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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
Table of Contents


 

 

THE STRASSBURG OATH

[89]

L
OUIS died in 840, having reigned twenty-six years, most of which were spent in warring against his sons. During this time, the nobles took advantage of the disturbed state of the realm to seize all the land, wealth, and power they could, for each man thought of himself only, and not of the Emperor or country.

When Louis died, his youngest son, Charles I., the Bald, ruled over most of what we now call France; Louis (Ludwig) over much of Germany; and Lothair—who bore the title of Emperor—had, besides Italy, a long, narrow strip of land running from the North Sea to the Alps, which included a great part of what is now known as Belgium and Switzerland. This realm was called Lothair's land, or Lotharingia, a name still borne by a small part of it, the province of Lorraine.

As already stated, King Louis was not satisfied with his share, and as he and Charles both refused to recognize Emperor Lothair as their master, war soon broke out. The three armies met at Fontenay (fôNt-n̆'), where was fought the "Battle of the brothers," as it is often called (841). So many Frankish warriors lost their lives in this and none but lords of that race were to be found thereafter in France.

Lothair was beaten and had to retreat, but the war continued. Charles and Louis met at Strassburg, where, in the presence of their respective armies, they took a solemn oath to be true to each other. On this occasion Charles, the French king, spoke to his brother's soldiers in German, [89] while Louis, the German monarch addressed Charles's men in French. The "Strassburg Oath," taken in 842, was duly written down, and is now the oldest specimen on ancient French and German, for it was framed in the days when those two languages were just beginning to take shape.

Lothair, seeing plainly that he would not be strong enough to resist the combined forces of his two brothers, now signed a treaty with them at Verdun' (843), whereby [91] he retained his share of the land, and the title of Emperor, but had no authority whatever over his brothers, each of whom was allowed to govern his realm as he chose. This treaty is considered very important in European history, because it marks the epoch when Germany, France, and Italy parted company, never to be really one again for any length of time.

Charles I. now ruled over the land extending from the Pyrenees and the Ocean, to the Meuse and the Rhone. Here, as you know, Celts, Romans, Franks, Burgundians, and Goths had settled in turn, so that the French nation and language were made up of a mixture of all these different elements.

Unfortunately, the ruler of this rich land was as weak—although not as good—as his poor father. He never had to war against his sons, it is true, but he had to resist the nobles, who tried in every way to deprive him of his power. He was also greatly troubled by the Saracens, and especially by the Northmen, or Normans, those terrible pirates whom Charlemagne had seen, and of whom he had predicted for his descendants.

By this time the Normans—who had not dared to land in France in Charlemange's day—had grown so bold that they not only made yearly raids all along the coasts, but actually sailed up the principal rivers and even besieged and sacked strong towns like Rouen (roo-äN)and Paris.

As Charles was not a fighter himself, he bade one of his nobles, Robert the Strong, defend the country, and in reward for his services made him Count of Paris. Robert, who was as brave as a lion, fought the Normans until he [92] fell in battle (866); then the weak Charles bribed the bold invaders to go away.

Although the Normans left France, it was only to return before long to secure more money. This time, before he could induce the nobles to join him in driving them away, Charles had to make an edict, wherein he promised that the estates and offices of his vassals should not only be theirs as long as they lived, but should belong to their heirs after them. It was thus that Charles the Bald established hereditary nobility in France, where it has lasted until to-day.


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