A CASTLE AMONG THE CRAGS
Like the Israelites of old, mankind is prone to worship false gods, and persistently sets up the brazen image of a sham hero, as its idol. I should like to write the history of the world, if for no other reason than to assist several well-established heroes down from their pedestals. Great Charlemagne might come to earth’s level, his patriarchal, flowing beard might drop from his face, and we might see him as he really was—a plucked and toothless old savage, with no more Christianity than Jacob, and with all of Jacob’s greed. Richard of England, styled by hero-worshippers “The Lion-hearted,” might be re-christened “The Wolf-hearted,” and the famous Du Guesclin might seem to us a half-brutish vagabond. But Charles of Burgundy, dubbed by this prone world “The Bold” and “The Rash,” would take the greatest fall. Of him and his fair daughter I shall speak in this history.
At the time of which I write Louis XI reigned over France, Edward IV ruled in England, and his sister, the beautiful Margaret of York, was the unhappy wife of this Charles the Rash, and stepmother to his gentle daughter Mary. Charles, though only a duke in name, reigned as a most potent and despotic king over the fair rich land of Burgundy. Frederick of Styria was head of the great house of Hapsburg, and Count Maximilian, my young friend and pupil, was his heir.
Of the other rulers of Europe I need not speak, since they will not enter this narrative. They were all bad enough,—and may God have mercy on their souls.
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Most of the really tragic parts in the great drama of history have been played by women. This truth I had always dimly known, yet one does not really know a fact until he feels it. I did not realize the extent to which these poor women of history have suffered in the matter of enforced marriages, until the truth was brought home to me in the person of Mary, Princess of Burgundy, to whose castle, Peronne La Pucelle, my pupil, Maximilian of Hapsburg, and I made a journey in the year 1476.
My knowledge of this fair lady began in far-off Styria, and there I shall begin my story.
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In times of peace, life in Hapsburg Castle was dull; in times of war it was doleful. War is always grievous, but my good mistress, the Duchess of Styria, was ever in such painful dread lest evil should befall her only child, Maximilian, that the pains of war-time were rendered doubly keen to those who loved Her Grace.
After Maximilian had reached the fighting age there was too little war to suit him. Up to his eighteenth year he had thrice gone out to war, and these expeditions were heart-breaking trials for his mother. Although tied to his mother’s apron strings by bonds of mutual love, he burned with the fire and ambition of youth; while I, reaching well toward my threescore years, had almost outlived the lust for strife. Max longed to spread his wings, but the conditions of his birth held him chained to the rocks of Styria, on the pinnacle of his family’s empty greatness.