History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Lewis the Child

Arnulf was succeeded by his little son Lewis. He was, only seven years old when he came to the throne, so he is called Lewis das Kind, or Lewis the Child.

Lewis was, of course, too young to rule, so the power fell into the hands of the great churchmen of the realm. Chief among these were Bishop Adelbero and Archbishop Hatto. But these priests and bishops were more intent on making the Church powerful and themselves rich, than on governing the land well. Then the nobles, caring little for the weak rule of a child, began to do as they liked. As the King's power grew less theirs grew greater. They built themselves strong castles, they raised armies and made war, and ruled within their own lands as if they were kings, merely owning the King in a far-off sort of way as overlord.

These great lords, too, began to fight among themselves, and the whole land was filled with the noise of their feuds. The mightiest of these nobles were the Babenbergers, so called after their castle of Babenberg, and the Conradiners, who were related to the kingly house, and who took their name from their leader Count Conrad.

They were at deadly feud with each other, and they filled the land with bloodshed, now one side, now the other getting the better. But on the whole the Conradiners were the stronger, and the Babenbergers saw themselves being always more and more crushed by their great rivals.

Bishop Hatto had always been friendly to the Conradiners, and now he prepared to help them. Adalbert, the head of the Babenbergers, was commanded to appear before the royal council, to answer for his misdeeds. But he haughtily refused to come. Then an army was sent against him, and he was besieged in his castle of Theres on the river Main.

Adalbert made a brave resistance. But when his most trusted friend suddenly forsook him, and went over to the enemy, he had no more heart to hold out.

Then it was that Bishop Hatto, hoping to make Adalbert yield, came to him with fair words and promises.

"Follow my counsel," he said, "make peace with your King. I give you my word of honour that you may go to him without any fear. In safety and comfort as I lead you forth, so will I lead you back to your fortress. If you will not trust my priestly word, at least trust my solemn oath."

Adalbert believed the wily Bishop, and agreed to go with him. Very solemnly then the Bishop swore to be his safe conduct.

Before setting forth Adalbert begged the Bishop to partake of some food. But the wily Hatto, full of his wicked plans, refused. So together the Prince and Bishop left the fortress, Hatto leading Adalbert by the right hand.

But they had not gone far when Hatto stopped. "I grieve now," he said to Adalbert, "that I did not take your advice and have some food before we started, for the way is long and we are like to faint from hunger ere the end of it."

"Let us return, then, my lord Bishop, and have some food, so that you may not be wearied by the long fast," said Adalbert.

To that the Bishop agreed, and at once they turned round and went back to the fortress, the Bishop as before leading Adalbert lovingly by the hand.

When they were once more within the castle the Prince led his guest to the great dining-hall, and there feasted him with his best. Then once more together they set out for the King's camp.

Adalbert thought that he had gained a powerful friend, so little did he suspect the Bishop's treachery. But he was soon to be undeceived. As the little thirteen-year-old King sat in state Adalbert appeared before him to make his submission. Then an angry noble started up. "Hearken not to him, my lord King," he cried. "He does this only out of treachery. His submission is but a deceit and trick to save himself from a desperate situation. So soon as he receives your pardon he will return again to his rebellion. Let him die the death."

"For seven long years," cried another, "has this Adalbert disturbed the land. What blood has he not shed, what grief has he not brought upon the people by his wasting and plundering? Let him die the death."

Then, as with one voice, the assembled nobles condemned Adalbert to death for high treason.

But amidst the clamour and the rage Adalbert stood calm and unmoved. "Ye cannot touch me," he cried, "I have the Bishop's promise of safe conduct."

But the Bishop smiled a cruel smile, and was silent.

Then suddenly Adalbert's heart misgave him. "You are forsworn," he cried, "if you consent to my death."

"Nay," answered the Bishop, with a scornful laugh, "I have kept my word. Did I not promise that if you came forth from your fortress I would lead you back in safety? And have I not done so? Did I not, as soon as you came forth, lead you back in safety? I am absolved of my oath."

Darkly Adalbert looked upon his betrayer. "Would God," he cried, "that I had never come here. Too late have I learned your deceit, oh traitorous Bishop."

Then, loaded with fetters, he was led out before the assembled army, and his head was cut off.

Thus was the house of Babenberg crushed, and the house of Conrad became greater than ever. From that day Conrad the younger took the name of Duke, and henceforth he had no rival in the land.

But while within its borders the land was thus torn by the feuds of the great nobles, without a new danger threatened. This new danger was the Hungarians.

King Arnulf, you remember, had made friends with these wild people, and they had helped him against the Moravians. And so long as Arnulf lived, Germany had been safe from them. But they had overrun all the neighbouring lands. They had attacked the north of Italy, they had wasted all the countries along the western borders of Germany; they had utterly wiped out the Moravians.

And now that there was only a weak child-King to oppose them, they spared Germany no more. Great hordes of wild horsemen, more awful to look upon than wild beasts, it was said, stormed over the river Ems, and wasted the land with fire and sword.

Year by year they returned, year by year they stretched their plundering expeditions farther and farther. Bavaria, Thuringia, Saxony all felt the scourge, and the harvest-fields of Germany as far as the Rhine were trodden and destroyed by the hoofs of their horses. Without mercy they slew the old, both men and women; the young they carried away captive, in their savagery often fettering the women with their own long hair.

The whole land trembled before these terrible Hungarians. The people believed that the curse of God had come upon them, and they remembered the words of the prophet Jeremiah, "Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far. It is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say. Their quiver is as an open sepulchre, they are all mighty men. And they shall eat up thine harvest, and thy bread, which thy sons and thy daughters should eat: they shall eat up thy flocks and thine herds: they shall eat up thy vines and thy fig trees: they shall impoverish thy fenced cities, wherein thou trustedst, with the sword."

So great fear fell upon the people. But at length in 910 all the nobles gathered together a mighty army, and with the young King at their head marched to fight these terrible foes. Near Augsburg a great battle was fought.

In early morning, before the Germans were fully ready, the Hungarians attacked. But until midday the Germans fought bravely, with no sign of yielding. Indeed it seemed as if victory would be theirs. Then the Hungarians, as their habit was, tried trickery when force failed. They pretended to flee. Breaking their ranks the Germans pursued. Then suddenly the fugitives turned, the reserve was called up. The Germans were surrounded on all sides, and defeated with cruel slaughter.

The victorious Hungarians then marched farther into the land, and a few days later met another army, which had not been able to reach Augsburg in time to join in the battle. A second fight took place, in which again the Germans were defeated, and although the defeat was not so crushing as the first, the Hungarians were able to turn homeward triumphantly, laden with much spoil.

Lewis the Child is but a shadow King. This bootless campaign against the Hungarians is the only deed of his about which we know anything during his whole reign. "The weakness of the child who, nevertheless, bears the name of King," said one who lived in those times, "has deprived us this long time of a true ruler. His age is neither useful in battle nor fit to wield the laws. His weak body and lack of manly strength only excite the people to contempt, the enemy to insolence. How often I tremble when I think of those words, 'Woe to the land whose king is a child!'"

But the land was not much longer to endure the reign of a child. A little more than a year after the battle of Augsburg, at the age of eighteen, Lewis died, where and exactly when is not known. It was probably on September 24, 911. He had reigned, if reigning it could be called, eleven years. With him the German branch of the Carolingians came to a miserable end. He left the kingdom which his forefathers had made great utterly shattered within, and at the mercy of a relentless foe without. He left it far smaller than it was when he had received it from his father. For on the east side, during the many quarrels within, Lorraine had ceded from Germany, and the Duke now owned the King of France as his overlord, while on the west side the Hungarians had taken possession of great tracts of land which were lost to Germany for ever.