History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Under the Heel of Napoleon

Still, even after the battle of Wagram, Austria was not utterly subdued. For among the mountains of Tyrol the people had risen under a peasant innkeeper named Andreas Hofer, and they still fought on.

For centuries the people of Tyrol had owned the Princes of the House of Hapsburg as their overlord. But among their mountains they had lived a free people, choosing their own magistrates and rulers. Great was their dismay then when they learned that by the treaty of Presburg in 1805 they had been given over to the King of Bavaria. This new ruler oppressed them in many ways, and roused their anger by trying to change the name of the country from Tyrol to South Bavaria.

So when Francis II called upon all Germans to join him in fighting the French, the Tyrolese answered his call with joy. Secretly they made a treaty with the Austrians, and agreed to rise in a body at a certain date. So secret were their preparations that the Bavarians, and their allies the French, had no suspicion of what was going on.

Then one day a little red flag was seen floating down the river Inn. It was the signal agreed upon, and as it passed by the villages and towns on the banks, bells were rung, and men from every side flocked to the standards. They were shepherds and peasants, and their leaders were like themselves, but chief among them was Andreas Hofer, the innkeeper. He was tall and strong, with piercing eyes, black hair, and a great black beard which he had vowed not to cut till his country was given back to the Emperor. "For God, Emperor, and Fatherland," was the watchword which he wove upon his banner. "His weapon is prayer, his ally God," wrote Queen Louisa. "He wrestles with folded hands, on bended knee, then fights as if he wielded the fiery sword of the Angel of God."

The Tyrolese were splendid marksmen, but they had no knowledge of modern warfare. They fought for their freedom as the Swiss had fought hundreds of years before. They gathered upon the heights above the valleys through which the enemy had to pass. There they collected great quantities of huge stones and tree-trunks, and these they sent rolling down upon the enemy, as they marched through the valley below. Crushed by the falling stones and trees, thrown into utter confusion, the French and Bavarians then fell an easy prey to the unseen marksmen who fired upon them from above.

Thus the men, and women also, of Tyrol tried to drive the invader from their land.

At Sterzing Moos the Bavarians had entrenched themselves so strongly that the Tyrolese, try how they might, could not dislodge them. At length Hofer ordered some wagons loaded with hay to be driven forward, and behind this screen the riflemen advanced. The first wagon was driven by a girl named Anna Gamper, a tailor's daughter. As she drove the slow-stepping oxen onward, the shot from the Bavarian rifles whistled and fell around her like hail. But she heeded them not. "On with you, my men," she cried. "Who cares for Bavarian dumplings? We don't eat them quite so hot as the Bavarians send them to us."

Behind the shelter of the hay-carts the Tyrolese now poured such a murderous fire upon the Bavarians, that they were seized with panic, and yielded.

On this same day the town of Hall was taken from the French, and the Tyrolese had so many prisoners that they could not spare men enough to guard them, and they had to send them off to prison in charge of women. This enraged the French very much.

The Tyrolese treated their prisoners very well with one exception. The one who was ill-treated was a Bavarian tax-gatherer, who had once boasted that he would grind down the Tyrolese until they would be glad to eat hay. Now he was made to pay for his boast, and for dinner one day was given a bundle of hay and forced to eat it.

But while in Tyrol the peasants were making a gallant stand for freedom, the battle of Wagram was fought and lost, the treaty of Schonbrunn was signed, and by it the Emperor Francis was forced to withdraw all his troops from Tyrol, and give back the country to Bavaria. Forsaken by their Emperor the Tyrolese became well-nigh hopeless, and almost without opposition the French marched to Innsbruck, the capital, and once more took possession of it. "Austria has made peace with France, and forgotten Tyrol," wrote Hofer sadly to another of the leaders. And heartbroken he went away to his mountains once more.

But the Tyrolese were not yet crushed. Again and yet again they rose, calling upon Hofer to be their leader. And at their call he left his mountain fastness and took command. He succeeded so well that for a time he even became governor of Tyrol. He lived in the palace at Innsbruck, and ruled the land, but he remained ever a simple peasant. He never wore anything but the peasant's costume. In the Council Chamber he would appear dressed like a peasant in black chamois leather knee-breeches, bare knees and white stockings, a red vest with broad green braces, and over all a short green coat.

But now the French poured into the valleys in ever-increasing numbers. The spirit of resistance was broken, and one after another the peasants laid down their arms.

Once more Hofer took refuge in the mountains. But now a price was set upon his head, and the French sought everywhere for him. The few friends who knew of his hiding-place begged him to flee from the country, and seek a safer retreat. But Hofer refused. "I cannot be in a place more safe," he said. "No Tyrolese would betray me." So secure was he in the faith of the people that he would not even shave off his long beard by which he could be easily recognised.

But alas, there was one traitor among the faithful Tyrolese. He had been Hofer's friend, but he was tempted by the offer of gold. He had never dreamed of so much gold that, for the rest of his life, he could live in ease and comfort. He could not resist the temptation. It would make him so rich. So he prowled about the mountains until one day he discovered Hofer's hiding-place. Then he went to the French and told them of his discovery.

The next morning very early, while it was still dark, the tramp of armed men was heard through the lonely mountain passes, and soon sixteen hundred men surrounded the little hut.

Hofer, with his wife and children, who were with him, were peacefully sleeping when they were awakened by the crash of firearms, and the muffled tramp of many soldiers over the snow-covered ground.

"The French have come!" cried someone within the hut, starting out of sleep in terror.

"So be it," said Hofer calmly, and striding to the door he threw it wide open. Rank upon rank the soldiers stood in solid array surrounding the hut.

"Which of you can speak German?" said Hofer. "I can," replied the captain.

"You have come to take me," said Hofer, turning to him. "I am Andreas Hofer. Do with me as you will—I ask mercy only for my wife and children."

But there was little mercy in the hearts of the rough soldiers. They bound Hofer's hands behind his back, they insulted and ill-treated him, pulling out his beard in handfuls. Then they dragged him barefoot, clad only in his night-shirt, over the icy, stony paths to the nearest town.

Hofer was taken to Mantua, and there tried as a rebel and traitor. By Napoleon's orders he was sentenced to be shot. So on February 16, 1810, he was led out to die. As he passed through the streets other Tyrolese prisoners fell on their knees and asked his blessing, weeping bitterly. This Hofer gave them, asking forgiveness for having been the cause of their present sufferings. Calmly he walked on until the appointed place was reached. Here a party of soldiers was drawn up, and he was told to kneel down. He refused.

"I stand before my Creator," he said, "and standing I will restore to Him the spirit He gave." He refused also to be blindfolded.

So the signal was given. The soldiers fired, and a few minutes later the great patriot lay dead.

For the time Tyrol's struggle for freedom was ended. But the Tyrolese did not forget their hero. Some years later, when Napoleon had fallen and Tyrol once more belonged to Austria, they carried his body back over the Alps, and laid it to rest in the Church at Innsbruck, and in memory of his great patriotism his family was made noble.