1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 08
Düsseldorf, The Castle
“Sister Maximiliane to see you, Milady.”
Charlotte looked up from the letter she was writing to glance around the room to see if everything was in order. Two weeks ago she and Elisabeth had been about to board the boats arranged to take them up the Rhine to Cologne, when a dispatch had arrived from Wolfgang to the captain of the garrison left behind. As it turned out the cavalry that came running back to Düsseldorf with the news about the French betrayal had been only partly right: Turenne and his men had gone off on their own as soon as they had crossed the river Ruhr, but her husband was very much alive, and locked in a battle with the army of Essen. Faced with these news Charlotte had decided to stay in Düsseldorf, and wait for the arrival of her brother, rather than to try hiding from Wolfgang in Cologne. Unfortunately Friedrich had been delayed by spring flooding in the Alps washing away the roads, but according to his latest letter he had now arrived in Metz and would come north as soon as possible.
In the meantime Wolfgang’s plans to catch the army of Essen in a vise and crush it to a quick victory had been changed into a long drawn-out battle and attacks against the fortifications surrounding Essen. He had sent for the heavy cannons from Düsseldorf — as well as all available troops from Jülich and the cavalry the archbishop had promised him — but the news coming from the front was so contradictory, that the entire town — not to mention all the servants at the castle — were in a constant state of uproar. As a result Charlotte was constantly called upon to deal with some new crisis, and whenever she sat down to think and make plans, somebody would interrupt. Elisabeth, who was supposed to help her run the castle as well as keep her company, was actually worse than useless in dealing with a crisis; her mind had never been agile, and the life as a postulant, who never had to think outside the rules, suited her perfectly.
“Thank you, Frau van der Berg, that’ll be all.” Charlotte nodded to her castellaine, and turned her attention to her visitor. Sister Maximiliane, former Countess von Wartenberg and a cousin to Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne, had come from Bavaria to nurse her cousin through a serious stomach disorder the previous winter. She was well known as a strong fighter for women’s right to enter total sequestration and concentrate fully on the glory of God, but to everybody’s surprise she had accepted taking change of the Hatzfeldt household in Cologne instead of returning to Münich. Speculations as to why had been running rather wild all spring, and ranged from a love-affair with Prince-Bishop Franz von Hatzfeldt to financial problems in Münich making it impossible for her to return. Elisabeth had been partial to the first theory on the basis of the many mistresses kept by the males in the Bavarian ducal family, but Charlotte knew the kind of money it took to enter total isolation, and found it far more likely that the strong-willed Maxie had bitten off more than she could chew and simply wanted to raise some money before going home.
Well, as the hostess it was Charlotte’s task to direct the conversation, so perhaps she could direct it in that direction — and if nothing else then at least an afternoon spent with the apparently intelligent and capable older woman would serve to distract Charlotte from all the problems otherwise running her ragged.
“My sister Elisabeth is unfortunately bed-bound with a stomach disorder today, but she has so much wanted to hear your opinion about the religious opportunities for women in Cologne. My own time is presently very much taken by the practical tasks of running this castle, but if you would be as kind as to give me your impression of the most needful undertakings, I’m sure my sister would be delighted to join you in whatever you feel would do the most good.”
“I am no longer actively involved with religious matters.” Maxie smiled a little bitterly and sipped delicately on the sweet, fine wine Charlotte was serving in costly Venetian glasses.
“Oh.” That was unexpected.
“My male relatives had promised me their support, but played me false.” Maxie looked directly at Charlotte and grinned without real mirth. “I’ll not deny that it hurt to give up the plans for which I had fought so hard, and I still believe that women should have the same opportunities as men, but personally I find that there is a certain liberty in no longer needing so many people’s goodwill. I rather believe I’ll enjoy speaking my mind for a while.”
Charlotte found a wry answering smile tucking her own lips. “Yes, that would be wonderful.”
“I rather heard — between his words — from my archbishop cousin, that you have had some problems in that direction.” Maxie’s words were almost, but not quite a question.
“Yes.” Charlotte looked down into her wine to hide her thoughts. Not only would Maxie be a valuable ally if Charlotte went to Cologne, but Maxie’s openness about her own life made Charlotte want to trust her with her own problems. Still, Maxie was known to her only by reputation, so it might be wise to feel her way a little. “Do you think the Americans in Thüringen have been sent by the Devil?”
“No,” Maxie’s eyebrows had lifted in surprise, “but unless that was an abrupt change of subject, I’m most interested in the connection.”
“Wolfgang was three times my age when we married, but not at all a bad husband — or a bad man. He was quite tolerant of what I wanted, fair in his judgments, and both concerned and capable in running his lands. He often went to Essen, being interested in what De Geer there was doing, and usually came home with new ideas and plans. Then, a little more than two years ago, an American had been there to tell about all the new things they claimed were possible, and when Wolfgang returned he was very quiet and didn’t want to talk about it. In fact he forbade anyone to even mention the Americans. Then he started losing his temper over quite insignificant matters. Would fly into a rage if something had been moved, or his son voiced a different opinion from his own. Previously Wolfgang had been proud when Philipp had made a clever argument, but now it made him furious. And it wasn’t just with Philipp and me. It was the servants, in courts, everywhere, as if he had been bewitched into a totally different person. And it only got worse.” Charlotte shook her head and looked up at Maxie with a weak attempt at a smile. “You are very well known for your nursing skills, do you think he could be ill?”
“Not from any disease I have ever encountered,” Maxie looked thoughtful, “but the mind is a strange place, and I might have heard about something. Has he been very opposed to anything new?”
“Yes, anything new, anything changed.”
“Well, first of all: I’m not personally very familiar with any Americans, but Father Johannes, a person whose judgment seems quite sound, has lived with them since shortly after they arrived. He claims that they are quite ordinary people, special only in being most excellent craftsmen, but morally neither better nor worse, neither stronger nor weaker than what you’ll find in any German town. However, one of the crafts they excel in is that of medicine, and their studies of the human body have included that of the mind. One of the books Father Johannes read and found especially interesting described things that are not actually diseases, but rather too strong or twisted reactions to things happening in a person’s life. I recognized the description of shellshock in a patient I once had, who previously survived a heavy cannonade during a siege, and what has happened to your husband could be something similar called future shock. As far as I have understood, it’s what happens when your mind cannot adjust to all the changes in your life, and try to escape into unthinking rages, drink, or apathy.”
“I don’t understand.”