Select Historical Documents of the Middle Ages/General Preface

General Preface.

In putting before the public a work like the present I am aware that I run the risk of being relentlessly criticised.

"Was there ever seen a more motley collection of historical sources? Is there any one train of thought followed out, any system at all of selection? The documents chosen cover the modest period of nine hundred years of the world's history, and vary in length from one page to one hundred and twenty! Law, religion, politics, and general civilization are among the topics chosen for illustration."

Such objections as these are not unfounded, but in spite of them my book may and ought to be of use for the class of readers for whom it is intended: namely, for students of history—not specialists as yet—who have an interest in the monuments of the past and who seize the first convenient opportunity of acquainting themselves with them. To search them out and to translate them for oneself is a labour for which few have time or inclination, even if they have sufficient knowledge of Latin and of history. It has taken me almost two years to collect and translate the pieces here given—the reader will be able within a few days or weeks to familiarize himself with them and to determine which, if any, will reward, in his case, a study of the original text. Such documents as I have chosen are the very framework of history. How little are they known, even by those who have perused volumes of references to and comments upon them! Clauses from them have, during centuries, been woven again and again into histories of Europe, but how few people have ever read them in their own rugged simplicity! And yet a great document is a far greater monument of a crisis in history than is any description of a battle or characterization of a man. It is the corner stone, the last development after many battles, the crystallization of all that has ebbed and flowed during long constitutional struggles. A constitution, for instance, can not lie; a treaty can not give a garbled view of a transaction—it is the letter of the law. And how much do such documents tell us! Is not the Magna Carta at once a summary of all the wrongs of all the men of England, and a record of the remedies applied? Can the inner life lived for centuries in monasteries possibly be understood without reading the Rule of Benedict? Can the bitterness and venom of the war of the investitures, or of the other struggles between the Papacy and the Empire, ever be comprehended by one who has not seen the letters of Gregory VII., of Frederick Barbarossa, of Boniface VIII.?

And if, through reading original documents, one gains a clearer insight into the truth itself, how much more critical — and how much more appreciative—does one become towards modern writers. Let one of my readers compare a chapter of Milman's "Latin Christianity" with documents here given in the book on Church and State. Nothing can be more instructive than such an exercise. One can examine at leisure the materials with which the historian worked— his methods will be clear from knowing with what he had to deal; the documents themselves will be illumined by his intelligence and learning. A guide book is only of real worth to those who are, to some extent, familiar with the scenes described.

It is necessary here to say a few words: first, as to why I have chosen the middle ages for my field of operations; and secondly, as to why I have selected these particular documents from the great store—we know of 40,000 papal letters alone previous to the beginning of the fourteenth century— that is still preserved to us.

And here let me add my voice to that of those who object to an expression, very common twenty years ago, and which has not yet entirely gone out of use—the dark ages. The darkest of all, the tenth, could produce a witty and vivid report like that of Liutprand of Cremona. There are many people sitting in high places in the realm of England to-day who could not begin to describe the nature of their functions in the compact and scholarly wording in which Richard of Ely composed his dialogue concerning the Exchequer. And those who read the other documents here translated will be astonished to see how clear and full of meaning they are.

I have chosen the middle ages because, in spite of many diversities, they have a certain great stamp of unity, and, above all, of simplicity. The Englishman of the twelfth century had much more in common with the Frenchman and the German of his day than is the case now. They were all one in one faith, and all acknowledged one supreme spiritual head. The papal court was a common meeting place for the best intellects from all lands. There was one common language for all formal interchange of thought. There was one great system which separated all Europe into classes, and made all the members of a given class akin. A nation, on the other hand, as such, had little influence on its neighbour, mingled seldom in that neighbour's quarrels. Kings went their own way, for the most part untrammelled by fear of interference. Where do we hear of coalitions like those of the Thirty Years' War, the war of the Spanish Succession, or the Napoleonic struggles? There were no permanent diplomatic relations, no resident ministers at foreign courts, who could in a moment threaten to break off friendly intercourse in the name of their governments. And in each country we have only to reckon with a sovereign a few bishops and nobles, and a large uneducated mass of people, not as to-day, with the most far-reaching representation—with an emperor and a diet, a king or queen and a parliament, a president and a senate. And all this simplicity of the times is admirably reflected in the documents that have come down to us. Where have we a treaty in the middle ages that can begin to compare in bulk, or in the number of its articles, with the peace of Westphalia or in the acts of the congress of Vienna? Questions since treated of in thousands of volumes of state papers had never even been broached.

I have tried first of all in this collection to choose the most comprehensive documents, i.e., those which were important not only for the moment, but which, during long periods of time, were pointed to as conclusive. The Rule of Benedict, for instance, has weathered nearly thirteen centuries, and is still observed in places. Magna Carta is, in part, embodied among the still valid statutes of Great Britain. The forged donation of Constantine was made the basis of actual claims at least three hundred years after it was fabricated, and was destined to be believed in until as late as the seventeenth century. The golden bull of Germany was punctiliously followed for three centuries without change.

In the second place, I have striven to give documents which will represent as far as possible the spirit of the time. Popes fulminating anathemas at luckless emperors^ and mustering against them the whole hierarchy of Heaven — this is one well-known mediaeval type. Another is the priest exorcising the water for the ordeal, or blessing the red-hot iron. Emperors bidding feuds to cease, and passing laws for the conduct of knights and bishops, vassals and slaves; popes calling to the crusades, and offering eternal rewards for this and that performance; barons sitting around the exchequer and transacting the business of the realm—all these are pictures that must find a place in any general work on the middle ages.

It remains for me to say a word of acknowledgment to those who have generously helped me in my present task. One of them, Dr, S. Lowenfeld, can, alas! no longer hear the words of thanks of his disciple. There seldom has been a man who took such unselfish interest in all his pupils. My thanks are also due to Professor Emerton, of Harvard University, who first roused in me an interest in historical studies, and in whose seminary the idea of a book like the present was first broached.

In the matter of actual assistance with the work in hand. I am bounden to no one so deeply as to Dr. F. Liebermann, of Berlin, who allowed me to presume upon his amiability to quite an unreasonable extent. He has read with me. word for word, my whole manuscript of the Dialogue concerning the Exchequer.

E. F. H.

Montreux, March 18th, 1892.