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Northern and Western Europe: the British Isles; Denmark, Sweden, Norway; France; Spain; the Byzantine Empire. page 3

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In Sweden, for 200 years, from the middle of the nth to the middle of the 13th century, there was almost constant war between the Svea, inhabitants of the lake-region, who clung to heathenism for a long period, and the Goths of the south. During this struggle the free peasants lost their rights, and a body of warlike nobles arose with exclusive privileges, having control of the Diet or national assembly, and making royal authority merely nominal.-In the 12th century, under Erik IX., surnamed "the Saint," the Swedes were converted to Christianity, and the archbishopric of Upsala was founded in 1163. It was zeal for religion that induced this king to overrun and annex most of Finland, which was under the rule of the Swedish sovereigns until the 19th century. Stockholm was founded in 1255. The animosity between the Svea (Swedes) and the Goths began to subside under King Waldemar (1250-1275), and they settled down by degrees into an united people. Much trouble came from the turbulent nobles who, in alliance with the powerful ecclesiastics, oppressed the people and treated the king as naught. There was fairly strong and good government under Magnus I. (1279-1290) and Torkel Knutsson, regent (1290-1306) for a young king. Then came tyranny when the sovereign assumed power, until his death in 1319, and the long reign of another Magnus who waged useless wars abroad and played the tyrant at home. On his deposition in 1363 the crown was given to his nephew Albert of Mecklenburg, who, unable to cope with the disorderly nobles, imported German troops and favourites, and unjustly taxed the nation for their support. We have seen the ending of this state of affairs with the Union of Calmar, in 1397. The almost ceaseless internal discord of the i3th and i4th centuries prevented all progress in civilisation. Tillage was neglected; literature, learning, and the arts of industry scarcely existed; and even the higher classes, the nobles and ecclesiastics, were devoid of all mental culture at a time when, as we shall see, progress in this respect was taking place in the chief countries of Europe.

The history of Norway during this period presents little of interest beyond what has been elsewhere noticed. The country prospered during a period of peace following the death of Harold Hardraada in battle against the English Harold in 1066. Early in the 12th century, the interests of the Church were promoted by king Sigurd (1103-1130), and towns began to have importance. Then came above a century of disastrous internal strife amongst three parties - the nobles, the higher Churchmen and their supporters, and the "nationalists," who had the best of the struggle in the end. Peace came at last during the long reign of the Haco who died at Kirkwall, in the Orkneys, in 1263, on his return from his defeat at Largs in Ayrshire. Under his son Magnus (1263-1280) the laws were first put into a written form, and in 1266 the Hebrides were given up to Scotland. We have seen the union of the crown with that of Sweden early in the 14th century, and the Union of Calmar in 1397 in the days of the excellent queen Margaret of Denmark.

In France, under Louis VI. (1108-1137), the sovereign found himself, on accession, hemmed in on all sides by feudal lords in all respects as powerful and influential as their suzerain. With their fortress-castles as strongholds, these robber-nobles plundered merchants and pilgrims on the highways, defiant of royal safe conducts, and brute force overrode the claims of order, justice, and national union. In the inevitable struggle which ensued, the king had the aid-of the associations of a municipal character which had arisen in towns for the sake of mutual protection against ecclesiastical and lay oppressors. This movement had developed itself, in the north of the country, at Cambrai, Beauvais, Noyon, Le Mans, Saint Quentin, Laon, Soissons, Amiens, and other places. The former serfs who had become hereditary owners of portions of land had, in like manner, organised communes or parishes. Both these elements of a new society placed their militia-forces at the service of the Crown, and, with the able Suger, abbot of St. Denis, as his minister, Louis VI. effected a decided increase of the royal power. His son Louis VII. (1137-1180) was also aided in government by the prudent and conscientious Suger, a master in finance, who had sole charge of affairs during the king's absence on the Second Crusade. The country lost much in the transfer to Henry II. of England, through Louis' divorce of his wife Eleanor, of her great territories in the south and south-west, and it was in revenge for this that the French sovereign harassed his English rival by encouraging his sons in rebellion. The communal movement was fostered by the granting of many charters, and there was a marked increase of trade, industry, and population in the towns, with the cultivation of lands previously barren, and the clearing of much forest-growth.

The chief "maker of France" as a powerful and united realm was a man of whom much has been seen in these pages - Philip II. or Philip Augustus (1180-1223), one of the ablest of all the French sovereigns, unfettered by scruples and by no means sympathetic in character, but a strong and sagacious statesman. It was he who made an end of the feudal system by the watchful energy which enabled him to outwit and master the barons. Much feudal territory in the north was won by conquest. Artois fell to the king by inheritance. The duke of Burgundy and the count of Chalons were forced to submit. The success of Philip against John, and the great growth of French territory thereby, have been above recorded. Towards the end of the long and successful reign, the victory of Bouvines (1214) over Otto IV. of Germany, John of England, and the count of Flanders, crowned the successes of Philip. This very important event, without gaining fresh territory, was a signal warning to all the more ambitious and disorderly nobles. The French historian Guizot has described it as "the work of king and people; of barons, knights, burghers, -and peasants of Ile-de-France, of Orleanais, of Picardy, of Normandy, of Champagne, and of Burgundy," and he justly declares that "this union of different classes and of different populations in a sentiment, a contest, and a triumph shared in common, was a decisive step in the organisation and unity of France. The victory of Bouvines marked the commencement of the time at which men might speak, and did speak, by one single name, of 'the French.' The nation in France and the kingship in France rose on that day out of and above the feudal system." The victorious king had a grand reception from the people of the districts through which he passed on his return to Paris, carrying in his train the wounded and fettered count of Flanders, the late powerful, now finally disabled, foe of his suzerain. The reign of Philip Augustus was also; marked by the first sign of the revolt of free thought against the Papacy and the Church, and by the first armed crusade against "heretics," as contrasted with the movement against Saracenic or Turkish "infidels." The monstrous cruelty displayed by the champions of "orthodoxy" shows the intolerant spirit of mediaeval days. We must first note the difference in point of civilisation between the: people to the north and those to the south of the Loire. In the north, the inhabitants, largely of Teutonic origin, were, apart from Normandy, of uncultivated character, with little commerce, literature, or luxury. In the southern region, the country called Languedoc (i.e. the pays de Langue d'Oc, because the people there spoke the Provencal dialect, the Romance or Romanised language in which oc was used instead of oui for "yes" ), there was a poetical literature of-high development in the lyric verse of the trouveres or troubadours, and a flourishing commerce was carried on, by merchants from the Eastern empire, at Toulouse and, Narbonne. This region, singularly favoured by nature in scenery and soil, was in the 12th century the most flourishing and civilised part of western Europe, Wealthy cities, each a little republic, and stately castles, each with its own brilliant little court, were scattered among the vineyards and corn-fields. In this fruitful land, chivalry had assumed its softest, least warlike, and most entrancing form, associated with art and letters, courtesy and love. Tolerance of spirit had come through familiar intercourse with the best representatives of Islam,: the Moors of Spain, and a welcome was given to new doctrines introduced by the Greek; traders along with-the drugs and silks of the East. The people became "heretical," or alien from the belief of the Catholic Church m various points, as the faith was laid down by Popes and Councils.

It was a dangerous age for people to stray in this fashion, when a prelate like Innocent III. was the head of the Church. That vigorous and able man, who reached his exalted position in 1198, at the age of 37, had raised the Papal See to the height of secular and spiritual power. Asserting feudal rights as to the temporal possessions, he had gained additional territory in central Italy. His claims to interfere with foreign sovereigns, exercising against them and their subjects the weapons of interdict and excommunication, had been enforced against Otto of Germany, John of England, and Philip of France. Learned, pure in life, he was a severe disciplinarian of ecclesiastics. He and his instruments were now to show the lengths to which mediaeval bigotry could go against the holders, or supposed holders, of false beliefs. The clergy were, by large numbers of the people in Languedoc, held in such abhorrence that "viler than a priest" was a proverbial phrase. The danger to the Papacy seemed formidable when the most cultivated of transalpine peoples had thrown aside all respect for the Roman hierarchy, and were occupying a position, as regarded France, Italy, and Spain, whence the poison of their heresies might be freely transmitted. In 1203 two legates, assisted by Dominic, the fervid Spanish priest, were sent to deal with the "Albigenses," as the heretics were called from the town of Albi, north-east of Toulouse. Preaching was of no avail, and a crisis came when a new count of Toulouse, Raymond VI., seemed to be favouring the evil cause, and a gentleman of his household, in 1208, murdered one of the Papal legates. Innocent then appealed to the "secular arm," and proclaimed a Crusade, which in 1209 launched against Languedoc a powerful force from north of the Loire, headed by Simon de Montfort, father of our earl of Leicester. The people were unable to withstand these orthodox warriors, and fearful slaughter ensued. Many thousands fell in one day, massacred after the storming of Bdziers, Catholics as well as heretics, when one of the Crusade-leaders, Arnold, abbot of Citeaux, cried out, "Kill them all; God will know His own!" A brave struggle was maintained by Raymond VII. of Toulouse, but in 1229, after a contest of 20 years, in which the finest parts of Provence and upper Languedoc had been laid waste, the matter ended with the destruction of the prosperity, civilisation, and national existence of the most-opulent and enlightened Europeans of the time. Most of the territory was annexed to the kingdom of France. In the same year the Inquisition was established by Pope Gregory IX. as a regular tribunal at Toulouse, with members selected from the Dominican Order, and, as is well known, this institution became, in Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, the most terrible instrument of Papal despotism.

Under Louis IX. (St. Louis) (1226-1270) wise government was exercised by the king's mother, the charming, good, and intellectual Blanche of Castile, as regent, during the king's minority and then his absence in the East, where we have seen him in the Sixth Crusade. Many reforms were made by the sovereign. Judicial duels ("wager of battle") were suppressed, and the powers of feudal jurisdiction were limited by a right of appeal, in all cases, to the royal court. The authority of the Crown was augmented by the transformation of the communes into "royal cities," dependent upon the sovereign, but governed by mayors, councillors, and other officials chosen by the burghers.

In Spain we find Alfonso VIII. of Castile assuming power in 1170, and marrying Eleanor, daughter of Henry II. of England. His wife inherited much of her father's force of character, and greatly aided her husband, a man of amiable character, styled "the Good" by the monkish chroniclers, chiefly by reason of his loyalty to the cause of the Church, in behalf of which he issued a decree exempting all ecclesiastics from every kind of tax. He was, however zealous also for the good of his subjects at large. In 1195 he had to encounter a great host of the Almohades from Africa, whence they ruled the Spanish possessions of the Moors, and the Christians suffered one of their greatest defeats at Alarcos, near Badajoz, losing thousands of men and vast spoils. The king, rash as a general but valiant as a soldier, was barely restrained from seeking death by plunging into the thick of the infidels when the rout began. The Mohammedans thus recovered much of the lost territory, and were again masters of Madrid, Salamanca, and other important towns. Alarm was excited in Europe, when the largest infidel army yet seen in Spain was brought over from Africa, composed of Egyptians, negroes, Nubians, Persians, and other contingents from Asia and Africa. Innocent III. proclaimed a new Crusade, and the archbishop of Toledo, a man equally distinguished in warfare and in learning, went about the Continent seeking help from Christian princes. A hearty response was made and many French and English knights marched for the scene of the new holy war. Navarre and Aragon gave help, and the king of Castile, with his allies, came upon the Mohammedans in the Sierra Morena, the range dividing Castile from Andalusia, amidst some small upland valleys, surrounded by trees and rocks, called Las Navas de Tolosa. There, on July 16th, 1212, a great and decisive battle was fought. Alfonso, with the choicest of the Castilian cavaliers, led the vanguard and the centre, with the archbishops of Toledo and Narbonne, and other warlike prelates. The infidels were led by a Mohammed, with a scimitar in one hand and the Koran in the other. The furious strife went on all day, the Christians being enormously outnumbered. The Templars in the front were destroyed to the last man. Alfonso and the archbishop of Toledo bore themselves like heroes, but the Churchman was the better general, from his cooler head, and when the king, in despair, wished to rush into the thick of the foe, the prelate restored the fight, and made dispositions which led to complete victory. The enemy, embarrassed by their own numbers, lost many tens of thousands of men, and the power of the Mohammedans in Spain never recovered from the blow. The Christians took one city after another, and in 1235 the Andalusian Moors, weary of their African masters, drove the Almohades entirely out of Spain, Alfonso VIII. died in 1214, leaving the country in Christian hands from the Bay of Biscay to the Sierra Morena, and from Barcelona to Lisbon. In 1230 Fernando, son of Berengaria, sister of Alfonso VIII., and of the king of Leon, united under his rule the two states of Castile and Leon, destined henceforth to be no more separated, and to play the chief part in the complete and final deliverance of the country from the Moors. Between 1238 and 1260 Fernando III. and his successor, in alliance with the king of Aragon, a state which had been steadily growing in power, conquered the splendid and renowned Cordova, with Valencia, Murcia, and Seville, and Mohammedan rule was confined to Granada, or the country about the Sierra Nevada and the sea-coast from. Gibraltar to Almeria. Even there the Moorish king, though he had many thousands of warriors at his command, was tributary to Castile, and there was little warfare for a long period between the rivals. At the close of the 13th century, Granada had taken the place of Cordova as the centre of Moorish civilisation in the sciences and arts, and the famous Alhambra, already mentioned, arose in its glory.

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Pictures for Northern and Western Europe: the British Isles; Denmark, Sweden, Norway; France; Spain; the Byzantine Empire. page 3

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