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Beacon Lights of History, Volume III, Part 1 by John Lord

Part 4 out of 5

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Henry, and took Becket under his protection. The Pope rebuked
Louis for the war; but Louis retorted by telling Alexander that it
was a shame for him not to give up his time-serving policy. In so
doing, Louis spoke out the heart of Christendom. The Pope, at last
aroused, excommunicated the Archbishop of York for crowning the son
of Henry, and threatened Henry himself with an interdict, and
recalled his legates. Becket also fulminated his excommunications.
There was hardly a prelate or royal chaplain in England who was not
under ecclesiastical censure. The bishops began to waver. Henry
had reason to fear he might lose the support of his English
subjects, and Norman likewise. He could do nothing with the whole
Church against him.

The King was therefore obliged to compromise. Several times
before, he had sought reconciliation with his dreadful enemy; but
Becket always, in his promises, fell back on the phrase, "Saving
the honor of his order," or "Saving the honor of God." But now,
amid the fire of excommunications, Henry was compelled to make his
peace with the man he detested. He himself did not much care for
the priestly thunderbolts, but his clergy and his subjects did.
The penalty of eternal fire was a dreadful fear to those who
believed, as everybody then did, in the hell of which the clergy
were supposed to hold the keys. This fear sustained the empire of
the popes; it was the basis of sacerdotal rule in the Middle Ages.
Hence Becket was so powerful, even in exile. His greatness was in
his character; his power was in his spiritual weapons.

In the hollow reconciliation at last effected between the King and
the Prelate, Henry promised to confirm Becket in his powers and
dignities, and molest him no more. But he haughtily refused the
customary kiss of peace. Becket saw the omen; so did the King of
France. The peace was inconclusive. It was a truce, not a treaty.
Both parties distrusted each other.

But Henry was weary with the struggle, and Becket was tired of
exile,--never pleasant, even if voluntary. Moreover, the Prelate
had gained the moral victory, even as Hildebrand did when the
Emperor of Germany stooped as a suppliant in the fortress of
Canossa. The King of England had virtually yielded to the
Archbishop of Canterbury. Perhaps Becket felt that his mission was
accomplished; that he had done the work for which he was raised up.
Wearied, sickened with the world, disgusted with the Pope,
despising his bishops, perhaps he was willing to die. He had a
presentiment that he should die as a martyr. So had the French
king and his prelates. But Becket longed to return to his church
and celebrate the festivities of Christmas. So he made up his mind
to return to England, "although I know, of a truth," he said, "I
shall meet my passion there." Before embarking he made a friendly
and parting visit to the King of France, and then rode to the coast
with an escort of one hundred horsemen. As Dover was guarded by
the King's retainers, who might harm him, he landed at Sandwich,
his own town. The next day he set out for Canterbury, after an
absence of seven years. The whole population lined the road,
strewed it with flowers, and rent the air with songs. Their
beloved Archbishop had returned. On reaching Canterbury he went
directly to his cathedral and seated himself on his throne, and the
monks came and kissed him, with tears in their eyes. One Herbert
said, "Christ has conquered; Christ is now King!"

From Canterbury Becket made a sort of triumphal progress through
the kingdom, with the pretence of paying a visit to the young king
at Woodstock,--exciting rather than allaying the causes of discord,
scattering his excommunications, still haughty, restless,
implacable; so that the Court became alarmed, and ordered him to
return to his diocese. He obeyed, as he wished to celebrate
Christmas at home; and ascending his long-neglected pulpit
preached, according to Michelet, from this singular text: "I am
come to die in the midst of you."

Henry at this time was on the Continent, and was greatly annoyed at
the reports of Becket's conduct which reached him. Then there
arrived three bishops whom the Primate had excommunicated, with
renewed complaints and grievances, assuring him there would be no
peace so long as Becket lived. Henry was almost wild with rage
and perplexity. What could he do? He dared not execute the
Archbishop, as Henry VIII. would have done. In his age the Prelate
was almost as powerful as the King. Violence to his person was the
last thing to do, for this would have involved the King in war
with the adherents of the Pope, and would have entailed an
excommunication. Still, the supremest desire of Henry's soul was
to get Becket out of the way. So, yielding to an impulse of
passion, he said to his attendants, "Is there no one to relieve
me from the insults of this low-born and turbulent priest?"

Among these attendants were four courtiers or knights, of high
birth and large estates, who, hearing these reproachful words, left
the court at once, crossed the channel, and repaired to the castle
of Sir Ranulf de Broc, the great enemy of Becket, who had molested
him in innumerable ways. Some friendly person contrived to
acquaint Becket with his danger, to whom he paid no heed, knowing
it very well himself. He knew he was to die; and resolved to die

The four armed knights, meanwhile, on the 29th of December, rode
with an escort to Canterbury, dined at the Augustinian abbey, and
entered the court-yard of the Archbishop's palace as Becket had
finished his mid-day meal and had retired to an inner room with his
chaplain and a few intimate friends. They then entered the hall
and sought the Archbishop, who received them in silence. Sir
Reginald Fitzurst then broke the silence with these words: "We
bring you the commands of the King beyond the sea, that you repair
without delay to the young King's presence and swear allegiance.
And further, he commands you to absolve the bishops you have
excommunicated." On Becket's refusal, the knight continued: "Since
you will not obey, the royal command is that you and your clergy
forthwith depart from the realm, never more to return." Becket
angrily declared he would never again leave England. The knights
then sprang to their feet and departed, enjoining the attendants to
prevent the escape of Becket, who exclaimed: "Do you think I shall
fly, then? Neither for the King nor any living man will I fly.
You cannot be more ready to kill me than I am to die."

He sought, however, the shelter of his cathedral, as the vesper
bell summoned him to prayers,--followed by the armed knights, with
a company of men-at-arms, driving before them a crowd of monks.
The Archbishop was standing on the steps of the choir, beyond the
central pillar, which reached to the roof of the cathedral, in the
dim light shed by the candles of the altars, so that only the
outline of his noble figure could be seen, when the knights closed
around him, and Fitzurst seized him,--perhaps meaning to drag him
away as a prisoner to the King, or outside the church before
despatching him. Becket cried, "Touch me not, thou abominable
wretch!" at the same time hurling Tracy, another of the knights, to
the ground, who, rising, wounded him in the head with his sword.
The Archbishop then bent his neck to the assassins, exclaiming, "I
am prepared to die for Christ and His Church."

Such was the murder of Becket,--a martyr, as he has been generally
regarded, for the liberties of the Church; but, according to some,
justly punished for presumptuous opposition to his sovereign.

The assassination was a shock to Christendom. The most intrepid
churchman of his age was slain at his post for doing, as he
believed, his duty. No one felt the shock more than the King
himself, who knew he would be held responsible for the murder. He
dreaded the consequences, and shut himself up for three days in his
chamber, refusing food, issuing orders for the arrest of the
murderers, and sending ambassadors to the Pope to exculpate
himself. Fearing an excommunication and an interdict, he swore on
the Gospel, in one of the Norman cathedrals, that he had not
commanded nor desired the death of the Archbishop; and stipulated
to maintain at his own cost two hundred knights in the Holy Land,
to abrogate the Constitutions of Clarendon, to reinvest the See of
Canterbury with all he had wrested away, and even to undertake a
crusade against the Saracens of Spain if the Pope desired. Amid
the calamities which saddened his latter days, he felt that all
were the judgments of God for his persecution of the martyr, and
did penance at his tomb.

So Becket slew more by his death than he did by his life. His
cause was gained by his blood: it arrested the encroachments of the
Norman kings for more than three hundred years. He gained the
gratitude of the Church and a martyr's crown. He was canonized as
a saint. His shrine was enriched with princely offerings beyond
any other object of popular veneration in the Middle Ages. Till
the time of the Reformation a pilgrimage to that shrine was a
common form of penance for people of all conditions, the nobility
as well as the common people. Even miracles were reputed to be
wrought at that shrine, while a drop of Becket's blood would
purchase a domain!

Whatever may be said about the cause of Becket, to which there are
two sides, there is no doubt about his popularity. Even the
Reformation, and the changes made in the English Constitution, have
not obliterated the veneration in which he was held for five
hundred years. You cannot destroy respect for a man who is willing
to be a martyr, whether his cause is right or wrong. If
enlightened judgments declare that he was "a martyr of sacerdotal
power, not of Christianity; of a caste, and not of mankind;" that
he struggled for the authority and privileges of the clergy rather
than for the good of his country,--still it will be conceded that
he fought bravely and died with dignity. All people love heroism.
They are inclined to worship heroes; and especially when an unarmed
priest dares to resist an unscrupulous and rapacious king, as Henry
is well known to have been, and succeeds in tearing from his hands
the spoils he has seized, there must be admiration. You cannot
extinguish the tribute of the soul for heroism, any more than that
of the mind for genius. The historian who seeks to pull down a
hero from the pedestal on which he has been seated for ages plays a
losing game. No brilliancy in sophistical pleadings can make men
long prefer what is NEW to that which is TRUE. Becket is enshrined
in the hearts of his countrymen, even as Cromwell is among the
descendants of the Puritans; and substantially for the same
reason,--because they both fought bravely for their respective
causes,--the cause of the people in their respective ages. Both
recognized God Almighty, and both contended against the despotism
of kings seeking to be absolute, and in behalf of the people who,
were ground down by military power. In the twelfth century the
people looked up to the clergy as their deliverers and friends; in
the seventeenth century to parliaments and lawyers. Becket was the
champion of the clergy, even as Cromwell was the champion--at least
at first--of the Parliament. Carlyle eulogizes Cromwell as much as
Froude abuses Becket; but Becket, if more haughty and defiant than
Cromwell in his private character, yet was truer to his principles.
He was a great hero, faithful to a great cause, as he regarded it,
however averse this age may justly be to priestly domination. He
must be judged by the standard which good and enlightened people
adopted seven hundred years ago,--not in semi-barbarous England
alone, but throughout the continent of Europe. This is not the
standard which reason accepts to-day, I grant; but it is the
standard by which Becket must be judged,--even as the standard
which justified the encroachments of Leo the Great, or the rigorous
rule of Tiberius and Marcus Aurelius, is not that which en-thrones
Gustavus Adolphus and William of Orange in the heart of the
civilized world.


Eadmer's Life of Anselm; Historia Novarum; Sir J. Stephen's Life of
Becket, of William of Malmsbury, and of Henry of Huntington;
Correspondence of Thomas Becket, with that of Foliot, Bishop of
London, and John of Salisbury; Chronicle of Peter of Peterborough;
Chronicle of Ralph Niper, and that of Jocelyn of Brakeland;
Dugdale's Monasticon; Freeman's Norman Conquest; Michelet's History
of France; Green, Hume, Knight, Stubbs, among the English
historians; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Hook's Lives of the
Archbishops of Canterbury; Lord Littleton on Henry II.; Stanley's
Memorials of Canterbury; Milman's Latin christianity; article by
Froude; Morris's Life of Thomas a Becket; J. Craigie Robertson's
Life of Thomas Becket.


About A. D. 800-1300.

There is no great character with whom Feudalism is especially
identified. It was an institution of the Middle Ages, which grew
out of the miseries and robberies that succeeded the fall of the
Roman Empire.

Before I present the mutual relation between a lord and his vassal,
I would call your attention to political anarchies ending in
political degradation; to an unformed state of society; to semi-
barbarism, with its characteristic vices of plunder, rapine,
oppression, and injustice; to wild and violent passions, unchecked
by law; to the absence of central power; to the reign of hard and
martial nobles; to the miseries of the people, ground down,
ignorant, and brutal; to rude agricultural life; to petty wars; to
general ignorance, which kept society in darkness and gloom for a
thousand years,--all growing out of the eclipse of the old
civilization, so that the European nations began a new existence,
and toiled in sorrow and fear, with few ameliorations: an iron age,
yet an age which was not unfavorable for the development of new
virtues and heroic qualities, under the influence of which society
emerged from barbarism, with a new foundation for national
greatness, and a new material for Christianity and art and
literature and science to work upon.

Such was the state of society during the existence of feudal
institutions,--a period of about five hundred years,--dating from
the dismemberment of Charlemagne's empire to the fifteenth century.
The era of its greatest power was from the Norman conquest of
England to the reign of Edward III. But there was a long and
gloomy period before Feudalism ripened into an institution,--from
the dissolution of the Roman Empire to the eighth and ninth
centuries. I would assign this period as the darkest and the
dreariest in the history of Europe since the Roman conquests, for
this reason, that civilization perished without any one to
chronicle the changes, or to take notice of the extinction.

From Charlemagne there had been, with the exception of brief
intervals, the birth of new ideas and interests, the growth of a
new civilization. Before his day there was a progressive decline.
Art, literature, science, alike faded away. There were no grand
monuments erected, the voice of the poet was unheard in the
universal wretchedness, the monks completed the destruction which
the barbarians began. Why were libraries burned or destroyed? Why
was classic literature utterly neglected? Why did no great
scholars arise even in the Church? The new races looked in vain
for benefactors. Even the souvenirs of the old Empire were lost.
Nearly all the records of ancient greatness perished. The old
cities were levelled to the ground. Nothing was built but
monasteries, and these were as gloomy as feudal castles at a later
date. The churches were heavy and mournful. Good men hid
themselves, trying to escape from the miserable world, and sang
monotonous chants of death and the grave. Agriculture was at the
lowest state, and hunting, piracy, and robbery were resorted to as
a means of precarious existence. There was no commerce. The roads
were invested with vagabonds and robbers. It was the era of
universal pillage and destruction; nothing held sacred. Universal
desolation filled the souls of men with despair. What state of
society could be worse than that of England under the early Saxon
kings? There were no dominant races and no central power. The
countries of Europe relapsed into a sullen barbarism. I see no
bright spot anywhere, not even in Italy, which was at this time the
most overrun and the most mercilessly plundered of all the
provinces of the fallen Empire. The old capital of the world was
nearly depopulated. Nothing was spared of ancient art on which the
barbarians could lay their hands, and nothing was valued.

This was the period of what writers call ALLODIAL tenure, in
distinction from feudal. The allodialist owned indeed his lands,
but they were subject to incessant depredations from wandering
tribes of barbarians and from robbers. There was no encouragement
to till the soil. There was no incentive to industry of any kind.
During a reign of universal lawlessness, what man would work except
for a scanty and precarious support? His cattle might be driven
away, his crops seized, his house plundered. It is hard to realize
that our remote ancestors were mere barbarians, who by the force of
numbers overran the world. They seem to have had but one class of
virtues,--contempt of death, and the willing sacrifice of their
lives in battle. The allodialist, however, was not a barbaric
warrior or chieftain, but the despoiled owner of lands that his
ancestors had once cultivated in peace and prosperity. He was the
degenerate descendant of Celtic and Roman citizens, the victim of
barbaric spoliations. His lands may have passed into the hands of
the Gothic conquerors; but the Gothic or Burgundian or Frankish
possessor of innumerable acres, once tilled by peaceful citizens,
remained an allodial proprietor. Even he had no protection and no
safety; for any new excursion of less fortunate barbarians would
desolate his possessions and decimate his laborers. The small
proprietor was especially subject to pillage and murder.

In the universal despair from this reign of anarchy and
lawlessness, when there was no security to property and no redress
of evils, the allodialist parted with his lands to some powerful
chieftain, and obtained promise of protection. He even resigned
the privilege of freedom to save his wretched life. He became a
serf,--a semi-bondman, chained to the soil, but protected from
outrage. Nothing but inconceivable miseries, which have not been
painted by historians, can account for the almost simultaneous
change in the ownership of land in all European countries. We can
conceive of nothing but blank despair among the people who
attempted to cultivate land. And there must have been the grossest
ignorance and the lowest degradation when men were willing to
submit to the curtailment of personal freedom and the loss of their
lands, in order to find protectors.

Thus Feudalism arose in the ninth and tenth centuries from the
absolute wreck of property and hopes. It was virtually the
surrender of land for the promise of protection. It was the great
necessity of that anarchical age. Like all institutions, it grew
out of the needs of the times. Yet its universal acceptance seems
to prove that the change was beneficial. Feudalism, especially in
its early ages, is not to be judged by the institutions of our
times, any more than is the enormous growth of spiritual power
which took place when this social and political revolution was
going on. Wars and devastations and untold calamities and brutal
forces were the natural sequence of barbaric invasions, and of the
progressive fall of the old civilization, continued from generation
to generation for a period of two or three hundred years, with
scarcely any interruption. You get no relief from such a
dispensation of Divine Providence, unless you can solve the
question why the Roman Empire was permitted to be swept away. If
it must be destroyed, from the prevalence of the same vices which
have uniformly undermined all empires,--utter and unspeakable
rottenness and depravity,--in spite of Christianity, whether
nominal or real; if eternal justice must bear sway on this earth,
bringing its fearful retributions for the abuse of privileges and
general wickedness,--then we accept the natural effects of that
violence which consummated the ruin. The natural consequences of
two hundred years of pillage and warfare and destruction of ancient
institutions were, and could have been nothing other than,
miseries, misrule, sufferings, poverty, insecurity, and despair. A
universal conflagration must destroy everything that past ages had
valued. As a relief from what was felt to be intolerable, and by
men who were brutal, ignorant, superstitious, and degraded, all
from the effect of the necessary evils which war creates, a sort of
semi-slavery was felt to be preferable, as the price of dependence
and protection.

Dependence and protection are the elemental principles of
Feudalism. These were the hard necessities which the age demanded.
And for three hundred years, it cannot be doubted, the relation
between master and serf was beneficial. It resulted in a more
peaceful state of society,--not free from great evils, but still a
healthful change from the disorders of the preceding epoch. The
peasant could cultivate his land comparatively free from
molestation. He was still poor. Sometimes he was exposed to heavy
exactions. He was bound to give a portion of the profits of his
land to his lordly proprietor; and he was bound to render services
in war. But, as he was not bound to serve over forty days, he was
not led on distant expeditions; he was not carried far from home.
He was not exposed to the ambition of military leaders. His
warlike services seem to be confined to the protection of his
master's castle and family, or to the assault of some neighboring
castle. He was simply made to participate in baronial quarrels;
and as these quarrels were frequent, his life was not altogether

But war on a large scale was impossible in the feudal age. The
military glory of the Roman conquerors was unknown, and also that
of modern European monarchs. The peasant was bound to serve under
the banner of a military chieftain only for a short time: then he
returned to his farm. His great military weapon was the bow,--the
weapon of semi-barbarians. The spear, the sword, the battle-axe
were the weapons of the baronial family,--the weapons of knights,
who fought on horseback, cased in defensive armor. The peasant
fought on foot; and as the tactics of ancient warfare were
inapplicable, and those of modern warfare unknown, the strength of
armies was in cavalry and not in the infantry, as in modern times.
But armies were not large from the ninth to the twelfth century,--
not until the Crusades arose. Nor were they subject to a rigid
discipline. They were simply an armed rabble. They were more like
militia than regular forces; they fostered military virtues,
without the demoralization of standing armies. In the feudal age
there were no standing armies. Even at so late a period as the
time of Queen Elizabeth that sovereign had to depend on the militia
for the defence of the realm against the Spaniards. Standing
armies are the invention of great military monarchs or a great
military State. The bow and arrow were used equally to shoot men
and shoot deer; but they rarely penetrated the armor of knights, or
their force was broken by the heavy shield: they took effect only
on the undefended bodies of the peasantry. Hence there was a great
disproportion of the slain in battle between peasants and their
mounted masters. War, even when confined to a small sphere, has
its terrors. The sufferers were the common people, whose lives
were not held of much account. History largely confines itself to
battles. Hence we are apt to lose sight of the uneventful life of
the people in quiet times.

But the barons were not always fighting. In the intervals of war
the peasant enjoyed the rude pleasures of his home. He grew up
with strong attachments, having no desire to migrate or travel.
Gradually the sentiment of loyalty was born,--loyalty to his master
and to his country. His life was rough, but earnest. He had great
simplicity of character. He became honest, industrious, and
frugal. He was contented with but few pleasures,--rural fetes and
village holidays. He had no luxuries and no craving for them.
Measured by our modern scale of pleasures he led a very inglorious,
unambitious, and rude life.

Contentment is one of the mysteries of existence. We should
naturally think that excitement and pleasure and knowledge would
make people happy, since they stimulate the intellectual powers;
but on the contrary they seem to produce unrest and cravings which
are never satisfied. And we should naturally think that a life of
isolation, especially with no mental resources,--a hard rural
existence, with but few comforts and no luxuries,--would make
people discontented. Yet it does not seem to be so in fact, as
illustrated by the apparent contentment of people doomed to hard
labor in the most retired and dreary retreats. We wonder at their
placitude, as we travel in remote and obscure sections of the
country. A poor farmer, whose house is scarcely better than a
hovel, surrounded with chickens and pigs, and with only a small
garden,--unadorned and lonely and repulsive,--has no cravings which
make the life of the favored rich sometimes unendurable. The
poorer he is, and therefore the more miserable as we should think,
the more contented he seems to be; while a fashionable woman or
ennuied man, both accustomed to the luxuries and follies of city
life, with all its refinements and gratification of intellectual
and social pleasures, will sometimes pine in a suburban home, with
all the gilded glories of rich furniture, books, beautiful gardens,
greenhouses, luxurious living, horses, carriages, and everything
that wealth can furnish.

So that civilization would seem often a bitter mockery, showing
that intellectual life only stimulates the cravings of the
soul, but does not satisfy them. And when people are poor
but cultivated, the unhappiness seems to be still greater;
demonstrating that cultivated intellect alone opens to the mind the
existence of evils which are intensified by the difficulty of their
removal, and on which the mind dwells with feelings kindred to
despair. I have sometimes doubted whether an obscure farmer's
daughter is any happier with her piano, and her piles of cheaply
illustrated literature and translations of French novels, and her
smatterings of science learned in normal schools, since she has
learned too often to despise her father and mother and brother, and
her uneducated rural beau, and all her surroundings, with poverty
and unrest and aspiration for society eating out her soul. The
happiness produced merely by intellectual pleasures and social
frivolities is very small at the best, compared with that produced
by the virtues of the heart and the affections kindled by deeds of
devotion, or the duties which take the mind from itself.
Intellectual pleasures give only a brief satisfaction, unless
directed to a practical end, like the earnest imparting of
knowledge in educational pursuits, or the pursuit of art for itself
alone,--to create, and not to devour, as the epicure eats his
dinner. Where is the happiness of devouring books with no attempt
to profit by them, except in the temporary pleasure of satisfying
an appetite? So even the highest means of happiness may become a
savor of death unto death when perverted or unimproved. Never
should we stimulate the intellect merely to feed upon itself.
Unless intellectual culture is directed to what is useful,
especially to the necessities or improvement of others, it is a
delusion and a snare. Better far to be ignorant, but industrious
and useful in any calling however humble, than to cram the mind
with knowledge that leads to no good practical result. The buxom
maiden of rural life, in former days absorbed in the duties of
home, with no knowledge except that gained in a district school in
the winter, with all her genial humanities in the society of equals
no more aspiring than herself, is to me a far more interesting
person than the pale-faced, languid, discontented, envious girl who
has just returned from a school beyond her father's means, even if
she can play upon an instrument, and has worn herself thin in
exhausting studies under the stimulus of ambitious competition, or
the harangues of a pedant who thinks what he calls "education" to
be the end of life,--an education which reveals her own
insignificance, or leads her to strive for an unattainable

I am forced to make these remarks to show that the Mediaeval
peasant was not necessarily miserable because he was ignorant, or
isolated, or poor. In so doing I may excite the wrath of some who
think a little knowledge is not a dangerous thing, and may appear
to be throwing cold water on one of the noblest endeavors of modern
times. But I do not sneer at education. I only seek to show that
it will not make people happy, unless it is directed into useful
channels; and that even ignorance may be bliss when it is folly to
be wise. A benevolent Providence tempers all conditions to the
necessities of the times. The peasantry of Europe became earnest
and stalwart warriors and farmers, even under the grinding
despotism of feudal masters. With their beer and brown bread, and
a fowl in the pot on a Sunday, they grew up to be hardy, bold,
strong, healthy, and industrious. They furnished a material on
which Christianity and a future civilization could work. They
became patriotic, religious, and kind-hearted. They learned to
bear their evils in patience. They were more cheerful than the
laboring classes of our day, with their partial education,--
although we may console ourselves with the reflection that these
are passing through the fermenting processes of a transition from a
lower to a higher grade of living. Look at the picture of them
which art has handed down: their faces are ruddy, genial,
sympathetic, although coarse and vulgar and boorish. And they
learned to accept the inequalities of life without repining
insolence. They were humble, and felt that there were actually
some people in the world superior to themselves. I do not paint
their condition as desirable or interesting by our standard, but as
endurable. They were doubtless very ignorant; but would knowledge
have made them any happier? Knowledge is for those who can climb
by it to positions of honor and usefulness, not for those who
cannot rise above the condition in which they were born,--not for
those who will be snubbed and humiliated and put down by arrogant
wealth and birth. Better be unconscious of suffering, than
conscious of wrongs which cannot be redressed.

Let no one here misunderstand and pervert me. I am not exalting
the ignorance and brutality of the feudal ages. I am not decrying
the superior advantages of our modern times. I only state that
ignorance and brutality were the necessary sequences of the wars
and disorders of a preceding epoch, but that this very ignorance
and brutality were accompanied by virtues which partially
ameliorated the evils of the day; that in the despair of slavery
were the hopes of future happiness; that religion took a deep hold
of the human mind, even though blended with puerile and degrading
superstitions; that Christianity, taking hold of the hearts of a
suffering people, taught lessons which enabled them to bear their
hardships with resignation; that cheerfulness was not extinguished;
and that so many virtues were generated by the combined influence
of suffering and Christianity, that even with ignorance human
nature shone with greater lustre than among those by whom knowledge
is perverted. It was not until the evil and injustice of Feudalism
were exposed by political writers, and were meditated upon by the
people who had arisen by education and knowledge, that they became
unendurable; and then the people shook off the yoke. But how
impossible would have been a French Revolution in the thirteenth
century! What readers would a Rousseau have found among the people
in the time of Louis VII.? If knowledge breaks fetters when the
people are strong enough to shake them off, ignorance enables them
to bear those fetters when emancipation is impossible.

The great empire of Charlemagne was divided at his death (in A. D.
814) among his three sons,--one of whom had France, another Italy,
and the third Germany. In forty-five years afterwards we find
seven kingdoms, instead of three,--France, Navarre, Provence,
Burgundy, Lorraine, Germany, and Italy. In a few years more there
were twenty-nine hereditary fiefs. And as early as the tenth
century France itself was split up into fifty-five independent
sovereignties; and these small sovereignties were again divided
into dukedoms and baronies. All these dukes and barons, however,
acknowledged the King of France as their liege lord; yet he was not
richer or more powerful than some of the dukes who swore fealty to
him. The Duke of Burgundy at one time had larger territories and
more power than the King of France himself. So that the central
authority of kings was merely nominal; their power extended
scarcely beyond the lands they individually controlled. And all
the countries of Europe were equally ruled by petty kings. The
kings of England seem to have centralized around their thrones more
power than other European monarchs until the time of the Crusades,
when they were checked, not so much by nobles as by Act of

Now all Europe was virtually divided among these petty sovereigns,
called dukes, earls, counts, and barons. Each one was virtually
independent. He coined money, administered justice, and preserved
order. He ruled by hereditary right, and his estate descended to
his oldest son. His revenues were derived by the extorted
contributions of those who cultivated his lands, and by certain
perquisites, among which were the privilege of wardship, and the
profits of an estate during the minority of its possessor, and
reliefs, or fines paid on the alienation of a vassal's feud; and
the lord could bestow a female ward in marriage on whomever he
pleased, and on her refusal take possession of her estate.

These lordly proprietors of great estates,--or nobles,--so powerful
and independent, lived in castles. These strongholds were
necessary in such turbulent times. They were large or small,
according to the wealth or rank of the nobles who occupied them,
but of no architectural beauty. They were fortresses, generally
built on hills, or cragged rocks, or in inaccessible marshes, or on
islands in rivers,--anywhere where defence was easiest. The nobles
did not think of beautiful situations, or fruitful meadows, so much
as of the safety and independence of the feudal family. They
therefore lived in great isolation, travelling but little, and only
at short distances (it was the higher clergy only who travelled).
Though born to rank and power, they were yet rude, rough,
unpolished. They were warriors. They fought on horseback, covered
with defensive armor. They were greedy and quarrelsome, and hence
were engaged in perpetual strife,--in the assault on castles and
devastation of lands. These castles were generally gloomy, heavy,
and uncomfortable, yet were very numerous in the eleventh and
twelfth centuries. They were occupied by the feudal family,
perhaps the chaplain, strangers of rank, bards, minstrels, and
servants, who lived on the best the country afforded, but without
the luxuries of our times. They lived better than the monks, as
they had no vows to restrain them. But in their dreary castles the
rooms were necessarily small, dark, and damp, except the banqueting
hall. They were poorly lighted, there being no glass in the narrow
windows, nor chimneys, nor carpets, nor mirrors, nor luxurious
furniture, nor crockery, nor glassware, nor stoves, nor the
refinements of cookery. The few roads of the country were
travelled only by horsemen, or people on foot. There were no
carriages, only a few heavy lumbering wagons. Tea and coffee were
unknown, as also tropical fruits and some of our best vegetables.
But game of all kinds was plenty and cheap; so also were wine and
beer, and beef and mutton, and pork and poultry. The feudal family
was illiterate, and read but few books. The chief pleasures were
those of the chase,--hunting and hawking,--and intemperate feasts.
What we call "society" was impossible, although the barons may have
exchanged visits with each other. They rarely visited cities,
which at that time were small and uninteresting. The lordly
proprietor of ten thousand acres may have been jolly, frank, and
convivial, but he was still rough, and had little to say on matters
of great interests. Circumscribed he was of necessity, ignorant
and prejudiced. Conscious of power, however, he was proud and
insolent to inferiors. He was merely a physical man,--ruddy,
healthy, strong indeed, but without refinement, or knowledge, or
social graces. His castle was a fort and not a palace; and here he
lived with boisterous or sullen companions, as rough and ignorant
as himself. His wife and daughters were more interesting, but
without those attainments which grace and adorn society. They
made tapestries and embroideries, and rode horseback, and danced
well, and were virtuous; but were primitive, uneducated, and
supercilious. Their beauty was of the ruddy sort,--physical, but
genial. They were very fond of ornaments and gay dresses; and so
were their lords on festive occasions, for semi-barbarism delights
in what is showy and glittering,--purple, and feathers, and

Feudalism was intensely aristocratic. A line was drawn between the
noble and ignoble classes almost as broad as that which separates
liberty from slavery. It was next to impossible for a peasant, or
artisan, or even a merchant to pass that line. The exclusiveness
of the noble class was intolerable. It held in scorn any
profession but arms; neither riches nor learning was of any
account. It gloried in the pride of birth, and nourished a haughty
scorn of plebeian prosperity. It was not until cities and arts and
commerce arose that the arrogance of the baron was rebuked, or his
iron power broken. Haughty though ignorant, he had no pity or
compassion for the poor and miserable. His peasantry were doomed
to perpetual insults. Their corn-fields were trodden down by the
baronial hunters; they were compelled even to grind their corn in
the landlord's mill, and bake their bread in his oven. They had no
redress of injuries, and were scorned as well as insulted. What
knight would arm himself for them; what gentle lady wept at their
sorrows? The feeling of personal consequence was entirely confined
to the feudal family. The poorest knight took precedence over the
richest merchant. Pride of birth was carried to romantic
extravagance, so that marriages seldom took place between different
classes. A beautiful peasant girl could never rise above her
drudgeries; and she never dreamed of rising, for the members of the
baronial family were looked up to as superior beings. A caste grew
up as rigid and exclusive as that of India. The noble and ignoble
classes were not connected by any ties; there was nothing in common
between them. Even the glory of successful warfare shed no
radiance on a peasant's hut. He fought for his master, and not for
himself, and scarcely for his country. He belonged to his master
as completely as if he could be bought and sold. Christianity
teaches the idea of a universal brotherhood; Feudalism suppressed
or extinguished it. Peasants had no rights, only duties,--and
duties to hard and unsympathetic masters. Can we wonder that a
relation so unequal should have been detested by the people when
they began to think? Can we wonder it should have created French
Revolutions? When we remember how the people toiled for a mail-
clad warrior, how they fought for his interests, how they died for
his renown, how they were curtailed in their few pleasures, how
they were not permitted even to shoot a pheasant or hare in their
own grounds, we are amazed that such signal injustice should ever
have been endured. It is impossible that this injustice should not
have been felt; and no man ever became reconciled to injustice,
unless reduced to the condition of a brute. Religious tyranny may
be borne, for the priest invokes a supreme authority which all feel
to be universally binding. But all tyranny over the body--the
utter extinction of liberty--is hateful even to the most degraded

Why, then, was such an unjust and unequal relation permitted to
exist so long? What good did it accomplish? What were its
extenuating features? Why was it commended by historians as a good
institution for the times?

It created a hardy agricultural class, inured them to the dangers
and the toils of war, bound them by local attachments, and fostered
a patriotic spirit. It developed the virtues of obedience, and
submission to evils. It created a love of home and household
duties. It was favorable to female virtue. It created the stout
yeomanry who could be relied upon in danger. It made law and order
possible. It defended the people from robbers. It laid a
foundation for warlike prowess. It was favorable to growth of
population, for war did not sweep off the people so much as those
dire plagues and pestilences which were common in the Middle Ages.
It was preferable to the disorders and conflagrations and
depredations of preceding times. The poor man was oppressed, but
he was safe so long as his lord could protect him. It was a hard
discipline, but a discipline which was healthy; it preserved the
seed if it did not bear the fruits of civilization. The peasantry
became honest, earnest, sincere. They were made susceptible of
religious impressions. They became attached to all the
institutions of the Church; the parish church was their retreat,
their consolation, and their joy. The priest held sway over the
soul and the knight over the body, but the flame of piety burned
steadily and warmly.

When the need of such an institution as Feudalism no longer
existed, then it was broken up. Its blessings were not
commensurate with its evils; but the evils were less than those
which previously existed. This is, I grant, but faint praise. But
the progress of society could not be rapid amid such universal
ignorance: it is slow in the best of times. I do not call that
state of society progressive where moral and spiritual truths are
forgotten or disregarded in the triumphs of a brilliant material
life. There was no progress of society from the Antonines to
Theodosius, but a steady decline. But there was a progress,
however slow, from Charlemagne to Philip Augustus. But for
Feudalism and ecclesiastical institutions the European races might
not have emerged from anarchy, or might have been subjected to a
new and withering imperialism. Say what we will of the grinding
despotism of Feudalism,--and we cannot be too severe on any form of
despotism,--yet the rude barbarian became a citizen in process of
time, with education and political rights.

Society made the same sort of advance, in the gloomy epoch we are
reviewing, that the slaves in our Southern States made from the time
they were imported from Africa, with their degrading fetichism and
unexampled ignorance, to the time of their emancipation. How marked
the progress of the Southern slaves during the two hundred years of
their bondage! No degraded race ever made so marked a progress as
they did in the same period, even under all the withering influences
of slavery. Probably their moral and spiritual progress was greater
than it will be in the next two hundred years, exposed to all the
dangers of modern materialism, which saps the life of nations in the
midst of the most brilliant triumphs of art. We are now on the road
to a marvellous intellectual enlightenment, unprecedented and full
of encouragement. But with this we face dangers also, such as
undermined the old Roman world and all the ancient civilizations. If
I could fix my eye on a single State or Nation in the whole history
of our humanity that has escaped these dangers, that has not
retrograded in those virtues on which the strength of man is based,
after a certain point has been reached in civilization, I would not
hazard this remark. Society escaped these evils in that
agricultural period which saw the rise and fall of Feudalism, and
made a slow but notable advance. That is a fact which cannot be
gainsaid, and this is impressive. It shows that society, in a moral
point of view, thrives better under hard restraints than when
exposed to the dangers of an irreligious, material civilization.

Nor is Feudalism to be condemned as being altogether dark and
uninteresting. It had redeeming features in the life of the
baronial family. Under its influence arose the institution of
chivalry; and though the virtues of chivalry may be poetic, and
exaggerated, there can be no doubt that it was a civilizing
institution, and partially redeemed the Middle Ages. It gave rise
to beautiful sentiments; it blazed in new virtues, rarely seen in
the old civilizations. They were peculiar to the age and to
Europe, were fostered by the Church, and took a coloring from
Christianity itself. Chivalry bound together the martial barons of
Europe by the ties of a fraternity of knights. Those armed and
mailed warriors fought on horseback, and chivalry takes its name
from the French cheval, meaning a horse. The knights learned
gradually to treat each other with peculiar courtesy. They became
generous in battle or in misfortune, for they all alike belonged to
the noble class, and felt a common bond in the pride of birth. It
was not the memory of illustrious ancestors which created this
aristocratic distinction, as among Roman patricians, but the fact
that the knights were a superior order. Yet among themselves
distinctions vanished. There was no higher distinction than that
of a gentleman. The poorest knight was welcome at any castle or at
any festivity, at the tournament or in the chase. Generally,
gallantry and unblemished reputation were the conditions of social
rank among the knights themselves. They were expected to excel in
courage, in courtesy, in generosity, in truthfulness, in loyalty.
The great patrimony of the knight was his horse, his armor, and his
valor. He was bound to succor the defenceless. He was required to
abstain from all mean pursuits. If his trade were war, he would
divest war of its cruelties. His word was seldom broken, and his
promises were held sacred. If pride of rank was generated in this
fraternity of gentlemen, so also was scorn of lies and baseness.
If there was no brotherhood of man, there was the brotherhood of
equals. The most beautiful friendships arose from common dangers
and common duties. A stranger knight was treated with the greatest
kindness and hospitality. If chivalry condemned anything, it was
selfishness and treachery and hypocrisy. All the old romances and
chronicles record the frankness and magnanimity of knights. More
was thought of moral than of intellectual excellence. Nobody was
ashamed to be thought religious. The mailed warrior said his
orisons every day and never neglected Mass. Even in war, prisoners
were released on their parole of honor, and their ransom was rarely
exorbitant. The institution tended to soften manners as well as to
develop the virtues of the heart. Under its influence the rude
baron was transformed into a courteous gentleman.

But the distinguishing glory of chivalry was devotion to the female
sex. Respect for woman was born in the German forests before the
Roman empire fell. It was the best trait of the Germanic
barbarians; but under the institution of chivalry this natural
respect was ripened into admiration and gallantry. "Love of God
and the ladies" was enjoined as a single duty. The knight ever
came to the rescue of a woman in danger or distress, provided she
was a lady. Nothing is better attested than the chivalric devotion
to woman in a feudal castle. The name of a mistress of the heart
was never mentioned but in profound respect. Even pages were
required to choose objects of devotion, to whom they were to be
loyal unto death. Woman presided in the feudal castle, where she
exercised a proper, restraint. She bestowed the prize of valor at
tournaments and tilts. To insult a lady was a lasting disgrace,--
or to reveal her secrets. For the first time in history, woman
became the equal partner of her husband. She was his companion
often in the chase, gaily mounted on her steed. She always dined
with him, and was the presiding genius of the castle. She was made
regent of kingdoms, heir of crowns, and joint manager of great
estates. She had the supreme management of her household, and was
consulted in every matter of importance. What an insignificant
position woman filled at Athens compared with that in the feudal
castle! How different the estimate of woman among the Pagan poets
from that held by the Provencal poets! What a contrast to Juvenal
is Sordello! The lady of a baronial hall deemed it an insult to be
addressed in the language of gallantry, except in that vague and
poetic sense in which every knight selected some lady as the object
of his dutiful devotion. She disdained the attentions of the most
potent prince if his addresses were not honorable. Nor would she
bestow her love on one of whom she was not proud. She would not
marry a coward or a braggart, even if he were the owner of ten
thousand acres. The knight was encouraged to pay his address to
any lady if he was personally worthy of her love, for chivalry
created a high estimate of individual merit. The feudal lady
ignored all degrees of wealth within her own rank. She was as
tender and compassionate as she was heroic. She was treated as a
superior, rather than as an equal. There was a poetical admiration
among the whole circle of knights. A knight without an object of
devotion was as "a ship without a rudder, a horse without a bridle,
a sword without a hilt, a sky without a star." Even a Don Quixote
must have his Dulcinea, as well as horse and armor and squire.
Dante impersonates the spirit of the Middle Ages in his adoration
of Beatrice. The ancient poets coupled the praises of women with
the praises of wine. Woman, under the influence of chivalry,
became the star of worship, an object of idolatry. We read of few
divorces in the Middle Ages, or of separations, or desertions, or
even alienations; these things are a modern improvement, borrowed
from the customs of the Romans. The awe and devotion with which
the lover regarded his bride became regard and affection in the
husband. The matron maintained the rank which had been assigned to
her as a maiden. The gallant Warriors blended even the adoration
of our Lord with adoration of our Lady,--the deification of Christ
with the glorification of woman. Chivalry, encouraged by the
Church and always strongly allied with religious sentiments,
accepted for eternal veneration the transcendent loveliness of the
mother of our Lord; so that chivalric veneration for the sex
culminated in the reverence which belongs to the Queen of Heaven,--
virgo fidelis; regina angelorum. Woman assumed among kings and
barons the importance which she was supposed to have in the
celestial hierarchy. And besides the religious influence, the
poetic imagination of the time seized upon this pure and lovely
element, which passed into the songs, the tales, the talk, the
thought, and the aspirations of all the knightly order.

Whence, now, this veneration for woman which arose in the Middle
Ages,--a veneration, which all historians attest, such as never
existed in the ancient civilization?

It was undoubtedly based on the noble qualities and domestic
virtues which feudal life engendered. Women were heroines. Queen
Philippa in the absence of her husband stationed herself in the
Castle of Bamborough and defied the whole power of Douglas. The
first military dispatch ever written in the Middle Ages was
addressed to her; she even took David of Scotland a prisoner, when
he invaded England. These women of chivalry were ready to undergo
any fatigues to promote their husbands' interests. They were equal
to any personal sacrifices. Nothing could daunt their courage.
They could defend themselves in danger, showing an extraordinary
fertility of resources. They earned the devotion they called out.
What more calculated to win the admiration of feudal warriors than
this devotion and bravery on the part of wives and daughters! They
were helpmates in every sense. They superintended the details of
castles. They were always employed, and generally in what were
imperative duties. If they embroidered dresses or worked
tapestries, they also wove the cloth for their husband's coats, and
made his shirts and knit his stockings. If they trained hawks and
falcons, they fed the poultry and cultivated the flowers. They
understood the cares of the kitchen, and managed the servants.

But it was their moral virtues which excited the greatest esteem.
They gloried in their unsullied names their characters were above
suspicion. Any violation of the marriage vow was almost unknown;
an unfaithful wife was infamous. The ordinary life of a castle was
that of isolation, which made women discreet, self-relying; and
free from entangling excitements. They had no great pleasures, and
but little society. They were absorbed with their duties, and
contented with their husbands' love. The feudal castle, however,
was not dull, although it was isolated, and afforded few novelties.
It was full of strangers, and minstrels, and bards, and pedlars,
and priests. Women could gratify their social wants without
seductive excitements. They led a life favorable to friendships,
which cannot thrive amid the distractions of cities. In cities few
have time to cultivate friendships, although they may not be
extinguished. In the baronial castle, however, they were necessary
to existence.

And here, where she was so well known, woman's worth was
recognized. Her caprices and frivolities were balanced by sterling
qualities,--as a nurse in sickness, as a devotee to duties, as a
friend in distress, ever sympathetic and kind. She was not
exacting, and required very little to amuse her. Of course, she
was not intellectual, since she read but few books and received
only the rudiments of education; but she was as learned as her
brothers, and quicker in her wits. She had the vivacity which a
healthy life secures. Nor was she beautiful, according to our
standard. She was a ruddy, cheerful, active, healthy woman,
accustomed to exercise in the open air,--to field-sports and
horseback journeys. Still less was she what we call fashionable,
for the word was not known; nor was she a woman of society, for, as
we have said, there was no society in a feudal castle. What we
call society was born in cities, where women reign by force of mind
and elegant courtesies and grace of manners,--where woman is an
ornament as well as a power, without drudgeries and almost without
cares, as at the courts of the Bourbon princes.

Yet I am not certain but that the foundation of courtly elegance
and dignity was laid in the baronial home, when woman began her
reign as the equal of her wedded lord, when she commanded reverence
for her courtesies and friendships, and when her society was valued
so highly by aristocratic knights. In the castle she became genial
and kind and sympathetic,--although haughty to inferiors and hard
on the peasantry. She was ever religious. Religious duties took
up no small part of her time. Christianity raised her more than
all other influences combined. You never read of an infidel woman
when chivalry flourished, any more than of a "strong-minded" woman.
The feudal woman never left her sphere, even amid the pleasures of
the chase or the tilt. Her gentle and domestic virtues remained
with her to the end, and were the most prized. Woman was
worshipped because she was a woman, not because she resembled a
man. Benevolence and compassion and simplicity were her cardinal
virtues. Though her sports were masculine, her character was
feminine. She yielded to man in matters of reason and intellect,
but he yielded to her in the virtues of the heart and the radiance
of the soul. She associated with man without seductive spectacles
or demoralizing excitements, and retained her influence by securing
his respect. In antiquity, there was no respect for the sex, even
when Aspasia enthralled Pericles by the fascinations of blended
intellect and beauty; but there was respect in the feudal ages,
when women were unlettered and unpolished. And this respect was
alike the basis of friendship and the key to power. It was not
elegance of manners, nor intellectual culture, nor physical beauty
which elevated the women of chivalry, but their courage, their
fidelity, their sympathy, their devotion to duty,--qualities which
no civilization ought to obscure, and for the loss of which no
refinements of life can make up.

Thus Chivalry,--the most interesting institution of the Middle
Ages, rejoicing in deeds of daring, guided by honor and renown,
executing enterprises almost extravagant, battling injustice and
wrong, binding together the souls of a great fraternity, scorning
lies, revering truth, devoted to the Church,--could not help
elevating the sex to which its proudest efforts were pledged, by
cherishing elevated conceptions of love, by offering all the
courtesies of friendship, by coming to the rescue of innocence, by
stimulating admiration of all that is heroic, and by asserting the
honor of the loved ones, even at the risk of life and limb. In the
dark ages of European society woman takes her place, for the first
time in the world, as the equal and friend of man, not by physical
beauty, not by graces of manner, not even by intellectual culture,
but by the solid virtues of the heart, brought to light by danger,
isolation, and practical duties, and by that influence which
radiated from the Cross. Divest chivalry of the religious element,
and you take away its glory and its fascination. The knight would
be only a hard-hearted warrior, oppressing the poor and miserable,
and only interesting from his deeds of valor. But Christianity
softened him and made him human, while it dignified the partner of
his toils, and gave birth to virtues which commanded reverence.
The soul of chivalry, closely examined, in its influence over men
or over women, after all, was that power which is and will be
through all the ages the hope and glory of our world.

Thus with all the miseries, cruelties, injustices, and hardships of
feudal life, there were some bright spots showing that Providence
never deserts the world, and that though progress may be slow in
the infancy of races, yet with the light of Christianity, even if
it be darkened, this progress is certain, and will be more and more
rapid as Christianity achieves its victories.


Hallam's Middle Ages; Sismondi's Histoire des Francais; Guizot's
History of Civilization (translated); Michelet's History of France
(translated); Bell's Historical Studies of Feudalism; Lacroix's
Manners and Customs of the Middle Ages; Mills's History of
Chivalry; Sir Walter Scott's article in Encyclopaedia Britannica;
Perrot's Collection Historique des Ordres de Chivalrie; St.
Palaye's Memoires de l'Ancienne Chivalrie; Buckle's History of
Civilization; Palgrave's English Commonwealth; Martin's History of
France; Freeman's Norman Conquest; M. Fauriel's History of
Provencal Poetry; Froissart's Chronicles; also the general English
histories of the reign of Edward III. Don Quixote should be read
in this connection. And Tennyson in his "Idylls of the King" has
incorporated the spirit of ancient chivalry.


A. D. 1095-1272.

The great external event of the Middle Ages was the Crusades,--
indeed, they were the only common enterprise in which Europe ever
engaged. Such an event ought to be very interesting, since it has
reference to conflicting passions and interests. Unfortunately, in
a literary point of view, there is no central figure in the great
drama which the princes of Europe played for two hundred years, and
hence the Crusades have but little dramatic interest. No one man
represents that mighty movement. It was a great wave of
inundation, flooding Asia with the unemployed forces of Europe,
animated by passions which excite our admiration, our pity, and our
reprobation. They are chiefly interesting for their results, and
results which were unforeseen. A philosopher sees in them the hand
of Providence,--the overruling of mortal wrath to the praise of Him
who governs the universe. I know of no great movement of blind
forces so pregnant with mighty consequences.

The Crusades were a semi-religious and a semi-military movement.
They represent the passions and ideas of Europe in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries,--its chivalry, its hatred of Mohammedanism,
and its desire to possess the spots consecrated by the sufferings
of our Lord. Their long continuance shows the intensity of the
sentiments which animated them. They were aggressive wars, alike
fierce and unfortunate, absorbing to the nations that embarked in
them, but of no interest to us apart from the moral lessons to be
drawn from them. Perhaps one reason why history is so dull to most
people is that the greater part of it is a record of battles and
sieges, of military heroes and conquerors. This is pre-eminently
true of Greece, of Rome, of the Middle Ages, and of our modern
times down to the nineteenth century. But such chronicles of
everlasting battles and sieges do not satisfy this generation.
Hence our more recent historians, wishing to avoid the monotony of
ordinary history, have attempted to explore the common life of the
people, and to bring out their manners and habits: they would
succeed in making history more interesting if the materials, at
present, were not so scanty and unsatisfactory.

The only way to make the history of wars interesting is to go back
to the ideas, passions, and interests which they represent. Then
we penetrate to the heart of history, and feel its life. For all
the great wars of the world, we shall see, are exponents of its
great moving spiritual forces. The wars of Cyrus and Alexander
represent the passion of military glory; those of Marius, Sylla,
Pompey, and Caesar, the desire of political aggrandizement; those
of Constantine and Theodosius, the desire for political unity and
the necessity of self-defence. The sweeping and desolating
inundations of the barbarians, from the third to the sixth century,
represent the poverty of those rude nations, and their desire to
obtain settlements more favorable to getting a living. The
conquests of Mohammed and his successors were made to swell the
number of converts of a new religion. The perpetual strife of the
baronial lords was to increase their domains. The wars of
Charlemagne and Charles V. were to revive the imperialism of the
Caesars,--to create new universal monarchies. The wars which grew
out of the Reformation were to preserve or secure religious
liberty; those which followed were to maintain the balance of
power. Those of Napoleon were at first, at least nominally, to
spread or defend the ideas of the French Revolution, until he
became infatuated with the love of military glory. Our first great
war was to secure national independence, and our second to preserve
national unity. The contest between Prussia and France was to
prevent the ascendency of either of those great States. The wars
of the English in India were to find markets for English goods,
employment for the sons of the higher classes, and a new field for
colonization and political power. So all the great passions and
interests which have moved mankind have found their vent in war,--
rough barbaric spoliations, love of glory and political
aggrandizement, desire to spread religious ideas, love of liberty,
greediness for wealth, unity of nations, jealousy of other powers,
even the desire to secure general peace and tranquillity. Most
wars have had in view the attainment of great ends, and it is in
the ultimate results of them that we see the progress of nations.

Thus wars, contemplated in a philosophical aspect, in spite of
their repulsiveness are invested with dignity, and really indicate
great moral and intellectual movements, as well as the personal
ambition or vanity of conquerors. They are the ultimate solutions
of great questions, not to be solved in any other way,--
unfortunately, I grant,--on account of human wickedness. And I
know of no great wars, much as I loathe and detest them, and
severely and justly as they may he reprobated, which have not been
overruled for the ultimate welfare of society. The wars of
Alexander led to the introduction of Grecian civilization into Asia
and Egypt; those of the Romans, to the pacification of the world
and the reign of law and order; those of barbarians, to the
colonization of the worn-out provinces of the Roman Empire by
hardier and more energetic nations; those of Charlemagne, to the
ultimate suppression of barbaric invasions; those of the Saracens,
to the acknowledgment of One God; those of Charles V., to the
recognized necessity of a balance of power; those which grew out of
the Reformation, to religious liberty. The Huguenots' contest
undermined the ascendency of Roman priests in France; the Seven
Years' War developed the naval power of England, and gave to her a
prominent place among the nations, and exposed the weakness of
Austria, so long the terror of Europe; the wars of Louis XIV. sowed
the seeds of the French Revolution; those of Napoleon vindicated
its great ideas; those of England in India introduced the
civilization of a Christian nation; those of the Americans secured
liberty and the unity of their vast nation. The majesty of the
Governor of the universe is seen in nothing more impressively than
in the direction which the wrath of man is made to take.

Now these remarks apply to the Crusades. They represent prevailing
ideas. Their origin was a universal hatred of Mohammedans. Like
all the institutions of the Middle Ages, they were a great
contradiction,--debasement in glory, and glory in debasement. With
all the fierceness and superstition and intolerance of feudal
barons, we see in the Crusades the exercise of gallantry, personal
heroism, tenderness, Christian courtesy,--the virtues of chivalry,
unselfishness, and magnanimity; but they ended in giving a new
impulse to civilization, which will be more minutely pointed out
before I close my lecture.

Thus the Crusades are really worthy to be chronicled by historians
above anything else which took place in the Middle Ages, since they
gave birth to mighty agencies, which still are vital forces in
society,--even as everything in American history pales before that
awful war which arrayed, in our times, the North against the South
in desperate and deadly contest; the history of which remains to be
written, but cannot be written till the animosities which provoked
it have passed away. What a small matter to future historians is
rapid colonization and development of material resources, in
comparison with the sentiments which provoked that war! What will
future philosophers care how many bushels of wheat are raised in
Minnesota, or car-loads of corn brought from Illinois, or hogs
slaughtered in Chicago, or yards of cloth woven in Lowell, or cases
of goods packed in New York, or bales of carpets manufactured in
Philadelphia, or pounds of cotton exported from New Orleans, or
meetings of railway presidents at Cincinnati to pool the profits of
their monopolies, or women's-rights conventions held in Boston, or
schemes of speculators ventilated in the lobbies of Washington; or
stock-jobbing and gambling operations take place in every large
city of the country,--compared with the mighty marshalling of
forces on the banks of the Potomac, at the call of patriotism, to
preserve the life of the republic? You cannot divest war of
dignity and interest when the grandest results, which affect the
permanent welfare of nations, are made to appear.

The Crusades, as they were historically developed, are mixed up
with the religious ideas of the Middle Ages, with the domination of
popes, with the feudal system, with chivalry, with monastic life,
with the central power of kings, with the birth of mercantile
States, with the fears and interests of England, France, Germany,
and Italy, for two hundred years,--yea, with the architecture,
commerce, geographical science, and all the arts then known. All
these principalities and powers and institutions and enterprises
were affected by them, so that at their termination a new era in
civilization began. Grasp the Crusades, and you comprehend one of
the forces which undermined the institutions of the Middle Ages.

It is not a little remarkable that the earliest cause of the
Crusades, so far as I am able to trace, was the adoption by the
European nations of some of the principles of Eastern theogonies
which pertained to self-expiation. An Asiatic theological idea
prepared the way for the war between Europe and Asia. The European
pietist embraced the religious tenets of the Asiatic monk, which
centred in the propitiation of the Deity by works of penance. One
of the approved and popular forms of penance was a pilgrimage to
sacred places,--seen equally among degenerate Christian sects in
Asia Minor, and among the Mohammedans of Arabia. What place so
sacred as Jerusalem, the scene of the passion and resurrection of
our Lord? Ever since the Empress Helena had built a church at
Jerusalem, it had been thronged with pious pilgrims. A pilgrimage
to old Jerusalem would open the doors of the New Jerusalem, whose
streets were of gold, and whose palaces were of pearls.

At the close of the tenth century there was great suffering in
Europe, bordering on despair. The calamities of ordinary life were
so great that the end of the world seemed to be at hand. Universal
fear of impending divine wrath seized the minds of men. A great
religious awakening took place, especially in England, France, and
Germany. In accordance with the sentiments of the age, there was
every form of penance to avert the anger of God and escape the
flames of hell. The most popular form of penance was the
pilgrimage to Jerusalem, long and painful as it was. Could the
pilgrim but reach that consecrated spot, he was willing to die.
The village pastor delivered the staff into his hands, girded him
with a scarf, and attached to it a leathern scrip. Friends and
neighbors accompanied him a little way on his toilsome journey,
which lay across the Alps, through the plains of Lombardy, over
Illyria and Pannonia, along the banks of the Danube, by Moesia and
Dacia, to Belgrade and Constantinople, and then across the
Bosphorus, through Bithynia, Cilicia, and Syria, until the towers
and walls of Tyre, Ptolemais, and Caesarea proclaimed that he was
at length in the Holy Land. Barons and common people swell the
number of these pilgrims. The haughty knight, who has committed
unpunished murders, and the pensive saint, wrapt in religious
ecstasies, rival each other in humility and zeal. Those who have
no money sell their lands. Those who have no lands to sell throw
themselves on Providence, and beg their way for fifteen hundred
miles among strangers. The roads are filled with these
travellers,--on foot, in rags, fainting from hunger and fatigue.
What sufferings, to purchase the favor of God, or to realize the
attainment of pious curiosity! The heart almost bleeds to think
that our ancestors could ever have been so visionary and misguided;
that such a gloomy view of divine forgiveness should have permeated
the Middle Ages.

But the sorrows of the pious pilgrims did not end when they reached
the Holy Land. Jerusalem was then in the hands of the Turks and
Saracens (or Orientals, a general name given to the Arabian
Mohammedans), who exacted two pieces of gold from every pilgrim as
the price of entering Jerusalem, and moreover reviled and
maltreated him. The Holy Sepulchre could be approached only on the
condition of defiling it.

The reports of these atrocities and cruelties at last reached the
Europeans, filling them with sympathy for the sufferers and
indignation for the persecutors. An intense hatred of Mohammedans
was generated and became universal,--a desire for vengeance,
unparalleled in history. Popes and bishops weep; barons and
princes swear. Every convent and every castle in Europe is
animated with deadly resentment. Rage, indignation, and vengeance
are the passions of the hour,--all concentrated on "the infidels,"
which term was the bitterest reproach that each party could inflict
on the other. An infidel was accursed of God, and was consigned to
human wrath. And the Mohammedans had the same hatred of Christians
that Christians had of Mohammedans. In the eyes of each their
enemies were infidels; and they were enemies because they were
regarded as infidels.

Such a state of feeling in both Europe and Asia could not but
produce an outbreak,--a spark only was needed to kindle a
conflagration. That spark was kindled when Peter of Amiens, a
returned hermit, aroused the martial nations to a bloody war on
these enemies of God and man. He was a mean-looking man, with
neglected beard and disordered dress. He had no genius, nor
learning, nor political position. He was a mere fanatic, fierce,
furious with ungovernable rage. But he impersonated the leading
idea of the age,--hatred of "the infidels," as the Mohammedans were
called. And therefore his voice was heard. The Pope used his
influence. Two centuries later he could not have made himself a
passing wonder. But he is the means of stirring up the indignation
of Europe into a blazing flame. He itinerates France and Italy,
exposing the wrongs of the Christians and the cruelties of the
Saracens,--the obstruction placed in the way of salvation. At
length a council is assembled at Clermont, and the Pope--Urban II.--
presides, and urges on the sacred war. In the year 1095 the Pope,
in his sacred robes, and in the presence of four hundred bishops
and abbots, ascends the pulpit erected in the market-place, and
tells the immense multitude how their faith is trodden in the dust;
how the sacred relics are desecrated; and appeals alike to chivalry
and religion. More than this, he does just what Mohammed did when
he urged his followers to take the sword: he announces, in fiery
language, the fullest indulgence to all who take part in the
expedition,--that all their sins shall be forgiven, and that heaven
shall be opened to them. "It is the voice of God," they cry; "we
will hasten to the deliverance of the sacred city!" Every man
stimulates the passions of his neighbor. All vie in their
contributions. The knights especially are enthusiastic, for they
can continue their accustomed life without penance, and yet obtain
the forgiveness of their sins. Religious fears are turned at first
into the channel of penance; and penance is made easy by the
indulgence of the martial passions. Every recruit wore a red
cross, and was called croise--cross-bearer; whence the name of the
holy war.

Thus the Crusades began, at the close of the eleventh century, when
William Rufus was King of England, when Henry IV. was still Emperor
of Germany, when Anselm was reigning at Canterbury as spiritual
head of the English Church, ten years after the great Hildebrand
had closed his turbulent pontificate.

I need not detail the history of this first Crusade. Of the two
hundred thousand who set out with Peter the Hermit,--this fiery
fanatic, with no practical abilities,--only twenty thousand
succeeded in reaching even Constantinople. The rest miserably
perished by the way,--a most disorderly rabble. And nothing
illustrates the darkness of the age more impressively than that a
mere monk should have been allowed to lead two hundred thousand
armed men on an enterprise of such difficulty. How little the
science of war was comprehended! And even of the five hundred
thousand men under Godfrey, Tancred, Bohemond, and other great
feudal princes,--men of rare personal valor and courage; men who
led the flower of the European chivalry,--only twenty-five thousand
remained after the conquest of Jerusalem. The glorious array of a
hundred and fifty thousand horsemen, in full armor, was a miserable
failure. The lauded warriors of feudal Europe effected almost
nothing. Tasso attempted to immortalize their deeds; but how
insignificant they were, compared with even Homer's heroes! A
modern army of twenty-five thousand men could not only have put the
whole five hundred thousand to rout in an hour, but could have
delivered Palestine in a few mouths. Even one of the standing
armies of the sixteenth century, under such a general as Henry IV.
or the Duke of Guise, could have effected more than all the
crusaders of two hundred years. The crusaders numbered many
heroes, but scarcely a single general. There was no military
discipline among them: they knew nothing of tactics or strategy;
they fought pell-mell in groups, as in the contests of barons among
themselves. Individually they were gallant and brave, and
performed prodigies of valor with their swords and battle-axes; but
there was no direction given to their strength by leaders.

The Second Crusade, preached half a century afterwards by Saint
Bernard, and commanded by an Emperor of Germany and a King of
France, proved equally unfortunate. Not a single trophy consoled
Europe for the additional loss of two hundred thousand men. The
army melted away in foolish sieges, for which the crusaders had no
genius or proper means.

The Third Crusade, and the most famous, which began in the year
1189, of which Philip Augustus of France, Richard Coeur de Lion of
England, and Frederic Barbarossa of Germany were the leaders,--the
three greatest monarchs of their age,--was also signally
unsuccessful. Feudal armies seem to have learned nothing in one
hundred years of foreign warfare; or else they had greater
difficulties to contend with, abler generals to meet, than they
dreamed of, who reaped the real advantages,--like Saladin. Sir
Walter Scott, in his "Ivanhoe," has not probably exaggerated the
military prowess of the heroes of this war, or the valor of
Templars and Hospitallers; yet the finest array of feudal forces in
the Middle Ages, from which so much was expected, wasted its
strength and committed innumerable mistakes. It proved how useless
was a feudal army for a distant and foreign war. Philip may have
been wily, and Richard lion-hearted, but neither had the
generalship of Saladin. Though they triumphed at Tiberias, at
Jaffa, at Caesarea; though prodigies of valor were performed;
though Ptolemais (or Acre), the strongest city of the East, was
taken,--yet no great military results followed. More blood was
shed at this famous siege, which lasted three years, than ought to
have sufficed for the subjugation of Asia. There were no decisive
battles, and yet one hundred battles took place under its walls.
Slaughter effected nothing. Jerusalem, which had been retaken by
the Saracens, still remained in their hands, and never afterwards
was conquered by the Europeans. The leaders returned dejected to
their kingdoms, and the bones of their followers whitened the soil
of Palestine.

The Fourth Crusade, incited by Pope Innocent III., three years
after, terminated with divisions among the States of Christendom,
without weakening the power of the Saracens (1202-4).

Among other expeditions was one called the "Children's Crusade"
(1212), a wretched, fanatical misery, resulting in the enslavement
of many and the death of thousands by shipwreck and exposure.

The Fifth Crusade, commanded by the Emperor Frederic II. of Germany
(1228-9), was diverted altogether from the main object, and spent
its force on Constantinople. That city was taken, but the Holy
Land was not delivered. The Byzantine Empire was then in the last
stages of decrepitude, or its capital would not have fallen, as it
did, from a naval attack made by the Venetians, and in revenge for
the treacheries and injuries of the Greek emperors to former
crusaders. This, instead of weakening the Mussulmans, broke down
the chief obstacle to their entrance into Europe shortly afterward.

The Sixth Crusade (1248-50) only secured the capture of Damietta,
on the banks of the Nile.

The Seventh and last of these miserable wars was the most
unfortunate of all, A. D. 1270. The saintly monarch of France
perished, with most of his forces, on the coast of Africa, and the
ruins of Carthage were the only conquest which was made. Europe
now fairly sickened over the losses and misfortunes and defeats of
nearly two centuries, during which five millions are supposed to
have lost their lives. Famine and pestilence destroyed more than
the sword. Before disheartened Europe could again rally, the last
strongholds of the Christians were wrested away by the Mohammedans;
and their gallant but unsuccessful defenders were treated with
every inhumanity, and barbarously murdered in spite of truces and

Such were the famous Crusades, only the main facts of which I
allude to; for to describe them all, or even the more notable
incidents, would fill volumes,--all interesting to be read in
detail by those who have leisure; all marked by prodigious personal
valor; all disgraceful for the want of unity of action and the
absence of real generalship. They indicate the enormous waste of
forces which characterizes nations in their progress. This waste
of energies is one of the great facts of all history, surpassed
only by the apparent waste of the forces of nature or the fruits of
the earth, in the transition period between the time when men
roamed in forests and the time when they cultivated the land. See
what a vast destruction there has been of animals by each other;
what a waste of plants and vegetables, when they could not be
utilized. Why should man escape the universal waste, when reason
is ignored or misdirected? Of what use or value could Palestine
have been to Europeans in the Middle Ages? Of what use can any
country be to conquerors, when it cannot be civilized or made to
contribute to their wants? Europe then had no need of Asia, and
that perhaps is the reason why Europe then could not conquer Asia.
Providence interfered, and rebuked the mad passions which animated
the invaders, and swept them all away. Were Palestine really
needed by Europe, it could be wrested from the Turks with
less effort than was made by the feeblest of the crusaders.
Constantinople--the most magnificent site for a central power--was
indeed wrested from the Greek emperors, and kept one hundred years;
but the Europeans did not know what to do with the splendid prize,
and it was given to the Turks, who made it the capital of a vital
empire. All the good which resulted to Europe from the temporary
possession of Constantinople was the introduction into Europe of
Grecian literature and art. Its political and mercantile
importance was not appreciated, nor then even scarcely needed. It
will one day become again the spoil of that nation which can most
be benefited by it. Such is the course events are made to take.

In this brief notice of the most unsuccessful wars in which Europe
ever engaged we cannot help noticing their great mistakes. We see
rashness, self-confidence, depreciation of enemies, want of
foresight, ignorance of the difficulties to be surmounted. The
crusaders were diverted from their main object, and wasted their
forces in attacking unimportant cities, or fortresses out of their
way. They invaded the islands of the Mediterranean, Egypt, Africa,
and Greek possessions. They quarrelled with their friends, and
they quarrelled with each other. The chieftains sought their
individual advantage rather than the general good. Nor did they
provide themselves with the necessities for such distant,
operations. They had no commissariat,--without which even a modern
army fails. They were captivated by trifles and frivolities,
rather than directing their strength to the end in view. They
allowed themselves to be seduced by both Greek and infidel arts and
vices. They were betrayed into the most foolish courses. They had
no proper knowledge of the forces with which they were to contend.
They wantonly massacred their foes when they fell into their hands,
increased the animosity of the Mohammedans, and united them in a
concert which they should themselves have sought. They marched by
land when they should have sailed by sea, and they sailed by sea
when they should have marched by land. They intrusted the command
to monks and inexperienced leaders. They obeyed the mandates of
apostolic vicars when they should have considered military
necessities. In fact there was no unity of action, and scarcely
unity of end. What would the great masters of Grecian and Roman
warfare have thought of these blunders and stupidities, to say
nothing of modern generals! The conduct of those wars excites our
contempt, in spite of the heroism of individual knights. We
despise the incapacity of leaders as much as we abhor the
fanaticism which animated their labors. The Crusades have no
bright side, apart from the piety and valor of some who embarked in
them. Hence they are less and less interesting to modern readers.
The romance about them has ceased to affect us. We only see
mistakes and follies; and who cares to dwell on the infirmities of
human nature? It is only what is great in man that moves and
exalts us. There is nothing we dwell upon with pleasure in these
aggressive, useless, unjustifiable wars, except the chivalry
associated with them. The reason of modern times as sternly
rebukes them as the heart of the Middle Ages sickened at them.

In one aspect they are absolutely repulsive; and this in view of
their vices. The crusaders were cruel. They wantonly massacred
their enemies, even when defenceless. Sixty thousand people were
butchered on the fall of Jerusalem; ten thousand were slaughtered
in the Mosque of Omar. The Christians themselves felt safe when
they sought the retreat of churches, in dire calamities at home;
but they had no respect for the religious retreats of infidels.
When any city fell into their hands there was wholesale
assassination. And they became licentious, as well as rapacious
and cruel. They learned all the vices of the East. Even under the
walls of Acre they sang to the sounds of Arabian instruments, and
danced amid indecent songs. When they took Constantinople they had
no respect for either churches or tombs, and desecrated even the
pulpit of the Patriarch. Their original religious zeal was finally
lost sight of entirely in their military license. They became more
hateful to the orthodox Greeks than to the infidel Saracens. And
when the crusaders returned to their homes,--what few of them lived
to return,--they morally poisoned the communities and villages in
which they dwelt. They became vagabonds and vagrants; they
introduced demoralizing amusements, and jugglers and strolling
players appeared for the first time in Europe. All war is
necessarily demoralizing, even war in defence of glorious
principles, and especially in these times; but much more so is
unjust, fanatical, and unnecessary war.

But I turn from the record of the mistakes, follies, vices,
miseries, and crimes which marked the wickedest and most uncalled-
for wars of European history, to consider their ultimate results:
not logical results, for these were melancholy,--the depopulation
of Europe; the decimation of the nobility; the poverty which
enormous drains of money from their natural channels produced; the
spread of vice; the decline of even feudal virtues. These evils
and others followed naturally and inevitably from those distant
wars. The immediate effects of all war are evil and melancholy.
Murder, pillage, profanity, drunkenness, extravagance, public
distress, bitter sorrows, wasted energies, destruction of property,
national debts, exaltation of military maxims, general looseness of
life, distaste for regular pursuits,--these are the first-fruits of
war, offensive and defensive, and as inevitable and uniform as the
laws of gravity. No wars were ever more disastrous than the
Crusades in their immediate effects, in any way they may be viewed.
It is all one dark view of disappointment, sorrow, wretchedness,
and sin. There were no bright spots; no gains, only calamities.
Nothing consoled Europe for the loss of five millions of her most
able-bodied men,--no increase of territory, no establishment of
rights, no glory, even; nothing but disgrace and ruin, as in that
maddest of all modern expeditions, the invasion of Russia by

But after the lapse of nearly seven hundred years we can see
important results on the civilization of Europe, indirectly
effected,--not intended, nor designed, nor dreamed of; which
results we consider beneficent, and so beneficent that the world is
probably better for those horrid wars. It was fortunate to
humanity at large that they occurred, although so unfortunate to
Europe at the time. In the end, Europe was a gainer by them.
Wickedness was not the seed of virtue, but wickedness was
overruled. Woe to them by whom offences come, but it must need be
that offences come. Men in their depravity will commit crimes, and
those crimes are punished; but even these are made to praise a
Power superior to that of devils, as benevolent as it is
omnipotent,--in which fact I see the utter hopelessness of earth
without a superintending and controlling Deity.

One important result of the Crusades was the barrier they erected
to the conquests of the Mohammedans in Europe. It is true that the
wave of Saracenic invasion had been arrested by Charles Martel four
or five hundred years before; but in the mean time a new Mohammedan
power sprang up, of greater vigor, of equal ferocity, and of a more
stubborn fanaticism. This was that of the Turks, who had their eye
on Constantinople and all Eastern Europe. And Europe might have
submitted to their domination, had they instead of the Latins taken
Constantinople. The conquest of that city was averted several
hundred years; and when at last it fell into Turkish hands.
Christendom was strong enough to resist the Turkish armies. We
must remember that the Turks were a great power, even in the times
of Peter the Great, and would have taken Vienna but for John
Sobieski. But when Urban II., at the Council of Clermont, urged
the nations of Europe to repel the infidels on the confines of
Asia, rather than wait for them in the heart of Europe, the Asiatic
provinces of the Greek Empire were overrun both by Turks and
Saracens. They held Syria, Armenia, Asia Minor, Africa. Spain,
and the Balearic Islands. Had not Godfrey come to the assistance
of a division of the Christian army, when it was surrounded by two
hundred thousand Turks at the battle of Dorylaeum, the Christians
would have been utterly overwhelmed, and the Turks would have
pressed to the Hellespont. But they were beaten back into Syria,
and, for a time, as far as the line of the Euphrates. But for that
timely repulse, the battles of Belgrade and Lepanto might not have
been fought in subsequent ages. It would have been an overwhelming
calamity had the Turks invaded Europe in the twelfth century. The
loss of five millions on the plains of Asia would have been nothing
in comparison to an invasion of Europe by the Mohammedans,--whether
Saracens or Turks. It may be that the chivalry of Europe would
have successfully repelled an invasion, as the Saracens repelled
the Christians, on their soil. It may be that Asia could not have
conquered Europe any easier than Europe could conquer Asia.

I do not know how far statesmanlike views entered into the minds of
the leaders of the Crusades. I believe the sentiment which
animated Peter and Urban and Bernard was pure hatred of the
Mohammedans (because they robbed, insulted, and oppressed the
pilgrims), and not any controlling fears of their invasion of
Europe. If such a fear had influenced them, they would not have
permitted a mere rabble to invade Asia; there would have been a
sense of danger stronger than that of hatred,--which does not seem
to have existed in the self-confidence of the crusaders. They
thought it an easy thing to capture Jerusalem: it was a sort of
holiday march of the chivalry of Europe, under Richard and Philip
Augustus. Perhaps, however, the princes of Europe were governed by
political rather than religious reasons. Some few long-headed
statesmen, if such there were among the best informed of bishops
and abbots, may have felt the necessity of the conflict in a
political sense; but I do not believe this was a general
conviction. There was, doubtless, a political necessity--although
men were too fanatical to see more than one side--to crush the
Saracens because they were infidels, and not because they were
warriors. But whether they saw it or not, or armed themselves to
resist a danger as well as to exterminate heresy, the ultimate
effects were all the same. The crusaders failed in their direct
end. They did not recover Palestine; but they so weakened or
diverted the Mohammedan armies that there was not strength enough
left in them to conquer Europe, or even to invade her, until she
was better prepared to resist it,--as she did at the battle of
Lepanto (A. D. 1571), one of the decisive battles of the world.

I have said that the Crusades were a disastrous failure. I mean in
their immediate ends, not in ultimate results. If it is probable
that they arrested the conquests of the Turks in Europe, then this
blind and fanatical movement effected the greatest blessing to
Christendom. It almost seems that the Christians were hurled into
the Crusades by an irresistible fate, to secure a great ultimate
good; or, to use Christian language, were sent as blind instruments
by the Almighty to avert a danger they could not see. And if this
be true, the inference is logical and irresistible that God uses
even the wicked passions of men to effect his purposes,--as when
the envy of Haman led to the elevation of Mordecai, and to the
deliverance of the Jews from one of their greatest dangers.

Another and still more noticeable result of the Crusades was the
weakening of the power of those very barons who embarked in the
wars. Their fanaticism recoiled upon themselves, and undermined
their own system. Nothing could have happened more effectually to
loosen the rigors of the feudal system. It was the baron and the
knight that marched to Palestine who suffered most in the
curtailment of the privileges which they had abused,--even as it
was the Southern planter of Carolina who lost the most heavily in
the war which he provoked to defend his slave property. In both
cases the fetters of the serfs and slaves were broken by their own
masters,--not intentionally, of course, but really and effectually.
How blind men are in their injustices! They are made to hang on
the gallows which they have erected for others. To gratify his
passion of punishing the infidels, whom he so intensely hated, the
baron or prince was obliged to grant great concessions to the towns
and villages which he ruled with an iron hand, in order to raise
money for his equipment and his journey. He was not paid by
Government as are modern soldiers and officers. He had to pay his
own expenses, and they were heavier than he had expected or
provided for. Sometimes he was taken captive, and had his ransom
to raise,--to pay for in hard cash, and not in land: as in the case
of Richard of England, when, on his return from Palestine, he was
imprisoned in Austria,--and it took to ransom him, as some have
estimated, one third of all the gold and silver of the realm,
chiefly furnished by the clergy. But where was the imprisoned
baron to get the money for his ransom? Not from the Jews, for
their compound interest of fifty per cent every six months would
have ruined him in less than two years. But the village guilds had
money laid by. Merchants and mechanics in the towns, whom he
despised, had money. Monasteries had money. He therefore gave new
privileges to all; he gave charters of freedom to towns; he made
concessions to the peasantry.

As the result of this, when the baron came back from the wars, he
found himself much poorer than when he went away,--he found his
lands encumbered, his castle dilapidated, and his cattle sold. In
short, he was, as we say of a proud merchant now and then,
"embarrassed in his circumstances." He was obliged to economize.
But the feudal family would not hear of retrenchment, and the baron
himself had become more extravagant in his habits. As travel and
commerce had increased he had new wants, which he could not gratify
without parting with either lands or prerogatives. As the result
of all this he became not quite so overbearing, though perhaps more
sullen; for he saw men rising about him who were as rich as he,--
men whom his ancestors had despised. The artisans, who belonged to
the leading guilds, which had become enriched by the necessities of
barons, or by that strange activity of trade and manufactures which
war seems to stimulate as well as to destroy,--these rude and
ignorant people were not so servile as formerly, but began to feel
a sort of importance, especially in towns and cities, which
multiplied wonderfully during the Crusades. In other words, they
were no longer brutes, to be trodden down without murmur or
resistance. They began to form what we call a "middle class."
Feudalism, in its proud ages, did not recognize a middle class.
The impoverishment of nobles by the Crusades laid the foundation of
this middle class, at least in large towns.

The growth of cities and the decay of feudalism went on
simultaneously; and both were equally the result of the Crusades.
If the noble became impoverished, the merchant became enriched; and
the merchant lived, not in the country, but in some mercantile
mart. The crusaders had need of ships. These were furnished by
those cities which had obtained from feudal sovereigns charters of
freedom. Florence, Pisa, Venice, Genoa, Marseilles, became centres
of wealth and political importance. The growth of cities and the
extension of commerce went hand in hand. Whatever the Crusades did
for cities they did equally for commerce; and with the needs of
commerce came improvement in naval architecture. As commerce grew,
the ships increased in size and convenience; and the products which
the ships brought from Asia to Europe were not only introduced, but
they were cultivated. New fruits and vegetables were raised by
European husbandmen. Plum-trees were brought from Damascus and
sugar-cane from Tripoli. Silk fabrics, formerly confined to
Constantinople and the East, were woven in Italian and French
villages. The Venetians obtained from Tyrians the art of making
glass. The Greek fire suggested gunpowder. Architecture received
an immense impulse: the churches became less sombre and heavy, and
more graceful and beautiful. Even the idea of the arch, some
think, came from the East. The domes and minarets of Venice were
borrowed from Constantinople. The ornaments of Byzantine churches
and palaces were brought to Europe. The horses of Lysippus,
carried from Greece to Rome, and from Rome to Constantinople, at
last surmounted the palace of the Doges. Houses became more
comfortable, churches more beautiful, and palaces more splendid.
Even manners improved, and intercourse became more polished.
Chivalry borrowed many of its courtesies from the East. There were
new refinements in the arts of cookery as well as of society.
Literature itself received a new impulse, as well as science. It
was from Constantinople that Europe received the philosophy of
Plato and Aristotle, in the language in which it was written,
instead of translations through the Arabic. Greek scholars came to
Italy to introduce their unrivalled literature; and after Grecian
literature came Grecian art. The study of Greek philosophy gave a
new stimulus to human inquiry, and students flocked to the
universities. They went to Bologna to study Roman law, as well as
to Paris to study the Scholastic philosophy.

Thus the germs of a new civilization were scattered over Europe.
It so happened that at the close of the Crusades civilization had
increased in every country of Europe, in spite of the losses they
had sustained. Delusions were dispelled, and greater liberality of
mind was manifest. The world opened up towards the East, and was
larger than was before supposed. "Europe and Asia had been brought
together and recognized each other." Inventions and discoveries
succeeded the new scope for energies which the Crusades opened.
The ships which had carried the crusaders to Asia were now used to
explore new coasts and harbors. Navigators learned to be bolder.
A navigator of Genoa--a city made by the commerce which the
Crusades necessitated--crosses the Atlantic Ocean. As the magnetic
needle, which a Venetian traveller brought from Asia, gave a new
direction to commerce, so the new stimulus to learning which the
Grecian philosophy effected led to the necessity of an easier form
of writing; and printing appeared. With the shock which feudalism
received from the Crusades, central power was once more wielded by
kings, and standing armies supplanted the feudal. The crusaders
must have learned something from their mistakes; and military
science was revived. There is scarcely an element of civilization
which we value, that was not, directly or indirectly, developed by
the Crusades, yet which was not sought for, or anticipated even,--
the centralization of thrones, the weakening of the power of feudal
barons, the rise of free cities, the growth of commerce, the
impulse given to art, improvements in agriculture, the rise of a
middle class, the wonderful spread of literature, greater
refinements in manners and dress, increased toleration of opinions,
a more cheerful view of life, the simultaneous development of
energies in every field of human labor, new hopes and aspirations
among the people, new glories around courts, new attractions in the
churches, new comforts in the villages, new luxuries in the cities.
Even spiritual power became less grim and sepulchral, since there
was less fear to work upon.

I do not say that the Crusades alone produced the marvellous change
in the condition of society which took place in the thirteenth
century, but they gave an impulse to this change. The strong
sapling which the barbarians brought from their German forests and
planted in the heart of Europe,--and which had silently grown in
the darkest ages of barbarism, guarded by the hand of Providence,--
became a sturdy tree in the feudal ages, and bore fruit when the
barons had wasted their strength in Asia. The Crusades improved
this fruit, and found new uses for it, and scattered it far and
wide, and made it for the healing of the nations. Enterprise of
all sorts succeeded the apathy of convents and castles. The
village of mud huts became a town, in which manufactures began. As
new wants became apparent, new means of supplying them appeared.
The Crusades stimulated these wants, and commerce and manufactures
supplied them. The modern merchant was born in Lombard cities,
which supplied the necessities of the crusaders. Feudalism ignored
trade, but the baron found his rival in the merchant-prince.
Feudalism disdained art, but increased wealth turned peasants into
carpenters and masons; carpenters and masons combined and defied
their old masters, and these masters left their estates for the
higher civilization of cities, and built palaces instead of
castles. Palaces had to be adorned, as well as churches; and the
painters and handicraftsmen found employment. So one force
stimulated another force, neither of which would have appeared if
feudal life had remained in statu quo.

The only question to settle is, how far the marked progress of the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries may be traced to the natural
development of the Germanic races under the influence of religion,
or how far this development was hastened by those vast martial
expeditions, indirectly indeed, but really. Historians generally
give most weight to the latter. If so, then it is clear that the
most disastrous wars recorded in history were made the means--
blindly, to all appearance, without concert or calculation--of
ultimately elevating the European races, and of giving a check to
the conquering fanaticism of the enemies with whom they contended
with such bitter tears and sullen disappointments.


Michaud's Histoire des Croisades; Mailly's L'Esprit des Croisades;
Choiseul; Daillecourt's De l'influence des Croisades; Sur l'Etat
des Peuples en Europe; Heeren's Ueber den Einfluss der Kreuzzuge;
Sporschill's Geschichte der Kreuzzuge; Hallam's Middle Ages;
Mill's History of the Crusades; James's History of the Crusades;
Michelet's History of France (translated); Gibbon's Decline and
Fall; Milman's Latin Christianity; Proctor's History of the
Crusades; Mosheim.


A. D. 1324-1404.


A. D. 1100-1400.

Church Architecture is the only addition which the Middle Ages made
to Art; but even this fact is remarkable when we consider the
barbarism and ignorance of the Teutonic nations in those dark and
gloomy times. It is difficult to conceive how it could have
arisen, except from the stimulus of religious ideas and
sentiments,--like the vast temples of the Egyptians. The artists
who built the hoary and attractive cathedrals and abbey churches
which we so much admire are unknown men to us, and yet they were
great benefactors. It is probable that they were practical and
working architects, like those who built the temples of Greece, who
quietly sought to accomplish their ends,--not to make pictures, but
to make buildings,--as economically as they could consistently with
the end proposed, which end they always had in view.

In this Lecture I shall not go back to classic antiquity, nor shall
I undertake to enter upon any disquisition on Art itself, but
simply present the historical developments of the Church
architecture of the Middle Ages. It is a technical and complicated
subject, but I shall try to make myself understood. It suggests,
however, great ideas and national developments, and ought to be

The Romans added nothing to the architecture of the Greeks except
the arch, and the use of brick and small stones for the materials
of their stupendous structures. Now Christianity and the Middle
Ages seized the arch and the materials of the Roman architects, and
gradually formed from these a new style of architecture. In Roman
architecture there was no symbolism, no poetry, nothing to
represent consecrated sentiments. It was mundane in its ideas and
ends; everything was for utility. The grandest efforts of the
Romans were feats of engineering skill, rather than creations
inspired by the love of the beautiful. What was beautiful in their
edifices was borrowed from the Greeks; what was original was
intended to accommodate great multitudes, whether they sought the
sports of the amphitheatre or the luxury of the bath. Their
temples were small, comparatively, and were Grecian.

The first stage in the development of Church architecture was
reached amid the declining glories of Roman civilization, before
the fall of the Empire; but the first model of a Christian church
was not built until after the imperial persecutions. The early
Christians worshipped God in upper chambers, in catacombs, in
retired places, where they would not be molested, where they could
hide, in safety. Their assemblies were small, and their meetings
unimportant. They did nothing to attract attention. The
worshippers were mostly simple-minded, unlettered, plebeian people,
with now and then a converted philosopher, or centurion, or lady of
rank. They met for prayer, exhortation, the reading of the
Scriptures, the singing of sacred melodies, and mutual support in
trying times. They did not want grand edifices. The plainer the
place in which they assembled the better suited it was to their
circumstances and necessities. They scarcely needed a rostrum, for
the age of sermons had not begun; still less the age of litanies
and music and pomps. For such people, in that palmy age of faith
and courage, when the seeds of a new religion were planted in
danger and watered with tears; when their minds were directed
almost entirely to the soul's welfare and future glory; when they
loved one another with true Christian disinterestedness; when
they stimulated each other's enthusiasm by devotion to a common
cause (one Lord, one faith, one baptism); when they were too
insignificant to take any social rank, too poor to be of any
political account, too ignorant to attract the attention of
philosophers,--ANY place where they would be unmolested and retired
was enough. In process of time, when their numbers had increased,
and when and wherever they were tolerated; when money began to flow
into the treasuries; and especially when some gifted leader
(educated perhaps in famous schools, yet who was fervent and
eloquent) desired a wider field for usefulness,--then church
edifices became necessary.

This original church was modelled after the ancient Basilica, or
hall of justice or of commerce: at one end was an elevated
tribunal, and back of this what was called the "apsis,"--a rounded
space with arched roof. The whole was railed off or separated from
the auditory, and was reserved for the clergy, who in the fourth
century had become a class. The apsis had no window, was vaulted,
and its walls were covered with figures of Christ and of the
saints, or of eminent Christians who in later times were canonized
by the popes. Between the apsis and the auditory, called the
"nave," was the altar; for by this time the Church was borrowing
names and emblems from the Jews and the old religions. From the
apsis to the extremity of the other end of the building were two
rows of pillars supporting an upper wall, broken by circular arches
and windows, called now the "clear story." In the low walls of the
side aisles were also windows. Both the nave and the aisles
supported a framework of roof, lined with a ceiling adorned with

For some time we see no marked departure, at this stage, from the
ancient basilica. The church is simple, not much adorned, and
adapted to preaching. The age in which it was built was the age of
pulpit orators, when bishops preached,--like Basil, Chrysostom,
Ambrose, Augustine, and Leo,--when preaching was an important part
of the service, by the foolishness of which the world was to be
converted. Probably there were but few what we should call fine
churches, but there was one at Rome which was justly celebrated,
built by Theodosius, and called St. Paul's. It is now outside the
walls of the modern city. The nave is divided into five aisles,
and the main one, opening into the apsis, is spanned by a lofty
arch supported by two colossal columns. The apsis is eighty feet
in breadth. All parts of the church--one of the largest of Rome--
are decorated with mosaics. It has two small transepts at the
extremity of the nave, on each side of the apsis. The four rows of
magnificent columns, supporting semicircular arches, are
Corinthian. In this church the Greek and Roman architecture
predominates. The essential form of the church is like a Pagan
basilica. We see convenience, but neither splendor nor poetry.
Moreover it is cheerful. It has an altar and an apsis, but it is
adapted to preaching rather than to singing. The public dangers
produce oratory, not chants. The voice of the preacher penetrates
the minds of the people, as did that of Savonarola at Florence
announcing the invasion of Italy by the French,--days of fear and
anxiety, reminding us also of Chrysostom at Antioch, when in his
spacious basilican church he roused the people to penitence, to
avert the ire of Theodosius.

The first transition from the basilica to the Gothic church is
called the Romanesque, and was made after the fall of the Empire,
when the barbarians had erected new kingdoms on its ruins; when
literature and art were indeed crushed, yet when universal
desolation was succeeded by new forms of government and new habits
of life; when the clergy had become an enormous power, greatly
enriched by the contributions of Christian princes. This
transition retained the traditions of the fallen Empire, and yet
was adapted to a semi-civilized people, nominally converted to
Christianity. It arose after the fall of the Merovingians, when
Charlemagne was seeking to restore the glory of the Western Empire.
Paganism had been suppressed by law; even heresies were
extinguished in the West. Kings and people were alike orthodox,
and bowed to the domination of the Church. Abbeys and convents
were founded everywhere and richly endowed. The different States
and kingdoms were poor, but the wealth that existed was deposited
in sacred retreats. The powers of the State were the nobles,
warlike and ignorant, rapidly becoming feudal barons, acknowledging
only a nominal fealty to the Crown. Kings had no glory, defied by
their own subjects and unsupported by standing armies. But these
haughty barons were met face to face by equally haughty bishops,
armed with spiritual weapons. These bishops were surrounded and
supported by priests, secular and regular,--by those who ruled the
people in small parishes, and those who ruled the upper classes in
their monastic cells. Learning had fled to monasteries, and the
Church, with its growing revenues and structures, became a new

The architects of the Romanesque, who were probably churchmen,
retained the nave of the basilica, but made it narrower, and used
but two rows of columns. They introduced the transepts, or cross-
enclosures, making them to project north and south of the nave, in
the space separated from the apsis; and the apsis was expanded into
the choir, filled with priests and choristers. The building now
assumes the form of a cross. The choir is elevated several steps
above the nave, and beneath it is the crypt, where the bishops and
abbots and saints are buried. At the intersection of choir, nave,
and transept,--an open, square place,--rises a square tower, at
each corner of which is a massive pier supporting four arches. The
windows are narrow, with semicircular arches. At the western
entrance, at the end opposite the apse, is a small porch, where the
consecrated water is placed, in an urn or basin, and this is
inclosed between two towers. The old Roman atrium, or fore-court,
entirely disappears. In its place is a grander facade; and the
pillars--which are all internal, like those of an Egyptian temple,
not external, as in the Greek temple--have no longer Grecian
capitals, but new combinations of every variety, and the pillars
are even more heavy and massive than the Doric. The flat wooden
ceiling of the nave disappears, on account of frequent fires, and
the eye rests on arches supporting a stone roof. All the arches
are semicircular, like those of the Coliseum and of the Roman
aqueducts and baths. They are built of small stones united by
cement. The building is low and heavy, and its external beauty is
in the west front or facade, with its square towers and circular
window and ornamented portal. The internal beauty is from the
pillars supporting the roof, and the tower which intersects the
nave, choir, and transepts. Sometimes, instead of a tower there is
a dome, reminding us of Byzantine workmanship.

But this Romanesque church is also connected with monastic
institutions, whose extensive buildings join the church at the
north or south. The church is wedded to monasticism; one supports
the other, and both make a unity exceedingly efficient in the
Middle Ages. The communication between the church and the convent
is effected by a cloister, a vaulted gallery surrounding a square,
open space, where the brothers walk and meditate, but do not talk,
except in undertone or whisper; for all the precincts are sacred,
made for contemplation and silence,--a retreat from the noisy,
barbaric world. Connected with the cloisters is a court opening
into the refectory, where all the brothers dine. "Meals were in
common, work was in common, prayer was in common"--a real community

The whole range of these sacred buildings is enclosed with walls,
like a fortress. You see in this architecture the gloom and
desolation which overspread the world. Churches are heavy and
sombre; they are places for dreary meditation on the end of the
world, on the failure of civilization, on the degradation of
humanity,--and yet the only places where man may be brought in
contact with the Deity who presides over a fallen world, exalting
human hopes to heaven, where miseries end, and worship begins.

This style of architecture prevailed till the twelfth century, and
was seen in its greatest perfection in Germany under the Saxon
emperors, especially in the Rhenish provinces, as in the cathedrals
of Spires, Mentz, Worms, and Nuremberg. Its general effect was
solemn, serious,--a separation from the outward world,--a world
disgraced by feudal wars and peasants' wrongs and general
ignorance, which made men sad, morose, inhuman. It flourished in
ages when the poor had no redress, and were trodden under the feet
of hard feudal masters; when there was no law but of brute force;
when luxuries were few and comforts rare,--an age of hardship,
privation, poverty, suffering; an age of isolations and sorrows,
when men were forced to look beyond the grave for peace and hope,
when immortality through a Redeemer was the highest inspiration of

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