Stories from German History - Florence Aston

Rudolph of Habsburg


With the death of Frederick I, the gallant old 'red-beard,' the German peasants' security and peace passed slowly away. The brilliant Hohenstaufen kings were not good for Germany, for their attention was mainly given to Italy, and there it was that they spent their Germ= gold and fought their battles with German lives.

The closing years of Frederick II's reign were full of anxiety and disappointment, hostility of the Pope, disloyalty of trusted Mends and failure of plans dearest to his heart. He had concentrated all his powers upon the subjugation of Italy, and had very much neglected his native German laud. At one time, so defenceless was it that it was overrun by fierce Mongols who had advanced after their conquest of China, through Russia and into Germany. This race came from the same land as the terrible Huns of old, and resembled them, for they were misshapen and ill-proportioned, with thick, protruding lips, flat noses and little, deep-set eyes. They lived on eats and rats, rode small swift horses and practised horrible barbarities in war. One of their customs was to cut off the left ear of each one they slew in battle.

They were driven back by Henry the Pious, Duke of Silesia, in a fierce battle which raged for two whole days, and, although the brave duke and many of his followers lost their lives, the Mongols were so far checked that they retreated, bearing with them nine sacks of ears as trophies from the field.

In his private life Frederick suffered sorrow, for a favourite son, Enzio, was imprisoned by the people of Bologna, and Frederick's chancellor, Peter de Vincis, whom he had loved and treated like a friend, turned traitor, and attempted to take his master's life by poison, afterward committing suicide in his cell.

So Frederick died very sadly in the year 1250, expiring in the arms of his favourite son, Manfred. He left the Imperial crown to his eldest child, Conrad IV, and the south of Italy to Manfred, who was his son by his last wife, Bianca.

But the prestige of the Imperial crown had fallen very low, and although he had been left substantial legacies of land, Pope Innocent IV refused to acknowledge Frederick's son as Emperor, and sent out wandering friars to preach against him as an infidel and unbeliever. The Pope supported William of Holland, a rival king against whom Conrad had to fight, but the descendant of the great Barbarossa was held in little esteem in Germany, and found but half-hearted support.

In the midst of his struggles Conrad died in the year 1254 leaving a two-yeas-old baby boy to rule his troubled realm. This little son was named Conrad like his father, but the Italians called him Conradino, which means 'the small Conrad,' because he was only a child.

William of Holland made so little progress among the Germans that upon one occasion he was stoned by the burghers of Utrecht; his wife was robbed on the open highway, and the Archbishop of Cologne tried to burn him to death in his palaces. The Germans paid no heed to his claims, had no esteem for his person, and his death was scarcely noticed.

So degraded had become the condition of Germany that the Imperial crown was actually offered for sale to the highest bidder. Richard, Earl of Cornwall, brother to Henry III of England, entered Germany, followed by thirty-two wagons, each drawn by a team of eight horses and laden with a hogshead of gold with which to bribe the Electors.

A Spanish prince, Alphonso the Wise, of Castille, had also rich gifts to offer, and the consequence was that one was elected Emperor in the city of Frankfort-on-the-Main, and the other was elected Emperor outside the city walls I

The Pope promised to arbitrate between the rivals, but postponed his decision from year to year, while Germany sank lower and lower, and lawlessness increased to a terrible extent.

Meanwhile the pope, Innocent IV, had refused to recognize Manfred, son of Frederick II, as King of Apulia in Southern Italy, and had offered the crown to various princes, who had all declined to accept so dubious a position. At length a ruler was procured in the person of Count Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis IX of France, better known as Saint Louis. Charles had no resemblance to his brother in saintliness of life, and although he was undoubtedly clever and courageous, his scowling visage revealed the ambition and stern cruelty of his nature.

In 1266 he utterly routed Manfred's forces in a battle near Benevento, and the defeated king rushed into the ranks of his foes, fighting until he was slain.

Then next year the Apulian sent a deputation to the young Conradino, inviting him to assume the crown. He was living very quietly with his uncle, Duke Ludwig of Bavaria, and his mother begged him to refuse the offer, to remember that he was the last of the great Hohenstaufens, and warned him that the beauty and riches of Italy had always woven a subtle charm for his family, and had lured them again and again to destruction and death.

But Conradino was no unworthy descendant of the great Barbarossa, and preferred to fight for his crown rather than live in ignominious ease, so he sold the last remnants of the Hohenstaufen lands in Swabia, crossed the Alps at the head of a large army, and established himself for time months in the city of Verona.

In Italy his youth and courage and unusual beauty won all hearts, and the Ghibelline knights flocked to his standard. The inhabitants of Pisa prepared a fleet for him, which defeated Charles of Anjou off Messina. Sicily rose against the hated French, and when Conradino won battle after battle, and at last reached Rome, he was received with acclamation. The Romans were only too glad of an opportunity of showing their spite against the Pope, so Conradino was led round the city in triumph, and conducted to the Capitol, while young maidens strewed his path with flowers. From this moment, however, the boy-king's fortunes fell lower and lower, and when he reached Apulia he was utterly beaten by Charles at the battle of Sarcola on 28rd August 1268. Conradino's knights had victory in their hands, but they dispersed too soon in search of booty, leaving the way open to the French, who sprang from an ambush and put them all to flight.

Conradino, together with his great friend, Prince Frederick of Baden, was betrayed into the hands of Charles of Anjou by a certain Giovanni Frangipani, a man who had received the greatest kindness from the Emperor Frederick II. A commission of judges assembled to try the young prisoner, who was accused of having "taken up arms against Charles, rightful King of Apulia, vexed the Church, and profaned and desolated churches and convents." Only one of the judges pronounced him guilty, and this was Charles of Anjou's own chancellor, yet his sentence was allowed to prevail against the votes of all his colleagues, and Conradino was condemned to death.

He was playing chess in prison with his friend, Prince Frederick, when they communicated the sentence to him, and on the 22nd of October 1268 he was led out on to a scaffold erected new the Bay of Naples, and there the lad of sixteen was to die, facing the blue waters and golden sunshine of perhaps the most beautiful scene in the world.

A low murmur ran through the crowd when he appeared, and looks of compassion met his gaze as he faced the people and spoke.

"I summon," he said, "my judges before the tribunal of the Most High. My innocent blood, shed on this scaffold, will cry to Heaven for vengeance; nor do I hold my Swabians and Bavarians or my German people so base and degenerate but that they will wash out in French blood this insult to their land."

The gauntlet which he threw down before the crowd was taken up by a German knight and conveyed to Peter of Aragon, the husband of Manfred's daughter, Constance.

Conradino then took leave of his friends and laid his head upon the block. As the axe fell, tradition says that Frederick of Baden uttered a sudden sere= of horror, and that an eagle descended swiftly from the sky, bathed its right wing in the blood, and soared aloft once more.

Frederick himself and several others were then executed, and the crowd turned away, melted to tears and murmuring their discontent

Thus perished the last of the Hohenstaufen kings, but not unavenged. Charles retained Apulia, it is true, but the Sicilians rose as one man, expelled the French, and called the young Conradino's cousin, Constance, and her husband, Peter of Aragon, to their throne.


Meanwhile the condition of Germany had been growing worse and worse. Germans no longer cared to become candidates for the Imperial throne, but busied themselves in extending the borders of their own lands.

In olden days each lord had been a vassal of the Emperor, and had kissed hands on succeeding to his lands, and sworn fealty to his master, but gradually the estates were considered as hereditary and men forgot that they had been received from their overlord.

Some of these nobles became so powerful that they chose the emperors, and were for this reason called Electors. The seven Electors consisted of four princes and three priests: the Archbishop of Mentz, who was Chancellor of the Empire; the Archbishop of Treves, who was Chancellor of Burgundy; and the Archbishop of Cologne, Chancellor of Italy.

The four princes were the Count Palatine of the Rhine, who was the grand-sewer and placed the dishes on the Emperor's table at banquets; the King of Bohemia, chief butler, who handed the cup; the Duke of Saxe-Wittenberg, grand-marshal, who bore the sword of state; and the Margrave of Brandenburg, the chamberlain, who presented the water at the conclusion of the feast. To bribe the Electors, the emperors had given them lands and power and many privileges, but the stronger the Electors became, the weaker grew the Imperial power.

Great German nobles were responsible to the Emperor only for their deeds, and when no recognized Emperor existed, they were responsible to no man, and the consequence was a great increase of lawlessness among them. All sacred vows were forgotten, and the nobles degenerated into mere highway robbers and common thieves. They lived on the booty which they gained from a successful raid on a band of merchants travelling through their lands, or the plunder of a rich monastery. Old quarrels were revived and constant feuds maintained between the different noble houses, and they avenged themselves by expeditions into the enemy's territory, where they would burn villages, drive off cattle, mutilate or slay innocent peasants and trample down the growing corn. Justice was not to be had, since might was right, and the strongest hand held the most power. The larger towns and most powerful nobles were able to protect themselves, but those who suffered most of all were knights of lesser degree and the helpless peasantry.

On the Rhine and Elbe robber knights built great castles in which they could take refuge and where no one could reach them, and from their strongholds they would levy toll upon the ships that passed down the river.

It sometimes happened that several of the lesser knights would join together in a league when they were not able to maintain themselves separately, build a castle, live there together with their families, and sally out in numbers large enough to gain plunder or maintain feud.

The old Imperial court of justice still existed in Westphalia, it is true, but so powerful had the nobles grown that no one dared punish them openly for fear of revenge, and the court was obliged to work in the greatest secrecy.

The Fehm, as the court was called, attempted to Curb the more powerful criminals and took no notice of the crimes committed by priests or peasants. The Arch-bishop of Cologne was the only priest who was allowed to be a member, and no other priest, no Jew, woman, or peasant, could sit in the court.

The meetings were held with much solemnity, and often at night, in the episcopal palace at Cologne, and occasionally elsewhere. The members occupied benches rising one above the other, and the president sat on a throne before a table upon which lay a sword and a coil of rope. The hilt of the sword was fashioned like a cross, and an ancient writer tells us that these objects symbolized the cross upon which Jesus Christ did suffer, and also the stern justice of the court; the cord signifying the punishment of the wicked, whereby God's wrath may be appeased."

New members knelt before the president, and, laying their hands on the sword and rope, took the oath of secrecy and fealty to the court. Any breach of faith was followed by fearful penalties, and the candidate was warned that if he disclosed the business of the court his tongue would be torn out and he would be hanged seven times higher ordinary criminals.

A wrong-doer would receive a written summons to appear before the court, and would be led into the room where each judge was disguised in a long gown and hood with two holes through which the eyes gleamed. The case was fried, and, if the crime were proved, the delinquent would be punished by fine in money or land or be sentenced to death. Any criminal who ignored his notice and failed to appear was condemned in the following words:

"Forasmuch as he bath been summoned before this Holy Fehm to give an account of certain misdeeds with which he standeth charged, and cloth wilfully and obstinately refuse to appear before the same; we, acting under the authority committed to us by the constitution of the Holy Empire, pronounce him ferfehmed and condemned; cast out of the number of the righteous into that of the unrighteous, separated from all good men; rejected by the four elements, which God bath given unto man for his comfort; devoid of counsel, rights, peace, honour, safety and love. And we hereby permit and require all men to deal with him as with one accursed. And we do accordingly curse his body and his flesh, giving his carcass to the four winds of heaven, and to the ravens and beasts of the field; and his soul we commend to our Lord God; if peradventure He will receive the same."

The president repeated this condemnation three times, spitting on the ground at the words, "We curse his body and his flesh," and then, turning to the court, would adjure them all to carry out the sentence, "Not failing for love or for hate, for friend or for kinsman, or for anything else that the world contained."

Soon afterward the body of the condemned would be found hanging from a tree, in the trunk of which was stuck a dagger bearing the symbol of the Holy Fehm on its blade.

These courts continued, especially in Westphalia, until happier times brought open justice into the land for rich and poor alike, and the Holy Fehm became unnecessary and ceased to exist.

After the Imperial throne had been vacant for seventeen years the Germans themselves recognized that their land would be at the mercy of any foreign invader if they had no ruler to unite them for purposes of war. Already sixty towns on the Rhine had been obliged to make a bond and maintain their own ships and soldiers, since their very existence was threatened. So when Richard of Cornwall died the Electors set aside the claims of Alphonso of Castille, and asked the Pope's advice in seeking a new candidate for the throne.

But it was a work of great difficulty to select a suitable man, for, though he should be strong enough to repress lawlessness and unite the realm, the more powerful nobles had no wish to choose one of princely rank equal to their own, who would deprive them of their privileges and curb their authority.

An emperor was required who could curb the growing insolence of Ottocar, King of Bohemia. The Pope desired a devout son of the Church, the people longed for a law-giver who would grant justice between man and man.

Considerable delay therefore ensued before a suitable candidate was found in the person of Count Rudolph of Habsburg, the lord of rich lands in Switzerland, Swabia and Alsace.

Rudolph was busily engaged in a feud with the city of Basle and its bishop when the news arrived that he had been elected Emperor. The citizens at once opened their gates and offered congratulations to their new lord, but the bishop was exceedingly angry. "Sit firmly on Thy throne, Lord God," he is said to have exclaimed, "or this Rudolph will take Thy place from Thee!" Rudolph was described by a monk of the period as "a tall thin man seven feet high, with a long eagle-nose and a pale faces He is of mature age, yet not old, and has nine children.

"Since childhood he has lived a temperate life. He is faithful to his friends, has borne arms all his life and suffered the stress and hardship of war. He conquers more by reason than by force, and all that he undertakes prospers in his hands."

At the Coronation, when the moment came for administering the oaths, the Imperial sceptre was found to be missing, and Rudolph took the crucifix from the high altar, remarking that the sign of the world's redemption might well serve instead. This was the man who was made Emperor at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 21st of October 1278, and, almost without a break, his descendants were Roman Emperor and German King down to the year 1806.

It is impossible for us to imagine the breathless eagerness with which the defenceless poor looked forward to the new Emperor's coming. For many years the wretched peasant had lived helpless on his tiny farm at the mercy of greedy men stronger than himself. His crops might be burned, his cattle driven off, his cottage set on fire, his daughters stolen, he himself taken prisoner, there was no one to whom to appeal for help and no redress to be gained.

No wonder that the poor flocked in piteous anxiety to get a sight of the new ruler.

One anecdote which illustrates this anxiety is told very beautifully by the German poet Schiller in a poem, the story of which runs as follows:

The Emperor Rudolph sat at his royal banquet in his castle at Aix. Around him were many gay lords and ladies, and merry laughter filled the hall.

The Prince of Bohemia handed the golden goblet to his Imperial master, the Lord of the Rhine passed the royal dish, and six other noble lords stood behind the throne. Beneath the dais upon which the Emperor sat, and reaching almost the full length of the hall, stood the enormous table round which the courtiers crowded. The dishes were full of steaming game and fish, and large beakers of wine passed freely from hand to hand.

All was noise and merry laughter, even to the crowd of poor beggars at the end of the hall, who watched the feasting from afar.

How they longed for a good, wise king, those poor men in the days when robber barons had ravaged their land I

For years there had been no safety for man and beast, maiden or wife, and the land had groaned and cried to Heaven against murder and rapine, oppression and crime.

But now that Rudolph of Habsburg sat upon the Imperial throne, the poor thronged in their hundreds to his hall, and watched with hungry eyes the kind face, which for them would bring safety and help. As yet he had not been proved, but he treated them kindly and would not let his courtiers drive them from his door.

"They are all our brothers and sisters," he would say, and when the banquet was over his pages were sent to distribute the remains among these poor brethren. Surely such a man must be holy and true. The banquet was over, the voices dying into silence, when Rudolph the Emperor turned in his seat and cried: "Is there no minstrel to sing sweet songs before us Y In the young days of my knighthood, many were the golden truths that I learnt from the lips of singers. Surely, as the days grow old, when the hair is silvered and the arm weakened, we have all the more need to learn the might and wisdom of these holy men!" And even as he spoke one stepped forward from among the crowd, a minstrel in a lung dark robe.

His face was old and wrinkled, his hair was snowy-white, only in his dark eyes still burnt the fires of youth, and when he opened his lips and sang the voice was young—at once deep, tender and passionate.



And he sang of a glad young knight who went forth to hunt the boar. Behind him rode his squire, and while they rode they sang for joy and youth and love of life. As they crossed a meadow bordered by a willowy stream, they heard the sound of a tiny silver bell. Before them, over the green grass, strode a holy priest. In his hands, held high with greatest care, he carried the Sacred Elements, and rang the tiny bell to tell any man that might approach that he was on holy ground. The priest was on his way to a dying man to comfort his poor soul before its flight with the rites of Holy Church. The gay young knight dismounted, and, doffing his bonnet, bent the knee reverently before the Body of the Lord.

His squire did the same.

But when the holy father descended the bank to the stream he found that recent rains had swept away the little wooden bridge.

So, placing his precious burden upon the grass, he unloosed his sandals and girt up his robe to wade the swollen waters.

When the gay young knight perceived this thing, he sprang to his feet and came, cap in hand, to the place where the holy father knelt.

"Far be it from thee, Father," he said gently, "to wade the swollen waters of this flood. My good grey steed is here to bear thee safely with thy wondrous burden whithersoever thou wilt."

So the holy man mounted and rode forward on his way.

On the morrow a priest entered the courtyard of the young knight's castle, leading by the bridle the good grey steed that had carried him so well.

When the lord came forth and heard his thanks, he smiled and said

"Beep thou the good grey steed for Holy Church. He has borne the sacred body of the Lord and must henceforth serve the priests of God."

And the glad young knight turned away and went into his castle.

All the time the priestly minstrel sang the story of the glad young knight, the Emperor's head was turned aside, and his face was shaded by his purple mantle. The courtiers gazed at him in awe and growing reverence. A deep, deep silence reigned when the priestly minstrel raised his hand to heaven and solemnly blessed the man who in his youth had reverenced his God. And he blessed him in his household and his lands, in his children and his realm.

And the poor stole out with shining faces, for they knew the Lord had sent to them a champion for their defence.


Not only the poor but the bishops and archbishops showed the greatest satisfaction at Rudolph's filial attitude toward the Church and her servants.

Pope Gregory X himself came as far as Lausanne to meet him, since he had been recommended by the Arch-bishop of Cologne as "a sound C , a true friend of the Church, a lover of righteousness, mighty in his own strength and allied with the mighty."

There, kneeling at Gregory's feet, Rudolph swore obedience, but, comparing Rome with a lions' den into which many feet entered but none came back, he did not go there to receive his crown.

He was a sincerely religious man nevertheless, and soon past deeds of piety were spread abroad by his servants, who loved him and delighted to praise him.

When pilgrims had wished to travel to Rome, from the castle of Habsburg at the confluence of the rivers Aar and Reuss, Rudolph had conducted them safely over the Alps. Merchants who had appealed to him for help had been protected from robber knights until they reached securer country, and the Archbishop of Mainz, having desired to visit Rome, had been courteously met and conducted back again.

"Would God, Sir Count, that I might live to reward you for your service to me," said the Archbishop as they parted, and this wish was granted, for his was one of the most insistent voices that recommended Rudolph as a candidate for the Imperial throne. The priest who had received the good grey steed to bear the Holy Sacrament to the dying had entered the household of the Arch-bishop of Mainz, and had often spoken in high praise of the devout knight who had shown such reverence to his master and himself.

The nobles were equally pleased with their Emperor, since he was not a prince by birth, and yet had borne himself bravely and had ever been successful in war. So all gladly took their oath of fealty to him, except the proud Ottocar, King of Bohemia, who had aspired to the Imperial crown himself. Instead of coming before the council, Ottocar merely sent a bishop, who addressed Rudolph with scant respect in a long Latin speech. But Rudolph interrupted, and bade him be silent, saying: "Sir Bishop, when you speak to your clergy, by all means use the Latin tongue, but here you must speak German, as is our custom." So the bishop was sent away, and ultimately war was declared on Bohemia. During the time that Germany had had no ruler, Ottocar had seized the opportunity of annexing Austria, and so confident was he of his own powers that he laughed scornfully when he heard that the "miserable Count "was preparing for war.

Few of the princes joined Rudolph, and he was very short of money. It is told that as he was passing down the Rhine a nobleman asked him:

"Sire, who shall be your treasurer?"

"I have no treasure," answered Rudolph, "neither have I any money except these five shillings, but the Lord God, who has always helped me hitherto, will help me to the end."

And in spite of lack of money and soldiers, Rudolph pressed forward, and appeared before Vienna, where the citizens themselves rose and joined him. Ottocar was defeated and obliged to take the oath of fealty which he had always refused, and to give up the lands he had stolen, retaining only Bohemia and Moravia as fiefs for which he must pay homage.

For this purpose Ottocar appeared on the island of Lobau in the Danube, with many knights on horseback all dressed in cloth of gold and jewels. As he approached, the Germans begged Rudolph to assume the royal robes, as befitted the Emperor of his land, but Rudolph refused saying: "The King of Bohemia has often laughed at my grey doublet; now will my grey doublet laugh at him."

He commanded his soldiers to line on either hand the road on which the King approached, and Ottocar rode down the lane of men, dismounted and entered Rudolph's tent, knelt before him, and tendered the homage due.

Tradition says that while he was in this position the Emperor caused the tent to be removed suddenly, so that all the army saw Ottocar on his knees.

Whether this be true or not, the Bohemian King left Lobau in great wrath, and went home to prepare an army and take the field once more. In this he was encouraged by his wife, who had bitterly taunted him for making his submission, calling him a dog that barks fiercely from afar, but fawns on those who approach.

In the year 1278 Rudolph again faced his old enemy not far from Vienna, and prepared his men for war by confession and the mass. His standard was borne by Count Frederick of Nuremberg, who was of the Hohenzollern family and an ancestor of the present German Emperor.

Ottocar addressed his men, and the battle began. Toward midday the Bohemians broke through the German ranks, and although the Emperor Rudolph rushed to the breach, his horse fell, and he would have been killed had not a knight held his shield over his head. But he was soon on horseback again and rallied his men, before whom the Bohemians fled, thousands being slain and thousands perishing in the marshes.

A Bohemian noble who had almost killed Rudolph was taken prisoner, and the German knights were anxious to put him at once to death. But Rudolph always respected courage, even in his enemies.

"God forbid!" he exclaimed to his men. "To slay so brave a knight would be a great injury to our land," and he commanded them to bandage his wounds and see that he was properly nursed back to health.

King Ottocar had fought bravely, but at length sank down under his wounds. Rudolph had instructed his men that he was not to be killed, but he was slain by two Bohemian brothers, whose father had been cruelly put to death some years before by this King. Rudolph was stricken with grief when the body of his enemy was laid at his feet.

"See how vain are the greatness and riches of this world!" he exclaimed, and he bade his followers wash the mangled corpse, embalm it, and carry it in purple robes to the Austrian capital at Vienna, whence it was conveyed to Bohemia and buried at Prague. Bohemia was left in the hands of Ottocar's eleven-year-old son, Wenzel, but Austria and the surrounding lands Rudolph gave to his own two sons, Rudolph and Albert. The descendants of Albert of Habsburg gained Bohemia and Hungary, and the Habsburg family reign in Austria-Hungary to this day.

Rudolph's next task was to punish evil-doers in his land, and restore order and peace. For this purpose he made journeys into every part of Germany, hearing grievances and giving redress.

All who wished were allowed to approach and speak with him, and he was exceedingly angry if he found his servants sending suppliants away.

"Why do you send him away?" he exclaimed on one of these occasions. "Have I become Emperor to shut myself away from my people?"

The robber knights who lived by plunder received their punishment, for Rudolph visited each district in which there had been complaints and made his power felt. On the Rhine alone he destroyed seventy strongholds, and hanged the knights on the trees in their spurs and armour as if they had been so many common freebooters.

"I consider no man noble," he is said to have declared, "who lives on the proceeds of robbery and theft."

In Thuringen he conquered sixty-six castles within a year, and took over one hundred prisoners, who were all put to death. He led twenty-nine robbers to Erfurt, and had them executed there before the city gates, that the merchants might continue their journeys unhindered and the peasants gather their little stores in security.

Thus he brought back peace and safety into the land by means of his great might, and was blessed alike by citizen and peasant and called the father of his land.

In his habits he was simple and dignified, and showed no false pride. He rose from his throne to receive a citizen of Zurich who had saved his life, and in time of war he patched his old grey doublet with his own hands, refused water when it was scarce among his men, and once when no food was available set them an example of cheerfulness by pulling up a turnip from a field and contentedly eating it.

On another occasion, when their supplies had been cut off and they were short of food, he told them to begin their attack at once, since if they conquered they would win supplies, and if they were beaten they would be taken prisoner, and prisoners are always given food. Once when encamped at Mainz he strolled through the streets in his usual simple dress. As it was very cold, he turned into a bake-house and warmed himself by the fire, where he was roundly scolded by the baker's, wife, who was a woman with a sharp tongue, and thought he was only a common soldier.

"Leave my bake-house at once, and go back to your beggarly king who worries honest folks with his ill-behaved soldiers," she screamed.

Rudolph laughed at her description of the king, but did not move, and his laughter so enraged the woman that she picked up a bucket of water that was standing near and emptied it over his head and shoulders. Dripping wet, he hurried back to his camp, and told the story to his followers with much enjoyment. He then sent a basket of wine and good things to the baker's wife, with the message that it was a present from the soldier whom she had refreshed with a bath that day.

When the woman heard who the soldier had been, she was covered with confusion, and, trembling with fear, hurried to the camp, and, throwing herself at Rudolph's feet, begged for mercy. Rudolph bade her rise, and as a punishment made her repeat exactly what had happened, not omitting a single word of her tirade against himself. The recital was hugely enjoyed by both Rudolph and his courtiers, and received with shouts of laughter. Some objected that he carried his good-humoured kindness too far, but Rudolph said: "I have many a time repented of my harshness, but never yet have I repented of too great kindness."

It is related that once he met a beggar who addressed him thus

"Brother Rudolph, give somewhat to a poor man." Astonished at this mode of address, the Emperor asked: "Since when have we been brothers, friend?"

"We are all brothers since the time of Adam," answered the beggar.

Whereupon Rudolph gave him a penny, which did not satisfy the beggar, who stood turning the coin over and over in his hand. "A penny is a very small, gift from an emperor to his brother," he grumbled.

But Rudolph's quick wit seldom deserted him. "If all your brothers since the time of Adam gave you as much," he said, "you would be the richest beggar upon earth."

And the man could say no more.

It added greatly to Rudolph's popularity that he invariably issued his decrees in the German tongue, instead of in the Latin, as had hitherto been the custom, and the citizens and peasants delighted in repeating the many anecdotes that told of his kindliness and forethought for their welfare. Also it pleased them to find that he stayed at home instead of wasting his energies on feuds with the Pope and in wars with Italian subjects, as the Hohenstaufen kings had done. But it was one of Rudolph's favourite sayings that to rule well is a greater art than to win territory, and to maintain peace and order in the realm is better than to extend its bothers.

Only the nobles were a little jealous of the increasing power of the house of Habsburg, and would not agree to nominate Rudolph's only surviving son, Albert, as heir to the Imperial throne, lest he should become too influential.

Rudolph's honesty became a proverb, and for many a year after his death it used to be said of a liar or thief: "He has not our Rudolph's honesty!"

In the words of an old chronicler of his day: "He was the best warrior of his time; he was the truest judge that ever dealt justice."

So he was the darling of his people, and great was their consternation when in the summer of 1291 he felt death approaching. He hurried toward Spires, where many of his forefathers lay buried, but died before he could reach the city, on the fifteenth day of July.

Of the possible heirs to the throne the Emperor's eldest son, Rudolph of Swabia, was dead, and the claim of the young grandson, John of Swabia, to the throne was immediately set aside, also that of the second son, Albert of Austria.

Through the influence of Gerard, Archbishop of Mainz, who was described as a man of such infamous character that "the devil himself might have envied him," the choice fell on Adolphus of Nassau, his cousin, who, the Archbishop thought, would prove a willing tool in his hands. Adolphus was a man of barbarous habits and ferocious cruelty, and his friends were of the same order. To increase his private property, he bought Thuringen and Meissen from their ruler, Albert the Degenerate, a man like minded to himself. This Albert had married Margaret, a daughter of Frederick II, and treated his wife and children with revolting cruelty.

Knowing well that it would torture Margaret if he took her children from her, her husband gave orders that she must bid farewell to her two sons for ever. As she did so, the wretched lady bit the eldest boy, Frederick, on the cheek, so that the scar might always remind him of his debt of revenge to be paid one day to his cruel father.

Soon after this Margaret died, and the two boys managed to escape, but they were retaken and placed in prison, where they would have died of hunger and ill-usage, had not compassionate servants supplied them with food and tried to protect them. As soon as they were old enough, the two brave youths took up arms against their cruel father and his friend, Adolphus of Nassau, and they were joined by most of the people, since the whole country was groaning under the outrages of Adolphus's unmanageable troops, and fast sinking into the condition in which Rudolph of Habsburg had found it. Seeing that war would soon be general throughout the Empire, Archbishop Gerard once more assembled the Electors and bribed them to declare the throne vacant. He had by no means found his cousin as tractable as he had hoped, and, as Adolphus was now very conveniently killed in battle, the good Emperor Rudolph's son, Albert of Austria, was chosen, just as his father had wished. Albert of Austria was a dark, cold-hearted man of terrifying aspect, since, in addition to pale, gaunt features and harsh expression, he had lost an eye. He had none of the genial kindliness of his father, and only showed his Habsburg blood by a love of increasing the Habsburg power. He waged war against Prince Frederick of Thuringen with the bitten cheek, but was unsuccessful, and the young prince gained his own again. Also he fought against Arch-bishop Gerard, who had insulted him by threatening that he "had more emperors in his sack "if Albert misbehaved, and he was troubled by risings and rebellions in Switzerland.

Albert had attempted to annex the three Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden to his dukedom of Austria, but the Swiss resisted sturdily, so he sent a cruel bailiff named Gessler, who oppressed the people and built a great castle in which he used to imprison them.

One day Gessler was riding through the country when he noticed a substantial new house, and inquired of its owner, a certain Werner of Stauffach, to whom it belonged. Werner knew that the question was only asked to entrap him, so he answered: "It belongs to the Emperor and to your Honour, and it is my fief."

Gessler could find no fault with so cautiously worded a reply, but he issued a proclamation that no man was to build a house without his permission. After this the Swiss began to plot his overthrow, for they had ever been a people that loved freedom.

On another occasion Gessler commanded his hat to be set on a pole in the market-place of the town of Altdorf, and a herald announced that all passers-by were to pay it reverence as if it were the Emperor himself. Legend relates that an honest peasant named William Tell was passing through Altdorf that day with his little son. He was a friend of Werner and other conspirators, and when he saw the hat and the kneeling people he passed on without so much as bowing his head.

Tell was immediately seized by the soldiers, and, because he was noted for his skill as an archer, Gessler commanded that for punishment he should shoot at an apple placed on the head of his own little child.

The peasant at first refused, saying that he would rather die, but, when the cruel bailiff threatened to kill both him and the child, he seized his bow and arrow and took aim. The little boy, who was only six years of age, was a true son of his brave father; he stood firm and held the apple on his head with his own hands, and Tell's arrow split it exactly in two without hurting the child.

The crowd applauded loudly, and Gessler himself examined Tell with interest.

"But why," he asked, "do you hold a second arrow in your hand?"

"The second arrow was for you, if the first had slain my son," answered Tell calmly.

At this Gessler was furious. "I promised you life," he thundered, "and I will keep my word, but that life shall be spent in a dungeon where you shall see neither sun nor moon again!"

He then commanded Tell to be bound, thrown into the boat, and conveyed to prison over the Lake of Lucerne. But as they rowed along a terrible storm arose, so that Gessler became alarmed, and, being told by his men that Tell was a skilful boatman, he unbound him and bade him steer safely to the shore.

This was done, but suddenly, as they neared a flat rock, Tell seized his bow and arrows, and sprang ashore, at the same time pushing the boat off into the lake with a vigorous kick, and Gessler was obliged to land as well as he could lower down. As soon as this was accomplished Gessler and his men proceeded to search for Tell, who had disappeared into the bushes. But the bold archer was expecting this, and, kneeling behind a tree, he waited his opportunity. No sooner did Gessler appear than an arrow struck him to the heart. After this the brave Swiss peasants rose in the year 1808, pulled down the castle that the Austrians had built, and drove the Imperial forces over the border, forming a solemn confederacy among themselves which has lasted with little change for over six hundred years.

William Tell


The Emperor Albert swore vengeance against the hardy Swiss, who had dared to question his authority, but events happened which put an end to his plans.

All this time his nephew, the young John of Swabia, had long resided at the Court, and had begged repeatedly for the restoration of his father's lands, which Albert held as his own. The gloomy Emperor ever evaded this request, saying that John was still too young, and promising him other lands instead. These promises were never fulfilled, and, goaded to desperation, the youth at last determined to take matters into his own hands; so, with five other malcontents, the chief of whom was a certain Rudolph von Wart, he plotted Albert's assassination.

While crossing the River Reuss one day the conspirators managed to separate Albert from his attendants, and before the latter had time to ferry over to him he was writhing in agony on the ground, bleeding from many wounds. When they arrived, the murderers were fled, and the Emperor was breathing his last, his head supported by a poor woman who happened to be passing.

John, overcome by the horror of his deed, fled to Italy, threw himself at the feet of the Pope, and retired into a monastery, where he ended his days

Walter von Eschenbach, another of the conspirators, lived thirty-five years in hiding as a poor shepherd. Rudolph von Balm died in poverty.

Albert's wife, Elizabeth, and Agnes, her daughter, pursued the murderers with unrelenting cruelty. Their castles, ten in number, were razed to the ground, their lands devastated, and their servants slain or banished. Agnes had sixty-three of Rudolph von Balm's servants beheaded in her presence, and with her own hands was about to strangle his infant child when the soldiers took it from her in horror.

Rudolph von Wart, who was the only conspirator to be caught, was broken on the wheel in the presence of his agonized wife, and thus the Emperor Albert was avenged.