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The History of Germany by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall


 

 

LEWIS IV OF BAVARIA AND FREDERICK THE HANDSOME

[264] UPON the death of Henry VII the electors could not agree among themselves as to who should be the next king. In the end two were chosen. The one was Frederick the Handsome, the son of Albert I. The other was Lewis, Duke of Bavaria. They had both been born in the same year; they had been brought up together as loving comrades. Now suddenly, both desiring to be Emperor, they became bitter enemies.

Each party was determined to have its chosen King and none other, and so soon all Germany was divided into two hostile camps, and a great army was gathered on either side.

Lewis gained possession of Aachen. Frederick, finding his rival master of the royal city, hastened to Bonn and was crowned there the day before Lewis was crowned at Aachen.

Now Germany was filled with war and bloodshed, every prince taking one side or another, but for some time no decisive battle was fought. Each side seemed to want to ruin the cause of the other by plundering expeditions rather than face a great battle.

In this quarrel the Swiss sided with Lewis. So Frederick's brother, Leopold, marched against them, full of anger and insolently sure of victory.

[265] Leopold's army was large. It was full of the greatest knights and nobles of the land, and the men were well armed and well drilled. When the Swiss heard of the coming of this mighty host they were greatly troubled, and they sought if they might by any means make peace. But Leopold of Austria was sure of victory, and he refused to listen to any terms.

The Swiss then made their preparations, determined to die rather than yield. They took possession of the height above the narrow pass through which the Austrian army must come. There both day and night they kept watch.

At length, one November morning, the Austrian army came riding down the pass in all its pride and splendour. The heavily-armoured knights rode first in careless array, for they were full of contempt for the peasants against whom they came, and were certain of an easy victory. Behind them pressed the foot soldiers, rank on rank.

But suddenly from the heights above them great boulders came thundering down, heavy tree trunks and showers of stones crashed upon them. Men and horses were crushed beneath the falling masses, the whole army was thrown into mad confusion. Then with wild shouts the mountaineers rushed down the slopes. Shod with spiked boots, which gave them safe foothold on the steep descent, they moved quickly and surely, dealing deadly blows with their terrible spiked clubs called Morning-stars.

It was scarce a battle; it was a massacre. The Austrian knights, caught like wild animals in a trap, hemmed in between the mountain and lake, were at the mercy of the Swiss peasants. They fell by thousands, while of the Swiss but twenty were killed.

[266] Those who escaped from the narrow pass of death fled in all directions. But even in flight there was little safety, and many perished among the snows of the pathless mountain valleys.

Leopold himself escaped, however, and after many trials, reached home half dead with shame and sorrow.

Lewis rejoiced greatly over this victory. And although it was not important enough to end the quarrel between the two kings, it helped to encourage the Swiss in their struggle for freedom.

For ten years the war of succession continued, and at last was brought to an end by the terrible battle at Mühldorf.

Clad in splendid armour with a golden crown upon his helmet, and the royal eagle as his crest, so that all might know him for the King, Frederick dashed into the fray. Where the fight waxed fiercest, there was his golden crowned helmet to be seen, and with his own hand, it is said, he slew fifty knights.

Lewis, on his side, took little part in the fighting, but left the leadership to an old knight, Siegfried of Schweppermann.

Clad in a blue surcoat marked with a white cross, and surrounded by eleven other knights dressed like him, Lewis watched the battle as it raged before him. Victory seemed uncertain. Now one side gained an advantage, now another. At length a new army of soldiers was seen approaching.

At first the Austrians thought that it was Duke Leopold come to aid his brother. But soon they saw their mistake. The new soldiers had come to help Lewis. The battle was won and the Austrians fled before the onslaught of these fresh soldiers.

[267] Many prisoners were taken, among them King Frederick. He fought while he could, but his horse being killed beneath him he at last yielded to a noble and was led before King Lewis.

Standing under the spreading branches of a great tree Lewis received his prisoner. "Cousin," he said, "I was never more glad to see you."

"And I," said Frederick, a dark frown on his beautiful face, "was never more sorry to see you."

Lewis, it is said, was right grateful to the brave old knight who had won the victory for him. When evening came, and the tired troops sat down to a well-earned meal, there was little to eat. For the country round had been plundered, and laid bare. All that could be got was an egg for each man, and two for the King. But the King would not have it so. "Nay," he said, "every man of us shall have an egg, but the ever blessed Schweppermann shall have two."

Frederick was now shut up in the castle of Trausnitz, and there for nearly three years he remained, while his beautiful wife wept herself blind for him, and his brother Leopold still fought for him.

Leopold made friends with the Pope and with the King of France, with any or everybody who would help him against Lewis. For he loved his brother passionately and longed to set him free and see him King. But all that Leopold could do was of no avail, and Frederick still remained a prisoner.

It was Lewis himself who at length sought to make friends once more. He went to Frederick in his prison and promised to set him free if he would give up all claim to the throne.

The long imprisonment had broken Frederick's spirit. [268] He no longer wished to fight, he longed only for freedom. So willingly he gave up his claim to the throne, Together the two enemies knelt at the altar, and received the Holy Sacrament, then with tears in their eyes they kissed each other and swore to be friends once more.

After this, Frederick set out to find his brother and pursuade him to lay down his arms, and make his peace with Lewis. Before he went he promised that, should he not succeed, he would return again to his prison. When he reached home his nobles and vassals received him with joy. But they hardly knew him, for his shining golden hair had grown grey, and his beard which, as a sign of grief he had never cut during all the time of his imprisonment, was long and white as that of an old man. But his changed appearance mattered little to his wife. His voice she heard and knew; trembling with joy, she felt his arms once more about her. She could not see the face she loved so well, for her grief had made her blind.


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