1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 31

“No, Ria, Litsa is right.” Johanna scowled at the younger girl. “The very point of this election is that everybody is voting, so correct information is important. And you need extra lessons in geography: Berg is not near Birstein.”

“Well, it’s west from home!”

“So are the Americas!”

“Children!” At the word from the abbess the two girls subsided and sat down again. “Elisabeth and Johanna are right about the importance of correct public information. It used to be a minor matter, but with more and more power moving from the old families to the common people it is a problem — and becoming more so. Litsa, do come with me when I go visit Maxie tomorrow. She did arrive with young Zweibrücken yesterday, and she is staying with one of her cousins. I had a long letter from her less than a month ago and she mentioned that a friend of her was connected to the Simplicissimus Magazine; she can help you find more information about the Origin of News.”

“Anchen, you too should meet Maxie. Maria…” The abbess stopped, sighed and continued in a very patient voice, “the last duke of Jülich-Berg-Kleve died insane and childless, and his lands were divided between his four sisters with the major portions going to the two oldest. The heir to the eldest sister — and thus the lands of Jülich and Berg — is the rumored new-born baby of the late Duke Wolfgang of Neuburg and his second wife, young Zweibrücken’s sister Katharine Charlotte. Charlotte and her baby are presently guests — or prisoners — of Maxie’s uncle, Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne. The Republic of Essen is laying claim on part of Berg by right of conquest after Duke Wolfgang’s attack on them in June, but Jülich and the rest of Berg legally belong to the baby. If the baby dies, the usual heirs would have been Wolfgang’s two brothers, but Johann von Hilpoltstein’s children keep dying within a year, and August von Sulzback’s widow, Countess Hedwig of Holstein-Gottorp, has made it quite clear that she wants nothing to do with this inheritance mess. Hedwig is a very sensible woman, and claiming those torn and disputed lands on behalf of a twelve-year-old sickly boy, would only lead to trouble.”

Maria’s dimpled cheeks had gone very red during the abbess’ careful explanation; as well they should, in Elisabeth’s opinion. That entire problematic heritage had been the centre of any number of conflicts and intrigues for all their lives, and while not everyone needed the political acumen of the abbess — or cousin Amalie — neither could Ria afford to be that ignorant. Still, she was very young for her age, and — to draw the abbess’ attention from her sister — Elisabeth asked: “But how about tante Anna Marie? Could she not make a claim?”

The abbess frowned at the thought of her stepmother, and answered in a softer voice. “Tante Anna Marie, could indeed make a claim on behalf of my half-brother, Johann Philipp von Saxe-Altenburg. But little Elisabeth Sophia is his only child — in fact after the Muensterberg-Oels family was recently killed in Bohemia she is Anna Marie’s only grandchild — so they might choose to stay out of it too.”

“But not wanting land?” Johanna interrupted now frowning and obviously getting interested in the problem. “Countess Hedwig has been to talk with Eleonore and Wettin about this, and since her son is so young and still weak after the pox that killed his father and siblings, I can see the point in preferring to gain the emperor’s favor by leaving the matter in his hands. But Hilpoltstein might still get a living heir, and surely tante Anna Marie would want those lands even if she was the last Neuburg alive — and on her death-bed as well. The inheritance cannot be totally worthless.”

“Yes, Anchen,” said the abbess seriously, “it’s not worthless. Northern Jülich is a fertile area, and Berg’s location by the Rhine makes it important, but both areas are largely Catholic, they are on far from secure USE borders, and they are so drained of everything by Wolfgang’s mismanagement these last few years that you would need to spend a fortune securing and holding them. Also, the changing political structure — with the constitution replacing so many of the old ways — makes the title to more land of much less importance than making what you already have productive and well administrated.” The abbess hesitated a moment. “This subject is extremely sensitive right now. While the emperor was just the king of Sweden, he needed not concern himself overly much about how his allies managed their land. But now those areas have become his direct power-base, and lands in the hands of supporters who cannot manage what they have, are going to be almost as dangerous as lands in the hands of opponents. And so — as Hedwig has already realised — admitting your limits, and leaving the fate of an area in the hands of the emperor is a very sure way to gain you favor with him.” The abbess smiled at Johanna and Eva. “Your brother-in-law, Wettin, is a prime example of the value of political favor over title to land. And while my step-mother might not have realized this, I’m quite certain my half-brother has.”

“Do you think Zweibrücken is here on behalf of his sister and nephew, Mother Dorothea?” asked Elisabeth. “Or on his own behalf? I think I remember that he too is heir to Johann the Insane.”

“He is, dear Litsa.” The abbess nodded approving at Elisabeth. “Young Zweibrücken is heir to the third sister, and the heirs to the second sister are the Brandenburg family.” The abbess turned grim. “And after the recent unpleasantness — I trust you have all heard of that — they are not in a position to lay claim on Berg or anything else.”

“I do not know young Zweibrücken’s plans,” the abbess continued, “and there is said to be a rather odd recent codicil to Charlotte’s marriage contract, but if Charlotte’s baby dies, her brother could put forth a claim on behalf of the Zweibrücken family, not only to Neuburg’s areas of Jülich and Berg, but also to Brandenburg’s areas from the second sister. Hilpoltstein, Hedwig, tante Anna Marie, and my half-brother, could all challenge that claim, but with no young, strong male to build up the land and secure the border, their claims might annoy the emperor. Also, young Zweibrücken’s uncle is married to the emperor’s oldest sister Princess Katharina of Sweden and their son is second in line for the Imperial throne after Princess Kristina. In the American world he became the king of Sweden after she abdicated.”

The abbess frowned and shook her head. “Never mind that. Young Zweibrücken is far from a nobody, but whether or not he can gain the emperor’s support for whatever he wants, will depend entirely upon what kind of man he proves himself to be. He is only eighteen, a year older than you, Maria, but a message last week from the Americans in Mainz, told us that he comes as head of a delegation from Cologne. That town has now broken completely with Archbishop Ferdinand and is seeking membership of the USE. They are probably only applying to stop Hesse from besieging the town, but still: if Zweibrücken brings Cologne into the USE,” the abbess spread her hands and smiled, “with his combination of legal claims, royal connection and political benefits, he could end up with Berg and perhaps other parts of those disputed areas.”

“Especially since his own lands are on the French border.” Eva sat with her back to the window. Like Maria she was the youngest of her family, but rather than being vain and slightly spoiled, Eva was quiet and bookish, and never said very much. When asked, she joked that she never had the chance to speak because Johanna always said it first, but in Elisabeth’s opinion the main reason was that an attack of pox had left Eva’s face badly scarred.  As a result, she was usually reticent, at least in public.

“Ah, I did wonder if any of you would think that far ahead,” the abbess’ eyes twinkled with approval. Elisabeth knew that the abbess considered Eva one of her most intelligent students, and had tried to talk the brainy young hermit into a life as a nun. Eva, however, would not even consider it, claiming that she had no vocation. Still, what other possibilities were there for an intelligent noble woman with no marriage prospects? Elisabeth didn’t have a vocation either, but surely a life like the abbess’ would be better than that mess of a life their sister Katharina was living in Birstein. “Yes, France is a problem that must be watched most carefully,” the abbess continued, “and Zweibrücken as an ally — or even a part of USE — would be a major benefit. Just permission for a garrison to keep an eye on Trier would probably be worth making young Zweibrücken his nephew’s guardian. But enough about politics for now; would anybody care for a game of cards?”