1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 55
Oxenstierna’s assessment proved quite accurate. He began the assembly by making the announcement that Wilhelm Wettin had been discovered plotting with seditious elements and been placed under arrest. Following the laws of the USE, his successor would be whatever person was chosen by the party in power, the Crown Loyalists. The Swedish chancellor elided over the fact that he had no authority in the USE to be arresting anyone and that he was planning to discard those same laws as soon as possible.
“If you will allow me to offer my advice, I would recommend that you choose Johann Wilhelm Neumair von Ramsla.” He pointed to an elderly man seated in the front row.
Von Ramsla stared back at him, his mouth agape. The chancellor’s proposal came as a complete surprise to the man. He’d played no part in the dealings with Bavaria, of course. Johann Wilhelm was a political theorist, full to the brim with axiomatic principles — hardly the sort of man you wanted to use for such gray purposes. However, he’d be splendid as the new prime minister. The combination of his age — he was in his mid-sixties — and his ineffectual temperament would make him a pliant tool for the eventual destruction of his own office.
There was silence in the room for a few seconds. Then, a few more seconds in which the room was filled with quiet hubbub, as people hastily consulted with each other in whispers. Then, not more than ten seconds after the Swedish chancellor stopped speaking, a man toward the back of the huge chamber climbed onto his chair and shouted:
“Hurrah for the new prime minister! I vote for Johann Wilhelm!”
That was Johann Schweikhard, Freiherr von Sickingen. As a nobleman, he had no business casting a vote for the leader of the Crown Loyalists in the House of Commons, but no one in that chamber cared very much about such legal niceties any more. At least a third of the crowd were also noblemen, after all.
Not more than two seconds later, a roar of approval erupted. If not from the entire crowd, certainly from its majority.
Given that he was ignoring all rules anyway, Oxenstierna decided he could safely accept that roar as a vote of approval by acclamation. He stepped down onto the floor of the assembly hall, took Johann Wilhelm by the arm, and hauled him onto the dais. Von Ramsla made no resistance, even if he was not exactly active in his so-very-rapid rise to power.
Oxenstierna saw no point in giving the old man the speaker’s podium, however. Von Ramsla was a fig leaf, and the sooner he learned that fig leaves were mute, the better.
“And now, my friends, let us move on to the purpose of this assembly. The first order of business is to adopt our new Charter of Rights and Duties.” He swept the crowd with his forefinger. “You’ve all had time to read the Charter, by now, so I will move to a vote by acclamation of each point in order.”
He paused just long enough to allow everyone to take their copy of the charter in hand, if they didn’t have it in hand already.
“Point One. The capital and seat of government of the United States of Europe is henceforth to be located in Berlin.”
Huge roar of approval.
“Point Two. For purposes of determining citizenship –”
Colonel Erik Haakansson Hand found out about Wilhelm Wettin’s arrest at the same time everyone else did, from Oxenstierna’s announcement at the assembly. (The “convention,” they were calling it — and never mind that the event was more in the nature of a staged political rally than anything you could reasonably call a deliberative undertaking.) He wasn’t quite as surprised as most people present, because the tensions between the USE prime minister and the Swedish chancellor had become quite obvious to him. Still; Erik certainly hadn’t expected the development.
Why? he wondered. Oxenstierna’s terse explanation didn’t make a lot of sense to him. “Plotting with seditious elements.” Which elements, and what was the nature of the plot?
A thought suddenly occurred to him. He left the assembly hall and made his way hurriedly to the nearest of the city’s gates. Fortunately, the sky was clear and there was still at least an hour of daylight left.
Nothing. The guards said no one of any significance had left the city within the past few days.
He then made his way to the southwestern gate, the Leipziger Thor.
Again, nothing. And the same at Cöpenicker Thor.
By now, evening had come. He was about to give up the project but decided to make one last effort at the southeastern gate, the Stralower Thor.
Finally, success. A result, at least. Whether it was significant or not was still to be determined.
“Yesterday, around this time,” the guard said, nodding firmly. “I remember them because they were unpleasant. Both of them.”
“Hard to pick between the two,” chimed in one of the other guards. “Baron Shithead and Ritter Asshole.”
Erik chuckled. “I know the type. But do you remember their actual names?”
“It’ll be in the record book,” said a third soldier, standing in the entrance to the guardhouse. “I’ll go check.”
He was back with the names in short order. Hand knew both of the men, although not particularly well. One of them was a baron, in point of fact, a Freiherr from the Province of the Main. His companion was not a nobleman at all, on the other hand. He was a guildmaster and one of the leaders of the Crown Loyalist party in Frankfurt.
The Freiherr had certainly not been close to Wettin. He’d been one of the prime minister’s more vociferous critics, in fact. Erik didn’t know about the guildmaster, but what he did know was that the Crown Loyalists of Frankfort were a particularly reactionary bunch. That was probably a reaction to the city’s very influential and prominent Committee of Correspondence.
The point being that neither man was likely to have feared repercussions if Wettin was arrested — and they’d left the city a day earlier, in any event.
Was there any connection between these two men and the prime minister’s fall from power? Or was their departure simply a coincidence?
But if it was a coincidence, why did they leave Berlin now — literally, on the eve of their triumph? Hand would double-check with his many contacts and agents, but he was almost certain that both men had been members of the faction which had been most critical of Wettin.
Slowly, thinking as he walked, the colonel made his way back to the palace. While serving with Duke Ernst in the Oberpfalz, Erik had come to know an American officer named Jake Ebeling. The two had become something in the way of friends. When Ebeling learned that Hand could read English, he lent him a copy of what he said was one of his three favorite books. Alice in Wonderland, by a certain Lewis Carroll.
Colonel Hand had found the book quite charming and remembered a bit of it.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” he murmured. “Curiouser and curiouser.”