1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 27

1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 27

“The worst of what you have heard is nothing less than the truth. Spain — the Spain in their world, and the Spain in this world — both used you abysmally. I can attest to what the up-time histories claim regarding our motivations in the two decades before this one; you were maintained here in the Low Countries primarily as a threat against the English. You were useful leverage against London, which wanted you kept here to fight against the Provinces, rather than back home, making more trouble in an already restive Ireland. However, many of us also believed that the Spanish crown would eventually make good its debt of honor to you, would help you reclaim your homeland.”

“But, in the up-time world, that did not happen.” Sean’s coda was a whisper.

“Correct, Doctor. The Philip IV of the up-time world never repaid Spain’s debt of honor. Rather, starting within a year of this date, he would begin spending your tercios like water in a new war against the French. By 1638, in that other world, four out of every five of you was dead or disabled. The remainders he moved to Spain, and poured into the maw of a Catalan revolt. You died there, John O’Neill. So did my godson.”

John apparently did not understand that Isabella was doing more than explaining, or even confessing. Her self-recriminating candor indicated that she, and evidently Fernando, had decided to set a course very different from the one that had led the Wild Geese to their grisly ends in the up-time world. Deaf to that nuance, the earl’s face was white as he leaned over the table, fists trembling atop their shimmering reflections in the dark, lacquered wood. “So my father — he died for nothing? After all the loyalty he showed you, all the sacrifice for his faith, for your damned Hapsburg pride –”

Isabella shocked the room by standing and remaining steady as she looked down the table at the earl of Tyrone. “Hugh O’Neill was loyal to himself, first and foremost. You barely knew your father; I did, quite well. He was proud, Machiavellian, brilliantly manipulative, terribly intelligent — but not as intelligent as he thought. Or rather, he had grown accustomed to believing that, almost every time he entered a room, he was the smartest, shrewdest man in it. And that may have been true back in your homeland; I cannot say. But not here on the Continent. His abilities were noteworthy, but they were not unique once he found himself among councilors and captains who routinely navigated the treacherous world of court intrigues and the stratagems of empires. It took him years to realize that Rome was not a wellspring of support for your cause: it was flypaper. The Spanish court and cardinals strung him along with vague promises and hopes — anything rather than having Hugh O’Neill return to the Low Countries, for once there, he would press the matter of invading Ireland.”

“Which was in Spain’s interest!” John O’Neill’s eyes were those of a man watching the bedrock truths of his world dissolve into gossamer and mist.

Isabella sat down and then smiled; her expression was not condescending, but was perilously close to pitying. “No, Conde O’Neill, that is precisely where you are wrong. The Irish were more useful kept sheathed as a perpetual threat, rather than brandished as an instrument of war. Had you invaded Ireland and won, you would still have become a drain on the Crown’s treasury. How would you have held your homeland against English counterattacks without constant, and increasing, Spanish support? All very expensive, my dear Conde O’Neill. But keeping you as a threat in the Low Countries, while also using you as loyal mercenaries whose arch-Roman Catholicism made you perfect instruments against the Protestants of the Provinces? Now that — that — was a bargain.”

Johnnie’s mouth worked uselessly for a moment. “You lied to us.” He sounded like a little boy.

Isabella’s face changed. “Some of us did — but not all of us. Like me, most of us simply wanted more favorable circumstances before you commenced your quest. So, yes, I spoke against the halfhearted invasion plans my overly optimistic nephew occasionally dangled before you.”

“And now, knowing how we’ve been used, even betrayed, what can we trust in?”

It was Fernando himself who answered that question: “You may trust that I am not my brother.” The king in the Low Countries’ eyes had become hard. “I give you my word that we shall not forsake you. And plans are afoot to make good the arrears in your pay, with rich garnishments in recognition of your long service. But I cannot promise you a triumphant return to Ireland. Not now, maybe never; I am not Spain.”

Owen ran a finger across his lip. Well, at least Fernando wasn’t a blatherskite. He was like his aunt, in that way: they both gave you the truth, even when it put them in a hard position.

The king in the Low Countries had not paused. “But the future must wait. Presently, you are the best captains we have to find Urban and to plead with him to accompany you. Not only are you men of title and martial prowess, but your people’s respect for the pontiff has ever been exemplary. No true pope has ever feared his Irish flock. They might be impetuous, but they have always been loyal.”

“A reputation that might not work in our favor, given Borja’s apparent motives in Italy.”

Fernando nodded at Sean Connal’s observation. “Among Borja and his intimates, this might be true. But among the Spanish rank and file? The Irish are held to be doughty fighters and loyal to Spain, primarily because you are obedient to the Church. The common foot soldier will not reflect upon how, at this moment, loyalty to the Church might mean — for the first time in both your memory and theirs — disloyalty to Spain.”

John O’Neill’s eyes roved across the Hapsburgs sitting at the head of the table. “So. I’m to accept that the old dream — of Ireland beneath our feet again — is dead.”

Maria Anna’s voice was gentle. “Let us say that now you are being honestly told that it is a dream that might take generations to realize. If ever.”

John nodded. “I’ve no quarrel with what His Highness has said. Truth be told, I prefer plain speech, hard and true. Better than easy promises of paradise just around the bend. But as I’m earl of my people, then I’d be knowing one more thing: with our pay in arrears, how are my men to keep their families fed? How is it that you propose to pay for our future with you?”

Rubens leaned forward. “That –” he said, glancing at the Hapsburg troika at the head of the table “– is a matter being addressed right now. As I understand it, the projection is that the king in the Netherlands will not only be able to pay you, but exceed — far exceed — your old rate. But it may take a year to achieve this. In the meantime, we will victual your families out of military stocks, if necessary.”

“Most reassuring. But how — how — will you pay us, next year? Where will the new money come from?” John had never shifted his gaze to Rubens, but kept it on the Hapsburgs.

Isabella sniffed. “Do you really need to know?”

“Aye, I do. You said it yourself: we’ve been played the fool for twenty years now. Perhaps we were partly to blame, settling for promises without worrying over the details. Well, now I’m worried over the details. Where will you find this money?”

Isabella’s eyes narrowed. “Do you believe I would lie to you, that I would sully my honor over such a filthy business as the coin we put into hands that wield swords for hire?”

Owen started. “We are no mean sell-swords, you Grace. Have your Irish tercios ever failed you? Have we ever changed sides? Have we ever been less that exemplary in our valor?”

Isabella’s expression softened as her eyes shifted toward Owen. “No, and I repent my harsh words. But let me ask you this in return: although I have not until now been able to speak openly about Spain’s use of its Irish Wild Geese, have I ever worked to your detriment?”


“Not so far.” John’s voice sounded as surly as he looked.

Isabella’s eyes — and words — shifted back over to him sharply. “Then do not insult me by doubting my word that we — the Hapsburgs of this land, and this time — will make good our promises. Projects are in hand that will provide us with coffers deep enough to retain your peerless service for years, for decades, to come.”

Owen suppressed a small smile. Heh — a slap on the wrist and a pat on the head, all in the same sentence. “Your Grace, one item remains unresolved.”


“What would be the best day for us start for Rome?”

Isabella’s smile was wry. “Yesterday, Colonel. Yesterday.”


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11 Responses to 1635 – The Papal Stakes — Snippet 27

  1. summertime says:

    It’s interesting what you learn of real history while reading alternate history. I never knew of the role of Irish mercenaries in this time and place.

  2. Peter S says:

    Isable and Fernando are playing this quite smart. They realized that the past track they had been on was complicit in a betrayal, and acted to get off that path, at some risk to themselves. It is now possible for them to build a new relationship with their mercenaries, but it won’t be easy. OTOH, if they _can_ build that new relationship, they are well-positioned to hang on to all of the Low Countries as a unit, and possibly even gather in some of the margins (the little principalities). they are playing a relatively weak hand very, very well. I’ll bet they have been investing significant efforts to fortify their existing borders and holdings, too, all emphasizing defensive positions that simultaneously reassure their 800-poung German neighbor that they have no intention of provoking a fight.

  3. Zak Ryerson says:

    Fine Isabella:
    Now lets get practical.
    We must gather the troops and ensure that they are equipped for service _In Italy_ .
    Exactly how are _YOU_ propsing we move the troops _TO Italy_ ?

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Zak, minor snerk. They are sending a small party to Italy.

      • Mark L says:

        I am not sure that counts as a snerk. The implication of the earlier snippets was that only a small party was going and the whole briefing received has been on a small party basis, with it being top-heavy on brass mainly for diplomatic and prestige purposes. Possibly to serve as a cadre for a force to be recruited in Italy (still the home of the Condottieri tradition, even in the 17th century).

  4. Nico de Lange says:

    Summertime, that is not so surprising, really. There is simply too much history, to become knowledgeable of more than just the most significant events & ‘themes’ in our past. Unless, of course, one is interested in the history of only a single area or period or folk – and even then, it’s somewhat of a struggle to truly become an expert in that history.

    As an anthropology & history major, sub-Saharan Africa’s precolonial history poses a much more interesting challenge. Except for the Muslim island sultanates on the continent’s east coast & the Muslim caliphates in the Sahel (& even there, only very intermittently), sub-Saharan African societies never conceived of or used writing. That means that Africanist scholars are almost exclusively dependent on archaeology, reports by European explorers & Arab, Indian & the occasional Chinese traders, & of course, oral history. All of which means that we really have our work cut out for us to learn about the history of Africa. And there is so much we have to learn still, & so much that we’ll probably never know.

    For Mr Flint & his advisers, it’s comparatively easy. European history is not only the most well-recorded in the world, but for books like these they simply need to focus on the historical circumstances & events of those ‘arenas’ within which the story is set. I’m not insulting him – it is still an immense task to tie all those historical details into a seamless whole & to avoid continuity errors, & most importantly, of course, to write a story that will keep its readers interested & will make money for the author. But compared to precolonial African history? Piffle.

  5. dave o says:

    Peter S: In this time line, Central and Western Germany have become unified, so far anyway, two and a half centuries or so earlier than uptime. And France is having maybe more trouble. Although don’t forget the Fronde. Nonetheless, the low countries were called the cockpit of Europe for a reason. Assuming Louis XIV (still to be conceived) is as power hungry as he was, I would think France is as great or a greater danger than the USE.

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      NTM that between them in NTL: the KLC (Fernando’s Netherlands); Essen (Louis De Geer’s Republic); the GDB (Bernhard’s Grand Duchy of Burgundy); and even the SC (Swiss Confederacy) have ALL taken (by politics not warfare in the most part) portions of what we would consider France or Germany today.

      And the Hapsburg portion of the KLC IS NOT the whole!
      Remember that at the Council of Copenhagen both Ostfriesland (whose ruler was a Vasa offshoot) and Bentheim volunterily?sp? joined the Prince of Orange’s United Provinces (which were later rolled into the KLC) vice joining the USE.
      NTM many parts of Lorraine-Bar, western Rhine areas (modern Germany/France), Pas-du Calais (northwestern France), and northeastern France have voluntarily joined the KLC since the founding.

      But even during the events of ‘Saxon Uprising’ the KLC DID NOT infringe on territories fully claimed by the USE!

      But there is good reason the GG/ROF story IMO most relevant to the USE western/southwestern/southern borders/areas is (I believe IIRC) called: “Make Mine Macrame”! Between Essen, the KLC, the GDB, the SC, Bavaria (Mad Max’s), and Greater Bohemia (Wallenstein’s) they are pockmarked at best. NTM the holes made by the independent Nuremberg and Oldenburg!

  6. In this timeline of the 163x series, the low countries are already friends, though behind the scene, with the USE. Once someone, supported by Stearns, gets into power again as president, they’ll be even more pro-USE, even openly. And you’ll then have your complete break with Spain. At least that’s my thoughts on it.

    • Et1swaw aka Rob says:

      Until this and some recent GG/ROF stories, in my mind the KLC had as fully broken with Phillip’s Spain as Wallenstein had broken with the HRE!
      What I forgot is the timeline.
      Fernando didn’t declare the KLC until late 1634 (AFTER the Council of Copenhagen) and we are in early 1635 (Tyrol and Bernhard’s Burgundy haven’t solidified their borders/controlled-areas yet).
      And Ferdinand III has NOT declared himself as HRE as was his recently deceased father.
      The Hapsburgs are not AS YET four separate lines (Spain, HRE, KLC, and Tyrol) in NTL, but IMO soon will be. And for really off-the-wall a possible (highly improbable) fifth line from either Ferdinand’s (younger) or Phillip’s (other) brother from further breakaway states from the HRE and/or Spain.

  7. Et1swaw aka Rob says:

    5 sample chapters left (10-20 snippets) and a 02OCT2012 pubdate IIRC.
    Are we going to a M-W-F vice M-Th snippet release anytime soon?

    I love reading the postings above and beyond what is given in the EARC sample chapters, but I love even more when the snippets go past where the sample chapters end. I like to retain the ending’s surprise so don’t go the full EARC route though.

    And I would really like to THANK Drak Bibliophile once more for his work in promulgating these snippets here and elsewhere. THANK YOU Drak !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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