1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 24

When the archbishop — and Franz — had tried to talk Melchior into leading an attempt to take back Mainz, Würzburg and the other conquered bishoprics, he had repeatedly pointed out that those towns were defended by garrisons behind solid fortifications and walls, and that the archbishop had no artillery worth mentioning. Without artillery the gates would have to be opened by tricks or treason, and while the archbishop expected the populations to rise against the occupying USE garrisons, Melchior was firmly convinced that the prelate was deceiving himself. From what Father Johannes had told him about the Americans and their ways, some of the leaders of the occupied towns might prefer the return of the ruling bishops, but the main population would probably be quite satisfied with the new rules and freedoms.

Still, with some luck — and especially if the archbishop had succeeded in talking Melchior into leading his forces — it might have been possible to regain Koblenz and Wiesbaden, and perhaps even Mainz. But the next town up the rivers was Frankfurt am Main, filled with Protestant troops and supplies, ideally posed for a quick trip down the Rhine to kick the archbishop’s regiments all the way to the Dutch border. Not a good plan. There could be situations where it made sense to conquer a town that you could hold only briefly, but as far as Melchior could see, nothing would be gained here to make it worth the cost.

The archbishop had claimed to have some kind of secret plan involving Fulda to break up the USE and presumably make them need their troops elsewhere. But he wouldn’t give Melchior the details, and Melchior frankly didn’t trust the old man to know what he was doing. In fact, if it had not been for Melchior’s younger brother, Franz, Prince-Bishop of Würzburg — who hoped the archbishop’s plan would eventually regain him his lost bishopric — Melchior would just have washed his hands of the entire mess. Then, when the USE came in response to the archbishop’s trouble-making, the Hatzfeldt family could have concentrated on negotiating a deal with the occupying forces. The Schönstein Hatzfeldts with their long history of serving Hessen as administrators would have helped. Sometimes, with no way to win the battle, you just had to save as much as you could.

Heinrich and Hermann, the oldest and the youngest of the four brothers, completely agreed with Melchior. Heinrich, a canon at St. Alban in Mainz, had stayed during and after the Protestant conquest, while all his superiors fled to Cologne. As a result he had spent two years dealing and negotiating on behalf of his church, first with the army, then with the American NUS administration. He had told the family that the Americans followed different rules, but once you knew those, it was entirely possible to function and even prosper.

Hermann had recently sold his commission as a colonel to concentrate on handling the family estates on both sides of the border, and very badly wanted to join the new industries starting in Essen and around Magdeburg, so he wanted firm treaties all around.

But Franz, Melchior’s third brother, would not accept the logic of this. He had only been bishop of Würzburg for little more than a year when he had fled from the Protestant army sweeping down from the north. Franz had made so many plans for his bishopric: new schools, agricultural improvements, helping all those Catholic refugees from the north resettle and build new lives. Now, it was breaking his heart to be reduced to a powerless refugee, forced to depend on either the support of his family or the charity of the archbishop.

In Melchior’s opinion, Franz needed to make a deal with the USE, so he could go back to Würzburg and start working. True, a bishop under American rule had little earthly power compared to a ruler of a bishopric, but the people would be there to care for and help. And Franz had spent eight years as a diplomat in the service of the two previous prince-bishops of Bamberg. Surely he could negotiate something better for himself than Abbot Schweinsberg had in Fulda. But first of all Franz had to stop chasing the archbishop’s rainbows and settle for what was possible.

When all else failed, Melchior had gone to Munich hoping to persuade Duke Maximilian to put an end to Archbishop Ferdinand’s wild schemes. Unfortunately Bavaria had been in total chaos after the disappearance of the duke’s fiancée, Archduchess Maria Anna, and in Melchior’s opinion the duke had been even more unbalanced than the archbishop. Melchior had done what he could, but nobody had seemed to both care about the danger to Cologne, and have the power to call the archbishop to order.

In the end Melchior had given up in Bavaria, and instead tried to get permission from the emperor in Vienna to take his own regiments west to Cologne and take command of the area. The old Emperor Ferdinand had been too ill to make any decisions, but his heir, Archduke Ferdinand, had told Melchior to return to Cologne and try to hold things together until reinforcements could arrive. A bit vague, but then everything was quite unsettled at the moment, and the archduke had supplied Melchior with some unusually potent papers and writs.

Old Nic had been heating a pot of water while Melchior sat musing, and now silently gave him a mug of hot brandy. “All four of the archbishop’s regiments were billeted within or around the walls of Bonn when I left,” said Melchior frowning. “Do you know how many were moved across the Rhine to the Beuel and how big the Hessian army is?”

“Some moved to Beuel and some to that camp outside t’west gate. Them colonels had left; no discipline and rioting in town.” The old man harked and spat again. “Old Pegleg from Beuel came across today. He’d seen the attack. Looked like them Hessians have about half real cavalry and half them mounted infantry. Don’t know how many. Everybody in Bonn who can’s fled west t’Cologne or t’Aachen. There’s a few Hessians this side already. Prob’ly scouts crossing before the attack. One group’s at t’Goat.”

“I know. Are your family well?”

“Yeah, nobby wanna fight armed soldiers, but there’s only a handful. They can stop travelers if they want to, but they make much trouble and me girls gonna bash their balls. Big fine girls.”

Melchior, remembering a surprising intimate encounter with one of the old man’s granddaughters some years ago, didn’t really doubt that. “Have you heard anything about my brother, Franz, or the archbishop?”

“Nope. Somebody just mentioned them mercenary colonels not being around, and wondered where you’d gone.”