History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Otto IV

Frederick, the little son of Henry VI, was now a boy of thirteen. The Pope had taken him under his care and crowned him King of Sicily. But no one thought making him King of Germany. So upon Philip's death the rival King Otto was accepted by all as ruler. Once more the land had peace, and Otto journeyed to Rome to receive the imperial crown.

He was crowned at Rome with all the usual ceremony, but almost at once a quarrel with the Pope began. For Otto did not mean to give up any of his rights over Italy, and he determined to reconquer young Frederick's kingdom of Sicily.

At this the Pope was full of wrath, and he excommunicated Otto. He also incited the nobles to depose him, and elect Frederick as Emperor.

But Otto cared not a whit for the Pope and his ban. His conquering armies swept through Italy, carrying all before them. He was already on the shore preparing to sail over to Sicily to give the finishing stroke to the last of the Hohenstaufens; young Frederick was ready flee to Africa, when the news came from Germany that many of the nobles had risen in revolt against Otto. They would no more acknowledge him as King, they said, and they chose Frederick the Hohenstaufen in his stead.

When he heard the news Otto determined to give up the conquest of Sicily, for the meantime. And in all haste he turned back to Germany to put down the rebellion.

Frederick too hastened towards Germany to put himself at the head of the rebel princes. But for him the journey was one of danger and adventure. For Italy was still full of Otto's friends, and Frederick had no army and hardly any money. Now in secret he hurried through an unfriendly city, again he lingered in one that was friendly. From one he slipped away in danger of his life, in another he was joyfully received. The town of Genoa lent him money, which Frederick promised to repay when he became Emperor. And the people of Genoa, knowing well that it was doubtful if they would ever see him or their money more, yet wished him Godspeed.

At length, after many dangers, Frederick reached the Alps, and crossed over into Germany. And there, before the magic of his name, beneath the sunshine of his smile, Otto's power seemed to melt away. More and more the princes forsook the gloomy, selfish Emperor, and flocked to the side of the handsome, pleasure-loving pretender, until, almost without a battle, Frederick became master of the whole of Southern Germany.

Foreign countries too took part in the quarrel. John, King of England, sent his nephew Otto help. And as France and England were deadly enemies, of course Philip of France took the opposite side and helped Frederick.

The Kings of France and England had quarrels of their own to settle. John of England at this time made up his mind to fight for his French possessions. And Otto, who, hated Philip of France, was well pleased to join with John against him. "It is the King of France alone," he said, "who destroys my power. Therefore, before all, Philip Augustus must die."

Otto's hatred of Philip was no new thing. It dated from the days when, as a new-made knight, he had followed in the train of Richard Coeur de Lion. In these days Richard and Philip had been fast friends.

"What think you of our noble cousin Otto?" asked Richard one day.

"Oh! I like him well enough," replied Philip carelessly.

The tone of this reply seemed to Richard so disdainful and scornful that he added quickly, "Ah, but one day Otto will be Roman Emperor."

Philip laughed mockingly. "If he," he cried, "ever becomes Roman Emperor, I will give him Chartres, Orleans, and Paris."

Quickly Richard turned to Otto. "Get up, nephew," he cried; "bow before the King for such great gifts."

Otto rose and bowed, and Philip thought no more of his scornful words. But as soon as Otto became Emperor he sent messengers to Philip reminding him of them, and bidding him fulfil his promise.

At first Philip laughed. He knew nothing of such folly, he said. But at length, the time and the place being recalled to him, he remembered. Then he laughed still more. "Tell your master," he said, "that I did not mean these three towns, but three young hounds who bore their names. If Emperor Otto liketh to have them they are at his service."

Because of this insult Otto had nursed wrath against Philip for many a long day. Now he meant to have his revenge. So, gathering all the men he could, he marched against the French.

The Germans with their English allies so greatly out-numbered the French that some of the French nobles, fearing defeat, begged the King not to fight, but to leave the battle to them.

"That would be most unkingly," replied Philip. "Far be it from me to flee so long as I have strength to fight. Shall I leave my people in the lurch, my people who are ready to die with me and for me? I shall remain to the last on the field, and either fall honourably or win gloriously. Who is most worthy," he added, "to carry the Oriflamme?"

"I know a poor, but brave and warlike knight," replied the Duke of Burgundy. "In order to fight for you he has sold all he had, that he might buy a horse. Give him the standard."

So the knight was called.

"Friend," said Philip, "I give the honour of France into your keeping."

"My lord King," cried he, astonished, "who am I that I should have so great an honour?"

"You are," said Philip, smiling, "a man who dares fear nothing, and who shall be richly rewarded so soon as we are victorious."

"What man can do, that will I do," replied the knight, taking the standard. "Well do I see," he cried, looking up at it, "that this Oriflamme is bloodthirsty. I will quench its thirst in the blood of the foe."

Then, having entered into a chapel near by to pray shortly, Philip mounted upon his war-horse and dashed into the fight.

Long and fiercely the battle raged, and long the victory seemed doubtful. Once the French King lay upon the ground, the sword of death at his throat, but his trusty armour and the swords of his faithful followers saved him. Once and again Otto's horse was slain under him. Then, seeing that the day went ill for him, he fled from the field.

The battle was lost; and in losing the battle of Bouvines Otto lost the last vestige of his power. He rode from the field a fallen Emperor.

The following year Frederick was crowned at Aachen. Otto still fought feebly for his crown, but with ill success. He had few followers left to him, and their rebellions scarcely disturbed the peace of the Empire. At length, in 1218, he died. With him died also the great struggle between Welf and Waiblingen which had torn Germany asunder for so many years.