A menagerie of colorful tents had been erected in Sienna’s Piazza del Campo in anticipation of the infanta’s arrival. Frederick was excited. He was thirty-seven and just entering his prime. As King of Germany, he held onto a small but vital grip on Europe. Now it was time to consolidate his imminent authority. The vibrant eighteen-year-old that would arrive any minute was the key to it. He’d never met her but her considerable dowry would release him from his debt and the prospect of many years of children brought thoughts of real certitude.

A horn sounded. She’d arrived! Frederick nearly fell into the Fonte Gaia as he whirled to take his first glimpse into the future.

It was a large entourage that made its way from a shady alley on the west side of the plaza, much larger than he’d expected, obviously very costly. He snapped his tongue in disapproval.

“They’ll have to go, after the wedding,” he whispered to his aide.

When the princess gingerly stepped from her carriage, Frederick tried hard to conceal his concern.

“She’s very beautiful, indeed... but her hips... she seems rather thin, will she withstand bearing my heirs?”

Despite the differences between them, differences which occupied every nook of their mismatched lives, Frederick III and Eleanor of Portugal were married on March 16, 1452, and three days later, crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Empress. Eleanor would prove more than able in producing children and Frederick’s dreams became cemented in history – so that by the end of his life, he saw fit to inscribe on all the buildings in his empire the motto, “Alles Erdreich ist Oesterreich untertan.”

The Habsburg dynasty would endure into the 20th century, though more likely because of its other motto: "Let others wage wars, but you, happy Austria, shall marry."


"Strike the tent"

What four years of war couldn’t do, nature was accomplishing in similar time. His heart, never once questioned, was now on the edge of surrender; its beats were numbered and the old General was the only one who knew it. True to character, he mentioned it to no one. Instead, he decided on one last trip, on the pretense of a much-needed rest but in actuality to say his farewells.

He rode south from Lexington, Virginia, greeted by family and friends and former brothers-in-arms at each stop, as well as by tens of thousands of well-wishers, admirers, and curious who knew in advance his every move in ways that his opponents had never been able to ascertain.

Early spring found him in Augusta, Georgia. For the entirety of that afternoon, the sixty-three-year-old warmly greeted the throngs of visitors in the lobby of his hotel. Among the crowds, children were especially abundant, pressing personalized cards and bouquets of japonica into hands. One boy in particular though, a thirteen-year-old who’d wormed his way to the old man’s side, caught his attention.

“What’s your name son?”

“Thomas, sir... I’m from Virginia...” He fell silent and stared in wonder at the model of the man he hoped one day to become.

The General winked a sad, tired eye at Thomas and put a hand on the boy’s back, forcing him to straighten his posture.

“Walk tall then,” he said, “you’re doubly blessed.” And the boy was shoved aside by the next group of strangers bearing gifts.

Seven months later, October 12, 1870, the General passed quietly into eternity after waking from sleep and issuing his final order. And forty-three years afterward, Thomas, better known as Woodrow Wilson, was sworn in as the 28th President. He never forgot his brief meeting with Robert E. Lee.