Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ecgberht's Rule

802—839.—Though Charles did not directly govern England, he made his influence felt there. Offa had claimed his protection, and Ecgberht took refuge at his court. Ecgberht doubtless learned something of the art of ruling from him, and in 802 he returned to England. Beorhtric was by this time dead, and Ecgberht was accepted as king by the West Saxons. Before he died, in 839, he had made himself the over-lord of all the other kingdoms. He was never, indeed, directly king of all England. Kent, Sussex, and Essex were governed by rulers of his own family appointed by himself. Mercia, East Anglia, and North-humberland retained their own kings, ruling under Ecgberht as their over-lord. Towards the west Ecgberht's direct government did not reach beyond the Tamar, though the Cornish Celts acknowledged his authority, as did the Celts of Wales. The Celts of Strathclyde and the Picts and Scots remained entirely independent.

It was quite possible that the power founded by Ecgberht might pass away as completely as did the power which had been founded by Æthelfrith of North-humberland or by Penda of Mercia. To some extent the danger was averted by the unusual strength of character which for six generations showed itself in the family of Ecgberht. For nearly a century and a half after Ecgberht's death no ruler arose from his line who had not great qualities as a warrior or as a ruler. It was no less important that these successive kings, with scarcely an exception, kept up a good understanding with the clergy, and especially with the Archbishops of Canterbury, so that the whole of the influence of the Church was thrown in favour of the political unity of England under the West Saxon line. The clergy wished to see the establishment of a strong national government for the protection of the national Church. Yet it was difficult to establish such a government unless other causes than the goodwill of the clergy had contributed to its maintenance. Peoples who have had little intercourse except by fighting with one another rarely unite heartily unless they have some common enemy to ward off, and some common leader to look up to in the conduct of their defence.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mohammedanism and the Carolingian Empire

A great change had passed over Europe since the days when a Frankish princess, by her marriage with the Kentish Ethelberht, had smoothed the way for the introduction of Christianity into England. In the first part of the seventh century Mohammed had preached a new religion in Arabia. He taught that there was one God, and that Mohammed was his prophet. After his death his Arab followers spread as conquerors over the neighbouring countries. Before the end of the century they had subdued Persia, Syria, and Egypt, and were pushing westwards along the north coast of Africa. In 711 they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar. All Spain, with the exception of a hilly district in the north, soon fell into their hands, and in 717 they crossed the Pyrenees. There can be little doubt that, if they had subdued Gaul, Mohammedanism and not Christianity would for a long time have been the prevailing religion in Europe.

However the Frankish warrior, Charles Martel (the Hammer), in 732 drove the invaders back at a great battle between Tours and Poitiers. Charles's son, Pippin, dethroned the reigning family and became king of the Franks. Pippin's son was Charles the Great, who before he died ruled over the whole of Gaul and Germany, over the north and centre of Italy, and the north-east of Spain. His rule was favoured both by the Frankish warriors and by the clergy, who were glad to see so strong a bulwark erected against the attacks of the Mohammedans. At that time the Roman Empire, which had never ceased to exist at Constantinople, fell into the hands of Irene, the murderess of her son. In 800 the Pope, refusing to acknowledge that the Empire could have so unworthy a head, placed the Imperial crown on the head of Charles as the successor of the old Roman Emperors.