Of all the possessions of the old kingdom of Hungary, none was more valued than what was called the Crown of St. Stephen, so called from one which had, in the year 1000, been presented by Pope Sylvester II to Stephen, the second Christian Duke, and first King of Hungary.
A crown and a cross were given to him for his coronation, which took place in the Church of the Holy Virgin, at Alba Regale, also called in German Weissenburg, where thenceforth the kings of Hungary were anointed to begin their troubled reigns, and at the close of them were laid to rest beneath the pavement, where most of them might have used the same epitaph as the old Italian leader: "He rests here, who never rested before." For it was a wild realm, bordered on all sides by foes, with Poland, Bohemia, and Austria, ever casting greedy eyes upon it, and afterwards with the Turk upon the southern border, while the Magyars, or Hungarian nobles, themselves were a fierce and untamable race, bold and generous, but brooking little control, claiming a voice in choosing their own sovereign, and to resist him, even by force of arms, if he broke the laws. No prince had a right to their allegiance unless he had been crowned with St. Stephen's crown; but if he had once worn that sacred circle, he thenceforth was held as the only lawful monarch, unless he should flagrantly violate the Constitution. In 1076, another crown had been given by the Greek emperor to Geysa, King of Hungary, and the sacred crown combined the two. It had the two arches of the Roman crown, and the gold circlet of the Constantinopolitan; and the difference of workmanship was evident.
In the year 1439 died King Albert, who had been appointed King of Hungary in right of his wife, Queen Elizabeth. He left a little daughter only four years old, and as the Magyars had never been governed by a female hand, they proposed to send and offer their crown, and the hand of their young widowed queen, to Wladislas, the King of Poland. But Elizabeth had hopes of another child, and in case it should be a son, she had no mind to give away its rights to its father's throne. How, then, was she to help herself among the proud and determined nobles of her court? One thing was certain, that if once the Polish King were crowned with St. Stephen's crown, it would be his own fault if he were not King of Hungary as long as he lived; but if the crown were not to be found, of course he could not receive it, and the fealty of the nobles would not be pledged to him.
The most trustworthy person she had about her was Helen Kottenner, the lady who had the charge of her little daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and to her she confided her desire that the crown might be secured, so as to prevent the Polish party from getting access to it. Helen herself has written down the history of these strange events, and of her own struggles of mind at the risk she ran, and the doubt whether good would come of the intrigue; and there can be no doubt that, whether the queen's conduct were praiseworthy or not, Helen dared a great peril for the sake purely of loyalty and fidelity. "The queen's commands," she says, "sorely troubled me; for it was a dangerous venture for me and my little children, and I turned it over in my mind what I should do, for I had no one to take counsel of but God alone; and I thought if I did it not, and evil arose therefrom, I should be guilty before God and the world.
So I consented to risk my life on this difficult undertaking; but desired to have some one to help me." This was permitted; but the first person to whom the Lady of Kottenner confided her intention, a Croat, lost his color from alarm, looked like one half dead, and went at once in search of his horse. The next thing that was heard of him was that he had had a bad fall from his horse, and had been obliged to return to Croatia, and the queen remained much alarmed at her plans being known to one so faint-hearted. However, a more courageous confidant was afterwards found in a Hungarian gentleman, whose name has become illegible in Helen's old manuscript.
The crown was in the vaults of the strong castle of Plintenburg, also called Vissegrad, which stands upon a bend of the Danube, about twelve miles from the twin cities of Buda and Pesth. It was in a case, within a chest, sealed with many seals, and since the king's death, it had been brought up by the nobles, who closely guarded both it and the queen, into her apartments, and there examined and replaced it in the chest. The next night, one of the queen's ladies upset a wax taper, without being aware of it, and before the fire was discovered, and put out, the corner of the chest was singed, and a hole burnt in the blue velvet cushion that lay on the top. Upon this, the lords had caused the chest to be taken down again into the vault, and had fastened the doors with many locks and with seals. The castle had further been put into the charge of Ladislas von Gara, the queen's cousin, and Ban, or hereditary commander, of the border troops, and he had given it over to a Burggraf, or seneschal, who had placed his bed in the chamber where was the door leading to the vaults.
The queen removed to Komorn, a castle higher up the Danube, in charge of her faithful cousin, Count Ulric of Eily, taking with her her little daughter Elizabeth, Helen Kottenner, and two other ladies. This was the first stage on the journey to Presburg, where the nobles had wished to lodge the queen, and from thence she sent back Helen to bring the rest of the maids of honor and her goods to join her at Komorn. It was early spring, and snow was still on the ground, and the Lady of Kottenner and her faithful nameless assistant travelled in a sledge; but two Hungarian noblemen went with them, and they had to be most careful in concealing their arrangements. Helen had with her the queen's signet, and keys; and her friend had a file in each shoe, and keys under his black velvet dress.
On arriving in the evening, they found that the Burggraf had fallen ill, and could not sleep in the chamber leading to the vault, because it belonged to the ladies' chambers, and that he had therefore put a cloth over the padlock of the door and sealed it. There was a stove in the room, and the maidens began to pack up their clothes there, an operation that lasted till eight o'clock; while Helen's friend stood there, talking and jesting with them, trying all the while to hide the files, and contriving to say to Helen: "Take care that we have a light." So she begged the old housekeeper to give her plenty of wax tapers, as she had many prayers to say. At last every one was gone to bed, and there only remained in the room with Helen, an old woman, whom she had brought with her, who knew no German, and was fast asleep. Then the accomplice came back through the chapel, which opened into this same hall. He had on his black velvet gown and felt shoes, and was followed by a servant, who, Helen says, was bound to him by oath, and had the same Christian name as himself, this being evidently an additional bond of fidelity.
Helen, who had received from the queen all the keys of this outer room, let them in, and, after the Burggraf's cloth and seal had been removed, they unlocked the padlock and the other two locks of the outer door of the vault, and the two men descended into it. There were several other doors, whose chains required to be filed through, and their seals and locks broken, and to the ears of the waiting Helen the noise appeared fatally loud. She says: "I devoutly prayed to God and the Holy Virgin, that they would support and help me; yet I was in greater anxiety for my soul than for my life, and I prayed to God that He would be merciful to my soul, and rather let me die at once there, than that anything should happen against His will, or that should bring misfortune on my country and people."
She fancied she heard a noise of armed men at the chapel door, but finding nothing there, believed that it was a spirit, and returning to her prayers, vowed, poor lady, to make a pilgrimage to St. Maria Zell, in Styria, if the Holy Virgin's intercessions obtained their success, and till the pilgrimage could be made, "to forego every Saturday night my feather bed!" After another false alarm at a supposed noise at the maidens' door, she ventured into the vault to see how her companions were getting on, when she found they had filed away all the locks, except that of the case containing the crown, and this they were obliged to burn, in spite of their apprehension that the smell and smoke might be observed. They then shut up the chest, replaced the padlocks and chains with those they had brought for the purpose, and renewed the seals with the queen's signet, which, bearing the royal arms, would baffle detection that the seals had been tampered with. They then took the crown into the chapel, where they found a red velvet cushion, so large that by taking out some of the stuffing a hiding-place was made in which the crown was deposited, and the cushion sewn up over it.
By this time day was dawning, the maidens were dressing, and it was the hour for setting off for Komorn. The old woman who had waited on them came to the Lady of Kottenner to have her wages paid, and be dismissed to Buda. While she was waiting, she began to remark on a strange thing lying by the stove, which, to the Lady Helen's great dismay, she perceived to be a bit of the case in which the crown was kept. She tried to prevent the old woman from noticing it, pushed it into the hottest part of the stove, and, by way of further precaution, took the old woman away with her, on the plea of asking the queen to make her a bedeswoman at Vienna, and this was granted to her.
When all was ready, the gentleman desired his servant to take the cushion and put it into the sledge designed for himself and the Lady of Kottenner. The man took it on his shoulders, hiding it under an old ox-hide, with the tail hanging down, to the laughter of all beholders. Helen further records the trying to get some breakfast in the market-place and finding nothing but herrings, also the going to mass, and the care she took not to sit upon the holy crown, though she had to sit on its cushion in the sledge.
They dined at an inn, but took care to keep the cushion in sight, and then in the dusk crossed the Danube on the ice, which was becoming very thin, and half-way across it broke under the maidens'
carriage, so that Helen expected to be lost in the Danube, crown and all. However, though many packages were lost under the ice, her sledge got safe over, as well as all the ladies, some of whom she took into her conveyance, and all safely arrived at the castle of Komorn late in the evening.
The very hour of their arrival a babe was born to the queen and to her exceeding joy it was a son. Count von Eily, hearing "that a king and friend was born to him," had bonfires lighted, and a torchlight procession on the ice that same night, and early in the morning came the Archbishop of Gran to christen the child. The queen wished her faithful Helen to be godmother, but Helen refused in favor of some lady whose family it was probably needful to propitiate. She took off the little princess Elizabeth's mourning for her father and dressed her in red and gold, all the maidens appeared in gay apparel, and there was great rejoicing and thanksgiving when the babe was christened Ladislas, after a sainted king of Hungary.
[Illustration: THEN HE OFFERED A FERVENT PRAYER OF THANKS]
The peril was, however, far from ended; for many of the Magyars had no notion of accepting an infant for their king, and by Easter, the King of Poland was advancing upon Buda to claim the realm to which he had been invited. No one had discovered the abstraction of the crown, and Elizabeth's object was to take her child to Weissenburg, and there have him crowned, so as to disconcert the Polish party. She had sent to Buda for cloth of gold to make him a coronation dress, but it did not come in time, and Helen therefore shut herself into the chapel at Komorn, and, with doors fast bolted, cut up a rich and beautiful vestment of his grandfather's, the Emperor Sigismund, of red and gold, with silver spots, and made it into a tiny coronation robe, with surplice and humeral (or shoulder-piece), the stole and banner, the gloves and shoes. The queen was much alarmed by a report that the Polish party meant to stop her on her way to Weissenburg; and if the baggage should be seized and searched, the discovery of the crown might have fatal consequences. Helen, on this, observed that the king was more important than the crown, and that the best way would be to keep them together; so she wrapped up the crown in a cloth, and hid it under the mattress of his cradle, with a long spoon for mixing his pap upon the top, so, said the queen, he might take care of his crown himself.
On Tuesday before Whitsunday the party set out, escorted by Count Ulric, and several other knights and nobles. After crossing the Danube in a large boat, the queen and her little girl were placed in a carriage, or more probably a litter, the other ladies rode, and the cradle and its precious contents were carried by four men; but this the poor little Lassla, as Helen shortens his lengthy name, resented so much, that he began to scream so loud that she was forced to dismount and carry him in her arms, along a road rendered swampy by much rain.
They found all the villages deserted by the peasants, who had fled into the woods, and as most of their lords were of the other party, they expected an attack, so the little king was put into the carriage with his mother and sister, and the ladies formed a circle round it "that if any one shot at the carriage we might receive the stroke."
When the danger was over the child was taken out again, for he would be content nowhere but in the arms of either his nurse or of faithful Helen, who took turns to carry him on foot nearly all the way, sometimes in a high wind which covered them with dust, sometimes in great heat, sometimes in rain so heavy that Helen's fur pelisse, with which she covered his cradle, had to be wrung out several times. They slept at an inn, round which the gentlemen lighted a circle of fires, and kept watch all night.
Weissenburg was loyal, five hundred armed gentlemen came out to meet them, and on Whitsun Eve they entered the city, Helen carrying her little king in her arms in the midst of a circle of these five hundred holding their naked swords aloft. On Whitsunday, Helen rose early, bathed the little fellow, who was twelve weeks old that day, and dressed him. He was then carried in her arms to the church, beside his mother. According to the old Hungarian customs the choir door was closed,--the burghers were within, and would not open till the new monarch should have taken the great coronation oath to respect the Hungarian liberties and laws.
This oath was taken by the queen in the name of her son, the doors were opened, and all the train entered, the little princess being lifted up to stand by the organ, lest she should be hurt in the throng. First Helen held her charge up to be confirmed, and then she had to hold him while he was knighted, with a richly adorned sword bearing the motto "Indestructible," and by a stout Hungarian knight called Mikosch Weida, who struck with such a good will that Helen felt the blow on her arm, and the queen cried out to him not to hurt the child.
The Archbishop of Gran anointed the little creature, dressed him in the red and gold robe, and put on his head the holy crown, and the people admired to see how straight he held up his neck under it; indeed, they admired the loudness and strength of his cries, when, as the good lady records, "the noble king had little pleasure in his coronation, for he wept aloud." She had to hold him up for the rest of the service, while Count Ulric of Eily held the crown over his head, and afterwards to seat him in a chair in St. Peter's Church, and then he was carried home in his cradle, with the count holding the crown over his head, and the other regalia borne before him.
And thus Ladislas became King of Hungary at twelve weeks old, and was then carried off by his mother into Austria for safety. Whether this secret robbery of the crown, and coronation by stealth, was wise or just on the mother's part is a question not easy of answer--though of course she deemed it her duty to do her utmost for her child's rights. Of Helen Kottenner's deep fidelity and conscientious feeling there can be no doubt, and her having acted with her eyes fully open to the risk she ran, her trust in Heaven overcoming her fears and terrors, rendered her truly a heroine.
The crown has had many other adventures, and afterwards was kept in an apartment of its own in the castle of Ofen, with an antechamber guarded by two grenadiers. The door was of iron, with three locks, and the crown itself was contained in an iron chest with five seals. All this, however, did not prevent it from being taken away and lost in the Revolution of 1849.
A STORY OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS FOR LITTLE CHILDREN
By Elizabeth Harrison
Once upon a time, far across the great ocean there lived a little boy named Christopher. The city in which he lived was called Genoa.
It was on the coast of the great sea, and from the time that little Christopher could first remember he had seen boats come and go across the water. I doubt not that he had little boats of his own which he tried to sail, or paddle about on the small pools near his home.
Soon after he was old enough to read books, which in those days were very scarce and very much valued, he got hold of an account of the wonderful travels of a man named Marco Polo. Over and over again little Christopher read the marvelous stories told by this old traveler, of the strange cities which he had seen and of the dark-colored people whom he had met; of the queer houses; of the wild and beautiful animals he had encountered; of the jewels and perfumes and flowers which he had come across.
All day long the thoughts of little Christopher were busy with this strange far-away land which Marco Polo described. All night long he dreamed of the marvelous sights to be seen on those distant shores. Many a time he went down to the water's edge to watch the queer ships as they slowly disappeared in the dim distance, where the sea and sky seemed to meet. He listened eagerly to everything about the sea and the voyages of adventure, or of trade which were told by the sailors near.
When he was fourteen years old he went to sea with an uncle, who was commander of one of the vessels that came and went from the port of Genoa. For a number of years he thus lived on a vessel, learning everything that he could about the sea. At one time the ship on which he was sailing had a desperate fight with another ship; both took fire and were burned to the water's edge. Christopher Columbus, for that was his full name, only escaped, as did the other sailors, by jumping into the sea and swimming to the shore.
Still this did not cure him of his love for the ocean life.
We find after a time that he left Italy, his native country, and went to live in Portugal, a land near the great sea, whose people were far more venturesome than had been those of Genoa. Here he married a beautiful maiden, whose father had collected a rich store of maps and charts, which showed what was then supposed to be the shape of the earth and told of strange and wonderful voyages which brave sailors had from time to time dared to make out into the then unknown sea. Most people in those days thought it was certain death to any one who ventured very far out on the ocean.
There were all sorts of queer and absurd ideas afloat as to the shape of the earth. Some people thought it was round like a pancake and that the waters which surrounded the land gradually changed into mist and vapor and that he who ventured out into these vapors fell through the mist and clouds down into--they knew not where.
Others believed that there were huge monsters living in the distant waters ready to swallow any sailor who was foolish enough to venture near them.
But Christopher Columbus had grown to be a very wise and thoughtful man, and from all he could learn from the maps of his father-in-law and the books which he read, and from the long talks which he had with some other learned men, he grew more and more certain that the world was round like an orange, and that by sailing westward from the coast of Portugal one could gradually go round the world and find at last the wonderful land of _Cathay_, the strange country which lay far beyond the sea, the accounts of which had so thrilled him as a boy.
We, of course, know that he was right in his belief concerning the shape of the earth, but people in those days laughed him to scorn when he spoke of making a voyage out on the vast and fearful ocean.
In vain he talked and reasoned and argued, and drew maps to explain matters. The more he proved to his own satisfaction that this must be the shape of the world, the more other people shook their heads and called him crazy.
He remembered in his readings of the book of Marco Polo's travels that the people whom Polo had met were heathen who knew little about the God who had made the world, and nothing at all about His Son, Christ Jesus, and as Christopher Columbus loved very dearly the Christian religion, his mind became filled with a longing to carry it across the great seas to this far-away country. The more he thought about it the more he wanted to go, until his whole life was filled with the one thought of how to get hold of some ships to prove that the earth was round, and that these far-away heathens could be reached.
Through some influential friends he obtained admission to the court of the King of Portugal. Eagerly he told the rich monarch of the great enterprise which filled his heart. It was of little or no use, the king was busy with other affairs, and only listened to the words of Columbus as one might listen to the wind. Year after year passed by, Columbus' wife had died, and their one little son, Diego, had grown to be quite a boy. Finally Columbus decided he would leave Portugal and would go over to Spain, a rich country near by, and see if the Spanish monarchs would not give him boats in which to make his longed-for voyage.
The Spanish king was named Ferdinand, and the Spanish queen was a beautiful woman named Isabella. When Columbus told them of his belief that the world was round, and of his desire to help the heathen who lived in this far-off country, they listened attentively to him, for both King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were very earnest people and very desirous that all the world should become Christians; but their ministers and officers of state persuaded them that the whole thing was a foolish dream of an enthusiastic, visionary man; and again Columbus was disappointed in his hope of getting help.
Still he did not give up in despair. _The thought was too great for that_. He sent his brother over to England to see if the English king would not listen to him and give the necessary help, but again he was doomed to disappointment. Only here and there could he find any one who believed that it was possible for him to sail round the earth and reach the land on the other side. Long years passed by. Columbus grew pale and thin with waiting and hoping, with planning arid longing.
Sometimes as he walked along the streets of the Spanish capital people would point their fingers at him and say: "There goes the crazy old man who thinks the world is round." Again and again Columbus tried to persuade the Spanish king and queen that if they would aid him, his discoveries would bring great honor and riches to their kingdom, and that they would also become the benefactors of the world by helping to spread the knowledge of Christ and His religion. Nobody believed in his theory. Nobody was interested in his plan. He grew poorer and poorer.
At last he turned his back on the great Spanish court, and in silent despair he took his little son by the hand and walked a long way to a small seaport called Palos, where there was a queer old convent in which strangers were often entertained by the kind monks who lived in it. Weary and footsore he reached the gate of the convent.
Knocking upon it he asked the porter, who answered the summons, if he would give little Diego a bit of bread and a drink of water.
While the two tired travelers were resting, as the little boy ate his dry crust of bread, the prior of the convent, a man of thought and learning, whose name was Juan Perez, came by and at once saw that these two were no common beggars. He invited them in and questioned Columbus closely about his past life. He listened quietly and thoughtfully to Columbus and his plan of crossing the ocean and converting the heathen to Christianity.
Juan Perez had at one time been a very intimate friend of Queen Isabella; in fact, the priest to whom she told all her sorrows and troubles. He was a quiet man and talked but little. After a long conference with Columbus, in which he was convinced that Columbus was right, he borrowed a mule and getting on his back rode for many miles across the open country to the palace in which the queen was then staying. I do not know how he convinced her of the truth of Columbus' plan, when all the ministers and courtiers and statesmen about her considered it the absurdly foolish and silly dream of an old man; but, somehow, he did it.
He then returned on his mule to the old convent at Palos, and told Columbus to go back once more to the court of Spain and again petition the queen to give him money with which to make his voyage of discovery. The state treasurer said the queen had no money to spare, but this noble-hearted woman, who now, for the first time, realized that it was a grand and glorious thing Columbus wished to do, said she would give her crown jewels for money with which to start Columbus on his dangerous journey across the great ocean.
This meant much in those days, as queens were scarcely considered dignified or respectable if they did not wear crowns of gold inlaid with bright jewels on all public occasions, but Queen Isabella cared far more to send the gospel of Christ over to the heathen than how she might look, or what other people might say about her.
The jewels were pawned and the money was given to Columbus. With a glad heart he hastened back to the little town of Palos where he had left his young son with the kind priest Juan Perez.
But now a new difficulty arose. Enough sailors could not be found who would venture their lives by going out on this unknown voyage with a crazy old man such as Columbus was thought to be. At last the convicts from the prisons were given liberty by the queen on condition that they would go with the sailors and Columbus. So, you see, it was not altogether a very nice crew, still it was the best he could get, and Columbus' heart was so filled with the great work that he was willing to undertake the voyage no matter how great or how, many the difficulties might be. The ships were filled with food and other provisions for a long, long voyage.
Nobody knew how long it would be before the land on the other side could be reached, and many people thought there was no possible hope of its ever being found.