Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/420

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


Four reigns almost fill up the space of time from Agincourt to Marignano. In that century the slow consistent policy of four Kings and their agents raises France from her nadir almost to her zenith. The institutions and the prosperity built up by Louis the Fat, Philip Augustus, Louis IX, and Philip the Fair had been shattered under the first two Valois; the prosperity had been in part restored, the institutions further developed under Charles V. In the long anarchy which we call the reign of Charles VI, all bonds had been loosened, all well-being blighted, all order overwhelmed. Slowly the old traditions reassert themselves, the old principles resume their domination, and from chaos emerges the new monarchy, with all and more than all the powers of the old.

Communal, feudal, representative institutions have proved too weak to withstand the stress of foreign and civil war. The monarchy and the monarchical system alone retain their vitality unimpaired, and seem to acquire new vigour from misfortune. Under Charles VII the new regime was begun; under Louis XI and his daughter the ground was ruthlessly cleared of all that could impede regal action at home, while the wars of Charles VIII and Louis XII, purposeless and exhausting as they were, without seriously diminishing domestic prosperity, satisfactorily tested the strength and solidity of the new structure.

Thus equipped and prepared, France enters on the race of modern times as the most compact, harmonious, united nation of the European continent. All that she has suffered is forgotten. The sacrifice of individual and local liberty is hardly felt. In the splendour and power of the monarchy the nation sees its aspirations realised. Nobility, clergy, commons, abandon their old ideals, and are content that their will should be expressed, their being absorbed, their energy manifested in the will and being and operations of the King.

Institutions of independent origin give up their strength to feed his power, and exist if at all only by his sufferance. Time had been when clergy, nobility, even towns, had been powers in the State with which the King needed to reckon, not as a sovereign, hardly as a superior. Before