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

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When I had said all my prayers, I stood up and wanted to go into the vault to see what they were doing. Then he came to meet me and said that I could be pleased, because everything had gone well; they had filed the locks off the door, but the locks on the crown’s casing were so tight that they had been unable to file them off and had had to burn them open. There was so much smoke that I worried that some people might ask about it, but God prevented that.

When the Holy Crown was completely free, we again closed the doors everywhere, replaced the locks that they had removed, pressed my lady’s seals on them once more, and locked the outer door again and tied the piece of cloth with the seal on it as we had found it and as the castellan had put it there. And I threw the files in the privy in the room of the ladies, where you will find them, if you break it open, as proof that I am speaking the truth.

We carried the Holy Crown through the chapel of Saint Elizabeth, to which I, Helene Kottanner, still owe a chasuble and an altar cloth to be paid for by my gracious lord, King Ladislaus (2). Then my helper took a red velvet pillow, opened it, removed part of the feathers, put the Holy Crown into the pillow, and sewed it back up. It was now almost day, and the ladies-in-waiting and everybody else were getting up and readying themselves for the journey thence.

Now the ladies-in-waiting had in their service an old woman who worked for them, and my gracious lady had given orders to give this woman her pay and then leave her behind, so she could return home to Ofen. But when the woman had been paid, she came to me, saying that she had seen something unusual lying in front of the stove and did not know what it was. This worried me, for I realized that it was part of the casing in which the crown had stood, and I talked the idea out of her head as well as I could, and then I went secretly to the stove and threw into the fire whatever remnants I could find and burned them completely. And I took the old woman along with me on the journey. They all wondered why I did this. I told them that I had taken it upon myself to try and obtain from the queen a position for her at St. Martin’s in Vienna, as indeed I did.

When the queen’s ladies and her entire retinue were ready to ride off, he who shared my anxiety took the pillow with the Holy Crown sewn inside it and ordered his helper to carry the pillow out of the castle onto the sled in which he and I were to sit. So then the good fellow took the pillow on his shoulders and put over it an old cowhide with a long tail which dangled behind him. And all the people followed him with their eyes and began to laugh. When we had come down from the castle and reached the market, we would have liked to eat, but all we could find was herring, so we ate a little of that. And when we finished singing the mass, the hour was already far advanced, and we still had to travel from Plintenburg to Komorn that day, which we did, even though this is a distance of twelve miles. When we were about to ride off and taking our seats, I quickly felt over the pillow to know where the Holy Crown was so I would not sit down on it. And I thanked God Almighty for His mercy, although I kept looking back frequently for fear that anyone might be following us. Indeed, I worried incessantly, and thoughts were crowding in my mind, and I marveled at what God had done or might still do.

(2) This is a direct appeal to King Ladislaus to settle his, and his mother’s, debts to Kottanner. Elizabeth of Thüringen (1207–1231), daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary. She was canonized in 1235. Until 1539 her remains were in Marburg-an-der Lahn. What the reliquary in the Plintenburg chapel contained is unknown.

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