Meissen, May 1526
"Your Grace! Your Grace!"
The person thus addressed – George, Duke of Saxony – once again suspected trouble approaching. There could be no doubt, the chief lady-in-waiting was indignant. Indignant was hardly the right word. She was obviously furious in the extreme.
The court had betaken itself from Dresden to this lovely castle with its spacious garden to enjoy the blossoming of May. The sun was shining, the scent of flowers and fruit trees was everywhere, yet the idyllic scene was now harshly disturbed by the hofmeisterin, who came down the garden path with garments rustling. A closer look showed that she was even kicking up a small cloud of dust. She must be entirely outside herself, for this woman, charged by the duke with the care of his daughter-in-law, would not otherwise have cast all decorum to the wind and called out to him from such a distance.
What could Elisabeth have got up to now? Duke George was curious whether this hofmeisterin was also about to ask him to remove the heavy burden he had placed on her shoulders in the form of his small, willowy daughter-in-law. At some point he had already ceased to count how many hofmeisterins Elisabeth had already worn out. Elisabeth was unusual. In many respects. She was extraordinarily intelligent, self-assured, strong and free. Her brother Philipp had taught her things one would not expect of a well-bred girl. Elisabeth could skip stones over water, which in itself was rather harmless. But she could also scare the wits out of her ladies-in-waiting by giving a shrill whistle through her fingers. Furthermore, she must have had other teachers beside her brother, for she occasionally came out with the most indelicate sayings, which she then declared to be "ancient Hessian words of wisdom". As if that were not enough, she could also swear as if she were leading three armies, as one of her hofmeisterins had put it.
Such were the thoughts occupying the duke's mind as he saw the chief lady-in-waiting hurrying towards him.
"Your Grace!" she called once again.
Duke George turned to his two councillors and dismissed them with a nod. Hans von Schönberg and Heinrich von Schleinitz obediently stepped back, but were careful to stand close enough to hear each word declaimed by the esteemed hofmeisterin, who now stood, out of breath, in the presence of the duke.
"Yes, Lady ..."
"Köstritz. Countess Eleonore von Köstritz, if it please your Grace."
"Yes, yes, we are quite pleased. Arise!" he demanded impatiently of the no longer youthful lady who had fallen into a deep curtsy before him. Since Duke George was obliged to fear that she would be unable to stand up on her own, he proffered his hand, which she gratefully accepted.
"Well now, my dear Lady Köstritz, your matter seems to be of the utmost urgency."
"It is, indeed, your Grace. Your Grace was recently so kind as to appoint me to be hofmeisterin to your daughter-in-law. For which I am also very grateful to your Grace ..."
"We are very glad, Countess. Then all is in order. We had feared you were not satisfied with the duty entrusted you."
Duke George was now looking into a face which, within a very short time, was taking on the most diverse shades of expression. Lady Köstritz' countenance revealed a struggle between the most humble respect, despair, hope of mercy and a clear will to survive. When it came to Elisabeth, it was apparently a matter of life and death for the poor woman.
"Your Grace is too kind," Lady Köstritz was finally able to stammer, "yet I am afraid that I am no longer up to the task appointed me." She looked almost relieved to have been able to let these words to the duke pass her lips. Messrs. Schönberg and Schleinitz nodded to each other fervently. This was more good news.
"No longer? But you have only been hofmeisterin for three months," said the duke, feigning surprise.
"May your Grace pardon me, it has been exactly two months, three weeks and five days. The young Duchess is too much for me. Just now she put me in a situation ... a situation!" Appalled, the Countess put her hand to her forehead and sighed.
Fortunately, she had closed her eyes to do so and thus failed to see the duke's eyebrows draw up menacingly.
"What sort of situation?" asked the duke, who did not at all like to be addressed in any manner other than clear and concise. The countess, who immediately realised that she would have to control herself if she did not want to annoy the duke, now stood staunchly erect in front of her lord.
"May your Grace forgive me, but I cannot by any stretch of the imagination say this thing to your Grace."
"We shall be neither merciful nor gracious, nor forgive you, if you do not instantly tell us what happened." The duke's patience was at an end.
Schleinitz and Schönberg, leaning forward to soak in every word, hardly dared to breathe.
Now Countess Köstritz hesitatingly reported how she had been walking through the garden with Elisabeth. Once again, she had made a futile attempt to teach her how to take elegant steps. Elisabeth merely replied that she was not a horse to be taught its paces and took the stairs two at a time out of spite. Then, however, they strolled through the back portion of the garden, where one of the gardeners was standing engaged in ... well in something entirely unspeakable. The horrified countess begged Elisabeth to turn away and wanted to take another path just to get away from this shameless man. But Elisabeth called out to him a rhyme which ... no, no, out of the question, Countess Köstritz simply could not let such words escape her lips.
Duke George concluded that one of the gardeners, thinking himself unobserved, had been passing water and Elisabeth had once more brought forth one of her Hessian words of wisdom.
The duke sighed. He had known Elisabeth's mother Anna and father Wilhelm well. He had stood with Elisabeth, her brother Philipp and Anna at Wilhelm's deathbed and consoled Anna. He had helped Anna when the Hessian Estates refused to honour Wilhelm's testament and had even wanted to take her son away from her. Anna had been a strong woman, beautiful and intelligent. Much of this she had passed on to her daughter. But Elisabeth's childhood and youth had been marked by her mother's battle for her son and the right to rule. As well as deprivations, for the regents and guardians had refused to furnish Anna and Elisabeth according to their station. Anna had often been away at meetings of the imperial and state diets. Elisabeth grew up with her foster mother in Marburg, Spangenberg and Felsberg, where manners were obviously anything but princely. To be sure, that is where she will have learned all those things which were held against her at the Dresden court.