as nominal only. These provinces formed a debatable boundary line, which had for one of its chief functions the maintenance of peace between the descendants of Hugh Capet and the representatives of the majesty of Charles and Otto; and which served its turn, for between France and the Hohenstaufen empire there was peace and alliance. But many of the provinces which now form part of France were then imperial, and beyond the Rhone and Meuse tile king of Paris had no vassals and but uncertain allies. Within his feudal territory, the  count of Flanders to the north, the duke of Aquitaine to the south, the duke of Normandy with his claims over Maine and Brittany, cut him off from the sea; and even the little strip of coast between Flanders and Normandy was held by the count of Boulogne, who at the moment was likewise king of England. Yet the kingdom of France was by no means at its deepest degradation. Lewis VI had kept alive the idea of central power, and had obtained for his son the hand of the heiress of Aquitaine; the schemes were already in operation by which the kings were to offer to the provinces a better and firmer rule than they enjoyed under their petty lords, by which fraud and policy were to split up the principalities and attract them fragment by fragment to the central power, and by which even Normandy itself was in little more than fifty years to be recovered ; by which a real central government was to be instituted, and the semblance of national unity to be completed by the formation of a distinct national character.


North of France the imperial provinces of Lower Lorraine, and the debatable lands between Lorraine and Saxony, had much the same indefinite character as belonged to the southern parts Countries, of the intermediate kingdom. They seldom took part in the work of the Empire, although they were nominally part of it, and the stronger emperors enforced their right. But as a rule they were too distant from the centre of government to fear much interference, and, enjoying such freedom as they could, they gladly recognized the emperor’s sway when they required his help. We shall see the princes of Lorraine taking no small part in the negotiations between England and Germany under Richard and John, but they generally played a game with Flanders, France, and the Empire which has but an indirect bearing on European politics; and we chiefly hear of these lands as furnishing the hordes of mercenary soldiers for the crusades and internal wars of Europe, until almost suddenly the Flemish cities break upon our eye as centres of commerce and political life.


Southward lie Spain and Portugal; divided into several small kingdoms between closely allied and kindred kings, all employed in the long crusade of seven centuries against the Moor; a crusade which is now beginning to have hopes of successful issue. Central Spain, on the line of the Tagus, is still in dispute, although Toledo had been taken in 1085, and Saragossa in 1118. Lisbon was taken with the help of the Crusaders in 1147. In each of the Christian states of Spain, free institutions of government, national' assemblies and local self-government, preserved distinct traces of the Teutonic or Gothic origin of the ruling races; and even before the English parliament grew to completeness, the Cortes of Castile and Aragon were theoretically complete assemblies of the three estates. The growth of Spain is one of the distinct features of our epoch; but it is a growth apart. There are as yet scarcely more than one or two points at which it comes in contact with the general action of Europe.



Henry the Second