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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

A priest named John of Nepomuck


eight or nine years after these events, Wenzel remained in Prague where his reign was distinguished only by an almost insane barbarity. He always had an executioner at his right hand, and whoever refused to submit to his orders was instantly beheaded. He kept a pack of bloodhounds, which were sometimes let loose even upon his own guests: on one occasion his wife, the Empress Elizabeth, was nearly torn to pieces by them. He ordered the confessor of the latter, a priest named John of Nepomuck, to be thrown into the Moldau river for refusing to tell him what the Empress had confessed. By this act he made John of Nepomuck the patron saint of Bohemia. Some one once wrote upon the door of his palace the words: "_Venceslaus, alter Nero_" (Wenzel, a second Nero); whereupon he wrote the line below: "_Si non fui adhuc, ero_" (If I have not been one hitherto, I will be now). When the city of Rothenberg refused to advance him 4,000 florins, he sent this message to the authorities: "The devil began to shear a hog, and spake thus, 'Great cry and little wool'!"

[Sidenote: 1398. QUARREL WITH THE POPE.]

In short, Wenzel was so little of an Emperor and so much of a brutal madman, that a conspiracy, at the head of which were his cousin Jodocus of Moravia, and Duke Albert of Austria, was formed against him. He was taken prisoner and conveyed to Austria, where he was held in close confinement until his brother Sigismund, aided by

a Diet of the other German princes, procured his release. In return for this service, and probably, also, to save himself the trouble of governing, he appointed Sigismund Vicar of the Empire. In 1398 he called a Diet at Frankfort, and again endeavored, but without much success, to enforce a general peace. The schism in the Roman Church, which lasted for forty years, the rival popes in Rome and Avignon cursing and making war upon each other, had at this time become a scandal to Christendom, and the Papal authority had sunk so low that the temporal rulers now ventured to interfere. Wenzel went to Rheims, where he had an interview with Charles VI. of France, in order to settle the quarrel. It was agreed that the former should compel Bonifacius IX. in Rome, and the latter Benedict XIII. in Avignon, to abdicate, so that the Church might have an opportunity to unite on a single Pope; but neither monarch succeeded in carrying out the plan.

On the contrary, Bonifacius IX. went secretly to work to depose Wenzel. He gained the support of the four Electors of the Rhine, who, headed by the Archbishop of Mayence, came together in 1400, proclaimed that Wenzel had forfeited his Imperial dignity, and elected the Count Palatine Rupert, a member of the house of Wittelsbach (Bavaria), in his place. The city of Aix-la-Chapelle shut its gates upon the latter, and he was crowned in Cologne. A majority of the smaller German princes, as well as of the free cities, refused to acknowledge him; but, on the other hand, none of them made any movement in Wenzel's favor, and so there were, practically, two separate heads to the Empire.

Rupert imagined that his coronation in Rome would secure his authority in Germany. He therefore collected an army, entered into an alliance with the republic of Florence against Milan, and marched to Italy in 1401. Near Brescia he met the army of the Lombards, commanded by the Milanese general, Barbiano, and was so signally defeated that he was compelled to return to Germany. In the meantime Wenzel had come to a temporary understanding with Jodocus of Moravia and the Hapsburg Dukes of Austria, and his prospects improved as Rupert's diminished. It was not long, however, before he quarrelled with his brother Sigismund, and was imprisoned by the latter. Then ensued a state of general confusion, the cause of which is easy to understand, but the features of which it is not easy to make clear.

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