Page 1175

1175 THE AGE OF CHARLEMAGNE-THE FIRST CARLOVINGIANS.

estates and become independent. It was

with this vast, inorganic, and shifting mass

that Charlemagne had to deal, and it was

out of this heterogeneous material that

he labored to create a great and stable

state.

The Frankish Emperor was by no means a

theorist. However anxious he may have been

to see a regular system of authority established over the peoples whom he ruled, he

was preeminently willing to be taught by

circumstances. However eager he was to

govern by reason and law, he none the less

retained the sanction of force as the means of

preserving order. In an epoch of transition,

while the winds of barbarism blew from all

quarters of the compass and met in his capital, he opposed to their fury the barrier of

Ins will, saying, "Thus far, but no farther."

He was thus enabled, by personal energy,

sternness of decision, and inveterate activity,

to build up in a boisterous age the fabric of

a colossal monarchy, well worthy to rival the

Empire of the Caesars. In all his methods

and work there were, of course, the inherent

vices of absolute power; but the system

established by Charlemagne was the best that

the times would bear or the people were able

to receive.

If we look more closely into the nature of

the Imperial administration, we shall find

first of all the central government established

at Aix la Chapelle. Here the Emperor reigned;

here held his court; here summoned his

ministers to council. Beside those dignitaries who were immediately associated with

him in the government, by whom he dispensed his authority, and upon whose judgment he relied somewhat in conducting the

affairs of state, the general assemblies, composed of the chief men from all parts of the

kingdom, constituted a notable feature of

the political system. According to the judgment of modern historians, indeed, the

national councils of Charlemagne were the

distinguishing characteristics of his reign.

No fewer than thirty-five of these great

assemblies were convened by royal authority.

Sometimes one city and sometimes another

was named as the place of the council. Worms,

Valenciennes, Geneva, Paderborn, Aix la Chapelle, and Tbionville were selected

as the seat of the assemblies. Many of the

dukes and counts answered the edict of the king with great reluctance; but the Emperor's overwhelming influence was generally

sufficient to secure a large attendance. The

meetings, when convened, were in the nature

of congresses, in which measures were proposed and debated after the manner of more

recent times. It was the wish of Charlemagne to make his chiefs and nobles participants in the government, and to concede to

them such freedom of expression as might at

least enable him to apprehend the wishes of

the people.

In regard, however, to the measures, discussed by the assemblies, the right of proposing the same was reserved to the king. It

does not appear that at any time the initiative

of legislative action might be taken by the

assembly itself. Every thing waited on the

pleasure of the sovereign, who wrote out and

laid before his congress the subject matter to

be debated. The assembly which convened in

the early spring was called the March parade;

and the principal convention of the year,

which was appointed for the first of May, was

known as the May-parade. In the interval

between one meeting and the next Charlemagne was wont to note down such matters

as he deemed it prudent to lay before the

assembly, and it not infrequently happened in

times of emergency that special sessions were

convened to consider the needs of the state.

Modern times are greatly indebted to Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, who flourished

near the dose of the ninth century, for a full

and satisfactory sketch of the great Frankish

assemblies and of the business therein transacted. Both the subject-matter and the

style of this venerable chronicler may justify

the quotation of a few paragraphs from his

Work. He says:

"It was the custom at this time to hold

two assemblies every year. In both, that

they might not seem to have been convoked

without motive, there were submitted to the

examination and deliberation of the grandees . . . and by virtue of orders from

the king, the fragments of law called capitula,

which the king himself had drawn up under

the inspiration of God or the necessity for

which had been made manifest to him in the

intervals between the meetings."

The next paragraph from Hincmar shows

conclusively that not only the initiative but

also the definitive or final act in legislation