1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 19

Chapter 9

Bonn, The Archbishop’s Palace

August, 1634

“Charlotte, I have had enough of your willfulness and lack of gratitude.” Archbishop Ferdinand pushed open the door to Charlotte’s room with a bang, causing her nursing son, Philipp, to let go of her nipple and scream. The archbishop paid no attention to the baby, just frowned and motioned for Sister Ursula to leave. He calmed his face and smiled, but his hand’s jerky movements showed that he was extremely upset. “You are nothing but a silly girl and in no way capable of handling the affairs of your son and his estates. You will now write letters naming me the sole guardian of my new little godson and entrusting all his affairs — and yours — to me. You will also make it quite clear to your family that it is entirely to your wish that the two of you are staying here as my guests.”

“No!” Charlotte rose with the screaming baby in her arms. “My son’s guardians will be my brother and my family. You cannot keep us here forever. You and your two jailers have kept me from all information about what is going on outside this room, but I know my family. My aunt, Princess Katharina of Sweden, will have written to her emperor brother, and my mother will have the entire Simmern family alerted. They haven’t heard from me for more than a month, and even those who don’t care for me personally will know the importance of my baby. You risk having not just the Swedes coming at you from the north and east, but also the entire Pfalz rising against you in the south. And judging from the last news I heard before you locked me up, your ducal brother in Bavaria has far too many problems on his own to come to your aid.”

“You are entirely right, my dear,” the archbishop kept smiling, “and that is just half of my problems. Which is why my faithful Gruyard will have the care of your baby until I get those letters.” He snatched the swaddled baby, and had the door locked behind him before Charlotte could reach him.

Sister Ursula had stepped back from the door so quickly she fell, and rose stammering an apology, but the archbishop just thrust the screaming baby at her and said: “Get a wet-nurse.”

* * *

Charlotte sat staring at her bloody hands in the fading evening light when Sister Ursula opened the door and entered with a covered tray and a burning candle. “You miserable monster! Where is my son?” Charlotte grabbed the empty cradle and aimed it for the nun’s head, but it slipped in her hands, which were weak and torn from battering against the door all day. She stood panting and glaring while Sister Ursula calmly set the tray on the table and placed the cradle right way up in the middle of the floor. Then from the tray she took a sealed clay pot with long piece of thin rope sticking out from the top, and placed this in the cradle.

“Katharina Charlotte,” said Sister Ursula, looking straight into Charlotte’s eyes. “I have loved and served Archbishop Ferdinand all my life, I was even his mistress briefly in my youth. But he has now gone too far. The end may justify the means — but not all means. And Ferdinand has gone beyond all that is reasonable. He is no longer the person he once was.” She sighed. “Gruyard has left for Fulda and your baby is waiting for you at the home of Irmgard Eigenhaus. There is a man outside waiting to take you there. I’ll go tell the archbishop you were gone when I came with your dinner, and create a mystery with this.” She held the burning candle to the end of the rope, which caught fire and started a sputtering burn. Then she grabbed Charlotte’s arm and pulled her out of the room, leaving the door open behind them.

* * *

The late Master Eigenhaus, Councilor of Bonn and Master of the Merchant’s Guild, had sired four daughters on his wife and four more on his mistress. This was not in itself an unusual situation for a prominent man, but insisting that both women with all the children lived together in his house had been regarded as rather eccentric. Not to mention that he dowered all the girls equally. Still, he was wealthy, well-liked and well-connected, and contributed freely to both the church and civic projects, so nobody made that much of an issue of the arrangement.

The girls had been brought up to consider themselves a family, and to aim at making that family wealthy and powerful. As females they were barred from sitting in Bonn’s ruling council, but six of the eight girls had married prominent guild members, and they were now a major force in town.

Irmgard, the oldest of the illegitimate daughters, had never married, but instead used her dower to buy the shop from the town’s apothecary, and officially set herself up as a midwife. She first paid the old apothecary to remain the official head of the business, but everybody knew that his shaking hands made it impossible for him to make even the simplest tisane. After he died, Irmgard simply kept on running the business.

After Sister Ursula had delivered Charlotte to a big, limping man, he had hidden her in his waist-high, fish-smelling basket, and actually carried her on his back to the backdoor of the apothecary shop. Irmgard had been waiting with the baby in her arms, and even before the archbishop had calmed his household after the explosion in Charlotte’s room, Charlotte and the baby had been fast asleep in the attic above the shop.

The next morning Irmgard set about changing Charlotte’s appearance by bleaching her hair with chamomile and darkening her pale skin with walnut water. So by the time the archbishop had accepted that the baby had unexplainably disappeared from his new cradle at the wet-nurse’s room, the pale and delicate brunette, Countess Palatine Katharina Charlotte von Zweibrücken, had become the buxom, fair-haired and sunburned Lotti, widow of a soldier from Trier. And by the time he had picked up the trail of the young mother travelling into Berg in Charlotte’s clothes, Lotti was just another of the many refugees the Eigenhaus family took in and briefly employed before finding them a position through their many friends and connections.

The matriarch of the Eigenhause family was the oldest legitimate daughter, Benedicte, who ran the family trading affairs as well as the household. Every major concern of the town from polluted wells and garbage removal to new wall-cannons and the women’s militias went by way of Frau Eigenhaus. Her devoted husband had inherited a series of wineries, and — while no bad merchant himself — was more than satisfied to concentrate on wine-making and leave the general trade to his wife.

Frau Benedicte’s household was big and busy with all the matriarch’s activities, so no one found it the least bit unusual when Charlotte — as Lotti — was hired to embroider the gowns for the wedding of Frau Benedicte’s youngest daughter. Charlotte — along with baby Philipp — was given a room in the attic and a place at the servant’s end of the family table, and — to protect the expensive fabrics — Frau Benedicte had arranged for Charlotte to do her work in the main parlor. Charlotte had no problems with the delicate needlework, and she could keep her baby beside her while she worked, but the parlor was also where Frau Benedicte spent most of her day, and just thinking about all Frau Benedicte’s projects made Charlotte feel exhausted.