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From A Literary Source-book of the German Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 42-47.



Maximilian I., emperor of Germany from 1493 to 1519, son of Frederick III., emperor and founder of the Hapsburg power in modern Europe, was born in 1459. In 1477 Maximilian married Mary of Burgundy, heiress of Charles the Bold, thereby securing to his line the succession to the rich possessions of the house of Burgundy.

In addition to his patronage of literature and the arts, Maximilian found leisure for literary composition. Among the works attributed to him are the Theuerdank, a poetical allegory, setting forth the adventures of his courtship, and the Weisskunig, a general record of his life, in prose. Just what part may be ascribed to Maximilian in the preparation of this work is uncertain. It is believed, however, that the emperor furnished the material, and that the literary form, of the Weisskunig at least, was the contribution of his secretary, Treitzsauerwein.

FROM THE Weisskunig.*

How the Queen gave birth to a son.

When now the time of the child’s birth drew near, there was seen, but as yet not clearly, a comet in the sky, and it gave rise to many opinions. The old white king, likewise the exiled prince and all the folk of the entire kingdom cried aloud to God, with great devotion, asking that through his divine grace all the people might have occasion to rejoice in the queen’s safe delivery. When any Christian man contemplates the mighty grace which Almighty God conferred upon them both in this world, as for example, the highest spiritual and temporal honor of their coronation at Rome; and when he thinks as well of their piety and humility, that in their love of God they visited and sought to honor all holy places in the City of Rome and elsewhere; then he need not doubt that God heard this prayer out of his benign tenderness, for all good things come from God. And on this day and at the hour of the child’s birth the selfsame comet appeared much larger than before and gave forth a clear and brilliant light. Although comets, for many reasons, usually make melancholy the heart of him who looks upon them, yet this comet with its glow was pleasing to look upon, so that each heart was moved at the sight of the comet, and thereby its special influence was a sign and revelation of the child’s birth. In the midst of this 43 appearance of the comet, the queen, through the divine grace granted and bestowed upon her, in the city called the Neustadt, bore her child with gentle pains, and was in her delivery greatly rejoiced, because the child was a beautiful son. Then out of joy they began to ring the bells and throughout the whole kingdom were lighted countless fires of rejoicing. How great was the joy of the old white king and all the people of his kingdom, over this happy birth. Now when this child was born, the comet ceased at once with its glow, whereby it is to be recognized that the same comet was a token of the child’s future rule and of his wondrous deeds. And the exiled prince recognized that by this comet his counsel was confirmed through the influence of heaven, and he also requested that he might raise the child from the baptismal font, to which office he was called by the old white king, since the prince himself was born of kingly race. One thing will I make known: that when this child came to his years and to his rule, he was most victorious and most warlike, and to look upon his countenance he was most gracious, which indeed is wonderful to see in one who is warlike and of all most warlike; in this may be recognized the comet’s bold and frank appearance, and its gracious aspect, as a token of the future.

Note, that the king’s countenance is likened to this gracious aspect.

How the young white king learned the black art.

In this advancement of the young white king, his father, the old white king, took great satisfaction, and his heart beat so high with joy that a terror seized him when he thought that all joys should have their source in the praise and honor of God; and in this manner his spirit was deeply moved to consider the future upholding of the Christian faith. How great was his emotion! He recalled how in former times, powerful kings in their later years were fallen away from the true belief into a new faith, all of which had come about solely through the seduction of the black art. Much is to be written thereof, but as a proof of what I write, this same art is forbidden in the Christian faith and by the ordinances of imperial law, and exterminated, whereby it must be let alone, for the soul’s salvation and for the increase of our faith. Although this art is damning to the soul and an injury to our faith, yet the human spirit is so weak and diseased 44 in its constancy, in its determination to discover hidden things, that this art, whose false basis and unreality is hidden, is so very dear to man that many come thereby into error and despair. Now the young white king often heard speak of this art, and from time to time he chanced to see the very ablest writings, wherein this art is set forth. In the midst of the joy and the contemplation of the old white king, as related above, the young white king came to him. Then spake the father to the son: “What think you and how do you regard the black art, which is a damnation to the soul, and a crime and seduction to men? Are you not disposed to learn it?” Thus did the father for the purpose of making evident to him the hidden seduction, and to plant future doubts. The son gave him answer: “St. Paul, that most excellent teacher of the Christian faith, writes and commands us that we shall learn all things and experience all things, but avoid the ill and cleave to that which is good.” Thereupon spake the father to the son: “Go hence and take to yourself the most learned man in the black art, and investigate it thoroughly; but bear in mind the first commandment of God: Thou shalt believe in one God; and also St. Paul’s teaching, which you have just indicated to me.” The young white king sought out an especially learned man in the black art, who began to teach him with uncommon industry, with the idea that this same art should be looked upon by the prince as good and useful and held dear. And when the white king had studied it for a time, and satisfied himself of its uselessness, he discovered that the art was contrary to the first commandment of God, which reads: Thou shalt believe in one God; and for the first time he understood St. Paul’s teaching, for he who has not experience of it easily believes, and thereby it often comes about that he is led astray. For a while the learned man disputed with the young king, in order to discover his spirit and his desire, and then he said to him: “This art is an art whereby great lords may increase their power.” Then asked the young white king of him, whether there were more gods than one. Thereupon he answered: “There is but one God.” Upon this answer the young white king said; “You have spoken truly, and thereby is the black art vain, and the learning which I have discovered in the same, the seduction of our faith.” From this speech the learned man easily perceived that he was sufficiently wandered in this lore. With how great 45 wisdom had the old king made the reflection above related, and how prolific of usefulness was it to the Christian faith; for when the young white king came into his years and into his powerful reign, he permitted no unbelief nor heresy to be kindled or spread abroad, which, however, have often obtained the upper hand; and indeed it has happened from time to time that, through the confidence and by permission of inexperienced men, men of evil have been strengthened in their desperate enterprises and have adhered to them, a thing which these kings through their careful experience and their especial wisdom have avoided, to the salvation and happiness of their souls and to the maintenance of the Christian religion.

How the young white king came to the young queen, and how he was received.

When the young white king was on his way to visit the aforesaid young queen, then was this announced to the two queens aforesaid. Thereupon they were filled with great joy and wrote at once to all their retainers, and let them now as well of the approach of the young white king. The retainers tarried not, but came without hindrance to the two queens. Then counsel was taken of them as to how the young white king should be received. Thereupon was written to the young white king, he should come into the city named Ghent, and the two queens, with their retainers, would also come thither; and as soon as this letter had been dispatched to the young white king, the two queens, with their retainers, drew into the said city and there awaited the arrival of the young white king, who, after a few days, himself came thither; and on the same day that he entered the city there rode toward him, first, the citizens of the city, most elegantly arrayed, then all the retainers, princes, bishops, prelates, counts, lords, knights and squires, a great multitude; then the whole clergy, with all the sacred relics, in a procession, and all the people of the city, and received the young white king with great honor and high distinction, and with especial joy; and he too rode into the city, with great concourse, in costly array and royal honors, and all who saw him felt an especial pleasure in his beautiful youth and upright bearing, and the common folk said, they had never seen a finer youth, and they were filled with amazement, that the old white king, his father, should have sent his son, in the beauty of his youth, so far into a foreign land; and the young 46 king was festively entertained at his lodging, which was decorated for him in the richest manner. The two queens had prepared towards evening a grand banquet, and sent to the young king persons of high degree, to invite him to the banquet, where the two queens would receive him in person; and when he would go to the banquet he dressed and adorned himself with elegant clothes and jewels, and went with his princes, nobles and knights, in royal array to the banquet. Then night came on and the throng was great, and there were many torches, for each wished to see the young white king. Meanwhile the two queens were alone together in an apartment, and conversing together said that they would like to see the young king secretly. Thereupon the old queen, the young queen’s mother, disguised herself in strange garments and went secretly and unknown out of the apartment into the hall, where the young white king should come. Now the crowd of people was so great that for a long time the old queen was unable to get past, and was obliged secretly to seek, and when finally she came past the people, at that same moment the young white king entered the hall, and when he was pointed out to her at first she would not believe that it was the young white king, for she thought he was too handsome, and that she had never seen a youth so fine, and she tarried to see which of all really was the young white king. And now she saw that all honor was done to this same handsome youth, and moreover that he was escorted by the mighty archbishops and princes, and that this youth could be no other than the young white king. Thereupon the old queen went in haste to her daughter, the young queen, in her chamber, and said from the depths of her heart: “O daughter, no such beautiful youth have I seen as the young white king, and this young king shall be thy lord and consort, and no other.” From these words it is seen that the king of France and his son came to grief with their secret wooing, which I have mentioned before.

For the young white king was indeed a comely youth, well built in body and bone, and had a sweet and lovely countenance and wonderfully beautiful yellow hair; he was called, on account of his beauty and his fitness, the white king with the gracious countenance. Now when the young white king stood in the middle of the hall, the two queens advanced to him with great elegance and received him with royal honors, with great joy and 47 friendliness. And as soon as the young queen saw the young white king she was much pleased with his person, and with this same contentment her heart became inflamed with honorable love toward him. In this same hour, with her royal consent, the marriage was confidentially discussed and joyfully determined upon, and thereafter the banquet with great enjoyment carried out. How rich in joy was indeed this banquet, where such a royal marriage, between two persons of the greatest worth and beauty was concluded!


*  Der Weiss Kunig: eine Erzehlung von den Thaten Kaiser Maximilian I., von M. Treitzsaurwein auf dessen Angeben zusammengetragen, nebet den von H. Burgmair dazu verfertigten Holzschnitten. Wien, 1775.

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