History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Otto II the Red

Otto I was succeeded by his son Otto II, who was but a lad of eighteen. Already, in his father's lifetime, Otto had been crowned as King and Emperor, and, young though he was, had reigned as co-Emperor with his father. So now he succeeded to the throne without any trouble. His face was very red, and from that he took his name of Otto der Rothe, or the Red. Otto was a small man. But although he was small he knew well how to wield a sword and spear. He was a brave soldier, and he was very wise and learned too. He was married to Theophano, the beautiful daughter of the Emperor of the East, and both she and his mother had great influence in ruling the kingdom.

Otto came to the throne quietly and without any opposition. But it was not long before troubles and rebellions arose. Henry, Duke of Bavaria, the son of that Henry who had rebelled so often against Otto the Great, soon found cause for rebelling against his cousin the Emperor. This Henry was called the Zanker, or the Quarrelsome.

Henry the Quarrelsome was defeated and taken prisoner, and Otto took away his Duchy and gave it to Otto of Swabia. But Henry was not thus easily subdued. He escaped from prison, and soon he gathered another army, swearing to overthrow Otto. But Henry was again defeated and fled into exile. Once more, however he returned, and through all Bavaria the flame of rebellion spread anew. Henry the Quarrelsome was helped now by his cousin Henry the Younger, and by Bishop Henry of Augsburg. Otto of Swabia and Otto of Carinthia fought for the Emperor. So it was a war of Henries against Ottos. The Ottos won, and the Henries were banished from the land.

Otto had other battles to fight with the Poles and the Danes, but at length after five years of strife there came a lull. With his beautiful Queen Theophano, Otto then journeyed to Aachen, there to hold the feast of St. John. He meant to stay to rest some time in the splendid palace of Charlemagne, and in peace attend to the ruling of his kingdom.

But what Otto planned did not come to pass. For the French King Lothaire II had long wanted to win back Lorraine for France. Now it seemed the time had come. So, gathering his army, he marched rapidly towards Germany.

Lothaire's lords and barons had sworn either to slay Otto or take him prisoner. And when, having crossed the river Maas, they heard that Otto was at Aachen, not many miles distant, with only a few followers, their joy was great. They decided to march direct upon Aachen and take Otto by surprise. And this they might have easily done; for with such secrecy did the French King make his preparations that Otto had not the slightest suspicion that a hostile army had crosses his boundaries.

But now, instead of hurrying onward with all speed, Lothaire waited until all his baggage was across the river. Instead of hurrying forward at once he wasted time in arranging the order of march. So Otto was warned in time.

One day as Otto and his Queen were about to sit down to dinner, a hot and dusty messenger dashed into the palace. "My lord Emperor," he cried, "the French King is upon you with a mighty host. He is even at my heels."

"That cannot be," answered the Emperor calmly, "Lothaire could never do such a thing. He could never invade my land, for he has no army large enough, and he dare not trust his people."

But messenger after messenger now hurried in, heated, breathless, terrified. "Lothaire is here," they assured the Emperor. "He is at the very gates."

"That I will never believe, unless I see it with my own eyes," replied Otto.

So horses were called for. The Emperor mounted and rode out to see for himself this great and hostile army in which he could not believe.

And lo, the thing was true! Otto had not ridden far before he saw a great army of thirty thousand men marching towards him. So close they marched that their spears seemed like a vast moving forest.

Well knew Otto that with his little company it was impossible to resist this oncoming host. The only hope was in flight, if he and his would escape imprisonment and death. So, with tears of anger in his eyes, he turned his horse, and with his wife and the nobles who surrounded him he fled to Cologne, where he arrived in safety.

The Emperor had escaped none too soon. Scarcely was he well beyond the walls of Aachen when the French stormed into the city, into the palace. And the dinner which had been prepared for Otto served as a feast of triumph for Lothaire.

Otto had fled in haste, leaving jewels and great riches behind. Now the soldiers plundered the town at will. The crown jewels, rich robes and ornaments, and all the splendid furnishings of the palace were carried away as booty. The huge iron eagle with outspread wings which Charlemagne had placed of the tower of his palace, and which was turned toward the east, the French now took down and turned toward the west, as a sign that Aachen once more belonged to the Western kingdom.

But Lothaire was cheated of his greatest triumph. The prize had slipped through his fingers. He had hoped to take the Emperor prisoner, and thus gain an easy victory, and a treaty of peace which would give him Lorraine.

But now that Otto had escaped him Lothaire dared do nothing more, and having sacked the town of Aachen he turned homeward. Meanwhile, however, Otto had not been idle. He was filled with wrath and desire of vengeance. In all haste he gathered his army, and ere Lothaire reached the borders of his kingdom a herald from the Emperor overtook him.

"Treachery and cunning are abhorred of the Emperor," announced the herald proudly. "Openly he declares war against you, O King. On the 1st of October he will be in France, and hopes for ever to put an end to your lordship." With these proud words ringing in his ears Lothaire continued his way.

The German nobles flocked round their Emperor eager to wipe out the disgrace of flight, till at last an army was gathered such as for many a day had not been seen in Germany. Sixty thousand strong, half of them knights, steel-clad from heel to helmet, the mighty host rolled onward, and, true to his word, on the 1st of October Otto marched into France.

He swept everything before him. His vengeance was so terrible that for many a day the "German terror" was a byword. Right through the land he passed in triumph until he reached the Seine, until he reached Paris.

Upon the hill of Montmartre the army encamped, and the siege began. But Paris was well defended, and although the people suffered tortures of cold and hunger they held out bravely. Otto could not face a long siege, for winter was drawing near, already sickness and death were thinning his ranks. Towards the middle of November, therefore, he resolved to raise the siege and turn homeward. But he meant to show the French that he went as a conqueror, not as one defeated. So, before he set forth, he held a festival of triumph upon Montmartre. He would let his cousin of France hear a Te Deum such as never before had he heard, said Otto insolently.

To Montmartre Otto gathered all the priests and clergy who could be found far and wide. Then he bade them sing aloud with all their hearts a song of triumph. So there rose to heaven such a burst of song that the sound was carried far. And the stricken people in the streets of Paris paused to listen and wonder. What might these sounds mean? they asked with sinking hearts. Had reinforcements reached the enemy? Had their last hour come?

But the sound of singing ceased, there was great commotion in the German camp, and with lightened hearts the French saw them march away.

Lothaire was now so filled with awe and wonder by the might and power of Otto that he longed for nothing better than to make peace with him. So in the following summer the two Kings met together, and peace was made, Lothaire giving up for ever all claim to Lorraine.

Now hardly was Germany at peace than Otto, with his beautiful wife Theophano and his little baby son, set out for Italy. Otto the Great had added all Italy as far as Rome to his Empire. But he had by no means put an end to war and strife there, and now the whole state was in confusion, and many wild and lawless deeds were done.

All Southern Italy was still supposed to be under the rule of the Grecian Emperor, but it was really in the hands of the Arabs.

Otto now determined to free Southern Italy from the power of the Arabs and Greeks, and add it to his Empire. And having brought order into disordered Rome, he marched southwards.

At first Otto was successful, and the Greeks and Arabs fled before him. Then on July 13, 982, a great battle was fought. With tremendous force the German knights dashed upon the white-robed, brown-faced foe. They fought with fury, but they could not withstand the onslaught of the steel-clad Northerners. The Arab leader fell beneath the stroke of a German sword, confusion filled the ranks, and they fled tumultuously. After them stormed the Germans in the joy of victory.

But this joy was short-lived, for as the German soldiers dashed after the fleeing foe a second army of Arabs fell upon them and cut them to pieces. It was a terrible slaughter which now began, and in a short time the victory became a defeat. The German army was almost wiped out, and "the flower of Christendom was trodden under the feet of the heathen."

All the best of the German nobles lay dead upon the field, the Emperor himself barely escaped with his life. In the midst of the noise and clamour of battle a young Jew brought a horse to him urging him to save himself, and, seeing all was hopeless, the Emperor sprang upon it and fled towards the seashore. There, in the distance, he saw a ship, and spurring his horse into the waves he made towards it. But the ship with wide-spread sails sped onward, and took no notice of the Emperor in his need and danger. So Otto was obliged to turn back to the shore, where the young Jew watched anxiously, filled with fear at his master's peril.

The Emperor gazed towards the land, and saw the enemy fast approaching. "Alas!" he cried in agony, "what will now become of me?" Nothing but certain death or a more dreadful imprisonment awaited him on land, he knew, so again he gazed towards the sea. There, to his joy, he beheld a second ship appear. Then a second time he urged his horse into the waves, and this time reached the ship and was drawn on board. It was, however, unfortunately, a Greek ship, so Otto seemed only to have escaped one danger to fall into another. But, happily for him, there was on board a young soldier who knew and loved him.

This young soldier tried to help the Emperor. He told the captain that he knew him, that he was, indeed, a high officer in the Emperor's household, and that if he would take him to Rossano he would be well rewarded.

But the captain was suspicious. He did not believe that this young and splendidly dressed noble was merely an officer of the Emperor's household. "Are you not the Emperor himself?" he asked.

At first Otto would have denied it, but seeing that this was useless he at length answered, "Yes, I am the Emperor. For the punishment of my sins I am come into this plight. I have lost the best of my kingdom, and stung with sorrow and pain I will no more tread the land nor see the friends of the dead. Take me, therefore, to Rossano, where my Queen awaits me with much treasure, and you shall surely be well rewarded for your pains."

These words well pleased the captain, and turning about he made all haste to Rossano, hoping for great rewards.

As soon as they came to land the Emperor sent the young soldier, who was called Zolunta, with a message to the Queen. She received him with joy, for having heard that the army had been utterly defeated, and that the Emperor had disappeared, she already sorrowed for him as dead.

Otto bade Theophano send at once mules laden with gold and treasure to the shore as his ransom. This in all haste she did, sending also the Bishop of Metz with a fine horse for the Emperor.

Accompanied only by two knights, the Bishop came on board the vessel. As he greeted his master tears, both of joy and sorrow blinded his eyes. The Emperor was now eager to land. But the captain's greed was roused. Knowing well the value of his guest, he had no mind to let him go easily. Seeing this, and fearing delay, the Emperor suddenly ran to the side of the vessel and sprang overboard. Even as he did so a Greek soldier laid hold of his robe, but one of the Bishop's men struck him down and the Emperor leaped free. Quickly he swam to the shore, and there waited the coming of the Bishop and his two knights, who, with drawn swords, held back the angry crew until the Emperor was in safety. Then lightly springing upon the horse which stood ready for him, Otto rode towards the town, and soon was safe within its walls, where the sorry remainder of his army speedily gathered to him.

The Emperor had been defeated, but the victory was of little use to the Saracens, for they had lost their leader. Without him they had no more heart to fight. So they turned back to Sicily whence they had come, leaving all the rich booty, all the armour and weapons, upon the battle-field. And for many a long day the south of Italy was left in such peace that the people came to look upon the battle of Colonna as a victory and not as a defeat.

And now Otto too turned sadly homeward, with the shattered remains of his army. But the news of his defeat sped before him far over Europe. In every country around the borders of Germany the news was received with joy. Danes, Poles, Hungarians, and every German enemy seizing their swords rose in a body, ready to shake off the hated yoke of Germany.

But in Germany itself the news was heard with grief. The nobles there, so often ready to rebel, now united to help their Emperor. Soon a great army marched into Italy. At Verona, Otto called all the nobles of Germany together to a Parliament. It was a glittering assembly of bishops, counts, dukes, the great, indeed, from every state in Germany. From Saxony, Franconia, Bavaria, Lorraine, Swabia, and Italy they came to gather round the throne of the Emperor, eager to show their loyalty to him. And seeing this Otto persuaded the nobles to acclaim his little three-year-old son Otto as King. This the nobles promised to do.

Then Otto once more prepared to fight the Saracens, and wipe out the disgrace of his defeat. But it was with heavy hearts that some among the gathered nobles saw him go. One holy abbot, who could see, people said, into the future, seized the Emperor's hand and tried to hold him back. "Go not to Rome," he said, "for if you do, you will never see your fatherland again. There will you find your grave."

But Otto paid little heed to such warnings. His hopes were high, his mind was full of great plans. He went southwards, while the nobles turned northwards across the Alps, taking with them the little baby Prince in order to crown him at Aachen.

But Otto went no farther than Rome. For death met him, and with the arms of his Queen about him he closed his eyes for ever on December 7, 983. He was only twenty-eight, and he had reigned for ten years as sole King and Emperor.

Otto II died in Rome, and in Rome he was buried. Of all the German Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire he is the only one who found a resting-place in the great city whence they took their title.

At Otto's birth his grandmother said of him, "He will far surpass in fame any man of our house, and he will add new lustre to the glory of his forefathers." This prophecy was not fulfilled. He lives in history as one of the most able, but at the same time one of the most unfortunate, of German Emperors.