Friday, April 3, 2009

Louis VI. and VII

Philip's son, Louis VI., or the Fat, was the first able man whom the line of Hugh Capet had produced since it mounted the throne. He made the first attempt at curbing the nobles, assisted by Suger, the Abbot of St. Denys. The only possibility of doing this was to obtain the aid of one party of nobles against another; and when any unusually flagrant offence had been committed, Louis called together the nobles, bishops, and abbots of his domain, and obtained their consent and assistance in making war on the guilty man, and overthrowing his castle, thus, in some degree, lessening the sense of utter impunity which had caused so many violences and such savage recklessness. He also permitted a few of the cities to purchase the right of self-government, and freedom from the ill usage of the counts, who, from their guardians, had become their tyrants; but in this he seems not to have been so much guided by any fixed principle, as by his private interests and feelings towards the individual city or lord in question. However, the royal authority had begun to be respected by 1137, when Louis VI. died, having just effected the marriage of his son, Louis VII., with Eleanor, the heiress of the Dukes of Aquitaine—thus hoping to make the crown really more powerful than the great princes who owed it homage. At this time lived the great St. Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, who had a wonderful influence over men's minds. It was a time of much thought and speculation, and Peter Abailard, an able student of the Paris University, held a controversy with Bernard, in which we see the first struggle between intellect and authority. Bernard roused the young king, Louis VII., to go on the second crusade, which was undertaken by the Emperor and the other princes of Europe to relieve the distress of the kingdom of Palestine. France had no navy, so the war was by land, through the rugged hills of Asia Minor, where the army was almost destroyed by the Saracens. Though Louis did reach Palestine, it was with weakened forces; he could effect nothing by his campaign, and Eleanor, who had accompanied him, seems to have been entirely corrupted by the evil habits of the Franks settled in the East. Soon after his return, Louis dissolved his marriage; and Eleanor became the wife of Henry, Count of Anjou, who soon after inherited the kingdom of England as our Henry II., as well as the duchy of Normandy, and betrothed his third son to the heiress of Brittany. Eleanor's marriage seemed to undo all that Louis VI. had done in raising the royal power; for Henry completely overshadowed Louis, whose only resource was in feeble endeavours to take part against him in his many family quarrels. The whole reign of Louis the Young, the title that adhered to him on account of his simple, childish nature, is only a record of weakness and disaster, till he died in 1180.

What life went on in France, went on principally in the south. The lands of Aquitaine and Provence had never dropped the old classical love of poetry and art. A softer form of broken Latin was then spoken, and the art of minstrelsy was frequent among all ranks. Poets were called troubadours and trouvères (finders). Courts of love were held, where there were competitions in poetry, the prize being a golden violet; and many of the bravest warriors were also distinguished troubadours—among them the elder sons of Queen Eleanor. There was much license of manners, much turbulence; and as the Aquitanians hated Angevin rule, the troubadours never ceased to stir up the sons of Henry II. against him.

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