The Complete History of the Habsburg Empire: 1232-1789 - John S. C. Abbott - ebook

The Complete History of the Habsburg Empire: 1232-1789 ebook

John S. C. Abbott



This eBook edition of "The Complete History of the Habsburg Empire: 1232-1789" has been formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. History of the Austrian Empire embraces all that is wild and wonderful in history; early struggles for aggrandizement, the fierce strife with the Turks, the long conflicts and bloody persecutions of the Reformation, the thirty years' religious war, the meteoric career of Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII. Shooting athwart the lurid storms of battle, the intrigues of Popes, power and encroachments of Louis XIV., the warfare of the Spanish succession and the Polish dismemberment. All these events combine in a sublime tragedy which fiction may in vain attempt to parallel. Contents: Rhodolph of Hapsburg - From 1232 to 1291. Reigns of Albert I., Frederic, Albert and Otho - From 1291 to 1347. Rhodolph II., Albert IV. And Albert V. - From 1389 to 1437. Albert, Ladislaus and Frederic. - From 1440 to 1489. The Emperors Frederic II. And Maximilian I. - From 1477 to 1500. Maximilian I. - From 1500 to 1519. Charles V. - From 1519 to 1555. Ferdinand I.—his Wars and Intrigues. - From 1555 to 1562. Death of Ferdinand I.—Accession of Maximilian II. - From 1562 to 1576. Character of Maximilian.—Succession of Rhodolph III. - From 1576 to 1604. Rhodolph III. And Matthias. - From 1604 to 1612. Matthias. - From 1612 to 1619. Ferdinand II. And Gustavus Adolphus. - From 1629 to 1632. Ferdinand II., Ferdinand Iii. And Leopold I. - From 1632 to 1662. Leopold I. And the Spanish Succession - From 1662 to 1710. Joseph I. And Charles VI. - From 1710 to 1717. Charles VI. - From 1716 to 1727. Charles VI. And the Polish War. - From 1727 to 1735. Charles VI. And the Turkish War Renewed. - From 1735 to 1739. Maria Theresa. - From 1739 to 1780. Joseph II. And Leopold II. - From 1780 to 1792.

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John S. C. Abbott

The Complete History of the Habsburg Empire: 1232-1789

The Rise and the Decline of the Great European Dynasty
Published by Books
Advanced Digital Solutions & High-Quality eBook [email protected] 2018 OK Publishing ISBN 978-80-272-4021-0

Table of Contents

CHAPTER VI. MAXIMILIAN I. From 1500 to 1519.
CHAPTER XV. MATTHIAS. From 1612 to 1619.
CHAPTER XVI. FERDINAND II. From 1619 to 1621.
CHAPTER XVII. FERDINAND II. From 1621 to 1629.
CHAPTER XX. LEOPOLD I. From 1662 to 1697.
CHAPTER XXIII. CHARLES VI. From 1716 to 1727.
CHAPTER XXX. MARIA THERESA. From 1759 to 1780.


Table of Contents

The studies of the author of this work, for the last ten years, in writing the "History of Napoleon Bonaparte," and "The French Revolution of 1789," have necessarily made him quite familiar with the monarchies of Europe. He has met with so much that was strange and romantic in their career, that he has been interested to undertake, as it were, a biography of the Monarchies of Continental Europe—their birth, education, exploits, progress and present condition. He has commenced with Austria.

There are abundant materials for this work. The Life of Austria embraces all that is wild and wonderful in history; her early struggles for aggrandizement—the fierce strife with the Turks, as wave after wave of Moslem invasion rolled up the Danube—the long conflicts and bloody persecutions of the Reformation—the thirty years' religious war—the meteoric career of Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII. shooting athwart the lurid storms of battle—the intrigues of Popes—the enormous pride, power and encroachments of Louis XIV.—the warfare of the Spanish succession and the Polish dismemberment—all these events combine in a sublime tragedy which fiction may in vain attempt to parallel.

It is affecting to observe in the history of Germany, through what woes humanity has passed in attaining even its present position of civilization. It is to be hoped that the human family may never again suffer what it has already endured. We shall be indeed insane if we do not gain some wisdom from the struggles and the calamities of those who have gone before us. The narrative of the career of the Austrian Empire, must, by contrast, excite emotions of gratitude in every American bosom. Our lines have fallen to us in pleasant places; we have a goodly heritage.

It is the author's intention soon to issue, as the second of this series, the History of the Empire of Russia.


Brunswick, Maine, 1859.


Table of Contents

Hawk's Castle.—Albert, Count of Hapsburg.—Rhodolph of Hapsburg.—His Marriage and Estates.—Excommunication and its Results.—His Principles of Honor.—A Confederacy of Barons.—Their Route.—Rhodolph's Election as Emperor of Germany.—The Bishop's Warning.—Dissatisfaction at the Result of the Election.—Advantages Accruing from the Possession of an Interesting Family.—Conquest.—Ottocar Acknowledges the Emperor; yet breaks his Oath of Allegiance.—Gathering Clouds.—Wonderful Escape.—Victory of Rhodolph.—His Reforms.

In the small canton of Aargau, in Switzerland, on a rocky bluff of the Wulpelsberg, there still remains an old baronial castle, called Hapsburg, or Hawk's Castle. It was reared in the eleventh century, and was occupied by a succession of warlike barons, who have left nothing to distinguish themselves from the feudal lords whose castles, at that period, frowned upon almost every eminence of Europe. In the year 1232 this castle was occupied by Albert, fourth Count of Hapsburg. He had acquired some little reputation for military prowess, the only reputation any one could acquire in that dark age, and became ambitious of winning new laurels in the war with the infidels in the holy land. Religious fanaticism and military ambition were then the two great powers which ruled the human soul.

With the usual display of semi-barbaric pomp, Albert made arrangements to leave his castle to engage in the perilous holy war against the Saracens, from which few ever returned. A few years were employed in the necessary preparations. At the sound of the bugle the portcullis was raised, the drawbridge spanned the moat, and Albert, at the head of thirty steel-clad warriors, with nodding plumes, and banners unfurled, emerged from the castle, and proceeded to the neighboring convent of Mari. His wife, Hedwige, and their three sons, Rhodolph, Albert and Hartman, accompanied him to the chapel where the ecclesiastics awaited his arrival. A multitude of vassals crowded around to witness the imposing ceremonies of the church, as the banners were blessed, and the knights, after having received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, were commended to the protection of God. Albert felt the solemnity of the hour, and in solemn tones gave his farewell address to his children.

"My sons," said the steel-clad warrior, "cultivate truth and piety; give no ear to evil counselors, never engage in unnecessary war, but when you are involved in war be strong and brave. Love peace even better than your own personal interests. Remember that the counts of Hapsburg did not attain their heights of reputation and glory by fraud, insolence or selfishness, but by courage and devotion to the public weal. As long as you follow their footsteps, you will not only retain, but augment, the possessions and dignities of your illustrious ancestors."

The tears and sobs of his wife and family interrupted him while he uttered these parting words. The bugles then sounded. The knights mounted their horses; the clatter of hoofs was heard, and the glittering cavalcade soon disappeared in the forest. Albert had left his ancestral castle, never to return. He had but just arrived in Palestine, when he was taken sick at Askalon, and died in the year 1240.

Rhodolph, his eldest son, was twenty-two years of age at the time of his father's death. Frederic II., one of the most renowned monarchs of the middle ages, was then Emperor of that conglomeration of heterogeneous States called Germany. Each of these States had its own independent ruler and laws, but they were all held together by a common bond for mutual protection, and some one illustrious sovereign was chosen as Emperor of Germany, to preside over their common affairs. The Emperor of Germany, having influence over all these States, was consequently, in position, the great man of the age.

Albert, Count of Hapsburg, had been one of the favorite captains of Frederic II. in the numerous wars which desolated Europe in that dark age. He was often at court, and the emperor even condescended to present his son Rhodolph at the font for baptism. As the child grew, he was trained to all athletic feats, riding ungovernable horses, throwing the javelin, wrestling, running, and fencing. He early gave indications of surprising mental and bodily vigor, and, at an age when most lads are considered merely children, he accompanied his father to the camp and to the court. Upon the death of his father, Rhodolph inherited the ancestral castle, and the moderate possessions of a Swiss baron. He was surrounded by barons of far greater wealth and power than himself, and his proud spirit was roused, in disregard of his father's counsels, to aggrandize his fortunes by force of arms, the only way then by which wealth and power could be attained. He exhausted his revenues by maintaining a princely establishment, organized a well-selected band of his vassals into a military corps, which he drilled to a state of perfect discipline, and then commenced a series of incursions upon his neighbors. From some feeble barons he won territory, thus extending his domains; from others he extorted money, thus enabling him to reward his troops, and to add to their number by engaging fearless spirits in his service wherever he could find them.

In the year 1245, Rhodolph strengthened himself still more by an advantageous marriage with Gertrude, the beautiful daughter of the Count of Hohenberg. With his bride he received as her dowry the castle of Oeltingen, and very considerable territorial possessions. Thus in five years Rhodolph, by that species of robbery which was then called heroic adventure, and by a fortunate marriage, had more than doubled his hereditary inheritance. The charms of his bride, and the care of his estates seem for a few years to have arrested the progress of his ambition; for we can find no further notice of him among the ancient chronicles for eight years. But, with almost all men, love is an ephemeral passion, which is eventually vanquished by other powers of the soul. Ambition slumbered for a little time, but was soon roused anew, invigorated by repose.

In 1253 we find Rhodolph heading a foray of steel-clad knights, with their banded followers, in a midnight attack upon the city of Basle. They break over all the defenses, sweep all opposition before them, and in the fury of the fight, either by accident or as a necessity of war, sacrilegiously set fire to a nunnery. For this crime Rhodolph was excommunicated by the pope. Excommunication was then no farce. There were few who dared to serve a prince upon whom the denunciations of the Church had fallen. It was a stunning blow, from which few men could recover. Rhodolph, instead of sinking in despair, endeavored, by new acts of obedience and devotion to the Church, to obtain the revocation of the sentence.

In the region now called Prussia, there was then a barbaric pagan race, against whom the pope had published a crusade. Into this war the excommunicated Rhodolph plunged with all the impetuosity of his nature; he resolved to work out absolution, by converting, with all the potency of fire and sword, the barbarians to the Church. His penitence and zeal seem to have been accepted, for we soon find him on good terms again with the pope. He now sought to have a hand in every quarrel, far and near. Wherever the sounds of war are raised, the shout of Rhodolph is heard urging to the strife. In every hot and fiery foray, the steed of Rhodolph is rearing and plunging, and his saber strokes fall in ringing blows upon cuirass and helmet. He efficiently aided the city of Strasbourg in their war against their bishop, and received from them in gratitude extensive territories, while at the same time they reared a monument to his name, portions of which still exist. His younger brother died, leaving an only daughter, Anne, with a large inheritance. Rhodolph, as her guardian, came into possession of the counties of Kyburg, Lentzburg and Baden, and other scattered domains.

This rapidly-increasing wealth and power, did but increase his energy and his spirit of encroachment. And yet he adopted principles of honor which were far from common in that age of barbaric violence. He would never stoop to ordinary robbery, or harass peasants and helpless travelers, as was constantly done by the turbulent barons around him. His warfare was against the castle, never against the cottage. He met in arms the panoplied knight, never the timid and crouching peasant. He swept the roads of the banditti by which they were infested, and often espoused the cause of citizens and freemen against the turbulent barons and haughty prelates. He thus gained a wide-spread reputation for justice, as well as for prowess, and the name of Rhodolph of Hapsburg was ascending fast into renown. Every post of authority then required the agency of a military arm. The feeble cantons would seek the protection of a powerful chief; the citizens of a wealthy town, ever liable to be robbed by bishop or baron, looked around for some warrior who had invincible troops at his command for their protection. Thus Rhodolph of Hapsburg was chosen chief of the mountaineers of Uri, Schweitz and Underwalden; and all their trained bands were ready, when his bugle note echoed through their defiles, to follow him unquestioning, and to do his bidding. The citizens of Zurich chose Rhodolph of Hapsburg as their prefect or mayor; and whenever his banner was unfurled in their streets, all the troops of the city were at his command.

The neighboring barons, alarmed at this rapid aggrandizement of Rhodolph, formed an alliance to crush him. The mountaineers heard his bugle call, and rushed to his aid. Zurich opened her gates, and her marshaled troops hastened to his banner. From Hapsburg, and Rheinfelden, and Suabia, and Brisgau, and we know not how many other of the territorial possessions of the count, the vassals rushed to the aid of their lord. They met in one of the valleys of Zurich. The battle was short, and the confederated barons were put to utter flight. Some took refuge in the strong castle of Balder, upon a rocky cliff washed by the Albis. Rhodolph selected thirty horsemen and thirty footmen.

"Will you follow me," said he, "in an enterprise where the honor will be equal to the peril?"

A universal shout of assent was the response. Concealing the footmen in a thicket, he, at the head of thirty horsemen, rode boldly to the gates of the castle, bidding defiance, with all the utterances and gesticulations of contempt, to the whole garrison. Those on the ramparts, stung by the insult, rushed out to chastise so impudent a challenge. The footmen rose from their ambush, and assailants and assailed rushed pell mell in at the open gates of the castle. The garrison were cut down or taken captive, and the fortress demolished. Another party had fled to the castle of Uttleberg. By an ingenious stratagem, this castle was also taken. Success succeeded success with such rapidity, that the confederate barons, struck with consternation, exclaimed,

"All opposition is fruitless. Rhodolph of Hapsburg is invincible."

They consequently dissolved the alliance, and sought peace on terms which vastly augmented the power of the conqueror.

Basle now incurred the displeasure of Rhodolph. He led his armies to the gates of the city, and extorted satisfaction. The Bishop of Basle, a haughty prelate of great military power, and who could summon many barons to his aid, ventured to make arrogant demands of this warrior flushed with victory. The palace and vast possessions of the bishop were upon the other side of the unbridged Rhine, and the bishop imagined that he could easily prevent the passage of the river. But Rhodolph speedily constructed a bridge of boats, put to flight the troops which opposed his passage, drove the peasants of the bishop everywhere before him, and burned their cottages and their fields of grain. The bishop, appalled, sued for a truce, that they might negotiate terms of peace. Rhodolph consented, and encamped his followers.

He was asleep in his tent, when a messenger entered at midnight, awoke him, and informed him that he was elected Emperor of Germany. The previous emperor, Richard, had died two years before, and after an interregnum of two years of almost unparalleled anarchy, the electors had just met, and, almost to their own surprise, through the fluctuations and combinations of political intrigue, had chosen Rhodolph of Hapsburg as his successor. Rhodolph himself was so much astonished at the announcement, that for some time he could not be persuaded that the intelligence was correct.

To wage war against the Emperor of Germany, who could lead almost countless thousands into the field, was a very different affair from measuring strength with the comparatively feeble Count of Hapsburg. The news of his election flew rapidly. Basle threw open her gates, and the citizens, with illuminations, shouts, and the ringing of bells, greeted the new emperor. The bishop was so chagrined at the elevation of his foe, that he smote his forehead, and, looking to heaven, profanely said,

"Great God, take care of your throne, or Rhodolph of Hapsburg will take it from you!"

Rhodolph was now fifty-five years of age. Alphonso, King of Castile, and Ottocar, King of Bohemia, had both been candidates for the imperial crown. Exasperated by the unexpected election of Rhodolph, they both refused to acknowledge his election, and sent ambassadors with rich presents to the pope to win him also to their side. Rhodolph, justly appreciating the power of the pope, sent him a letter couched in those terms which would be most palatable to the pontiff.

"Turning all my thoughts to Him," he wrote, "under whose authority we live, and placing all my expectations on you alone, I fall down before the feet of your Holiness, beseeching you, with the most earnest supplication, to favor me with your accustomed kindness in my present undertaking; and that you will deign, by your mediation with the Most High, to support my cause. That I may be enabled to perform what is most acceptable to God and to His holy Church, may it graciously please your Holiness to crown me with the imperial diadem; for I trust I am both able and willing to undertake and accomplish whatever you and the holy Church shall think proper to impose upon me."

Gregory X. was a humane and sagacious man, influenced by a profound zeal for the peace of Europe and the propagation of the Christian faith. Gregory received the ambassadors of Rhodolph graciously, extorted from them whatever concessions he desired on the part of the emperor, and pledged his support.

Ottocar, King of Bohemia, still remained firm, and even malignant, in his hostility, utterly refusing to recognize the emperor, or to perform any of those acts of fealty which were his due. He declared the electoral diet to have been illegally convened, and the election to have been the result of fraud, and that a man who had been excommunicated for burning a convent, was totally unfit to wear the imperial crown. The diet met at Augsburg, and irritated by the contumacy of Ottocar, sent a command to him to recognize the authority of the emperor, pronouncing upon him the ban of the empire should he refuse. Ottocar dismissed the ambassadors with defiance and contempt from his palace at Prague, saying,

"Tell Rhodolph that he may rule over the territories of the empire, but he shall have no dominion over mine. It is a disgrace to Germany, that a petty count of Hapsburg should have been preferred to so many powerful sovereigns."

War, and a fearful one, was now inevitable. Ottocar was a veteran soldier, a man of great intrepidity and energy, and his pride was thoroughly roused. By a long series of aggressions he had become the most powerful prince in Europe, and he could lead the most powerful armies into the field. His dominions extended from the confines of Bavaria to Raab in Hungary, and from the Adriatic to the shores of the Baltic. The hereditary domains of the Count of Hapsburg were comparatively insignificant, and were remotely situated at the foot of the Alps, spreading through the defiles of Alsace and Suabia. As emperor, Rhodolph could call the armies of the Germanic princes into the field; but these princes moved reluctantly, unless roused by some question of great moment to them all. And when these heterogeneous troops of the empire were assembled, there was but a slender bond of union between them.

But Rhodolph possessed mental resources equal to the emergence. As cautious as he was bold, as sagacious in council as he was impetuous in action, he calmly, and with great foresight and deliberation, prepared for the strife. To a monarch in such a time of need, a family of brave sons and beautiful daughters, is an inestimable blessing. Rhodolph secured the Duke of Sclavonia by making him the happy husband of one of his daughters. His son Albert married Elizabeth, daughter of the Count of Tyrol, and thus that powerful and noble family was secured. Henry of Bavaria he intimidated, and by force of arms compelled him to lead his troops to the standard of the emperor; and then, to secure his fidelity, gave his daughter Hedwige to Henry's son Otho, in marriage, promising to his daughter as a dowry a portion of Austria, which was then a feeble duchy upon the Danube, but little larger than the State of Massachusetts.

Ottocar was but little aware of the tremendous energies of the foe he had aroused. Regarding Rhodolph almost with contempt, he had by no means made the arrangements which his peril demanded, and was in consternation when he heard that Rhodolph, in alliance with Henry of Bavaria, had already entered Austria, taken possession of several fortresses, and, at the head of a force of a thousand horsemen, was carrying all before him, and was triumphantly marching upon Vienna. Rhodolph had so admirably matured his plans, that his advance seemed rather a festive journey than a contested conquest. With the utmost haste Ottocar urged his troops down through the defiles of the Bohemian mountains, hoping to save the capital. But Rhodolph was at Vienna before him, where he was joined by others of his allies, who were to meet him at that rendezvous. Vienna, the capital, was a fortress of great strength. Upon this frontier post Charlemagne had established a strong body of troops under a commander who was called a margrave; and for some centuries this city, commanding the Danube, had been deemed one of the strongest defenses of the empire against Mohammedan invasion. Vienna, unable to resist, capitulated. The army of Ottocar had been so driven in their long and difficult march, that, exhausted and perishing for want of provisions, they began to mutiny. The pope had excommunicated Ottocar, and the terrors of the curse of the pope, were driving captains and nobles from his service. The proud spirit of Ottocar, after a terrible struggle, was utterly crushed, and he humbly sued for peace. The terms were hard for a haughty spirit to bear. The conquered king was compelled to renounce all claim to Austria and several other adjoining provinces, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and Windischmark; to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor, and publicly to do him homage as his vassal lord. To cement this compulsory friendship, Rhodolph, who was rich in daughters, having six to proffer as bribes, gave one, with an abundant dowry in silver, to a son of Ottocar.

The day was appointed for the king, in the presence of the whole army, to do homage to the emperor as his liege lord. It was the 25th of November, 1276. With a large escort of Bohemian nobles, Ottocar crossed the Danube, and was received by the emperor in the presence of many of the leading princes of the empire. The whole army was drawn up to witness the spectacle. With a dejected countenance, and with indications, which he could not conceal, of a crushed and broken spirit, Ottocar renounced these valuable provinces, and kneeling before the emperor, performed the humiliating ceremony of feudal homage. The pope in consequence withdrew his sentence of excommunication, and Ottocar returned to his mutilated kingdom, a humbler and a wiser man.

Rhodolph now took possession of the adjacent provinces which had been ceded to him, and, uniting them, placed them under the government of Louis of Bavaria, son of his firm ally Henry, the King of Bavaria. Bavaria bounded Austria on the west, and thus the father and the son would be in easy coöperation. He then established his three Sons, Albert, Hartmann, and Rhodolph, in different parts of these provinces, and, with his queen, fixed his residence at Vienna.

Such was the nucleus of the Austrian empire, and such the commencement of the powerful monarchy which for so many generations has exerted so important a control over the affairs of Europe. Ottocar, however, though he left Rhodolph with the strongest protestations of friendship, returned to Prague consumed by the most torturing fires of humiliation and chagrin. His wife, a haughty woman, who was incapable of listening to the voice of judgment when her passions were inflamed, could not conceive it possible that a petty count of Hapsburg could vanquish her renowned husband in the field. And when she heard that Ottocar had actually done fealty to Rhodolph, and had surrendered to him valuable provinces of the kingdom, no bridle could be put upon her woman's tongue. She almost stung her husband to madness with taunts and reproaches.

Thus influenced by the pride of his queen, Cunegunda, Ottocar violated his oath, refused to execute the treaty, imprisoned in a convent the daughter whom Rhodolph had given to his son, and sent a defiant and insulting letter to the emperor. Rhodolph returned a dignified answer and prepared for war. Ottocar, now better understanding the power of his foe, made the most formidable preparations for the strife, and soon took the field with an army which he supposed would certainly triumph over any force which Rhodolph could raise. He even succeeded in drawing Henry of Bavaria into an alliance; and many of the German princes, whom he could not win to his standard, he bribed to neutrality. Numerous chieftains, lured to his camp by confidence of victory, crowded around him with their followers, from Poland, Bulgaria, Pomerania, Magdeburg, and from the barbaric shores of the Baltic. Many of the fierce nobles of Hungary had also joined the standard of Ottocar.

Thus suddenly clouds gathered around Rhodolph, and many of his friends despaired of his cause. He appealed to the princes of the German empire, and but few responded to his call. His sons-in-law, the Electors of Palatine and of Saxony, ventured not to aid him in an emergence when defeat seemed almost certain, and where all who shared in the defeat would be utterly ruined. In June, 1275, Ottocar marched from Prague, met his allies at the appointed rendezvous, and threading the defiles of the Bohemian mountains, approached the frontiers of Austria. Rhodolph was seriously alarmed, for it was evident that the chances of war were against him. He could not conceal the restlessness and agitation of his spirit as he impatiently awaited the arrival of troops whom he summoned, but who disappointed his hopes.

"I have not one," he sadly exclaimed, "in whom I can confide, or on whose advice I can depend."

The citizens of Vienna perceiving that Rhodolph was abandoned by his German allies, and that they could present no effectual resistance to so powerful an army as was approaching, and terrified in view of a siege, and the capture of the city by storm, urged a capitulation, and even begged permission to choose a new sovereign, that they might not be involved in the ruin impending over Rhodolph. This address roused Rhodolph from his despondency, and inspired him with the energies of despair. He had succeeded in obtaining a few troops from his provinces in Switzerland. The Bishop of Basle, who had now become his confessor, came to his aid, at the head of a hundred horsemen, and a body of expert slingers. Rhodolph, though earnestly advised not to undertake a battle with such desperate odds, marched from Vienna to meet the foe.

Rapidly traversing the southern banks of the Danube to Hamburg, he crossed the river and advanced to Marcheck, on the banks of the Morava. He was joined by some troops from Styria and Carinthia, and by a strong force led by the King of Hungary. Emboldened by these accessions, though still far inferior in strength to Ottocar, he pressed on till the two armies faced each other on the plains of Murchfield. It was the 26th of August, 1278.

At this moment some traitors deserting the camp of Ottocar, repaired to the camp of Rhodolph and proposed to assassinate the Bohemian king. Rhodolph spurned the infamous offer, and embraced the opportunity of seeking terms of reconciliation by apprising Ottocar of his danger. But the king, confident in his own strength, and despising the weakness of Rhodolph, deemed the story a fabrication and refused to listen to any overtures. Without delay he drew up his army in the form of a crescent, so as almost to envelop the feeble band before him, and made a simultaneous attack upon the center and upon both flanks. A terrific battle ensued, in which one party fought, animated by undoubting confidence, and the other impelled by despair. The strife was long and bloody. The tide of victory repeatedly ebbed and flowed. Ottocar had offered a large reward to any of his followers who would bring to him Rhodolph, dead or alive.

A number of knights of great strength and bravery, confederated to achieve this feat. It was a point of honor to be effected at every hazard. Disregarding all the other perils of the battle, they watched their opportunity, and then in a united swoop, on their steel-clad chargers, fell upon the emperor. His feeble guard was instantly cut down. Rhodolph was a man of herculean power, and he fought like a lion at bay. One after another of his assailants he struck from his horse, when a Thuringian knight, of almost fabulous stature and strength, thrust his spear through the horse of the emperor, and both steed and rider fell to the ground. Rhodolph, encumbered by his heavy coat of mail, and entangled in the housings of his saddle, was unable to rise. He crouched upon the ground, holding his helmet over him, while saber strokes and pike thrusts rang upon cuirass and buckler like blows upon an anvil. A corps of reserve spurred to his aid, and the emperor was rescued, and the bold assailants who had penetrated the very center of his army were slain.

The tide of victory now set strongly in favor of Rhodolph, for "the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." The troops of Bohemia were soon everywhere put to rout. The ground was covered with the dead. Ottocar, astounded at his discomfiture, and perhaps fearing the tongue of his wife more than the sabers of his foes, turned his back upon his flying army, and spurred his horse into the thickest of his pursuers. He was soon dismounted and slain. Fourteen thousand of his troops perished on that disastrous day. The body of Ottocar, mutilated with seventeen wounds, was carried to Vienna, and, after being exposed to the people, was buried with regal honors.

Rhodolph, vastly enriched by the plunder of the camp, and having no enemy to encounter, took possession of Moravia, and triumphantly marched into Bohemia. All was consternation there. The queen Cunegunda, who had brought these disasters upon the kingdom, had no influence. Her only son was but eight years of age. The turbulent nobles, jealous of each other, had no recognized leader. The queen, humiliated and despairing, implored the clemency of the conqueror, and offered to place her infant son and the kingdom of Bohemia under his protection. Rhodolph was generous in this hour of victory. As the result of arbitration, it was agreed that he should hold Moravia for five years, that its revenues might indemnify him for the expenses of the war. The young prince, Wenceslaus, was acknowledged king, and during his minority the regency was assigned to Otho, margrave or military commander of Brundenburg. Then ensued some politic matrimonial alliances. Wenceslaus, the boy king, was affianced to Judith, one of the daughters of Rhodolph. The princess Agnes, daughter of Cunegunda, was to become the bride of Rhodolph's second son. These matters being all satisfactorily settled, Rhodolph returned in triumph to Vienna.

The emperor now devoted his energies to the consolidation of these Austrian provinces. They were four in number, Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola. All united, they made but a feeble kingdom, for they did not equal, in extent of territory, several of the States of the American Union. Each of these provinces had its independent government, and its local laws and customs. They were held together by the simple bond of an arbitrary monarch, who claimed, and exercised as he could, supreme control over them all. Under his wise and energetic administration, the affairs of the wide-spread empire were prosperous, and his own Austria advanced rapidly in order, civilization and power. The numerous nobles, turbulent, unprincipled and essentially robbers, had been in the habit of issuing from their castles at the head of banditti bands, and ravaging the country with incessant incursions. It required great boldness in Rhodolph to brave the wrath of these united nobles. He did it fearlessly, issuing the decree that there should be no fortresses in his States which were not necessary for the public defense. The whole country was spotted with castles, apparently impregnable in all the strength of stone and iron, the secure refuge of high-born nobles. In one year seventy of these turreted bulwarks of oppression were torn down; and twenty-nine of the highest nobles, who had ventured upon insurrection, were put to death. An earnest petition was presented to him in behalf of the condemned insurgents.

"Do not," said the king, "interfere in favor of robbers; they are not nobles, but accursed robbers, who oppress the poor, and break the public peace. True nobility is faithful and just, offends no one, and commits no injury."


Table of Contents

Anecdotes Of Rhodolph.—His Desire For The Election Of His Son.—His Death.—Albert.—His Unpopularity.—Conspiracy Of The Nobles.—Their Defeat.—Adolphus Of Nassau Chosen Emperor.—Albert's Conspiracy.—Deposition Of Adolphus And Election Of Albert.—Death Of Adolphus.—The Pope Defied.—Annexation Of Bohemia.—Assassination Of Albert.—Avenging Fury.—The Hermit's Direction.—Frederic The Handsome.—Election Of Henry, Count Of Luxemburg.—His Death.—Election Of Louis Of Bavaria.—Capture Of Frederic.—Remarkable Confidence Toward a Prisoner.—Death Of Frederic.—An Early Engagement.—Death Of Louis.—Accession Of Albert.

Rhodolph of Hapsburg was one of the most remarkable men of his own or of any age, and many anecdotes illustrative of his character, and of the rude times in which he lived, have been transmitted to us. The Thuringian knight who speared the emperor's horse in the bloody fight of Murchfield, was rescued by Rhodolph from those who would cut him down.

"I have witnessed," said the emperor, "his intrepidity, and never could forgive myself if so courageous a knight should be put to death."

During the war with Ottocar, on one occasion the army were nearly perishing of thirst. A flagon of water was brought to him. He declined it, saying,

"I can not drink alone, nor can I divide so small a quantity among all. I do not thirst for myself, but for the whole army."

By earnest endeavor he obtained the perfect control of his passions, naturally very violent. "I have often," said he, "repented of being passionate, but never of being mild and humane."

One of his captains expressed dissatisfaction at a rich gift the emperor made to a literary man who presented him a manuscript describing the wars of the Romans.

"My good friend," Rhodolph replied, "be contented that men of learning praise our actions, and thereby inspire us with additional courage in war. I wish I could employ more time in reading, and could expend some of that money on learned men which I must throw away on so many illiterate knights."

One cold morning at Metz, in the year 1288, he walked out dressed as usual in the plainest garb. He strolled into a baker's shop, as if to warm himself. The baker's termagant wife said to him, all unconscious who he was,

"Soldiers have no business to come into poor women's houses."

"True," the emperor replied, "but do not be angry, my good woman; I am an old soldier who have spent all my fortune in the service of that rascal Rhodolph, and he suffers me to want, notwithstanding all his fine promises."

"Good enough for you," said the woman; "a man who will serve such a fellow, who is laying waste the whole earth, deserves nothing better."

She then, in her spite, threw a pail of water on the fire, which, filling the room with smoke and ashes, drove the emperor into the street.

Rhodolph, having returned to his lodgings, sent a rich present to the old woman, from the emperor who had warmed himself at her fire that morning, and at the dinner-table told the story with great glee to his companions. The woman, terrified, hastened to the emperor to implore mercy. He ordered her to be admitted to the dining-room, and promised to forgive her if she would repeat to the company all her abusive epithets, not omitting one. She did it faithfully, to the infinite merriment of the festive group.

So far as we can now judge, and making due allowance for the darkness of the age in which he lived, Rhodolph appears to have been, in the latter part of his life, a sincere, if not an enlightened Christian. He was devout in prayer, and punctual in attending the services of the Church. The humble and faithful ministers of religion he esteemed and protected, while he was ever ready to chastise the insolence of those haughty prelates who disgraced their religious professions by arrogance and splendor.

At last the infirmities of age pressed heavily upon him. When seventy-three years old, knowing that he could not have much longer to live, he assembled the congress of electors at Frankfort, and urged them to choose his then only surviving son Albert as his successor on the imperial throne. The diet, however, refused to choose a successor until after the death of the emperor. Rhodolph was bitterly disappointed, for he understood this postponement as a positive refusal to gratify him in this respect. Saddened in spirit, and feeble in body, he undertook a journey, by slow stages, to his hereditary dominions in Switzerland. He then returned to Austria, where he died on the 15th of July, 1291, in the seventy-third year of his age.

Albert, who resided at Vienna, succeeded his father in authority over the Austrian and Swiss provinces. But he was a man stern, unconciliating and domineering. The nobles hated him, and hoped to drive him back to the Swiss cantons from which his father had come. One great occasion of discontent was, that he employed about his person, and in important posts, Swiss instead of Austrian nobles. They demanded the dismission of these foreign favorites, which so exasperated Albert that he clung to them still more tenaciously and exclusively.

The nobles now organized a very formidable conspiracy, and offered to neighboring powers, as bribes for their aid, portions of Austria. Austria proper was divided by the river Ens into two parts called Upper and Lower Austria. Lower Austria was offered to Bohemia; Styria to the Duke of Bavaria; Upper Austria to the Archbishop of Saltzburg; Carniola to the Counts of Guntz; and thus all the provinces were portioned out to the conquerors. At the same time the citizens of Vienna, provoked by the haughtiness of Albert, rose in insurrection. With the energy which characterized his father, Albert met these emergencies. Summoning immediately an army from Switzerland, he shut up all the avenues to the city, which was not in the slightest degree prepared for a siege, and speedily starved the inhabitants into submission. Punishing severely the insurgents, he strengthened his post at Vienna, and confirmed his power. Then, marching rapidly upon the nobles, before they had time to receive that foreign aid which had been secretly promised them, and securing all the important fortresses, which were now not many in number, he so overawed them, and so vigilantly watched every movement, that there was no opportunity to rise and combine. The Styrian nobles, being remote, made an effort at insurrection. Albert, though it was in the depth of winter, plowed through the snows of the mountains, and plunging unexpectedly among them, routed them with great slaughter.

While he was thus conquering discontent by the sword, and silencing murmurs beneath the tramp of iron hoofs, the diet was assembling at Frankfort to choose a new chief for the Germanic empire. Albert was confident of being raised to the vacant dignity. The splendor of his talents all admitted. Four of the electors were closely allied to him by marriage, and he arrogantly felt that he was almost entitled to the office as the son of his renowned father. But the electors feared his ambitious and despotic disposition, and chose Adolphus of Nassau to succeed to the imperial throne.

Albert was mortified and enraged by this disappointment, and expressed his determination to oppose the election; but the troubles in his own domains prevented him from putting this threat into immediate execution. His better judgment soon taught him the policy of acquiescing in the election, and he sullenly received the investiture of his fiefs from the hands of the Emperor Adolphus. Still Albert, struggling against unpopularity and continued insurrection, kept his eye fixed eagerly upon the imperial crown. With great tact he conspired to form a confederacy for the deposition of Adolphus.

Wenceslaus, the young King of Bohemia, was now of age, and preparations were made for his coronation with great splendor at Prague. Four of the electors were present on this occasion, which was in June, 1297. Albert conferred with them respecting his plans, and secured their coöperation. The electors more willingly lent their aid since they were exceedingly displeased with some of the measures of Adolphus for the aggrandizement of his own family. Albert with secrecy and vigor pushed his plans, and when the diet met the same year at Metz, a long list of grievances was drawn up against Adolphus. He was summoned to answer to these charges. The proud emperor refused to appear before the bar of the diet as a culprit. The diet then deposed Adolphus and elected Albert II. to the imperial throne, on the 23d of June, 1298.

The two rival emperors made vigorous preparations to settle the dispute with the sword, and the German States arrayed themselves, some on one side and some on the other. The two armies met at Gelheim on the 2d of July, led by the rival sovereigns. In the thickest of the fight Adolphus spurred his horse through the opposing ranks, bearing down all opposition, till he faced Albert, who was issuing orders and animating his troops by voice and gesture.

"Yield," shouted Adolphus, aiming a saber stroke at the head of his foe, "your life and your crown."

"Let God decide," Albert replied, as he parried the blow, and thrust his lance into the unprotected face of Adolphus. At that moment the horse of Adolphus fell, and he himself was instantly slain. Albert remained the decisive victor on this bloody field. The diet of electors was again summoned, and he was now chosen unanimously emperor. He was soon crowned with great splendor at Aix-la-Chapelle.

Still Albert sat on an uneasy throne. The pope, indignant that the electors should presume to depose one emperor and choose another without his consent, refused to confirm the election of Albert, and loudly inveighed him as the murderer of Adolphus. Albert, with characteristic impulsiveness, declared that he was emperor by choice of the electors and not by ratification of the pope, and defiantly spurned the opposition of the pontiff. Considering himself firmly seated on the throne, he refused to pay the bribes of tolls, privileges, territories, etc., which he had so freely offered to the electors. Thus exasperated, the electors, the pope, and the King of Bohemia, conspired to drive Albert from the throne. Their secret plans were so well laid, and they were so secure of success, that the Elector of Mentz tauntingly and boastingly said to Albert, "I need only sound my hunting-horn and a new emperor will appear."

Albert, however, succeeded by sagacity and energy, in dispelling this storm which for a time threatened his entire destruction. By making concessions to the pope, he finally won him to cordial friendship, and by the sword vanquishing some and intimidating others, he broke up the league. His most formidable foe was his brother-in-law, Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia. Albert's sister, Judith, the wife of Wenceslaus, had for some years prevented a rupture between them, but she now being dead, both monarchs decided to refer their difficulties to the arbitration of the sword. While their armies were marching, Wenceslaus was suddenly taken sick and died, in June, 1305. His son, but seventeen years of age, weak in body and in mind, at once yielded to all the demands of his imperial uncle. Hardly a year, however, had elapsed ere this young prince, Wenceslaus III., was assassinated, leaving no issue.

Albert immediately resolved to transfer the crown of Bohemia to his own family, and thus to annex the powerful kingdom of Bohemia to his own limited Austrian territories. Bohemia added to the Austrian provinces, would constitute quite a noble kingdom. The crown was considered elective, though in fact the eldest son was almost always chosen during the lifetime of his father. The death of Wenceslaus, childless, opened the throne to other claimants. No one could more imperiously demand the scepter than Albert. He did demand it for his son Rhodolph in tones which were heard and obeyed. The States assembled at Prague on the 1st of April, 1306. Albert, surrounded by a magnificent retinue, conducted his son to Prague, and to confirm his authority married him to the widow of Wenceslaus, a second wife. Rhodolph also, about a year before, had buried Blanche, his first wife. Albert was exceedingly elated, for the acquisition of Bohemia was an accession to the power of his family which doubled their territory, and more than doubled their wealth and resources.

A mild government would have conciliated the Bohemians, but such a course was not consonant with the character of the imperious and despotic Albert. He urged his son to measures of arbitrary power which exasperated the nobles, and led to a speedy revolt against his authority. Rhodolph and the nobles were soon in the field with their contending armies, when Rhodolph suddenly died from the fatigues of the camp, aged but twenty-two years, having held the throne of Bohemia less than a year.

Albert, grievously disappointed, now demanded that his second son, Frederic, should receive the crown. As soon as his name was mentioned to the States, the assembly with great unanimity exclaimed, "We will not again have an Austrian king." This led to a tumult. Swords were drawn, and two of the partisans of Albert were slain. Henry, Duke of Carinthia, was then almost unanimously chosen king. But the haughty Albert was not to be thus easily thwarted in his plans. He declared that his son Frederic was King of Bohemia, and raising an army, he exerted all the influence and military power which his position as emperor gave him, to enforce his claim.

But affairs in Switzerland for a season arrested the attention of Albert, and diverted his armies from the invasion of Bohemia. Switzerland was then divided into small sovereignties, of various names, there being no less than fifty counts, one hundred and fifty barons, and one thousand noble families. Both Rhodolph and Albert had greatly increased, by annexation, the territory and the power of the house of Hapsburg. By purchase, intimidation, war, and diplomacy, Albert had for some time been making such rapid encroachments, that a general insurrection was secretly planned to resist his power. All Switzerland seemed to unite as with one accord. Albert was rejoiced at this insurrection, for, confident of superior power, he doubted not his ability speedily to quell it, and it would afford him the most favorable pretext for still greater aggrandizement. Albert hastened to his domain at Hapsburg, where he was assassinated by conspirators led by his own nephew, whom he was defrauding of his estates.

Frederic and Leopold, the two oldest surviving sons of Albert, avenged their father's death by pursuing the conspirators until they all suffered the penalty of their crimes. With ferocity characteristic of the age, they punished mercilessly the families and adherents of the assassins. Their castles were demolished, their estates confiscated, their domestics and men at arms massacred, and their wives and children driven out into the world to beg or to starve. Sixty-three of the retainers of Lord Balne, one of the conspirators, though entirely innocent of the crime, and solemnly protesting their unconsciousness of any plot, were beheaded in one day. Though but four persons took part in the assassination, and it was not known that any others were implicated in the deed, it is estimated that more than a thousand persons suffered death through the fury of the avengers. Agnes, one of the daughters of Albert, endeavored with her own hands to strangle the infant child of the Lord of Eschenback, when the soldiers, moved by its piteous cries, with difficulty rescued it from her hands.

Elizabeth, the widow of Albert, with her implacable fanatic daughter Agnes, erected a magnificent convent on the spot at Königsburg, where the emperor was assassinated, and there in cloistered gloom they passed the remainder of their lives. It was an age of superstition, and yet there were some who comprehended and appreciated the pure morality of the gospel of Christ.

"Woman," said an aged hermit to Agnes, "God is not served by shedding innocent blood, and by rearing convents from the plunder of families. He is served by compassion only, and by the forgiveness of injuries."

Frederic, Albert's oldest son, now assumed the government of the Austrian provinces. From his uncommon personal attractions he was called Frederic the Handsome. His character was in conformity with his person, for to the most chivalrous bravery he added the most feminine amiability and mildness. He was a candidate for the imperial throne, and would probably have been elected but for the unpopularity of his despotic father. The diet met, and on the 27th of November, 1308, the choice fell unanimously upon Henry, Count of Luxemburg.

This election deprived Frederic of his hopes of uniting Bohemia to Austria, for the new emperor placed his son John upon the Bohemian throne, and was prepared to maintain him there by all the power of the empire. In accomplishing this, there was a short conflict with Henry of Carinthia, but he was speedily driven out of the kingdom.

Frederic, however, found a little solace in his disappointment, by attaching to Austria the dominions he had wrested from the lords he had beheaded as assassins of his father. In the midst of these scenes of ambition, intrigue and violence, the Emperor Henry fell sick and died, in the fifty-second year of his age. This unexpected event opened again to Frederic the prospect of the imperial crown, and all his friends, in the now very numerous branches of the family, spared neither money nor the arts of diplomacy in the endeavor to secure the coveted dignity for him. A year elapsed after the death of Henry before the diet was assembled. During that time all the German States were in intense agitation canvassing the claims of the several candidates. The prize of an imperial crown was one which many grasped at, and every little court was agitated by the question. The day of election, October 9th, 1314, arrived. There were two hostile parties in the field, one in favor of Frederic of Austria, the other in favor of Louis of Bavaria. The two parties met in different cities, the Austrians at Saxenhausen, and the Bavarians at Frankfort. There were, however, but four electors at Saxenhausen, while there were five at Frankfort, the ancient place of election. Each party unanimously chose its candidate. Louis, of Bavaria, receiving five votes, while Frederic received but four, was unquestionably the legitimate emperor. Most of the imperial cities acknowledged him. Frankfort sung his triumph, and he was crowned with all the ancient ceremonials of pomp at Aix-la-Chapelle.

But Frederic and his party were not ready to yield, and all over Germany there was the mustering of armies. For two years the hostile forces were marching and countermarching with the usual vicissitudes of war. The tide of devastation and blood swept now over one State, and now over another, until at length the two armies met, in all their concentrated strength, at Muhldorf, near Munich, for a decisive battle. Louis of Bavaria rode proudly at the head of thirty thousand foot, and fifteen hundred steel-clad horsemen. Frederic of Austria, the handsomest man of his age, towering above all his retinue, was ostentatiously arrayed in the most splendid armor art could furnish, emblazoned with the Austrian eagle, and his helmet was surmounted by a crown of gold.

As he thus led the ranks of twenty-two thousand footmen, and seven thousand horse, all eyes followed him, and all hearts throbbed with confidence of victory. From early dawn, till night darkened the field, the horrid strife raged. In those days gunpowder was unknown, and the ringing of battle-axes on helmet and cuirass, the strokes of sabers and the clash of spears, shouts of onset, and the shrieks of the wounded, as sixty thousand men fought hand to hand on one small field, rose like the clamor from battling demons in the infernal world. Hour after hour of carnage passed, and still no one could tell on whose banners victory would alight. The gloom of night was darkening over the exhausted combatants, when the winding of the bugle was heard in the rear of the Austrians, and a band of four hundred Bavarian horsemen came plunging down an eminence into the disordered ranks of Frederic. The hour of dismay, which decides a battle, had come. A scene of awful carnage ensued as the routed Austrians, fleeing in every direction, were pursued and massacred. Frederic himself was struck from his horse, and as he fell, stunned by the blow, he was captured, disarmed and carried to the presence of his rival Louis.

The spirit of Frederic was crushed by the awful, the irretrievable defeat, and he appeared before his conqueror speechless in the extremity of his woe. Louis had the pride of magnanimity and endeavored to console his captive.

"The battle is not lost by your fault," said he. "The Bavarians have experienced to their cost that you are a valiant prince; but Providence has decided the battle. Though I am happy to see you as my guest, I sympathize with you in your sorrow, and will do what I can to alleviate it."

For three years the unhappy Frederic remained a prisoner of Louis of Bavaria, held in close confinement in the castle at Trausnitz. At the end of that time the emperor, alarmed at the efforts which the friends of Frederic were making to combine several Powers to take up arms for his relief, visited his prisoner, and in a personal interview proposed terms of reconciliation. The terms, under the circumstances, were considered generous, but a proud spirit needed the discipline of three years' imprisonment before it could yield to such demands.

It was the 13th of March, 1325, when this singular interview between Louis the emperor, and Frederic his captive, took place at Trausnitz. Frederic promised upon oath that in exchange for his freedom he would renounce all claim to the imperial throne; restore all the districts and castles he had wrested from the empire; give up all the documents relative to his election as emperor; join with all his family influence to support Louis against any and every adversary, and give his daughter in marriage to Stephen the son of Louis. He also promised that in case he should fail in the fulfillment of any one of these stipulations, he would return to his captivity.

Frederic fully intended a faithful compliance with these requisitions. But no sooner was he liberated than his fiery brother Leopold, who presided over the Swiss estates, and who was a man of great capacity and military energy, refused peremptorily to fulfill the articles which related to him, and made vigorous preparations to urge the war which he had already, with many allies, commenced against the Emperor Louis. The pope also, who had become inimical to Louis, declared that Frederic was absolved from the agreement at Trausnitz, as it was extorted by force, and, with all the authority of the head of the Church, exhorted Frederic to reassert his claim to the imperial crown.

Amidst such scenes of fraud and violence, it is refreshing to record an act of real honor. Frederic, notwithstanding the entreaties of the pope and the remonstrances of his friends, declared that, be the consequences what they might, he never would violate his pledge; and finding that he could not fulfill the articles of the agreement, he returned to Bavaria and surrendered himself a prisoner to the emperor. It is seldom that history has the privilege of recording so noble an act. Louis of Bavaria fortunately had a soul capable of appreciating the magnanimity of his captive. He received him with courtesy and with almost fraternal kindness. In the words of a contemporary historian, "They ate at the same table and slept in the same bed;" and, most extraordinary of all, when Louis was subsequently called to a distant part of his dominions to quell an insurrection, he intrusted the government of Bavaria, during his absence, to Frederic.

Frederic's impetuous and ungovernable brother Leopold, was unwearied in his endeavors to combine armies against the emperor, and war raged without cessation. At length Louis, harassed by these endless insurrections and coalitions against him, and admiring the magnanimity of Frederic, entered into a new alliance, offering terms exceedingly honorable on his part. He agreed that he and Frederic should rule conjointly as emperors of Germany, in perfect equality of power and dignity, alternately taking the precedence.

With this arrangement Leopold was satisfied, but unfortunately, just at that time, his impetuous spirit, exhausted by disappointment and chagrin, yielded to death. He died at Strasbourg on the 28th of February, 1326. The pope and several of the electors refused to accede to this arrangement, and thus the hopes of the unhappy Frederic were again blighted, for Louis, who had consented to this accommodation for the sake of peace, was not willing to enforce it through the tumult of war. Frederic was, however, liberated from captivity, and he returned to Austria a dejected, broken-hearted man. He pined away for a few months in languor, being rarely known to smile, and died at the castle of Gullenstein on the 13th of January, 1330. His widow, Isabella, the daughter of the King of Arragon, became blind from excessive grief, and soon followed her husband to the tomb.