1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 64

Chapter 23

Paris, capital of France

After he finished reading Servien’s précis of the latest reports from France’s agents in the United States of Europe, Cardinal Richelieu rose from his desk and went over to one of the window in his palace. The Palais-Cardinal had been completed five years earlier. It faced directly onto the Louvre and his office gave him a marvelous view of the royal palace from which, ultimately, derived the cardinal’s own power.

Behind him, the intendant Servien studied his master with considerable sympathy. It couldn’t be pleasant for him to contemplate the state of affairs in the USE. France’s chief minister was in much the same position as a tethered hawk, forced to watch squabbling doves heedless of his presence. The tether, in his case, being France’s own very tense internal political situation. What reliable troops the cardinal still had in his possession needed to be kept close at hand.

Feeling the need to say something, Servien cleared his throat. “It’s a great pity, isn’t it? To have to sit here and do nothing.”

The cardinal lifted his shoulders slightly, as if he’d begun a shrug and found it too much effort. “Just another reminder, Servien, if we needed it. God created the world. We did not.”

Was there a trace of reproach in his tone? A suggestion that the Almighty had fallen down on the job, here and there?

Probably not. Unlike a hawk, Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu was philosophically inclined by nature. Not what any sane person would call a contemplative man — certainly not any one of the cardinal’s many enemies. Or, if you could summon their ghosts, the even larger number of enemies he’d put in the grave. Still, he had a capacity to accept the trials and tribulations of fate in a calm and stoic manner.

He’d needed it, these past few years.

Madrid, capital of Spain

The chief minister of the Spanish crown, Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, was far less inclined toward philosophy than Cardinal Richelieu — and his master the king of Spain less inclined still.

“You’re saying we can’t do anything?”

Olivares kept his eyes from meeting the king’s gaze directly. Philip IV’s tone of voice had a shrill quality that indicated his temper was badly frayed. He was normally not a bad master to serve — indeed, he could often be quite a pleasant one. But he was also a devotee of bull-fighting, and in times like this was prone to act as if he was a torero in the arena himself. With, alas, one or another of his ministers designated as the bull.


“Nothing?” Angrily, the king slammed his palm down on the table that served him for a desk in his private audience chamber, on those occasions when he felt like dealing with affairs of state directly. Infrequent occasions, fortunately.

“Your Majesty…”

“Why am I paying for my tercios, then?”

Olivares decided this was not the time to point out that the king’s payment of his soldiers was erratic. That was traditionally true for Spanish armies, but the situation had gotten even worse than usual of late.

“Answer me!”

There’d be no way to divert the king, obviously. Not today, after he’d just finished reading the latest reports on the turmoil that had enveloped the United States of Europe.

“We simply can’t do anything, Your Majesty. Between the unrest in Portugal and Catalonia –”

“Why were those seditious books not banned?”

“They were banned, Your Majesty, but…”

It was hard to explain such things to a man who’d been born, raised and spent his entire life in the cloistered surroundings of Spanish royalty. Banning unpleasant items from the Real Alcazar was one thing; banning them from Spain, quite another. Spain was one of Europe’s largest countries and more than nine-tenths of its borders were seacoast — more than three thousand miles of seacoast. Not all the tercios in the world could police it effectively, assuming Spain could afford the payroll — which it certainly couldn’t.

Smuggling was even more of a national pastime for Spaniards than bull-fighting. How did the king imagine that it would be possible to keep out copies of Grantville’s texts on Spanish and Portuguese history, when smugglers routinely handled livestock? All the more so because there weren’t that many of those texts, and most of them were just a few pages excerpted from encyclopedias.

A few pages, alas, were more than enough to encourage Portuguese and Catalan rebels to persist in their nefarious activity. In that cursed world the Americans came from, Portugal and Catalonia had rebelled in 1640 — not more than five years from now. And while the Catalan revolt failed in its purpose, it had been a very close thing. As it was, Spain lost much of the province to France.

Not surprisingly, the Catalan malcontents in this universe were simply being encouraged to try harder.

Fortunately, the king was distracted by other thoughts. Blessedly, by angry thoughts toward someone other than his chief minister. “It’s because of that fucking Borja, isn’t it?”

This was not safe terrain, certainly, but it was safer than the terrain they’d been treading on. “Yes, Your Majesty, I’m afraid so. Cardinal Borja’s…ah, papal adventure –”

“His adventure? Say better, his lunacy — no, his rampant vanity — better still, his plunge into Satanic pride!”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Well said! Whatever we call it, though, his actions have stirred up a great deal of unrest through Italy, including in our own possessions.”

“Indeed.” The king’s glare was still ferocious, but at least it now had a different focus. “Explain to me again, Gaspar, why I can’t have the bastard assassinated?”

“Ah, well… That would just compound the damage, I’m afraid. As I said before, Your Majesty, Borja’s precipitate action has simply left us with few options, and none of them very good. If we kill him — if anyone kills him — then there’s little doubt that Urban will take back the papacy. And he’s…ah…”

“Now bitterly hostile to us on the picayune grounds that we overthrew him and murdered several dozen of his bishops and cardinals, including his nephew Francesco.”

“Well. Yes.”

The king spent the next minute or so calling down a variety of divine ills and misfortunes on the person of Cardinal Gaspare de Borja y de Velasco. The tirade spilled over into outright blasphemy — not that even the boldest of Spain’s inquisitors would have said a word on the subject, with the king in his current mood. It was notable also that at no time did Philip IV refer to Borja by any title other than profane and profoundly vulgar ones. He certainly never used the man’s newly-minted title of “pope.”

When he finally wound down, most of his fury seemed to have been spent. It was replaced by a sort of sullen resignation that was not pleasant to deal with, but no longer really dangerous.

“The essence of the matter is that we have no resources to do anything significant about the heretics. The USE crumbles — the same swine who — ah! Never mind! It’s too aggravating to even think about! We just have to sit here, on our hands, and do nothing.”

Olivares decided to interpret that as the king’s summation rather than a question. That way he could avoid, once again, having to say “Yes, we can’t” where the king wanted to hear “No, we can.”