spots, and made it into a tiny coronation robe, with surplice and humeral (or shoulder-piece), the stole and banner, the gloves and shoes. The Queen was much alarmed by a report that the Polish party meant to stop her on her way to Weissenburg; and if the baggage should be seized and searched, the discovery of the crown might have fatal consequences. Helen, on this, observed that the King was more important than the crown, and that the best way would be to keep them together; so she wrapped up the crown in a cloth, and hid it under the mattress of his cradle, with a long spoon for mixing his pap upon the top, so, said the Queen, he might take care of his crown himself.
On Tuesday before Whit Sunday the party set out, escorted by Count Ulric, and several other knights and nobles. After crossing the Danube in a large boat, the Queen and her little girl were placed in a carriage, or more probably a litter, the other ladies rode, and the cradle and its precious contents were carried by four men; but this the poor little Lassla, as Helen shortens his lengthy name, resented so much, that he began to scream so loud that she was forced to dismount and carry him in her arms, along a road rendered swampy by much rain.
They found all the villages deserted by the peasants, who had fled into the woods, and as most of their lords were of the other party, they expected an attack, so the little king was put into the carriage with his mother and sister, and the ladies formed a circle round it ‘that if anyone shot at the carriage we might receive the stroke’. When the danger was over the child was taken out again, for he would be content nowhere but in the arms of either his nurse or of faithful Helen, who took turns to carry him on foot nearly all the way, sometimes in a high wind which covered them with dust, sometimes in great heat, sometimes in rain so heavy that Helen’s fur pelisse, with which she covered his cradle, had to be wrung out several times. They slept at an inn, round which the gentlemen lighted a circle of fires, and kept watch all night.
Weissenburg was loyal, five hundred armed gentlemen came out to meet them, and on Whitsun Eve they entered the city, Helen carrying her little king in her arms in the midst of a circle of these five hundred holding their naked swords aloft. On Whit Sunday, Helen rose early, bathed the little fellow, who was twelve weeks old that day, and dressed him. He was then carried in her arms to the church, beside his mother. According to the old Hungarian customs, the choir door was closed–the burghers were within, and would not open till the new monarch should have taken the great coronation oath to respect the Hungarian liberties and laws.
This oath was taken by the Queen in the name of her son, the doors were opened, and all the train entered, the little princess being lifted up to stand by the organ, lest she should be hurt in the throng. First Helen held her charge up to be confirmed, and then she had to hold him while he was knighted, with a richly adorned sword bearing the motto ‘Indestructible’, and by a stout Hungarian knight called Mikosch Weida, who struck with such a goodwill that Helen felt the blow on her arm, and the Queen cried out to him not to hurt the child.
The Archbishop of Gran anointed the little creature, dressed him in the red and gold robe, and put on his head the holy crown, and the people admired to see how straight he held up his neck under it; indeed, they admired the loudness and strength of his cries, when, as the good lady records, ‘the noble king had little pleasure in his coronation for he wept aloud’. She had to hold him up for the rest of the service, while Count Ulric of Eily held the crown over his head, and afterwards to seat him in a chair in St. Peter’s Church, and then he was carried home in his cradle, with the count holding the crown over his head, and the other regalia borne before him.
And thus Ladislas became King of Hungary at twelve weeks old, and was then carried off by his mother into Austria for safety. Whether this secret robbery of the crown, and coronation by stealth, was wise or just on the mother’s part is a question not easy of answer–though of course she deemed it her duty to do her utmost for her child’s rights. Of Helen Kottenner’s deep fidelity and conscientious feeling there can be no doubt, and her having acted with her eyes fully open to the risk she ran, her trust in Heaven overcoming her fears and terrors, rendered her truly a heroine.
The crown has had many other adventures, and afterwards was kept in an apartment of its own, in the castle of Ofen, with an antechamber guarded by two grenadiers. The door was of iron, with three locks, and the crown itself was contained in an iron chest with five seals. All this, however, did not prevent it from being taken away and lost in the Revolution of 1849.
GEORGE THE TRILLER
‘Why, Lady dear, so sad of cheer?
Hast waked the livelong night?’
‘My dreams foreshow my children’s woe, Ernst bold and Albrecht bright.
‘From the dark glades of forest shades There rushed a raging boar,
Two sapling oaks with cruel strokes His crooked tusks uptore.’
‘Ah, Lady dear, dismiss thy fear
Of phantoms haunting sleep!’
‘The giant knight, Sir Konrad hight, Hath vowed a vengeance deep.
‘My Lord, o’erbold, hath kept his gold, And scornful answer spake:
‘Kunz, wisdom learn, nor strive to burn The fish within their lake.’
‘See, o’er the plain, with all his train, My Lord to Leipzig riding;
Some danger near my children dear
My dream is sure betiding.’
‘The warder waits before the gates,
The castle rock is steep,
The massive walls protect the halls, Thy children safely sleep.’
‘T is night’s full noon, fair shines the moon On Altenburg’s old halls,
The silver beams in tranquil streams Rest on the ivied walls.
Within their tower the midnight hour
Has wrapt the babes in sleep,
With unclosed eyes their mother lies To listen and to weep.
What sudden sound is stirring round?
What clang thrills on her ear?
Is it the breeze amid the trees
Re-echoing her fear?
Swift from her bed, in sudden dread,
She to her lattice flies:
Oh! sight of woe, from far below
Behold a ladder rise:
And from yon tower, her children’s bower, Lo! Giant Kunz descending!
Ernst, in his clasp of iron grasp,
His cries with hers is blending.
‘Oh! hear my prayer, my children spare, The sum shall be restored;
Nay, twenty-fold returned the gold, Thou know’st how true my Lord.’
With mocking grace he bowed his face: ‘Lady, my greetings take;
Thy Lord may learn how I can burn
The fish within their lake.’
Oh! double fright, a second knight
Upon the ladder frail,
And in his arm, with wild alarm,
A child uplifts his wail!
Would she had wings! She wildly springs To rouse her slumbering train;
Bolted without, her door so stout
Resists her efforts vain!
No mortal ear her calls can hear,
The robbers laugh below;
Her God alone may hear her moan,
Or mark her hour of woe.
A cry below, ‘Oh! let me go,
I am no prince’s brother;
Their playmate I–Oh! hear my cry
Restore me to my mother!’
With anguish sore she shakes the door. Once more Sir Kunz is rearing
His giant head. His errand sped
She sees him reappearing.
Her second child in terror wild
Is struggling in his hold;
Entreaties vain she pours again,
Still laughs the robber bold.
‘I greet thee well, the Elector tell
How Kunz his counsel takes,
And let him learn that I can burn
The fish within their lakes.’
‘Swift, swift, good steed, death’s on thy speed, Gain Isenburg ere morn;
Though far the way, there lodged our prey, We laugh the Prince to scorn.
‘There Konrad’s den and merry men
Will safely hold the boys–
The Prince shall grieve long ere we leave Our hold upon his joys.
‘But hark! but hark! how through the dark The castle bell is tolling,
From tower and town o’er wood and down, The like alarm notes rolling.
‘The peal rings out! echoes the shout! All Saxony’s astir;
Groom, turn aside, swift must we ride Through the lone wood of fir.’
Far on before, of men a score
Prince Ernst bore still sleeping;
Thundering as fast, Kunz came the last, Carrying young Albrecht weeping.
The clanging bell with distant swell
Dies on the morning air,
Bohemia’s ground another bound
Will reach, and safety there.
The morn’s fresh beam lights a cool stream, Charger and knight are weary,
He draws his rein, the child’s sad plain He meets with accents cheery.
‘Sir Konrad good, be mild of mood,
A fearsome giant thou!
For love of heaven, one drop be given To cool my throbbing brow!’
Kunz’ savage heart feels pity’s smart, He soothes the worn-out child,
Bathes his hot cheeks, and bending seeks For woodland berries wild.
A deep-toned bark! A figure dark,
Smoke grimed and sun embrowned,
Comes through the wood in wondering mood, And by his side a hound.
‘Oh, to my aid, I am betrayed,
The Elector’s son forlorn,
From out my bed these men of dread
Have this night hither borne!’
‘Peace, if thou ‘rt wise,’ the false groom cries, And aims a murderous blow;
His pole-axe long, his arm so strong, Must lay young Albrecht low.
See, turned aside, the weapon glide
The woodman’s pole along,
To Albrecht’s clasp his friendly grasp Pledges redress from wrong.
Loud the hound’s note as at the throat Of the false groom he flies;
Back at the sounds Sir Konrad bounds: ‘Off hands, base churl,’ he cries.
The robber lord with mighty sword,
Mailed limbs of giant strength–
The woodman stout, all arms without, Save his pole’s timber length–
Unequal fight! Yet for the right
The woodman holds the field;
Now left, now right, repels the knight, His pole full stoutly wields.
His whistle clear rings full of cheer, And lo! his comrades true,
All swarth and lusty, with fire poles trusty, Burst on Sir Konrad’s view.
His horse’s rein he grasps amain
Into his selle to spring,
His gold-spurred heel his stirrup’s steel Has caught, his weapons ring.
His frightened steed with wildest speed Careers with many a bound;
Sir Konrad’s heel fast holds the steel, His head is on the ground.
The peasants round lift from the ground His form in woeful plight,
To convent cell, for keeping well,
Bear back the robber knight.
‘Our dear young lord, what may afford A charcoal-burners’ store
We freely spread, milk, honey, bread, Our heated kiln before!’
Three mournful days the mother prays, And weeps the children’s fate;
The prince in vain has scoured the plain– A sound is at the gate.
The mother hears, her head she rears, She lifts her eager finger–
‘Rejoice, rejoice, ‘t is Albrecht’s voice, Open! Oh, wherefore linger?’
See, cap in hand the woodman stand–
Mother, no more of weeping–
His hound well tried is at his side, Before him Albrecht leaping,
Cries, ‘Father dear, my friend is here! My mother! Oh, my mother!
The giant knight he put to flight,
The good dog tore the other.’
Oh! who the joy that greets the boy,
Or who the thanks may tell,
Oh how they hail the woodman’s tale, How he had ‘trilled him well!’
[Footnote: Trillen, to shake; a word analogous to our rill, to shake the voice in singing]
‘I trilled him well,’ he still will tell In homely phrase his story,
To those who sought to know how wrought An unarmed hand such glory.
That mother sad again is glad,
Her home no more bereft;
For news is brought Ernst may be sought Within the Devil’s Cleft.
That cave within, these men of sin
Had learnt their leader’s fall,
The prince to sell they proffered well At price of grace to all.
Another day and Earnest lay,
Safe on his mother’s breast;
Thus to her sorrow a gladsome morrow Had brought her joy and rest.
The giant knight was judged aright,
Sentenced to death he lay;
The elector mild, since safe his child, Sent forth the doom to stay.
But all to late, and o’er the gate
Of Freiburg’s council hall
Sir Konrad’s head, with features dread, The traitor’s eyes appal.
The scullion Hans who wrought their plans, And oped the window grate,
Whose faith was sold for Konrad’s gold, He met a traitor’s fate
Behold how gay the wood to-day,
The little church how fair,
What banners wave, what tap’stry brave Covers its carvings rare!
A goodly train–the parents twain,
And here the princess two,
Here with his pole, George, stout of soul, And all his comrades true.
High swells the chant, all jubilant,
And each boy bending low,
Humbly lays down the wrapping gown
He wore the night of woe.
Beside them lay a smock of grey,
All grimed with blood and smoke;
A thankful sign to Heaven benign,
That spared the sapling oak.
‘What prize would’st hold, thou ‘Triller bold’, Who trilled well for my son?’
‘Leave to cut wood, my Lord, so good, Near where the fight was won.’
‘Nay, Triller mine, the land be thine, My trusty giant-killer,
A farm and house I and my spouse
Grant free to George the Triller!’
Years hundred four, and half a score, Those robes have held their place;
The Triller’s deed has grateful meed From Albrecht’s royal race.
The child rescued by George the Triller’s Golden Deed was the ancestor of the late Prince Consort, and thus of our future line of kings. He was the son of the Elector Friedrich the mild of Saxony, and of Margarethe of Austria, whose dream presaged her children’s danger. The Elector had incurred the vengeance of the robber baron, Sir Konrad of Kauffingen, who, from his huge stature, was known as the Giant Ritter, by refusing to make up to him the sum of 4000 gulden which he had had to pay for his ransom after being made prisoner in the Elector’s service. In reply to his threats, all the answer that the robber knight received was the proverbial one, ‘Do not try to burn the fish in the ponds, Kunz.’
Stung by the irony, Kunz bribed the elector’s scullion, by name Hans Schwabe, to admit him and nine chosen comrades into the Castle of Altenburg on the night of the 7th of July, 1455, when the Elector was to be at Leipzig. Strange to say, this scullion was able to write, for a letter is extant from him to Sir Konrad, engaging to open the window immediately above the steep precipice, which on that side was deemed a sufficient protection to the castle, and to fasten a rope ladder by which to ascend the crags. This window can still be traced, though thenceforth it was bricked up. It gave access to the children’s apartments, and on his way to them, the robber drew the bolt of their mother’s door, so that though, awakened by the noise, she rushed to her window, she was a captive in her own apartment, and could not give the alarm, nor do anything but join her vain entreaties to the cries of her helpless children. It was the little son of the Count von Bardi whom Wilhelm von Mosen brought down by mistake for young Albrecht, and Kunz, while hurrying up to exchange the children, bade the rest of his band hasten on to secure the elder prince without waiting for him. He followed in a few seconds with Albrecht in his arms, and his servant Schweinitz riding after him, but he never overtook the main body. Their object was to reach Konrad’s own Castle of Isenburg on the frontiers of Bohemia, but they quickly heard the alarm bells ringing, and beheld beacons lighted upon every hill. They were forced to betake themselves to the forests, and about half-way, Prince Ernst’s captors, not daring to go any father, hid themselves and him in a cavern called the Devil’s Cleft on the right bank of the River Mulde.
Kunz himself rode on till the sun had risen, and he was within so few miles of his castle that the terror of his name was likely to be a sufficient protection. Himself and his horse were, however, spent by the wild midnight ride, and on the border of the wood of Eterlein, near the monastery of Grunheim, he halted, and finding the poor child grievously exhausted and feverish, he lifted him down, gave him water, and went himself in search of wood strawberries for his refreshment, leaving the two horses in the charge of Schweinitz. The servant dozed in his saddle, and meanwhile the charcoal-burner, George Schmidt, attracted by the sounds, came out of the wood, where all night he had been attending to the kiln, hollowed in the earth, and heaped with earth and roots of trees, where a continual charring of wood was going on. Little Albrecht no sooner saw this man than he sprang to him, and telling his name and rank, entreated to be rescued from these cruel men. The servant awaking, leapt down and struck a deadly blow at the boy’s head with his pole-ax, but it was parried by the charcoal-burner, who interposing with one hand the strong wooden pole he used for stirring his kiln, dragged the little prince aside with the other, and at the same time set his great dog upon the servant. Sir Konrad at once hurried back, but the valiant charcoal- burner still held his ground, dangerous as the fight was between the peasant unarmed except for the long pole, and the fully accoutered knight of gigantic size and strength. However, a whistle from George soon brought a gang of his comrades to his aid, and Kunz, finding himself surrounded, tried to leap into his saddle, and break through the throng by weight of man and horse, but his spur became entangled, the horse ran away, and he was dragged along with his head on the ground till he was taken up by the peasants and carried to the convent of Grunheim, whence he was sent to Zwickau, and was thence transported heavily ironed to Freiburg, where he was beheaded on the 14th of July, only a week after his act of violence. The Elector, in his joy at the recovery of even one child, was generous enough to send a pardon, but the messenger reached Freiburg too late, and a stone in the marketplace still marks the place of doom, while the grim effigy of Sir Konrad’s head grins over the door of the Rathhaus. It was a pity Friedrich’s mildness did not extend to sparing torture as well as death to his treacherous scullion, but perhaps a servant’s power of injuring his master was thought a reason for surrounding such instances of betrayal with special horrors.
The party hidden in the Devil’s Cleft overheard the peasants in the wood talking of the fall of the giant of Kauffingen, and, becoming alarmed for themselves, they sent to the Governor of the neighboring castle of Hartenstein to offer to restore Prince Ernst, provided they were promised a full pardon. The boy had been given up as dead, and intense were the rejoicings of the parents at his restoration. The Devil’s Cleft changed its name to the Prince’s Cleft, and the tree where Albrecht had lain was called the Prince’s Oak, and still remains as a witness to the story, as do the moth-eaten garments of the princely children, and the smock of the charcoal-burner, which they offered up in token of thanksgiving at the little forest church of Ebendorff, near the scene of the rescue.
‘I trillirt the knaves right well,’ was honest George’s way of telling the story of his exploit, not only a brave one, but amounting even to self-devotion when we remember that the robber baron was his near neighbour, and a terror to all around. The word Triller took the place of his surname, and when the sole reward he asked was leave freely to cut wood in the forest, the Elector gave him a piece of land of his own in the parish of Eversbach. In 1855 there was a grand celebration of the rescue of the Saxon princes on the 9th of July, the four hundredth anniversary, with a great procession of foresters and charcoal-burners to the ‘Triller’s Brewery’, which stands where George’s hut and kiln were once placed. Three of his descendants then figured in the procession, but since that time all have died, and the family of the Trillers is now extinct.
SIR THOMAS MORE’S DAUGHTER
We have seen how dim and doubtful was the belief that upbore the grave and beautiful Antigone in her self-sacrifice; but there have been women who have been as brave and devoted in their care of the mortal remains of their friends–not from the heathen fancy that the weal of the dead depended on such rites, but from their earnest love, and with a fuller trust beyond.
Such was the spirit of Beatrix, a noble maiden of Rome, who shared the Christian faith of her two brothers, Simplicius and Faustinus, at the end of the third century. For many years there had been no persecution, and the Christians were living at peace, worshipping freely, and venturing even to raise churches. Young people had grown up to whom the being thrown to the lions, beheaded, or burnt for the faith’s sake, was but a story of the times gone by. But under the Emperor Diocletian all was changed. The old heathen gods must be worshipped, incense must be burnt to the statue of the Emperor, or torture and death were the punishment. The two brothers Simplicius and Faustinus were thus asked to deny their faith, and resolutely refused. They were cruelly tortured, and at length beheaded, and their bodies thrown into the tawny waters of the Tiber. Their sister Beatrix had taken refuge with a poor devout Christian woman, named Lucina. But she did not desert her brothers in death; she made her way in secret to the bank of the river, watching to see whether the stream might bear down the corpses so dear to her. Driven along, so as to rest upon the bank, she found them at last, and, by the help of Lucina, she laid them in the grave in the cemetery called Ad Ursum Pileatum. For seven months she remained in her shelter, but she was at last denounced, and was brought before the tribunal, where she made answer that nothing should induce her to adore gods made of wood and stone. She was strangled in her prison, and her corpse being cast out, was taken home by Lucina, and buried beside her brothers. It was, indeed, a favorite charitable work of the Christian widows at Rome to provide for the burial of the martyrs; and as for the most part they were poor old obscure women, they could perform this good work with far less notice than could persons of more mark.
But nearer home, our own country shows a truly Christian Antigone, resembling the Greek lady, both in her dutifulness to the living, and in her tender care for the dead. This was Margaret, the favorite daughter of sir Thomas More, the true-hearted, faithful statesman of King Henry VIII.
Margaret’s home had been an exceedingly happy one. Her father, Sir Thomas More, was a man of the utmost worth, and was both earnestly religious and conscientious, and of a sweetness of manner and playfulness of fancy that endeared him to everyone. He was one of the most affectionate and dutiful of sons to his aged father, Sir John More; and when the son was Lord Chancellor, while the father was only a judge, Sir Thomas, on his way to his court, never failed to kneel down before his father in public, and ask his blessing. Never was the old saying, that a dutiful child had dutiful children, better exemplified than in the More family. In the times when it was usual for parents to be very stern with children, and keep them at a great distance, sometimes making them stand in their presence, and striking them for any slight offence, Sir Thomas More thought it his duty to be friendly and affectionate with them, to talk to them, and to enter into their confidence; and he was rewarded with their full love and duty.
He had four children–Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely, and John. His much- loved wife died when they were all very young, and he thought it for their good to marry a widow, Mrs. Alice Middleton, with one daughter named Margaret, and he likewise adopted an orphan called Margaret Giggs. With this household he lived in a beautiful large house at Chelsea, with well-trimmed gardens sloping down to the Thames; and this was the resort of the most learned and able men, both English and visitors from abroad, who delighted in pacing the shady walks, listening to the wit and wisdom of Sir Thomas, or conversing with the daughters, who had been highly educated, and had much of their father’s humor and sprightliness. Even Henry VIII. himself, then one of the most brilliant and graceful gentlemen of his time, would sometimes arrive in his royal barge, and talk theology or astronomy with Sir Thomas; or, it might be, crack jests with him and his daughters, or listen to the music in which all were skilled, even Lady More having been persuaded in her old age to learn to play on various instruments, including the flute. The daughters were early given in marriage, and with their husbands, continued to live under their father’s roof. Margaret’s husband was William Roper, a young lawyer, of whom Sir Thomas was very fond, and his household at Chelsea was thus a large and joyous family home of children and grandchildren, delighting in the kind, bright smiles of the open face under the square cap, that the great painter Holbein has sent down to us as a familiar sight.
But these glad days were not to last for ever. The trying times of the reign of Henry VIII. were beginning, and the question had been stirred whether the King’s marriage with Katherine of Aragon had been a lawful one. When Sir Thomas More found that the King was determined to take his own course, and to divorce himself without permission from the Pope, it was against his conscience to remain in office when acts were being done which he could not think right or lawful. He therefore resigned his office as Lord Chancellor, and, feeling himself free from the load and temptation, his gay spirits rose higher than ever. His manner of communicating the change to his wife, who had been very proud of his state and dignity, was thus. At church, when the service was over, it had always been the custom for one of his attendants to summon Lady More by coming to her closet door, and saying, ‘Madam, my lord is gone.’ On the day after his resignation, he himself stepped up, and with a low bow said, ‘Madam, my lord is gone,’ for in good soothe he was no longer Chancellor, but only plain Sir Thomas.
He thoroughly enjoyed his leisure, but he was not long left in tranquillity. When Anne Boleyn was crowned, he was invited to be present, and twenty pounds were offered him to buy a suitably splendid dress for the occasion; but his conscience would not allow him to accept the invitation, though he well knew the terrible peril he ran by offending the King and Queen. Thenceforth there was a determination to ruin him. First, he was accused of taking bribes when administering justice. It was said that a gilt cup had been given to him as a New Year’s gift, by one lady, and a pair of gloves filled with gold coins by another; but it turned out, on examination, that he had drunk the wine out of the cup, and accepted the gloves, because it was ill manners to refuse a lady’s gift, yet he had in both cases given back the gold.
Next, a charge was brought that he had been leaguing with a half-crazy woman called the Nun of Kent, who had said violent things about the King. He was sent for to be examined by Henry and his Council, and this he well knew was the interview on which his safety would turn, since the accusation was a mere pretext, and the real purpose of the King was to see whether he would go along with him in breaking away from Rome–a proceeding that Sir Thomas, both as churchman and as lawyer, could not think legal. Whether we agree or not in his views, it must always be remembered that he ran into danger by speaking the truth, and doing what he thought right. He really loved his master, and he knew the humor of Henry VIII., and the temptation was sore; but when he came down from his conference with the King in the Tower, and was rowed down the river to Chelsea, he was so merry that William Roper, who had been waiting for him in the boat, thought he must be safe, and said, as they landed and walked up the garden–
‘I trust, sir, all is well, since you are so merry?’
‘It is so, indeed, son, thank God!’
‘Are you then, sir, put out of the bill?’
‘Wouldest thou know, son why I am so joyful? In good faith I rejoice that I have given the devil a foul fall; because I have with those lords gone so far that without great shame I can never go back,’ he answered, meaning that he had been enabled to hold so firmly to his opinions, and speak them out so boldly, that henceforth the temptation to dissemble them and please the King would be much lessened. That he had held his purpose in spite of the weakness of mortal nature, was true joy to him, though he was so well aware of the consequences that when his daughter Margaret came to him the next day with the glad tidings that the charge against him had been given up, he calmly answered her, ‘In faith, Meg, what is put off is not given up.’
One day, when he had asked Margaret how the world went with the new Queen, and she replied, ‘In faith, father, never better; there is nothing else in the court but dancing and sporting,’ he replied, with sad foresight, ‘Never better. Alas, Meg! it pitieth me to remember unto what misery, poor soul, she will shortly come. These dances of hers will prove such dances that she will spurn off our heads like footballs, but it will not be long ere her head will take the same dance.’
So entirely did he expect to be summoned by a pursuivant that he thought it would lessen the fright of his family if a sham summons were brought. So he caused a great knocking to be made while all were at dinner, and the sham pursuivant went through all the forms of citing him, and the whole household were in much alarm, till he explained the jest; but the earnest came only a few days afterwards. On the 13th of April of 1534, arrived the real pursuivant to summon him to Lambeth, there to take the oath of supremacy, declaring that the King was the head of the Church of England, and that the Pope had no authority there. He knew what the refusal would bring on him. He went first to church, and then, not trusting himself to be unmanned by his love for his children and grandchildren, instead of letting them, as usual, come down to the water side, with tender kisses and merry farewells, he shut the wicket gate of the garden upon them all, and only allowed his son-in-law Roper to accompany him, whispering into his ear, ‘I thank our Lord, the field is won.’
Conscience had triumphed over affection, and he was thankful, though for the last time he looked on the trees he had planted, and the happy home he had loved. Before the council, he undertook to swear to some clauses in the oath which were connected with the safety of the realm; but he refused to take that part of the oath which related to the King’s power over the Church. It is said that the King would thus have been satisfied, but that the Queen urged him further. At any rate, after being four days under the charge of the Abbot of Westminister, Sir Thomas was sent to the Tower of London. There his wife–a plain, dull woman, utterly unable to understand the point of conscience–came and scolded him for being so foolish as to lie there in a close, filthy prison, and be shut up with rats and mice, instead of enjoying the favor of the King. He heard all she had to say, and answered, ‘I pray thee, good Mrs. Alice, tell me one thing–is not this house as near heaven as my own?’ To which she had no better answer than ‘Tilly vally, tilly vally.’ But, in spite of her folly, she loved him faithfully; and when all his property was seized, she sold even her clothes to obtain necessaries for him in prison.
His chief comfort was, however, in visits and letters from his daughter Margaret, who was fully able to enter into the spirit that preferred death to transgression. He was tried in Westminster Hall, on the 1st of July, and, as he had fully expected, sentenced to death. He was taken back along the river to the Tower. On the wharf his loving Margaret was waiting for her last look. She broke through the guard of soldiers with bills and halberds, threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him, unable to say any word but ‘Oh, my father!–oh, my father!’ He blessed her, and told her that whatsoever she might suffer, it was not without the will of God, and she must therefore be patient. After having once parted with him, she suddenly turned back again, ran to him, and, clinging round his neck, kissed him over and over again–a sight at which the guards themselves wept. She never saw him again; but the night before his execution he wrote to her a letter with a piece of charcoal, with tender remembrances to all the family, and saying to her, ‘I never liked your manner better than when you kissed me last; for I am most pleased when daughterly love and dear charity have no leisure to look to worldly courtesy.’ He likewise made it his especial request that she might be permitted to be present at his burial.
His hope was sure and steadfast, and his heart so firm that he did not even cease from humorous sayings. When he mounted the crazy ladder of the scaffold he said, ‘Master Lieutenant, I pray you see me safe up; and for my coming down let me shift for myself.’ And he desired the executioner to give him time to put his beard out of the way of the stroke, ‘since that had never offended his Highness’.
His body was given to his family, and laid in the tomb he had already prepared in Chelsea Church; but the head was set up on a pole on London Bridge. The calm, sweet features were little changed, and the loving daughter gathered courage as she looked up at them. How she contrived the deed, is not known; but before many days had passed, the head was no longer there, and Mrs. Roper was said to have taken it away. She was sent for to the Council, and accused of the stealing of her father’s head. She shrank not from avowing that thus it had been, and that the head was in her own possession. One story says that, as she was passing under the bridge in a boat, she looked up, and said, ‘That head has often lain in my lap; I would that it would now fall into it.’ And at that moment it actually fell, and she received it. It is far more likely that she went by design, at the same time as some faithful friend on the bridge, who detached the precious head, and dropped it down to her in her boat beneath. Be this as it may, she owned before the cruel-hearted Council that she had taken away and cherished the head of the man whom they had slain as a traitor. However, Henry VIII. was not a Creon, and our Christian Antigone was dismissed unhurt by the Council, and allowed to retain possession of her treasure. She caused it to be embalmed, kept it with her wherever she went, and when, nine years afterwards, she died (in the year 1544), it was laid in her coffin in the ‘Roper aisle’ of St. Dunstan’s Church, at Canterbury.
UNDER IVAN THE TERRIBLE
Prince Andrej Kourbsky was one of the chief boyards or nobles at the Court of Ivan, the first Grand Prince of Muscovy who assumed the Eastern title of Tzar, and who relieved Russia from the terrible invasions of the Tatars. This wild race for nearly four hundred years had roamed over the country, destroying and plundering all they met with, and blighting all the attempts at civilization that had begun to be made in the eleventh century. It was only when the Russians learnt the use of firearms that these savages were in any degree repressed. In the year 1551 the city of Kazan, upon the River Kazanka, a tributary of the Volga, was the last city that remained in the hands of the Tatars. It was a rich and powerful place, a great centre of trade between Europe and the East, but it was also a nest of robbers, who had frequently broken faith with the Russians, and had lately expelled the Khan Schig Alei for having endeavored to fulfill his engagements to them. The Tzar Ivan Vassilovitch, then only twenty-two years of age, therefore marched against the place, resolved at any cost to reduce it and free his country from these inveterate foes.
On his way he received tidings that the Crimean Tatars had come plundering into Russia, probably thinking to attack Moscow, while Ivan was besieging Kazan. He at once sent off the Prince Kourbsky with 15,000 men, who met double that number of Tatars at Toula, and totally defeated them, pursuing them to the River Chevorona, where, after a second defeat, they abandoned a great number of Russian captives, and a great many camels. Prince Kourbsky was wounded in the head and shoulder, but was able to continue the campaign.
Some of the boyards murmured at the war, and declared that their strength and resources were exhausted. Upon this the Tzar desired that two lists might be drawn up of the willing and unwilling warriors in his camp. ‘The first’, he said, ‘shall be as dear to me as my own children; their needs shall be made known to me, and I will share all I have with them. The others may stay at home; I want no cowards in my army.’ No one of course chose to be in the second list, and about this time was formed the famous guard called the Strelitzes, a body of chosen warriors who were always near the person of the Tzar.
In the middle of August, 1552, Ivan encamped in the meadows on the banks of the Volga, which spread like a brilliant green carpet around the hill upon which stood the strongly fortified city of Kazan. The Tatars had no fears. ‘This is not the first time’, they said, ‘that we have seen the Muscovites beneath our walls. Their fruitless attacks always end in retreats, till we have learned to laugh them to scorn;’ and when Ivan sent them messengers with offers of peace, they replied, ‘All is ready; we only await your coming to begin the feast.’
They did not know of the great change that the last half-century had made in sieges. One of the Italian condottieri, or leaders of free companies, had made his way to Moscow, and under his instructions, Ivan’s troops were for the first time to conduct a siege in the regular modern manner, by digging trenches in the earth, and throwing up the soil in front into a bank, behind which the cannon and gunners are posted, with only small openings made through which to fire at some spot in the enemy’s walls. These trenches are constantly worked nearer and nearer to the fortifications, till by the effect of the shot an opening or breach must be made in the walls, and the soldiers can then climb up upon scaling ladders or heaps of small faggots piled up to the height of the opening. Sometimes, too, the besiegers burrow underground till they are just below the wall, then fill the hole with gunpowder, and blow up all above them; in short, instead of, as in former days, a well- fortified city being almost impossible to take, except by starving out the garrison, a siege is in these times almost equally sure to end in favor of the besiegers.
All through August and September the Russians made their approaches, while the Tatars resisted them bravely, but often showing great barbarity. Once when Ivan again sent a herald, accompanied by a number of Tatar prisoners, to offer terms to Yediguer, the present Khan, the defenders called out to their countrymen, ‘You had better perish by our pure hands than by those of the wretched Christians,’ and shot a whole flight of arrows at them. Moreover, every morning the magicians used to come out at sunrise upon the walls, and their shrieks, contortions, and waving of garments were believed, not only by the Tatars but by the Russians, and by Andrej Kourbsky himself, to bring foul weather, which greatly harassed the Russians. On this Ivan sent to Moscow for a sacred cross that had been given to the Grand Prince Vladimir when he was converted; the rivers were blessed, and their water sprinkled round the camp, and the fair weather that ensued was supposed to be due to the counteraction of the incantations of the magicians. These Tatars were Mahometans, but they must have retained some of the wind-raising enchantments of their Buddhist brethren in Asia.
A great mine had been made under the gate of Arsk, and eleven barrels of gunpowder placed in it. On the 30th of September it was blown up, and the whole tower became a heap of ruins. For some minutes the consternation of the besieged was such that there was a dead silence like the stillness of the grave. The Russians rushed forward over the opening, but the Tatars, recovering at the sight of them, fought desperately, but could not prevent them from taking possession of the tower at the gateway. Other mines were already prepared, and the Tzar gave notice of a general assault for the next day, and recommended all his warriors to purify their souls by repentance, confession, and communion, in readiness for the deadly strife before them. In the meantime, he sent Yediguer a last offer of mercy, but the brave Tatars cried out, ‘We will have no pardon! If the Russians have one tower, we will build another; if they ruin our ramparts we will set up more. We will be buried under the walls of Kazan, or else we will make him raise the siege.’
Early dawn began to break. The sky was clear and cloudless. The Tatars were on their walls, the Russians in their trenches; the Imperial eagle standard, which Ivan had lately assumed, floated in the morning wind. The two armies were perfectly silent, save here and there the bray of a single trumpet, or beat of a naker drum in one or the other, and the continuous hum of the hymns and chants from the three Russian chapel- tents. The archers held their arrows on the string, the gunners stood with lighted matches. The copper-clad domes of the minarets began to glow with the rising sunbeams; the muezzins were on the roofs about to call the Moslemin to prayer; the deacon in the Tzar’s chapel-tent was reading the Gospel. ‘There shall be one fold and one Shepherd.’ At that moment the sun’s disk appeared above the eastern hills, and ere yet the red orb had fully mounted above the horizon, there was a burst as it were of tremendous thunderings, and the ground shook beneath the church. The Tzar went to the entrance, and found the whole city hill so ‘rolled in sable smoke’, that he could distinguish nothing, and, going back to his place, desired that the service should continue. The deacon was in the midst of the prayer for the establishment of the power of the Tzar and the discomfiture of his enemies, when the crushing burst of another explosion rushed upon their ears, and as it died away another voice broke forth, the shout raised by every man in the Russian lines, ‘God is with us!’ On then they marched towards the openings that the mines had made, but there the dauntless garrison, in spite of the terror and destruction caused by the two explosions, met them with unabated fury, rolling beams or pouring boiling water upon them as they strove to climb the breach, and fighting hand to hand with them if they mounted it. However, by the time the Tzar had completed his devotions and mounted his horse, his eagle could be seen above the smoke upon the citadel.
Still the city had to be won, step by step, house by house, street by street; and even while struggling onwards the Russians were tempted aside by plunder among the rich stores of merchandise that were heaped up in the warehouses of this the mart of the East. The Khan profited by their lack of discipline, and forced them back to the walls; nay, they would have absolutely been driven out at the great gate, but that they beheld their young Tzar on horseback among his grey-haired councillors. By the advice of these old men Ivan rode forward, and with his own hand planted the sacred standard at the gates, thus forming a barrier that the fugitives were ashamed to pass. At the same time he, with half his choice cavalry, dismounted, and entered the town all fresh and vigorous, their rich armor glittering with gold and silver, and plumes of various colours streaming from their helmets in all the brilliancy of Eastern taste. This reinforcement recalled the plunderers to their duty, and the Tatars were driven back to the Khan’s palace, whence, after an hour’s defense, they were forced to retreat.
At a postern gate, Andrej Kourbsky and two hundred men met Yediguer and 10,000 Tatars, and cut off their retreat, enclosing them in the narrow streets. They forced their Khan to take refuge in a tower, and made signs as if to capitulate. ‘Listen,’ they said. ‘As long as we had a government, we were willing to die for our prince and country. Now Kazan is yours, we deliver our Khan to you, alive and unhurt–lead him to the Tzar. For our own part, we are coming down into the open field to drain our last cup of life with you.’
Yediguer and one old councillor were accordingly placed in the hands of an officer, and then the desperate Tatars, climbing down the outside of the walls, made for the Kazanka, where no troops, except the small body under Andrej Kourbsky and his brother Romanus, were at leisure to pursue them. The fighting was terrible, but the two princes kept them in view until checked by a marsh which horses could not pass. The bold fugitives took refuge in a forest, where, other Russian troops coming up, all were surrounded and slain, since not a man of them would accept quarter.
Yediguer was kindly treated by Ivan, and accompanying him to Moscow, there became a Christian, and was baptized by the name of Simeon, in the presence of the Tzar and his whole court, on the banks of the Moskwa. He married a Russian lady, and his whole conduct proved that his conversion was sincere.
But this story has only been told at so much length to show what manner of man Andrej Kourbsky was, and Ivan Vassilovitch had been, and how they had once been brethren in arms; and perhaps it has been lingered over from the melancholy interest there must always be in watching the fall of a powerful nation, and the last struggles of gallant men. Ivan was then a gallant, religious and highly gifted prince, generous and merciful, and with every promise of a glorious reign, full of benefits to his country. Alas! this part of his career was one glimpse of brightness in the course of a long tempestuous day. His reign had begun when he was but three years old. He had had a violent and cruel mother, and had, after her death, been bred up by evil-minded courtiers, who absolutely taught him cruel and dissolute amusements in order to prevent him from attending to state affairs. For a time, the exhortations of the good and fearless patriarch, and the influence of his gentle wife Anastasia, had prevailed, and with great vigor and strong principle he had shaken off all the evil habits of his boyhood, and begun, as it seemed, an admirable reign.
Too soon, a severe illness shook the balance of his mind, and this was quickly followed by the death of the excellent Tzarina Anastasia. Whether grief further unsettled him, or whether the loss of her gentle influence left him a prey to his wicked councillors, from that time forward his conduct was so wildly savage and barbarous as to win for him the surname of the Terrible. Frantic actions, extravagant excesses, and freaks of horrible cruelty looked like insanity; and yet, on the other hand, he often showed himself a clear-headed and sagacious monarch, anxious for the glory and improvement of his people.
But he lived in continual suspicion, and dreaded every eminent man in his dominions. Kourbsky whom he had once loved and trusted, and had charged with the command of his army, as his most able boyard, fell under his suspicion; and, with horror and indignation, learnt that the Tzar was plotting against his life, and intended to have him put to death. Kourbsky upon this explained to his wife that she must either see him put to a shameful death, or let him leave her for ever. He gave his blessing to his son, a boy of nine years old, and leaving his house at night he scaled the wall of Moscow, and meeting his faithful servant, Vasili Shibanoff, with two horses, he made his escape. This Vasili was his stirrup-bearer, one of those serfs over whom the boyard on whose land they were born possessed absolute power. That power was often abused, but the instinctive faithfulness of the serf towards his master could hardly be shaken, even by the most savage treatment, and a well- treated serf viewed his master’s family with enthusiastic love and veneration. Vasili accompanied his master’s flight through the birch forests towards the Livonian frontier, the country where but lately Kourbsky had been leading the Tzar’s armies. On the way the prince’s horse became exhausted by his weight, and Vasili insisted on giving up his own in its stead, though capture in the course of such desertion would have been certain death. However, master and servant safely arrived at Wolmar in Livonia, and there Andrej came to the determination of renouncing the service of the ungrateful Ivan, and entering that of the King of Poland. For this last step there was no excuse. Nothing can justify a man in taking up arms against his country, but in the middle Ages the tie of loyalty was rather to the man than to the state, and Andrej Kourbsky seems to have deemed that his honor would be safe, provided he sent a letter to his sovereign, explaining his grievance and giving up his allegiance. The letter is said to have been full of grave severity and deep, suppressed indignation, though temperate in tone; but no one would consent to be the bearer of such a missive, since the cruel tyrant’s first fury was almost certain to fall on him who presented it. Believing his master’s honor at stake, Vasili offered himself to be the bearer of the fatal letter, and Kourbsky accepted the offer, tendering to him a sum of money, which the serf rejected, knowing that money would soon be of little service to him, and seeking no reward for what he deemed his duty to his lord.
As Ivan’s justice had turned into barbarity, so his religion had turned into foolish fanatic observance. He had built a monastery near Moscow for himself and three hundred chosen boyards, and every morning at three or four o’clock he took his two sons into the belfry with him and proceeded to strike the bells, the Russian mode of ringing them, till all the brethren were assembled. This bell-sounding was his favorite occupation, and in it he was engaged when Vasili arrived. The servant awaited him in the vestibule, and delivered the letter with these words: ‘From my master and thine exile, Prince Andrej Kourbsky.’
Ivan answered by such a blow on the leg with his iron-tipped rod that the blood poured from the wound; but Vasili neither started, cried out, nor moved a feature. At once the Tzar bade him be seized and tortured, to make him disclose whether his master had any partners in guilt, or if any plans were matured. But no extremity of agony could extract aught but praises of the prince, and assurances of his readiness to die for him. From early morning till late at night the torturers worked, one succeeding when another was tired out; but nothing could overcome his constancy, and his last words were a prayer to implore his God to have mercy on his master and forgive his desertion.
His praise came even from the tyrant, who wrote to Kourbsky–‘Let thy servant Vaska [Footnote: the abbreviation of Vasili or Basil.] shame thee. He preserved his truth to thee before the Tzar and the people. Having given thee his word of faith, he kept it, even before the gates of death.’
After the flight of Kourbsky, the rage of Ivan continued to increase with each year of his life. He had formed a sort of bodyguard of a thousand ruffians, called the Oprichnina, who carried out his barbarous commands, and committed an infinity of murders and robberies on their own account. He was like a distorted caricature of Henry VIII, and, like him, united violence and cruelty with great exactness about religious worship, carrying his personal observances to the most fanatic extravagance.
In the vacancy of the Metropolitan See, he cast his eyes upon the monastery in the little island of Solovsky, in the White Sea, where the Prior, Feeleep Kolotchof, was noted for his holy life, and the good he had done among the wild and miserable population of the island. He was the son of a rich boyard, but had devoted himself from his youth to a monastic life, and the fame of his exertions in behalf of the islanders had led the Tzar to send him not only precious vessels for the use of his church, but contributions to the stone churches, piers, and hostelries that he raised for his people; for whom he had made roads, drained marshes, introduced cattle, and made fisheries and salt pans, changing the whole aspect of the place, and lessening even the inclemency of the climate.
On this good man the Tzar fixed his choice. He wrote to him to come to Moscow to attend a synod, and on his arrival made him dine at the palace, and informed him that he was to be chief pastor of the Russian Church. Feeleep burst into tears, entreating permission to refuse, and beseeching the Tzar not to trust ‘so heavy a freight to such a feeble bark’. Ivan held to his determination, and Feeleep then begged him at least to dismiss the cruel Oprichnina. ‘How can I bless you,’ he said, ‘while I see my country in mourning?’
The Tzar replied by mentioning his suspicions of all around him, and commanded Feeleep to be silent. He expected to be sent back to his convent at once, but, instead of this, the Tzar commanded the clergy to elect him Archbishop, and they all added their entreaties to him to accept the office, and endeavor to soften the Tzar, who respected him; and he yielded at last, saying, ‘The will of the Tzar and the pastors of the church must, then, be done.’
At his consecration, he preached a sermon on the power of mildness, and the superiority of the victories of love over the triumphs of war. It awoke the better feelings of Ivan, and for months he abstained from any deed of violence; his good days seemed to have returned and he lived in intimate friendship with the good Archbishop.
But after a time the sleeping lion began to waken. Ivan’s suspicious mind took up an idea that Feeleep had been incited by the nobles to request the abolition of the Oprichnina, and that they were exciting a revolt. The spies whom he sent into Moscow told him that wherever an Oprichnik appeared, the people shrank away in silence, as, poor things! they well might. He fancied this as a sign that conspiracies were brewing, and all his atrocities began again. The tortures to which whole families were put were most horrible; the Oprichniks went through the streets with poignards and axes, seeking out their victims, and killing from ten to twenty a day. The corpses lay in the streets, for no one dared to leave his house to bury them. Feeleep vainly sent letters and exhortations to the Tzar–they were unnoticed. The unhappy citizens came to the Archbishop, entreating him to intercede for them, and he gave them his promise that he would not spare his own blood to save theirs.
One Sunday, as Feeleep was about to celebrate the Holy Communion, Ivan came into the Cathedral with a troop of his satellites, like him, fantastically dressed in black cassocks and high caps. He came towards the Metropolitan, but Feeleep kept his eyes fixed on the picture of our Lord, and never looked at him. Someone said, ‘Holy Father, here is the prince; give him your blessing.’
‘No,’ said the Archbishop, ‘I know not the Tzar in this strange disguise–still less do I know him in his government. Oh, Prince! we are here offering sacrifice to the Lord, and beneath the altar the blood of guiltless Christians is flowing in torrents… You are indeed on the throne, but there is One above all, our Judge and yours. How shall you appear before his Judgment Seat?–stained with the blood of the righteous, stunned with their shrieks, for the stones beneath your feet cry out for vengeance to Heaven. Prince, I speak as shepherd of souls; I fear God alone.’
The Archbishop was within the golden gates, which, in Russian churches, close in the sanctuary or chancel, and are only entered by the clergy. He was thus out of reach of the cruel iron-tipped staff, which the Tzar could only strike furiously on the pavement, crying out, ‘Rash monk, I have spared you too long. Henceforth I will be to you such as you describe.’
The murders went on in their full horrors; but, in spite of the threat, the Archbishop remained unmolested, though broken-hearted at the cruelties around him. At last, however, his resolute witness became more than the tyrant would endure, and messengers were secretly sent to the island of Solovsky, to endeavor to find some accusation against him. They tampered with all the monks in the convent, to induce them to find some fault in him, but each answered that he was a saint in every thought, word, and deed; until at last Payssi, the prior who had succeeded him, was induced, by the hope of a bishopric, to bear false witness against him.
He was cited before an assembly of bishops and boyards, presided over by the Tzar, and there he patiently listened to the monstrous stories told by Payssi. Instead of defending himself, he simply said, ‘This seed will not bring you a good harvest;’ and, addressing himself to the Tzar, said, ‘Prince, you are mistaken if you think I fear death. Having attained an advanced age, far from stormy passions and worldly intrigues, I only desire to return my soul to the Most High, my Sovereign Master and yours. Better to perish an innocent martyr, than as Metropolitan to look on at the horrors and impieties of these wretched times. Do what you will with me! Here are the pastoral staff, the white mitre, and the mantle with which you invested me. And you, bishops, archimandrites, abbots, servants of the altar, feed the flock of Christ zealously, as preparing to give an account thereof, and fear the Judge of Heaven more than the earthly judge.’
He was then departing, when the Tzar recalled him, saying that he could not be his own judge, and that he must await his sentence. In truth, worse indignities were preparing for him. He was in the midst of the Liturgy on the 8th of November, the Greek Michaelmas, when a boyard came in with a troop of armed Oprichniks, who overawed the people, while the boyard read a paper degrading the Metropolitan from his sacred office; and then the ruffians, entering through the golden gates tore off his mitre and robes, wrapped him in a mean gown, absolutely swept him out of the church with brooms, and took him in a sledge to the Convent of the Epiphany. The people ran after him, weeping bitterly, while the venerable old man blessed them with uplifted hands, and, whenever he could be heard, repeated his last injunction, ‘Pray, pray to God.’
Once again he was led before the Emperor, to hear the monstrous sentence that for sorcery, and other heavy charges, he was to be imprisoned for life. He said no reproachful word, only, for the last time, he besought the Tzar to have pity on Russia, and to remember how his ancestors had reigned, and the happy days of his youth. Ivan only commanded the soldiers to take him away; and he was heavily ironed, and thrown into a dungeon, whence he was afterwards transferred to a convent on the banks of the Moskwa, where he was kept bare of almost all the necessaries of life: and in a few days’ time the head of Ivan Borissovitch Kolotchof, the chief of his family, was sent to him, with the message, ‘Here are the remains of your dear kinsman, your sorcery could not save him!’ Feeleep calmly took the head in his arms, blessed it, and gave it back.
The people of Moscow gathered round the convent, gazed at his cell, and told each other stories of his good works, which they began to magnify into miracles. Thereupon the Emperor sent him to another convent, at a greater distance. Here he remained till the next year, 1569, when Maluta Skouratof, a Tatar, noted as a favorite of the Tzar, and one of the chief ministers of his cruelty, came into his cell, and demanded his blessing for the Tzar.
The Archbishop replied that blessings only await good men and good works, adding tranquilly, ‘I know what you are come for. I have long looked for death. Let the Tzar’s will be done.’ The assassin then smothered him, but pretended to the abbot that he had been stifled by the heat of the cell. He was buried in haste behind the altar, but his remains have since been removed to his own cathedral at Moscow, the scene where he had freely offered his own life by confronting the tyrant in the vain endeavor to save his people.
Vain, too, was the reproof of the hermit, who shocked Ivan’s scruples by offering him a piece of raw flesh in the middle of Lent, and told him that he was preying on the flesh and blood of his subjects. The crimes of Ivan grew more and more terrible, and yet his acuteness was such that they can hardly be inscribed to insanity. He caused the death of his own son by a blow with that fatal staff of his; and a last, after a fever varied by terrible delirium, in which alone his remorse manifested itself, he died while setting up the pieces for a game at chess, on the 17th of March, 1584.
This has been a horrible story, in reality infinitely more horrible than we have made it; but there is this blessing among many others in Christianity, that the blackest night makes its diamonds only show their living luster more plainly: and surely even Ivan the Terrible, in spite of himself, did something for the world in bringing out the faithful fearlessness of Archbishop Feeleep, and the constancy of the stirrup- bearer, Vasili.
FORT ST. ELMO
The white cross of the Order of St. John waved on the towers of Rhodes for two hundred and fifty-five years. In 1552, after a desperate resistance, the Turks, under their great Sultan, Solyman the Magnificent, succeeded in driving the Knights Hospitaliers from their beautiful home, and they were again cast upon the world.
They were resolved, however, to continue their old work of protecting the Mediterranean travelers, and thankfully accepted, as a gift from the Emperor Charles V., the little islet of Malta as their new station. It was a great contrast to their former home, being little more than a mere rock rising steeply out of the sea, white, glaring and with very shallow earth, unfit to bear corn, though it produced plenty of oranges, figs, and melons–with little water, and no wood,–the buildings wretched, and for the most part uninhabited, and the few people a miserable mongrel set, part Arab, part Greek, part Sicilian, and constantly kept down by the descents of the Moorish pirates, who used to land in the unprotected bays, and carry off all the wretched beings they could catch, to sell for slaves. It was a miserable exchange from fertile Rhodes, which was nearly five times larger than this barren rock; but the Knights only wanted a hospital, a fortress, and a harbour; and this last they found in the deeply indented northern shore, while they made the first two. Only a few years had passed before the dreary Citta Notabile had become in truth a notable city, full of fine castle-like houses, infirmaries, and noble churches, and fenced in with mighty wall and battlements– country houses were perched upon the rocks–the harbors were fortified, and filled with vessels of war–and deep vaults were hollowed out in the rock, in which corn was stored sufficient to supply the inhabitants for many months.
Everywhere that there was need was seen the red flag with the eight- pointed cross. If there was an earthquake on the shores of Italy or Sicily, there were the ships of St. John, bringing succor to the crushed and ruined townspeople. In every battle with Turk or Moor, the Knights were among the foremost; and, as ever before, their galleys were the aid of the peaceful merchant, and the terror of the corsair. Indeed, they were nearer Tunis, Tripoli, and Algiers, the great nests of these Moorish pirates, and were better able to threaten them, and thwart their cruel descents, than when so much farther eastward; and the Mahometan power found them quite as obnoxious in Malta as in Rhodes.
Solyman the Magnificent resolved, in his old age, to sweep these obstinate Christians from the seas, and, only twelve years after the siege of Rhodes, prepared an enormous armament, which he united with those of the Barbary pirates, and placed under the command of Mustafa and Piali, his two bravest pashas, and Dragut, a terrible Algerine corsair, who had already made an attempt upon the island, but had been repulsed by the good English knight, Sir Nicholas Upton. Without the advice of this pirate the Sultan desired that nothing should be undertaken.
The Grand Master who had to meet this tremendous danger was Jean Parisot de la Valette, a brave and resolute man, as noted for his piety and tenderness to the sick in the infirmaries as for his unflinching courage. When he learnt the intentions of the Sultan, he began by collecting a Chapter of his Order, and, after laying his tidings before them, said: ‘A formidable army and a cloud of barbarians are about to burst on this isle. Brethren, they are the enemies of Jesus Christ. The question is the defense of the Faith, and whether the Gospel shall yield to the Koran. God demands from us the life that we have already devoted to Him by our profession. Happy they who in so good a cause shall first consummate their sacrifice. But, that we may be worthy, my brethren, let us hasten to the altar, there to renew our vows; and may to each one of us be imparted, by the very Blood of the Saviour of mankind, and by faithful participation in His Sacraments, that generous contempt of death that can alone render us invincible.’
With these words, he led the way to the church, and there was not an individual knight who did not on that day confess and receive the Holy Communion; after which they were as new men–all disputes, all trivialities and follies were laid aside–and the whole community awaited the siege like persons under a solemn dedication.
The chief harbour of Malta is a deep bay, turned towards the north, and divided into two lesser bays by a large tongue of rock, on the point of which stood a strong castle, called Fort St. Elmo. The gulf to the westward has a little island in it, and both gulf and islet are called Marza Muscat. The gulf to the east, called the Grand Port, was again divided by three fingers of rock projecting from the mainland, at right angles to the tongue that bore Fort St. Elmo. Each finger was armed with a strong talon–the Castle of La Sangle to the east, the Castle of St. Angelo in the middle, and Fort Ricasoli to the west. Between St. Angelo and La Sangle was the harbour where all the ships of war were shut up at night by an immense chain; and behind was il Borgo, the chief fortification in the island. Citta Notabile and Gozo were inland, and their fate would depend upon that of the defenses of the harbor. To defend all this, the Grand Master could only number 700 knights and 8,500 soldiers. He sent to summon home all those of the Order who were dispersed in the different commanderies in France, Spain, and Germany, and entreated aid from the Spanish king, Philip II., who wished to be considered as the prime champion of Roman Catholic Christendom, and who alone had the power of assisting him. The Duke of Alva, viceroy for Philip in Sicily, made answer that he would endeavor to relieve the Order, if they could hold out Fort St. Elmo till the fleet could be got together; but that if this castle were once lost, it would be impossible to bring them aid, and they must be left to their fate.
The Grand Master divided the various posts to the knights according to their countries. The Spaniards under the Commander De Guerras, Bailiff of Negropont, had the Castle of St. Elmo; the French had Port de la Sangle; the Germans, and the few English knights whom the Reformation had left, were charged with the defense of the Port of the Borgo, which served as headquarters, and the Commander Copier, with a body of troops, was to remain outside the town and watch and harass the enemy.
On the 18th of May, 1565, the Turkish fleet came in sight. It consisted of 159 ships, rowed by Christian slaves between the decks, and carrying 30,000 Janissaries and Spahis, the terrible warriors to whom the Turks owed most of their victories, and after them came, spreading for miles over the blue waters, a multitude of ships of burthen bringing the horses of the Spahis, and such heavy battering cannon as rendered the dangers of a siege infinitely greater than in former days. These Janissaries were a strange, distorted resemblance of the knights themselves, for they were bound in a strict brotherhood of arms, and were not married, so as to care for nothing but each other, the Sultan, and the honor of their troop. They were not dull, apathetic Turks, but chiefly natives of Circassia and Georgia, the land where the human race is most beautiful and nobly formed. They were stolen from their homes, or, too often, sold by their parents when too young to remember their Christian baptism, and were bred up as Mahometans, with no home but their corps, no kindred but their fellow soldiers. Their title, given by the Sultan who first enrolled them, meant New Soldiers, their ensign was a camp kettle, as that of their Pashas was one, two, or three horses’ tails, in honor of the old Kurdish chief, the founder of the Turkish empire; but there was no homeliness in their appointments, their weapons–scimitars, pistols, and carabines–were crusted with gold and jewels; their head-dress, though made in imitation of a sleeve, was gorgeous, and their garments were of the richest wool and silk, dyed with the deep, exquisite colours of the East. Terrible warriors were they, and almost equally dreaded were the Spahis, light horsemen from Albania and the other Greek and Bulgarian provinces who had entered the Turkish service, and were great plunderers, swift and cruel, glittering, both man and horse, with the jewels they had gained in their forays.
These were chiefly troops for the land attack, and they were set on shore at Port St. Thomas, where the commanders, Mustafa and Piali, held a council, to decide where they should first attack. Piali wished to wait for Dragut, who was daily expected, but Mustafa was afraid of losing time, and of being caught by the Spanish fleet, and insisted on at once laying siege to Fort St. Elmo, which was, he thought, so small that it could not hold out more than five or six days.
Indeed, it could not hold above 300 men, but these were some of the bravest of the knights, and as it was only attacked on the land side, they were able to put off boats at night and communicate with the Grand Master and their brethren in the Borgo. The Turks set up their batteries, and fired their enormous cannon shot upon the fortifications. One of their terrible pieces of ordnance carried stone balls of 160 lb., and no wonder that stone and mortar gave way before it, and that a breach was opened in a few days’ time. That night, when, as usual, boatloads of wounded men were transported across to the Borgo, the Bailiff of Negropont sent the knight La Cerda to the Grand Master to give an account of the state of things and ask for help. La Cerda spoke strongly, and, before a great number of knights, declared that there was no chance of so weak a place holding out for more than a week.
‘What has been lost,’ said the Grand Master, ‘since you cry out for help?’
‘Sir,’ replied La Cerda, ‘the castle may be regarded as a patient in extremity and devoid of strength, who can only be sustained by continual remedies and constant succor.’
‘I will be doctor myself,’ replied the Grand Master, ‘and will bring others with me who, if they cannot cure you of fear, will at least be brave enough to prevent the infidels from seizing the fort.’
The fact was, as he well knew, that the little fort could not hold out long, and he grieved over the fate of his knights; but time was everything, and the fate of the whole isle depended upon the white cross being still on that point of land when the tardy Sicilian fleet should set sail. He was one who would ask no one to run into perils that he would not share, and he was bent on throwing himself into St. Elmo, and being rather buried under the ruins than to leave the Mussulmans free a moment sooner than could be helped to attack the Borgo and Castle of St. Angelo. But the whole Chapter of Knights entreated him to abstain, and so many volunteered for this desperate service, that the only difficulty was to choose among them. Indeed, La Cerda had done the garrison injustice; no one’s heart was failing but his own; and the next day there was a respite, for a cannon shot from St. Angelo falling into the enemy’s camp, shattered a stone, a splinter of which struck down the Piali Pasha. He was thought dead, and the camp and fleet were in confusion, which enabled the Grand Master to send off his nephew, the Chevalier de la Valette Cornusson, to Messina to entreat the Viceroy of Sicily to hasten to their relief; to give him a chart of the entrance of the harbour, and a list of signals, and to desire in especial that two ships belonging to the Order, and filled with the knights who had hurried from distant lands too late for the beginning of the siege, might come to him at once. To this the Viceroy returned a promise that at latest the fleet should sail on the 15th of June, adding an exhortation to him at all sacrifices to maintain St. Elmo. This reply the Grand Master transmitted to the garrison, and it nerved them to fight even with more patience and self-sacrifice. A desperate sally was led by the Chevalier de Medran, who fought his way into the trenches where the Turkish cannon were planted, and at first drove all before him; but the Janissaries rallied and forced back the Christians out of the trenches. Unfortunately there was a high wind, which drove the smoke of the artillery down on the counter-scarp (the slope of masonry facing the rampart), and while it was thus hidden from the Christians, the Turks succeeded in effecting a lodgment there, fortifying themselves with trees and sacks of earth and wool. When the smoke cleared off, the knights were dismayed to see the horse-tail ensigns of the Janissaries so near them, and cannon already prepared to batter the ravelin, or outwork protecting the gateway.
La Cerda proposed to blow this fortification up, and abandon it, but no other knight would hear of deserting an inch of wall while it could yet be held.
But again the sea was specked with white sails from the south-east. Six galleys came from Egypt, bearing 900 troops–Mameluke horsemen, troops recruited much like the Janissaries and quite as formidable. These ships were commanded by Ulucciali, an Italian, who had denied his faith and become a Mahometan, and was thus regarded with especial horror by the chivalry of Malta. And the swarm thickened for a few days more; like white-winged and beautiful but venomous insects hovering round their prey, the graceful Moorish galleys and galliots came up from the south, bearing 600 dark-visaged, white-turbaned, lithe-limbed Moors from Tripoli, under Dragut himself. The thunders of all the guns roaring forth their salute of honor told the garrison that the most formidable enemy of all had arrived. And now their little white rock was closed in on every side, with nothing but its own firmness to be its aid.
Dragut did not approve of having begun with attacking Fort St. Elmo; he thought that the inland towns should have been first taken, and Mustafa offered to discontinue the attack, but this the Corsair said could not now be done with honor, and under him the attack went on more furiously than ever. He planted a battery of four guns on the point guarding the entrance of Marza Muscat, the other gulf, and the spot has ever since been called Dragut’s Point. Strange to say, the soldiers in the ravelin fell asleep, and thus enabled the enemy to scramble up by climbing on one another’s shoulders and enter the place. As soon as the alarm was given, the Bailiff of Negropont, with a number of knights, rushed into the ravelin, and fought with the utmost desperation, but all in vain; they never succeeded in dislodging the Turks, and had almost been followed by them into the Fort itself. Only the utmost courage turned back the enemy at last, and, it was believed, with a loss of 3,000. The Order had twenty knights and a hundred soldiers killed, with many more wounded. One knight named Abel de Bridiers, who was shot through the body, refused to be assisted by his brethren, saying, ‘Reckon me no more among the living. You will be doing better by defending our brothers.’ He dragged himself away, and was found dead before the altar in the Castle chapel. The other wounded were brought back to the Borgo in boats at night, and La Cerda availed himself of a slight scratch to come with them and remain, though the Bailiff of Negropont, a very old man, and with a really severe wound, returned as soon as it had been dressed, together with the reinforcements sent to supply the place of those who had been slain. The Grand Master, on finding how small had been La Cerda’s hurt, put him in prison for several days; but he was afterwards released, and met his death bravely on the ramparts of the Borgo.
The 15th of June was passed. Nothing would make the Sicilian Viceroy move, nor even let the warships of the Order sail with their own knights, and the little fort that had been supposed unable to hold out a week, had for full a month resisted every attack of the enemy.
At last Dragut, though severely wounded while reconnoitring, set up a battery on the hill of Calcara, so as to command the strait, and hinder the succors from being sent across to the fort. The wounded were laid down in the chapel and the vaults, and well it was for them that each knight of the Order could be a surgeon and a nurse. One good swimmer crossed under cover of darkness with their last messages, and La Valette prepared five armed boats for their relief; but the enemy had fifteen already in the bay, and communication was entirely cut off. It was the night before the 23rd of June when these brave men knew their time was come. All night they prayed, and prepared themselves to die by giving one another the last rites of the Church, and at daylight each repaired to his post, those who could not walk being carried in chairs, and sat ghastly figures, sword in hand, on the brink of the breach, ready for their last fight.
By the middle of the day every Christian knight in St. Elmo had died upon his post, and the little heap of ruins was in the hands of the enemy. Dragut was dying of his wound, but just lived to hear that the place was won, when it had cost the Sultan 8,000 men! Well might Mustafa say, ‘If the son has cost us so much, what will the father do?’
It would be too long to tell the glorious story of the three months’ further siege of the Borgo. The patience and resolution of the knights was unshaken, though daily there were tremendous battles, and week after week passed by without the tardy relief from Spain. It is believed that Philip II. thought that the Turks would exhaust themselves against the Order, and forbade his Viceroy to hazard his fleet; but at last he was shamed into permitting the armament to be fitted out. Two hundred knights of St. John were waiting at Messina, in despair at being unable to reach their brethren in their deadly strait, and constantly haunting the Viceroy’s palace, till he grew impatient, and declared they did not treat him respectfully enough, nor call him ‘Excellency’.
‘Senor,’ said one of them, ‘if you will only bring us in time to save the Order, I will call you anything you please, excellency, highness, or majesty itself.’
At last, on the 1st of September, the fleet really set sail, but it hovered cautiously about on the farther side of the island, and only landed 6,000 men and then returned to Sicily. However, the tidings of its approach had spread such a panic among the Turkish soldiers, who were worn out and exhausted by their exertions, that they hastily raised the siege, abandoned their heavy artillery, and, removing their garrison from Fort St. Elmo, re-embarked in haste and confusion. No sooner, however, was the Pasha in his ship than he became ashamed of his precipitation, more especially when he learnt that the relief that had put 16,000 men to flight consisted only of 6,000, and he resolved to land and give battle; but his troops were angry and unwilling, and were actually driven out of their ships by blows.
In the meantime, the Grand Master had again placed a garrison in St. Elmo, which the Turks had repaired and restored, and once more the cross of St. John waved on the end of its tongue of land, to greet the Spanish allies. A battle was fought with the newly arrived troops, in which the Turks were defeated; they again took to their ships, and the Viceroy of Sicily, from Syracuse, beheld their fleet in full sail for the East.
Meantime, the gates of the Borgo were thrown open to receive the brethren and friends who had been so long held back from coming to the relief of the home of the Order. Four months’ siege, by the heaviest artillery in Europe, had shattered the walls and destroyed the streets, till, to the eyes of the newcomers, the town looked like a place taken by assault, and sacked by the enemy; and of the whole garrison, knights, soldiers, and sailors altogether, only six hundred were left able to bear arms, and they for the most part covered with wounds. The Grand Master and his surviving knights could hardly be recognized, so pale and altered were they by wounds and excessive fatigue; their hair, beards, dress, and armor showing that for four full months they had hardly undressed, or lain down unarmed. The newcomers could not restrain their tears, but all together proceeded to the church to return thanks for the conclusion of their perils and afflictions. Rejoicings extended all over Europe, above all in Italy, Spain, and southern France, where the Order of St. John was the sole protection against the descents of the Barbary corsairs. The Pope sent La Valette a cardinal’s hat, but he would not accept it, as unsuited to his office; Philip II. presented him with a jeweled sword and dagger. Some thousand unadorned swords a few months sooner would have been a better testimony to his constancy, and that of the brave men whose lives Spain had wasted by her cruel delays.
The Borgo was thenceforth called Citta Vittoriosa; but La Valette decided on building the chief town of the isle on the Peninsula of Fort St. Elmo, and in this work he spent his latter days, till he was killed by a sunstroke, while superintending the new works of the city which is deservedly known by his name, as Valetta.
The Order of St. John lost much of its character, and was finally swept from Malta in the general confusion of the Revolutionary wars. The British crosses now float in the harbour of Malta; but the steep white rocks must ever bear the memory of the self-devoted endurance of the beleaguered knights, and, foremost of all, of those who perished in St. Elmo, in order that the signal banner might to the very last summon the tardy Viceroy to their aid.
THE VOLUNTARY CONVICT
In the early summer of the year 1605, a coasting vessel was sailing along the beautiful Gulf of Lyons, the wind blowing gently in the sails, the blue Mediterranean lying glittering to the south, and the curved line of the French shore rising in purple and green tints, dotted with white towns and villages. Suddenly three light, white-sailed ships appeared in the offing, and the captain’s practiced eye detected that the wings that bore them were those of a bird of prey. He knew them for African brigantines, and though he made all sail, it was impossible to run into a French port, as on, on they came, not entirely depending on the wind, but, like steamers, impelled by unseen powers within them. Alas! that power was not the force of innocent steam, but the arms of Christian rowers chained to the oar. Sure as the pounce of a hawk upon a partridge was the swoop of the corsairs upon the French vessel. A signal to surrender followed, but the captain boldly refused, and armed his crew, bidding them stand to their guns. But the fight was too unequal, the brave little ship was disabled, the pirates boarded her, and, after a sharp fight on deck, three of the crew lay dead, all the rest were wounded, and the vessel was the prize of the pirates. The captain was at once killed, in revenge for his resistance, and all the rest of the crew and passengers were put in chains. Among these passengers was a young priest named Vincent de Paul, the son of a farmer in Languedoc, who had used his utmost endeavors to educate his son for the ministry, even selling the oxen from the plough to provide for the college expenses. A small legacy had just fallen to the young man, from a relation who had died at Marseilles; he had been thither to receive it, and had been persuaded by a friend to return home by sea. And this was the result of the pleasant voyage. The legacy was the prey of the pirates, and Vincent, severely wounded by an arrow, and heavily chained, lay half- stifled in a corner of the hold of the ship, a captive probably for life to the enemies of the faith. It was true that France had scandalized Europe by making peace with the Dey of Tunis, but this was a trifle to the corsairs; and when, after seven days’ further cruising, they put into the harbour of Tunis, they drew up an account of their capture, calling it a Spanish vessel, to prevent the French Consul from claiming the prisoners.
The captives had the coarse blue and white garments of slaves given them, and were walked five or six times through the narrow streets and bazaars of Tunis, by way of exhibition. They were then brought back to their ship, and the purchasers came thither to bargain for them. They were examined at their meals, to see if they had good appetites; their sides were felt like those of oxen; their teeth looked at like those of horses; their wounds were searched, and they were made to run and walk to show the play of their limbs. All this Vincent endured with patient submission, constantly supported by the thought of Him who took upon Him the form of a servant for our sakes; and he did his best, ill as he was, to give his companions the same confidence.
Weak and unwell, Vincent was sold cheap to a fisherman; but in his new service it soon became apparent that the sea made him so ill as to be of no use, so he was sold again to one of the Moorish physicians, the like of whom may still be seen, smoking their pipes sleepily, under their white turbans, cross-legged, among the drugs in their shop windows— these being small open spaces beneath the beautiful stone lacework of the Moorish lattices. The physician was a great chemist and distiller, and for four years had been seeking the philosopher’s stone, which was supposed to be the secret of making gold. He found his slave’s learning and intelligence so useful that he grew very fond of him, and tried hard to persuade him to turn Mahometan, offering him not only liberty, but the inheritance of all his wealth, and the secrets that he had discovered.
The Christian priest felt the temptation sufficiently to be always grateful for the grace that had carried him through it. At the end of a year, the old doctor died, and his nephew sold Vincent again. His next master was a native of Nice, who had not held out against the temptation to renounce his faith in order to avoid a life of slavery, but had become a renegade, and had the charge of one of the farms of the Dey of Tunis. The farm was on a hillside in an extremely hot and exposed region, and Vincent suffered much from being there set to field labour, but he endured all without a murmur. His master had three wives, and one of them, who was of Turkish birth,, used often to come out and talk to him, asking him many questions about his religion. Sometimes she asked him to sing, and he would then chant the psalm of the captive Jews: ‘By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept;’ and others of the ‘songs’ of his Zion. The woman at last told her husband that he must have been wrong in forsaking a religion of which her slave had told her such wonderful things. Her words had such an effect on the renegade that he sought the slave, and in conversation with him soon came to a full sense of his own miserable position as an apostate. A change of religion on the part of a Mahometan is, however, always visited with death, both to the convert and his instructor. An Algerine, who was discovered to have become a Christian, was about this time said to have been walled up at once in the fortifications he had been building; and the story has been confirmed by the recent discovery, by the French engineers, of the remains of a man within a huge block of clay, that had taken a perfect cast of his Moorish features, and of the surface of his garments, and even had his black hair adhering to it. Vincent’s master, terrified at such perils, resolved to make his escape in secret with his slave. It is disappointing to hear nothing of the wife; and not to know whether she would not or could not accompany them. All we know is, that master and slave trusted themselves alone to a small bark, and, safely crossing the Mediterranean, landed at Aigues Mortes, on the 28th of June, 1607; and that the renegade at once abjured his false faith, and soon after entered a brotherhood at Rome, whose office it was to wait on the sick in hospitals.
This part of Vincent de Paul’s life has been told at length because it shows from what the Knights of St. John strove to protect the inhabitants of the coasts. We next find Vincent visiting at a hospital at Paris, where he gave such exceeding comfort to the patients that all with one voice declared him a messenger from heaven.
He afterwards became a tutor in the family of the Count de Joigni, a very excellent man, who was easily led by him to many good works. M. de Joigni was inspector general of the ‘Galeres’, or Hulks, the ships in the chief harbors of France, such as Brest and Marseilles, where the convicts, closely chained, were kept to hard labour, and often made to toil at the oar, like the slaves of the Africans. Going the round of these prison ships, the horrible state of the convicts, their half-naked misery, and still more their fiendish ferocity went to the heart of the Count and of the Abbé de Paul; and, with full authority from the inspector, the tutor worked among these wretched beings with such good effect that on his doings being represented to the King, Louis XIII., he was made almoner general to the galleys.
While visiting those at Marseilles, he was much struck by the broken- down looks and exceeding sorrowfulness of one of the convicts. He entered into conversation with him, and, after many kind words, persuaded him to tell his troubles. His sorrow was far less for his own condition than for the misery to which his absence must needs reduce his wife and children. And what was Vincent’s reply to this? His action was so striking that, though in itself it could hardly be safe to propose it as an example, it must be mentioned as the very height of self- sacrifice.
He absolutely changed places with the convict. Probably some arrangement was made with the immediate jailor of the gang, who, by the exchange of the priest for the convict, could make up his full tale of men to show when his numbers were counted. At any rate the prisoner went free, and returned to his home, whilst Vincent wore a convict’s chain, did a convict’s work, lived on convict’s fare, and, what was worse, had only convict society. He was soon sought out and released, but the hurts he had received from the pressure of the chain lasted all his life. He never spoke of the event; it was kept a strict secret; and once when he had referred to it in a letter to a friend, he became so much afraid that the story would become known that he sent to ask for the letter back again. It was, however, not returned, and it makes the fact certain. It would be a dangerous precedent if prison chaplains were to change places with their charges; and, beautiful as was Vincent’s spirit, the act can hardly be justified; but it should also be remembered that among the galleys of France there were then many who had been condemned for resistance to the arbitrary will of Cardinal de Richelieu, men not necessarily corrupt and degraded like the thieves and murderers with whom they were associated. At any rate, M. de Joigni did not displace the almoner, and Vincent worked on the consciences of the convicts with infinitely more force for having been for a time one of themselves. Many and many were won back to penitence, a hospital was founded for them, better regulations established, and, for a time, both prisons and galleys were wonderfully improved, although only for the life-time of the good inspector and the saintly almoner. But who shall say how many souls were saved in those years by these men who did what they could?
The rest of the life of Vincent de Paul would be too lengthy to tell here, though acts of beneficence and self-devotion shine out in glory at each step. The work by which he is chiefly remembered is his establishment of the Order of Sisters of Charity, the excellent women who have for two hundred years been the prime workers in every charitable task in France, nursing the sick, teaching the young, tending deserted children, ever to be found where there is distress or pain.
But of these, and of his charities, we will not here speak, nor even of his influence for good on the King and Queen themselves. The whole tenor of his life was ‘golden’ in one sense, and if we told all his golden deeds they would fill an entire book. So we will only wait to tell how he showed his remembrance of what he had gone through in his African captivity. The redemption of the prisoners there might have seemed his first thought, but that he did so much in other quarters. At different times, with the alms that he collected, and out of the revenues of his benefices, he ransomed no less then twelve hundred slaves from their captivity. At one time the French Consul at Tunis wrote to him that for a certain sum a large number might be set free, and he raised enough to release not only these, but seventy more, and he further wrought upon the King to obtain the consent of the Dey of Tunis that a party of Christian clergy should be permitted to reside in the consul’s house, and to minister to the souls and bodies of the Christian slaves, of whom there were six thousand in Tunis alone, besides those in Algiers, Tangier, and Tripoli!
Permission was gained, and a mission of Lazarist brothers arrived. This, too, was an order founded by Vincent, consisting of priestly nurses like the Hospitaliers, though not like them warriors. They came in the midst of a dreadful visitation of the plague, and nursed and tended the sick, both Christians and Mahometans, with fearless devotion, day and night, till they won the honor and love of the Moors themselves.
The good Vincent de Paul died in the year 1660, but his brothers of St. Lazarus, and sisters of charity still tread in the paths he marked out for them, and his name scarcely needs the saintly epithet that his church as affixed to it to stand among the most honorable of charitable men.
The cruel deeds of the African pirates were never wholly checked till 1816, when the united fleets of England and France destroyed the old den of corsairs at Algiers, which has since become a French colony.
THE HOUSEWIVES OF LOWENBURG
Brave deeds have been done by the burgher dames of some of the German cities collectively. Without being of the first class of Golden Deeds, there is something in the exploit of the dames of Weinsberg so quaint and so touching, that it cannot be omitted here.
It was in the first commencement of the long contest known as the strife between the Guelfs and Ghibellines–before even these had become the party words for the Pope’s and the Emperor’s friends, and when they only applied to the troops of Bavaria and of Swabia–that, in 1141, Wolf, Duke of Bavaria, was besieged in his castle of Weinberg by Friedrich, Duke of Swabia, brother to the reigning emperor, Konrad III.
The siege lasted long, but Wolf was obliged at last to offer to surrender; and the Emperor granted him permission to depart in safety. But his wife did not trust to this fair offer. She had reason to believe that Konrad had a peculiar enmity to her husband; and on his coming to take possession of the castle, she sent to him to entreat him to give her a safe conduct for herself and all the other women in the garrison, that they might come out with as much of their valuables as they could carry.
This was freely granted, and presently the castle gates opened. From beneath them came the ladies–but in strange guise. No gold nor jewels were carried by them, but each one was bending under the weight of her husband, whom she thus hoped to secure from the vengeance of the Ghibellines. Konrad, who was really a generous and merciful man, is said to have been affected to tears by this extraordinary performance; he hastened to assure the ladies of the perfect safety of their lords, and that the gentlemen might dismount at once, secure both of life and freedom. He invited them all to a banquet, and made peace with the Duke of Bavaria on terms much more favorable to the Guelfs than the rest of his party had been willing to allow. The castle mount was thenceforth called no longer the Vine Hill, but the Hill of Weibertreue, or woman’s fidelity. We will not invidiously translate it woman’s truth, for there was in the transaction something of a subterfuge; and it must be owned that the ladies tried to the utmost the knightly respect for womankind.
The good women of Lowenburg, who were but citizens’ wives, seem to us more worthy of admiration for constancy to their faith, shown at a time when they had little to aid them. It was such constancy as makes martyrs; and though the trial stopped short of this, there is something in the homeliness of the whole scene, and the feminine form of passive resistance, that makes us so much honor and admire the good women that we cannot refrain from telling the story.
It was in the year 1631, in the midst of the long Thirty Years’ Was between Roman Catholics and Protestants, which finally decided that each state should have its own religion, Lowenburg, a city of Silesia, originally Protestant, had passed into the hands of the Emperor’s Roman Catholic party. It was a fine old German city, standing amid woods and meadows, fortified with strong walls surrounded by a moat, and with gate towers to protect the entrance.
In the centre was a large market-place, called the Ring, into which looked the Council-house and fourteen inns, or places of traffic, for the cloth that was woven in no less than 300 factories. The houses were of stone, with gradually projecting stories to the number of four or five, surmounted with pointed gables. The ground floors had once had trellised porches, but these had been found inconvenient and were removed, and the lower story consisted of a large hall, and strong vault, with a spacious room behind it containing a baking-oven, and a staircase leading to a wooden gallery, where the family used to dine. It seems they slept in the room below, though they had upstairs a handsome wainscoted apartment.
Very rich and flourishing had the Lowenburgers always been, and their walls were quite sufficient to turn back any robber barons, or even any invading Poles; but things were different when firearms were in use, and the bands of mercenary soldiers had succeeded the feudal army. They were infinitely more formidable during the battle or siege from their discipline, and yet more dreadful after it for their want of discipline. The poor Lowneburgers had been greatly misused: their Lutheran pastors had been expelled; all the superior citizens had either fled or been imprisoned; 250 families spent the summer in the woods, and of those who remained in the city, the men had for the most part outwardly conformed to the Roman Catholic Church. Most of these were of course indifferent at heart, and they had found places in the town council which had formerly been filled by more respectable men. However, the wives had almost all remained staunch to their Lutheran confession; they had followed their pastors weeping to the gates of the city, loading them with gifts, and they hastened at every opportunity to hear their preachings, or obtain baptism for their children at the Lutheran churches in the neighborhood.
The person who had the upper hand in the Council was one Julius, who had been a Franciscan friar, but was a desperate, unscrupulous fellow, not at all like a monk. Finding that it was considered as a reproach that the churches of Lowenburg were empty, he called the whole Council together on the 9th of April, 1631, and informed them that the women must be brought to conformity, or else there were towers and prisons for them. The Burgomaster was ill in bed, but the Judge, one Elias Seiler, spoke up at once. ‘If we have been able to bring the men into the right path, why should not we be able to deal with these little creatures?’
Herr Mesnel, a cloth factor, who had been a widower six weeks, thought it would be hard to manage, though he quite agreed to the expedient, saying, ‘It would be truly good if man and wife had one Creed and one Paternoster; as concerns the Ten Commandments it is not so pressing.’ (A sentiment that he could hardly have wished to see put in practice.)
Another councilor, called Schwob Franze, who had lost his wife a few days before, seems to have had an eye to the future, for he said it would be a pity to frighten away the many beautiful maidens and widows there were among the Lutheran women; but on the whole the men without wives were much bolder and more sanguine of success than the married ones. And no one would undertake to deal with his own wife privately, so it ended by a message being sent to the more distinguished ladies to attend the Council.
But presently up came tidings that not merely these few dames, whom they might have hoped to overawe, were on their way, but that the Judge’s wife and the Burgomaster’s were the first pair in a procession of full 500 housewives, who were walking sedately up the stairs to the Council Hall below the chamber where the dignitaries were assembled. This was not by any means what had been expected, and the message was sent down that only the chief ladies should come up. ‘No,’ replied the Judge’s wife, ‘we will not allow ourselves to be separated,’ and to this they were firm; they said, as one fared all should fare; and the Town Clerk, going up and down with smooth words, received no better answer than this from the Judge’s wife, who, it must be confessed, was less ladylike in language than resolute in faith.
‘Nay, nay, dear friend, do you think we are so simple as not to perceive the trick by which you would force us poor women against our conscience to change our faith? My husband and the priest have not been consorting together all these days for nothing; they have been joined together almost day and night; assuredly they have either boiled or baked a devil, which they may eat up themselves. I shall not enter there! Where I remain, my train and following will remain also! Women, is this your will?’
‘Yea, yea, let it be so,’ they said; ‘we will all hold together as one man.’
His honor the Town Clerk was much affrighted, and went hastily back, reporting that the Council was in no small danger, since each housewife had her bunch of keys at her side! These keys were the badge of a wife’s dignity and authority, and moreover they were such ponderous articles that they sometimes served as weapons. A Scottish virago has been know to dash out the brains of a wounded enemy with her keys; and the intelligence that the good dames had come so well furnished, filled the Council with panic. Dr. Melchior Hubner, who had been a miller’s man, wished for a hundred musketeers to mow them down; but the Town Clerk proposed that all the Council should creep quietly down the back stairs, lock the doors on the refractory womankind, and make their escape. This was effected as silently and quickly as possible, for the whole Council ‘could confess to a state of frightful terror.’ Presently the women peeped out, and saw the stairs bestrewn with hats, gloves, and handkerchiefs; and perceiving how they had put all the wisdom and authority of the town to the rout, there was great merriment among them, though, finding themselves locked up, the more tenderhearted began to pity their husbands and children. As for themselves, their maids and children came round the Town Hall, to hand in provisions to them, and all the men who were not of the Council were seeking the magistrates to know what their wives had done to be thus locked up.
The Judge sent to assemble the rest of the Council at his house; and though only four came, the doorkeeper ran to the Town Hall, and called out to his wife that the Council had reassembled, and they would soon be let out. To which, however, that very shrewd dame, the Judge’s wife, answered with great composure, ‘Yea, we willingly have patience, as we are quite comfortable here; but tell them they ought to inform us why we are summoned and confined without trial.’
She well knew how much better off she was than her husband without her. He paced about in great perturbation, and at last called for something to eat. The maid served up a dish of crab, some white bread, and butter; but, in his fury, he threw all the food about the room and out the window, away from the poor children, who had had nothing to eat all day, and at last he threw all the dishes and saucepans out of window. At last the Town Clerk and two others were sent to do their best to persuade the women that they had misunderstood–they were in no danger, and were only invited to the preachings of Holy Week: and, as Master Daniel, the joiner, added, ‘It was only a friendly conference. It is not customary with my masters and the very wise Council to hang a man before they have caught him.’
This opprobrious illustration raised a considerable clamor of abuse from the ruder women; but the Judge’s and Burgomaster’s ladies silenced them, and repeated their resolution never to give up their faith against their conscience. Seeing that no impression was made on them, and that nobody knew what to do without them at home, the magistracy decided that they should be released, and they went quietly home; but the Judge Seiler, either because he had been foremost in the business, or else perhaps because of the devastation he had made at home among the pots and pans, durst not meet his wife, but sneaked out of the town, and left her with the house to herself.
The priest now tried getting the three chief ladies alone together, and most politely begged them to conform; but instead of arguing, they simply answered; ‘No; we were otherwise instructed by our parents and former preachers.’
Then he begged them at least to tell the other women that they had asked for fourteen days for consideration.
‘No, dear sir,’ they replied: ‘we were not taught by our parents to tell falsehoods, and we will not learn it from you.’
Meanwhile Schwob Franze rushed to the Burgomaster’s bedside, and begged him, for Heaven’s sake, to prevent the priest from meddling with the women; for the whole bevy, hearing that their three leaders were called before the priest, were collecting in the marketplace, keys, bundles, and all; and the panic of the worthy magistrates was renewed. The Burgomaster sent for the priest, and told him plainly, that if any harm befel him from the women, the fault would be his own; and thereupon he gave way, the ladies went quietly home, and their stout champions laid aside their bundles and keys–not out of reach, however, in case of another summons.
However, the priest was obliged, next year, to leave Lowenburg in disgrace, for he was a man of notoriously bad character; and Dr. Melchior became a soldier, and was hanged at Prague.
After all, such a confession as this is a mere trifle, not only compared with martyrdoms of old, but with the constancy with which, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the Huguenots endured persecution— as, for instance, the large number of women who were imprisoned for thirty-eight years at Aigues Mortes; or again, with the steady resolution of the persecuted nuns of Port Royal against signing the condemnation of the works of Jansen. Yet, in its own way, the feminine resistance of these good citizens’ wives, without being equally high- toned, is worthy of record, and far too full of character to be passed over.