History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Henry I the Fowler

Eberhard was true to his word, and as soon as his brother was dead he, with others of the great nobles, set out in search of Henry. With them they carried the crown and sceptre. But Henry was not in his castle, and after some search they found him among the mountains, amusing himself with catching birds. He was dressed like a simple hunter, and with his children about him he was busy with bird snares and nets.

And from this he received his name der Vogler or the Fowler. But I must tell you that many people think that this is a fairy-tale, and that Henry only received his name of the Fowler long afterwards.

At first Henry, like his father before him, refused the crown. But Eberhard asked to be left alone with the Duke, and when the nobles had withdrawn he threw himself on his knees before him, and begged him to accept the throne.

So Henry yielded. Then the nobles gathered round him with great joy. Standing upon his shield they raised him shoulder high, and with loud shouts acclaimed him King.

Then from the midst of the nobles an archbishop stepped forth, and would have led Henry to the altar so that he might be crowned and anointed, and blessed by the Church, as the custom was.

But Henry waved him back. "Nay," he said, "it is enough for me that I am chosen King, and that I bear the name of King, which before me no Saxon of my house has borne. I thank your love and God's grace for it. And let that suffice. Let the anointing and the crowning be for one better than I. Of so much honour I am not worthy."

This Henry did, not because he despised the Church, but because he knew how powerful the great churchmen had become, and he wished to show that he did not mean to be under their rule. His words pleased the assembled nobles well, for they too disliked the growing power of the priests. And raising their right hands to heaven once more they swore fealty to their King, crying, "God save King Henry, God save the King," till the sound echoed and thundered afar.

With Henry the story of the Saxon rulers of Germany begins. For until now the rulers of Germany had been Frankish, descendants of that great Frankish Emperor Charlemagne, who had fought and conquered the Saxons. Henry himself was a true Saxon, and his wife Mathilda was descended from Wittekind, the great Saxon leader. So in Henry the Germans felt they had a true German King once more, and that the dominion of the Franks was at an end.

But although many of the nobles had chosen Henry for their King all had not done so, and soon he had to fight against his revolted vassals, even as Conrad had done. But Henry was more fortunate than Conrad, and first one and then another of the rebels yielded to him. For Henry did not try to crush the great nobles altogether. He left them much power in their own lands, but forced them to own him as overlord. He fought when needs must, but he used peaceful means too.

One of the nobles whom Henry had to fight was Arnulf, Duke of Bavaria. But the King had no desire to fight. He thought that much horrible bloodshed might be avoided, that the lives of many gallant men might be spared, if only their leader would listen to reason. So he sent a messenger to Arnulf asking him to meet him alone.

To this Arnulf consented, and, thinking that it was single combat the King offered him, he went alone, but fully armed, to the place appointed. What then was his astonishment when the King stepped towards him unarmed, and greeted him with kindly words.

"Why will you fight against God's will?" Henry asked the astonished Duke. "It is by His will that the voice of the people has called me to be King. Why then out of jealousy will you shed the blood of all these Christian people? Had they raised you to the throne no one would have been more ready to acknowledge your right than I."

When Arnulf heard the King's words he hung his head in shame. In deep thought he turned upon his heel and went back to his camp. There he gathered his chief knights and nobles about him, and took counsel with them. They counselled him to make peace with the King.

Then Arnulf listened to this wise counsel, and coming to Henry he knelt before him, put his hands within the King's hand, and swore to be his man.

Besides overcoming the great nobles Henry won Lorraine back. He struggled long for it, both by peaceful and by warlike means, and at length cunning helped his sword.

It is told how in those days there lived a man in Lorraine called Christian. He saw that King Henry was fortunate in everything. He saw that although he had sometimes to fight long for a thing, he, in the end, was ever victorious. So he cast about in his mind for a way to win favour of this powerful and fortunate ruler. At length he fell upon a plan.

Christian pretended to be very ill and about to die, and begged Duke Giselbert of Lorraine to come to him, so that he might place his inheritance in his hands. Suspecting no evil, Giselbert came to Christian's castle, where he was at once seized and cast into prison. Then, bound and securely guarded, he was led before Kind Henry.

Henry greatly rejoiced when he thus found his bold and dangerous enemy in his power. But he knew that Giselbert was a brave soldier and a wise man, so he treated him with all honour. Soon by his kindness he won Giselbert's heart, and from being a prisoner Giselbert became a friend. Henry gave him back his dukedom and married him to his daughter Gerberga. So at last Lorraine was again united to Germany, and it remained a part of the Empire for many hundreds of years.

Thus after six years' reign Henry had succeeded in doing what Conrad had struggled in vain to do. He had peacefully united all the German peoples under one King. He had done it, too, more by statesmanship than by war and bloodshed.

And now that Henry had won peace within his kingdom, he had another and deadly enemy to fight. The Hungarians, who, as good luck would have it, had spared the German lands during the first years of Henry's rule, now descended upon them with all their old fury. Far and near they scattered devastation. Towns and villages, convents and churches went up in flames, so that the track of the marauders might be traced by the ruins and the ashes, by the smoke clouds that darkened the sky by day, and the flames which made night terrible. Young and old, men, women, and children were slain, or fled in terror to the mountains and the forests, there to die in hunger and nakedness.

Brave though Henry was, he dared not meet these wild horsemen in open field. For well he knew he had no army fit to stand against them. His foot-soldiers were few, badly armed, and badly drilled; horsemen he had none. Then fortune again was kind to him. His men, by chance, took a great Hungarian noble prisoner and led him bound before their King.

Henry was much rejoiced, but there was great sorrow in the Hungarian camp, for this noble was of high honour amongst them. They at once sent messengers to Henry offering untold sums of gold and silver for his ransom. But Henry treated all their offers with scorn. It was not gold he wanted, but peace, and peace alone he would have. As ransom for their noble he demanded from the Hungarians a nine years' truce. He promised also to pay them a yearly sum of money.

To this the Hungarians agreed; their noble was set free, and they marched homeward.

But to pay tribute to these heathen folk was surely a shameful and a useless deed. Right well Henry knew how the Carolingian kings had suffered from the Northmen and the Danes from such bargains. But Henry did not make his bargain out of cowardice, but out of prudence. He wanted time in which to prepare for the hour of need, which he surely knew would come. And from the first moment of the peace which he thus bought he laboured to make his country strong against the heathen enemy on its borders.

In these days there were no walled towns in Saxony. Only on the banks of the Rhine and the Danube, when the Romans had long ago lived, there were a few fortresses But these had nearly all been ruined by the Northmen or the Hungarians. Here and there, indeed, rose in frowning grandeur a fortress of some great lord, a castle of some bishop, a monastery or convent with its clusters of little houses built beneath its protecting walls. But for the greater part the people lived in lonely farms and small unprotected villages, a prey to every foe.

Henry made up his mind to change all that. And now, day by day, the sound of hammer and trowel was heard. All along the borders of the land strong fortresses were built. Unprotected villages were turned into walled and fortified towns, places of refuge in time of need. And in order to hold the people together and make them live in the towns, Henry ordered all courts of justice, all markets, indeed gatherings of every kind, to be held within the walls of the towns.

So gradually round the palaces of princes and bishops, round churches and cloisters, walled and fortified towns arose.

Henry I is remembered as the founder of German cities. And by degrees all the life of the kingdom began to centre in those towns, and a new class arose, a class of merchants and townsfolk. And in days to come the Kings and Emperors had cause to thank him, for many a time these burghers fought for them against the mighty nobles.

But meantime to defend these towns and fortresses men were needed. So Henry chose out every ninth man, and made him become a soldier. These men were drilled and taught how to fight. They were also taught how to ride, so as to be a better match for the Hungarians. And Henry's horsemen were soon so fine that they became the very backbone of the army, and as years went on the foot-soldiers became less and less, the horsemen more and more, important.

Henry drew all sorts of men into his service. There were many freemen who in those wild times found a living by wandering from court to court, and offering their services to any great lord who might be at war with another. These Henry gathered into his army. Others there were who infested the highways, robbing and plundering unprotected travellers. To such Henry offered a free pardon if they would become his faithful soldiers, which they did. "Thus," says an old writer, "an army was made out of robbers. For King Henry willingly pardoned thieves and robbers, if they were only courageous and strong in war."

But the nine years' truce sped fast, and war with the most terrible of all their enemies again threatened the people. So Henry gathered his lords and barons together and spoke to them.

"Well you know," he said, "what confusion ruled in your land. But through God's help, through labour and care on my side, through bravery on yours, we are now peaceful and united. But one thing yet remains for us to do. We must rise like one man against our terrible enemy, the Hungarians. Until now I have, perforce, robbed you, your sons and daughters, to make rich their treasury. Now nothing more remains to us. Now if we must still pay tribute, must we rob the churches and the altars of God, for nothing more is left to us but our bare lives. Therefore take counsel together and choose what we shall do. Shall we take the treasure which belongs to the service of Heaven and give it to your enemy and God's? Or shall we take the tribute which we have hitherto paid to the heathen and dedicate it to the service of most high God who has created and redeemed us?"

And when Henry had ceased speaking a great shout went up from the people. "May the true and living God, who is faithful and right in all His ways, and holy in all His works, make us free from our bonds," they cried.

Then, raising their hands to heaven, the people swore to stand by their King, and to help him against the heathen folk. And having thus sworn, the people went to their homes until the King should have need of them.

Soon after this the messengers from the Hungarians came as usual for the promised tribute. But this time they were received with scorn, and sent away with empty hands. When the Hungarians heard of it they were filled with wrath, and hurriedly gathering a great and powerful army they marched on Germany. Burning and wasting, they strode through the land. Then after a time the army divided in two, one part marching west, one north.

So soon as this happened Henry saw his chance. He fell upon one part of the enemy's force, and a terrible battle was fought in which the Hungarians were defeated. Many were slain, others were scattered through the land, where they died of hunger and cold, or were taken into captivity by the Germans, and ended their lives miserably as slaves.

But the second and larger part of the Hungarian army was still to fight. When, however, they heard that their comrades had been utterly defeated, and that Henry was marching now upon them, great fear took hold of them. In haste and terror they broke up their camp in the night and fled. When morning came, Henry quickly followed the fleeing foe, and another great battle took place near Riade in Thuringia.

"The Hungarians are our enemies, but they are, too, the enemies of the whole Christian world," cried Henry to his soldiers. "Put your trust in the grace of God, and avenge our fatherland."

Their hearts beating high with hope, their eyes bright with the lust of battle, the Germans rushed to the attack. Joyfully they watched their King as he rode now in the front, now in the middle, now behind, encouraging and commanding, while the great banner with the fighting archangel Michael fluttered ever before him.

The fight was not long. Soon the Hungarians fled, and fled so fast that although the Germans pursued them for eight long miles scarce a man was killed, scarce a prisoner taken. Their camp, however, with all its rich plunder and many prisoners fell into the hands of the victors, who set all the captives free.

The joy over this victory was great. Through the length and breadth of Germany Henry was greeted as the father of his country, and never more while he lived did the Hungarians molest his kingdom. And the tribute which had been paid to them was given to the Church for the benefit of the poor and needy.

But Henry's wars were not yet at an end. The Northmen were still terrible as of yore, so now Henry marched his victorious army against them. But their King, Gorm the Old, did not dare to meet the victor of the Hungarians in open fight. So he made peace.

The war with the Northmen was the last of Henry's wars. It was victorious and splendid as all his wars had been from first to last. And now his work was done. Germany stood high among the nations, and kings and princes sought Henry's favour. In the whole realm, both within and without, there was peace.

And now in this time of peace Henry turned his thoughts to Rome. He, who had refused the kingly crown at the hands of a bishop, thought that, like other rulers before him, he would cross the Alps to receive the blessing of the Pope, and the title of Emperor.

But Henry never reached Rome, never received the title of Emperor. For sickness struck him down. Then, feeling his end near, he called his wife, Queen Mathilda. "My dearest and best beloved wife," he said, "I thank our Lord that I go out of life before you. No one has ever had such a wife as I. How often have you calmed my anger, how often given me wise advice, and when I wandered you have ever brought me back to the paths of righteousness. I thank you for all you have been to me."

In deep sorrow the Queen replied, thanking the dying King for all the love and truth he had shown her. Then, bowed down with grief, she went into the church to pray for her husband.

And as she knelt in prayer the sounds of loud wailing came to her. Then a great horror of darkness fell upon her, for she knew that the King was dead, that she was a widow, and the people a fatherless people.