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Never was the need for united action more urgent than in the Middle Ages. The individual counted for very little. A great feudal noble might stand alone, might build up his own independent power, maintain his own privileges and rule his own vassals; but in the humbler walks of life one man alone could do little in the struggle for existence. The Church encouraged the spirit of association for prayer and service; no trade could be undertaken on a large scale, save by a commercial gild or society; rights, privileges, and property were in the hands of groups of men, who held together for the maintenance of common interests. The communal movement was one very important aspect of this spirit of association. It was a movement not confined to any one country, which spread almost simultaneously throughout Germany, Italy, England, Flanders, and France—an international movement, which may to some extent have been independent of national boundaries, but which each country worked out on its own lines, according to its own circumstances and national characteristics. Similar causes led to the formation of the German stadt, the Italian city, the English borough, and the French commune, and certain essential points of resemblance can be found in all of them, but the actual form which the communal association took, its nature, its strength, and its duration, varied not only from country to country but from district to district—even from town to town.

In no country can this communal movement be better studied than in France. Perhaps it was there that the spirit of association was most widespread, and even in Italy the success of the movement was scarcely more rapid or more marked. On the other hand, it was there also that the results achieved were least permanent, and that the original aim and ambitious character of the communal movement were most completely lost. The southern towns of France were little less strong at one time than the Lombard communes, but their independence was of much shorter duration.

The chief period of communal history falls between the dates 1100 and 1400. A few towns acquired self-government as early as the eleventh century, and a few preserved their independence beyond the fourteenth; but in France this was the exception. It was in the twelfth century, however, that the effort to develop by means of union and association was most successful, and that the urban communes acquired their highest powers. The century which followed marked for most of them the beginning of decline, the gradual loss of independence, the substitution of privileges for rights, the dropping of one ambition after another. In the fourteenth century the true commune almost entirely disappeared. The townsmen had not sufficiently stood together. The union had been local not national. Each separate unit was far too weak to hold its own against the ever-growing power of the monarchy. Financial difficulties gave the impulse which led to the downfall of many struggling associations; the upper classes were not content to share power with the poorer members of their body, and internal dissensions weakened the commune against external foes; royal support insidiously paved the way for royal predominance, and the result was the end of one of the most interesting attempts at achieving success and progress by means of local union and communal life.

It is impossible to give any definition of a French commune which would be universally true. The communal movement may be taken to mean the general spirit of association which affected the country, particularly in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and which gave rise to many different communal types. It is the purpose of this chapter to consider as far as possible the causes of this movement, the principal aim which inspired burgesses in the towns and peasants in the country to form them­selves into groups for mutual protection and self-government. First, however, a brief review is necessary of the varying types of association which resulted from the communal spirit. Only here and there was the highest stage of development reached and real independence obtained; but the varying degrees of success all help to illustrate the communal struggle.

A medieval commune, in the fullest meaning of the word, might be regarded as a collective person: a body which could hold property, exercise rights, possess vassals, and do justice. In the feudal world it took rank by the side of the great lords of the land; like them it could both perform and exact homage and hold courts for its tenants, and with them it could treat on practically equal terms. It was in fact a “seigneurie collective.” Sometimes a commune could even declare war and peace and make treaties and alliances without the license and control of any overlord. The signs of its authority were the possession of a belfry, from which could be rung out the signal for its general assemblies, and a public hall, in which business could be transacted, meetings held, and justice done; the proof of its corporate existence was the common seal, which could be affixed to all its documents and public acts. All communes had their own officials, elected or nominated, to carry on communal business; and the two powers most eagerly coveted and most generally secured, though in varying degree, were the administration of justice and the control of finance. Both town and country, as has been already said, could and did acquire some form or other of communal organisation, but the urban communes were as a rule in the vanguard. They were the first to form themselves into corporate bodies, and the best able to assert communal authority.

The true urban communes were most numerous in the north and south of the country; in the centre some towns were privileged but less independent. In the north these communes were known as Communes jurées, in the south, where independence was still more marked, as Consulates. The term Commune jurée meant that all the members bound themselves together by a mutual oath of association, which was the essential feature, the most important bond of unity, and a method of safeguarding their mutual rights. In these towns the burgesses were often known as jurés de commun; and, as the charter of Beauvais says, all men “infra murum civitatis et in suburbiis commorantes communiam jurabant.” Besides this mutual oath which formed the collective body, a commune might be in the position of a feudal vassal and then an oath had also to be taken to the overlord. At St Quentin a charter of the eleventh century speaks of the oath taken by members of the commune, who “jurerent firmement par sermens a warder et a tenir, sauve la feuté de Dieu et de Saint Quentin, sauve le droiture de Comte et de Comtesse—ens jurerent ensement chescun quemune ayde a son jure et quemun conseil et quemune detenanche et quemune deffence.”

Of these communes of Flanders and northern France some occupied very independent positions while others exercised comparatively limited powers; but each one was largely a self-governing body, formed by an oath of association and able to act as a legal person. A few examples only can be given. St Quentin was one of the earliest of all towns to gain municipal organisation. In the eleventh century a charter of Count Hebert (ob. 1080) recognised and extended the privileges of the town, granting to it a democratic constitution and almost complete independence under a mayor and échevins. To this commune all classes took an oath, not only burgesses but also clergy and knights; a very unusual circumstance in the north.

Rouen illustrates another type of commune, for it was a town possessing the minimum of independence compatible with communal existence. Rouen had worked its way very gradually into importance, through the growth of its commerce and consequent increase of wealth, and in the twelfth century acquired a charter from Geoffrey Plantagenet (1145), which spoke in general terms of “the commune” and conferred judicial powers upon it. At the close of the reign of Henry II of England, Rouen was governed by a mayor and échevins, assisted by a fortnightly meeting of cent pairs, to consider all questions of public interest; but the mayor was chosen by Henry as Duke of Normandy from a list of names presented by the hundred peers, and it was the duke, not the commune, who exercised rights of high justice and was able to demand military service. Even the oath which formed the commune jurée was almost as much the oath of a feudal vassal to the duke as the genuine bond of communal unity. But, despite these limitations, few towns have exercised greater influence on the spread of communal organisation, and traces of the établissements de Rouen can be found throughout all those parts of France which fell at one time or another under the rule of the Angevin dynasty.

In Amiens, even more than in Rouen, a good example can be found of communal union resulting from commercial development. No charter of creation exists for Amiens, but in the twelfth century various documents confirm the municipal organisation which the town had already worked out for itself. Here the mayor and échevins exercised seignorial powers of administration and justice, although the king kept in his own hands the highest rights of jurisdiction.

In the south of France the consulates occupied a still more advanced position than that of the communes jurées of the north; in most cases they had obtained a more complete emancipation from the feudal yoke and the establishment of almost independent authority under their own consuls. Nowhere was the communal movement more widespread. Throughout Roussillon, Provence, Languedoc, parts of Gascony and Guienne, and as far north as Limousin and La Marche, not only towns of importance but even tiny villages aimed at acquiring some form of consular government. The powers, which all towns coveted, here as in the north, were judicial and financial, to which were often added rights of local legislation and of military control. Besides their almost complete autonomy, another feature which seems to distinguish the southern communes from those of the north was the greater share taken by the nobles in their formation. Whereas in the north it is rare to find the upper classes even admitted as members of the commune, in the south nobles almost always occupied some of the municipal offices, and the consular body was frequently composed half of knights and half of burgesses. As a rule also, an assembly of inhabitants plays a larger part in the southern communes and appears more frequently than in the northern towns.

Here as elsewhere great variety prevailed as regards powers and inde­pendence. Marseilles, for a short time, was practically a republic. Probably municipal officers existed there from very early times; consuls were certainly in existence at the beginning of the twelfth century. No distinction was made here between nobles and burgesses; both held office indifferently. Laws were the same for all, officials were elected by all, and a great part was played in town government by the grand conseil of elected representatives and the cent chefs de métiers, artisans chosen by their colleagues; on special occasions a general assembly of all citizens was summoned to consider the most important questions. To their suzerain, the Count of Provence, the townsmen appear to have owed little but military service, and the statutes of the city were drawn up by the Marseillais themselves without any seignorial assistance.

Another important town, Montpellier, which dates its communal government from the twelfth century, was recognised as a republic in 1204 by the King of Aragon, whom the burgesses had wanted to choose as their lord. It had its own elected officials and had erected careful safeguards against seignorial encroachments; but it was never absolutely independent. The lord’s bailiff attested the acts of the consuls and authority was, at least nominally, shared between lord and commune.

In Toulouse we have an example of a commercial commune with great external influence and practical sovereignty throughout the neighbouring country, but with a less advanced political constitution, since the count always exercised considerable municipal powers.

To complete this brief summary of the principal types of southern towns, the cité of Carcassonne may be taken as representing the specially military commune, and Lézat the almost wholly rural town. In the latter, the consulate was evidently organised for the benefit of cultivators and proprietors, both within and without the town walls, and the authority shared between the abbot and the consuls of the town was largely concerned with rural matters.

It was not always possible for the efforts of the burgesses to succeed in establishing so complete a measure of self-government as in the communes described above; and in France a third type of town is found under the title ville de bourgeoisie or commune surveillée, which possessed certain communal characteristics without real political power. It formed, in fact, a privileged community rather than a free commune. Such communities were scattered throughout all parts of France, but in the centre they formed the prevailing type and were on the whole both prosperous and durable; Paris herself, though with certain special characteristics of her own, belonged to this category. Towns on the king’s demesne almost always took this form in response to the communal tendency. The townsmen combined to obtain privileges, but royal officials retained full judicial powers, or at most shared them with the town magistrates. The same might happen in the case of seignorial towns, where the lords were induced to make certain concessions but still retained political powers. In some cases a town might have a municipal body wholly nominated from without. This was the case at Troyes, where the count chose thirteen jurés, who themselves selected one of their number as mayor. In other cases only the head official might be nominated and his assessors elected by the town—a method adopted at Orleans, where the king’s bailiff or prévôt was ultimately supreme. Some royal towns were rather more independent than others. At Senlis, Philip Augustus handed over to the town magistrates all his rights of justice, except in cases of murder, rape, and homicide (1212); but later the town itself begged to renounce powers which it could not afford to maintain, and the royal prévôt was again reinstated in his original position of supremacy (1320). At Blois, the boni viri had no political or judicial functions and divided the administration with royal officials. At Beauvais the universitas shared authority with the bishop as well as the king. At Lorris, as Thierry says, the greatest amount of civil liberty existed without any political rights, jurisdiction, or even administrative power.

Many more examples could be given to shew how authority was shared and to illustrate the nature of the privileges sought for by these royal and seignorial towns. But the chief point to notice is the very arbitrary character of the division between these villes de bourgeoisie and the actual communes. No really hard and fast line can be drawn between them. A privileged but dependent town is easily distinguished from a republic such as Arles or Marseilles; but it is not so easy to mark off a ville de bourgeoisie from a commune of the less advanced description. Royal officials had almost as much authority at Rouen as at Senlis. Even some of the southern consulates were not wholly free from seignorial interference. In Toulouse, the count had a court of justice, and at one time even exercised the right of choosing consuls. Many communes passed through this stage of semi-independence (Bayonne in 1173 was a ville de prévôté) on their way to freedom; only a few towns successfully emerged with full powers; almost all sank back to this condition after a brief period of glorious victory. Thus Bordeaux had its mayor nominated by the English king from 1261 onwards; Marseilles, at about the same date, was receiving a representative of the Count of Provence and a judge appointed by him. This was almost always the first step in communal decline; a commune jurée could very quickly turn into a commune surveillée. Despite their lack of independence, the villes de bourgeoisie illustrate an important development of the communal movement, and arise out of that same spirit of association which under more favourable circumstances led to the organisation of true communes.

The same may be said of the bastides of the south, and the villes-neuves of the north—small rural towns actually created by kings or by seigneurs and endowed from the first with common privileges and common rights, under the safeguard of a charter granted by the king himself, or by the immediate lord with the sanction of the sovereign. These small privileged towns began to spring up as early as the twelfth century under the name of sauvetés, created by churches and monasteries, either alone or in conjunction with a lay lord, as new centres of population. In the thirteenth century a great number were added, known as villes-neuves when they were more particularly of an economic type, bastides when their military character predominated. A lord, anxious to increase the number of his vassals, to attract population, and to win support, was ready to offer inducements to newcomers by promising protection, enfranchisement from serfdom, and the right of electing their own officials. The bastides of the south were always strongly fortified and endowed with privileges of a similar character. In many cases they were little more than walled villages; but they had distinct communal existence and a measure of self-government, though always under the protection of their suzerain and dependent upon his will. They became very numerous and very popular. The kings, both of France and of England, constructed them frequently in order to win support and strengthen their rival authority. The fixing of payments and the limitation of dues and labour services which the inhabitants obtained, readily attracted population and increased their well-being and industry.

Besides these small rural towns, the result of direct seignorial creation, there were also rural communities of a somewhat different type. The peasants from the country, either following town example or impelled by their own needs, sought to help on their own prosperity by means of association. Sometimes the inhabitants of a country village would band together for the maintenance of their rights and would win a charter from the overlord granting privileges to the whole body. Such were the communities of Rouvres and Talant in Burgundy, Esne in Cambresis, and many others. More frequently, however, several villages would combine to secure communal rights, and the village federations of the north gained for themselves positions of considerable strength and importance. One of the best known of these confederations was the commune of Laonnais, a union of seventeen hamlets formed round Anizi-le-Chateau, which bought a charter of privileges from Louis VII in 1177, and tried to hold its own by force of arms against its ecclesiastical overlord. Round Soissons also village federations were formed which endeavoured so far as possible to imitate the organisation of the commune itself; and in Burgundy eighteen villages, with St Seine-l’Abbaye as the centre, purchased important communal privileges in the fourteenth century. In the mountains natural federations were formed by the character of the country, and the valley communities of the Pyrenees and the Vosges were often almost independent bodies, free from all but very nominal subjection to their feudal overlord.

Many theories have been brought forward to explain this communal movement and to account for its widespread and apparently spontaneous character. Naturally, it is impossible to trace any single line of development for a movement which itself ran in so many different channels. Causes are almost as numerous as communes, each of which was moulded by the circumstances of its history and by the character of its seigneur. On the other hand, no theory can be completely disregarded. They all illustrate different aspects of the movement. Nevertheless, in spite of this complexity and variety it may be possible to find some universal and essential element out of which all the immediate causes grew, some underlying impulse present in every variety of development; and thus to explain why, not only all France, but all Western Europe was tending to develop in a similar direction at the same time, to shew how the same spirit of association could affect places of such very different character, spreading as it did through royal boroughs, seignorial estates, active commercial centres, rural districts, and obscure hamlets.

The earlier writers on communal history advocated the theory of Roman influence and the continuity of the old municipal organisation. They urged the importance of the old Roman cities, the respect of the barbarians for the civic institutions, and the very early existence of communal union long before the grant of charters, which as a rule confirmed rather than created rights of self-government. St Quentin, Metz. Rouen, Bourges, Rheims, and in the south of France almost all the important towns without exception, were cited by these historians as Roman municipalities, whose liberties either survived or were sufficiently remembered to be considered an influential factor in the growth of later communal rule. This theory has, however, been rejected by the majority of later writers, who have shown how completely Roman municipal institutions had decayed at the time of the fall of the Empire, how the inroads of Saracens and Northmen in the ninth century completed the work of destruction in the towns, and how the communes of feudal times had to be constructed anew, on their own lines and to meet their own individual difficulties. The complete absence of documentary evidence to connect the Roman towns with the later communes, the weakness of analogy as an argument, and the certainty in most cases of municipal ruin and recon­struction, have led to the almost complete abandonment of the Roman theory. For the northern towns it can now find no serious supporters. In the south there is much to be said against it. Certain important Roman centres can be proved to have lost all their did rights and to have built up a wholly new communal government in later days. Bordeaux, though it preserved some degree of municipal organisation under Visigoths and Franks, entirely lost its early civilisation with the attacks of the Northmen; and when after three centuries its history can once more be continued, all traces of municipal institutions have disappeared. A similar fate seems to have befallen Bayonne; while Lyons, Toulouse, Perpignan, and many other old Roman towns, can be shewn to have built up their communal powers as a new thing and on feudal lines. Even though it is often true that communal government and elected officials were in existence long before their formal recognition by charter, and apparently independent of any seignorial grant, it is unnecessary to connect these self-won liberties with the long-past Roman organisation. At the same time, there is no doubt that in the south Rome had more permanent influence than in the north; not so much by direct survival, as by traces of Roman law and perhaps some vague remembrance of earlier independence. It has indeed been pointed out that in south-eastern France the Northmen’s invasions had less influence than elsewhere, that feudal oppression was slight, and that the Crusades found the communal movement already far advanced. But at least it can be maintained that no direct survival of Roman institutions need be considered, and that the medieval commune can be studied quite apart from the Roman town.

Another theory, almost as extreme in the opposite direction, was that which suggested a direct Germanic origin for the commune, and connected the urban community with the rural mark. Its supporters pointed to the development of the rural communes through the possession of common property and the acquisition of common rights. This was specially urged for German towns, but French and Italian development was also ascribed to similar causes. However, the Mark Theory has been abandoned for lack of evidence, and it is impossible to maintain that the communal movement originated in rural communities rather than in urban centres. A material town—the houses and the population—may have grown from a thickly populated village, but the village community in fact constantly copied the town community in its organisation, and petitioned for urban privileges when it sought for a charter of incorporation. Scarcely any rural communes obtained formal recognition before the thirteenth century, although natural communities existed in a primitive form long before. But while realising the insufficiency of this second suggestion as to communal origin, the truth underlying it can be recognised in the undoubtedly important part played by common property as a bond of connexion, and in the fact that a great deal of early advance was along the lines of economic and agricultural development.

The Échevinage Theory, as it may be called, is almost a corollary to this Germanic theory, since it suggests a connexion between the town échevins and the Carolingian scabini, judicial officers of the Frankish hundred or centena, the subdivision of the county, who were generally chosen by the count with the consent and sanction of the people. Scholars, writing of northern Gaul, have pointed out the existence of a body of judicial échevins in the towns, previous to the formally recognised communal government, and have suggested that this may have been a stepping­stone between the old organisation of the hundred and the later and more independent jurisdiction of the commune. At Verdun the échevinat du palais seems to have been a sort of dependent municipality in the eleventh century, whereas the town only became an imperial commune in 1195. Bruges had local magistrates, called échevins, in 1036. Dinant had a body of échevins, nominated by the Bishops of Liege before the jurés elected by the community; the Archbishop of Rheims abolished the échevinage of the town in 1167, but it was restored with elected officials in 1182. In St Quentin and a few other towns a curious double government existed for a time. The early échevinage, instead of merging as usual into the communal government, continued, and the tribunal of the échevins represented the justice of the sovereign, distinct from the justice of the town in the hands of the mayor and jurés, who had a considerable police jurisdiction and the power to punish offences against their own body. In 1320 the king, after a dispute ending in the suspension of the commune, allowed the échevinage to continue: “qui noster est, et totaliter a communio separatus.” But despite evidence of the existence of these early échevins, it is impossible to prove any certain connexion between them and the Frankish scabini, and between the town and the centena. An attempt has been made to prove that early towns were actually small hundreds; and in England we know that the old burhgemot coincided very closely in power with the hundred moot, and that for the collection of geld a borough originally was roughly valued at half a hundred; but that only proves influence, not direct connexion. Pirenne entirely repudiates the idea, and urges that the centena hardly ever coincided with the town, and that an urban court was a new creation, necessary when the burgesses came to claim trial within their own walls. In any case, however, whatever may be the exact origin of the early échevinage, it is at least interesting as a preliminary step to fuller communal rights. It is one of many proofs that liberties nearly always existed before charters, and that the towns were painfully working out their own independence step by step.

We are on firmer ground in a later group of theories concerning communal growth; theories which all contain part of the truth and supplement one another by accounting for different aspects of the development.

In connexion with the royal theory, it has been suggested that the kings themselves formed the communes, that they were particularly the work of Louis the Fat, and that his successors continued his policy and allied themselves with the towns against their over-mighty feudal vassals. It is easy to refute a claim that the kings were true friends to communal independence. The monarchy was a determined enemy to local unions, which would inevitably place obstacles in the path of centralisation, and organisations pledged by their very character to oppose arbitrary power. It was the growing power of the Crown which eventually caused the destruction of the communal movement, and it was the pretended support of the king which turned many an independent commune into a royal prévoté. On the other hand, it is quite true that the kings for many reasons found it to their interest to grant charters and to confirm customs. They might.be in immediate need of money or support, and the sale of concessions was their easiest way of obtaining both. The privileges granted to villes de bourgeoisie, the formation of villes-neuves, even the recognition of the more limited communes, such as those which the English kings favoured in all their dominions, were repeatedly the work of the monarchs. But their friendliness or the reverse depended entirely on the circumstances of the moment, and their influence was always fatal in the end. They did not favour real municipal independence, and that commune was doomed which sought for royal protection or once admitted royal officials to interfere in its administration.

There are plenty of examples to show the real policy of the kings, their desire to undermine independent power, their grant of charters only when something could be gained thereby, their universal interpretation of protection as interference. In his French dominions John of England granted fresh privileges to Rouen (a town, it will be remembered, with the minimum of political rights), and extended its organisation to other towns, in the vain hope of increasing his popularity and averting disaster. Edward I, the most active of the English kings in Gascon government, who made a vigorous attempt at successful and popular administration, created numerous bastides, and granted favours to Bordeaux, but he took the appointment of the mayor into his own hands and exacted a communal oath of allegiance every year. The customs of Lorris, a privileged town but not a commune, were granted originally by Louis VI, and confirmed by his successors, who extended them to neighbouring villages to curb the power of feudal lords and to remedy the severe depopulation of the country. Beauvais was also favoured by Louis VI, because it took his side in a quarrel with the cathedral chapter; Louis VII confirmed a communal charter in 1144, when he was in great need of money for the Crusade; but the king retained much authority, and attempts at independence ended in severe repression and the strengthening of the royal power by Louis IX. Figeac, which petitioned for the king’s support against its feudal superior, was declared a royal town in 1302 and became more subject than before. Lyons in similar difficulties called in St Louis to arbitrate in its quarrels. He took the inhabitants under his protection, and established three royal officials. Again and again the same thing occured. The king was just as much an enemy to the communal spirit as he was to feudal independence. Although he did not actually suppress many communes, as he did that of Laon, nevertheless he opposed the communal movement all the more surely and brought about its downfall.

The attitude of the Church was not unlike that of royalty. An ecclesiastical theory claims the Church as one of the greatest supporters of the communal movement; but history proves that a spiritual seigneur could be quite as hostile to town development as a lay lord, for municipal organisation inevitably meant some loss of Church authority in the town. Direct help was only given to a commune when some obvious advantage was to be gained—money in pecuniary necessity, support against some powerful rival, or the like. At Rheims, Archbishop Samson (1140-61) favoured the commune because he needed the support of the inhabitants against his chapter; but his successor attacked the judicial rights of the burgesses, with the result that he was driven out by the town, and constant struggle followed. At Beauvais, in 1099, the bishop granted certain privileges and recognised the commune, at a time when he was involved in difficulties with the king, the chapter, and the chatelain of the town, and therefore eager for the friendship of the burgesses, who had driven out his predecessor not so many years earlier. In various southern towns the bishop allied himself with the commune against the lay lords, but claimed in return a certain position in the town government. He is called in several places the first citizen of the republic. Thus, the commune of Arles in 1080 was established by Archbishop Aicard, who was trying to increase his temporal authority at the expense of the count; but evidently the ecclesiastical lord was not always popular with the citizens, for in 1248 the general assembly of the town proclaimed that no townsman should speak to the archbishop, set foot in his palace, or do any service for him. The instances of Church opposition are far more frequent than these cases of self-interested support. The clergy, as a rule, distinctly opposed the communal revolution, which was in many instances in direct opposition to ecclesiastical authority. At Cambrai, in the eleventh century, the bishop betrayed the commune which the burgesses had just established. At Corbie, a series of heated disputes between abbot and town were settled in 1282 by a compromise, which meant the real supremacy of the ecclesiastical lord. The opposition of Bishop Albert to the commune of Verdun led to civil war (1208), and the town secretly obtained a charter from the Emperor in 1220, a step which was not likely to lead to internal peace. In Laon, the bishop, who plotted against the commune and obtained its abolition from the king, lost his life in the struggle which ensued (1112). It is unnecessary to multiply examples. Clearly the Church was not a friend to communal development when it meant a diminution of ecclesiastical control.

However, even though the direct action of ecclesiastical lords was not as a rule favourable, there were indirect ways in which Church influence helped on the communal movement. Those historians who maintain the survival of Roman influence explain the growth of democratic powers and ambitions by the share allowed to the people in the election of bishops in early times. In 533 a Church council at Orleans declared that bishops should be elected by clergy and people; at Paris in 559 it was proclaimed that no bishop had valid authority unless the people had shared in his election. This canonical regulation was particularly enforced in the Reform Movement of the eleventh century by papal and synodal decrees. But at the time when the communes were beginning to grow, the ordinary burgess did not play an important part in episcopal elections. In any case, this power could only give to the people a very vague idea of combination; it can have done little actively to develop the communal spirit.

Another theory of Church influence, but one which is practically un­supported by modern authorities, is to link the medieval commune with the Peace of God. The arguments for it rest more on verbal resemblances than on actual facts. Towards the close of the tenth century the Church, endeavouring to diminish anarchy and deeds of violence, proclaimed the Peace of God, which was supplemented c. 1050 by the Truce of God. By the latter, from sunset on Wednesday until Monday morning, all hostilities were to cease, all private wars were to be suspended. To maintain this peace, many dioceses formed what were known as confederations de la pair, with mayors at their heads and members known as jurés. These communities, it has been urged, would combine to acquire communal charters, until the jurés de la paix became the jurats of the town, the maison de la paix the town hall, and the paix itself the commune. It is true that town communities were occasionally given the name of paix, the charter of Laon in 1128 is called institutio pacis. Little but the name, however, connected the urban organisations with the earlier institutions for the maintenance of peace. The word paix, when referring to a commune, frequently signified a treaty which ended some communal strife; and whereas the latter lay associations were generally composed of burgesses united to oppose feudal oppressions, the original institutions were more particularly for the nobles, who had to take the oath for the preservation of the peace, and they secured no actual privileges for the lower classes and townsmen as such. The special “peace” which a town is often said to have was simply a body of local bye-laws and regulations which the inhabitants were bound to respect. No movement, however, which encouraged the idea of combination was wholly without influence, and the burgesses may have learnt a lesson of association and a desire to unite to limit feudal oppressions from the Peace of God, even though the commune they formed was something completely distinct from it.

The ecclesiastical sauvetés, privileged districts under Church jurisdiction, did help the growth of the earliest villes-neuves, as has already been said; and many towns sprang up in the neighbourhood of monasteries (e.g. La Reole in that of Regula), for the obvious reason that a market was at hand for their produce; but this does not necessitate the growth of a commune. In many large towns the sauvetés continued as isolated districts within the walls, subject to ecclesiastical jurisdiction instead of being under the rule of the communal officials. In Bordeaux both archbishop and chapter retained certain portions of the city under their direct control apart from the authority of mayor and jurats.

The Crusades have also been named by many writers as an indirect way in which the Church influenced the communal movement, since this great ecclesiastical war did so much to awaken commercial enterprise and to encourage the sale of town privileges by needy kings and crusaders. This is doubtless true; but many towns had acquired self-government before the Crusades could have had much effect on social conditions, and charters were the result rather than the cause of communal rights. Every influence, however, which tended to economic advance and social progress must be reckoned among the many causes of communal development, and the Crusades undoubtedly helped in this direction. Parish organisation also may have given another indirect impulse towards the spirit of association and thus lends support to the ecclesiastical theory. The Church, in so far as it encouraged progress, union, and the education of the people, helped to create a condition favourable to the development of the commune, even though ecclesiastical lords themselves were in frequent opposition to the growth of municipal independence.

Commercial influence: part played by the gilds

One theory which has been advanced by some of the chief authorities on medieval towns is that which connects the growth of the commune with the merchant gild. But it has been proved that, in the case of the English boroughs, gild and commune were not necessarily identical; and for the French towns also it may be said that the gild was only one of many ways in which towns developed, and that, as a general rule, its organisation was distinct from that of the commune. But there is no doubt that the extension of trade was one of the principal reasons for the progress made by the towns, and that in their associations for trading purposes the burgesses learnt to unite for judicial and administrative business also, and to acquire self-government in addition to commercial privileges.

The most important towns, in all countries, sprang up on the great trading routes, and gilds both lay and ecclesiastical were generally formed for the organisation of this trade. It was in the north especially that these mercantile associations were very prominent, and they played a great part in the town life of Flanders and Belgium. It has been considered that it was round these societies of merchants that population clustered and organised itself, first for trade, then for town government. Valenciennes, in 1070, had a gild or charite, with a house for common councils. The charité at Arras was in part religious, in part commercial, in part connected with the municipality. It has been claimed for St Omer that here at least the gild was actually transformed into the commune. In several towns of France the gilds likewise played an important part in town growth. At Amiens the gild was “the cradle of the commune”; the Confrerie de St Esprit at Marseilles took over the administration and claimed rights of jurisdiction and finance. But it can be asserted with confidence that gild and commune were not generally identical, and that a society of merchants was no necessary and universal preliminary to municipal self-government. At Montreuil-sur-Mer a quarrel between the town and the gild-merchant, ending in the victory of the mayor and échevins, proves conclusively that here at least they were two separate bodies. There were many towns which advanced to communal rank without ever having possessed a trading association; others had numerous craft gilds but not one organised group of merchants to encourage the idea of complete incorporation; a rural commune might have little but agricultural interests. The merchant gild in France, as Maitland says of that in England, was one of many elements which went to the building up of a free borough, but not the essential and universal element.

There still remains one other problem in the history of town development to be considered. Were the communes the result of a fierce struggle against feudalism? Is the term “revolution” the best word with which to describe this communal movement? Or were they the result of peaceful and gradual advance, winning their privileges by purchase, by mutual agreements with their lords, or even by voluntary concessions on the part of their feudal superiors? Here again generalisation is impossible. The position which some towns gained at the cost of war and bloodshed, others obtained in the natural course of events. In some cases a town charter took the form of a treaty between hostile factions; in others a written title was scarcely necessary to confirm privileges which had grown up so gradually and naturally that they hardly excited notice, far less opposition. There are examples in plenty of both lines of development. The struggle against feudal oppression may have stirred up the burgesses in some instances, but was not a universal cause of the communal movement. The struggles at Laon, in the early twelfth century, are a typical example of the turbulent acts which sometimes marred the development of communal powers. The town was in a state bordering on anarchy; the bishop at that time was a man of brutal and violent temper; feudal oppressions, heavy dues, and servile disabilities were still prevalent. A charter, purchased by the townsmen from the king during the temporary absence of their ecclesiastical lord, was annulled on his return, in spite of promises to the contrary, and a revolt was the result. The bishop himself was murdered by the rioters and excesses of every kind were committed. The Charte de Palx, which eventually ended this struggle, was far from establishing permanent peace; and for a little over a century the com­mune of Laon had a stormy and precarious existence, and its charter was finally annulled. Rheims, which tried to imitate Laon in its privileges, succeeded in imitating, to some extent, its violence also. It engaged in a fierce struggle with the archbishop over communal rights, and in 1167 drove him from the town. John of Salisbury writes at that date: “A sedition having again broken out at Rheims has plunged the whole country into such disorder that no one can go in or out of the town.” Louviers, which was striving to form a commune as late as the fourteenth century and insisted on holding general assemblies, was the scene of such disorder that the affair was laid before the Parlement of Paris and decision given against the town.

 In the south, Montpellier passed through various periods of violence. In 1141 the townsmen rose against their seigneur William VI, although no record is preserved of any specially oppressive actions on his part, and finally drove out the ruling family altogether. The revolution ended in the commune choosing the King of Aragon as their lord and forcing him to promise obedience to their customs. Lyons “gained its rights by a century of struggle.” In 1193 the inhabitants revolted on account of heavy taxation. In 1208 the citizens, after a struggle against archbishop and chapter, had to promise not to make any “conjuration de commune ou de consulat.” In 1228, 1245, and 1269 the burgesses were again in arms, and refused to come to terms unless they received official sanction for their commune, which they gained by charter in 1320. At Beziers a riot was caused in 1167 because a burgess ventured to insult a noble, and in the struggle which followed the viscount himself was murdered by the townsmen. Cahors, Nimes, Manosque, all had struggles, but in each case they arose after the formation of the commune, not as part of its development. Thus, though some towns won their freedom by force and others were involved in struggles for the maintenance of their rights, this was due to special circumstances. The communal movement was not in neces­sary opposition to feudalism as such. On the contrary, it was very dis­tinctly in harmony with feudal tendencies and a true commune was in the position of a feudal seigneur. In some cases, no doubt, the members of the old nobility objected to the rise into their ranks of this upstart community; but in others they held out to their new comrade the right hand of fellowship.

Frequent examples of peaceful communal progress are found in Cham­pagne, Burgundy, Flanders, the Angevin dominions, and throughout much of southern France. Naturally the least advanced type of commune excited the least opposition; villes de bourgeoisie had very little difficulty in securing privileges; rural communes often developed with little or no struggle. A community which would be content with moderate liberty could hold its own and possibly gain all but nominal independence, when a commune which aimed at complete emancipation and self-government might lose all in the effort to gain too much. As time went on, the lords found it to their interest to favour the towns, and began to create villes-neuves and bastides on their own account. Sometimes the burgesses were useful allies in struggles between rival seigneurs and had to be conciliated; at other times they could quietly build up their power undisturbed while their overlords were occupied in their own private quarrels. Moreover, the grant of a charter meant a considerable sum of money in the pocket of the grantor, and in France, as in England, many towns bought their privileges little by little, until they were able to take the rank of free boroughs. In Champagne, very little revolutionary sentiment existed. The counts were kind, the population was peaceful and well-to-do, and the example of Flanders encouraged the communal tendency. Meaux received a charter from Count Henry the Liberal (1179), who took, however, an annual tribute of .£140 from the town. The charter prescribed that all the inhabitants were to swear to help and support one another, to take an oath of allegiance to their lord, and to attend the general meeting on pain of a money fine. Theobald IV did the same for Troyes and Provins. He was at war with his baronial vassals, and as a chronicler of the time expressed it, “trusted more to his towns than to his knights.” In these cases, though considerable powers were given to the town officials, it was the count who chose them, and he retained the right of hearing appeals from their judgments. In Burgundy very similar conditions prevailed; the dukes granted communal charters readily in return for money. There were a good many rural communities and communes in this part of the country, and all seem to have risen peacefully to varying degrees of independence.

In southern France, though various cases of individual violence and civil war have been already noticed, the general tendency was towards the formation of consulates without a struggle. The nobles were often members of the town and favoured the independent government, in which they took part. Feudal tyranny was less extensive here than in the north. There were many private wars, but more frequently between lord and lord than between lord and town; the citizens combined for common defence in times of such constant turbulence and to consider difficulties arising from their two great enemies in the Middle Ages—plague and famine. Consular government was so usual that its existence was scarcely questioned. Local life and local union were very strong in a country where each district, sometimes each town, had its own fors or customs which the inhabitants combined to carry out and defend. Many rural towns were created to improve the condition of the country and to attract population. In Roussillon, places such as Perpignan obtained communal government without a struggle, for they added considerably to military defences which were greatly needed; and lords as well as burgesses were glad to encourage the growth of these fortified strongholds. On the whole the communal movement in the south was favoured by the feudal lords, who realised the value of having the towns as their friends and allies. The consulates fell eventually before the growth of royal power and ad­ministrative centralisation, not in consequence of seignorial opposition.

The more this communal movement is studied, the clearer it becomes that it was simply a natural stage in economic development. Economic progress is the only one universal cause which ean be found underlying all the variety of immediate reasons, all the complex forms of individual development. Society in feudal times was, as it were, in the stage of childhood. Defence from above in return for service from below; the one class to fight and the other to labour; protection rather than competition— such were the ideals of feudalism, which based all these relations and services on land-holding. But even in its most ideal form the feudal system was not progressive; in its least ideal form it was capable of great abuse; protection was apt to turn into oppression, service into servitude. The communal movement was not an attempt to oppose the whole system of feudalism, but it was an effort to guard against its abuses and to advance materially and politically, not only in spite of it, but actually on feudal lines; a town aimed at becoming a landlord. The chief needs in the Middle Ages were defence and progress, and association was one of the most natural means of striving for them. An individual was too weak to strike out for himself or to change existing circumstances, and thus the idea of union and combination arose. As population increased, as wealth was more diffused, and as society advanced, this craving for progress, this tendency towards association, became stronger and stronger. Throughout the whole of Western Europe people lived under very similar conditions; they had common troubles, common needs, common methods of cultivation, and common rights. Feudalism itself had a communal element; every seigneurie was a group of vassals, every manor an agricultural community. The whole tendency of the time pointed to common action as a solution of difficulties and as the best line of advance. Every institution, therefore, which was based on common action, every step which involved common effort, was indirectly an incentive to this spirit of association; every event which encouraged social and economic progress was indirectly a cause of the communal movement. It was not a revolution but a natural development, a sign that society was struggling upward to freedom and civilisation.

Granting that communal growth is an economic question, it follows that certain points must especially be considered in accounting for the development of the medieval communes. First, what were the chief evils which needed reform, if advance were to be made? Secondly, why was the idea of combination, to achieve this reform and assist this advance, so widely diffused? Thirdly, what were the main causes of economic pro­gress, and what direction did it most commonly take? Fourthly, what were the chief aims that burgesses and peasants set before themselves as likely to assist them in this progress? And finally, what circumstances, if any, aided them in their efforts and led to the various forms of com­munal organisation which have been already briefly described?

The first great necessity for any forward movement in the Middle Ages was to shake off the disabilities of serfdom. In the country, the greater part of the cultivating class was made up of serfs or hommes questaux, as they were called in the south; and as the towns, in their early stages, were little more than populous villages, a great many of their inhabitants also were serfs. It was possible for members of the upper class among them to combine in order to improve their condition, to fix their services, and even to get them commuted for money payments, without necessarily rising out of the rank of villeinage; but in urban centres it was more usual for inhabitants to unite to shake off the servile status altogether and for all burgesses to become free men. Examples of serfdom in early towns are numerous, and enfranchisement was one of the first privileges to be gained in any communal charter.

In Champagne and Burgundy, where towns were almost wholly rural in character, serfdom was very prevalent in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and local customs went to support the rights of the lords. But it was not only in strictly rural districts that serfdom was an obstacle to progress and therefore had to be opposed by the communes. The inhabitants of Laon were not free from mainmorte and formariage till 1178. At Beziers, as late as the twelfth century, the viscount was giving away burgesses as though they were actually his chattels. At Soissons, the desire of the servile population to gain freedom was one of the chief incentives to union, and the same is found in many other places. Town charters aimed, whenever possible, at securing freedom for the inhabitants. Blois was enfranchising serfs in 1196, though they did not disappear in the town until the following century. At Limoges, in customs probably dating from the thirteenth century, freedom from serfdom after residence for a year and a day was decreed—a very usual condition. In Bordeaux, only a month in the town was required to gain liberty. At Oloron, all inhabitants were declared to be “hommes francs sans tâche d’aucune servitude.” So much did residence in a chartered town or bastide come to imply freedom, that occasionally lords, when founding a ville­neuve, would especially stipulate that their own serfs should not be ad­mitted.

In many places not only serfs but free burgesses also suffered from oppressions on the part of their feudal lords, and were encouraged to common action on account of common misery. At Amiens, at the close of the eleventh century, clergy and people united to complain of seignorial abuses, and obtained from the count a promise of fairer justice and lighter payments. At Vezelay, it was pecuniary exactions to which the inhabitants chiefly objected, and in 1137 they claimed to have a voice in taxation, in order that the burden of it might be more fairly distributed. At St Quentin, military service and castle­guard had presumably been excessive, since it was conceded in Count Hebert’s charter (1045-80) that there should be no castle erected within three leagues of the town and no military service beyond a day’s travel. The limitation of military duties was a very usual condition in the south, where feudal quarrels were constant. Only nine days at a time was a fairly common term; but it was also possible to stipulate that a burgess should not be forced to fight so far away that he could not come home to sleep. Actual oppression on the part of the seigneur was an accidental circumstance; but the desire of the towns to break down servile disabilities, to win greater freedom even from a friendly yoke, to manage their own affairs and to settle their own quarrels, was a natural result of pro­gress and became all the more active wherever society was the more advanced.

That this desire to accelerate progress and to defend privileges should take the form of communal association was, as we have seen, almost inevitable. Men acting together could do what each singly could not. Further, communities were often bound together by the possession of common property, common rights, and common customs. When the community desired political as well as civil rights, the organised commune might be evolved. Possibly the rural communes may be considered to have advanced more directly on these lines. The urban communes had other inducements to combine, and were less actuated by the possession of such things as common pasture and common woods; but these influences cannot be wholly disregarded. At Lézat, a rural town, free use of wood and water was demanded for the whole body of inhabitants in their communal charter. In the cartulary of Arbois, certain things are declared to be town property, with which the lord cannot interfere, and the community united to use their own ovens as well as their own woods. The inhabitants of Marseilles were in common possession of certain pasture rights.

The fact that so many southern towns and villages had their own local customs has already been mentioned as a possible bond of connexion for the inhabitants. The fors, eg. of Bordeaux, of Bazas, of Daz, of Bayonne, of Morias, were all slightly different, and were eagerly defended by the places which possessed them. They represented very early rights and customs, though often not reduced to writing till a comparatively later date. When new privileged towns and bastides were constructed, their charters of liberties resembled to some extent the old customary rights of the more ancient centres of population.

Thus the need for combination and the tendency towards it were early in existence, and it was the natural progress of society, both material and moral, which awoke the desire for union into real activity and converted a vague connexion into a living organisation.

The progress of the towns was determined first and foremost by their geographical position. The actual origin of the town itself was due to accumulation of population in a place which was suitable for military defence or for commercial activity; where either fortification and pro­tection was especially needed, or a good market could be established for the produce of the neighbourhood. The more suitable the situation, the more rapidly would the town advance, and the more urgent would become the need for communal action. Bordeaux clearly owed its progress to its superb position. In the heart of the vine country and on a fine navigable river, it early became renowned as a commercial centre of the greatest importance. Soissons, on the high road from Flanders and at the junction of various other routes, soon developed into an important market town, with active trade in all directions. Cambrai had an important position on the frontier of Lorraine; Perpignan was needed for the military defence of Roussillon; Oloron has been called the king of the Pyrenees. In such towns, all of which became communes, their success was doubtless due in great measure to their situation.

Progress could take various directions. Some places long remained almost entirely agricultural, and their markets were only used for the sale of rural produce. Toulon is supposed to have made a very humble beginning in this way, and its commune to have originated out of the assembly which met to discuss pasture rights and rural matters. Others owed their advance to their military importance. Talant was favoured on this account by the Duke of Burgundy (1216), and so were many of the southern bastides. But it was through their trade and commerce that most of the leading towns progressed; wealth was a great help in the struggle for independence, and the intercourse with other places which commercial dealings involved brought not only direct ideas from abroad but also a great increase of vigour and civilisation. The commune of Narbonne, though later events robbed it of its greatness, was early rich and powerful, owing to its trade with Spain, Italy, Sicily, and the Levant; Rouen owed its prosperity and doubtless its privileges to the fact that it was a wealthy trading centre; the Flemish towns certainly gained their importance and independence through their commercial development. But whatever line progress and prosperity took, they were the determining causes of the communal movement. The more advance was made in material well-being, the more galling did any social disabilities become, and the more indignation was felt at seignorial interference or tutelage.

The result, therefore, of town progress was to awaken ambitions in the hearts of the burgesses. They desired to secure their property, to gain the full benefit of their wealth for their descendants and their town, to throw off seignorial control, and to work for themselves. The first step was to obtain increased privileges and civil powers, to shake off any idea of servitude and to gain trading rights. The next was to unite for political independence and to win self-government. They desired above all to be free from the abuses of feudal justice, to have courts for their own members, where townsmen could be tried by town judges and according to town procedure. They needed also to secure financial authority and the management of their own taxation, doubtless to avoid excessive pecuniary burdens and the disappearance of town money into the coffers of the seigneurs.

There were various circumstances which aided the towns in their struggle for independence. Both kings and lords were in constant need of money and support. Growth of luxury and expenses for war increased this need, and it was in the towns that the greatest accumulation of wealth was to be found, an important weapon in the hands of the burgesses. The frequent feudal rivalries could be turned by the towns to their own ad­vantage. They might offer support to the highest bidder, or take the opportunity of quiet advance while their lords were too busy to attend to them. Avignon gained its privileges at the end of the war between the Counts of Provence and Toulouse, who shared the town between them (1085-94). While they were fighting, the citizens were banding themselves together in trade fraternities, and learning the value of union and independence; eventually a municipal revolt ended in the expulsion of both combatants. The fact that so often towns were under mixed jurisdictions helped their cause. When, as in Amiens in the eleventh century, justice was shared between the count, the bishop, and the chapter, it was probably easier to shake off* this divided control than the supreme authority of one strong man. Even the long struggle between England and France, together with much misery, brought some benefit to the communes, for the rival kings needed urban support, and both strove to gain it by concessions.

Each town that formed itself into a commune actively helped on the movement, for much was the result of example. Perhaps communal growth was similar in Germany, Italy, England, and France, less because of international connexion than because the root cause, economic progress, was the same in each case; but the action of no country could be wholly without effect on the others. The example of Flanders was influential in northern France, where Calais, Boulogne, and St Dizier all framed their organisations on Flemish lines; and the consulates of the south may have owed some­thing to the great republics of Italy. On the whole, however, outside in­fluence seems to have been slight, and development was largely independent; there was very little intercommunal and still less international solidarity.

The twelfth century was a great period of communal growth, simply because it was a period of active economic development. Material pros­perity, moreover, had outstripped social progress; and it was the existence of considerable wealth and an improved standard of living, side by side with dependence and seignorial depression, which, in some cases at least, gave the impulse to the movement. The twelfth century, again, was a fortunate period for the communes, because political conditions helped on this economic progress. The dispersion and division of authority had weakened control, just when the desire for liberty was at its height. The relations between the king and the great lords, between the lay and the ecclesiastical seigneurs, were favourable to the towns. The crusading move­ment and the consequent need for money amongst the ruling classes coincided with the growing wealth of the boroughs and the growing importance of the burgess class. It was a vital moment, and the communes took advantage of it. The result was a universal spread of communal associations,

In England, although the boroughs did not rise to the independence of the continental communes, there was a steady stream of town charters from the reign of Henry I onwards. The towns purchased their privileges one by one, starting with freedom from serfdom and judicial rights, until little by little self-government was obtained.

In Germany communal development was very similar to that in France. The towns were either resettlements of the old Roman sites, more or less rural in origin, where the bond of common property united the new in­habitants; or newer towns intended as centres of trade from the first. They gradually advanced through the growth of a market and market­place, through trade associations, through the special privileges and judicial rights of the burgesses, until the possession of their own officials and their own Rat marked the establishment of communal government. Some of the more important towns, shaking off all intermediate control, retained almost complete independence as Imperial cities. The special characteristics of German towns were chiefly due to the weakness of the central authority. They did not have to reckon with the king from the first, as did the English boroughs; nor did they have to succumb to it in the end, as did the communes of France. The leading towns, therefore, had far more power; affiliation was so strong that the whole country was “a network of inter-dependent municipal courts'”; and inter-urban leagues were more possible.

In Italy, the lack of any central authority was even more obvious than in Germany, and the towns were able to profit by the constant struggles between Pope and Emperor. This seems to give the movement a more political character; but, as elsewhere, it was wealth and commercial importance which enabled them to take advantage of the political situation. The Lombard communes began to gain self-government as early as the eleventh century. They resembled the towns of southern France in the character of their government and in the important part played by the upper classes in municipal development. But, while the French communes declined with the decline of feudalism and were gradually subjugated by the monarch, the Italian towns, as the Empire decayed, fell more and more into the hands of great tyrant-dynasties, and maintained political independence at the expense of internal liberty.

In France the movement was particularly marked by its independent character. Though there were local exceptions, the leading communes, especially in the older towns, were the work of the people themselves, formed to protect their own interests, and recognised by charter eventually when the lords were unable to withstand and put down the development which had already taken place. As a rule, the inhabitants began by forming themselves into communal groups, and then little by little these communities acquired self-government. Documents shew this early grouping of town population for common actions. In 962 the men of Arles as a body figure in a treaty; in 1055 vineyards were given “in communitate Arelatensi”; but consular government was not recognised till 1131. In Bayonne, the prudhommes were early responsible for the maintenance of old customs, and in 1190 a charter was confirmed by “toute la communauté.” The town was already a commune jurée when a charter finally recognised its rights in 1215. At Beauvais, where the commune was not formally con­firmed till 1122, a trial was held between the chapter and the “universalité des bourgeois’ in 1099. Sometimes these communities exercised some form of municipal government, though they had not yet become actual communes. At Dax moderate governmental powers were granted to the capdel and prudhommes before any sign had appeared of the mayor, jurés, and commune of later documents. Probably the Cinquantine of Lyons was a communal council leading up to the consulate, though the exact con­nexion between them is uncertain.

A proof that not only these preliminary communities, but also the communes into which they developed, were the result of a popular movement and the actual work of the townsmen, is to be found in the fact that charters to old towns almost always confirmed rather than granted communal powers. New towns might be privileged from the first and have a certain share in their own government bestowed upon them; but towns older than the communal movement won this for themselves. Occasionally a charter confirms a previous grant, but more frequently still a previous acquisition. In Bordeaux we have a very good example of the independent development of communal government, culminating in a charter which confirmed the popular advance. Although the town had long been an important one, it was not really a commune before the thirteenth century; there was no abrupt change from the government by count and bishop to free municipal organisation. In 1200 a charter was issued “juratis et burgensibus,” but no allusion was made to a mayor; in 1205 the remission of a maltolte was granted “dilectis et fidelibus probis hominibus nostris manentibus apud Burdigalensem.” In 1206 for the first time a mention of the mayor of Bordeaux appears in the Patent Rolls, when the king actually asks his “maire, jurats, et fidèles de Bordeaux” if they will accept the seneschal he has appointed. There is absolutely no sign that the king grants the mayor and commune, he simply accepts them. At Montreuil-sur-Mer every step in the communal advance was fought for by the towns­men. They proclaimed their own commune in 1137, but not till 1188 was its existence formally recognised by Philip Augustus, who pardoned them for the violence with which they had established it. The charter granted to Rouen in 1145 confirmed the old rights of the burgesses and sanctioned the commune which they had formed. Instances are too numerous to be quoted exhaustively.

Similarly, when once a commune was established, its powers and functions were little by little developed by the town. Communal govern­ments generally exercised some legislative power and constantly published statutes increasing their own authority, or, if this were impossible, further privileges were bought. This, however, is rather a feature of town history than an actual part of the communal movement. All evidence of this nature, however, helps to strengthen the theory that communal growth was in its origin independent and popular; that its causes are to be found in the progress of the townsmen themselves; that it was only by degrees that the lords realised the possible value of favouring such a development and themselves created new and privileged towns. Probably they also realised that it was wise to gain control of so important a movement and to lead it into channels which would not threaten their own authority too much. Seignorial towns were never dangerous communes; they were rather privileged communities, a source of strength not of weakness to their founders.

Since the communal movement was a natural and economic development, its extent and its results depended upon economic conditions. The powers of a commune, whether urban or rural, varied according to the stage of advance which the town or village had reached when it was struggling for its incorporation and self-government. The more backward a place, the more easily, as a rule, its ambitions would be satisfied; the richer and more prosperous the town, the higher was the ideal at which the burgesses aimed. Something might depend also upon outside circumstances, such as the character of the feudal overlord or the attitude of the king; but it was still more the condition of the town itself which determined the nature and duration of its communal government.

Two other circumstances also tended to influence communal growth: the frequent existence of double towns, and what has been called the affiliation of the communes.

A large number of the older towns, especially in the south, had two parts: the cité or fortified portion generally representing the ancient settlement, and quite distinct from it the later bourg or mercantile town, side by side with the older castrum or else built round it. Thus the military and commercial centres were divided, although occasionally the bourg also had its own walls for defence, as at Bordeaux and Carcassonne. The importance of this formation for town development was that the episcopal and more authoritative element tended to concentrate in the cité or civitas, while in the newer town, where the more democratic buildings were collected, such as the hospital, the market-place, and the town hall, society was often rather more independent and was able to lead the way in the formation of municipal government. This was not, however, invariably the case. In Carcassonne the old cite developed municipal organisation almost before the ville basse was founded; and at Nimes the two parts of the town acquired consular government much at the same time, and used to hold joint meetings for subjects of general interest.

The subject of affiliation is a very difficult one and much has been written upon it. The fact that one town influenced another has never been disputed, and certainly imitation must have played a considerable part in the communal movement. Some places formed regular types, from which other towns or villages drew their inspiration and whose privileges they eagerly copied. This imitation, however, was rarely complete; and the influence of one town might be counteracted by the influence of another, or weakened by local circumstances. In France affiliation was certainly less strong than in Germany, where the Oberhof a mother-town to which appeal might be made, could give a final decision on matters concerning one of its imitators. In France, though there are occasional instances of appeal, the idea of a real chef-de-sens is never completely worked out. The jurats of Soissons were supposed to settle any difficulty of interpretation in the charter of Meaux; Florent had to refer to the rights and customs of Beaumont; while Abbeville had three towns to which it should appeal —Amiens, St Quentin, and Corbie; but, as a rule, appeal to a mother­town was not stipulated for at all. Luchaire has divided French communal development into seven types, originating from seven influential towns, but later writers have considered this division far too simple. Probably the variety of types was far greater and the spread of communal charters was complicated in all sorts of ways. In the north, St Quentin set an example to the neighbouring villages and was in part copied by Abbeville; but its influence over towns such as Laon and Noyon, and the other places which imitated them, has been formerly much exaggerated. The charter of Soissons spread through the surrounding country, was copied more or less by Meaux, Sens, Compiegne, and Dijon, and by means of the latter came to influence the rural communes of Champagne. But this influence was neither direct nor unmixed with others. Soissons itself owed much to the example of Beauvais; so also did Compiegne and Senlis; Sens and Meaux imitated Senlis as well as Soissons. Even some of the village federations of the Soissonais appealed to Meaux in cases of difficulty. Rouen, which was very influential in Normandy and throughout the English dominions generally, taught many of its lessons through intermediaries, especially La Rochelle and Niort. The less advanced charters had generally the greatest direct influence, since the lords did not oppose their propagation. Eighty-three villages are said to have imitated the customs of Lorris; five hundred places in Champagne, in Lorraine, and throughout France, were organised on the lines of the law of Beaumont. But, despite a certain amount of imitation, communal advance was any­thing but stereotyped, and local characteristics in France were strongly marked.

In some ways the regional grouping of communes is more instructive and more interesting than their division according to types of the leading towns. Geography undoubtedly influenced town development, and the resemblance which many communal charters have to one another may have been due just as often to resemblance of conditions as to direct imitation. Thus, Flanders and northern France might be grouped together as a very independent and commercial region, with St Omer and Amiens as characteristic towns. Lorraine, with old aristocratic families on one hand and servile cultivators on the other, was a district whose advance was chiefly in the direction of enfranchisement and resistance to feudal abuses. Burgundy was in rather a similar condition, though here the friendly re­lations between lords and people led to very peaceable advance and very early liberties, but, at the same time, to a great survival of seignorial authority. In the cartulary of Arbois a pleasant instance of feudal kindness is given in a charter by which the countess frees a group of serfs from castle-guard. She points out that, after their hard day’s work and then the climb up the steep hill to her castle, they are fit for nothing but sleep, and “nature le requiert qu’ils dorment.” Champagne was another very rural district, and political powers were in consequence little developed, but Beauvais spread some influence here through trade connexion. The centre of France, having made less economic progress than either the north or the south, was generally contented with villes de bourgeoisie, such as Limoges. In Guienne, English influence, trade development, and the existence of local fors or customs, all affected urban growth. It was widespread and vigorous, but the royal policy and power prevented complete independence. Bordeaux may be taken as the typical town of this region; and eventually the large number of bastides show how the lords grasped the value of con­cession and the need for encouraging a loyal population. Provence, even if theories of Roman influence are put on one side, was the home of very early communal independence, in Arles, Avignon, and elsewhere. Here the old general assemblies played an important part in the building up of union and self-government. In Languedoc, towns were either commercial or military. Feudalism was not severe, popular rights were a very natural growth, and committees with consular government were very numerous and very powerful, until royal authority was asserted over them. Albi, Carcassonne, and Toulouse are good examples of towns of this region, which progressed on account of their trade and their military importance. Roussillon was in a district where agricultural progress and the need for military defence were the chief reasons for communal development.

Thus the communal movement was influenced by example, by geographical conditions, and by the circumstances of each town individually; but the whole idea of association was in the air and spread itself almost unconsciously.

The rural communes, so marked a feature of country life in parts of France, require some separate consideration, although in the main their causes and characteristics closely resemble those of the urban communes. Economic advance, and the desire to improve their material and social condition, induced peasants to combine and to struggle for privileges, much as burgesses and townsmen had done. As a rule, political ideas played rather a smaller part in a rural association than in the more enterprising town, but it was the same communal spirit which was inspiring countryman and townsman alike. Differences of degree were due to circumstances, and to the height to which local progress had attained before the formation of the community or commune. As was only natural, the country was generally behind the town. It was the thirteenth century which saw the establishment of most village communities, although in many cases this corporate development was an outcome of older rights and rural freedom in the past.

Rural communes seem to fall into two divisions, although, as often in making distinctions, the line between the two is indefinite and not always easy to trace. There were the self-made communities, villages or federations of villages, which combined largely as a result of town example, to gain material advance, freedom from the worst abuses of serfdom, and a varying degree of self-government. And there were the natural com­munities, such as the valley communes of the Vosges and Pyrenees, which geographical conditions, old survivals, and the special character of the country, had rendered very independent from the first, where serfdom had never existed in its most extreme form, and where the lords’ rights had never been much more than nominal. In some cases, the attempt to get their old rights officially recognised ended in a loss of freedom for these natural communes; but in others the original independence was main­tained in a greater or less degree down to modern days.

In both these divisions, however, the idea of combining, for the maintenance of common rights and the increase of material well-being, was always the determining factor in their communal existence. In the northern villages, however,’it was the value of example which appears most immediately prominent; in the mountain communes, the union through rights of common property.

It was naturally the rural towns which formed the best example for the villages, and the customs of Lorris and Beaumont were always the first to spread in country districts. The villes-neuves and bastides, again, themselves little but rural communes, must have done much to lead the still unenfranchised villages to crave for similar privileges. That small rural cultivators like themselves should be granted freedom, defence, and common rights, while they remained under the old conditions, would be naturally galling to any ambitious villagers. It is never so easy to throw off old obligations as to make a wholly fresh start without them; nevertheless, there were various rural settlements which pressed on by their own exertions, and acquired privileges similar to those bestowed from the first on the bastides. Some of the villages, especially in the south, fortified themselves; or, if they could not manage to build complete walls and gateways, they made the church a stronghold and centre of their defences in times of danger, and they acquired for themselves rights similar to those of their favoured neighbours. Sometimes it was the banlieu of an urban commune, actively influenced by events in the town itself, which spread a desire for equal rights throughout the neighbouring country. Thus, in Ponthieu alone, where the examples of Abbeville and Amiens were before all eyes, thirty-six village communes existed in the fourteenth century.

Although the country profited by town example, the motives which actuated them were not wholly the same, or at least they did not exist in the same proportions. Direct growth from the old free village, the desire to ameliorate servile conditions, and the influence of parish life and church duties, were all more prominent in the country than in the town; while commercial causes, seignorial rivalry, and the desire for political independence, were less general, though not wholly absent. Several isolated villages did organise themselves contrary to the will of their lord, but the result was often fatal, for it was difficult for the peasants to hold their own against opposition. Thus Masniere, a hamlet dependent on the Abbey of Corbie, was put down by the abbot when it had given itself communal government; and the same thing happened at Chablis near Tours. It was to avoid this difficulty that villages came to form federations for mutual support, and when they were near some important urban centre they looked to help from that quarter also. This was not always effective, for the Laonnais group had only a very short and stormy career. It was generally the least ambitious developments which were the most durable, and where advance was very gradual less opposition was excited. Thus a community which united peaceably to maintain old rights, which had assemblies chiefly for agricultural matters, and which elected only a few officials of its own to share in justice and taxation without repudiating the supreme seignorial authority, might very likely get its advance recognised, its privileges confirmed, and its organisation accepted by the lord. He could still exercise influence over the community and at the same time reap the benefit of contented vassals and willing cultivators.

The important part played by common possessions in bringing about union has been already mentioned, but in rural districts this is particularly striking, whether it was actual corporate property the communities acquired or merely common use. In Alsace several villages were often united by the possession of the almend, common pasture land for a group of hamlets; just as in the Pyrenees the ports or mountain pastures were almost always shared. In some parts pasture was not free, in which case the inhabitants of one or more villages would often combine to pay jointly for pasturing their beasts and gathering wood in the forests; this happened in many rural communities of the Yonne. In Normandy there are many examples of rights in wood and waste shared by the villagers, while any stranger had to pay for the use of it, even for the rights of driving flocks through the land at all. At Brueourt a document shows that here, at least, the pasture was real corporate property: “les communes du dit lieu de Brueourt furent donnees au commune de la dite paroisse.” At Boismont-sur-Mer, a tiny village in Ponthicu, the habitants had rights of common along the shore, because the land was too poor to be of any use as private property, and they were called bourgeois in consequence of being banded together for mutual protection and guarantee of their possession. Similarly, at Filieffes, in the same neighbourhood, two marshes were common to the inhabitants of the village, and a mayor and échevins appointed to supervise rural affairs.

Common property led very often to the passing of common bye-laws, and to the appointment of common officials to direct, supervise, and see that these regulations were kept. Constantly the men of a village would appear as joint suitors in a case, or to receive concessions. In 1214 there was a contention “super quaedam communia ab hominibus de Coldres cum hominibus de Nonancourt inita, et super quibusdam consuetudinibus.” Elsewhere it was “homines Henrici de Tillao,” “homines de Deserto”, and others, who owed money “pro recognitione de servicio.” In the fourteenth century such instances were particularly numerous in Normandy, and the courts held suits concerning “le commun du hameau du Becquet,” “les habitants des cinq paroisses de la foret de Conches,” and so on. In the cartulary of Carcassonne there are many proofs of village claims. The men of Villegly assert that from time immemorial they have had common pasture rights, the common privilege of a sheaf at harvest time, and common liberty to settle amongst themselves what crops they would grow without any seignorial interference (fourteenth century).

The lords, on their side, were also able to enforce common duties. “L’universite des habitants” at Villegly owed a pound of wax and were bound to castle-guard in turns. At Gardie, a sum was paid annually “pro omnibus hominibus de universitate predicta.” The Church also frequently demanded common dues and services; and sometimes parish officials—syndics and others—were chosen from the whole community to manage the common work of the parish.

The existence of these common rights and duties, the need for agreement as to the cultivation and other local business, led to the holding of popular assemblies in villages and rural groups, which gave an impulse to the idea of self-government. In the county of Dunois, there are frequent examples of general meetings to discuss money payments or military contributions demanded by the lord, or village matters of all sorts, such as the building of enclosures or any public work. At Lutz, in 1387, twenty-seven inhabitants met to choose representatives to appear before the Parlement on the subject of forced taille. In 1440 several villages met to discuss the sending of a body of horsemen which had been commanded by the king. Sometimes the rural communities were so small that about twelve people were all they could muster as their representatives.

Some of the most interesting examples of these village meetings are to be found in the cours colongeres of Alsace and Lorraine, very independent assemblies, often exercising judicial and administrative powers, evidently survivals of old rights, which they claimed to have existed “from time immemorial.” In the Vosges there were a number of these rural groups or colonges: associations of hamlets and scattered farms, holding from a lord, but with their own rural regulations, their own tribunals, for low justice as a rule but occasionally for more important cases, and their popular assemblies, without the consent of which the lord was not supposed to interfere in any communal business. Common rights, in particular, were under the supervision of these assemblies, and the lord was often on a par with the villagers, so far as regarded the use of woods and pasture. To be a member of one of these colonges, residence for a year was generally required, and the new colon was formally received as a member in a general assembly. All had to attend, under pain of a fine, and only four excuses were recognised for absence: war, illness, old age, or deafness. The lord, or his representative, generally presided over this cour colongere, but the suitors had final decisions in their hands, and justice was administered by elected echevins. Occasionally, greater independence than this was acquired. At Donnelay, near Metz, for example, the inhabitants elected the mayor or president and did justice and levied taxes without seignorial control. No charters to these colonges exist before the thirteenth century, some are later still; but they always contain a statement to the effect that they are recognising old rights. These documents shew that the community itself might possess serfs, that it had rural officials, shepherds, foresters, and so forth, and it could buy, sell, or otherwise dispose of its common land according to its will. There are many curious old customs and conditions in these charters, which give a most interesting picture of rural life in these mountain hamlets, but which unfortunately do not throw any special light on the actual communal movement. Here, as time went on, the old free character of the villages was more and more lost. It was territorial sovereignty in this case which was swamping the communes, since in the Empire, of which they were part, central power was not taking the place of the feudal lords, as was the monarchy in France. Little by little, this interesting survival of old free rights, which had developed into actual communal organisation, disappeared, and ordinary feudal seigneuries were left in possession of the field.

In the valley communities of the Pyrenees conditions were very similar. Here it was clearly geographical causes which first led to communal organisations. Villages, tiny hamlets, and scattered homesteads, which would have had little importance as isolated units, naturally combined while enclosed in one mountain valley, secure from much outside interference or even intercourse, and already united for the use of pasture land on the slopes of the hills. There was little reason here for much seignorial supervision or interference; little for any lord to gain out of these simple pastoral communities. From early days they had managed their own affairs; during the winter months they were cut off almost entirely from outside relations; and in the summer they were chiefly concerned in arranging for the feeding and management of the flocks and herds which were their chief source of livelihood.

In Roussillon there were seven rural seigneuries, associations of villages, not exactly republics, but with considerable independence, making their own treaties, building their own fortifications, and holding general meetings to regulate local business of all sorts. The little community of Andorra still exists to illustrate something of the condition of these mountain settlements. A group of six parishes, Andorra manages its own affairs and simply pays an annual tribute to its feudal superiors: two-thirds to the government of France, one-third to the Bishop of Urgel in Spain. Though generally called a republic, it is in reality a very inde­pendent seigneurie held in portage by two lords.

In the western Pyrenees there were some large and important valleys, which were able to develop considerable powers, free from all but nominal subjection to their overlords. The Vallee d’Ossau still retains its own distinctive dress, though this is fast disappearing, and it keeps its own local archives in the principal village. In the Middle Ages it was directly under the Viscount of Bearn, but otherwise independent. The Vallee d’Aspe was practically a republic. Its narrow defiles and the high mountains blocking it in were natural defences which secured its separate existence, and it had self-government in the hands of its ww jurats. A document of 1692 speaks of its freedom in ancient times: “elle se condisoit par des lois et des coutumes qu’on n’a jamais empruntes, non pas meme depuis qu’elle s’est donnee volontairement au seigneur de Bearn.” The valley of Cauterets had its own legislative assemblies, composed of women as well as of men, and the fines and profits of justice were shared between the community itself and its ecclesiastical seigneur, the abbot. The Vallee d’Azun had its popular parliament and its local customs for all the inhabitants, which the seigneur confirmed on request of “tot lo pople d’Assun.”

These rural communes were known as beziaus, the inhabitants as bezits, the local word for voisins, and it was quite usual for the bezias or voisines to share equally with the men in government and administration— in any case, when they were householders. The almost sovereign power of these communities is especially shewn in their treaties with other valleys; the lies and passeries were generally agreements as to pasture-rights, which followed actual warfare between the villages. One of the most famous of these treaties was between the French valley of Baretous and the Spanish community of Roncal, which was signed in 1373, and arranged for a yearly tribute of three cows to be paid by the Frenchmen. This has given rise to a curious ceremony which was kept up in full until late in the nineteenth century. On the summit of the pass between the valleys, representatives from each side used to meet and, with their hands interlaced on crossed lances, proclaim Pazavant (paix dorenavant). After this, the cows, bedecked with ribbons, were led across the frontier, and the day ended in dancing and feasting.

Enough has been said to shew that the Pyrenean valleys were primitive communities which had inherited customs from very early days and which had never been under severe seignorial control. The communal movement in their case was truly a natural growth; but they were so far affected by the general tendency of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, as to get their rights recognised and their fors written down and confirmed. Their special characteristics were elected officials, common rights and common property, and a very popular and independent form of local government.

To sum up shortly the results arrived at in this chapter, two principal conclusions seem to emerge—the difficulty of generalisation and the natural and economic character of the movement.

First, as to the difficulty of generalising. It is almost impossible to argue from events in a few towns the probable course of events in another. Communal growth can best be studied through individual instances, but it is unsafe to draw general conclusions from them as to the line of advance throughout the whole country. Local differences have resulted in a very great variety of local developments and causes, which helped the growth of communes in one part of the country and were often absent in another. The seignorial support, apparently beneficial in one instance, in another may have meant the complete loss of communal independence.

Secondly, as to the natural character of the movement. The communal movement was clearly a stage in economic development; instead of being a break with old conditions and a revolution against feudal ideas, it was consistent with the period of feudalism in which it arose. It was an attempt of communities to rise by force of union in the feudal hierarchy and themselves to rank side by side with feudal seigneurs; sometimes as their vassals, but whenever possible, as suzerains themselves and tenants-in-chief of the Crown, privileged and independent of all but nominal allegiance.

As a general rule, it may be said that the older towns were the most progressive in their actions, that they developed their own communes and acquired the highest degree of independence for a short time. New towns were often favoured by the lords and became privileged, but under control. Royal towns, though often in earlier possession of charters and privileges, were always less completely free. Rural communities were very frequently peaceful in their development and could trace back their rights to very early days, but the assertion of these rights generally followed the formation of town organisations in point of time, and occasionally the rural commune was a direct imitation of an urban union.

In France this movement was widespread and important but short­lived; for it came at a time when the growth of centralisation was little by little absorbing feudal rights and local independence. The higher the position at which the communes arrived, the more they came into conflict with the development of royal supremacy, and the more completely they were destroyed. But, even though short-lived, the communal movement in France, both urban and rural, had important results which outlasted its own existence. Serfdom was distinctly diminished in severity and extent; local patriotism was excited and continued, even though it might be turned into other channels; commerce and trade were invigorated and the energy of the burgesses could extend in that direction when self­government disappeared; above all, it was the medieval commune which formed the cradle of that important element of French society, the Tiers état.