Monday, April 28, 2014

Brandenburg Pawned

Featuring Thomas Carlyle

Previously on The House of Hohenzollern Established in Brandenburg

Time: 1387
Place:  Berlin, Brandenburg

No end of troubles to Sigismund, and to Brandenburg through him, from this sublime Hungarian legacy. Like a remote fabulous golden fleece, which you have to go and conquer first, and which is worth little when conquered. Before ever setting out (1387), Sigismund saw too clearly that he would have cash to raise: an operation he had never done with, all his life afterward. He pawned Brandenburg to cousin Jobst of Mähren; got "twenty thousand Bohemian gulden"--I guess, a most slender sum, if Dryasdust would but interpret it. This was the beginning of pawnings to Brandenburg; of which when will the end be? Jobst thereby came into Brandenburg on his own right for the time, not as tutor or guardian, which he had hitherto been. Into Brandenburg; and there was no chance of repayment to get him out again.

Jobst tried at first to do some governing; but finding all very anarchic, grew unhopeful; took to making matters easy for himself. Took, in fact, to turning a penny on his pawn-ticket; alienating crown domains, winking hard at robber barons, and the like--and after a few years, went home to Moravia, leaving Brandenburg to shift for itself, under a Statthalter (Viceregent, more like a hungry land-steward), whom nobody took the trouble of respecting. Robber castles flourished; all else decayed. No highway not unsafe; many a Turpin with sixteen quarters, and styling himself Edle Herr (noble gentleman), took to "living from the saddle": what are Hamburg pedlers made for but to be robbed?

The towns suffered much; any trade they might have had, going to wreck in this manner. Not to speak of private feuds, which abounded ad libitum. Neighboring potentates, Archbishop of Magdeburg and others, struck in also at discretion, as they had gradually got accustomed to do, and snapped away some convenient bit of territory, or, more legitimately, they came across to coerce, at their own hand, this or the other Edle Herr of the Turpin sort, whom there was no other way of getting at, when he carried matters quite too high. "Droves of six hundred swine"--I have seen (by reading in those old books) certain noble gentlemen, "of Putlitz," I think, driving them openly, captured by the stronger hand; and have heard the short querulous squeak of the bristly creatures: "What is the use of being a pig at all, if I am to be stolen in this way, and surreptitiously made into ham?" Pigs do continue to be bred in Brandenburg: but it is under such discouragements. Agriculture, trade, well-being and well-doing of any kind, it is not encouragement they are meeting here. Probably few countries, not even Ireland, have a worse outlook, unless help come.

Jobst came back in 1398, after eight years' absence; but no help came with Jobst. The Neumark of Brandenburg, which was brother Johann's portion, had fallen home to Sigismund, brother Johann having died; but Sigismund, far from redeeming old pawn-tickets with the Neumark, pawned the Neumark too--the second pawnage of Brandenburg. Pawned the Neumark to the Teutsch Ritters "for sixty-three thousand Hungarian gulden" (I think, about thirty thousand pounds), and gave no part of it to Jobst; had not nearly enough for himself and his Hungarian occasions.

Seeing which, and hearing such squeak of pigs surreptitiously driven, with little but discordant sights and sounds everywhere, Jobst became disgusted with the matter; and resolved to wash his hands of it, at least to have his money out of it again. Having sold what of the domains he could to persons of quality, at an uncommonly easy rate, and so pocketed what ready cash there was among them, he made over his pawn-ticket, or properly he himself repawned Brandenburg to the Saxon potentate, a speculative moneyed man, Markgraf of Meissen, "Wilhelm the Rich," so called. Pawned it to Wilhelm the Rich--sum not named; and went home to Moravia, there to wait events. This is the third Brandenburg pawning: let us hope there may be a fourth and last.

And so we have now reached that point in Brandenburg history when, if some help does not come, Brandenburg will not long be a country, but will either get dissipated in pieces and stuck to the edge of others where some government is, or else go waste again and fall to the bisons and wild bears.

Who now is Kurfürst of Brandenburg, might be a question. "I unquestionably!" Sigismund would answer, with astonishment. "Soft, your Hungarian Majesty," thinks Jobst: "till my cash is paid may it not probably be another?" This question has its interest: the Electors just now (1400) are about deposing Wenzel; must choose some better Kaiser. If they wanted another scion of the house of Luxemburg--a mature old gentleman of sixty; full of plans, plausibilities, pretensions--Jobst is their man. Jobst and Sigismund were of one mind as to Wenzel's going; at least Sigismund voted clearly so, and Jobst said nothing counter: but the Kurfürsts did not think of Jobst for successor. After some stumbling, they fixed upon Rupert Kur-Pfalz (Elector Palatine, Ruprecht von der Pfalz) as Kaiser.

Rupert of the Pfalz proved a highly respectable Kaiser; lasted for ten years (1400-10), with honor to himself and the Reich. A strong heart, strong head, but short of means. He chastised petty mutiny with vigor, could not bring down the Milanese Visconti, who had perched themselves so high on money paid to Wenzel; could not heal the schism of the Church (double or triple Pope, Rome-Avignon affair), or awaken the Reich to a sense of its old dignity and present loose condition. In the late loose times, as antiquaries remark, most members of the Empire, petty princes even and imperial towns, had been struggling to set up for themselves; and were now concerned chiefly to become sovereign in their own territories. And Schilter informs us it was about this period that most of them attained such rather unblessed consummation; Rupert of himself not able to help it, with all his willingness. The people called him "Rupert Klemm (Rupert Smith's-vise)," from his resolute ways; which nickname--given him not in hatred, but partly in satirical good-will—is itself a kind of history. From historians of the Reich he deserves honorable regretful mention.


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