فصل 22

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فصل 22

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A STRUGGLE TO BECOME LORD OF CHRISTENDOM The history of the world is, sadly, not a pretty poem. It offers little variety, and it is nearly always the unpleasant things that are repeated, over and over again. And so it was that, barely a hundred years after Charlemagne’s death, in times of chaos and misfortune, hordes of mounted warriors from the east invaded yet again, as the Avars and the Huns had before them. Not that there was anything remarkable about that. It was easier, and therefore more tempting, to take the path which led from the Asiatic steppes towards Europe than to launch raids on China. For behind the protection of Shih Huang-ti’s great wall, China had now become a powerful and well-organised state, with large and prosperous cities, where life at the imperial court and in the houses of its learned high officials had reached levels of refinement and taste undreamt-of elsewhere. At the same time as people in Germany were collecting ancient battle songs ­ only to burn them soon after on the grounds that they were too heathen ­ and monks in Europe were making timid efforts to turn Bible stories into German rhymes and Latin verse

A ST RU G G L E TO B E C O M E L O R D O F C H R I ST E N D O M 131 (that is, in about 800), China was home to some of the greatest poets the world has ever known. They wrote on silk, with elegant flourishes of brushes dipped in Indian ink, concise and brief verses which, in the simplest way, express so much that you need only read one once and it is in your head for ever. Because the Chinese empire was well administered and well protected, the mounted hordes continued to direct their raids towards Europe. This time it was the Magyars’ turn. With neither Pope Leo nor Charlemagne to stop them, they made short work of the lands that are now Hungary and Austria, and invaded Germany to loot and kill. This danger forced the independent tribal duchies to elect a common leader. In 919 they chose Henry, duke of Saxony, to be their king, and he eventually succeeded in driving the Magyars out of Germany and keeping them outside the frontiers. His successor, King Otto (known as Otto the Great), did not destroy them completely, as Charlemagne had the Avars, but after a ferocious battle in 955 he forced them back into Hungary, where they settled and have remained to this day. Otto the Great didn’t keep the land he had taken from the Magyars for himself, but bestowed it on a prince, as was then the custom. His son, Otto II, did likewise when, in 976, he bestowed part of present-day Lower Austria (the district around Wachau) on a German nobleman called Leopold, a member of the Babenberg family. Like all noblemen granted land by the king, Leopold built himself a castle and ruled over his land like a prince, for while the royal grant endured he was no longer merely a royal official but the lord of his domain. Most of the peasants who lived on these lands were no longer freemen, as German peasants had been in earlier times. They belonged to the land the king bestowed, or to land owned by a nobleman. Like the sheep or the goats that grazed there, like the deer, the bears and the wild boar in the forest, like the streams and the woodland, the meadows, the pastures and the fields, the people belonged to the land they tilled. They were known as serfs, or bondsmen, because they were bound to the land. Nor were they



free citizens of the kingdom. They had neither the right to go where they wished nor the right to decide to till or not to till their fields. ‘Were they slaves, then, like in antiquity?’ Well, not exactly. For as you remember, the coming of Christianity had put an end to slavery in our lands. Serfs weren’t slaves, because they went with the land, and the land still belonged to the king even after he had bestowed it on a nobleman. A nobleman or prince was not allowed to sell or kill serfs as masters once could their slaves. But he could make them carry out his orders. The serfs had to cultivate his land and work for him, when he told them to. They had to send regular supplies of bread and meat up to the castle for him to eat, because a nobleman didn’t work in the fields. Most of his time was spent hunting, whenever he felt like it. The land the king had bestowed on him, known as his fief, was his land, and would be inherited by his son, as long as he did nothing to offend the king. In return for his fief all a prince had to do was to take his lords of the manor and his peasants with him into battle to fight for the king, if there was a war. And of course, there often was. At this time virtually the whole of Germany had been granted in this way to different lords. The king kept little for himself, and the same went for France and England. In France, in 987, a powerful duke called Hugh Capet became king, while in 1016 England was conquered by a Danish seafarer called Cnut, or Canute, who also ruled over Norway and part of Sweden, and he, too, granted his lands as fiefs to powerful princes. The power of the German kings was greatly increased by their victory over the Magyars. Otto the Great, having defeated the Hungarians, made the Slavic, Bohemian and Polish princes recognise him as their feudal overlord as well. This meant that they had to look on their own lands as being held in trust for the German king, and were obliged to bring their armies to his aid in time of war. Confident in his might, Otto the Great marched on Italy, where, amidst fearful confusion, savage fighting had broken out among the Lombards. Otto declared Italy a German fief too, and bestowed it

A ST RU G G L E TO B E C O M E L O R D O F C H R I ST E N D O M 133 on a Lombard prince. Greatly relieved that Otto had been able to use his power to bring the Lombard nobility to heel, the pope crowned him Roman emperor in 962, just like Charlemagne in 800. So once again, German kings became Roman emperors, and by that title the protectors of Christendom. They owned the land the peasants ploughed from Italy to the North Sea, and from the Rhine to far beyond the Elbe, where Slav peasants became serfs of German noblemen. The emperor didn’t grant these lands only to noblemen. He frequently bestowed them on priests, bishops and archbishops. And they too, being no longer mere ministers of the Church, ruled like noblemen over great estates and rode into battle at the head of their peasant armies. At first this suited the pope very well. He was on good terms with the German emperors who protected and defended him and were all very pious men. However, the situation soon changed. The pope didn’t want the emperor to decide which of his priests should become bishop of Mainz, or Trier, or Cologne, or Passau. ‘These are religious appointments,’ said the pope, ‘and I, as head of the Church, must decide them.’ But the fact remained, they weren’t just religious appointments. Take the archbishop of Cologne, for example: he was both guardian of the souls of that district and its prince and lord. Therefore the emperor maintained that it was for him to decide who was to be a prince or a lord in his land. And if you think about it for a moment, you will see that each, from his own standpoint, was right. Bestowing land on priests had created a dilemma, for the lord of all priests is the pope, but the lord of all lands is the emperor. This could only lead to trouble, and it soon did. This trouble became known as the Investiture Controversy. In Rome, in 1073, an exceptionally pious and zealous monk, who had already devoted his life to defending the purity and power of the Church, became pope. He was called Hildebrand, and as pope took the name of Gregory VII. Meanwhile in Germany a Frankish king was on the throne. His name was Henry IV. Now it is important to realise that the pope saw himself not only as head of the Church, but also as the divinely



appointed ruler of all Christians on earth. At the same time, the German emperor and successor to the ancient Roman emperors and Charlemagne saw himself as protector and supreme commander of the entire Christian world. And even though Henry IV had not yet been crowned emperor, he still believed, that, as German king, it was his right. Which of the two should yield? When the struggle between them began, the world was in an uproar. Some were for King Henry IV, others sided with Pope Gregory VII. So many people were involved in this contest that we know of 155 arguments written for and against the king by his supporters and opponents. A number of these portray King Henry as being a wicked and hot-tempered man, while in others it is the pope who is accused of being heartless and power-hungry. I think we should believe neither. Once we have decided that each, from his own standpoint, was right, whether King Henry behaved badly towards his wife (as his opponents said), or pope Gregory was elected pope without following the usual formalities (as his opponents said), matters little to us. We can’t go back into the past and see exactly what did happen, and find out whether these accusations against the pope and the king had any truth in them. They probably didn’t, for when people take sides they are usually unfair. However, I’m now going to show you just how hard it is to get at the truth, after more than nine hundred years. We can be sure of one thing: King Henry was in a difficult situation. The nobles on whom he had bestowed lands (that is, the German princes) were against him. They didn’t want their king to become too powerful in case he started ordering them around. Pope Gregory opened hostilities by shutting King Henry out of the Church ­ by which I mean that he forbade any priest to give him Holy Communion. This was known as excommunication. Then the princes let it be known that they would have nothing to do with an excommunicated king, and that they were going to choose someone else to take his place. Somehow Henry had to get the pope to lift this terrible ban. His fate depended on it. If he failed, he would lose his throne. So, all alone and without his army, he set out for Italy to try to persuade the pope to lift the ban.

A ST RU G G L E TO B E C O M E L O R D O F C H R I ST E N D O M 135 It was winter, and the German princes who wanted to prevent King Henry’s reconciliation with the pope occupied all the roads and paths. So Henry, accompanied by his wife, had to make a great detour, and in the freezing winter’s cold they made their way over the Alps, probably by the same pass that Hannibal had used when he invaded Italy. Meanwhile the pope was on his way to Germany to negotiate with Henry’s enemies. When he heard of Henry’s approach, he fled and took refuge in a fortress in northern Italy called Canossa, convinced that Henry was arriving with an army. But when Henry appeared alone, only wishing to have the excommunication lifted, he was amazed and overjoyed. Some say the king came dressed as a penitent, wearing a rough, hooded cloak, and that the pope made him wait three days in the castle courtyard, barefoot in the snow, before he took pity on him and lifted the ban. Contemporaries describe the king as whimpering and begging the pope for mercy, which the pope, in his compassion, finally granted. Today people still talk of ‘going to Canossa’ when somebody has to humble himself before his adversary. But now let’s see how one of the king’s friends tells the same story. This is his version: ‘When Henry saw how badly things were going for him, he secretly thought up a very cunning plan. Giving no warning whatsoever, he set out to see the pope. His intention was to kill two birds with one stone: on the one hand he would have the excommunication lifted, and on the other, by going in person, he would prevent the pope from meeting his enemies, and so avert a great danger.’ So the pope’s friends saw Henry’s going to Canossa as an outstanding success for the pope, and the king’s supporters saw it as a great triumph for their leader. From this you can see how careful one must be in judging a dispute between two rival powers. But the struggle did not end at Canossa, or with the death of King Henry ­ who had actually become emperor meanwhile ­ or with the death of Pope Gregory. For although Henry later managed to have Gregory deposed, the will of that great pope prevailed. Bishops were chosen by the Church, and the emperor was only allowed to say if he agreed



with the choice. The pope, not the emperor, became lord of Christendom. You remember those Nordic seafarers, the Normans, who conquered a stretch of land along the northern coast of France still known as Normandy today? They quickly learnt to speak French, like their neighbours, but they didn’t lose their appetite for adventurous sea voyages and conquest. Some of them went as far as Sicily, where they fought the Arabs, then conquered southern Italy and went on, under their great leader Robert Guiscard, to defend Pope Gregory against Henry IV’s attacks. Others crossed the narrow stretch of sea that lies between France and England, known as the English Channel, and under their king, William (afterwards named ‘the Conqueror’), defeated the English king (a descendant of the Danish King Canute) at the Battle of Hastings. This was in 1066, a date which all the English know, because it was the last time an enemy army succeeded in setting foot on English soil. William had his officials draw up a list naming every village and property in the land, many of which he bestowed on his fellow soldiers as fiefs. The English nobility were now Normans. And because the Normans who came from Normandy spoke French, the English language is still a mixture of words from Old German and Romance languages.

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