A bout one hundred years after the death of Charlemagne, one of his descendants, a little boy only six years old, succeeded to a part of his kingdom. Although the child had guardians, they did not seem to be able to defend the crown. There was trouble from without the kingdom and more trouble from within. The trouble from without was because the Hungarians, or Magyars, were making fierce and bloody invasions of the country. The trouble from within came from the five dukes, each of whom was afraid that the others would become more powerful than he. The child-king died when he was only eighteen, and then there was quarreling indeed, for every duke wanted to be sovereign. At length Conrad, Duke of Franconia, was set upon the throne; but that did not quiet matters, for some of the dukes had not agreed to his election.
Conrad was a gentle, thoughtful man. He defended his people as well as he could, but perhaps the best thing he did for them was to give them a piece of good advice when he was dying. He had sent for the nobles to come to him, and when they stood around his bed, he talked to them as if they were his children and begged them to live peaceably together. "I do now command you," he said, "to choose Henry, Duke of Saxony, for your king. He is a man of energy in battle, and yet he is a strong friend of peace. I can find no one else so well fitted to rule the kingdom, and therefore I send to him the crown and the sceptre and bid him shield and protect the realm."
The nobles were amazed, for this Henry of Saxony had opposed most strongly of them all the election of Conrad; but the more they thought of their king's advice, the more they saw that it was good; and after Conrad was dead they carried the crown and the sceptre to Henry's castle. He was not there. "Where is he?" the nobles demanded, and the attendants replied, "He is in the forest hunting with his falcons."
A Famous Castle in Germany
Then the nobles and their followers set out into the forest to search for a king. It was several days before they found him; and when they did discover him, he was standing in his hunting suit, and on his wrist was a falcon waiting patiently until its master should give it the signal to fly after a wild duck or whatever other bird he was pursuing. The falcon and the Duke were both surprised when the company of nobles and their attendants appeared, and Henry was still more amazed when they showed him the crown and the sceptre and told him that they had followed the will of Conrad and had chosen him for their king. This is the way that Duke Henry of Saxony became King Henry I. of Germany and won his nickname of "the Fowler."
The Magyars came upon the land in swarms. Henry met them bravely; but in every battle the invaders had one great advantage—they fought on horseback, while the Germans were skilled only in fighting on foot. Something happened very soon, however, that changed the whole face of matters; Henry captured a Magyar chief, said to have been the king's son. The Magyars were ready to do almost anything to secure his release; and at length Henry said to them, "If you will leave my country and promise to make no attacks upon it for nine years, I will give back your chief and pay you five thousand pieces of gold every year." The Magyars were glad to accept this offer, and soon they were rejoicing over the return of their chief.
Henry, however, was not spending time in rejoicing. He had much business to attend to in the nine years, and he set about it at once. First, he brought his people together in cities which could be fortified, instead of allowing them to live in scattered villages. Next, he trained his men to fight on horseback. To test their ability, he tried his new cavalry in battles with the Danes and some tribes around him. Then he waited.
The Magyars were in no haste to give up the tribute of gold, and when the tenth year had come, they demanded that the king should send it as usual. But now he was ready to fight them, and he refused. They started out with a great army to make this defiant ruler yield; but to their surprise he drove them out of his kingdom. They never succeeded in entering the northern duchies again, and it was many years before they were seen in any part of Germany.
The wisdom and courage of Henry the Fowler brought peace to his country; and when he died, he left to his son Otho a quiet and prosperous kingdom. Otho was quite as energetic as his father. He took the title of Emperor of the Romans, as if his rule were a continuation of the ancient Roman Empire, and for nine hundred years after him every German king claimed the same title.