1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 23

Chapter 11

Royal Palace

Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe

This time, when Gretchen was ushered into the presence of the emperor, two things were different. The chamber was much smaller, almost intimate in its dimensions, albeit as lavishly furnished as you’d expect in a royal palace. And they were quite alone. There were not even any servants in the room; just a small bell resting on a side table next to Gustav Adolf’s chair with which he could summon one if desired.

To Gretchen’s surprise, the emperor rose to greet her when she came into the chamber. She was no connoisseur of imperial protocol, but she was quite sure that was unusual. Don Fernando — even when he had simply been the Cardinal-Infante, not the King in the Netherlands — had never risen to greet her when she came into his presence. Neither had his wife Maria Anna, nor the Archduchess Isabella, nor Fredrik Hendrik, the Prince of Orange.

Gustav Adolf was smiling a bit ruefully when he resumed his seat. “I am training myself, you see. Well… being honest, I am letting my daughter’s governess train me. That’s the up-timer, Caroline Platzer. Have you met her?”

Gretchen shook her head. “Not so far as I can recall.”

“She is what they call a ‘social worker.'”

Gretchen tried to make sense of the term. “She works at… managing social affairs?”

“Not exactly. The way Caroline describes the profession herself — I assure you the crudity is hers, not mine! — is that social workers are the grease that helps a society’s axles turn more easily.” He shrugged. “I’d think she was at least half-mad except that she can work magic with my daughter where no one else has ever been able to. The princess’ ladies-in-waiting are well-nigh hysterical over Caroline’s methods, but… they work. And none of their methods ever did anything but make my intelligent and headstrong daughter a veritable terror.”

The emperor turned his head a bit to the side, in order to give Gretchen a sideways look. “Are you aware of Kristina’s history — her future history, I mean, as recorded in the American books?”

“Yes, in broad outline. She succeeded you, it did not go well, and eventually she abdicated, converted to Catholicism and went to live in Rome.” Gretchen tried to keep a smile from showing, but failed. “There was this, too. Apparently her headstrong manner never changed. There’s a story in one of those books — so I’m told; I did not read it myself — that when the guests at a celebration she held in her villa in Rome refused to leave when ordered –”

“Ha!” Gustav Adolf clapped his big hands on his knees. “Yes, I read it! She ordered her household guards to fire on the unruly lot. Slew several of them, before the rest obeyed and left.”

He chuckled softly, and shook his head. It was an oddly fond gesture, given that it was that of a father reminiscing — using the term very, very crookedly — on his daughter’s murderous temper. “Caroline is good for her. And so is her betrothed, Prince Ulrik. I am very much in favor of that.”

Again, he gave her that sideways look. “Are you?”

Gretchen hadn’t been expecting that question. Her initial reaction was to issue some sort of meaningless inanity — of course I am in favor of anything that puts the princess at ease, that sort of twaddle — but she decided that would be a mistake. Instead, she took a few seconds — more like ten — to really think on the matter.

“Yes,” she said finally. “When we — by ‘we’ I mean the Committees of Correspondence — decided to welcome Kristina and Prince Ulrik when they came to Magdeburg during the Dresden Crisis, we understood what it meant. For all intents and purposes, the CoCs were giving their consent to the United States of Europe’s remaining a monarchy. I was in Dresden myself and did not participate in the discussion, but I agreed with the decision.”

She took a slow, deep breath. “That decision is now essentially irrevocable, given that Your Majesty has lived up to your end of the… what to call it?”

“I rather like Ernst Wettin’s term. Modus vivendi. And you’re quite right. The CoCs, at least tacitly, have agreed that the USE will remain a monarchy. And the monarch in question” — he poked his chest with a thumb — “has agreed — also tacitly! nothing has been admitted openly! — that the imperial rule will be bound and circumscribed by constitutional principles.”

He now bestowed an outright grin on her — and quite a cheerful one. “Of course, that leaves both of us with plenty of room — everyone else, too! the FOJs, the Crown Loyalists, the reactionaries, oh, everyone — in which to maneuver and bargain and quarrel.”

He planted his hands on his knees again. “So. Which will we be doing today, Gretchen? Bargaining or quarreling?”

“Bargaining, I hope.”

He extended an open hand, with the palm turned up. The gesture invited her to lay out her proposals.

She took another deep breath, but not a slow one. She was determined to do this straightforwardly and firmly.

“First, I agree to run for the top executive position in Saxony. We will be advocating a parliamentary republican structure for the province, I should add.”

The emperor nodded. “In that case, you will need to be representing a specific political party. That would be…”

“I joined the Fourth of July Party this morning. I was — well, there’s no actual ‘swearing in’ — accepted in the presence of Rebecca Abrabanel, Ed Piazza and Matthias Strigel.”

“As authoritative a group as anyone could ask for.” Gustav Adolf shifted his hands from his knees to the armrests of his chair and looked to the side for a moment. “You are being wise, I think. Please go on.”

“Second, on the issue of citizenship. Since the coup attempt by Chancellor Oxenstierna failed and the assembly in Berlin has been declared — by you yourself — as having no legal authority, the provisional citizenship standards established by Prime Minister Stearns remain in place. Those will be the standards that apply in the special elections in Saxony, Mecklenburg, Württemberg and the Oberpfalz.”

She paused, cocking an eye at the emperor to see if he wanted to argue the point. But all Gustav Adolf did was nod his head and make another little gesture with his hand. Not a problem, please go on.

Now, they came to what she was almost certain was going to be the proverbial bone of contention.

“On the issue of the established church. We propose the following. The Oberpfalz — assuming the populace agrees, of course — will have full freedom of religion. Complete separation of church and state.”

Again, she paused, and looked at the emperor.

“Agreed,” he said. Then, making a face: “I don’t care for it, but the Oberpfalz has been such a mess for so long due to cuius regio, eius religio — one ruler after another changing the region’s official denomination — that trying to establish a church now is probably hopeless. Please continue.”

“Mecklenburg and Württemberg” — she had to keep her lips from tightening here — “will have Lutheranism as the established church.”

Gustav Adolf’s eyes widened a bit. She didn’t think he’d foreseen that concession from the Committees of Correspondence. Then, of course, his eyes narrowed considerably. In negotiations of this sort, what one hand gives the other will promptly try to take back.

“And Saxony?” he asked.

She sat up a bit straighter. “We propose a compromise. What you might call a semi-established church. Lutheranism will be recognized as the province’s official church and will therefore be entitled to financial support from the provincial government. But all other religions — that includes Judaism as well as all varieties of Christianity — will not be penalized in any way.”

The emperor’s eyes were now fairly close to being outright slits. “I fail to see the point. We have already banned all forms of religious persecution anywhere in the United States of Europe.”

Gretchen had grown so relaxed in the presence of Gustav Adolf that she had to restrain herself from snapping: don’t play the fool! As if she were arguing with one of her own comrades.

Which the emperor, as cordial as he might be, was decidedly not.

“Your Majesty, I’m not simply speaking of persecution as such. There are other ways in which non-official denominations can be penalized. In Hesse-Kassel and Pomerania, for instance, only the established churches can have churches on the street. Other Protestant denominations have to maintain their churches inside courtyards, with no visible sign of their existence. And Catholics and Jews are required to maintain their places of worship on the upper floors, not on the street level. We want none of that in Saxony. The Lutherans can have their tax support. But that is all. That is the only additional benefit they would enjoy.”