SIGNUM K + S CAROLI GLORIOSISSIMI REGIS.
The monogram of Charles with the additions of a scribe in a document signed by Charles at Kufstein, Aug. 31, 790. Copied from Stacke, l.c.
§ 57. Founding of the Holy Roman Empire, a.d. 800. Charlemagne and Leo III
G. Sugenheim: Geschichte der Entstehung und Ausbildung des Kirchenstaates. Leipz. 1854.
F. Scharpff: Die Entstehung des kirchenstaats. Freib. i. B. 1860.
TH. D. Mock: De Donatione a Carolo Mag. sedi apostolicae anno 774 oblata. Munich 1861.
James Bryce: The Holy Roman Empire. Lond. & N. York (Macmillan & Co.) 6th ed. 1876, 8th ed. 1880. German translation by Arthur Winckler.
Heinrich von Sybel: Die Schenkungen der Karolinger an die Päpste. In Sybel’s "Hist. Zeitschrift," Munchen & Leipz. 1880, pp. 46–85.
Comp. Baxmann: I. 307 sqq.; Vétault: Ch. III. pp. 113 sqq. (Charlemagne, patrice des Romains-Formation des états de l’église).
Charlemagne inherited the protectorate of the temporal dominions of the pope which had been wrested from the Lombards by Pepin, as the Lombards had wrested them from the Eastern emperor. When the Lombards again rebelled and the pope (Hadrian) again appealed to the transalpine monarch for help, Charles in the third year of his sole reign (774) came to the rescue, crossed the Alps with an army—a formidable undertaking in those days—subdued Italy with the exception of a small part of the South still belonging to the Greek empire, held a triumphal entry in Rome, and renewed and probably enlarged his father’s gift to the pope. The original documents have perished, and no contemporary authority vouches for the details; but the fact is undoubted. The gift rested only on the right of conquest. Henceforward he always styled himself "Rex Francorum et Longobardorum, et Patricius Romanorum." His authority over the immediate territory of the Lombards in Northern Italy was as complete as that in France, but the precise nature of his authority over the pope’s dominion as Patrician of the Romans became after his death an apple of discord for centuries. Hadrian, to judge from his letters, considered himself as much an absolute sovereign in his dominion as Charles in his.
In 781 at Easter Charles revisited Rome with his son Pepin, who on that occasion was anointed by the pope "King for Italy" ("Rex in Italiam"). On a third visit., in 787, he spent a few days with his friend, Hadrian, in the interest of the patrimony of St. Peter. When Leo III. followed Hadrian (796) he immediately dispatched to Charles, as tokens of submission the keys and standards of the city, and the keys of the sepulchre of Peter.
A few years afterwards a terrible riot broke out in Rome in which the pope was assaulted and almost killed (799). He fled for help to Charles, then at Paderborn in Westphalia, and was promised assistance. The next year Charles again crossed the Alps and declared his intention to investigate the charges of certain unknown crimes against Leo, but no witness appeared to prove them. Leo publicly read a declaration of his own innocence, probably at the request of Charles, but with a protest that this declaration should not be taken for a precedent. Soon afterwards occurred the great event which marks an era in the ecclesiastical and political history of Europe.
The Coronation of Charles as Emperor.
While Charles was celebrating Christmas in St. Peter’s, in the year of our Lord 800, and kneeling in prayer before the altar, the pope, as under a sudden inspiration (but no doubt in consequence of a premeditated scheme), placed a golden crown upon his head, and the Roman people shouted three times: "To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, the great and pacific emperor of the Romans, life and victory!" Forthwith, after ancient custom, he was adored by the pope, and was styled henceforth (instead of Patrician) Emperor and Augustus.0
The new emperor presented to the pope a round table of silver with the picture of Constantinople, and many gifts of gold, and remained in Rome till Easter. The moment or manner of the coronation may have been unexpected by Charles (if we are to believe his word), but it is hardly conceivable that it was not the result of a previous arrangement between him and Leo. Alcuin seems to have aided the scheme. In his view the pope occupied the first, the emperor the second, the king the third degree in the scale of earthly dignities. He sent to Charles from Tours before his coronation a splendid Bible with the inscription: Ad splendorem imperialis potentiae.1
On his return to France Charles compelled all his subjects to take a new oath to him as "Caesar." He assumed the full title "Serenssimus Augustus a Deo coronatus, magnus et pacificus imperator, Romanum gubernans imperium, qui et per misericordiam Dei rex Francorum et Longobardorum."
Significance of the Act.
The act of coronation was on the part of the pope a final declaration of independence and self-emancipation against the Greek emperor, as the legal ruler of Rome. Charles seems to have felt this, and hence he proposed to unite the two empires by marrying Irene, who had put her son to death and usurped the Greek crown (797). But the same rebellion had been virtually committed before by the pope in sending the keys of the city to Pepin, and by the French king in accepting this token of temporal sovereignty. Public opinion justified the act on the principle that might makes right. The Greek emperor, being unable to maintain his power in Italy and to defend his own subjects, first against the Lombards and then against the Franks, had virtually forfeited his claim.
For the West the event was the re-establishment, on a Teutonic basis, of the old Roman empire, which henceforth, together with the papacy, controlled the history of the middle ages. The pope and the emperor represented the highest dignity and power in church and state. But the pope was the greater and more enduring power of the two. He continued, down to the Reformation, the spiritual ruler of all Europe, and is to this day the ruler of an empire much vaster than that of ancient Rome. He is, in the striking language of Hobbes, "the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof."
The Relation of the Pope and the Emperor.
What was the legal and actual relation between these two sovereignties, and the limits of jurisdiction of each? This was the struggle of centuries. It involved many problems which could only be settled in the course of events. It was easy enough to distinguish the two in theory by, confining the pope to spiritual, and the emperor to temporal affairs. But on the theocratic theory of the union of church and state the two will and must come into frequent conflict.
The pope, by voluntarily conferring the imperial crown upon Charles, might claim that the empire was his gift, and that the right of crowning implied the right of discrowning. And this right was exercised by popes at a later period, who wielded the secular as well as the spiritual sword and absolved nations of their oath of allegiance. A mosaic picture in the triclinium of Leo III. in the Lateran (from the ninth century) represents St. Peter in glory, bestowing upon Leo kneeling at his right hand the priestly stole, and upon Charles kneeling at his left, the standard of Rome.2 This is the mediaeval hierarchical theory, which derives all power from God through Peter as the head of the church. Gregory VII. compared the church to the sun, the state to the moon who derives her light from the sun. The popes will always maintain the principle of the absolute supremacy of the church over the state, and support or oppose a government—whether it be an empire or a kingdom or a republic—according to the degree of its subserviency to the interests of the hierarchy. The papal Syllabus of 1864 expresses the genuine spirit of the system in irreconcilable conflict with the spirit of modern history and civilization. The Vatican Palace is the richest museum of classical and mediaeval curiosities, and the pope himself, the infallible oracle of two hundred millions of souls, is by far the greatest curiosity in it.
On the other hand Charles, although devotedly attached to the church and the pope, was too absolute a monarch to recognize a sovereignty within his sovereignty. He derived his idea of the theocracy from the Old Testament, and the relation between Moses and Aaron. He understood and exercised his imperial dignity pretty much in the same way as Constantine the Great and Theodosius the Great had done in the Byzantine empire, which was caesaro-papal in principle and practice, and so is its successor, the Russian empire. Charles believed that he was the divinely appointed protector of the church and the regulator of all her external and to some extent also the internal affairs. He called the synods of his empire without asking the pope. He presided at the Council of Frankfort (794), which legislated on matters of doctrine and discipline, condemned the Adoption heresy, agreeably to the pope, and rejected the image worship against the decision of the second oecumenical Council of Nicaea (787) and the declared views of several popes. 253 He appointed bishops and abbots as well as counts, and if a vacancy in the papacy, had occurred during the remainder of his life, he would probably have filled it as well as the ordinary bishoprics. The first act after his coronation was to summon and condemn to death for treason those who had attempted to depose the pope. He thus acted as judge in the case. A Council at Mayence in 813 called him in an official document "the pious ruler of the holy church." 254
Charles regarded the royal and imperial dignity as the hereditary possession of his house and people, and crowned his son, Louis the Pious, at Aix-la-Chapelle in 813, without consulting the pope or the Romans.5 He himself as a Teuton represented both France and Germany. But with the political separation of the two countries under his successors, the imperial dignity was attached to the German crown. Hence also the designation: the holy German Roman empire.
§ 58. Survey of the History of the Holy Roman Empire.
The readiness with which the Romans responded to the crowning act of Leo proves that the re-establishment of the Western empire was timely. The Holy Roman Empire seemed to be the necessary counterpart of the Holy Roman Church. For many, centuries the nations of Europe had been used to the concentration of all secular power in one head. It is true, several Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian had persecuted Christianity by fire and sword, but Constantine and his successors had raised the church to dignity and power, and bestowed upon it all the privileges of a state religion. The transfer of the seat of empire from Rome to Constantinople withdrew from the Western church the protection of the secular arm, and exposed Europe to the horrors of barbarian invasion and the chaos of civil wars. The popes were among the chief sufferers, their territory, being again and again overrun and laid waste by the savage Lombards. Hence the instinctive desire for the protecting arm of a new empire, and this could only be expected from the fresh and vigorous Teutonic power which had risen beyond the Alps and Christianized by Roman missionaries. Into this empire "all the life of the ancient world was gathered; out of it all the life of the modern world arose." 256
The Empire and the Papacy, The Two Ruling Powers of the Middle Ages.
Henceforward the mediaeval history of Europe is chiefly a history of the papacy and the empire. They were regarded as the two arms of God in governing the church and the world. This twofold government was upon the whole the best training-school of the barbarian for Christian civilization and freedom. The papacy acted as a wholesome check upon military despotism, the empire as a check upon the abuses of priestcraft. Both secured order and unity against the disintegrating tendencies of society; both nourished the great idea of a commonwealth of nations, of a brotherhood of mankind, of a communion of saints. By its connection with Rome, the empire infused new blood into the old nationalities of the South, and transferred the remaining treasures of classical culture and the Roman law to the new nations of the North. The tendency of both was ultimately self-destructive; they fostered, while seeming to oppose, the spirit of ecclesiastical and national independence. The discipline of authority always produces freedom as its legitimate result. The law is a schoolmaster to lead men to the gospel.
Otho the Great.
In the opening chapter of the history of the empire we find it under the control of a master-mind and in friendly alliance with the papacy. Under the weak successors of Charlemagne it dwindled down to a merely nominal existence. But it revived again in Otho I. or the Great (936–973), of the Saxon dynasty. He was master of the pope and defender of the Roman church, and left everywhere the impress of an heroic character, inferior only to that of Charles. Under Henry III. (1039–1056), when the papacy sank lowest, the empire again proved a reforming power. He deposed three rival popes, and elected a worthy, successor. But as the papacy rose from its degradation, it overawed the empire.
Henry IV. and Gregory VII.
Under Henry IV. (1056–1106) and Gregory VII. (1073–1085) the two power; came into the sharpest conflict concerning the right of investiture, or the supreme control in the election of bishops and abbots. The papacy achieved a moral triumph over the empire at Canossa, when the mightiest prince kneeled as a penitent at the feet of the proud successor of Peter (1077); but Henry recovered his manhood and his power, set up an antipope, and Gregory died in exile at Salerno, yet without yielding an inch of his principles and pretensions. The conflict lasted fifty years, and ended with the Concordat of Worms (Sept. 23, 1122), which was a compromise, but with a limitation of the imperial prerogative: the pope secured the right to invest the bishops with the ring and crozier, but the new bishop before his consecration was to receive his temporal estates as a fief of the crown by the touch of the emperor’s sceptre.
The House of Hohenstaufen.
Under the Swabian emperors of the house of Hohenstaufen (1138–1254) the Roman empire reached its highest power in connection with the Crusades, in the palmy days of mediaeval chivalry, poetry and song. They excelled in personal greatness and renown the Saxon and the Salic emperors, but were too much concerned with Italian affairs for the good of Germany. Frederick Barbarossa (Redbeard), during his long reign (1152–1190), was a worthy successor of Charlemagne and Otho the Great. He subdued Northern Italy, quarrelled with pope Alexander III., enthroned two rival popes (Paschal III., and after his death Calixtus III.), but ultimately submitted to Alexander, fell at his feet at Venice, and was embraced by the pope with tears of joy and the kiss of peace (1177). He died at the head of an army of crusaders, while attempting to cross the Cydnus in Cilicia (June 10, 1190), and entered upon his long enchanted sleep in Kyffhäuser till his spirit reappeared to establish a new German empire in 1871.7
Under Innocent III. (1198–1216) the papacy reached the acme of its power, and maintained it till the time of Boniface VIII. (1294–1303). Emperor Frederick II. (1215–1250), Barbarossa’s grandson, was equal to the best of his predecessors in genius and energy, superior to them in culture, but more an Italian than a German, and a skeptic on the subject of religion. He reconquered Jerusalem in the fifth crusade, but cared little for the church, and was put under the ban by pope Gregory IX., who denounced him as a heretic and blasphemer, and compared him to the Apocalyptic beast from the abyss.8 The news of his sudden death was hailed by pope Innocent IV. with the exclamation: "Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad." His death was the collapse of the house of Hohenstaufen, and for a time also of the Roman empire. His son and successor Conrad IV. ruled but a few years, and his grandson Conradin, a bright and innocent youth of sixteen, was opposed by the pope, and beheaded at Naples in sight of his hereditary kingdom (October 29, 1268).
Italy was at once the paradise and the grave of German ambition.
The German Empire.
After "the great interregnum" when might was right, 259the Swiss count Rudolf of Hapsburg (a castle in the Swiss canton of Aargau) was elected emperor by the seven electors, and crowned at Aachen (1273–1291). He restored peace and order, never visited Italy, escaped the ruinous quarrels with the pope, built up a German kingdom, and laid the foundation of the conservative, orthodox, tenacious, and selfish house of Austria.
The empire continued to live for more than five centuries with varying fortunes, in nominal connection with Rome and at the head of the secular powers in Christendom, but without controlling influence over the fortunes of the papacy and the course of Europe. Occasionally it sent forth a gleam of its universal aim, as under Henry VII., who was crowned in Rome and hailed by Dante as the saviour of Italy, but died of fever (if not of poison administered by a Dominican monk in the sacramental cup) in Tuscany (1313); under Sigismund, the convener and protector of the oecumenical Council at Constance which deposed popes and burned Hus (1414), a much better man than either the emperor or the contemporary popes; under Charles V. (1519–1558), who wore the crown of Spain and Austria as well as of Germany, and on whose dominions the sun never set; and under Joseph II. (1765–1790), who renounced the intolerant policy of his ancestors, unmindful of the pope’s protest, and narrowly escaped greatness. 260 But the emperors after Rudolf, with a few exceptions, were no more crowned in Rome, and withdrew from Italy. 261 They were chosen at Frankfort by the Seven Electors, three spiritual, and four temporal: the archbishops of Mentz, Treves, and Cologne, the king of Bohemia, and the Electors of the Palatinate, Saxony, and Brandenburg (afterwards enlarged to nine). The competition, however, was confined to a few powerful houses, until in the 15th century the Hapsburgs grasped the crown and held it tenaciously, with one exception, till the dissolution. The Hapsburg emperors always cared more for their hereditary dominions, which they steadily increased by fortunate marriages, than for Germany and the papacy.
The Decline and Fall of the Empire.
Many causes contributed to the gradual downfall of the German empire: the successful revolt of the Swiss mountaineers, the growth of the independent kingdoms of Spain, France, and England, the jealousies of the electors and the minor German princes, the discovery of a new Continent in the West, the invasion of the Turks from the East, the Reformation which divided the German people into two hostile religions, the fearful devastations of the thirty years’ war, the rise of the house of Hohenzollern and the kingdom of Prussia on German soil with the brilliant genius of Frederick II., and the wars growing out of the French Revolution. In its last stages it became a mere shadow, and justified the satirical description (traced to Voltaire), that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The last of the emperors, Francis II., in August 6th, 1806, abdicated the elective crown of Germany and substituted for it the hereditary crown of Austria as Francis I. (d. 1835).
Thus the holy Roman empire died in peace at the venerable age of one thousand and six years.
The Empire of Napoleon.
Napoleon, hurled into sudden power by the whirlwind of revolution on the wings of his military genius, aimed at the double glory of a second Caesar and a second Charlemagne, and constructed, by arbitrary force, a huge military empire on the basis of France, with the pope as an obedient paid servant at Paris, but it collapsed on the battle fields of Leipzig and Waterloo, without the hope of a resurrection. "I have not succeeded Louis Quatorze," he said, "but Charlemagne." He dismissed his wife and married a daughter of the last German and first Austrian emperor; he assumed the Lombard crown at Milan; he made his ill-fated son "King of Rome" in imitation of the German "King of the Romans." He revoked "the donations which my predecessors, the French emperors have made," and appropriated them to France. "Your holiness," he wrote to Pius VII., who had once addressed him as his "very dear Son in Christ," "is sovereign of Rome, but I am the emperor thereof." "You are right," he wrote to Cardinal Fesch, his uncle, "that I am Charlemagne, and I ought to be treated as the emperor of the papal court. I shall inform the pope of my intentions in a few words, and if he declines to acquiesce, I shall reduce him to the same condition in which he was before Charlemagne." 262 It is reported that he proposed to the pope to reside in Paris with a large salary, and rule the conscience of Europe under the military, supremacy of the emperor, that the pope listened first to his persuasion with the single remark: "Comedian," and then to his threats with the reply: "Tragedian," and turned him his back. The papacy utilized the empire of the uncle and the nephew, as well as it could, and survived them. But the first Napoleon swept away the effete institutions of feudalism, and by his ruthless and scornful treatment of conquered nationalities provoked a powerful revival of these very nationalities which overthrew and buried his own artificial empire. The deepest humiliation of the German nation, and especially of Prussia, was the beginning of its uprising in the war of liberation.
The German Confederation.
The Congress of Vienna erected a temporary substitute for the old empire in the German "Bund" at Frankfort. It was no federal state, but a loose confederacy of 38 sovereign states, or princes rather, without any popular representation; it was a rope of sand, a sham unity, under the leadership of Austria; and Austria shrewdly and selfishly used the petty rivalries and jealousies of the smaller principalities as a means to check the progress of Prussia and to suppress all liberal movements.
The New German Empire.
In the meantime the popular desire for national union, awakened by the war of liberation and a great national literature, made steady progress, and found at last its embodiment in a new German empire with a liberal constitution and a national parliament. But this great result was brought about by great events and achievements under the leadership of Prussia against foreign aggression. The first step was the brilliant victory of Prussia over Austria at Königgrätz, which resulted in the formation of the North German Confederation (1866). The second step was the still more remarkable triumph of united Germany in a war of self-defence against the empire of Napoleon III., which ended in the proclamation of William I. as German emperor by the united wishes of the German princes and peoples in the palace of Louis XIV. at Versailles (1870).
Thus the long dream of the German nation was fulfilled through a series of the most brilliant military and diplomatic victories recorded in modern history, by the combined genius of Bismarck, Moltke, and William, and the valor, discipline, and intelligence of the German army.
Simultaneously with this German movement, Italy under the lead of Cavour and Victor Emmanuel, achieved her national unity, with Rome as the political capital.