1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 1:
1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS
Eric Flint and Virginia DeMarce
To me alone there came a thought of grief
Duke Maximilian of Bavaria kneeled by the side of the bier upon which his late wife’s body lay in state. “Nobody else remembers,” he cried out. “The rest of you only recall how she was these last years—an ill old woman, tired, discouraged and heavy in spirit because she had not given Bavaria an heir.”
He banged his forehead against the stone pedestal upon which the bier had been placed; then turned to the chamberlain who was standing behind him. “Only I remember what she was like when she came to Bavaria as a bride. I am the only one who remembers what it was like. She radiated merriment; she was so lovable. Under God, she was the greatest blessing of my life. So virtuous! So pious! I have lost the most wonderful wife that any man ever had. Her price was truly above rubies!”
He turned back to the bier. “O, My God, how have I offended You? In what way has my service to You and to the Church failed, that You have so bereft me? Elisabeth Renata, may God take you directly to paradise. You never did anything that would require you to remain in purgatory. Elisabeth Renata. My wife.”
Turning again, he called for a pen and paper—and a knife. The chamberlain moved to the door; a silent servant brought the supplies rapidly. Slashing the ball of his thumb, the duke accumulated a little puddle of blood on the floor, with which he wrote—wrote shakily, with numerous blots, not just because of his agitation but because blood, coagulating so quickly, does not make the best of inks. “To Mary, Queen of Heaven, Patroness of Bavaria,” he began. Finished, he turned. “Bring me the golden box on my writing desk—the one with the mirror on the top.”
The servant slid away, returning swiftly with the box that the duke had requested. Maximilian opened it and placed the paper inside.
“This is my vow. Take it to the pilgrimage shrine at Altötting. My worldly life is over. Others may shoulder the burden. I shall abdicate and retire to a monastery. Until I am reunited with my duchess, my days will be devoted to fasting and prayer.”
Duke Albrecht of Bavaria looked silently at the privy council. The councillors looked back, in equal silence.
“My brother is still at Duchess Elisabeth Renata’s bier. There is certain urgent business that cannot wait until he can bring himself to turn his attention to it,” Albrecht finally commented. “First, however, let us each say a silent rosary for the peaceful rest of the late duchess. I cannot regret the pneumonia that took her. For more than a year now, the physicians have told us, the crab, the cancer, has been attacking her from within. She was strong. She would have had a hard death, otherwise. As we pray, let us thank God for His infinite mercies.”
The glory and the freshness of a dream
Maria Anna should have been meditating upon the bloody wounds as displayed upon the crucifix. She had just come from early mass. Instead, the archduchess of Austria was humming Edelweiss and thinking about the upcoming morning of birdwatching that she had scheduled with her beloved stepmother. Birdwatching would be followed, inevitably, by being poured into yet another elaborate court dress. Today, however, the afternoon concert promised something special.
She heard a slight protest behind her as she strode down the corridor toward her own quarters and, feeling a twinge of guilt, slowed down. Maria Anna tended to walk in a brisk manner when her attention wandered. She was a young woman and, thanks to that same stepmother, physically vigorous and in better health than most members of European royal families. Female members, for a certainty.
Alas, the same could not be said of her chief attendant, Dona Mencia de Mendoza. Dona Mencia’s spirits were certainly perky enough, but her body was that of a woman nearing sixty and she had rheumatic knees, to boot.
Dona Mencia caught up with her. “Sorry,” Maria Anna murmured, glancing down at the older woman. “I’m afraid I was quite caught up by that marvelous music.”
“There’s the whole afternoon to look forward to then, Your Highness,” Dona Mencia replied, smiling. “You really don’t have to rush to meet it.”
“It’s not likely to top The Sound of Music,” Maria Anna pointed out.
Dona Mencia kept smiling, but didn’t argue the point. She’d never say so, but the archduchess was quite sure that her attendant shared her own musical tastes—as unconventional as those tastes might seem, to some people in the Austrian court. Not, of course, that anyone was likely to criticize her for it. There were advantages to being the eldest daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, after all.
One of those advantages was the quality of the musicians who appeared in the court. Claudia de Medici, widow of Maria Anna’s cousin Leopold and regent of the Duchy of Austria-Tirol for her minor sons, had sent her troop of musicians (all fourteen of them—Duchess Claudia had been economizing since she was widowed) to Vienna to cheer the spirits of Maria Anna’s papa. What with the problems in Bohemia and the ingratitude of Wallenstein, the spirits of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor, were currently in dire need of being cheered. Yesterday, Claudia’s musicians, with the assistance of many persons borrowed from the Vienna court personnel, had performed the most marvelous commedia that Maria Anna had ever seen.
She had to restrain herself from striding again. Turning her head, she commented to Dona Mencia: “Such beautiful music! How amazing that those American heretics brought along such a magnificent tribute to the Austrian spirit. So morally uplifting. The Baroness Maria was so admirably pious. The marriage must have been morganatic, of course, but that is all right, since the baron had plenty of legally acceptable heirs from his first marriage. Not quite the opera that Mama so loves, but very close. How can they trump it, as they have promised to do?”
Edelweiss, Edelweiss. Maria Anna’s hum expanded to a whistle.
Discovering that she had overshot the doorway to her own apartments while meditating on yesterday’s play, Maria Anna maintained her dignity by managing to give the impression that she had intended to drop in on her younger sister all along.
Cecelia was eating pancakes topped with fruit preserves, and making no visible progress toward getting into riding clothes. “Up, lazybones!” came the serenely illustrious and highly well-born sisterly admonition.
“I’m not going.” Archduchess Cecelia Renata snuggled back down into her pillows. “You may think it’s refreshing and invigorating, but I say it’s cold out there. If you and Mama want to freeze your ears off, be my guest.”
“Sloth is a deadly sin,” retorted Maria Anna with a grin.
It was not really said in jest. Not that Cecelia was particularly slothful. It was just that, well, a younger sister ought to follow her older sister’s lead. Cecelia’s tendency to have a mind of her own—well, to be more than a little pigheaded—and direct her undoubted energy into her own projects was a constant irritant to Maria Anna, if for no other reason than the personal aggravation it often caused her.
An Austrian archduchess couldn’t go anywhere unaccompanied, of course. Mama was often occupied with court functions. If Cecelia would only agree with Maria Anna’s ideas, sometimes…
“Oh, all right. Stay here, then. But tomorrow morning it’s tennis and you are getting up for that. The courts are walled and when the sun shines on the brick, it should be warm enough even for you. No excuses.”
Maria Anna headed into her own apartment. There, instead of a maid waiting with her riding habit, she found a dressmaker, with full train of assistants, waiting with the costume she would be wearing this afternoon. Even Maria Anna’s good humor sagged a little at the sight.
“It needs one more fitting. Unquestionably! Without any doubt. It must be done, Your Highness!”
Thus spake the redoubtable Frau Stecher, the court’s chief seamstress. Maria Anna managed to suppress a sigh. The young archduchess’ life had been filled with it must be done! followed by it is your clear duty! or it is God’s will! for as long as she could remember. Obediently, she stood for the fitting.
“Ach,” said Frau Stecher. “Where are my tack pins? Susanna, go get them. A round box, light blue enamel, with an iris on the top. It should be on the far end of the cutting table.” One of the assistants rose from where she had been holding a hem, curtsied, and backed neatly out of the room. The girl was new, Maria Anna remembered, the most junior of Frau Stecher’s senior apprentices. She, too, had arrived last week with the group sent from Tirol by Duchess Claudia, with the highest recommendations—daughter of Claudia’s own seamstress, stepdaughter of the head court tailor in the Tirol. At eighteen, she had already acquired all the fundamentals for a successful career in luxury and couture clothing, but would benefit from two or three more years of experience at an even more distinguished court. All the proper flourishes for a letter of recommendation. The Vienna Hofstaat had been delighted to add her to its personnel roster.
What is her name? the archduchess asked herself. Oh, yes. Allegretti. Susanna Allegretti. Unlike many highborn ladies, Maria Anna was punctilious about knowing the names of all of her staff.
After all the challenges associated with tack pins had been resolved, Maria Anna did manage to get into her habit and out the door, where the empress, Eleonora Gonzaga, was waiting for her. As she curtsied, Maria Anna’s mind went back to The Sound of Music. There were probably people who thought that her stepmother wasn’t an equal match for her father the emperor, either. When Papa had been simply archduke of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, no one had thought it amiss that he’d married Maria Anna’s mother, who was a sister of the Duke of Bavaria. That was equal enough. But by the time he’d married Eleonora Gonzaga, he was already Ferdinand II, king of Hungary, king of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor—and she was just a collateral relative of the duke of Mantua.
But the Jesuits said they were both faithful, virtuous, and religious; that they would be happy together, so the match went through. Lucky for him; lucky for us, Maria Anna mused, not for the first time. She always thought of her stepmother as “Mama,” and—now that she had seen that marvelous American play—she knew that Eleonora Gonzaga had blessed the House of Habsburg as much as Maria had blessed the von Trapp household.
Curtsey completed, she gave her stepmother a hug and an enthusiastic kiss on both cheeks. Maria Anna adored the pious, childless, woman who, as that young, orphaned, Mantuan duchess, had come to Austria from a modern education in an Ursuline convent. Eleonora Gonzaga had dug her stepchildren out of the clutches of Spanish-model court protocol, and, in line with the best and most progressive Italian views on bringing up children, took them outdoors to run in sunshine and rain, dig in the gardens, hike, ride, and, yes, birdwatch.
There was no doubt about it, Maria Anna realized. She herself, her brothers, and her sister were now the most abundantly healthy young adults the Habsburgs had produced in a long time. Papa himself proclaimed to anyone who would listen that, “Under God, it is to Eleonora’s care that I owe my continued life and such health as I have.”
And he was quite right!