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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Who in return equipped and supported them



No ruler before Charlemagne, and none for at least four centuries after him, did so much to increase and perpetuate the learning of his time. During his meals, some one always read aloud to him out of old chronicles or theological works. He spoke Latin fluently, and had a good knowledge of Greek. In order to become a good writer, he carried his tablets about with him, and even slept with them under his pillow. The men whom he assembled at his Court were the most intelligent of that age. His chaplain and chief counsellor was Alcuin, an English monk, and a man of great learning. His secretary, Einhard (or Eginhard) wrote a history of the Emperor's life and times. Among his other friends were Paul Diaconus, a learned Lombard, and the chronicler, Bishop Turpin. These men formed, with Charlemagne, a literary society, which held regular meetings to discuss matters of science, politics and literature.

Under Charlemagne the political institutions of the Merovingian kings, as well as those which existed among the German races, were materially changed. As far as possible, he set aside the Dukes, each of whom, up to that time, was the head of a tribe or division of the people, and broke up their half-independent states into districts, governed by Counts. These districts were divided into "hundreds," as in the old Germanic times, each in charge of a noble, who every week acted as judge in smaller civil or criminal

cases. The Counts, in conjunction with from seven to twelve magistrates, held monthly courts wherein cases which concerned life, freedom or landed property were decided. They were also obliged to furnish a certain number of soldiers when called upon. The same obligation rested upon the archbishops, bishops, and abbots of the monasteries, all of whom, together with the Counts, were called Vassals of the Empire.


The free men, in case of war, were compelled to serve as horsemen or foot-soldiers, according to their wealth, either three or five of the very poorest furnishing one well-equipped man. The soldiers were not only not paid, but each was obliged to bear his own expenses; so the burden fell very heavily upon this class of the people. In order to escape it, large numbers of the poorer freemen voluntarily became dependents of the nobility or clergy, who in return equipped and supported them. The national assemblies were still annually held, but the people, in becoming dependents, gradually lost their ancient authority, and their votes ceased to control the course of events. The only part they played in the assemblies was to bring tribute to the Emperor, to whom they paid no taxes, and whose court was kept up partly from their offerings and partly from the revenues of the "domains" or crown-lands. Thus, while Charlemagne introduced throughout his whole empire a unity of government and an order unknown before, while he anticipated Prussia in making all his people liable, at any time, to military service, on the other hand he was slowly and unconsciously changing the free Germans into a race of lords and serfs.

It is not likely, either, that the people themselves saw the tendency of his government. Their respect and love for him increased, as the comparative peace of the Empire allowed him to turn to interests which more immediately concerned their lives. In his ordinary habits he was as simple as they. His daughters spun and wove the flax for his plain linen garments; personally he looked after his orchards and vegetable gardens, set the schools an example by learning to improve his own reading and writing, treated high and low with equal frankness and heartiness, and, even in his old age, surpassed all around him in feats of strength or endurance. There seemed to be no serfdom in bowing to a man so magnificently endowed by nature and so favored by fortune.

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