Extensive diplomatic combinations, though continually
planned, seldom came to the birth and very rarely led to any notable result.
The existence of some common interests was recognised; no power viewed with indifference
any movement threatening the existence of the Papacy, which represented
religious unity, or of the crusading principalities which formed the outer
bulwark of Western Christendom; the principle of the Balance of Power, though
not yet crystallised into a dogma, was so far understood that the inordinate
growth of any single power alarmed the rest, even though they stood in no
imminent danger of absorption.
Therefore whenever the Empire gained the upper
hand over the Church, whenever a new horde of Asiatics appeared on the horizon,
whenever France seemed about to become a province of England, or Italy a
province of France, the alarm was sounded by the publicists, and there ensued a
general interchange of views between the monarchies; treaty was piled on treaty,
alliance parried with alliance, as industriously as at any time in modern
history. But the peoples seldom moved, and the agitation of the ruling classes
effervesced in words. It is altogether exceptional to find two of the greater
states uniting for the humiliation of a third, as England and the Empire united
against Philip Augustus of France. Few medieval battles were so far-reaching in
their consequences as Bouvines (1214), to which England owes her Magna Carta,
Germany the magnificent and stormy autumn of the Hohenstauffen dynasty, France
the consolidation of her long-divided provinces under an absolutist monarchy.