1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 67

1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 67

That was the duke’s temperament at work. Despite his status, George had a rare capacity to distance himself from political nostrums. He had almost a child’s reaction to what Melissa called the as-we-all-know syndrome. He’d ask “why is that true?” where most of his class — of any class, being fair — would just take as-we-all-know for granted.

Brunswick-Lüneburg’s own political views were quite moderate, as such things were gauged in the here and now. Like a number of highly-placed people — James could see a copy of the book in Torstensson’s bookcase right here and now, in fact — Duke George was being influenced by the writings of the Netherlands essayist Alessandro Scaglia.

James hadn’t read Political Methods and the Laws of Nations, but Melissa had. The book was only being circulated privately, but when she’d asked Scaglia for a copy he’d sent it to her with his compliments.

Her depiction of the policies advocated by Scaglia had been as follows: “The gist of his argument is that the powers-that-be are going to get screwed anyway, no matter what. So they might as well relax and try to work out the best possible arrangement with the plebes. Make ’em agree to take a bath regularly and dress up for dinner, that sort of thing. He uses longer words and a lot more of them.”

The orderly appeared with a tray bearing a cup of tea. He placed it on the side table next to Nichols’ chair and withdrew to the back of the room. There was a moment of silence as the three generals waited politely for the doctor to take his first sip.

After he set the cup down, he said: “In answer to your unspoken question, General Torstensson, I can’t tell you anything about the emperor’s condition. I was not permitted to see him.”

Torstensson grunted. “Not permitted by Chancellor Oxenstierna?”

“I was told the orders came from him, yes. But I didn’t speak to him myself. Then or at any time in the three days I was in Berlin.”

“Told by whom?”

“Colonel Hand.”

“Ah! The king’s estimable cousin.” That came from Duke George. Knyphausen’s contribution was to issue one of those grunts that seemed freighted with meaning; but, alas, a meaning known only to the grunter.

“I’m interested in what else –” Torstensson started to say, but then closed his mouth and shook his head. “Never mind.”

At a guess, Nichols thought Torstensson was going to ask him what else Colonel Erik Haakansson Hand had said to him.

If he had…

James wasn’t sure how he’d have responded. The colonel had asked him not to speak to anyone about the matter they’d discussed, on the grounds that he didn’t want to raise false hopes. A bit grudgingly, Nichols had agreed. He’d never had much use himself for that whole “let’s not raise false hopes” line of reasoning, which was rampant in the medical community. But he’d agreed to go along. He hadn’t thought much about it, to be honest.

Now, if he was interpreting Torstensson’s abrupt silence correctly, James began to wonder if Hand really had simply been reluctant to “raise false hopes.” What if…

What if what he’d really wanted was to keep Chancellor Oxenstierna from learning that Gustav Adolf appeared to be having flashes of coherence in his speech and his reactions to the people around him? One thing that Hand had made clear was that Oxenstierna only came to visit the stricken monarch on rare occasions now. For the past two months, understandably enough, the chancellor had been pre-occupied with political affairs.


For the moment, though, Nichols didn’t see where there was much he could do, one way or the other. So he decided to satisfy his own curiosity.

“If you don’t mind my asking, General Torstensson, I’m wondering what your own intentions are.” He waved his hand in a vague gesture. “About the overall political situation, I mean.”

Knyphausen issued another of those meaninglessly meaningful grunts. Brunswick-Lüneburg grinned like a Cheshire cat. Which was equally meaningless, coming from him.

Torstensson pursed his lips. “To be honest, Dr. Nichols, I am not prepared to give you an answer that would be at all…how to put it?”

“Expansive,” suggested Duke George.

“Yes, that’s it. Expansive.”

“I’ll settle for terse,” said Nichols.

Knyphausen grunted again.

“Not that terse, please.”

The three generals burst into laughter. “Ah, Dodo!” exclaimed the duke. “You see? As I’ve told you time and again, you could drive the Oracle at Delphi mad.”

Torstensson finished the wine in his glass and set it down. “Let me put it this way, Doctor. I believe — so do George and Dodo; and, yes, of course we’ve discussed the matter — that nothing would be improved at all if we allowed the main forces of the USE’s army to be dragged into the civil conflict. That, for any number of reasons, not the least of them being” — his own voice got stiff for a moment — “as I have now explained to the chancellor on several occasions — that it is by no means clear how the army itself would react if I did so. The enlisted men, I mean.”

Knyphausen grunted again — but, finally, put some words behind the sound. “In this instance, ‘enlisted men’ being a euphemism for ‘the fellows holding most of the guns.’ ”

“And know how to use them, too.” That came from George; this time, without a smile. “There is a sort of unspoken, tacit agreement between ourselves — the commanding officers, I mean — and the soldiers in our army here at Poznań. They agree to obey orders — here — and we agree that we will stay here and not try to use them to enforce any sort of settlement back in the USE proper.”

“That’s well put,” added Torstensson. “And about as much as we are prepared to say.”

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20 Responses to 1636: The Saxon Uprising — Snippet 67

  1. Bret Hooper says:

    “The gist of his argument is that the powers-that-be are going to get screwed anyway, no matter what.”
    Maybe in the short run, but in the long run it will be the common people who get screwed, and even in most cases to cooperate fully therein. As someone said, the rich get the gold from the mine, and the poor get the shaft.

  2. johan says:

    A universal if ever there was one. To that I would add that despite what seems like a common sentiment, no peasant has ever become rich by tearing down and beheading a king. Or a count. Or a burgher. Or his neighbour. But in a land run by nobles it is easier to recognize who screws you over.

  3. Stanley Leghorn says:

    Ah, American Cynicism at work. America, dispite all the negative advertising, is still a far better place than any other in the world. It could be better, but remember where the path of good intentions leads. Bathing regularly and dressing for dinner up are good for heath and for the economy. Far better than being dirty and hungry.

  4. ET1swaw says:

    So it looks like 1st and 2nd USE aren’t returning west.
    And we recieved a further update on G2A, with Axel more and more absentee from his hostages: his fellow minister arrested and probably held incommunicado (wouldn’t want Bavarian deals coming out) and his monarch kept from further up-timer medical care and shunted aside as a lesser priority (a good case for G2A being held hostage / under house arrest himself could be made).
    Scaglia’s book is under notice again, maybe attempts with Koniecpolski aren’t as out there as I first thought. Melissa is still being spoken/thought of as if absent; she might not be with James on this trip. James is just as acquainted with K.’s nephew (whose brother is also in Poznan and in charge of the APC project). And there is an up-timer hostage in Poznan, though James probably has no links to him whatsoever.

  5. Jeff Ehlers says:

    @4: This isn’t a ‘further update’. This is Nichols telling them about what happened at the beginning of the book.

  6. robert says:

    @5 Yes, but as ET1swaw says, we now know what Tortenson’s plans are. So at this point some of the players have pretty much decided on a course of (in)action (or let’s just wait a bit), while others have decided to step in a very deep pile, and a few others are poised to bury them in that pile.

  7. dave o says:

    #4 Jeff: E.H. Hand told Nichols that G2A is beginning to show flashes of coherence in his speech and his reactions to the people around him. He didn’t show either at the beginning of the book, so Nichols must have been to Berlin later than that. Hand also wants to conceal G2A’s signs of recovery from the Ox. For what reason?

  8. Blackmoore says:

    @7 to protect the King. OX is too far along in his plot to allow G2A to step back in and ruin everything; Hand is looking to give G2A the time he needs to recover, and if it leaks that his is recovering, Ox could have someone provide another blow to the head. thus – the silence and protection being provided are needed here.

  9. Daryl says:

    @1 & @2, I agree fully that any economic system is run by the golden rule “He with the gold makes the rules”, and that the greedy top end of town always does hold far too big a proportion of society’s riches, but the axiom of “A rising tide lifts all boats” also applies. Thus in modern western societies even the poorest welfare recipient has the chance of living a longer and healthier life than a monarch in the 1600s, and with better conveniences and safety. That many don’t is often due to their own actions or nonactions. Parts of Glasgow have a current life expectancy of 53 years due to a diet of beer and chips.

  10. johan says:

    @9 Daryl: Perhaps I should elaborate on what I meant. I have no problem with a class-based society. Or with aristocracy. Sure, many of them can be arrogant even today. But so too can those that claw their way up from a poor background. Does not mean that they should be torn down and their families and estates put to the torch. As long as human exists there’ll be some form of social hierarchy. Too many revolutions have had as their goal to tear down what was seen as repressive only to in the end create something even more repressive. And displacing, murdering and robbing the upper classes of their assets, inheritances and properties – some of which have been in their families for centuries – will never result in any commoner getting richer. That is just base envy.
    There seems to be a common notion that a peasant would not, given the chance, prey upon those lower if they could. That starvation and poverty was the result of aristocratic rule rather than a result of a low technology level. As if the republics of ancient Greece did not have poor inhabitants. Or the modern republics with their highly mobile social structure. Let’s not forget that it was the aristocracy-ruled German Empire that first introduced the welfare state system. And yes, I know that was a result of realpolitik by Bismarck. Does not change the fact that such a class-based and conservative society with a monarch who ruled aswell as reigned could still be the heart of European industry, with a lower class so well off compared to the ones from earlier centuries.

  11. Daryl says:

    @10 Johan, fully agree. Millions of words have been written about the various political systems, with their advantages and disadvantages. Judging on the evidence of prosperity and longevity the Western Democracies do seem to be the best performing to date, but they too have their drawbacks. Obvious ones are that with modern media the charismatic quick fix with simplistic solutions experts get the votes from the “great unwashed” while deeper thinkers with complex long term better solutions miss out, and short term electoral cycles lead to short term solutions. One study on utopia systems suggested that the best rulers should be drafted from those who were highly intelligent, well informed, and didn’t want to rule at all. A recent anthropological study has postulated that ancient Egypt had the first welfare system in that the pyramids weren’t built by slaves but by the original “work for the dole scheme” in that the Pharaohs stored grain during the good seasons (being the only ones with the storehouses and security muscle) and fed any who turned up to work during the off seasons.

  12. johan says:

    @11 Daryl: Ultimately it comes down me being a staunch supporter of monarchism. While repressive, authoritarian monarchies are not a good thing I do not think that it’s better to abolish them completely or curtail their powers to the extent that they become completely irrelevant and powerless. Especially in societies that have a long tradition of monarchy it would have been better had they not been abolished, but limited in their power instead. So much suffering and instability could have been avoided then. Monarchs should be the living and legal guarantors of the constitution and a stable focal point of the nation. Just as we don’t elect our officers in the army, so should not the highest office in the nation be up for someone with political ambitions and affiliations, who’ve had to compromise their integrity to get that far. That office should be occupied by someone who’s been trained for that exact position ever since they were born, someone with no ambition for power but rather someone who’s been taught that great responsibility comes with that position.

    Oh, and about populist elections: wasn’t it Grover Cleveland the first President in the US to really go out campaigning? That was in the the late 1880s. The republic seemed to manage just fine without it’s Presidents being very good public speakers. Thomas Jefferson comes to mind. The fact that charisma is THE most important factor in who gets to be President seems like a result of mass media and celebrity worship. The big irony of the modern era is that when the common people for the first time in history actually have the time and opportunity to become involved in politics they chose not to and instead go for the best speaker, if they go at all.

  13. robert says:

    @12 johan. Modern (U.S.) political campaigns are the result of modern technology. Lincoln had a large crowd at Gettysburg, but most could not hear what he said: no microphones. There was not much sense trying to get around the country when it took days to get from one place to another, there were bad roads, and even when the railroads were being built, they did not yet go to far flung places, and when one got there, nobody could hear what was said. The rail system was not really completed until well after the Civil War (and with a huge government subsidy). Air travel, radio and then TV, were the final technologies that made the modern political campaign what it is now, for better or mostly worse, and requiring the greatest stamina and endurance.

  14. Bret Hooper says:

    There was a story in JWCjr’s ASTOUNDING about an absolute dictatorship wherein before taking office, the dictator-to-be had to have an implant that caused pain whenever he even thought about taking any action not in the best interests of the people. It is not power that corrupts, but immunity from consequences. Without that implant, which is, of course, beyond our present technology, any absolute dictator can cause her/himself to acquire absolute immunity from any undesired consequences of his/her action(s), so the temptation to corruption can be virtually irresistible.

  15. johan says:

    @13 robert: Didn’t know that the rail system were completed that late, though it makes sense with the US stretching across an entire continent. :)
    Something that makes the elections in the US worse, I think, is that the debates aren’t really debates when the candidates can’t speak directly to each other but have to go through the moderator. That way they just end up holding monologues and about things they’ve rehearsed. Many of them would not have lasted five minutes in the UK’s House of Commons.

    @14 Bret Hooper: That story sounds familiar, I’ve read about it somewhere else I think. Anyway, the best interests of the people may not necessarily be the will of the people (I’m aware of where that line of thinking might lead, though). And it is not absolutism that I espouse. There are many degrees between that and a powerless figurehead. A balance of power is essential. I just believe that the monarch should be a part of that balance so that the future of the nation and the course taken by the government should not be completely ruled by the fickle whims of public opinion. (note opinion, not general elections). A big difference between a presidential dictatorship and a monarchy is legitimacy. No matter it’s true form a dictatorship always have to give atleast the appearance of democracy and freedom. That lie can be swept away very fast, which the current revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East attest to. Note that the monarchies have managed pretty well there. The dictators know full well that they can be dead or forced to flee at a moments notice and so behave themselves accordingly. Monarchs are protected by the legitimacy and tradition. They have a vested interest in leaving a strong and healthy nation for their heir and in protecting the past of the nation. A dictator justifies his rule by desecrating and ridiculing the previous regimes.
    Naturally, even a monarch should not be immune from consequences, but neither should they be subject to the same whims as politicians so often find themselves faced with.

    I think I’ve gone off enough on a rant here. Please excuse my ramblings, I’ve had one of those days that’s been filled with that special brand of Swedish Über-Egalitarianism.

  16. Willem Meijer says:

    @9 Daryl – do not forget the deep-fried mars bar and other specialties. If you do not believe me, they even have their own article in Wikipedia. The mind boggles at the thought.

  17. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Okay. I found a glaring mistake between Snippet 66 and Snippet 67. I hope Eric fixed it before the dead tree started getting printed.

    In Snippet 66, James Nichols asks for tea, then answering a question from Duke George, he takes a sip of tea. In Snippet 67, the tea finally arrives, and everyone waits for James to take a sip before he answers a question. If the tea didn’t arrive until several minutes into the conversation, then what was James sipping at the beginning of the conversation?

    Or should I perhaps ask what Eric was sipping when he wrote this section of the book? :-)

  18. Peter says:

    Simple. Time-travelling tea!

  19. Drak Bibliophile says:

    On the “time-travelling tea”, Eric “muttered” something when it was pointed out. [Grin]

    Seriously, it will be corrected. [Smile]

  20. Ed Schoenfeld says:

    @johan: Don’t mistake the fact that campaigning was not predominately done by public speaking with the ide that elected leaders like Adams or Jefferson lacked charisma. It was simply a different *kind* of charisma than an appeal to crowds.

    Anyway, the public campaign basically dates to Andrew Jackson. Say 1824 or so. (Yes I am committing a shameless plug for another of Eric’s series.) Like many developments in US politics, it had been well vetted on the local level before making its debut in a race for national office.

    @robert: Similarly, Gettysburg is not really a good example to use for how effective public speaking was pre-electronic amplification. Lincoln and Douglas debated up and down the state of Illinois without microphones, and audiences in the thousands heard them just fine. Orators were trained in a different way back then, and with proper acoustics could reach an audience of several thousands in open air.

    The problem at Gettysburg was that it was a battlefield site not particularly well endowed with acoustic qualities (been there, heard the speach in reenactment). So the number of people who could fit within earshot of the speakers was limited to several hundred (the old battallion and cohort military units were basically sized so everone could hear the unit’s officer.) Further, they didn’t listen much to Lincoln as he wasn’t the main event — an important mourner to be sure, but publicized as a short, minor speech that also gave everyone time to go and buy food and drink. We admire the power of the Gettysburg Address in retrospect, and in the judgment of a later, quieter style than was popular in the 1860’s.

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