| Heroes of the Middle Ages|
|by Eva March Tappan|
|Recounts the stories of the most important movements in the history of Europe during the Middle Ages and acquaints the reader with the most important figures in those scenes. The figures are grouped into seven periods: The Barbarian Invasion, The Forming of the Germanic Nations, The Teutonic Invasions, The Rise of Nationalities, The Crusades, The Time of Progress and Discovery, and The Struggles of the Nations. In the tapestry which the author weaves may be traced the history of the rise and fall of the various nationalities and the circum-stances and mode of life of each. Ages 11-14 |
THE STORIES OF WILLIAM TELL AND ARNOLD VON WINKELRIED
N early times, some tall, strong people who had light hair, blue
eyes, and fair complexions took up their homes in
Switzerland. They were a proud, independent race;
and proudest of all were those who dwelt in three districts
far up in the mountains, known later as the Forest Cantons.
Even after those who lived in the lower parts of the land
had been obliged to give up much of their liberty, the Forest
Cantons were still free. They yielded to the Emperor of
Germany, they said, and to no one else.
At one time Rudolph of the family of
Hapsburg was emperor. He was of Swiss birth. He loved
his people and protected them; but after him came his son Albert,
a cruel tyrant. He was determined to bring the Swiss under
the rule of Austria, and he was especially bitter against
the Forest Cantons. He set governors over them who were free
to insult the people, steal from them, imprison them, or
even put them to death. The worst of all the governors was a
man named Gessler, and the land was full of tales
of his insolence and wickedness.
Gessler seemed determined to humble the Swiss in every
possible way. One day he put an Austrian hat
 on a pole
and set it up in the market-place with the command that every
one who passed should bow down to it as if it were the
emperor himself. William Tell, a bold mountaineer, walked
through the place with his little son, and did not salute the
hat, wherefore he was seized by the guards. Gessler,
in cruel sport, told him that since
he carried a bow, he might display his archery by shooting
an apple from the head of his son, and if he succeeded in doing
it without killing the child his own life should be
spared. Tell pleaded not to be compelled to make so
unnatural a trial,
but the tyrant forced him to do it. The mountaineer was
a skilful archer, and he hit the apple, to the great joy
of all the people who stood round; but Gessler had noticed
that Tell had taken another arrow in his hand, and he demanded
suspiciously, "Why did you take out a second arrow?" Tell replied
boldly, "If I had slain my child this should have found your
heart." Gessler was furious.
He threw Tell into chains and that night started to
take him across the Lake of the Four Cantons to a prison on
the other side. It is not at all uncommon for a storm
to rise suddenly amidst the mountains that surround the
beautiful lake. Without warning the waters will be lashed into
fury, and woe betide the boats that are not lying safely at
anchor. Such a storm now overtookGessler and his company.
"Tell knows the lake,
and he is the only man that can save us," declared the peasants
who were rowing. "Unbind him, then!" bade the frightened
governor, "and give him the helm." Tell did know
the lake and he guided the boat through the darkness to where
a rock jutted out into the water. Coming as near as he dared,
he made a bold spring to
the rock, gave a thrust to the boat, and in a moment was
 free on the land while Gessler and his men were fighting for
their lives to prevent the boat from being swamped.
Eventually the governor was saved, but the next
day he and his escort had to pass through some deep woods.
He was exclaiming, "Let him surrender, or one of his children
dies to-morrow, another on the second day, and his wife on
the third," when suddenly an arrow whizzed through the branches,
and the tyrant fell dead. Whether the arrow came from
Tell's bow, no one knew.
THE STATUE OF TELL AT ALTDORT
Before this some of the bold mountaineers had met under the
stars one night on a little point that stretched out into a
lake, and had sworn to stand together to free themselves from
the tyranny of the Hapsburgs. The duke himself
came with an army to subdue the rebellious
Swiss; but as his troops were marching through a deep, narrow
pass, suddenly rocks and trunks of trees were hurled down
upon them. Then came the Swiss with their clubs and pikes, and
the proud Austrians were overpowered and driven back by
the mountain peasants.
Again, some seventy years later, the Austrians tried to conquer
Switzerland. When the moment of battle had come, the
knights dismounted and stood with their long spears in rest, a
wall of bristling steel. The Swiss had only swords and
short spears, and they could not even reach their enemies. The
Austrians were beginning to curve their lines so as to
surround the Swiss, when Arnold von Winkelried, a
brave Swiss, suddenly cried, "My comrades, I will open a way
for you!" and threw himself upon the lances, clasping in his
arms as many as he could and dragging them to the ground.
In an instant his comrades sprang
into the opening. The Austrians fought gallantly, but they were
 was by such struggles as these that
Switzerland freed herself from the yoke of Austria.
DEATH OF ARNOLD VON WINKELRIED.
These two stories have been handed down in Switzerland from
father to son for many years. People doubt their truth; but
in one way at least there is truth in them; namely, they show
how earnestly the Swiss loved liberty. They came to hate
everything connected with Austria, even peacock feathers,
because they were the symbol of Austria. It is said that once
an ardent patriot was drinking from a glass when the sun shone
through it and the
detested colors appeared. Straightway the man dashed the glass
to the floor, and it was shattered into a thousand pieces.
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