Wolfgang Menzel.

Germany from the earliest period, volume 1 (Volume 1) online

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and who swore never to make use of dishonorable means
for success, but solely to live and to die for honor, was
formed; an innovation which, although merely military in
its origin, speedily became of political importance, for, by
means of his knightly honor, the little vassal of a minor lord
was no longer viewed as a mere underling, but as a confed-
erate in the great universal chivalric fraternity. There were
also many freemen who sometimes gained their livelihood
by offering their services to different courts, or by robbing


on the highways, and who were too proud to serve on foot ;
Henry offered them free pardon, and formed them into a
body of light cavalry. In the cities, the free citizens, who
were originally intended only to serve as foot soldiery, ap-
pear ere long to have formed themselves into mounted troops,
and to have created a fresh body of infantry out of their ar-
tificers and apprentices. It is certain that every freeman
could pretend to knighthood.

Although the chivalric regulations ascribed to the em-
peror Henr}^, and to his most distinguished vassals, may
not be genuine, they offer nevertheless infallible proofs of
the most ancient spirit of knighthood. Henry ordained that
no one should be created a knight who either by word or by
deed injured the holy church ; the Pfalzgraf Conrad added,
"no one who either by word or by deed injured the holy
German empire"; Hermann of Swabia, "no one who in-
jured a woman or a maiden"; Berthold, the brother of Ar-
nulf of Bavaria, "no one 'who had ever deceived another or
had broken his word"; Conrad of Franconia, "no one who
had ever run away from the field of battle." These appear
to have been, in fact, the first chivalric laws, for they spring
from the spirit of the times, while all the regulations con-
cerning nobility of birth, the number of ancestors, the exclu-
sion of all those who were engaged in trade, etc., are, it is
evident from their very nature, of a much later origin.

CXXXIII. Conquests in the Slavian Northeast — Defeat
of the Hungarians

The systematic reduction of the Slavian north of Ger-
many beneath his rule was one of the great projects of the
emperor; and, when the recollection of the unfortunate
Slavian nations, thinned by bloody defeats, deprived of
their ancient privileges, forcibly converted to Christianity,
and obliged to adopt the German language, strange and
unfamiliar to them, recurs, the barbarity of these measures
would naturally rouse indignation; still, the inquiry whether


they were not induced by necessity or for safety is but just.
The Slavi had long made common cause with the Hunga-
rians, whom they assisted in their predatory excursions
against the Germans, whom they attacked in the rear,
while engaged in defending themselves against their
dreaded foe, and the consequent peril in which the
empire stood, together with the alternative of destroy-
ing or of being destroyed, rendered victory necessary at
whatever price. The whole of the empire, as far as Loth-
ringia and Bremen, was laid waste by the repeated inva-
sions of the lawless Hungarians and their Slavian allies.
The whole of Austria, as far as the Enns, had been severed
from the state by the conquering Hungarians, while the
Slavi attempted to spread themselves northward as far as
the "Weser. Had the emperor spared the Slavi, and neg-
lected to disarm them during his truce with the Hunga-
rians, they would certainly have assisted them in their first
irruption, and might possibly have brought the empire to
the brink of destruction. The subjection of heathen nations
was, moreover, regarded in those times as a meritorious
work, inasmuch as they were, by that means, forced to
embrace Christianity.

The ancient Obotrites maintained themselves in Mecklen-
burg, protected by their forests and lakes, and by their oft-
tried valor, while the disunited Serbian tribes, the Hevelli
on the Havel, the Daleminzii on the Middle Elbe, and the
Redarii on the Priegnitz, whose territory chiefly consisted
of open country, and who, in the moment of danger, were
abandoned by their fellow tribes, could offer but a feeble
resistance. It was, therefore, upon them that Henry first
turned his arms. In 926, he marched against the Hevelli,
seized their capital, Brannibor (Brandenburg), converted
their country into a frontier of the empire, placed it un-
der the jurisdiction of a Saxon Markgraf, colonized it with
Christian Germans, and left no means untried in order to
Germanize the inhabitants.

In the following year, A,D, 927, he entered Bohemia,


and took possession of Prague, where, after the fall of the
Moravian kingdom of the Christian Borziwoi, his son, Spig-
nitew, who had relapsed into paganism, maintained himself
with the aid of the Hungarians, whom he assisted on every
occasion against the Germans. He was succeeded by his
brother Wratislaw, who wedded Drahomira, a pagan Hevel-
lian princess. Drahomira, inspired b}' her hereditary enmity
against the Germans, caused all the Christians, among oth-
ers her mother-in-law, St. Ludmilla, to be assassinated, and
Henry entered the country under pretext of avenging their
martyrdom. Drahomira sought safety in flight. Her son,
Wenzel, afterward sumamed the Hol5% took the oath of al-
legiance to the emperor, and was enabled, by the successes of
the Germans, to make use of peaceable means for the con-
version of his terror-stricken subjects.

The subjection of the Hevelli and of the Bohemians now
placed the Daleminzii at the mercy of the conqueror. Henry
invaded their country, a.d. 928, took Grona, their metropo-
lis, and built the fortress of Meissen on the Elbe. It appears
that the Slavian Parathani (inhabitants of Baireuth), who
are mentioned in the history of St. Emmeram, had, at an
earlier period, been converted by the monks of Ratisbon and
Nuremberg. The fortresses of Saalfeld, Orlamlind, Rudol-
stadt, Leuchtenburg, Lobeda, Dornburg, Naumburg, were
erected on the Saal, now become the line of demarcation
between the Germans and the Slavi. Weimar also received
its name from TVenden Mark, or the Wendian frontier.

The Redarii had driven away their chief, Bernhard, who,
there is no doubt, had embraced Christianity. This brave
warrior was sent by Henry against his countrymen, who,
well aware of the fate that awaited them, made such a des-
perate resistance at Lunkin (Lenzen) that their whole arm}',
with the exception of eight hundred, who were made prison-
ers, fell on the field of battle, a.d. 930. Numbers flung
themselves in despair into a lake. This terrible defeat filled
the neighboring Slavian tribes with consternation.

The truce had now, a.d. 933, expired, and embassadors


were sent from Hungary to demand the payment of the an-
cient tribute. According to the legendary account, Henry
caused a mutilated mangy dog to be thrown before them,
and declared a deadly war with their nation. The Hunga-
rians instantly crossed the frontier in two enormous hordes,
the lesser of which, 50,000 strong, was encountered by the
arrier-ban of Saxonj^ and Thuringia near Sondershausen and
entirely routed. The other and more numerous body ad-
vanced along the Saal in the vicinity of Merseburg against
the emperor, and laid siege to the fortress of a certain Wido,
who, according to Wittekind's account, had married a natu-
ral daughter of the emperor, and possessed immense treas-
ures. Henry, meanwhile, intrenched himself on a moun-
tain, since known as the Keuschberg, or mountain of
chastity, owing to the circumstance of no woman being
permitted to enter the camp of the Christians, who strength-
ened themselves for the coming conflict by devotional exer-
cises. The news of the defeat of their countrj^men at Son-
dershausen soon reached the Hungarians, who instantly
kindled enormous fires along the banks of the river, as
signals of recall to those of their number who were en-
gaged in plundering the country, and the battle commenced
with the coming morn. Henry addressed his troops, who
unanimously swore to die on the field or to annihilate their
foes. The picture of St. Michael, the defender of heaven,
was borne in the van, as the banner of the empire. A mur-
derous struggle commenced, the Hungarians shouting, "Hui!
Hui!" — the Germans, "Kyrieleison!" Victory long wa-
vered, but was at length decided by the discipline and en-
thusiastic valor of the Germans. Thirty thousand Hunga-
rians remained on the field of battle; the remainder fled.
An immense number of Christian slaves were restored to
liberty. After the victory, Henry knelt, at the head of his
troops, on the field, and returned thanks to their patron
saint. The Hungarians appear to have been everywhere
cut down as soon as they were overtaken. Only seven of
their most distinguished chieftains were sent back alive to


their country, deprived of their hands, noses, and ears, with
the injunction for the future to remain peaceably at home.
The terror of the Hungarians now equaled that with which
they had formerly inspired the Germans. In the belief that
the angel Michael, whose gigantic picture they ever beheld
borne in the van of the German army, was the god of vic-
tory, they made golden wings similar to those with which
he was represented for their own idols. Germany remained
undisturbed in this quarter during the rest of this reign. An
annual festival, held in the village of Keuschberg, still cele-
brates the memory of this great victory.'

Henry now turned his victorious arms against the Danes,
who had secretly invaded the empire. He pursued them as
far as the Slie, on whose banks he erected the fortress of
Schleswig, in which he placed a German garrison, and
forced, A.D. 934, Gorm the Old to abolish the horrid na-
tional sacrifice, in which ninety-nine men were offered on
the altars of the pagan deities.

The following year, a.d. 935, a friendly meeting took
place between him and the kings of France and Burgundy
on the Char, a tributaiy of the Maas. Henry afterward
planned a visit to Rome, but died without accomplishing
that project, A.D. 936, when at the height of his splendor
and renown. He was buried at Quedlinburg, his favorite

CXXXIV. Otto the First

Otto, the son of Henry, was unanimously elected as
successor to the throne. The feeling of respect which the
newly-acquired greatness of the state instilled into the minds
of his subjects, conspired with his own love of magnificence
and display to render the coronation of this youthful prince
a scene of more than ordinary solemnity. The choice of
Aix-la-Chapelle as the theater on this grand occasion dem-

^ The hand of the emperor, and, underneath, a horseshoe, are still to be seen
there cut in the rock, a sign of victory, as may also be seen in other places, for
instance, on the battlefield of WolfishoLz.
Germany. Vol. I.— 16


onstrated the high expectations universally inspired by this
new sovereign, on whom the spirit of Charlemagne seemed
to rest. The entire nation, the clergy, and the nobility, vied
with each other in surrounding their monarch with a splen-
dor equaling that with which the first emperor had been en-
vironed. The gigantic crown of Charlemagne, the scepter,
the sword, the cross, the sacred lance, and the golden man-
tle, now became objects of still deeper devotion. The arch-
bishop of Mayence held precedence, by the ancient respect
attached to his dignity, in the ceremony of anointing; the
temporal lords performed their various offices in person;
Gisilbrecht of Lothringia filled that of chamberlain, Eber-
hard of Franconia, that of carver, Hermann of Swabia,
that of cup-bearer, Arnulf of Bavaria, that of master of
the horse. These new and honorable offices were hence-
forward retained by the dukes. Editha, Otto's wife, the
daughter of Edmund, king of England, was also crowned.
Although Otto worthily maintained the dignity he inherited
from his father, he scarcely merits the title of Great. He
was not endowed with the winning frankness with which
his more simple-minded father had gained every heart. His
manner was cold and haughty; he surrounded himself with
etiquette, and, although bj^ no means wanting in personal
bravery, owed his success more to his craftiness and good
fortune than to his generosity and magnanimity. '

The death of Henry was the signal for a general insurrec-
tion among the Slavians and Hungarians. The Redarii re-
volted, A.D. 936, but were again reduced to submission by
a Saxon army sent against them by the emperor, under the
command of Hermann Billung,'' a brave and skillful leader.
In the following year the Hungarians made an inroad into

' Wittekind says: "His demeanor was replete with majesty. His white hair
waved over his shoulders. His eyes were bright and sparkling, his beard of an
extraordinary length, his breast like that of a lion, and covered with hair."

* According to the popular legend, Hermann was tending sheep near Stube-
keshorn, when the Emperor Otto chanced to cross the field. Hermann stopped
the carriage and refused to allow it to be driven over his father's meadow. The
emperor, pleased with the gigantic stature and high spirit of the shepherd boy,
took him into his service.


Saxony, but were defeated by Otto in an unknown spot,
and pursued as far as Metz ; the rapidity of their movements
daring their predator}^ incursion having led them across the
Rhine almost to the French frontier.

These events were followed by disturbances in the inte-
rior of the empire, and by family disputes. Henry had, by
his first marriage with the princess of Hatburg, a son named
Thankmar (or Tammo), to whom the succession rightfully
belonged, but, becoming enamored of the beautiful Matilda,
he divorced his wife, under pretext of her having been des-
tined for the cloister. He had three sons by Matilda, Otto,
Henry, and Bruno, the first of whom he named as his suc-
cessor on the throne, which Matilda coveted for her hand-
some and favorite son, Henry. Great family dissensions
arose from these circumstances, not dissimilar to, and as
odious, although more fortunate in their result to the em-
peror, as those that disturbed the reign of Louis the Pious.

The fate of the luckless Thankmar excited a feeling
of commiseration equaling that with which Bernhard, the
grandson of Louis the Pious, had formerly been viewed.
Not content with having deprived him of the imperial throne.
Otto also seized his large maternal inheritance in Saxony,
and bestowed it upon the Markgraf Gero, who, together with
Billung, guarded the Slavian frontier. Thankmar rebelled,
and was upheld by the Saxons. He was also joined by Eber-
hard, duke of Franconia, the same who, at the desire of his
brother, the Emperor Conrad, transferred the crown to the
Saxon Henry. On the death of that emperor, he attempted
to assert his claim to the imperial dignity, being partlj^ in-
fluenced by the hatred he bore to Otto, by whom he had
been injured. ' The rebels also attempted to gain over Henry,
Otto's younger brother, whom Thankmar contrived to carry

1 Brnning, a Saxon vassal of the Franconian duke, was induced by his
hereditary and national dislike, to rebel against his liege, who, in revenge, razed
his castle of Elmeri to the ground, and put aU the inhabitants to the sword. In
order to punish this cruelty, Otto laid a heavy fine upon the duke, and con-
demned the perpetrators of the dreadful deed (Eberhard's most trusty vassals)
to carry dogs.


off from his castle of Badliki on the Ruhr. The emperor
marched against the insurgents; Thankmar was besieged
in the Eresburg, and slain at the foot of the altar, whither
he had fled for safety; Eberhard, abandoned by the greater
part of his followers, fell at the feet of the imprisoned Henry,
whom he besought to intercede in his behalf with the em-
peror. To his surprise, Henry replied that he was willing
to join with him in his designs against Otto, in order to de-
prive him of the crown, which he coveted for himself. For
the present the two confederates dissembled their projects,
and Eberhard made his submission to Otto with expressions
of the deepest contrition for his guilt.

Henry, meanwhile, strengthened the conspiracy by gain-
ing over to his part}^ the sons of Arnulf of Bavaria,' who
had died not long before, Eberhard, Arnulf, Hermann, and
Louis, the archbishop Frederick of Mayence, who aimed at
the attainment of a pre-eminence in the state similar to that
formerly enjoj'ed hy Hatto and Gisilbrecht of Lothringia.
Louis, surnamed "Over the Sea" — a son of Charles the Sim-
ple, who, in his early youth, had taken refuge in England,
whence, after the decease of Rudolf of Burgundy, a.d. 936,
he had been recalled by Hugo, Count of Paris, surnamed
the Great, or the Wise, and placed on the throne of France —
was also invited to join the rebels, but refused, and sought
to strengthen himself by an alliance with Otto. The con-
spirators now contrived to draw the emperor to the Rhine,
while Gisilbrecht gave the first signal for revolt, by rising
in open rebellion, and at the moment when a division of
Otto's Saxon army had crossed the Rhine at Zante, Henry,

' He is said to have despoiled Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg, to whom, when
iu return he threatened him with the vengeance of heaven, he sent a goblet
filled with wine from his table in proof of his welfare. The bishop said to the
vassal who bore it, "Return whence you came, your master is dead": and so it
proved. According to another popular account, the devil broke his neck and
threw his body into the lake at Schej'ern. An ancient manuscript preserved at
Tegern records :

"This is Arnulf duke of Bavaria,

Who still lies in the lake at Dscheiren,

Whose neck the devil broke

For his evil deeds."


who, under color of aiding his brother, had marched thither
at the head of his vassals, suddenly declared in favor of Gisil-
brecht, and fell upon them sword in hand. In this extrem-
ity, Otto fell upon his knees before the sacred lance, and in-
voked the aid of heaven. A Saxon, meanwhile, shouted in
Italian, "Run, run"; and the Italian mercenaries in the
Lothringian army, being seized with a sudden panic at the
cry, instantly ran away. A terrible slaughter ensued. Eber-
hard and the archbishop of Mayence, terrified bj^ this unex-
pected disaster, did not venture to declare themselves, and
Henry, who had been wounded in the melee, fled to Merse-
burg, whither the emperor was enticed in order to relieve
Gisilbrecht in his quarters on the Rhine. At the same time,
the Slavi were secretly instigated to revolt. The plot was,
however, betrayed to the Markgraf Gero, who invited thirty
of the Slavian princes to a banquet, at which he caused them
to be assassinated when in a state of intoxication, a.d. 938,
and the Slavi attempting to revenge this act of treachery,
Otto was forced to raise the siege at Merseburg, and to
march to Gero's assistance. He, at the same time, par-
doned Henry, in the hope of separating him, by gentle and
conciliatory measures, from Eberhard and Gisilbrecht.

The Hungarians, who, at this time, made a fresh irrup-
tion into the empire, suffered two bloodj^ defeats in the Harz
Mountains, near Stetternburg and in the Dromling, a marshy
forest, whence their horses, weary with the heavy rain and
the nature of the ground, were unable to extricate them.

While Otto was engaged in opposing the Slavi, who had
entirely ciit to pieces a Saxon army under Haika, and again
succeeded, after several severe engagements, the details of
which have not been recorded, in reducing them to sub-
mission, Gisilbrecht won over the French monarch. This
intelligence no sooner reached the ears of Otto than he
hastened to besiege Gisilbrecht in the castle of Chevre-
mont. Gisilbrecht secretly escaped, and Otto, being forced
by the state of affairs in Saxony to return to that country,
intrusted the defense of the western frontier to Immo, the


Lothringian Graf, and to the duke of Swabia, who had re-
mained firm in his allegiance. Louis crossed the frontier at
the head of a numerous army, invaded and wasted Elsace,
which was bravely defended by Hermann, who finall}^ com-
pelled him to retreat. Eberhard, meanwhile, seized Breisach.
Immo was closely besieged. ' Eberhard was on the point of
being proclaimed and anointed king at Metz. These events
quickly recalled Otto from Saxony, in order to lay siege to
Breisach, upon which the archbishop of Mayence, who, until
now, had pretended to favor his part}", and who was in his
camp, suddenlj^ threw off the mask, and went over with
his numerous adherents to the enemy, whose principal force
was assembled near Andernach, and was merely opposed by
a small body of troops commanded by the Graf Conrad Kurz-
bold, and by Udo, brother to Hermann of Swabia, the for-
mer of whom, perceiving that his opponents were spread
carelessly feasting on the banks of the Rhine, suddenly fell
upon them. A fearful slaughter ensued; Eberhard fell after
a desperate struggle; ^ Gisilbrecht was drowned in the Rhine;
Otto's party triumphed; Breisach surrendered;' the arch-
bishop of Mayence was taken prisoner; and Henry, who
had infringed the treaty and again joined the rebels, fled
into France. The rebellion was no sooner crushed than

' The legend relates that Immo, being besieged by G-isilbrecht, ordered
beehives to be thrown among the besiegers, who were put to flight by the
enraged insects.

'^ Eberhard, the monk of St. Gall, says, Conrad, surnamed Kurzbold, on
account of his strength and shortness of stature, surprised the two chiefs when
engaged in a game of chess ; with a single blow with his lance he foundered the
boat in which Gisilbrecht sought to escape across the river, and slew Eberhard
on the bank. Conrad was a woman-hater. His deeds are recorded in the
popular ballads of that period.

^ The poetical legend of the Eberstein belongs to these times. Otto besieged
Graf Eberhard in the castle of Eberstein in the valley of the Murg, and being
unable to carry the fortress by force, had recourse to artifice, and invited the
Graf to a banquet, secretly intending to surprise the fort during his absence.
Eberhard accepted the invitation, but, during the dance, being informed of the
plot by Hedwig, the emperor's sister, he stole away from the scene of festivity,
and repaired to his castle, where he had again armed himself before the arrival
of the emperor's troops. Otto, dehghted with this trait of courage, pardoned the
Graf, and, as a pledge of his favor, bestowed upon him the hand of the beautiful


Otto carried his plans into effect. Louis of France had
found means, before the emperor was able to succor Loth
ringia, to seduce Gerberga, the widow of Gisilbrecht, whom
he married, in order to insure the possession of the country.
The emperor, however, set up Graf Otto, who, in his qual-
ity of guardian to Henry, the young son of Gisilbrecht, gov-
erned Lothringia, in opposition to him. Although Eberhard's
nearest of kin, and consequentl}" his heir in Franconia, was
his nephew, Conrad the Red," Otto divided the dukedom, and
bestowed a part of the land upon his vassal, Graf Udo of
Swabia. Berthold, the brother of Arnulf, was also created
duke of Bavaria, to the exclusion of his three nephews.

Gero, meanwhile, continued to oppose the Slavi, and again
took firm footing in Brandenburg after the assassination of
the last prince of the Hevelli by the traitor Tugumin, who
had been bribed to commit the deed by Gero, a.d. 940. Otto
invaded France in person, drove Louis as far as the Seine,
and made a treaty with Burgundy. After the death of Ru-
dolf II., king of that country, his son Conrad, who was still
in his minority, was placed in his hands. Henry and the
archbishop of Mayence sought and received pardon; never-
theless, when, in 941, Otto again took the field against the
Slavi, and his troops mutinied on account of the difficult}-
of their position, Henry and his coadjutor, the archbishop,
placed themselves at the head of a fresh conspiracy against
the emperor, whom they intended to assassinate during the
celebration of Easter at Quedlinburg. The plot was discov-
ered; Henry fled, but threw himself in penitential garb
shortly afterward at the feet of his injured brother, who
once more pardoned him.

A short peace ensued. A personal meeting took place,

Online LibraryWolfgang MenzelGermany from the earliest period, volume 1 (Volume 1) → online text (page 31 of 41)