Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

An Unquiet Night

The sixteenth of February, 1620, was an important day for Prussia, for between three and four o'clock on the afternoon of that day, a son was born to the Electoress, Frederick William, the future "Great Elector." It is remarkable that the heir who fought so many battles should have been disturbed even in his cradle by warlike tumult. Upon the evening of the twentieth of May the nurse and chambermaid were together in the Prince's apartment which the Electoress had left to get some rest. The child was sleeping quietly in his handsomely decorated cradle. The two watched him a little while with pleasure, then seated themselves at a table upon which a wax light burned behind a screen, and began to spin. When they were fairly at work, the nurse said: "Our Princess little recks of the evil doings which are endangering our peace."

"The Princess was anxious enough," replied the chambermaid, "when she saw the people collecting in crowds in the streets, but the castellan has reassured her."

"What were the people excited about?"

"They were alarmed because two thousand Englishmen, sent by King James, arrived yesterday at Potsdam."

"Will they enter Berlin?"

"God forbid! They are going in a few days still farther, to Bohemia. They are auxiliaries sent to the Elector of the Palatinate who has been crowned at Prague. But our people were apprehensive that they had come here because of the uprising six years ago. They have a guilty conscience."

"Uprising? here in Berlin?"

"Nurse, how little you know about things. I will explain. The blessed Elector about that time went over from the Lutheran to the Reformed Church. The people of Coln and Berlin were greatly incensed. They are nearly all Lutherans, and there was a great uproar. The governor, Margrave Johann George, had to clear the streets to silence the tumult, and was severely injured by a stone thrown at him. The crowd then attacked and demolished the house of Fussell, the Reformed preacher."

Extreme surprise was visible upon the nurse's countenance. "Have such things happened here?" said she.

"Yes. They have happened here," replied the maid; "and worse yet, they happened without investigation or punishment. The Lutherans are in the ascendant and they are making the lives of Reformers wretched to-day in the city and country. Perhaps now you understand what I meant when I said 'the people have a guilty conscience.'"

"Yes; now I understand. The people are afraid that these two thousand Englishmen are going to occupy the city."

"Yes, and would that it were true. It would serve the people right. They would quickly settle matters. But I know it will not happen. Our Elector is much too gentle to adopt harsh measures."

Hardly were these words uttered, when they heard a great noise in the vicinity of St. George's, now King street.

"What is that!" exclaimed the frightened nurse, rushing to the door.

The maid stopped her, saying, "You must not go there. Open the window in the room on the river side and look out. But no, you had better not. It will cool off the room and may make the child ill. No; you stay here and I will look myself."

Thereupon she went to the room, closing the door behind her, opened the tall shutters, and looked out. A great crowd of people was crossing. the long bridge, led by several torch-bearers and drummers. When she returned the nurse asked her what was going on.

"You need have no fear," she replied, though the expression on her face showed that she was alarmed herself. It is just as I told you. It is only the panic which the English have caused among the people."

But if they should really come, and the people should resist them, and there should be cutting and stabbing and bullets were flying, we might be hurt ourselves."

The maid sought to calm the nurse although the increasing din around the castle and in the neighboring streets made her own alarm more and more perceptible. To allay their fears, they talked about' casual things. One said to the other: "Our young master in the cradle is three months old and has not yet been christened. Alas! how times have changed since the christening of the Margrave Sigismund in the nineties! That was a festival indeed! I remember it as distinctly as if it were but yesterday."

"Oh! tell me something about it."

"Since you desire it, nurse, I will. Now pay attention. There were so many princes, counts, and nobles assembled that the castle could not accommodate them all. The people of both cities took part in it. It was December and the snow-covered houses were decorated with fir and pine branches, which gave them a welcoming appearance. In front of the castle were five arches similarly decorated with wreaths and pictures. On one arch hung a ring and over it a crown. It also was surmounted by a figure of Fortune, poised upon a sphere, holding a red banner upon which was inscribed in gold letters the word 'Victory.' On the third day there were fireworks. Have you ever seen them? No? How well I remember them! But how could you ever know of such things in Ukermark? They were displayed on the evenings of the festival. About eight o'clock an attendant entered and said: 'Just now the Elector called from the balcony, "Master Hans, when I give the signal, by word or whistle, set them off!"' We put kerchiefs on our heads and went to the open windows. We had not to wait long when a cannon sounded. Then we saw fiery devices of every kind, serpentine balls, set pieces, bombs, showers of stars, and many hundred rockets, until at last it seemed as if all the stars in the sky were dancing around us. When they were all discharged, fifteen mortars thundered. The ground shook; several hundred panes were broken in the castle, the cathedral, and other buildings near by. So much snow fell from the castle roof that the kettledrummers and trumpeters, stationed on an upper balcony, had to stop playing for a long time. You would have imagined that great alarm might have ensued, but it all went off well and not a person was injured. Oh, but it was not much like the times nowadays. Where can we get the money for such a celebration now?"

The nurse suddenly sprang from her seat. A shot was heard. "Oh dear!" cried she. "The English are entering the city, and it means fighting."

The maid assumed an air of confidence but wished in her heart that the night were well over. The cathedral bell struck one. After a little she rose from her seat and paced the room to and fro. As she was thus engaged she noticed a book, bound in red morocco, lying upon a table near the door. As she picked it up, she saw the nurse looking at it curiously, and said to her: "Why, nurse, is this your book? Can you read?"

"I wish I could," answered the nurse. "Surely our gracious Electoress must have forgotten the book when she came in to see and kiss her little son before he went to sleep. Yes, now I remember, she had such a book in her hand."

"Let us take a look at it," said the maid, seating herself at a table and opening the volume. "It was printed last year," she said. "It reads, at Frankfort-on-the-Oder, by Michael Kochen, 1619'" After she had examined the title-page, which was ornamented with red and black lettering, she lightly turned over some of its leaves. The nurse looked at her like a hungry person gazing upon another at a bountiful repast. At last the maid noticed her eager look and said: "Shall I read you some of it?"

"I should be delighted to have you do so!"

"You must first know that a regular Franco-phobist wrote this book."

"Are there such people as Francopho—"

The maid was only restrained from a peal of laughter by fear of waking the child. "Ah! You are still way back in Ukermark," she said. "Franco-phobists is the name of persons who cannot abide anything that is French." She turned the leaves once more and then said: "Listen to what he has written." She read a long tirade against the French and their influence upon German life, habits, literature, music, and attire. "What does this man know of our attire?" said she.

The nurse meanwhile sat staring at the maid's head-dress. The latter was irritated and said: "What are you looking at, you marigold of Ukermark, with your taffeta head ribbon? You would gladly dress like me if there were no regular style of dress prescribed for you."

They would have resumed their casual talk had not the tumult increased around the castle and in the streets near by. The maid immediately betook herself to the dark room and looked out of the window. Armed men were rushing about excitedly. She saw military officers and heard wild cries and curses, shouts and laughter. Now and then a shot was fired.

The maid returned and said: "The little Prince will be scared to death by this noise." She had hardly spoken when firing was resumed near the castle. The child started up and opened his eyes, but immediately closed them again. Ah!" said the nurse in a low tone, "see how he doubles up his little fist and how impatiently he moves about. Just wait, you people, wait till he is grown up."

"Yes," said a voice, "God grant he may live to grow up a bold, brave man."

They turned in surprise and saw the Princess in the room.

The tumult lasted all night, sometimes dying away, again breaking out. About midnight there was an excited gathering in front of the house of Minister Schwarzenberg. The Count at last met the people and assured them that their fears about the English' were groundless. He said he had further taken the precaution to send out patrols to confirm the truth of his statements and they had nowhere encountered the dreaded English. In the morning good news came from all sides, whereupon the people quietly returned to their homes.

It was not until the thirtieth of July that the christening of the Prince took place, for up to that time they had not succeeded in raising the necessary money. They had also vainly awaited the return of the Elector. Affairs in Prussia were in such confusion that he could not think of leaving for a long time. The witnesses of the christening were the young Prince's grandmother, Electoress Anna (widow of Elector Johann Sigismund), Princess Marie Eleonore, subsequently Queen of Sweden, Katherine, who later married the Transylvanian, Prince Betler Gabor, both sisters of the Elector George William, and lastly, the Brandenburg nobility and representatives of cities on both sides of the Oder, who were invited but could bring no other christening gift than the loyalty they owed to the future master of their country.