Anne of Geierstein

Anne of Geierstein is the last of the Waverley novels by Walter Scott. They are called Waverley because that is the name of the first in the series published anonymously, and the subsequent books were published as “by the author of Waverley“. I have now finished reading this series of 15 books written between 1814 and 1829. They are formulaic: each is an adventure with a romance, lots of history, a battle or two, and plenty of descriptions of eating. But I was engrossed by all of them and they were a pleasure to read. I previously wrote about two of the most famous Scott novels Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. I had never heard of Anne of Geierstein before finding it in the anthology I was reading from.

The story follows an exiled Lancasterian, defeated by the Yorks in the War of the Roses in Medieval England, who is traveling with his son (the Philipson’s) in Europe to find support for the exiled Queen Margaret to reignite the contest for the English throne. They are passing through the Alps from Italy to seek aid from the most powerful European, Charles the Bold, The Duke of Burgundy. As his nickname implies, Charles was constantly aggressive, always in conflict with one of his neighbors. In the mountains a landslide threatens the English father and son. The son is saved by a local Swiss maiden, Anne of Geierstein. But Geierstein is not in the Swiss Alps, but in Germany along the Rhine. Anne was raised by her uncle Arnold Biederman. Biederman was a noble from Geierstein himself, but voluntarily renounced the baroney to his brother to become a free citizen in the Swiss cantons who had won their independence from the Holy Roman Empire. He was the local Landamman, the elected judge and leader in the Old Swiss Confederacy of the 14th to 18th centuries. The Biederman’s host the Philipson’s for several weeks as they become fast friends with a spark of romance between the son Arthur and Anne. They agree to travel together to see Charles as Biederman is the leader of a diplomatic mission to the Burgundian court to resolve conflicts between the two states. There are several adventures along the way. Of note is a secret trial of the elder Philipson by the Vehmic court, a “”proto-vigilante” tribunal system of Westphalia in Germany active during the later Middle Ages, based on a fraternal organisation of lay judges called “free judges””.

So why bring this book to the attention of LRC readers? There are two passages that I found extraordinarily applicable to a libertarian view of relations with government. I apologize for these very long quotes, it is certainly one of my repeating faults in writing. But in my defense, my raison d’etre as a writer is to share the wealth when I stumble upon treasure.

Both passages occur during a grand meeting in Dijon of Charles with his three Estates, the nobles, clergy, and commoners. The Duke was looking to raise taxes to pay for his wars. The passage below describes the response to this demand from the third estate, and their spokesman, a well-to-do butcher. If only all tradesmen and business owners were of the same stuff as the butcher appropriately named “Block.”

While the herald was absent on his mission, we may remind our readers, that in all feudalized countries (that is to say, ill almost all Europe during the middle ages), an ardent spirit of liberty pervaded the constitution; and the only fault that could be found was, that the privileges and freedom for which the great vassals contended did not sufficiently descend to the lower orders of society, or extend protection to those who were most likely to need it. The two first ranks in the State, the nobles and clergy, enjoyed high and important privileges; and even the third estate, or citizens, had this immunity in peculiar, that no new duties, customs, or taxes of any kind, could be exacted from them save by their own consent. The memory of Duke Philip, the father of Charles, was dear to the Burgundians; for during twenty years that sage prince had maintained his rank amongst the sovereigns of Europe with much dignity, and had accumulated treasure without exacting or receiving any great increase of supplies from the rich countries which he governed. But the extravagant schemes and immoderate expense of Duke Charles had already excited the suspicion of his Estates; and the mutual goodwill betwixt the prince and people began to be exchanged for suspicion and distrust on the one side, and defiance on the other. The refractory disposition of the Estates had of late increased for they had disapproved of various wars in which their Duke had needlessly embarked; and from his levying such large bodies of mercenary troops, they came to suspect he might finally employ the wealth voted to him by his subjects, for the undue extension of his royal prerogative, and the destruction of the liberties of the people.

… the Duke made a sign to one of the tiers etat, or commons, to speak in his turn. The person who obeyed the signal was Martin Block, a wealthy butcher and grazier of Dijon. His words were these : — “ Noble Prince, our fathers were the dutiful subjects of your predecessors; we are the same to you; our children will be alike the liegemen of your successors. But touching the request your chancellor has made to us, it is such as our ancestors never complied with ; such as we are determined to refuse, and such as will never be conceded by the Estates of Burgundy, to any prince whatsoever, even to the end of time.” Charles had borne with impatient silence the speeches of the two former orators, but this blunt and hardy reply of the third Estate excited him beyond what his nature could endure. He gave way to the impetuosity of his disposition, stamped on the floor till the throne shook, and the high vault rung over their heads, and overwhelmed the bold burgher with reproaches. Beast of burden,” he said, “am I to be stunned with thy braying, too? The nobles may claim leave to speak, for they can fight; the clergy may use their tongues, for it is their trade; but thou, that hast never shed blood, save that of bullocks, less stupid than thou art thyself — must thou and thy herd come hither, privileged, forsooth, to bellow at a prince’s footstool? Know, brute as thou art, that steers are never introduced into temples but to be sacrificed, or butchers and mechanics brought before their sovereign, save that they may have the honor to supply the public wants from their own swelling hoards!” A murmur of displeasure, which even the terror of the Duke’s wrath could not repress, ran through the audience at these words; and the burgher of Dijon, a sturdy plebeian, replied, with little reverence, — “ Our purses, my Lord Duke, are our own-we will not put the strings of them into your Highness’s hands, unless we are satisfied with the purposes to which the money is to be applied; and we know well how to protect our persons and our goods against foreign ruffians and plunderers.”

In my most hopeful mind, at this point the citizens started chanting the Medieval equivalent of Let’s Go Brandon.

The Duke was now in a very foul mood when he called on the Swiss envoys to make their presentation. The subsequent address to the Duke by Alfred Beiderman is a libertarian speech worthy of any Randian hero.

… “noble Duke, that we should not be able to speak so as to be understood before your Highness, since, I trust, we shall speak the language of truth, peace, and justice. Nay, should it incline your Highness to listen to us the more favorably for our humility, I am willing to humble myself rather than you should shun to hear us. For my own part, I can truly say, that though I have lived, and by free choice have resolved to die, a husbandman and a hunter on the Alps of the Unterwald, I may claim by birth the hereditary right to speak before Dukes and Kings, and the Emperor himself. There is no one, my Lord Duke, in this proud assembly, who derives his descent from a nobler source than Geierstein.” “We have heard of you,” said the Duke. “Men call you the peasant-count. Your birth is your shame; or perhaps your mother’s, if your father had happened to have a handsome ploughman, the fitting father of one who has become a willing serf.” “No serf, my lord,” answered the Landamman, “but a free man, who will neither oppress others, nor be himself tyrannized over. My father was a noble lord, my mother a most virtuous lady. But I will not be provoked, by taunt or scornful jest, to refrain from stating with calmness what my country has given me in charge to say. The inhabitants of the bleak and inhospitable regions of the Alps desire, mighty sir, to remain at peace with all their neighbors, and to enjoy the government they have chosen, as best fitted to their condition and habits, leaving all other states and countries to their freewill in the same respects. Especially, they desire to remain at peace and in unity with the princely house of Burgundy, whose dominions approach their possessions on so many points. My lord, they desire it, they entreat it, they even consent to pray for it. We have been termed stubborn, intractable, and insolent condemners of authority, and headers of sedition and rebellion. In evidence of the contrary, my Lord Duke, I, who never bent a knee but to Heaven, feel no dishonor in kneeling before your Highness, as before a sovereign prince in the cour pleniere of his dominions, where he has a right to exact homage from his subjects out of duty, and from strangers out of courtesy. No vain pride of mine,” said the noble old man, his eyes swelling with tears, as he knelt on one knee, “shall prevent me from personal humiliation, when peace — that blessed peace, so dear to God, so inappreciably valuable to man — is in danger of being broken off.” The whole assembly, even the Duke himself, were affected by the noble and stately manner in which the brave old man made a genuflection, which was obviously dictated by neither meanness nor timidity. “Arise, sir,” said Charles ; “if we have said aught which can wound your private feelings, we retract it as publicly as the reproach was spoken, and sit prepared to hear you as a fair-meaning envoy.” “For that, my noble Lord, thanks; and I shall hold it a blessed day if I can find words worthy of the cause I have to plead. My lord, a schedule in your Highness’s hands has stated the sense of many injuries received at the hand of your Highness’s officers, and those of Romont, Count of Savoy, your strict ally and adviser, we have a right to suppose, under your Highness’s countenance. For Count Romont — he has already delt with whom he has to continued; but we have as yet taken no measures to avenge injuries, affronts, interruptions to our commerce, from those who have availed themselves of your Highness’s authority to intercept our countrymen, spoil our goods, impress their persons, and even, in some instances, take their lives. The affray at La Ferette — I can vouch for what I saw — had no origin or abettance from us; nevertheless, it is impossible an independent nation can suffer the repetition of such injuries, and free and independent we are determined to remain, or to die in defence of our rights. What then must follow, unless your Highness listens to the terms which I am commissioned to offer? War, a war to extermination for so long as one of our Confederacy can wield a halberd, so long, if this fatal strife once commences, there will be war betwixt your powerful realms and our poor and barren states. And what can the noble Duke of Burgundy gain by such a strife? — is it wealth and plunder? Alas, my Lord, there is more gold and silver on the very bridle-bits of your Highness’s household troops than can be found in the public treasures or private hoards of our whole Confederacy. Is it fame and glory you aspire to? There is little honor to be won by a numerous army over a few scattered bands, by men clad in mail over half-armed husbandmen and shepherds — of such conquest small were the glory. But if, as all Christian men believe, and as it is the constant trust of my countrymen, from memory of the times of our fathers, — if the Lord of Hosts should cast the balance in behalf of the fewer numbers and worse-armed party, I leave it with your Highness to judge, what would, in that event, be the diminution of worship and fame. Is it extent of vassalage and dominion your Highness desires, by warring with your mountain neighbors? Know that you may, if it be God’s will, gain our barren and rugged mountains but, like our ancestors of old, we will seek refuge in wilder and more distant solitudes, and when we have resisted to the last, we will starve in the icy wastes of the Glaciers. Ay, men, women, and children, we will be frozen into annihilation together, ere one free Switzer will acknowledge a foreign master.” The speech of the Landamman made an obvious impression on the assembly. The Duke observed it, and his hereditary obstinacy was irritated by the general disposition which he saw entertained in favor of the ambassador. This evil principle overcame some impression which the address of the noble Biederman had not failed to make upon him. He answered with a lowering brow, interrupting the old man as he was about to continue his speech — “You argue falsely, Sir Count, or Sir Landamman, or by whatever name you call yourself, if you think we war on you from any hope of spoil, or any desire of glory. We know as well as you can tell us, that there is neither profit nor fame to be achieved by conquering you. Put sovereigns, to whom Heaven has given the power, must root out a band of robbers, though there is dishonor in measuring swords with them; and we hunt to death a herd of wolves, though their flesh is carrion, and their skins are nought.” The Landamman shook his gray head, and replied. without testifying emotion, and even with something approaching to a smile — “I am an older woodsman than you, my Lord Duke — and it may be a more experienced one. The boldest, the hardiest hunter, will not safely drive the wolf to his den. I have shown your Highness the poor chance of gain, and the great risk of loss, which even you, powerful as you are, must incur by asking a war with determined and desperate men. Let me now tell what we are willing to do to secure a sincere and lasting peace with our powerful neighbor of Burgundy Your Grace is in the act of engrossing Lorraine, and it seems probable, under so vigorous and enterprising a Prince, your authority may be extended to the shores of the Mediterranean — be our noble friend and sincere ally, and our mountains, defended by warriors familiar with victory, will be your barriers against Germany and Italy. For your sake we will admit the Count of Savoy to terms, and restore to him our conquests, on such conditions as your Highness shall yourself judge reasonable. Of past subjects of offence on the part of your lieutenants and governors upon the frontier, we will be silent, so we have assurance of no such aggressions in future. Nay, more, and it is my last and proudest offer, we will send three thousand of our youth to assist your Highness in any war which you may engage in, whether against Louis of France, or the Emperor of Germany. They are a different set of men — proudly and truly may I state it — from the scum of Germany and Italy, who form themselves into mercenary bands of soldiers. And if Heaven should decide your Highness to accept our offer, there will be one corps in your army which will leave their carcasses on the field ere a man of them break their plighted troth.”

The Duke was too headstrong to listen to reason. He wanted war and he was going to get it. So Biederman made his final response.

“Then farewell peace, and welcome war,” said the Landamman; “and be its plagues and curses on the heads of those who choose blood and strife rather than peace and union. We will meet you on our frontiers with our naked swords, but the hilts, not their points, shall be in our grasp. Charles of Burgundy, Flanders, and Lorraine, Duke of seven dukedoms, Count of seventeen earldoms, I bid you defiance; and declare war against you in the name of the Confederated Cantons, and such others as shall adhere to them. There,” he said, “are my letters of defiance.”

Actually, I would say Biederman is more worthy than Rand’s heroes such as Howard Roark and John Galt. He is as strong as them, but he exhibits even greater strength of will that allows him to be humble. Even his name, “Arnold Biederman,” brings to mind the kid who is bullied, more than a great leader and fierce warrior. Scott’s story reflects the known history in which the Swiss free cantons, allied with the Duke of Lorraine, defeated the Burgundians and the Duke’s mercenaries in three successive battles. At the battle of Grandson he was forced to “abandon his artillery along with an immense booty, including his silver bath and the crown jewel called The Three Brothers commissioned by his grandfather Duke John the Fearless…. Charles succeeded in raising a fresh army of 30,000 men that he used to fight the Battle of Morat. He was again defeated by the Swiss army, which was assisted by the cavalry of the Duke of Lorraine. On this occasion, unlike the debacle at Grandson, little booty was lost, but Charles did lose about one third of his entire army. The defeated soldiers were pushed into the nearby lake, where they were drowned or shot at while trying to swim to safety on the opposite shore.” Finally, Charles lost Nancy, where he was killed. In the fictional account by Scott, Charles is assassinated by the representatives of the Vehmic court.

So dear LRC readers, take note of these fictional heroes the butcher Block and the Landamman Biederman. If their spirit can be infused in all the people (especially the leaders), freedom will have a much better chance to flourish in this world.

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