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- The Life of John of Barneveld, 1617 - 1/16 -
Ferdinand of Gratz crowned King of Bohemia--His Enmity to Protestants--Slawata and Martinitz thrown from the Windows of the Hradschin--Real Beginning of the Thirty Years' War--The Elector- Palatine's Intrigues in Opposition to the House of Austria--He supports the Duke of Savoy--The Emperor Matthias visits Dresden-- Jubilee for the Hundredth Anniversary of the Reformation.
When the forlorn emperor Rudolph had signed the permission for his brother Matthias to take the last crown but one from his head, he bit the pen in a paroxysm of helpless rage. Then rushing to the window of his apartment, he looked down on one of the most stately prospects that the palaces of the earth can offer. From the long monotonous architectural lines of the Hradschin, imposing from its massiveness and its imperial situation, and with the dome and minarets of the cathedral clustering behind them, the eye swept across the fertile valley, through which the rapid, yellow Moldau courses, to the opposite line of cliffs crested with the half imaginary fortress-palaces of the Wyscherad. There, in the mythical legendary past of Bohemia had dwelt the shadowy Libuscha, daughter of Krok, wife of King Premysl, foundress of Prague, who, when wearied of her lovers, was accustomed to toss them from those heights into the river. Between these picturesque precipices lay the two Pragues, twin-born and quarrelsome, fighting each other for centuries, and growing up side by side into a double, bellicose, stormy, and most splendid city, bristling with steeples and spires, and united by the ancient many-statued bridge with its blackened mediaeval entrance towers.
But it was not to enjoy the prospect that the aged, discrowned, solitary emperor, almost as dim a figure among sovereigns as the mystic Libuscha herself, was gazing from the window upon the imperial city.
"Ungrateful Prague," he cried, "through me thou hast become thus magnificent, and now thou hast turned upon and driven away thy benefactor. May the vengeance of God descend upon thee; may my curse come upon thee and upon all Bohemia."
History has failed to record the special benefits of the Emperor through which the city had derived its magnificence and deserved this malediction. But surely if ever an old man's curse was destined to be literally fulfilled, it seemed to be this solemn imprecation of Rudolph. Meantime the coronation of Matthias had gone on with pomp and popular gratulations, while Rudolph had withdrawn into his apartments to pass the little that was left to him of life in solitude and in a state of hopeless pique with Matthias, with the rest of his brethren, with all the world.
And now that five years had passed since his death, Matthias, who had usurped so much power prematurely, found himself almost in the same condition as that to which he had reduced Rudolph.
Ferdinand of Styria, his cousin, trod closely upon his heels. He was the presumptive successor to all his crowns, had not approved of the movements of Matthias in the lifetime of his brother, and hated the Vienna Protestant baker's son, Cardinal Clesel, by whom all those movements had been directed. Professor Taubmann, of Wittenberg, ponderously quibbling on the name of that prelate, had said that he was of "one hundred and fifty ass power." Whether that was a fair measure of his capacity may be doubted, but it certainly was not destined to be sufficient to elude the vengeance of Ferdinand, and Ferdinand would soon have him in his power.
Matthias, weary of ambitious intrigue, infirm of purpose, and shattered in health, had withdrawn from affairs to devote himself to his gout and to his fair young wife, Archduchess Anna of Tyrol, whom at the age of fifty-four he had espoused.
On the 29th June 1617, Ferdinand of Gratz was crowned King of Bohemia. The event was a shock and a menace to the Protestant cause all over the world. The sombre figure of the Archduke had for years appeared in the background, foreshadowing as it were the wrath to come, while throughout Bohemia and the neighbouring countries of Moravia, Silesia, and the Austrias, the cause of Protestantism had been making such rapid progress. The Emperor Maximilian II. had left five stalwart sons, so that there had seemed little probability that the younger line, the sons of his brother, would succeed. But all the five were childless, and now the son of Archduke Charles, who had died in 1590, had become the natural heir after the death of Matthias to the immense family honours--his cousins Maximilian and Albert having resigned their claims in his favour.
Ferdinand, twelve years old at his father's death, had been placed under the care of his maternal uncle, Duke William of Bavaria. By him the boy was placed at the high school of Ingolstadt, to be brought up by the Jesuits, in company with Duke William's own son Maximilian, five years his senior. Between these youths, besides the tie of cousinship, there grew up the most intimate union founded on perfect sympathy in religion and politics.
When Ferdinand entered upon the government of his paternal estates of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, he found that the new religion, at which the Jesuits had taught him to shudder as at a curse and a crime, had been widely spreading. His father had fought against heresy with all his might, and had died disappointed and broken-hearted at its progress. His uncle of Bavaria, in letters to his son and nephew, had stamped into their minds with the enthusiasm of perfect conviction that all happiness and blessing for governments depended on the restoration and maintenance of the unity of the Catholic faith. All the evils in times past and present resulting from religious differences had been held up to the two youths by the Jesuits in the most glaring colours. The first duty of a prince, they had inculcated, was to extirpate all false religions, to give the opponents of the true church no quarter, and to think no sacrifice too great by which the salvation of human society, brought almost to perdition by the new doctrines, could be effected.
Never had Jesuits an apter scholar than Ferdinand. After leaving school, he made a pilgrimage to Loretto to make his vows to the Virgin Mary of extirpation of heresy, and went to Rome to obtain the blessing of Pope Clement VIII.
Then, returning to the government of his inheritance, he seized that terrible two-edged weapon of which the Protestants of Germany had taught him the use.
"Cujus regio ejus religio;" to the prince the choice of religion, to the subject conformity with the prince, as if that formula of shallow and selfish princelings, that insult to the dignity of mankind, were the grand result of a movement which was to go on centuries after they had all been forgotten in their tombs. For the time however it was a valid and mischievous maxim. In Saxony Catholics and Calvinists were proscribed; in Heidelberg Catholics and Lutherans. Why should either Calvinists or Lutherans be tolerated in Styria? Why, indeed? No logic could be more inexorable, and the pupil of the Ingolstadt Jesuits hesitated not an instant to carry out their teaching with the very instrument forged for him by the Reformation. Gallows were erected in the streets of all his cities, but there was no hanging. The sight of them proved enough to extort obedience to his edict, that every man, woman, and child not belonging to the ancient church should leave his dominions. They were driven out in hordes in broad daylight from Gratz and other cities. Rather reign over a wilderness than over heretics was the device of the Archduke, in imitation of his great relative, Philip II. of Spain. In short space of time his duchies were as empty of Protestants as the Palatinate of Lutherans, or Saxony of Calvinists, or both of Papists. Even the churchyards were rifled of dead Lutherans and Utraquists, their carcasses thrown where they could no longer pollute the true believers mouldering by their side.
It was not strange that the coronation as King of Bohemia of a man of such decided purposes--a country numbering ten Protestants to one Catholic--should cause a thrill and a flutter. Could it be doubted that the great elemental conflict so steadily prophesied by Barneveld and instinctively dreaded by all capable of feeling the signs of the time would now begin? It had begun. Of what avail would be Majesty-Letters and Compromises extorted by force from trembling or indolent emperors, now that a man who knew his own mind, and felt it to be a crime not to extirpate all religions but the one orthodox religion, had mounted the throne? It is true that he had sworn at his coronation to maintain the laws of Bohemia, and that the Majesty-Letter and the Compromise were part of the laws.
But when were doctors ever wanting to prove the unlawfulness of law which interferes with the purposes of a despot and the convictions of the bigot?
"Novus rex, nova lex," muttered the Catholics, lifting up their heads and hearts once more out of the oppression and insults which they had unquestionably suffered at the hands of the triumphant Reformers. "There are many empty poppy-heads now flaunting high that shall be snipped off," said others. "That accursed German Count Thurn and his fellows, whom the devil has sent from hell to Bohemia for his own purposes, shall be disposed of now," was the general cry.
It was plain that heresy could no longer be maintained except by the sword. That which had been extorted by force would be plucked back by force. The succession of Ferdinand was in brief a warshout to be echoed by all the Catholics of Europe. Before the end of the year the Protestant churches of Brunnau were sealed up. Those at Klostergrab were demolished in three days by command of the Archbishop of Prague. These dumb walls preached in their destruction more stirring sermons than perhaps would ever have been heard within them had they stood. This tearing in pieces of the Imperial patent granting liberty of Protestant worship, this summary execution done upon senseless bricks and mortar, was an act of defiance to the Reformed religion everywhere. Protestantism was struck in the face, spat upon, defied.
The effect was instantaneous. Thurn and the other defenders of the Protestant faith were as prompt in action as the Catholics had been in words. A few months passed away. The Emperor was in Vienna, but his ten stadholders were in Prague. The fateful 23rd of May 1618 arrived.
Slawata, a Bohemian Protestant, who had converted himself to the Roman Church in order to marry a rich widow, and who converted his peasants by hunting them to mass with his hounds, and Martinitz, the two stadholders who at Ferdinand's coronation had endeavoured to prevent him from including the Majesty-Letter among the privileges he was swearing to support, and who were considered the real authors of the royal letters revoking all religious rights of Protestants, were the most obnoxious of all. They were hurled from the council-chamber window of the Hradschin. The unfortunate secretary Fabricius was tossed out after them. Twenty- eight ells deep they fell, and all escaped unhurt by the fall; Fabricius being subsequently ennobled by a grateful emperor with the well-won title of Baron Summerset.
The Thirty Years' War, which in reality had been going on for several years already, is dated from that day. A provisional government was established in Prague by the Estates under Protestant guidance, a college of thirty directors managing affairs.
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