This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: The First of the Dynasty.
The Hohenzollern family had gotten rich and was ready to make its move into nobility by the late 1300’s. Meanwhile in Berlin, the Elector Charles IV died. Carlyle, in his own pictorial style describes the subsequent complications by which the Hohenzollerns got hold of the region. They would eventually rule all of Germany and plunge the world into World War I but first they had to start somewhere.
This selection is from History of Frederich II of Prussia by Thomas Carlyle published in 1858. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Thomas Carlyle was the controversial historian who believed in immersing his readers in the story. He wrote as if he was present himself at the events.
Place: Berlin, Brandenburg
Karl left three young sons, Wenzel, Sigismund, Johann; and also a certain nephew much older; all of whom now more or less concern us in this unfortunate history.
Wenzel, the eldest son, heritable Kurfuerst of Brandenburg as well as King of Bohemia, was as yet only seventeen, who nevertheless got to be kaiser–and went widely astray, poor soul. The nephew was no other than Margrave Jobst of Moravia, now in the vigor of his years and a stirring man: to him, for a time, the chief management in Brandenburg fell, in these circumstances. Wenzel, still a minor, and already Kaiser and King of Bohemia, gave up Brandenburg to his two younger brothers, most of it to Sigismund, with a cutting for Johann, to help their appanages; and applied his own powers to govern the Holy Roman Empire, at that early stage of life.
To govern the Holy Roman Empire, poor soul–or rather “to drink beer and dance with the girls”; in which, if defective in other things, Wenzel had an eminent talent. He was one of the worst kaisers and the least victorious on record. He would attend to nothing in the Reich; “the Prag white beer, and girls” of various complexion, being much preferable, as he was heard to say. He had to fling his poor Queen’s Confessor into the river Moldau–Johann of Nepomuk, Saint so called, if he is not a fable altogether; whose Statue stands on Bridges ever since, in those parts. Wenzel’s Bohemians revolted against him; put him in jail; and he broke prison, a boatman’s daughter helping him out, with adventures. His Germans were disgusted with him; deposed him from the kaisership; chose Rupert of the Pfalz; and then, after Rupert’s death, chose Wenzel’s own brother Sigismund in his stead–left Wenzel to jumble about in his native Bohemian element, as king there, for nineteen years longer, still breaking pots to a ruinous extent.
He ended by apoplexy, or sudden spasm of the heart; terrible Ziska, as it were, killing him at second hand. For Ziska, stout and furious, blind of one eye and at last of both, a kind of human rhinoceros driven mad, had risen out of the ashes of murdered Huss, and other bad papistic doings, in the interim; and was tearing up the world at a huge rate. Rhinoceros Ziska was on the Weissenberg, or a still nearer hill of Prag since called Ziska-berg (Ziska Hill); and none durst whisper of it to the King. A servant waiting at dinner inadvertently let slip the word: “Ziska there? Deny it, slave!” cried Wenzel, frantic. Slave durst not deny. Wenzel drew his sword to run at him, but fell down dead: that was the last pot broken by Wenzel. The hapless royal ex-imperial phantasm self-broken in this manner. Poor soul, he came to the kaisership too early; was a thin violent creature, sensible to the charms and horrors of created objects; and had terrible rhinoceros ziskas and unruly horned cattle to drive. He was one of the worst kaisers ever known–could have done Opera Singing much better–and a sad sight to Bohemia. Let us leave him there: he was never actual Elector of Brandenburg, having given it up in time; never did any ill to that poor country.
The real Kurfürst of Brandenburg all this while was Sigismund, Wenzel’s next brother, under tutelage of cousin Jobst or otherwise–a real and yet imaginary, for he never himself governed, but always had Jobst of Mähren or some other in his place there. Sigismund was to have married a daughter of Burggraf Friedrich V; and he was himself, as was the young lady, well inclined to this arrangement. But the old people being dead, and some offer of a king’s daughter turning up for Sigismund, Sigismund broke off; and took the king’s daughter, King of Hungary’s–not without regret then and afterward, as is believed. At any rate, the Hungarian charmer proved a wife of small merit, and a Hungarian successor she had was a wife of light conduct even; Hungarian charmers, and Hungarian affairs, were much other than a comfort to Sigismund.
As for the disappointed princess, Burggraf Friedrich’s daughter, she said nothing that we hear; silently became a Nun, an Abbess: and through a long life looked out, with her thoughts to herself, upon the loud whirlwind of things, where Sigismund (oftenest an imponderous rag of conspicuous color) was riding and tossing. Her two brothers also, joint Burggraves after their father’s death, seemed to have reconciled themselves without difficulty. The elder of them was already Sigismund’s brother-in-law; married to Sigismund’s and Wenzel’s sister–by such predestination as we saw. Burggraf Johann III was the name of this one; a stout fighter and manager for many years; much liked, and looked to, by Sigismund, as indeed were both the brothers, for that matter; always, together or in succession, a kind of right hand to Sigismund. Frederick (Friedrich), the younger Burggraf, and ultimately the survivor and inheritor (Johann having left no sons), is the famed Burggraf Friedrich VI the last and notablest of all the Burggraves–a man of distinguished importance, extrinsic and intrinsic; chief or among the very chief of German public men in his time; and memorable to Posterity, and to this history, on still other grounds! But let us not anticipate.
Sigismund, if appanaged with Brandenburg alone, and wedded to his first love, not a king’s daughter, might have done tolerably well there; better than Wenzel, with the empire and Bohemia, did. But delusive Fortune threw her golden apple at Sigismund too; and he, in the wide high world, had to play strange pranks. His father-in-law died in Hungary, Sigismund’s first wife his only child. Father-in-law bequeathed Hungary to Sigismund, who plunged into a strange sea thereby; got troubles without number, beatings not a few, and had even to take boat, and sail for his life down to Constantinople, at one time. In which sad adventure Burggraf Johann escorted him, and as it were tore him out by the hair of the head. These troubles and adventures lasted many years; in the course of which, Sigismund, trying all manner of friends and expedients, found in the Burggraves of Nuremberg, Johann and Friedrich, with their talents, possessions, and resources, the main or almost only sure support he got.
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