Patriots and Tyrants - Marion Lansing

Henry the Fowler

Henry was wise enough to see that putting the crown on his head did not make him truly king of all Germany. Conrad had worn that very crown, but half his people had been at war with him, as had Henry himself. So he set about to make peace among all German dukes, and this was no easy matter, for each of them had wanted to be king himself, each save Eberhard. With him and the people of Franconia he was already at peace, and with Burkhardt of Swabia he was soon able to make terms. But Duke Arnulf of Bavaria had no intention of making peace. He had intended to seize the kingship when Conrad died; he intended to seize it now, and he had a strong army to enforce his claim. He had established himself in the newly fortified town of Regensburg, and there he waited for Henry to come and make war on him. Henry came, bringing an army to use if need be; but it was his plan to seek first to bring Bavaria into the kingdom with other weapons than the sword.

The king sent a message to Duke Arnulf appointing a conference, and Arnulf, thinking that a duel was to decide the question between them, did not shrink back, though Henry's fame as a swordsman had not been forgotten from his boyhood days, but appeared at the appointed place and hour armed from head to foot. The two armies were encamped on either side of the meeting place, awaiting the result of the interview.

But lo! when Arnulf in his coat of mail, with breastplate and knee guards and helmet, strode into the presence of King Henry, he found the latter unarmed and in homely house garb. He received the astonished duke with these words: "Since God has given to me the crown, you owe to me, your liege lord, obedience, even as I also would acknowledge you as overlord, had the choice fallen on you!"

Duke Arnulf stared in amazement. No one had ever dared to tell him that he owed obedience to any man. But the quiet voice went on: "The honor of the kingdom, the welfare of the fatherland, our peoples who long for peace and freedom, demand sacrifice from you and us all. If we will succeed in this purpose, we must act in unity; but if this is to come to pass, the smaller states must yield in some matters to the greater."

With a winning smile and a cordial word, the king dismissed him. The interview was over before Arnulf quite knew what had happened, and the duke was making his way back to his own followers to report to them the message, and to gather them in a council to ask their advice. The king's words had not been in vain.

"I do not want to yield," said Arnulf to his nobles, "but if I must yield, truly this is a man to whom one could willingly give one's support."

The nobles advised the duke to give to the king his allegiance, provided he was not forced to surrender any of his private rights over his duchy, and Arnulf followed their advice. He bore to the king the reply of Bavaria, and took for his duchy the oath of allegiance. From that day he held faithfully to the oath and kept himself an obedient vassal in such matters as pertained to the whole of Germany, becoming besides King Henry's most valued friend and adviser.

Within five years Henry accomplished, though not without some fighting, the great task of uniting Germany,—the work attempted, but without success, by Hermann and Wittekind in their time. His work had, however, only just begun. Germany was suffering at that time from invasions by the Magyars and Hungarians on the east and from the Danes and Norsemen on the north. This was the second period of the Wandering of the Peoples, when Rollo and his Vikings came down on France. With his northern and western neighbors Henry did not have much trouble. His northern tribes were strong enough with his help to beat off the Danes, and Charles the Simple of France met the German king on a boat on the river Rhine which separated France and Germany, and concluded with him a peace by which the boundaries of each land were established. So Germany was fairly secure on the north and west, but on the east and south a new tormentor had arisen. Bands of Hungarian horsemen would sweep through the land, burning towns and villages, stealing the crops, and killing men, women, and children as they came in their way. Arnulf had fought against them, but in vain. If matters went on there would soon be no Germany over which Henry could be king; each province would be subject to the Magyars and Hungarians.

King Henry had seen all this. That was why he had been so eager to form a strong, united Germany. Now fortune favored him. A Magyar leader fell, during one of these marauding expeditions, into the hands of the Germans, who delivered their prisoner to the king. The Magyars must therefore come to Henry to get him back.

"If you will conclude with us a nine years' truce, in which there shall be no fighting on either side, I will let your leader go free," said King Henry.

The Magyar messengers were surprised, the German dukes hardly less so.

"But what of the tribute money that the duchies on the south have been paying for the sake of peace?" demanded the Magyars.

"For nine years that money shall be paid, so long as you keep the peace," replied the king.

The Magyars wanted their leader very much, and finally agreed to these terms, and so did the dukes, though they murmured among themselves at the long truce.

When the Magyars were gone, King Henry explained his plan.

"We are not now strong enough to defeat the Magyars," he said. "If we went to war with them the result would be uncertain. They fight on horseback, we on foot. That gives to them a great advantage. They can sweep down upon us and destroy our crops and cause a famine in the land, and they can destroy even our homes, for they are not well protected. For nine years we shall have peace from their invasions, and during that time we can prepare ourselves so that we will be strong at their coming."

King Henry went at once about his work of strengthening the kingdom. He knew that the time was none too long. First he set the people to build about their settlements high, strong walls, with towers at each corner and gates from which sentinels could look out on the whole surrounding country and give warning of the approach of the enemy. Within these walls were constructed moats, deep paved ditches, twenty, thirty, and forty feet wide. Into these water might be run, and across them could be swung drawbridges, which could be let down or pulled up at will. They made a second barrier against the enemy. Within these moats was still another wall with iron gates. These were the first walled cities of Germany, and by the building of them Henry gained the noble name of "The Founder of Cities," for he was doing his people a greater service than he knew. He built the cities for defense against the Magyars, but they were to serve as a defense against many foes, and they were also to gather the people closer together and strengthen the bonds of national life. Some of the walled cities are standing there to this day just as they were built in the Middle Ages, and you will find, when you go to visit them, that in cities where no wall or tower remains there are often broad circular boulevards encircling the city, built where the moats used to be.

Walled town

One city in particular is associated with King Henry, for here he loved most to dwell. It was in the dear Harzland, whence the people had summoned him to be king, and was called Quedlinburg. Hither he brought in these years his wife Matilda, who was a descendant of the patriot Wittekind, and here they dwelt together happily in the midst of their people. The Germans loved Queen Matilda (the good queen, as they called her) almost as much as they did King Henry, and quaint stories have come down to us of her beauty and her goodness. The people of Quedlinburg were always glad when she spent the winter at home, for she never stayed in a town in winter without causing fires to be lighted in every house, however poor, and even on the streets. She had a special public bath built in Quedlinburg for the poor, and she never drove abroad without scattering bread to beggars.

King Henry ordered likewise that one ninth of the people should be chosen by lot to dwell within the cities and defend them, and that the people who lived on the farms outside should agree to send a certain amount of their produce to the city dwellers. Thus they should not lack for food, though they did not till the land themselves, and they would be ready to take in the country people and support them in case of siege.

The king had spoken to the dukes about the Magyar horsemen. Charlemagne had taught the Franks to fight on horseback to defend themselves against the Saracens, but the Saxons had never fought save on foot. In all the duchies there were younger brothers of noble family, who did not inherit the estates from their fathers. They were too proud to till the land or work at a trade, and they would not serve in the army as foot soldiers. Some of them had taken to the mountains and lived a reckless life, robbing merchants as they passed with their goods from town to town. These men were a menace to the nation. King Henry offered to them all free pardon if they would come and serve in the cavalry which he was organizing, and learn to fight on horseback. They came in great numbers, and as Henry did not want men of wild life in his army, the story is that he talked over with the dukes what should be the requirements of this knighthood which he was forming. "A knight," he began, "if he is to be a true servant of the crown, must not by word or deed harm the church."

"No," added Count Conrad, "nor his fatherland."

"Nor," said Berthold of Bavaria, "must he be a liar."

"Nor have injured a woman," said Hermann of Swabia.

"No, nor run away in battle," added Conrad.

So those were the laws of knighthood, and some say that chivalry began in that hour when it was agreed by Henry and his dukes that a knight must be true to his church and his country, honorable, gentle to women, and brave. Of later laws and customs of chivalry you will read more in "Cavalier and Courtier."

When the nine years were over, King Henry gathered the people. His preparations were finished; his army had fought with northern enemies and showed that it was well drilled and ready. Of all this he spoke to them: "Our kingdom is at peace within itself; all our enemies are conquered. Only the Hungarians stand over against us, demanding tribute as the price of peace. Nine years I have paid it; nine years I have had to give up what belonged to your children to enrich these enemies. We have robbed ourselves. We have given until there is nothing left to us but our bodies and our weapons, unless we rob the churches. We are here to decide what we shall do. Already the messengers are on the way. Shall we pay tribute longer? Shall we impoverish ourselves to give what they demand? Choose ye this day what ye will do."

Then there rose a shout from the whole people, speaking as one, "No! let us free ourselves from these bonds." They raised their right hands to heaven and vowed to stand by the king against the enemy, and as they shouted they beat their thousand swords upon their shields.

The Magyar messengers came to the borders of Germany. Instead of the ambassadors bearing gold there met them a group of warlike Germans leading a dog, a cur, with cropped tail and ears. Him they sent into the Magyar camp, which was by ancient custom the greatest insult one people could offer another.

The Magyars rose to take revenge. They came down upon Germany in greater numbers than ever before. But their horsemen were met by trained German horsemen. They could no longer kill and destroy where they would. The people were within the walled towns, which the Magyars could not take. Henry's plans were realized. After many battles the Magyars were driven back and Germany was safe.

For the last years of his life Henry could rule a peaceful and united Germany which he had delivered from warfare within and without. When he died, and was laid to rest in the abbey of Quedlinburg, the whole nation mourned him.

That was the way the German nation was founded.

[Illustration] from Patriots and Tyrants by Marion Lansing