1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 61

1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 61

Chapter 22


The first major clash outside of Saxony — and the only one, as it turned out — occurred in Mecklenburg. The nobility of that province had been chafing ever since most of them were driven out during Operation Kristallnacht. Now, emboldened by the convention in Berlin and what they saw as the new dispensation enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Duties, they formed themselves into a small army of sorts — entirely an army of officers, so far — and sallied from Berlin, calling on their retainers and supporters to join them.

A fair number did so, in fact, before they reached the Mecklenburg border. But more than half a year had passed since the change of regime in Mecklenburg. The province’s Committee of Correspondence had not spent those months idly, and neither had the Fourth of July Party. The Mecklenburg CoC’s initial armed contingents that they’d fielded during Operation Kristallnacht — ragged bands, more like — had been transformed into a fairly well-trained and a very well-armed militia in the intervening period.

And they sallied forth just as enthusiastically as did their betters. Class relations in Mecklenburg were more savage than in any other province in the USE. The poor soil of the region supported a poor agriculture and industrial development was still nascent and confined almost entirely to a few major towns. So, outright poverty clashed against its close cousin in the form of a hardscrabble aristocracy.

The initial skirmishes were fought in a range of sandy hills just south of Wittstock. None of the contestants realized it, then or ever, but in the universe the Americans had come from a much greater battle would be fought on that same terrain less than a year later, in October of 1636. In that battle, the Swedish army led by General Banér — the same man who was besieging Dresden in this universe — would defeat an army of Austrian Catholic imperialists and their Saxon Protestant allies. The Swedes were financed by Catholic France, proving once again that the supposed “wars of religion” were just a veneer over dynastic rivalries.

The terrain favored the reactionary forces, because of their greater strength in cavalry, but not by much. Truth be told, it was terrain that suited nobody very well — just as it hadn’t (wouldn’t — didn’t — mightn’t? the Ring of Fire played havoc with grammar) in the battle of Wittstock.

After two days of intermittent fighting, the noblemen’s forces managed to push their way to the town’s outskirts, but there they were stopped. As was usually true with German militias, the CoC contingents fought best on the defensive, especially when they could fight behind shelter — and by then, they’d done a fair job of fortifying Wittstock.

Another day passed during which the leadership of the reactionary army squabbled and bickered. They’d had no clearly defined leadership structure when they left Berlin, and the situation hadn’t improved any since. Finally, more because a few of the leaders decided to do it and the rest just tagged along, rather than because they’d persuaded anyone, the noblemen’s army headed north.

The plan, if such it could be called, was to circle around Wittstock and then strike across country toward the provincial capital of Schwerin. The logic involved was flimsy, at best. Why, after being stymied by the jury-rigged defenses of Wittstock, these leading noblemen thought they could take the larger and much better fortified city of Schwerin, was something that none of them even tried to answer. They were satisfied, it seemed, simply by the act of doing something.


Back in Berlin, Oxenstierna was of two minds on the matter of Mecklenburg. On the one hand, he was skeptical that the aristocratic expedition had any real chance of success. On the other hand, he was glad to see someone doing something. Doing anything. Like the leaders of that little army, the chancellor of Sweden was getting increasingly frustrated by the defensive tactics of his opponents.

He hadn’t expected that. Axel Oxenstierna was a very intelligent man, but even intelligent people are prone to being blinded by their own biases and preconceptions. The chancellor’s favorite word to describe the political state of affairs brought into existence in the Germanies by Mike Stearns, the Fourth of July Party — to say nothing of Gretchen Richter and her Committees of Correspondence — was “anarchy.”

He repeated the term so often that he came to believe it himself. Indeed, came to take it as a given, an axiom of political theory, the foundation of right thinking and the keystone of statesmanship.

He’d have done better to ask the Archduchess Isabella her opinion of Gretchen Richter. She’d have told him the same thing she once told her nephew Fernando, now the king in the Netherlands: “I hate to admit it, but that infuriating young woman would make a splendid queen — and if we were ever so unlucky as to live in a universe where she was an empress, we’d be calling her either ‘the Great’ or ‘the Terrible,’ depending on which side of her favor we lay.”

The new king hadn’t disputed the matter. He was pretty sure the canny old woman was right.

Of Mike Stearns, the chancellor would have done better to listen to the Dutch painter and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens than to listen to himself. Rubens would have told him that he was quite sure future historians would refer to their period as the Stearns Era, or something similar, and that he could think of no more foolish error for a statesman than to underestimate Stearns.

But of all Oxenstierna’s mistaken assessments of his enemies, the worst was his assessment of Rebecca Abrabanel.

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23 Responses to 1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 61

  1. Vince says:

    I think including the last sentence with this snippet is cruel and unusual snippeting. The only immediately worse release would be if this snippet had come out on Friday. I can only hope the next snippet amplifies the last sentence and doesn’t jump away to a different scene/location/point of view.

  2. robert says:

    Axel Oxenstierna: defeated and “killed” by Law and Logic and, of all things, Statesmanship.

  3. robert says:

    @1 Vince. C’mon! You know that Becky is weaving a web around Ox and he doesn’t even know it.

  4. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Honestly, Oxenstierna’s mistake is one that’s being made more and more by both Democrats and Republicans in this country, at least in general. Both underestimating the opposition and in believing their own rhetoric and propaganda.

  5. Jeff Ehlers says:

    Also, those idiot noblemen (if that doesn’t unfairly malign idiots) are basically shooting themselves in the foot by even trying to attack. They’re basically handing the CoCs a political victory on a silver platter.

  6. Daryl says:

    Several threads are coming unravelled at once. Once that becomes apparent the opportunists will quickly swing onto the winning side. I’m personally pleased that the Great Writer has addressed Oxenstierna’s high intelligence vs stupid decisions in very similar terms to a previous post of mine. Nice for me to get something right for a change.

  7. dave o says:

    The nobles of Mecklenburg sound a lot like the typical peasant revolt: full of rage, leaderless, and rife with dissension. Not hard to predict that they’ll end up the same way.

    “The first major clash outside of Saxony – and the only one as it turned out- occurred in Mecklenburg.” Hmm. So far the players in Saxony are Gretchen and Baner, with Mike and Jeff, and maybe von Arnim watching and waiting. I guess that means a lot of basically conservative people and states are going to stay neutral. I predicted that the urban patriciates would not be all that enthusiastic about Ox’s program. Looks like.

  8. ET1swaw says:

    Looks like EF is separating Bavaria vs USE (Oberpfalz & SoTF mostly) onto a different fight card.
    I do like his give on Axel’s (IMO idiotic) misconceptions. It helps explain why one of the premier statemen of the age and only a moderate (though he did headline most of the legislation pushing it) on aristocratic priveledges (he did seem geared more towards aristocratic responsibilities) could screw up quite so badly. Giving Mad Max a shot at regaining Oberpfalz was nothing more than a diversion (he did say they could get it back later anyway) and eggs get broken when making omelets.
    A Mecklenburg noble mob, I wonder how long until they are toast? I am suprised that the Pomeranian nobility didn’t try also. Just like in Krystallnacht, they’re staying below the flashpoint to get themselves booted for good. They and their CoCs seem to be pursuing lawyering over combat (MP seats are still in legal contention for false relinquishment of noble titles).
    Axel may be riding his misconceptions down in flames. Even in ‘1632’ and ‘1633’, his distain of german princes (primarily IMO for their emphasis on priveledge and indifference (for many, not all; the late Landgravine of Hesse-Kassel comes to mind) to responsibilities) was overmatched by his negative conceptions of the 3rd and 4th Estates. Sweden’s aristocracy was small (Julie and Sharon Nichols were like the 12th and 13th at the Count level), but had a major amount of governmental power (a great deal of which was amplified by Axel’s machinations). Gustav I may have tamed them somewhat and his sons continued to heavily support and be supported by the 3rd and 4th estates, but his grandson G2A was embroiled by Axel’s machinations his whole reign OTL. His NTL weakening of Axel’s grip was a causus belli for this move in the first place. He also has seemed to heavily dismiss/underestimate the distaff. Sparticus he does somewhat acknowledge (he -is- niederadel after all), but thinks his political stand ‘a castle in the clouds’.

  9. johan says:

    @8 ET1swaw
    The landed high nobility were only a few families, yes. But the barons (friherrar) are more numerous, as are the untitled nobility. Sweden would not have been such a headache for Denmark during the first Kalmar Union if not for the nobility making trouble and revolting all the time. And only members of the Royal family can be dukes. Granted, Sweden’s aristocracy is not as large as Germany’s, but then they are the largest of any European country. If you or anyone is interested there is a pdf on the webpage of the House of Nobility that lists all current noble houses in Sweden, with all their separate branches, their number in the Calendar of Nobles and their rank ( A for untitled nobility, F for baron, G for count and K for Commander).


  10. m says:

    Oh no, Sweden’s aristocracy was plentiful, not small. There obviously exist people here who are misled by the relatively small number of already granted comital and baronial titles. However, the old aristocracy was much larger than those – actually, granted baronial titles were more of a way of recent kings to elevate a few of parvenue favorites to the level of old, land-owning magnate aristocracy.

    If one is able to take a closer and informed look at the structure of Sweden’s nobility before the OTL TYW ennoblements of a lot of soldiers, one should realize that
    * there existed a handful of families with the granted title of count and a fief which was a real county. Merely two or three such families actually continuing over these years.
    * there existed some fifty or more families of old nobility who were well wealthy (landed properties worth several villages, i.e over what would constitute a “barony”) and had had at least one High Councillor in the lineage, being classified as “chevalier families” or “councillor class”, and they could be characterized as “magnates”
    * there existed some two handfuls of families with granted baronial title – their average wealth was more or less commensurate with an average nobleman of the councillor class

    * as fourth, there existed piles of relatively poor noble families, “the squire class”. They were not part of aristocracy. Generally, there has not been a High Councillor in their lineage, and they were registed in the low4st class of the House of Knight and Nobility.

    The swedish old aristocracy was as skittish and difficult as any in the world (“as easy to herd as cats…”), as evidenced by the fact that civil-warring swedish kings had for centuries axed now and then members of that class by means of executions, to take care of the crop of a generation….
    Charles IX had made an axing in about 1600. GIIA had not made one full such, thusly a new generation of crop should be in existence….
    The nobles who were with GIIA in Germany, were
    1) either loyal men because he had had occasion to select such to support him – he did not need to bring his problems to his foreign war
    2) or some problematic scions whom GIIA -if rational- had assigned to mediocre officer positions IN THE FRONTLINE and many of such were already slain by enemy…. that’s the use of a war to rulers: put the misfits to the frontline and wait that they get themselves killed, because usual misfits are usually dimwits enough to be reckless…
    Still, there are bound to be handfuls of “cats” home in Sweden, noblemen GIIA was not willing or able to take to his frontlines and whom he cannot regard loyal. The home front has thus far been peaceful enough to not give too much openings for those aristocrats there.
    But I would predict that it’s a mistake to send an un-incarcerated Axel back to Sweden if he would there have possibility and position to foment aristocrats there to cause problems.

    Gustav I did not need to tame aristocracy. The events how Gustav I came to the throne, had made away a generation of aristocrats. It was king Christiern II the danish who had had a hundred of them executed. Gustav I got a kingship where the axings were already done. His first decades were thusly internally peaceful enough. Then in his last decasdes, his long incumbency was a way why new misfits were not yet able to cause too much havoc, so there was no need for large axings. but the death of Gustav I opened the can: his sons Eric and John went though a civil war where the axing of a generation was done, in about the 1560s.
    Only next, in the 1590s and c1600, Charles IX was at spot to make the exing of yet another generation.

  11. m says:

    There should be no wonderment over if “…nobles of Mecklenburg” do “like the typical peasant revolt”: nobles were generally a class of glorified far,-owners, with many of hereditary traits inherent in any farming class

  12. johan says:

    as an addendum to my earlier comment in this snippet I forgot to add that Queen Kristina ennobled more people than any monarch before or since. (Including one of my ancestors, who was a soldier in the war. In 1636 he would reach the rank of major.)

  13. ET1swaw says:

    @9 m: I stand corrected. Thank you for righting my misconception. It puzzled me that with all those blood ties (both sides of the blanket) to Gustav I that there were only 11 high nobles mentioned in ‘1632’. (The Lynkoping Blooodbath was quite a trimming)

  14. m says:

    the following sentence is as incorrect as almost anything can ever be: “The landed high nobility were only a few families”

    does “high nobility” mean what it meant in Sweden in the Riddarhuset? if so, then all councillor families did belong. magnates of the country. Perhaps fifty or more families. Who all held allodial lands, several manors per family.

    or does “high nobility” mean the German “Hochadel”? (which would be meaningless and actually insane grouping to look at in swedish politics of early 1600s) if so, then I doubt there was any land-owning extant Hochadel family in Sweden of that day. (the king’s Palatinate brother-in-law was an impoverished guy and owned next to nothing…. except some ruins in Germany)

    Sweden had in early 1600s a wealthy landed aristocracy of around fifty families. Not merely “a few”, not merely those “11” who possibly were the only families to have a formal honorific in addition of being noblemen.
    Because most of the magnates of the country did not yet have obtained a formal honorific of count or baron.

    Perhaps it’s useful to underline tosome that EACH noble family had a seat and vote in the Rikdsdag, not merely those who had titles of baron or count.
    Each “untitled” noble family had also their hereditary seat and vote. They were lords.
    In GIIA’s first Riddarhuset, there was over a hundred (even two hundred) families with a vote. and the number kept growing, not decreasing.

    (I must warn that people are not going to get far with misconceptions taken from British parliament, if they have a misconception that a nobleman needs to be a baron in order to have a hereditary seat and vote. that was not any requirement in sweden where each noble family had it.)

  15. robert says:

    @8 & @13 ET1swaw
    ‘a castle in the clouds’ How apt an expression. The title, translated from Swedish, of a recent best selling book, I believe.
    Also Linköping (where the Bloodbath took place), pronounced, sort of, Lin-chir-ping, the home of SAAB aviation, and where my wife & I will be spending our next anniversary.

  16. WCG says:

    “He repeated the term so often that he came to believe it himself.”

    One of the things I like about Eric Flint’s books, in addition to their pure entertainment value, is that he often says something, like this, that reminds me of what’s happening today. That puts his writing a little above “just” entertainment.

    Or maybe I mean that it just makes his books even more entertaining.

  17. Bret Hooper says:

    @16 WCG: Yes, it is more entertaining and more satisfying (at least to me, and I greatly doubt that I am unique in this respect) if I also learn something. I have learned more about early seventeenth century European history from 163x than I ever learned in school, and still more from these comments. Not the only reason, but it is certainly a major reason why Eric Flint, whom I had never heard of before, became my favorite living author while I was reading 1632.

  18. Daryl says:

    @ 16 It is interesting to read about the high level discussions when Kennedy launched the Bay of Pigs fiasco. With 20/20 hindsight it was poorly planned and stupid but those involved got swept up in the group think mode, and convinced themselves that it was a great idea.

  19. morgulknight says:

    @17 Daryl: You have to remember that the Eisenhower administration successfully overthrew the governments of Iran and Guatemala, and there was no appreciable difference between Eisenhower and Kennedy on Latin America or Middle East policy; I seem to recall reading somewhere that the initial planning for the Bay of Pigs was done by the then-departing Eisenhower people, essentially recycling a lot of what had worked in Guatemala in 1954, just in case Castro stepped out of line (eg pissed off US or US-aligned business interests, the ‘crime’ of the Iranian and Guatemalan governments we overthrew). Keep in mind, this was at around the same time that the CIA was officially arguing that the fact that they couldn’t find any evidence the Hanoi government was taking orders from Moscow or Beijing ‘proved’ that the North Vietnamese were such perfect puppets that there was no need for the puppetmasters to have anyone on the ground managing them. Don’t know about you, but that seems a bit of a stretch to me.
    So what we have with Oxensteirna is someone whose spies are probably giving him the same kind of garbage analysis which is accepted as probably correct because it squares with his ideological convictions and the propaganda line he’s been using, which he’s used so much he’s convinced himself as much as he’s convinced anyone else. And certainly nobody in Berlin is going to try to correct him until it’s far too late.

  20. Bret Hooper says:

    @19 morgulknight: You are quite right (I have been noticing how intelligent your comments have been). For some of the basis in cognitive science of what you have said, read MORAL POLITICS by George Lakoff and TRUE ENOUGH by Farhad Manjoo

  21. Daryl says:

    @19 and @20, no argument from me on what you say. My basic point was that normally highly intelligent people can still make stupid or wrong decisions because they want to believe so much that their crap detectors get switched off.

  22. Bret Hooper says:

    @21 Daryl: Your basic point is absolutely right!

  23. Mark L says:

    @21 If you want another example of that look at the decision process that led to the launching of Challenger on 51-L.

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