About a hundred years had passed since the death of Charlemagne,
and his great empire had fallen to pieces. Seven kings ruled where
he had once been sole emperor.
West of the Rhine, where the Germans lived, the last descendant of
Charlemagne died when he was a mere boy. The German nobles were
not willing for any foreign prince to govern them, and yet they saw
that they must unite to defend their country against the invasions
of the barbarians called Magyars (ma-järz'). So they met and
elected Conrad, duke of Franconia, to be their king.
However, although he became king in name, Conrad never had much
power over his nobles. Some of them refused to recognize him as
king and his reign was disturbed by quarrels and wars. He died in
919, and on his death-bed he said to his brother, "Henry, Duke of
Saxony, is the ablest ruler in the empire. Elect him king, and
Germany will have peace."
A few months after Conrad's death, the nobles met at Aix-la-Chapelle
and elected Henry to be their king.
At this time it was the custom in Europe to hunt various birds,
such as the wild duck and partridge, with falcons. The falcons were
long-winged birds of prey, resembling hawks. They were trained to
perch on their master's wrist and wait patiently until they were
told to fly. Then they would swiftly dart at their prey and bear
it to the ground. Henry was very fond of falconry and hence was
known as Henry the Fowler, or Falconer.
As soon as the other dukes had elected him king a messenger was
sent to Saxony to inform him of the honor done him. After a search
of some days he was at last found, far up in the Hartz Mountains,
hunting with his falcons. Kneeling at his feet, the messenger
"God save you, Henry of Saxony. I come to announce the death of
King Conrad and to tell you that the nobles have elected you to
succeed him as king of the Germans."
For a moment the duke was speechless with amazement. Then he
"Elected me king? I cannot believe it. I am a Saxon, and King
Conrad was a Frank and a bitter enemy to me."
"It is true," replied the messenger. "Conrad, when dying, advised
that the nobles should choose you as his successor."
Henry was silent for while and then he said, "King Conrad was a
good man. I know it now; and I am sorry that I did not understand
him better when he was alive. I accept the position offered to me
and I pray that I may be guided by Heaven in ruling his people."
So Henry the Fowler left the chase to take up his duties as king
of the Germans.
In proper time Henry was proclaimed king of Germany; but he was hardly
seated on the throne when the country was invaded by thousands of
Magyars, from the land which we now know as Hungary.
As soon as possible Henry gathered an army and marched to meet the
barbarians. He came upon a small force under the command of the
son of the Magyar king. The Germans easily routed the Magyars and
took the king's son prisoner.
This proved to be a very fortunate thing, because it stopped the
war for a long term of years. When the Magyar king learned that
his son was a prisoner in the hands of King Henry he was overwhelmed
with grief. He mourned for his son day and night and at last sent
to the German camp a Magyar chief with a flag of truce, to bet that
the prince might be given up.
"Our king says that he will give whatever you demand for the release
of his son," said the chief to the German monarch.
"I will give up the prince on this condition only," was the reply,
"the Magyars must leave the soil of Germany immediately and promise
not to war on us for nine years. During those years I will pay to
the king yearly five thousand pieces of gold."
"I accept the terms in the king's name," responded the chief. The
prince was, therefore, given up and the Magyars withdrew.
During the nine years of truce King Henry paid great attention to
the organization of an army. Before this the German soldiers had
fought chiefly on foot, not, as the Magyars did, on horseback.
For this reason they were at a great disadvantage in battle. The
king now raised a strong force of horsemen and had them drilled so
thoroughly that they became almost invincible. The infantry also
were carefully drilled.
Besides this, Henry built a number of forts in different parts of
his kingdom and had all the fortified cities made stronger.
The following year the Magyar chief appeared at the German court
and demanded a tenth payment.
"Not a piece of gold will be given you," replied King Henry. "Our
truce is ended."
In less than a week a vast body of Magyars entered Germany to
renew the war. Henry held his army in waiting until lack of food
compelled the barbarians to divide their forces into two separate
bodies. One division was sent to one part of the country, the
other to another part.
Henry completely routed both divisions, and the power of the Magyars
in Germany was broken.
The Danes also invaded Henry's kingdom, but he defeated them and
drove them back.
Henry reigned for eighteen years; and when he died all Germany was
peaceful and prosperous. His son Otto succeeded him. He assumed
the title of "Emperor," which Charlemagne had borne more than a
hundred years before.
From that time on, for nearly one thousand years, all the German
emperors claimed to be the successors of Charlemagne. They called
their domain "the Holy Roman Empire," and took the title "Emperor"
or "Emperor of the Romans," until the year 1806, when Francis II