The Life and Adventures of Baron Trenck - Vol. 2 (of 2)
by Baron Trenck
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With a corps so numerous, he undertook great enterprises. The enemy fled wherever he appeared. He led the van, raised contributions which amounted to several millions, delivered unto the Empress, in five years, 7,000 prisoners, French and Bavarian, and more than 3,000 Prussians. He never was defeated. He gained confidence among his troops, and will remain in history the first man who rendered the savage Croats efficient soldiers. This it was impossible to perform among a bloodthirsty people without being guilty himself of cruel acts. The necessity of the excesses he committed, when the army was in want of forage, was so evident that he received permission of Prince Charles, though for this he was afterwards prosecuted; while the plunders of Brenklau, Mentzel, and the whole army, were never once questioned. That Trenck advanced more than 100,000 florins to his regiment, I clearly proved, in 1750. This proof came too late. He was dead. The evidence I brought occasioned a quartermaster, Frederici, to be imprisoned. He confessed the embezzlement of this money, yet found so many friends among the enemies of Trenck that he refunded nothing, but was released in the year 1754, when I was thrown into the dungeon of Magdeburg.

My cousin, who had lived like a miser, did not, at his death, leave half of the property he had inherited from his father, and which legally descended to me; it was torn from me by violence.

In 1744 he obliged the French to retire beyond the Rhine, seized on a fort near Phillipsburg, swam across the river with 70 pandours, attacked the fortifications, slew the Marquis de Crevecoeur, with his own hand manned the post, traversed the other arm of the Rhine, surprised two Bavarian regiments of cavalry, and by this daring manoeuvre, secured the passage of the Rhine to the whole army, which, but for him, would not have been effected. Wherever he came, he laid the country under contribution, and, at this moment of triumph for the Austrian arms, opened himself a passage to enter the territories of France. In September, 1744, war having broken out between Austria and Prussia, the imperial army was obliged to return, abandon Alsatia, and hasten to the succour of the Austrian states. Trenck succeeded in covering its retreat. The history of Maria Theresa declares the damages he did the enemy, during this campaign. He gave proof of his capacity at Tabor and Budweis. With 300 men he attacked one of these towns, which was defended by the two Prussian regiments of Walrabe and Kreutz. He found the water in the moats was deeper than his spies had declared, and the scaling ladders too short: most of those led to the attack were killed, or drowned in the water, and the small number that crossed the moats were made prisoners. The garrison of Tabor, of Budweis, and of the castle of Frauenburg, were, nevertheless, induced to capitulate, and yield themselves prisoners, although the main body under Trenck was more than five miles distant. His corps did not come up till the morrow, and it was ridiculous enough to see the pandours dressed in the caps of the Prussian fusiliers and pioneers, which they wore instead of their own, and which they afterwards continued to wear.

The campaign to him was glorious, and the enemy's want of light troops gave free scope to his enterprises, highly to their prejudice. He never returned without prisoners. He passed the Elbe near Pardubitz, took the magazines, and was the cause of the great dearth and desertion among the Prussians, and of that hasty retreat to which they were forced. The King was at Cohn with his headquarters, where I was with him, when Trenck attacked the town, which he must have carried, had he not been wounded by a cannon-ball, which shattered his foot. He was taken away, the attack did not succeed, and his men, without him, remained but so many ciphers.

In 1745, he went to Vienna, where his entrance resembled a triumph. The Empress received him with distinction. He appeared on crutches; she, by her condescending speech, inflamed his zeal to extravagance. Who would have supposed that the favourite of the people would that year be abandoned to the power of his enemies; who had not rendered, during their whole lives, so much essential service to the state as Trenck had done in a single day? He returned to his estate, raised eight hundred recruits that he might aid in the next campaign, and gather new laurels. He rejoined the army. At the battle of Sorau he fell upon the Prussian camp, and seized upon the tent of the King, but he came too late to attack the rear, as had been preconcerted. Frederic gave up his camp to be plundered, for the Croats could not be drawn off to attack the army, and the King was prepared to receive them, even if they should. In the meantime, the imperial army was defeated.

Here was a field for the enemies of Trenck to incite the people against him. They accused him of having made the King of Prussia a prisoner in his tent; that he also pillaged the camp instead of attacking the rear of the army. After having ended the campaign, he returned to Vienna to defend himself. Here he found twenty-three officers, whom he expelled his regiment, most of them for cowardice or mean actions. They were ready to bear false testimony. Counsellor Weber and Gen. Loewenwalde, had sworn his downfall, which they effected. Trenck despised their attacks. While things remained thus, they instructed one of the Empress's attendants to profit by every opportunity to deprive him of her confidence. It was affirmed, Trenck is an atheist! who never prayed to the holy Virgin! The officers, whom he had broken, whispered it in coffee-houses, that Trenck had taken and set free the King of Prussia! This raised the cry among the fanatical mob of Vienna. Teased by their complaints, and at the requisition of Trenck himself, the Empress commanded that examination should be undertaken of these accusations. Field-marshal Cordova was chosen to preside over this inquiry. He spoke the truth, and drew up a statement of the case; it was presented to the Court, and which I shall here insert.

"The complaints brought against him did not require a court-martial. Trenck had broken some officers by his own authority; their demands ought to be satisfied by the payment of 12,000 florins. The remaining accusations were all the attempts of revenge and calumny, and were insufficient to detain at Vienna, entangled in law-suits, a man so necessary to the army. Moreover, it would be prudent not to inquire into trifles, in consideration of his important services."

Trenck, dissatisfied by this sentence, and animated by avarice and pride, refused to pay a single florin, and returned to Sclavonia. His presence was necessary at Vienna, to obtain other advantages against his enemies. They gave the Empress to understand, that being a man excessively dangerous, whenever he supposed himself injured, Trenck had spread pernicious views in Sclavonia, where all men were dependent on him. He raised six hundred more men, with whom he made a campaign in the Netherlands, and in October, 1746, returned to Vienna. After the peace of Dresden, his regiment was incorporated among the regulars, and served against France.

Scarcely had he arrived at Vienna, before an order came from the Empress that he must remain under arrest in his chamber. Here he rendered himself guilty by the most imprudent action of his whole life. He ordered his carriage and horses, despising the imperial mandate, went to the theatre, when the Empress was present. In one of the boxes he saw Count Gossau, in company with a comrade of his own, whom he had cashiered: these persons were among the foremost of his accusers. Inflamed with the desire of revenge, he entered the box, seized Count Gossau, and would have thrown him into the pit in the presence of the Sovereign herself. Gossau drew his sword, and tried to run him through, but the latter seizing it, wounded himself in the hand. Everybody ran to save Gossau, who was unable to defend himself. After this exploit, the colonel of the pandours returned foaming home.

Such an action rendered it impossible for Maria Theresa to declare herself the protectress of a man so rash. Sentinels were placed over him, and his enemies profiting by his imprudence and passion, he was ordered to be tried by a court-martial. General Loewenwalde intrigued so successfully, that he procured himself to be named, by the Hofkriegsrath, president of the court-martial, and to be charged with the sequestration of the property of Trenck. In vain did the latter protest against his judge. The very man, whom the year before he had kicked out of the ante- chamber of Prince Charles, received full power to denounce him guilty. Then was it that public notice was given that all those who would prefer complaints against Colonel Baron Trenck should receive a ducat per day while the council continued to sit. They soon amounted to fifty-four, who, in a space of four months, received 15,000 florins from the property of Trenck. The judge himself purchased the depositions of false witnesses; and Count Loewenwalde offered me one thousand ducats, if I would betray the secrets of my cousin, and promised me I should be put in possession of my confiscated estates in Prussia, and have a company in a regiment.

That the indictment and the examinations of the witnesses were falsified, has already been proved in the revision of the cause; but as the indictment did not contain one article that could affect his life, they invented the following stratagem. A courtesan, a mistress of Baron Rippenda, who was a member of the court-martial, was bribed, and made oath she was the daughter of Count Schwerin, Field-marshal in the Prussian service, and that she was in bed with the King of Prussia, when Trenck surprised the camp at Sorau, made her and the King prisoners, and restored them their freedom. She even ventured to name Baron Hilaire, aide-de-camp to Frederic, whom she affirmed was then present. Hilaire, who afterwards married the Baroness Tillier, and who consequently was brother-in-law to Trenck, fortunately happened to be in Vienna. He was confronted with this woman, and through her falsehoods, the gentleman was obliged to remain in prison, where they offered him bribes, which be refused to accept; and, to prevent his speaking, he continued in prison some weeks, and was not released till this shameful proceeding was made public.

Count Loewenwalde invented another artifice; he drew up a false indictment; and, that he might be prevented all means of justification, he chose a day to put it in practice, when the Emperor and Prince Charles were hunting at Holitzsch. Loewenwalde's court-martial had already signed a sentence of death, and every preparation for the erection of a scaffold was made. His intention was then to go to the Empress and induce her to sign the sentence, under a pretence that there was some imminent peril at hand, if a man so dangerous to the state was not immediately put out of the way, and that it would be necessary to execute the sentence of death before the Emperor could return. He well knew the Emperor was better acquainted with Trenck, and had ever been his protector.

Had this succeeded, Trenck would have died like a traitor; Miss Schwerin would have espoused the aide-de-camp of Loewenwalde, with fifty thousand florins, taken from the funds of Trenck, and his property would have been divided between his judges and his accusers. As it happened, however, the valet-de-chambre of Count Loewenwalde, who was an honest man, and who had an intimacy with a former mistress of Trenck, confided the whole secret to her. She immediately flew to Colonel Baron Lopresti, who was the sincere friend of my kinsman, and, being then powerful at Court, was his deliverer. The Emperor and Prince Charles were informed of what was in agitation, but they thought proper to keep it secret. The hunting at Holitzsch took place on the appointed day. Count Loewenwalde made his appearance before the Empress, and solicited her to sign the sentence. She, however, had been pre-informed, the Emperor having returned on the same day, and their abominable project proved abortive. Miss Schwerin was imprisoned; Loewenwalde was deprived of his power, as well as of the sequestration of the effects of Trenck; a total revision of the proceedings of the court-martial, and of the prosecution of my cousin, was ordered, which was an event, that, till then, was unexampled at Vienna.

Trenck was freed from his fetters, removed to the arsenal, an officer guarded him, and he had every convenience he could wish. He was also permitted the use of a counsellor to defend his cause. I obtained by the influence of the Emperor leave to visit him and to aid him in all things. It was at this epoch that I arrived at Vienna, and, at this very instant, when the revision of the prosecution was commanded and determined on. Count Loewenwalde, supposing me a needy, thoughtless youth, endeavoured to bribe me, and prevail on me to betray my kinsman. Prince Charles of Lorraine then desired me seriously to represent to Trenck that his avarice had been the cause of all these troubles, for he hind refused to pay the paltry sum of 12,000 florins, by which he might have silenced all his accusers; but that, as at present, affairs had become so serious, he ought himself to secure his judges for the revision of the suit; to spare no money, and then he might be certain of every protection the prince could afford.

The respectable Field-marshal Konigseck, governor of Vienna, was appointed president; but, being an old man, he was unable to preside at any one sitting of the court. Count S—- was the vice-president, a subtle, insatiable judge, who never thought he had money enough. I took 3,000 ducats, which Baron Lopresti gave me, to this most worthy counsellor. The two counsellors, Komerkansquy and Zetto, each received 4,000 rix-dollars, with a promise of double the sum if Trenck were acquitted; there was a formal contract drawn up, which a certain noble lord secretly signed. Trenck was defended by the advocate Gerhauer and by Berger. They began with the self-created daughter of Marshal Schwerin; and, to conceal the iniquitous proceedings of the late court- martial, it was thought proper that she should appear insane, and return incoherent answers to the questions put by the examiners. Trenck insisted that a more severe inquiry should be instituted; but they affirmed that she had been conducted out of the Austrian territories.

Trenck was accused of having ordered a certain pandour, named Paul Diack, to suffer the bastinado of 1,000 blows, and that he had died under the punishment. This was sworn to by two officers, now great men in the army, who said they were eye-witnesses of the fact. When the revision of the suit began, Trenck sent me into Sclavonia, where I found the dead Paul Diack alive, and brought him to Vienna. He was examined by the court, where it appeared that the two officers, who had sworn they were present when he expired, and had seen him buried, were at that time 160 miles from the regiment, and recruiting in Sclavonia. Paul Diack had engaged in plots, and had mutinied three times. Trenck had pardoned him, but afterwards mutinying once more, with forty others, he was condemned to death. At the place of execution he called to his colonel: "Father, if I receive a thousand blows, will you pardon me?" Trenck replied in the affirmative. He received the punishment, was taken to the hospital, and cured.

I brought fourteen more witnesses from Sclavonia, who attested the falsity of other articles of accusation which were not worthy of attention. The cause wore a new aspect; and the wickedness of those who were so desirous to have seen Trenck executed became apparent.

One of the chief articles in the prosecution, which for ever deprived him of favour from his virtuous and apostolic mistress, and for which alone he was condemned to the Spielberg, was, that he had ravished the daughter of a miller in Silesia. This was made oath of, and he was not entirely cleared of the charge in the revision, because his accusers had excluded all means of justification. Two years after his death, I discovered the truth of this affair. Mainstein accused him of this crime that he might prevent his return to the regiment; his motive was, because he, in conjunction with Frederici, had appropriated to their own purposes 8,000 florins of regimental money.

This miller's daughter was the mistress of Mainstein, before she had been seen by Trenck. Maria Theresa, however, would never forgive him; and, to satisfy the honour of this damsel, he was condemned to pay 8,000 florins to her, and 15,000 to the chest of the invalids, and to suffer perpetual imprisonment. Sixty-three civil suits had I to defend, and all the appeals of his accusers to terminate after his death. I gained them all and his accusers were condemned in costs, also to refund the so much per day which had been paid them by General Loewenwalde; but they were all poor, and I might seek the money where I could. In justice, Loewenwalde ought to have reimbursed me. The total of the sum they received was 15,000 florins.

Most of the other articles of accusation consisted in Trenck's having beheaded some mutinous pandours, and broken his officers without a court- martial; that he had bought of his soldiers, and melted down the holy vessels of the church, chalices, and rosaries; had bastinadoed some priests, had not heard mass every Sunday, and had dragged malefactors from convents, in which they had taken refuge. When the officers were no longer protected by Loewenwalde, or Weber, they decamped, but did not cease to labour to gain their purpose, which they attained by the aid of the Court-confessor. This monk found means to render Maria Theresa insensible of pity towards a man who had been so prodigal of his blood in her defence. Loewenwalde knew how to profit by the opportunity. Gerhauer discovered the secret proceedings; and Loewenwalde, now deeply interested in the ruin of Trenck, went to the Empress, related the manner in which the judges had been bribed, and threatened that should he, through the protection of the Emperor and Prince Charles, be declared innocent, he would publicly vindicate the honour of the court-martial.

Had my cousin followed my advice and plan of flight he would not have died in prison nor should I have lain in the dungeon of Magdeburg. With respect to individuals whom he robbed, innocent men whom he massacred, and many other worthy people whom he made miserable; with respect to his father, aged eighty-four, and his virtuous wife, whom he treated with barbarity; with respect to myself, to the duties of consanguinity and of man, he merited punishment, the pursuit of the avenging arm of justice, and to be extirpated from all human society.


Thomas Carlyle's opinion of the author of this History is expressed in the following passages from his History of Friedrich II. of Prussia: "'Frederick Baron Trenck,' loud sounding phantasm, once famous in the world, now gone to the nurseries as mythical, was of this carnival (1742- 3.) . . . A tall actuality in that time, swaggering about in sumptuous Life Guard uniform in his mess-rooms and assembly-rooms; much in love with himself, the fool! And I rather think, in spite of his dog insinuations, neither Princess had heard of him till twenty years hence, in a very different phasis of his life! The empty, noisy, quasi-tragic fellow; sounds throughout quasi-tragical, like an empty barrel; well-built, longing to be filled."—Book xiv., ch. 3.


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