History of Germany - H. E. Marshall


Rudolph II had never married. He left no children who might succeed him, and at his death his brother Matthias was chosen as Emperor. Matthias, as you know, had already made himself King of Austria, Bohemia, and all the other Austrian states. But he proved himself no better an Emperor than his brother Rudolph. He was already growing old (he was fifty-seven when he became Emperor) and he found himself quite unable to rule. Difficulties and dangers were daily growing thicker around him, bitterness and suspicion were daily increasing between the two parties, and the Emperor felt himself too weak to cope with them or bring peace between them.

Matthias, therefore, left the government to his chief minister Bishop Klesl, and to his nephew Ferdinand. Then after a time Ferdinand was proclaimed King of Bohemia. At this the Protestants were much dismayed, for Ferdinand was a Catholic, already well known as the pitiless foe of all Protestants. Ferdinand was greatly influenced in all that he did by the Jesuits, who had lately risen to great power in Germany. Led by them he did all he could to hamper the Protestants and make the Letter of Majesty granted to them by Rudolph of no avail. He shut up the Protestant churches, burned the Bibles and hymn-books, and forced people in every way he could to attend Mass once more. "Better a desert," he was wont to say, "than a land full of heretics."

So the anger and unrest grew deeper and deeper, and at length it burst out into wild rebellion.

In Bohemia the Protestants had built two churches. One was on land belonging to a bishop, the other on land belonging to an abbot. The Catholics said that the Protestants had no right to build these churches, and the abbot closed the one, and the Archbishop forced the Protestants to pull down the other.

At this the Protestants were very angry. They declared that the Letter of Majesty gave them the right to build these churches, and they appealed to the Emperor.

The Emperor received their petition coldly. He would not help them, but approved rather of what had been done by the Archbishop and the Abbot.

This made the people of Bohemia furiously angry, but they did not blame the Emperor. They did not believe that he had sent the answer to their petition, but that it had been made up by two men, Slawata and Martinitz, in whose hands the government really was. Slawata had once been a Protestant, but having now turned against them persecuted them cruelly. Martinitz too hated the Protestants.

Headed by Count Thurn the nobles gathered to Prague, and followed by a great mob of people they marched to the Council Chambers. There they demanded an answer to their question as to whether the Emperor had ever seen their petition or not.

Martinitz and Slawata refused to answer. Then a fearful tumult arose. Swords were drawn, hoarse cries and threats rang through the hall. With flashing eyes and flushed faces the insurgents crowded round the two hated regents. They were traitors to their country, cried the mob, and must die.

Rough hands were laid upon them, and they were dragged towards the windows. In vain they struggled, in vain they besought for mercy. "Let us at least first confess our sins," cried Martinitz.

"Commend your soul to God," was the stern reply, "we will have no Jesuit rascals here."

Then, amid the shouting and confusion, the windows were thrown wide, and the two men were flung out. "Jesus! Maria!" wailed Martinitz as he fell.

"Let us see whether his Mary will help him," laughed some one coarsely as he leaned from the window to watch.

"By heaven!" he cried a moment later in an awed tone, "she has helped him."

The Council Chamber was high, and the wretched men had been thrown from a height of eighty feet or more into the moat of the castle. It was filled with old papers and all sorts of litter and rubbish. And to the astonishment of all, the two men fell upon it almost unhurt.

A secretary was flung down after his masters. He too was almost unhurt. Long afterwards he was given the title of Hohenfall or Highfall in memory of his wonderful escape. Now, however, his first feeling was not of thankfulness for his escape, but one of anger against the rioters.

"What have I done to them," he asked tearfully, "that they should throw me out?"

"This is no time to ask questions, sir," replied Martinitz. "You had better get up and help us."

Of the three Slawata was the most hurt. He was indeed terribly bruised and shaken, but with the help of the others he began to crawl away. In angry astonishment the rioters looked down upon the three from the windows above. Then shots were fired. One struck Martinitz's collar, a second his coat, and a third just grazed his arm. "Great God," he cried in wonder, "hast Thou made me invulnerable and immortal!"

By this time some of the Regent's servants came hurrying to help their masters, and with their aid they reached a place of safety. The secretary, however, fled away hatless and coatless as he was, and was the first to bring the news of the revolt to the Emperor.

This riot, although none knew it at the time, was the beginning of a most dreadful war which was to last for thirty years, and lay Germany waste from end to end.

Having thus thrown the Regents forth, the Protestants took possession of the castle. They chose leaders from their own number, and prepared for war.

The Emperor was old and ill, and he very gladly would have made peace. But his nephew Ferdinand would have none of it. He blamed the Emperor's adviser Bishop Klesl for wishing to make peace, and so one day as the Bishop came to see Matthias, he was stopped in the anteroom. Here he was ordered to change his Bishop's robes for those of an ordinary priest. At first he refused. But at length, terrified by dreadful threats, he yielded.

Klesl was then hurried to a carriage and driven away. On and on he went, far into the mountains. When the roads became too steep and narrow for a carriage, he was ordered to descend. Then, in a Sedan chair, he was carried still upward, until the Castle of Ambas, not far from Innsbruck, was reached. Here he was shut up in prison.

The poor Emperor was at first very angry when he heard what had been done. But soon he sank into sadness and gloom. He had lost his best friend, and most faithful adviser. He felt himself surrounded only by enemies. His spirit was utterly broken, and in a few months he died.