1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 61

Chapter 22


The first major clash outside of Saxony — and the only one, as it turned out — occurred in Mecklenburg. The nobility of that province had been chafing ever since most of them were driven out during Operation Kristallnacht. Now, emboldened by the convention in Berlin and what they saw as the new dispensation enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Duties, they formed themselves into a small army of sorts — entirely an army of officers, so far — and sallied from Berlin, calling on their retainers and supporters to join them.

A fair number did so, in fact, before they reached the Mecklenburg border. But more than half a year had passed since the change of regime in Mecklenburg. The province’s Committee of Correspondence had not spent those months idly, and neither had the Fourth of July Party. The Mecklenburg CoC’s initial armed contingents that they’d fielded during Operation Kristallnacht — ragged bands, more like — had been transformed into a fairly well-trained and a very well-armed militia in the intervening period.

And they sallied forth just as enthusiastically as did their betters. Class relations in Mecklenburg were more savage than in any other province in the USE. The poor soil of the region supported a poor agriculture and industrial development was still nascent and confined almost entirely to a few major towns. So, outright poverty clashed against its close cousin in the form of a hardscrabble aristocracy.

The initial skirmishes were fought in a range of sandy hills just south of Wittstock. None of the contestants realized it, then or ever, but in the universe the Americans had come from a much greater battle would be fought on that same terrain less than a year later, in October of 1636. In that battle, the Swedish army led by General Banér — the same man who was besieging Dresden in this universe — would defeat an army of Austrian Catholic imperialists and their Saxon Protestant allies. The Swedes were financed by Catholic France, proving once again that the supposed “wars of religion” were just a veneer over dynastic rivalries.

The terrain favored the reactionary forces, because of their greater strength in cavalry, but not by much. Truth be told, it was terrain that suited nobody very well — just as it hadn’t (wouldn’t — didn’t — mightn’t? the Ring of Fire played havoc with grammar) in the battle of Wittstock.

After two days of intermittent fighting, the noblemen’s forces managed to push their way to the town’s outskirts, but there they were stopped. As was usually true with German militias, the CoC contingents fought best on the defensive, especially when they could fight behind shelter — and by then, they’d done a fair job of fortifying Wittstock.

Another day passed during which the leadership of the reactionary army squabbled and bickered. They’d had no clearly defined leadership structure when they left Berlin, and the situation hadn’t improved any since. Finally, more because a few of the leaders decided to do it and the rest just tagged along, rather than because they’d persuaded anyone, the noblemen’s army headed north.

The plan, if such it could be called, was to circle around Wittstock and then strike across country toward the provincial capital of Schwerin. The logic involved was flimsy, at best. Why, after being stymied by the jury-rigged defenses of Wittstock, these leading noblemen thought they could take the larger and much better fortified city of Schwerin, was something that none of them even tried to answer. They were satisfied, it seemed, simply by the act of doing something.


Back in Berlin, Oxenstierna was of two minds on the matter of Mecklenburg. On the one hand, he was skeptical that the aristocratic expedition had any real chance of success. On the other hand, he was glad to see someone doing something. Doing anything. Like the leaders of that little army, the chancellor of Sweden was getting increasingly frustrated by the defensive tactics of his opponents.

He hadn’t expected that. Axel Oxenstierna was a very intelligent man, but even intelligent people are prone to being blinded by their own biases and preconceptions. The chancellor’s favorite word to describe the political state of affairs brought into existence in the Germanies by Mike Stearns, the Fourth of July Party — to say nothing of Gretchen Richter and her Committees of Correspondence — was “anarchy.”

He repeated the term so often that he came to believe it himself. Indeed, came to take it as a given, an axiom of political theory, the foundation of right thinking and the keystone of statesmanship.

He’d have done better to ask the Archduchess Isabella her opinion of Gretchen Richter. She’d have told him the same thing she once told her nephew Fernando, now the king in the Netherlands: “I hate to admit it, but that infuriating young woman would make a splendid queen — and if we were ever so unlucky as to live in a universe where she was an empress, we’d be calling her either ‘the Great’ or ‘the Terrible,’ depending on which side of her favor we lay.”

The new king hadn’t disputed the matter. He was pretty sure the canny old woman was right.

Of Mike Stearns, the chancellor would have done better to listen to the Dutch painter and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens than to listen to himself. Rubens would have told him that he was quite sure future historians would refer to their period as the Stearns Era, or something similar, and that he could think of no more foolish error for a statesman than to underestimate Stearns.

But of all Oxenstierna’s mistaken assessments of his enemies, the worst was his assessment of Rebecca Abrabanel.