FROM this epoch we must trace the progress of a totally new and distinct population in the Netherlands. The Batavians being annihilated, almost without resistance, the low countries contained only the free people of the German race. But these people did not completely sympathize together so as to form one consolidated nation. The Salians, and the other petty tribes of Franks, their allies, were essentially warlike, and appeared precisely the same as the original inhabitants of the high grounds. The Menapians and the Frisons, on the contrary, lost nothing of their spirit of commerce and industry. The result of this diversity was a separation between the Franks and the Menapians. While the latter, under the name of Armoricans, joined themselves more closely with the people who bordered the Channel, the Frisons associated themselves with the tribes settled on the limits of the German Ocean, and formed with them a connection celebrated under the title of the Saxon League. Thus was formed on all points a union between the maritime races against the inland inhabitants; and their mutual antipathy became more and more developed as the decline of the Roman empire ended the former struggle between liberty and conquest.
The Netherlands now became the earliest theatre of an entirely new movement, the consequences of which were destined to affect the whole world. This country was occupied toward the sea by a people wholly maritime, excepting the narrow space between the Rhine and the Vahal, of which the Salian Franks had become possessed. The nature of this marshy soil, in comparison with the sands of Westphalia, Guelders, and North Brabant, was not more strikingly contrasted than was the character of their population. The Franks, who had been for a while under the Roman sway, showed a compound of the violence of savage life and the corruption of civilized society. They were covetous and treacherous, but made excellent soldiers; and at this epoch, which intervened between the power of imperial Rome and that of Germany, the Frank might be morally considered as a borderer on the frontiers of the Middle Ages. The Saxon (and this name comprehends all the tribes of the coast from the Rhine as far north as Denmark), uniting in himself the distinctive qualities of German and navigator, was moderate and sincere, but implacable in his rage. Neither of these two races of men was excelled in point of courage; but the number of Franks who still entered into the service of the empire diminished the real force of this nation, and naturally tended to disunite it. Therefore, in the subsequent shock of people against people, the Saxons invariably gained the final advantage.
They had no doubt often measured their strength in the most remote times, since the Franks were but the descendants of the ancient tribes of Sicambers and others, against whom the Batavians had offered their assistance to Cesar. Under Augustus, the inhabitants of the coast had in the same way joined themselves with Drusus, to oppose these their old enemies. It was also after having been expelled by the Frisons from Guelders that the Salians had passed the Rhine and the Meuse; but, in the fourth century, the two peoples, recovering their strength, the struggle recommenced, never to terminate at least between the direct descendants of each. It is believed that it was the Varni, a race of Saxons nearly connected with those of England (and coming, like them, from the coast of Denmark), who on this occasion struck the decisive blow on the side of the Saxons. Embarking on board a numerous fleet, they made a descent in the ancient isle of the Batavians, at that time inhabited by the Salians, whom they completely destroyed. Julian the Apostate, who was then with a numerous army pursuing his career of early glory in these countries, interfered for the purpose of preventing the expulsion, or at least the utter destruction, of the vanquished; but his efforts were unavailing. The Salians appear to have figured no more in this part of the Low Countries.
The defeat of the Salians by a Saxon tribe is a fact on which no doubt rests. The name of the victors is, however, questionable. The Varni having remained settled near the mouths of the Rhine till near the year 500, there is strong probability that they were the people alluded to. But names and histories, which may on this point appear of such little importance, acquire considerable interest when we reflect that these Salians, driven from their settlement, became the conquerors of France; that those Saxons who forced them on their career of conquest were destined to become the masters of England; and that these two petty tribes, who battled so long for a corner of marshy earth, carried with them their reciprocal antipathy while involuntarily deciding the destiny of Europe.
The defeat of the Franks was fatal to those peoples who had become incorporated with the Romans; for it was from them that the exiled wanderers, still fierce in their ruin, and with arms in their hands, demanded lands and herds; all, in short, which they themselves had lost. From the middle of the fourth century to the end of the fifth, there was a succession of invasions in this spirit, which always ended by the subjugation of a part of the country; and which was completed about the year 490, by Clovis making himself master of almost the whole of Gaul. Under this new empire not a vestige of the ancient nations of the Ardennes was left. The civilized population either perished or was reduced to slavery, and all the high grounds were added to the previous conquests of the Salians.
But the maritime population, when Once possessed of the whole coast, did not seek to make the slightest progress toward the interior. The element of their enterprise and the object of their ambition was the ocean; and when this hardy and intrepid race became too numerous for their narrow limits, expeditions and colonies beyond the sea carried off their redundant population. The Saxon warriors established themselves near the mouths of the Loire; others, conducted by Hengist and Horsa, settled in Great Britain. It will always remain problematical from what point of the coast these adventurers departed; but many circumstances tend to give weight to the opinion which pronounces those old Saxons to have started from the Netherlands.
Paganism not being yet banished from these countries, the obscurity which would have enveloped them is in some degree dispelled by the recitals of the monks who went among them to preach Christianity. We see in those records, and by the text of some of their early laws, that this maritime people were more industrious, prosperous, and happy, than those of France. The men were handsome and richly clothed; and the land well cultivated, and abounding in fruits, milk, and honey. The Saxon merchants carried their trade far into the southern countries. In the meantime, the parts of the Netherlands which belonged to France resembled a desert. The monasteries which were there founded were established, according to the words of their charters, amid immense solitudes; and the French nobles only came into Brabant for the sport of bear-hunting in its interminable forests. Thus, while the inhabitants of the low lands, as far back as the light of history penetrates, appear in a continual state of improvement, those of the high grounds, after frequent vicissitudes, seem to sink into utter degeneracy and subjugation. The latter wished to denaturalize themselves, and become as though they were foreigners even on their native soil; the former remained firm and faithful to their country and to each other.
But the growth of French power menaced utter ruin to this interesting race. Clovis had succeeded, about the year 485 of our era, in destroying the last remnants of Roman domination in Gaul. The successors of these conquerors soon extended their empire from the Pyrenees to the Rhine. They had continual contests with the free population of the Low Countries, and their nearest neighbors. In the commencement of the seventh century, the French king, Clotaire II., exterminated the chief part of the Saxons of Hanover and Westphalia; and the historians of those barbarous times unanimously relate that he caused to be be-headed every inhabitant of the vanquished tribes who exceeded the height of his sword. The Saxon name was thus nearly extinguished in those countries; and the remnant of these various peoples adopted that of Frisons (Friesen), either because they became really incorporated with that nation, or merely that they recognized it for the most powerful of their tribes. Friesland, to speak in the language of that age, extended then from the Scheldt to the Weser, and formed a considerable state. But the ascendency of France was every year becoming more marked; and King Dagobert extended the limits of her power even as far as Utrecht. The descendants of the Menapians, known at that epoch by the different names of Menapians, Flemings, and Toxandirans, fell one after another directly or indirectly under the empire of the Merovingian princes; and the noblest family which existed among the French that which subsequently took the name of Carlovingians comprised in its dominions nearly the whole of the southern and western parts of the Netherlands.
Between this family, whose chief was called duke of the Frontier Marshes (Dux Brabantice), and the free tribes, united under the common name of Frisons, the same struggle was maintained as that which formerly existed between the Salians and the Saxons. Toward the year 100, the French monarchy was torn by anarchy, and, under “the lazy kings,” lost much of its concentrated power; but every dukedom formed an independent sovereignty, and of all those that of Brabant was the most redoubtable. Nevertheless the Frisons, under their king, Radbod, assumed for a moment the superiority; and Utrecht, where the French had established Christianity, fell again into the power of the pagans. Charles Martell, at that time young, and but commencing his splendid career, was defeated by the hostile king in the forest of the Ardennes; and though, in subsequent conquests, he took an ample revenge, Radbod still remained a powerful opponent. It is related of this fierce monarch that he was converted by a Christian missionary; but, at the moment in which he put his foot in the water for the ceremony of baptism, he suddenly asked the priest where all his old Frison companions in arms had gone after their death? “To hell,” replied the priest. “Well, then,” said Radbod, drawing back his foot from the water, “I would rather go to hell with them, than to paradise with you and your fellow foreigners!” and he refused to receive the rite of baptism, and remained a pagan.
After the death of Radbod, in 719, Charles Martell, now become duke of the Franks, mayor of the palace, or by what-ever other of his several titles he may be distinguished, finally triumphed over the long-resisting Frisons. He labored to establish Christianity among them; but they did not under-stand the French language, and the lot of converting them was consequently reserved for the English. St. Willebrod was the first missionary who met with any success, about the latter end of the seventh century ; but it was not till toward the year 750 that this great mission was finally accomplished by St. Boniface, archbishop of Mayence, and the apostle of Germany. Yet the progress of Christianity, and the establishment of a foreign sway, still met the partial resistance which a conquered but not enervated people are always capable of opposing to their masters. St. Boniface fell a victim to this stubborn spirit. He perished a martyr to his zeal, but perhaps a victim as well to the violent measures of his colleagues, in Friesland, the very province which to this day preserves the name.
The last avenger of Friesland liberty and of the national idols was the illustrious Witikind, to whom the chronicles of his country give the title of first azing, or judge. This intrepid chieftain is considered as a compatriot, not only by the historians of Friesland, but by those of Saxony; both, it would appear, having equal claims to the honor; for the union between the two peoples was constantly strengthened by intermarriages between the noblest families of each. As long as Witikind remained a pagan and a freeman, some doubt existed as to the final fate of Friesland; but when by his conversion he became only a noble of the court of Charlemagne, the slavery of his country was consummated.