Swiss Heroes - George Upton

The Emperor's Flight

Festivities of all sorts, tournament, parades, and banquets followed in rapid succession in the city of Treves. Even the festivals of the Church afforded the clergy an opportunity of displaying their wealth and magnificence. The Archbishop, however, was not altogether pleased with what was going on within the walls of his court; for the people talked openly of Charles's coronation, an event as much opposed to the interests of the ecclesiastical Elector of Treves as of all the princes of the German Empire. Either the Elector of Brandenburg or the Elector of Saxony could lay quite as just a claim to a king's crown as could the Burgundian. Moreover, was it not whispered that the Electorate of Treves was to form part of the new kingdom? The Archbishop a vassal of Charles the Bold! Nay, that must be prevented at any cost.

Meanwhile the negotiations between the two potentates made little progress. Week after week went by, and still the Councillors could come to no agreement concerning the Turkish war, as it was given out, but in reality, as to the marriage of Maximilian and the coronation of Charles the Bold, though this was known only to the initiated. At last, however, the end seemed near: the Councillors met to complete the final arrangements; that evening the contracts were to be signed; and the next morning Charles would awake as King, Maximilian as the betrothed of Burgundy's heiress.

The Emperor reclined contentedly in his armchair. He had been repeatedly annoyed by the Duke's arrogance and extravagance of display, but comforted himself with the reflection that all Charles's wealth and possessions would eventually fall to his own son and heir by marriage with the much courted Maria of Burgundy. That here in this old city events were to prove propitious to him had been foretold by the stars. His entry had been made under a fortunate conjunction, and since then there had been no change in the favorable aspect of the planets. Yet he could not permit this night to pass without again consulting the heavens as to the further progress of his affairs. Rising listlessly, therefore, from the writing table upon which he was wont to scribble and had to-day scrawled with especial conviction fully a hundred times the words, "The whole earth is a vassal of Austria," he was about to seek a private conference with the court astrologer, when a light knock was heard at the door, and the venerable Archbishop of Treves entered, evidently in great agitation. Approaching the Emperor, he bowed respectfully and said:

"May a faithful servant crave leave to speak a few words with Your Majesty?"

"We were about to retire," replied Frederick indifferently, "but will not refuse you, if it be on a matter of great import."

"Not otherwise, sire, would I have presumed to intrude myself in the chamber of our most illustrious Emperor," said the Archbishop. Then standing erect before the monarch and assuming a resolute expression, he began:

"For many weeks past, in our good city of Treves, great preparations have been made both in the cathedral and on the market place, and people in the streets talk of a coronation. The Princes and Electors of the Empire have paid no heed to this idle chatter, nor deemed that aught else was in question than another of those splendid pageants of which we feel we have already seen more than enough. But reliable news has just reached us that these rumors are not entirely without foundation, and I have hastened hither to implore Your Majesty in the name of my fellow-princes to put an end to our apprehensions with one word of assurance."

"What if we cannot speak that word?" asked Frederick calmly.

"Then God help the unhappy Empire, and the illustrious house of Austria as well! But I can scarce believe that His Roman Majesty has formed a decision or pledged himself as yet in so weighty an affair as this. To create a King without a council of the chief members of the Empire! That were unheard of. But no! pardon me, Your Majesty, if I have gone too far."

"Nay, go on," replied the Emperor. "What you say is nothing new. All these objections have been laid before us a thousand times by our loyal subject and Privy Councillor, Count Werdenberg."

Thus encouraged, Archbishop John continued: "Were it merely the question of a new kingdom, of what countries would you form it? Powerful princes of the Church forced to submit to Burgundian sovereignty? Lorraine?—I cannot believe you would wrest that from the knightly young Duke Rene. Nay, should Your Imperial Majesty permit such a crime against a minor, 'twould justify the pettiest freebooter's unlawful depredations."

Here Frederick looked away, unable to meet the stern glance of the prelate, who continued: "And in the end, even should Your Majesty succeed, contrary to all precedent, in forming a new kingdom, and making the proud Burgundian your ally, would not all his enemies and backbiters then become the foes of Austria likewise? I beseech Your Majesty to consider: cut off from all the members of the Empire, menaced by foes from without, the Lord of Christendom will be forced to yield to the commands or desires of the King he has created."

"That may all be true," answered Frederick, quite unmoved; "but since you discourse so sagely of these things mayhap you can show us some way out of the tangle; for ourselves, we can find none."

"Nothing easier," returned the Archbishop. "Speak of this to no one: at midnight we will take a boat and depart secretly from Treves. You will thus escape from your dilemma. Duke Charles will not be crowned, the Empire will suffer no wrong, and Your Majesty will be freed from all obligations and once more master of your own actions."

Frederick was speechless with surprise, but after some deliberation he agreed to follow this counsel. An emissary was secretly despatched to the Imperial Councillors, who were still arguing with the Burgundians. To the amazement of the latter, Count Werdenberg suddenly declared negotiations broken off, nor were all their efforts to secure a future resumption of the discussion of any avail. Half an hour later the Burgundian Chancellor stood beside the Duke's bed in the Abbey of St. Maximin and related what had passed, his report being frequently interrupted by outbursts of fury from his lord.

Just at this time a door of the archiepiscopal palace in Treves was softly opened and Archbishop John issued forth followed by young Maximilian and Frederick, with a few attendants. Silently and cautiously they crept away and betook themselves with all speed to the banks of the Moselle, where a boat was waiting for them. Like fugitives the princes silently embarked, and protected by the veil of night that still hung heavy over the old city, the boat glided smoothly down the dark river toward the green waters of the Rhine.

Half an hour after their departure a troop of horsemen approached the spot where the skiff had been moored. They were Burgundian cuirassiers, led by Captain Vogeli, who had been on guard in the Duke's antechamber. "The Devil!" he growled, "could I but have carried the Roman Emperor prisoner to my Duke, I need have yearned no longer to end my days comfortably in the Fatherland."