Albert had already been chosen as King; the battle of Göllheim and the death of Adolphus had left him without a rival. But he was not willing to seem to have won the throne by force. So a second election was held. Albert was again chosen King, and crowned with great ceremony at Aachen.
As King Albert, holding high state, sat upon his throne with his Queen beside him, a beautiful lady, clad in mourning robes, came slowly towards them. It was Queen Imogen, King Adolphus's widow. She threw herself at the Queen's feet, begging that her son who had been taken prisoner at Göllheim might be set free.
Cold and unmoved Albert looked down upon the strained white face; with a scornful smile he listened to the pleading voice. With scornful words he refused to set the young prince free.
Sobbing bitterly, Queen Imogen rose from her knees. She flung back her veil, and as the tears streamed from her eyes a bright spot burned on her pale cheeks. It was at the Queen's feet she had knelt. It was the Queen's mercy she implored, and the Queen had been silent. Young, beautiful, and serene, she looked unmoved upon the sorrow of the uncrowned Queen.
"May God reward you," cried Imogen. "One day may your heart know the sorrow that is mine." And so she turned and left the Court.
Less than ten years later there came a day when Queen Elizabeth remembered these words in bitterness of heart.
The princes and nobles now found that the one-eyed Albert was a far more powerful and stern ruler than ever the despised Count of Nassau had been.
He was cold and stern, but wise, and he set himself at once to bring peace into the land, to curb the power of the nobles, and strengthen the power of the King.
Meanwhile, however, the Pope would not acknowledge him. For, said the Pope, Albert was no better than a rebel who had murdered his liege lord. But Albert declared that the Pope had nothing to do with it, and that it was enough that the German princes had chosen him as King. And the better to strengthen himself against the Pope, Albert made friends with Germany's old enemy, Philip the Handsome, King of France. For Philip, too, was at this time quarrelling with the Pope.
It was agreed that Albert's son Rudolph should marry Philip's sister, and should succeed him as King France.
But this dallying with France made the princes of Germany very angry. Encouraged by the Pope, some of them plotted to depose Albert, even as they had deposed Adolphus. They bound themselves together against "Albert, Duke of Austria, who is now called King of Germany." And they declared him no longer King, because he had rebelled against Adolphus and murdered him. Albert, however, marched against the rebel princes with an army, and soon subdued the revolt.
Albert's victory over the rebels was brilliant and complete. Never, since the days of Henry VI, had King ruled more absolutely in Germany. But in his heart Albert well knew that his seat upon the throne of Germany was most uncertain. The hearts of the people were not with him. So now he resolved to make friends with the Pope, in order that he might receive from him the Imperial crown, and thus strengthen his position in Germany.
And the Pope, who lived in daily fear of the French King's ever-growing power and hate, was glad to make friends with the King of Germany.
All the same, in return for his friendship, the Pope made Albert take the oath of fealty to him as to his overlord. He made Albert acknowledge that it was from the Pope that the princes of the Empire received the right to choose their King. Thus did Albert lightly give up much that those before him had fought for fiercely.
It was a heavy price to pay for the Pope's friendship, and in return he got little of the expected help from the Pope. For Philip the Handsome, as you will read in French history, took the Pope prisoner. A month later he died, and the new Pope was little more than a tool in the hands of the French King.
Albert now turned his attention to making his own family and house rich and great. That had for long been his chief desire, and he tried continually to bring more and more lands under the direct rule of the Hapsburgs.
Like Adolphus, he tried to force Frederick of the Bitten Cheek and his brother to give up Thuringia. He declared Bohemia to be his fief, and gave it to his son Rudolph. He tried to usurp the countship of Holland, and to make the free Cantons of Switzerland into a Hapsburg possession. But in all these schemes he failed, and added but little to his own lands. His struggle, however, to subdue Switzerland into a mere family possession, has become world-famous.
In Germany Albert was a stern ruler; towards Switzerland, it is said, he showed himself a very tyrant, and out of this tyranny rose the free republic of Switzerland.
Up to this time the country, which we now call Switzerland, as a country did not exist. It was divided into Cantons, one of which was called Schwyz, and this one Canton being always foremost in the fight for freedom, in time gave its name to the whole country. All these cantons formed part of the Empire, and the struggle for freedom was at first not a revolt against the Empire, but against the tyranny of the Hapsburgs.
Already upon the death of Rudolph, three of these cantons had joined together in what is called the Everlasting League. Soon others joined, for the tyranny and the insolence of the Hapsburgs grew daily greater.
It was now that Hermann Gessler was sent as ruler of the Cantons of Schwyz and Uri. He, in his pride and insolence, one day set up his cap, upon a pole, in the market-place of Altdorf, and bade the people bow to it.
The story hardly belongs to the History of Germany, so you must read elsewhere how William Tell refused to obey, how Gessler, in his wrath, forced him to shoot an apple from his son's head, and how in revenge Tell slew Gessler.
Tell came to be looked upon as the national hero of Switzerland, and his wonderful shot the beginning of the Swiss struggle for freedom. Wise people, however, say that Tell never lived, and that the stories of Albert's tyranny are not true.
That may be so. But it is now, at least, that the Swiss fight for freedom truly began. It was a long, hard struggle, and two hundred years passed before Switzerland was really free.
Meanwhile, whether Albert was a tyrant or not, he strove to make the Swiss Cantons fiefs of the house of Austria. But all his strivings came to a sudden end.
Albert had a nephew, Duke John of Swabia. His father had died when he was a tiny boy, and his uncle had become his guardian, ruling his lands. But now that Duke John had grown to manhood, Albert, in his greed for land and power, still kept possession of the lands belonging to his nephew. Again and again Duke John had prayed his uncle to give him back his possession. Again and again Albert refused with scorn.
So bitter hatred against his uncle grew up in Duke John's heart, and at length, with three other nobles, he plotted to murder the King.
On the first day of May, as Duke John sat at dinner with his uncle, once more he begged to be given his inheritance. Once more Albert refused, putting him off with promises.
At this moment a page entered, bringing in wreaths of flowers. To each of his guests Albert gave one, with some jesting word. The most beautiful he gave to his nephew. "You shall be a May King," he said with a laugh, as he placed the flowery wreath upon Duke John's head.
But with tears of anger in his eyes Duke John tore off the wreath, and tossed it upon the table. And while the other guests drank and feasted, he and his companions sat sullenly refusing either to eat or drink.
As soon as the feast was over the King rose, and, mounting his horse, set forth to meet his Queen who was journeying towards him. As his custom was he wore no armour and carried no weapon, and was accompanied only by a few followers.
On the way the river Reuss had to be crossed by a narrow ford. Here Duke John succeeded in separating Albert from his followers, and upon the other side of the river the unsuspecting King found himself alone with the conspirators.
As they rode along one of the conspirators suddenly exclaimed, "How long shall we let this knave ride?" Then Duke John's servant sprang forward and seized the King's bridle. Before he could cry out for help, Duke John had thrust him through the heart. The others, too, sprang upon him, and Albert sank to the ground, wounded in neck and breast and face.
The murderers fled, leaving the dying King upon the ground. There a poor woman who passed that way found him. She did what she could for him, but that was little, and when his followers arrived they found their King, who scarce an hour ago they had seen riding forward full of life, dying, his head pillowed on the lap of a beggar woman.
The Queen was filled with unutterable grief at the death of her husband, and she pursued his murderers with bitter hatred. Yet most of them escaped. One, indeed, was brought to death in terrible fashion. But with that the Queen's vengeance was by no means satisfied, and many innocent men and women suffered death and torture ere it was stilled.
Duke John escaped. But he found no man to pity or shelter him. All turned from him in horror, and he is known in history as John the Parricide. For many months he wandered about in misery. At length he found refuge in a monastery, where he died.