7-HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE

From 481 to 751, the Merovingians converted the Arian populations to Christianity with great success, and since conversion implied conquest, France became the greatest power within the Holy Roman Empire.

In 771, after the suspicious death of his brother Carloman I, Charlemagne ousted his two young nephews, legitimate heirs of their father, and took possession of the kingdom. The nephews took refuge in Italy among the Lombards with their mother. Charlemagne pursued them and captured them in Verona where they vanished without a trace, probably having been imprisoned in a convent.

After conquering the Lombards, Charlemagne spent several years subduing the Saxons to the north and conquering the Muslims to the south. Charlemagne became extremely powerful, and before France engulfed the Holy Roman Empire altogether, the Pope reacted. He decided to consecrate Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome on December 25 of the year 800. Feeling more important as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire than as king of France, Charlemagne accepted, and without realizing it, restored the authority of Rome over France.

Europe being entirely converted, and the faithful being obliged to pay tithes, it resulted in considerable revenue for the empire. In addition, many of the faithful were willing to pay to have their sins redeemed, and many others bequeathed their property to the Church in order to secure a place in heaven after death. The Holy Roman Empire thus became not only a gigantic financial power, but also a power that tolerated no competition.

In a position of strength, the Bishop of Rome undertook to convert the populations of England, Scotland and Ireland. He chose to send William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, across the Channel in order to make him King of England. But in doing so, the Pope made a major mistake, because when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England, he continued to be Duke of Normandy, and that didn’t bode well for future relations between France and England. When, in 1152, William’s great-grandson, Henri Plantagenet, married Aliénor of Aquitaine, ex-wife of Louis VII, king of France, the kingdom of France and that of England became seriously entangled. In fact, when the third son of Eleanor and Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, became King of England in 1189, he was Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Poitiers, Count of Maine and Earl of Anjou. Fortunately, during his reign, which only lasted from 1189 until his death in 1199, he spent barely a few months in England, and thus, there was no war between France and England during that period. The first war took place in 1202 when Philippe Auguste, king of France, seized the Duchy of Normandy which had been passed down to Jean sans Terre, Richard’s youngest brother. The Hundred Years’ War between French Kings of England and French Kings of France was to officially start in 1337. That’s when Edward III, king of England, and direct descendant of the king of France on his mother’s side, declared himself to be king of France. The battle for the crown of France remained a bloody family affair for over a century.

Nonetheless, when the Pope sent William the Conqueror to England in 1066, Rome’s cruel ways didn’t lessen in other parts of the empire, and the historical period that followed was extremely violent. In 1095, Pope Innocent III launched the first crusade in order to liberate the holy places of Jerusalem from the Muslims who forbade their access to Christians. In 1099 the Franks managed to seize the city of Jerusalem. After two hundred years of rule, the Frank kingdom known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem collapsed in 1291 following the defeat of the Franks in Saint-Jean-D’Acre.

In France, the crusade against the Albigensians began in 1209 with the Béziers sack where the whole population was massacred, and officially ended in 1321 when the last of the Good Men, Guillem Bélibaste, was burned at the stake. But in fact, the last group of Cathars, 510 strong, died in a cave in Lombrives in 1328 after the crusader, Simon de Montfort, walled the entrance to the cave and left them to die. For many centuries, countless infidels, whether Cathars, Muslims or Jews, were tortured, killed and sent to the stake by the Bishop of Rome’s henchmen, and this heretic cleansing lasted long after the death of Joan of Arc in 1404. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII preached an inquisition against witchcraft, an attack directed against women where many were condemned to the stake. Later, this religious barbarism was even adopted by the Protestants, as exemplified by the Salem trials in America in 1692, where dozens of women were hanged for witchcraft.

With regards to the fratricidal wars between England and France, when Edward I of England was crowned king in 1272 following his return from the ninth crusade, he declared he had legitimate rights over France because he held title to all the fiefs of western France, from Flanders to Aquitaine. And Philip IV, known as Philip the Fair, who reigned from 1285 to 1314, didn’t help to pacify things. During his reign, he transferred the Holy See of Rome to Avignon, and because the kings of the Holy Roman Empire were not disposed to submit to the authority of a Pope who answered to the King of France, the transfer was short-lived. However, when he officially declared that Aquitaine belonged to France, that decision was to lead to a fratricidal war that would last more than one hundred years.

Philippe the Fair having died in 1314, in 1337, Edward III of England not only declared that Aquitaine belonged to him, but that he was the legitimate heir to the throne of France on his mother’s side. His mother was Isabelle of France, daughter of Philip the Fair. Not surprisingly, the Plantagenets and the Valois clashed on the battlefield many times over the next hundred years, until Louis XI, king of France, took definite possession of Aquitaine in 1453.

The atrocities committed against the “heretics” by the Bishop of Rome with the help of his absolute kings of divine right over so many centuries, were unspeakable. And they continued after the 100 Years War with Inquisitions against the Jews in the Iberic Peninsula. However, when the Church started to persecute the Protestants within France’s borders, it signed its death warrant. The Protestants, also called Calvinists or Huguenots, were business entrepreneurs with great know-how, and they wanted to make up for lost time following 116 years of senseless war. But because the idea of making a profit went against the Roman Church’s doctrine, the Bishop of Rome decided to apply his well-tried persecution tactics with the help of his French kings.

The French Protestants would become the Church’s mortal enemy, and would eventually join forces with the Jews in Amsterdam. The two persecuted groups would go on to create the East India Company in 1600, an institution that would eventually replace the Holy Roman Empire as a financial and political power. However, the Bishop of Rome had seen the threat developing in early 16th century, and had anointed Charles-Quint Emperor of the Holy Germanic Empire in 1520. But the latter failed in his mission to counter French power, as well as in his attempt to put an end to the Protestant Reformation, and his reign was not only ineffective but a serious setback for the Holy Roman Empire.

3-TIME BARRIER

When scientists tell us that all life on Earth evolved from amino acids and the like, building blocks of life brewed in the primeval soup of life at the dawn of time, we sort of believe them, and when they tell us that Darwin’s theory of evolution is irrefutable, we sort of believe them, but when they tell us we’re monkeys, that’s when we get our backs up. If we’re intelligent, it’s because God made us that way, and that’s all there is to it.

Nonetheless, it gets harder and harder to refute the evidence that our ancestors had started prancing around on two feet as recently as 7 million years ago. As we became bipedal, and with the Sahara pump working away, we prospered in the African Rift Valleys where environmental conditions were ideal. We spent a lot of time in the water in order to protect ourselves from predators and lost most of our hair in the process. However, we found it impossible to compete with the big predators roaming the grasslands, and we certainly weren’t able to get at the carcasses until they had finished with them. To be sure, we were at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to living off the grasslands. Nonetheless, in time, we got our courage up and invested the killing fields in order to glean a few morsels from the leftovers, and we obviously found nothing but bones. Understandably, we didn’t know what to do with them, but since we were last on the scene and had all the time in the world to experiment, we eventually cracked one open. The precious bone marrow we found was avidly consumed, and when added to the rich and plentiful sea food already at our disposition in the shallow waters, we evolved in a spectacular way. By spending less time foraging for food, we had more time to ‘think’.

Since our brain was rapidly increasing in size along with the rest of our body, there was outward pressure on the cranium, and, in time, our facial features slowly morphed into what they are today. As the neocortex grew exponentially and grafted itself upon our reptilian and limbic brains, it caused an explosion of cerebral activity, and we became the thinking, talking, problem-solving emotional beings we are today.

As of that moment, we traveled in an existential world different from the other primates. But the line that forever set us apart from our wild cousins was drawn in the sand when we grasped the notion of death. After witnessing the death of a loved one, not grasping why our parent or companion was no longer communicating with us, or why his or her body was decomposing, we were probably overcome with deep emotional distress. Our feelings and our need to understand surely made something snap in our brain. That was the day we broke the time barrier, the day we realized that we too would die.

Breaking the time barrier meant we were now intelligent. We could use past experience to shape future events. As a simple ape frozen in the present, we had not known the anguish that the notion of death produces. Before, death had just been a momentary interruption in time, a sad happening devoid of meaning, and one that was not anticipated. But now, having broken the time barrier, not only did we know that we would die, but we also knew what could cause our death, and we were scared out of our wits. We saw dangers that threatened our life every which way we turned. We no longer trusted our instincts and our insecurity made us very aggressive. An everyday occurrence became a deadly threat, and fear overcame us. The forest became a scary place and darkness was unbearable. We could no longer stand the aquatic environment either, for we imagined the most terrible creatures lurking beneath the surface.

We managed to survive by taking refuge in caves and grabbing unto the (coat) tails of any outstanding individual who seemed to have answers. Through trial and error, we discovered how to make a fire and keep it going. Thereafter, we not only could warm ourselves, but we could keep the predators at bay. We learned to make weapons, and to hunt and live in groups, and our confidence grew. Nonetheless, it was hard to accept that we were animals and behaved like animals, and that our life would someday end.