Story of the Middle Ages - S. B. Harding

Descendants of Charlemagne

Upon the death of Charlemagne, his Empire passed to his son Louis. This ruler is sometimes called "Louis the Pious," because he was so friendly to the Church; and sometimes "Louis the Good-natured," because he was so easy-going and allowed himself to be guided by his wife and his favorites. Under his weak rule the Empire lost much of the strength that it had possessed under Charlemagne.

After Louis's death, it was still further weakened. His sons had begun fighting for the kingdom even while their father lived. After his death they fought a great battle in which troops of all the Frankish lands took part. The old writers describe this as a terrible struggle,—more terrible than any since Attila and his Huns were driven back by the Romans and the Goths, or the Moors were defeated by Charles Martel. Those battles had been fought by the Christians against peoples who were not Christians; but now Christians fought against Christians, Franks against Franks.

"May the day of that battle be accursed!" wrote a writer who himself took part in the struggle. "May it never more be counted among the days of the year, but be wiped out from all remembrance! May it lack the light of the sun, and have neither dawning nor twilight! May that night also be accursed; that terrible night in which so many brave and skillful warriors met their deaths! Never was there a worse slaughter! Men fell in lakes of blood; and the garments of the dead whitened the whole field."



As a result of this battle, the three sons of Louis agreed to divide the kingdom among them. (1) Charles, the youngest son, got the western part, and this in course of time grew into the kingdom of France. (2) Ludwig, the second son, got the land lying east and north of the Rhine River and Alps Mountains; and this region in time became the kingdom of Germany. (3) Lothair, the eldest son, got Italy, and a long narrow strip which lay between Charles's portion on the West and Ludwig's portion on the East; and with it he received the title of Emperor. This "middle strip" was long and awkwardly shaped, and there was so little to bind the people together that it never grew into a permanent kingdom. Before many years had gone by, it passed into the hands of the rulers of France and Germany, and the only thing that remained to show its former rule was the name "Lotharingia" or "Lorraine," which is still given to the northern part of it.

This division of the kingdom tended, of course, to make the Frankish power weaker. Other things, too, contributed to this end. The Carolingian princes (as the descendants of Charles are called) were not nearly as strong rulers as their great forefather had been, and besides they continued the practice of dividing the kingdoms among all the sons whenever a king died. So the kingdoms grew ever smaller and weaker.

New enemies, moreover, had now arisen to trouble the land, and make the task of governing it more difficult. The Moors of Spain and Africa were going far into the heart of France and Italy in their search for plunder and slaves. On the North and West fleets of Viking ships, laden with fierce Northmen from Denmark and Norway, were landing upon the coast, or ascending in their light vessels far up the rivers, plundering, killing, and burning. And from the East the Hungarians—a new race, of close kin to the old Huns—were now advancing year after year up the Danube valley, into Germany, into Italy, into France, carrying everywhere terror and dismay.

Charles the Bald


Since the kings of this period were too weak to protect the land against attack, the people were obliged to look after their own defence. The result was that rich and powerful landowners began to build great gloomy towers and castles as a protection against these raids. In course of time every lofty hill-top, every cliff, every island in the great rivers, came to have a castle, where the lord and his followers might find protection against their enemies. There was now no power in the state either to protect or to punish its subjects; so these lords not only used their castles as a defence against the Hungarians and other enemies, but often themselves oppressed their neighbors. From their strongholds they would sally forth to misuse the peasants of the country around, or to plunder merchants travelling from town to town.

Everything was fallen into confusion; and it seemed as if the time told of in the Bible, when "every man did that which seemed good in his own eyes," had again come upon earth.