Historical Tales, Vol 5 (of 15) - The Romance of Reality, German
by Charles Morris
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Edition d'Elite

Historical Tales

The Romance of Reality



Author of "Half-Hours with the Best American Authors," "Tales from the Dramatists," etc.


Volume V




Copyright, 1893, by J.B. Lippincott Company.

Copyright, 1904, by J.B. Lippincott Company.

Copyright, 1908, by J.B. Lippincott Company.



























































In the days of Augustus, the emperor of Rome in its golden age of prosperity, an earnest effort was made to subdue and civilize barbarian Germany. Drusus, the step-son of the emperor, led the first army of invasion into this forest-clad land of the north, penetrating deeply into the country and building numerous forts to guard his conquests. His last invasion took him as far as the Elbe. Here, as we are told, he found himself confronted by a supernatural figure, in the form of a woman, who waved him back with lofty and threatening air, saying, "How much farther wilt thou advance, insatiable Drusus? It is not thy lot to behold all these countries. Depart hence! the term of thy deeds and of thy life is at hand." Drusus retreated, and died on his return.

Tiberius, his brother, succeeded him, and went far to complete the conquest he had begun. Germany seemed destined to become a Roman province. The work of conquest was followed by efforts to civilize the free-spirited barbarians, which, had they been conducted wisely, might have led to success. One of the Roman governors, Sentius, prefect of the Rhine, treated the people so humanely that many of them adopted the arts and customs of Rome, and the work of overcoming their barbarism was well begun. He was succeeded in this office by Varus, a friend and confidant of the emperor, but a man of very different character, and one who not only lacked military experience and mental ability, but utterly misunderstood the character of the people he was dealing with. They might be led, they could not be driven into civilization, as the new prefect was to learn.

All went well as long as Varus remained peacefully in his head-quarters, erecting markets, making the natives familiar with the attractive wares of Rome, instructing them in civilized arts, and taking their sons into the imperial army. All went ill when he sought to hasten his work by acts of oppression, leading his forces across the Weser into the land of the Cherusci, enforcing there the rigid Roman laws, and chastising and executing free-born Germans for deeds which in their creed were not crimes. Varus, who had at first made himself loved by his kindness, now made himself hated by his severity. The Germans brooded over their wrongs, awed by the Roman army, which consisted of thirty thousand picked men, strongly intrenched, their camps being impregnable to their undisciplined foes. Yet the high-spirited barbarians felt that this army was but an entering wedge, and that, if not driven out, their whole country would gradually be subdued.

A patriot at length arose among the Cherusci, determined to free his country from the intolerable Roman yoke. He was a handsome and athletic youth, Arminius, or Hermann as the Germans prefer to name him, of noble descent, and skilled alike in the arts of war and of oratory, his eloquence being equal to his courage. He was one of the sons of the Germans who had served in the Roman armies, and had won there such distinction as to gain the honors of knighthood and citizenship. Now, perceiving clearly the subjection that threatened his countrymen, and filled with an ardent love of liberty, he appeared among them, and quickly filled their dispirited souls with much of his own courage and enthusiasm. At midnight meetings in the depths of the forests a conspiracy against Varus and his legions was planned, Hermann being the chosen leader of the perilous enterprise.

It was not long before this conspiracy was revealed. The German control over the Cherusci had been aided by Segestus, a treacherous chief, whose beautiful and patriotic daughter, Thusnelda, had given her hand in marriage to Hermann, against her father's will. Filled with revengeful anger at this action, and hoping to increase his power, Segestus told the story of the secret meetings, which he had discovered, to Varus, and bade him beware, as a revolt against him might at any moment break out. He spoke to the wrong man. Pride in the Roman power and scorn of that of the Germans had deeply infected the mind of Varus, and he heard with incredulous contempt this story that the barbarians contemplated rising against the best trained legions of Rome.

Autumn came, the autumn of the year 9 A.D. The long rainy season of the German forests began. Hermann decided that the time had arrived for the execution of his plans. He began his work with a deceitful skill that quite blinded the too-trusting Varus, inducing him to send bodies of troops into different parts of the country, some to gather provisions for the winter supply of the camps, others to keep watch over some tribes not yet subdued. The Roman force thus weakened, the artful German succeeded in drawing Varus with the remainder of his men from their intrenchments, by inducing one of the subjected tribes to revolt.

The scheme of Hermann had, so far, been completely successful. Varus, trusting to his representations, had weakened his force, and now prepared to draw the main body of his army out of camp. Hermann remained with him to the last, dining with him the day before the starting of the expedition, and inspiring so much confidence in his faithfulness to Rome that Varus refused to listen to Segestus, who earnestly entreated him to take Hermann prisoner on the spot. He even took Hermann's advice, and decided to march on the revolted tribe by a shorter than the usual route, oblivious to the fact that it led through difficult mountain passes, shrouded in forests and bordered by steep and rocky acclivities.

The treacherous plans of the patriotic German had fully succeeded. While the Romans were toiling onward through the straitened passes, Hermann had sought his waiting and ambushed countrymen, to whom he gave the signal that the time for vengeance had come. Then, as if the dense forests had borne a sudden crop of armed men, the furious barbarians poured out in thousands upon the unsuspecting legionaries.

A frightful storm was raging. The mountain torrents, swollen by the downpour of rain, over—flowed their banks and invaded the passes, along which the Romans, encumbered with baggage, were wearily dragging onward in broken columns. Suddenly, to the roar of winds and waters, was added the wild war-cry of the Germans, and a storm of arrows, javelins, and stones hurtled through the disordered ranks, while the barbarians, breaking from the woods, and rushing downward from the heights, fell upon the legions with sword and battle-axe, dealing death with every blow.

Only the discipline of the Romans saved them from speedy destruction. With the instinct of their training they hastened to gather into larger bodies, and their resistance, at first feeble, soon became more effective. The struggle continued until night-fall, by which time the surviving Romans had fought their way to a more open place, where they hastily intrenched. But it was impossible for them to remain there. Their provisions were lost or exhausted, thousands of foes surrounded them, and their only hope lay in immediate and rapid flight.

Sunrise came. The soldiers had recovered somewhat from the fatigue of the day before. Setting fire to what baggage remained in their hands, they began a retreat fighting as they went, for the implacable enemy disputed every step. The first part of their route lay through an open plain, where they marched in orderly ranks. But there were mountains still to pass, and they quickly found themselves in a wooded and pathless valley, in whose rugged depths defence was almost impossible. Here they fell in thousands before the weapons of their foes. It was but a small body of survivors that at length escaped from that deadly defile and threw up intrenchments for the night in a more open spot.

With the dawn of the next day they resumed their progress, and were at no great distance from their stronghold of Aliso when they found their progress arrested by fresh tribes, who assailed them with murderous fury. On they struggled, fighting, dying, marking every step of the route with their dead. Varus, now reduced to despair, and seeing only slaughter or captivity before him, threw himself on his sword, and died in the midst of those whom his blind confidence had led to destruction. Of the whole army only a feeble remnant reached Aliso, which fort they soon after abandoned and fought their way to the Rhine. While this was going on, the detachments which Varus had sent out in various directions were similarly assailed, and met the same fate as had overtaken the main body of the troops.

No more frightful disaster had ever befallen the Roman arms. Many prisoners had been taken, among them certain judges and lawyers, who were the chief objects of Hermann's hate, and whom he devoted to a painful death. He then offered sacrifices to the gods, to whom he consecrated the booty, the slain, and the leading prisoners, numbers of them being slain on the altars of his deities. These religious ceremonies completed, the prisoners who still remained were distributed among the tribes as slaves. The effort of Varus to force Roman customs and laws upon the Germans had led to a fearful retribution.

When the news of this dreadful event reached Rome, that city was filled with grief and fear. The heart of Augustus, now an old man, was stricken with dismay at the slaughter of the best soldiers of the empire. With neglected dress and person he wandered about the rooms and halls of the palace, his piteous appeal, "Varus, give me back my legions!" showing how deeply the disaster had pierced his soul. Hasty efforts were at once made to prevent the possible serious consequences of the overthrow of the slain legions. The Romans on the Rhine intrenched themselves in all haste. The Germans in the imperial service were sent to distant provinces, and recruits were raised in all parts of the country, their purpose being to protect Gaul from an invasion by the triumphant tribes. Yet so great was the fear inspired by the former German onslaughts, and by this destructive outbreak, that only threats of death induced the Romans to serve. As it proved, this defensive activity was not needed. The Germans, satisfied, as it seemed, with expelling the Romans from their country, destroyed their forts and military roads, and settled back into peace, with no sign of a desire to cross the Rhine.

For six years peace continued. Augustus died, and Tiberius became emperor of Rome. Then, in the year 14 A.D., an effort was made to reconquer Germany, an army commanded by the son of Drusus, known to history under the name of Germanicus, attacking the Marsi, when intoxicated and unarmed after a religious feast. Great numbers of the defenceless tribesmen were slain, but the other tribes sprung to arms and drove the invader back across the Rhine.

In the next year Hermann was again brought into the fray. Segestus had robbed him of his wife, the beautiful patriot Thusnelda, who hitherto had been his right hand in council in his plans against the Roman foe. Hermann besieged Segestus to regain possession of his wife, and pressed the traitor so closely that he sent his son Sigismund to Germanicus, who was again on the German side of the Rhine, imploring aid. The Roman leader took instant advantage of this promising opportunity. He advanced and forced Hermann to raise the siege, and himself took possession of Thusnelda, who was destined soon afterwards to be made the leading feature in a Roman triumph. Segestus was rewarded for his treason, and was given lands in Gaul, his life being not safe among the people he had betrayed. As for the daughter whom he had yielded to Roman hands, her fate troubled little his base soul.

Thusnelda is still a popular character in German legend, there being various stories extant concerning her. One of these relates that, when she lay concealed in the old fort of Schellenpyrmont, she was warned by the cries of a faithful bird of the coming of the Romans, who were seeking stealthily to approach her hiding-place.

The loss of his beloved wife roused Hermann's heroic spirit, and spread indignation among the Germans, who highly esteemed the noble-hearted consort of their chief. They rose hastily in arms, and Hermann was soon at the head of a large army, prepared to defend his country against the invading hosts of the Romans. But as the latter proved too strong to face in the open field, the Germans retreated with their families and property, the country left by them being laid waste by the advancing legions.

Germanicus soon reached the scene of the late slaughter, and caused the bones of the soldiers of Varus to be buried. But in doing this he was obliged to enter the mountain defiles in which the former army had met its fate. Hermann and his men watched the Romans intently from forest and hilltop. When they had fairly entered the narrow valleys, the adroit chief appeared before them at the head of a small troop, which retreated as if in fear, drawing them onward until the whole army had entered the pass.

Then the fatal signal was given, and the revengeful Germans fell upon the legionaries of Germanicus as they had done upon those of Varus, cutting them down in multitudes. But Germanicus was a much better soldier than Varus. He succeeded in extricating the remnant of his men, after they had lost heavily, and in making an orderly retreat to his ships, which awaited him upon the northern coast whence he had entered the country. There were two other armies, one of which had invaded Germany from the coast of Friesland, and was carried away by a flood, narrowly escaping complete destruction. The third had entered from the Rhine. This was overtaken by Hermann while retreating over the long bridges which the Romans had built across the marshes of Muensterland, and which were now in a state of advanced decay. Here it found itself surrounded by seemingly insuperable dangers, being, in part of its route, shut up in a narrow dell, into which the enemy had turned the waters of a rapid stream. While defending their camp, the waters poured upon the soldiers, rising to their knees, and a furious tempest at the same time burst over their heads. Yet discipline, again prevailed. They lost heavily, but succeeded in cutting their way through their enemies and reaching the Rhine.

In the next year, 17 A.D., Germanicus again invaded Germany, sailing with a thousand ships through the northern seas and up the Ems. Flavus, the brother of Hermann, who had remained in the service of Rome, was with him, and addressed his patriotic brother from the river-side, seeking to induce him to desert the German cause, by painting in glowing colors the advantage of being a Roman citizen. Hermann, furious at his desertion of his country, replied to him with curses, as the only language worthy to use to a traitor, and would have ridden across the stream to kill him, but that he was held back by his men.

A battle soon succeeded, the Germans falling into an ambuscade artfully laid by the Roman leader, and being defeated with heavy loss. Germanicus raised a stately monument on the spot, as a memorial of his victory. The sight of this Roman monument in their country infuriated the Germans, and they attacked the Romans again, this time with such fury, and such slaughter on both sides, that neither party was able to resume the fight when the next day dawned. Germanicus, who had been very severely handled, retreated to his ships and set sail. On his voyage the heavens appeared to conspire against him. A tempest arose in which most of the vessels were wrecked and many of the legionaries lost. When he returned to Rome, shortly afterwards, a fort on the Taunus was the only one which Rome possessed in Germany. Hermann had cleared his country of the foe. Yet Germanicus was given a triumph, in which Thusnelda walked, laden with chains, to the capitol.

The remaining events in the life of this champion of German liberty were few. While the events described had been taking place in the north of Germany, there were troubles in the south. Here a chieftain named Marbodius, who, like Hermann, had passed his youth in the Roman armies, was the leader of several powerful tribes. He lacked the patriotism of Hermann, and sought to ally himself with the Romans, with the hope of attaining to supreme power in Germany.

Hermann sought to rouse patriotic sentiments in his mind, but in vain, and the movements of Marbodius having revealed his purposes, a coalition was formed against him, with Hermann at its head. He was completely defeated, and southern Germany saved from Roman domination, as the northern districts had already been.

Peace followed, and for several years Hermann remained general-in-chief of the German people, and the acknowledged bulwark of their liberties. But envy arose; he was maligned, and accused of aiming at sovereignty, as Marbodius had done; and at length his own relations, growing to hate and fear him, conspired against and murdered him.

Thus ignobly fell the noblest of the ancient Germans, the man whose patriotism saved the realm of the Teutonic tribes from becoming a province of the empire of Rome. Had not Hermann lived, the history of Europe might have pursued a different course, and the final downfall of the colossus of the south been long averted, Germany acting as its bulwark of defence instead of becoming the nursery of its foes.


Of the Teutonic invaders of Italy none are invested with more interest than the Lombards,—the Long Beards, to give them their original title. Legend yields us the story of their origin, a story of interest enough to repeat. A famine had been caused in Denmark by a great flood, and the people, to avoid danger of starvation, had resolved to put all the old men and women to death, in order to save the food for the young and strong. This radical proposition was set aside through the advice of a wise woman, named Gambara, who suggested that lots should be drawn for the migration of a third of the population. Her counsel was taken and the migration began, under the leadership of her two sons. These migrants wore beards of prodigious length, whence their subsequent name.

They first entered the land of the Vandals, who refused them permission to settle. This was a question to be decided at sword's point, and war was declared. Both sides appealed to the gods for aid, Gambara praying to Freya, while the Vandals invoked Odin, who answered that he would grant the victory to the party he should first behold at the dawn of the coming day.

The day came. The sun rose. In front of the Danish host were stationed their women, who had loosened their long hair, and let it hang down over their faces. "Who are these with long beards?" demanded Odin, on seeing these Danish amazons. This settled the question of victory, and also gave the invaders a new name, that of Longobardi,—due, in this legend, to the long hair of the women instead of the long beards of the men. There are other legends, but none worth repeating.

The story of their king Alboin, with whom we have particularly to deal, begins, however, with a story which may be in part legendary. They were now in hostile relations with the Gepidae, the first nation to throw off the yoke of the Huns. Alboin, son of Audoin, king of the Longobardi, killed Thurismund, son of Turisend, king of the Gepidae, in battle, but forgot to carry away his arms, and thus returned home without a trophy of his victory. In consequence, his stern father refused him a seat at his table, as one unworthy of the honor. Such was the ancient Lombard custom, and it must be obeyed.

The young prince acknowledged the justice of this reproof, and determined to try and obtain the arms which were his by right of victory. Selecting forty companions, he boldly visited the court of Turisend, and openly demanded from him the arms of his son. It was a daring movement, but proved successful. The old king received him hospitably, as the custom of the time demanded, though filled with grief at the loss of his son. He even protected him from the anger of his subjects, whom some of the Lombards had provoked by their insolence of speech. The daring youth returned to his father's court with the arms of his slain foe, and won the seat of honor of which he had been deprived.

Turisend died, and Cunimund, his son, became king. Audoin died, and Alboin became king. And now new adventures of interest occurred. In his visit to the court of Turisend, Alboin had seen and fallen in love with Rosamond, the beautiful daughter of Cunimund. He now demanded her hand in marriage, and as it was scornfully refused him, he revenged himself by winning her honor through force and stratagem. War broke out in consequence, and the Gepidae were conquered, Rosamond falling to Alboin as part of the trophies of victory.

We are told that in this war Alboin sought the aid of Bacan, chagan of the Avars, promising him half the spoil and all the land of the Gepidae in case of victory. He added to this a promise of the realm of the Longobardi, in case he should succeed in winning for them a new home in Italy, which country he proposed to invade.

About fifteen years before, some of his subjects had made a warlike expedition to Italy. Their report of its beauty and fertility had kindled a spirit of emulation in the new generation, and inspired the young and warlike king with ambitious hopes. His eloquence added to their desire. He not only described to them in glowing words the land of promise which he hoped to win, but spoke to their senses as well, by producing at the royal banquets the fairest fruits that grew in that garden land of Europe. His efforts were successful. No sooner was his standard erected, and word sent abroad that Italy was his goal, than the Longobardi found their strength augmented by hosts of adventurous youths from the surrounding peoples. Germans, Bulgarians, Scythians, and others joined in ranks, and twenty thousand Saxon warriors, with their wives and children, added to the great host which had flocked to the banners of the already renowned warrior.

It was in the year 568 that Alboin, followed by the great multitude of adventurers he had gathered, and by the whole nation of the Longobardi, ascended the Julian Alps, and looked down from their summits on the smiling plains of northern Italy to which his success was thenceforward to give the name of Lombardy, the land of the Longobardi.

Four years were spent in war with the Romans, city after city, district after district, falling into the hands of the invaders. The resistance was but feeble, and at length the whole country watered by the Po, with the strong city of Pavia, fell into the hands of Alboin, who divided the conquered lands among his followers, and reduced their former holders to servitude. Alboin made Pavia his capital, and erected strong fortifications to keep out the Burgundians, Franks, and other nations which were troubling his new-gained dominions. This done, he settled down to the enjoyment of the conquest which he had so ably made and so skilfully defended.

History tells us that the Longobardi cultivated their new lands so skilfully that all traces of devastation soon vanished, and the realm grew rich in its productions. Their freemen distinguished themselves from the other German conquerors by laboring to turn the waste and desert tracts into arable soil, while their king, though unceasingly watchful against his enemies, lived among his people with patriarchal simplicity, procuring his supplies from the produce of his farms, and making regular rounds of inspection from one to another. It is a picture fitted for a more peaceful and primitive age than that turbulent period in which it is set.

But now we have to do with Alboin in another aspect,—his domestic relations, his dealings with his wife Rosamond, and the tragic end of all the actors in the drama of real life which we have set out to tell. The Longobardi were barbarians, and Alboin was no better than his people; a strong evidence of which is the fact that he had the skull of Cunimund, his defeated enemy and the father of his wife, set in gold, and used it as a drinking cup at his banquets.

Doubtless this brutality stirred revengeful sentiments in the mind of Rosamond. An added instance of barbarian insult converted her outraged feelings into a passion for revenge. Alboin had erected a palace near Verona, one of the cities of his new dominion, and here he celebrated his victories with a grand feast to his companions in arms. Wine flowed freely at the banquet, the king emulating, or exceeding, his guests in the art of imbibing. Heated with his potations, in which he had drained many cups of Rhaetian or Falernian wine, he called for the choicest ornament of his sideboard, the gold-mounted skull of Cunimund, and drank its full measure of wine amid the loud plaudits of his drunken guests.

"Fill it again with wine," he cried; "fill it to the brim; carry this goblet to the queen, and tell her that it is my desire and command that she shall rejoice with her father."

Rosamond's heart throbbed with grief and rage on hearing this inhuman request. She took the skull in trembling hands, and murmuring in low accents, "Let the will of my lord be obeyed," she touched it to her lips. But in doing so she breathed a silent prayer, and resolved that the unpardonable insult should be washed out in Alboin's blood.

If she had ever loved her lord, she felt now for him only the bitterness of hate. She had a friend in the court on whom she could depend, Helmichis, the armor-bearer of the king. She called on him for aid in her revenge, and found him willing but fearful, for he knew too well the great strength and daring spirit of the chief whom he had so often attended in battle. He proposed, therefore, that they should gain the aid of a Lombard of unequalled strength, Peredeus by name. This champion, however, was not easily to be won. The project was broached to him, but the most that could be gained from him was a promise of silence.

Failing in this, more shameful methods were employed. Such was Rosamond's passion for revenge that the most extreme measures seemed to her justifiable. Peredeus loved one of the attendants of the queen. Rosamond replaced this frail woman, sacrificed her honor to her vengeance, and then threatened to denounce Peredeus to the king unless he would kill the man who had so bitterly wronged her.

Peredeus now consented. He must kill the king or the king would kill him, for he felt that Rosamond was quite capable of carrying out her threat. Having thus obtained the promise of the instruments of her vengeance, the queen waited for a favorable moment to carry out her dark design. The opportunity soon came. The king, heavy with wine, had retired from the table to his afternoon slumbers. Rosamond, affecting solicitude for his health and repose, dismissed his attendants, closed the palace gates, and then, seeking her spouse, lulled him to rest by her tender caresses.

Finding that he slumbered, she unbolted the chamber door, and urged her confederates to the instant performance of the deed of blood. They entered the room with stealthy tread, but the quick senses of the warrior took the alarm, he opened his eyes, saw two armed men advancing upon him, and sprang from his couch. His sword hung beside him, and he attempted to draw it, but the cunning hand of Rosamond had fastened it securely in the scabbard. The only weapon remaining was a small foot-stool. This he used with vigor, but it could not long protect him from the spears of his assailants, and he quickly fell dead beneath their blows. His body was buried beneath the stairway of the palace, and thus tragically ended the career of the founder of the kingdom of Lombardy.

But the story of Rosamond's life is not yet at an end. The death of Alboin was followed by another tragic event, which brought her guilty career to a violent termination. The wily queen had not failed to prepare for the disturbances which might follow the death of the king. The murder of Alboin was immediately followed by her marriage with Helmichis, whose ambition looked to no less a prize than the throne of Lombardy. The queen was surrounded by a band of faithful Gepidae, with whose aid she seized the palace and made herself mistress of Verona, the Lombard chiefs flying in alarm. But the assassination of the king who had so often led them to victory filled the Longobardi with indignation, the chiefs mustered their bands and led them against the stronghold of the guilty couple, and they in their turn, were forced to fly for their lives. Helmichis and Rosamond, with her daughter, her faithful Gepidae, and the spoils of the palace, took ship down the Adige and the Po, and were transported in a Greek vessel to the port of Ravenna, where they hoped to find shelter and safety.

Longinus, the Greek governor of Ravenna, gave willing refuge to the fugitives, the more so as the great beauty of Rosamond filled him with admiration. She had not been long there, indeed, before he offered her his hand in marriage. Rosamond, moved by ambition or a return of his love, accepted his offer. There was, it is true, an obstacle in the way. She was already provided with a husband. But the barbarian queen had learned the art of getting rid of inconvenient husbands. Having, perhaps, grown to detest the tool of her revenge, now that the purpose of her marriage with him had failed, she set herself to the task of disposing of Helmichis, this time using the cup instead of the sword.

As Helmichis left the bath he received a wine-cup from the hands of his treacherous wife, and lifted it to his lips. But no sooner had he tasted the liquor, and felt the shock that it gave his system, than he knew that he was poisoned. Death, a speedy death, was in his veins, but he had life enough left for revenge. Seizing his dagger, he pressed it to the breast of Rosamond, and by threats of instant death compelled her to drain the remainder of the cup. In a few minutes both the guilty partners in the death of Alboin had breathed their last.

When Longinus was, at a later moment, summoned into the room, it was to find his late guests both dead upon the floor. The poison had faithfully done its work. Thus ended a historic tragedy than which the stage possesses few of more striking dramatic interest and opportunities for histrionic effect.


The Avars, led by Cacan, their king, crossed, in the year 611, the mountains of Illyria and Lombardy, killed Gisulph, the grand duke, with all his adherents, in battle, and laid siege to the city of Friuli, behind whose strong walls Romilda, the widow of Gisulph, had taken refuge. These events formed the basis of the romantic, and perhaps largely legendary, story we have to tell.

One day, so we are told, Romilda, gazing from the ramparts of the city, beheld Cacan, the young khan of the Avars, engaged in directing the siege. So handsome to her eyes appeared the youthful soldier that she fell deeply in love with him at sight, her passion growing until, in disregard of honor and patriotism, she sent him a secret message, offering to deliver up to him the city on condition of becoming his wife. The khan, though doubtless despising her treachery to her people, was quick to close with the offer, and in a short time Friuli was in his hands.

This accomplished, he returned to Hungary, taking with him Romilda and her children, of whom there were four sons and four daughters. Cacan kept his compact with the traitress, marrying her with the primitive rites of the Hungarians. But her married life was of the shortest. He had kept his word, and such honor as he possessed was satisfied. The morning after his marriage, moved perhaps by detestation of her treachery, he caused the hapless Romilda to be impaled alive. It was a dark end to a dark deed, and the perfidy of the woman had been matched by an equal perfidy on the part of the man.

The children of Romilda were left in the hands of the Avars. Of her daughters, one subsequently married a duke of Bavaria and another a duke of Allemania. The four sons, one of whom was Grimoald, the hero of our story, managed to escape from their savage captors, though they were hotly pursued. In their flight, Grimoald, the youngest, was taken up behind Tafo, the oldest; but in the rapid course he lost his hold and fell from his brother's horse.

Tafo, knowing what would be the fate of the boy should he be captured, turned and galloped upon him lance in hand, determined that he should not fall alive into the hands of his cruel foes. But Grimoald's entreaties and Tafo's brotherly affection induced him to change his resolution, and, snatching up the boy, he continued his flight, the pursuing Avars being now close at hand.

Not far had they ridden before the same accident occurred. Grimoald again fell, and Tafo was now obliged to leave him to his fate, the fierce pursuers being too near to permit him either to kill or save the unlucky boy. On swept Tafo, up swept the Avars, and one of them, halting, seized the young captive, threw him behind him on his horse, and rode on after his fellows.

Grimoald's peril was imminent, but he was a child with the soul of a warrior. As his captor pushed on in the track of his companions, the brave little fellow suddenly snatched a knife from his belt, and in an instant had stabbed him to the heart with his own weapon Tossing the dead body from the saddle, Grimoald seized the bridle and rode swiftly on, avoiding the Avars, and in the end rejoining his flying brothers. It was a deed worthy the childhood of one who was in time to become a famous warrior.

The fugitives reached Lombardy, where Tafo was hospitably received by the king, and succeeded his father as Grand Duke of Friuli. Grimoald was adopted by Arigil, Duke of Benevento, in whose court he grew to manhood, and in whose service his courage and military ability were quickly shown. There were wars between Benevento and the Greeks of southern Italy, and in these the young soldier so greatly distinguished himself that on the death of Arigil he succeeded him as Duke of Benevento.

Meanwhile, troubles arose in Lombardy. Tafo had been falsely accused, by an enemy of the queen, of criminal relations with her, and was put to death by the king. Her innocence was afterwards proved, and on the death of Ariowald the Lombards treated her with the greatest respect, and raised Rotharis, her second husband, to the throne. He, too, died, and Aribert, uncle of the queen, was next made king. On his death, his two sons, Bertarit and Godebert, disputed the succession. A struggle ensued between the rival brothers, in the course of which Grimoald was brought into the dispute.

The events here briefly described had taken place while Grimoald was engaged in the Greek wars of his patron, Duke Arigil. When he succeeded the latter in the ducal chair, the struggle between Bertarit and Godebert was going on, and the new Duke of Benevento declared in favor of the latter, who was his personal friend.

A scheme of treachery, of a singular character, put an end to their friendship and to the life of Godebert. A man who was skilled in the arts of dissimulation, and who was secretly in the pay of Bertarit, persuaded Godebert that his seeming friend, Duke Grimoald, was really his enemy, and was plotting his destruction. He told the same story to Grimoald, making him believe that Godebert was his secret foe. In proof of his words he told each of them that the other wore armor beneath his clothes, through fear of assassination by his assumed friend.

The suspicion thus artfully aroused produced the very state of things which the agent of mischief had declared to exist. Each of the friends put on armor, as a protection against treachery from the other, and when they sought to test the truth of the spy's story it seemed fully confirmed. Each discovered that the other wore secret armor, without learning that it had just been assumed.

The two close friends were thus converted by a plotting Iago into distrustful enemies, each fearing and on guard against assassination by the other. The affair ended tragically. Grimoald was no sooner fully convinced of the truth of what had been told him than he slew his supposed enemy, deeming it necessary to save his own life. The dark scheme had succeeded. Treason and falsehood had sown death between two friends.

Bertarit, his rival removed, deemed the throne now securely his. But the truth underlying the tragedy we have described became known, and the Lombards, convinced of the innocence of Grimoald, and scorning the treachery by which he had been led on to murder, dismissed Bertarit's pretensions and placed Grimoald on the throne. His career had been a strange but highly successful one. From his childhood captivity to the Avars he had risen to the high station of King of Lombardy, a position fairly earned by his courage and ability.

We are not yet done with the story of this distinguished warrior. Bertarit had taken the field against him, and civil war desolated Lombardy, an unhappy state of affairs which was soon taken advantage of by the foes of the distracted kingdom. The enemy who now appeared in the field was Constans, the Greek emperor, who laid siege to Benevento, hoping to capture it while Grimoald was engaged in hostilities with Bertarit in the north.

Grimoald had left his son, Romuald, in charge of the city. On learning of the siege he despatched a trusty friend and officer, Sesuald by name, with some troops, to the relief of the beleaguered stronghold, proposing to follow quickly himself with the main body of his army.

And now occurred an event nobly worthy of being recorded in the annals of human probity and faithfulness, one little known, but deserving to be classed with those that have become famous in history. When men erect monuments to courage and virtue, the noble Sesuald should not be forgotten.

This brave man fell into the hands of the emperor, who sought to use him in a stratagem to obtain possession of Benevento. He promised him an abundance of wealth and honors if he would tell Romuald that his father had died in battle, and persuade him to surrender the city. Sesuald seems to have agreed, for he was led to the walls of the city that he might hold the desired conference with Romuald. Instead, however, of carrying out the emperor's design, he cried out to the young chief, "Be firm, Grimoald approaches"; then, hastily telling him that he had forfeited his life by those words, he begged him in return to protect his wife and children, as the last service he could render him.

Sesuald was right. Constans, furious at his words, had his head instantly struck off; and then, with a barbarism worthy of the times, had it flung from a catapult into the heart of the city. The ghastly trophy was brought to Romuald, who pressed it to his lips, and deeply deplored the death of his father's faithful friend.

This was the last effort of the emperor. Fearing to await the arrival of Grimoald, he raised the siege and retreated towards Naples, hotly pursued by the Lombards. The army of Grimoald came up with the retreating Greeks, and a battle was imminent, when a Lombard warrior of giant size, Amalong by name, spurring upon a Greek, lifted him from the saddle with his lance, and rode on holding him poised in the air. The sight of this feat filled the remaining Greeks with such terror that they broke and fled, and their hasty retreat did not cease till they had found shelter in Sicily.

After this event Bertarit, finding it useless to contend longer against his powerful and able opponent, submitted to Grimoald. Yet this did not end their hostile relations. The Lombard king, distrusting his late foe, of whose treacherous disposition he already had abundant evidence, laid a plan to get rid of him by murdering him in his bed. This plot was discovered by a servant of the imperilled prince, who aided his master to escape, and, the better to secure his retreat, placed himself in his bed, being willing to risk death in his lord's service.

Grimoald discovered the stratagem of the faithful fellow, but, instead of punishing him for it, he sought to reward him, attempting to attach him to his own service as one whose fidelity would make him valuable to any master. The honest servant refused, however, to desert his old lord for a new service, and entreated so earnestly for permission to join his master, who had taken refuge in France, that Grimoald set him free, doubtless feeling that such faithfulness was worthy of encouragement.

In France Bertarit found an ally in Chlotar II., who took up arms against the Lombards in his aid. Grimoald, however, defeated him by a shrewd stratagem. He feigned to retreat in haste, leaving his camp, which was well stored with provisions, to fall into the hands of the enemy. Deeming themselves victorious, the Franks hastened to enjoy the feast of good things which the Lombards had left behind. But in the midst of their repast Grimoald suddenly returned, and, falling upon them impetuously, put most of them to the sword.

In the following year (666 A.D.) he defeated another army by another stratagem. The Avars had invaded Lombardy, with an army which far out-numbered the troops which Grimoald could muster against them. In this state of affairs he artfully deceived his foes as to the strength of his army by marching and countermarching his men within their view, each time dressed in uniform of different colors, and with varied standards and insignia of war. The invaders, deeming that an army confronted them far stronger than their own, withdrew in haste, leaving Grimoald master of the field.

We are further told of the king of the Lombards whose striking history we have concisely given, that he gave many new laws to his country, and that in his old age he was remarkable for his bald head and long white beard. He died in 671, sixty years after the time when his mother acted the traitress, and suffered miserably for her crime. After his death, the exiled Bertarit was recalled to the throne of Lombardy, and Romuald succeeded his father as Duke of Benevento, the city which he had held so bravely against the Greeks.


As Germany, in its wars with the Romans, found its hero in the great Arminius, or Hermann; and as England, in its contest with the Normans, found a heroic defender in the valiant Hereward; so Saxony, in its struggle with Charlemagne, gave origin to a great soul, the indomitable patriot Wittekind, who kept the war afoot years after the Saxons would have yielded to their mighty foe, and, like Hereward, only gave up the struggle when hope itself was at an end.

The career of the defender of Saxony bears some analogy to that of the last patriot of Saxon England. As in the case of Hereward, his origin is uncertain, and the story of his life overlaid with legend. He is said to have been the son of Wernekind, a powerful Westphalian chief, brother-in-law of Siegfried, a king of the Danes; yet this is by no means certain, and his ancestry must remain in doubt. He came suddenly into the war with the great Frank conqueror, and played in it a strikingly prominent part, to sink again out of sight at its end.

The attempt of Charlemagne to conquer Saxony began in 772. Religion was its pretext, ambition its real cause. Missionaries had been sent to the Saxons during their great national festival at Marclo. They came back with no converts to report. As the Saxons had refused to be converted by words, fire and sword were next tried as assumed instruments for spreading the doctrines of Christ, but really as effective means for extending the dominion of the monarch of the Franks.

In his first campaign in Saxony, Charlemagne marched victoriously as far as the Weser, where he destroyed the celebrated Irminsul, a famous object of Saxon devotion, perhaps an image of a god, perhaps a statue of Hermann that had become invested with divinity. The next year, Charles being absent in Italy, the Saxons broke into insurrection, under the leadership of Wittekind, who now first appears in history. With him was associated another patriot, Alboin, Duke of Eastphalia.

Charles returned in the succeeding year, and again swept in conquering force through the country. But a new insurrection called him once more to Italy, and no sooner had he gone than the eloquent Wittekind was among his countrymen, entreating them to rise in defence of their liberties. A general levy took place, every able man crowded to the ranks, and whole forests were felled to form abatis of defence against a marching enemy.

Again Charles came at the head of his army of veterans, and again the poorly-trained Saxon levies were driven in defeat from his front. He now established a camp in the heart of the country, and had a royal residence built at Paderborn, where he held a diet of the great vassals of the crown and received envoys from foreign lands. Hither came delegates from the humbled Saxons, promising peace and submission, and pledging themselves by oaths and hostages to be true subjects of Charles the Great. But Wittekind came not. He had taken refuge at the court of Siegfried, the pagan king of the Danes, where he waited an opportunity to strike a new blow for liberty.

Not content with their pledges and promises, the conqueror sought to win over his new subjects by converting them to Christianity in the wholesale way in which this work was then usually performed. The Saxons were baptized in large numbers, the proselyting method pursued being, as we are told, that all prisoners of war must be baptized, while of the others all who were reasonable would be baptized, and the inveterately unreasonable might be bribed to be baptized. Doubtless, as a historian remarks, the Saxons found baptism a cool, cleanly, and agreeable ceremony, while their immersion in the water had little effect in washing out their old ideas and washing in new ones.

The exigencies of war in his vast empire now called Charlemagne to Spain, where the Arabs had become troublesome and needed chastisement. Not far had he marched away when Wittekind was again in Saxony, passing from tribe to tribe through the forests of the land, and with fiery eloquence calling upon his countrymen to rise against the invaders and regain the freedom of which they had been deprived. Heedless of their conversion, disregarding their oaths of allegiance, filled with the free spirit which had so long inspired them, the chiefs and people listened with approval to his burning words, seized their arms, and flew again to war. The priests were expelled from the country, the churches they had built demolished, the castles erected by the Frank monarch taken and destroyed, and the country was laid waste up to the walls of Cologne, its Christian inhabitants being exterminated.

But unyielding as Wittekind was, his great antagonist was equally resolute and persistent. When he had finished his work with the Arabs, he returned to Saxony with his whole army, fought a battle in 779 in the dry bed of the Eder, and in 780 defeated Wittekind and his followers in two great battles, completely disorganizing and discouraging the Saxon bands, and again bringing the whole country under his control. This accomplished, he stationed himself in their country, built numerous fortresses upon the Elbe, and spent the summer of 780 in missionary work, gaining a multitude of converts among the seemingly subdued barbarians. The better to make them content with his rule he treated them with great kindness and affability, and sent among them missionaries of their own race, being the hostages whom he had taken in previous years, and who had been educated in monasteries. All went well, the Saxons were to all appearance in a state of peaceful satisfaction, and Charles felicitated himself that he had finally added Saxony to his empire.

He deceived himself sadly. He did not know the spirit of the free-born Saxons, or the unyielding perseverance of their patriotic leader. In the silent depths of their forests, and in the name of their ancient gods, they vowed destruction to the invading Franks, and branded as traitors all those who professed Christianity except as a stratagem to deceive their powerful enemy. Entertaining no suspicion of the true state of affairs, Charlemagne at length left the country, which he fancied to be fully pacified and its people content. With complete confidence in his new subjects, he commissioned his generals, Geil and Adalgis, to march upon the Slavonians beyond the Elbe, who were threatening France with a new barbarian invasion.

They soon learned that there was other work to do. In a brief time the irrepressible Wittekind was in the field again, with a new levy of Saxons at his back, and the tranquillity of the land, established at such pains, was once more in peril. Theoderic, one of Charlemagne's principal generals, hastily marched towards them with what men he could raise, and on his way met the army sent to repel the Slavonians. They approached the Saxon host where it lay encamped on the Weser, behind the Sundel mountain, and laid plans to attack it on both sides at once. But jealousy ruined these plans, as it has many other well-laid schemes. The leaders of the Slavonian contingent, eager to rob Theoderic of glory, marched in haste on the Saxons, attacked them in their camp, and were so completely defeated and overthrown that but a moity of their army escaped from the field. The appearance of these fugitives in the camp of Theoderic was the first he knew of the treachery of his fellow generals and their signal punishment.

The story of this dreadful event was in all haste borne to Charlemagne. His army had been destroyed almost as completely as that of Varus on a former occasion, and in nearly the same country. The distressing tidings filled his soul with rage and a bitter thirst for revenge. He had done his utmost to win over the Saxons by lenity and kindness, but this course now seemed to him useless, if not worse than useless. He determined to adopt opposite measures and try the effect of cruelty and severe retribution. Calling together his forces until he had a great army under his command, he marched into Saxony torch and sword in hand, and swept the country with fire and steel. All who would not embrace Christianity were pitilessly exterminated. Thousands were driven into the rivers to be baptized or drowned. Carnage, desolation, and destruction marked the path of the conqueror. Never had a country been more frightfully devastated by the hand of war.

All who were concerned in the rebellion were seized, so far as Charles could lay hands on them. When questioned, they lay all the blame on Wittekind. He was the culprit, they but his instruments. But Wittekind had vanished, the protesting chiefs and people were in the conqueror's hands, and, bent on making an awful example, he had no less than four thousand five hundred of them beheaded in one day. It was a frightful act of vengeance, which has ever since remained an ineradicable blot on the memory of the great king.

Its effect was what might have been anticipated. Instead of filling the Saxons with terror, it inspired them with revengeful fury. They rose as one man, Wittekind and Alboin at their head, and attacked the French with a fury such as they had never before displayed. The remorseless cruelty with which they had been treated was repaid in the blood of the invaders, and in the many petty combats that took place the hardy and infuriated barbarians proved invincible against their opponents. Even in a pitched battle, fought at Detmold, in which Wittekind led the Saxons against the superior forces of Charlemagne, they held their own against all his strength and generalship, and the victory remained undecided. But they were again brought to battle upon the Hase, and now the superior skill and more numerous army of the great conqueror prevailed. The Saxons were defeated with great slaughter, and the French advanced as far as the Elbe. The war continued during the succeeding year, by the end of which the Saxons had become so reduced in strength that further efforts at resistance would have been madness.

The cruelty which Charlemagne had displayed, and which had proved so signally useless, was now replaced by a mildness much more in conformity with his general character; and the Saxons, exhausted with their struggles, and attracted by the gentleness with which he treated them, showed a general disposition to submit. But Wittekind and his fellow-chieftain Alboin were still at large, and the astute conqueror well knew that there was no security in his new conquest unless they could be brought over. He accordingly opened negotiations with them, requesting a personal conference, and pledging his royal word that they should be dealt with in all faith and honesty. The Saxon chiefs, however, were not inclined to put themselves in the power of a king against whom they had so long and desperately fought without stronger pledge than his bare word. They demanded hostages. Charlemagne, who fully appreciated the value of their friendship and submission, freely acceded to their terms, sent hostages, and was gratified by having the indomitable chiefs enter his palace at Paderborn.

Wittekind was well aware that his mission as a Saxon leader was at an end. The country was subdued, its warriors slain, terrorized, or won over, and his single hand could not keep up the war with France. He, therefore, swore fealty to Charlemagne, freely consented to become a Christian, and was, with his companion, baptized at Attigny in France. The emperor stood his sponsor in baptism, received him out of the font, loaded him with royal gifts, and sent him back with the title of Duke of Saxony, which he held as a vassal of France. Henceforward he seems to have observed good faith to Charlemagne, for his name now vanishes from history, silence in this case being a pledge of honor and peacefulness.

But if history here lays him down, legend takes him up, and yields us a number of stories concerning him not one of which has any evidence to sustain it, but which are curious enough to be worth repeating. It gives us, for instance, a far more romantic account of his conversion than that above told. This relates that, in the Easter season of 785,—the year of his conversion,—Wittekind stole into the French camp in the garb of a minstrel or a mendicant, and, while cautiously traversing it, bent on spying out its weaknesses, was attracted to a large tent within which Charlemagne was attending the service of the mass. Led by an irresistible impulse, the pagan entered the tent, and stood gazing in spellbound wonder at the ceremony, marvelling what the strange and impressive performance meant. As the priest elevated the host, the chief, with astounded eyes, beheld in it the image of a child, of dazzling and unearthly beauty. He could not conceal his surprise from those around him, some of whom recognized in the seeming beggar the great Saxon leader, and took him to the emperor. Wittekind told Charlemagne of his vision, begged to be made a Christian, and brought over many of his countrymen to the fold of the true church by the shining example of his conversion.

Legend goes on to tell us that he became a Christian of such hot zeal as to exact a bloody atonement from the Frisians for their murder of Boniface and his fellow-priests a generation before. It further tells us that he founded a church at Enger, in Westphalia, was murdered by Gerold, Duke of Swabia, and was buried in the church he had founded, and in which his tomb was long shown. In truth, the people came to honor him as a saint, and though there is no record of his canonization, a saint's day, January 7, is given him, and we are told of miracles performed at his tomb.

So much for the dealings of Christian legend with this somewhat unsaintly personage. Secular legend, for it is probably little more, has contented itself with tracing his posterity, several families of Germany deriving their descent from him, while he is held to have been the ancestor of the imperial house of the Othos. Some French genealogists go so far as to trace the descent of Hugh Capet to this hero of the Saxon woods. In truth, he has been made to some extent the Roland or the Arthur of Saxony, though fancy has not gone so far in his case as in that of the French paladin and the Welsh hero of knight-errantry, for, though he and his predecessor Hermann became favorite characters in German ballad and legend, the romance heroes of that land continued to be the mythical Siegfried and his partly fabulous, partly historical companions of the epical song of the Nibelung.


While Central and Southern Europe was actively engaged in wars by land, Scandinavia, that nest of pirates, was as actively engaged in wars by sea, sending its armed galleys far to the south, to plunder and burn wherever they could find footing on shore. Not content with plundering the coasts, they made their way up the streams, and often suddenly appeared far inland before an alarm could be given. Wherever they went, heaps of the dead and the smoking ruins of habitations marked their ruthless course. They did not hesitate to attack fortified cities, several of which fell into their hands and were destroyed. They always fought on foot, but such was their strength, boldness, and activity that the heavy-armed cavalry of France and Germany seemed unable to endure their assault, and was frequently put to flight. If defeated, or in danger of defeat, they hastened back to their ships, from which they rarely ventured far and rowed away with such speed that pursuit was in vain. For a long period they kept the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of Europe in such terror that prayers were publicly read in the churches for deliverance from them, and the sight of their dragon beaked ships filled the land with terror.

In 845 a party of them assailed and took Paris, from which they were bought off by the cowardly and ineffective method of ransom, seven thousand pounds of silver being paid them. In 853 another expedition, led by a leader named Hasting, one of the most dreaded of the Norsemen, again took Paris, marched into Burgundy, laying waste the country as he advanced, and finally took Tours, to which city much treasure had been carried for safe-keeping. Charles the Bald, who had bought off the former expedition with silver, bought off this one with gold, offering the bold adventurer a bribe of six hundred and eighty-five pounds of the precious metal, to which he added a ton and a half of silver, to leave the country.

From France, Hasting set sail for Italy, where his ferocity was aided by a cunning which gives us a deeper insight into his character. Rome, a famous but mystical city to the northern pagans, whose imaginations invested it with untold wealth and splendor, was the proposed goal of the enterprising Norseman, who hoped to make himself fabulously wealthy from its plunder. With a hundred ships, filled with hardy Norse pirates, he swept through the Strait of Gibraltar and along the coasts of Spain and France, plundering as he went till he reached the harbor of Lucca, Italy.

As to where and what Rome was, the unlettered heathen had but the dimmest conception. Here before him lay what seemed a great and rich city, strongly fortified and thickly peopled. This must be Rome, he told himself; behind those lofty walls lay the wealth which he so earnestly craved; but how could it be obtained? Assault on those strong fortifications would waste time, and perhaps end in defeat. If the city could be won by stratagem, so much the better for himself and his men.

The shrewd Norseman quickly devised a promising plan within the depths of his astute brain. It was the Christmas season, and the inhabitants were engaged in the celebration of the Christmas festival, though, doubtless, sorely troubled in mind by that swarm of strange-shaped vessels in their harbor, with their stalwart crews of blue-eyed plunderers.

Word was sent to the authorities of the city that the fleet had come thither from no hostile intent, and that all the mariners wished was to obtain the favor of an honorable burial-place for their chieftain, who had just died. If the citizens would grant them this, they would engage to depart after the funeral without injury to their courteous and benevolent friends. The message—probably not expressed in quite the above phrase—was received in good faith by the unsuspecting Lombards, who were glad enough to get rid of their dangerous visitors on such cheap terms, and gratified to learn that these fierce pagans wished Christian burial for their chief. Word was accordingly sent to the ships that the authorities granted their request, and were pleased with the opportunity to oblige the mourning crews.

Not long afterwards a solemn procession left the fleet, a coffin, draped in solemn black, at its head, borne by strong carriers. As mourners there followed a large deputation of stalwart Norsemen, seemingly unarmed, and to all appearance lost in grief. With slow steps they entered the gates and moved through the streets of the city, chanting the death-song of the great Hasting, until the church was reached, and they had advanced along its crowded aisle to the altar, where stood the priests ready to officiate at the obsequies of the expired freebooter.

The coffin was set upon the floor, and the priests were about to break into the solemn chant for the dead, when suddenly, to the surprise and horror of the worshippers, the supposed corpse sprang to life, leaped up sword in hand, and with a fierce and deadly blow struck the officiating bishop to the heart. Instantly the seeming mourners, who had been chosen from the best warriors of the fleet, flung aside their cloaks and grasped their arms, and a carnival of death began in that crowded church.

It was not slaughter, however, that Hasting wanted, but plunder. Rushing from the church, the Norsemen assailed the city, looting with free hand, and cutting down all who came in their way. No long time was needed by the skilful freebooters for this task, and before the citizens could recover from the mortal terror into which they had been thrown, the pagan plunderers were off again for their ships, laden with spoil, and taking with them as captives a throng of women and maidens, the most beautiful they could find.

This daring affair had a barbarous sequel. A storm arising which threatened the loss of his ships, the brutal Hasting gave orders that the vessels should be lightened by throwing overboard plunder and captives alike. Saved by this radical method, the sea-rovers quickly repaid themselves for their losses by sailing up the Rhone, and laying the country waste through many miles of Southern France.

The end of this phase of Hasting's career was a singular one. In the year 860 he consented to be baptized as a Christian, and to swear allegiance to Charles the Bald of France, on condition of receiving the title of Count of Chartres, with a suitable domain. It was a wiser method of disarming a redoubtable enemy than that of ransoming the land, which Charles had practised with Hasting on a previous occasion. He had converted a foe into a subject, upon whom he might count for defence against those fierce heathen whom he had so often led to battle.

While France, England, and the Mediterranean regions formed the favorite visiting ground of the Norsemen, they did not fail to pay their respects in some measure to Germany, and during the ninth century, their period of most destructive activity, the latter country suffered considerably from their piratical ravages. Two German warriors who undertook to guard the coasts against their incursions are worthy of mention. One of these, Baldwin of the Iron Arm, Count of Flanders, distinguished himself by seducing Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of France, who, young as she was, was already the widow of two English kings, Ethelwolf and his son Ethelbold. Charles was at first greatly enraged, but afterwards accepted Baldwin as his son-in-law, and made him lord of the district. The second was Robert the Strong, Count of Maine, a valiant defender of the country against the sea-kings. He was slain in a bloody battle with them, near Anvers, in 866. This distinguished warrior was the ancestor of Hugh Capet, afterwards king of France.

For some time after his death the Norsemen avoided Germany, paying their attentions to England, where Alfred the Great was on the throne. About 880 their incursions began again, and though they were several times defeated with severe slaughter, new swarms followed the old ones, and year by year fresh fleets invaded the land, leaving ruin in their paths.

Up the rivers they sailed, as in France, taking cities, devastating the country, doing more damage each year than could be repaired in a decade. Aix-la-Chapelle, the imperial city of the mighty Charlemagne, fell into their hands, and the palace of the great Charles, in little more than half a century after his death, was converted by these marauders into a stable. Well might the far-seeing emperor have predicted sorrow and trouble for the land from these sea-rovers, as he is said to have done, on seeing their many-oared ships from a distance. Yet even his foresight could scarcely have imagined that, before he was seventy years in the grave, the vikings of the north would be stabling their horses in the most splendid of his palaces.

The rovers attacked Metz, and Bishop Wala fell while bravely fighting them before its gates. City after city on the Rhine was taken and burned to the ground. The whole country between Liege, Cologne, and Mayence was so ravaged as to be almost converted into a desert. The besom of destruction, in the hands of the sea-kings, threatened to sweep Germany from end to end, as it had swept the greater part of France.

The impunity with which they raided the country was due in great part to the indolent character of the monarch. Charles the Fat, as he was entitled, who had the ambitious project of restoring the empire of Charlemagne, and succeeded in combining France and Germany under his sceptre, proved unable to protect his realm from the pirate rovers. Like his predecessor, Charles the Bald of France, he tried the magic power of gold and silver, as a more effective argument than sharpened steel, to rid him of these marauders. Siegfried, their principal leader, was bought off with two thousand pounds of gold and twelve thousand pounds of silver, to raise which sum Charles seized all the treasures of the churches. In consideration of this great bribe the sea-rover consented to a truce for twelve years. His brother Gottfried was bought off in a different method, being made Duke of Friesland and vassal of the emperor.

These concessions, however, did not put an end to the depredations of the Norsemen. There were other leaders than the two formidable brothers, and other pirates than those under their control, and the country was soon again invaded, a strong party advancing as far as the Moselle, where they took and destroyed the city of Treves. This marauding band, however, dearly paid for its depredations. While advancing through the forest of Ardennes, it was ambushed and assailed by a furious multitude of peasants and charcoal-burners, before whose weapons ten thousand of the Norsemen fell in death.

This revengeful act of the peasantry was followed by a treacherous deed of the emperor, which brought renewed trouble upon the land. Eager to rid himself of his powerful and troublesome vassal in Friesland, Charles invited Gottfried to a meeting, at which he had the Norsemen treacherously murdered, while his brother-in-law Hugo was deprived of his sight. It was an act sure to bring a bloody reprisal. No sooner had news of it reached the Scandinavian north than a fire of revengeful rage swept through the land, and from every port a throng of oared galleys put to sea, bent upon bloody retribution. Soon in immense hordes they fell upon the imperial realm, forcing their way in mighty hosts up the Rhine, the Maese, and the Seine, and washing out the memory of Gottfried's murder in torrents of blood, while the brand spread ruin far and wide.

The chief attack was made on Paris, which the Norsemen invested and besieged for a year and a half. The march upon Paris was made by sea and land, the marauders making Rouen their place of rendezvous. From this centre of operations Rollo—the future conqueror and Duke of Normandy, now a formidable sea-king—led an overland force towards the French capital, and on his way was met by an envoy from the emperor, no less a personage than the Count of Chartres, the once redoubtable Hasting, now a noble of the empire.

"Valiant sirs," he said to Rollo and his chiefs, "who are you that come hither, and why have you come?"

"We are Danes," answered Rollo, proudly; "all of us equals, no man the lord of any other, but lords of all besides. We are come to punish these people and take their lands. And you, by what name are you called?"

"Have you not heard of a certain Hasting," was the reply, "a sea-king who left your land with a multitude of ships, and turned into a desert a great part of this fair land of France?"

"We have heard of him," said Rollo, curtly. "He began well and ended badly."

"Will you submit to King Charles?" asked the envoy, deeming it wise, perhaps, to change the subject.

"We will submit to no one, king or chieftain. All that we gain by the sword we are masters and lords of. This you may tell to the king who has sent you. The lords of the sea know no masters on land."

Hasting left with his message, and Rollo continued his advance to the Seine. Not finding here the ships of the maritime division of the expedition, which he had expected to meet, he seized on the boats of the French fishermen and pursued his course. Soon afterwards a French force was met and put to flight, its leader, Duke Ragnold, being killed. This event, as we are told, gave rise to a new change in the career of the famous Hasting. A certain Tetbold or Thibaud, of Northman birth, came to him and told him that he was suspected of treason, the defeat of the French having been ascribed to secret information furnished by him. Whether this were true, or a mere stratagem on the part of his informant, it had the desired effect of alarming Hasting, who quickly determined to save himself from peril by joining his old countrymen and becoming again a viking chief. He thereupon sold his countship to Tetbold, and hastened to join the army of Norsemen then besieging Paris. As for the cunning trickster, he settled down into his cheaply bought countship, and became the founder of the subsequent house of the Counts of Chartres.

The siege of Paris ended in the usual manner of the Norseman invasions of France,—that of ransom. Charles marched to its relief with a strong army, but, instead of venturing to meet his foes in battle, he bought them off as so often before, paying them a large sum of money, granting them free navigation of the Seine and entrance to Paris, and confirming them in the possession of Friesland. This occurred in 887. A year afterwards he lost his crown, through the indignation of the nobles at his cowardice, and France and Germany again fell asunder.

The plundering incursions continued, and soon afterwards the new emperor, Arnulf, nephew of Charles the Fat, a man of far superior energy to his deposed uncle, attacked a powerful force of the piratical invaders near Louvain, where they had encamped after a victory over the Archbishop of Mayence. In the heat of the battle that followed, the vigilant Arnulf perceived that the German cavalry fought at a disadvantage with their stalwart foes, whose dexterity as foot-soldiers was remarkable. Springing from his horse, he called upon his followers to do the same. They obeyed, the nobles and their men-at-arms leaping to the ground and rushing furiously on foot upon their opponents. The assault was so fierce and sudden that the Norsemen gave way, and were cut down in thousands, Siegfried and Gottfried—a new Gottfried apparently—falling on the field, while the channel of the Dyle, across which the defeated invaders sought to fly, was choked with their corpses.

This bloody defeat put an end to the incursions of the Norsemen by way of the Rhine. Thenceforward they paid their attention to the coast of France, which they continued to invade until one of their great leaders, Rollo, settled in Normandy as a vassal of the French monarch, and served as an efficient barrier against the inroads of his countrymen.

As to Hasting, he appears to have returned to his old trade of sea-rover, and we hear of him again as one of the Norse invaders of England, during the latter part of the reign of Alfred the Great.


We have now to deal with a personage whose story is largely legendary, particularly that of his death, a highly original termination to his career having arisen among the people, who had grown to detest him. But Bishop Hatto played his part in the history as well as in the legend of Germany, and the curious stories concerning him may have been based on the deeds of his actual life. It was in the beginning of the tenth century that this notable churchman flourished as Archbishop of Mayence, and the emperor-maker of his times. In connection with Otho, Duke of Saxony, he placed Louis, surnamed the Child,—for he was but seven years of age,—on the imperial throne, and governed Germany in his name. Louis died in 911, while still a boy, and with him ended the race of Charlemagne in Germany. Conrad, Duke of Franconia, was chosen king to succeed him, but the astute churchman still remained the power behind the throne.

In truth, the influence and authority of the church at that time was enormous, and many of its potentates troubled themselves more about the affairs of the earth than those of heaven. Hatto, while a zealous churchman, was a bold, energetic, and unscrupulous statesman, and raised himself to an almost unlimited power in France and Southern Germany by his arts and influence, Otho of Saxony aiding him in his progress to power. Two of his opponents, Henry and Adelhart, of Babenberg, took up arms against him, and came to their deaths in consequence. Adalbert, the opponent of the Norsemen, was his next antagonist, and Hatto, through his influence in the diet, had him put under the ban of the empire.

Adalbert, however, vigorously resisted this decree, taking up arms in his own defence, and defeating his opponent in the field. But soon, being closely pressed, he retired to his fortress of Bamberg, which was quickly invested and besieged. Here he defended himself with such energy that Hatto, finding that the outlawed noble was not to be easily subdued by force, adopted against him those spiritual weapons, as he probably considered them, in which he was so trained an adept.

Historians tell us that the priest, with a pretence of friendly purpose, offered to mediate between Adalbert and his enemies, promising him, if he would leave his stronghold to appear before the assembled nobles of the diet, that he should have a free and safe return. Adalbert accepted the terms, deeming that he could safely trust the pledged word of a high dignitary of the church. Leaving the gates of his castle, he was met at a short distance beyond by the bishop, who accosted him in his friendliest tone, and proposed that, as their journey would be somewhat long, they should breakfast together within the castle before starting.

Adalbert assented and returned to the fortress with his smooth-tongued companion, took breakfast with him, and then set out with him for the diet. Here he was sternly called to answer for his acts of opposition to the decree of the ruling body of Germany, and finding that the tide of feeling was running strongly against him, proposed to return to his fortress in conformity with the plighted faith of Bishop Hatto. Hatto, with an aspect of supreme honesty, declared that he had already fulfilled his promise. He had agreed that Adalbert should have a free and safe return to his castle. This had been granted him. He had returned there to breakfast without opposition of any sort. The word of the bishop had been fully kept, and now, as a member of the diet, he felt free to act as he deemed proper, all his obligations to the accused having been fulfilled. Just how far this story accords with the actual facts we are unable to say, but Adalbert, despite his indignant protest, was sentenced to death and beheaded.

Hatto had reached his dignity in the church by secular instead of ecclesiastic influence, and is credited with employing his power in this and other instances with such lack of honor and probity that he became an object of the deepest popular contempt and execration. His name was derided in the popular ballads, and he came to be looked upon as the scapegoat of the avarice and licentiousness of the church in that irreligious mediaeval age. Among the legends concerning him is one relating to Henry, the son of his ally, Otho of Saxony, who died in 912. Henry had long quarrelled with the bishop, and the fabulous story goes that, to get rid of his high-spirited enemy, the cunning churchman sent him a gold chain, so skilfully contrived that it would strangle its wearer.

The most famous legend about Hatto, however, is that which tells the manner of his death. The story has been enshrined in poetry by Longfellow, but we must be content to give it in plain prose. It tells us that a famine occurred in the land, and that a number of peasants came to the avaricious bishop to beg for bread. By his order they were shut up in a great barn, which then was set on fire, and its miserable occupants burned to death.

And now the cup of Hatto's infamy was filled, and heaven sent him retribution. From the ruins of the barn issued a myriad of mice, which pursued the remorseless bishop, ceaselessly following him in his every effort to escape their avenging teeth. At length the wretched sinner, driven to despair, fled for safety to a strong tower standing in the middle of the Rhine, near Bingen, with the belief that the water would protect him from his swarming foes. But the mice swam the stream, invaded the tower, and devoured the miserable fugitive. As evidence of the truth of this story we are shown the tower, still standing, and still known as the Maeusethurm, or Mouse Tower. It must be said, however, that this tradition probably refers to another Bishop Hatto, of somewhat later date. Its utterly fabulous character, of course, will be recognisable by all.

So much for Bishop Hatto and his fate. It may be said, in conclusion, that his period was one of terror and excitement in Germany, sufficient perhaps to excuse the overturning of ideas, and the replacement of conceptions of truth and honor by their opposites. The wild Magyars had invaded and taken Hungary, and were making savage inroads into Germany from every quarter. The resistance was obstinate, the Magyars were defeated in several severe battles, yet still their multitudes swarmed over the borders, and carried terror and ruin wherever they came. These invaders were as ferocious in disposition, as fierce in their onsets, as invincible through contempt of death, and as formidable through their skilful horsemanship, as the Huns had been before them. So rapid were their movements, and so startling the suddenness with which they would appear in and vanish from the heart of the country, that the terrified people came to look upon them as possessed of supernatural powers. Their inhuman love of slaughter and their destructive habits added to the terror with which they were viewed. They are said to have been so bloodthirsty, that in their savage feasts after victory they used as tables the corpses of their enemies slain in battle. It is further said that it was their custom to bind the captured women and maidens with their own long hair as fetters, and drive them, thus bound, in flocks to Hungary.

We may conclude with a touching story told of these unquiet and misery-haunted times. Ulrich, Count of Linzgau, was, so the story goes, taken prisoner by the Magyars, and long held captive in their hands. Wendelgarde, his beautiful wife, after waiting long in sorrow for his return, believed him to be dead, and resolved to devote the remainder of her life to charity and devotion. Crowds of beggars came to her castle gates, to whom she daily distributed alms. One day, while she was thus engaged, one of the beggars suddenly threw his arms around her neck and kissed her. Her attendants angrily interposed, but the stranger waved them aside with a smile, and said,—

"Forbear, I have endured blows and misery enough during my imprisonment without needing more from you; I am Ulrich, your lord."

Truly, in this instance, charity brought its reward.


In the reign of Conrad II., Emperor of Germany, took place the event which we have now to tell, one of those interesting examples of romance which give vitality to history. On the death of Henry II., the last of the great house of the Othos, a vast assembly from all the states of the empire was called together to decide who their next emperor should be. From every side they came, dukes, margraves, counts and barons, attended by hosts of their vassals; archbishops, bishops, abbots, and other churchmen, with their proud retainers; Saxons, Swabians, Bavarians, Bohemians, and numerous other nationalities, great and small; all marching towards the great plain between Worms and Mayence, where they gathered on both sides of the Rhine, until its borders seemed covered by a countless multitude of armed men. The scene was a magnificent one, with its far-spreading display of rich tents, floating banners, showy armor, and everything that could give honor and splendor to the occasion.

We are not specially concerned with what took place. There were two competitors for the throne, both of them Conrad by name. By birth they were cousins, and descendants of the emperor Conrad I. The younger of these, but the son of the elder brother, and the most distinguished for ability, was elected, and took the throne as Conrad II. He was to prove one of the noblest sovereigns that ever held the sceptre of the German empire. The election decided, the great assembly dispersed, and back to their homes marched the host of warriors who had collected for once with peaceful purpose.

Two years afterwards, in 1026, Conrad crossed the Alps with an army, and marched through Italy, that land which had so perilous an attraction for German emperors, and so sadly disturbed the peace and progress of the Teutonic realm. Conrad was not permitted to remain there long. Troubles in Germany recalled him to his native soil. Swabia had broken out in hot troubles. Duke Ernst, step-son of Conrad, claimed Burgundy as his inheritance, in opposition to the emperor himself, who had the better claim. He not only claimed it, but attempted to seize it. With him were united two Swabian counts of ancient descent, Rudolf Welf, or Guelph, and Werner of Kyburg.

Swabia was in a blaze when Conrad returned. He convoked a great diet at Ulm, as the legal means of settling the dispute. Thither Ernst came, at the head of his Swabian men-at-arms, and still full of rebellious spirit, although his mother, Gisela, the empress, begged him to submit and to return to his allegiance.

The angry rebel, however, soon learned that his followers were not willing to take up arms against the emperor. They declared that their oath of allegiance to their duke did not release them from their higher obligations to the emperor and the state, that if their lord was at feud with the empire it was their duty to aid the latter, and that if their chiefs wished to quarrel with the state, they must fight for themselves.

This defection left the rebels powerless. Duke Ernst was arrested and imprisoned on a charge of high treason. Eudolf was exiled. Werner, who took refuge in his castle, was besieged there by the imperial troops, against whom he valiantly defended himself for several months. At length, however, finding that his stronghold was no longer tenable, he contrived to make his escape, leaving the nest to the imperialists empty of its bird.

Three years Ernst remained in prison. Then Conrad restored him to liberty, perhaps moved by the appeals of his mother Gisela, and promised to restore him to his dukedom of Swabia if he would betray the secret of the retreat of Werner, who was still at large despite all efforts to take him.

This request touched deeply the honor of the deposed duke. It was much to regain his ducal station; it was more to remain true to the fugitive who had trusted and aided him in his need.

"How can I betray my only true friend?" asked the unfortunate duke, with touching pathos.

His faithfulness was not appreciated by the emperor and his nobles. They placed Ernst under the ban of the empire, and thus deprived him of rank, wealth, and property, reducing him by a word from high estate to abject beggary. His life and liberty were left him, but nothing more, and, driven by despair, he sought the retreat of his fugitive friend Werner, who had taken refuge in the depths of the Black Forest.

Here the two outlaws, deprived of all honest means of livelihood, became robbers, and entered upon a life of plunder, exacting contributions from all subjects of the empire who fell into their hands. They soon found a friend in Adalbert of Falkenstein, who gave them the use of his castle as a stronghold and centre of operations, and joined them with his followers in their freebooting raids.

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse