History of Germany and Austria

When Richard had been seized, imprisoned, and forced to pay an enormous ransom, Tancred died, and his son was placed on the throne. Availing himself of the money extorted from Richard, Henry who had meanwhile incorporated into a regular order the Teutonic knights, originally destined for the service of the sick in Palestine, and built for them a house at Coblenz - announced his resolution of undertaking a Crusade. But instead of going to the Holy Land, he marched into Sicily, the throne of which he seized, after perpetrating revolting cruelties. At length, one of the Norman princes having been tied naked to a chair of red-hot iron, and crowned with a circle of the same burning metal, the Empress in disgust turned against her husband, incited the inhabitants to rebel, and imposed upon him the most humiliating conditions. Henry died at Messina, poisoned, as was said, by his Italian spouse, and his son, Frederick II, was placed on the Imperial throne; but the German princes, indignant at seeing the crown become hereditary, held a Diet at Cologne, and elected Otho, duke of Brunswick, son of Henry the Lion. Civil war arose between the princes, and Otho IV was crowned at Rome by the Pope; but Frederick allied himself with Philip Augustus, king of France, who at the village of Bovines, in 1214, totally defeated and ruined the rival. Upon this disaster Otho retired to Brunswick, where he became a devotee; while Frederick, having been crowned with unwonted magnificence, afterward undertook a Crusade without the papal sanction, and on his return was excommunicated by Gregory IX. From that period his life was one lon g and vexatious struggle with the Popes; the Dominican friars preached a holy war against him; a defeat before Parma made him retire to recruit his army in Sicily; and there he died in the year 1251.

His son Conrad, last Emperor of the house of Swabia, assumed the Imperial title; but after his death, in 1254, there was an interregnum of several years, during which Richard, earl of Cornwall, brother of Henry III of England, spent large sums to secure his election as King of the Romans, which he deemed a certain step to the Imperial dignity; but several of the Electors being favorable to Alphonso, king of Castile, aspiration was not fulfilled.

At length, in 1274, the German princes, though impatient of subordination, willing that the throne should be occupied by an emperor whose influence was not such as to excite their jealousy, elected Rodolph of Hapsburg, a Swiss baron; but the king of Bohemia, of whose household Rodolph had been steward, unable to brook the sovereignty of his former inferior, not only refused homage for his fiefs, but seized on the Duchy of Austria. He was soon compelled to give up Austria and do homage for Bohemia and Moravia, but bargained for the latter ceremony being performed in private. To gratify him in this particular, a close pavilion was erected on the small island of Cumberg, and thither came the Bohemian, decked with gold and jewels, while the Emperor appeared in plain and simple habiliments. The Bohemian was nervously anxious to avoid a public scene; but at a critical moment the curtains of the pavilion, falling aside, revealed to thousands of soldiers the proud King on bonded knee before his former steward. Incited by a haughty spouse, he renounced his allegiance; but the Emperor taking the field, slew the hapless King in battle, and, to aggrandize the house of Hapsburg, bestowed Austria on his second son, Count Albert.

Adolph of Nassau being next elected Emperor, Count Albert of Austria, incited by Philip IV of France and supported by a minority of the Electors, rose in arms, slew Adolph in a battle at Spire, and was soon after crowned as Emperor. Thereupon Pope Boniface summoned him to answer for Adolph's murder; but a bitter feud arising between the French King and the Pope, the latter found it convenient to court Albert's alliance, and transferred to him the sovereignty of France. However, Albert soon had his hands full at home; for having, as hereditary sovereign of several Swiss cantons, made an attempt to seize the whole of the provinces, the natives combined, and with a small army won successive victories.

The end of Albert was particularly tragical. In 1309 he was walking one day on the banks of the Russ, when his companion, a nephew, whose patrimony he had unjustly retained, drawing his sword, inflicted a mortal wound; and the Electors raised to the throne Henry of Luxembourg , the most renowned knight of an age which boasted of Robert Bruce and Giles de Argentine. The martial Emperor having avenged his predecessor's assassination, fought his way to Rome, imposed a tribute on the Italian States, and died in 1314; poisoned, as was supposed, by emissaries of the Pope. Louis of Bavaria was then elected; and, after a long dispute, defeated and captured Frederick the Handsome, of Austria. But successive Popes proved his mortal foes; and though the death of his Austrian competitor left Louis without a rival, Benedict XII, who resided at Avignon, vindictively pursued him to the grave. His subjects were made to choose between their sovereign and the pontiff: discord and disorder loosened the frame-work of society; and the fraternity known as the Friends of God, by the spread of their doctrines, prepared the way for that religious reformation which was accomplished in the following century.