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was called the Crown of St. Stephen, so called from one, which had, in the year 1000, been presented by Pope Sylvester II. to Stephen, the second Christian Duke, and first king of Hungary. A crown and a cross were given to him for his coronation, which took place in the Church of the Holy Virgin, at Alba Regale, also called in German Weissenburg, where thenceforth the kings of Hungary were anointed to begin their troubled reigns, and at the close of them were laid to rest beneath the pavement, where most of them might have used the same epitaph as the old Italian leader : “He rests here, who never rested before.” For it was a wild realm, bordered on all sides by foes, with Poland, Bohemia, and Austria, ever casting greedy eyes upon it, and afterwards with the Turk upon the southern border, while the Magyars, or Hungarian nobles, themselves were a fierce and untamable race, bold and generous, but brooking little control, claiming a voice in choosing their own sovereign, and to resist him, even by force of arms, if he broke the laws. No prince had a right to their allegiance unless he had been crowned with St. Stephen's Crown ; but if he had once worn that sacred circle, he thenceforth was held as the only lawful monarch, unless he should flagrantly violate the Constitution. In 1076, another crown had been given by the Greek emperor to Geysa, king of Hungary, and the sacred crown combined the two. It had the two arches of the Roman crown, and the gold circlet of the Constantinopolitan ; and the difference of workmanship was evident.
In the year 1439 died King Albert, who had been appointed king of Hungary in right of his wife, Queen Elizabeth.
He left a little daughter only four years old, and as the Magyars had never been governed by a female hand, they proposed to send and offer their crown, and the hand of their young widowed queen, to Wladislas, the king of Poland. But Elizabeth had hopes of another child, and in case it should be a son, she had no mind to give away its rights to its father's throne. How, then, was she to help herself among the proud and determined nobles of her court? One thing was certain, that if once the Polish king were crowned with St. Stephen's Crown, it would be his own fault if he were not king of Hungary as long as he lived; but if the crown were not to be found, of course he could not receive it, and the fealty of the nobles would not be pledged to him.
The most trustworthy person she had about her was Helen Kottenner, the lady who had the charge of her little daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and to her she confided her desire that the crown might be secured, so as to prevent the Polish party from getting access to it. Helen herself has written down the history of these strange events, and of her own struggles of mind, at the risk she ran, and the doubt whether good would come of the intrigue ; and there can be no doubt that, whether the queen’s conduct were praiseworthy or not, Helen dared a great peril for the sake purely of loyalty
and fidelity. “The queen's commands,” she says, “sorely troubled me; for it was a dangerous venture for me and my little children, and I turned it over in my mind what I should do, for I had no one to take counsel of but God alone; and I thought if I did it not, and evil arose therefrom, I should be guilty before God and the world. So I consented to risk my life on this difficult undertaking; but desired to have some one to help me.” This was permitted ; but the first person to whom the Lady of Kottenner confided her intention, a Croat, lost his color from alarm, looked like one half dead, and went at once in search of his horse. The next thing that was heard of him was that he had had a bad fall from his horse, and had been obliged to return to Croatia, and the queen remained much alarmed at her plans being known to one so faint-hearted. However, a more courageous confidant was afterwards found in a Hungarian gentleman, whose name has become illegible in Helen's old manuscript.
The crown was in the vaults of the strong castle of Plintenburg, also called Vissegrad, which stands upon a bend of the Danube, about twelve miles from the twin cities of Buda and Pesth.
It was in a case, within a chest, sealed with many seals, and since the king's death, it had been brought up by the nobles, who closely guarded both it and the queen, into her apartments, and there examined and replaced it in the chest. The next night, one of the queen's ladies upset a wax taper, without being aware of it, and before the fire was discovered, and put out, the corner of the chest was singed, and a hole burnt in the blue velvet cushion that lay on the top. Upon this, the lords had caused the chest to be taken down again into the vault, and had fastened the doors with many locks and with seals. The castle had further been put into the charge of Ladislas von Gara, the queen's cousin, and Ban, or hereditary commander, of the border troops, and he had given it over to a Burggraf, or seneschal, who had placed his bed in the chamber where was the door leading to the vaults.
The queen removed to Komorn, a castle higher up the Danube, in charge of her faithful cousin, Count Ulric of Eily, taking with her her little daughter Elizabeth, Helen Kottenner, and two other ladies. This was the first stage on the journey to Presburg, where the nobles had wished to lodge the queen, and from thence she sent back Helen to bring the rest of the maids of honor and her goods to join her at Komorn. It was early spring, and snow was still on the ground, and the Lady of Kottenner and her faithful nameless assistant travelled in a sledge ; but two Hungarian noblemen went with them, and they had to be most careful in concealing their arrangements. Helen had with her the queen's signet, and keys ; and her friend had a file in each shoe, and keys under his black velvet dress.
On arriving in the evening, they found that the Burggraf had fallen ill, and could not sleep in the chamber leading to the vault, because it belonged to the ladies' chambers, and that he had therefore put a cloth over the paddock of the door and sealed it. There was a stove in the room, and the maidens began to pack up their clothes there, an operation that lasted till eight o'clock; while Helen's friend stood - there, talking and jesting with them, trying all the while to hide the files, and contriving to say to Helen : “ Take care that we have a light.” So she begged the old housekeeper to give her plenty of wax tapers, as she had many prayers to say. At last every one was gone to bed, and there only remained in the room with Helen, an old woman, whom she had brought with her, who knew no Ger
man, and was fast asleep. Then the accomplice came back through the chapel, which opened into this same hall. He had on his black velvet gown and felt shoes; and was followed by a servant, who, Helen says, was bound to him by oath, and had the same Christian name as himself
, this being evidently an additional bond of fidelity. Helen, who had received from the queen all the keys of this outer room, let them in, and, after the Burggraf's cloth and seal had been removed, they unlocked the padlock, and the other two locks of the outer door of the vault, and the two men descended into it. There were several other doors, whose chains required to be filed through, and their seals and locks broken, and to the ears of the waiting Helen the noise appeared fatally loud. She says: “I devoutly prayed to God and the Holy Virgin, that they would support and help me; yet I was in greater anxiety for my soul than for my life, and I prayed to God that He would be merciful to my soul, and rather let me die at once there, than that anything should happen against His will, or that should bring misfortune on my country and people.”
She fancied she heard a noise of armed men at the chapel door, but finding nothing there, believed,
not in her own nervous agitation, a thing not yet invented, — that it was a spirit, and returning to her prayers, vowed, poor lady, to make a pilgrimage to St. Maria Zell, in Styria, if the Holy Virgin's intercessions obtained their success, and, till the pilgrimage could be made, “ to forego every Saturday night my feather bed !” After another false alarm at a supposed noise at the maidens' door, she ventured into the vault to see how her companions were getting on, when she found they had filed away all the locks, except that of the case containing the crown, and this they were obliged to burn, in spite of their apprehension that the smell and smoke might be