Montesquieu
 

XXXI.1 Changes in the offices and the fiefs of mayors of the palace

At first, counts were sent into their dis­tricts for just a year ; soon they pur­cha­sed the conti­nua­tion of their offi­ces. We find an exam­ple of this as early as the reign of Clovis’s grand­chil­dren. A cer­tain Poenius was a count in the city of Auxerre ; he sent his son Mummolus to take money to Gontram in order to be conti­nued in his post : the son gave money for him­self, and obtai­ned his father’s posi­tion. The kings had already begun to cor­rupt their own favors.

Although by the law of the realm fiefs were revo­ca­ble, they were never­the­less not gran­ted nor taken away in a capri­cious and arbi­trary man­ner ; and that was ordi­na­rily one of the prin­ci­ple things dis­cus­sed in the assem­blies of the nation. We can well think that cor­rup­tion crept into this point, as it crept into the other one ; and that they conti­nued the pos­ses­sion of fiefs for money as they conti­nued the pos­ses­sion of coun­ties.

I shall show later in this book1 that inde­pen­dently of the pre­sents that the prin­ces made for a time, there were others they made per­ma­nently. There were times when the court wan­ted to revoke pre­sents which had been made : that pro­vo­ked gene­ral dis­content in the nation, and was soon fol­lo­wed by that revo­lu­tion famous in the his­tory of France, of which the ear­liest period was the ama­zing spec­ta­cle of the exe­cu­tion of Brunehilde.

It seems first of all extra­or­di­nary that this queen, daugh­ter, sis­ter, and mother of so many kings, still famous today for wri­tings wor­thy of a Roman ædile or a pro­consul, born with an admi­ra­ble genius for admi­nis­tra­tion, endo­wed with qua­li­ties that had so long been res­pec­ted, should have found her­self sud­denly expo­sed to such long, igno­mi­nious, and cruel tor­tu­res2 by a king3 whose autho­rity was rather uncer­tainly set­tled in his nation, if she had not fal­len by some par­ti­cu­lar cause into dis­grace with that nation. Clotaire bla­med her for the death of ten kings,4 but there were two he had put to death him­self ; the death of some others was the crime of fate or the male­vo­lence of ano­ther queen ; and a nation which had allo­wed Fredegund to die in her bed, which had even oppo­sed the punish­ment of her hor­ri­ble cri­mes,5 must have been quite insen­si­tive to those of Brunehilde.

She was put on a camel and para­ded through the whole army, a cer­tain sign that she had fal­len into dis­grace with the army. Fredegar says that Protarius, Brunehilde’s favo­rite, was taking the pro­perty of lords and stuf­fing the trea­sury with it, that he humi­lia­ted the nobi­lity, and that no one could be sure of kee­ping the posi­tion he had.6 The army cons­pi­red against him ; he was stab­bed in his tent ; and Brunehilde, either for the ven­geance she got through that death,7 or for her pur­suit of the same plan, became every day more odious to the nation.8

Clotaire, ambi­tious to reign alone, and full of the most fright­ful ven­geance, sure to perish if Brunehilde’s chil­dren got the bet­ter of him, ente­red into a cons­pi­racy against him­self ; and either because he was uns­kill­ful or because he was for­ced by the cir­cum­stan­ces, he became Brunehilde’s accu­ser, and had an hor­ri­ble exam­ple made of the queen.

Warnacharius had been the soul of the cons­pi­racy against Brunehilde. He was made mayor of Burgundy ; he requi­red of Clotaire that he would never be remo­ved during his life­time.9 In that way the mayor could never be in the same situa­tion as the French lords, and that autho­rity began to make itself inde­pen­dent of the royal autho­rity.

It was Brunehilde’s appal­ling regency that had espe­cially frigh­te­ned the nation. As long as the laws sub­sis­ted in full force, no one could com­plain of losing a fief, since the law did not give it to him fore­ver ; but when ava­rice, bad prac­ti­ces, and cor­rup­tion brought dona­tions of fiefs, they com­plai­ned of being depri­ved in impro­per ways of things which often they had acqui­red simi­larly. If the public wel­fare had been the motive for the revo­ca­tion of pre­sents, per­haps nothing would have been said ; but they poin­ted to order without hiding the cor­rup­tion ; they clai­med the right of the trea­sury to lavish the goods of the trea­sury at their will ; pre­sents were no lon­ger the reward or the expec­ta­tion for ser­vi­ces. Brunehilde, through a cor­rupt mind, tried to cor­rect the abu­ses of the for­mer cor­rup­tion. Her capri­ces were not those of a fee­ble mind ; the leu­des and high offi­cers thought they were doo­med : they doo­med her.

We are now­here near pos­ses­sing all the acts that were enac­ted in those times, and the makers of chro­ni­cles, who knew of the his­tory of their times about what vil­la­gers know today about the his­tory of ours, are very bar­ren. However, we have a cons­ti­tu­tion of Clotaire issued in the coun­cil of Paris10 for the reform of abu­ses,11 which shows that the prince brought an end to the com­plaints that had fomen­ted the revo­lu­tion. On the one hand, in it he confirms all the pre­sents that had been made or confir­med by the kings before him,12 and he orders, on the other, that eve­ry­thing that has been taken from his leu­des or fidè­les be res­to­red to them.13

That was not the only conces­sion which the king made in that coun­cil : he orde­red that what had been done against the pri­vi­le­ges of the eccle­sias­tics be cor­rec­ted14 ; he mode­ra­ted the influence of the court in elec­tions to bisho­prics.15 The king simi­larly refor­med fis­cal affairs : he orde­red that all new cens be done away with,16 that no right of tran­sit esta­bli­shed since the death of Gontram, Sigebert, and Chilperic be levied : in other words, he sup­pres­sed eve­ry­thing that had been done during the regen­cies of Fredegund and Brunehilde ; he pro­hi­bi­ted his herds from being lead into pri­vate forests ; and we shall soon see that the reform was even more gene­ral, and exten­ded to civil mat­ters.

Ch. vii.

Chronicle of Fredegar, ch. xlii.

Clotaire II, son of Chilperic, and father of Dagobert.

Chronicle of Fredegar, ch. xlii.

See Gregory of Tours, book VIII, ch. xxxi.

Sæva illi fuit contra personas iniquitas, Fisco nimium tribuens, de rebus personarum ingeniose fiscum vellens implere…..ut nullus reperiretur qui gradum quem arripuerat potuisset adsumere (Chronicle of Fredegar, ch. xxvii for the year 605).

Ibid., ch. xxviii on the year 607.

Ibid., ch. xli, on the year 613. Burgundiæ farones, tam episcopi quam cæteri leudes, timentes Brunichildem et odium in eam habentes, consilium inientes, etc.

Ibid., ch. xlii on the year 613. Sacramento a Clotario accepto ne unquam vitæ suæ temporibus degradaretur.

Some time after the execution of Brunhilda, year 615. See Baluze ed. of capitulaires, p. 21.

Quæ contra rationis ordinem acta vel ordinata sunt, ne in antea, quod avertat divinitas, contingant, disposuerimus, Christo præsule, per hujus edicti tenorem generaliter emendare (ibid., art. 16).

Ibid., art. 16.

Ibid., art. 17.

Et quod per tempora ex hoc prætermissum est vel de hinc perpetualiter observetur.

Ita ut episcopo decedente in loco ipsius qui a metropolitano ordinari debet cum principalibus, a clero et populo eligatur ; et si persona condigna fuerit, per ordinationem principis ordinetur ; vel certe si de palatio eligitur, per meritum personæ et doctrinæ ordinetur (ibid., art. 1).

Ut ubicumque census novus impie additus est, emendetur (art. 8).