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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

Treasures and accumulated plunder in Henry's hands



By this time the nine years of truce with the Hungarians were at an end, and when the ambassadors of the latter came to the German Court to receive their tribute, they were sent back with empty hands. A tradition states that Henry ordered an old, mangy dog to be given to them, instead of the usual gold and silver. A declaration of war followed, as he had anticipated; but the Hungarians seem to have surprised him by the rapidity of their movements. Contrary to their previous custom, they undertook a winter campaign, overrunning Thuringia and Saxony in such immense numbers that the king did not immediately venture to oppose them. He waited until their forces were divided in the search for plunder, then fell upon a part and defeated them. Shortly afterwards he moved against their main army, and on the 15th of March, 933, after a bloody battle (which is believed to have been fought in the vicinity of Merseburg), was again conqueror. The Hungarians fled, leaving their camp, treasures and accumulated plunder in Henry's hands. They were never again dangerous to Northern Germany.

After this came a war with the Danish king, Gorm, who had crossed the Eider and taken Holstein. Henry brought it to an end, and added Schleswig to his dominion rather by diplomacy than by arms. After his long and indefatigable exertions, the Empire enjoyed peace; its boundaries were extended and secured; all

the minor rulers submitted to his sway, and his influence over the people was unbounded. But he was not destined to enjoy the fruits of his achievements. A stroke of apoplexy warned him to set his house in order; so, in the spring of 936, he called together a Diet at Erfurt, which accepted his second son, Otto, as his successor. Although he left two other sons, no proposition was made to divide Germany among them. The civil wars of the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, during nearly 400 years, compelled the adoption of a different system of succession; and the reigning Dukes and Counts were now so strong that they bowed reluctantly even to the authority of a single monarch.

Henry died on the 20th of July, 936, not sixty years old. His son and successor, Otto, was twenty-four,--a stern, proud man, but brave, firm, generous and intelligent. He was married to Editha, the daughter of Athelstan, the Saxon king of England. A few weeks after his father's death, he was crowned with great splendor in the cathedral of Charlemagne, at Aix-la-Chapelle. All the Dukes and Bishops of the realm were present, and the new Emperor was received with universal acclamation. At the banquet which followed, the Dukes of Lorraine, Franconia, Suabia, and Bavaria, served as Chamberlain, Steward, Cupbearer and Marshal. It was the first national event of a spontaneous character, which took place in Germany, and now, for the first time, a German Empire seemed to be a reality.

The history of Otto's reign fulfilled, at least to the people of his day, the promise of his coronation. Like his father, his inheritance was to include wars with internal and external foes; he met and carried them to an end, with an energy equal to that of Henry I., but without the same prudence and patience. He made Germany the first power of the civilized world, yet he failed to unite the discordant elements of which it was composed, and therefore was not able to lay the foundation of a distinct _nation_, such as was even then slowly growing up in France.

[Sidenote: 937.]

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