Sunday, May 4, 2014

Brandenburg Sold

Featuring Thomas Carlyle

Previously on The House of Hohenzollern Established in Brandenburg

Time: April 30, 1415
Place:  Berlin, Germany

How Jobst's pawn-ticket was settled I never clearly heard; but can guess it was by Burggraf Friedrich's advancing the money, in the pinch above indicated, or paying it afterward to Jobst's heirs whoever they were. Thus much is certain: Burggraf Friedrich, these three years and more (ever since July 8, 1411) holds Sigismund's deed of acknowledgment "for one hundred thousand gulden lent at various times"; and has likewise got the Electorate of Brandenburg in pledge for that sum; and does himself administer the said Electorate till he be paid. This is the important news; but this is not all.

The new journey into Spain requires new money; this council itself, with such a pomp as suited Sigismund, has cost him endless money. Brandenburg, torn to ruins in the way we saw, is a sorrowful matter; and, except the title of it, as a feather in one's cap, is worth nothing to Sigismund. And he is still short of money; and will forever be. Why could not he give up Brandenburg altogether; since, instead of paying, he is still making new loans from Burggraf Friedrich; and the hope of ever paying were mere lunacy! Sigismund revolves these sad thoughts too, amid his world-wide diplomacies, and efforts to heal the Church. "Pledged for one hundred thousand gulden," sadly ruminates Sigismund; "and fifty thousand more borrowed since, by little and little; and more ever needed, especially for this grand Spanish journey!" these were his sad thoughts. "Advance me, in a round sum, two hundred and fifty thousand more," said he to Burggraf Friedrich, "two hundred and fifty thousand more, for my manifold occasions in this time--that will be four hundred thousand in whole--and take the Electorate of Brandenburg to yourself, Land, Titles, Sovereign, Electorship and all, and make me rid of it!" That was the settlement adopted, in Sigismund's apartment at Constance, on April 30, 1415; signed, sealed, and ratified--and the money paid. A very notable event in World-History; virtually completed on the day we mention.

The ceremony of investiture did not take place till two years afterward, when the Spanish journey had proved fruitless, when much else of fruitless had come and gone and Kaiser and council were probably more at leisure for such a thing. Done at length it was by Kaiser Sigismund in almost gala, with the Grandees of the Empire assisting, and august members of the council and world in general looking on; in the big square or market-place of Constance, April 17, 1417; is to be found described in Rentsch, from Nauclerus and the old news-mongers of the times. Very grand indeed: much processioning on horseback, under powerful trumpet-peals and flourishes; much stately kneeling, stately rising, stepping backward (done well, _zierlich_, on the Kurfürst's part); liberal expenditure of cloth and pomp; in short, "above one hundred thousand people looking on from roofs and windows," and Kaiser Sigismund in all his glory. He was on a high platform in the market-place, with stairs to it; the illustrious Kaiser--red as a flamingo, "with scarlet mantle and crown of gold,"--a treat to the eyes of simple mankind.

What sum of modern money, in real purchasing power, this "four hundred thousand Hungarian Gold Gulden" is, I have inquired in the likely quarters without result; and it is probable no man exactly knows. The latest existing representative of the ancient gold gulden is the ducat, worth generally a half-sovereign in English. Taking the sum at that latest rate, it amounts to two hundred thousand pounds; and the reader can use that as a note of memory for the sale-price of Brandenburg with all its lands and honors--multiplying it perhaps by four or six to bring out its effective amount in current coin. Dog cheap, it must be owned, for size and capability; but in the most waste condition, full of mutiny, injustice, anarchy, and highway robbery; a purchase that might have proved dear enough to another man than Burggraf Friedrich.

But so, at any rate, moribund Brandenburg has got its Hohenzollern Kurfürst, and started on a new career it little dreamt of; and we can now, right willingly, quit Sigismund and the Reichs-History, leave Kaiser Sigismund to sink or swim at his own will henceforth. His grand feat in life, the wonder of his generation, was this same Council of Constance; which proved entirely a failure; one of the largest wind-eggs ever dropped with noise and travail in this world. Two hundred thousand human creatures, reckoned and reckoning themselves the elixir of the intellect and dignity of Europe. Two hundred thousand--nay some, counting the lower menials and numerous unfortunate females, say four hundred thousand--were got congregated into that little Swiss town; and there as an Ecumenic Council, or solemnly distilled elixir of what pious intellect and valor could be scraped together in the world, they labored with all their select might for four years' space. That was the Council of Constance. And except this transfer of Brandenburg to Friedrich of Hohenzollern, resulting from said council, in the quite reverse and involuntary way, one sees not what good result it had.

They did, indeed, burn Huss; but that could not be called a beneficial incident; that seemed to Sigismund and the council a most small and insignificant one. And it kindled Bohemia, and kindled Rhinoceros Ziska, into never-imagined flame of vengeance; brought mere disaster, disgrace, and defeat on defeat to Sigismund, and kept his hands full for the rest of his life, however small he had thought it. As for the sublime four years' deliberations and debates of this Sanhedrim of the Universe--eloquent debates, conducted, we may say, under such extent of wig as was never seen before or since--they have fallen wholly to the domain of Dryasdust; and amount, for mankind at this time, to zero plus the burning of Huss. On the whole, Burggraf Friedrich's Electorship, and the first Hohenzollern to Brandenburg, is the one good result.

Continued on May 5, 2014

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