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About the time of the Emperor Barbarossa, there was a beautiful castle on a rocky island in the Rhine, known for many centuries by the name of the Palatinate.
In possession of all earthly riches, the Palatinate Count, Conrad of Staufen, only wanted one thing more, a son who should continue his race and inherit his estates. But Heaven had withheld this gift, only granting him a daughter, who would in time become heiress to all his possessions.
This maiden, Agnes, was very lovely, and many mighty princes had already sought her hand in marriage, among whom were the Duke of Bavaria and the King of France.
Agnes, however, had already made her choice. Henry of Brunswick, a handsome, chivalrous, young knight had alone found favour with her, and their passion was approved of by her mother.
This matter could not long be kept a secret from the count, and the discovery of it displeased him exceedingly. He was well aware that Henry of Brunswick was not only one of the handsomest men of his time, but also one of the most daring champions of German chivalry. The House of Brunswick was at that time at great enmity with the House of Hohenstaufen. The union was thus impolitic, the more so because the Emperor Barbarossa, brother to Conrad, intended to marry a member of his family to the count's daughter, in order to keep the Palatinate in the family.
After having long and thoughtfully considered this momentous affair, the count determined to put an end to his daughter's obstinacy, as he called it. He therefore caused his stronghold on the island to be exceptionally well fortified, the gloomy chambers which were more like dungeons, to be cleaned and prepared, and then, having brought his wife Irmengarde and his daughter to the island under pretence of a pleasure trip, he informed them that this castle was to be their dwelling for the present.
Irmengarde complained bitterly of the unjust treatment of her husband, Agnes shed hot tears, but Conrad remained firm, saying that as long as his daughter held to Henry of Brunswick, he would not change his stern policy. There he left them, quite pleased, thinking that he had successfully carried his point. His own youthful experiences must certainly have escaped his memory, or he would have known that young love – to use a prosaic comparison – is like a nail in a wall, the more it is hammered, the firmer it becomes. He should also have remembered what Solomon told us, "Love is as strong as death. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."
As the wind only fans the fire into flames, so it was in the case of this youthful pair.
This enforced separation only increased their love, and what was intended for a hindrance, became a welcome assistance.
Under protection of the darkness, daring Duke Henry visited the island in disguise. Agnes could not remain separated from her lover. Henry therefore besought Irmengarde to forgive his audacity and to help them. Her mother's heart was no longer able to withstand the tears of her daughter, and, a priest having been sent for, the hands of the young pair were soon joined together in holy matrimony, and in the gloomy halls of the lonely castle these two enjoyed the bliss of their first love.
Months passed in quiet, undisturbed happiness. At last the count returned for the first time to the island. Irmengarde, knowing that the marriage could not long remain a secret, told her husband what she had done, and Agnes threw herself at her father's feet, begging his forgiveness.
Conrad's anger knew no bounds, and he is said to have cursed and stamped with rage. All his wife's entreaties were at first in vain, but after some time his wrath abated, when Irmengarde made it clear to him that this would be a means of putting an end to the bitter feuds between the two houses, and also informed him that Agnes soon hoped to become a mother. Gradually his fury died away, and the angel of reconciliation spread its wings over the little fortress on the island.
Count Conrad set off for the imperial residence of his brother, the Emperor Barbarossa, at Speyer, and broke the news very gradually to him, greatly fearing the consequences.
But Barbarossa is said to have smiled very knowingly, and then he congratulated Conrad on having found a means of reconciling the ancient hatred of the two races, and he even promised to stand godfather to the expected heir. Thereupon a great festival was held to celebrate the long-desired union of the Welfs and the Hohenstaufens.
Some time later on in the silent gloomy little chamber on the island, Agnes had the happiness of hearing her infant's first cry, her father having wished that it should be born there.
This room is still shown in memory of that historic event.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine