The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 06

Chapter 5

On the Road

November 1635

A month later, Bismarck and Ruvigny reluctantly set out from Paris. Not that they were sorry to be leaving. Reluctantly because they were returning to Rohan with his wife’s refusal to either join him or send his daughter to him. The duke would not be happy.

“Why did the duchess have to delay so long? If you think about it, she gave us the same answer a month ago, the instant she read the duke’s letter. She postponed, then delayed, then procrastinated, and dragged her feet about giving us her written answer. Now we’re headed back to Burgundy in the middle of what looks like it could be the most miserable winter I’ve ever seen. Even worse than last year.” August looked up at the lowering gray sky, which was drizzling tiny pebbles of sleet onto the half-frozen mud of the ungraded track that was pretending to be a road in eastern France.

“She’s not the one who has to ride in this,” Henri pointed out. “She may have put things off so long so she could add that she didn’t want to risk the seed pearl’s health by traveling in midwinter to the rest of her excuses.”

“He isn’t going to like it.”

Entendu. Maybe all the church bells ringing to celebrate the child of the royal couple in the Netherlands will distract him. Too bad it was a girl.”

“But healthy, which isn’t something the Habsburgs can always count on. That augurs well for the future.” August hunched his shoulders against the sleet. “Sometimes it’s better for the heir to come second, with a girl first to undergo the process of having her head stretch out the mother’s hips for childbearing.”

When he heard their report, Rohan could have used some soothing medication. He started to compile yet another list of acceptable–to him–matches for Marguerite. “It’s more urgent with every day that passes,” he insisted. “As Grand Duke Bernhard said, when he declined the honor of fulfilling the role of her husband himself, she needs someone who can be Rohan for her.”

Laubach, County of Solms-Laubach

November 1635

Condolence letters were much more difficult than letters of congratulation, but she had to produce one. Her brother-in-law, Amalie Elisabeth’s husband, the landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, had been killed in action at the Battle of Warta in Poland.

That was a frequent enough end, of course, for noblemen who spent their time fighting one another. She had already written over two dozen similar letters since she became old enough to correspond, and would write dozens more if she lived for a biblical span of years.

She wondered if Amalie Elisabeth would miss him. That marriage had been a family arrangement, of course. Like her own. Like those of every woman of her acquaintance. They had seemed to get along well enough. At least it meant that Amalie Elisabeth would stop burdening Hesse-Kassel with another child every year.

Instead, she would become regent for young Wilhelm. She’d be regent for quite a while, considering that young Wilhelm had just turned seven years old in May. Would the emperor appoint her as the governor of the USE’s new Province of Hesse as well as regent of Hesse-Kassel itself? If so, knowing her sister, she would be gaining influence under Gustavus Adolphus.

Käthe nibbled at the tip of her pen. Her sister would be an independent actress on the imperial stage, playing a significant role.

If she herself had had the slightest idea of the impact that the Ring of Fire would have on the world, she would have held out for a better match in September of 1631. True, she had already been 27, but that wasn’t so old. She hadn’t been desperate. It was about the age when most women married. Only the high nobility or the rich sometimes made matches like that of Amalie Elisabeth, who had been seventeen when she married.

She had settled for Albert Otto, thinking that he was the best she was likely to get, considering that he was an only son and had therefore inherited his father’s lands unpartitioned, with a sick mother who had died a week after their wedding. No mother-in-law to second-guess every decision she made. He had barely come of age when he offered. Six years younger than she was by the calendar. A dozen years younger when it came to ordinary common sense.

Thinking that he was the best option might have been a mistake, but one it was much too late to do anything about. If her marriage lacked a certain vivacity of sentiment that a woman might ideally desire when contemplating the husband God had given her, neither did it contain insuperable difficulties that would prevent her from fulfilling her duties to that husband in a satisfactory manner. She shook her head. Her reasons had been good enough. And while her husband kept the local militia in good order, he had at least never joined Gustavus’ army, marched off to Poland, and died for the glory of it all.

Not that his female relatives would have let him. The three months after his father died of the wounds he had taken at Breitenbend in March of 1610 had been tense. From his posthumous birth in June to the birth of her own first son, the political survival of Solms-Laubach as an independent county had depended upon the physical survival of one thin-faced boy.

His mother had dealt with a long regency, during the last dozen years suffering the difficulties of the warring parties along the Rhine. Albert Otto had three living older sisters and five paternal aunts. He also had three paternal uncles who would have been more than happy to partition the Laubach lands into the other subdivisions of Solms if the child count had died–or been killed in action. The aunts and sisters had formed a protective phalanx around him.

All that female protective cherishing had left him with a reaction of massive impatience if anyone showed signs of hovering over him. “Anyone” included his wife. But it was so hard not to.