Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

In the Elector's Castle

All golden flashes the princely crown, symbol of the highest earthly power, yet terrible, often crushing, is its burden. This was the experience of George William, Elector of Brandenburg, who ascended the throne of his father in 1619. The political sky was thick with gathering clouds, which now and then threatened to let loose the Thirty Years' War. Hardly a ray of sunlight shone upon this sovereign during his twenty-one years' reign.

It was the year 1619. All were rejoicing in the Elector's castle at Cologne, and the Electoress was the most joyous of all. Good news had come. The Protestant Bohemians had renounced allegiance to Catholic Ferdinand the Second and chosen the Elector Frederick the Fifth of the Palatinate as their King. Frederick was the brother of the Electoress. She already saw the crown gleaming upon Frederick's head, its rays being reflected upon hers also. She had received a letter from her brother, in which he wrote: "Thankfully and with joyful tears the Bohemians have elected me their King. How can I disappoint them? At first I hesitated. But my high-minded consort said to me: 'Will you refuse the outstretched hand of a King's daughter? Do you fear to mount a throne voluntarily offered you? I would rather eat bread at a King's table than carouse at an Elector's table.' This decided me, and I communicated to the deputation my decision to accept the crown of Bohemia."

The reader is already acquainted with the effect of this news upon the Electoress. Before replying to her brother's letter, however, she decided to consult her two chief advisers. She could not speak with the Elector, as he was absent on a visit to Prussia, whither he had been called by important affairs of State. These two distinguished statesmen, Count Adam Schwarzenberg and Chancellor Pruckmann, were summoned at once to the castle.

Before they arrive, let us glance at the audience chamber where the interview is to take place. The walls are hung with damask tapestries and topped with broad, gilded cornices. The doors and windows are of white and gold, and gilded figures gleam on the ceiling. By the marble fireplace stand an antique vase of green porphyry and the candelabra, shaped like antique incense-burners, of gold bronze. The tables are of gray Silesian marble and rest upon feet of ebony, richly bronzed. The chairs have luxuriously cushioned seats and elegantly upholstered backs and their woodwork is elaborately carved.

The Electoress entered this room about four o'clock, accompanied by her brother-in-law, Margrave Sigismund. She wore a flowered silk dress with Brussels lace at the neck and upon the sleeves, and a diamond ornament flashed upon her breast. Margrave Sigismund, a young man of mild and genial appearance, was Governor of Brandenburg, but only so in name; the real representative of the Elector was the Minister, Count Schwarzenberg. The Electoress seated herself and the Margrave stood by her side, leaning against a marble table. At a signal to the halberdiers, standing by the door, Chancellor Pruckmann, a small, spare, elderly man, entered, bowed deferentially and approached the Electoress. The latter, holding her brother's letter in her hand, acquainted him with what had occurred. As she continued speaking his countenance beamed with satisfaction. At last, he raised his hand, looked up and exclaimed: "Praise God for the victory our Protestant Church has won."

"But can it hold what it has secured without a struggle?" said the Electoress.

"God, who has helped us now, will help us again," he answered.

"Certainly, if those who are attached to our side do all in their power also," replied the Electoress. "But how do matters stand in our country? You know we can do nothing without its approval. My brother asks in this letter whether he can surely depend upon us for money or for troops if necessary. You certainly understand the importance of the question."

The Chancellor looked thoughtful. "It must be acknowledged," he said, "we cannot return an absolutely definite answer. Alas! the unfortunate divisions in our own church! On the one hand, Lutherans! On the other, Reformers! But we may yet accomplish in State affairs much that seems impossible if only we begin aright. Much depends upon him out there [pointing to the ante-chamber]. He enjoys the confidence of our gracious Elector—if he—"

"He is a Catholic," suddenly interposed the Margrave. "You know that well enough. He has betrayed the confidence of my brother."

Pruckmann signified assent.

The Electoress replied: "Dear brother-in-law, perhaps you are going too far. Schwarzenberg has administered the affairs of the country for years with great wisdom."

"Only the more completely to deceive," said the Margrave.

"Again, you are going too far," said the Electoress, "but we will hear what he himself has to say."

Schwarzenberg entered. He was a man of tall, commanding figure. The pallor of his sunken cheeks and high forehead spoke of physical weakness, the fire his large black eyes of abundant mental strength. Upon his dark cloak he wore the insignia of the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John. His sword also indicated that he belonged to the order. It was long and broad, while that worn by the Chancellor was short and narrow.

The Electoress communicated to him the contents of her brother's letter. He listened to her with a gravity which showed he was deeply interested. At last he said: "Bohemia is a volcano which has been emitting fire and flame these two hundred years, thereby causing widespread devastation. One of its eruptions once swept across the frontier of Brandenburg. The gallant Bernese quenched it with their blood."

Thereupon Margrave Sigismund answered: "But who aroused the Bohemians' wrath at that time? Who took from them their noblest man, the pious Huss? While he lived peace prevailed in the land. It was his shameful death and the attacks upon his followers that kindled Bohemian fury."

Schwarzenberg doubtless thought to himself that his death was the outcome of his heresy, but he made no allusion to Huss and his times. He replied: "They are behaving now in Bohemia as they did then. The twenty-third of May of last year, when at Prague they insolently rejected the counsels of the Emperor, was a ruinous day for that country. They have severed not only the ties which bound them to their lawful Prince, but those which bound them to the Mother Church. How can such things happen without producing bitter strife?"

"Other consequences than you expect may happen," replied the Margrave. "You are an able man, Schwarzenberg; and yet it will be difficult even for you to prove that the Bohemians are in the wrong. Was not the right of public service and open confession of faith granted to the Protestants in 1555? Has that agreement been kept? You well know where the fire against Protestantism was kindled and where the sign was given that faith need not be kept with heretics. The madness began in foreign countries, in Spain, in France, in the Netherlands. In the space of thirty years over 900,000 Protestant Christians of every condition and age were persecuted."

"My dear brother-in-law," said the Electoress, "you are certainly going far away from the subject."

"I think not," answered the Margrave. "It is the same condition of things now. Herr Minister, I ask you this. Did not Protestant doctrine spread all over Bohemia under the mild and benignant rule of Maximilian the Second?"

"That it spread under the rule of the Emperor? Yes! That Maximilian was mild and benignant? No! I call him weak and indifferent as to the Catholic religion, otherwise he would not have left his successor so difficult a task."

"Why this discussion?" interrupted the Electoress. "Let us take up the matter in hand."

"Gracious sister-in-law, grant me a few minutes and you will understand how deeply I have this matter at heart," replied the Margrave. He resumed: "Herr Minister, I would recall to you the son of Maximilian the Second, the Emperor Rudolph the Second. In a letter to the Bohemians he promised them the right of free worship. That promise is well known under the name of 'His Majesty's Letter.' Can you deny this?"

"No," replied Schwarzenberg, "but the fact must be taken into account that this letter was extorted from the Emperor by force."

"Then, you mean that it has no value?"

"Not any," replied Schwarzenberg, calmly. Surprise was manifest upon the countenances of the Electoress, the Margrave, and the Chancellor.

"Truly," said the Margrave, "that is a convenient arrangement! Promise anything and whenever the most solemn promises are made then break them. You mean to say that if the promiser is weak, physically or mentally, and force is applied, his promise is of no account. This infernal method was also followed by the Emperor Matthias and the late Emperor Ferdinand. Whom can the Bohemians trust? Tell me, Herr Minister, is it not notorious that the Emperor has declared he will get the Bohemians back into the Catholic faith, if not by kindness, then by force?"

"I have heard so, and I think he is sufficiently strong and determined to carry out his purpose," replied Schwarzenberg.

"Let this discussion be ended," said the Electoress. Herr Minister, what would you advise my brother to do if he were standing here before you and asked, 'Shall I accept the crown of Bohemia?'"

Schwarzenberg replied: "I would implore him to decline it. A terrible struggle confronts your princely brother if he places Bohemia's crown upon his head. He is a mild, peace-loving man and not capable of bringing that struggle to a favorable close. Once it breaks out, it will spread devastation far and wide, the end of which who can foresee?"

The Electoress had heard enough. "I thank you, Schwarzenberg," she said, at the same time giving him permission to retire. But when the door closed, she said: "Now I know where I am. Schwarzenberg has greatly weakened my confidence."

The Margrave and the Chancellor plucked up courage to address the Electoress once more. "Has the Protestant Union then been established for naught? Shall the princes who established it abandon it?"

"God forbid," replied the Electoress; "but look you. There stands opposed to the Protestant Union a union of Catholic princes. Schwarzenberg spoke of a bitter struggle which must ensue if my brother accepts the crown of Bohemia. Schwarzenberg's religious convictions may be opposed to ours but you will not deny that he has very clear eyes."

Yes, clear eyes had Schwarzenberg. He saw in the events occurring in Bohemia the beginning of a mighty struggle. That it would last thirty years neither he nor any other could know, but he had the presentiment that he should not live to see its close.