Youth of the Great Elector - George Upton

Two Princesses

As has already been related, the Electoress widow Anna, mother of the reigning Elector, was invited to act as godmother at the christening of the newborn Prince. She belonged to the Lutheran Confession, and her hatred of the Reformers was so intense that, while she was willing to enter her name as a witness in the church book she could not bring herself to attend the ceremonies in the cathedral. The Electoress made several ineffectual attempts to conciliate her mother-in-law. It may be well imagined that the incident greatly excited the people. The number of Reformers in the two cities, as has been said, was insignificant and nearly every one sided with the widowed Electoress. She was so ardent in her zeal that she even employed the Lutheran minister, Balthazar Meissner, to preach both the last Sundays of her stay in the large hall of the castle. She also invited many prominent citizens of both the cities to attend the service. As the people were leaving the castle on the last Sunday they met the Electoress coming out of the cathedral. She imagined that they did not greet her with their usual deference and even fancied that many of them showed signs of marked disrespect.

On the following Monday the Electoress summoned the wife of a halberdier who had attended the castle service on the preceding day. The woman was much alarmed, fearing that the Electoress was going to rebuke her; but the latter reassured her. "As to this matter," she said, "neither my husband nor I have any desire to prevent you from doing what your conscience approves, but I claim, and Sigismund also, that we shall have the same right and that we shall pray to our common Heavenly Father in the Reformed Church without being condemned for it." Then she questioned the woman about Balthazar Meissner's sermon, what he had said and whether he had bitterly attacked the Reformers. "Is it true," she inquired, "that he assailed my brother and the Bohemians?"

After some hesitation the woman replied: "Yes! He invoked the wrath of Heaven upon the Bohemians and also upon their new King. He also implored divine help for the Catholics in their contest with the detested Reformers."

"Go on! Tell me all, conceal nothing."

After some cross-questioning, the Electoress ascertained that Balthazar Meissner had stigmatized the Reformers as children of the devil and worse even than the Catholics, some of whom might expect the divine mercy. Furthermore he had said that whenever a country fell into the hands of a ruler who was one of these heretical Reformers, the devil erected an altar upon which the salvation of his subjects was sacrificed.

After the Electoress had dismissed the woman, she reflected for some time upon the course she should pursue. At last she decided to remonstrate with her mother-in-law so that such dangerous proceedings should not be repeated. She went at once to her apartments, sent in her name by a maid in waiting, and was admitted. Though both were under the same roof, the two ladies had not seen one another for several weeks. The manner of their meeting showed their alienation. The Electoress bowed low; her face was pale, and its expression that of one who was very ill. The Princess Anna stood erect and motionless some seconds and regarded her with piercing glances from her black eyes. Her gray locks shadowed a flushed face, the features of which revealed a crafty nature. Politely acknowledging her deference, she motioned the Electoress to be seated and then asked in a cutting tone: "What is it that has brought you to your mother-in-law? Surely something very extraordinary must have happened."

The reply came in a clear, firm voice. "Yes, something very extraordinary has happened. I, the Princess of the country, have been insulted under my own roof, by a priest—I and my husband and the government. And who has brought this shame upon us? My own mother-in-law, the mother of my dear husband! She protected this priest, she summoned him here, she invited citizens here to listen to insults of myself and assaults upon my religion, and to expose me to their hatred and derision. O my God! whenever before has a Princess been so treated?" She burst into tears.

With the utmost coolness the other replied: "Nathan also went to the house of the King, and his words were a two-edged sword. He came to save David from destruction, and, lo, he succeeded; for David repented. The pious Balthazar came to this house and denounced the apostasy of those who are floundering about in the morasses of the heretical Reformed religion. Oh, that his words were a trumpet blast to rouse you from your sinful slumber and that you, like David, might repent and acknowledge your error."

The Electoress in the meantime had regained composure. "I have not come here," said she, "to engage in useless dispute with you about the doctrines of the Lutheran and Reformed faiths, but I may remind you that if you assail us so shamefully you cannot blame the Catholics for assailing you. You call us apostates and you condemn the Catholics for their persecution of you, and yet in your heart you deny us in like manner the freedom of conscience!"

"Well! when we see hearts in the power of Satan, should we not cry aloud?"

"How can you be so bitterly unjust?" replied the Electoress. "Should you not hesitate before you insult a religion in which not only I but my husband, your son, believe—a religion indeed in which a man believed who for a long time was the nearest one to you on earth?"

The other sprang from her seat and paced the room to and fro with eyes blazing with excitement. "My Sigismund!" she exclaimed at last with clasped hands and upturned eyes. "My Sigismund, that you also should have apostatized from the true faith! Was it the longing for those possessions on the frontier of Holland which you hoped to secure by your renunciation of your religion, that blinded you? Or, had the Evil One—"

"Horrible!" said the Electoress. "You spare neither the dead nor the living, neither friends nor kinsmen. How dare you assert that your husband went over to the Reformed Church for the sake of those possessions? I am as sure that was not the case, as I am that you are standing here."

"Sure," said the Electoress Anna, "sure! tell me what grounds you have for your certainty."

"They are simple and, I think, convincing. Every one says that when your husband made the change, he intended if possible to acquire those possessions, but was conscious at the same time that he would lose Lutheran Brandenburg. On the one hand, a little gain; on the other, an immense loss. Had he been influenced by material considerations, do you suppose, does any one suppose, that he would not have decided to remain with the Lutherans and secure a great gain, rather than go over to the Reformers and incur a great loss? His action is conclusive proof that his renunciation was a matter of conscience, and conscience alone."

"You may be right," exclaimed the Electoress Anna, with a sigh. "My husband has told me this and also my son, and yet, and yet—" After a pause she continued: "But grant it were so! Is the power of the Evil One so great that it can thus deceive the conscience?"

"We think otherwise," replied the Electoress. "We hope, if we strive to live rightfully and in accordance with our faith, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but we do not believe that its doors of mercy are closed against others. We tolerate other beliefs. We do not charge them with being heterodox."

The princely widow came close to the Electoress, looked at her fixedly, and said: "I will tell you just how you stand. You Reformers have a very small following in the country, therefore you are tolerant. Should your numbers increase, then—"

"Then, do you mean we will be as intolerant as the Lutherans? Never!"

The conversation had taken a turn which did not please the widowed Electoress. She could no longer talk reasonably or dispassionately. She turned suddenly and asked the following questions: "What was your real purpose in calling upon me? Tell me truly. Had you not rather I would leave the castle, the city, and the country? Place your hand upon your heart and tell me no untruth."

The Electoress replied: "God is my witness that I shall speak the truth. I take your hand, beloved Princess Mother, and implore you and yours to live in peace with us under this roof, to refrain from assailing the faith of others, and to prove the excellence of your belief by your conduct. Dear mother, let us set the country an example of the peace which we find in our common love of the Saviour."

"No! No! the serpent of Paradise is hidden in your words. No! a long-cherished thought impels me to instant decision. A few days hence I shall go from here, far from this wretched country to a land where genuine Lutherans may be found. Say no more. I wish to be alone."

A silent adieu and the Electoress left the apartment.