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A Brave Woman Steals the Royal Crown – Helene Kottannerin (c. 1400-after 1458)

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When it was time, he who shared my burden came through the chapel and knocked on the door. I let him in and locked the door again behind him. To assist him with the work, he had brought along a man, whose Christian name was . . . , the same as his, who had sworn loyalty to him. I go to them and want to bring them the candles, but the candles were gone. I became so afraid that I did not know any more what to do, and the whole undertaking almost failed only because we had no light. Then I came to my senses and went and secretly awakened the woman who had given me the candles, and I told her that the candles were gone and that I still had much praying to do. To my great relief she gave me others which I gave to him, and I also gave him the locks to attach there later, and I also gave him my gracious lady’s small signet with which he was to replace the seals, and I also gave him the three keys to the first door.

Then he removed from the lock the linen cloth which the castellan had wrapped around it and unlocked the door and went inside with his servant, and they worked so hard on the other locks, that the sounds of their hammering and filing could be heard distinctly. But even if the guards and the castellan’s men had been on the alert that night and actively watching the treasure entrusted to their care, then surely God Almighty would have stopped their ears to prevent them from hearing anything. But I alone heard everything very well and kept watch while invaded by many fears and worries, and I kneeled down in deep devotion and prayed to God and to Our Dear Lady, that they might assist me and my helpers. Yet I feared more for my soul than for my life, and I begged God that if the undertaking were against His will, I should be damned for it; or if something evil should result for the country and the people, that God have mercy on my soul and let me die here on the spot.

As I was praying like this, I suddenly heard loud noises and a rumble, as if there were a great many armored men at the door through which I had admitted my helper, and I had the impression that they were about to force open the door. This frightened me and I stood up, wanting to warn them to stop the work. But then it occurred to me that I should go to the door first, and I did. But when I reached the door, the noises were gone and I did not hear anybody any more. Then I said to myself that it must have been a ghost, and I resumed my prayers and promised Our Dear Lady to make a pilgrimage, barefoot, to Zell and vowed that as long as I had not performed the pilgrimage I would not sleep on feathers on Saturday nights (1). And on every Saturday night as long as I live I also say a special prayer to Our Dear lady, to thank her for the mercy she has bestowed on me. And I beg her to thank for me her Son, Our Dear Lord Jesus Christ, for the great mercy and compassion he has so clearly manifested toward me.

But while I was praying like this, I seemed to hear loud noises and the din of armor at the door that led directly into the apartment of the ladies-in-waiting. This frightened me so much that my entire body began to shake with fear and I broke into a cold sweat, and I thought that it must not be a ghost after all and that while I stood at the chapel door, they had gone around to the other side; and I did not know what to do and strained my ears to see if I could hear the ladies. But I did not hear anyone. Then I went softly down the steps through the room of the little princess to the door that led directly to the room of the ladies. And when I arrived at that door, I heard no one. Then I was relieved and thanked God and resumed my prayers once more and said to myself that it surely was the Devil, who would have liked to foil our plan.

(1) Mariazell in Steiermark was a popular pilgrimage place. To atone for her sins, Helene Kottanner promises to sleep on straw, or perhaps plain wood, instead of feathers, on Saturday nights. [All footnotes are taken from The Memoirs of Helene Kottanner (1439-1440), translated by Maya Bijvoet Williamson. Cambridge, 1998, pp. 28-33, 40-44.]

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