This article is contained Nehru’s 52nd letter to his daughter from the collection “Glimpses of world history”. In this letter, Nehru examines the history of Europe in the Middle Ages and reviews the history of the formation of European countries.
Letter date: June 22, 1932
“… The extinction of Rome meant the extinction of civilization in Western Europe. In Eastern Europe, except for the part where the government of Constantinople ruled, the situation was even worse than in Western Europe. Attila the Hun burned and destroyed much of Europe continent, but the Eastern Roman Empire, though in decline, persisted, and occasionally showed signs of force.
After the great upheaval caused by the fall of Rome in the West, the situation was re-established. Of course, it took a long time to find such a settlement, but it is possible to identify new plans that would pave the way for future developments. Christianity was developing in such a way that sometimes the saints and the men of peace helped to develop it, and sometimes this progress was made by the sword of the warring Christian kings and new governments and kingdoms were created.
In France, Belgium, and parts of Germany, the Franks (not to be confused with the French) formed a government headed by Clovis. Clovis ruled from 481 to 511 AD. His rule and that of his family is called the rule of the “Merovingian dynasty”, and this name is derived from the name of the great ancestor Clovis. The rule of these kings was soon overshadowed by one of their own court officials who was the king’s palace mayor (majordomo). These rulers gained real power and their position was inherited. In fact, the government was in their hands, and those who were called kings were nothing more than puppets.
One of these royal majordomo was “Charles Martel”, who defeated the “Saracen” Arabs at the great battle of Tours in France in 732 AD. With this victory, he stopped the wave of Arab conquests and from the Christian point of view he saved Europe. With this incident, his fame and prestige became very high and he was seen as the savior of Christianity against the enemy. At that time, the popes of Rome did not have a good relationship with the Emperor of Constantinople, so they turned to Charles Martel for help.
Charles Martel’s son, named “Pepin”, decided to become king himself, and therefore dismissed the king, who was still a puppet, and proclaimed himself king, and of course the pope of Rome gladly agreed to this.
Pepin’s son was “Charlemagne”. When he became king, the pope of Rome was again in trouble and invited Charlemagne to help him. Charlemagne accepted the invitation and dispersed the pope’s enemies; As a result, at Christmas in 800 AD, the pope held a grand ceremony in the cathedral of Rome, where he crowned Charlemagne and proclaimed him emperor of Rome. From then on, the “Holy Roman Empire” begins, which I wrote to you before about it.
This empire was amazing and its history was even stranger than it was, because it gradually declined and like the “Cheshire Cat” in the “Alice” story there is no physical trace behind its smile, but this fate happened later and we do not need to rush for welcoming the future.
This Holy Roman Empire was not a continuation of the old Western Roman Empire, but something else. This government considered itself an empire and thought that it might dominate everyone in the world except the pope. For several centuries there was a rivalry between these emperors and popes to determine which of them was more important and a priority, but this rivalry and controversy began later. What is interesting and noteworthy is that this empire was thought to be a revival of the same old Roman Empire at the time of its greatness and in the period when Rome was considered the queen and ruler of the world. In addition, a new attitude was added to this old notion and it was Christianity and the Christian community, hence named the “Holy” Empire.
The emperor was thought to be the viceroy of God on earth, and so was the pope, but one of the viceroys was involved in political affairs and the other in spiritual matters. In any case, such an idea was the basis of the idea of that time, and I think that the “divine right” of the monarchy, which grew and spread in Europe, arose from the same thought. The emperor was also a defender of religious faith. It is interesting to know that the King of England is still called the “Defender of the Faith”.
Obviously, the Emperor of Constantinople did not approve of this new situation and this “Holy Roman Empire” found in the West. At the same time that Charlemagne was crowned, a woman named “Irene” became the emperor of Constantinople. This woman was the one who killed her own son in order to become an empress. In his time, the Eastern Roman Empire was in a very bad situation. This in itself was one of the reasons why the Pope of Rome was tempted to sever ties with Constantinople by crowning Charlemagne.
Charlemagne was a contemporary of Harun al-Rashid, who had a caliphate in Baghdad and corresponded with him, and – especially with this in mind – he practically suggested that an alliance be formed between them to fight together against the Eastern Roman Empire and the Spain “Saracen” Arabs. It seems that this proposal did not show any effect, but nevertheless, this proposal makes us very clear about the way of thinking of kings and politicians. Imagine how the “holy” emperor, who was at the head of the Christian community, joined hands with the Caliph of Baghdad Muslim to fight together against a Christian power and an Arab Muslim power.
Remember that the “Saracen” Arabs of Spain did not recognize the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. They established an independent government for themselves and Baghdad was hostile to them, but they were too far from being able to clash, there was no mutual understanding between Constantinople and the Charlemagne government, and the distance between their two territories governmental prevented them from clashing. It was for this reason that these Christians and Arabs offered each other to unite to fight against another Christian and Arab power and state that was considered their rival and opposed to them.
The real stimulus to the kings’ thought was that each wanted to provide more power and wealth for themselves, but religion was often a pleasant garment used to conceal this idea.
This has been the case everywhere. In India, too, we see Mahmud of Ghazni waging war in the name of religion, thereby seizing many spoils. In fact, the noise of religion has often cost a lot.
But it must be borne in mind that the minds of the people change over time and in different eras, and it is very difficult for us to be able to judge the minds of the people who existed in those former times. We must always remember this fact. Many things that are obvious and normal to us today have been very strange and wonderful to them, and their habits and way of thinking are strange and wonderful to us.
The situation in the West was at its worst when the people were talking about great ideals, the Holy Empire, the Viceroy of God, and the Pope as the successor and successor of Christ.
Soon after the reign of Charlemagne, Italy and Rome were get into misery. A series of hateful men and women did whatever they wanted, and popes were their toys.
In fact, because of the turmoil and disorder in Western Europe after the fall of Rome, many people thought that things could get better if the empire was rebuilt and revived. Thus, having an emperor had become a matter of prestige for many. An old writer of the same time says that Charlemagne was made emperor because “if the name of the emperor was not among the Christians, the infidels and apostates of Christians would be insulted and cursed.”
The Charlemagne Empire encompassed all of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, half of Germany, and half of Italy. In its southwest was Spain, which was ruled by the Arabs. In its northeast were Slavs and other tribes. In its north lived the Danes and the northern tribes. In its southeast were the Bulgarians and the Arabs, and behind them was the Eastern Roman Empire under Constantinople rule.
The Charlemagne died in 814, and soon troubles and disturbances began to divide this vast empire. His descendants were called the Carolingian dynasty, and their names were derived from the name Charlemagne.
Charlemagne’s successors, as their titles suggest, were not adequate and capable, and had titles such as fat, simple, pious, and like these.
We now see that the French and German states were formed by the division of the Charlemagne Empire. Germany is thought to have become a distinct nation since 843 AD, and it is said that “Otto the Great” emperor, who ruled from 962 to 973, made Germany more or less a single nation.
At that time, France became a part of the Otto Empire. In 987, “Hugo Capet” ousted the weak and powerless king of Carolingian in France and took control of France. In fact, he did not rule France either, because France was divided into several regions, each under the independent and autonomous rule of one of the aristocracy, and they often fought with each other. But they all feared the emperor and the pope more than themselves, and so they allied with each other and fought against their power.
With the reign of “Hugo Capet”, France became a nation, and we can even see that from that time on, there was a rivalry between Germany and France that lasted a thousand years and has continued to this day. It is really strange that in a neighboring country and with such a cultured people as the two nations of France and Germany, this old idea has been preserved for generations. Perhaps it is not their own fault, but the fault of the social and government form in which they have lived, that have provoked these old grudges and animosities.
Around the same time, Russia also appears on the stage of history. It is said that a man from the north named “Rorik” founded the Russian government in 850 AD.
In southeastern Europe, too, the Bulgarians settled and formed an active and aggressive government, and so did the Serbs. The Hungarians and Poles also established states, at least in the distance between the Holy Roman Empire and the new Russia. Meanwhile, people from northern Europe sailed with their ships to western and southern countries, began to set on fire, killing and looting. You have read some article about the Danes and other northern tribes who went to England and committed murder, looting and killing. These northern tribes, later called the “Normans”, reached as far as the Mediterranean Sea , and sailed with their ships into the great rivers, taking with them destruction, slaughter, and plunder wherever they went.
There was chaos in Italy and Rome was in turmoil. The Normans plundered Rome, even put Constantinople under pressure. These bandits and assassins captured the northwestern part of France, which is now Normandy. They also conquered southern Italy and Sicily, and gradually settled here, and as thieves and robbers became prosperous landlords when they prospered; they also became the major landowners and aristocrats of those areas.
It was the Normans of the Normandy region of France who, in 1066, under the leadership of William, known as the Conqueror, went to England and conquered it. Thus we see that England is also being formed.”
Source: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.