1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 23

1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 23

Chapter 13


The balcony doors were open to the crisp spring air, contrary to the admonitions of all down-time physicians. The view was magnificent: he could see the imposing façade of the Eglise-St.-Eustache, now nearly finished after a century of on-and-off labor.

Claude de Bourdeille, Comte de Montrésor, was fond of St. Eustache. His grandfather had been also. Most people only remembered the Seigneur de Brantôme for his memoirs and writings — entertaining, yes, but a trifle too lurid and explicit for the common person’s tastes. Yet he had had an artistic eye as well as a critical pen, and he would have been very pleased to see the great church in this almost-complete state.

As for the rest of Paris, and the rest of France . . . Montrésor was not sure what he would have thought of that. The Ring of Fire had changed everything: politics, culture, science, and — for those who did not understand what divine or infernal purpose might have brought up-timers into this century — religion as well.

What he was not fond of was waiting. Or, to be honest, being summoned: the letter from Louis de Soissons had been insistent, almost to the point of rudeness. Louis was a prince of the blood and acted the part. He was a Bourbon to the hilt, as arrogant as his royal cousins. No lesser person would have commanded Montrésor’s attention.

Montrésor had almost reached the limit of his patience when the count himself swept into the room. He walked to where Montrésor stood near the doors.

“Claude. So good of you to come.”

“I could hardly refuse. But you should realize that I have been observed.” He waved out the window. Down below, on the Rue Saint-Antoine, near the steps of Saint-Eustache, there was a man loitering. He was plainly dressed and was looking up at the balcony.

Louis, Count of Soissons, stepped closer and looked down.

“Quality. One of the cardinal’s finest. Servien — and not the one who stays so close: his older cousin Abel, the one that styles himself Marquis de Sablé.

Montrésor sniffed. “They are all the same.”

“They are not,” Soissons said. “But it is of no matter.” He reached into his doublet and drew out a sheet of paper. “They can watch all they want. I have news, and shortly your master will have it as well.”

“What news?”

“Our friend in the red robe is on his way to see the queen give birth. He has just received a message by radio, and has left the city.”

“Where is he going?”

“Somewhere to the west, not terribly far from Paris, Claude. I’m not sure just where. The queen — and soon the next king of France, assuming the blessed event is successful.”

“Monsieur will be glad of the knowledge, but he will not be pleased that the birth is imminent.”

Monsieur, the title given to the heir to the throne, currently belonged to Gaston d’Orleans, the king’s younger brother. Montrésor had the honor at the moment to be Monsieur’s favorite, which was enough to keep him away from his beloved Paris. He had spent altogether too little time here, in part due to the constant suspicion of Cardinal Richelieu. Ever since Montrésor had decided to attach himself to Monsieur Gaston, his comings and goings had been carefully watched by the spies and intendants and other little creatures employed by the red-robed menace who ruled this kingdom and its weak-willed king. As a result he had thought it best to remain by Monsieur’s side or at his estate in the country, depriving himself of the pleasures of the great city — and incidentally depriving the cardinal of information on his friends and activities.

Soon, Montrésor thought to himself, that will all change.

“How did you get this information, did you say?”

“A radio transmission. There is a radio at the chateau.”

“And you have a spy at the Louvre who relayed the message. Very clever, Monsieur le Comte — I am surprised that you could break Richelieu’s security –”

“I didn’t, Claude. I merely intercepted the transmission.” Soissons smiled. “I have intercepted all the transmissions.”

Montrésor frowned, baffled. “I don’t understand. If you . . . intercepted the message . . . then how was it received by the cardinal?”

“You don’t really understand radio, do you?”

Montrésor put on his best expression of noble disdain, as if the entire matter was beneath him. “Some up-timer matter. I’m sure it is a wonder.”

Soissons sighed. Gaston — Monsieur Gaston, who should have been, and might someday be, king of France — was arrogant, petulant, self-absorbed and at times ruthless: but at least he wasn’t an idiot. The count wondered how long Montrésor — elegant, cultured Montrésor, who was near cousin to an idiot — would last as Gaston’s favorite.

“A radio message,” Soissons said patiently, “is not like a letter. It is like a town crier — one that speaks a different language that only its recipients can hear.”

“I don’t quite understand.”

“The town crier goes from place to place and gives out the news,” Soissons said. “Except this one speaks — I don’t know, Catalan. And no one in the town square speaks Catalan except one person, and he understands what the crier says.”

“So you bribed the Catalan speaker.”

No,” Soissons answered. “No. I found someone who speaks Catalan and hired him. So when the crier gives the news, I hear it too, and understand it.”

“So. . . the people where the Queen is in seclusion are sending you messages as well?”

“Yes. No, not exactly.” Soissons ran a hand through his hair. “The radio there is broadcasting — shouting — a message. Richelieu is receiving the message, and so am I.

“Is that possible? I thought a radio talked to another radio.”

“A radio talks to all the radios that might be listening at the time. They use a code, but it’s primitive enough that it was easily broken. Everything His Eminence hears, my radio hears as well. He has no idea that I am listening in, of course — but now I know where he is going.”

“I assume that you are having him followed.”



“Better than that, Claude. If all goes well, our good cardinal will never reach his destination.”

Forêt de Rambouillet

César, duc de Vendôme, légitimé de France, sat on his charger, appreciating the quiet moment that occurred just before battle. To call what was to come a battle, of course, was an exaggeration at best; but the quiet was reassuring nonetheless. The weather enhanced the quiet. The rain had mostly gone, replaced by a faint drizzle and a fog that shrouded the late afternoon light.

This feeling joined with the elation he felt to be back in France. He had been away from his beloved country, having left in haste four years earlier, just after the arrival of the infernal Ring of Fire, exiled from France for perceived offenses against the crown. But it was not his younger half-brother, the king, who had exiled him. It was his advisor, his minister, the very incarnation of the Devil Himself: Richelieu.

He hated that name and hated the man who owned it. He had made sure to teach his sons to hate him as well — just as Hamilcar had instilled hate into his sons in ancient Carthage. François, who was now with César’s other half-brother, Monsieur Gaston, and Louis, who sat on his own horse beside him, had learned the lesson well.


César sighed, the quiet broken. “What is it, Louis?”

“Do you ever think about fate, Father? About what might have been?”

The duc de Vendôme smiled and looked at his son. Louis at twenty reminded him very much of himself at the same age: tall, handsome, smart — and ruthless. A fine trait, he thought to himself.

“I should like to say ‘never,’ ” he said. “But the truth is that I think about it all the time. The God-cursed up-timers have made us all consider what might have been and what might never been. There have been so many changes since they arrived. . . but imagine if they had come thirty or forty years earlier. Things might have been different. Very different.”

“Do you think you might have been king?”

“I don’t know.” César reached up and smoothed down his long moustaches. He kept them in a style a few years out of date in France; Louis was far more trim and in fashion. “I am the eldest son of King Henri. My mother, your grandmother, was the king’s first and greatest love — perhaps his only true love: Gabrielle d’Estrées. When she died, still as his mistress, he held a state funeral.”

La Belle Gabrielle.”

“Just so. My father always thought she had been poisoned, along with my youngest brother who died with her. He mourned her death most piteously — I was not quite five years old, but I remember that he was inconsolable. The procession included every person of note, and made its way to Saint-Denis for the funeral mass — and then out to Saint-Ouen-l’Aumône where she was interred at Notre-Dame-la-Royale de Maubuisson in solemn ceremony. It was a wonder.”

“The queen must not have been happy.”

“Hah.” César leaned aside, hawked and spat. “She did not arrive for a year thereafter. King Henri did not marry for love, just as he did not embrace the One Faith from piety. He became a Catholic to become the king of France and he chose a wife to give him offspring. The old brood mare gave him just what he wanted: sons and daughters, my brothers and sisters. The queen — the lady Marie — brought us all together, princes and princesses of the blood and royal bastards. No one ever forgot their status. I was constantly reminded of it, and so was my brother Alexandre.”

His fist clenched where it held the reins of his horse. The mount, sensing the motion, stirred and neighed quietly. César ran his free hand gently through its mane and it quieted.

“Monseigneur Richelieu has much to answer for.”

Louis knew that his father and his uncle Alexandre had run afoul of the cardinal and they had both been sent to the Bastille for a plot against him. Alexandre had not survived the experience.

“And he will answer,” César said. “Most assuredly. With the intelligence given us, we are here to make sure of it. You and our other fine gentlemen — ” he waved behind at the troop of horsemen waiting quietly in the fog — “can do whatever you wish with the guardsmen who travel with him: but Richelieu is mine.

As the last statement hung in the air, there was a high-pitched whistle in the distance.

César de Vendôme turned to look back at his troop. He raised a gloved hand and gestured toward the road, lost in the fog ahead. The men pulled forward the hoods of their cloaks and, at a signal, galloped together toward their quarry.


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18 Responses to 1636: The Cardinal Virtues – Snippet 23

  1. Randomiser says:

    Oops! What did I say some time ago about all these radio messages in clear? Looks like Richelieu doesn’t understand how easy interception is either. All he needed for privacy was a handful of random codewords to signal various events.

    I’m not quite clear how they managed to get the ambush in place so fast. The message wouldn’t have specified where the Queen was, there was no need and the plotters don’t seem to have known before.

    César’s family and which bits are where is getting confused and confusing again.

    • Matthew says:

      The message was coded, just not coded well. The Cardinal probably uses a single code for his radio network meaning that there would be dozens of non queen related messages to provide substrate for code breaking.

      As for the ambush, they were probably just kept on station in Paris. These are trained cavalrymen, they can move faster than the cardinal or the king on the road.

  2. Terranovan says:

    IIRC, Soissons is GJBF – Monsieur Gaston’s créature in Paris relaying information by radio.

    • Terranovan says:

      Whoops, looks like I misinterpreted – I’d thought Soissons was using Gaston’s initials as a call sign to denote his allegiance. But actually, Gaston’s using his own initials and Soissons is SPAR – Servant in PARis.

  3. John Cowan says:

    I hope someone takes the opportunity to get really annoyed with Claude de Bourdeille, so he can utter the immortal words: “For the love of God, Montrésor!”

    High-level 17C diplomats and royals were not cryptographic babes in the woods: see nomenclator in Wikipedia for the kind of encryption they used. Some versions were strong enough to remain unbroken until the end of the 19C, and indeed the lack of time and energy to work on them leaves some of them unbroken today.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      My impression is that it’s MUCH harder to send code than clear by wireless telegraphy.

      The transmission is inherently messy. You get noise and things that aren’t clear. If the recipient can’t correct based on having a pretty good idea of what’s “supposed” to be happening you may need to resend many times to get even a short message through correctly. And you’ll need to resend all those times regardless of whether the recipient got it right the first time, because with code the person transcribing the signal can’t actually be sure if the signal was received correctly except by either comparing multiple attempts or by stopping and decoding (during your short window, after which you may need to send again, best just to assume you missed and send again to start with).

      AFAICT historical coded Morse transmissions used actual Morse code, because training someone to send or receive arbitrary dot-dash patterns rather than letters was simply too difficult. Sending arbitrary letters is the same sort of problem, just at a one step higher level. Familiar words in a familiar alphabet are the most likely to get through accurately.

      • Randomiser says:

        I’m pretty sure WW2 resistance groups were taught to send in code, so yes it may be less clear but it is perfectly doable. Even sending clear words doesn’t require a clear message. You want to send basic info about the Queen’s pregnancy, fine. Pick the names of 30 well known towns and assign them appropriate meanings. Send the town names and who knows what you are saying? The receiving station naturally repeats them back so you know they got the right message. What’s so hard?

        • Doug Lampert says:

          Yep, it’s easy to do. You send code rather than a cypher.

          Your suggested list of words for towns for example.

          But: Pretty well everyone doing this in the 1600s used cyphers of one sort or another. I’m not sure if word substitution codes were even a thing. And if they study books in Grantville, there will be all sorts of stuff on how word substitution codes are bad and cyphers better, because modern methods are pretty well all cypher based and the references to codes in older books will mostly be to codes failing (failures make news, works as intended doesn’t).

          • John Cowan says:

            If you follow my link up there, you’ll see that state of the art systems were hybrids: a small codebook with a few hundred terms, and a cipher with only a single alphabet, but with multiple possible combinations for each plaintext letter to make cryptanalysis difficult. Vigenere encryption (the same principle as the one-time pad, but with a short repeating key instead of an infinitely long random one) was known and considered indecipherable, but too error-prone for practical use.

            As I mentioned before, if there’s a copy of David Kahn’s The Codebreakers in Grantville, the USE can use the ADFGVX cipher, which is extremely strong for a purely manual system, doesn’t require very much key, and uses only six maximally distinct Morse letters for transmission (the tradeoff is that the ciphertext is twice as long as the plaintext). Playfair requires even less key, and if you use a random square rather than a keyword-based one, still has decent security when used for tactical purposes — by the time you break it, the secret is no longer relevant.

      • Stewart says:

        There are several methods (even currently used) means to get around QRN and other noises. Since all USE CW operators can trace their training to Gayle (last seen in England) and other uptime CW operators, one would “hope” to assume that those practices are carried on — simpler ones are double characters or double sets of 5 character code groups — usually gets around random static.
        The 5 character code groups also allows for easier encryption. The sender and receiver are just working “random” 5 character letters / code.

        — Stewart

    • Jeff Ehlers says:

      Sure, but they’re used to ciphering written messages. Radio works enough differently that it’s plausible that they might not have realized that a radio message can be intercepted yet still reach its destination.

  4. Mario says:

    Monsieur was how the the brother of the king was called at court, while the heir was called Le Dauphin

    • Lyttenstadt says:

      No. Dauphin was the de-jure ruler of the French duchy of Dauphine – and this title was reserved, IIRC, for the eldest son of the reigning king. Like the prince of Wales in Britain. Charles II brother James Stuart (future king James II) was an heir to the throne – but he was “only” Duke of York.

      • Mario says:

        C’est ce que je disais. The title Dauphin went to the heir of France. At the time of Louis XIII it was already an old rule, which was a precise legal obligation, so the title was pretty official. The brother of the king was called Monsieur (his wife Madame) which was not properly a title, just a way the courtiers referred to him when he was not present, to distinguish him from the crowd of princes which milled around at Court. The use was revived with the brother of king Louis XIV also Duke of Orleans, but obviously not the son of Gaston. The Dauphin was commonly referred to as Monseigneur under Louis XIV; Monsieur le Duc was the Prince of Condé and so on, just insider talk at the Court.
        I must say, hoping not to offend, that I found this story a bit less well researched than usual.

  5. zak ryerson says:

    The message was in Catalan.
    His eminence probably thought that using an unfamiliar language was enough security.
    As for using encrypted words:
    I can see a number of possible words that would mean “The Queen”.
    It would yake some doing to put her condition into a cypher.

    • Johnny says:

      It wasn’t in Catalan. That was the analogy used to explain intercepting radio messages to the Montrésor.

    • Randomiser says:

      You have 100, or 500 or however many you want, prearranged numbered messages describing her condition. From she is OK, to she has miscarried, to she has given birth to fine healthy alien quintuplets. And you just transmit the number. Duh. When you only hav two stations, a limited, known universe of discourse and ample time to prepare, radio security is really easy. This is Richelieu, after all.

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