Hansa Towns - Helen Zimmern

Period II: Lubeck Receives an Imperial Visitor.


The great war ended, the Hansa, in true merchant spirit, instantly busied itself making up its accounts. The poundage toll, instituted to cover martial expenses, was at once abolished; credit and debit carefully balanced. Examination of its books showed that, notwithstanding the long duration of the war, the Hansa had been as little a pecuniary, as it had been a military, loser, in its struggle against Waldemar's assumptions.

While thus engaged, Lubeck was startled by the intelligence that the Emperor, Charles IV., intended to honour "his beloved free Imperial City of Lubeck" by a personal visit. Since Frederick Barbarossa no emperor had ever passed the city gates, and the town councillors were probably not far wrong when they perceived in this proposal a tacit imperial acknowledgment of the Hansa's great military victories, victories in which Lubeck had played the part of leader. For twenty-eight years Charles had worn the imperial crown, and all that time his chief efforts had been directed towards extending the power of his family, and the home influence of the emperors. He was a shrewd and wily old man, who saw the dangers Italy presented to the empire, and wished to avoid them. At first, however, he had no proper comprehension of the great power that had sprung up within his own domains in the shape of the Hanseatic League, nay, indeed, he had sided against his subjects and with Waldemar. But now the scales fell from his eyes, and he appreciated, as all Europe did, the greatness and the strength of the Hansa.

Of course he did not admit this in words, yet there is little doubt that he wished to gain the goodwill of this League, and hoped thus to get from it both pecuniary and military support for his dynastic plans.

It was, however, "diamond cut diamond;" the worthy councillors of Lubeck were no less shrewd and wily than their imperial master. Needless to say that, in accordance with the usage of the age, they indulged in the most servile and hyperbolical expressions of their joy and unworthiness to be so honoured, but like true merchants they had a good memory, and knew that Charles had not so long ago pawned his coronation cloak and some of his tolls to one of their federation, and they suspected in their heart of hearts that ulterior motives were probably not absent to account for this unwonted event. Still, with the wisdom of the serpent, they let nothing of this appear, either in their replies to Charles, or in their treatment of him. Like their Lombard predecessors, even when in open warfare against the emperor's authority, they ever protested in words their submission and fidelity to the imperial crown.

It was in the autumn of 1375 that Charles the Fourth entered the gates of Lubeck as the city's guest. It is a curious fact that his visit coincided with the death of Waldemar on the island of Zealand; but in those days of slow communication the news did not reach the emperor till after the festivities were over.

On October 22nd, the Emperor, accompanied by the Empress, the Archbishop of Cologne, prince-bishops, dukes, earls, and suzerains many and mighty, halted before the closed gates of Lubeck. His suite, his armed retainers, and those of his party, made such a numerous host that Lubeck hesitated awhile ere opening its gates to so great a multitude, not feeling wholly sure whether their mission were indeed one of peace, or whether an affectation of peace was meant to cover a deceitful attack. For such things were not uncommon in those days.

After some preliminaries it was however decided to let them all in. A halt had been made outside the walls. Here was situated the Chapel of St. Gertrude, patron saint of strangers. The chapel was the property of the municipal council, and to obtain relics for it the town had spent many sums of money. Among other matters, they boasted of possessing some bones of Thomas a Becket, and it is curious to note that they sent over to England to buy these at the very time Chaucer was superintendent of tolls in the harbour of London, and was writing his immortal "Canterbury Tales," in which he derides the frauds constantly practised upon the purchasers of such wares; as in his "Pardonere's Tale." Now Charles IV. had a great fancy for objects of this nature; he was in the habit of making tours in his kingdom in order to collect them, begging them from churches or monasteries, and giving in return privileges and sanctions. It is possible he also had an eye to St. Thomas's bones, but among the rich booty he took with him from Lubeck, we find no mention of such relics.

[Illustration] from The Hansa Towns by Helen Zimmern


It was before St. Gertrude's Chapel, then, that Charles and his great suite halted, and here he and his empress put on their imperial robes previous to entering the city. This done, they were greeted by a procession that came forth from the gates to welcome them. It consisted of the temporal and spiritual lords of the town, the leading men, and the most lovely and notable of its women. They carried before them a crucifix and a casket containing relics. Both the emperor and his consort kissed these with great fervour. Then two stately horses, richly caparisoned, were brought before them, upon which they mounted. That of the emperor was led by two burgomasters, that of the empress by two town councillors. Eight young patricians carried a baldachino of rich stuffs over the heads of the imperial pair. In front of the emperor rode a councillor, bearing aloft on a pole the keys of the city; while he was flanked by two imperial dukes, carrying respectively the sword and the sceptre of the empire. In front of the empress rode the archbishop, bearing the imperial globe. Behind followed all the nobles, the suite, the men-at-arms.

Such was the procession that moved from St. Gertrude's Chapel on the morning of October 22nd. In the space between the outer and inner walls of the city the women of Lubeck awaited them ready to greet the guests with cheers and song and waving kerchiefs. It was through the stately Burg Thor that the great train passed and entered the streets of the city, gaily decked out with arras and banners and verdure to bid them welcome. They rode the whole length of the town, through the Breite Strasse, to the sound of fife and drum, and then made for the cathedral. Here they halted, dismounted, and entered. A solemn thanksgiving service was held, and the choir sang the Introitus for the feast of the Epiphany: "Ecce advenit Dominator Dominus" ("Behold the Lord, the Ruler is come"), and then the second verse of the Seventy-second Psalm, "Give the king Thy judgments, O God." After this the party once more re-formed, and rode along the Konigstrasse, till they came to the house that was to harbour the imperial guests.

Contemporary chroniclers tell us that all along the route of the procession and both by night and day the sounds of military and sacred music never ceased. Night was as light as day, thanks to the general illumination prescribed by the council; a prescription that, in a city thus overcrowded by a martial train and by curious spectators from far and near, was as much a matter of safety as of compliment to its guests. In those times street-lighting was an unknown luxury, and nocturnal brawls of constant occurrence.

The house where Charles halted exists to this day, as also that where the empress lodged. They are both corner-houses and boast gables, which according to contemporary writers was an indication of an aristocratic building. The lodging of the empress was opposite to that of the emperor, and a covered way was built across the street to connect them. Such road-bridges, springing from the projecting gable windows, were not unusual things in the harrow streets of those times. The condition of the unpaved roads made them requisite, as these could not be crossed on foot with safety or cleanliness.

For the space of eleven days Charles and his train halted at Lubeck, and the town spared neither cost nor trouble to entertain him right royally, and to impress him with its wealth and importance. Feasts, tournaments, rejoicings, followed upon one another; time was not allowed to hang heavy upon the emperor's hands. But neither was he allowed to carry out his ulterior objects. With great politeness and fulsome flattery Charles was made to understand that the Hansa was sure of its own strength, and since he had not helped it in the hour of need, it did not propose to make great sacrifices to assist him in his troubles. All however was done with perfect courtesy, Charles even being permitted on one occasion to be present at a meeting of the municipal council when both sides exchanged pretty compliments. He even went so far as to address them as "Lords." With great modesty they disclaimed this appellation. But the emperor insisted on it: "You are lords," he said; "the oldest imperial registers know that Lubeck is one of the five towns that have had accorded to them in the imperial council the ducal rank, that they may take part in the emperor's council and be present where is the emperor."

These five cities were Rome, Venice, Pisa, Florence, and Lubeck.

When Charles left Lubeck he was delighted with the hospitality he had there received, but disappointed in his political aims. It is certain, however, that he rode out richer than he rode in; to this the account books of the city bear testimony, of this the taxpayers told a tale for many a long day. Indeed the expenses incurred through this imperial visitor were to lead later on to some serious riots of the guilds against the municipality.

It was through the Muhlen Thor that Charles departed with his train and by order of the town council this gate was walled up for ever behind him. It was meant as a piece of subtle flattery to the emperor, a suggestion that no mortal was worthy to step where he had stepped, but it is not out of keeping with the astute sense of humour that distinguished these commercial princes, that the act also covered a secret satisfaction in having outwitted their imperial guest and in being once more the victors in an encounter with royalty. Certain it is that Charles' visit proves that the Hanseatic League had reached the apex of power, and that the city of Lubeck was regarded in Europe as the head of this organization. Charles' visit was one of the proudest moments in her story, and the memory survives in local chronicles.

It also survives in an old picture preserved until quite recently in the house where he lodged, and now removed to the rooms of the Municipal Antiquarian Society. In this canvas we see the Emperor Charles IV., seated on a large throne-like chair. On either side of him is a leaded window. A carpet lies before his feet bordered with black, red, and gold cords. The emperor is clothed partly in imperial, partly in episcopal robes: a not uncommon mode of representation in those days. He wears his hair long, has a long moustache, and his full beard is parted in the middle, showing the costly clasp that closes his mantle. His head is surrounded by a golden jewelled crown, in his right hand he holds a long sword, in his left the imperial globe. The subscription runs: "Anno Dni. 1376 ipse Sevori Dn. Carolus quartus imperator invictissimus decem diebus hac in domo hospitatus est."