فصل 25کتاب: تاریخی کوچک از جهان / فصل 25
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CITIES AND CITIZENS
In the course of the hundred years that passed between the deaths of Frederick Barbarossa in 1190 and Rudolf I of Habsburg in 1291, Europe changed in more ways than it is possible to imagine. As I have already said, at the time of Barbarossa there were powerful cities, mainly in Italy, whose citizens were bold enough to oppose and even take up arms against the emperor, while at that time Germany was largely a land of knights, monks and peasants. But over the following hundred years the situation in Germany changed beyond recognition. Many eastward crusades had already taken Germans far from home and they had established trading relationships in distant countries. They no longer exchanged oxen for sheep, or drinking horns for cloth, because they, too, were using money. And where there was money there were markets where all sorts of goods could be bought. These markets could not be held just anywhere. They had to be in fixed places protected by walls and towers, usually near a castle. Anyone who set up a stall in one and traded, as a burgher was no longer bound in serfdom to a landowner. People liked to say ‘city air brings freedom’, because burghers in the bigger towns answered to no one but the king.
But you mustn’t imagine that life in a town in the Middle Ages was anything like it is today. Most towns were small, crooked mazes of tiny alleys and narrow houses with high, pointed gables. Merchants and craftsmen lived there with their families, crowded together in little space. When a merchant went on his travels he was usually accompanied by armed guards. This was because many knights in those days had forgotten all about chivalry and were little more than brigands. High up in their castles they sat, waiting for merchants to rob. However, the burghers didn’t put up with this for long: they had money and they were able to hire soldiers. As a result there were frequent fights between burghers and robber knights, and quite often it was the burghers who won.
Craftsmen such as tailors, shoemakers, drapers, bakers, locksmiths, painters, joiners, stonemasons and master builders all belonged to groups or associations known as guilds. A guild such as that of the tailors was almost as hard to enter and had rules that were almost as strict as those of the knights. Not just anyone could become a master-tailor. First you had to serve your time as an apprentice. Then you became a journeyman and went on your travels in order to get to know other towns and other ways of working. Young men like these went on foot, and often spent years wandering through many countries before they returned home, or found a city which had a place for a master-tailor. Small towns didn’t need many tailors, and the guilds made sure there were no more masters of any trade than there was work for them to do. A journeyman had to demonstrate his skill by completing a masterpiece (perhaps a fine coat) and only then would he be ceremoniously declared a Master and admitted to the guild.
Each guild had its own rules and entertainments, its banners and fine mottos, just like the knights. And of course their mottos, too, were not always respected. But at least they had them. A member of a guild was bound to support his fellow members and not steal their trade, nor must he cheat his own customers with poor goods. He was expected to treat his apprentices and journeymen well and do his best to uphold the good name of his trade and his town. He was, so to speak, one of God’s craftsmen, just as a knight was a warrior fighting for God.
Indeed, while knights gave their lives in crusades to liberate Christ’s tomb, burghers and craftsmen would often sacrifice their wealth, their strength and their well-being when it came to building a church in their town. The new church or cathedral had to be bigger, more beautiful and more magnificent than any building the neighbouring towns could boast of. The whole town shared this ambition and all the inhabitants devoted themselves to the project. The best-known master-builder was summoned to draw up the plans, stonemasons were engaged to cut stone and carve statues, painters to paint pictures for the altar and make windows that would shine like jewels within the church. But more important than whose idea it had been, or who had designed or built it, was the fact that the church was the work of the whole town, a communal offering to God. You only need look at one to see it. For these churches are no longer the massive fortresses that were still being built in Germany in Barbarossa’s time, but glorious, highvaulted halls with slim pillars and slender bell towers, and room inside for the whole town to gather when they came to hear the preachers. For by now new monastic orders had sprung up whose monks were less concerned with tilling the soil around their monasteries and copying manuscripts, but chose instead to roam the land as beggars, preaching repentance to the people and explaining the Holy Scriptures. Everyone flocked to the churches to hear them and wept over their sins, promising to mend their ways and live according to Christ’s teachings of loving kindness.
But like the crusaders, who in the name of piety had carried out that dreadful massacre in Jerusalem, there were many citizens who failed to hear in those penitential sermons a call to mend their ways, and instead learnt to hate all those who didn’t share their faith. Jews, above all, were their targets, and the more pious they felt themselves to be, the more they abused them. You must bear in mind that the Jews were the only tribe from antiquity left in Europe. The Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Gauls and the Goths had all either perished or merged with other peoples. Only the Jews, whose state had been repeatedly destroyed and who had endured all those terrible times when they had been persecuted and hounded from one country to the next, had survived. After two thousand years, they were still patiently awaiting the coming of their Saviour, the Messiah. Forbidden to own fields, they couldn’t be peasants, let alone become knights. Nor were they allowed to practise any craft. The only occupation open to them was trade. So that is what they did. Even then they were only permitted to live in specified parts of the town and only allowed to wear certain clothes. Yet, in time, some of them were able to earn a lot of money which knights and burghers borrowed and were often unable to repay. This only made the Jews more hated and they were repeatedly attacked and robbed. Having neither the power nor the right to defend themselves, they were helpless, unless the king or a priest chose to take their side but this was rarely the case.
Bad enough then to be a Jew, but worse still if you were someone who, having pored long over the Bible, began to doubt some aspect of its teaching. Such people were called heretics and the persecutions they suffered were terrible. Anyone perceived to be a heretic was publicly burned alive, just like the Christians in Nero’s time. Whole cities were razed to combat heresy and entire regions laid waste. Crusades were waged against them, just as they were against Muslims. And all this was done by the very people who, for the God of mercy and his Good News, were building those magnificent cathedrals. Buildings which, with their soaring towers and great decorated porches, with their stained glass windows gleaming like jewels in the darkness and their thousands of statues, seemed to offer a glorious vision of the Kingdom of Heaven.
France had cities and churches before there were any in Germany. France was richer, and had had a less turbulent history. Moreover, the kings of France had been quick to find a use for the citizens of the new Third Estate. After about 1300 they rarely assigned land to the nobility, but kept it instead for themselves and paid burghers to manage it (just as Frederick II had done in Sicily).
As a result French kings held more and more land. And land in those days, as you know, meant serfs, soldiers and power. By 1300, the French kings were the most powerful sovereigns, for it was only now that the German king, Rudolf of Habsburg, was beginning to establish his power by bestowing land on his relatives. Besides which, the French did not only rule France, but southern Italy as well. It wasn’t long before their power had become so great that, in 1309, they were able to force the pope to leave Rome and take up residence in France where they could keep a close eye on him. The popes lived in a great palace in Avignon surrounded by wonderful works of art, but they were, in effect, prisoners. And this is why, remembering the Babylonian captivity of the Jews (which lasted, as you know, from 597 to 538 BC), this period from 1305 to 1376 is known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Popes.
But the kings of France were still not satisfied. As you remember, a Norman family had conquered England in 1066, and they had been ruling England ever since. This made them nominally French and, as such, subjects of the kings of France, who could therefore claim sovereignty over England as well as France. However, when no heir was born to the French royal family, the kings of England claimed that, both as relatives and as vassals of the French kings, they should now rule France as well as England. The dispute that followed turned into a terrible struggle. It began in 1337 and lasted for more than a hundred years. What had started as a chivalrous contest between a few knights became a war in which great armies of soldiers were paid to fight each other. These were not members of a grand, communal order for whom battle was a noble pursuit, but ordinary Englishmen and Frenchmen, fighting one another for the independence of their lands. The English won more and more land for themselves, conquering ever greater parts of France not least because the French king who was in power towards the end of this war was thick-witted and incompetent.
But the French people did not want to be ruled by foreigners. And it was then that the miracle happened. A simple seventeenyear-old shepherdess called Joan of Arc, who felt herself called by God to the task, succeeded in persuading the French to put her at the head of an army, dressed in full armour, and the English were driven from the land. ‘Only when the English are in England will there be peace,’ she said. But the English took their revenge. They captured her and sentenced her to death for witchcraft. And in 1431 Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. But perhaps it isn’t so surprising that they thought she was a witch. For doesn’t it seem like magic that a simple, uneducated peasant girl, all on her own, armed with nothing but courage and a passionate conviction, should be able to wipe out the accumulated defeats of almost a century in just two years, and bring about the crowning of her king? And yet this time of the Hundred Years War was also a time of unimaginable brilliance and excitement, a time when towns were expanding and proud knights no longer sat in grim seclusion in their lonely strongholds, but chose instead to inhabit the courts of rich and powerful kings and princes. In Flanders and Brabant (now Belgium), but, above all, in Italy, life was truly magnificent. Here there were prosperous towns, trading in precious cloth such as silks and brocades, and offering every conceivable comfort and luxury. Knights and noblemen feasted at court in splendid, richly embroidered robes. And when they danced in rings with their ladies, in great halls and in flower gardens, to the music of lutes and viols, I, too, should have liked to be there. The dresses worn by the ladies were even richer and more elaborate than the clothes of the men. And they had head-dresses that were tall and pointed like church steeples, to which long, fine veils were attached. In their pointed shoes and sumptuous robes glittering with thread-ofgold they looked like delicate and graceful dolls. How unhappy they must have been in the smoke-filled halls of those ancient fortresses! Now they lived in castles that were spacious and airy, with turrets and battlements and thousands of windows, in rooms hung with brightly coloured tapestries, where the conversation was elegant and refined. And when a nobleman led his lady into the banqueting hall, to the feast laid out in all its splendour, he would hold her hand lightly with just two fingers, spreading the others as widely as he could. By now, reading and writing was common in towns. It was a necessity for tradesmen and artisans, and many knights liked to address artful and elegant poems to their elegant ladies.
Nor was knowledge any longer the preserve of a handful of monks in their cells. Soon after 1200, students from countries far and wide were flocking in their thousands to the famous University of Paris, where they studied and argued a great deal over the opinions of Aristotle, and how these might or might not agree with what was written in the Bible.
This way of life, both at court and in the city, finally reached Germany, and in particular the court of the German emperor. His court, at that time, was in Prague. For after the death of Rudolf of Habsburg, other families of kings and emperors had been elected. And since 1310 it had been the Luxembourg family who ruled from their seat in Prague. But the fact was that by now this rule hardly included any German lands at all. Power was once more in the hands of individual princes who ruled independently in areas such as Bavaria, Swabia, Württemberg and Austria. The only real difference between the German emperor and these princes was that he was the most powerful among them. The Luxembourgs’ land was Bohemia, and Charles IV, a just sovereign and lover of splendour, had been ruling there from Prague since 1347. The knights at his court were no less noble than those of Flanders and the paintings in his palaces were just as fine as those at Avignon. In 1348 he, too, founded a university, in Prague. It was the German empire’s first university.
Hardly less splendid than the court of Charles IV was that of his son-in-law in Vienna, Rudolf IV, known as ‘the Founder’. As you can see, none of these rulers lived in lonely fortresses any more, nor did they set out across the world on adventurous military campaigns. Their castles were built in the centres of towns. This alone tells you how important towns had become. But it was only the beginning.