1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 11

Chapter 4

Düsseldorf, The Castle

June 24, 1634

“My Lady? Pardon me for disturbing your vigil.”

Charlotte turned her head at the voice of General Merode, and rose stiffly from the pad where she had been kneeling. She had gone along with her sister’s suggestion that they would keep the old custom of holding a vigil, praying in the chapel on Saint John’s Night, hoping that the quiet of the night would enable her to put her options in order and make some plans for the future.

“My Lady?” Merode reached out to touch her sleeve. “Are you unwell?”

Charlotte shrugged and tried to smile. She felt dizzy and lightheaded. Holding a vigil while short of sleep and more than seven months pregnant had probably not been very wise. “You bring news, General Merode?” The man looked as worn-out as she felt, but she couldn’t read the emotions in his weathered face.

“Yes, My Lady. And I’m afraid it’s very bad news.” The general bowed. “Your husband and his son were both killed yesterday afternoon, and the troops suffered heavy casualties. The army of Essen may be expected to reach Düsseldorf either today or tomorrow, and I think you had better flee. The battles have been unusually bloody, and unless the Essen command is able to re-establish discipline very quickly, things could get badly out of hand. I’ve got only a few hundred men, but I believe our best option is to head for Jülich.”

“Thank you, general.” Charlotte pulled herself together and ignored the agitated babbling of her sister and the other people around her. “But I would like for you to try organizing some kind of defensive lines stopping Essen from taking more of Berg than the area here around Düsseldorf. The sack of the town should buy you some time, and heaven knows the mountains form their own defenses. I shall travel up the Rhine to Cologne. Archbishop Ferdinand is an old friend of my mother. Stop wailing, Elisabeth, and go pack.”

Cologne, Hatzfeldt house

On the evening of Hermann’s wedding Father Johannes sat sketching lamps for the new library on a piece of scrap-paper when Maxie and Lucie came into the muniment room. He had received an invitation to join the celebrating in the palace, but though the invitation had come from Melchior, and had no other motive than their fast growing friendship, Father Johannes had not wanted to catch the attention of the Archbishop — nor of Felix Gruyard.

“Back so early, ladies?” Father Johannes rose with a slight bow and helped Lucie to her chair.

“We used Lucie’s leg as an excuse, and borrowed Peter von Hardenrat’s carriage,” said Maxie with a frown. “Neither of us liked it there. No one talked about anything but that mess with Essen and Wolfgang of Jülich-Berg except Cousin Ferdinand, who would not talk to me about anything except the food — which he didn’t touch. And everyone who came with him from Bonn drank too much and their smiles never reached their eyes. I wish my brother had come with the archbishop, but Franz Wilhelm remained in Bonn. And immediately after the banquet Ferdinand and some of his friends pulled Melchior aside and withdrew from the hall; such rudeness towards the mayors and the city councilors worries me. Ferdinand is the son of a Duke, he cannot just sit waiting for his land and power to be eroded; it’s totally against his nature and upbringing. But if Melchior is more important than the support of the Council of Cologne…. Damned.” Maxie’s striding up and down the floor came to an abrupt end when her thin embroidered slipper connected hard with a crate.

“Do sit down Maxie,” Lucie tilted her head a bit and looked at her friend. “Melchior will tell us something when he comes back. Like you, I favor negotiations, but I cannot blame Archbishop Ferdinand and Franz for wanting to negotiate from a position of power. We’ve all heard how Schweinsberg’s doing in Fulda after simply going back to his diocese. Franz would hate to be so powerless. He might do it if he thought the people of Würzburg were being badly mistreated, but Father Johannes has made it clear that this is unlikely.”

“Actually, your brother has shown far more interest in the conditions in Fulda than in Würzburg,” said Father Johannes.

“Fulda? Why Fulda? I think my toe is broken.” Maxie winced as she eased off her shoe and moved her foot. “Help me get my stocking off, Father Johannes. I want to take a look.” Maxie leaned back on the big table and pulled up her skirts to show her pink embroidered stocking tied with a matching garter above her knee.


“Oh, bother Lucie. I cannot bend down in this boned stomacher, and you are in pain already. Besides, if Father Johannes hasn’t untied a lady’s garter before, then it’s high time he did.”

Knowing his face would be beet-red, Father Johannes knelt down in front of Maxie, and was trying to figure out which ribbon to pull when the door to the room opened.

* * *

Melchior walked slowly from the archbishop’s palace back to Hatzfeldt House. There was something seriously wrong. Archbishop Ferdinand was up to something that he wasn’t willing to talk openly about — and he was involving Franz in the intrigue. That would not necessarily have been a problem if Melchior had any confidence in the archbishop’s ability to succeed, but every bit of military experience Melchior had gathered during almost twenty years as a mercenary officer told him not to rely on Archbishop Ferdinand as a leader.

Melchior nodded to the servant by the entrance, and went down the steps to the muniment room where the candles still burned along that passage. He opened the door and stopped in surprise at the sight of Maxie with her skirt drawn up to show her legs leaning against the table with Father Johannes beetroot red in the face kneeling before her — and with Lucie broadly grinning in her chair.

“Oh my God!” After a surprised stop Melchior collapsed in a chair and bend over with laughter.

Father Johannes totally by chance pulled the right end and eased off the stocking by touching only the heel and toes. Then he returned to his chair scowling at the still laughing Melchior — and carefully avoiding the eyes of either lady.

“Will you stop laughing, Melchior. It’s not that funny. And that toe will certainly be blue and black in the morning.” Maxie frowned at her toes before dropping her skirts and sitting down. “I said stop it!”

Melchior dried his eyes, but kept smiling. “I really needed that dear Maxie. It was such an antidote to the poison I’ve inhaled tonight.”

“Glad to be of service,” Father Johannes half snarled, “but could you possibly explain what going on with the archbishop; because the rest of us haven’t got a clue.”

Melchior leaned back in his chair and looked far more somberly at Father Johannes. “No offence intended Father Johannes, but though you are a Catholic priest — a Jesuit of all things — I need to ask if your primary loyalty is to the Catholic Church or to the Americans.”

“The Americans are Catholics,” Father Johannes shrugged, “at least some of them. They have sent a delegation to the Pope to clarify their status within the Church, and I refuse to consider it a problem until and unless it becomes one. Also, I’ve never given any kind of oath to the Americans; they never asked for one or even mentioned the idea. What I give to them I give freely, without pressure or obligation, based only on my own judgement. As for the Church?” Father Johannes sighed. “I broke my vow of obedience towards my superiors at Magdeburg, and I’m totally certain I never did anything more right. Your brother arranged a pardon for this from Archbishop Ferdinand, but no one has asked me to renew my broken oath. And I’d much prefer no one did. I serve God to the best of my abilities, but there are things I’d never again do for the Church: making propaganda for a “holy” war is one, attempting to stop the American ideas from spreading is another. I really do believe they’ll do more good than harm.”

Melchior nodded. “My own oath of loyalty is, of course, to the Emperor I serve, and the most important part of “Holy Roman Empire” is first, last and always: Empire. I was sent here partly to evaluate the military situation in the West, partly for an irrelevant personal reason, and I’m far from certain that the archbishop’s plans are in the Emperor’s best interest. Maxie, are you quite certain your cousin is of a sound mind?”

“Ambitions are encouraged in the ducal family, especially for the boys.” Maxie looked down on her hands, fingers twisting her shining rings. “The only subject where I have known Ferdinand to be lost to reason concerns his older brother Philipp. There was only a year between them, and they were as close as twins, played together, studied together in Ingolstadt, and went to Rome together when Philipp became a bishop at the age of sixteen. Philipp was a Cardinal when he was killed by a fall from a horse only six years later. That was more than thirty years ago, but Ferdinand still wants to become a Cardinal like Philipp. He really has neither Philipp’s brilliant flair for theology nor his genuine interest in spiritual matters and charity. So for thirty years Ferdinand has slowly been building a power base.” She looked up at Melchior and Father Johannes. “You should understand, that for Ferdinand it is not the land, the people, the wealth or the fame, it is influence in clerical circles that has his main interest. This is illogical as he doesn’t really want to be a Cardinal for any purpose; it’s just a goal. But watching that power base erode, seeing that dream fade, feeling he failed his dead brother … Despite his long experience and political acumen, he could be making decisions based on other than logic.”

“Sorry, Maxie, but I do not think logic or reason has any part in his decisions anymore.” Melchior started twining his goatee between his fingers, a sure sign he was thinking hard. “Father Johannes, how would you estimate the chances of winning against the USE here in the West — providing the Americans remain in alliance with the Swedes?”

Father Johannes sat up, suddenly very alert. Was there a danger to that alliance? “Winning by military means? None, unless the Catholic countries suddenly started working together and didn’t count the cost. The present engagement could barely stop the Swedes and their German allies, and the addition of the Americans has made the Protestant army much more efficient. The Americans are very good at fighting, but their real value is their handling of resources, which they call the Sinews of War. Oh, winning a few battles against them would be entirely possible, perhaps even regaining a major part of Bishop’s Alley while they were occupied elsewhere. But sooner or later, they’d turn this way to push back. And then they’d just keep pushing until they reached the sea. Something like the entire French and Spanish armies might get them to accept a border not drawn by American conquests, but I wouldn’t count on it. The concept of accepting defeat gracefully appears to be incomprehensibly to them.”