Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

that the stranger resembled him so exactly in voice, features, and manner, that they were fully convinced of his identity with their long regretted Baldwin. The nobles put to him many searching questions, and his answers displayed an intimate acquaintance with the history of the country, and with the pedigree, heraldry, &c., of every high family in Flanders and Hainault. The aristocracy, the citizens, the populace all avowed their full persuasion of his truth, and paid him the homage due to their hereditary Count.

It

But the Countess Jane repudiated his pretensions with passionate indignation, denouncing him as a shameless impostor. He requested to see her, declaring that he would be able, in a personal interview, to convince her of his being her father. Yet she positively refused ever to admit him into her presence; a circumstance which was interpreted to her disadvantage. was argued, that if her heart owned one touch of nature, she would have been anxious to look upon one who so closely resembled the parent that she bad not seen since her childhood, or if she had any sense of justice, she would have permitted the man whom she stigmatized an opportunity of justifying himself (if he could do so) but it seemed as though she feared to see him, lest she might be in danger of conviction, contrary to her stubborn resolution of holding fast the dominion which could not be hers if her father was still living. It was her interest to prejudge and condemn the stranger; it was said that she, who was cruel to a husband for the sake of power, could also be unnatural to a parent. But her councillors, for the sake of some pretence of justice, advised her to permit them to investigate the case, and they accordingly invited the stranger to appear before them.

He came, dignified, calm, and collected, though they interrogated him in a harsh and menacing manner, on the particulars of his alleged escape, and on his reasons for re-appearing in Flanders, rather than in the Greek capital. He rebuked them for their discourtesies, and proceeded to relate that he had been imprisoned for many years, in a close and secret dungeon, by the Bulgarian King; but at length, his guards relaxing their vigilance, he found means to elude them. But while making his way through the country, he was unfortunately taken by a band of marauders, who did not suspect him to be more than an ordinary person. He was brought by them into Syria, sold as a slave, and employed in the most irksome toils.

During a truce between the Christians and the Saracens, some German merchants were travelling in Syria, and halted to refresh themselves near the place where he was at work. Hearing them converse in German, he approached, and accosting them in the same language, related to them his misfortunes. Touched with compassion they purchased him from his master (who was ignorant of his rank); they brought him to Europe, and he hastened at once to his native land. To have gone to Constantinople would (he said) have been injurious to his interests. His brother Henry, and his brother-in-law, Peter de Courtenay, were both dead, and their successor would not readily acknowledge claims that would take the sceptre from his hand. Besides, a journey to Constantinople would be replete with danger from the enmity of the Greeks. He preferred, therefore, repairing to Flanders, and appealing to the fidelity of his native subjects, and the filial instincts of his child.

The stranger was still speaking with energy, when the Grand Treasurer, as though dreading the effect of his words upon the hearers, abruptly dissolved the council, affirming that it was not lawful to debate or decide upon a case of so much moment, without first ascertaining the will and pleasure of the Countess.

The nobles and people of Flanders and Hainault, however, almost unanimously declared in favour of the stranger, and the then King of England, Henry III., felt so certain of his being truly the imperial Baldwin, that he sent him a letter, congratulating him on his restoration to liberty, and sympathizing with his sorrows. Thus powerfully supported, the stranger determined on compelling the Countess Jane to give him the audience that she so obstinately and so suspiciously refused; and arriving with a large body of followers, at Quesnoy, where Jane then was, he very nearly succeeded in taking her by surprize, but she effected her escape, and fled to claim the assistance of the King of France, Louis VIII., who being the son of Isabella of Hainault, first wife of Philip Augustus, was cousin-german to Jane. But the Flemings conceived an additional disgust to the Countess, for appealing to a monarch, who, like his father, held her husband, Ferrand, in fetters.

Louis cited the supposed Baldwin to appear before him at Compeigne; and he granted him a safe-conduct, for coming and returning. The stranger obeyed the summons, as emanating from the feudal Suzerain to whom the counts of Flanders owed

fealty; and he presented himself at the appointed place with the same composed and noble mien, as when he appeared before the Flemish Council. It was the interests of King Louis that Flanders should be subject to a passion-led woman, rather than to an approved statesman and warrior such as Baldwin (supposing that he survived in the person of the stranger); it was, therefore, only natural that he, too, should be determined to pre-judge and condemn the candidate.

The French King and his councillors assumed a menacing and yet a mocking tone, to disconcert and confuse the feeble attenuated old man; disregarding the intimate knowledge of all Flemish affairs of state, &c., displayed by the mysterious personage, Louis announced that he would limit his investigation to three questions, viz., 1st., in what place did Baldwin, Count of Flanders, do homage to Philip Augustus for his fiefs? 2dly., in what place, and at what time, did he receive knighthoood? 3dly., in what place and on what day was he married to Mary of Champagne ?

On these three questions hung the fate of the old man : and they were questions on which Baldwin might have hesitated. In how many brilliant scenes had the Count of Flanders been a chief actor from his youth! he had been a knight in many tournaments, a General in many battles, a Prince in many Courts and Councils; he had been a feudal hereditary ruler, and an elected Emperor; he had done homage as the former, he had received it as the latter : he had twice done homage for his fiefs, in 1195 to the Emperor Henry at Metz, and to Philip Augustus at Compeigne: after a lapse of thirty years (ten of them years of pomp, and important occupations, and twenty years of solitude and suffering) his memory might hesitate to distinguish at once between the places and the times of those acts-and if he were Baldwin (which we ourselves verily believe), he had endured imprisonment and slavery, he had suffered intensely in mind and body. As he was of advanced age it was quite natural that when he was suddenly questioned on the pomps of his youth, on his investitures, his knighthood, and his marriage, his memory should become bewildered by the phantasmagoria of half faded and mingling

The lapses of Recollection are many and capricious; we knew a man of extraordinary learning, sound judgment, and powerful memory, who lived nearly 40 years in affectionate union with a beloved wife, but never could remember in what season of the year they were married.

scenes and events that those questions called forth-he hesitated he tried to arrange his recollections-but the look of triumph in the King's countenance, and the malicious sneers of the prejudiced councillors, increased (as they intended) his embarrassment. He acknowledged the confusion of his ideas, and accounted for it; and requested a delay of three days, to give him time for reflection, and for the uninterrupted exertions of memory. But Louis would grant no delay, listen to no reasoning, and pronouncing the stranger a self-convicted impostor, dismissed the assembly in an ebullition of rage.

We may here remark, with regard to the mysterious stranger, that many highly respectable and authentic foreign historians have recorded their belief that he was, in truth, the man he professed to be. Among these authors are Sismondi (Histoire des Français) Michelet (Histoire de France), and Michaud (Histoire des Crusades). On the other side, among those who believe him an impostor, are De Rocolles (Histoire des Imposteurs Insignes), Moreri (Dictionnaire Historique), and the author of L'Art de Verifier les Dates. But we think the evidence in favor of the stranger preponderates, when we remember that he was acknowledged by the nobles and people of his native states, and by a king who had no interest to bias him either way, Henry III. of England.

To resume. Though Louis the Eighth pronounced the stranger a deceiver, yet respecting the royal safe-conduct he had given him when summoned to Compeigne, he did not issue orders to arrest him, but commanded him to quit France, within three days, on pain of death. The adherents of the unfortunate man, disappointed by the issue of the conference, alarmed at the hostility of the French King, and the fury of their own Countess, abandoned him whom they still firmly believed to be their rightful lord. Thus forsaken, he retired to Valenciennes, and attempted to pass in the disguise of a trader through Burgundy but he was recognised by a Burgundian gentleman, named Erard Castenac, who getting him into his power by affecting sympathy, sold him for 4000 marks of silver to the unfeeling Countess Jane. She caused her captive to be put to the most excruciating tortures, in the agony of which he was compelled to sign a ready-prepared confession to the effect, that he was a native of Champagne, that his real name was Bertrand de Rains: that he had lived for some time in a forest near Valenciennes, as a hermit; and knowing that the

:

discontented Flemings lamented the loss of their Count Baldwin, and arguing the possibility of his being still alive, he was struck with the idea of personating him, and to that end took pains to acquire adequate information on all necessary points; and when an opportunity that appeared favourable arrived, he discovered himself as the revered and regretted Baldwin.

When Jane had extorted his signature to this prepared confession, she ordered her miserable captive to be tied upon a horse, and paraded, with every mark of contempt, through the principal towns of Flanders and Hainault, preceded by a crier proclaiming the alleged imposture and confession: and not satisfied with this punishment, she caused him to be publicly hanged on a gibbet at Lisle. It is recorded, that after the execution, the hard-hearted, unwomanly Countess received an undeniable proof that her victim was indeed her own unhappy father. When at the foot of the gibbet he entreated a trust-worthy person to remind her of a secret known only to her father, her mother, and her nurse; and the two. latter had been dead for many years, and certainly never re vealed it to others. It is added that the Countess was seized with a deep remorse; and as an act of expiation, she founded at Lisle, for the repose of the sufferer's soul, an hospital, called "the Hospital of the Countess ;" and she directed a gibbet to be represented in its escutcheon, on the windows, the walls, and all the furniture, hangings, &c. This singular circumstance confirmed the Flemings in their belief that the Countess was a parricide.

Among the dark destinies of illustrious persons recorded by history, there is none more miserable than that of Baldwin (admitting that the stranger was he). To fall from a throne to a dungeon, to exchange complaisant courtiers for barbarous persecutors is not without parallel-but after years of suffering and captivity, to hasten home, full of affection and hope, trusting in the love of children, and the fidelity of friends, to find his most implacable enemy in his own first-born; to be denied her presence after a lengthened separation; to be refused even the chance of recognition, to be tortured on the rack, exposed to public shame, hanged like a common felon by the sentence of his own child, the daughter whom he had dreamed would have healed his wounded heart-the imagination shudders in trying to realize the dreadful picture!

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »