Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
Historic Boys by  E. S. Brooks


 

 

FREDERICK OF HOHENSTAUFEN: THE BOY EMPEROR

(Afterward Frederick the Second, Emperor of Germany.)
[A.D. 1207.]

[104] GLEAMING with light and beauty, from the wavy sea-line where the blue Mediterranean rippled against the grim fortress of Castellamare to the dark background of olive groves and rising mountain walls, Palermo, "city of the golden shell," lay bathed in all the glory of an Italian afternoon one bright spring day in the year 1207.

Up the Cassaro, or street of the palace, and out through the massive gate-way of that curious old Sicilian city,—half Saracen, half Norman in its looks and life,—a small company of horsemen rode rapidly westward to where the square yellow towers of La Zisa rose above its orange groves. Now La Zisa was one of the royal pleasure-houses, a relic of the days when the swarthy Saracens were lords of Sicily.

In the sun-lit gardens of La Zisa, a small but manly-looking lad of thirteen, with curly, golden hair and clear blue eyes, stood beneath the citron trees that bordered a [105] beautiful little lake. A hooded falcon perched upon his wrist, and by his side stood his brown-skinned attendant, Abderachman the Saracen.

"But will it stay hooded, say'st thou?" the boy inquired, as he listened with satisfaction to the tinkling bells of the nodding bird which Abderachman had just taught him to hood. "Can he not shake it off?"

"Never fear for that, little Mightiness," the Saracen replied. "He is as safely blinded as was ever the eagle of Kairewan, whose eyes the Emir took for his crescent-tips, or even as thou art, O el Aaziz, by thy barons of Apulia."

The look of pleasure faded from the boy's face.

"Thou say'st truly, O Abderachman," he said. "What am I but a hooded falcon? I, a king who am no king! Would that thou and I could fly far from this striving world, and in those great forests over sea of which thou hast told me, could chase the lion like bold, free hunters of the Berber hills."

"Wait in patience, O el Aaziz;  to each man comes his day," said the philosophic Saracen. "What says the blessed Koran: 'Allah is all-sufficient and propitious to such as put their trust in him.'"

But now there was heard a rustle of the citron hedge, a clatter of hoofs rang on the shell-paved roadway, and the armed band that we saw spurring through Palermo's [106] gates drew rein at the lake-side. The leader, a burly German knight, who bore upon his crest a great boar's head with jewelled eyes and gleaming silver tusks, leaped from his horse and strode up to the boy. His bow of obeisance was scarcely more than a nod.

"Your Highness must come with me," he said, "and that at once."

The boy looked at him in protest. "Nay, Baron Kapparon,—am I never to be at my ease?" he asked. "Let me, I pray thee, play out my day here at La Zisa, even as thou didst promise me."

"Tush, boy; promise must yield to need," said the Knight of the Crested Boar. "The galleys of Diephold of Acerra even now ride in the Cala port, and think'st thou I will yield thee to his guidance? Come! At the palace wait decrees and grants which thou must sign for me ere the Aloe-stalk shall say us nay."

"Must!" cried the boy, as an angry flush covered his face; "who sayeth 'must'  to the son of Henry the Emperor? Who sayeth 'must'  to the grandson of Barbarossa? Stand off, churl of Kapparon! To me, Sicilians all! To me, sons of the Prophet!" and, breaking away from the grasp of the burly knight, young Frederick of Hohenstaufen dashed across the small stone bridge that led to the marble pavilion in the little lake. But only Abderachman the Saracen crossed to him. The wrath of the Knight of Kapparon was more dreaded than the commands of a little captive king.

[107] The burly baron laughed a mocking laugh. "Well blown, ser' Sirocco!"  he said, insolently, "but for all that, your Mightiness, I fear me, must bide with me, churl though I be. Come, we waste words!" and he moved toward the lad, who stood at bay upon the little bridge.

Young Frederick slipped his falcon's leash. "Cross at thy peril, Baron Kapparon!" he cried; "one step more, and I unhood my falcon and send him straight to thy disloyal eyes. Ware the bird! His flight is certain, and his pounce is sharp!" The boy's fair face grew more defiant as he spoke, and William of Kapparon, who knew the young lad's skill at falconry, hesitated at the threat.

But as boy and baron faced each other in defiance, there was another stir of the citron hedge, and another rush of hurrying hoofs. A second armed band closed in upon the scene, and a second knightly leader sprang to the ground. A snow-white plume trailed over the new-comer's crest, and on his three-cornered shield was blazoned a solitary aloe-stalk, sturdy, tough, and unyielding.

"Who threatens the King of Sicily?" he demanded, as, sword in hand, he stepped upon the little bridge.

The German baron faced his new antagonist. "So! is it thou, Count Diephold; is it thou, Aloe of Acerra?" he said. "By what right dar'st thou to question the Baron [108] of Kapparon, guardian of the king, and Chief Captain of Sicily?"


[Illustration]

"CROSS AT THY PERIL, BARON KIPPARON."

"'Guardian,' forsooth! 'Chief Captain,' say'st thou?" cried the Count of Acerra, angrily. "Pig of Kapparon, robber and pirate, yield up the boy! I, who was comrade of Henry the Emperor, will stand guardian for his son. Ho, buds of the Aloe, strike for your master's weal!"

There is a flash of steel as the two leaders cross ready swords. There is a rush of thronging feet as the followers of each prepare for fight. There is a mingling of battle-cries—"Ho, for the Crested Boar of Kapparon!" "Stand, for the Aloe of Acerra!"—when for the third time the purple citron-flowers sway and break, as a third band of armed men spur to the lake-side. Through the green of the foliage flashes the banner of Sicily,—the golden eagle on the blood-red field, and the ringing voice of a third leader rises above the din. "Ho, liege-men of the Church! rescue for the ward of the Pope! Rescue for the King of Sicily!"

The new-comer, Walter of Palear, the "fighting Bishop of Catania" (as he was called) and Chancellor of Sicily, reined in his horse between the opposing bands of the Boar and the Aloe. His richly broidered cope, streaming back, showed his coat of mail beneath, as, with lifted sword, he shouted:

"Hold your hands, lords of Apulia! stay spears and stand aside. Yield up the king to me—to me, the Chancellor of the realm!"

[109] "Off now, thou false Chancellor!" cried Count Diephold. "Think'st thou that the revenues of Sicily are for thy treasure-chest alone? Ho, Boars and Aloes both; down with this French fox, and up with Sicily!"

"Seize the boy and hold him hostage!" shouted William of Kapparon, and with extended arm he strode toward poor little Frederick. With a sudden and nimble turn, the boy dodged the clutch of the baron's mailed fist, and putting one hand on the coping of the bridge, with-out a moment's hesitation, he vaulted over into the lake. Abderachman the Saracen sprang after him.

"How now, thou pig-headed pirate of Kapparon," broke out Count Diephold; "thou shalt pay dearly for this, if the lad doth drown!"

But Frederick was a good swimmer, and the lake was not deep. The falcon on his wrist fluttered and tugged at its jess, disturbed by this unexpected bath; but the boy held his hand high above his head and, supported by the Saracen, soon reached the shore. Here the retainers of the Chancellor crowded around him, and springing to the saddle of a ready war-horse, the lad shouted: "Ho, for Palermo, all! which chief shall first reach St. Agatha's gate with me, to him will I yield myself!" and, wheeling his horse, he dashed through the mingled bands and sped like an arrow through the gardens of La Zisa.

The three contesting captains looked at one another surprise.

"The quarry hath slipped," laughed Count Diephold. [110] "By St. Nicholas of Myra, though, the lad is of the true Suabian eagle's brood. Try we the test, my lords."

There was a sudden mounting of steeds, a hurrying gallop after the flying king; but the Chancellor's band, being already in the saddle, had the advantage, and as young King Frederick and Walter the Chancellor passed under St. Agatha's pointed arch, the knights of the Crested Boar and of the Aloe-stalk saw in much disgust the great-gate close in their faces, and they were left on the wrong side of Palermo's walls,—outwitted by a boy.

But the baffled knights were not the men to give up the chase so easily. Twenty Pisan galleys, manned by Count Diephold's fighting men, lay in the Gala port of Palermo. That very night, they stormed under the walls of Castellamare, routed the Saracens of the royal guard, sent Walter the Chancellor flying for his life toward Messina; and, with young Frederick in his power, Diephold, the usurping Count of Acerra, ruled Sicily in the name of the poor little king.

In the royal palace at Palermo, grand and gorgeous with columns and mosaics and gilded walls, this boy of thirteen—Frederick of Hohenstaufen, Emperor-elect of Germany, King of Sicily, and "Lord of the World"—sat, the day after his capture by Count Diephold, sad, solitary, and forlorn.

The son of Henry the Sixth of Germany, the most victorious but most cruel of the Hohenstaufen emperors, and of Constance the Empress, daughter of Roger, the great Norman King of Sicily, Frederick had begun life on Dec- [111] ember the twenty-sixth, 1194, as heir to two powerful kingdoms. His birth had been the occasion of great rejoicings, and vassal princes and courtier poets had hailed him as "the Imperial Babe, the Glory of Italy, the Heir of the Caesars, the Reformer of the World and the Empire!" When but two years old he had been proclaimed King of the Romans and Emperor-elect of Germany, and, when but three, he had, on the death of his father, been crowned King of Sicily and Apulia, in the great cathedral of Palermo.

But in all those two sovereignties, no sadder-hearted nor lonelier lad could have been found than this boy of thirteen, this solitary and friendless orphan, this Frederick of Hohenstaufen, the boy emperor. In Germany his uncle, Philip of Suabia, disputed with Otho of Brunswick for the imperial crown. And beautiful Sicily, the land of his birth, the land over which he was acknowledged as king, was filled with war and blood. From the lemon groves of Messina to the flowery slopes of Palermo, noble and priest, Christian and Saracen, French and German, strove for power and ravaged the land with fire and sword. Deprived sometimes of even the necessities of life, deserted by those who should have stood loyal to him, often hungry and always friendless, shielded from absolute want only by the pity of the good burghers of Palermo, used in turn by every faction and made the excuse for every feud, this heir to so great power was himself the most powerless of kings, the most unhappy of boys. And now, as he sits in [112] his gleaming palace, uncertain where to turn for help, all his sad young heart goes into an appealing letter which has come down to us across the centuries, and a portion of which is here given to complete the dismal picture of this worried young monarch of long ago:

"To all the kings of the world and to all the princes of the universe, the innocent boy, King of Sicily, called Frederick: Greeting in God's name! Assemble yourselves, ye nations; draw nigh, ye princes, and see if any sorrow be like unto my sorrow! My parents died ere I could know their caresses, and I, a gentle lamb among wolves, fell into slavish dependence upon men of various tribes and tongues. My daily bread, my drink, my freedom, all are measured out to me in scanty proportion. No king am I. I am ruled, instead of ruling. I beg favors, instead of granting them. Again and again I beseech you, O ye princes of the earth, to aid me to withstand slaves, to set free the son of Caesar, to raise up the crown of the kingdom, and to gather together again the scattered people!"

But it is a long lane that has no turning, and before many months another change came in the kaleidoscope of this young king's fortunes. Pope Innocent the Third had been named by the Empress Constance as guardian of her orphaned boy. To him Walter the Chancellor appealed for aid. Knights and galleys were soon in readiness. Palermo was stormed. Count Diephold was overthrown and imprisoned in the castle dungeon. Kapparon and his [113] Pisan allies and Saracen serfs were driven out of Sicily, and the "Son of Caesar" reigned as king once more. Then came a new alliance. Helped on by the Pope, a Spanish friendship ripened into a speedy marriage. Frederick was declared of age when he reached his fourteenth birthday, and a few months after, on the fifteenth of August, 1209, amid great rejoicings which filled Palermo with brilliancy and crowded its narrow and crooked streets with a glittering throng, the "Boy of Apulia," as he was called, was married to the wise and beautiful Constance, the daughter of Alfonso, King of Arragon. This alliance gave the young husband the desired opportunity; for, with five hundred foreign knights at his back he asserted his authority over his rebellious subjects as King of Sicily. The poor little prince, whose childhood had known only misfortune and unhappiness, became a prince indeed, and, boy though he was, took so manly and determined a stand that, ere the year was out, his authority was supreme from the walls of Palermo to the Straits of Messina.

Meantime, in Germany, affairs had been going from bad to worse. Frederick's uncle, Philip of Suabia, had been assassinated at Bamberg, and Otho of Brunswick, head of the House of Guelf, crossed the Alps, was crowned Emperor at Rome in defiance of young Frederick's claim to the Imperial throne, and marched into Southern Italy, threatening the conquest of his boy rival's Sicilian kingdom.

Again trouble threatened the youthful monarch. [114] Anxious faces looked seaward from the castle towers; and, hopeless of withstanding any attack from Otho's hardy and victorious troops, Frederick made preparations for flight when once his gigantic rival should thunder at Palermo's gates.

"Tidings, my lord King; tidings from the north!" said Walter the Chancellor, entering the king's apartment one bright November day in the year 1211. "Here rides a galley from Gaeta in the Cala port, and in it comes the Suabian knight Anselm von Justingen, with a brave and trusty following. He beareth word to thee, my lord, from Frankfort and from Rome."

"How, then; has Otho some new design against our crown?" said Frederick. "I pray thee, good Chancellor, give the Knight of Suabia instant audience."

And soon, through the Gothic doorway of that gorgeous palace of the old Norman and older Saracen lords of Sicily, came the bluff German knight Anselm von Justingen, bringing into its perfumed air some of the strength and resoluteness of his sturdy Suabian breezes. With a deep salutation, he greeted the royal boy.

"Hail, O King!" he said. "I bring thee word of note. Otho, the Guelf, whom men now call Emperor, is speeding toward the north. Never more need Sicily fear his grip. The throne which he usurps is shaken and disturbed. The world needs an emperor who can check disorders and bring it life and strength. Whose hand may do this so surely as thine—the illustrious Lord Frederick [115] of the grand old Hohenstaufen line, the elect King of the Romans, the Lord of Sicily?"

Frederick's eye flashed and his cheek flushed at the grand prospect thus suddenly opened before him. But he replied slowly and thoughtfully.

"By laws human and by right divine," he said, "the Holy Roman Empire is my inheritance. But canst thou speak for the princes of the empire?"

"Ay, that can I," said the knight; "I bear with me papers signed and sent by them. We have each of us examined as to our will. We have gone through all the customary rights. And we all in common, O King, turn our eyes to thee."

"I thank the princes for their faith and fealty," said Frederick; "but can they be trusty liegemen to a boy emperor?

"Though young in years, O King," said the Suabian, "thou art old in character; though not fully grown in person, thy mind hath been by nature wonderfully endowed. Thou dost exceed the common measure of thine equals; thou art blest with virtues before thy day, as doth become one of the true blood of that august stock, the Caesars of Germany. Thou wilt surely increase the honor and might of the empire and the happiness of us, thy loyal subjects."

"And the Pope?" queried the boy; for in those days the Pope of Rome was the "spiritual lord" of the Christian world. To him all emperors, kings, and princes owed [116] allegiance as obedient vassals. To assume authority without the Pope's consent and blessing meant trouble and excommunication. Frederick knew this, and knew also that his former guardian, Pope Innocent, had, scarce two years before, himself crowned his rival Otho of Brunswick as Emperor of Germany.

"I am even now from Rome," replied Von Justingen; "and the Holy Father, provoked beyond all patience at the unrighteous ways of this emperor, falsely so called, hath excommunicated Otho, hath absolved the princes from their oath of fealty, and now sends to thee, Frederick of Hohenstaufen, his blessing and his bidding that thou go forward and enter upon thine inheritance."

The young Sicilian sat for some moments deep in thought. It was a tempting bait—this of an imperial crown—to one who felt it to be his by right, but who had never dared to expect nor aspire to it.

"Von Justingen," he said at last, "good knight and true I know thou art, loyal to the House of Staufen, and loyal to thy German fatherland. 'Tis a royal offer and a danger-fraught attempt. But what man dares, that dare! When duty calls, foul be his fame who shrinketh from the test. The blood of kings is mine; like a king, then, will I go forward to my heritage, and win or die in its achieving!"

"There flashed the Hohenstaufen fire," said the delighted Von Justingen; "there spoke the spirit of thy grandsire, the glorious old Kaiser Red Beard! Come [117] thou with me to Germany, my prince. We will make thee Caesar indeed, though the false Otho and all his legions are thundering at Frankfort gates."

So, in spite of the entreaties of his queen, and the protests of his Sicilian lords, who doubted the wisdom of the undertaking, the young monarch hurried forward the preparations for his perilous attempt. The love of adventure, which has impelled many another boy to face risk and danger, flamed high in the heart of this lad of seventeen, as, with undaunted spirit, he sought to press forward for the prize of an imperial throne. On March the eighteenth, 1212, the "Emperor of the Romans Elect," as he already styled himself, set out from orange-crowned Palermo on the "quest for his heritage" in the bleak and rugged north. The galley sped swiftly over the blue Mediterranean to the distant port of Gaeta, and upon its deck the four chosen comrades that formed his little band gathered around the fair-haired young prince, if, by the daring deeds that drew him from Palermo's sun-lit walls, was to make for himself a name and fame that should send him down to future ages as Stupor Mundi Fredericus—"Frederick, the Wonder of the World!" In all history there is scarcely to be found a more romantic tale of wandering than this story of the adventures of young Frederick of Hohenstaufen in search of his empire.

From Palermo to strong-walled Gaeta, the "Gibraltar of Italy," from Gaeta on to Rome, he sailed with few [118] adventures, and here he knelt before the Pope, who, as he had crowned and discrowned Otho of Brunswick, the big and burly rival of his fair young ward, now blessed and aided the "Boy from Sicily," and helped him on his way with money and advice. From Rome to Genoa, under escort of four Genoese galleys, the boy next cautiously sailed; for all the coast swarmed with the armed galleys of Pisa, the staunch supporter of the discrowned Otho. With many a tack and many a turn the galleys headed north, while the watchful lookouts scanned the horizon for hostile prows. On the first of May, the peril of Pisa was past, and Genoa's gates were opened to receive him. Genoa was called the "door" to his empire, but foes and hardships lay in wait for him behind the friendly door. On the fifteenth of July, the boy and his escort of Genoese lancers climbed the steep slopes of the Ligurian hills and struck across the plains of Piedmont for the walls of Pavia, the "city of the hundred towers." The gates of the grand old Lombard capital flew open to welcome him, and royally attended, with a great crimson canopy held above his head, and knights and nobles following in his train, the "Child of Apulia" rode through the echoing streets.

But Milan lay to the north, and Piacenza to the south, both fiercely hostile cities, while the highway between Pavia and Cremona rang with the war-cries of the partisans of Otho, the Guelf. So, secretly, and at midnight, the Pavian escort rode with the boy out through their [119] city gates, and moved cautiously along the valley of the Po, to where, at the ford of the Lambro, the knights of Cremona waited in the dark of an early Sunday morning to receive their precious charge. And none too soon did they reach the ford; for, scarcely was the young emperor spurring on toward Cremona, when the Milanese troops, in hot pursuit, dashed down upon the returning Pavian escort, and routed it with great loss. But the boy rode on unharmed; and soon Cremona, since famous for its wonderful violins, hailed the young adventurer, so says the record, "as if he were an angel of the Lord."

From Cremona on to Mantua, and then on to Verona, the boy was passed along by friendly hands and vigilant escorts, until straight before him the mighty wall of the Alps rose, as if to bar his further progress. But through the great hill-rifts stretched the fair valley of the Adige; and from Verona, city of palaces, to red-walled Trent, the boy and his Veronese escort hurried on along the banks of the swift-flowing river. Midway between the two cities, his escort turned back; and with but a handful of followers the young monarch demanded admittance at the gates of the old Roman town, which, overhung by great Alpine precipices, guards the southern entrance to the Tyrol. Trent received him hesitatingly; and, in-stalled in the bishop's palace, he and his little band sought fair escort up the valley and over the Brenner pass, the highway into Germany. But now came dreary news.

[120] "My lord King," said the wavering Bishop of Trent, undecided which side to "favor, "'t is death for you to cross the Brenner. From Innspruck down to Botzen the troops of Otho of Brunswick line the mountain ways, and the Guelf himself, so say my coursermen, is speeding on to trap your Mightiness within the walls of Trent."

Here was a dilemma. But trouble, which comes to "Mightinesses," as well as to untitled boys and girls, must be boldly faced before it can be overcome.

"My Liege," said the Knight of Suabia, stout Anselm von Justingen, "before you lie the empire and renown; behind you Italy and defeat. Which shall it be?"

"The empire or death!" said the resolute boy.

"But Otho guards the Brenner pass, my lords," said the bishop.

"Is there none other road but this?" asked Frederick.

"None," replied Von Justingen, "save, indeed, the hunter's track across the western mountains to the Grisons and St. Gall. But it is beset with perils and deep with ice and snow."

"The greater the dangers faced, the greater the glory gained," said plucky young Frederick. "Now, who will follow me, come danger or come death, across the mountains yonder to the empire and to fortune?" and every man of his stout little company vowed to follow him, and to stand by their young master, the Emperor-elect.

So it was that, in the first months of the early fall, with a meagre train of forty knights, the boy emperor boldly [121] climbed the rugged Alpine slopes, mounting higher and higher, and braving the dangers of glacier and avalanche, blind paths and storm and cold, pressed manfully on toward the peril of an uncertain empire.

But though the risk was great, no one was merrier than he. His inseparable falcon flew at many a quarry, and his hunting-horn echoed gayly from cliff to cliff. And when a mighty urus, almost the last of the great Alpine elks, fell beneath his spear, a shout of joy went up, as German and Italian knights hailed him as a worthy successor of the greatest of Hohenstaufen huntsmen, his grandfather Barbarossa, the old Kaiser Red Beard.

Thus, in much peril, but safely and swiftly, the Alpine heights were crossed, and down the rugged slopes the travel-worn band descended to the valley of the Plessaur and the quaint old town of Coire. Coming all unannounced into the little town, the fair face and frank ways of the boy captivated the good Bishop of Coire, whose word was law in that mountain land. Still they pushed on, and, winding along the fair valley of the Rhine, struck across the hills toward the queer old abbey-town of St. Gall: and, with only sixty knights and a few spearmen of Appenzell, the young monarch climbed the steps of the Ruppen, the last of the Alpine passes that had separated him from the land of his forefathers.

But now comes the word that Otho and his knights, hurrying around from Bregenz, are on the track of the boy, and certain of his capture. On through St. Gall and [122] along the gleaming lake-side the young emperor hurries, and, riding down the last of the Alpine slopes, he sees in the distance the walls of the strong old city of Constance glittering in the sun.

"Ride ye forward, my lords," said the sturdy Von Justingen to the Bishop of Coire and the Abbot of St. Gall, who rode with the king. "Gain ye due welcome for the emperor. For if the Bishop of Constance waver in his allegiance, and we may not win fair entrance into Constance town, we arc lost indeed," and accompanied by the Archbishop of Bari and ten trusty knights the two mountain prelates rode on ahead.

Soon a messenger who has been sent forward comes spurring back. "Haste ye, my Liege!" he cries. "Otho is already in sight; his pennons have been seen by the lookout on the city towers."

The hurrying hoofs of the royal train clatter over the drawbridge and through the great gate. Constance is won! but, hard behind, a cloud of dust marks the swift approach of young Frederick's laggard rival, Otho, the Guelf.

His herald's trumpet sounds a summons, and the still hesitating Bishop of Constance with the Archbishop of Bari and the Abbot of St. Gall, backed by the spearmen of the city band, stand forward on the walls.

"What ho, there, warders of the gate!" came the summons of the herald; "open, open ye the gates of Constance to your master and lord, Otho the Emperor!"


[Illustration]

"WHAT HO, THERE, WARDERS OF THE GATE!" CAME THE SUMMONS OF THE HERALD.

[123] The thronging spear-tips and the swaying crests of Otho's two hundred knights flashed in the sun, and the giant form of the big Brunswicker strode out before his following. The sight of his dreaded master almost awed the Bishop of Constance into submission, but the voice of young Frederick's stanch friend and comrade, Berard, Archbishop of Bari, rang out clear and quick.

"Tell thy master, Otho of Brunswick," he said, "that Constance gates open only at the bidding of their rightful lord, Frederick of Hohenstaufen, Emperor of the Romans and King of Sicily. And say thou, too, O herald, that I, Berard, Archbishop of Bari, and Legate of our lord the Pope, do at his command now cut off and ex-communicate Otho of Brunswick from the fellowship of all true men and the protection of the Church!"

Otho, deeply enraged at this refusal and denunciation, spurred furiously forward, and his knights laid spears in rest to follow their leader; but the words of excommunication decided the wavering Bishop of Constance to side with the boy sovereign, and he commanded hastily: "Ho, warders; up drawbridge—quick!"

The great chains clanked and tightened, the heavy drawbridge rose in air, and Otho of Brunswick saw the portcullised gate of Constance drop heavily before his very eyes, and knew that his cause was lost.

By just so narrow a chance did young Frederick of Hohenstaufen win his empire.

And now it was won indeed. From every part of Ger- [124] many came princes, nobles, and knights flocking to the imperial standard. Otho retired to his stronghold in Brunswick; and on the fifth of December, 1212, in the old Römer, or council-house, of Frankfort, five thousand knights with the electors of Germany welcomed the "Boy from Sicily." Four days after, in the great cathedral of Mayence, the pointed arches and rounded dome of which rose high above the storied Rhine, the sad little prince of but five years back was solemnly crowned in presence of a glittering throng, which with cheers of welcome hailed him as Emperor supreme.

And here we leave him. Only seventeen, Frederick of Hohenstaufen—the beggar prince, the friendless orphan of Palermo, after trials and dangers and triumphs stranger than those of any prince of fairy tales or "Arabian Nights"—entered upon a career of empire that has placed him in history as "one of the most remarkable figures of the Middle Ages."

Schooled by the hardships and troubles of his unhappy childhood, the poor little "Child of Apulia" developed into a courageous and energetic youth, and into a man of power and action and imperial renown. Years passed away, and, on the thirteenth of December, 1250, he died at his hunting-lodge of Firenzuola, in his loved Apulian kingdom. A gray old man stood beside the dying monarch's bed—Berard, Archbishop of Palermo and Bari, the only survivor of that dauntless band which, nearly forty years before, had crossed the trackless Alps determined to [125] win Germany or die. The "Boy from Sicily," who had started upon the "quest for his heritage" unheralded and almost unknown, died the most powerful monarch of his day in all the Christian world, unsurpassed in outward splendor, the possessor of six royal crowns—Germany, Burgundy, Lombardy, Sicily, Jerusalem, and the Holy Roman Empire.

A man of magnificent gifts—a great scholar, a far-seeing statesman and law-maker, a valiant and victorious Crusader, a mighty Emperor, but with all the weaknesses and cruel ways that marked the monarchs of those hard old days—this story of his remarkable and romantic boyhood comes down to us as a lesson of triumph over obstacles, showing us, as do so many nobler lives than his, how out of distress and trouble and actual hardships, any boy of energy and spirit may rise to eminence and lofty achievement. The age is passed when kings and princes rise so far above their fellow-men. All may be kings and princes in their special callings if they but have persistent and unflinching determination, and the boy of to-day has it in his power to become, even as did young Frederick of Hohenstaufen, the Boy Emperor, something great in his day and generation—perhaps even be acknowledged, as was he, though from far higher motives, Stupor Mundi Fredericas—"Frederick the Wonder of the World!"


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: Baldwin of Jerusalem  |  Next: Harry of Monmouth
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.