Page 1166


vicissitudes for more than a quarter of a century,

and to end with the triumph of the Franks.

In beginning the war Charlemagne adopted

the policy of military occupation. Wherever

he made a conquest he built a fortress and

left a garrison. By the side of every castle

rose a church, and at the right hand of every

Frankish chieftain stood a priest. But

victory under such circumstances and over

such a foe could not insure permanency.

As soon as the march was resumed into another district the pagans rose as if from

the earth behind the conqueror. They

stormed his castles, burned the churches,

slaughtered the garrisons, and sacrificed the

priests and missionaries to the gods of the


In the midst of these bloody scenes the

priest was more audacious than the soldier.

The missionaries in the very face of death

made their way into the Saxon woods and

preached the gospel to the barbarians. It

was, however, a gospel of the sword rather

than of peace. A certain priest, named

Saint Liebwin, made his way to the banks of

the Weser, and warned the general assembly

of the Saxons to make peace with the powerful prince, who, as the captain of heaven's

army, was about to fall upon them. "The

idols ye worship," said the priest, "live not,

neither do they perceive: they are the work

of men's hands; they can do naught either

for themselves or for others. Wherefore the

one God, good and just, having compassion

on your errors, hath sent me unto you. If

ye put not away your iniquity I foretell unto

you a trouble that ye do not expect, and that

the King of Heaven bath ordained aforetime;

there shall come a prince, strong and wise

and indefatigable, not from afar, but from

nigh at hand, to fall upon you like a torrent,

in order to soften your hard hearts and bow

down your proud heads. At one rush he

shall invade the country; he shall lay at waste

with fire and sword and carry away your wives

and children into captivity."

So great a rage followed this denunciatory

prophecy that many rushed into the forest

and began to cut sticks on which to impale

the priest alive; but a certain prince, Buto,

appealed to the assembly of chiefs to respect

the sacred rights of embassy. So Liebwin escaped with his life.

The Saxon nation at this time consisted of

three or four different populations. These

were the Eastphalians, the Westphalians,

the Angrians, and the North Albingians-though the latter were sometimes classified

as a distinct people. Each of these principal

nations was subdivided into many tribes,

each with its own chieftain and local institutions. Charlemagne was thoroughly familiar with this German constitution of

society, and well understood how to avail

himself of the feuds and jealousies of the

Saxon people. He adopted the plan of making war upon each tribe separately, and of

preventing, as far as possible, any cohesion

of the nation as a whole. If a given chieftain

could be induced to submit and to accept

Christianity, the king would treat with

him separately and make peace on terms

favorable to the tribe; and if others offered

a stubborn resistance, they were punished

with more than the usual severity. In a

general way, however, the Saxons made

common cause, against the invader, and in

doing so they found a leader worthy of the

German name.

Wittikind, son of Wernekind, king of

the Saxons north of the Elbe, appeared

as the national hero. Besides his own hereditary rights and abilities as a chieftain,

his relation with the surrounding states was

such as to make him a formidable foe. He

had married the sister of Siegfried, king of

the Danes, and was in close alliance with

Ratbod, king of the Frisians. He it was

who now, in the year 777, refused to attend

the assembly of chiefs called by Charlemagne at Paderborn; and by his refusal

gave notice of his open hostility to the king

of the Franks.

The previous disturbances of his country

had made it necessary for Wittikind to find

refuge with his brother-in-law, the king of

the Danes. From this vantage ground, however, he directed the council of the Saxon

chiefs and encouraged them to a renewal of

their rebellion. Following his advice, the people again rushed to arms, and the Franks recoiled from the fury of their assault. In 778 the barbarian army advanced to the

Rhine, and destroyed nearly all the towns and

villages on the right bank of that river from

Cologne to the mouth of the Moselle. No

age, sex, or condition was spared by the