1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 02
Melchior nodded again, not quite trusting his voice.
“Well, that should serve as a reason for your presence in any casual conversation.” Archduke Ferdinand looked directly at Melchior and sighed. “I truly am sorry, Melchior, both for you losing the one woman to break down that chaste reserve of yours, and for denying you the right to claim your child. But the child is more likely to be spoiled by doting aunts than mistreated, and the cost would simply be too high.”
Melchior bowed himself out in the correct manner, and went slowly down the stairs to the entrance hall, absently nodding to colleagues and acquaintances. His mother had always predicted than when Melchior would finally fall in love, he’d fall hard, and sweet Maria with her big dark eyes and lively manner had completely stolen his heart. He had always been a firm believer in the sanctity of marriage and total fidelity, but even the fact that she had been a newly married woman when they first met had not been enough to completely kill his interest. Maria had clearly been unhappy in her marriage, as well as too young and impulsive to hide her dislike of her husband, but Melchior had very carefully kept their relations completely platonic for almost two years, playing the role of a friend and occasional escort whenever his duties took him to Vienna. Only when her husband had died, and Melchior had found her alone — except for her Nubian slave — when paying a condolence visit after the funeral, had he lost his head and his hold on his emotions. Maria had refused to publish their relationship with a betrothal before her mourning year was over, even when she proved pregnant with a child that she assured him could only be his. Instead she had promised that as soon as the child was born, she would come back to Vienna, and marry him before the summer was over. But she had never recovered from the birth, and when he had gone to the Mansfeld estate to attend her funeral, Melchior had been denied all access to the baby. And now his last frail hope of having the crown interfere on his behalf was gone as well.
Melchior look blankly at Lieutenant Simon Pettenburg, the courier who had come with him to Vienna, then pulled himself together. “We’re leaving for Linz this afternoon. I need to talk with General Piccolomini first. Go pack our belongings, and I’ll meet you at the inn.”
Magdeburg, House of Hessen
Amalie Elisabeth of Hanau-Münzenberg, wife to Wilhelm V Duke of Hesse-Kassel, was widely acknowledged as one of the most astute players on the new political scene. So it was no wonder to anyone that she was having morning tea with the equally astute Abbess Dorothea of Quedlinburg and Princess Eleonore von Anhalt-Dessau, whose husband, Wilhelm Wettin, many people expected would become the next prime minister of the USE.
That Amalie chose to hostess the small gathering in the only finished room of what was to become the new House of Hessen, rather than in her apartment in the government building, might seem a bit odd. But then all official areas were getting so overcrowded that there were no possibility for privacy. Besides, the noise of the carpenters putting up the wall panels in the next room served nicely to disguise anything being said over the tea cups.
Both Dorothea and Eleonore were quite aware that Amalie had an extra agenda, so once the official business of inviting young female relatives to visit and benefit from the abbess’s political lessons was done with, the abbess asked with a smile in her eyes. “And if no one has anything else to talk about, I believe that we are finished?”
“Very funny, Abbess Dorothea.” Amalie filled the cups again. “Have you ever known me not to want to run down the political situation as well?”
“No, but sometimes you so want to be devious, that it takes you forever to get to what you really want to talk about. And I’ve had more than enough recently of rehashing the situation with that tiresome King Christian of Denmark and the situation in the Baltic.” The abbess grinned and suddenly looked several decades younger than her actual years. “But if you’ve got the wind of something new brewing? That is of course a different matter.”
Amalie smiled and tapped a fingernail on the teacup making the fragile porcelain chime. “Cologne.”
“Wha…” Eleonore coughed and swallowed her tea. “Amalie, do you have an army of small gnomes listening at keyholes all over town?”
“Then what do you know about Archbishop Ferdinand?”
“That the captain of his personal guard has travelled to hire some of Wallenstein’s former mercenary colonels, and that the archbishop’s personal torturer, Felix Gruyard, has been seen entering Duke Wolfgang von Neuburg’s castle in Düsseldorf late at night. Nothing conclusive.” Amalie leaned back in her chair, easing her stomach just beginning to swell in her tenth pregnancy. “Some members of the Bavarian ducal family have a tendency towards obsessions. Often religious, but not always. Archbishop Ferdinand has been obsessed with becoming a cardinal since the death of his brother Cardinal Philip. But since Ferdinand never had his brother’s intellectual and spiritual qualities, the only way he can achieve his ambition is by gathering power. The Protestant conquest of most of Bishop’s Alley along the Rhine has severely reduced his power, and with the USE looking to stabilize and consolidating their hold, it should be only a matter of time before he tries something desperate.”
“And you are waiting like a cat outside a mouse hole for him to stick out his nose?” Eleonore frowned at her friend.
“Fairly much so,” answered Amalie, quite unruffled. “My husband is going south to rattle his saber at the archbishop in the Wildenburg-Schönstein area. The branches of the Hatzfeldt family have long been divided between those looking towards Hessen and those owing alliance to Cologne or Mainz, but we hope to persuade that entire area to join the new Hesse-Kassel province.”
“The newly elected Prince-Bishop of Würzburg, who went into exile when the Protestant army conquered that town, was a Hatzfeldt.” Eleonore mused. “Would it help if he had his diocese back?”
“Could be. Prince-Bishop Franz von Hatzfeldt is the younger brother of General Melchior von Hatzfeldt, whose second-in-command is his cousin, Wolf, who is one of the Wildenburg Hatzfeldts.” Amalie smiled. “My father knew old Sebastian, the father of Franz and Melchior, quite well, and I met the boys several times as a girl. Sebastian had five sons, but was the ward of several more, and usually had the three Wildenburger boys in tow as well. He was a very caring man, who loved children. He was very bookish too, and whenever he visited Hanau, he’d sit in the evening and tell stories.”
Amalie shook her head. “I’d be hard pressed to put a name to any of the boys I remember, except for Melchior, whom I saw in uniform just before my marriage.”
“I’ve heard that he is quite handsome.” The abbess held out her cup for a fresh cup of tea. “Have you been carrying a torch, my dear?”
“Of course not,” Amalie answered, refilling their cups. “Melchior wasn’t ennobled at the time and a Catholic as well. It was just a girlish fancy.” She shrugged. “I’m quite satisfied with Wilhelm. We want the same and work well together.”
“Hm. I realize that you cannot permit small enclaves in the new province that is under control of someone else, especially not Archbishop Ferdinand. But why not try for a deal?” the abbess asked.
Amalie sighed. “I expect you have both studied the American books just as closely as I have. Do you remember what they said about Hessen?”
“Actually, not very much,” said the abbess, frowning, while Eleonore looked thoughtful.
“Exactly. A minor industrial area with Kassel as the only town with slightly more than local importance.” Amalie’s eyes suddenly glittered in anger and determination. “That is not acceptable.”