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Eastern and Central Europe: Russia, Poland, Hungary; Germany, Switzerland, Bohemia. page 2

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The reign of Charles IV. (of Bohemia), emperor from 1347 to 1378, a shrewd statesman and excellent linguist, founder of the first German university, that of Prague, is notable for the document called the "Golden Bull," from the gold case which contained the seal. This charter finally settled, in 1356, the Germanic constitution as regarded the electoral princes and the crown. Thereby the electors became independent, and the crown, the kingship of Germany, was deprived of power, except such as was derived from the possession of hereditary states. Henceforth there could be no civil war arising from double elections. All cases were decided by a majority of votes given by seven electors, always at the city of Frankfurt-on-the-Main. The electoral states were declared indivisible and incapable of alienation, and were made hereditary in the male line, the electoral vote going with the land. The seven electors were the archbishops of Mainz (Mayence), Trier (Treves) and Koln (Cologne), the king of Bohemia, the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the duke of Saxony, and the margrave of Brandenburg The House of Austria grew in power by gaming final possession of Carinthia and Tyrol. Wenzel (or Wenceslaus) (1378-1400), eldest son of Charles IV., was a coarse cruel man, a bad ruler both in Bohemia and Germany, under whom the robber-barons and the petty warfare were more pernicious than ever. Leagues of the cities, on the Rhine and in Swabia, comprising scores of important towns, strove to enforce public peace, and did, by constant righting, maintain municipal freedom, while associations of nobles were formed, by the minor lords and the imperial knights, for defence against the cities on the one hand and the princes of the empire on the other. We may here note that in the 17th century two more electoral princes arose in Bavaria and Hanover.

The reign of Sigismund (1410-1437), brother of Wenzel, is chiefly notable for the assembling, at his instance, of the General Council of the Church at Constance, in Baden. This assembly was at once a council of the empire and a kind of European congress, sitting from 1414 to 1418, and attended by the emperor, a Pope (John XXIII., one of three rivals claiming the papacy at this time), and over 200 Italian, German, French, English, and Spanish prelates, with hundreds of abbots and doctors of theology. Many princes of the empire were there with large retinues, and there were at times 50,000 strangers resident in the city. The council was summoned for the three purposes of suppressing heresy, healing the schism as to Papal power, and reforming church-discipline. The rival Popes were all deposed, and Martin V. was elected. Little was done as regarded church-reform, in spite of the efforts of Sigismund and of the pious and learned John Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris. The cause of "orthodoxy" was vindicated by the condemnation of Wyclif (then 30 years deceased) for his opposition to confession, transubstantiation, and absolution, and of the Bohemian reformer John Hus, a successor of Wyclif, who will be seen shortly in dealing with Bohemian affairs.

Emperors of the House of Hapsburg now began to reign, and the line held its place for over three centuries. Frederick III. (1440-1493), the last emperor who was crowned in Rome, was a man of serious mind, but lacking in energy, and powerless both in Germany and in his own territories. It was he who, in 1485, was driven from Vienna by Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary, and he did not recover his Austrian territory till after Matthias' death. Germany was a scene of internal warfare between prelates and princes, which the emperor was unable to repress. An important event was the marriage of Frederick's son Maximilian with Mary, daughter and heiress of Charles, duke of Burgundy, by which the Austrian house received the Netherlands and Franche Comte, or the "Free County" of Burgundy. The greatness of the House of Austria thus began, its power being derived not from the position of its heads as emperors, but from the rule of territory held by them as archdukes of Austria, kings of Hungary, and dukes of Styria, Carniola, and Carinthia.

We must now relate the origin of one of the most flourishing minor states of the world, the Swiss republic which, in the igth century, became a chief resort of European and American tourists in search of health and the charms of romantic scenery, and derives therefrom a large increase of wealth for her people. For British readers the story has the high interest attaching to a successful struggle for freedom carried on against enormous odds, and to the development of a little commonwealth which has maintained her independence for four centuries. Prior to the date at which we take up the history of Switzerland, the rugged country had been held by Alamanni, Burgundians, and Franks, and had been subject to Karl the Great, to kings of Burgundy, and to dukes of Swabia. Of the three original cantons, Schwyz, the one which ultimately gave its name to the country, was chiefly inhabited by free peasants; in Uri and Unterwalden most of the people were mere serfs. Early in the 13th century the rulers of the country were the counts of Hapsburg, but the cantons soon began to strive for riddance from their jurisdiction. They were attached to the empire in a feudal relation by charters received from Frederick II., but the Hapsburg princes still claimed control of affairs, and in 1291 Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden formed a league. Schwyz and Unterwalden are mainly lands of verdant pasture, Uri a region of towering mountains and inaccessible rocks. The confederates (Eidgenossen) were not seeking to throw off allegiance to the emperors, but were hostile to the despotic power wielded by the "bailiffs" who represented them. It is painful to have to dissipate fond beliefs which have been the delight of many generations of lovers of freedom, but we are bound to state, in the interest of historical truth, that there is no sound basis for the story of the oath taken by Stauffacher of Schwyz, Furst of Uri, and Von Melchthal of Unterwalden, in the meadow of Rutli or Grutli by the Lake of Lucerne, with the promise, still the motto of the Confederation, that they would be "all for each, and each for all." This and other popular poetical legends, ascribing the rise of the confederacy to individuals, simply condense into a short space of time the continued energy of long-lasting efforts on the part of the three cantons. Assisted by various events, they became free from Austrian supremacy early in the 14th century, and the Confederation grew from three to eight cantons by 1353 and to 13 cantons in 1513. The story of William Tell, Gessler the tyrannical "bailiff," and the shooting at the apple, is pure invention of a later age.

In 1315, the Swiss confederates had to defend themselves against Leopold of Austria, who invaded the country in November with his chivalry by a pass between a small lake and the steep and frozen slopes of a mountain called Morgarten. No precautions of reconnoitring were taken, and at a moment's notice the dense masses of horsemen were overwhelmed by a downpour of rocks, huge stones, and trunks of trees, prepared for the purpose on the ridge above them. In the midst of the confusion they were assailed by a rush down the hill of mountaineers armed with halberds, and the hostile force was almost destroyed. This victory was followed, in 1332, by the adhesion of Lucerne, and during this and the following century the feudal rights of the chief landowners, mainly corporations of monks, were bought off by the people. By 1353, the confederacy, as above stated, was made up of eight cantons, through the addition of Zurich, Glarus, Zug, and Berne. In July, 1386, came the memorable battle of Sempach, in Lucerne, when the brave and ambitious Leopold III. of Austria, a descendant of the man defeated at Morgarten, invaded the country. The battleground consisted of steep hill-sides crossed by brooks and hedges, most unsuitable for cavalry, but the Austrians relied on their thousands of nobles and knights against some 1,500 foot in wedge-formation, imperfectly armed with short swords, clubs, and battle-axes or halberds. The knights were compelled to dismount, and they attacked the Swiss, lance in hand, with some success, forcing them back and capturing the banner of Lucerne. The mountaineers, with their short weapons, could not reach their enemy, when the heroic Arnold von Winkelreid made a gap by rushing forward, grasping as many spears as his arms could encompass, and bearing them down to the ground with the whole weight of his body. The Swiss dashed in and made fearful work with their clubs and battle-axes amid men impeded by heavy armour and long lances.

Leopold fell in the thick of the struggle, and the matter ended with the slaughter of 700 nobles and 2,000 other men, while the Swiss lost little over 100. A vast booty was taken, but the moral effect of the victory was the chief gain of the day of Sempach. The defeat of a host of the knights and nobles of chivalry by a few hundred citizens and peasants astonished Christendom, and another Austrian defeat at Nafels, in Schwyz, two years later, brought 50 years of peace with Austria, and virtual independence.

In the 15th century the confederacy had to meet other foes. In 1444 the dauphin of France, afterwards Louis XL, invaded the country with 30,000 men, and at St. Jacques (St. Jacob), near Basel (Basle), 1,600 Swiss met them, and died fighting to the last man, after slaying 4,000 of their foes. This Swiss Thermopylae made Louis grant an honourable peace, and the confederate cause gained strength and honour. The next enemy of Switzerland was Charles of Burgundy, and that powerful monarch and headstrong warrior met more than his match. In January, 1476, when the Swiss, previously enticed into war against him, had been left alone by France, Charles opened the campaign with 50,000 excellent troops, and marched across the Jura. About 400 men surrendered at Granson, on the south-west edge of Lake Neuchatel, with a promise of safety, and were then all hanged or drowned in the lake. In March a federal army of 18,000 horse and foot, well trained and equipped, marched from Neuchatel, and encountered Charles at Granson. A complete victory, with enormous spoil, fell to the Swiss. In June another battle came at Moral, on the north-east side of Lake Neuchatel, and there, by good generalship and downright courage in charging and silencing the cannon, the Swiss gained a brilliant victory, with a loss to Charles of 1,500 nobles and 12,000 men, hundreds being drowned in the lake. 3,000 men was the loss of the victors, and Murten (Morat) became in Switzerland a name of like power and pride with Morgarten and Sempach. In 1477 Charles fought his last battle, defeated and slain by Swiss troops at Nancy. By this time the confederacy had become a nation of the highest military repute, courted as an ally by France and Italy, by Emperor and Pope. Internal affairs were not so nourishing, owing to jealousies between the country-people and the towns, among which Zurich, Berne, and Lucerne were conspicuous for wealth and population, influence and culture. The confederacy of the 13 cantons was completed by 1513 in the admission, at various dates, of the cantons of Freiburg, Solothurn (Soleure), Basel (Basle), Schaffhausen, and Appenzell.

Bohemia, peopled by the Czechs, a Slavic race, is chiefly interesting to us in connection with the reform-movement of Wyclif, the ground-swell preceding the storm of the Reformation. The Bohemians were the first people on the Continent to accept and to strive for the principles of the great Englishman. They derived their Christianity from the Greek or Eastern Church, and not from the West, the Germanic and Roman model, and it was only against Mongols or Turks that the Czech-Slavs made common cause with their Teutonic fellow-countrymen. From 1310 to 1437 the country was ruled by kings of the House of Luxemburg, and it was in the time of Wenzel (Wenceslaus) IV. that John Hus (Huss) and Jerome of Prague started a religious reformation. Hus was the son of a Bohemian peasant, and in 1402 he became rector of the University of Prague. In 1408, his preaching against clerical abuses excited the wrath of the clergy in the city and diocese, and the archbishop suspended him from his priestly functions. The common people were strong for his cause, and his continuance of what were deemed heretical utterances caused his excommunication. Popular riots in Prague followed, and in 1411 the city was laid under Papal interdict. Hus spoke more boldly than ever, and at the king's desire he absented himself from the city, finding refuge in various castles of nobles, of whom nearly the whole body shared his views. He was regarded by the ecclesiastical authorities as the successor of Wyclif and the propagator of his views, and as such he was summoned to attend the Council of Constance. Hus went thither under a "safe-. conduct" from the emperor Sigismund, but, in gross violation of that pledge, he was seized and imprisoned. In May, 1415, Wyclif's writings were denounced, and in June the Bohemian "heretic" was brought to trial. Not allowed to speak freely in his own defence, nor to employ an advocate, he flatly refused to recant, to make submission to the Council, or to undertake to renounce his preaching or teaching, and was thereupon burnt to death on July 6th, his ashes being flung into the Rhine. Jerome of Prague, the friend and disciple of Hus, became a convert at Oxford to Wyclif's doctrines, which he zealously spread on his return home. When Hus was arrested at Constance, Jerome hurried to his side without a safe-conduct. On learning his danger he withdrew from the city, but was returning thither, though a safe-conduct had been refused, when he was arrested and conveyed to Constance. After one recantation, which was boldly withdrawn a few months later, Jerome went to the stake in May, 1416.

The result of these proceedings was a civil war. The utmost wrath was aroused by the fate of Hus and Jerome. The mob murdered "orthodox" ecclesiastics. In September, 1415, after the martyrdom of Hus, 450 Bohemian nobles met in a "diet" at Prague, and solemnly recorded their confidence in the teacher and admiration of his personal character. Three days later they formed a league for maintaining the freedom of preaching in Bohemia, and declared their belief that the Scriptures were the rule for the Church. Excommunication by the Council followed, and the extreme party of Hussites rushed into war. A most able leader was found in Ziska, the most original and successful commander of that age. In a struggle of 12 years' duration the forces of the emperor were again and again defeated. This remarkable man was of noble birth, and, after being a page to king Wenzel, he took up a soldier's career. In 1410 he showed desperate courage at the head of the Bohemian and Moravian troops who decided the dreadful battle of Tannenberg against the Teutonic Knights, of whom the grand-master and many thousands of warriors remained dead on the field. After serving against the Turks, and at Agincourt with Henry V., he returned to Bohemia on the death of Hus. Taking the field in 1419, he defeated an army of 40,000 men, sent by Sigismund to obtain the throne on the death of his brother, King Wenzel, with a hasty levy of one-tenth of that number. In 1421, Ziska had conquered Bohemia and taken the castle of Prague, the country being held by the erection of fortresses. Ziska's followers were provided by him with small firearms, then little used in war, but his most ingenious device was that of the laager, or waggon-fort, familiar to us from South-African warfare. It was by this means that he remedied his lack of cavalry. The waggons or chariots, linked together by strong iron chains, contained all the fighting-men (except the few horsemen), and the women and children who accompanied the armies. The vehicles were covered with steel, or iron, and on each of them the best marksmen were placed next to the driver. In action the waggons were usually formed in four lines or columns, and for an offensive movement the drivers at one end of the line of battle strove, often with success, to outflank the enemy. The wide plains of Bohemia, with few ditches or fences, favoured this novel method of warfare, and the marksmen next to the drivers, as well as the skilled artillerymen of Ziska's few and unwieldy field-guns, were the terror of the German troops. Thus did military genius form an almost invincible army out of a crowd of small farmers, labourers, and townsmen, and the best knights and warriors of Europe were, to the amazement of all, routed in many battles. In 1421, the Bohemian hero lost the sight, in a siege, of his one remaining eye, but still led his men from victory to victory, until he forced Sigismund to offer full religious liberty to the Hussites. The old soldier died of plague in 1434, before the treaty was signed, and the struggle, with more successes for the Bohemians, was continued until 1431, when the moderate Hussite party received the concession of their demands from Sigismund, who became king of Bohemia, by acceptance of the people, in 1436. In 1458, the shrewd and able Protestant noble, George of Podiebrad, was elected to rule, and in the following century the country passed, with Hungary, under the sway of Ferdinand I. of Austria.

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Pictures for Eastern and Central Europe: Russia, Poland, Hungary; Germany, Switzerland, Bohemia. page 2

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