The Trouble With Huguenots – Snippet 15
“There’s a limit to how long the duchess will be able to drag her feet,” Raudegen said. “Soubise is making public appearances now and has managed to get whispers that Rohan has requested that she join him circulating around the court. If she is seen to refuse, then rumors about an unconditional breakdown of her marriage will follow in short order. As long as Rohan appears to condone her actions, her standing remains unimpeachable. Once he withdraws that toleration….”
Whispers did not quite cover it.
“Hell and damnation,” Soubise yelled. “You have to go. Rohan’s demands, not requests, have ratcheted up to a level that not even you can ignore or refuse. Since I’m here, I’m the one who can and will stay in Paris to advance our causes at court. Get your promiscuous little tush off to BesanÃ§on.” The relations between the duchess and her brother-in-law had never been marked by familial affection.
She glared at Soubise in return. “This is absurd, you know. Within three months, you will find yourself crosswise with the king and get your head cut off.”
“Perhaps so, but I am philosophical about it. Better for the family to lose a crusty old bachelor uncle than to lose its heiress.”
With the senior members of the household making life rather unpleasant, the younger ones followed Marc’s principle of “when in doubt, duck.”
Marguerite, with Susanna as fashion consultant, went shopping. Or, more accurately, ordered certain chosen shopkeepers to bring their stock to her for examination after Susanna had gone out and scouted what was available. She purchased yards upon yards of fabric, lace, and trimming. And quite a few shoes.
Gerry went and matriculated at the University of Paris, just on general principles in order to have his name on the register. “It’s getting to be sort of like that ‘Kilroy was here’ cartoon,” he said to Bismarck. Explanations followed. And, on the theory that he hadn’t time to unpack the smaller kit from his duffel bag before he left Burgundy, he vaccinated the entire Rohan household against smallpox.
Raudegen, Ruvigny, and Marc collected rumors and avoided the salon whenever they could.
“Will you stop that? Better, you will stop that.”
Gerry took the harmonica out of his mouth and the strains of Your cheatin’ heart ceased to resonate through hayloft above the stables.
“Do you want something different?”
“I don’t want that instrument of torture at all. Think of something else to do.”
* * * *
“Oh grief,” Marguerite said to Bismarck. “Candale’s back in Paris. His only redeeming quality is that he’s off serving in the army most of the time. If he’s here, he’ll come slithering around again, but I thought Maman had decided to stick with Gondi for a while longer.”
“Which one is worse?”
“I don’t know. I avoided Candale when he used to be around and I avoid Gondi now that he’s around. ‘They say’ that Candale is agreeable and lively, but he’s never seemed that way to me.”
Marc pushed the curl back off his forehead. “What’s de la Valette doing these days? Is Candale fronting for his brother?”
“Hmmn,” Marguerite said. She wrinkled her forehead. “Which brother? Louis? The cardinal? He’s with the army right now, I think. I haven’t heard anyone say that he’s up to anything in particular, though of course he’ll be scrambling to ingratiate himself with the new king. Bernard was taken captive by the USE two years ago, of course, and hasn’t come up with a ransom yet. Old Ã‰pernon, their father, is still alive. He’s ancient, at least 80 years old. Still, he’s the duke and he holds the purse strings. As long as Bernard is rotting somewhere in Brunswick, Ã‰pernon controls his son, who’s the heir after Candale since Candale is childless. Nobody likes Bernard, so his family won’t pay to get him back. The politics of the Nogarets are too complicated to sort out, even for them, probably.”
Gerry shook his head, He found the customs of the French nobility that allowed a father and his three sons to have four different names dizzying. Not being the kind of person who worried about saving face, he said so. “I thought I understood the German system,” he said. “They use places too, but it’s consistent. William, Ernst, Albrecht, and Bernhard, before he moved out of town, are all Herzog and all von Sachsen-Weimar, except for some of them changing their names to Wettin, of course. But all of them who change it use Wettin.”
“The French designations aren’t personal names,” Ruvigny explained. “They’re the names of estates or lands that the family holds. Rohan is a dukedom and the duke has its title. Soubise inherited different estates from which he takes his title from his mother.”
Bismarck contributed with some disdain the opinion that the lands on which a lot of those French “de Somewhere” and “sieur de This or That” titles were based often didn’t amount to more than a large farm. “Not that our estates amount to much more than a large farm,” he added. “But though we may be Niederadel, we’re also Uradel.”
Gerry frowned. I know “lesser nobility,” which is mediatized sometimes and nontitled sometimes and…stuff. But what’s Uradel? Prehistoric nobility?”
“It means that when the first margrave who wandered into Brandenburg because he had been appointed to manage the territory by some Carolingian emperor hired the first man in the region who could put quill to parchment and started keeping government records, we were already there. No king or emperor or one of his minions ‘raised’ us to the nobility or ‘created’ us as nobles; they found us already in place.” He frowned. “What do you know about the feudal system?”
“We had a unit on it, maybe in fourth grade. The textbook had a picture of a castle on top of a hill, another one of a knight wearing armor, and the noble in the castle had a coat of arms and was oppressing the peasants in the village at the bottom of the hill. Mrs. Jones had us make up coats of arms for our families and draw them. I drew a geodesic dome and some weed and got sent to the principal’s office. Oh, and everybody held fiefs from the king.”
“You were probably studying about England,” Ruvigny said. “When Guillaume de Normandie conquered it, he denied all existing claims and rights, giving land and titles to his own followers, so England has few nobles. The king has to create a noble, there. Most of the people who would be lower nobility in France or the Germanies, Spain or Poland, are a higher class of commoners in England. They call them ‘gentry’.”
That evening Bismarck wrote a letter to Grand Duke Bernhard advising him to obtain a copy of one of Grantville’s fourth grade social studies textbooks if possible, for it would almost certainly be of immense assistance in comprehending how the up-timers regarded the European nobility, and why.
* * * *
Soubise also ducked, insofar as he spent most of his time, when not at court or schmoozing with friends he hadn’t seen for a decade or more, with Mademoiselle Anne.
She was frowning. “Gaston is no perfect choice as a ruler, Benjamin. I’ll admit that. However, any way I think about it, I believe that in the long run, the other choice would be far worse.”
Soubise contemplated his feet which, clothed in beautifully embroidered but also quite comfortable felt carpet slippers, were propped up on a hassock that was just the correct height.
He could endure physical hardship. He had endured a great deal of it when he was younger and commanding soldiers and sailors. He could even put up with the necessity of constant practice to maintain his skills.
He saw no reason to endure one bit more of it than necessary.
That was all the encouragement that she needed to embark upon an extensive diatribe that involved the current king, General Turenne, the dowager queen, Cardinal Mazarin, the current queenâ€“which digressed into a diatribe on the perfidious ducal family of Lorraineâ€“and, because Candale was back in town, the general undesirability of the Nogaret family.
Albert Otto rustled the pages of the newspaper.
KÃ¤the frowned. Even though the paper came from Frankfurt am Main, it was not of high quality. Or…. Her husband claimed that the content was of high quality, but the material was not. The cheap ink was rubbing off onto his hands. From there, experience indicated, he would smear it onto his trousers, given his annoying habit of rubbing his hands against the sides of his legs to clean off anything he got on them, from goose grease to horse slobber. Why he wouldn’t use a handkerchief or napkin….
Once he went out for his morning tour of the stables and kennels, she picked up the newspaper, pulling on a pair of washable gloves first. Another Italian man from Grantville had taken over as Gustavus’ new prime minister. Piazza was his name. There was an editorial speculating about Amalie Elisabeth’s growing influence as a power broker, even though she was affiliated with the Crown Loyalists rather than the Fourth of July Party.