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It seems nothing more than a confused assemblage of heterogeneous territories and of people still more heterogeneous; a sort of defiance that grasping and ambitious princes, favored by circumstances, hurled in the face of nature and of history. And in fact, in the fifteenth century, Charles VII. and Louis XI. in France, and the Emperor Sigismund in Germany, regarded it as something illegal and monstrous, the hateful result of an abominable usurpation. In our days a large number of historians have passed a similar judgment upon it. The French are unanimous in considering it a work of usurpation and violence accomplished by traitorous princes who endeavored to ruin the house of Valois from which they sprang by raising against it a rival power. In the Netherlands themselves, there is no lack of writers who, taking into account solely the resistance raised by provincial particularism against the dukes of Burgundy, see in the latter nothing more than grasping and brutal tyrants, trampling underfoot the national liberties, and owing their success to violence alone.
It is not difficult to demonstrate that these opinions, inspired by national considerations or by an abstract liberalism which fails to take into account the conditions of existence in the society of the end of the Middle Ages, have no correspondence to historical fact. Far from having suddenly interrupted the course of destiny in the Netherlands, and from owing its birth merely to the caprice of bold adventurers, the Burgundian state appeared as the climax of a long historical evolution. It was the result of the co-operation of a number of political, social and economic forces, the action of which begins to be perceptible in the early Middle Ages, in those frontier territories which it brought together. In spite of appearances, its constitution, though at first sight strange, is perfectly natural. The special characteristics which it exhibits have their sources, in fact, in all the earlier history of the Netherlands. Undoubtedly a combination of favorable circumstances, or the chance, if such it may be called, which at a given moment extinguished dynasties, threw open successions, and caused the outbreak of military and diplomatic conflicts, contributed largely to the success of the work achieved by the dukes of Burgundy. But is it not the same with all human events, and is not the important thing in this case to distinguish, beneath the chance multiplicity of changing circumstances, the profound and permanent tendency, of which these circumstances have done no more than to hasten the final result?
After the end of the Carolingian period, the diplomacy which in modern times was so frequently to alter the map of Belgium had forced the lands destined to form at a later period the Burgundian state, to undergo a division which took absolutely no account of the nationality of their inhabitants. By the treaty of Verdun, later confirmed by other treaties which we need not consider here, the region lying on the left bank of the Scheldt had been assigned to Francia. Occidentalis, that is, to France, while the region on the right bank, after having constituted for some time the kingdom of Lotharingia, was at the beginning of the tenth century again joined with Francia Orientalis, or Germany. Instead of following from east to west the boundary of language, the frontier thus established from north to south cut it through the centre and assigned alike to France and to Germany a group of Flemish and a group of Walloon population. The future bilingualism of the Burgundian state is thus to be found from the beginning in the countries where that state was to establish itself five hundred years later.
And it is exceedingly interesting to show that the state of things created by Carolingian diplomacy prevailed without bringing about the least attempt at revolt on the part of the population. In the course of the history of the Netherlands, in fact, no event is to be found which presents the appearance of a race-struggle. The Flemings made no attempt to separate from the Walloons, nor the Walloons to form a group apart from their compatriots of Germanic speech. Nor did the one people attempt to dominate the other and reduce it to a subordinate position. The linguistic frontier which in the ninth century might have become a political frontier, and in that case would undoubtedly have modified for all time the course of history in these lands, never became such a frontier. On the contrary, when, beginning from the tenth century, the territorial principalities were being formed, many of them presented this same bilingual character shown by the whole country. The county of Flanders, the duchy of Brabant, the duchy of Limburg, the duchy of Luxemburg, the principality of Liège, all included within their frontiers a group of Germanic and a group of Romanic people; they were at the same time Flemish3 and Walloon. The two regions of the Netherlands, given, under the above conditions, the one to France and the other to Germany, began immediately to detach themselves little by little from their suzerains. As long as the
I use this expression for convenience, although it cannot be strictly applied to Luxemburg, whose Germanic-speaking inhabitants are not properly called Flemings.
power of the emperors remained vigorous, Lotharingia, under the government of the dukes and bishops appointed by the Saxon and Franconian monarchs, was one of the important provinces of the Empire. But after the upheaval caused by the War of Investitures, the power of Germany grew rapidly weaker in the regions between the Meuse and the Scheldt. Henry V. was the last emperor to appear there in person. After him, his successors-except during a period including the reign of Frederick Barbarossa-became less and less interested in the fate of this far-off land, situated at the extremity of the Empire. They abandoned it to itself, contenting themselves with preserving a supremacy which from day to day became more purely nominal. Thenceforth the Lotharingian princes became accustomed to no longer troubling their minds about their suzerain. There is no evidence of any hostility toward him, but, neglected by him, they insensibly formed the habit of having no more recourse to his authority. They assisted no longer at the elections of the kings of the Romans; they regulated their affairs according to their own good pleasure. Even under Frederick Barbarossa, Count Baldwin of Hainaut (1171–1195), though the most faithful of the emperor's vassals, regarded himself in reality as neutral between France and Germany.
The increasing power of the kings of France after the first half of the twelfth century contributed largely in its turn to cut off the Lotharingian provinces from the Empire. Not only did the Capetians, from Philip Augustus on, renew the ancient claims of the French Carolingians to that country, but the feudal princes, in their quarrels with one another, soon formed the habit of having recourse to the support of the king, who naturally asked nothing better than to mix more and more in their affairs and thus extend his influence over them. In the thirteenth century, the long war which set at odds the houses of Avesnes and of Dampierre presented a characteristic example of the constant growth of the French hegemony in the imperial portion of the Netherlands to the detriment of the German suzerainty. John of Avesnes appealed to Rudolph of Hapsburg, warning him, in the most pressing terms, that the absorption of Lotharingia by France was imminent, but his exhortations were vain. Rudolph went no further than to forbid it in useless decrees, while Louis IX. intervened actively on the side of the Dampierres and did not hesitate to send a French army into Hainaut, which was imperial soil. A little later, while the King of the Romans abstained from intervening in the conflict
which ended after the battle of Worringen in the annexation of the duchy of Limburg to the duchy of Brabant (1288), it was again. France which offered arbitration to the belligerents and took a hand in their affairs as if it were a question of her own vassals.
But although the Lotharingian princes eagerly sought the aid of France, they did not mean to pass under its rule. They conveniently recalled that they owed allegiance to the Empire when they felt themselves too closely pressed by the Capetian, and in the fourteenth century a goodly number of them profited by the Hundred Years' War to attack his influence by a timely espousal of the cause of England. Louis of Bavaria did not know how to take advantage of this situation to win back to the Empire on its western frontier the prestige that it had lost. After him, Charles IV. of Luxemburg paid more active attention to the Netherlands. He succeeded in marrying his brother Wenzel to Joanna, the heiress of Brabant (1347). But his policy in this affair was purely dynastic. It had in view only the interests of the house of Luxemburg, not those of the Empire. Instead of assuming toward Joanna the attitude of a sovereign, he treated with her as equal with equal. He did so little toward restoring the German influence that the Duchess, to demonstrate her independence of the Empire, did not fear to declare that Brabant constituted an allod, which she held of God alone. How, moreover, could the imperial prestige have been reestablished in the Netherlands, at the time when the intestine quarrel which in Germany was setting at odds the houses of Bavaria and Luxemburg, had extended to these countries? For about the same time that Wenzel of Luxemburg married Joanna of Brabant, Margaret of Bavaria inherited Hainaut and Holland (1345). This introduction of two German houses into the basins of the Scheldt and the Meuse might, it is true, have re-established between that region and Germany a certain community of political life and renewed between them the bonds which had so long been loosened. But nothing of the sort occurred, for, instead of depending on Germany, Wenzel as well as the Bavarian princes imitated the conduct of the Belgian princes whom they had succeeded, and it was toward France and England that they turned their attention. As a matter of fact, the introduction into Lotharingia of two dynasties of German origin in no wise retarded the evolution that we have briefly sketched above. Never before had the authority of the Empire over the Netherlands been so disregarded as it was at the end of the fourteenth century.
While Lotharingia was thus completing the centrifugal movement that detached it from the Empire, Flanders, on its side, was escaping from French suzerainty. It was escaping, it is true, under conditions and through vicissitudes very different from those just considered. And this is not at all strange. And this is not at all strange. As a consequence
of their intermediate position between the two great states of western Europe, to both of which the Netherlands owed allegiance for half their territory, they of necessity felt the rebound of their political fluctuations. Now at the same moment that the German power decreased the French power increased, and as a necessary result. Lotharingia, vassal of the former, naturally attained a practical independence which Flanders, vassal of the latter, could win only through the most painful efforts.
It had begun by enjoying an almost complete autonomy, from the end of the ninth century until the beginning of the twelfth. For in the early Middle Ages the kings of France, again in contrast to Germany, were as weak as the Saxon and Franconian monarchs were formidable. So at the period when Lotharingia obeyed its dukes and bishops, the counts of Flanders, regardless of their impotent suzerain, were establishing from the Scheldt to the Canche a compact principality where they exercised a quasi-royal power. But the scene changed when, beginning with the reign of Louis VI., the monarchy, having slowly augmented its strength, undertook to bring all the great vassals under the power of the crown. From that time until the end of the fourteenth century, the struggle between the Capetians and the county was almost uninterrupted. In this struggle, the Flemish princes would undoubtedly have succumbed, as did almost all the princes of the kingdom, if most of them had not been able to depend upon two powerful auxiliaries. For England, ancient rival of France, did not refuse its support, and thus just as territorial policy in Lotharingia is associated with the conflict of France and Germany, so in Flanders it is bound up with the conflict of Capetian and Plantagenet. Moreover, from the beginning of the fourteenth century, the great Flemish communes openly took sides against France, both because they saw in her the stay of the patrician régime which they had overthrown, and because the needs of their cloth industry necessarily ranged them on the side of England; for by suspending the exportation of her wool to the Continent-and in fact she did this several timesshe could have ruined them. Nevertheless, in its heroic conflict with France, Flanders lost a considerable portion of its territory.