Montesquieu
 

XXX.24 Continuation of the same subject. A reflection on the root of the system

The abbé Dubos wants to do away with any thought that the Franks ente­red the Gauls as conque­rors : accor­ding to him, our kings, cal­led by the peo­ple, had only to put them­sel­ves in place and suc­ceed to the rights of the Roman empe­rors.

This pre­ten­sion can­not apply to the time when Clovis, ente­ring the Gauls, sacked and took the cities, nor can it apply to the time when he defea­ted Syagrius, a Roman offi­cer, and conque­red the coun­try he was hol­ding ; it can the­re­fore relate only to that time when Clovis, now mas­ter of a good part of the Gauls through vio­lence, was pre­su­ma­bly cal­led, by the choice and love of the peo­ple, to domi­na­tion of the rest of the coun­try. And it does not suf­fice for Clovis to have been accep­ted, he must also have been cal­led : the abbé Dubos needs to prove that the peo­ple pre­fer­red to live under the domi­na­tion of Clovis rather than live under the domi­na­tion of the Romans or under their own laws. Now the Romans of that part of the Gauls that had not yet been inva­ded by the bar­ba­rians were, accor­ding to the abbé Dubos, of two sorts : some were mem­bers of the Armorican confe­de­ra­tion, and had dri­ven out the offi­cers of the empe­ror in order to make their own defense against the bar­ba­rians and govern them­sel­ves by their own laws ; the others obeyed the Roman offi­cers. Now does the abbé Dubos prove that the Romans who were still sub­jects of the empire cal­led on Clovis ? Not at all. Does he prove that the repu­blic of the Armoricas cal­led on Clovis, and even made some kind of treaty with him ? Again, not at all. Far from being able to tell us what the fate of that repu­blic was, he has no way even of pro­ving its exis­tence ; and although he fol­lows it from the time of Honorius up to Clovis’s conquest, although he rela­tes to it all the events of those times with admi­ra­ble art, it has remai­ned invi­si­ble in the texts. For there is quite a dif­fe­rence bet­ween pro­ving with a pas­sage from Zozimus1 that the Armorican coun­try2 and the other pro­vin­ces of the Gauls revol­ted and for­med a kind of repu­blic under the empire of Honorius, and sho­wing that, des­pite the various paci­fi­ca­tions of the Gauls, the Armoricas still for­med a sepa­rate repu­blic which sub­sis­ted until Clovis’s conquest. Yet to esta­blish his sys­tem, he would require very strong and very pre­cise evi­dence. For when one sees a conque­ror enter into a state and sub­due a large part of it by force and vio­lence, and some­time after that one sees the entire state sub­dued, in the absence of an his­to­ri­cal account of how it hap­pe­ned, one has very good rea­son for belie­ving that the busi­ness ended the way it began.

This point once mis­sed, it is easy to see that the abbé Dubos’s whole sys­tem crum­bles from top to bot­tom, and every time he draws some conse­quence from the prin­ci­ple that the Gauls were not conque­red by the Franks, but that the Franks were cal­led in by the Romans, we will always be able to deny it to him.

The abbé Dubos pro­ves his prin­ci­ple by the Roman digni­ties in which Clovis was cloa­ked ; he would have it that Clovis suc­cee­ded Childeric his father for the title of mas­ter of the mili­tia. But these two posi­tions are purely of his crea­tion. The let­ter of St. Remigius to Clovis on which he bases his argu­ment3 is a mere congra­tu­la­tion on his acces­sion to the throne. When the pur­pose of a wri­ting is known, why give it one which is not ?

At the end of his reign, Clovis was made consul by the empe­ror Anastasius ; but what right could give him autho­rity for just a year ? But it would seem, says the abbé Dubos, that by the same char­ter the empe­ror Anastasius made Clovis pro­consul. And I say it would seem he did not. On a fact that is based on nothing, the autho­rity of him who denies it is equal to the autho­rity of him who attests it. I even have a rea­son for that. Gregory of Tours, who men­tions the consu­late, says nothing about the pro­consu­late. Even this pro­consu­late would not have las­ted more than about six months. Clovis died one year and a half after being made consul ; it is not pos­si­ble to make the pro­consu­late into an here­di­tary posi­tion. Finally, when the consu­late, and if you wish the pro­consu­late, were confer­red on him, he was already the mas­ter of the monar­chy, and all his rights were esta­bli­shed.

The second proof that the abbé Dubos attests is the ces­sion made by the empe­ror Justinian to the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of Clovis, of all the rights of empire over the Gauls. I would have many things to say about that ces­sion. One can judge the impor­tance which the Frankish kings pla­ced on it by the man­ner in which they exe­cu­ted its condi­tions. Besides, the Frankish kings were mas­ters of the Gauls ; they were pea­cea­ble sove­rei­gns ; Justinian did not pos­sess an inch of land there ; the wes­tern empire was long since des­troyed, and the eas­tern empire had no rights to the Gauls except as repre­sen­ting the wes­tern empe­ror : these were rights to rights ; the monar­chy of the Franks was already foun­ded ; the sta­tute esta­bli­shing them was done ; the reci­pro­cal rights of per­sons and of the diverse nations living in the monar­chy were agreed upon ; the laws of each nation were given, and even set down in wri­ting. What could be the effect of this foreign ces­sion on an already for­med esta­blish­ment ?

What does the abbé Dubos mean by the decla­ma­tions of all the bishops who, in the disor­der, the confu­sion, the total col­lapse of the state, and the rava­ges of the conquest, try to flat­ter the conque­ror ? What does flat­tery sup­pose other than the weak­ness of the party who is obli­ged to flat­ter ? What do rhe­to­ric and poe­try prove but the very use of those arts ? Who would not be sur­pri­sed to see Gregory of Tours, who, after spea­king of Clovis’s assas­si­na­tions, says that never­the­less God brought his ene­mies to their knees every day, because he was wal­king in his paths ? Who can doubt that the clergy was most deligh­ted by Clovis’s conver­sion, and even deri­ved great advan­ta­ges from it ? But who can doubt at the same time that the peo­ples under­went all the woes of conquest, and that the Roman govern­ment yiel­ded to Germanic govern­ment ? The Franks did not wish, nor were they even able, to change eve­ry­thing ; and few conque­rors have even had that mad­ness. But for all of the abbé Dubos’s conse­quen­ces to be true woud have requi­red not only that they had chan­ged nothing for the Romans, but also that they had chan­ged them­sel­ves.

I could pro­mise to prove like­wise, fol­lo­wing the abbé Dubos’s method, that the Greeks did not conquer the Persians. First, I would evoke the trea­ties which some of their cities made with the Persians ; I would evoke the Greeks who were in the Persians’ pay, as the Franks were in the Romans’. Now Alexander ente­red into the land of the Persians, and besie­ged, cap­tu­red and des­troyed the city of Tyre : that was a pri­vate mat­ter, like that of Syagrius. But see how the pon­tiff of the Jews comes to meet him ; lis­ten to the ora­cle of Jupiter Ammon ; remem­ber how it had been pre­dic­ted at Gordium ; see how all the cities run, so to speak, to greet him ; the crown of satraps and gran­dees who come ! He dres­ses like the Persians : it is Clovis’s consu­lar gown. Did Darius not offer him half his realm ? Is Darius not assas­si­na­ted like a tyrant ? Do the mother and wife of Darius not weep at the death of Alexander ? Were Quintius Curcius, Arrian, and Plutarch contem­po­ra­ries of Alexander ? Has prin­ting not given us insight that those wri­ters lacked ? See the abbé Dubos’s pre­li­mi­nary dis­course. Such is the History of the Establishment of the French monar­chy in the Gauls.

Hist., book VI.

Totusque Tractatus Armoricus, aliæque Galliarum provinciæ (ibid.).

Vol. II, book III, ch. xviii, p. 270.