1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 17

1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 17

As soon as she was seated, the emperor went straight to the point.

“I have a proposal to make,” he said. “Not to you alone — not by any means — but I am starting with you because if you are not willing to accept the proposal the rest will be pointless.”

She braced herself. The most likely proposal she could imagine would be something on the lines of: You, Frau Richter, must go into exile, preferably to someplace in the New World. In exchange, I will make this or that concession to your band of radical malcontents.

“The proposal is this. I will agree to remove imperial administration from Saxony, Mecklenburg, the Oberpfalz and Württemberg. I will also allow Württemberg to form its own province separate from the rest of Swabia. And, finally, I will allow all four provinces to become self-governing with a republican structure of some sort.”

For an instant, a look of exasperation came and went on his face. “One of the reasons I’m agreeing to this is to save myself the grief of trying to referee the claims of far too many Hochadel to these areas. But the main reason is to see if you and I can reach… what to call it? A modus vivendi, let us say.”

Gretchen’s knowledge of Latin ranged from poor to dismal. Some of her uncertainty must have shown because Ernst Wettin spoke up, for the first time. “His Majesty is using the Latin phrase the way the up-timers do. It refers to an arrangement — something of an informal agreement, if you will, but still binding — that enables parties with conflicting interests or goals to nonetheless coexist peacefully and without resort to violence on either side. This arrangement may be temporary — it usually is — but it can also last indefinitely.”

Gretchen looked back at Gustav Adolf. “I see. And what would you want from me in exchange? By ‘me,’ of course, we’re referring to the Committees of Correspondence.”

“Actually, no — or at least, not entirely.” The emperor leaned forward and fixed her with an intent gaze. “Much of this is specific to you. What I want in exchange — will insist upon, in fact — is that you must agree to run for election as the governor of Saxony.”

Of all the things Gretchen had foreseen as possibilities, that one had never occurred to her even once.

Me? Governor?” She almost gasped the words. “But — whatever for?”

Gustav Adolf nodded at Ernst Wettin. “I will let him explain. Since it was his proposal to begin with.” He grinned and barked out a laugh. “Ha! And be sure I was just as astonished then as you are now. What a mad idea!”

He leaned back in his chair, still chuckling. “But… one with great merit, once he explained.”

Gretchen looked back at Wettin.

“It’s quite simple, really. I’ve spent months with you in Saxony now. Me as the official administrator of the province — and you as the person who really wields the power.” Wettin shook his head. “The arrangement is simply untenable, Gretchen. It must be settled — whichever way. The formal power must coincide with the real power, or government itself becomes impossible. Certainly in the long run.”

“But… but… I have been assuming all along, Ernst, that if Saxony became a republic that you yourself would run for governor.”

Ernst nodded. “And so I will. I would say ‘with the emperor’s permission’ but he’s already given it to me.”

“More precisely, I insisted on it.” Gustav Adolf pointed at Wettin with a large forefinger. “Make no mistake about it. Ernst Wettin has my confidence and I will certainly be urging all Saxons to vote for him instead of you.”

He grinned again. “Ernst tells me, though — I find this quite shocking! — that the pigheaded and surly Saxons are likely to ignore me and vote for you instead. If you run, that is.”

“And if you don’t,” said Wettin, now leaning forward himself, “here is what will happen. The Fourth of July Party will certainly run a candidate, but they won’t garner more votes that I will. They don’t have much of an organization in Saxony, as you know. I estimate we would each wind up with about thirty percent of the vote. The rest…”

He shrugged. “The Vogtlanders will probably pick up fifteen percent or so. The reactionaries — assuming they manage to form a common front — could pick up perhaps ten percent. If they run as squabbling individuals, which is more likely, they’d wind up with less.”

Gretchen’s Latin might be wretched but her grasp of arithmetic was excellent. She’d had no trouble following the calculations. “That leaves fifteen to twenty percent.”

“The church, I think. In one form or another.”

She followed that logic also. Saxony had a solidly Lutheran population and the clergy commanded a great deal of respect. Everyone who was uncertain would tend to listen to their pastors — would seek them out for advice, in fact.

“A mess, in other words,” Wettin concluded. “No one would have a majority. I’d probably have a plurality, so if we adopted an American-style governor structure — what they call the presidential system — I’d become the new executive outright. If we adopted the more common German system wherein a republican province’s executive is not separate from the legislature — the parliamentary system, in the up-time lexicon — then I’d have to negotiate with others to form a cabinet.”

He threw up his hands. “And wouldn’t that be a delight! Assuming the Fourth of July Party is the opposition and the Vogtlanders bloc with them — which they generally would — I’d have to form a coalition with pastors and reactionaries. The first of whom tend to be impractical when it comes to world affairs and the others…”

He smiled now, albeit thinly. “There’s an American quip I’m fond of — which they stole from a Frenchman, I think. ‘They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.’ That summarizes perfectly, I think, the state of mind of the nation’s reactionaries. What would really happen, of course, is that effective power would continue to be in your hands. It’s just not workable, Gretchen. Either I rule or you rule — one or the other. Straightforward and visible to all.”

Gretchen had already seen the flaw in the logic. “Then why not simply ask — insist, if you will — that I leave Saxony altogether?”

She looked away from Wettin to Gustav Adolf. “There’d be a great deal of unrest if you did, but it wouldn’t rise to the level of violence. Not unless I called for it, and I’m not that stupid. That would be –”

She managed to cut herself off before saying: would be playing into your hands.

The emperor nodded, as if with satisfaction. “It’s nice to be negotiating with someone who’s not a fool. You’re right, of course. You could rouse the people to rebellion against a brute like Báner, who was threatening a massacre. But against Ernst? Or even worse, against me? When all we asked was for one person to please leave the province?”

But she’d already left all that behind because she’d finally realized the true nature of the proposal.

She was quite startled. She wouldn’t have thought that an emperor — first among nobles — would be that shrewd and astute.

He probably wouldn’t have come up with the idea on his own, of course. But he’d been shrewd enough and astute enough to be persuaded by Ernst Wettin.

“You don’t want me to leave Saxony,” she said. “You want me to stay.”

She gave Wettin a look that was almost accusatory. “Because you think I’d win the election.”

“In a landslide, if we have a presidential system.” Wettin shrugged. “More complicated, with a parliamentary one, since you’d have to run officially as a member of a party rather than as an individual. But that would just add a minor curlicue. The Fourth of July people would be delighted to have you take up their banner. But if you chose to you could simply run as the candidate of the Gretchen Richter Party.”

She looked back at the emperor. And, for the first time in her life, had a sense of what a wild lion or tiger felt when they confronted a tamer.

Gustav Adolf apparently sensed her thoughts because his expression became quite sympathetic. “Don’t think of it as being housebroken, Frau Richter — or may I call you Gretchen, in private?”

Mutely, she nodded.

“This is something that Michael Stearns has always understood, you know. Eventually, a revolutionary must either” — he looked at Wettin — “what’s that crude but charming expression he likes?”

“Shit or get off the pot.”

“Yes, that one.” He turned back to Gretchen. “Once you become powerful enough — which you are, today, certainly in Saxony — then you must decide. Either try to overthrow the existing power or claim it for your own. But what you cannot do — not for long — is try to straddle those two options.”

“You want me to become respectable.” The word came out like an accusation.

She could see that Gustav Adolf was doing his best to suppress another grin. “Ah… Gretchen. I am told there exists a painting of you done by no less an artist than Rubens that hangs in the royal palace in Brussels. Apparently the King in the Netherlands, as he likes to style himself, thinks it makes a useful cautionary reminder.”

She sniffed. “Yes, I’ve heard about that.”

“And in that painting –”

“My tits are bare. Yes, I know. I remember quite well. It was a cold day and I maintained that pose for hours. What is your point?” A bit belatedly, she remembered to add: “Your Majesty.”

“My point is that I think no matter how long you live you will never have to fear the horrid fate of slumping into dull and undistinguished respectability.”

“I will need to think about this,” she said.

The emperor nodded. “Yes, of course.”

“And I will need to discuss it with other members of the Committees of Correspondence here in Magdeburg. That will include, you understand, Spartacus and Gunther Achterhof.”

“Yes, of course. May I also suggest you discuss it with Rebecca Abrabanel. And Herr Piazza also, if you choose. He’s resident here.”

“Yes, of course,” she said.

The emperor rose. “That’s it, then. When may I expect an answer, Gretchen?”

She came to her feet as well. “Soon.”

He smiled. “Just as I thought.”


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33 Responses to 1636: The Ottoman Onslaught – Snippet 17

  1. VernonNemitz says:

    I still think Gustav’s bodyguards would have made a fuss about not checking Gretchen for weapons.

    • Andy says:

      Maybe they did, and it was just omitted? Also, I think someone who rides an attack into a horde of Kroats should be able to handle anything a woman can conceal from dozens of professional and watchful eyes.

    • dave o says:

      Wouldn’t this be a really bad move when he’s trying to co-opt Gretchen?

    • doug says:

      I think it really is simple. Everyone in Europe KNOWS how much Gretchen despises nobility and royalty. Any actions she might take against Gustav would have a positive outcome in regards to all those other nobles she hates so much. In her mind, Gustav is “our” villain, the others aren’t.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      I’m inclined to agree, if only because of the precedent it sets that they didn’t search Gretchen. If it’s known that Gretchen Richter is allowed armed (or even just unsearched) into the presence of the King, then it becomes almost impossible to disarm or search any noble without the implied insult that you either think Gretchen is of much higher rank than they, or that you trust Gretchen more than the noble.

      Whether they trust her or think she’s too smart to do anything or think she’s not a problem is almost irrelevant. Maintaining the precedent, “You must be at least X important or a member of the guard to enter the King’s presence armed” is important, and you want X to be as high a rank as you can reasonably get away with.

      Hence, someone probably made at least a cursory search simply so they can say, “Why yes, of course we searched her.” I’ll just assume the check by the guards at the door was left out for brevity.

      • marcel says:

        I would assume that any European noble would be mortified at the notion that he would NOT be allowed weapons at any point. The notion of checking your sword or pistol at the entrance was unthinkable. Peacebonding a sword maybe, but only under dire circumstances.

  2. Andy says:

    Apparently Gretchen has the Jao sense of flow.

    • John Cowan says:

      As do all humans who aren’t enslaved to mechanical timepieces, and some of the time even them. Flow.

      • Cobbler says:

        Also known as Wu-Wei. The Taoist goal is to practice not-doing all the time.

        Flow in the modern sense would be a subset of Wu-Wei. Zhuangzi gives examples of artisans practicing Wu-Wei while butchering beef, chopping wood, or whatever.

  3. Jeff says:

    This is all very nice and all, but how will it get here to Vienna so she can organize the defense against the inevitable Ottoman siege?

    • Joe says:

      I saw in a thumbnail in Wikipedia, which may no longer be valid, of course, that Vienna falls relatively quickly. If that’s the case, first, Gretchen’s expertise would no longer be required, and second, that without the Turk-magnet that Vienna is, the war becomes one of movement, with the Turks at the end of a very long and vulnerable line of communications back to Istanbul, even if the sultan happens to be with them.

      • Tweeky says:

        It’s “Constantinople” NOT “Istanbul”.

        • John Cowan says:

          The name İstanbul has been in use since the 10C, first in Arabic, but then also in Turkish. It wasn’t officially removed until 1923 as part of the Turkish language reform (which removed many Persian and Arabo-Persian words from the language), but it was frequently used alongside Konstantiniyye in both official and non-official contexts since before the Ottoman conquest. Both names are ultimately of Greek origin. For details, see Names of Istanbul.

          • Tweeky says:

            If I was talking about right now you’d be correct except this is in the 17th century when it wasn’t referred to as Instanbul but either Konstantinnye by the Turks or Constantinople by the Europeans.

        • Cobbler says:

          Since 1453 it’s Istanbul NOT Constantinople.

          Just as it says in the song.

        • llywrch says:

          For what it’s worth, “Istanbul” is a corruption of the medieval Greek nickname of Constantinople, meaning “the City”. Which it was for most of a thousand years.

          So either is correct, especially in this period.

    • Andy says:

      I think I missed how Gustav wants her to help with Vienna. If however, she wants to help, she can go by plane, or some CoC members can go to help, or they work by correspondence over radio.

      • Drak Bibliophile says:

        “Helping with Vienna” was just Jeff’s speculation.

        ::Glancing at snerk collar:: Of course, even if she isn’t directly involved against the Ottomen, she’s going to have plenty to do. :wink:

    • Stanley Leghorn says:

      A stable and secure nation is much better able to deal with any problems that come up than one with internal tensions. Besides, Gretchen will know the value of a sound military and has had Stearn’s division as an example of what to do to keep it that way. We may yet see her leading a charge against the Turks…

  4. carl weisman says:

    “I’d probably have a plurality, so if we adopted an American-style governor structure — what they call the presidential system — I’d become the new executive outright.”

    With only 30%? Not likely!

    • Ed Thomas says:

      Why not?! He’s got the most votes. There’s no electoral college in play. If the rules don’t specify what contitues winning it seems reasonable that the candidate with the most votes would win.

    • Mark L says:

      Rick Perry won the 2006 Texas Gubernatorial election with 39% of the vote. The Democrat got 30% and two independents split 31%. So, yes, it is possible to win with a total in the 30s.

      • carl weisman says:

        I’m so ancient I assume that a non-majority plurality gets you a run-off special election.

        That’s the way it used to be. The “American method.”

        In presidential, if the electoral college has no majority, the House picks the president. No reason to think the plurality-winner gets selected.

  5. AJNolte says:

    I’m somewhat skeptical you’d see the active development of a party by the Lutheran pastors in Saxony, or really anywhere else. As a general rule, Lutheran political theory really emphasizes the distinction between the two kingdoms and deference to the ruling authorities–particularly but not exclusively if said authorities are themselves Lutheran. Calvinists might organize to ensure a covenantal commonwealth. Catholics almost certainly would, and did, organize to promote Catholic social teaching. But I’m not aware of any specifically Lutheran-oriented party.

    Now, it’s possible that elements of the Lutheran clergy have gotten their hands on uptime information about something called the “Christian coalition” or “religious right” and have tried to organize a seventeenth-century Lutheran version of it. Which would actually be a really funny story in it’s own right because they’d split over obscure points of church doctrine nobody else understands almost immediately, but would probably have very sound educational policy. It’s also possible individual pastors might recommend individual candidates. Absent that, though, I think Saxon pastoral involvement in the upcoming election on an organized basis seems unlikely.

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