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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
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THE WEALTH OF THE CLERGY

[105]

N
OT only were the last years of Hugh Capet's reign and all of Robert's overshadowed by fears that the world would soon come to an end, but the beginning of Henery I's reign was also troubled in the same way, as it was now about one thousand years since the Passion of our Lord. Once more the fields were left untilled, in daily expectation of immediate judgment, and for about three years, from Greece to England, little work was done. Consequently, people suffered greatly from famine and plague. While the rich could draw upon reserve resources, the poor suffered so intensely that some actually turned cannibals, while others ate roots, grass, and even lumps of clay.

The time having passed again without bringing about the expected change, people finally took courage once more, and began again to plant and sow. With work, plenty was restored, but many of the French were very much poorer, for, while dreading the coming judgment, they had given away all they owned to the Church, which could now boast of being far richer than the king or any of his nobles.

Not only was much of the land and wealth thus held by the clergy, but most of the knowledge—and hence most of the power—centered in them also. Each monastery was at this time a sort of school or university, where a number of the most intelligent monks were carefully educated to be the teachers, preachers, and learned men of the day. Such men as were found capable of receiving the necessary instruction were trained to be scribes, and in each monastery a room called scribarium was set aside, where, day after day, monks painstakingly copied the books they owned, [106] or such as they could borrow. Thus in a few years each monastery collected a little library of its own, and, however small, these collections of manuscripts were justly considered precious, for in those days a single book was often worth more than a whole farm.

It was at this time also that a beginning was made in building many great cathedrals. The monks invested part of their wealth in erecting beautiful churches, which they adorned with statues, paintings, and exquisite stained-glass windows, often the work of some of their number. Many great churches took several hundred years to finish, and some of them show, in different parts, varying styles of architecture. The heavy Roman style, with rounded arches, came first, and was followed by the Gothic style, with pointed arches.

The most learned man of the tenth century was the French monk Gerbert (zhâr-bâr'), who is noted as the inventor of the clock. He also introduced Europe the Arabic numbers, which made arithmetical operations easy. Because he was wiser than most of the men of his time, he was accused of practicing magic, but he succeeded, nevertheless, in winning so much respect that he was chosen to occupy the papal chair under the name of Sylvester II. He was the first Frenchman ever elected Pope.

Throughout the thirty years' reign of King Henry I, he had many troubles with his barons, who had become so accustomed to do as they pleased that they were continually at war with one another. Whenever the barons fought, their vassals were either obliged to follow them, or to take refuge within the castle walls and leave their fields untilled. But the many little wars waged in all parts of [107] France at this epoch so sorely hindered the cultivation of the soil that food became very scarce.

No less than twoscore famines having occurred in about fifty years, the priests, wishing to put an end to the trouble, suggested an arrangement whereby no fighting should be allowed throughout Lent or Advent, or any feast day, or from Wednesday evening to Monday morning of any week.

This was called the "Truce of God," and the barons having agreed to keep it, it was decided that any man who failed to respect it should be fined or banished. As only eighty fighting days a year were left by this arrangement, the peasants were able to make use of the remainder to cultivate the fields without dread of being either killed or captured.

But the noblemen, who indulged in no occupation save warfare and hunting, were so greatly bored by their enforced idleness that many of the most turbulent left home in search of adventure, while others joined in any war which happened to be going on at the time. It was thus that many of the Normans went to fight in southern Italy and Sicily, where they established a kingdom which was to last a long time.

Some nobles, in repentance for their sins, made pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Of all King Henry's many powerful vassals, the most important was the Duke of Normandy, called "Robert the Magnificent" by the nobles, and "Robert the Devil" by the poor. Wishing to atone for his many sins,—which included several murders,—this Robert decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher. He died while on his way home, and was succeeded by his son William (the Conqueror).

[108] Henry I. left his kingdom to his son Philip I. (1060), who was crowned when only seven years old. A few years later Duke William prepared to take possession of the English crown, ad began by asking Philip to join in the expedition. Philip having refused, William ever after insisted that he owed no homage to the French king for the land he won on the other side of the Channel (1066).

Philip I., seeing that his vassal, after this conquest, was far more powerful than himself, became violently jealous, and soon vented some of his spite by saying sarcastically, one day, that William was far too fat to move. But William proceeded to prove the French king was greatly mistaken by declaring war against him and threatening to drive him out of his capital, Paris.

William was in a fair way to succeed in executing this threat, when his horse stepped on some hot ashes at the siege of Mantes (mant), and threw the rider so violently against the pommel of the saddle that he died shortly after from the effects of the injury. William was [109] buried in Normandy, and his inheritance was divided among his sons, one of whom received the duchy of Normandy and did homage to the French king, while the sovereign of England remained entirely independent


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