Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 03

Chapter 2

Dukes, Heirs, and Princesses

Brussels, Low Countries

The Coudenberg Palace was cold this February morning. Being cold all winter was one of the prices one paid for dwelling in high-ceilinged splendor.

“Impertinent,” Isabella Clara Eugenia said from the comfortable chair in which her attendants had rolled her, and her third-order religious habit, up in heated blankets from head to toe. “Rude and impertinent. The gall of the man–Lutheran heretic as he is–to hold such a ceremony in Besançon. The Franche Comté was part of the appanage that my father the late, blessed, Philip II of Spain assigned to Albrecht and to Us. It is by right just as much Ours as the Spanish Netherlands proper or Luxemburg. Admittedly, We only visited it in person once, and that at the very beginning of Our reign, but We duly assigned local administrators…”

“It’s a long way away,” the queen in the Low Countries said. Maria Anna wiggled a little in her chair. She had pulled her feet out of her shoes and tucked them up more warmly under her skirts. “After all the walking and riding I did last summer, I have gained considerable respect for the concept of ‘a long way away.’ That’s probably the real reason you have only visited it once during your long tenure here in the Low Countries. Honestly, darling Tante, do you see any genuine expectation of keeping it–other than as one of the many historical inherited titles the Habsburgs place in the introduction to their legal documents?”

“Consider, also, Tante and Maria Anna…” The king in the Low Countries pulled a large sheaf of papers out from under his fur-lined cape. “This material from the encyclopedias indicates that in the other world, up-time, the Franche Comté was permanently annexed by France. Which is better? To have it as a part of this County of Burgundy, which is almost destined to remain a small power, or to have it annexed by the main rival of the Habsburgs?”

“Also,” Maria Anna said, “thinking long term…the family might, eventually, get it back. Bernhard will have to marry. He has no option. Since my brother in Vienna has been kind enough to let us know that they are considering the possibility of offering my sister Cecelia Renata as his bride–if that could be worked out, it would cement his new principality close to the Habsburg interests again.”

Isabella Clara Eugenia shook her head. “This, alas, is something over which We have no control. Moreover, there is no guarantee Bernhard would accept the offer.”

“Better than Poland,” Fernando commented.

Their elderly aunt nodded. “Such a marriage, of course, if Vienna can arrange it, would be the most practical solution, since young Ferdinand does seem to have made a definite decision not to marry her into Poland.”

“And it would be nice to have her there. It’s a long way away, but it’s closer than Vienna. Maybe we could visit back and forth.” Maria Anna was happy in her new marriage, but she seriously missed her brothers, sister, sister-in-law, nephew, stepmother, and the whole unusually happy family in which she had grown up.

“It will have to be a diplomatic solution,” the young king said. “To be practical, the Low Countries don’t have sufficient military resources to try to oust Bernhard from his new County of Burgundy in the immediate future. I intend to concentrate, as much as possible, on consolidating our holdings in and around the core. Intelligence has come in that the four Irish dragoon regiments have left the archdiocese of Cologne. That creates one of these wonderful–what is the up-time expression?–yes, ‘power vacuums’–in the archdiocese of Cologne. A predominantly Catholic region threatened by Hesse. Can we take advantage of it while Gustavus Adolphus is preoccupied on the eastern front? As you said, the Franche Comté is a long way away. The left-bank-of-the-Rhine territories of Ferdinand of Bavaria are next door.”

Maria Anna nodded. “True enough. For the time being, Tante, I am afraid we will have to let the problem of Burgundy drop to the bottom of our list of concerns. But… Fernando, has anything arrived in the dispatches from Claudia de Medici, in regard to how her meeting with Bernhard went? The last one I remember reported that she was going to fly to Schwarzach in person, in regard to protecting the Tyrolese interests in Swabia.”

Isabella Clara Eugenia continued to contemplate the map, a dissatisfied expression on her face. “This map, the modern one, has Diedenhofen–Thionville, that is–in France rather than in the Low Countries. We cannot like the way that France nibbled away on Our southern borders in that other world.” She moved a wrinkled forefinger along the boundary line. “Better this upstart Lutheran Bernhard than Louis XIII.”

She was, first and last, a daughter of Spain.

There might be other enemies, but the Enemy was France.


Some portion of the Enemy was, unfortunately in the opinion of Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, right here in the Low Countries. The political considerations involved in granting sanctuary to royal refugees was complex. Currently, Fernando’s benevolence had been extended to the heir to the throne of France and his family.  Not, God be praised, to his mother, the dowager queen Marie de’ Medici.  After her most recent estrangement from Louis XIII, she had inflicted herself upon the Savoyards. It was currently not known to the Brussels court whether this pleased Marie’s son-in-law, Duke Victor Amadeus, or not.

The heir. Monsieur Gaston, younger brother and heir to Louis XIII, king of France. So Fernando’s benevolence was again involving the Low Countries with the problems in Lorraine.  Gaston had only one daughter from his first marriage and she could not inherit because the Salic Law still prevailed in France. The little Mlle. de Montpensier offered only potential future complications. Gaston’s little bastard Marie didn’t count at all, of course, except as a possible pawn some day, to be bestowed upon a minor ally.

Gaston’s second marriage, though… In that other world, according to the encyclopedias brought by the up-timers, Richelieu had delayed as long as possible the royal consent and papal approval of the unsanctioned marriage of Gaston to Marguerite of Lorraine in 1632–indeed, he had prevented it for a decade, until his own death. Knowing that since Louis’ estranged queen, Anne of Austria, was apparently unable to carry her pregnancies to term even when the royal couple occasionally reluctantly slept together and she conceived, Richelieu had feared that if Gaston had legitimate sons, his leverage at court would increase immensely.

Surprisingly, although Gaston was not only a threat to the monarch but also normally very low on practicality, he had been unwilling to risk challenges to the legitimacy whatever children he might beget by Marguerite. In that other world, the eldest had not been born until 1645.

Now, whatever Richelieu might be planning otherwise, he had taken information received through the Ring of Fire into account, gritted his teeth, and, concluded that France needed heirs sooner rather than later.  Instead of than delaying the permissions and approvals, he had expedited them. In this world, Marguerite of Lorraine was not only fertile, but younger, stronger, and, alas, right here in Brussels.