1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 76:
From Saint Etienne, a high plateau that opened onto the Jura massif and overlooked the ancient town of Besançon, Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar studied the Doubs. The river made a great loop below, which enclosed the town on three sides—more like eighty percent of its circumference, actually. The town itself was situated inside the loop, with a fortress protecting the neck and the beginnings of fortifications on the two hills which flanked it.
Only the beginnings yet, at Besançon. Bernhard’s official military headquarters were much farther to the northeast, at the Abbey of St. Peter and Paul at Schwarzach on the Rhine. Though by nature a very thrifty man, Bernhard had spent a great deal of money to acquire his own copies of the Encyclopedia Brittanica brought by the Americans through the Ring of Fire. He’d chosen that location, to the discomfiture of the Benedictine monks residing there, on the basis of his careful reading of some of Louis XIV’s Rhineland campaigns in the 1680s. That world would now not happen, of course, but the logic of the choice of location remained. Schwarzach had a convenient set of large buildings and was not far from what had once become Fort Louis. What was now becoming Fort … Whatever, since it didn’t have a name yet. But construction was well advanced.
However, Bernhard and his handful of intimate advisers—Der Kloster, they called themselves since they had settled at Schwarzach, “the cloister,” only half-joking—had agreed that to do more to fortify Besançon at this point would create too much suspicion. Bernhard’s civil administrative headquarters were already in the town’s Hotel de Ville, true enough. Cardinal Richelieu had agreed that an army the size of Bernhard’s needed a civil administration to support it, or the mercenary soldiers would start looting the inhabitants they were supposed to protect. But no one really expected any military action in Besançon, or anywhere near it. Why would any army come here? The town was prosperous but not wealthy, and it was tucked against the mountains. It was certainly not the most inaccessible place in Europe, but the terrain was difficult enough to deter any of the casual plundering expeditions that the war had spilled around itself like a dog shedding water.
“Any chance the cardinal will increase your commission, Your Grace?” asked Friedrich Kanoffski von Langendorff.
Bernhard turned his head to glance back at the Bohemian mercenary officer who was perhaps the most trusted adviser he had in the Cloister. “No,” he said firmly, shaking his head. “I don’t dare even ask any more. Richelieu’s the canniest fox of the lot, you know. I think he’s already starting to ask himself questions. We’ll simply have to settle with our existing commission. Ten thousand foot and six thousand cavalry. Less than we’d like, of course, but we can live with it for the moment.”
Kanoffski wasn’t surprised. The closer they came to the spring, and what everyone expected to be a volcanic resumption of hostilities in the field against the Swede and his Germans, the more insistently Richelieu was calling on Bernhard to move his army farther north. Saxe-Weimar had been able to forestall him so far, pointing out quite reasonably that he had to keep an eye on the Swedish general Horn’s forces in Swabia. Since that was, indeed, the specific task for which the Cardinal had employed Bernhard and his mercenary army—and one which Bernhard had carried out quite satisfactorily for the past two years, keeping one of the Swede’s most capable generals and his army pinned to the southwest and away from the main theater of the war—Richelieu had accepted the excuse. Thus far.
But Richelieu’s intendants ran a very extensive and capable network of spies. They had no one in or near Bernhard’s inner circles, the Cloister was quite certain of that, but they were hardly deaf or blind. By now, if nothing else, Richelieu would be wondering why Bernhard was keeping so many of his troops this far into the Franche-Comté instead of closer to the Rhine.
“Yes, we can live with it, Your Grace,” Kanoffski said, “but let me take this occasion to make clear that I am a most unhappy soldier. More precisely, a most unhappy payroll officer.”
A little smile came to Saxe-Weimar’s face. “Don’t tell me. You’re going to desert.”
They both chuckled, softly. Kanoffski could remember a time when the same remark would have triggered off one of Bernhard’s rages, instead of a jest. The man was as notorious for abusing his officers as he was for his arrogance toward almost everyone. Kanoffski had gotten his share of that, in the beginning, and still got some today, from time to time. But he’d found that once Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar did let someone into his confidence, he could be as charming and witty—and generous—as he normally was not at all.
Granted, he was still not an easy man to work for, as a close subordinate. But Kanoffski was thick-skinned by temperament, and had had plenty of experience as a mercenary officer since he left Bohemia. He’d served under commanders every bit as arrogant and harsh as Bernhard—some, more so—but who had not one-tenth of the Saxe-Weimar duke’s intelligence and ability. Bernhard was frugal without being stupidly stingy; he was a truly excellent administrator; bold in battle and shrewd on campaign. Overall, in Kanoffski’s estimate, one of the very best commanders in all of Europe.
He was even, in his own way, a pious man. His ordnances for the conduct of chaplains in his mercenary army demonstrated both his concern for the spiritual well-being of his soldiery—and his usual canny sense of the abuses to which chaplains were prone. Well, not abuses, precisely. “Limitations” might be a better word. The ordinances made plain that although the chaplains, like Bernhard himself, were all Lutheran, they were to avoid doctrinal fine points in their sermons and stick to the basics, as the duke saw them. “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil” worked well, right along with, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The duke disapproved of blasphemy. That might be the only thing he had in common with his brother Ernst. Plus, they made it clear that any chaplain who wanted to collect his pay was going to provide spiritual consolation to every man in the regiment, no matter what his own official religion might be. Catholic or Calvinist, sectarian or heretic, a dying soldier was to be given words of comfort.
Kanoffski didn’t think it was even hard to understand Bernhard’s sometimes outrageous behavior. He was the youngest of four brothers. Four living brothers. Six other sons of his parents had died as infants or children, or been killed in the war—or, in one case, gone mad and committed suicide. That didn’t count the one, William’s twin, who had been stillborn. All four of the surviving brothers had inherited the duchy of Saxe-Weimar, and Bernhard quite obviously nursed a certain sense of grievance at not having gotten his just due. As the youngest of the four, he could never realistically expect enough of an income from the inheritance to live on it in the manner of a Hochadel.
So, from the moment he became his own agent as an adult, his consuming passion was to find a place for himself in the world, that suited his sense of his own stature. Which was perhaps grandiose, but certainly not absurd. In Kanoffski’s estimate—being in many ways, not so different a man himself—it was that ambition as much as any admiration for Gustav Adolf or commitment to the Protestant cause that had led Bernhard to seek his fame and fortune as a soldier under the Swedish king’s banner.
But that lurking sense of grievance had exploded when Gustav Adolf, for all practical purposes, handed over Saxe-Weimar’s lands to the American up-starts. The fact that Bernhard had not really lost very much from the decision, in cold-bloodedly calculated material terms, simply didn’t matter. What mattered was that a man trying to gain in stature had just had what little he started with cut out from under him. The fact that the three older brothers had acquiesced in the outrage, arguing political and military necessity, had simply incensed Bernhard further.
He’d given his oath of allegiance to Gustav Adolf—and the treacherous Swede had repaid him with a stab in the back. And an insult, to rub salt into the wound. Not directly to the duke’s face, of course, but various people—several of them—had made it their business to ensure that he heard what the king had said to Oxenstierna at Mainz. In the hearing of others.
No, no, no. In this, the dukes of Saxe-Weimar are proving to be as petty as any German noblemen. In their absence—protracted absence, let me remind you—the people of their principality have seen fit to organize themselves to survive the winter and the depredations of the war. What were they supposed to do, Axel? Starve quietly, lest the tranquility of the dukes be disturbed?
As if the reason for their “protracted absence” had not been that they were serving in the king’s own army! As if they had been luxuriating at some mineral hot springs rather than fighting in his campaigns!
Kanoffski had heard it often enough. From Bernhard’s point of view, the common perception that he had “betrayed” Gustav Adolf stood reality on its head. The truth was the other way around. He’d simply repaid the Swede’s infidelity with its just reward.
They were quite a quartet, those brothers, Friedrich mused. Saxe-Weimar had never been a very important principality in Germany, even before the Americans overran it with their rebellion. Yet, even though dispossessed from what little they’d had, at least three of the four brothers looked to be emerging as major players in the great game of the continent, almost entirely due to their own capabilities. They were an exception—not the only exception, to be sure, but perhaps the most startling one—from the usual run of German princelings, whose pretensions were generally in inverse proportion to their measly land-holdings and still measlier talents.
The day might even come when the oldest of the brothers, Wilhelm, faced the youngest across the field of battle. Not as two generals, but as two heads of state.
Who could say, any longer? The war that had begun at the White Mountain in Bohemia fifteen years earlier had steadily pulled more and more of Europe into its maelstrom. And then God had thrown the Ring of Fire into the very center of it. For what purpose, neither Friedrich nor Bernhard had any idea at all.
But to what effect?—oh, to that question, they had found an answer, with Bernhard leading the way.
When the youngest duke of Saxe-Weimar broke his oath to Gustav Adolf, he also broke all his ties to established custom. Whether you viewed him as a traitor or—as Bernhard did himself—the one betrayed, the end result was the same. He was now a man on his own, with no limit to his ambition and no restraints beyond whatever objective reality might pose.
In their smaller and less ambitious ways, all of the Cloister shared the same view. They were new men, in a new world.
Altogether a new world, even if most of Europe’s powerful and mighty persisted in closing their eyes to the reality. Bernhard and his intimates thought most of the American prattle about equality and liberty was just that—prattle—but they’d all come to accept what they saw as the heart of thing. Which Bernhard himself, something of a patron of the arts like all the Saxe-Weimars, said he’d found best expressed in an up-time book of poetry he’d run across in Grantville. A line penned by an English poet of the future.
A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?
So, Der Kloster. As Bernhard had put it to them, in what Friedrich had whimsically come to think of as their own—very different—version of a constitutional convention, held four months earlier at Schwarzach:
“If Wallenstein can do it, why can’t we?”
That really meant me, not “we,” since Bernhard was not proposing any sort of constitutional monarchy, much less a republic. But none of the seven officers in the room had objected to that aspect of the matter. That there would be a first among equals—and quite a long ways first, at that—was a given. They remained monarchists, at bottom, they’d simply shed the false and illusory notions concerning so-called legitimacy with which the powers-that-be cloaked themselves. Legitimacy, to a new man with eyes to see, was simply what you made of it. Nothing more—and nothing less.
Friedrich Kanoffski had been the first to speak . Verbally if not in writing—of course not, in writing, since they weren’t fools—putting down what the Americans would call his John Hancock.
“Wallenstein is Bohemian, you know. So am I.”
That brought a circle of grins. They probably should have called it The Wolfpack rather than The Cloister.
Bernhard turned away from the view below. “I think it would be prudent for the time being, Friedrich, for me to take quite a few companies into the Breisgau. Put the cardinal’s mind at rest. Send Caldenbach and Ohm, maybe Rosen as well, toward Mainz. All three of those units can move very fast when they need to.”
“Yes, your Grace. Anything else?”
Bernhard looked down at the ground beneath his boots. “Here,” he said, stamping his foot on Saint Etienne. “We’ll put the big fortress here. Tell Bodendorf to have his military architect start working on the plans while I’m away.”