1635: THE CANNON LAW — snippet 89

 

1635: THE CANNON LAW – snippet 89:

 

 

CHAPTER 33

 

 

Rome

 

            "Your Holiness." Barberini presented himself, feeling again, despite the utter chaos he had come through to be here, like a naughty schoolboy summoned before a master for punishment.

 

            "I trust," said His Holiness, "that you have made arrangements for our people at the palazzo to flee the city?"

 

            Barberini caught the difference in inflection of that possessive determiner. His uncle was not speaking as Pope Urban VIII, but as the senior man of casa Barberini. "Your Holiness, I have.  Plans were in hand as much as two weeks ago, Your Holiness. I have given the order to prepare. Shall I give the order to flee? My elder brother will be leading an advance party in the morning come what may."

 

            "You shall, my good nephew, you shall. I shall have to remain, of course. This will end badly, I have no doubt, but what chance there is of saving anything only remains while I am in Rome." His Holiness seemed serene as he spoke the words. "I shall withdraw to Castel Sant’Angelo. It has resisted sack before, and will perhaps do so again."

 

            Barberini looked his uncle squarely in the face. "Sooner, please, uncle, rather than later, if only for the sake of your nephew's regard for you. Have we word of when the Spanish army will arrive? And in what numbers?"

 

            A man in soldiers' apparel, someone Barberini vaguely recognized as a distant relation, said "Twenty-five ships are reported at Ostia. As many as ten thousand soldiers, all or nearly all foot. We are not certain of those numbers; we have only one despatch. We have no word of whether they have captured the guns at Ostia, or how they overran the garrison there. Treachery has been spoken of."

 

            "Quevedo has not been sighted in Rome this past week." Those were the first words Vitelleschi had spoken since Barberini had arrived. Indeed, Barberini had barely noticed him until he spoke.

 

            His Holiness drew the inference. "You suspect treachery?"

 

            "Your Holiness finds me transparent," Vitelleschi said.

 

            Barberini was gripped by the hysterical urge to giggle aloud. If there was one thing that Vitelleschi never was, it was transparent. Although, now that he looked hard at the elderly Jesuit, there seemed to be a lugubrious air about the man, replacing his usual icy taciturnity. Vitelleschi had, of course, counseled that what was manifestly happening was so improbable as to be discounted. It seemed that the old adage about the world's greatest swordsman only truly fearing the world's worst had some truth to it.

 

            Barberini had heard the news over luncheon, and had come close to choking on his food. That Borja could have demanded such an insane action be taken, and that his fantastic wish should be granted, was beyond belief! That the troops in Ostia, who would doubtless now be making ready for the march on Rome, could wreak havoc on a city unprepared for attack was beyond question. That they would kill hundreds, thousands even, doing so, was a certainty. Scarcely more than a hundred years before, Rome had been sacked for eight days by a combined Spanish and German army, with Italian mercenaries. One of the notables of the day had remarked that the Germans had been bad, the Italians worse, and the Spanish worst of all. Barberini could not stop himself from trying to remember who had said it, nor from churning his brain over and over trying to remember the precise Latin. All he could remember, as if he was compelled to repeat it over and over again in the silence of his mind, was Hispani vero pessimi, the Spanish were truly the worst.

 

            Vitelleschi was speaking again, not heeding Barberini's frantic attempts to arrest his descent into unmanly panic. Barberini hoped that his condition was not visible, but he could readily imagine a stench of fear rising from him like steam from a winter dungheap. Everyone around him seemed so controlled, so sure, despite the disaster.

 

            "… and the principal papers of the Society were removed to separate caches in the small hours of this morning. Our agents reported the arrival of the last of Your Holiness' party of cardinals in the late hours of yesterday. Arrangements to evacuate them again are being made, although it grows difficult to find transport suiting their dignity."

 

            His Holiness laughed once, and then smiled in the most sardonic manner Barberini had ever seen on the face of a living man. "Let them choose, then, between dignity and capture."

 

            That confused Barberini. "Capture, Your Holiness? To what end?"

 

            "Whatever that foul Spaniard has in mind. I do not doubt that we will see many martyrs from this business." His Holiness sighed. "Nor is it right to expect it. The governance of the church is more secular than divine, and in time Borja will feel his leash tighten about his throat. Madrid will not let this folly stand."

 

            Barberini realized that he had heard that before. And it had been wrong before. And there was a clear and obvious way in which Borja could present Madrid with a fait accompli that none short of the Almighty himself could undo. "Your Holiness is assured of his bodily safety?" he ventured, diffidently.

 

            "As sure as the walls of Castel Sant’Angelo and the prowess of my guard may make me," was the reply, His Holiness' gaze level at Barberini. "I hope to continue to be a troublesome priest for some time yet."

 

            Barberini recognized the allusion, and smiled. Even Vitelleschi's pursed and narrow mouth twitched up slightly, at one corner. Did the Spanish government want to make a modern St. Thomas out of the pope, they had picked the right method for it. For all that, much of the Castel Sant’Angelo had been built in Hadrian's time, little of the purely defensive works were of more recent vintage, and the Swiss Guard was only two hundred men. The Palatine guard would be mustering, but that took time for artisans, tradesmen and shopkeepers to gather their arms and report for duty. Those of them, that was, that did not elect to defend their own homes and places of business.

 

            Any more military help would have to come from the militias, and they were a weak reed at best. Many of those would be neither use nor ornament against formed troops. The rest would simply remain in their homes.

 

There would be no assistance from any of the few papal troops that remained stationed near Rome. By the time they mustered and marched, the Spanish would be here and about their business. It went without saying that everyone expected there would be a sack. The last one was only just past living memory. There were ways and means of hiding what one had, of that Barberini had no doubt, but by far the simplest method of avoiding the horrors of a soldiery unleashed on a town was to pile belongings on whatever could be found with wheels and leave. Or simply carry it. Barberini had seen one family, every member of which from the grandmother to the toddlers had been carrying a bundle, heading north into the Lazio countryside.

 

The general who had spoken earlier—whatever his name was—had been speaking while Barberini had thus been moping quietly to himself, and was winding up his rather gloomy presentation. Spain had sent perhaps as many as ten thousand troops from Naples, and there were five hundred professional soldiers in Rome to resist them. The remainder of Rome's defense was whatever the citizens managed through their own unaided efforts. And they were fleeing.

 

Rome's fortifications were, for all practical purposes, non-existent. His Holiness had a program of construction in prospect, but very little of the work had been done. Indeed, the scaffolds around Castel Sant’Angelo would have to be brought down over night lest they provide the Spaniards with ready-made scaling ladders.

 

 

About Eric Flint

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