Montesquieu
 

XXXI.9 How Church properties were converted into fiefs

Fiscal assets should have had no other des­ti­na­tion than to serve as pre­sents which the kings could make to invite the Franks to new enter­pri­ses, which at the same time increa­sed the fis­cal assets ; and such was, as I have said, the spi­rit of the nation ; but the pre­sents took ano­ther turn. We have a speech of Chilperic, grand­son of Clovis, who was already com­plai­ning that these pro­per­ties had almost all been given to the chur­ches. “Our trea­sury has become poor,” he was saying, “our wealth has been trans­fer­red to the chur­ches1 ; no one rei­gns any more but the bishops : they live in gran­deur, and we have disap­pea­red.”2

That is why mayors, who dared not attack the lords, dives­ted the chur­ches ; and one of the rea­sons Pépin cited for ente­ring Neustria was that he had been invi­ted in by the eccle­sias­tics to halt the enter­pri­ses of the kings, which is to say the mayors, who were depri­ving the Church of all its pos­ses­sions.3

The mayors of Austrasia, in other words the house of the Pépins, had trea­ted the Church with more mode­ra­tion than they had in Neustria and Burgundy ; and that is very clear from our chro­ni­cles,4 where the monks never tire of admi­ring the devo­tion and libe­ra­lity of the Pépins. They had them­sel­ves occu­pied the highest ranks in the Church. “A crow does not peck out the eyes of ano­ther crow,” as Chilperic would say to the bishops.5

Pépin sub­dued Neustria and Burgundy ; but having taken, to des­troy the mayors and kings, the pre­text of the oppres­sion of the chur­ches, he could no lon­ger divest them without contra­dic­ting his title and revea­ling that he was mocking the nation. But the conquest of two great king­doms and the des­truc­tion of the oppo­sing party fur­ni­shed him means enough to satisfy his cap­tains.

Pépin made him­self mas­ter of the monar­chy by pro­tec­ting the clergy ; Charles Martel his son could main­tain him­self only by oppres­sing it. This prince, seeing that a part of the royal pro­per­ties and of the fis­cal assets had been given for life or as pro­perty to the nobi­lity, and that the clergy, recei­ving from the hands of the rich and the poor, had acqui­red a large share even of the allods, dives­ted the chur­ches ; and the fiefs of the ear­liest divi­sion no lon­ger sub­sis­ting, he crea­ted the fiefs a second time.6 He took the pro­per­ties of the chur­ches and the chur­ches them­sel­ves for him­self and for his cap­tains, and put an end to a disease which, unlike ordi­nary disease, was all the easier to cure that it was extreme.

Because of this he annulled wills made to the churches, and even donations made by his father ; Gontram restored them, and even made some new donations (Gregory of Tours, book VII, ch. vii).

In Gregory of Tours, [book VI, ch. xlvi].

See Annals of Metz, year 687. Excitor imprimis querelis sacerdotum et servorum Dei, qui me sæpius adierunt ut pro sublatis injuste patrimoniis, etc.

Ibid.

In Gregory of Tours.

Karolus plurima juri ecclesiastico detrahens, prædia fisco sociavit, ac deinde militibus dispertivit, ex Chronico Centulensi, book II.