For a considerable time the robber chiefs maintained themselves in their new mode of life, sallying from the castle, laying the country far and wide under contribution, and returning to the fortress for safety from pursuit. Their exactions became in time so annoying, that the castle was besieged by a strong force of Swabians, headed by Count Mangold of Veringen, and the freebooters were closely confined within their walls. Impatient of this, a sally in force was made by the garrison, headed by the two robber chiefs, and an obstinate contest ensued. The struggle ended in the death of Mangold on the one side and of Ernst and Werner on the other, with the definite defeat and dispersal of the robber band.
Thus ended an interesting episode of mediaeval German history. But the valor and misfortunes of Duke Ernst did not die unsung. He became a popular hero, and the subject of many a ballad, in which numerous adventures were invented for him during his career as an opponent of the emperor and an outlaw in the Black Forest. For the step-son of an emperor to be reduced to such a strait was indeed an event likely to arouse public interest and sympathy, and for centuries the doings of the robber duke were sung.
In the century after his death the imagination of the people went to extremes in their conception of the adventures of Duke Ernst, mixing up ideas concerning him with fancies derived from the Crusades, the whole taking form in a legend which is still preserved in the popular ballad literature of Germany. This strange conception takes Ernst to the East, where he finds himself opposed by terrific creatures in human and brute form, they being allegorical representations of his misfortunes. Each monster signifies an enemy. He reaches a black mountain, which represents his prison. He is borne into the clouds by an old man; this is typical of his ambition. His ship is wrecked on the Magnet mountain; a personification of his contest with the emperor. The nails fly out of the ship and it falls to pieces; an emblem of the falling off of his vassals. There are other adventures, and the whole circle of legends is a curious one, as showing the vagaries of imagination, and the strong interest taken by the people in the fortunes and misfortunes of their chieftains.
THE REIGN OF OTHO II.
Otho II., Emperor of Germany,—Otho the Red, as he was called, from his florid complexion,—succeeded to the Western Empire in 973, when in his eighteenth year of age. His reign was to be a short and active one, and attended by adventures and fluctuations of fortune which render it worthy of description. Few monarchs have experienced so many of the ups and downs of life within the brief period of five years, through which his wars extended.
As heir to the imperial title of Charlemagne, he was lord of the ancient palace of the great emperor, at Aix-la-Chapelle, and here held court at the feast of St. John in the year 978. All was peace and festivity within the old imperial city, all war and threat without it. While Otho and his courtiers, knights and ladies, lords and minions, were enjoying life with ball and banquet, feast and frivolity, in true palatial fashion, an army was marching secretly upon them, with treacherous intent to seize the emperor and his city at one full swoop. Lothaire, King of France, had in haste and secrecy collected an army, and, without a declaration of hostilities, was hastening, by forced marches, upon Aix-la-Chapelle.
It was an act of treachery utterly undeserving of success. But it is not always the deserving to whom success comes, and Otho heard of the rapid approach of this army barely in time to take to flight, with his fear-winged flock of courtiers at his heels, leaving the city an easy prey to the enemy. Lothaire entered the city without a blow, plundered it as if he had taken it by storm, and ordered that the imperial eagle, which was erected in the grand square of Charles the Great, should have its beak turned westward, in token that Lorraine now belonged to France.
Doubtless the great eagle turned creakingly on its support, thus moved by the hand of unkingly perfidy, and impatiently awaited for time and the tide of affairs to turn its beak again to the east. It had not long to wait. The fugitive emperor hastily called a diet of the princes and nobles at Dortmund, told them in impassioned eloquence of the faithless act of the French king, and called upon them for aid against the treacherous Lothaire. Little appeal was needed. The honor of Germany was concerned. Setting aside all the petty squabbles which rent the land, the indignant princes gathered their forces and placed them under Otho's command. By the 1st of October the late fugitive found himself at the head of a considerable army, and prepared to take revenge on his perfidious enemy.
Into France he marched, and made his way with little opposition, by Rheims and Soissons, until the French capital lay before his eyes. Here the army encamped on the right bank of the Seine, around Montmartre, while their cavalry avenged the plundering of Aix-la-Chapelle by laying waste the country for many miles around. The French were evidently as little prepared for Otho's activity as he had been for Lothaire's treachery, and did not venture beyond the walls of their city, leaving the country a defenceless prey to the revengeful anger of the emperor.
The Seine lay between the two armies, but not a Frenchman ventured to cross its waters; the garrison of the city, under Hugh Capet,—Count of Paris, and soon to become the founder of a new dynasty of French kings,—keeping closely within its walls. These walls proved too strong for the Germans, and as winter was approaching, and there was much sickness among his troops, the emperor retreated, after having devastated all that region of France. But first he kept a vow that he had made, that he would cause the Parisians to hear a Te Deum such as they had never heard before. In pursuance of this vow, he gathered upon the hill of Montmartre all the clergymen whom he could seize, and forced them to sing his anthem of victory with the full power of their lungs. Then, having burned the suburbs of Paris, and left his lance quivering in the city gate, he withdrew in triumph, having amply punished the treacherous French king. Aix-la-Chapelle fell again into his hands; the eyes of the imperial eagle were permitted once more to gaze upon Germany, and in the treaty of peace that followed Lorraine was declared to be forever a part of the German realm.
Two years afterwards Otho, infected by that desire to conquer Italy which for centuries afterwards troubled the dreams of German emperors, and brought them no end of trouble, crossed the Alps and descended upon the Italian plains, from which he was never to return. Northern Italy was already in German hands, but the Greeks held possessions in the south which Otho claimed, in view of the fact that he had married Theophania, the daughter of the Greek emperor at Constantinople. To enforce this claim he marched upon the Greek cities, which in their turn made peace with the Arabs, with whom they had been at war, and gathered garrisons of these bronzed pagans alike from Sicily and Africa.
For two years the war continued, the advantage resting with Otho. In 980 he reached Rome, and there had a secret interview with Hugh Capet, whom he sustained in his intention to seize the throne of France, still held by his old enemy Lothaire. In 981 he captured Naples, Taranto, and other cities, and in a pitched battle near Cotrona defeated the Greeks and their Arab allies. Abn al Casem, the terror of southern Italy, and numbers of his Arab followers, were left dead upon the field.
On the 13th of July, 982, the emperor again met the Greeks and their Arab allies in battle, and now occurred that singular adventure and reverse of fortune which has made this engagement memorable. The battle took place at a point near the sea-shore, in the vicinity of Basantello, not far from Taranto, and at first went to the advantage of the imperial forces. They attacked the Greeks with great impetuosity, and, after a stubborn defence, broke through their ranks, and forced them into a retreat, which was orderly conducted.
It was now mid-day. The victors, elated with their success and their hopes of pillage, followed the retreating columns along the banks of the river Corace, feeling so secure that they laid aside their arms and marched leisurely and confidently forward. It was a fatal confidence. At one point in their march the road led between the river and a ridge of serried rocks, which lay silent beneath the mid-day sun. But silent as they seemed, they were instinct with life. An ambuscade of Arabs crouched behind them, impatiently waiting the coming of the unsuspecting Germans.
Suddenly the air pealed with sound, the "Allah il Allah!" of the fanatical Arabs; suddenly the startled eyes of the imperialists saw the rugged rocks bursting, as it seemed, into life; suddenly a horde of dusky warriors poured down upon them with scimitar and javelin, surrounding them quickly on all sides, cutting and slashing their way deeply into the disordered ranks. The scattered troops, stricken with dismay, fell in hundreds. In their surprise and confusion they became easy victims to their agile foes, and in a short time nearly the whole of that recently victorious army were slain or taken prisoners. Of the entire force only a small number broke through the lines of their environing foes.
The emperor escaped almost by miracle. His trusty steed bore him unharmed through the crowding Arabs. He was sharply pursued, but the swift animal distanced the pursuers, and before long he reached the sea-shore, over whose firm sands he guided his horse, though with little hope of escaping his active foes. Fortunately, he soon perceived a Greek vessel at no great distance from the shore, a vision which held out to him a forlorn hope of escape. The land was perilous; the sea might be more propitious; he forced his faithful animal into the water, and swam towards the vessel, in the double hope of being rescued and remaining unknown.
He was successful in both particulars. The crew willingly took him on board, ignorant of his high rank, but deeming him to be a knight of distinction, from whom they could fairly hope for a handsome ransom. His situation was still a dangerous one, should he become known, and he could not long hope to remain incognito. In truth, there was a slave on board who knew him, but who, for purposes of his own, kept the perilous secret. He communicated by stealth with the emperor, told him of his recognition, and arranged with him a plan of escape. In pursuance of this he told the Greeks that their captive was a chamberlain of the emperor, a statement which Otho confirmed, and added that he had valuable treasures at Rossano, which, if they would sail thither, they might take on board as his ransom.
The Greek mariners, deceived by the specious tale, turned their vessel's prow towards Rossano, and on coming near that city, shifted their course towards the shore. Otho had been eagerly awaiting this opportunity. When they had approached sufficiently near to the land, he suddenly sprang from the deck into the sea, and swam ashore with a strength and swiftness that soon brought him to the strand. In a short time afterwards he entered Rossano, then held by his forces, and joined his queen, who had been left in that city.
This singular adventure is told with a number of variations by the several writers who have related it, most of them significant of the love of the marvellous of the old chroniclers. One writer tells us that the escaping emperor was pursued and attacked by the Greek boatmen, and that he killed forty of them with the aid of a soldier, named Probus, whom he met on the shore. By another we are told that the Greeks recognized him, that he enticed them to the shore by requesting them to take on board his wife and treasures, which had been left at Rossano, and that he sent young men on board disguised as female attendants of his wife, by whose aid he seized the vessel. All the stories agree, however, in saying that Theophania jeeringly asked the emperor whether her countrymen had not put him in mortal fear,—a jest for which the Germans never forgave her.
To return to the domain of fact, we have but further to tell that the emperor, full of grief and vexation at the loss of his army, and the slaughter of many of the German and Italian princes and nobles who had accompanied him, returned to upper Italy, with the purpose of collecting another army.
All his conquests in the south had fallen again into the hands of the enemy, and his work remained to be done over again. He held a grand assembly in Verona, in which he had his son Otho, three years old, elected as his successor. From there he proceeded to Rome, in which city he was attacked by a violent fever, brought on by the grief and excitement into which his reverses had thrown his susceptible and impatient mind. He died December 7, 983, and was buried in the church of St. Peter, at Rome.
The fancy of the chroniclers has surrounded his death with legends, which are worth repeating as curious examples of what mediaeval writers offered and mediaeval readers accepted as history. One of them tells the story of a naval engagement between Otho and the Greeks, in which the fight was so bitter that the whole sea around the vessels was stained red with blood. The emperor won the victory, but received a mortal wound.
Another story, which does not trouble itself to sail very close to the commonplace, relates that Otho met his end by being whipped to death on Mount Garganus by the angels, among whom he had imprudently ventured while they were holding a conclave there. These stories will serve as examples of the degree of credibility of many of the ancient chronicles and the credulity of their readers.
THE FORTUNES OF HENRY THE FOURTH.
At the festival of Easter, in the year 1062, a great banquet was given in the royal palace at Kaiserswerth, on the Rhine. The Empress Agnes, widow of Henry III., and regent of the empire, was present, with her son, then a boy of eleven. A pious and learned woman was the empress, but she lacked the energy necessary to control the unquiet spirits of her times. Gentleness and persuasion were the means by which she hoped to influence the rude dukes and haughty archbishops of the empire, but qualities such as these were wasted on her fierce subjects, and served but to gain her the contempt of some and the dislike of others. A plot to depose the weakly-mild regent and govern the empire in the name of the youthful monarch was made by three men, Otto of Norheim, the greatest general of the state, Ekbert of Meissen, its most valiant knight, and Hanno, Archbishop of Cologne, its leading churchman. These three men were present at the banquet, which they had fixed upon as the occasion for carrying out their plot.
The feast over, the three men rose and walked with the boy monarch to a window of the palace that overlooked the Rhine. On the waters before them rode at anchor a handsome vessel, which the child looked upon with eyes of delight.
"Would you like to see it closer?" asked Hanno. "I will take you on board, if you wish."
"Oh, will you?" pleaded the boy. "I shall be so glad."
The three conspirators walked with him to the stream, and rowed out to the vessel, the empress viewing them without suspicion of their design. But her doubts were aroused when she saw that the anchor had been raised and that the sails of the vessel were being set. Filled with sudden alarm she left the palace and hastened to the shore, just as the kidnapping craft began to move down the waters of the stream.
At the same moment young Henry, who had until now been absorbed in gazing delightedly about the vessel, saw what was being done, and heard his mother's cries. With courage and resolution unusual for his years he broke, with a cry of anger, from those surrounding him, and leaped into the stream, with the purpose of swimming ashore. But hardly had he touched the water when Count Ekbert sprang in after him, seized him despite his struggles, and brought him back to the vessel.
The empress entreated in pitiful accents for the return of her son, but in vain; the captors of the boy were not of the kind to let pity interfere with their plans; on down the broad stream glided the vessel, the treacherous vassals listening in silence to the agonized appeals of the distracted mother, and to the mingled prayers and demands of the young emperor to be taken back. The country people, furious on learning that the emperor had been stolen, and was being carried away before their eyes, pursued the vessel for some distance on both sides of the river. But their cries and threats were of no more avail than had been the mother's tears and prayers. The vessel moved on with increasing speed, the three kidnappers erect on its deck, their only words being those used to cajole and quiet their unhappy prisoner, whom they did their utmost to solace by promises and presents.
The vessel continued its course until it reached Cologne, where the imperial captive was left under the charge of the archbishop, his two confederates fully trusting him to keep close watch and ward over their precious prize. The empress was of the same opinion. After vainly endeavoring to regain her lost son from his powerful captors, she resigned the regency and retired with a broken heart to an Italian convent, in which the remainder of her sad life was to be passed.
The unhappy boy soon learned that his new lot was not to be one of pleasure. He had a life of severe discipline before him. Bishop Hanno was a stern and rigid disciplinarian, destitute of any of the softness to which the lad had been accustomed, and disposed to rule all under his control with a rod of iron. He kept his youthful captive strictly immured in the cloister, where he had to endure the severest discipline, while being educated in Latin and the other learning of the age.
The regency given up by Agnes was instantly assumed by the ambitious churchman, and a decree to that effect was quickly passed by the lords of the diet, on the grounds that Hanno was the bishop of the diocese in which the emperor resided. The character of Hanno is variously represented by historians. While some accuse him of acts of injustice and cruelty, others speak of him as a man of energy, yet one whose holy life, his paternal care for his see, and his zealous reformation of monasteries and foundation of churches, gained him the character of a saint.
Young Henry remained but a year or two in the hands of this stern taskmaster. An imperative necessity called Hanno to Italy, and he was obliged to leave the young monarch under the charge of Adalbert, Archbishop of Bremen, a personage of very different character from himself. Adalbert, while a churchman of great ability, was a courtier full of ambitious views. He was one of the most polished and learned men of his time, at once handsome, witty, and licentious, his character being in the strongest contrast to the stern harshness of Hanno and the coarse manners of the nobles of that period.
It would have been far better, however, for Henry could he have remained under the control of Hanno, with all his severity. It is true that the kindness and gentleness of Adalbert proved a delightful change to the growing boy, and the unlimited liberty he now enjoyed was in pleasant contrast to his recent restraint, while the gravity and severe study of Hanno's cloister were agreeably replaced by the gay freedom of Adalbert's court, in which the most serious matters were treated as lightly as a jest. But the final result of the change was that the boy's character became thoroughly corrupted. Adalbert surrounded his youthful charge with constant alluring amusements, using the influence thus gained to obtain new power in the state for himself, and places of honor and profit for his partisans. He inspired him also with a contempt for the rude-mannered dukes of the empire, and for what he called the stupid German people, while he particularly filled the boy's mind with a dislike for the Saxons, with whom the archbishop was at feud. All this was to have an important influence on the future life of the growing monarch.
It was more Henry's misfortune than his fault that he grew up to manhood as a compound of sensuality, levity, malice, treachery, and other mean qualities, for his nature had in it much that was good, and in his after-life he displayed noble qualities which had been long hidden under the corrupting faults of his education. The crime of the ambitious nobles who stole him from his pious and gentle mother went far to ruin his character, and was the leading cause of the misfortunes of his life.
As to the character of the youthful monarch, and its influence upon the people, a few words may suffice. His licentious habits soon became a scandal and shame to the whole empire, the more so that the mistresses with whom he surrounded himself were seen in public adorned with gold and precious stones which had been taken from the consecrated vessels of the church. His dislike of the Saxons was manifested in the scorn with which he treated this section of his people, and the taxes and enforced labors with which they were oppressed.
The result of all this was an outbreak of rebellion. Hanno, who had beheld with grave disapproval the course taken by Adalbert, now exerted his great influence in state affairs, convoked an assembly of the princes of the empire, and cited Henry to appear before it. On his refusal, his palace was surrounded and his person seized, while Adalbert narrowly escaped being made prisoner. He was obliged to remain in concealment during the three succeeding years, while the indignant Saxons, taking advantage of the opportunity for revenge, laid waste his lands.
The licentious young ruler found his career of open vice brought to a sudden end. The stern Hanno was again in power. Under his orders the dissolute courtiers were dispersed, and Henry was compelled to lead a more decorous life, a bride being found for him in the person of Bertha, daughter of the Italian Margrave of Susa, to whom he had at an earlier date been affianced. She was a woman of noble spirit, but, unfortunately, was wanting in personal beauty, in consequence of which she soon became an object of extreme dislike to her husband, a dislike which her patience and fidelity seemed rather to increase than to diminish.
The feeling of the young monarch towards his dutiful wife was overcome in a singular manner, which is well worth describing. Henry at first was eager to free himself from the tie that bound him to the unloved Bertha, a resolution in which he was supported by Siegfried, Archbishop of Mayence, who offered to assist him in getting a divorce. At a diet held at Worms, Henry demanded a separation from his wife, to whom he professed an unconquerable aversion. His efforts, however, were frustrated by the pope's legate, who arrived in Germany during these proceedings, and the licentious monarch, finding himself foiled in these legal steps, sought to gain his end by baser means. He caused beautiful women and maidens to be seized in their homes and carried to his palace as ministers to his pleasure, while he exposed the unhappy empress to the base solicitations of his profligate companions, offering them large sums if they could ensnare her, in her natural revulsion at his shameless unfaithfulness.
But the virtue of Bertha was proof against all such wiles, and the story goes that she turned the tables on her vile-intentioned husband in an amusing and decisive manner. On one occasion, as we are informed, the empress appeared to listen to the solicitations of one of the would-be seducers, and appointed a place and time for a secret meeting with this profligate. The triumphant courtier duly reported his success to Henry, who, overjoyed, decided to replace him in disguise. At the hour fixed he appeared and entered the chamber named by Bertha, when he suddenly found himself assailed by a score of stout servant-maids, armed with rods, which they laid upon his back with all the vigor of their arms. The surprised Lothario ran hither and thither to escape their blows, crying out that he was the king. In vain his cries; they did not or would not believe him; and not until he had been most soundly beaten, and their arms were weary with the exercise, did they open the door of the apartment and suffer the crest-fallen reprobate to escape.
This would seem an odd means of gaining the affection of a truant husband, but it is said to have had this effect upon Henry, his wronged wife from that moment gaining a place in his heart, into which she had fairly cudgelled herself. The man was really of susceptible disposition, and her invincible fidelity had at length touched him, despite himself. From that moment he ceased his efforts to get rid of her, treated her with more consideration, and finally settled down to the fact that a beautiful character was some atonement for a homely face, and that Bertha was a woman well worthy his affection.
We have now to describe the most noteworthy event in the life of Henry IV., and the one which has made his name famous in history,—his contest with the great ecclesiastic Hildebrand, who had become pope under the title of Gregory VII. Though an aged man when raised to the papacy, Gregory's vigorous character displayed itself in a remarkable activity in the enhancement of the power of the church. His first important step was directed against the scandals of the priesthood in the matter of celibacy, the marriage of priests having become common. A second decree of equal importance followed. Gregory forbade the election of bishops by the laity, reserving this power to the clergy, under confirmation by the pope. He further declared that the church was independent of the state, and that the extensive lands held by the bishops were the property of the church, and free from control by the monarch.
These radical decrees naturally aroused a strong opposition, in the course of which Henry came into violent controversy with the pope. Gregory accused Henry openly of simony, haughtily bade him to come to Rome, and excommunicated the bishops who had been guilty of the same offence. The emperor, who did not know the man with whom he had to deal, retorted by calling an assembly of the German bishops at Worms, in which the pope was declared to be deposed from his office.
The result was very different from that looked for by the volatile young ruler. The vigorous and daring pontiff at once placed Henry himself under interdict, releasing his subjects from their oath of allegiance, and declaring him deprived of the imperial dignity. The scorn with which the emperor heard of this decree was soon changed to terror when he perceived its effect upon his people. The days were not yet come in which the voice of the pope could be disregarded. With the exception of the people of the cities and the free peasantry, who were opposed to the papal dominion, all the subjects of the empire deserted Henry, avoiding him as though he were infected with the plague. The Saxons flew to arms; the foreign garrisons were expelled; the imprisoned princes were released; all the enemies whom Henry had made rose against him; and in a diet, held at Oppenheim, the emperor was declared deposed while the interdict continued, and the pope was invited to visit Augsburg; in order to settle the affairs of Germany. The election of a successor to Henry was even proposed, and, to prevent him from communicating with the pope, his enemies passed a decree that he should remain in close residence at Spires.
The situation of the recently great monarch had suddenly become desperate. Never had a decree of excommunication against a crowned ruler been so completely effective. The frightened emperor saw but one hope left, to escape to Italy before the princes could prevent him, and obtain release from the interdict at any cost, and with whatever humiliation it might involve. With this end in view he at once took to flight, accompanied by Bertha, his infant son, and a single knight, and made his way with all haste towards the Alps.
The winter was one of the coldest that Germany had ever known, the Rhine remaining frozen from St. Martin's day of 1076 to April, 1077. About Christmas of this severe winter the fugitives reached the snow-covered Alps, having so far escaped the agents of their enemies, and crossed the mountains by the St. Bernard pass, the difficulty of the journey being so great that the empress had to be slid down the precipitous paths by ropes in the hands of guides, she being wrapped in an ox-hide for protection.
Italy was at length reached, after the greatest dangers and hardships had been surmounted. Here Henry, much to his surprise, found prevailing a very different spirit from that which he had left behind him. The nobles, who cordially hated Gregory, and the bishops, many of whom were under interdict, hailed his coming with joy, with the belief "that the emperor was coming to humiliate the haughty pope by the power of the sword." He might soon have had an army at his back, but that he was too thoroughly downcast to think of anything but conciliation, and to the disgust of the Italians insisted on humiliating himself before the powerful pontiff.
Gregory was little less alarmed than the emperor on learning of Henry's sudden arrival in Italy. He was then on his way to Augsburg, and, in doubt as to the intentions of his enemy, took hasty refuge in the castle of Canossa, then held by the Countess Matilda, recently a widow, and the most powerful and influential princess in Italy.
But the alarmed pope was astonished and gratified when he learned that the emperor, instead of intending an armed assault upon him, had applied to the Countess Matilda, asking her to intercede in his behalf with the pontiff. Gregory's acute mind quickly perceived the position in which Henry stood, and, with great severity, he at first refused to speak of a reconciliation, but referred all to the diet; then, on renewed entreaties, he consented to receive Henry at Canossa, if he would come alone, and as a penitent. The castle was surrounded with three walls, within the second of which Henry was admitted, his attendants being left without. He had laid aside every badge of royalty, being clothed in penitential dress and barefoot, and fasting and praying from morning to evening. For a second and even a third day was he thus kept, and not until the fourth day, moved at length by the solicitations of Matilda and those about him, did Gregory grant permission for Henry to enter his presence. An interview now took place, in which the pope consented to release the penitent emperor from the interdict. One of the conditions of this release was he should leave to Gregory the settlement of affairs in Germany, and to give up all exercise of his imperial power until he should be granted permission to exercise it again.
This agreement was followed by a solemn mass, after which Gregory spoke to the following effect: As regarded the crimes of which Henry had accused him, he could easily bring evidence in disproof of the charges made, but he would invoke the judgment of God alone. "May the body of Jesus Christ, which I am about to receive," he said, "be the witness of my innocence. I beseech the Almighty thus to dispel all suspicions, if I am innocent; to strike me dead on the spot, if guilty."
He then received one-half the Sacred Host, and turning to the king, offered him the remaining half, bidding him to follow his example, if he held himself to be guiltless. Henry refused the ordeal, doubtless because he did not dare to risk the penalty, and was glad enough to escape from the presence of the pope, a humble penitent.
This ended Henry's career of humiliation. It was followed by a period of triumph. On leaving the castle of Canossa he found the people of Lombardy so indignant at his cowardice, that their scorn induced him to break the oath he had just taken, gather an army, and assail the castle, in which he shut up the pope so closely that he could neither proceed to Augsburg nor return to Rome.
This siege, however, was not of long continuance. Henry soon found himself recalled to Germany, where his enemies had elected Rudolf, Duke of Swabia, emperor in his stead. A war broke out, which continued for several years, at the end of which Gregory, encouraged by a temporary success of Rudolf's party, pronounced in his favor, invested him with the empire as a fief of the papacy, and once more excommunicated Henry. It proved a false move. Henry had now learned his own power, and ceased to fear the pope. He had strong support in the cities and among the clergy, whom Gregory's severity had offended, and immediately convoked a council, by which the pope was again deposed, and the Archbishop of Ravenna elected in his stead, under the title of Clement III.
In this year, 1080, a battle took place in which Rudolf was mortally wounded, and the party opposed to Henry left without a leader, though the war continued. And now Henry, seeing that he could trust his cause in Germany to the hands of his lieutenants, determined to march upon his pontifical foe in Italy, and take revenge for his bitter humiliation at Canossa.
He crossed the Alps, defeated the army which Matilda had raised in the pope's cause, and laid siege to Rome, a siege which continued without success for the long period of three years. At length the city was taken, Wilprecht von Groitsch, a Saxon knight, mounting the walls, and making his way with his followers into the city, aided by treachery from within. Gregory hastily shut himself up in the castle of St. Angelo, in which he was besieged by the Romans themselves, and from which he bade defiance to Henry with the same inflexible will as ever. Henry offered to be reconciled with him if he would crown him, but the vigorous old pontiff replied that, "He could only communicate with him when he had given satisfaction to God and the church." The emperor, thereupon, called the rival pope, Clement, to Rome, was crowned by him, and returned to Germany, leaving Clement in the papal chair and Gregory still shut up in St. Angelo.
But a change quickly took place in the fortunes of the indomitable old pope. Robert Guiscard, Duke of Normandy, who had won for himself a principality in lower Italy, now marched to the relief of his friend Gregory, stormed and took the city at the head of his Norman freebooters, and at once began the work of pillage, in disregard of Gregory's remonstrances. The result was an unusual one. The citizens of Rome, made desperate by their losses, gathered in multitudes and drove the plunderers from their city, and Gregory with them. The Normans, thus expelled, took the pope to Salerno, where he died the following year, 1085, his last words being, "I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore do I die in exile."
As for his imperial enemy, the remainder of his life was one of incessant war. Years of battle were needed to put down his enemies in the state, and his triumph was quickly followed by the revolt of his own son, Henry, who reduced his father so greatly that the old emperor was thrown into prison and forced to sign an abdication of the throne. It is said that he became subsequently so reduced that he was forced to sell his boots to obtain means of subsistence, but this story may reasonably be doubted. Henry died in 1106, again under excommunication, so that he was not formally buried in consecrated ground until 1111, the interdict being continued for five years after his death.
ANECDOTES OF MEDIAEVAL GERMANY.
THE WIVES OF WEINSBERG.
In the year of grace 1140 a German army, under Conrad III., emperor, laid siege to the small town of Weinsberg, the garrison of which resisted with a most truculent and disloyal obstinacy. Germany, which for centuries before and after was broken into warring factions, to such extent that its emperors could truly say, "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown," was then divided between the two strong parties of the Welfs and the Waiblingers,—or the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, as pronounced by the Italians and better known to us. The Welfs were a noble family whose ancestry could be traced back to the days of Charlemagne. The Waiblingers derived their name from the town of Waiblingen, which belonged to the Hohenstaufen family, of which the Emperor Conrad was a representative.
And now, as often before and after, the Guelphs, and Ghibellines were at war, Duke Welf holding Weinsberg vigorously against his foes of the imperial party, while his relative, Count Welf of Altorf, marched to his relief. A battle ensued between emperor and count, which ended in the triumph of the emperor and the flight of the count. And this battle is worthy of mention, as distinguished from the hundreds of battles which are unworthy of mention, from the fact that in it was first heard a war-cry which continued famous for centuries afterwards. The German war-cry preceding this period had been "Kyrie Eleison" ("Lord, have mercy upon us!" a pious invocation hardly in place with men who had little mercy upon their enemies). But now the cry of the warring factions became "Hie Weif," "Hie Waiblinger," softened in Italy into "The Guelph," "The Ghibelline," battle-shouts which were long afterwards heard on the field of German war, and on that of Italy as well, for the factions of Germany became also the factions of this southern realm.
So much for the origin of Guelph and Ghibelline, of which we may further say that a royal representative of the former party still exists, in King Edward VII. of England, who traces his descent from the German Welfs. And now to return to the siege of Weinsberg, to which Conrad returned after having disposed of the army of relief. The garrison still were far from being in a submissive mood, their defence being so obstinate, and the siege so protracted, that the emperor, incensed by their stubborn resistance, vowed that he would make their city a frightful example to all his foes, by subjecting its buildings to the brand and its inhabitants to the sword. Fire and steel, he said, should sweep it from the face of the earth.
Weinsberg at length was compelled to yield, and Conrad, hot with anger, determined that his cruel resolution should be carried out to the letter, the men being put to the sword, the city given to the flames. This harsh decision filled the citizens with terror and despair. A deputation was sent to the angry emperor, humbly praying for pardon, but he continued inflexible, the utmost concession he would make being that the women might withdraw, as he did not war with them. As for the men, they had offended him beyond forgiveness, and the sword should be their lot. On further solicitation, he added to the concession a proviso that the women might take away with them all that they could carry of their most precious possessions, since he did not wish to throw them destitute upon the world.
The obdurate emperor was to experience an unexampled surprise. When the time fixed for the departure of the women arrived, and the city gates were thrown open for their exit, to the astonishment of Conrad, and the admiration of the whole army, the first to appear was the duchess, who, trembling under the weight, bore upon her shoulders Duke Welf, her husband. After her came a long line of other women, each bending beneath the heavy burden of her husband, or some dear relative among the condemned citizens.
Never had such a spectacle been seen. So affecting an instance of heroism was it, and so earnest and pathetic were the faces appealingly upturned to him, that the emperor's astonishment quickly changed to admiration, and he declared that women like these had fairly earned their reward, and that each should keep the treasure she had borne. There were those around him with less respect for heroic deeds, who sought to induce him to keep his original resolution, but Conrad, who had it in him to be noble when not moved by passion, curtly silenced them with the remark, "An emperor keeps his word." He was so moved by the scene, indeed, that he not only spared the men, but the whole city, and the doom of sword and brand, vowed against their homes, was withdrawn through admiration of the noble act of the worthy wives of Weinsberg.
A KING IN A QUANDARY.
From an old chronicle we extract the following story, which is at once curious and interesting, as a picture of mediaeval manners and customs, though to all seeming largely legendary.
Henry, the bishop of Utrecht, was at sword's point with two lords, those of Aemstel and Woerden, who hated him from the fact that a kinsman of theirs, Goswin by name, had been deposed from the same see, through the action of a general chapter. In reprisal these lords, in alliance with the Count of Gebria, raided and laid waste the lands of the bishopric. Time and again they visited it with plundering bands, Henry manfully opposing them with his followers, but suffering much from their incursions. At length the affair ended in a peculiar compact, in which both sides agreed to submit their differences to the wager of war, in a pitched battle, which was to be held on a certain day in the green meadows adjoining Utrecht.
When the appointed day came both sides assembled with their vassals, the lords full of hope, the bishop exhorting his followers to humble the arrogance of these plundering nobles. The Archbishop of Cologne was in the city of Utrecht at the time, having recently visited it. He, as warlike in disposition as the bishop himself, gave Henry a precious ring, saying to him,—
"My son, be courageous and confident, for this day, through the intercession of the holy confessor St. Martin, and through the virtue of this ring, thou shalt surely subdue the pride of thy adversaries, and obtain a renowned victory over them. In the meantime, while thou art seeking justice, I will faithfully defend this city, with its priests and canons, in thy behalf, and will offer up prayers to the Lord of Hosts for thy success."
Bishop Henry, his confidence increased by these words, led from the gates a band of fine and well armed warriors to the sound of warlike trumpets, and marched to the field, where he drew them up before the bands of the hostile lords.
Meanwhile, tidings of this fray had been borne to William, king of the Romans, who felt it his duty to put an end to it, as such private warfare was forbidden by law. Hastily collecting all the knights and men-at-arms he could get together without delay, he marched with all speed to Utrecht, bent upon enforcing peace between the rival bands. As it happened, the army of the king reached the northern gate of the city just as the bishop's battalion had left the southern gate, the one party marching in as the other marched out.
The archbishop, who had undertaken the defence of the city, and as yet knew nothing of this royal visit, after making an inspection of the city under his charge, gave orders to the porters to lock and bar all the gates, and keep close guard thereon.
King William was not long in learning that he was somewhat late, the bishop having left the city. He marched hastily to the southern gate to pursue him, but only to find that he was himself in custody, the gates being firmly locked and the keys missing. He waited awhile impatiently. No keys were brought. Growing angry at this delay, he gave orders that the bolts and bars should be wrenched from the gates, and efforts to do this were begun.
While this was going on, the archbishop was in deep affliction. He had just learned that the king was in Utrecht with an army, and imagined that he had come with hostile purpose, and had taken the city through the carelessness of the porters. Followed by his clergy, he hastened to where the king was trying to force a passage through the gates, and addressed him appealingly, reminding him that justice and equity were due from kings to subjects.
"Your armed bands, I fear, have taken this city," he said, "and you have ordered the locks to be broken that you may expel the inhabitants, and replace them with persons favorable to your own interests. If you propose to act thus against justice and mercy, you injure me, your chancellor, and lessen your own honor. I exhort you, therefore, to restore me the city which you have unjustly taken, and relieve the inhabitants from violence."
The king listened in silence and surprise to this harangue, which was much longer than we have given it. At its end, he said,—
"Venerable pastor and bishop, you have much mistaken my errand in Utrecht. I come here in the cause of justice, not of violence. You know that it is the duty of kings to repress wars and punish the disturbers of peace. It is this that brings us here, to put an end to the private war which we learn is being waged. As it stands, we have not conquered the city, but it has conquered us. To convince you that no harm is meant to Bishop Henry and his good city of Utrecht, we will command our men to repair to their hostels, lay down their arms, and pass their time in festivity. But first the purpose for which we have come must be accomplished, and this private feud be brought to an end."
That the worthy archbishop was delighted to hear these words, need not be said. His fears had not been without sound warrant, for those were days in which kings were not to be trusted, and in which the cities maintained a degree of political independence that often proved inconvenient to the throne. As may be imagined, the keys were quickly forthcoming and the gates thrown open, the king being relieved from his involuntary detention, and given an opportunity to bring the bishop's battle to an end.
He was too late; it had already reached its end. While King William was striving to get out of the city, which he had got into with such ease, the fight in the green meadows between the bishops and the lords had been concluded, the warlike churchman coming off victor. Many of the lords' vassals had been killed, more put to flight, and themselves taken prisoners. At the vesper-bell Henry entered the city with his captives, bound with ropes, and was met at the gates by the king and the archbishop. At the request of King William he pardoned and released his prisoners, on their promise to cease molesting his lands, and all ended in peace and good will.
COURTING BY PROXY.
Frederick von Stauffen, known as the One-eyed, being desirous of providing his son Frederick (afterwards the famous emperor Frederick Barbarossa) with a wife, sent as envoy for that purpose a handsome young man named Johann von Wuertemberg, whose attractions of face and manner had made him a general favorite. It was the beautiful daughter of Rudolf von Zaehringen who had been selected as a suitable bride for the future emperor, but when the handsome ambassador stated the purpose of his visit to the father, he was met by Rudolf with the joking remark, "Why don't you court the damsel for yourself?"
The suggestion was much to the taste of the envoy. He took it seriously, made love for himself to the attractive Princess Anna, and won her love and the consent of her father, who had been greatly pleased with his handsome and lively visitor, and was quite ready to confirm in earnest what he had begun in jest.
Frederick, the One-eyed, still remained to deal with, but that worthy personage seems to have taken the affair as a good joke, and looked up another bride for his son, leaving to Johann the maiden he had won. This story has been treated as fabulous, but it is said to be well founded. It has been repeated in connection with other persons, notably in the case of Captain Miles Standish and John Alden, in which case the fair maiden herself is given the credit of admonishing the envoy to court for himself. It is very sure, however, that this latter story is a fable. It was probably founded on the one we have given.
THE BISHOP'S WINE-CASKS.
Adalbert of Treves was a bandit chief of note who, in the true fashion of the robber barons of mediaeval Germany, dwelt in a strong-walled castle, which was garrisoned by a numerous band of men-at-arms, as fond of pillage as their leader, and equally ready to follow him on his plundering expeditions and to defend his castle against his enemies. Our noble brigand paid particular heed to the domain of Peppo, Bishop of Treves, whose lands he honored with frequent unwelcome visits, despoiling lord and vassal alike, and hastening back from his raids to the shelter of his castle walls.
This was not the most agreeable state of affairs for the worthy bishop, though how it was to be avoided did not clearly appear. It probably did not occur to him to apply to the emperor, Henry II., the mediaeval German emperors having too much else on hand to leave them time to attend to matters of minor importance. Peppo therefore naturally turned to his own kinsmen, friends, and vassals, as those most likely to afford him aid.
Bishop Peppo could wield sword and battle-axe with the best bishop, which is almost equivalent to saying with the best warrior, of his day, and did not fail to use, when occasion called, these carnal weapons. But something more than the battle-axes of himself and vassals was needed to break through the formidable walls of Adalbert's stronghold, which frowned defiance to the utmost force the bishop could muster. Force alone would not answer, that was evident. Stratagem was needed to give effect to brute strength. If some way could only be devised to get through the strong gates of the robber's stronghold, and reach him behind his bolts and bars, all might be well; otherwise, all was ill.
In this dilemma, a knightly vassal of the bishop, Tycho by name, undertook to find a passage into the castle of Adalbert, and to punish him for his pillaging. One day Tycho presented himself at the gate of the castle, knocked loudly thereon, and on the appearance of the guard, asked him for a sup of something to drink, being, as he said, overcome with thirst.
He did not ask in vain. It is a pleasant illustration of the hospitality of that period to learn that the traveller's demand was unhesitatingly complied with at the gate of the bandit stronghold, a brimming cup of wine being brought for the refreshment of the thirsty wayfarer.
"Thank your master for me," said Tycho, on returning the cup, "and tell him that I shall certainly repay him with some service for his good will."
With this Tycho journeyed on, sought the bishopric, and told Peppo what he had done and what he proposed to do. After a full deliberation a definite plan was agreed upon, which the cunning fellow proceeded to put into action. The plan was one which strongly reminds us of that adopted by the bandit chief in the Arabian story of the "Forty Thieves," the chief difference being that here it was true men, not thieves, who were to be benefited.
Thirty wine casks of capacious size were prepared, and in each was placed instead of its quota of wine a stalwart warrior, fully armed with sword, shield, helmet, and cuirass. Each cask was then covered with a linen cloth, and ropes were fastened to its sides for the convenience of the carriers. This done, sixty other men were chosen as carriers, and dressed as peasants, though really they were trained soldiers, and each had a sword concealed in the cask he helped to carry.
The preparations completed, Tycho, accompanied by a few knights and by the sixty carriers and their casks, went his way to Adalbert's castle, and, as before, knocked loudly at its gates. The guard again appeared, and, on seeing the strange procession, asked who they were and for what they came.
"I have come to repay your chief for the cup of wine he gave me," said Tycho. "I promised that he should be well rewarded for his good will, and am here for that purpose."
The warder looked longingly at the array of stout casks, and hastened with the message to Adalbert, who, doubtless deeming that the gods were raining wine, for his one cup to be so amply returned, gave orders that the strangers should be admitted. Accordingly the gates were opened, and the wine-bearers and knights filed in.
Reaching the castle hall, the casks were placed on the floor before Adalbert and his chief followers, Tycho begging him to accept them as a present in return for his former kindness. As to receive something for nothing was Adalbert's usual mode of life, he did not hesitate to accept the lordly present, and Tycho ordered the carriers to remove the coverings. In a very few seconds this was done, when out sprang the armed men, the porters seized their swords from the casks, and in a minute's time the surprised bandits found themselves sharply attacked. The stratagem proved a complete success. Adalbert and his men fell victims to their credulity, and the fortress was razed to the ground.
The truth of this story we cannot vouch for. It bears too suspicious a resemblance to the Arabian tale to be lightly accepted as fact. But its antiquity is unquestionable, and it may be offered as a faithful picture of the conditions of those centuries of anarchy when every man's hand was for himself and might was right.
FREDERICK BARBAROSSA AND MILAN.
A proud old city was Milan, heavy with its weight of years, rich and powerful, arrogant and independent, the capital of Lombardy and the lord of many of the Lombard cities. For some twenty centuries it had existed, and now had so grown in population, wealth, and importance, that it could almost lay claim to be the Rome of northern Italy. But its day of pride preceded not long that of its downfall, for a new emperor had come to the German throne, Frederick the Red-bearded, one of the ablest, noblest, and greatest of all that have filled the imperial chair.
Not long had he been on the throne before, in the long-established fashion of German emperors, he began to interfere with affairs in Italy, and demanded from the Lombard cities recognition of his supremacy as Emperor of the West. He found some of them submissive, others not so. Milan received his commands with contempt, and its proud magistrates went so far as to tear the seal from the imperial edict and trample it underfoot.
In 1154 Frederick crossed the Alps and encamped on the Lombardian plain. Soon deputations from some of the cities came to him with complaints about the oppression of Milan, which had taken Lodi, Como, and other towns, and lorded it over them exasperatingly. Frederick bade the proud Milanese to answer these complaints, but in their arrogance they refused even to meet his envoys, and he resolved to punish them severely for their insolence.
But the time was not yet. He had other matters to attend to. Four years passed before he was able to devote some of his leisure to the Milanese. They had in the meantime managed to offend him still more seriously, having taken the town of Lodi and burnt it to the ground, for no other crime than that it had yielded him allegiance. After him marched a powerful army, nearly one hundred and twenty thousand strong, at the very sight of whose myriad of banners most of the Lombard cities submitted without a blow. Milan was besieged. Its resistance was by no means obstinate. The emperor's principal wish was to win it over to his side, and probably the authorities of the city were aware of his lenient disposition, for they held out no long time before his besieging multitude.
All that the conqueror now demanded was that the proud municipality should humble itself before him, swear allegiance, and promise not to interfere with the freedom of the smaller cities. On the 6th of September a procession of nobles and churchmen defiled before him, barefooted and clad in tattered garments, the consuls and patricians with swords hanging from their necks, the others with ropes round their throats, and thus, with evidence of the deepest humility, they bore to the emperor the keys of the proud city.
"You must now acknowledge that it is easier to conquer by obedience than with arms," he said. Then, exacting their oaths of allegiance, placing the imperial eagle upon the spire of the cathedral, and taking with him three hundred hostages, he marched away, with the confident belief that the defiant resistance of Milan was at length overcome.
He did not know the Milanese. When, in the following year, he attempted to lay a tax upon them, they rose in insurrection and attacked his representatives with such fury that they could scarcely save their lives. On an explanation being demanded, they refused to give any, and were so arrogantly defiant that the emperor pronounced their city outlawed, and wrathfully vowed that he would never place the crown upon his head again until he had utterly destroyed this arrant nest of rebels.
It was not to prove so easy a task. Frederick began by besieging Cremona, which was in alliance with Milan, and which resisted him so obstinately that it took him seven months to reduce it to submission. In his anger he razed the city to the ground and scattered its inhabitants far and wide.
Then came the siege of Milan, which was so vigorously defended that three years passed before starvation threw it into the emperor's hands. So virulent were the citizens that they several times tried to rid themselves of their imperial enemy by assassination. On one occasion, when Frederick was performing his morning devotions in a solitary spot upon the river Ada, a gigantic fellow attacked him and tried to throw him into the stream. The emperor's cries for help brought his attendants to the spot, and the assailant, in his turn, was thrown into the river. On another occasion an old, misshapen man glided into the camp, bearing poisoned wares which he sought to dispose of to the emperor. Frederick, fortunately, had been forewarned, and he had the would-be assassin seized and executed.
It was in the spring of 1162 that the city yielded, hunger at length forcing it to capitulate. Now came the work of revenge. Frederick proceeded to put into execution the harsh vow he had made, after subjecting its inhabitants to the greatest humiliations which he could devise.
For three days the consuls and chief men of the city, followed by the people, were obliged to parade before the imperial camp, barefooted and dressed in sackcloth, with tapers in their hands and crosses, swords, and ropes about their necks. On the third day more than a hundred of the banners of the city were brought out and laid at the emperor's feet. Then, in sign of the most utter humiliation, the great banner of their pride, the Carocium—a stately iron tree with iron leaves, drawn on a cart by eight oxen—was brought out and bowed before the emperor. Frederick seized and tore down its fringe, while the whole people cast themselves on the ground, wailing and imploring mercy.
The emperor was incensed beyond mercy, other than to grant them their lives. He ordered that a part of the wall should be thrown down, and rode through the breach into the city. Then, after deliberation, he granted the inhabitants their lives, but ordered their removal to four villages, several miles away, where they were placed under the care of imperial functionaries. As for Milan, he decided that it should be levelled with the ground, and gave the right to do this, at their request, to the people of Lodi, Cremona, Pavia, and other cities which had formerly been oppressed by proud Milan.
The city was first pillaged, and then given over to the hands of the Lombards, who—such was the diligence of hatred—are said to have done more in six days than hired workmen would have done in as many months. The walls and forts were torn down, the ditches filled up, and the once splendid city reduced to a frightful scene of ruin and desolation. Then, at a splendid banquet at Pavia, in the Easter festival, the triumphant emperor replaced the crown upon his head.
His triumph was not to continue, nor the humiliation of Milan to remain permanent. Time brings its revenges, as the proud Frederick was to learn. For five years Milan lay in ruins, a home for owls and bats, a scene of desolation to make all observers weep; and then arrived its season of retribution. Frederick's downfall came from the hand of God, not of man. A frightful plague broke out in the ranks of the German army, then in Rome, carrying off nobles and men alike in such numbers that it looked as if the whole host might be laid in the grave. Thousands died, and the emperor was obliged to retire to Pavia with but a feeble remnant of his numerous army, nearly the whole of it having been swept away. In the following spring he was forced to leave Italy like a fugitive, secretly and in disguise, and came so nearly falling into the hands of his foes, that he only escaped by one of his companions placing himself in his bed, to be seized in his stead, while he fled under cover of the night.
Immediately the humbled cities raised their heads. An alliance was formed between them, and they even ventured to conduct the Milanese back to their ruined homes. At once the work of rebuilding was begun. The ditches, walls, and towers were speedily restored, and then each man went to work on his own habitation. So great was the city that the work of destruction had been but partial. Most of the houses, all the churches, and portions of the walls remained, and by aid of the other cities Milan soon regained its old condition.
In 1174 Frederick reappeared in Italy, with a new army, and with hostile intentions against the revolted cities. The Lombards had built a new city, in a locality surrounded by rivers and marshes, and had enclosed it with walls which they sought to make impregnable. This they named Alexandria, in honor of the pope and in defiance of the emperor, and against this Frederick's first assault was made. For seven months he besieged it, and then broke into the very heart of the place, through a subterranean passage which the Germans had excavated. To all appearance the city was lost, yet chance and courage saved it. The brave defenders attacked the Germans, who had appeared in the market-place; the tunnel, through great good fortune, fell in; and in the end the emperor was forced to raise the siege in such haste that he set fire to his own encampment in his precipitate retreat.
On May 29, 1176, a decisive battle was fought at Lignano, in which Milan revenged itself on its too-rigorous enemy. The Carocium was placed in the middle of the Lombard army, surrounded by three hundred youths, who had sworn to defend it unto death, and by a body of nine hundred picked cavalry, who had taken a similar oath.
Early in the battle one wing of the Lombard army wavered under the sharp attack of the Germans, and threw into confusion the Milanese ranks. Taking advantage of this, the emperor pressed towards their centre, seeking to gain the Carocium, with the expectation that its capture would convert the disorder of the Lombards into a rout. On pushed the Germans until the sacred standard was reached, and its decorations torn down before the eyes of its sworn defenders.
This indignity to the treasured emblem of their liberties gave renewed courage to the disordered band. Their ranks re-established, they charged upon the Germans with such furious valor as to drive them back in disorder, cut through their lines to the emperor's station, kill his standard-bearer by his side, and capture the imperial standard. Frederick, clad in a splendid suit of armor, rushed against them at the head of a band of chosen knights. But suddenly he was seen to fall from his horse and vanish under the hot press of struggling warriors that surged back and forth around the standard.
This dire event spread instant terror through the German ranks. They broke and fled in disorder, followed by the death-phalanx of the Carocium, who cut them down in multitudes, and drove them back in complete disorder and defeat. For two days the emperor was mourned as slain, his unhappy wife even assuming the robes of widowhood, when suddenly he reappeared, and all was joy again. He had not been seriously hurt in his fall, and had with a few friends escaped in the tumult of the defeat, and, under the protection of night, made his way with difficulty back to Pavia.
This defeat ended the efforts of Frederick against Milan, which had, through its triumph over the great emperor, regained all its old proud position and supremacy among the Lombard cities. The war ended with the battle of Lignano, a truce of six years being concluded between the hostile parties. For the ensuing eight years Frederick was fully occupied in Germany, in wars with Henry the Lion, of the Guelph faction. At the end of that time he returned to Italy, where Milan, which he had sought so strenuously to humiliate and ruin, now became the seat of the greatest honor he could bestow. The occasion was that of the marriage of his son Henry to Constanza, the last heiress of Naples and Sicily of the royal Norman race. This ceremony took place in Milan, in which city the emperor caused the iron crown of the Lombards to be placed upon the head of his son and heir, and gave him away in marriage with the utmost pomp and festivity. Milan had won in its great contest for life and death.
We may fitly conclude with the story of the death of the great Frederick, who, in accordance with the character of his life, died in harness. In his old age, having put an end to the wars in Germany and Italy, he headed a crusade to the Holy Land, from which he was never to return. It was the most interesting in many of its features of all the crusades, the leaders of the host being, in addition to Frederick Barbarossa, Richard Coeur de Lion of England, the hero of romance, the wise Philip Augustus of France, and various others of the leading potentates of Europe.
It is with Frederick alone that we are concerned. In 1188 he set out, at the head of one hundred and fifty thousand trained soldiers, on what was destined to prove a disastrous expedition. Entering Hungary, he met with a friendly reception from Bela, its king. Reaching Belgrade, he held there a magnificent tournament, hanged all the robber Servians he could capture for their depredations upon his ranks, and advanced into Greek territory, where he punished the bad faith of the emperor, Isaac, by plundering his country. Several cities were destroyed in revenge for the assassination of pilgrims and of sick and wounded German soldiers by their inhabitants. This done, Frederick advanced on Constantinople, whose emperor, to save his city from capture, hastened to place his whole fleet at the disposal of the Germans, glad to get rid of these truculent visitors at any price.
Reaching Asia Minor, the troubles of the crusaders began. They were assailed by the Turks, and had to cut their way forward at every step. Barbarossa had never shown himself a greater general. On one occasion, when hard pressed by the enemy, he concealed a chosen band of warriors in a large tent, the gift of the Queen of Hungary, while the rest of the army pretended to fly. The Turks entered the camp and began pillaging, when the ambushed knights broke upon them from the tent, the flying soldiers turned, and the confident enemy was disastrously defeated.
But as the army advanced its difficulties increased. A Turkish prisoner who was made to act as a guide, being driven in chains before the army, led the Christians into the gorges of almost impassable mountains, sacrificing his life for his cause. Here, foot-sore and weary, and tormented by thirst and hunger, they were suddenly attacked by ambushed foes, stones being rolled upon them in the narrow gorges, and arrows and javelins poured upon their disordered ranks. Peace was here offered them by the Turks, if they would pay a large sum of money for their release. In reply the indomitable emperor sent them a small silver coin, with the message that they might divide this among themselves. Then, pressing forward, he beat off the enemy, and extricated his army from its dangerous situation.
As they pushed on, the sufferings of the army increased. Water was not to be had, and many were forced to quench their thirst by drinking the blood of their horses. The army was now divided. Frederick, the son of the emperor, led half of it forward at a rapid march, defeated the Turks who sought to stop him, and fought his way into the city of Iconium. Here all the inhabitants were put to the sword, and the crusaders gained an immense booty.
Meanwhile the emperor, his soldiers almost worn out with hunger and fatigue, was surrounded with the army of the sultan. He believed that his son was lost, and tears of anguish flowed from his eyes, while all around him wept in sympathy. Suddenly rising, he exclaimed, "Christ still lives, Christ conquers!" and putting himself at the head of his knights, he led them in a furious assault upon the Turks. The result was a complete victory, ten thousand of the enemy falling dead upon the field. Then the Christian army marched to Iconium, where they found relief from their hunger and weariness.
After recruiting they marched forward, and on June 10, 1190, reached the little river Cydnus, in Cilicia. Here the road and the bridge over the stream were so blocked up with beasts of burden that the progress of the army was greatly reduced. The bold old warrior, impatient to rejoin his son Frederick, who led the van, would not wait for the bridge to be cleared, but spurred his war-horse forward and plunged into the stream. Unfortunately, he had miscalculated the strength of the current. Despite the efforts of the noble animal, it was borne away by the swift stream, and when at length assistance reached the aged emperor he was found to be already dead.
Never was a man more mourned than was the valiant Barbarossa by his army, and by the Germans on hearing of his death. His body was borne by the sorrowing soldiers to Antioch, where it was buried in the church of St. Peter. His fate was, perhaps, a fortunate one, for it prevented him from beholding the loss of the army, which was almost entirely destroyed by sickness at the city in which his body was entombed. His son Frederick died at the siege of Acre, or Ptolemais.
As regards the Germans at home, they were not willing to believe that their great emperor could be dead. Their superstitious faith gave rise to legendary tales, to the effect that the valiant Barbarossa was still alive, and would, some day, return to yield Germany again a dynasty of mighty sovereigns. The story went that the noble emperor lay asleep in a deep cleft of Kylfhaueser Berg, on the golden meadow of Thuringia. Here, his head resting on his arm, he sits by a granite block, through which, in the lapse of time, his red beard has grown. Here he will sleep until the ravens no longer fly around the mountain, when he will awake to restore the golden age to the world.
Another legend tells us that the great Barbarossa sits, wrapped in deep slumber, in the Untersberg, near Salzberg. His sleep will end when the dead pear-tree on the Walserfeld, which has been cut down three times but ever grows anew, blossoms. Then will he come forth, hang his shield on the tree, and begin a tremendous battle, in which the whole world will join, and in whose end the good will overcome the wicked, and the reign of virtue return to the earth.
THE CRUSADE OF FREDERICK II.
A remarkable career was that of Frederick II. of Germany, grandson of the great Barbarossa, crowned in 1215 under the immediate auspices of the papacy, yet during all the remainder of his life in constant and bitter conflict with the popes. He was, we are told, of striking personal beauty, his form being of the greatest symmetry, his face unusually handsome, and marked by intelligence, benevolence, and nobility. Born in a rude age, his learning would have done honor to our own. Son of an era in which poetry was scarcely known, he cultivated the gay science, and was one of the earliest producers of the afterwards favorite form known as the sonnet. An emperor of Germany, nearly his whole life was spent in Sicily. Though ruler of a Christian realm, he lived surrounded by Saracens, studying diligently the Arabian learning, dwelling in what was almost a harem of Arabian beauties, and hesitating not to give expression to the most infidel sentiments. The leader of a crusade, he converted what was ordinarily a tragedy into a comedy, obtained possession of Jerusalem without striking a blow or shedding a drop of blood, and found himself excommunicated in the holy city which he had thus easily restored to Christendom. Altogether we may repeat that the career of Frederick II. was an extraordinary one, and amply worthy our attention.
The young monarch had grown up in Sicily, of which charming island he became guardian after the death of his mother, Constanza. He was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, having defeated his rival, Otho IV.; but spent the greater part of his life in the south, holding his pleasure-loving court at Naples and Palermo, where he surrounded himself with all the refinements of life then possessed by the Saracens, but of which the Christians of Europe were lamentably deficient.
It was in 1220 that Frederick returned from Germany to Italy, leaving his northern kingdom in the hands of the Archbishop of Cologne, as regent. At Rome he received the imperial crown from the hands of the pope, and, his first wife dying, married Yolinda de Lusignan, daughter of John, ex-king of Jerusalem, in right of whom he claimed the kingdom of the East.
Shortly afterwards a new pope came to the papal chair, the gloomy Gregory IX., whose first act was to order a crusade, which he desired the emperor to lead. Despite the fact that he had married the heiress of Jerusalem, Frederick was very reluctant to seek an enforcement of his claim upon the holy city. He had pledged himself when crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, and afterwards on his coronation at Rome, to undertake a crusade, but Honorius III., the pope at that time, readily granted him delay. Such was not the case with Gregory, who sternly insisted on an immediate compliance with his pledge, and whose rigid sense of decorum was scandalized by the frivolities of the emperor, no less than was his religious austerity by Frederick's open intercourse with the Sicilian Saracens.
The old contest between emperor and pope threatened to be opened again with all its former virulence. It was deferred for a time by Frederick, who, after exhausting all excuses for delay, at length yielded to the exhortations of the pope and set sail for the Holy Land. The crusade thus entered upon proved, however, to be simply a farce. In three days the fleet returned, Frederick pleading illness as his excuse, and the whole expedition came to an end.
Gregory was no longer to be trifled with. He declared that the illness was but a pretext, that Frederick had openly broken his word to the church, and at once proceeded to launch upon the emperor the thunders of the papacy, in a bull of excommunication.
Frederick treated this fulmination with contempt, and appealed from the pope to Christendom, accusing Rome of avarice, and declaring that her envoys were marching in all directions, not to preach the word of God, but to extort money from the people.
"The primitive church," he said, "founded on poverty and simplicity, brought forth numberless saints. The Romans are now rolling in wealth. What wonder that the walls of the church are undermined to the base, and threaten utter ruin."
For this saying the pope launched against him a more tremendous excommunication. In return the partisans of Frederick in Rome, raising an insurrection, expelled the pope from that city. And now the free-thinking emperor, to convince the world that he was not trifling with his word, set sail of his own accord for the East, with as numerous an army as he was able to raise.
A remarkable state of affairs followed, justifying us in speaking of this crusade as a comedy, in contrast with the tragic character of those which had preceded it. Frederick had shrewdly prepared for success, by negotiations, through his Saracen friends, with the Sultan of Egypt. On reaching the Holy Land he was received with joy by the German knights and pilgrims there assembled, but the clergy and the Knight Templars and Hospitallers carefully kept aloof from him, for Gregory had despatched a swift-sailing ship to Palestine, giving orders that no intercourse should be held with the imperial enemy of the church.
It was certainly a strange spectacle, for a man under the ban of the church to be the leader in an expedition to recover the holy city. Its progress was as strange as its inception. Had Frederick been the leader of a Mohammedan army to recover Jerusalem from the Christians, his camp could have been little more crowded with infidel delegates. He wore a Saracen dress. He discussed questions of philosophy with Saracen visitors. He received presents of elephants and of dancing-girls from his friend the sultan, to whom he appealed: "Out of your goodness, and your friendship for me, surrender to me Jerusalem as it is, that I may be able to lift up my head among the kings of Christendom."
Camel, the sultan, consented, agreeing to deliver up Jerusalem and its adjacent territory to the emperor, on the sole condition that Mohammedan pilgrims might have the privilege of visiting a mosque within the city. These terms Frederick gladly accepted, and soon after marched into the holy city at the head of his armed followers (not unarmed, as in the case of Coeur de Lion), took possession of it with formal ceremony, allowed the Mohammedan population to withdraw in peace, and repeopled the city with Christians, A.D. 1229.
He found himself in the presence of an extraordinary condition of affairs. The excommunication against him was not only maintained, but the pope actually went so far as to place Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre under interdict. So far did the virulence of priestly antipathy go that the Templars even plotted against Frederick's life. Emissaries sent by them gave secret information to the sultan of where he might easily capture the emperor. The sultan, with a noble friendliness, sent the letter to Frederick, cautioning him to beware of his foes.
The break between emperor and pope had now reached its highest pitch of hostility. Frederick proclaimed his signal success to Europe. Gregory retorted with bitter accusations. The emperor, he said, had presented to the sultan of Babylon the sword given him for the defence of the faith; he had permitted the Koran to be preached in the Holy Temple itself; he had even bound himself to join the Saracens, in case a Christian army should attempt to cleanse the city and temple from Mohammedan defilements.
In addition to these charges, accusations of murder and other crimes were circulated against him, and a false report of his death was industriously circulated. Frederick found it necessary to return home without delay. He crowned himself at Jerusalem, as no ecclesiastic could be found who would perform the ceremony, and then set sail for Italy, leaving Richard, his master of the horse, in charge of affairs in Palestine.
Reaching Italy, he soon brought his affairs into order. He had under his command an army of thirty thousand Saracen soldiers, with whom it was impossible for his enemies to tamper. A bitter recrimination took place with the pope, in which the emperor managed to bring the general sentiment of Europe to his side, offering to convict Gregory of himself entering into negotiations with the infidels. Gregory, finding that he was getting the worst of the controversy with his powerful and alert enemy, now prudently gave way, having a horror of the shedding of blood. Peace was made in 1230, the excommunication removed from the emperor, and for nine years the conflict between him and the papacy was at an end.
We have told the story of Frederick's crusade, but the remainder of his life is of sufficient interest to be given in epitome. In his government of Sicily he showed himself strikingly in advance of the political opinions of his period. He enacted a system of wise laws, instituted representative parliaments, asserted the principle of equal rights and equal duties, and the supremacy of the law over high and low alike. All religions were tolerated, Jews and Mohammedans having equal freedom of worship with Christians. All the serfs of his domain were emancipated, private war was forbidden, commerce was regulated, cheap justice for the poor was instituted, markets and fairs were established, large libraries collected, and other progressive institutions organized. He established menageries for the study of natural history, founded in Naples a great university, patronized medical study, provided cheap schools, aided the development of the arts, and in every respect displayed a remarkable public spirit and political foresight.
Yet splendid as was his career of development in secular affairs, his private life, as well as his public conduct, was stained with flagrant faults, and there was much in his doings that was frowned upon by the pope. New quarrels arose; new wars broke out; the emperor was again excommunicated; the unfortunate closing years of Frederick's career began. Again there were appeals to Christendom; again Frederick's Saracens marched through Italy; such was their success that the pope only escaped by death from falling into the hands of his foe. But with a new pope the old quarrel was resumed, Innocent IV. flying to France to get out of reach of the emperor's hands, and desperately combating him from this haven of refuge.
The incessant conflict at length bowed down the spirit of the emperor, now growing old. His good fortune began to desert him. In 1249 his son Enzio, whom he had made king of Sicily, and who was the most chivalrous and handsome of his children, was taken prisoner by the Bolognese, who refused to accept ransom for him, although his father offered in return for his freedom a silver ring equal in circumference to their city. In the following year his long-tried friend and councillor, Peter de Vincis, who had been the most trusted man in the empire, was accused of having joined the papal party and of attempting to poison the emperor. He offered Frederick a beverage, which he, growing suspicious, did not drink, but had it administered to a criminal, who instantly expired.
Whether Peter was guilty or not, his seeming defection was a sore blow to his imperial patron. "Alas!" moaned Frederick, "I am abandoned by my most faithful friends; Peter, the friend of my heart, on whom I leaned for support, has deserted me and sought my destruction. Whom can I trust? My days are henceforth doomed to pass in sorrow and suspicion."
His days were near their end. Not long after the events narrated, while again in the field at the head of a fresh army of Saracens, he was suddenly seized with a mortal illness at Firenzuola, and died there on the 13th of December, 1250, becoming reconciled with the church on his deathbed. He was buried at Palermo.
Thus died one of the most intellectual, progressive, free-thinking, and pleasure-loving emperors of Germany, after a long reign over a realm in which he seldom appeared, and an almost incessant period of warfare against the head of a church of which he was supposed to be the imperial protector. Seven crowns were his,—those of the kingdom of Germany and of the Roman empire, the iron diadem of Lombardy, and those of Burgundy, Sicily, Sardinia, and Jerusalem. But of all the realms under his rule the smiling lands of Sicily and southern Italy were most to his liking, and the scene of his most constant abode. Charming palaces were built by him at Naples, Palermo, Messina, and several other places, and in these he surrounded himself with the noblest bards and most beautiful women of the empire, and by all that was attractive in the art, science, and poetry of his times. Moorish dancing-girls and the arts and learning of the East abounded in his court. The Sultan Camel presented him with a rare tent, in which, by means of artfully contrived mechanism, the movements of the heavenly bodies were represented. Michael Scott, his astrologer, translated Aristotle's "History of Animals." Frederick studied ornithology, on which he wrote a treatise, and possessed a menagerie of rare animals, including a giraffe, and other strange creatures. The popular dialect of Italy owed much to him, being elevated into a written language by his use of it in his love-sonnets. Of the poems written by himself, his son Enzio, and his friends, several have been preserved, while his chancellor, Peter de Vincis, is said to have originated the sonnet.
We have already spoken of his reforms in his southern kingdom. It was his purpose to introduce similar reforms into the government of Germany, abolishing the feudal system, and creating a centralized and organized state, with a well-regulated system of finance. But ideas such as these were much too far in advance of the age. State and church alike opposed them, and Frederick's intelligent views did not long survive him. History must have its evolution, political systems their growth, and the development of institutions has never been much hastened or checked by any man's whip or curb.
In 1781, when the tomb of Frederick was opened, centuries after his death, the institutions he had advocated were but in process of being adopted in Europe. The body of the great emperor was found within the mausoleum, wrapped in embroidered robes, the feet booted and spurred, the imperial crown on its head, in its hand the ball and sceptre, on its finger a costly emerald. For five centuries and more Frederick had slept in state, awaiting the verdict of time on the ideas in defence of which his life had been passed in battle. The verdict had been given, the ideas had grown into institutions, time had vouchsafed the far-seeing emperor his revenge.
THE FALL OF THE GHIBELLINES.
The death of Frederick II., in 1250, was followed by a series of misfortunes to his descendants, so tragical as to form a story full of pathetic interest. His son Enzio, a man of remarkable beauty and valor, celebrated as a Minnesinger, and of unusual intellectual qualities, had been taken prisoner, as we have already told, by the Bolognese, and condemned by them to perpetual imprisonment, despite the prayers of his father and the rich ransom offered. For twenty-two years he continued a tenant of a dungeon, and in this gloomy scene of death in life survived all the sons and grandsons of his father, every one of whom perished by poison, the sword, or the axe of the executioner. It is this dread story of the fate of the Hohenstauffen imperial house which we have now to tell.
No sooner had Frederick expired than the enemies of his house arose on every side. Conrad IV., his eldest son and successor, found Germany so filled with his foes that he was forced to take refuge in Italy, where his half-brother, Manfred, Prince of Taranto, ceded to him the sovereignty of the Italian realm, and lent him his aid to secure it. The royal brothers captured Capua and Naples, where Conrad signalized his success by placing a bridle in the mouth of an antique colossal horse's head, the emblem of the city. This insult made the inhabitants his implacable foes. His success was but temporary. He died suddenly, as also did his younger brother Henry, poisoned by his half-brother Manfred, who succeeded to the kingship of the South. But with the Guelphs in power in Germany, and the pope his bitter foe in Italy, he was utterly unable to establish his claim, and was forced to cede all lower Italy, except Taranto, to the pontiff. But a new and less implacable pope being elected, the fortunes of Manfred suddenly changed, and he was unanimously proclaimed king at Palermo in 1258.
But the misfortunes of his house were to pursue him to the end. In northern Italy, the Guelphs were everywhere triumphant. Ezzelino, one of Frederick's ablest generals, was defeated, wounded, and taken prisoner. He soon after died. His brother Alberich was cruelly murdered, being dragged to death at a horse's tail. The other Ghibelline chiefs were similarly butchered, the horrible scenes of bloodshed so working on the feelings of the susceptible Italians that many of them did penance at the grave of Alberich, arrayed in sackcloth. From this circumstance arose the sect of the Flagellants, who ran through the streets, lamenting, praying, and wounding themselves with thongs, as an atonement for the sins of the world.
In southern Italy, Manfred for a while was successful. In 1259 he married Helena, the daughter of Michael of Cyprus and AEtolia, a maiden of seventeen years, and famed far and wide for her loveliness. So beautiful were the bridal pair, and such were the attractions of their court, which, as in Frederick's time, was the favorite resort of distinguished poets and lovely women, that a bard of the times declared, "Paradise has once more appeared upon earth."
Manfred, like his father and his brother Enzio, was a poet, being classed among the Minnesingers. His marriage gave him the alliance of Greece, and the marriage of Constance, his daughter by a former wife, to Peter of Aragon, gained him the friendship of Spain. Strengthened by these alliances, he was able to send aid to the Ghibellines in Lombardy, who again became victorious.
The Guelphs, alarmed at Manfred's growing power, now raised a Frenchman to the papal throne, who induced Charles of Anjou, the brother of the French monarch, to strike for the crown of southern Italy. Charles, a gloomy, cold-blooded and cruel prince, gladly accepted the pope's suggestions, and followed by a powerful body of French knights and soldiers of fortune, set sail for Naples in 1266. Manfred had unluckily lost the whole of his fleet in a storm, and was not able to oppose this threatening invasion, which landed in Italy in his despite.
Nor was he more fortunate with his land army. The clergy, in the interest of the Guelph faction, tampered with his soldiers and sowed treason in his camp. No sooner had Charles landed, than a mountain pass intrusted to the defence of Riccardo di Caseta was treacherously abandoned, and the French army allowed to advance unmolested as far as Benevento, where the two armies met.
In the battle that followed, Manfred defended himself gallantly, but, despite all his efforts, was worsted, and threw himself desperately into the thick of the fight, where he fell, covered with wounds. The bigoted victor refused him honorable burial, on the score of heresy, but the French soldiers, nobler-hearted than their leader, and touched by the beauty and valor of their unfortunate opponent, cast each of them a stone upon his body, which was thus buried under a mound which the natives still know as the "rock of roses."
The wife and children of Manfred met with a pitiable fate. On learning of the sad death of her husband Helena sought safety in flight, with her daughter Beatrice and her three infant sons, Henry, Frederick, and Anselino; but she was betrayed to Charles, who threw her into a dungeon, in which she soon languished and died. Of her children, her daughter Beatrice was afterwards rescued by Peter of Aragon, who exchanged for her a son of Charles of Anjou, whom he held prisoner; but the three boys were given over to the cruellest fate. Immured in a narrow dungeon, and loaded with chains, they remained thus half-naked, ill-fed, and untaught for the period of thirty-one years. Not until 1297 were they released from their chains and allowed to be visited by a priest and a physician. Charles of Anjou, meanwhile, filled with the spirit of cruelty and ambition, sought to destroy every vestige of the Hohenstauffen rule in southern Italy, the scene of Frederick's long and lustrous reign.
The death of Manfred had not extinguished all the princes of Frederick's house. There remained another, Conradin, son of Conrad IV., Duke of Swabia, a youthful prince to whom had descended some of the intellectual powers of his noted grand-sire. He had an inseparable friend, Frederick, son of the Margrave of Baden, of his own age, and like him enthusiastic and imaginative, their ardent fancies finding vent in song. One of Conradin's ballads is still extant.
As the young prince grew older, the seclusion to which he was subjected by his guardian, Meinhard, Count von Goertz, became so irksome to him that he gladly accepted a proposal from the Italian Ghibellines to put himself at their head. In 1267 he set out, in company with Frederick, and with a following of some ten thousand men, and crossed the Alps to Lombardy, where he met with a warm welcome at Verona by the Ghibelline chiefs.
Treachery accompanied him, however, in the presence of his guardian Meinhard and Louis of Bavaria, who persuaded him to part with his German possessions for a low price, and then deserted him, followed by the greater part of the Germans. Conradin was left with but three thousand men.
The Italians proved more faithful. Verona raised him an army; Pisa supplied him a large fleet; the Moors of Luceria took up arms in his cause; even Rome rose in his favor, and drove out the pope, who retreated to Viterbo. For the time being the Ghibelline cause was in the ascendant. Conradin marched unopposed to Rome, at whose gates he was met by a procession of beautiful girls, bearing flowers and instruments of music, who conducted him to the capitol. His success on land was matched by a success at sea, his fleet gaining a signal victory over that of the French, and burning a great number of their ships.
So far all had gone well with the youthful heir of the Hohenstauffens. Henceforth all was to go ill. Conradin marched from Rome to lower Italy, where he encountered the French army, under Charles, at Scurcola, drove them back, and broke into their camp. Assured of victory, the Germans grew careless, dispersing through the camp in search of booty, while some of them even refreshed themselves by bathing.
While thus engaged, the French reserve, who had watched their movements, suddenly fell upon them and completely put them to rout. Conradin and Frederick, after fighting bravely, owed their escape to the fleetness of their steeds. They reached the sea at Astura, boarded a vessel, and were about setting sail for Pisa, when they were betrayed into the hands of their pursuers, taken prisoners, and carried back to Charles of Anjou.
They had fallen into fatal hands; Charles was not the man to consider justice or honor in dealing with a Hohenstauffen. He treated Conradin as a rebel against himself, under the claim that he was the only legitimate king, and sentenced both the princes, then but sixteen years of age, to be publicly beheaded in the market-place at Naples.
Conradin was playing at chess in prison when the news of this unjust sentence was brought to him. He calmly listened to it, with the courage native to his race. On October 22, 1268, he, with Frederick and his other companions, was conducted to the scaffold erected in the market-place, passing through a throng of which even the French contingent looked on the spectacle with indignation. So greatly were they wrought up, indeed, by the outrage, that Robert, Earl of Flanders, Charles's son-in-law, drew his sword, and cut down the officer commissioned to read in public the sentence of death.
"Wretch!" he cried, as he dealt the blow, "how darest thou condemn such a great and excellent knight?"
Conradin met his fate with unyielding courage, saying, in his address to the people,—
"I cite my judge before the highest tribunal. My blood, shed on this spot, shall cry to heaven for vengeance. Nor do I esteem my Swabians and Bavarians, my Germans, so low as not to trust that this stain on the honor of the German nation will be washed out by them in French blood."