Page:Western Europe in the Middle Ages.djvu/62

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WESTERN EUROPE IN THE MIDDLE AGES

bad feeling between the Germanic districts of the east and the more Romanized western provinces. Altogether, the seventh-century Frankish kingdom did not offer a very secure foundation on which to build a new European civilization.

Yet from these unpromising materials a Frankish family was able to create an empire in which German, Roman, and Christian elements were fused to form a common way of life. This family, called Carolingian from its greatest representative, Charles the Great or Charlemagne, came originally from the borderlands between Gaul and Germany. It first appears as a group of great landholders, German in blood and outlook, only slightly influenced by Latin and Christian ideas. The earliest Carolingians were as selfish and short-sighted as most of their wealthy neighbors — they struggled for land and power, and did not hesitate to oppose the king or to precipitate civil war if it was to their advantage to do so. As they became more prominent in the affairs of the kingdom they gradually developed more sense of responsibility and more interest in religion and learning. Their rise to power was made easier by the existence of a peculiar Frankish institution — the mayorship of the palace. Originally this office may have been no more than the stewardship of the king's household, but since the mayor was in close personal contact with the king he gradually became a sort of prime minister. All the business of the central government passed through his hands, and a capable mayor often had more power than a weak king. The great men of the realm naturally sought this office, and during the seventh century it became the prize of civil war. The kings of this period were weak both physically and morally; most of them died young and accomplished little during their brief lives. The mayors of the palace controlled the government and the great landowners tried to control the mayors. The mayor was usually the leader of a faction of the oligarchy and held office until some other group gained strength enough to pull him down. In this welter of intrigue and violence the Carolingians had remarkable success. Members of the