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matters of importance were discussed and
The whole of the warriors assembled fully armed ; the chiefs only, however, had the privilege of speaking ; the others expressing their assent or dissent to what was said by shouts, and by striking their swords upon their shields. Very soon after the settlement of the Franks in Gaul, this assembly lost much of its deliberative and legislative character, and came to be merely a military muster at the opening of each campaign. Its original time of meeting was in the early part of March, and was accompanied with various superstitious and idolatrous rites, which continued to be practised after the nominal conversion of the nation to Christianity, and even down to the time of Pepin. On the coronation of that monarch by Boniface, the latter induced the Franks to abandon these relics of their old paganism as unbecoming a Christian people ; and that he might do away with the idolatrous associations arising out of the period of the year, caused the time of meeting to be changed from March to May. As the assembly met in the open air, it was called from that circumstance, as well as from the month in which it assembled, the Champ de Mars, or de Mai.
Charlemagne perceived, that if he could restore the Champ de Mai from the neglect into which it had fallen, it would be exactly adapted to his purpose as a deliberative council. Within a few months of his accession to
the throne, therefore, (in May, 769,) he ordered that it should meet regularly twice every year, and that all persons should attend or be fined for absence. A very interesting description of its constitution and mode of procedure was drawn up by Hincmar, archbishop of Rheims, in the year 882, for the guidance of Carloman, son of Louis the Stammerer. The following account of the character and constitution of this assembly, as it was orgavized by Charlemagne, is for the most part condensed from the narrative of the prelate just named. Two councils met every year, the time and place of their meeting being determined by the emperor. The spot fixed upon was generally some spacious plain where the whole army might assemble. If the weather proved favourable, the deliberations were conducted in the open air; if unfavourable, temporary buildings were erected for the purpose. Though the entire nation had the privilege of being present, yet, as in the ancient times, the chiefs only consulted. The place assigned for the meeting of the chiefs was divided into two parts, one of which was occupied by the ecclesiastical, the other by the secular and military leaders, so that each could meet and discuss their affairs without the presence of the other. They might, however, deliberate in common if they chose, and they very frequently
The king did not meet with them unless they specially wished it, but held his court at a little distance, hearing reports from his envoys as to the administration of the laws,
the state of the provinces, the condition of the royal domains, inquiring into the disposition of the tribes on the frontier, receiving ambassadors from foreign courts, and mingling freely and familiarly with all classes. Not only were the people permitted to come and speak to the king without reserve, but they were strictly enjoined to do so, and tell him anything which they had observed of importance either within or without the kingdom. In particular, the king wished to be informed, whether in any part of the kingdom the people murmured and were discontented, and if so, from what cause ; whether any of the subdued nations gave signs of insubordination, whether any of those who had previously done so now seemed disposed to submit, or whether
of the independent tribes were threatening to attack any part of his dominions. These things his people were recommended to learn from friends and foes alike, and freely to communicate whatever they could gather. Though the king, as we have just said, was not present in the assemblies except when special circumstances rendered his presence desirable, he still controlled and regulated all that passed there, for messengers were continually going to and fro between himself and the council, communicating to the chiefs the matters on which the king wished their advice, and carrying back to him their opinions when they had sufliciently considered the questions proposed to them. The result of their deliberations having been laid before the great prince, he then, with the
wisdom which God gave him, adopted a resolution which all obeyed.
Everything thus emanated from the king, and was determined by him. Charlemagne himself fills the scene; he is the centre and soul of all things; it is he who says that the assemblies shall meet, and that they shall deliberate ; it is he who occupies himself with the state of the country, who proposes and sanctions laws; in him reside the energy and impulse of the legislature ; it is from him that all things emanate, and to him that all things return.
The places at which the assemblies were summoned to meet afford a very striking illustration of Charlemagne's ceaseless activity. Amongst those enumerated by his chroniclers we find Worms, Valenciennes, Geneva, Ehresburg, the sources of the Lippe, Ratisbon, Frankfort, and Boulogne. Not only are these places widely distant from one another, but many of them are in the very heart of the Saxon territory, and most of them in districts where, at the time of meeting, military operations were being carried on.
Such being the constitution and character of the legislative body, we proceed to a consideration of the legislation itself. This it is proposed to treat of at some length, because, though of less general interest than many other parts of the history of the period, yet nothing else gives
* Guizot's Lectures on the History of Civilization in France. Lect. xx.
us so adequate an idea of the character of the age, and so accurate an acquaintance with the disposition and feelings of the subject of our sketch. The monarch will be found expressing, in his own words, his judgment of the men and things of his time. As in the clear waters of a lake we see in a single glance the weeds and pebbles of the lake itself, together with the shadows of the surrounding banks and trees, so in the laws of Charlemagne we perceive distinctly reflected the mind of the man and the manners of the age.
In attempting to give an account of the legislative labours of this illustrious individual within the narrow limits of this volume, much difficulty arises from their vast extent and extremely miscellaneous character. The limits of governmental control were unmarked. It was supposed that the king must regulate everything, must provide for everything, must legislate upon every case that arose. Hence the private conduct of individuals, the manner in which they should worship God, the mode in which they should manage their affairs, their morals, their religion, their agriculture, their commerce, all come within the range of the monarch's legislative diligence. And hence, though the larger portion of the proceedings of the assemblies has been lost to us, yet no fewer than 1,150 distinct capitula* have come down
* So called from capitulum, "a little chapter," as they consist of detached decrees or judgments, very brief, and each providing for a single case. A collection of capitula is called a capitulary.