History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Henry VII of Luxemburg

Except his wife and children, who loved him dearly, few, if any, mourned for Albert's death. He had been a stern and harsh ruler, yet he was wise with a wisdom beyond his times. He had ruled Germany with more of the spirit of modern times than any King before him. He had protected the cities and their trade, and he had curbed the pride of the unruly nobles. Therefore the nobles hated him, and now they determined to choose a King who would have little power and no desire to make his family great.

But Philip of France now cast a greedy eye upon the Empire. He had made himself master of the Pope, and had forced him to leave Rome and come to live in France. He now hoped to be master of the Empire too, and he did all he could to make the electors choose his brother, Charles of Valois.

Philip forced the Pope also to appear to wish Charles to be chosen. But in his heart the Pope was against such a choice, and while openly he encouraged it, in secret he urged the electors to choose another King.

In spite of all Philip's persuasions and scheming, the electors rejected Charles of Valois, and to be ruler of Germany they chose once again a poor Count. This was Henry, Count of Luxemburg. He seemed rather a Frenchman than a German. For French was his mother-tongue and the language spoken at his little court, his countship being on the borders of France and Germany.

It was a wild and lonely district. Yet he ruled so well that no spot in all the Empire was more peaceful or more safe. Far and near he was known as a peace-loving, wise, and brave man.

As soon as he was crowned Henry did all he could to bring peace to the land. He made friends with Albert's proud sons, Leopold and Frederick, and in one way or another worked for the good of the country.

Then having made peace in Germany, Henry resolved to cross the Alps and receive the Imperial crown. Not for fifty years had a German King claimed rule over Italy, not since Frederick II had any German King borne the title of Emperor, and German power over Italy was really at an end. But for centuries the German kings had, in name at least, been rulers of the world. They were loth to give up that proud title, and so the nobles gladly accompanied their King over the Alps.

Italy was at this time in a state of wildest confusion. The whole country was divided into factions, the rival parties still calling themselves Guelph and Ghibelline. although the old meaning of the name had long since died out. At first Henry was received as a herald of peace, both parties greeting him with joy. The great poet Dante came forth to meet him, praising him as the saviour of Italy. Even the city of Milan, the bitterest enemy of German rule, opened its gates to the King who came in peace, and with rejoicing on all sides the iron crown of Lombardy was placed upon his brow.

But all this peace and joy was short-lived. Party hate was not dead, it did not even slumber. Soon it burst forth in fury, and it was with his sword that Henry had to cut his way to Rome and the long-desired Imperial crown.

Rome was reached, but only after two months' fighting. Even then part of the city, with the great church of St. Peter, in which the Emperors had always been crowned, was still held by the enemy. Weeks, even months, might pass ere they could be forced to yield. So rather than delay longer, Henry caused himself to be crowned in the Church of the Lateran.

Then once more he set forth to fight. It seemed now as if he might be victorious. Frederick of Sicily made peace with him. Pisa and Genoa opened their gates. Venice promised him ships, a great army was hurrying from Germany to his aid. Then suddenly, on the threshold of his success, when all Italy trembled before him, Henry died at Buonconvento, near Siena.

The noblest men of Italy mourned his loss. With him their hopes of a united, peaceful country sank into the grave. In Germany, too, although he had spent little time there, his loss was mourned. Since the time of the great King Charlemagne there had been none greater, it was said. But while his friends mourned his death his enemies shouted aloud for joy. Towns were illuminated, bonfires were lit, religious processions were held in thanksgiving. "I send you the most joyful news," wrote one Italian, "that terrible tyrant Henry, Count of Luxemburg, whom the rebels call King of the Romans and Emperor of Germany, is dead."

With the death of the Emperor all his conquests vanished, and the Germans turned quickly home again, leaving their dead Emperor in Pisa. Soon the stone above his grave was the only sign left of his conquering march, and in Italy the might of the Emperor was no more than the light of a blown-out candle.