1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 6:
Maria Anna stood patiently as Frau Stecher adjusted a pair of sleeves. Since sleeve adjustment involved the ability to move one’s arms, she occasionally got to change position. Sometimes, she was even allowed to tickle the bare toes of her nephew Ferdinand, who was precociously propped up in a little padded chair, carefully watched by both his noble Aja and a more common nursemaid to make sure that the heir of Austria didn’t topple over and harm himself.
“Frau Stecher.” Dona Mencia entered the room. “Can you please go to the empress. There is a problem with the dress for this afternoon’s audience and she is quite determined to wear this one and no other. It appears that the lining is not appropriately attached. This must have been done improperly when the dress was taken apart to be cleaned and then fastened back together. Her maids are with her. Take your seamstresses; it must be repaired and there isn’t much time.”
“Certainly. But, Susanna, you stay here and hold those sleeves in place.” Frau Stecher curtsied and vanished with the remainder of her staff.
Maria Anna looked behind her. Then she looked down. The top of Susanna Allegretti’s head barely reached above the archduchess’s shoulder—not that the young seamstress was abnormally small. She was short and thin, but no court dwarf. Maria Anna, by contrast, was an stately, unusually well-grown, woman. Her dressmakers truly appreciated this. Gorgeous clothing displayed so much better on a statuesque form. Not to say, a buxom form. It was like the difference, for an artist, between the constraints of a miniature and the opportunities offered by a large canvas.
“This could take the whole time until Mama goes down to the audience. Are you really going to stand there holding sleeves up while they are gone?”
Susanna’s eyes sparkled. “Not unless Your Highness truly wishes it. But, if not, we should set a spy in the corridor to tell us when they are coming back”
“Lena,” Maria Anna said to the governess. “It’s time for our baby to eat, anyway.” She stopped, picked up Ferdinand the Most Recent, as her delighted brother called his son and heir, and gave his neck a bit of a nuzzle. “Mariana will be waiting for him.”
The archduchess thought, with all due respect to the Blessed Virgin and Her mother Saint Anne, that it would be quite nice if the Habsburgs could more often name their daughters something more—distinctive—than Maria Anna. Or Anna Maria. Or Anna. Or Maria. It had been kind of Ferdinand’s wife to retain the Spanish form of her name for written purposes but, spoken, they were still the same. It was confusing. At least, when someone referred to Cecelia Renata, there was only one of them in the family. This had been true with great-aunt Caterina Micaela, too. Surely, a little more imagination in the family nomenclature would do no harm.
But. “Please take him back to the nurseries. And send us a maid to stand behind a statue in the corridor and be our spy. I intend to sit down.” Which she did, inviting Dona Mencia to do likewise.
Susanna, of course, remained standing.
“You come to us from Duchess Claudia, don’t you?” the archduchess asked.
“Oh, yes,” Susanna replied. She had grown up as a court servant, so was less disconcerted by this situation than she otherwise might have been. Still, she realized that nervousness was going to make her talk too much. Everyone, especially her mother, assured her that talking too much was one of her major failings. “I was born in Italy, before she married Duke Leopold. But we came to Tirol with her and have been there ever since. Except, of course, that my mother sent me back to Ferrara when I was thirteen, for my training. I was at the court there for five years before I came back to Bozen, and was only there for a year when the Duchess was so kind as to send me here, to Vienna.”
“So,” Maria Anna asked, “do you have any acquaintance among the musicians that the duchess has also sent to us?”
“One of the lute players is my cousin; well, he’s the son of my aunt’s husband, by his first marriage. My stepsister’s husband’s younger brother is apprenticed to the music librarian. He isn’t here, though; he stayed home. I know all the musicians, though. We make their costumes. And re-make them, alter them, fit them to newly hired musicians. It’s a lot easier to make a costume smaller than it is to make it bigger.”
“But the musicians are men. Don’t the tailors have to do that?”
“Not for the court servants. All of us work on whatever job has to be done. I love to work on velvets, but satins are so slippery. There really should be two people assigned to each satin garment; one just to hold the pieces in place.”
“I suppose.” Maria Anna sighed. “Do you know which among them went to this Grantville in the Germanies? One of them must have. To get the music.” She whistled the first two phrases of the scales from the song in the play.
“It wasn’t one of them. It was one of the cloth merchants in Bozen who supplies the duchess’ court who sent an agent there. The agent looked around, of course, to find other things that he thought would be profitable or of interest. He thought that the music would be, so he hired one of the Italian musicians in town to copy as much of it as he had time and money for. Now Duchess Claudia has sent a half-dozen people, but they aren’t back yet. At least, they weren’t back yet, when we left for Vienna.”
“Ah. That is too bad. I had thought perhaps that I could speak with someone who had been there.”
“You can,” Susanna answered cheerfully. “None of the musicians have gone there, but the cloth merchant’s agent is in Vienna. He’s the regular factor here. The other was just a temporary assignment. Exploratory. Their firm supplies a great deal of the cloth that is used for the imperial household. Not the luxury goods, such as these.” Susanna waved the brocade sleeves in the air. “Ordinary cloth, for the servants, or the uniforms the guards wear when it isn’t a ceremonial occasion. It comes into Bozen from Augsburg; then they re-ship it all over. A lot goes to Venice and Naples, but it also comes this way.”
Maria Anna turned her head. “Dona Mencia. I do not believe that I have ever spoken to a cloth factor. Do I have reason to speak to a cloth factor? Or to visit a cloth warehouse?”
“Not that I know of,” she replied.
“But I can probably think of one,” she added.
Dona Mencia and Archduchess Maria Anna got along very well, indeed.
The solution occurred to her even before the spy reported the return of Frau Stecher. “Perhaps we would like to put on a pre-Lenten masque to entertain the children. The maids can be the players; we will be part of the audience. You will need to arrange for costumes.”
Susanna succumbed to what, in any court, could be a fatal temptation for a servant, resulting in instant disgrace or dismissal—speaking without having been invited to do so. “I saw a good one in Ferrara, at the girls’ school in the Ursuline convent. It was about Jesus saying, ‘Let the little children come to me.’ With songs.”
Even such a gross transgression of etiquette could be pardoned for sufficient reason. Archduchess Maria Anna deemed the reason to be sufficient.
Frau Stecher, when she discovered that her apprentice had not continued to hold the sleeves in place throughout her absence, was not happy. Her unhappiness was not ameliorated by the archduchess’ interrupting the scolding to say that it had been her own decision to take off the sleeves and sit down. Frau Stecher was even less pleased when she discovered that her apprentice was wanted by the archduchess to accompany her on a visit to a cloth warehouse. Particularly since that specific cloth warehouse was owned by a company that provided major competition to Frau Stecher’s brothers.
Maria Anna found that the cloth factor was a very understanding man. When the purpose of the costumes was explained to him, he suggested that they simply be made of draped lengths of cloth, such as were shown in many paintings of the ancient world, worn over the actors’ regular clothing; then, after the masque, the archduchess could present the lengths to the maids who took part as their Easter gifts. This had great appeal to a young woman whose allowance was quite limited. It was scarcely surprising that she consulted him several times during the rehearsals for the masque. Everyone agreed that the antique-style costumes were very effective.
Susanna found that being simultaneously highly favored by the archduchess and in deepest disgrace with her mistress required some delicacy in her behavior over the next few weeks.
“Naturally, I know which choice Papa would consider right.”
Maria Anna was talking to her one-year-older brother Ferdinand who was, since the unexpected death of their older brother Johann Karl in 1619, heir to Austria.
“Everyone knows the vow he took at Loreto. And that he changed the words of their song, the ones that go, ‘and take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife, they yet have nothing won’ into, ‘so take your bodies, property, honorable reputation, child and wife and get out’ as a theme for handling Austria’s Lutherans. Papa swore that he would rather rule over a desert, would rather eat bread and water, would rather go begging with his own wife and child, would rather allow his body to be hacked into pieces, than to tolerate heresy. He meant it. He enforced that in his own duchies from the time he came of age in 1598, expelling the Protestant preachers and closing the Protestant schools. He allowed a week for those who would not convert to wind up their affairs and emigrate.”
“No one,” Ferdinand said rather ruefully, “will ever say that Papa does not have the courage of his convictions. However, I do wish that he could see his way to a sufficient compromise with the Imperial Estates that they would go ahead and elect me as King of the Romans. It’s going to be a real mess if Papa dies without that and the whole election is thrown wide open. That hasn’t happened since Charles V—and think what that election cost us.”
They looked at one another. Whatever his theological intransigence, the Emperor Ferdinand II was, in private, a truly loving father. A father who was by no means well. According to the encyclopedias, a scant four years from now, he would die.
“I don’t think that he’s going to be willing to compromise on religion to advance your political interests,” Maria Anna answered. “Since he became emperor, he has tried to enforce his principles not only in the hereditary lands but also throughout the lands of the Reich, throughout all of the Germanies. You’re going to have to decide how to handle it. If you make promises to the electors now that hinge on future contingencies, they could limit what actions you can take later. And there’s no guarantee that the electors would keep their word when the time came, either.”
In spite of Father Lamormaini’s theological views on the proper role of women being entirely domestic, Austrian archduchesses were not trained to be clinging vines. Their education was designed to prepare them to join the long tradition of Habsburg daughters and sisters who served their fathers and brothers as regents in various parts of Europe. They were prepared to carry their share of the family business. Margaret of Austria. Mary of Hungary. Margaret of Parma. Aunt Isabella Clara Eugenia.
Maria Anna found it more than a little annoying that Papa had not gotten on with the rest of the project of qualifying her to be a Formidable Habsburg Regent. He had given her the education, true. Like her brothers, somewhat to Father Lamormaini’s distress, she had received formal debate training and all. Papa had also provided her with the political training as well.
But there were a couple more prerequisites. First, she needed to get married. Second, she needed to be widowed. Preferably, to be widowed quite promptly, being childless, if she wished to govern a Habsburg principality. However, a short marriage that produced a surviving son would, in a pinch, do the trick and make her regent of her late husband’s lands, although it also would put her in the position of having to govern in the child’s name and practically guarantee a forced retirement in middle age, just as she reached the height of her powers. Although, then, she could govern a Habsburg principality.
Maria Anna sighed. Papa was more likely to choose her husband on the basis of current political advantage than the prospect that her groom would die in a timely fashion.