Wilhelm Hauff: “Lichtenstein”
Excerpt, “In Honour’s Cause: A Romance adapted from Hauff’s Story of Lichtenstein.” Translator: L.L. Weedon. 1901.
The scene of the following story is laid in that part of Southern Germany which stretches from the Alps to the Black Forest. The former enclose the land from the north-west to the south in a long chain of mountains, whilst the Black Forest extends from the sources of the Danube to the Rhine, forming, with its black fir trees, a dark and shadowy background to that beautiful, fertile, vine-clad country through which the Neckar takes its course, and which is called Würtemberg.
After many and many a struggle the country raised itself from obscurity to its present position amongst the neighboring states, and this calls for the greater admiration if one considers the time when first it began to be heard of in the world – a time when powerful neighbours, such as the Stauffens, the Dukes of Teck, and the Counts of Zollern, were encamped around its cradle, and when internal and external storms threatened to efface its very name from the pages of history.
At one time, indeed, it seemed as though its rulers were to be for ever driven from the halls of their fathers – when its unfortunate Duke was forced to flee from his domains and live in exile; when foreign lords dwelt in its fortresses, and foreign soldiers guarded the land; when Würtemberg had almost ceased to be, except as a spoil for the invaders or as a province of the House of Austria.
Among the many stories the Suabians tell of their country there is none of more romantic interest than that which speaks of the above-mentioned times and of the strange fate of their unfortunate Duke. I have endeavoured to relate the story as it is told upon the heights of Lichtenstein or by the banks of the Neckar.
Some may object that Ultrich of Würtemberg was not a character worthy to be reproduced in an historical story. He is often harshly spoken of, and many an eye has accustomed itself in reviewing the portrait gallery of the Dukes of Würtemberg to pass quickly, with averted gaze, from Eberhard the Elder to Duke Christoph, as though the misfortunes which beset a land are due to the ruler of that land alone.
Too frequently Ulrich of Würtemberg is judged by the criticism of his bitterest enemy, Ulrich of Hutten, who certainly cannot be regarded as other than a prejudiced witness. If the opinions of historians of that century are honestly compared, it will be seen that there is not one who directly condemns the Duke. One should also consider the effect which the times and surroundings have upon any man, and remember that Ulrich of Würtemberg grew up beneath a corrupt guardianship, and that he was but a mere youth when he took the reins of government in his hands.
Considering all that was against him, one cannot but admire the better side of his nature – his strength of purpose and his undaunted courage – and, in dwelling upon this, traits in his character which might otherwise impress us too deeply are forgotten.
The year 1519, in which our story falls, was a memorable one for him, in that it was the commencement of his misfortunes, although after so long a lapse of time one may now add that it was also the beginning of his good fortune. His long banishment proved but a purging fire from which he was to emerge strengthened and ennobled, and every good Würtemberger blesses the memory of the later days of his government, when their prince achieved that religious reformation which was for the good of all.
That year proved indeed a crisis. The revolt of the unfortunate Conrad had been crushed with great difficulty six years previously, but the people were still somewhat unmanageable, for the Duke had not found his way to their hearts. Then, too, unknown to him, his officers and magistrates oppressed them with taxes which they could ill afford to pay. He had offended the Suabian Union, a powerful confederacy of princes, counts, and knights, and the free towns of Suabia and Franconia, chiefly because he hesitated to join them.
In consequence of this, his territorial neighbours looked coldly upon him and only awaited an opportunity to prove to him how powerful an alliance he had slighted. The Emperor Maximilian, the reigning monarch at that time, was also inclined to look upon him with disfavour, as he was suspected of having assisted the knight, Götz von Berlichingen, in order to avenge himself on the Elector of Mainz.
The Duke of Bavaria, a powerful neighbour and his brother-in-law, was estranged from him on account of the disputes between Ulrich and his wife, Duchess Sabina.
In addition to all this he was accused of having murdered a Frankish knight who lived at his court, although in reality the Duke had killed him in fair fight, having challenged him to a duel for an act of treachery of which he had good cause of suspect him. The knight’s relatives, with Ulrich von Hutten at their head, one and all raised their voices against him and made their cries for vengeance echo throughout the whole of Germany.
Then the Duchess, whose pride and ill humour had fostered the dissensions between herself and her husband, came forward as an opponent. With the help of Dietrich von Späth she managed to escape, and with her brothers appeared before the Emperor as a complainant and bitter enemy of the Duke. Agreements were made and broken, proposals of peace offered and rejected. From month to month, the Duke’s troubled increased, but he would not submit, for he deemed himself to be in the right.
At this time, the Emperor died. In spite of the many complaints he had received against the Duke, Maximilian had ever treated him with leniency, and by his death the Duke lost an impartial judge, whom he needed sorely, for his misfortunes were pressing heavily upon him.
It was while the funeral obsequies of the Emperor were taking place in the castle of Stuttgart that Ulrich received news that his forester at Achalm had been slain by the people of Reutlingen, an imperial town. The citizens of this town had frequently insulted him and were cordially detested by him. He now determined to have his revenge. His anger was ever quickly roused, and he now sounded the summons “To horse,” besieged the town, and took it. The citizens were obliged to do homage to him, and the town fell under the sway of Würtemberg.
But now the Suabian Union was aroused, for Reutlingen had been one of its members. It was usually a difficult matter to assemble the different princes, counts, and towns which formed the Union, but on this occasion they all obeyed the summons, for hatred is a strong link.
In vain Ulrich wrote defending himself. The Union army assembled at Ulm and threatened to invade Würtemberg. Matters had therefore reached a critical stage in 1519. If the Duke could but hold his own in the field, undoubtedly many would flock to his banner, and all would be well with him; but if, on the other hand, the Union should beat the Duke, then woe betide him. Where there was so much to avenge there would be little change of mercy.
The eyes of all Germany were fixed anxiously upon the issue of this war. Eagerly they sought to pierce the curtain of fate, in order to discover what the coming days were to bring forth: Whether Würtemberg was to prove triumphant, or whether the Union was to prevail.
Come with me; I will draw aside the curtain, and picture by picture shall pass before you, and I sincerely trust that your eyes may not grow tired and turn away before the end is reached.