1635: The Eastern Front — Snippet 24

Chapter 12


“Wilhelm, this course of action is very reckless.” The Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel set down his glass of wine and leaned forward in his chair. That took a bit of effort, since Wilhelm V was a portly man and the armchair in Wilhelm Wettin’s salon was plush and deep. “What could have possessed you to decide this?”

Standing behind her husband, with her hand on his shoulder, Amalie Elizabeth knew the argument was futile. Wilhelm had that stubborn, grumpy expression that she’d come to know all too well in the three days since she and her husband had returned to the capital. He seemed to have aged a year for every week in office, too.

She wondered what had happened to the charming, gracious, intelligent man who’d been a close friend and confidant of the ruling family of Hesse-Kassel for decades. Had a troll from legend abducted him and left an impostor in his place? This — this — pigheaded, sullen blockhead whom she could barely recognize.

That was just a fancy, though. She knew the real explanation was prosaic, and shied away from it simply because she hated to admit that even people as acute and perceptive as Wilhelm Wettin — as herself also, she imagined, in the wrong circumstances — could behave so foolishly.

It was a matter of poise. Wilhelm had been mentally off-balance and staggering for at least a year, ever since he smelled the scent of victory and began making short-sighted bargains and compromises in order to gain the support of everyone he could. Being fair, Amalie Elizabeth and her husband had initially inclined in that direction themselves. But once they recognized the danger involved, they’d tried to restrain Wilhelm.

To no avail, unfortunately. They were bystanders, to a degree, where he was the man at the very center of the maelstrom. What they’d been able to see — as would Wilhelm himself, had he retained his normally judicious temperament — was that the petty obsessions of the average aristocrat and the most prosperous burghers was driving the Crown Loyalist Party off a cliff. Their insistence on retaining all possible privileges was blinding them to the need to abandon many of them if they were to survive at all.

And blinding Wilhelm too — or, at least, putting so much pressure on him that he refused to look.

“If you have to throw these dogs a bone,” her husband continued, “then make it the established church. But whatever you do, stay away from trying to impose a uniform solution upon the citizenship problem.”

Wettin was sunk far back into his own chair, his hands gripping the armrests tightly. “I’ve already told you, I can’t. Our coalition — which is what it is, never think otherwise — has too many factions which are adamant on both issues. And if they were willing to compromise, it’d be over the established church. They won’t budge on citizenship.”

It was all Amalie Elizabeth could do not to grind her teeth.

There were two central issues roiling the United States of Europe. It was their differences on these two points that had so sharply distinguished Wilhelm and his opponent Mike Stearns in the recent election.

The first was the matter of an established church. Basically, there were four possible positions:

The position of Stearns and his Fourth of July Party was simple: complete separation of church and state. They wanted no established church of any kind.

On the far opposite side of the political spectrum, some figures in the Crown Loyalist Party — a relatively small minority, thankfully — wanted a single established church for the entire nation. That would have to be Lutheranism, of course. One could hardly do otherwise, given that the emperor was a Lutheran.

Most members of the Crown Loyalist Party, however, took a more moderate stance. They agreed that an established church was a necessary basis for any stable polity, but they felt it would be impossible to impose a single church on the entire country. The USE simply had too many denominations, even leaving aside the issue of the Jews. Those moderate Crown Loyalists had no desire to repeat the century of instability caused by excluding the Calvinists from the Peace of Augsburg in 1555.

Instead, they favored separate established churches in each province. With some exceptions — the only really important one being the State of Thuringia-Franconia, and those people could be counted on to be obstreperous no matter what — the provinces were relatively uniform, in religious terms. Where an established church for the entire USE would be an endless source of conflict, established churches for each separate province should be stable enough.

Within that broad agreement, however, another division existed: One camp, led by Hesse-Kassel, argued that the issue of an established church should be settled entirely on a provincial level. That would allow some of the more free-thinking provinces, like the SoTF and Magdeburg, to opt for separation of church and state.

But most of the Crown Loyalists, pigheaded as usual, would not accept that compromise. They wanted an established church to be mandatory for every province, whether that province wanted one or not. In effect, they insisted on picking a fight with the Committees of Correspondence in their own strongholds, which the ruling couple of Hesse-Kassel thought was about as smart as picking a fight with a bear in its own den.

Still, despite the heat that had been generated over the question of an established church during the campaign, almost nobody thought it was really a critical matter. The reason was simple. With the exception of a very small number of reactionary diehards, who were considered blockheads even by most Crown Loyalists, every prominent figure in the political life of the USE agreed that religious persecution was dead and buried. No one would be required to join the established church, nor would any member of any other denomination be penalized for not belonging — except, of course, that some of the taxes they paid would be used to support a church they didn’t belong to.

In private discussions, Mike Stearns had told Amalie Elizabeth and her husband that he would be willing to accept an established church as a compromise solution, if need be. He’d even accept a nation-wide established Lutheran church, provided it was set up the way established churches had been set up in some of the nations from the universe he’d come from, like England and Denmark.