The little city of Cassel is one of the most attractive in North Germany to a passing stranger. Its galleries, its parks and gardens, and its great palaces are calculated to excite admiration and surprise. Here Napoleon III spent the months of his captivity amid scenes which might remind him of the magnificence of Versailles, which, indeed, those who planned the beautiful gardens had wished to imitate. For the grounds were mostly laid out and the buildings mainly constructed in the last century, when the court of France was the point towards which most princely eyes on the Continent were directed; and no court, perhaps, followed more assiduously or more closely, in outward show at least, in the path of the French court than that of the Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel. The expense of all these buildings and gardens was enormous, but there was generally money in the treasury. Yet the land was a poor land. The three or four hundred thousand inhabitants lived chiefly by the plough, but the Landgraves were in business. It was a profitable trade that they carried on, selling or letting out wares which were much in demand in that century, as in all centuries, for the Landgraves of Hesse-Cassel were dealers in men; thus it came to pass that Landgrave Frederick II and his subjects played a part in American history, and that "Hessian" became a household word, though not a title of honor, in the United States.
The Landgraves were not particular as to their market or their customers. In 1687 one of them let out a thousand soldiers to the Venetians fighting against the Turks. In 1702 nine thousand Hessians served under the maritime powers, and in 1706 eleven thousand five hundred men were in Italy. England was the best customer. Through a large part of the eighteenth century she had Hessians in her pay. Some of them were with the army of the Duke of Cumberland during the Pretender's invasion in 1745; but it is stated that they refused to fight in that campaign for want of a cartel for the exchange of prisoners (Letter of Sir Joseph Yorke to the Earl of Suffolk, quoted in Kapp's Soldatenhandel," 1st ed. p. 229.) It would have been well for many of them had they declined to go to America for the same reason. So little was it a matter of patriotism, or of political preference, with the Landgraves, that in 1743 Hessian stood against Hessian, six thousand men serving in the army of King George II of England, and six thousand in the opposing force of the Emperor Charles VII.
The Landgraves of Hesse were not the only princes who dealt in troops. In the war of the American Revolution alone, six German rulers let out their soldiers to Great Britain. These were Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel; William, his son, the independent Count of Hesse-Hanau; Charles I, Duke of Brunswick; Frederick, Prince of Waldeck; Charles Alexander, Margrave of Anspach-Bayreuth ; and Frederick Augustus, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst. The action of these princes was opposed to the policy of the empire and to the moral sense of the age: but the emperor had no power to prevent it, for the subjection of those parts of Germany which were outside of his hereditary dominions was little more than nominal.
The map of Germany in the last century presents the most extraordinary patchwork. Across the northern part of the country, from its eastern to its western side, but not in an unbroken line, stretch the territories of the King of Prussia. The Austrian hereditary dominions, in a comparatively compact mass, occupy the southeastern corner. Beyond the boundaries of these two great powers, all is confusion. Electorates, duchies, bishoprics, the dominions of margraves, landgraves, princes, and free cities are inextricably jumbled together. There were nearly three hundred sovereignties in Germany, besides over fourteen hundred estates of Imperial Knights, holding immediately of the empire, and having many rights of sovereignty. Some of these three hundred states were not larger than townships in New England, many of them not larger than American counties. Nor was each of them compact in itself, for one dominion was often composed of several detached parcels of territory. Yet every little princedom had to maintain its petty prince, with his court and his army. The princes were practically despotic. The remnants of what had once been constitutional assemblies still existed in many places, but they represented at best but a small part of the population (The Landstande had more influence in Hesse than elsewhere. They are said to have tried in vain to obtain for the Country a share in the money received by the Landgrave for letting out troops. - Biedermann, "Deutschland im Achtzehnten jahrhundert," vol. i. p. 114.) The cities and towns were governed by privileged classes. In the country some little freedom remained with the peasants of some neighborhoods as to the management of their village affairs, but in general the peasantry were not much better off than serfs, and subject to the tyranny of a horde of officials, who intermeddled in every important action of their lives. Trade was hampered by tolls and duties, for every little state had its own financial system. Commerce and manufactures were impeded by monopolies. In certain places sumptuary laws regulated the dress or the food of the people.
Before the last quarter of the century some improvement had taken place in the political condition of Germany. Frederick the Great of Prussia and Joseph II of Austria were, in their different ways, enlightened princes, and their example had stimulated many of the better sovereigns to exert themselves in some measure for the good of their people. The influence of the Liberal movement in France was also felt. But the idea of political freedom had hardly taken shape in the most cultivated of German minds. The good or evil disposition of the prince was no more under the control of the ordinary subject than the state of the weather. The doctrine of passive obedience was in fashion, though not entirely uncontested. If, as one writer on politics explained, it was the duty of the subject to submit in case his prince should take his life in mere wantonness, it was to be hoped that another writer was equally correct in saying that "in princely houses all virtues are hereditary." (Biedermann, vol. i. pp. 161, 163, n.)
Let us now look a little nearer at those special inheritors of all the virtues who sent mercenaries to America. The most important of them was Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel (not to be confounded with his great namesake and contemporary of Prussia). This prince was the Catholic ruler of a Protestant country. His first wife had been an English princess, a daughter of George II. She had separated herself from the Landgrave on his conversion to Catholicism, and had retired to Hanau, with her precious son, of whom I shall presently speak.
Frederick had led a merry life of it at Cassel. He had taken unto himself a cast-off mistress of the Duc de Bouillon, but set up no pretensions to fidelity, and is said to have had more than a hundred children. A French theatre and opera, with a French corps de ballet, were maintained. French adventurers with good letters obtained a welcome and even responsible positions in the state. The court was ordered on a French model. French was, moreover, then, and has remained almost to our own day, the language of princes, courtiers, and diplomatists. In that language Frederick the Great corresponded with many of his relations, in it his sister wrote her private memoirs, and French was spoken at the court of that smaller Frederick whom we have in hand.
At the time of the American Revolution, the Landgrave was living with his second wife. He was about sixty years old, and seems to have become comparatively steady in his habits. He was a good man of business. His troops, drilled on the Prussian system, and recruited in a measure among his own subjects by conscription, were good soldiers. His army in 1781 numbered twenty-two thousand, while the population of his territories was little above three hundred thousand souls; but many foreigners were enticed into the service, and a few of the regiments were not kept permanently under the banners, but spent the larger part of the year disbanded, and met only for a few weeks of drill ("Briefe eines Reisenden.") Frederick took a personal interest in his army, and corresponded with his officers in America, making the hand and eye of the master usefully felt. He took pains with the internal affairs of his country, leaving, indeed, a full treasury at his death. He founded schools and museums, and, like all his family, loved costly buildings. When he sent twelve thousand men to America he diminished the taxes of his remaining subjects, and though these were sad and down-trodden, though they mourned their sons and brothers sent to fight in a strange quarrel beyond the sea, we may linger for a moment regretfully over Frederick of Hesse-Cassel, for he dealt in good wares, he showed some personal dignity, and he was one of the least disreputable of the princes who sent mercenaries to America.
William, the eldest son and heir apparent of Landgrave Frederick, governed at the time of the Revolution the independent county of Hanau, which lay a few miles to the eastward of the city of Frankfort. William was his father's inferior in dignity and his equal in cupidity. As early as August, 1775, when the news of the battle of Bunker Hill must have been very fresh in Germany, the hereditary prince hastened to offer a regiment to George Ill, "without making the smallest condition." In spite of his protestations of disinterested devotion, he obtained in the end a larger price per man furnished than any one of his competitors, except his most serene father.
The courts of Cassel and of Hanau were not on good terms. The Landgrave, since his change of religion, had quarrelled with his wife and his heirs. But the mode of life of his eldest son was not very different from his own. When William had a natural child to provide for, he added a kreutzer (about one cent) to the price of every bag of salt which his subjects brought from the salt-mines, and gave the revenue thus obtained to the infant. As his left-handed children numbered seventy-four, the poorer of his subjects must have learned to be sparing of their salt. One of his bastards was that General von Haynau who, in the service of Austria, committed terrible cruelties in Italy in 1849, causing women to be whipped in Brescia, and who was afterwards mobbed in London. William's mistress for years was a Fraulein von Schlotheim, who at first ran away from him, but was sent back to him by her own parents. In the words of a lady of Cassel, "The Hessian nobility could not spare this advantage." Though the prince received some £12,000 a year as subsidy for sending troops to America, he is believed by Kapp to have remitted no taxes except to the wives and parents of soldiers with the expedition, or such taxes as were levied on the property of these soldiers themselves, where they had no wives or parents. As for the princes to be mentioned hereafter, I do not learn that they remitted any taxes at all, but my sources of information may be defective.
Duke Charles I reigned over Brunswick-Luneburg, and the hereditary Prince Charles William Ferdinand was associated with him in the government. The latter had married a sister of King George III. The land had but one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, and the princes were deeply in debt. Charles was extravagant and the Seven Years' War had been expensive. Attempts had been made to help out the finances by alchemy, but the gold had all flown up the chimney or made its way into the pockets of the alchemists, and none was found in the melting-pots. An Italian theatrical director received a salary Of 30,000 thalers a year, while Lessing, already the author of "Emilia Gallotti" and " Minna von Barnhelm," served as librarian for a pittance. Prince Charles William Ferdinand was a better economist than his father. The lottery, a fashionable means of raising money at that time, was established under the direction of a minister of state, and made to bring in a good income, and, although the Duke of Brunswick received less per head in the shape of subsidy for the soldiers sent to America than any other of the princes, he was able, for his corps of forty-three hundred men, to pocket more than £160,000 before the end of the war.
The little territories of Anspach and Bayreuth, containing together about four hundred thousand souls, had lately been united under the government of Margrave Charles Alexander. Neither land had been fortunate in its previous sovereign. Both countries had belonged to branches of the great Hohenzollern family, the main line of which had already laid in Prussia the foundations of that power which has given it to-day the foremost place in Europe. But the Margraves of Anspach and of Bayreuth lacked the ability which underlay the roughness of King Frederick William, father of Frederick the Great. Of this Frederick William we have a lively picture in the memoirs of his daughter Wilhelmina. How he chased his children about the room with his stick, how Wilhelmina hid under the bed and Frederick in the closet, how the king loved tall soldiers and bullied his wife are there graphically narrated. With the express object of making her story more cheerful, the princess tells how her father, in general the most chaste of monarchs, tried to kiss a lady of honor on the stairs, and how she struck him in the face and made his nose bleed. This Wilhelmina married a Margrave of Bayreuth, and her sister, Frederika Louisa, married a Margrave of Anspach, but did not live on good terms with him.
This Margrave of Anspach was good-natured, in his way, and kindly, when not out of temper. He liked to do small favors to his servants, and to inform these of them with his own lips. He gladly allowed dainties to be sent to the sick from his kitchen. When not in liquor, he was inclined to commute the death penalty to criminals in civil life, unless they had been guilty of such heinous offences as persuading his soldiers to desert, thieving about his court, or poaching; but his military executions were barbarous. The Margrave was regular in his attendance at church, and given to endowing churches, schools, and hospitals. He might, therefore, have been beloved of his subjects, but for his ungoverned temper, and for the excesses into which it led him. Thus, having heard that his dogs were not well fed, he rode to the house of the man who had them in charge, called him to the door, and shot him on his own threshold. An inn-keeper, having complained of some petty theft, the Margrave had the thief hanged before the host's door. In 1747 a servant-girl was hanged without trial for having helped a soldier to desert. As the Margrave was riding out of his castle one day, he stopped and asked the sentinel on guard, who happened to be one of the city watch, and not a regular soldier, for his musket. The poor fellow, unsuspectingly, gave it up; whereupon the Margrave called him a coward and a scoundrel, and had two hussars drag him through the mill-pond at their horses' tails, of which treatment he died. One of his equerries, Von Reitzenstein by name, although avaricious and corruptible, was a favorite with the people for sometimes moderating these excesses. On one occasion a shepherd with a flock of sheep did not clear the road for the Margrave quickly enough, and made his Most Serene Highness's horse shy. The Margrave asked the equerry for his pistols to shoot the fellow. "They are not loaded," answered Von Reitzenstein. When the party got near home, however, the equerry took out both pistols and fired them into the air. Bang! bang! "What's the matter?" cried the startled Margrave. "My gracious master," answered the other, I think you will sleep far better to-night for having heard the crack of the pistols now, rather than an hour ago."
It was far from safe to criticise the Margrave's conduct. In 1740 one Christoph Wilhelm von Rauber was accused of posting up caricatures and lampoons. For this he was sentenced to strike himself on the mouth, under penalty of having it done for him by the executioner; to see the latter burn his lampoons; and finally to have his head cut off; which last punishment was graciously commuted to perpetual imprisonment and confiscation ("Geschichte des vorletzten Markgrafen von Brandenburg-Ansbach," von Karl Heinrich Ritter von Lang.)
Charles Alexander, son of this murdering Margrave, appears to have been more humane than his father. He was sent in his youth to Utrecht to learn republican virtues, and then to Italy, probably to learn princely graces. He returned worn out with dissipation, the blame of which his father found it convenient to lay on his travelling companion, Councillor Mayer. The latter was imprisoned at Zelle, and his subsequent fate is unknown. According to another story, he was executed at Altenkirchen.
In 1777, Charles Alexander, who had become Margrave both of Anspach and of Bayreuth, was deeply in debt, and delighted with the chance to let out two regiments of his subjects for foreign service. Recruits and additional soldiers were sent out from time to time until a total of two thousand three hundred and fifty-three men had been reached, for whose services the Margrave received more than £100,000 sterling. Charles Alexander was the last Margrave of Anspach and Bayreuth. In 1791 he sold both countries to Prussia, for a pension, on which he afterwards lived in England, where he died in 1806.
Beside the Margraves of Anspach, the Princes of Waldeck seem almost respectable. To be sure, they used their little country (it lies westward from Cassel) principally as a stock-farm to raise men for the Dutch market, but they themselves fought with distinction for the same country. The fitting-out of troops for America was merely a side speculation, and the whole number sent was only one thousand two hundred and twenty-five soldiers.
Frederick Augustus, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, may be looked on as the caricature of the little German princes of his day. He reigned over some twenty thousand subjects, but he cannot be said to have governed them, for the last thirty years of his life were spent in Basle and in Luxemburg. Even there did he find that his subjects could be troublesome, and he forbade, by a formal printed order, that any one of his servants should trouble him with the affairs of his principality, under pain of dismissal. He was not above being severe, however, for he had a gallows erected on the Island of Wangeroge for the terror of oyster stealers. His army of two thousand men, and these, I think, mostly on paper, numbered no less than eleven colonels, yet when it came to sending six hundred men to America he had to go out of his own dominions to find not only soldiers but officers. The little principality was, so to speak, in commission, and governed by a few privy-councillors. It had neither arts nor manufactures, and had suffered from war, famine, pestilence, and flood. But it was a land highly honored. The sister of its prince was the Empress Catherine II of Russia. That prince himself, though he lived away from his country, was quite sensible to the glory of his position, and had a feeling heart for the sufferings of monarchs, if not of subjects. When he heard that impious Frenchmen had cut off the head of their king, Louis XVI., he was borne down with melancholy, refused food and drink, and died, as he had lived, a parody, the caricature of a royal martyr.