History of Germany - H. E. Marshall

Philip of Swabia

Henry's son Frederick was only three years old when his father died. He had been chosen as King, but he had not been crowned. And now the nobles were very unwilling to accept a little child as their ruler, and they resolved to choose another King. But they could not agree as to who that other should be. Some chose and crowned a Hohenstaufen, Philip, Henry's brother. Others chose and crowned a Welf, Otto, the son of Henry the Lion. So there were two Kings in Germany, and once again strife between Welf and Waiblingen.

The Pope now claimed the right to decide between the rival Kings, and he decided for Otto and excommunicated Philip. But Philip would not give up his crown at the bidding of the Pope, so once again there was civil war. It was chiefly in Saxony that Otto found followers, but throughout Philip's reign the whole land was filled with bloodshed, and rang with the rival cries of Welf and Waiblingen.

The state of the country became truly terrible. As the Pope himself wrote: "Goodness and truth vanish, wicked men flourish. The seed rots in the field, and famine lays its hand upon all. Day by day misery increases. Robbery and murder stalk unashamed through the land, so that no street, no house is safe."

At length Philip and Otto met together to try to come to some agreement. But the meeting was without result, for neither would give way in the least. Philip offered his rival a royal princess for his wife, a dukedom, and many lands, and honours besides, if he would but give up his claim to the crown. Otto, however, would have none of them. "Death alone shall make me give up the crown," he said.

But Philip was a brave and kindly man, and his people grew to love him. So one by one Otto's friends fell away from him, until at length it became plain that his cause was lost. Even the Pope forsook him, and made peace with Philip. The end of the strife seemed near.

Then one day, as King Philip lay resting in his palace at Bamberg, a loud knock was heard at the door. Immediately after it was thrown rudely open, and Count Otto of Wittelsbach strode into the room, drawn sword in hand.

Otto of Wittelsbach was a wild young noble, famed for his lawless and insolent deeds. He was for ever at strife with his neighbours, and he rode about the country with a rope at his girdle ready to hang any one who roused his wrath. Once in a weak moment Philip had promised him his daughter in marriage, but finding him so wild and passionate he had withdrawn his promise. For that Otto had never forgiven the King.

Now as Philip saw this fiery young Count stride into the room with drawn sword in hand, he raised himself on his elbow. "Put up your sword," he said sternly; "this is no place to use it."

Passionately the Count sprang forward. "It is the place to punish your treachery," he cried. And with a quick lunge of the sword he pierced the King in the throat. With a cry Philip rose, staggered forward a few steps, and fell lifeless to the ground.

Only two men were with the King, a bishop and his chamberlain. The bishop fled in terror, the chamberlain, drawn sword in hand, sprang upon the murderer; but, with a second sword-stroke, Otto wounded him also, so that he fell helpless to the ground. Then he fled from the room, sprang upon his horse, and galloped madly away.

Thus by the hand of a murderer died the kindliest of all the Hohenstaufen rulers. He was brave and strong, his people loved him, and even his enemies praised him. His whole reign, indeed, had been spent in warfare, and he had been able to do little for his kingdom. Now, just as peace seemed sure, he was struck down.

For some time the murderer wandered about, fleeing from place to place, hunted and hounded by all. No town would receive him; in neither castle nor cottage could he find refuge, and at length, after months of hunted misery, he was slain. His castle was razed to the ground, and, in order in some way to atone for his ruthless deed, a church was built upon the spot.