guard of Cossacks. This had nearly been fatal to the Major, for as soon as his host saw the lances, he suspected treachery, and dragging his poor sick guest to the roof of the house, he tied him up to a stake, and stood over him with a pistol, shouting to Ivan, ‘If you come nearer, I shall blow his brains out, and I have fifty cartridges more for my enemies, and the traitor who leads them.’
‘No traitor!’ cried Ivan. ‘Here are the roubles. I have kept my word!’
‘Let the Cossacks go back, or I shall fire.’
Kascambo himself begged the officer to retire, and Ivan went back with the detachment, and returned alone. Even then the suspicious host made him count out the roubles at a hundred paces from the house, and at once ordered him out of sight; but then went up to the roof, and asked the Major’s pardon for all this rough usage.
‘I shall only recollect that you were my host, and kept your word,’ said Kascambo.
In a few hours more, Kascambo was in safety among his brother officers. Ivan was made a non-commissioned officer, and some months after was seen by the traveler who told the story, whistling the air of Hai Luli at his former master’s wedding feast. He was even then scarcely twenty years old, and peculiarly quiet and soft in manners.
THE BATTLE OF THE BLACKWATER
In the evil days of King Ethelred the Unready, when the teaching of good King Alfred was fast fading away from the minds of his descendants, and self-indulgence was ruining the bold and hardy habits of the English, the fleet was allowed to fall into decay, and Danish ships again ventured to appear on the English coasts.
The first Northmen who had ravaged England came eager for blood and plunder, and hating the sight of a Christian church as an insult to their gods, Thor and Odin; but the lapse of a hundred years had in some degree changed the temper of the North; and though almost every young man thought it due to his fame to have sailed forth as a sea rover, yet the attacks of these marauders might be bought off, and provided they had treasure to show for their voyage, they were willing to spare the lives and lands of the people of the coasts they visited.
King Ethelred and his cowardly, selfish Court were well satisfied with this expedient, and the tax called Danegeld was laid upon the people, in order to raise a fund for buying off the enemy. But there were still in England men of bolder and truer hearts, who held that bribery was false policy, merely inviting the enemy to come again and again, and that the only wise course would be in driving them back by English valor, and keeping the fleet in a condition to repel the ‘Long Serpent’ ships before the foe could set foot upon the coast.
Among those who held this opinion was Brythnoth, Earl of Essex. He was of partly Danish descent himself, but had become a thorough Englishman, and had long and faithfully served the King and his father. He was a friend to the clergy, a founder of churches and convents, and his manor house of Hadleigh was a home of hospitality and charity. It would probably be a sort of huge farmyard, full of great barn-like buildings and sheds, all one story high; some of them serving for storehouses, and others for living-rooms and places of entertainment for his numerous servants and retainers, and for the guests of all degrees who gathered round him as the chief dispenser of justice in his East-Saxon earldom. When he heard the advice given and accepted that the Danes should be bribed, instead of being fought with, he made up his mind that he, at least, would try to raise up a nobler spirit, and, at the sacrifice of his own life, would show the effect of making a manful stand against them.
He made his will, and placed it in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and then, retiring to Hadleigh, he provided horses and arms, and caused all the young men in his earldom to be trained in warlike exercises, according to the good old English law, that every man should be provided with weapons and know the use of them.
The Danes sailed forth, in the year 991, with ninety-three vessels, the terrible ‘Long Serpents’, carved with snakes’ heads at the prow, and the stern finished as the gilded tail of the reptile; and many a lesser ship, meant for carrying plunder. The Sea King, Olaf (or Anlaff), was the leader; and as tidings came that their sails had been seen upon the North Sea, more earnest than ever rang out the petition in the Litany, ‘From the fury of the Northmen, good Lord, deliver us’.
Sandwich and Ipswich made no defense, and were plundered; and the fleet then sailed into the mouth of the River Blackwater, as far as Maldon, where the ravagers landed, and began to collect spoil. When, however, they came back to their ships, they found that the tide would not yet serve them to re-embark; and upon the farther bank of the river bristled the spears of a body of warriors, drawn up in battle array, but in numbers far inferior to their own.
Anlaff sent a messenger, over the wooden bridge that crossed the river, to the Earl, who, he understood, commanded this small army. The brave old man, his grey hair hanging down beneath his helmet, stood, sword in hand, at the head of his warriors.
‘Lord Earl,’ said the messenger, ‘I come to bid thee to yield to us thy treasure, for thy safety. Buy off the fight, and we will ratify a peace with gold.’
‘Hear, O thou sailor!’ was Brythnoth’s answer, ‘the reply of this people. Instead of Danegeld, thou shalt have from them the edge of the sword, and the point of the spear. Here stands an English Earl, who will defend his earldom and the lands of his King. Point and edge shall judge between us.’
Back went the Dane with his message to Anlaff, and the fight began around the bridge, where the Danes long strove to force their way across, but were always driven back by the gallant East-Saxons. The tide had risen, and for some time the two armies only shot at one another with bows and arrows; but when it ebbed, leaving the salt-marches dry, the stout old Earl’s love of fair play overpowered his prudence, and he sent to offer the enemy a free passage, and an open field in which to measure their strength.
The numbers were too unequal; but the battle was long and bloody before the English could be overpowered. Brythnoth slew one of the chief Danish leaders with his own hand, but not without receiving a wound. He was still able to fight on, though with ebbing strength and failing numbers. His hand was pierced by a dart; but a young boy at his side instantly withdrew it, and, launching it back again, slew the foe who had aimed it. Another Dane, seeing the Earl faint and sinking, advanced to plunder him of his ring and jeweled weapons; but he still had strength to lay the spoiler low with his battleaxe. This was his last blow; he gathered his strength for one last cheer to his brave men, and then, sinking on the ground, he looked up to heaven, exclaiming: ‘I thank thee, Lord of nations, for all the joys I have known on earth. Now, O mild Creator! have I the utmost need that Thou shouldst grant grace unto my soul, that my spirit may speed to Thee with peace, O King of angels! to pass into thy keeping. I sue to Thee that Thou suffer not the rebel spirits of hell to vex my parting soul!’
With these words he died; but an aged follower, of like spirit, stood over his corpse, and exhorted his fellows. ‘Our spirit shall be the hardier, and our soul the greater, the fewer our numbers become!’ he cried. ‘Here lies our chief, the brave, the good, the much-loved lord, who has blessed us with many a gift. Old as I am, I will not yield, but avenge his death, or lay me at his side. Shame befall him that thinks to fly from such a field as this!’
Nor did the English warriors fly. Night came down, at last, upon the battlefield, and saved the lives of the few survivors; but they were forced to leave the body of their lord, and the Danes bore away with them his head as a trophy, and with it, alas! ten thousand pounds of silver from the King, who, in his sluggishness and weakness had left Brythnoth to fight and die unaided for the cause of the whole nation. One of the retainers, a minstrel in the happy old days of Hadleigh, who had done his part manfully in the battle, had heard these last goodly sayings of his master, and, living on to peaceful days, loved to rehearse them to the sound of his harp, and dwell on the glories of one who could die, but not be defeated.
Ere those better days had come, another faithful-hearted Englishman had given his life for his people. In the year 1012, a huge army, called from their leader, ‘Thorkill’s Host’, were overrunning Kent, and besieging Canterbury. The Archbishop Aelfeg was earnestly entreated to leave the city while yet there was time to escape; but he replied, ‘None but a hireling would leave his flock in time of danger;’ and he supported the resolution of the inhabitants, so that they held out the city for twenty days; and as the wild Danes had very little chance against a well-walled town, they would probably have saved it, had not the gates been secretly opened to them by the traitorous Abbot Aelfman, whom Aelfeg had once himself saved, when accused of treason before the King.
The Danes slaughtered all whom they found in the streets, and the Archbishop’s friends tried to keep him in the church, lest he should run upon his fate; but he broke from them, and, confronting the enemy, cried: ‘Spare the guiltless! Is there glory in shedding such blood? Turn your wrath on me! It is I who have denounced your cruelty, have ransomed and re-clad your captive.’ The Danes seized upon him, and, after he had seen his cathedral burnt and his clergy slain, they threw him into a dungeon, whence he was told he could only come forth upon the payment of a heavy ransom.
His flock loved him, and would have striven to raise the sum; but, miserably used as they were by the enemy, and stripped by the exactions of the Danes, he would not consent that they should be asked for a further contribution on his account. After seven months’ patience in his captivity, the Danish chiefs, who were then at Greenwich desired him to be brought into their camp, where they had just been holding a great feast. It was Easter Eve, and the quiet of that day of calm waiting was disturbed with their songs, and shouts of drunken revelry, as the chained Archbishop was led to the open space where the warriors sat and lay amid the remains of their rude repast. The leader then told him that they had agreed to let him off for his own share with a much smaller payment than had been demanded, provided he would obtain a largesse for them from the King, his master.
‘I am not the man,’ he answered, ‘to provide Christian flesh for Pagan wolves;’ and when again they repeated the demand, ‘Gold I have none to offer you, save the true wisdom of the knowledge of the living God.’ And he began, as he stood in the midst, to ‘reason to them of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.’
They were mad with rage and drink. The old man’s voice was drowned with shouts of ‘Gold, Bishop–give us gold!’ The bones and cups that lay around were hurled at him, and he fell to the ground, with the cry, ‘O Chief Shepherd, guard Thine own children!’ As he partly raised himself, axes were thrown at him; and, at last, a Dane, who had begun to love and listen to him in his captivity, deemed it mercy to give him a deathblow with an axe. The English maintained that Aelfeg had died to save his flock from cruel extortion, and held him as a saint and martyr, keeping his death day (the 19th of April) as a holiday; and when the Italian Archbishop of Canterbury (Lanfranc) disputed his right to be so esteemed, there was strong opposition and discontent. Indeed, our own Prayer Book still retains his name, under the altered form of St. Alphege; and surely no one better merits to be remembered, for having loved his people far better than himself.
GUZMAN EL BUENO
In the early times of Spanish history, before the Moors had been expelled from the peninsula, or the blight of Western gold had enervated the nation, the old honor and loyalty of the Gothic race were high and pure, fostered by constant combats with a generous enemy. The Spanish Arabs were indeed the flower of the Mahometan races, endowed with the vigor and honor of the desert tribes, yet capable of culture and civilization, excelling all other nations of their time in science and art, and almost the equals of their Christian foes in the attributes of chivalry. Wars with them were a constant crusade, consecrated in the minds of the Spaniards as being in the cause of religion, and yet in some degree freed from savagery and cruelty by the respect exacted by the honorable character of the enemy, and by the fact that the civilization and learning of the Christian kingdoms were far more derived from the Moors than from the kindred nations of Europe.
By the close of the thirteenth century, the Christian kingdoms of Castille and Aragon were descending from their mountain fastnesses, and spreading over the lovely plains of the south, even to the Mediterranean coast, as one beautiful Moorish city after another yielded to the persevering advances of the children of the Goths; and in 1291 the nephew of our own beloved Eleanor of Castille, Sancho V. called El Bravo, ventured to invest the city of Tarifa.
This was the western buttress of the gate of the Mediterranean, the base of the northern Pillar of Hercules, and esteemed one of the gates of Spain. By it five hundred years previously had the Moorish enemy first entered Spain at the summons of Count Julian, under their leader Tarif- abu-Zearah, whose name was bestowed upon it in remembrance of his landing there. The form of the ground is said to be like a broken punch bowl, with the broken part towards the sea. The Moors had fortified the city with a surrounding wall and twenty-six towers, and had built a castle with a lighthouse on a small adjacent island, called Isla Verde, which they had connected with the city by a causeway. Their fortifications, always admirable, have existed ever since, and in 1811, another five hundred years after, were successfully defended against the French by a small force of British troops under the command of Colonel Hugh Gough, better known in his old age as the victor of Aliwal. The walls were then unable to support the weight of artillery, for which of course they had never been built, but were perfectly effective against escalade.
For six months King Sancho besieged Tarifa by land and sea, his fleet, hired from the Genoese, lying in the waters where the battle of Trafalgar was to be fought. The city at length yielded under stress of famine, but the King feared that he had no resources to enable him to keep it, and intended to dismantle and forsake it, when the Grand Master of the military order of Calatrava offered to undertake the defense with his knights for one year, hoping that some other noble would come forward at the end of that time and take the charge upon himself.
He was not mistaken. The noble who made himself responsible for this post of danger was a Leonese knight of high distinction, by name Alonso Perez de Guzman, already called El Bueno, or ‘The Good’, from the high qualities he had manifested in the service of the late King, Don Alonso VI, by whom he had always stood when the present King, Don Sancho, was in rebellion. The offer was readily accepted, and the whole Guzman family removed to Tarifa, with the exception of the eldest son, who was in the train of the Infant Don Juan, the second son of the late King, who had always taken part with his father against his brother, and on Sancho’s accession, continued his enmity, and fled to Portugal.
The King of Portugal, however, being requested by Sancho not to permit him to remain there, he proceeded to offer his services to the King of Morocco, Yusuf-ben-Yacoub, for whom he undertook to recover Tarifa, if 5,000 horse were granted to him for the purpose. The force would have been most disproportionate for the attack of such a city as Tarifa, but Don Juan reckoned on means that he had already found efficacious; when he had obtained the surrender of Zamora to his father by threatening to put to death a child of the lady in command of the fortress.
Therefore, after summoning Tarifa at the head of his 5,000 Moors, he led forth before the gates the boy who had been confided to his care, and declared that unless the city were yielded instantly, Guzman should behold the death of his own son at his hand! Before, he had had to deal with a weak woman on a question of divided allegiance. It was otherwise here. The point was whether the city should be made over to the enemies of the faith and country, whether the plighted word of a loyal knight should be broken. The boy was held in the grasp of the cruel prince, stretching out his hands and weeping as he saw his father upon the walls. Don Alonso’s eyes, we are told, filled with tears as he cast one long, last look at his first-born, whom he might not save except at the expense of his truth and honor.
The struggle was bitter, but he broke forth at last in these words: ‘I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death. So far am I from yielding this place or betraying my trust, that in case he should want a weapon for his cruel purpose, there goes my knife!’
He cast the knife in his belt over the walls, and returned to the Castle where, commanding his countenance, he sat down to table with his wife. Loud shouts of horror and dismay almost instantly called him forth again. He was told that Don Juan had been seen to cut the boy’s throat in a transport of blind rage. ‘I thought the enemy had broken in,’ he calmly said, and went back again.
The Moors themselves were horrorstruck at the atrocity of their ally, and as the siege was hopeless they gave it up; and Don Juan, afraid and ashamed to return to Morocco, wandered to the Court of Granada.
King Sancho was lying sick at Alcala de Henares when the tidings of the price of Guzman’s fidelity reached him. Touched to the depths of his heart he wrote a letter to his faithful subject, comparing his sacrifice to that of Abraham, confirming to him the surname of Good, lamenting his own inability to come and offer his thanks and regrets, but entreating Guzman’s presence at Alcala.
All the way thither, the people thronged to see the man true to his word at such a fearful cost. The Court was sent out to meet him, and the King, after embracing him, exclaimed, ‘Here learn, ye knights, what are exploits of virtue. Behold your model.’
Lands and honors were heaped upon Alonso de Guzman, and they were not a mockery of his loss, for he had other sons to inherit them. He was the staunch friend of Sancho’s widow and son in a long and perilous minority, and died full of years and honors. The lands granted to him were those of Medina Sidonia which lie between the Rivers Guadiana and Guadalquivir, and they have ever since been held by his descendants, who still bear the honored name of Guzman, witnessing that the man who gave the life of his first-born rather than break his faith to the King has left a posterity as noble and enduring as any family in Europe.
FAITHFUL TILL DEATH
One of the ladies most admired by the ancient Romans was Arria, the wife of Caecina Paetus, a Roman who was condemned by the Emperor Claudius to become his own executioner. Seeing him waver, his wife, who was resolved to be with him in death as in life, took the dagger from his hand, plunged it into her own breast, and with her last strength held it out to him, gasping out, ‘It is not painful, my Paetus.’
Such was heathen faithfulness even to death; and where the teaching of Christianity had not forbidden the taking away of life by one’s own hand, perhaps wifely love could not go higher. Yet Christian women have endured a yet more fearful ordeal to their tender affection, watching, supporting, and finding unfailing fortitude to uphold the sufferer in agonies that must have rent their hearts.
Natalia was the fair young wife of Adrian, an officer at Nicomedia, in the guards of the Emperor Galerius Maximianus, and only about twenty- eight years old. Natalia was a Christian, but her husband remained a pagan, until, when he was charged with the execution of some martyrs, their constancy, coupled with the testimony of his own wife’s virtues, triumphed over his unbelief, and he confessed himself likewise a Christian. He was thrown into prison, and sentenced to death, but he prevailed on his gaoler to permit him to leave the dungeon for a time, that he might see his wife. The report came to Natalia that he was no longer in prison, and she threw herself on the ground, lamenting aloud: ‘Now will men point at me, and say, ‘Behold the wife of the coward and apostate, who, for fear of death, hath denied his God.’
‘Oh, thou noble and strong-hearted woman,’ said Adrian’s voice at the door, ‘I bless God that I am not unworthy of thee. Open the door that I may bid thee farewell.’
But this was not the last farewell, though he duly went back to the prison; for when, the next day, he had been cruelly scourged and tortured before the tribunal, Natalia, with her hair cut short, and wearing the disguise of a youth, was there to tend and comfort him. She took him in her arms saying, ‘Oh, light of mine eyes, and husband of mine heart, blessed art thou, who art chosen to suffer for Christ’s sake.’
On the following day, the tyrant ordered that Adrian’s limbs should be one by one struck off on a blacksmith’s anvil, and lastly his head. And still it was his wife who held him and sustained him through all and, ere the last stroke of the executioner, had received his last breath. She took up one of the severed hands, kissed it, and placed it in her bosom, and escaping to Byzantium, there spent her life in widowhood.
Nor among these devoted wives should we pass by Gertrude, the wife of Rudolf, Baron von der Wart, a Swabian nobleman, who was so ill-advised as to join in a conspiracy of Johann of Hapsburg, in 1308, against the Emperor, Albrecht I, the son of the great and good Rudolf of Hapsburg.
This Johann was the son of the Emperor’s brother Rudolf, a brave knight who had died young, and Johann had been brought up by a Baron called Walther von Eschenbach, until, at nineteen years old, he went to his uncle to demand his father’s inheritance. Albrecht was a rude and uncouth man, and refused disdainfully the demand, whereupon the noblemen of the disputed territory stirred up the young prince to form a plot against him, all having evidently different views of the lengths to which they would proceed. This was just at the time that the Swiss, angry at the overweening and oppressive behaviour of Albrecht’s governors, were first taking up arms to maintain that they owed no duty to him as Duke of Austria, but merely as Emperor of Germany. He set out on his way to chastise them as rebels, taking with him a considerable train, of whom his nephew Johann was one. At Baden, Johann, as a last experiment, again applied for his inheritance, but by way of answer, Albrecht held out a wreath of flowers, telling him they better became his years than did the cares of government. He burst into tears, threw the wreath upon the ground, and fed his mind upon the savage purpose of letting his uncle find out what he was fit for.
By and by, the party came to the banks of the Reuss, where there was no bridge, and only one single boat to carry the whole across. The first to cross were the Emperor with one attendant, besides his nephew and four of the secret partisans of Johann. Albrecht’s son Leopold was left to follow with the rest of the suite, and the Emperor rode on towards the hills of his home, towards the Castle of Hapsburg, where his father’s noble qualities had earned the reputation which was the cause of all the greatness of the line. Suddenly his nephew rode up to him, and while one of the conspirators seized the bridle of his horse, exclaimed, ‘Will you now restore my inheritance?’ and wounded him in the neck. The attendant fled; Der Wart, who had never thought murder was to be a part of the scheme, stood aghast, but the other two fell on the unhappy Albrecht, and each gave him a mortal wound, and then all five fled in different directions. The whole horrible affair took place full in view of Leopold and the army on the other side of the river, and when it became possible for any of them to cross, they found that the Emperor had just expired, with his head in the lap of a poor woman.
The murderers escaped into the Swiss mountains, expecting shelter there; but the stout, honest men of the cantons were resolved not to have any connection with assassins, and refused to protect them. Johann himself, after long and miserable wanderings in disguise, bitterly repented, owned his crime to the Pope, and was received into a convent; Eschenbach escaped, and lived fifteen years as a cowherd. The others all fell into the hands of the sons and daughters of Albrecht, and woeful was the revenge that was taken upon them, and upon their innocent families and retainers.
That Leopold, who had seen his father slain before his eyes, should have been deeply incensed, was not wonderful, and his elder brother Frederick, as Duke of Austria, was charged with the execution of justice; but both brothers were horribly savage and violent in their proceedings, and their sister Agnes surpassed them in her atrocious thirst for vengeance. She was the wife of the King of Hungary, very clever and discerning, and also supposed to be very religious, but all better thoughts were swept away by her furious passion. She had nearly strangled Eschenbach’s infant son with her own bare hands, when he was rescued from her by her own soldiers, and when she was watching the beheading of sixty-three vassals of another of the murderers, she repeatedly exclaimed, ‘Now I bathe in May dew.’ Once, indeed, she met with a stern rebuke. A hermit, for whom she had offered to build a convent, answered her, ‘Woman, God is not served by shedding innocent blood and by building convents out of the plunder of families, but by compassion and forgiveness of injuries.’
Rudolf von der Wart received the horrible sentence of being broken on the wheel. On his trial the Emperor’s attendant declared that Der Wart had attacked Albert with his dagger, and the cry, ‘How long will ye suffer this carrion to sit on horseback?’ but he persisted to the last that he had been taken by surprise by the murder. However, there was no mercy for him; and, by the express command of Queen Agnes, after he had been bound upon one wheel, and his limbs broken by heavy blows from the executioner, he was fastened to another wheel, which was set upon a pole, where he was to linger out the remaining hours of his life. His young wife, Gertrude, who had clung to him through all the trial, was torn away and carried off to the Castle of Kyburg; but she made her escape at dusk, and found her way, as night came on, to the spot where her husband hung still living upon the wheel. That night of agony was described in a letter ascribed to Gertrude herself. The guard left to watch fled at her approach, and she prayed beneath the scaffold, and then, heaping some heavy logs of wood together, was able to climb up near enough to embrace him and stroke back the hair from his face, whilst he entreated her to leave him, lest she should be found there, and fall under the cruel revenge of the Queen, telling her that thus it would be possible to increase his suffering.
‘I will die with you,’ she said, ’tis for that I came, and no power shall force me from you;’ and she prayed for the one mercy she hoped for, speedy death for her husband.
In Mrs. Hemans’ beautiful words–
‘And bid me not depart,’ she cried,
‘My Rudolf, say not so;
This is no time to quit thy side,
Peace, peace, I cannot go!
Hath the world aught for me to fear When death is on thy brow?
The world! what means it? Mine is here! I will not leave thee now.
‘I have been with thee in thine hour Of glory and of bliss;
Doubt not its memory’s living power To strengthen me through this.
And thou, mine honor’d love and true, Bear on, bear nobly on;
We have the blessed heaven in view, Whose rest shall soon be won.’
When day began to break, the guard returned, and Gertrude took down her stage of wood and continued kneeling at the foot of the pole. Crowds of people came to look, among them the wife of one of the officials, whom Gertrude implored to intercede that her husband’s sufferings might be ended; but though this might not be, some pitied her, and tried to give her wine and confections, which she could not touch. The priest came and exhorted Rudolf to confess the crime, but with a great effort he repeated his former statement of innocence.
A band of horsemen rode by. Among them was the young Prince Leopold and his sister Agnes herself, clad as a knight. They were very angry at the compassion shown by the crowd, and after frightfully harsh language commanded that Gertrude should be dragged away; but one of the nobles interceded for her, and when she had been carried away to a little distance her entreaties were heard, and she was allowed to break away and come back to her husband. The priest blessed Gertrude, gave her his hand and said, ‘Be faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown of life,’ and she was no further molested.
Night came on, and with it a stormy wind, whose howling mingled with the voice of her prayers, and whistled in the hair of the sufferer. One of the guard brought her a cloak. She climbed on the wheel, and spread the covering over her husband’s limbs; then fetched some water in her shoe, and moistened his lips with it, sustaining him above all with her prayers, and exhortations to look to the joys beyond. He had ceased to try to send her away, and thanked her for the comfort she gave him. And still she watched when morning came again, and noon passed over her, and it was verging to evening, when for the last time he moved his head; and she raised herself so as to be close to him. With a smile, he murmured, ‘Gertrude, this is faithfulness till death,’ and died. She knelt down to thank God for having enabled her to remain for that last breath–
‘While even as o’er a martyr’s grave
She knelt on that sad spot,
And, weeping, blessed the God who gave Strength to forsake it not!’
She found shelter in a convent at Basle, where she spent the rest of her life in a quiet round of prayer and good works; till the time came when her widowed heart should find its true rest for ever.
WHAT IS BETTER THAN SLAYING A DRAGON
The next story we have to tell is so strange and wild, that it would seem better to befit the cloudy times when history had not yet been disentangled from fable, than the comparatively clear light of the fourteenth century.
It took place in the island of Rhodes. This Greek isle had become the home of the Knights of St. John, or Hospitaliers, an order of sworn brethren who had arisen at the time of the Crusades. At first they had been merely monks, who kept open house for the reception of the poor penniless pilgrims who arrived at Jerusalem in need of shelter, and often of nursing and healing. The good monks not only fed and housed them, but did their best to cure the many diseases that they would catch in the toilsome journey in that feverish climate; and thus it has come to pass that the word hospitium, which in Latin only means an inn, has, in modern languages, given birth, on the one hand, to hotel, or lodging house, on the other, to hospital, or house of healing. The Hospital at Jerusalem was called after St. John the Almoner, a charitable Bishop of old, and the brethren were Hospitaliers. By and by, when the first Crusade was over, and there was a great need of warriors to maintain the Christian cause in Jerusalem, the Hospitaliers thought it a pity that so many strong arms should be prevented from exerting themselves, by the laws that forbade the clergy to do battle, and they obtained permission from the Pope to become warriors as well as monks. They were thus all in one–knights, priests, and nurses; their monasteries were both castles and hospitals; and the sick pilgrim or wounded Crusader was sure of all the best tendance and medical care that the times could afford, as well as of all the ghostly comfort and counsel that he might need, and, if he recovered, he was escorted safely down to the seashore by a party strong enough to protect him from the hordes of robber Arabs. All this was for charity’s sake, and without reward. Surely the constitution of the Order was as golden as its badge–the eight-pointed cross–which the brethren wore round their neck. They wore it also in white over their shoulder upon a black mantle. And the knights who had been admitted to the full honors of the Order had a scarlet surcoat, likewise with the white cross, over their armor. The whole brotherhood was under the command of a Grand Master, who was elected in a chapter of all the knights, and to whom all vowed to render implicit obedience.
Good service in all their three capacities had been done by the Order as long as the Crusaders were able to keep a footing in the Holy Land; but they were driven back step by step, and at last, in 1291, their last stronghold at Acre was taken, after much desperate fighting, and the remnant of the Hospitaliers sailed away to the isle of Cyprus, where, after a few years, they recruited their forces, and, in 1307, captured the island of Rhodes, which had been a nest of Greek and Mahometan pirates. Here they remained, hoping for a fresh Crusade to recover the Holy Sepulcher, and in the meantime fulfilling their old mission as the protectors and nurses of the weak. All the Mediterranean Sea was infested by corsairs from the African coast and the Greek isles, and these brave knights, becoming sailors as well as all they had been before, placed their red flag with its white cross at the masthead of many a gallant vessel that guarded the peaceful traveler, hunted down the cruel pirate, and brought home his Christian slave, rescued from laboring at the oar, to the Hospital for rest and tendance. Or their treasures were used in redeeming the captives in the pirate cities. No knight of St. John might offer any ransom for himself save his sword and scarf; but for the redemption of their poor fellow Christians their wealth was ready, and many a captive was released from toiling in Algiers or Tripoli, or still worse, from rowing the pirate vessels, chained to the oar, between the decks, and was restored to health and returned to his friends, blessing the day he had been brought into the curving harbour of Rhodes, with the fine fortified town of churches and monasteries.
Some eighteen years after the conquest of Rhodes, the whole island was filled with dismay by the ravages of an enormous creature, living in a morass at the foot of Mount St. Stephen, about two miles from the city of Rhodes. Tradition calls it a dragon, and whether it were a crocodile or a serpent is uncertain. There is reason to think that the monsters of early creation were slow in becoming extinct, or it is not impossible that either a crocodile or a python might have been brought over by storms or currents from Africa, and have grown to a more formidable size than usual in solitude among the marshes, while the island was changing owners. The reptile, whatever it might be, was the object of extreme dread; it devoured sheep and cattle, when they came down to the water, and even young shepherd boys were missing. And the pilgrimage to the Chapel of St. Stephen, on the hill above its lair, was especially a service of danger, for pilgrims were believed to be snapped up by the dragon before they could mount the hill.
Several knights had gone out to attempt the destruction of the creature, but not one had returned, and at last the Grand Master, Helion de Villeneuve, forbade any further attacks to be made. The dragon is said to have been covered with scales that were perfectly impenetrable either to arrows or any cutting weapon; and the severe loss that encounters with him had cost the Order, convinced the Grand Master that he must be let alone.
However, a young knight, named Dieudonne de Gozon, was by no means willing to acquiesce in the decree; perhaps all the less because it came after he had once gone out in quest of the monster, but had returned, by his own confession, without striking a blow. He requested leave of absence, and went home for a time to his father’s castle of Gozon, in Languedoc; and there he caused a model of the monster to be made. He had observed that the scales did not protect the animal’s belly, though it was almost impossible to get a blow at it, owing to its tremendous teeth, and the furious strokes of its length of tail. He therefore caused this part of his model to be made hollow, and filled with food, and obtaining two fierce young mastiffs, he trained them to fly at the under side of the monster, while he mounted his warhorse, and endeavored to accustom it likewise to attack the strange shape without swerving.
When he thought the education of horse and dogs complete, he returned to Rhodes; but fearing to be prevented from carrying out his design, he did not land at the city, but on a remote part of the coast, whence he made his way to the chapel of St. Stephen. There, after having recommended himself to God, he left his two French squires, desiring them to return home if he were slain, but to watch and come to him if he killed the dragon, or were only hurt by it. He then rode down the hillside, and towards the haunt of the dragon. It roused itself at his advance, and at first he charged it with his lance, which was perfectly useless against the scales. His horse was quick to perceive the difference between the true and the false monster, and started back, so that he was forced to leap to the ground; but the two dogs were more staunch, and sprang at the animal, whilst their master struck at it with his sword, but still without reaching a vulnerable part, and a blow from the tail had thrown him down, and the dragon was turning upon him, when the movement left the undefended belly exposed. Both mastiffs fastened on it at once, and the knight, regaining his feet, thrust his sword into it. There was a death grapple, and finally the servants, coming down the hill, found their knight lying apparently dead under the carcass of the dragon. When they had extricated him, taken off his helmet, and sprinkled him with water, he recovered, and presently was led into the city amid the ecstatic shouts of the whole populace, who conducted him in triumph to the palace of the Grand Master.
We have seen how Titus Manlius was requited by his father for his breach of discipline. It was somewhat in the same manner that Helion de Villeneuve received Dieudonne. We borrow Schiller’s beautiful version of the conversation that took place, as the young knight, pale, with his black mantle rent, his shining armor dinted, his scarlet surcoat stained with blood, came into the Knights’ Great Hall.
‘Severe and grave was the Master’s brow, Quoth he, ‘A hero bold art thou,
By valor ‘t is that knights are known; A valiant spirit hast thou shown;
But the first duty of a knight,
Now tell, who vows for CHRIST to fight And bears the Cross on his coat of mail.’ The listeners all with fear grew pale,
While, bending lowly, spake the knight, His cheeks with blushes burning,
‘He who the Cross would bear aright Obedience must be learning.’
Even after hearing the account of the conflict, the Grand Master did not abate his displeasure.
‘My son, the spoiler of the land
Lies slain by thy victorious hand
Thou art the people’s god, but so
Thou art become thine Order’s foe;
A deadlier foe thine heart has bred Than this which by thy hand is dead,
That serpent still the heart defiling To ruin and to strife beguiling,
It is that spirit rash and bold,
That scorns the bands of order;
Rages against them uncontrolled
Till earth is in disorder.
‘Courage by Saracens is shown,
Submission is the Christian’s own;
And where our Saviour, high and holy, Wandered a pilgrim poor and lowly
Upon that ground with mystery fraught, The fathers of our Order taught
The duty hardest to fulfil
Is to give up your own self-will
Thou art elate with glory vain.
Away then from my sight!
Who can his Saviour’s yoke disdain
Bears not his Cross aright.’
‘An angry cry burst from the crowd,
The hall rang with their tumult loud; Each knightly brother prayed for grace.
The victor downward bent his face,
Aside his cloak in silence laid,
Kissed the Grand Master’s hand, nor stayed. The Master watched him from the hall,
Then summoned him with loving call, ‘Come to embrace me, noble son,
Thine is the conquest of the soul; Take up the Cross, now truly won,
By meekness and by self-control.’
The probation of Dieudonne is said to have been somewhat longer than the poem represents, but after the claims of discipline had been established, he became a great favorite with stern old Villeneuve, and the dragon’s head was set up over the gate of the city, where Thèvenot professed to have seen it in the seventeenth century, and said that it was larger than that of a horse, with a huge mouth and teeth and very large eyes. The name of Rhodes is said to come from a Phoenician word, meaning a serpent, and the Greeks called this isle of serpents, which is all in favor of the truth of the story. But, on the other hand, such traditions often are prompted by the sight of the fossil skeletons of the dragons of the elder world, and are generally to be met with where such minerals prevail as are found in the northern part of Rhodes. The tale is disbelieved by many, but it is hard to suppose it an entire invention, though the description of the monster may have been exaggerated.
Dieudonne de Gozon was elected to the Grand Mastership after the death of Villeneuve, and is said to have voted for himself. If so, it seems as if he might have had, in his earlier days, an overweening opinion of his own abilities. However, he was an excellent Grand Master, a great soldier, and much beloved by all the poor peasants of the island, to whom he was exceedingly kind. He died in 1353, and his tomb is said to have been the only inscribed with these words, ‘Here lies the Dragon Slayer.’
THE KEYS OF CALAIS
Nowhere does the continent of Europe approach Great Britain so closely as at the straits of Dover, and when our sovereigns were full of the vain hope of obtaining the crown of France, or at least of regaining the great possessions that their forefathers has owned as French nobles, there was no spot so coveted by them as the fortress of Calais, the possession of which gave an entrance into France.
Thus it was that when, in 1346, Edward III. had beaten Philippe VI. at the battle of Crecy, the first use he made of his victory was to march upon Calais, and lay siege to it. The walls were exceedingly strong and solid, mighty defenses of masonry, of huge thickness and like rocks for solidity, guarded it, and the king knew that it would be useless to attempt a direct assault. Indeed, during all the Middle Ages, the modes of protecting fortifications were far more efficient than the modes of attacking them. The walls could be made enormously massive, the towers raised to a great height, and the defenders so completely sheltered by battlements that they could not easily be injured and could take aim from the top of their turrets, or from their loophole windows. The gates had absolute little castles of their own, a moat flowed round the walls full of water, and only capable of being crossed by a drawbridge, behind which the portcullis, a grating armed beneath with spikes, was always ready to drop from the archway of the gate and close up the entrance. The only chance of taking a fortress by direct attack was to fill up the moat with earth and faggots, and then raise ladders against the walls; or else to drive engines against the defenses, battering-rams which struck them with heavy beams, mangonels which launched stones, sows whose arched wooden backs protected troops of workmen who tried to undermine the wall, and moving towers consisting of a succession of stages or shelves, filled with soldiers, and with a bridge with iron hooks, capable of being launched from the highest story to the top of the battlements. The besieged could generally disconcert the battering- ram by hanging beds or mattresses over the walls to receive the brunt of the blow, the sows could be crushed with heavy stones, the towers burnt by well-directed flaming missiles, the ladders overthrown, and in general the besiegers suffered a great deal more damage than they could inflict. Cannon had indeed just been brought into use at the battle of Crecy, but they only consisted of iron bars fastened together with hoops, and were as yet of little use, and thus there seemed to be little danger to a well-guarded city from any enemy outside the walls.
King Edward arrived before the place with all his victorious army early in August, his good knights and squires arrayed in glittering steel armor, covered with surcoats richly embroidered with their heraldic bearings; his stout men-at-arms, each of whom was attended by three bold followers; and his archers, with their crossbows to shoot bolts, and longbows to shoot arrows of a yard long, so that it used to be said that each went into battle with three men’s lives under his girdle, namely, the three arrows he kept there ready to his hand. With the King was his son, Edward, Prince of Wales, who had just won the golden spurs of knighthood so gallantly at Crecy, when only in his seventeenth year, and likewise the famous Hainault knight, Sir Walter Mauny, and all that was noblest and bravest in England.
This whole glittering army, at their head the King’s great royal standard bearing the golden lilies of France quartered with the lions of England, and each troop guided by the square banner, swallow-tailed pennon or pointed pennoncel of their leader, came marching to the gates of Calais, above which floated the blue standard of France with its golden flowers, and with it the banner of the governor, Sir Jean de Vienne. A herald, in a rich long robe embroidered with the arms of England, rode up to the gate, a trumpet sounding before him, and called upon Sir Jean de Vienne to give up the place to Edward, King of England, and of France, as he claimed to be. Sir Jean made answer that he held the town for Philippe, King of France, and that he would defend it to the last; the herald rode back again and the English began the siege of the city.
At first they only encamped, and the people of Calais must have seen the whole plain covered with the white canvas tents, marshalled round the ensigns of the leaders, and here and there a more gorgeous one displaying the colours of the owner. Still there was no attack upon the walls. The warriors were to be seen walking about in the leathern suits they wore under their armor; or if a party was to be seen with their coats of mail on, helmet on head, and lance in hand, it was not against Calais that they came; they rode out into the country, and by and by might be seen driving back before them herds of cattle and flocks of sheep or pigs that they had seized and taken away from the poor peasants; and at night the sky would show red lights where farms and homesteads had been set on fire. After a time, in front of the tents, the English were to be seen hard at work with beams and boards, setting up huts for themselves, and thatching them over with straw or broom. These wooden houses were all ranged in regular streets, and there was a marketplace in the midst, whither every Saturday came farmers and butchers to sell corn and meat, and hay for the horses; and the English merchants and Flemish weavers would come by sea and by land to bring cloth, bread, weapons, and everything that could be needed to be sold in this warlike market.
The Governor, Sir Jean de Vienne, began to perceive that the King did not mean to waste his men by making vain attacks on the strong walls of Calais, but to shut up the entrance by land, and watch the coast by sea so as to prevent any provisions from being taken in, and so to starve him into surrendering. Sir Jean de Vienne, however, hoped that before he should be entirely reduced by famine, the King of France would be able to get together another army and come to his relief, and at any rate he was determined to do his duty, and hold out for his master to the last. But as food was already beginning to grow scarce, he was obliged to turn out such persons as could not fight and had no stores of their own, and so one Wednesday morning he caused all the poor to be brought together, men, women, and children, and sent them all out of the town, to the number of 1,700. It was probably the truest mercy, for he had no food to give them, and they could only have starved miserably within the town, or have hindered him from saving it for his sovereign; but to them it was dreadful to be driven out of house and home, straight down upon the enemy, and they went along weeping and wailing, till the English soldiers met them and asked why they had come out. They answered that they had been put out because they had nothing to eat, and their sorrowful, famished looks gained pity for them. King Edward sent orders that not only should they go safely through his camp, but that they should all rest, and have the first hearty dinner that they had eaten for many a day, and he sent every one a small sum of money before they left the camp, so that many of them went on their way praying aloud for the enemy who had been so kind to them.
A great deal happened whilst King Edward kept watch in his wooden town and the citizens of Calais guarded their walls. England was invaded by King David II. of Scotland, with a great army, and the good Queen Philippa, who was left to govern at home in the name of her little son Lionel, assembled all the forces that were left at home, and crossed the Straits of Dover, and a messenger brought King Edward letters from his Queen to say that the Scots army had been entirely defeated at Nevil’s Cross, near Durham, and that their King was a prisoner, but that he had been taken by a squire named John Copeland, who would not give him up to her.
King Edward sent letters to John Copeland to come to him at Calais, and when the squire had made his journey, the King took him by the hand saying, ‘Ha! welcome, my squire, who by his valor has captured our adversary the King of Scotland.’
Copeland, falling on one knee, replied, ‘If God, out of His great kindness, has given me the King of Scotland, no one ought to be jealous of it, for God can, when He pleases, send His grace to a poor squire as well as to a great Lord. Sir, do not take it amiss if I did not surrender him to the orders of my lady the Queen, for I hold my lands of you, and my oath is to you, not to her.’
The King was not displeased with his squire’s sturdiness, but made him a knight, gave him a pension of 500l. a year, and desired him to surrender his prisoner to the Queen, as his own representative. This was accordingly done, and King David was lodged in the Tower of London. Soon after, three days before All Saint’s Day, there was a large and gay fleet to be seen crossing from the white cliffs of Dover, and the King, his son, and his knights rode down to the landing place to welcome plump, fair haired Queen Philippa, and all her train of ladies, who had come in great numbers to visit their husbands, fathers, or brothers in the wooden town.
Then there was a great Court, and numerous feasts and dances, and the knights and squires were constantly striving who could do the bravest deed of prowess to please the ladies. The King of France had placed numerous knights and men-at-arms in the neighboring towns and castles, and there were constant fights whenever the English went out foraging, and many bold deeds that were much admired were done. The great point was to keep provisions out of the town, and there was much fighting between the French who tried to bring in supplies, and the English who intercepted them. Very little was brought in by land, and Sir Jean de Vienne and his garrison would have been quite starved but for two sailors of Abbeville, named Marant and Mestriel, who knew the coast thoroughly, and often, in the dark autumn evenings, would guide in a whole fleet of little boats, loaded with bread and meat for the starving men within the city. They were often chased by King Edward’s vessels, and were sometimes very nearly taken, but they always managed to escape, and thus they still enabled the garrison to hold out.
So all the winter passed, Christmas was kept with brilliant feastings and high merriment by the King and his Queen in their wooden palace outside, and with lean cheeks and scanty fare by the besieged within. Lent was strictly observed perforce by the besieged, and Easter brought a betrothal in the English camp; a very unwilling one on the part of the bridegroom, the young Count of Flanders, who loved the French much better than the English, and had only been tormented into giving his consent by his unruly vassals because they depended on the wool of English sheep for their cloth works. So, though King Edward’s daughter Isabel was a beautiful fair-haired girl of fifteen, the young Count would scarcely look at her; and in the last week before the marriage day, while her robes and her jewels were being prepared, and her father and mother were arranging the presents they should make to all their Court on the wedding day, the bridegroom, when out hawking, gave his attendants the slip, and galloped off to Paris, where he was welcomed by King Philippe.
This made Edward very wrathful, and more than ever determined to take Calais. About Whitsuntide he completed a great wooden castle upon the seashore, and placed in it numerous warlike engines, with forty men-at- arms and 200 archers, who kept such a watch upon the harbour that not even the two Abbeville sailors could enter it, without having their boats crushed and sunk by the great stones that the mangonels launched upon them. The townspeople began to feel what hunger really was, but their spirits were kept up by the hope that their King was at last collecting an army for their rescue.
And Philippe did collect all his forces, a great and noble army, and came one night to the hill of Sangate, just behind the English army, the knights’ armor glancing and their pennons flying in the moonlight, so as to be a beautiful sight to the hungry garrison who could see the white tents pitched upon the hillside. Still there were but two roads by which the French could reach their friends in the town–one along the seacoast, the other by a marshy road higher up the country, and there was but one bridge by which the river could be crossed. The English King’s fleet could prevent any troops from passing along the coast road, the Earl of Derby guarded the bridge, and there was a great tower, strongly fortified, close upon Calais. There were a few skirmishes, but the French King, finding it difficult to force his way to relieve the town, sent a party of knights with a challenge to King Edward to come out of his camp and do battle upon a fair field.
To this Edward made answer, that he had been nearly a year before Calais, and had spent large sums of money on the siege, and that he had nearly become master of the place, so that he had no intention of coming out only to gratify his adversary, who must try some other road if he could not make his way in by that before him.
Three days were spent in parleys, and then, without the slightest effort to rescue the brave, patient men within the town, away went King Philippe of France, with all his men, and the garrison saw the host that had crowded the hill of Sangate melt away like a summer cloud.
August had come again, and they had suffered privation for a whole year for the sake of the King who deserted them at their utmost need. They were in so grievous a state of hunger and distress that the hardiest could endure no more, for ever since Whitsuntide no fresh provisions had reached them. The Governor, therefore, went to the battlements and made signs that he wished to hold a parley, and the King appointed Lord Basset and Sir Walter Mauny to meet him, and appoint the terms of surrender.
The Governor owned that the garrison was reduced to the greatest extremity of distress, and requested that the King would be contented with obtaining the city and fortress, leaving the soldiers and inhabitants to depart in peace.
But Sir Walter Mauny was forced to make answer that the King, his lord, was so much enraged at the delay and expense that Calais had cost him, that he would only consent to receive the whole on unconditional terms, leaving him free to slay, or to ransom, or make prisoners whomsoever he pleased, and he was known to consider that there was a heavy reckoning to pay, both for the trouble the siege had cost him and the damage the Calesians had previously done to his ships.
The brave answer was: ‘These conditions are too hard for us. We are but a small number of knights and squires, who have loyally served our lord and master as you would have done, and have suffered much ill and disquiet, but we will endure far more than any man has done in such a post, before we consent that the smallest boy in the town shall fare worse than ourselves. I therefore entreat you, for pity’s sake, to return to the King and beg him to have compassion, for I have such an opinion of his gallantry that I think he will alter his mind.’
The King’s mind seemed, however, sternly made up; and all that Sir Walter Mauny and the barons of the council could obtain from him was that he would pardon the garrison and townsmen on condition that six of the chief citizens should present themselves to him, coming forth with bare feet and heads, with halters round their necks, carrying the keys of the town, and becoming absolutely his own to punish for their obstinacy as he should think fit.
On hearing this reply, Sir Jean de Vienne begged Sir Walter Mauny to wait till he could consult the citizens, and, repairing to the marketplace, he caused a great bell to be rung, at sound of which all the inhabitants came together in the town hall. When he told them of these hard terms he could not refrain from weeping bitterly, and wailing and lamentation arose all round him. Should all starve together, or sacrifice their best and most honored after all suffering in common so long?
Then a voice was heard; it was that of the richest burgher in the town, Eustache de St. Pierre. ‘Messieurs high and low,’ he said, ‘it would be a sad pity to suffer so many people to die through hunger, if it could be prevented; and to hinder it would be meritorious in the eyes of our Saviour. I have such faith and trust in finding grace before God, if I die to save my townsmen, that I name myself as the first of the six.’
As the burgher ceased, his fellow townsmen wept aloud, and many, amid tears and groans, threw themselves at his feet in a transport of grief and gratitude. Another citizen, very rich and respected, rose up and said, ‘I will be second to my comrade, Eustache.’ His name was Jean Daire. After him, Jacques Wissant, another very rich man, offered himself as companion to these, who were both his cousins; and his brother Pierre would not be left behind: and two more, unnamed, made up this gallant band of men willing to offer their lives for the rescue of their fellow townsmen.
Sir Jean de Vienne mounted a little horse–for he had been wounded, and was still lame–and came to the gate with them, followed by all the people of the town, weeping and wailing, yet, for their own sakes and their children’s not daring to prevent the sacrifice. The gates were opened, the governor and the six passed out, and the gates were again shut behind them. Sir Jean then rode up to Sir Walter Mauny, and told him how these burghers had voluntarily offered themselves, begging him to do all in his power to save them; and Sir Walter promised with his whole heart to plead their cause. De Vienne then went back into the town, full of heaviness and anxiety; and the six citizens were led by Sir Walter to the presence of the King, in his full Court. They all knelt down, and the foremost said: ‘Most gallant King, you see before you six burghers of Calais, who have all been capital merchants, and who bring you the keys of the castle and town. We yield ourselves to your absolute will and pleasure, in order to save the remainder of the inhabitants of Calais, who have suffered much distress and misery. Condescend, therefore, out of your nobleness of mind, to have pity on us.’
Strong emotion was excited among all the barons and knights who stood round, as they saw the resigned countenances, pale and thin with patiently endured hunger, of these venerable men, offering themselves in the cause of their fellow townsmen. Many tears of pity were shed; but the King still showed himself implacable, and commanded that they should be led away, and their heads stricken off. Sir Walter Mauny interceded for them with all his might, even telling the King that such an execution would tarnish his honor, and that reprisals would be made on his own garrisons; and all the nobles joined in entreating pardon for the citizens, but still without effect; and the headsman had been actually sent for, when Queen Philippa, her eyes streaming with tears, threw herself on her knees amongst the captives, and said, ‘Ah, gentle sir, since I have crossed the sea, with much danger, to see you, I have never asked you one favor; now I beg as a boon to myself, for the sake of the Son of the Blessed Mary, and for your love to me, that you will be merciful to these men!’
For some time the King looked at her in silence; then he exclaimed: ‘Dame, dame, would that you had been anywhere than here! You have entreated in such a manner that I cannot refuse you; I therefore give these men to you, to do as you please with.’
Joyfully did Queen Philippa conduct the six citizens to her own apartments, where she made them welcome, sent them new garments, entertained them with a plentiful dinner, and dismissed them each with a gift of six nobles. After this, Sir Walter Mauny entered the city, and took possession of it; retaining Sir Jean de Vienne and the other knights and squires till they should ransom themselves, and sending out the old French inhabitants; for the King was resolved to people the city entirely of English, in order to gain a thoroughly strong hold of this first step in France.
The King and Queen took up their abode in the city; and the houses of Jean Daire were, it appears, granted to the Queen–perhaps, because she considered the man himself as her charge, and wished to secure them for him–and her little daughter Margaret was, shortly after, born in one of his houses. Eustache de St. Pierre was taken into high favor, and placed in charge of the new citizens whom the King placed in the city.
Indeed, as this story is told by no chronicler but Froissart, some have doubted of it, and thought the violent resentment thus imputed to Edward III inconsistent with his general character; but it is evident that the men of Calais had given him strong provocation by attacks on his shipping–piracies which are not easily forgiven–and that he considered that he had a right to make an example of them. It is not unlikely that he might, after all, have intended to forgive them, and have given the Queen the grace of obtaining their pardon, so as to excuse himself from the fulfillment of some over-hasty threat. But, however this may have been, nothing can lessen the glory of the six grave and patient men who went forth, by their own free will, to meet what might be a cruel and disgraceful death, in order to obtain the safety of their fellow- townsmen.
Very recently, in the summer of 1864, an instance has occurred of self- devotion worthy to be recorded with that of Eustache de St. Pierre. The City of Palmyra, in Tennessee, one of the Southern States of America, had been occupied by a Federal army. An officer of this army was assassinated, and, on the cruel and mistaken system of taking reprisals, the general arrested ten of the principal inhabitants, and condemned them to be shot, as deeming the city responsible for the lives of his officers. One of them was the highly respected father of a large family, and could ill be spared. A young man, not related to him, upon this, came forward and insisted on being taken in his stead, as a less valuable life. And great as was the distress of his friend, this generous substitution was carried out, and not only spared a father to his children, but showed how the sharpest strokes of barbarity can still elicit light from the dark stone–light that but for these blows might have slept unseen.
THE BATTLE OF SEMPACH
Nothing in history has been more remarkable than the union of the cantons and cities of the little republic of Switzerland. Of differing races, languages, and, latterly, even religions–unlike in habits, tastes, opinions and costumes–they have, however, been held together, as it were, by pressure from without, and one spirit of patriotism has kept the little mountain republic complete for five hundred years.
Originally the lands were fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire, the city municipalities owning the Emperor for their lord, and the great family of Hapsburg, in whom the Empire became at length hereditary, was in reality Swiss, the county that gave them title lying in the canton of Aargau. Rodolf of Hapsburg was elected leader of the burghers of Zurich, long before he was chosen to the Empire; and he continued a Swiss in heart, retaining his mountaineer’s open simplicity and honesty to the end of his life. Privileges were granted by him to the cities and the nobles, and the country was loyal and prosperous in his reign.
His son Albert, the same who was slain by his nephew Johann, as before- mentioned, permitted those tyrannies of his bailiffs which goaded the Swiss to their celebrated revolt, and commenced the long series of wars with the House of Hapsburgor, as it was now termed, of Austria–which finally established their independence.
On the one side, the Dukes of Austria and their ponderous German chivalry wanted to reduce the cantons and cities to vassalage, not to the Imperial Crown, a distant and scarcely felt obligation, but to the Duchy of Austria; on the other, the hardy mountain peasants and stout burghers well knew their true position, and were aware that to admit the Austrian usurpation would expose their young men to be drawn upon for the Duke’s wars, cause their property to be subject to perpetual rapacious exactions, and fill their hills with castles for ducal bailiffs, who would be little better than licensed robbers. No wonder, then, that the generations of William Tell and Arnold Melchthal bequeathed a resolute purpose of resistance to their descendants.
It was in 1397, ninety years since the first assertion of Swiss independence, when Leopold the Handsome, Duke of Austria, a bold but misproud and violent prince, involved himself in one of the constant quarrels with the Swiss that were always arising on account of the insulting exactions of toll and tribute in the Austrian border cities. A sharp war broke out, and the Swiss city of Lucerne took the opportunity of destroying the Austrian castle of Rothemburg, where the tolls had been particularly vexatious, and of admitting to their league the cities of Sempach and Richensee.
Leopold and all the neighboring nobles united their forces. Hatred and contempt of the Swiss, as low-born and presumptuous, spurred them on; and twenty messengers reached the Duke in one day, with promises of support, in his march against Sempach and Lucerne. He had sent a large force in the direction of Zurich with Johann Bonstetten, and advanced himself with 4,000 horse and 1,400 foot upon Sempach. Zurich undertook its own defense, and the Forest cantons sent their brave peasants to the support of Lucerne and Sempach, but only to the number of 1,300, who, on the 9th of July, took post in the woods around the little lake of Sempach.
Meanwhile, Leopold’s troops rode round the walls of the little city, insulting the inhabitants, one holding up a halter, which he said was for the chief magistrate; and another, pointing to the reckless waste that his comrades were perpetrating on the fields, shouted, ‘Send a breakfast to the reapers.’ The burgomaster pointed to the wood where his allies lay hid, and answered, ‘My masters of Lucerne and their friends will bring it.’
The story of that day was told by one of the burghers who fought in the ranks of Lucerne, a shoemaker, named Albert Tchudi, who was both a brave warrior and a master-singer; and as his ballad was translated by another master-singer, Sir Walter Scott, and is the spirited record of an eyewitness, we will quote from him some of his descriptions of the battle and its golden deed.
The Duke’s wiser friends proposed to wait till he could be joined by Bonstetten and the troops who had gone towards Zurich, and the Baron von Hasenburg (i.e. hare-rock) strongly urged this prudent counsel; but–
‘O, Hare-Castle, thou heart of hare!’ Fierce Oxenstiern he cried,
‘Shalt see then how the game will fare,’ The taunted knight replied.’
‘This very noon,’ said the younger knight to the Duke, ‘we will deliver up to you this handful of villains.’
‘And thus they to each other said,
‘Yon handful down to hew
Will be no boastful tale to tell
The peasants are so few.’
Characteristically enough, the doughty cobbler describes how the first execution that took place was the lopping off the long-peaked toes of the boots that the gentlemen wore chained to their knees, and which would have impeded them on foot; since it had been decided that the horses were too much tired to be serviceable in the action.
‘There was lacing then of helmets bright, And closing ranks amain,
The peaks they hewed from their boot points Might well nigh load a wain.’
They were drawn up in a solid compact body, presenting an unbroken line of spears, projecting beyond the wall of gay shields and polished impenetrable armor.
The Swiss were not only few in number, but armor was scarce among them; some had only boards fastened on their arms by way of shields, some had halberts, which had been used by their fathers at the battle of Morgarten, others two-handed swords and battleaxes. They drew themselves up in the form of a wedge and
‘The gallant Swiss confederates then
They prayed to God aloud,
And He displayed His rainbow fair,
Against a swarthy cloud.’
Then they rushed upon the serried spears, but in vain. ‘The game was nothing sweet.’
The banner of Lucerne was in the utmost danger, the Landamman was slain, and sixty of his men, and not an Austrian had been wounded. The flanks of the Austrian host began to advance so as to enclose the small peasant force, and involve it in irremediable destruction. A moment of dismay and stillness ensued. Then Arnold von Winkelried of Unterwalden, with an eagle glance saw the only means of saving his country, and, with the decision of a man who dares by dying to do all things, shouted aloud: ‘I will open a passage.’
‘I have a virtuous wife at home,
A wife and infant son:
I leave them to my country’s care,
The field shall yet be won!’
He rushed against the Austrian band In desperate career,
And with his body, breast, and hand, Bore down each hostile spear;
Four lances splintered on his crest, Six shivered in his side,
Still on the serried files he pressed, He broke their ranks and died!’
The very weight of the desperate charge of this self-devoted man opened a breach in the line of spears. In rushed the Swiss wedge, and the weight of the nobles’ armor and length of their spears was only encumbering. They began to fall before the Swiss blows, and Duke Leopold was urged to fly. ‘I had rather die honorably than live with dishonor,’ he said. He saw his standard bearer struck to the ground, and seizing his banner from his hand, waved it over his head, and threw himself among the thickest of the foe. His corpse was found amid a heap of slain, and no less then 2000 of his companions perished with him, of whom a third are said to have been counts, barons and knights.
‘Then lost was banner, spear and shield At Sempach in the flight;
The cloister vaults at Konigsfeldt
Hold many an Austrian knight.’
The Swiss only lost 200; but, as they were spent with the excessive heat of the July sun, they did not pursue their enemies. They gave thanks on the battlefield to the God of victories, and the next day buried the dead, carrying Duke Leopold and twenty-seven of his most illustrious companions to the Abbey of Konigsfeldt, where they buried him in the old tomb of his forefathers, the lords of Aargau, who had been laid there in the good old times, before the house of Hapsburg had grown arrogant with success.
As to the master-singer, he tells us of himself that
‘A merry man was he, I wot,
The night he made the lay,
Returning from the bloody spot,
Where God had judged the day.’
On every 9th of July subsequently, the people of the country have been wont to assemble on the battlefield, around four stone crosses which mark the spot. A priest from a pulpit in the open air gives a thanksgiving sermon on the victory that ensured the freedom of Switzerland, and another reads the narrative of the battle, and the roll of the brave 200, who, after Winkelried’s example, gave their lives in the cause. All this is in the face of the mountains and the lake now lying in summer stillness, and the harvest fields whose crops are secure from marauders, and the congregation then proceed to the small chapel, the walls of which are painted with the deed of Arnold von Winkelried, and the other distinguished achievements of the confederates, and masses are sung for the souls of those who were slain. No wonder that men thus nurtured in the memory of such actions were, even to the fall of the French monarchy, among the most trustworthy soldiery of Europe.
THE CONSTANT PRINCE
The illustrious days of Portugal were during the century and a half of the dynasty termed the House of Aviz, because its founder, Dom Joao I. had been grand master of the military order of Aviz.
His right to the throne was questionable, or more truly null, and he had only obtained the crown from the desire of the nation to be independent of Castile, and by the assistance of our own John of Gaunt, whose daughter, Philippa of Lancaster, became his wife, thus connecting the glories of his line with our own house of Plantagenet.
Philippa was greatly beloved in Portugal, and was a most noble-minded woman, who infused her own spirit into her children. She had five sons, and when they all had attained an age to be admitted to the order of knighthood, their father proposed to give a grand tournament in which they might evince their prowess. This, however, seemed but play to the high-spirited youths, who had no doubt fed upon the story of the manner in which their uncle, the Black Prince, whose name was borne by the eldest, had won his spurs at Crecy. Their entreaty was, not to be carpet–knights dubbed in time of peace, and King Joao on the other hand objected to entering on a war merely for the sake of knighting his sons. At last Dom Fernando, the youngest of the brothers, a lad of fourteen, proposed that their knighthood should be earned by an expedition to take Ceuta from the Moors. A war with the infidel never came amiss, and was in fact regarded as a sacred duty; moreover, Ceuta was a nest of corsairs who infested the whole Mediterranean coast. Up to the nineteenth century the seaports along the African coast of the Mediterranean were the hives of pirates, whose small rapid vessels were the terror of every unarmed ship that sailed in those waters, and whose descents upon the coasts of Spain, France, and Italy rendered life and property constantly insecure. A regular system of kidnapping prevailed; prisoners had their fixed price, and were carried off to labour in the African dockyards, or to be chained to the benches of the Moorish ships which their oars propelled, until either a ransom could be procured from their friends, or they could be persuaded to become renegades, or death put an end to their sufferings. A captivity among the Moors was by no means an uncommon circumstance even in the lives of Englishmen down to the eighteenth century, and pious persons frequently bequeathed sums of money for the ransom of the poorer captives.
Ceuta, perched upon the southern Pillar of Hercules, was one of the most perilous of these dens of robbery, and to seize it might well appear a worthy action, not only to the fiery princes, but to their cautious father. He kept his designs absolutely secret, and contrived to obtain a plan of the town by causing one of his vessels to put in there as in quest of provisions, while, to cover his preparations for war, he sent a public challenge to the Count of Holland, and a secret message at the same time, with the assurance that it was only a blind. These proceedings were certainly underhand, and partook of treachery; but they were probably excused in the King’s own mind by the notion, that no faith was to be kept with unbelievers, and, moreover, such people as the Ceutans were likely never to be wanting in the supply of pretexts for attack.
Just as all was ready, the plague broke out in Lisbon, and the Queen fell sick of it. Her husband would not leave her, and just before her death she sent for all her sons, and gave to each a sword, charging them to defend the widow and orphan, and to fight against the infidel. In the full freshness of their sorrow, the King and his sons set sail from the Bay of Lagos, in the August of 1415, with 59 galleys, 33 ships of war, and 120 transports; the largest fleet ever yet sent forth by the little kingdom, and the first that had left a Peninsular port with the banners and streamers of which the more northern armaments were so profuse.
The governor of Ceuta, Zala ben Zala, was not unprepared for the attack, and had collected 5,000 allies to resist the Christians; but a great storm having dispersed the fleet on the first day of its appearance, he thought the danger over, and dismissed his friends On the 14th August, however, the whole fleet again appeared, and the King, in a little boat, directed the landing of his men, led by his sons, the Infantes Duarte and Henrique. The Moors gave way before them, and they entered the city with 500 men, among the flying enemy, and there, after a period of much danger, were joined by their brother Pedro. The three fought their way to a mosque, where they defended themselves till the King with the rest of his army made their way in. Zala ben Zala fled to the citadel, but, after one assault, quitted it in the night.
The Christian captives were released, the mosque purified and consecrated as a cathedral, a bishop was appointed, and the King gave the government of the place to Dom Pedro de Menezes, a knight of such known fidelity that the King would not suffer him to take the oath of allegiance. An attempt was made by the Moors four years later to recover the place; but the Infantes Pedro and Henrique hurried from Portugal to succor Menezes, and drove back the besiegers; whereupon the Moors murdered their King, Abu Sayd, on whom they laid the blame of the disaster.
On the very day, eighteen years later, of the taking of Ceuta, King Joao died of the plague at Lisbon, on the 14th of August, 1433. Duarte came to the throne; and, a few months after, his young brother, Fernando, persuaded him into fitting out another expedition to Africa, of which Tangier should be the object.
Duarte doubted of the justice of the war, and referred the question to the Pope, who decided against it; but the answer came too late, the preparations were made, and the Infantes Henrique and Fernando took the command. Henrique was a most enlightened prince, a great mathematician and naval discoverer, but he does not appear to have made good use of his abilities on the present occasion; for, on arriving at Ceuta, and reviewing the troops, they proved to have but 8,000, instead of 14,000, as they had intended. Still they proceeded, Henrique by land and Fernando by sea, and laid siege to Tangier, which was defended by their old enemy, Zala ben Zala. Everything was against them; their scaling ladders were too short to reach to the top of the walls, and the Moors had time to collect in enormous numbers for the relief of the city, under the command of the kings of Fez and Morocco.
The little Christian army was caught as in a net, and, after a day’s hard fighting, saw the necessity of re-embarking. All was arranged for this to be done at night; but a vile traitor, chaplain to the army, passed over to the Moors, and revealed their intention. The beach was guarded, and the retreat cut off. Another day of fighting passed, and at night hunger reduced them to eating their horses.
It was necessary to come to terms, and messengers were sent to treat with the two kings. The only terms on which the army could be allowed to depart were that one of the Infantes should remain as a hostage for the delivery of Ceuta to the Moors. For this purpose Fernando offered himself, though it was exceedingly doubtful whether Ceuta would be restored; and the Spanish poet, Calderon, puts into his mouth a generous message to his brother the King, that they both were Christian princes, and that his liberty was not to be weighed in the scale with their father’s fairest conquest.
Henrique was forced thus to leave his brave brother, and return with the remnants of his army to Ceuta, where he fell sick with grief and vexation. He sent the fleet home; but it met with a great storm, and many vessels were driven on the coast of Andalusia, where, by orders of the King, the battered sailors and defeated soldiers were most kindly and generously treated.
Dom Duarte, having in the meantime found out with how insufficient an army his brothers had been sent forth, had equipped a fresh fleet, the arrival of which at Ceuta cheered Henrique with hope of rescuing his brother; but it was soon followed by express orders from the King that Henrique should give up all such projects and return home. He was obliged to comply, but, unable to look Duarte in the face, he retired to his own estates at the Algarve.
Duarte convoked the States-general of the kingdom, to consider whether Ceuta should be yielded to purchase his brother’s freedom. They decided that the place was too important to be parted with, but undertook to raise any sum of money for the ransom; and if this were not accepted, proposed to ask the Pope to proclaim a crusade for his rescue.
At first Fernando was treated well, and kept at Tangier as an honorable prisoner; but disappointment enraged the Moors, and he was thrown into a dungeon, starved, and maltreated. All this usage he endured with the utmost calmness and resolution, and could by no means be threatened into entreating for liberty to be won at the cost of the now Christian city where his knighthood had been won.
His brother Duarte meantime endeavored to raise the country for his deliverance; but the plague was still desolating Portugal, so that it was impossible to collect an army, and the infection at length seized on the King himself, from a letter which he incautiously opened, and he died, in his thirty-eighth year, in 1438, the sixth year of his reign and the second of his brother’s captivity. His successor, Affonso V., was a child of six years old, and quarrels and disputes between the Queen Mother and the Infante Dom Pedro rendered the chance of redeeming the captivity of Fernando less and less.
The King of Castille, and even the Moorish King of Granada, shocked at his sufferings and touched by his constancy, proposed to unite their forces against Tangier for his deliverance; but the effect of this was that Zala ben Zala made him over to Muley Xeques, the King of Fez, by whom he was thrown into a dungeon without light or air. After a time, he was brought back to daylight, but only to toil among the other Christian slaves, to whom he was a model of patience, resignation, and kindness. Even his enemies became struck with admiration of his high qualities, and the King of Fez declared that he even deserved to be a Mahometan!
At last, in 1443, Fernando’s captivity ended, but only by his death. Muley Xeque caused a tall tower to be erected on his tomb, in memory of the victory of Tangier; but in 1473, two sons of Muley being made prisoners by the Portuguese, one was ransomed for the body of Dom Fernando, who was then solemnly laid in the vaults of the beautiful Abbey of Batalha on the field of Aljubarota, which had given his father the throne. Universal honor attended the name of the Constant Prince, the Portuguese Regulus; and seldom as the Spanish admire anything Portuguese, a fine drama of the poet Calderon is founded upon that noble spirit which preferred dreary captivity to the yielding up his father’s conquest to the enemies of his country and religion. Nor was this constancy thrown away; Ceuta remained a Christian city. It was held by Portugal till the house of Aviz was extinguished in Dom Sebastiao, and since that time has belonged to the crown of Spain.
THE CARNIVAL OF PERTH
It was bedtime, and the old vaulted chambers of the Dominican monastery at Perth echoed with sounds that would seem incongruous in such a home of austerity, but that the disturbed state of Scotland rendered it the habit of her kings to attach their palaces to convents, that they themselves might benefit by the ‘peace of the Church’, which was in general accorded to all sacred spots.
Thus it was that Christmas and Carnival time of 1435-6 had been spent by the Court in the cloisters of Perth, and the dance, the song, and the tourney had strangely contrasted with the grave and self-denying habits to which the Dominicans were devoted in their neighboring cells. The festive season was nearly at an end, for it was the 20th of February; but the evening had been more than usually gay, and had been spent in games at chess, tables, or backgammon, reading romances of chivalry, harping, and singing. King James himself, brave and handsome, and in the prime of life, was the blithest of the whole joyous party. He was the most accomplished man in his dominions; for though he had been basely kept a prisoner at Windsor throughout his boyhood by Henry IV of England, an education had been bestowed on him far above what he would have otherwise obtained; and he was naturally a man of great ability, refinement, and strength of character. Not only was he a perfect knight on horseback, but in wrestling and running, throwing the hammer, and ‘putting the stane’, he had scarcely a rival, and he was skilled in all the learned lore of the time, wrote poetry, composed music both sacred and profane, and was a complete minstrel, able to sing beautifully and to play on the harp and organ. His Queen, the beautiful Joan Beaufort, had been the lady of his minstrelsy in the days of his captivity, ever since he had watched her walking on the slopes of Windsor Park, and wooed her in verses that are still preserved. They had now been eleven years married, and their Court was one bright spot of civilization, refinement, and grace, amid the savagery of Scotland. And now, after the pleasant social evening, the Queen, with her long fair hair unbound, was sitting under the hands of her tire-women, who were preparing her for the nights rest; and the King, in his furred nightgown, was standing before the bright fire on the hearth of the wide chimney, laughing and talking with the attendant ladies.
Yet dark hints had already been whispered, which might have cast a shadow over that careless mirth. Always fierce and vindictive, the Scots had been growing more and more lawless and savage ever since the disputed succession of Bruce and Balliol had unsettled all royal authority, and led to one perpetual war with the English. The twenty years of James’s captivity had been the worst of all–almost every noble was a robber chief; Scottish Borderer preyed upon English Borderer, Highlander upon Lowlander, knight upon traveler, everyone who had armor upon him who had not; each clan was at deadly feud with its neighbour; blood was shed like water from end to end of the miserable land, and the higher the birth of the offender the greater the impunity he claimed.
Indeed, James himself had been brought next to the throne by one of the most savage and horrible murders ever perpetrated–that of his elder brother, David, by his own uncle; and he himself had probably been only saved from sharing the like fate by being sent out of the kingdom. His earnest words on his return to take the rule of this unhappy realm were these: ‘Let God but grant me life, and there shall not be a spot in my realm where the key shall not keep the castle, and the bracken bush the cow, though I should lead the life of a dog to accomplish it.’
This great purpose had been before James through the eleven years of his reign, and he had worked it out resolutely. The lawless nobles would not brook his ruling hand, and strong and bitter was the hatred that had arisen against him. In many of his transactions he was far from blameless: he was sometimes tempted to craft, sometimes to tyranny; but his object was always a high and kingly one, though he was led by the horrid wickedness of the men he had to deal with more than once to forget that evil is not to be overcome with evil, but with good. In the main, it was his high and uncompromising resolution to enforce the laws upon high and low alike that led to the nobles’ conspiracies against him; though, if he had always been true to his purpose of swerving neither to the right nor to the left, he might have avoided the last fatal offence that armed the murderer against his life.
The chief misdoers in the long period of anarchy had been his uncles and cousins; nor was it till after his eldest uncle’s death that his return home had been possible. With a strong hand had he avenged upon the princes and their followers the many miseries they had inflicted upon his people; and in carrying out these measures he had seized upon the great earldom of Strathern, which had descended to one of their party in right of his wife, declaring that it could not be inherited by a female. In this he appears to have acted unjustly, from the strong desire to avail himself by any pretext of an opportunity of breaking the overweening power of the great turbulent nobles; and, to make up for the loss, he created the new earldom of Menteith, for the young Malise Graham, the son of the dispossessed earl. But the proud and vindictive Grahams were not thus to be pacified. Sir Robert Graham, the uncle of the young earl, drew off into the Highlands, and there formed a conspiracy among other discontented men who hated the resolute government that repressed their violence. Men of princely blood joined in the plot, and 300 Highland catherans were ready to accompany the expedition that promised the delights of war and plunder.
Even when the hard-worked King was setting forth to enjoy his holiday at Perth, the traitors had fixed upon that spot as the place of his doom; but the scheme was known to so many, that it could not be kept entirely secret, and warnings began to gather round the King. When, on his way to Perth, he was about to cross the Firth of Forth, the wild figure of a Highland woman appeared at his bridle rein, and solemnly warned him ‘that, if he crossed that water, he would never return alive’. He was struck by the apparition, and bade one of his knights to enquire of her what she meant; but the knight must have been a dullard or a traitor, for he told the King that the woman was either mad or drunk, and no notice was taken of her warning.
There was likewise a saying abroad in Scotland, that the new year, 1436, should see the death of a king; and this same carnival night, James, while playing at chess with a young friend, whom he was wont to call the king of love, laughingly observed that ‘it must be you or I, since there are but two kings in Scotland–therefore, look well to yourself’.
Little did the blithe monarch guess that at that moment one of the conspirators, touched by a moment’s misgiving, was hovering round, seeking in vain for an opportunity of giving him warning; that even then his chamberlain and kinsman, Sir Robert Stewart, was enabling the traitors to place boards across the moat for their passage, and to remove the bolts and bars of all the doors in their way. And the Highland woman was at the door, earnestly entreating to see the King, if but for one moment! The message was even brought to him, but, alas! he bade her wait till the morrow, and she turned away, declaring that she should never more see his face!
And now, as before said, the feast was over, and the King stood, gaily chatting with his wife and her ladies, when the clang of arms was heard, and the glare of torches in the court below flashed on the windows. The ladies flew to secure the doors. Alas! the bolts and bars were gone! Too late the warnings returned upon the King’s mind, and he knew it was he alone who was sought. He tried to escape by the windows, but here the bars were but too firm. Then he seized the tongs, and tore up a board in the floor, by which he let himself down into the vault below, just as the murderers came rushing along the passage, slaying on their way a page named Walter Straiton.
There was no bar to the door. Yes, there was. Catherine Douglas, worthy of her name, worthy of the cognizance of the bleeding heart, thrust her arm through the empty staples to gain for her sovereign a few moments more for escape and safety! But though true as steel, the brave arm was not as strong. It was quickly broken. She was thrust fainting aside, and the ruffians rushed in. Queen Joan stood in the midst of the room, with her hair streaming round her, and her mantle thrown hastily on. Some of the wretches even struck and wounded her, but Graham called them off, and bade them search for the King. They sought him in vain in every corner of the women’s apartments, and dispersed through the other rooms in search of their prey. The ladies began to hope that the citizens and nobles in the town were coming to their help, and that the King might have escaped through an opening that led from the vault into the tennis court. Presently, however, the King called to them to draw him up again, for he had not been able to get out of the vault, having a few days before caused the hole to be bricked up, because his tennis balls used to fly into it and be lost. In trying to draw him up by the sheets, Elizabeth Douglas, another of the ladies, was actually pulled down into the vault; the noise was heard by the assassins, who were still watching outside, and they returned.
There is no need to tell of the foul and cruel slaughter that ensued, nor of the barbarous vengeance that visited it. Our tale is of golden, not of brazen deeds; and if we have turned our eyes for a moment to the Bloody Carnival of Perth, it is for the sake of the King, who was too upright for his bloodthirsty subjects, and, above all, for that of the noble-hearted lady whose frail arm was the guardian of her sovereign’s life in the extremity of peril.
In like manner, on the dreadful 6th of October, 1787, when the infuriated mob of Paris had been incited by the revolutionary leaders to rush to Versailles in pursuit of the royal family, whose absence they fancied deprived them of bread and liberty, a woman shared the honor of saving her sovereign’s life, at least for that time.
The confusion of the day, with the multitude thronging the courts and park of Versailles, uttering the most frightful threats and insults, had been beyond all description; but there had been a pause at night, and at two o’clock, poor Queen Marie Antoinette, spent with horror and fatigue, at last went to bed, advising her ladies to do the same; but their anxiety was too great, and they sat up at her door. At half-past four they heard musket shots, and loud shouts, and while one awakened the Queen, the other, Madame Auguier, flew towards the place whence the noise came. As she opened the door, she found one of the royal bodyguards, with his face covered with blood, holding his musket so as to bar the door while the furious mob were striking at him. He turned to the lady, and cried, ‘Save the Queen, madame, they are come to murder her!’ Quick as lightning, Madame Auguier shut and bolted the door, rushed to the Queen’s bedside, and dragged her to the opposite door, with a petticoat just thrown over her. Behold, the door was fastened on the other side! The ladies knocked violently, the King’s valet opened it, and in a few minutes the whole family were in safety in the King’s apartments. M. de Miomandre, the brave guardsman, who used his musket to guard the Queen’s door instead of to defend himself, fell wounded; but his comrade, M. de Repaire, at once took his place, and, according to one account, was slain, and the next day his head, set upon a pike, was borne before the carriage in which the royal family were escorted back to Paris.
M. de Miomandre, however, recovered from his wounds, and a few weeks after, the Queen, hearing that his loyalty had made him a mark for the hatred of the mob, sent for him to desire him to quit Paris. She said that gold could not repay such a service as his had been, but she hoped one day to be able to recompense him more as he deserved; meanwhile, she hoped he would consider that as a sister might advance a timely sum to a brother, so she might offer him enough to defray his expenses at Paris, and to provide for his journey. In a private audience then he kissed her hand, and those of the King and his saintly sister, Elizabeth, while the Queen gratefully expressed her thanks, and the King stood by, with tears in his eyes, but withheld by his awkward bashfulness from expressing the feelings that overpowered him.
Madame Auguier, and her sister, Madame Campan, continued with their royal lady until the next stage in that miserable downfall of all that was high and noble in unhappy France. She lived through the horrors of the Revolution, and her daughter became the wife of Marshal Ney.
Well it is that the darkening firmament does but show the stars, and that when treason and murder surge round the fated chambers of royalty, their foulness and violence do but enhance the loyal self-sacrifice of such doorkeepers as Catherine Douglas, Madame Auguier, or M. de Miomandre.
‘Such deeds can woman’s spirit do,
O Catherine Douglas, brave and true! Let Scotland keep thy holy name
Still first upon her ranks of fame.’
THE CROWN OF ST. STEPHEN
Of all the possessions of the old kingdom of Hungary, none was more valued than what was called the Crown of St. Stephen, so called from one, which had, in the year 1000, been presented by Pope Sylvester II. to Stephen, the second Christian Duke, and first King of Hungary. A crown and a cross were given to him for his coronation, which took place in the Church of the Holy Virgin, at Alba Regale, also called in German Weissenburg, where thenceforth the Kings of Hungary were anointed to begin their troubled reigns, and at the close of them were laid to rest beneath the pavement, where most of them might have used the same epitaph as the old Italian leader: ‘He rests here, who never rested before’. For it was a wild realm, bordered on all sides by foes, with Poland, Bohemia, and Austria, ever casting greedy eyes upon it, and afterwards with the Turk upon the southern border, while the Magyars, or Hungarian nobles, themselves were a fierce and untameable race, bold and generous, but brooking little control, claiming a voice in choosing their own Sovereign, and to resist him, even by force of arms, if he broke the laws. No prince had a right to their allegiance unless he had been crowned with St. Stephen’s Crown; but if he had once worn that sacred circle, he thenceforth was held as the only lawful monarch, unless he should flagrantly violate the Constitution. In 1076, another crown had been given by the Greek Emperor to Geysa, King of Hungary, and the sacred crown combined the two. It had the two arches of the Roman crown, and the gold circlet of the Constantinopolitan; and the difference of workmanship was evident.
In the year 1439 died King Albert, who had been appointed King of Hungary in right of his wife, Queen Elizabeth. He left a little daughter only four years old, and as the Magyars had never been governed by a female hand, they proposed to send and offer their crown, and the hand of their young widowed Queen, to Wladislas, the King of Poland. But Elizabeth had hopes of another child, and in case it should be a son, she had no mind to give away its rights to its father’s throne. How, then, was she to help herself among the proud and determined nobles of her Court? One thing was certain, that if once the Polish king were crowned with St. Stephen’s crown, it would be his own fault if he were not King of Hungary as long as he lived; but if the crown were not to be found, of course he could not receive it, and the fealty of the nobles would not be pledged to him.
The most trustworthy person she had about her was Helen Kottenner, the lady who had the charge of her little daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and to her she confided her desire that the crown might be secured, so as to prevent the Polish party from getting access to it. Helen herself has written down the history of these strange events, and of her own struggles of mind, at the risk she ran, and the doubt whether good would come of the intrigue; and there can be no doubt that, whether the Queen’s conduct were praiseworthy or not, Helen dared a great peril for the sake purely of loyalty and fidelity. ‘The Queen’s commands’, she says, ‘sorely troubled me; for it was a dangerous venture for me and my little children, and I turned it over in my mind what I should do, for I had no one to take counsel of but God alone; and I thought if I did it not, and evil arose therefrom, I should be guilty before God and the world. So I consented to risk my life on this difficult undertaking; but desired to have someone to help me.’ This was permitted; but the first person to whom the Lady of Kottenner confided her intention, a Croat, lost his color from alarm, looked like one half-dead, and went at once in search of his horse. The next thing that was heard of him was that he had had a bad fall from his horse, and had been obliged to return to Croatia, and the Queen remained much alarmed at her plans being known to one so faint-hearted. However, a more courageous confidant was afterwards found in a Hungarian gentleman, whose name has become illegible in Helen’s old manuscript.
The crown was in the vaults of the strong Castle of Plintenburg, also called Vissegrad, which stands upon a bend of the Danube, about twelve miles from the twin cities of Buda and Pesth. It was in a case within a chest, sealed with many seals, and since the King’s death, it had been brought up by the nobles, who closely guarded both it and the Queen, into her apartments, and there examined and replaced in the chest. The next night, one of the Queen’s ladies upset a wax taper, without being aware of it, and before the fire was discovered, and put out, the corner of the chest was singed, and a hole burnt in the blue velvet cushion that lay on the top. Upon this, the lords had caused the chest to be taken down again into the vault, and had fastened the doors with many locks and with seals. The Castle had further been put into the charge of Ladislas von Gara, the Queen’s cousin, and Ban, or hereditary commander, of the border troops, and he had given it over to a Burggraf, or seneschal, who had placed his bed in the chamber where was the door leading to the vaults.
The Queen removed to Komorn, a castle higher up the Danube, in charge of her faithful cousin, Count Ulric of Eily, taking with her her little daughter Elizabeth, Helen Kottenner, and two other ladies. This was the first stage on the journey to Presburg, where the nobles had wished to lodge the Queen, and from thence she sent back Helen to bring the rest of the maids of honor and her goods to join her at Komorn. It was early spring, and snow was still on the ground, and the Lady of Kottenner and her faithful nameless assistant travelled in a sledge; but two Hungarian noblemen went with them, and they had to be most careful in concealing their arrangements. Helen had with her the Queen’s signet, and keys; and her friend had a file in each shoe, and keys under his black velvet dress.
On arriving in the evening, they found that the Burggraf had fallen ill, and could not sleep in the chamber leading to the vault, because it belonged to the ladies’ chambers, and that he had therefore put a cloth over the padlock of the door and sealed it. There was a stove in the room, and the maidens began to pack up their clothes there, an operation that lasted till eight o’clock; while Helen’s friend stood there, talking and jesting with them, trying all the while to hide the files, and contriving to say to Helen: ‘Take care that we have a light.’ So she begged the old housekeeper to give her plenty of wax tapers, as she had many prayers to say. At last everyone was gone to bed, and there only remained in the room with Helen, an old woman, whom she had brought with her, who knew no German, and was fast asleep. Then the accomplice came back through the chapel, which opened into this same hall. He had on his black velvet gown and felt shoes, and was followed by a servant, who, Helen says, was bound to him by oath, and had the same Christian name as himself, this being evidently an additional bond of fidelity. Helen, who had received from the Queen all the keys to this outer room, let them in, and, after the Burggraf’s cloth and seal had been removed, they unlocked the padlock, and the other two locks of the outer door of the vault, and the two men descended into it. There were several other doors, whose chains required to be filed through, and their seals and locks broken, and to the ears of the waiting Helen the noise appeared fatally loud. She says, ‘I devoutly prayed to God and the Holy Virgin, that they would support and help me; yet I was in greater anxiety for my soul than for my life, and I prayed to God that He would be merciful to my soul, and rather let me die at once there, than that anything should happen against his will, or that should bring misfortune on my country and people.’
She fancied she heard a noise of armed men at the chapel door, but finding nothing there, believed–not in her own nervous agitation, a thing not yet invented–that it was a spirit, and returning to her prayers, vowed, poor lady, to make a pilgrimage to St. Maria Zell, in Styria, if the Holy Virgin’s intercessions obtained their success, and till the pilgrimage could be made, ‘to forego every Saturday night my feather bed!’ After another false alarm at a supposed noise at the maiden’s door, she ventured into the vault to see how her companions were getting on, when she found they had filed away all the locks, except that of the case containing the crown, and this they were obliged to burn, in spite of their apprehension that the smell and smoke might be observed. They then shut up the chest, replaced the padlocks and chains with those they had brought for the purpose, and renewed the seals with the Queen’s signet, which bearing the royal arms, would baffle detection that the seals had been tampered with. They then took the crown into the chapel, where they found a red velvet cushion, so large that by taking out some of the stuffing a hiding place was made in which the crown was deposited, and the cushion sewn up over it.
By this time day was dawning, the maidens were dressing, and it was the hour for setting off for Komorn. The old woman who had waited on them came to the Lady of Kottenner to have her wages paid, and be dismissed to Buda. While she was waiting, she began to remark on a strange thing lying by the stove, which, to the Lady Helen’s great dismay, she perceived to be a bit of the case in which the crown was kept. She tried to prevent the old woman from noticing it, pushed it into the hottest part of the stove, and, by way of further precaution, took the old woman away with her, on the plea of asking the Queen to make her a bedeswoman at Vienna, and this was granted to her.
When all was ready, the gentleman desired his servant to take the cushion and put it into the sledge designed for himself and the Lady of Kottenner. The man took it on his shoulders, hiding it under an old ox- hide, with the tail hanging down, to the laughter of all beholders. Helen further records the trying to get some breakfast in the marketplace and finding nothing but herrings, also the going to mass, and the care she took not to sit upon the holy crown, though she had to sit on its cushion in the sledge. They dined at an inn, but took care to keep the cushion in sight, and then in the dusk crossed the Danube on the ice, which was becoming very thin, and halfway across it broke under the maidens’ carriage, so that Helen expected to be lost in the Danube, crown and all. However, though many packages were lost under the ice, her sledge got safe over, as well as all the ladies, some of whom she took into her conveyance, and all safely arrived at the castle of Komorn late in the evening.
The very hour of their arrival a babe was born to the Queen, and to her exceeding joy it was a son. Count von Eily, hearing ‘that a king and friend was born to him’, had bonfires lighted, and a torchlight procession on the ice that same night, and early in the morning came the Archbishop of Gran to christen the child. The Queen wished her faithful Helen to be godmother, but she refused in favor of some lady whose family it was probably needful to propitiate. She took off the little princess Elizabeth’s mourning for her father and dressed her in red and gold, all the maidens appeared in gay apparel, and there was great rejoicing and thanksgiving when the babe was christened Ladislas, after a sainted King of Hungary.
The peril was, however, far from ended; for many of the Magyars had no notion of accepting an infant for their king, and by Easter, the King of Poland was advancing upon Buda, to claim the realm to which he had been invited. No one had discovered the abstraction of the crown, and Elizabeth’s object was to take her child to Weissenburg, and there have him crowned, so as to disconcert the Polish party. She had sent to Buda for cloth of gold to make him a coronation dress, but it did not come in time, and Helen therefore shut herself into the chapel at Komorn, and, with doors fast bolted, cut up a rich and beautiful vestment of his grandfather’s, the emperor Sigismund, of red and gold, with silver