1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 54:

Realizing how thoroughly he had been stung, Barberini could not help but smile himself. “I confess, Father-General, that I had not as yet passed beyond the thought of horses stampeding through the piazza. Except, and I offer this in the most desperate mitigation, that when you entered I was musing on the possible themes for a new fountain in the square.” He smiled again, a more amiable smile this time. “It does so need it. Far more than it does a carpet of libellous handbills.”

Vitelleschi’s smile became almost discernible. “Come, Your Eminence. We must discuss more constructive suggestions.”

“I fear the Father-General will be far ahead of me,” Barberini said, still rueful at having been chided like a slow-witted schoolboy. “We have confidence in our estimates of what mischief Borja intends to work, and I have considerable confidence that the Father General’s subordinates have done excellent work in securing that the cardinals who will vote in His Holiness’ favour will be present in Rome at or before the critical juncture.”

He nodded, the smile fading to a mere spectral hint of earthly pleasure. “The Society attempts as ever to repay the confidence Your Eminence and, through Your Eminence, His Holiness places in us. I have every expectation that on this occasion the account will be paid in full measure.”

Barberini felt his mouth crook up into a smile of genuine amusement at that. Vitelleschi must be well pleased in his peoples’ efforts if he was prepared to be that flowery in his description of their success. Barberini clapped hs hands together. If Vitelleschi was prepared to be mildly pleased, it behoved lesser mortals to be demonstrative. “Excellent,” he cried, “and therefore it only remains to ensure that there is nothing lurking beneath the surface of Borja’s plot?”

“There’s the rub, Your Eminence.” The smile was gone, now.

“No further success?” Barberini asked, turning away from the window at last, and beginning to rub his chin. “Maddening, to lack definite answers.”

“Normal,” Vitelleschi corrected him.

“For the Father General, perhaps,” Barberini said, looking about for a chair. “and, please, rest those bones that have grown old in the service of Christ. I find my fit of childish pique is quite past, now.”

“Very good, Your Eminence.”

“Now, “ Barberini said, when they were both seated and he had rung for a servant to bring refreshments, “We may be no more certain beyond our educated guesses as to what Borja is about, but what is Quevedo doing?”

“Printing handbills,” Vitelleschi said, promptly, and Barberini could have sworn there was an impish tone in his voice as he said it.

Barberini refused to be baited, suspecting the while that he was being taught a lesson thereby. “I presume that there are more handbills than simply these that slur what there is of my good name?”

“Your Eminence presumes correctly. We have identified twelve distinct ones, in the course of the last week alone. Each framed so as to be as barely coherent as the one which I note Your Eminence still has in his hand.”

“I do? I do,” Barberini said, putting the offending paper down on the table, grateful for the moment of levity. “It is as if Quevedo does not care what rumour he starts, so long as he starts some rumour to the general disorder of Rome.”

“Just so, Your Eminence.”

“What is to be done?” Barberini asked. “What can be answered in the one about myself does not merit the dignity of a response, I feel.”

“Your Eminence’s considered response is commendably temperate. It is usual for the populace to be restive at this time of year when the price of bread is at its highest, seemingly each year higher than the year before. Quevedo seems, in our estimation, to be casting as many seeds as possible on the ground.”

Barberini caught the biblical metaphor. “And he hopes for fruit from the stoniest of ground?”

“He does not act alone. Borja, directly and indirectly, can exert control over what is preached from a number of Rome’s pulpits. Things are being said from those pulpits, Your Eminence.”

Barberini thought about that for a moment. He had had, in the course of analysing what Borja was up to, to review the control of all of Rome’s churches. “I do not believe the Spanish party controls any churches in the poorer quarters. Those that are in the localities frequented by the common folk of Rome are all in the gift of the old families of Rome -“

“The Borghese.”

That was a connection that shed a great deal of light, Barberini realised. The Borghese were among the oldest of Rome’s nobility and controlled the benefices of some of Rome’s oldest parishes. And the older parishes tended to be the poorer neighbourhoods. And if they were preaching Spain’s interest—“The Borghese are definitely against us?” he asked.

“Subtly so. Their more popular pulpits speak against the malign influence of the United States of Europe. Sermons against the Strega Nichols have been preached in at least two churches in the last week, and much is being said about foreign plots against the Church of Rome. In the more affluent neighbourhoods, they are viewing the discontent of the people with great alarm.”

“Stirring up class against class?” That was the very definition of sedition, Barberini realised, and if the Borghese had gone that far, then whatever efforts had been made to ensure the Borghese remained at least loyal to Italian interests over foreign ones had been in vain. Barberini had not personally been involved. Discussions between the noble houses of Rome were delicate business at the best of times, and never left to men in their twenties, however dizzyingly they had been promoted. “This grows grave.”

Vitelleschi made no reply.