Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 32

Chapter 18

No Time to Write, for So Many Reasons


May 1635

“die besorgung welge ich trage…das ich ihr nicht ofter geschrieben doch aus vilveltigen ursachen”

Neufchâteau was a good stopping place from Gaston’s perspective. It was just inside Lorraine, close enough to the French border to make his brother and Richelieu take notice, and a place from which he could get supplies by sending his men out to do Brandschatzungen on the nearby villages. Threatening to burn an undefended place to the ground if the local council didn’t turn over all its food and treasures was…

As Clicquot said, it was, really, an old, reliable, method for obtaining provisions, and had the secondary advantage of making the immediate area unusable for any army that was pursuing you, thus lengthening their supply lines, as well as often clogging the roads with refugees going in the other direction while they were advancing at you.

Aside from that, Cliquot and Marchéville admitted to one another, this sally by Gaston was even more poorly planned and prepared that the first. Really, it wasn’t planned at all–he just had to get out of the Spanish Netherlands ahead of Fernando’s intention to put him under tight arrest, and had been trying ever since to figure out what to do next.

One aspect of the poor planning, Marchéville pointed out, was that Neufchâteau belonged to Henriette, properly speaking. Had, at least; still should, in Henriette’s mind–it was part of the appanage assigned to Louis de Guise at the creation of Phalsbourg, duly, in time, inherited by his widow. There was no way that la Henriette would be pleased when she heard of the depredations. If she believed in anything, it was the importance of a steady income stream.

Along the way, Gaston had acquired a writer and a duplicating machine, so there was no shortage of pamphlets and proclamations coming out of his camp. His first argument and official excuse for returning to Lorraine with an “armed protective escort” was that the way that Bernhard and Fernando had moved into Lorraine and installed Aldringen earlier in the spring constituted “usurpation,” and that Nicholas François, his wife’s surviving brother, was tolerating this “usurpation,” which Gaston was opposing on behalf of his wife’s legitimate interests.

There was a second-string argument about Fernando’s incorporation of the former archdiocese of Cologne into the Low Countries. In the publicist’s narrative of “politics according to Monsieur Gaston,” this meant that the inclusion of the dioceses of Metz, Toul, and Verdun into the “Joint Regency of Lorraine” under Habsburg supervision, which involved expulsion of the French garrisons that had been there for eighty years, was a violation of French sovereignty and merely a prelude to having the king in the Low Countries absorb them as he had Liège and part of Cologne.

Of course, his writer added in a hurried postscript, there would be no problem to including them in a France ruled by Gaston, should the time come. The bishops clearly needed France’s protection against the rapacious Habsburgs and since France did not have independent ecclesiastical principalities, some constitutional adjustments would be in order.

In this second matter, Gaston, the publicist proclaimed, acting on behalf of his brother, whose pusillanimous minister Richelieu was not defending French soil, must do something to prevent such an intrusion on French sovereignty.

He didn’t really have enough soldiers with him to do anything other than send local raids out of Neufchâteau.

Once he realized that, Gaston sent an urgent message to Puylaurens. He should persuade Henriette into once more scrambling together a cavalry troop for him from the basis of her tiny principality in Pfalsbourg, Hambach, Lixheim, and Sampigny. She would, after all, be preserving the interests of her siblings.

He appeared to have forgotten about Nicole and Claude. Or, possibly, he just hoped that Henriette had forgotten about her cousins. He must definitely have forgotten the inclusion of Neufchâteau in Henriette’s principality. Monsieur Gaston was not a man to recall petty details. At the best of times, it was not easy for anyone else to decipher precisely what was passing through his mind.


“It would be easier to figure out where the man was going if he only had a goal.” Johann Aldringen was about ready to explode, which came through in his latest letter to Fernando and Bernhard.

“These proclamations (see enclosures), while widely distributed, are internally inconsistent–especially those in regard to the actions of the Low Countries. Monsieur le duc d’Orleans has not, either in the March campaign or this one, made any move at all toward the three dioceses. If anything, he has avoided the fortifications at Metz, Toul, and Verdun, both in the spring when they were garrisoned by France and now, when they are garrisoned by troops under the command of the joint regency.

“The best description of what he has been doing in Lorraine this summer is aimless. Once he left Neufchâteau, he raided to Gondrecourt, then he went back to Neufchâteau for a few days, but left, raiding to Mirecourt. Presumably to avoid Bernhard’s regiments at Châtel-sur-Moselle, he then went southeast to Golbey, crossed the main road north of Épinal and then northeast to Rambervillers. Since then, first he goes this way, then he goes that way. He was at Rambervillers and then a few days later at Mirecourt again. Then he returned to Rambervillers and destroyed Baccarat on his way toward Blâmont. I stationed men to protect Lunéville, which seemed reasonable, and between Blâmont and Sarrebourg, but instead he went southeast, burned Badonviller and Moyenmoutier, and has now turned up near Rambervillers again. Thysac’s mountaineers can only try to keep track and report. Haraucourt is at Saint-Dié. Thus far, that has saved the town from marauding foragers, but he cannot protect the surrounding villages–only offer sanctuary to the villagers. The unfortunate reward for his mercy is that there is now plague at Saint-Dié.

“If Gaston were trying to establish himself on the Seille River, that would make some sense. It makes sense for him to avoid Marsal itself, for I have garrisoned the fortress heavily with sufficient provisions for any contingency and he has no siege engines, but he has also avoided Vic, Château-Salins, and Moyenvic. Because he does not follow the main roads, I can’t predict which direction he will head next or tie his movements to an intent to occupy any particular city or fortress. Aside from the fact that he is avoiding your heavily garrisoned strongholds, the only common thread is the destruction he leaves behind him.”


Aldringen was a thorough man. His field reports to his employers covered everything.

“Occasionally,” Maria Anna commented in a letter to Claudia from Amsterdam, where she was presiding over the ceremonial ribbon-cutting for a new orphanage, “more than I really want to know.”

“Better too much than too little,” was the regent’s pragmatic reply, sent from Schwarzach. “I loathe surprises. They are so often unpleasant.”

Thus, Aldringen warned in a timely fashion that plague had been discovered in the Low Countries regiments stationed in the Metz region.

Both Fernando and Bernhard, with some reluctance, agreed with their man on the spot that he could not afford to impose a complete quarantine on those regiments until after he had dealt with the problem posed by Gaston’s renewed presence in the duchy.

Claudia admonished him not to move them into or through other portions of the duchy unless he absolutely had to, though.

Fabert, with Aldringen’s cooperation and Claudia’s sanction, imposed an absolute quarantine on the city of Metz itself, no matter how some members of the merchant community howled about the economic losses that resulted from a drying up of trade.


Bernhard sent Claudia a long letter explaining what they thought Gaston might be up to, not that anyone could make sense of it.

Moving to matters back in Burgundy, he sent instructions for her–since he could not tell how long he would be tied down in Lorraine– before the end of the summer, as his representative, to ensure that his officials took oaths of allegiance to him throughout the county–not just from the nobles, but from every artisan and peasant, male and female, over the age of twenty-one, down to any vagrants, beggars, and gypsies who happened to be present on oath day.

With the nobles and city officials, of whatever faith, she was to make it clear that they had three choices:

● take an oath to me and keep it, “which will be the best for them;”

● depart from the County of Burgundy, taking their movable goods but leaving their real property behind to be granted to my deserving officers, “which will be endurable for them;”

● take an oath to me and break it, “for which they and all their relatives will find themselves very, very, sorry once I get back from this campaign.”