Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/255

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We are to describe the consolidation, at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century, of the Temporal Power of the Popes which had existed amid the greatest vicissitudes since the alliance of the Papacy with the Prankish Kings in the eighth, but had hitherto been rather a source of humiliation than of strength to the Holy See. It must be shown how this transformation of a feeble and distracted State into one firmly organised and fairly tranquil arose from the general tendency to union and coalescence under a single ruler which prevailed among most European nations at this period, but to which, except in this instance, Italy, unfortunately for herself, remained a stranger: how, in the second place, it was forced upon the Popes by the weakness and insecurity of their temporal position: but how, in the third, it was fostered in an unprecedented degree by the inordinate nepotism of one Pope, and the martial ambition of another. Were the story prolonged, it would appear how these impure agencies were overruled for good, and how, when everything else in Italy lay prostrate before the foreign conqueror, the Temporal Power preserved at least a simulacrum of independence until the revival of the aspiration for national unity not only superseded the symbol by the reality, but swept it away as an obstacle in its own path.

Much of the history of Europe in the fifteenth century may be expressed in a single word,—coalescence. A movement, as spontaneous and irresistible as those which had in former times lined the Mediterranean coasts of Asia Minor with Greek colonies, and impelled the Northern nations against the decaying Roman Empire, was now agglomerating petty States and feudal lordships into nations; a process involving vast social as well as political changes. Ancient liberties too often disappeared, but ancient lawlessness also; the tall poppies fell before the sword of the Tarquins of the age; and the mercantile class, which had hitherto only asserted itself under the aegis of the free institutions of independent urban communities, became a powerful element in every land. Everywhere the tendency was towards centralisation,