History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Lewis the German

All Charles the Great's sons died before him except one, the youngest and weakest of them all. This son was called by the Germans Lewis der Fromme, or the Pious, while the French generally call him Louis le Debonnaire, or the Good-natured. He was thirty-six when he came to the throne, and very soon it was seen that he held the sceptre of his great father with feeble hands. The whole Empire was filled with unrest when, about three years after he came to the throne, Lewis shared his Empire with his three sons. But this only brought confusion and warfare, for Lewis's sons were never satisfied. He divided and redivided his kingdom among them again and again, and they as constantly rebelled. At length they drove him from the throne, and thrust him prisoner into a monastery. Here the poor Emperor was humbled in every way possible. He was stripped of all his kingly dignities, and forced in public to read aloud a long list of crimes of which he was accused, and to do penance for them.

But the sons, who had united against their father, soon quarrelled amongst themselves. Once more Lewis was released and set upon the throne, but until his death he was never more than a mere tool in the hands of his scheming, passionate sons, who filled the Empire with strife. Meantime, while the kingly family fought within the realm, it was attacked on all sides from without. Northmen and Vikings came from out the northern seas, Moors and Saracens stormed over the Pyrenees or sailed across the blue Mediterranean from Africa. But Lewis paid little attention to them. At length, in 840, still at war with his sons, Lewis died.

As soon as their father was dead, his sons began to quarrel amongst themselves. To Lothar, the eldest, the title of Emperor had been given. But he grudged to his two younger brothers, Lewis der Deutsche or the German, and Charles, any share of the kingdom. So they joined together against him, and a great battle was fought at Fontenay-en-Puisaye. The battle was a terrible slaughter, huge numbers of knights and nobles being killed on both sides. Indeed, there were so few young nobles left, that for many a day great ladies were married to simple farmers, who were then made nobles, so that the great houses might not be altogether wiped out.

But the dreadful battle settled nothing. The hate and war between the brothers still went on.

In the following spring Lewis the German and Charles met near the town of Strassburg, and in presence of their armies took a solemn oath of friendship.

When the armies were gathered, Lewis the German, as being the elder, spoke first. "It is well known to you," he said, "how Lothar has persecuted and hunted this my brother and myself, and how he has sought utterly to destroy us. Yet out of brotherly love, and out of compassion for his Christian people, we desired not utterly to destroy him, and many times would we willingly have made peace with him. But he will not cease from pursuing me and this my brother as enemies. He is minded, by fire and sword, by robbery and murder, to crush our people to the ground. Therefore are we forced to come together against him. But not through any vile selfishness are we enticed to do this, but only for the well-being of our people, trusting that through your help God will give us peace."

Then Charles in his turn made a like speech, after which in very solemn fashion the brothers swore friendship with each other.

Now the soldiers of Lewis were Saxons from beyond the Rhine, while the soldiers of Charles were Franks or Gaulo-Romans. They spoke different languages. The Franks spoke a Romance language, which was no longer Latin, and which was not yet French, but which grew into French, while the Saxons spoke the Teutonic language, which has since grown into German. So that all might understand, Lewis the German spoke in the Romance language, and Charles spoke in the Teutonic.

This oath of Strassburg is very interesting to remember, for in it we see the beginnings of both the German and the French language.

And now Lothar found that his brothers, being united, were too strong for him. So he became willing to make peace. He sent messengers to his brothers no longer as bearers of proud defiance, but as ambassadors of peace. "I see," he said, "my guilt towards God and towards you, my brothers. I would end this fatal strife."

Lothar asked that he might be allowed to keep the title of Emperor and a third part of the kingdom. This the brothers were willing to give to him.

It was an old German custom that when two princes, who had been fighting against each other, wished to make peace, they met to talk of it in the middle of some river which bounded their lands. So now the brothers met on a little island in the middle of the river Saone. And here the great treaty, known as the Treaty of Verdun, was agreed to.

To Lothar was given Italy and a strip of land running right through the Empire, from the Mediterranean Sea to the North Sea; the land which lay to the east of that was given to Lewis the German; and the land which lay to the west of it was given to Charles. Thus the great Empire which Charlemagne had spent his life in building up was once more broken in pieces, and out of it were carved the three kingdoms of Germany, France, and Italy. But it is with Germany alone that we have to do in this book, and we may look upon that August day in 843, on which the Treaty of Verdun was signed, as the birthday of Germany. For, until now, the German lands had been merely a part of the great Frankish Empire, and the history of France was also the history of Germany. Now they were separate, although the kingdom of Lewis did not by any means contain all the wide lands which were to be gathered into the German Empire.

Now for thirty-three years Lewis ruled as King of Germany, but, although the quarrels of the brothers were at rest for the time being, those were no peaceful days. For all along the eastern boundaries of Lewis's kingdom were tribes who constantly fought against him, such as the Slavs, the Bulgarians, and many others. But Lewis conquered most of these peoples, and made his kingdom greater.

His northern shores, too, were attacked by the Northmen, those wild Sea-kings who came like storm birds, rejoicing in the wind and waves, who came not to settle, but to plunder and to burn. The Saxon land, however, was poor, and these robbers found little treasure or plunder of gold or silver to carry off. So they turned rather to the rich fields of Frankland, where the feeble Charles the Bald paid them great sums of money to be gone.

But suddenly one day the people of Hamburg saw the river Elbe grow dark with sails, and heard at their very gates the fierce war-cry of the Northmen. The wind was fair, and the swan-necked boats came sailing up the river with terrible speed. On and on they came, six hundred strong. The people were struck with despair, for the garrison was away, and the ships came in with such speed that they knew they would reach the town before the soldiers could arrive.

The Bishop tried to rouse the courage of the people, to make them man the walls, and hold the town until help could come. But it was in vain, they dared not face the wild freebooters. So, seeing no help for it, the Bishop gathered all the Church treasures together and fled.

The citizens too fled, but many of them fell into the hands of the Northmen and were killed or led into captivity.

For two nights and a day the Danes filled Hamburg with horror and bloodshed. They seized all the treasure they could find, and set fire to many of the buildings. Then once more they took to their ships and sailed homeward.

Lewis had not been able to stop the robbery at the time, but that summer he sent a messenger to Horich, the King of the Danes, demanding satisfaction.

Now, but shortly before this time another robber band had returned from France. There they had done as they would with the fair city of Paris, had seen the King tremble before them, and had returned laden with much treasure, flushed with triumph and swollen with insolence.

But not plunder alone had they brought with them. They had, unknown to themselves, brought also a terrible plague. And now, one by one, these haughty Sea-kings sickened and died, struck down in their pride by this dread disease. They knew not how to stay it. In vain they prayed to their gods. Their gods made no answer. At length a prisoner bade them become Christians, and pray to the God of the Christians for relief.

So Horich and all his warriors bowed their proud heads and humbled their high hearts. For fourteen days they fasted with tears and prayers, and at length the evil was stayed and the plague passed away.

Thus it was with a softened heart that Horich listened to the messengers of King Lewis. He promised not only to release all his Christian prisoners, but also, so far as possible, to give back all the stolen treasure. So there was peace on the Saxon shores, and the German King had rest from the Northern robber folk.

For more than ten years after the Treaty of Verdun there was peace between the brothers Then once more the war broke out, this time between Charles and Lewis, who had sworn everlasting friendship with each other.

Charles ruled his people ill, and he had neither wit nor strength to combat the fierce Northern pirates. They, finding him feeble, returned again and again in ever greater numbers, plundering and burning, murdering the people and carrying them away into captivity. So the people sent to Lewis, praying him to come and be their ruler and deliver them from the misrule and tyranny of Charles. "If you will not come," they said, "then must we turn to strangers and to the enemies of our faith for aid. And that will be a great danger to Christendom."

So at length Lewis listened to these prayers, and gathering his army he marched across Lothar's kingdom into that of Charles. And Charles, hearing that his brother was come against him, gathered his army and marched to meet him. Over against each other the brothers lay, both armies ready for battle. But no battle was fought, for as Charles gazed upon the glittering array his heart misgave him, his courage oozed away. In the night, with a few of his chief followers, he fled in secret, while the bulk of his army marched over to the enemy. Without striking a blow Lewis was thus master of his brother's kingdom. And so sure did he think his conquest, that he sent his own army homeward, and trusted himself entirely to the rebel army.

But Lewis soon found that to govern his new kingdom was no easy matter. Almost at once murmurs were heard against the new deliverer, as he had been called. Things had not gone as the people had expected. The Northmen still worked their evil will unchecked, the misery of the land was as great as before.

So the rebels rebelled a second time; they turned traitor to the new and went back to the old King.

Suddenly the news burst upon Lewis that his brother Charles was marching upon him with a mighty army. His own army had melted into nothing. He found himself almost alone, without a single follower. There was nothing left for him but to flee. So with all possible speed he fled back to his own land.

As a bubble that is burst Lewis's fancied conquest vanished into air, and Charles once more was master in his own kingdom. Ever afterwards, the day upon which his brother had fled before him, upon which the enemy had been "hunted forth and shattered," was kept as a solemn feast day.

Once again it seemed as if the land was to be torn asunder by the strife of brothers. But once again they met and vowed to forget all the evil they had done one to the other, and be at peace for evermore.

Long ere this Lothar the Emperor had died. He had, after the Carolingian fashion, divided his kingdom among his three sons. One, Lewis II, received the title of Emperor and the kingdom of Italy. Lothar II received the long strip of land which lay between the kingdoms of France and Germany, and Charles received Burgundy.

Now in 869 Lothar II died. At once his two uncles began to quarrel over his kingdom. For it lay between theirs, and they fought over it as two hungry dogs might for a bone. Lewis lay ill, sick nigh unto death at the time. So Charles at once seized upon the throne and with solemn ceremony had himself crowned at Metz.

From his sick-bed Lewis sent an angry message to Charles, bidding him at once to leave Lothar's kingdom. But to this message Charles paid no heed. He had been first in the field, and he meant to hold fast that which he had won. From town to town he journeyed receiving the homage of the vassals, and soon he was recognized as King in almost every part of his nephew's realm.

Again, as Charles was holding the feast of Christmas, came a threatening message from Lewis. To this Charles might have paid as little heed as before, but hard upon the heels of the message came the news that Lewis was well once more, and gathering his army. So Charles was forced to listen to his brother's demand or a share of the spoil. And at length, by the Treaty of Mersen in 870, they agreed to divide the kingdom.

By this Treaty of Mersen Lewis's kingdom was extended far beyond the Rhine. The Maas and not the Neser was the boundary on the north, the Saone end not the Rhine the boundary on the south. Indeed he boundary between France and Germany became now almost, though not quite, the boundary between he French-speaking and the German-speaking peoples.

For six years longer Lewis ruled. These years were hardly more peaceful than those which had gone before, for his three sons, Karlmann, Lewis, and Charles, all rebelled against him again and again. But he got the better of them always.

At last, bowed down with the weight of years, worn out by the labours and troubles of an eventful life, Lewis died in 876.

Lewis was no unworthy follower of his famous grandfather, Charles the Great. He was brave and wise, and those who lived at the same time have only words of love and praise to give him. And the Germans owed him love and loyalty, for under his sceptre for the first time the German-speaking peoples were united, and the foundations of their great nation laid.