History of Friedrich II

By Thomas Carlyle



Chapter 4




This Ascanien, happily, has nothing to do with Brute of Troy or the pious AEneas`s son; it is simply the name of a most ancient Castle (etymology unknown to me, ruins still dimly traceable) on the north slope of the Hartz Mountains; short way from Aschersleben,--the Castle and Town of Aschersleben are, so to speak, a second edition of Ascanien. Ballenstadt is still older; Ballenstadt was of age in Charlemagne`s time; and is still a respectable little Town in that upland range of country. The kindred, called GRAFS and ultimately HERZOGS (Dukes) of "Ascanien and Ballenstadt," are very famous in old German History, especially down from this date. Some reckon that they had intermittently been Markgrafs, in their region, long before this; which is conceivable enough: at all events it is very plain they did now attain the Office in SALZWEDEL (straightway shifting it to Brandenburg); and held it continuously, it and much else that lay adjacent, for centuries, in a highly conspicuous manner.

In Brandenburg they lasted for about two hundred years; in their Saxon dignities, the younger branch of them did not die out (and give place to the Wettins that now are) for five hundred. Nay they have still their representatives on the Earth: Leopold of Anhalt- Dessau, celebrated "Old Dessauer," come of the junior branches, is lineal head of the kin in Friedrich Wilhelm`s time (while our little Fritzchen lies asleep in his cradle at Berlin); and a certain Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, Colonel in the Prussian Army, authentic PRINCE, but with purse much shorter than pedigree, will have a Daughter by and by, who will go to Russia, and become almost too conspicuous, as Catharine II., there!--

"Brandenburg now as afterwards," says one of my old Papers, "was officially reckoned SAXON; part of the big Duchy of Saxony; where certain famed BILLUNGS, lineage of an old `Count Billung` (connected or not with BILLINGS-gate in our country, I do not know) had long borne sway. Of which big old Billungs I will say nothing at all;--this only, that they died out; and a certain Albert, `Count of Ascanien and Ballenstadt` (say, of ANHALT, in modern terms), whose mother was one of their daughters, came in for the northern part of their inheritance. He made a clutch at the Southern too, but did not long retain that. Being a man very swift and very sharp, at once nimble and strong, in the huge scramble that there then was,--Uncle Billung dead without heirs, a SALIC line of emperors going or gone out, and a HOHENSTAUFFEN not yet come in,--he made a rich game of it for himself; the rather as Lothar, the intermediate Kaiser, was his cousin, and there were other good cards which he played well.

"This is he they call `Albert the Bear ( Albrecht der Bar );` first of the ASCANIEN Markgraves of Brandenburg; --first wholly definite MARKGRAF OF BRANDENBURG that there is; once a very shining figure in the world, though now fallen dim enough again. It is evident he had a quick eye, as well as a strong hand; and could pick what way was straightest among crooked things. He got the Northern part of what is still called Saxony, and kept it in his family; got the Brandenburg Countries withal, got the Lausitz; was the shining figure and great man of the North in his day. The Markgrafdom of SALZWEDEL (which soon became of BRANDENBURG) he very naturally acquired (A.D. 1142 or earlier); very naturally, considering what Saxon and other honors and possessions he had already got hold of."--

We can only say, it was the luckiest of events for Brandenburg, and the beginning of all the better destinies it has had. A conspicuous Country ever since in the world, and which grows ever more so in our late times.

He had many wars; inextricable coil of claimings, quarrellings and agreeings: fought much,--fought in Italy, too, "against the Pagans" (Saracens, that is). Cousin to one Kaiser, the Lothar above named; then a chief stay of the Hohenstauffen, of the two Hohenstauffens who followed: a restless, much-managing, wide- warring man. He stood true by the great Barbarossa, second of the Hohenstauffen, greatest of all the Kaisers; which was a luck for him, and perhaps a merit. He kept well with three Kaisers in his time. Had great quarrels with "Henry the Lion" about that "Billung" Saxon Heritage; Henry carrying off the better part of it from Albert. Except that same Henry, head of the Guelphs or Welfs, who had not Albert`s talent, though wider lands than Albert, there was no German prince so important in that time.

He transferred the Markgrafdom to BRANDENBURG, probably as more central in his wide lands; SALZWEDEL is henceforth the led Markgrafdom or MARCK, and soon falls out of notice in the world. Salzwedel is called henceforth ever since the "Old Marck (Alte Marck, Altmarck );" the Brandenburg countries getting the name of "New Marck." Modern NEUMARK, modern "Middle- Marck" (in which stands Brandenburg itself in our time), "UCKER- Marck" (OUTSIDE Marck,--word UCKER is still seen in UKRAINE, for instance): these are posterior Divisions, fallen upon as Brandenburg (under Albert chiefly) enlarged itself, and needed new Official parcellings into departments.

Under Albert the Markgrafdom had risen to be an ELECTORATE withal. The Markgraf of Brandenburg was now furthermore the KURFURST of Brandenburg; officially "Arch-treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire; "and one of the Seven who have a right (which became about this time an exclusive one for those Seven) to choose, to KIEREN the Romish Kaiser; and who are therefore called KUR Princes, KURFURSTE or Electors, as the highest dignity except the Kaiser`s own. In reference to which abstruse matter, likely to concern us somewhat, will the uninstructed English reader consent to the following Excerpt, slightly elucidatory of KURFURSTS and their function?

"FURST (Prince) I suppose is equivalent originally to our noun of number, First. The old verb KIEREN (participle ERKOREN still in use, not to mention `Val-KYR` and other instances) is essentially the same word as our CHOOSE, being written KIESEN as well as KIEREN. Nay, say the etymologists, it is also written KUSSEN (to KISS,--to CHOOSE with such emphasis!), and is not likely to fall obsolete in that form.--The other Six Electoral Dignitaries who grew to Eight by degrees, and may be worth noting once by the readers of this Book; are:--

"1. Three Ecclesiastical, MAINZ, COLN, TRIER (Mentz, Cologne, Treves), Archbishops all, with sovereignty and territory more or less considerable;--who used to be elected as Popes are, theoretically by their respective Chapters and the Heavenly Inspirations, but practically by the intrigues and pressures of the neighboring Potentates, especially France and Austria.

"2. Three Secular, SACHSEN, PFALZ, BOHMEN (Saxony, Palatinate, Bohemia); of which the last, BOHMEN, since it fell from being a Kingdom in itself, to being a Province of Austria, is not very vocal in the Diets. These Six, with Brandenburg, are the Seven Kurfursts in old time; SEPTEMVIRS of the Country, so to speak.

"But now PFALZ, in the Thirty-Years War (under our Prince Rupert`s Father, whom the Germans call the `Winter-King`), got abrogated, put to the ban, so far as an indignant Kaiser could; and the vote and KUR of Pfalz was given to his Cousin of BAIERN (Bavaria),-- so far as an indignant Kaiser could. However, at the Peace of Westphalia (1648) it was found incompetent to any Kaiser to abrogate PFULZ or the like of Pfalz, a Kurfurst of the Empire. So, after jargon inconceivable, it was settled, That PFALZ must be reinstated, though with territories much clipped, and at the bottom of the list, not the top as formerly; and that BAIERN, who could not stand to be balked after twenty years` possession, must be made EIGHTH Elector. The NINTH, we saw (Year 1692), was Gentleman Ernst of HANOVER. There never was any Tenth; and the Holy ROMISCHE REICH, which was a grand object once, but had gone about in a superannuated and plainly crazy state for some centuries back, was at last put out of pain, by Napoleon, `6th August, 1806,` and allowed to cease from this world." [Ms. penes me.]

None of Albert`s wars are so comfortable to reflect on as those he had with the anarchic Wends; whom he now fairly beat to powder, and either swept away, or else damped down into Christianity and keeping of the peace. Swept them away otherwise; "peopling their lands extensively with Colonists from Holland, whom an inroad of the sea had rendered homeless there." Which surely was a useful exchange. Nothing better is known to me of Albert the Bear than this his introducing large numbers of Dutch Netherlanders into those countries; men thrown out of work, who already knew how to deal with bog and sand, by mixing and delving, and who first taught Brandenburg what greenness and cow-pasture was. The Wends, in presence of such things, could not but consent more and more to efface themselves,--either to become German, and grow milk and cheese in the Dutch manner, or to disappear from the world.

The Wendish Princes had a taste for German wives; in which just taste the Albert genealogy was extremely willing to indulge them. Affinities produce inheritances; by proper marriage-contracts you can settle on what side the most contingent inheritance shall at length fall. Dim but pretty certain lies a time coming when the Wendish Princes also shall have effaced themselves; and all shall be German-Brandenburgish, not Wendish any more.--The actual Inhabitants of Brandenburg, therefore, are either come of Dutch Bog-farmers, or are simple Lower SAXONS ("Anglo-Saxon," if you like that better), PLATT-TEUTSCH of the common type; an unexceptionable breed of people. Streaks of Wendish population, extruded gradually into the remoter quagmires, and more inaccessible, less valuable sedgy moors and sea-strands, are scattered about; Mecklenburg, which still subsists separately after a sort, is reckoned peculiarly Wendish. In Mecklenburg, Pommern, Pommerellen (Little Pomerania), are still to be seen physiognomies of a Wendish or Vandalic type (more of cheek than there ought to be, and less of brow; otherwise good enough physiognomies of their kind): but the general mass, tempered with such admixtures, is of the Platt-Deutsch, Saxon or even Anglish character we are familiar with here at home. A patient stout people; meaning considerable things, and very incapable of speaking what it means.

Albert was a fine tall figure himself; DER SCHONE, "Albert the Handsome," was his name as often as "Albert the Bear." That latter epithet he got, not from his looks or qualities, but merely from his heraldic cognizance: a Bear on his shield. As was then the mode of names; surnames being scant, and not yet fixedly in existence. Thus too his contemporaries, Henry THE LION of Saxony and Welfdom, William THE LION of Scotland, were not, either of them, specially leonine men: nor had the PLANTAGENETS, or Geoffrey of Anjou, any connection with the PLANT of BROOM, except wearing a twig of it in their caps on occasion. Men are glad to get some designation for a grand Albert they are often speaking of, which shall distinguish him from the many small ones. Albert "the Bear, DER BAR," will do as well as another.

It was this one first that made Brandenburg peaceable and notable. We might call him the second founder of Brandenburg; he, in the middle of the Twelfth Century, completed for it what Henry the Fowler had begun early in the Tenth. After two hundred and fifty years of barking and worrying, the Wends are now finally reduced to silence; their anarchy well buried, and wholesome Dutch cabbage planted over it: Albert did several great things in the world; but, this, for posterity, remains his memorable feat. Not done quite easily; but, done: big destinies of Nations or of Persons are not founded GRATIS in this world. He had a sore toilsome time of it, coercing, warring, managing among his fellow-creatures, while his day`s work lasted,--fifty years or so, for it began early. He died in his Castle of Ballenstadt, peaceably among the Hartz Mountains at last, in the year 1170, age about sixty-five. It was in the time while Thomas a Becket was roving about the world, coming home excommunicative, and finally getting killed in Canterbury Cathedral;--while Abbot Samson, still a poor little brown Boy, came over from Norfolk, holding by his mother`s hand, to St. Edmundsbury; having seen "SANTANAS s with outspread wings" fearfully busy in this world.






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