Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

of his life, his moderation secured the peace, and suspended the ruin, of the kingdom of Burgundy.” I am impatient to pursue the final ruin of that kingdom, which was accomplished under the reign of Sigismond, the son of Gundobald. The Catholic Sigismond has acquired the honors of a saint and martyr; * but the hands of the royal saint were stained with the blood of his innocent son, whom he inhumanly sacrificed to the pride and resentment of a step-mother. He soon discovered his error, and bewailed the irreparable loss. While Sigismond embraced the corpse of the unfortunate youth, he received a severe admonition from one of his attendants: “It is not his situation, O king! it is thine which deserves pity and lamentation.” The reproaches of a guilty conscience were alleviated, however, by his liberal donations to the monastery of Agaunum, or St. Maurice, in Wallais; which he himself had founded in honor of the imaginary martyrs of the Thebaean legion.” A full chorus of perpetual psalmody was instituted by the pious king ; he assiduously practised the austere devotion of the monks; and it was his humble prayer, that Heaven would inflict in this world the punishment of his sins. His prayer was heard : the avengers were at hand : and the provinces of Burgundy were overwhelmed by an army of victorious Franks. After the event of an unsuccessful battle, Sigismond, who wished to protract his life that he might prolong his penance, concealed himself in the desert in a religious habit, till he was discovered and betrayed by his subjects, who solicited the favor of their new masters. The captive monarch, with his wife and two children, was transported to Orleans, and buried alive in a deep well, by the stern command of the sons of Clovis; whose cruelty might derive some excuse from the maxims and examples of their barbarous age. Their ambition, which urged them to achieve the conquest of Burgundy, was inflamed, or disguised, by filial piety: and Clotilda, whose sanctity did not consist in the forgiveness of injuries, pressed them to revenge her father's death on the family of his assassin. The rebellious Burgundians (for they attempted to break their chains) were still permitted to enjoy their national laws under the obligation of tribute and military service; and the Merovingian princes peaceably reigned over a kingdom, whose glory and greatness had been first overthrown by the arms of Clovis.” The first victory of Clovis had insulted the honor of the Goths. They viewed his rapid progress with jealousy and terror; and the youthful fame of Alaric was oppressed by the more potent genius of his rival. Some disputes inevitably arose on the edge of their contiguous dominions; and after the delays of fruitless negotiation, a personal interview of the two kings was proposed and accepted. This conference of Clovis and Alaric was held in a small island of the Loire, near Amboise. They embraced, familiarly conversed, and feasted together; and separated with the warmest professions of peace and brotherly love. But their apparent confidence concealed a dark suspicion of hostile and treacherous designs; and their mutual complaints solicited, eluded, and disclaimed, a final arbitration. At Paris, which he already considered as his royal seat, Clovis declared to an assembly of the princes and warriors, the pretence, and the motive, of a Gothic war. “It grieves me to see that the Arians still possess the fairest portion of Gaul. Let us march against them with the aid of God; and, having vanquished the heretics, we will possess and divide their fertile provinces.”.” The Franks, who were inspired by hereditary valor and recent zeal, applauded the generous design of their monarch ; expressed their resolution to conquer or die, since death and conquest would be equally profitable; and solemnly protested that they would never shave their beards till victory should absolve them from that inconvenient vow. The enterprise was promoted by the public or private exhortations of Clotilda. She reminded her husband how effectually some pious foundation would propitiate the Deity, and his servants; and the Christian hero, darting his battle-axe with a skilful and nervous hand, “There (said he), on that spot where my Francisca " shall fall, will I erect a church in honor of the holy apostles.” This ostentatious piety confirmed and justified the attachment of the Catholics, with whom he secretly corresponded; and their devout wishes were gradually ripened into a formidable conspiracy. The people of Aquitain was alarmed by the indiscreet reproaches of their Gothic tyrants, who justly accused them of preferring the dominion of the Franks: and their zealous adherent Quintianus, bishop of Rodez,” preached more forcibly in his exile than in his diocese. To resist these foreign and domestic enemies, who were fortified by the alliance of the Burgundians, Alaric collected his troops, far more numerous than the military powers of Clovis. The Visigoths resumed the exercise of arms, which they had neglected in a long and luxurious peace; * a select band of valiant and robust slaves attended their master, to the field ; * and the cities of Gaul were compelled to furni; h their doubtful and reluctant aid. Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, who reigned in Italy, had labored to maintain the tranquillity of Gaul; and he assumed, or affected, for that purpose, the impartial character of a mediator. But the sagacious monarch dreaded the rising empire of Clovis, and he was firmly engaged to support the national and religious cause of the Goths. The accidental, or artificial, prodigies which adorned the expedition of Clovis, were accepted by a superstitious age, as the manifest declaration of the divine favor. He marched from Paris; and as he proceeded with decent reverence through the holy diocese of Tours, his anxiety tempted him to consult the shrine of St. Martin, the sanctuary and the oracle of Gaul. His messengers were instructed to remark the words of the Psalm which should happen to be chanted at the precise moment when they entered the church. Those words most fortunately expressed the valor and victory of the champions of Heaven, and the application was easily transferred to the new Joshua, the new Gideon, who went forth to battle against the enemies of the Lord.” Orleans secured to the Franks a bridge on the Loire; but, at the distance of forty miles from Poitiers, their progress was intercepted by an extraordinary swell of the River Wigenna or Vienne; and the opposite banks were covered by the encampment of the Visigoths. Delay must be always dangerous to Barbarians, who consume the country through which they march; and had Clovis possessed leisure and materials, it might have been impracticable to construct a bridge, or to force a passage, in the face of a superior enemy. But the affectionate peasants, who were impatient to welcome their deliverer, could easily betray some unknown or unguarded ford: the merit of the discovery was enhanced by the useful interposition of fraud or fiction; and a white hart, of singular size and beauty, appeared to guide and animate the march of the Catholic army. The counsels of the Visigoths were irresolute and distracted. A crowd of impatient warriors, presumptuous in their strength, and disdaining to fly before the robbers of Germany, excited Alaric to assert in arms the name and blood of the conqueror of Rome. The advice of the graver chieftains pressed him to elude the first ardor of the Franks; and to expect, in the southern provinces of Gaul, the veteran and victorious Ostrogoths, whom the king of Italy had already sent to his assistance. The decisive moments were wasted in idle deliberation ; the Goths too hastily abandoned, perhaps, an advantageous post; and the opportunity of a secure retreat was lost by their slow and disorderly motions. After Clovis had passed the ford, as it is still named, of the Hart, he advanced with bold and hasty steps to prevent the escape of the enemy. His nocturnal march was directed by a flaming meteor, suspended in the air above the cathedral of Poitiers; and this signal, which might be previously concerted with the orthodox successor of St. Hilary, was compared to the column of fire that guided the Israelites in the desert. At the third hour of the day, about ten miles beyond Poitiers, Clovis overtook, and in. stantly attacked, the Gothic army; whose defeat was already prepared by terror and confusion. Yet they rallied in their extreme distress, and the martial youths, who had clamorously demanded the battle, refused to survive the ignominy of flight. The two kings encountered each other in single combat. Alaric fell by the hand of his rival; and the victorious Frank was saved by the goodness of his cuirass, and the vigor of his horse, from the spears of two desperate Goths, who furiously rode against him to revenge the death of their sovereign. The vague expression of a mountain of the slain, serves to indicate a cruel though indefinite slaughter; but Gregory has carefully observed, that his valiant countryman Apollinaris, the son of Sidonius, lost his life at the head of the nobles of Auvergne. Perhaps these suspected Catholics had been maliciously exposed to the blind assault of the enemy; and perhaps the influence of religion was superseded by personal attachment or military honor.” Such is the empire of Fortune (if we may still disguise our ignorance under that popular name), that it is almost equally difficult to foresee the events of war, or to explain their various consequences. A bloody and complete victory has sometimes yielded no more than the possession of the field ; and the loss of ten thousand men has sometimes been sufficient to destroy, in a single day, the work of ages. The decisive battle of Poitiers was followed by the conquest of Aquitain. Alaric had left behind him an infant son, a bas: tard competitor, factious nobles, and a disloyal people; and the remaining forces of the Goths were oppressed by the general consternation, or opposed to each other in civil discord. The victorious king of the Franks proceeded without delay to the siege of Angoulême. At the sound of his trumpets the walls of the city imitated the example of Jericho, and instantly fell to the ground; a splendid miracle, which may be reduced to the supposition, that some clerical engi5: After correcting the text, or excusing the mistake, of Procopius, who places the defeat of Alaric near Carcassone, we may conclude, from the evidence of Gregory, Fortunatus, and the author of the Gesta, Francorum, that the battle was o in campo Pocladensi, on the banks of the Clain, about ten Iniles to the south of Poitiers. Clovis overtook and attacked the Visigoths near Vivonne,

* In this Burgundian war I have followed Gregory of Tours (l. ii. c. 32, 33, in tom. ii. pp. 178, 179), whose marative a *. so incompatible with that of Procopius (de Bell. Goth. l. i. c. 12, in tom. ii. pp. 31, 32) that some critics have supposed two different wars. The Abbé Dubos (Hist. Critique, &c., tom li. pp. 126162) has distinctly represented the causes and the events.

* See his life or legend (in tom. iii. p. 402). A martyr how strangely has that word been distorted from 1 ts original sense of a common witness. St. Sigismond was remarkable for the cure of fevers.

* Before the end of the fifth century, the church of St. Maurice, and his Theban legion, had rendered Agaunum a place of devout pilgrimage. A promiscuous community of both sexes had introduced some deeds of darkness, which were abolished (A. D. 515) by the regular monastery of Sigismond. Within fifty years his angels of light made a nocturnal sally to murder their bishop and his clergy. See in the Bibliothèque Raisonée (tom. xxxvi. pp. 435–438) the curious remarks of a learned librarian of Geneva. 45 Marius, bishop of Avenche (Chron. in tom. ii. p. 15), has marked the authentic dates, and Gregory of Tours (l. 1ji. c. 5, 6, 1n tom. ii. pp. 188, 189) has expressed the principal facts, of the life of Sigismond, and the conquest of Burgundy. Procopius (in tom. ii. p. 34) and Agathias (in tom. ii. p. 49) show their remote and imperfect knowledge.

to Gregory of Tours (i. ii. c. 37. p. 181) inserts the short but persuasive speech of Clovis. Valde inoleste fero, quiod hi Ariani partem temeant Galliarum (the author of the Gesta Francorum, in tom. ii. p. 553, adds the precious epithet of optiman), eamus cum Dei adjutorio, et, superatis eis, redigamus terram in ditioueIn nostram

47 Tunc rex projecit a se in directum Bipennem suam quod est Francisca, &c. (Gesta Franc. in tom. ii. p. 554.) The form and use of this weapon are clearly described by Procopius (in tom. ii. p. 37). Examples of its mational appellation in Latin and French may be found in the Glossary of Ducange, and the large Dictionnaire de Trevoux. * It is singular enough that some important and authentic facts should be found in a life of Quintianus, composed in rhyme in the old Patois of Rouergue (Dubos, Hist. Critique, &c., tom. ii. p. 179). 49 Quamvis fortitudini vestrae confidentiam tribuat parentum vestrorum inumerabilis multitudo ; quamvis Attilam potentem reminiscamini Visigotharum viribus inclinaturn ; tamen quia populorum ferocia corda longi pace mollescunt, cavete subito in aleam mittere, quos constat tantis temporibus exercitia non habere. Such was the salutary, but fruitless, advice of peace, of reason, and of Theodoric (Cassiodor. l. iii. ep. 2). 50 Montesquieu (Esprit des Loix, l. xv. c. 14) mentions and approves the law of the Visigoths (l. ix. tit. 2, in tom. iv. p. 425), which obliged all masters to arm, and send, or 1ead, into the field, a tenth of their slaves.

51 This mode of divination, by accepting as an omen the first sacred words, which in particular circumstances should be presented to the eye or ear, was derived from the Pagans; and the Psalter, or Bible, was substituted to the poems of Homer and Virgil. From the fourth to the fourteenth century these sortes sanctorum, as they are styled, were repeatedly condemned by the decrees of councils, and repeatedly practised by kings, bishops and saints. See a curious disseron of the Abbé du Resnel, in the Mémoires de l’Académie, tom. xix. pp. 287

and the victory was decided near a village still named Champagné St. Hilaire. See the Dissertations of the Abbé le Boeuf, tom. i. pp. 304-331.

VOL. III.-21

« ForrigeFortsett »