1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 25

Or had. It seemed the colossus had become decrepit in some places and fragmented in others. Ferdinand III of Austria had not taken the steps necessary to become the next emperor of the Holy Roman Empire; that meant he had all but ceded the lands he had lost to the armies of Gustav Adolf. Ferdinand had also stood aside when the same Reformist forces battered down Maximilian of Bavaria, formerly a close ally and an ardent fellow Catholic. Then Philip IV’s own brother — Fernando, the cardinal-infante — had received title to the Spanish Low Countries from Isabella, and in short order, had proclaimed himself “King in the Netherlands” — a dubious title, since he was ostensibly subject to another king. Specifically, his brother in Madrid.

The consequences of all this internecine strife had been slow but certain in coming. Spanish reales had now ceased to flow into Fernando’s coffers. The new king in the Low Countries was thus hard pressed to maintain any tercios — such as the Irish — that were not paid directly by Philip. Madrid’s mood was not improved when Maria Anna, sister of Ferdinand III of Austria, eloped with Fernando when he borrowed one of the Swede’s up-time airplanes to spirit her back to the Low Countries. The once unified monolith that was Hapsburg power in Europe was undergoing troubling reconfigurations. Consequently, even a person as politically disinterested as Johnnie O’Neill understood that yesterday’s friends might easily transmogrify into tomorrow’s enemies.

Sean Connal’s youthful baritone rolled the length of the table. “So, Your Graces, I take it that the exact nature of our actions in Rome will be determined by the conditions we find there.”

Fernando exchanged an approving look with his wife, who inclined her head to indicate their collective royal pleasure with the young surgeon. “This is nicely put, Doctor; I was not informed you were as deft with words as you are with a scalpel.”

“My lady the Queen is as kind as she is eloquent. And generous. I have not yet had the honor of expressing my personal thanks to her for arranging my attendance at several of the medical practica offered by Lady Anne Jefferson. I wish I had a year to study under her tutelage.”

“How charming; she used exactly the same turn of phrase when remarking how much she would have liked to keep you on as a student. But it seems other duties must take precedence, now.”

“Yes, so it seems. But we have yet to learn what those duties are, other than to journey to Rome. And once there –?”

For a reason Owen could not quite ascertain, the royalty in the room became faintly uncomfortable. Rubens, after waiting a long moment, evidently concluded that this bit of business had been left for him to handle. “We are concerned for the safety of one of your countrymen, Father Luke Wadding. We feel that if all of you were to exhort him to do so, he would agree to depart from the Irish College in Rome.”

John’s head came up; one of Connal’s eyebrows did the same. Owen Roe leaned forward. “Father Wadding is in danger? From whom?”

Rubens looked for help from the Hapsburg end of the table but found none. “Consider the angry crowds in Rome, the violence of the occupation, the disorder. Amidst all that chaos, hunger, and desperation, almost anything could –”

“No.” The voice was John’s: firm, assured, decisive, like when he was on a battlefield. “Rome would never harm Luke Wadding. I’ve been there, and have studied” — he stumbled past that dubious claim — “with some of the fathers who are now teaching at the college at St. Isidore’s. So let me tell you how the Romans feel toward Father Luke Wadding. When they see him, they don’t hail him by any of his titles; to them, he’s not ‘Guardian of the College,’ or ‘Procurator,’ or ‘Reverend Father.’ He’s just Padre Luca. They say it without bowing, but with smiles as big and bright as rainbows. Which is just how he greets them. There’s simply no reason to be worried about his safety in Rome.”

“Yet, we are worried,” announced Fernando, his face suddenly longer than usual.

“But from whom does he need protection?”

“From my brother’s servants.”

Now it was Owen’s turn to goggle. “What? The Spanish would harm Wadding? Your Highness, he studied in Salamanca! He was well-known in Philip’s court –”

Isabella leaned forward, her face pained — rather the way it is when a parent must admit they have a destructive or truant child. “My nephew Philip was — unwise — in electing to give Cardinal Borja such wide discretionary powers. In fact, there is rumor that the many of the cardinals who were killed ‘resisting lawful arrest’ during the attack upon Rome were slain by Borja’s agents.”

“What were the crimes of these cardinals?”

“What indeed?” answered Isabella, who looked at Owen directly, her face as hard and lined as slate.

Owen gaped for a moment before easing his jaw shut. So they had all been assassinated? Upwards of a dozen cardinals? Was Borja mad? And if he was, that could even mean — “What about the pope? Is there word whether he still lives?”

“That is not known. And is yet another topic for us to discuss. However, insofar as Father Wadding’s safety is concerned, part of our worry arises from the fact that the Franciscan College at St. Isidore’s was built and endowed by Ludovisi money.”

Owen shook his head; the family politics of Rome were well beyond the scope of his knowledge.

Queen Maria Anna provided the rest. “The Ludovisi family and its cardinal have a long, friendly affiliation with the Barberinis. And particularly with Maffeo Barberini — Pope Urban VIII.”

“Oh,” said Owen. “I see.”

“Yes,” nodded Isabella, confirming the magnitude of both Borja’s monstrousness and pettiness. “Now, if it was my nephew the king who was overseeing the situation in Rome, there would be a comparatively even hand guiding the actions of the tercios, inquisitors, and confidential agents. But with Borja in command –”

The whole room had become glum. In the up-timer history books, the name Borja was remembered — in its Italianate form “Borgia” — for treachery and murder, particularly poisoning. That, at least, had been the height of the family’s infamy in that world, but here —

“Still,” Owen protested, “Wadding is primarily a scholar. And he’s a staunch Counter-Reformationalist, besides. Surely Borja wouldn’t arrest him simply because his college was built with money that came from a friend of the pope.”

Isabella inclined her head in agreement. “No, probably not. But there is an added complication.”

“There always is,” observed Sean Connal with a faint smile.

Isabella darted a glance at him; Owen couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or delighted. Probably both, knowing her. “We have it on relatively good authority that in the past year, Pope Urban created a number — an unprecedented number — of cardinals in pectore.”

John O’Neill fumbled after the Latin. “In pec-what?”

Oh, Johnnie, Johnnie, you have to do better than that. Owen furnished the translation. “It’s what we call ‘close to the chest,’ Lord O’Neill. Popes can create cardinals without consulting the Consistory. Because these cardinals are not revealed to anyone else, they are considered hidden, or held ‘close to the chest.'” He turned toward Isabella. “So why was Urban creating cardinals in pectore? Do you suspect he was preparing for this kind of attack?”

Another smile from the archduchess that might have been a pat on the head. “We do not know, but it seems logical, in retrospect. After all, word has it that he consulted the up-time histories on the future of his papal tenure, and just beyond, very closely.”

“And how does all this concern Father Wadding?”

“It turns out that Father Wadding was the first Irish cleric ever to receive votes to be made a cardinal. It did not go through for political reasons. I suspect those same political reasons could make Borja fear Wadding now.”

Sean Connal nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Not to me it doesn’t,” John snapped across the table. “I know Wadding, and so must Borja. Father Luke will not lick the boots of heretics, and that’s well known by his friends in Madrid –”

“– who are not in Rome to help him,” soothed Rubens. “I have had occasion to scan the relevant histories. Wadding did indeed have many admirers among the Spanish Party in the Consistory, who appreciated his eloquent Counter-Reformation writings. But Wadding was also liked by Urban, who supported the expansion of his church, St. Isidore’s, and the Irish cause. As you all know. Yet, despite having friends in both circles, he never attracted the support necessary to become a cardinal.”

“Bigotry,” declared John O’Neill. “The same bigotry that kept the Curia from taking my father seriously when he begged them –”

“No,” interrupted Isabella. “The danger to Wadding does not stem from bigotry; it stems from fear.”

That stopped O’Neill as surely as if he had run headlong into a brick wall. “Fear? The Spanish cardinals — and Borja — fear Father Luke? But –?”