About a hundred years had passed since the death of Charlemagne, and his great empire had fallen to pieces. Seven kings ruled where he had once been sole emperor.
West of the Rhine , where the Germans lived, the last descendant of Charlemagne died when he was a mere boy. The German nobles were not willing for any foreign prince to govern them, and yet they saw that they must unite to defend their country against the invasions of the barbarians called Magyars (ma-jarz'). So they met and elected Conrad, duke of Franconia , to be their king.
However, although he became king in name, Conrad never had much power over his nobles. Some of them refused to recognize him as king and his reign was disturbed by quarrels and wars. He died in 919, and on his death-bed he said to his brother, "Henry, Duke of Saxony, is the ablest ruler in the empire. Elect him king, and Germany will have peace."
A few months after Conrad's death, the nobles met at Aix-la-Chapelle and elected Henry to be their king.
At this time it was the custom in Europe to hunt various birds, such as the wild duck and partridge, with falcons. The falcons were long-winged birds of prey, resembling hawks. They were trained to perch on their master's wrist and wait patiently until they were told to fly. Then they would swiftly dart at their prey and bear it to the ground. Henry was very fond of falconry and hence was known as Henry the Fowler, or Falconer.
As soon as the other dukes had elected him king a messenger was sent to Saxony to inform him of the honor done him. After a search of some days he was at last found, far up in the Hartz Mountains , hunting with his falcons. Kneeling at his feet, the messenger said:
"God save you, Henry of Saxony. I come to announce the death of King Conrad and to tell you that the nobles have elected you to succeed him as king of the Germans."
For a moment the duke was speechless with amazement. Then he exclaimed:
"Elected me king? I cannot believe it. I am a Saxon, and King Conrad was a Frank and a bitter enemy to me."
"It is true, " replied the messenger. "Conrad, when dying, advised that the nobles should choose you as his successor."
Henry was silent for while and then he said, "King Conrad was a good man. I know it now; and I am sorry that I did not understand him better when he was alive. I accept the position offered to me and I pray that I may be guided by Heaven in ruling his people."
So Henry the Fowler left the chase to take up his duties as king of the Germans.