Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

Attila, the Scourge of God

As years went on, the power of the Romans grew less and less. They became less and less able to guard their wide provinces, to keep their many conquests. And as they grew weak the barbarians who lived along the borders of the vast Empire grew ever bolder and bolder.

Along the northern boundaries of Gaul lived the wild Germans. And now tribes of these, called Franks and Allemans, Goths and Vandals, would ever and again pour across the Rhine, break through the Roman wall, and waste the Roman province with fire and sword. Again and again they came, leaving death and destruction in their path. Again and again they were driven back. But still again they came. Other tribes came, not so much seeking plunder as seeking new homes. For they, in their turn, had been driven out by still fiercer tribes.

And thus after the long peace came a time of war and terror when all Gaul was wasted with fire and sword. Blackened ruins alone showed where fair cities had stood; a dreary waste, stretching as far as eye could reach, was all that was left of once smiling cornfields and vineyards.

Out of this confusion and desolation there arose three kingdoms, those of the Franks, the Visigoths, and the Burgundians. But before they could settle to peace, the land was once more swept by a fierce horde. This was the last and worst of all invasions by barbarians. For it was led by Attila the Hun, who gloried in the name of "Scourge of God."

Attila led his host, five hundred thousand strong, over the fairest fields of Gaul, leaving utter desolation and misery in his train, for it was his boast that grass never grew where his horse's hoofs had trod.

On and on he swept. His very name, which means something that is vast and awful, struck terror to the hearts of men. Yet this terrible creature was no giant. He was a little man like the Huns he led. He was little, but his shoulders were broad, his head large, and out of his swarthy face shone small piercing eyes which in anger flashed fire, giving to his whole appearance something proud and passionate.

He was a man born to terrify men and shake the world to its foundations. He spent his life in war for the love of war. He fought, not for love of conquest, but for the love of killing. He destroyed, not for the love of plunder, but for the love of destruction. The dress and armour of his followers glittered with gold and gems, the spoils of war, but Attila wore neither color nor ornament; his table was served with wooden cups and platters, and he ate nothing but raw meat.

Such was the ruler who dominated all the north of Europe from the Black Sea to the German Ocean, from the Danube to the Baltic. Vassal kings and princes served him humbly, they trembled at his frown, they feared his flashing eye, they sped to do his will at the slightest bidding.

Such was the conqueror who now marched triumphant through Gaul laying it in ashes. But at length his triumphant march was stopped at Orleans, where Gaul and Roman alike made a gallant stand against him. The Bishop of Orleans was a brave and wise man, and, as Attila marched upon the town, he sent to the Roman General Aetius begging for aid. "For five weeks," he said, "we can hold out. But if you do not come then, the wild beast will devour my flock."

Day by day the people of Orleans fought and prayed, encouraged by their brave Bishop. Day by day the savage hordes of Huns raged around the walls. They poured showers of arrows into the town, and were such splendid marksmen that a soldier hardly dared show himself upon the battlements. The defenders were brave and steadfast, but at length the walls shook beneath the battering rams of the heathen. There was no more food, and still no sign of help. All hope fled from the hearts of the people. Sobbing they crowded round their Bishop begging him to save them.

"Put your trust in God," he replied, "go, kneel to Him in prayer. Implore with tears the aid of the Lord, for He is an ever present help in trouble."

So all who could not fight knelt in the churches praying. And while they prayed the Bishop sent a secret messenger to the Roman General: "If you do not pome to-day, O my son," he said, "you will come too late."

Then the Bishop bade a servant go to the highest tower of the ramparts. "Go," he said, "look well, for perchance God in His mercy comes to our aid."

But the servant returned sadly. 'There is no one to be seen," he said.

"Yet pray with fervor," said the Bishop to the people, "for the Lord will deliver you this day." So the people continued in prayer.

"Go a second time," commanded the Bishop, "and look."

A second time the servant went and returned. "There is no one to be seen," he said again.

"Yet pray with all your hearts," said the Bishop, "for God will surely help you this day." So the people prayed aloud with groans and tears, making great supplication. "Go yet a third time," said the Bishop, "and look."

A third time the servant went and returned. "I see," he said, "a small cloud far in the distance."

"It is the aid of God," cried the Bishop.

And all the people cried with him, "It is the aid of God." Eagerly they rushed to the walls, and, as they watched, the small cloud came nearer and nearer, growing ever larger as it came. At last, lighted by the evening sunshine, they saw the flutter of both Roman and Gothic banners, the gleam of Roman and Gothic spears and shields. The legions of Rome under Aetius and the army of Theodoric, the King of the Visigoths, were marching together to help the besieged city.

Orleans was saved; and not only Orleans, but the whole of Gaul. Attila, fearing to meet the great army which was coming against him, marched away. But the Visigoths and Romans followed him, and on the plain near Chalons a great battle was fought. It was one of the most terrible battles fought in ancient times.

The day before the battle the Huns captured a Christian hermit. This man was thought by the peasants round to be a prophet. He was brought before Attila, who asked of him news of the coming battle.

"Thou art the Scourge of God," replied the hermit. "Thou art the hammer with which God Almighty strikes the world. But, when He pleases, God breaks the tools of His vengeance. He makes the sword to pass from one hand to another, according to His will. Know then that thou shalt be vanquished in thy battle with the Romans. Thus shalt thou learn that the strength that is in thee cometh not of this world."

But, nothing daunted, when morning came Attila gave battle. He made a speech to encourage his soldiers. "Myself will cast the first javelin," he said, "and if there be a man who stands still when Attila fights, that man dies the death."

It was a terrible battle, and when night fell sixty thousand dead lay upon the plain, among them Theodoric the King of the Visigoths. But Attila was defeated. Behind a rampart of his war chariots he sat like a lion at bay, and so fierce did he seem even in defeat that neither Roman, nor Goth, nor Gaul dare again attack him. So he retreated over the Rhine in safety.

This was the last victory of the Romans in Gaul and they won it by the help of half -savage Goths. Aetius has been called the last of all the Romans, and after this we hear no more of Roman power in Gaul. The land was divided hereafter into three kingdoms: that of the Visigoths on the West, that of the Burgundians on the East, and that of the Franks in the North.

It was the Franks who in the long run won the whole country and gave their name to it, for France is the kingdom of the Franks or Freemen. The Gaulo-Romans still lived in the land but the Franks were the conquerors and rulers. So I will now tell you something about these Franks and their Kings. But you must remember that just as in far-off times England was not all one kingdom neither was France all one kingdom. The France not all land possessed by the Franks was very small indeed compared with France, as we now know it. Even the Franks themselves were not all united under one King, but were divided into various tribes.