Memoirs of the House of Brandenburg

by Frederick the Great

A New Translation by Levi Bookin


Albert was nicknamed Achilles and Ulysses, because of his prudence and his valor; he was fifty-seven years old when his brother ceded the government to him. He had performed his best actions when he was but Burgrave of Nuremberg; as Margrave of Bayreuth and Ansbach, he made war on Ludwig the Bearded, Duke of Bavaria, and even took him prisoner. He won eight battles against the Nuremburgers, who had revolted and disputed his rights to the burgraviate. Risking his life, he took a standard from a guidon of the city, fighting singlehandedly against sixteen men until his people came to his assistance. He seized the city of Greifenberg, as Alexander had taken the capital of the Oxydraques, jumping alone from the top of the walls into the city, where he fought, until his troops,having forced the gates,rescued him. Albert governed nearly all the Empire, because of the trust the Emperor Frederick 3rd had in him. He conducted the Imperial armies against Ludwig the Rich, Duke of Bavaria, and against Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, who had laid siege to Nuys, but Albert persuaded this prince to make peace. It was this negotiation that acquired him the nickname of Ulysses, and he always merited that of Achilles, whether at the head of his troops in combat, or in the games of mock warfare that were so strongly in fashion in those days. He won the prize in seventeen tourneys, and was never unhorsed.

The custom of these combats seems to be French in origin. It was possibly the Moors, who inundated Spain, who established it in France with their romantic gallantry. One finds in the history of the Franks that a certain Godefroi of Preuilly, who lived in the year 1060, revived these tournaments. However, Charles the Bald, who lived in the year 844, had already held one at Strasbourg, when his brother Louis of Germany went to see him. This custom had been accepted in England since the year 1114, and Richard, King of Great Britain, established it in his kingdom in the year 1194. John Cantacuzenus said that at the marriage of Anne of Savoy with the Greek Emperor, Andronicus Paleologus, that one of these combats, the custom of which derived from the Gauls, was celebrated in 1226. People were often killed when the combat got out of hand. We read in Henry Knighton that at a tourney at Chalons in 1274, held because of a meeting between King Edward of England and the Duke of Burgundy, many Burgundian and English knights were killed on the spot. Tourneys had been accepted in Germany since the year 1136.

Arms-bearing knights sent letters of challenge from one end of Europe to the other, bearing the approximate message that, bored with a cowardly idleness, a certain prince desired combat in order to give some exercise to his valor and to proclaim his skill. They notified the date, the number of knights, the type of arms, and the place where the tournament was to be held; and required defeated knights to give to the victorious a bracelet of gold, and a bracelet of silver to their squires. The popes protested against these dangerous entertainments. Innocent 2nd, in 1140, and subsequently Eugene 3rd, at the Lateran council in 1313, exploded with anathemas and pronounced excommunication against those who attended these combats. But, despite their authority, the popes could do nothing against this fatal custom, which conveyed a false glory and a false gallantry. The coarseness of the customs of the time used it for spectacle, entertainment, and occupation, fitting the barbarity of the century which gave birth to it. Following these excommunications, history makes mention of the tournament of Charles 6th, King of France, which was held at Cambrai in 1385; that of Francis 1st, which was held between Ardres and Guines in 1520; and that of Paris in 1559. At the latter, Henry 2nd was wounded in the eye by a splinter from the lance of the Count of Montgomery, causing the death of this king eleven days later.

It is therefore apparent that it was a great accomplishment for Albert Achilles to have won the prize in seventeen tournaments and that, in those uncouth days, they set the same value on bodily skill as was made in the time of Homer. Rather than to war-like virtues, our more enlightened century attaches its esteem to the talents of the spirit and to those virtues which, raising a man almost above of his status, make him tread his passions underfoot and thus render him charitable, generous, and helpful.

Upon the abdication of his brother in 1470, Albert Achilles united his Franconian possessions with the Electorate. After taking on the government, he made a treaty of confraternity in the year 1473 with the houses of Saxony and Hesse, which arranged between them the succession of their states in the event that one of their lines became extinguished. The same year, he arranged his own succession between his sons: the Electorate fell to John, known as Cicero; the second of his sons had Bayreuth; and the youngest, Ansbach. Albert eventually abdicated the Electorate, in 1476, in favor of John Cicero. The marriage of his daughter Barbara to Henry, Duke of Glogau and Crossen caused this last duchy to pass to the house of Brandenburg. The marriage contract provided that, in the event of Duke Henry dying without children, the Elector would have the right to levy fifty thousand ducats annually from the duchy of Crossen. It came about: John Cicero took possession of the city of Crossen and kept this acquisition. The third son of Albert Achilles, Frederick the Old, Margrave of Ansbach, was the grandfather of the George-Frederick who received the Duchy of Jaegerndorf from the King of Bohemia. It is not superfluous to record at this point, that this duke, George of Ansbach and Jaegerndorf, made a contract with the dukes of Oppeln and of Ratibor, by which the survivors inherited those who died without children. These two dukes did not leave any descendants and George gained the succession of these duchies. Subsequently, George was stripped of Oppeln and of Ratibor by Ferdinand, brother of Charles 5th and heir of the kingdom of Bohemia, and by way of compensation, was promised a sum of hundred thirty thousand florins, which was never paid.

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