chapter  III
9 Pages

The Treaty of Verdun 2. The New States III. THE FEUDALITY

Everything tended to accomplish this disintegration, once it had proved to be materially impossible, after the kingdoms founded by the Germanic invasions were established, to continue the Roman State. Disintegration was already on the way at the close of the Merovingian period, when the monarchy, on which everything depended, recovered its influence for the time being, through its great conquests and its alliance with the Papacy. But these conquests, and this influence, retarded only for a moment the process of disintegration, for the causes of the latter were inherent in the social order itself. The king alone could maintain the political organization of the State. Theoretically the State was monarchical and administrative; but we have seen how weak it was, even under Charlemagne. It was weak because its political constitution did not match its economic nature. Since commerce and the towns had disappeared the State had entered upon a period when the great domains absorbed both the land and the inhabitants, placing the revenue of the former and the arms of the latter at the disposal of a class of magnates. These were rendered the more independent by the fact that their economic life was subject to no perturbations; the whole produce of the domain was applied to the maintenance of the domain itself. There was therefore nothing to be feared or expected from the State. This decided the fate of the monarchy. Sooner or later, accordingly as the evolution of society was more or less advanced, it was doomed to allow its rights and prerogatives to pass to the magnates who were now almost its only subjects, since they had interposed themselves between it and the people, and it was obliged to govern through them. To an ever-increasing extent, its only effective power was

that which it derived from its own domains. Where it was reduced to the exercise of a purely political sovereignty its rule soon became purely formal. Deprived of taxes, deprived of the possibility of paying its functionaries, how was it to maintain itself? By throwing itself upon the Church, as it had done in Germany? But this had been possible only because in the time of the Ottos the lay aristocracy was still in an undeveloped condition. And again, the episcopal principalities were themselves destroying the State. Thanks to them the monarch alone was strong from the military point of view. But his governmental efficacy was not enhanced by them, and the State was destroyed notwithstanding his military power. Thus, in the economic circumstances of the age the power of the king was inevitably bound to decline, until it depended entirely on his military activity and his personal prestige. And in fact, since the days of Charlemagne the decadence of the monarchy had progressed very rapidly. The king’s position, in respect of the magnates, was growing steadily weaker. Matters had gone so far by the close of the 9th century that the monarchy had become purely elective.