1634: THE BAVARIAN CRISIS – snippet 10:
There was nowhere in Munich that Duke Maximilian’s decision to delay his abdication was greeted with more relief than in the convent of the “English Ladies” or “Jesuitesses,” formerly the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The dozen or so members in the Munich house—forbidden, at present, to designate themselves as nuns or even as sisters—waited for a signal from Mary Ward to begin their after-supper devotions.
Mary Ward—not Mother Mary Ward, they were not a religious order any longer, she had to remember that—waited, her hands folded quietly in her lap. She was nearly fifty. In the almost thirty years since she had left England in pursuit of a religious vocation, she had been as far south as Rome and as far east as Bratislava. She and her sisters had founded schools for girls from Liege to Naples in the Spanish lands, from Cologne to Vienna in those of the Holy Roman Empire, farther east in the Habsburg possessions. She had tried the traditional contemplative convent life of the Colettine Poor Clares and found it not to be her vocation. After a year spent with her family, assisting people in need and people who were experiencing difficulties with their faith, she had returned to the Netherlands with a group of other young Catholic Englishwomen she had gathered around her. She had developed the concept of a new kind of women’s religious order whose members would be able to travel, to work and live among the people who needed their services most, wearing not a habit but the ordinary clothing of the laity, living according to the Jesuit rule.
The difficulties, most of them, had arisen there. Since long before the days of Chaucer’s pilgrim prioress, the idea of nuns “gadding about” in public had irritated ecclesiastical conservatives. Ideally, for them, not only would a nun never leave the walls of her convent, but no lay person would ever enter within them, either. It was the only way to control the dangerous females of the species: immure them.
The Council of Trent had declared that all religious orders of women must take solemn vows and observe strict enclosure. Pope Pius V had confirmed this resolution. Given how many other declarations of Trent were observed more in the breach than to the letter in the first third of the seventeenth century, it was astonishing how many members of the College of Cardinals, how many officials in the Holy Office, insisted that this one could not be breached in the least.
Mary Ward nodded. “Let us pray. Sister Winifred, please lead us. Sister Frances, please provide the tones for the chant.”
Against the background of the familiar evening prayers, her tired mind wandered. In 1615, she had requested papal confirmation of her institute; the hearings process had outlasted two popes and continued into the tenure of a third. The Jesuit rule specifically prohibited them from undertaking the direction of women’s orders. But Father Mutio Vitelleschi, General of the Society of Jesus, found that there would be no objection to, and much to be gained from, the establishment of a parallel but unconnected institution. During the next ten years, in spite of the opposition of clergy who objected to the idea of a women’s order directly subject to the pope rather than under the authority of the diocesan bishops, she had established several branches in the Spanish Netherlands (with the patronage of Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia), the Germanies (with the approval of the archbishop of Cologne), Naples, and Perugia. In Rome itself, there had been—well, now there was again, thanks to the Barberini—a school for poor girls. But in 1624, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith issued its ruling: accept enclosure or the institute would be dissolved. One by one, the schools in Italy closed; many of her sisters had entered other, more conventional, orders.
In Munich, however, Duke Maximilian and Duchess Elisabeth Renata were among the most sturdy of the Catholic rulers in supporting the idea of unenclosed orders of women who could teach and perform works of charity. In 1627, Mary Ward had come to Munich. The duke assigned them a house, appropriately enough on Paradise Street, and they opened a school. At the duke’s recommendation, Ferdinand II invited the English Ladies to Vienna, where they opened a school for girls. Its success had demonstrated that she was right—that this order met a need within the church. The girls’ school that they opened in the imperial capital attracted four hundred sixty-five pupils the first year.
On July 7, 1628, the Holy Office had declared the institute disbanded because of its refusal to accept claustration. Mother Mary Ward had met with the nuncio in Vienna, then with the nuncio in Munich. In May of 1629, Pope Urban VIII had granted her an audience; early the next winter, she defended her foundation before a commission of the College of Cardinals—speaking in Latin. She returned to the house on Paradise Street. In the background, the ecclesiastical bureaucracy continued to carry out its assignment to disband the order’s houses. The schools in the Netherlands were closed; also the one in Cologne. Because of the efforts of the inspector whom Mary Ward sent to the Netherlands to reopen the school at Liege, the case was transferred to the Inquisition. The charge: disobedience.
Well—it was true. Winifred Wigmore’s actions had been imprudent at best and insubordinate at worst. Her own defense of her sister in Christ had been intemperate. In January 1631, Urban VIII issued a bull “definitively” abolishing the institute; she herself had been “imprisoned” by the Inquisition in Munich, albeit that imprisonment consisted of a stay in the infirmary at the Poor Clare convent, with a sister from her own order to keep her company, her meals delivered from outside, and lax enough supervision that the lunch baskets included notes, incoming and outgoing, written on napkins with lemon juice serving the place of invisible ink.
In March of 1632, she went to Rome once more; met with the Pope once more. In that other world, the encyclopedias said, the pope had furnished her with a residence in Rome, where she and her companions lived on a modest income that appeared from somewhere deep in the recesses of the Barberini family’s revenues.
In this world, he had sent them back to Munich, where under Duke Maximilian’s patronage they had reopened their school, but as lay teachers. It was not what Mary Ward wanted; she wanted recognition that the institute was a religious body. But it appeared to be, for the time being, all that she could get. It certainly appeared that the English Ladies would never become, formally, a Papal Institute.
Cardinal Francesco Barberini had suggested, tentatively, in a private conversation before her return, that they might possibly be reconstituted as a diocesan order that fulfilled the same function. Serving only in those dioceses where the bishops wanted them; not in those where their existence would be an irritant. Yes, he knew that was not what she had wanted. It was not as prestigious as being a papal institute; nor would it provide the leaders of the order with the same independence. But, then, it was widely recognized that humility was good for the soul. One diocese at a time; it would be possible to insert in the document allowing such foundations a clause that the bishop must guarantee to respect their rule and would not subsequently attempt to impose enclosure. Furthermore, should a successor wish to withdraw his approbation of the foundations, the ladies would be allowed to transfer to another diocese—with their property.
Cardinal Francesco had suggested that this experiment might preferably begin with dioceses some distance from Italy and Spain. There was, of course the example of Vincent de Paul and his Sisters of Charity in France. Cardinal Francesco, with whom Mazarini had shared the delightful story of the original name of the Catholic parish in Grantville, had laughed at that point in the conversation. Mary Ward had wondered why.
The murmured litany came to its end. “Now,” Mary Ward said, “let us each say an additional rosary for the soul of the Duchess Elisabeth Renata.” If her own rosary included a petition that some benefactor might appear to substitute for the generous charity that the late duchess had extended to the English Ladies and their school, she did not say so.
On the other hand, there was nowhere in Munich that Duke Maximilian’s decision to delay his abdication was greeted with more disappointment than in the apartments of Mechthilde of Leuchtenberg, Duke Albrecht’s wife. Nor anywhere that it was greeted with more fury.
Duke Albrecht had been afraid of that.
What he said was, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Face it, Tilda. It’s as good a principle as any for taking life one day at a time.”
“I will not see my sons shunted into insignificance! I have endured for more than twenty years now, living in Bavaria as a dependent of the court. Maximilian has never assigned you an appanage of your own. We have been nothing but upper servants, all our lives. I have endured it for the sake of our children. Who will now be tossed away. Nothing for you, nothing for them!”
“Maximilian has no intention of breaking up Bavaria into something that resembles the absurd little Saxonies and Anhalts. Primogeniture was put in force in 1506. There hasn’t been an independent territory for a Bavarian cadet line since Kunigunde of Austria forced her older son to create one for her younger son in 1516, no matter what their father’s will said. That was more than a century ago. And Ludwig X had the grace not to marry.”
“Don’t ever dream that I don’t know what she asked the Estates, then. ‘Isn’t my younger son as nobly born as his brother? Didn’t I bring him forth from the same womb, set from the same seed?’ The Estates, the Landtag, agreed with her. They awarded him a third of the duchy. You are Maximilian’s full brother: same womb, same seed. What is it that brings him to rule and you to be no more than any one of the others on his council—men who have no more nobility than can be garnered by attending a university and getting a law degree?”
“Power,” Albrecht answered tersely. “Unified, Bavaria is a strong force within the empire. Break it up, and each part will be no more than, say, one of the pieces of Baden or of Hesse.”
“Power,” said Mechthilde. “Do not doubt for one moment that this means that our sons will have none.”
They looked at one another.