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Albert the Bear (c. 1100 – 18 November 1170) first Margrave of Brandenburg from 1157 to his death and Duke of Saxony between 1138 and 1142


MEANWHILE our first enigmatic set of Markgraves, or Deputy-Markgraves, at Brandenburg, are likewise faring ill. Whoever these valiant steel-gray gentlemen might be (which Dryasdust does not the least know, and only makes you more uncertain the more he pretends to tell), one thing is very evident, they had no peaceable possession of the place, nor for above a hundred years, a constant one on any terms. The Wends were highly disinclined to conversion and obedience: once and again, and still again, they burst up; got temporary hold of Brandenburg, hoping to keep it; and did frightful heterodoxies there. So that to our distressed imagination those poor "Markgraves of Witekind descent", our first set in Brandenburg, become altogether shadowy, intermittent, enigmatic, painfully actual as they once were. Take one instance, omitting others; which happily proves to be the finish of that first shadowy line, and introduces us to a new set very slightly more substantial.

End of the First Shadowy Line.

In the year 1023, near a century after Henry the Fowler's feat, the Wends bursting up in never-imagined fury, get hold of Brandenburg again, for the third and, one would fain hope, the last time. The reason was, words spoken by the then Markgraf of Brandenburg, Dietrich or Theodoric, last of the Witekind Markgraves; who hearing that a Cousin of his (Markgraf or Deputy-Markgraf like himself) was about wedding his daughter to "Mistevoi King of the Wends," said too earnestly : "Don't! Will you give your daughter to a dog?" Word "dog" was used, says my authority. Which threw King Mistevoi into a paroxysm, and raised the Wends. Their butchery of the German population in poor Brandenburg, especially of the Priests; their burning of the Cathedral, and of Church and State generally, may be conceived. The Harlungsberg, in our time Marienberg, pleasant Hill near Brandenburg, with its gardens, vines, and whitened cottages : on the top of this Harlungsberg the Wends "set up their god Triglaph;" a three-headed Monster of which I have seen prints, beyond measure ugly. Something like three whale's-cubs combined by boiling, or a triple porpoise dead-drunk (for the dull eyes are inexpressible, as well as the amorphous shape) : ugliest and stupidest of all false gods. This these victorious Wends set up on the Harlungsberg, Year 1023; and worshipped after their sort, benighted mortals, with joy, for a time. The Cathedral was in ashes, Priests all slain or fled, shadowy Markgraves the like; Church and State lay in ashes; and Triglaph, like a Triple Porpoise under the influence of laudanum, stood (I know not whether on his head or on his tail) aloft on the Harlungsberg, as the Supreme of this Universe, for the time being.

Second Shadowy Line.

Whereupon the Ditmarsch-Stade Markgrafs (as some designate
them) had to interfere, these shadowy Deputies of the Witekind breed having vanished in that manner. The Ditmarschers recovered the place; and with some fighting, did in the main at least keep Triglaph and the Wends out of it in time coming. The Wends were fiercely troublesome, and fought much; but I think they never actually got hold of Brandenburg again. They were beginning to get notions of conversion: well preached to and well beaten upon, you cannot hold out forever. Even Mistevoi at one time professed tendencies to Christianity; perhaps partly for his Bride's sake, the dog, we may call him, in a milder sense! But he relapsed dreadfully, after that insult; and his son worse. On the other hand, Mistevoi's grandson was so zealous he went about with the Missionary Preachers, and interpreted their German into Wendish: "Oh, my poor Wends, will you hear, then, will you understand? This solid Earth is but a shadow: Heaven forever or else Hell forever, that is the reality!". Such "difference between right and wrong" no Wend had heard of before: quite tremendously
"important if true!". And doubtless it impressed many. There are heavy Ditmarsch strokes for the unimpressible. By degrees all got converted, though many were killed first; and, one way or other, the Wends are preparing to efface themselves as a distinct people.

This Stade-and-Ditmarsch family (of Anglish or Saxon breed, if that is an advantage) seem generally to have furnished the Salzwedel Office as well, of which Brandenburg was an offshoot, done by deputy, usually also of their kin. They lasted in Brandenburg rather more than a hundred years with little or no Book-History that is good to read; their History inarticulate rather, and stamped beneficently on the face of things. Otto is a common name among them. One of their sisters, too, Adelheid (Adelaide, Nobleness) had a strange adventure with "Ludwig the Springer", romantic mythic man, famous in the German world, over whom my readers and I must not pause at this time.

In Salzwedel, in Ditmarsch, or wherever stationed, they had a toilsome fighting life : sore difficulties with their Ditmarschers too, with the plundering Danish populations ; Markgraf after Markgraf getting killed in the business. "Erschlagen, slain fighting with the Heathen," say the old Books, and pass on to another. Of all which there is now silence forever. So many years men fought and planned and struggled there, all forgotten now except by the gods; and silently gave away their life, before those countries could become feucible and habitable! Nay, my friend, it is our lot too: and if we would win honor in this Universe, the rumor of Histories and Morning Newspapers, which have to become wholly zero, one day, and fall dumb as stones, and which were not perhaps very wise even while speaking, will help us little!

Substantial Markgraves : Glimpse of the Contemporary Kaisers.

The Ditmarsch-Stade kindred, much slain in battle with the Heathen, and otherwise beaten upon, died out, about the year 1130 (earlier perhaps, perhaps later, for all is shadowy still); and were succeeded in the Salzwedel part of their function by a kindred called "of Ascanien and Ballenstadt"; the Ascanier or Anhalt Markgraves; whose History, and that of Brandenburg, becomes henceforth articulate to us; a History not doubtful or shadowy any longer; but ascertainable, if reckoned worth ascertaining. Who succeeded in Ditmarsch, let us by no means inquire. The Empire itself was in some disorder at this time, more abstruse of aspect than usual; and these Northern Markgrafs, already become important people, and deep in general politics, had their own share in the confusion that was going.

It was about this same time that a second line of Kaisers had died out: the Frankish or Salic line, who had succeeded to the Saxon, of Henry the Fowler's blood. For the Empire too, though elective, had always a tendency to become hereditary, and go in lines: if the last Kaiser left a son not unfit, who so likely as the son? But he needed to be fit, otherwise it would not answer, otherwise it might be worse for him! There were great labors in the Empire too, as well as on the Sclavic frontier of it: brave men fighting against anarchy (actually set in pitched fight against it, and not always strong enough), toiling sore, according to their faculty, to pull the innumerable crooked things straight.

Some agreed well with the Pope, as Henry II., who founded Bamberg Bishopric, and much, else of the like; "a sore saint for the crown," as was said of David I, his Scotch congener, by a descendant. Others disagreed very much indeed; Henry IV's scene at Canossa, with Pope Hildebrand and the pious Countess (year 1077, Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire waiting, three days, in the snow, to kiss the foot of excommunicative Hildebrand), has impressed itself on all memories! Poor Henry rallied out of that abasement, and dealt a stroke or two on Hildebrand; but fell still lower before long, his very Son going against him; and came almost
to actual want of bread, had not the Bishop of Liege been good to him. Nay, after death, he lay four years waiting vainly even for burial, but indeed cared little about that.

Certainly this Son of his, Kaiser Henry V, does not shine in filial piety: but probably the poor lad himself was hard bested. He also came to die, A.D. 1125, still little over forty, and was the last of the Frankish Kaisers. He "left the Reichs-Insignien [Crown, Sceptre and Coronation gear] to his Widow and young Friedrich of Hohenstauffen, a sister's son of his, hoping the said Friedrich might, partly by that help, follow as Kaiser. Which Friedrich could not do; being wheedled, both the Widow and he, out of their insignia, under false pretences, and otherwise left in the lurch. Not Friedrich, but one Lothar, a stirring man who had grown potent in the Saxon countries, was elected Kaiser. In the end, after waiting till Lothar was done, Friedrich's race did succeed, and with brilliancy, Kaiser Barbarossa being that same Friedrich's son. In regard to which dim complicacies, take this Excerpt from the imbroglio of Manuscripts, before they go into the fire :

"By no means to be forgotten that the Widow we here speak of, Kaiser Henry V's Widow, who brought no heir to Henry V, was our English Henry Beauclerc's daughter, granddaughter therefore of William Conqueror, the same who, having (in 1127, the second year of her widowhood) married Godefroi Count of Anjou, produced our Henry II and our Plantagenets; and thereby, through her victorious Controversies with King Stephen (that noble peer whose breeches stood him so cheap), became very celebrated as 'the Empress Maud' in our old History-Books. Mathildis, Dowager of Kaiser Henry V, to whom he gave his Reichs-Insignia at dying : she is the 'Empress Maud' of English Books; and relates herself in this manner to the Hohenstauffen Dynasty, and intricate German vicissitudes. Be thankful for any hook whatever on which to hang half an acre of thrums in fixed position, out of your way ; the smallest flint-spark, in a world all black and unreniemberable, will be welcome." And so we return to Brandenburg and the " Ascanien and Ballenstddt "


Albert was the only son of Otto, Count of Ballenstedt, and Eilika, daughter of Magnus Billung, Duke of Saxony. He inherited the valuable estates in northern Saxony of his father in 1123, and on his mother's death, in 1142, succeeded to one-half of the lands of the house of Billung. Albert was a loyal vassal of his relation, Lothar I, Duke of Saxony, from whom, about 1123, he received the Margraviate of Lusatia, to the east; after Lothar became King of the Germans, he accompanied him on a disastrous expedition to Bohemia in 1126, when he suffered a short imprisonment.

This Ascanien, happily, has nothing to do with Brute of Troy or the pious AEneas's son; it is simply the name of a most ancient Castle (etymology unknown to me, ruins still dimly traceable) on the north slope of the Hartz Mountains; short way from Aschersleben, the Castle and Town of Aschersleben are, so to speak, a second edition of Ascanien. Ballenstädt is still older; Ballenstädt was of age in Charlemagne's time; and is still a respectable little Town in that upland range of country. The kindred, called Grafs and ultimately Herzogs (Dukes) of "Ascanien and Ballenstädt," are very famous in old German History, especially down from this date. Some reckon that they had intermittently been Markgrafs, in their region, long before this; which is conceivable enough: at all events it is very plain they did now attain the Office in Salzwedel (straightway shifting it to Brandenburg); and held it continuously, it and much else that lay adjacent, for centuries, in a highly conspicuous manner.

In Brandenburg they lasted for about two hundred years; in their Saxon dignities, the younger branch of them did not die out (and give place to the Wettins that now are) for five hundred. Nay they have still their representatives on the Earth: Leopold of Anhalt-Dessau, celebrated "Old Dessauer," come of the junior branches, is lineal head of the kin in Friedrich Wilhelm's time (while our little Fritzchen lies asleep in his cradle at Berlin); and a certain Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, Colonel in the Prussian Army, authentic Prince, but with purse much shorter than pedigree, will have a Daughter by and by, who will go to Russia, and become almost too conspicuous, as Catharine II, there!

"Brandenburg now as afterwards," says one of my old Papers, "was officially reckoned Saxon; part of the big Duchy of Saxony; where certain famed Billungs, lineage of an old 'Count Billung' (connected or not with Billings-gate in our country, I do not know) had long borne sway. Of which big old Billungs I will say nothing at all; this only, that they died out; and a certain Albert, 'Count of Ascanien and Ballenstadt' (say, of Anhalt, in modern terms), whose mother was one of their daughters, came in for the northern part of their inheritance. He made a clutch at the Southern too, but did not long retain that. Being a man very swift and very sharp, at once nimble and strong, in the huge scramble that there then was, (Uncle Billung dead without heirs, a Salic line of emperors going or gone out, and a Hohenstauffen not yet come in), he made a rich game of it for himself; the rather as Lothar, the intermediate Kaiser, was his cousin, and there were other good cards which he played well.

"This is he they call Albert the Bear (Albrecht der Bär); first of the Ascanien Markgraves of Brandenburg; first wholly definite Markgraf of Brandenburg that there is; once a very shining figure in the world, though now fallen dim enough again. It is evident he had a quick eye, as well as a strong hand; and could pick what way was straightest among crooked things. He got the Northern part of what is still called Saxony, and kept it in his family; got the Brandenburg Countries withal, got the Lausitz; was the shining figure and great man of the North in his day. The Markgrafdom of Salzwedel (which soon became of Brandenburg) he very naturally acquired (A.D. 1142 or earlier); very naturally, considering what Saxon and other honors and possessions he had already got hold of."

We can only say, it was the luckiest of events for Brandenburg, and the beginning of all the better destinies it has had. A conspicuous Country ever since in the world, and which grows ever more so in our late times.

He had many wars; inextricable coil of claimings, quarrellings and agreeings: fought much, fought in Italy, too, "against the Pagans" (Saracens, that is).

Albert's entanglements in Saxony stemmed from his desire to expand his inherited estates there. After the death of his brother-in-law, Henry II, margrave of a small area on the Elbe called the Saxon Northern March, in 1128, Albert, disappointed at not receiving this fief himself, attacked Udo, the heir, and was consequently deprived of Lusatia by Lothar. In spite of this, he went to Italy in 1132 in the train of the king, and his services there were rewarded in 1134 by the investiture of the Northern March, which was again without a ruler.

Cousin to one Kaiser, the Lothar above named; then a chief stay of the Hohenstauffen, of the two Hohenstauffens who followed: a restless, much-managing, wide-warring man. He stood true by the great Barbarossa, second of the Hohenstauffen, greatest of all the Kaisers; which was a luck for him, and perhaps a merit. He kept well with three Kaisers in his time. Had great quarrels with "Henry the Lion" about that "Billung" Saxon Heritage; Henry carrying off the better part of it from Albert. Except that same Henry, head of the Guelphs or Welfs, who had not Albert's talent, though wider lands than Albert, there was no German prince so important in that time.

Once he was firmly established in the Northern March, Albert's covetous eye lay also on the thinly populated lands to the north and east. Three years he was occupied in campaigns against the Slavic Wends, who as pagans were considered fair game, and whose subjugation to Christianity was the aim of the Wendish Crusade of 1147 in which Albert took part; diplomatic measures were more successful, and by an arrangement made with the last of the Wendish princes of Brandenburg,Pribislav of the Hevelli, Albert secured this district when the prince died in 1150. Taking the title "Margrave of Brandenburg", he pressed the "crusade" against the Wends, extended the area of his mark, encouraged German migration, established bishoprics under his protection, and so became the founder of the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1157, which his heirs — the House of Ascania — held until the line died out in 1320.

He transferred the Markgrafdom to Brandenbrug, probably as more central in his wide lands; Salzwedel is henceforth the led Markgrafdom or Marck, and soon falls out of notice in the world. Salzwedel is called henceforth ever since the "Old Marck (Alte Marck, Altmarck);" the Brandenburg countries getting the name of "New Marck." Modern Neumarck, modern "Middle-Marck" (in which stands Brandenburg itself in our time), "Ucker-Marck" (Outside Marck, word Ucker is still seen in Ukraine, for instance): these are posterior Divisions, fallen upon as Brandenburg (under Albert chiefly) enlarged itself, and needed new Official parcellings into departments.

In 1137 Conrad III, the Hohenstaufen King of the Germans, deprived Albert's cousin and nemesis, Henry the Proud of his Saxon duchy, which was awarded to Albert if he could take it. After some initial success in his efforts to take possession, Albert was driven from Saxony, and also from his Northern march by Henry, and compelled to take refuge in south Germany. When peace was made with Henry in 1142, Albert renounced the Saxon duchy and received the Counties of Weimar and Orlamünde. It was possibly at this time that Albert was made Arch-Chamberlain of the Empire, an office which afterwards gave the Margraves of Brandenburg the rights of a prince-elector.

The Markgraf of Brandenburg was now furthermore the Kürsfurt of Brandenburg; officially "Arch-treasurer of the Holy Roman Empire!"; and one of the Seven who have a right (which became about this time an exclusive one for those Seven) to choose, to Kieren the Romish Kaiser; and who are therefore called Kur Princes, Kurfürste or Electors, as the highest dignity except the Kaiser's own. In reference to which abstruse matter, likely to concern us somewhat, will the uninstructed English reader consent to the following Excerpt, slightly elucidatory of Kurfürsts and their function?

"Fürst (Prince) I suppose is equivalent originally to our noun of number, First. The old verb Kieren (participle Erkoren still in use, not to mention 'Val-Kyr' and other instances) is essentially the same word as our Choose, being written Kiesen as well as Kieren. Nay, say the etymologists, it is also written Küssen (to Kiss,--to choose with such emphasis!), and is not likely to fall obsolete in that form.--The other Six Electoral Dignitaries who grew to Eight by degrees, and may be worth noting once by the readers of this Book; are:

"1º. Three Ecclesiastical, Mainz, Cöln, Trier (Mayence, Cologne, Treves), Archbishops all, with sovereignty and territory more or less considerable; who used to be elected as Popes are, theoretically by their respective Chapters and the Heavenly Inspirations, but practically by the intrigues and pressures of the neighboring Potentates, especially France and Austria.

"2º. Three Secular, Sachsen, Pfalz, Böhmen (Saxony, Palatinate, Bohemia); of which the last, Böhmen, since it fell from being a Kingdom in itself, to being a Province of Austria, is not very vocal in the Diets. These Six, with Brandenburg, are the Seven Kurfürsts in old time; Septemvirs of the Country, so to speak.

"But now Pfalz, in the Thirty-Years War (under our Prince Rupert's Father, whom the Germans call the 'Winter-King'), got abrogated, put to the ban, so far as an indignant Kaiser could; and the vote and Kur of Pfalz was given to his Cousin of Baiern (Bavaria), so far as an indignant Kaiser could. However, at the Peace of Westphalia (1648) it was found incompetent to any Kaiser to abrogate Pfalz or the like of Pfalz, a Kurfurst of the Empire. So, after jargon inconceivable, it was settled, That Pfalz must be reinstated, though with territories much clipped, and at the bottom of the list, not the top as formerly; and that Baiern, who could not stand to be balked after twenty years' possession, must be made Eighth Elector. The Ninth, we saw (Year 1692), was Gentleman Ernst of Hanover. There never was any Tenth; and the Holy Römische Reich, which was a grand object once, but had gone about in a superannuated and plainly crazy state for some centuries back, was at last put out of pain, by Napoleon, '6th August, 1806,' and allowed to cease from this world."

None of Albert's wars are so comfortable to reflect on as those he had with the anarchic Wends; whom he now fairly beat to powder, and either swept away, or else damped down into Christianity and keeping of the peace. Swept them away otherwise; "peopling their lands extensively with Colonists from Holland, whom an inroad of the sea had rendered homeless there." Which surely was a useful exchange. Nothing better is known to me of Albert the Bear than this his introducing large numbers of Dutch Netherlanders into those countries; men thrown out of work, who already knew how to deal with bog and sand, by mixing and delving, and who first taught Brandenburg what greenness and cow-pasture was. The Wends, in presence of such things, could not but consent more and more to efface themselves,--either to become German, and grow milk and cheese in the Dutch manner, or to disappear from the world.

The Wendish Princes had a taste for German wives; in which just taste the Albert genealogy was extremely willing to indulge them. Affinities produce inheritances; by proper marriage-contracts you can settle on what side the most contingent inheritance shall at length fall. Dim but pretty certain lies a time coming when the Wendish Princes also shall have effaced themselves; and all shall be German-Brandenburgish, not Wendish any more. The actual Inhabitants of Brandenburg, therefore, are either come of Dutch Bog-farmers, or are simple Lower Saxons ("Anglo-Saxon," if you like that better), Platt-Teutsch of the common type; an unexceptionable breed of people. Streaks of Wendish population, extruded gradually into the remoter quagmires, and more inaccessible, less valuable sedgy moors and sea-strands, are scattered about; Mecklenburg, which still subsists separately after a sort, is reckoned peculiarly Wendish. In Mecklenburg, Pommern, Pommerellen (Little Pomerania), are still to be seen physiognomies of a Wendish or Vandalic type (more of cheek than there ought to be, and less of brow; otherwise good enough physiognomies of their kind): but the general mass, tempered with such admixtures, is of the Platt-Deutsch, Saxon or even Anglish character we are familiar with here at home. A patient stout people; meaning considerable things, and very incapable of speaking what it means.

Albert was a fine tall figure himself; der Schöne "Albert the Handsome", was his name as often as "Albert the Bear." That latter epithet he got, not from his looks or qualities, but merely from his heraldic cognizance: a Bear on his shield. As was then the mode of names; surnames being scant, and not yet fixedly in existence. Thus too his contemporaries, Henry the Lion of Saxony and Welfdom, William the Lion of Scotland, were not, either of them, specially leonine men: nor had the Plantagenets, or Geoffrey of Anjou, any connection with the Plant of Broom, except wearing a twig of it in their caps on occasion. Men are glad to get some designation for a grand Albert they are often speaking of, which shall distinguish him from the many small ones. Albert "the Bear, der Bär," will do as well as another.

In 1158 a feud with Henry's son, Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, was interrupted by a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In 1162 Albert accompanied Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Italy, where he distinguished himself at the storming of Milan.

It was this one first that made Brandenburg peaceable and notable. We might call him the second founder of Brandenburg; he, in the middle of the Twelfth Century, completed for it what Henry the Fowler had begun early in the Tenth. After two hundred and fifty years of barking and worrying, the Wends are now finally reduced to silence; their anarchy well buried, and wholesome Dutch cabbage planted over it: Albert did several great things in the world; but, this, for posterity, remains his memorable feat. Not done quite easily; but, done: big destinies of Nations or of Persons are not founded gratis in this world. He had a sore toilsome time of it, coercing, warring, managing among his fellow-creatures, while his day's work lasted, fifty years or so, for it began early.

In 1164 Albert joined a league of princes formed against Henry the Lion, and peace being made in 1169, Albert divided his territories among his six sons. He died on 13 November 1170, possibly in Stendal, and was buried in his Castle of Ballenstadt, peaceably among the Hartz Mountains at last, in the year 1170, age about sixty-five. It was in the time while Thomas a Becket was roving about the world, coming home excommunicative, and finally getting killed in Canterbury Cathedral; while Abbot Samson, still a poor little brown Boy, came over from Norfolk, holding by his mother's hand, to St. Edmundsbury; having seen "Satanas with outspread wings" fearfully busy in this world.

Albert was married in 1124 to Sophie of Winzenburg (died 25 March 1160) and they had 12 children.