Billeder på siden
[ocr errors][merged small]

WITZERLAND, at the beginning of

the fourteenth century, consisted of several small provinces or cantons, some of them hereditary possessions of the House of Hapsburg,

others dependencies of the empire. Among the latter were the three Forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, which Albert wished to annex to the dukedom of Austria. His attempts, however, were vehemently resisted by the sturdy Swiss, who were at length driven to open rebellion by a series of insults offered to them by Gessler, the Austrian bailiff of Uri. On St. James's Day, 1307, the inhabitants of Altorf discerned a hat conspicuously displayed on a lofty pole, in the market-place of the town, while a herald proclaimed that all people of the canton should pay the hat the same honor, respect, and reverence, as they would pay to the emperor's majesty, being personally present, under pain of forfeiting goods and gear, and of punishment in life and limb.

Gessler, having appropriated the newly-built house of one Werner Stauffbach, this wronged individual sought counsel of Walter Fürst, and Arnold of Melchthal, who with him made a solemn compact to drive the Austrians from the land. Their place of meeting was in a meadow by the beautiful lake of Lucerne.

There was an honest courageous peasant in Uri, who was also a party to the convention. William Tell by name, proceeded to Altorf, and several times passed before the hat without making the required obeisance. This was soon reported to Gessler, who commanded Tell, as he was celebrated for his skill in shooting with the cross-bow, to shoot an apple from the head of his own son, who

was 'placed at a considerable distance. The Swiss declared that he would rather die. “Die then, thou shalt," exclaimed the tyrant, "both thou and thy child, if thou refusest to obey me." Tell, seeing that there was no way of escape, prepared his bow: the child, who was only six years of age, himself held the apple on his head; the bolt whizzed through the air and split the apple without injuring the boy. Shouts of applause burst from the crowd at this display of skill, and even Gessler himself praised Tell's dexterity. “But tell me,” he added, "why thou hast yet another bolt in thy belt?” Tell would have excused himself by saying that it was the ordinary custom of archers; but Gessler, seeing him confused, pressed him to disclose the real reason, promising that, whatever he might say, his life should be safe. “Well then," replied William Tell, “I will speak the truth-If I had slain my son, the second arrow should have pierced thy heart.” “I promised thee thy life," replied Gessler, “but since thou art thus evil disposed towards me, I will send thee to a place where thou shalt never see sun or moon more.” He then commanded Tell to be bound and thrown into a boat, which was to convey him to the castle of Küssnacht, Gessler himself accompanying his prisoner. As the boat proceeded on her course, one of those tremendous squalls, to which the Swiss lakes are liable, suddenly arose and rendered the little vessel unmanageable.

At this crisis one of the attendants, remembering that Tell was an experienced boatman, implored Gessler to give him the helm. This request being granted, Tell seized the tiller and steered the boat in safety towards the shore, but as it neared a flat

This man,

rock (which now bears the name of "Tell's Flat"), the prisoner suddenly snatched his cross-bow, and leaping ashore pushed back the boat with his foot, leaving Gessler and his attendants to extricate themselves from the danger as best they might. He himself ran to the high road which leads from Art to Küssnacht, and concealed himself in a hollow among the trees. Gessler, having landed with difficulty at Brunnen, proceeded in search of Tell, who, watching his opportunity, took a steady aim at the tyrant from his place of concealment and sent an arrow through his heart. On receiving intelligence of their oppressor's death, the Swiss immediately resolved to make themselves masters of the strong fortresses of Sarnen and Rotzberg.

Among the confederates was a young man who had long been on terms of intimacy with a female servant in the castle of Rotzberg. At midnight a rope was lowered from this maiden's window for the purpose of admitting her lover; but great was her surprise when not one, but twenty Swiss, sprang in

to her chamber; and with little noise and no bloodshed, made themselves masters of the castle.

On the following morning, January 1st, 1308, twenty Swiss, each with a dagger concealed in his bosom, entered the castle of Sarnen under pretence of offering a new year's present to the governor; but no sooner were they all within, thay they displayed their weapons, and opening the gates admitted thirty of their companions who had lain concealed in an alder grove in the neighborhood. The garrison offered no resistance, but quietly abandoned the place. As soon as these exploits were known, the men of Uri levelled to the ground the newly-built fortress of Zwing-Uri, and drɔve the whole of the Austrian force across the frontier. On the 6th of January the Swiss confederacy was solemnly formed at Brunnen, the members pledging themselves to defend the liberties of their country, as far as this could be done consistently with their duty to the emperor. This confederacy, with certain modifications, has lasted for more than five hundred years.

[ocr errors]

IN the death of Albert of Austria,

Henry VII. ascended the throne, who took Charlemagne, Barbarossa, and Frederick II., for his models. The Italians being weary of French

domination, Henry resolved upon freeing them. But before the expedition into Italy could be taken, affairs nearer home required his immediate attention. Bohemia, where Henry of Carinthia had been elected king in defiance of the late emperor Albert, was re-annexed to the German crown by the marriage of Henry VII.'s son John, a youth of fourteen, to Elizabeth, second sister of the last native Bohemian sovereign, the people zealously uniting to expel the usurper and his Carinthians from their country. The Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden were declared to be independent of Austria, as they had always been before the ill-advised attempt of Albert to annex them to his hereditary dominions. In the year 1310 Henry crossed the Alps. The Ghibellines of Italy crowded to his standard, and amongst them Dante, the great Florentine. poet, who has celebrated Henry in his immortal verses. But in spite of their remonstrances, Henry lingered too long in northern Italy. Having made himself master of the principal Lombard cities, he went into winter quarters at Genoa in 1311, where the empress Margaret died. Here, or as seems more probable at Pavia, an Augustine monk entered whilst he was at table, and throwing himself at the king's feet, prayed for mercy: this monk was Prince John, the assassin of the emperor Albert. Henry drove the murderer indignantly from his presence.

Meanwhile Robert, king of Naples, taking advantage of

his enemy's tardiness, had sent a considerable force to Rome. On receiving intelligence of this movement, Henry marched southwards at the head of only 2,000 men, and attempted to carry the capitol by assault, but was repulsed with terrible slaughter. To one of his knights who bemoaned this disaster he angrily replied, “Go home to thy mother, coward !” and endeavored to repair the calamity by making himself master of St. Peter's church; but here too he was unsuccessful, and was obliged to celebrate the ceremony of his coronation in the church of St. John Lateran, which was surrounded by his enemies, some of whose arrows fell on the high altar before which the emperor knelt. Nothing now remained for him but to abandon Rome; yet so little was Henry discouraged by these disasters that he made preparations in Sicily, Genoa, and Germany, for renewing the war on all sides. At the same time he became a suitor for the hand of Catherine of Hapsburg, daughter of the late emperor, and sent his son, John of Bohemia, to bring the bride and a large army into Italy. But in the midst of all these anticipations his course was prematurely cut short by poison, which a monk administered to him in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. As soon as this treachery was discovered, he exclaimed, “In the cup of life thou hast offered me death; but fly, save thyself before my followers arrest thee." It is said that he might have been saved if he would have consented to employ the usual remedies, but his piety revolted from disgorging the sacred elements, and he died at Buonconvento on the 24th of August, 1313. His destined bride arrived at Pisa just in time to receive his corpse; she was afterwards compelled to marry John, son of the

king of Naples, and died in a few years of a broken German emperor was the highest power on earth, heart.

and dependent for his election on none but the After Henry's death, the empire was again dis- princes of Germany." In Frankfort and other tracted by the Guelphic and Ghibelline factions; the places, all the clergy who refused to acknowledge latter party choosing Louis of Bavaria, the former Louis were deprived of their cures. Even the MiFrederick the Fair, duke of Austria. At the battle norite monks, whose cause he had abandoned, forof Muhldorf, near Salzburg, 1322, the contest for the got the recent treachery of their emperor, and crown was decided in favor of Louis by a force com- wrote and preached for him as they had done at manded and brought unexpectedly on the field by the beginning of his reign. But Louis now comSiegfried Schwepperman, a citizen of Nuremberg. mitted an act which lowered him irretrievably in Louis acknowledged that he was indebted for vic- public estimation. Edward III. of England was tory to this courageous citizen; and, when a basket engaged in a war with France, and Louis at first of eggs, the only provision that could be procured, embraced his cause, but soon with unaccountable was divided among the officers after the battle, he fickleness deserted the alliance, and attached himpresented two to Schwepperman with these words: self to the French, the enemies of his country and “An egg for each man's share, to worthy Schwep- of freedom, and sent his own son Louis with an perman, a pair.” These words were engraved on army to act against England. His family possesSchwepperman's tomb, and an egg was ever after- sions were soon afterwards increased by the acquiwards borne on the escutcheon of his family. The sition of Holland, which he inherited in right of his bravest of the Austrian nobility fell in this murder- wife, Margaret, sister of the late count William. ous engagement; of one family alone twenty-three He succeeded, also, in obtaining for his son the knights lay dead on the field.

hand of Margaret, surnamed Widemouth (MaulLouis, having refused to appear before the pope tasche), and thus added the Tyrol to his other doat Avignon, the whole empire was placed under an minions. But the only effect of this aggrandizeinterdict. But Louis found friends and supporters ment was to increase the number of his enemies, in the Franciscan friars or Minorites, who warmly who at length prevailed on the electors to set him defended him in their sermons and writings.

aside, and place on the throne Charles, son of the The Franciscan order of Minorites, or, as they king of Bohemia. The poor old emperor soon afwere still more modestly designated in Germany, the terwards died suddenly during a boar hunt, not “Nobody Brethren” (Nulbruder), has produced without suspicion of having been poisoned by his many learned men, such as Bonaventura, Roger rival Charles. Bacon, and Duns Scotus, who distinguished him- Louis was the last emperor who suffered the senself by his defence of the immaculate conception tence of excommunication. The papal bull ran against the Dominicans. His followers were called thus:-“May the Almighty God cast Louis down Scotists-their adversaries Thomists, from their and give him into the hands of his enemies and purleader, Thomas Aquinas. The Franciscans have suers! May he fall into an unforeseen snare! been split into various distinct brotherhoods, among Cursed be his going out and his coming in! May which the most remarkable is that of the Capuchins the Lord smite him with folly and blindness! May founded by Matthew of Bassi in 1528, and profess- heaven blast him with its lightning! May the ing to be what the Franciscans were at the first es- wrath of God, and of the blessed apostles Peter and tablishment of their order.

Paul, burn against him like fire in this world and Louis, in 1327, proceeded into Italy, assumed the next! May the whole earth arm itself against the iron crown at Milan, pronounced the ban of him! May the deep open and swallow him up the empire against the king of Naples, and depos- quick! May his name be clean forgotten, and his ing the pope, placed on the papal throne a Minor- memory perish from among men! May all the eleite monk, Nicholas V., by whom he was crowned at ments oppose him! May his house be left desolate, Rome. Louis, in 1338, summoned a diet at Rhense and all his children be driven from their dwellings, on the Rhine, where the electors pledged them- and slain by his enemies before their father's eyes!" selves to the following resolution: viz., "that the Philip of France and the pope had given Ger

many a new emperor, Charles IV., 1346-1378, whom they intended to use as the instrument of their will. At the battle of Crecy, his behavior was far from heroic, for he was among the first who fled, whilst his brave old father, King John of Bohemia, blind as he was, caused his horse to be led by two knights into the thickest of the fray, and fell covered with wounds. His shield came into possession of Edward the Black Prince, and its motto Ich dien” (I serve), has been that of the Prince of Wales ever since. Charles, who had resolved to put an end to the alliance between the papacy and France, crossed the Alps and was crowned at Rome.

In the absence of the pope at Avignon, the Roman people had risen against the nobility and established a republic. Cola di Rienzi, its head, hastened to meet the emperor, in the hope that he would restore the ancient Roman empire; but Charles used the opportunity to seize Rienzi, and deliver him up to the pope. Petrarch, the celebrated poet, entertained the same expectations from Charles as Dante had from Henry VII. for the liberty of his country; but the emperor contented himself with answering the poet's letters with politeness, and only laughed at his enthusiastic patriotism. He made no attempts to re-establish German influence in Italy, but allowed the princes of that country to purchase their independence. Thus, although he quitted Rome, 1355, amidst the contemptuous laughter of the Italians, he was amply consoled by the consciousness that he had made considerable progress towards removing the fears of the pope; and what was, if possible, still more agreeable to him, had filled his own coffers with gold. At length his patient maneuvring was crowned with success. In the year 1367 the Romans were surprised by the return of the pope, Urban V., to his capital: Charles himself attended him, walking by his side in his imperial robes, and leading the mule on which the pontiff rode. Urban, it is true, returned to his native country at the end of a year, but his example so encouraged his successor that he again transferred the papal chair to Rome; and as, after his death, there were two popes, one at Rome and the other at Avignon, the empire had little more to dread from papal encroachments. Charles now issued the famous “golden bull," by which the number of electors was definitively fixed at seven. This instrument,

deriving its name from the knob of gold (bulla aurea) in which its seal is enclosed, was drawn up in a diet at Nuremberg in 1356, and published on Christmasday in the same year. It contains thirty chapters, in which the privileges of the kings of Bohemia are defined, rules laid down for the election and coronation of the emperors, the cities restrained from making any further encroachments on the rights of the nobles, and salutary regulations established for the levying and collection of taxes. Until the dissolution of the empire this bull was always considered the groundwork of the Germanic constitution. The three spiritual electors continued, as before, to be those of Mayence, Cologne, and Trèves. Of the temporal principalities, Bohemia was Charles's hereditary kingdom, Brandenburg was about to fall into his hands, and the remaining two, Saxe Wittenberg and the Palatinate of the Rhine, were comparatively weak. By the golden bull it was provided that each elector should be thenceforth, in his own state, sovereign and independent, and that no appeal should be made from his decisions. By this master-stroke of policy Charles attained two objects: he gave to his own family immense weight—the election of an emperor, and secured his hereditary dominions against future interference. The baths at Carlsbad were discovered by Charles and named after him. The beautiful city of Prague was built entirely under his auspices. He imported Flemish weavers, then the best in the world. He also founded the University of Prague. Charles died in 1378, after, in defiance of his own golden bull, having expended 700,000 florins in corrupting the electors to secure his son's election. Gunpowder was invented in the reign of Charles IV. by Berthold Schwartz, a monk of Freyburg in Breisgau, who was himself blown up by an unexpected explosion. The first powder-mill was erected at Lübeck in 1360, the first cannon cast for the town of Augsburg in 1372, and the first iron balls used by the Hanse towns in 1387.

THE BLACK DEATH. A deadly pestilence, preceded by violent earthquakes, ravaged the empire during the reign of Charles. It seems to have originated in China, and thence to have found its way across Asia into Europe. Like the plague, of which it was an unusually malignant type, it first manifested its presence in the human frame by excessive lassitude, followed

« ForrigeFortsæt »