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The Dove in the Eagle's Nest   By: (1823-1901)

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This etext was produced from the 1890 Macmillan and Co. edition by David Price, email


by Charlotte M. Yonge


In sending forth this little book, I am inclined to add a few explanatory words as to the use I have made of historical personages. The origin of the whole story was probably Freytag's first series of pictures of German Life: probably, I say, for its first commencement was a dream, dreamt some weeks after reading that most interesting collection of sketches. The return of the squire with the tidings of the death of the two knights was vividly depicted in sleep; and, though without local habitation or name, the scene was most likely to have been a reflection from the wild scenes so lately read of.

In fact, waking thoughts decided that such a catastrophe could hardly have happened anywhere but in Germany, or in Scotland; and the contrast between the cultivation in the free cities and the savagery of the independent barons made the former the more suitable region for the adventures. The time could only be before the taming and bringing into order of the empire, when the Imperial cities were in their greatest splendour, the last free nobles in course of being reduced from their lawless liberty, and the House of Austria beginning to acquire its preponderance over the other princely families.

M. Freytag's books, and Hegewisch's History of Maximilian, will, I think, be found fully to bear out the picture I have tried to give of the state of things in the reign of the Emperor Friedrich III., when, for want of any other law, Faust recht, or fist right, ruled; i.e. an offended nobleman, having once sent a Fehde brief to his adversary, was thenceforth at liberty to revenge himself by a private war, in which, for the wrong inflicted, no justice was exacted.

Hegewisch remarks that the only benefit of this custom was, that the honour of subscribing a feud brief was so highly esteemed that it induced the nobles to learn to write! The League of St. George and the Swabian League were the means of gradually putting down this authorized condition of deadly feud.

This was in the days of Maximilian's youth. He is a prince who seems to have been almost as inferior in his foreign to what he was in his domestic policy as was Queen Elizabeth. He is chiefly familiar to us as failing to keep up his authority in Flanders after the death of Mary of Burgundy, as lingering to fulfil his engagement with Anne of Brittany till he lost her and her duchy, as incurring ridicule by his ill managed schemes in Italy, and the vast projects that he was always forming without either means or steadiness to carry them out, by his perpetual impecuniosity and slippery dealing; and in his old age he has become rather the laughing stock of historians.

But there is much that is melancholy in the sight of a man endowed with genius, unbalanced by the force of character that secures success, and with an ardent nature whose intention overleapt obstacles that in practice he found insuperable. At home Maximilian raised the Imperial power from a mere cipher to considerable weight. We judge him as if he had been born in the purple and succeeded to a defined power like his descendants. We forget that the head of the Holy Roman Empire had been, ever since the extinction of the Swabian line, a mere mark for ambitious princes to shoot at, with everything expected from him, and no means to do anything. Maximilian's own father was an avaricious, undignified old man, not until near his death Archduke of even all Austria, and with anarchy prevailing everywhere under his nominal rule. It was in the time of Maximilian that the Empire became as compact and united a body as could be hoped of anything so unwieldy, that law was at least acknowledged, Faust recht for ever abolished, and the Emperor became once more a real power.

The man under whom all this was effected could have been no fool; yet, as he said himself, he reigned over a nation of kings, who each chose to rule for himself; and the uncertainty of supplies of men or money to be gained from them made him so often fail necessarily in his engagements, that he acquired a shiftiness and callousness to breaches of promise, which became the worst flaw in his character... Continue reading book >>

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