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treated with the same insolence and rigour as if they had been degraded into that wretched state. The king, stripped of almost every prerogative, and without authority to enact or to execute salutary laws, could neither protect the innocent nor punish the guilty. The nobles, superior to all restraint, harassed each other with perpetual wars, oppressed their fellow-subjects, and humbled or insulted their sovereign. To crown all, time gradually fixed and rendered venerable this pernicious system, which violence had established. Such was the state of Europe with respect to the interior administration of government, from the seventh to the eleventh century.
THE Crusades, in order to rescue the holy land from the hands of infidels, first roused Europe, and introduced a charge in her government and manners. Venerating the spot where the Son of God accomplished the redemption of mankind, and impressed with the current idea that the end of the world was near at hand, multitudes hastened to the holy land, there to meet with Christ in judgment. When the minds of men were thus prepared, the zeal of a fanatical monk, who conceived the idea of leading all the forces of Christendom against the infidels, and of driving thenı out of the holy land by violence, was sufficient to give a beginning to that wild enterprise.
Peter the Hermit, for that was the name of that martial apostle, ran from province to province with a crucifix in his hand, exciting princes and people to the holy war; and wherever he came, kindled the same enthusiastic ardour for it with which he himself was animated. The council of
Placentia, where upwards of thirty thousand persons were assembled, pronounced the scheme to have been suggested by the immediate inspiration of heaven. In the council of Clermont, still more numerous, as soon as the measure was proposed, all cried out with one voice, “It is the will of God.” Persons of all ranks catched the contagion ; not only the gallant nobles of that age, with their martial followers, whom we may suppose to have been allured by the boldness of a romantic enterprise ; but men in the more humble and pacific stations of life ; ecclesiastics of every order, and even women and children, engaged with emulation in an undertaking which was deemed sacred and meritorious. According to the testimony of contemporary historians, six millions of persons assumed the cross, which was the badge that distinguished such as devoted themselves to this holy warfare. All Europe torn up from the foundation, seemed ready to precipitate itself in one united body upon Asia. Nor did the fumes of this enthusiatic zeal evaporate at once ; the frenzy was as lasting as it was extravagant. During two centuries, Europe seems to have had no object but to recover or to keep possession of the holy land ; and through that period vast armies continued to march thither.
The spirit of chivalry inspired the nobles of Europe with more liberal and generous sentiments than had formerly prevailed. This instution, though considered of a wild nature, the effect of caprice, and the source of extravagance, arose naturally from the state of society at that period, and had a very serious influence i refining the European manners. The feudal wa a state of almost perpetual war, rapine, and artean posed to insults or injuries. The power of the sovereign was too limited to prevent these wrongs, and the administration of justice too feeble to redress them. The most effectual protection against violence and oppression was often found to be that which the valour and generosity of private persons afforded. The same spirit of enterprise which had prompted so many gentlemen to take arms in defence of the oppressed pilgrims of Palestine, incited others to declare themselves the patrons and avengers of injured innocence at home. When the final reduction of the holy land under the dominion of infidels put an end to those foreign expeditions, the latter was the only employ. ment left for the activity and courage of adventurers. To check the insolence of overgrown oppressors ; to rescue the helpless from captivity ; to protect or to avenge women, orphans, and ecclesiastics, who could not bear arms in their own defence; to redress wrongs, and to remove grievances; were deemed acts of the highest prowess and merit. Valour, humanity, courtesy, justice, and honour, were the characteristic qualities of chivalry. To these were added religion, which mingled itself with every passion and institution during the middle ages, and, by insusing a large proportion of enthusiastic zcal, gave them such force as carried them to romantic excess. Men were trained to knighthood by a long previous discipline; they were admitted into the order by solemnities no less devout than pompous; every person of noble birth courted that honour; it was deemed a dis
tinction superior to royalty, and monarchs were proud to receive it from the hands of private gentlemen.
This singular institution, in which valour, gallantry, and religion, were so strangely blended, was wonderfully adapted to the taste and genius of martial nobles, and its effects were soon visible in their manners. War was carried on with less ferocity, when humanity came to be deemed the ornament of knighthood no less than courage.
More gentle and polished manners were introduced, when courtesy was recommended as the most amiable of knightly virtues. Violence and oppression decreased, when it was reckoned meritorious to check and to punish them. A scrupulous adkerence to truth, with the most religious attention to fulfil every engagement, became the distinguishing characteristic of a gentleman, because chivalry was regarded as the school of honour, and inculcated the most delicate sensibility with respect to those points. The admiration of these qualities, together with the high distinctions and prerogatives conferred on knighthood in every part of Europe, inspired persons of noble birth on some occasions with a species of military fanaticism, and led them to extravagant enterprises. But they deeply imprinted on their minds the principles of generosity and honour. These were strengthened by every thing that can affect the senses or touch the heart. The wild exploits of those romantic knights who sallied forth in quest of adventures, are well known, and have been treated with proper ridicule. The humanity which accompanies all the operations of war, the refinements of gallantry, and the point of honour, are sentiments inspired by chivalry, and have had a wonderful influence on manners and conduct, during the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. They were so deeply rooted, that they continued to operate after the vigour and reputation of the institution itself began to decline.
The plan of humbling the nobility which Charles began to execute, his son Louis XI. carried on with a bolder spirit and with greater success. Louis was formed by nature to be a tyrant; and at whatever period he had been called to ascend the throne, his reign must have abounded with schemes to oppress his people, and to render his own power absolute. Subtle, unfeeling, cruel ; a stranger to every principle of integrity, and regardless of decency, he scorned all restraints, which a sense of honour or the desire of fame impose even upon ambitious men. Sagacious at the same time to discern what he deemed his true interest, and influenced by that alone, he was capable of pursuing it with a persevering industry, and of adhering to it with a systematic spirit, from which no object could divert and no danger could deter him.
The maxims of his administration were as profound as they were fatal to the privileges of the nobility. He filled all the departments of government with new men, and often with persons whom he called from the lowest as well as most despised functions in life, and raised at pleasure to great stations of great power or trust. These were his only confidants, whom he consulted in forming his plans, and to whom he committed the execution of them; while the nobles, accustomed to be the friends and companions, and the ministers of their sovereigns, were treated with such studied and mortifying neglect, that if they would not submit to