Read CHAPTER III of The Truce of God A Tale of the Eleventh Century, free online book, by George Henry Miles, on ReadCentral.com.

Fit to govern!
No, not to live. O nation miserable,
With an untitled tyrant, bloody-sceptred,
When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again?

MACBETH.

The third Friday after Gilbert had been wounded, he mounted his horse, and, accompanied by Father Omehr, set out for the Castle of Hers, which lay some four leagues distant to the south.

“You are sad, Father,” said the youth, who felt all the exhilaration of returning strength, heightened by the freshness of the morning.

“It is true, my son; for though in all the trials of this pilgrimage I endeavor to turn to God the cheerful face He loves to see in affliction, I am sometimes weak enough to tremble at the gloomy period before us. We are upon the eve of a tremendous struggle. You may not be aware of it, for you are unaccustomed to watch events which govern the future for good or evil; but the firmness of our Holy Father, and the increasing recklessness and impiety of the emperor, must create an earthquake sooner or later.”

“My father,” replied Gilbert, “has imputed to His Holiness a want of firmness.”

“Alas, with how little reason! He who, when seized by Cencius and his armed assassins at the altar of St. Mary Major bruised, and dragged by the hair to the castle of his assailant yet remained calm and unmoved, with the face of an Angel, neither imploring mercy nor attempting an ineffectual resistance cannot be accused of a want of firmness. The matchless benevolence the heart which melts at the first symptom of repentance the clemency which led him, while his wounds were yet fresh, to pardon Cencius, prostrate at his feet have also induced him to hearken to the promises of King Henry and accept his contrition.”

“But is it not almost folly to trust the royal hypocrite to whom Suabia pays so heavy a tribute? I wish that when his infant majesty fell in the Rhine, there had been no Count Ecbert nigh to rescue him!”

“Is it not rather an exalted charity, of which you have no conception, and a Christian forgiveness which puts to shame your last ungenerous wish?”

“I can have no sympathy or pity for him who has loaded with insult a princess alike distinguished for beauty and virtue.”

“You mean the queen, his wife. But tell me, when he endeavored to procure a divorce from Bertha, who prevented the criminal separation? Was it the boasted chivalry of Suabia? No! Peter Damian, the Pope’s legate, alone opposed the angry monarch, and told him, in the presence of all his courtiers, that ’his designs were disgraceful to a king still more disgraceful to a Christian; that he should blush to commit a crime he would punish in another; and that, unless he renounced his iniquitous project, he would incur the denunciation of the Church and the severity of the holy canons.’ The result was the reconcilement of Henry with Bertha, in Saxony. And though Alexander was Pope, Peter received his instructions from Hildebrand. But there is a wide difference between your hostility to Henry of Austria and the resistance of Gregory VII to his encroachments: your motives all flow from human considerations, and seek a human revenge; his, on the contrary, proceed from the knowledge of his duty, to God, and breathe forgiveness: you seek the king’s destruction and your own aggrandizement Gregory, the king’s welfare, and the independence and prosperity of the Christian Church.”

We will no longer continue a conversation which, to be intelligible to all, would require a more intimate acquaintance with the history of the times than can be obtained from the books in free circulation among us. Though Gregory VII has been reproached by all Protestants, and by some Catholics, with an undue assumption of temporal power, and an unnecessary severity against Henry IV of Austria, it is certain that, in his own day, he was charged by many of his own friends, particularly, in Saxony and Suabia, with too tender a regard for a monarch who violated his most solemn engagements the moment he fancied he could do so with impunity, and whose court, already openly profligate, threatened to present the appearance of an Eastern seraglio. A hasty glance at the prominent facts of the dispute will leave us in doubt whether to admire most the dignified and Christian forbearance of the Pope while a hope of saving his adversary remained, or the unwavering resolution he displayed, even to death in exile, when convinced that mercy to the king would be injustice to God.

No sooner had Gregory assumed the tiara, than he addressed letters to different persons, in which he assured them of his earnest desire to unite with Henry in upholding the honor of the Church and the imperial dignity; to accomplish which he would embrace the first opportunity of sending legates to Henry, to acquaint the king with his views. But, while proferring his love, he declared that, if Henry should venture to offer God insult instead of honor, he would not fail in his duty to the Divine Head of the Church through fear of offending man. So, in a letter to Rodolph, Duke of Suabia, who at that time was known to be secretly hostile to the king, Gregory declared that he entertained no ill feeling whatever for Henry, but simply desired to do his duty.

There were two evils which Gregory was resolved to extirpate: lay investitures, and the incontinence of the clergy. When the power of appointing to bénéfices was usurped by the civil power, the emperor was sure to fill the highest places in his gift with creatures of his own. The inevitable result of this was to create two classes of prelates one of lay, the other of ecclesial investiture. Its ultimate effect was to render the Church completely depend upon the State, and to change and corrupt its very source with the varying vices of libertine despots. It was found (and how could it be otherwise?) that the proteges of the emperor studied only how to please him; and that, in serving the State and the prince, they became indifferent to the Church. Selected to serve a particular purpose, or chosen in consideration of a valuable donation, the lay nominee had been sure to fulfil the object for which he was elevated, or to indulge the avarice or ambition which had craved the appointment. It was in attempting to remedy this fatal innovation that Gregory found himself repeatedly thwarted by Henry; and yet he had been censured by those who lament the worldliness of a portion of the medieval clergy, for striking at the root of the evil.

After repeated provocation, the arm of the Pope is uplifted to strike; but Henry, awed by his menaces, and by an insurrection in Saxony, hastens to avert the blow by an unreserved submission and the fairest promises. He confesses, not only to have meddled in ecclesiastical matters, but to have unjustly stripped churches of their pastors to have sold them to unworthy subjects guilty of simony, whose very ordination was questionable and implores the Pope to begin the reform with the Cathedral of Milan, which is in schism by his fault.

Gregory pardons him; and, in 1074, holds his first council at Rome against simony and the incontinence of the clergy. It was in this year that Henry, already pressed by the Saxons and Thuringians, found himself threatened by Salomon, King of Hungary. In this emergency, he has recourse to Gregory, who, by an eloquent letter, calms the indignant Hungarian.

With the year following, the campaign against Saxony begins. This brave but turbulent people had risen against the towns in possession of Henry, and burned the magnificent Cathedral at Hartzburg. Here again the Pope secured to the king the powerful assistance of Rodolph, Duke of Suabia, in conjunction with whom the royal army obtains a decisive victory at Hohenburg. But once in security and crowned with success, the graceless monarch forgets his submission, and exclaims, “It does not befit a hero, who has vanquished a warlike people, struggling in defence of what they hold most sacred, to bow humbly down before a priest, whose only weapon is his tongue!” Faithless to his recorded vow in the hour of danger, he nominates Henry, canon of Verdun, to fill the see vacated by the Bishop of Liege; and, soon after, calls to the see of Milan, Theobald, his own chaplain, in place of the murdered Herlembaud. Thus repeatedly deceived, Gregory must strike at last, or sacrifice the independence of the Church of God to human weakness.

It was in the pause between these new indignities and the consecration of Hidolphe in the archbishopric of Cologne, that Father Omehr and Gilbert rode slowly on toward the Castle of Hers.

The conversation naturally turned from the consideration of impending evils, to the miserable feud actually existing between the two houses of Hers and Stramen.

“I sincerely wish it were ended,” said Gilbert, in reply to a vehement denunciation just pronounced by his companion. “I could willingly forgive all the injuries I have received at their hands, when I remember the kindness of the Lady Margaret.”

The priest looked quickly up in the young man’s face, but Gilbert was gazing with an abstracted air upon the blue outline of the beautiful Lake of Constance, which just began to appear to the south.

“It were far better,” he said, commanding the youth’s attention by taking his hand “it were far better to forgive them when you remember the prayer of your dying Jesus for His persecutors, than out of gratitude to the ordinary courtesy of a pitying damsel.”

Gilbert made no direct reply, nor did he return the glance of his friend, which he well knew was upon him.

“I could wish,” he began, after a considerable pause, “before leaving your hospitable roof, to have expressed to the Lady Margaret my deep sense of the interest she deigned to display in my regard, and which I fear has done more to soften my feelings toward her father, than the nobler and holier motive you have mentioned.”

There was a humility in this that pleased the good missionary; but he saw with pain and uneasiness the direction which the ardent mind of the youth was evidently taking, and instantly rejoined:

“Did you know the Lady Margaret better, you would spare yourself that regret. In her charitable attention to your wants, she overcame a natural repugnance to yourself. She would rather miss than receive any return you can make, and is always more inclined to set a proper value upon the solid and eternal recompense of God, than attach any importance to the empty and interested gratitude of man.”

Gilbert’s eyes were bent again upon the Lake of Constance. They were now at the foot of a long, high hill, which they began to ascend in silence. Gilbert pressed his horse rather swiftly up the gradual ascent, and they soon gained the summit.

“What is the Danube to that splendid lake!” cried the mercurial stripling; “and what is there in all the lordship of Stramen to vie with this!”

The view now opened might excuse his excitement, even in a less interested person. The Castle of Hers, though built for strength, presented a very different appearance from that of Stramen: its outline was light and graceful, and it seemed rather to lift up than cumber the tall hill that it so elegantly crowned. It was situated upon the border of the lake, which, by trouvère and troubadour, in song and in verse, in every age and in every clime, has been so justly celebrated. A few miles to the southwest the mighty Rhine came tumbling in; who, as the German poets say, scorns to mingle his mountain stream with the quiet waters of the lake. We will attempt no further description, for fear of spoiling a finer picture, which must already exist in the eye of the reader, created by more skilful hands.

As the horsemen neared the castle, they saw a knight, followed by a few men, dashing down the hill. Gilbert knew his father, and hastened to meet him. Their meeting was manly and cordial. The baron stopped but to embrace his son, and hastened to welcome Father Omehr. He dismounted, and imprinted a kiss upon the old man’s still vigorous hand.

“I should be childless now,” he said, “but for your kindness; and you know that words would but mock my feelings.”

The tears in the baron’s eyes expressed more than a long oration.

Father Omehr only replied, with a laugh, “You must blame your son’s indiscretion, and not applaud me!” Thus saved from a formal and unsatisfactory conversation, the knight remounted his horse and led the way to the castle.

Upon the slope of the hill, half-way between the castle and the lake, was a chapel built of white stone, which had stood there, according to tradition, from the ninth century. It was said to have been erected by Charlemagne, on his second expedition against the Saxons. The Baron of Hers had ornamented and repaired it with much taste and at great expense, until it was celebrated throughout the circle of Suabia for its richness and elegance. It had been dedicated to Mary the Morning Star, as appeared from a statue of the Blessed Virgin surmounted with a star, and was called the Pilgrim’s Chapel. It was in charge of Herman, a priest, who had studied at Monte Cassino under the Benedictines, with Father Omehr, whom he loved as a brother. They had spent their period of training and had been ordained together; and, for forty years they had labored in the same vineyard, side by side, yet seldom meeting. When they did meet, however, it was with the joy and chastened affection which only the pure-minded and truly religious can know; and they would recall with tears of happiness the scenes of other days the splendid convent, whose church shone like a grotto of jewels and precious stones the learned and devout monk, and the theological difficulties over which they had triumphed hand in hand.

After taking some slight refreshment (for the baron could ill brook a refusal of his cheer), Father Omehr left the father and son to each other, and began to descend the path to the chapel. Herman had gone to administer the last Sacraments to a distant parishioner. Father Omehr knelt down in the chapel and awaited his return. It did not seem long before his brother missionary entered through the sacristy and knelt beside him. The little chapel was very beautiful, with its branching pillars, supporting clusters of Angels carved in stone. The images of the Saints served to awaken many fine emotions and the principal statue of Our Lady, which the artist had designed to represent the immaculate purity of the Mother of God gave an indescribable sweetness to that consecrated spot: but more beautiful still, and more acceptable to God, were the two holy men who, bent with age and grown gray in the service of a heavenly Master, bowed down together before the altar of the Most High, and for a time forgot each other in the contemplation of the majesty and infinite goodness of Him they served.

At length they rose; and when in the open air gave way to the impulse of human love, which until then had yielded to a loftier feeling.

There was a room in the Castle of Hers in which Herman spent the hours not required for the active duties of his ministry, and to this the two friends retired. There for more than an hour, they discussed topics of mutual interest compared the condition of their flocks and wandered back to Naples and Monte Cassino. The introduction of this last subject seemed to remind Herman of something he had forgotten; for he started up and went to a shelf, which was filled with extracts he had been permitted to make from the celebrated library of the convent, and taking down a small piece of parchment, gave it to his companion. It was an illuminated manuscript of the Salve Regina.

“It was sent me yesterday across the lake by a Benedictine monk,” he said, when Father Omehr had finished reading and raised his eyes in wonder and delight.

“And who has written it?”

“A namesake of mine a Benedictine. It was not seen until after his death, when the manuscript was discovered in his cell. What is more remarkable is that the monk was distinguished for nothing but his piety, and had never made any pretension to learning or accomplishment.”

Much to the surprise of Herman, his friend, though deeply moved by that beautiful effusion of Catholic piety, seemed not to give the entire attention which it so eminently deserved.

“Listen!” he said, repeating the lines. “What melody! what tenderness! what love! You certainly must feel its exalted piety?” he added, appealing to Father Omehr.

“I do, indeed; but you perceive that I am disturbed. In brief, then for I could not bring myself to say until now Anno of Cologne is dead.”

Anno, Archbishop of Cologne, was revered throughout Europe in the eleventh century for his virtue and wisdom. It is said of him that, when others slept, he rose, filled with a holy zeal, and visited many churches, carrying with him his pious offerings. In the halls of kings, says the poet who celebrates his virtues, he sat with the haughtiness of the lion; in the hut of the peasant, he stood with the humility of a lamb. So obnoxious was he to the king, that Henry at one time assaulted him sword in hand; and he was only saved from death by the interposition of a monk. Alone, he founded five monasteries, including that of Siegberg, his favorite residence, where he died, and where his tomb was long pointed out to the traveller. He was said to have emitted a light, the splendor and beauty of which spread around like the lustre of a precious stone in a ring of gold.

“O God, the giver of all!” exclaimed Herman, after a pause, “in taking him to Thyself, do not leave us desolate!”

Father Omehr then described the fearful ulcers which had tormented Anno’s body, and the celestial visions and brilliant apparitions that delighted his soul and foreshadowed the bliss awaiting him in the life to come.

“But let us not weep for him whose epitaph is in the mouths of the widow and the orphan, and whose soul is in the hand of God!” said the pious chaplain of Hers, grasping the hand of his friend.

“Not for him I weep,” was the reply; “nor yet for the bereaved people of Cologne.” The missionary paused, unable to proceed, and then hurriedly exclaimed, “Who is to be his successor? Who is to appoint him? Gregory VII or Henry of Austria!”

“He will not dare!” ejaculated the other, who not until this moment clearly understood his more keen-sighted friend.

“He who has dared to fill the sees of Liege and Milan may not scruple to dishonor the see of Cologne! But let us pray and hope; for suffer what we may, we cannot be conquered.”

This long interview was here terminated by the bell of the Benedictine, summoning to dinner. The Baron of Hers was noted for his fine person and his polished address, and saluted them with even more than his usual politeness as they entered the dining-room. He was the only one of the group who seemed at ease; for the two missionaries could not forget the death of Anno and Gilbert, from some cause or other, had lost his sprightliness.

“I fear,” said the knight to Father Omehr, “that you have half made a traitor of Gilbert, for he will no longer let me abuse my friends at Stramen, but sides with them against me. It is hard to fight our battles all alone, and against our friends, after forty.”

“The Lady Margaret, who dressed his wound, must be blamed not I,” replied the priest.

The handsome face of the Baron of Hers, in an instant, became black as night, and as quickly recovered its former mildness; but the change, apparently, was not noticed by him who had caused it.

“I have heard,” resumed the knight, in a careless tone, “that the young lady possesses much virtue, intelligence, and beauty, and is wise enough to prefer the cloister to the court.”

“You have not been misinformed; yet her health is so feeble, that the grave will probably anticipate her choice of either.”

It was not until the close of the meal that the Lord of Hers was informed of the death of the Archbishop of Cologne, and from that time until they rose the conversation turned wholly upon the venerated and saintly prelate.

Toward sunset they descended the hill and walked along the picturesque banks of the lake. The noble sheet of water stretched away to the south far as the eye could reach, burnished by the sun, and forming part of the horizon.

“This lake of ours,” said the baron, “has obtained a reputation which the best man cannot expect and, indeed, would not desire: no one has ever breathed a word against it.”

“There is a boat!” interposed Gilbert, pointing to a speck in the distance, which his father discovered after a long search, and was invisible to their two older companions. They stood in the shadow of some trees, and watched the object as it increased in size and gradually assumed the undeniable outline of a boat. It came from the direction of Zurich, and pointed directly to the castle. As it neared, they could distinguish four stout rowers and a person seated in the stern. With increased speed it seemed for it was now within hailing distance the boat darted straight to where they were standing; and, before it was made fast, the gentleman in the stern sprang ashore, and, removing the cloak in which he had been enveloped, discovered the princely features of Rodolph, Duke of Suabia. Rodolph was descended from the counts of Hapsburg, on the father’s side and, on the mother’s, from the illustrious family of Otto the Great. He was styled King of Arles, and resided for the most part at Zurich. He was connected with Henry of Austria by a double tie, Matilda, his first wife, having been the sister of the king, and Adelaide, to whom he was then married, being the sister of the queen. But, though thus allied to Henry, he neither loved nor respected him. Once, indeed, the emperor had summoned him to court, on the charge of entertaining projects hostile to the house of Franconia, but Rodolph, well knowing the treacherous character of the monarch, and always a hero, boldly refused, preferring the fortune of arms to the fate of an investigation. Subsequently, filled with horror at the impiety of the Saxons in burning the Cathedral at Hartzburg, hallowed by numerous relics, and filled with the rich offerings of the faithful, he had united with Henry to chastise their sacrilege. At the battle of Hohenburg, in the van the privilege of Suabia he distinguished himself above all others by his impetuous valor, and only left the field when covered with wounds. Rodolph was equally remarkable for the size and beauty of his person, and the elevation of his soul. The Teutonic antiquities contain many songs of the Minnesingers, in which he is invested with all the qualities of mind and heart and body that can adorn the knight; but one fault is imputed to him ambition. His subjects almost worshipped him, and his power is said to have been built upon their hearts. So conspicuous was he among his brother dukes, that, at the Diet of Gerstungen, in 1073, he had been offered the imperial crown, but he declined it unless awarded by the unanimous suffrages of the confederation.

Between him and the Baron of Hers a close friendship of long standing had existed, which had been interrupted by the baron’s refusal to accompany him the preceding year in the expedition against Saxony. This refusal had been dictated by the knight’s invincible repugnance to Henry, and by the politic move of conciliating all who opposed the emperor. Since the battle of Hohenburg they had not met.

After receiving the formal salutation due to his rank, Rodolph cordially embraced the Lord of Hers, and extended his regards to Gilbert, who could not sufficiently admire the hero of Hohenburg.

“But for your father’s obstinacy,” he said to the youth, “you would now be a knight. But I will see you win your spurs yet.”

The greetings over, they all began to ascend the hill. The duke would not pass the chapel without entering. The pavement upon which they knelt had been worked with many a rich and curious device; but time and the knees of the faithful had worn away most of the finest tracery. At the foot of one of the columns still remained this fragment of an inscription:

Hoc pavimentum ... feci
... ductus amore Dei.

This was the spot upon which the duke loved to kneel. Before rising, he drew from under his robe a golden chalice, and gave it to Herman, who was beside him. The priest took it and carried it to the sanctuary.

“I would almost give the decade of Jura,” exclaimed Rodolph, as he approached the castle gate, “to know who made that superb pavement.”

“It resembles more the pavement of a cathedral than the simple floor of a chapel,” said Father Omehr. “I wish we had such an one to our little church at Stramen.”

“Trust that to your successor,” replied the duke; “you have given him the walls, the pillars, the windows, and the roof, and are well entitled to a pavement and alabaster altar at his hands.”

They were now at the gate, into which were cut two niches containing statutes of SS. Victor and Apollinaris. The bars, which yielded to every stranger and to every peasant, flew open before the high-born group, and the almoner, as he recognized the duke, bent his knee in reverence. They mounted a heavy flight of stairs, and, traversing an arched gallery, were ushered into the principal hall. This large room was hung with solemn tapestry, reaching from the ceiling to the floor. The characteristic piety of these ages displayed itself in the beautiful recesses in the walls, adapted to the reception of holy water, and in the devices upon the floor and ceiling, which always conveyed some pious meaning. The walls were covered with paintings chiefly relating to the exploits of the lords of Hers, or filled up with heraldic blazonry.

In the cathedral or in the castle, in the monastery or in the chapel, durability was the principal object of the architect. It is true that the genius of the age contrived to combine the greatest strength with the greatest elegance; but durability was the great end. The pious men of the Middle Ages did not erect mere shells, which, though sufficient for their own brief lives, would crumble over their posterity; but looked to the wants of future generations. And, then, there was a reliance upon posterity which is neither felt nor warranted now. Thus, in the minor Church of the Nativity in the lordship of Stramen, which had been designed by Father Omehr, and which had exhausted the revenues of the barony, the missionary had conceived it upon a scale to which his present means were insufficient, but to which the charity of another generation would be adequate. This was always the case with the cathedrals. Even the castles themselves had so many rooms set apart for recluses and wanderers, that it was easy to convert them into monasteries; and the Castle of Hers, with very little alteration, would have made an excellent convent.

Rodolph was about to throw himself into one of the large high-back chairs of state; but yielding a graceful respect to the aged priests, he motioned them to be seated, and placed himself between them.

“You are rather pale, my lord duke, from your wounds,” said the baron, as an attendant entered with some wine-cups “and I beg you to accept from my son a draught of the vintage you used to relish.”

Rodolph received the goblet from the youth, and replied, as he raised it to his lips, “How I missed you at Hohenburg!”

“I would have given my lordship,” returned the baron, “to have seen you outstripping all the chivalry of Austria, and charging where none dared to follow!”

“My fair cousin, the Margrave Udo, would have atoned for the thrust at my face, which made me see more stars than were ever created, had you been at my side.”

“But to aid you was to assist Henry; and I was loth to break our league with Saxony.”

“That league was merely defensive, and they broke it by aggression and sacrilege.”

“But we could not punish their crime without strengthening the power of that greater criminal, the emperor.”

“You acted uncharitably,” said the duke; “but you judged aright, and I have forgiven you.”

“For which; my liege,” replied the baron, “I cannot be too grateful.”

“Listen,” continued the King of Arles, “ye true pastors of the Church of God, and you, Albert of Hers, that Henry of Austria has nominated a successor to Anno of Cologne!”

At this announcement Herman and the knight sprang to their feet, while their looks expressed their horror and surprise. But Father Omehr kept his seat, and said calmly:

“Will your highness inform us more fully?”

The duke resumed: “A messenger, post haste from Goslar, brought me the news this morning at Zurich. Henry refused to meet the Pope in council to take measures for the purification of Milan, Firmano, and Spoleto, and has thus replied to the threat of excommunication. The nominee is Hidolph, who is attached to his own chapel, a man of no merit whatever, but devoted to the emperor; and whose principal endeavor it has been to remedy by art the unprepossessing exterior which nature has given him.”

“I know him,” said Father Omehr. “Is he yet consecrated?”

“No! All Germany is indignant at the choice, and the people of Cologne are imploring the monarch to make another appointment.”

“It will serve but to confirm the nomination,” said the priest of Stramen.

“What remains to His Holiness?” inquired Rodolph.

Slowly and solemnly the missionary pronounced the single word:

“Excommunication!”

“Henry is preparing for it!” exclaimed the duke, rising and addressing the Lord of Hers; “he convened at Goslar all who respected his summons among whom was the Duke of Bohemia: and he has liberated Otto of Nordheim, my adversary at Hohenburg, and received him into his most secret councils. It must come, my friend,” he added, grasping the baron’s hand; “we shall not be separated here; and, if I mistake not, we have in Gilbert one who is not to be awed by the lion of Franconia!”

Father Omehr beheld with sorrow the meaning glances of the proud nobles, as they eagerly joined hands; and he read in the animated features of the hero of Hohenburg that the impending excommunication would be the signal for a revolt. He rose, and, exchanging a few words in an undertone with Herman, explained the necessity he was under of returning at once to the Castle of Stramen.

“I will accompany you,” said the duke, “if you will delay your departure a few minutes.”

Father Omehr expressed his assent, and retired to the chapel with Herman, leaving the two knights in close converse. Gilbert ran to order the best horse for the duke, and to see that his venerable benefactor should want nothing to carry him safely over the intervening hills. After exchanging many kind adieus, Rodolph and the missionary, near the close of twilight, started for the Castle of Stramen.