1635: The Wars For The Rhine – Snippet 27
The mayor stopped smiling. “We trust you to make the best of a very bad situation, Herr General. On our own we face either a conquest or a surrender without negotiations. You are the one person here that Hesse is sure to take seriously. Everybody else would just get the terms dictated, but if you stand for Bonn, you’d be listened to. By Hesse and by the USE.” He signed. “We do not like this, Herr General, but last night — after the archbishop left with his soldiers but before we knew you had returned — the council and guilds majority were in favor of applying for membership of the USE. Either as a free town or as part of a province. The Committee of Correspondence is not very vocal in Bonn, but they are here and claim to be able to make the necessary contacts in Mainz. They’ll wait for your orders before leaving; just tell us what you want.”
“Very well.” Melchior took a deep breath and nodded. “I accept the task. I’ll write letters for the USE and for my brothers. Please have two couriers ready aside from the person from the CoC. I’ll see Commander Wickradt about the rest.”
“Certainly, Herr General, and thank you.” The Mayor rose and bowed deeply. “Just … There might be one small limit to your power here in Bonn. Please don’t call the Women’s Militia “The Little Dears” within the hearing of any female; the consequences would be entirely beyond the council’s control.”
* * *
“Ah, General von Hatzfeldt.” Commander Wickradt was standing just beyond the iron-bound tower gate with the sun reflecting from his helmet and breast-plate. “There is some news about the mercenary colonels.”
“Excellent. Please walk with me, Commander, I’m staying for a while and would like to see the toll-tower for myself.” Melchior breathed deeply of the fresh air and looked up at the still hazy sun. The rain clouds from last night were gone and the mist had just been the usual morning mist hanging over the river. Both good and bad. It would make the couriers more visible, but also give earlier warning if the Hessians started moving in on the town.
“So you accepted the council’s offer?” said Wickradt in a much lower voice, as they walked between the half-timbered houses toward the river, their boots making small splashes in the rain puddles.
“Yes, and I’ll be sending off letters as soon as we have spoken. Please leave the western gate open until the couriers have left, but keep men standing by to close immediately if any large parties approach.” Melchior looked around at the wet cobbles sparkling in the sun. He had been a professional soldier for almost twenty years, and had been on the winning as well as losing sides of several sieges. But Bonn was so much a part of his childhood that the thought of blood running over these cobblestones made him feel sick.
“That is already done, General, and they’ll also close the gate if mists gather again to obscure the view of the approach. This time of year that’s entirely possible.” Wickradt had to stretch his shorter legs to keep up with Melchior. “The news I just had were that Butler, MacDonald and Deveroux rode in through the western gate this morning, and left again less than an hour later going west. Felix Gruyard was with them. No sign of Geraldin. Also, the scouts I sent out earlier have returned to tell that the Hessians are crossing near Vesseling, and the road via Bruhl to Cologne is still open.”
“All good, but if Geraldin turns up I’d like to see him.” Melchior stopped before turning into the open area before the toll-tower gate. “How much do they fire from the toll-tower?”
“Not much, I went to the gate yesterday under truce to ask for their surrender. They refused, but we reached an agreement. Neither side sets fires until the town is actually attacked, and they can empty their slop-bucket safely over the outside wall in return for not deliberately targeting civilians. They are native Hessians, well disciplined, and prepared to just hold on until the rest of their force get here. I refused them food and extra water, but offered to let any wounded into care in the town. They replied that none of them were hit in the balls and none were catamites, so they preferred to stay away from Felix Gruyard and the archbishop’s dungeons. I had to admit that I could not guarantee their safety.”
“Very well.” Melchior removed his hat and briefly scanned the tower by leaning round the corner. “No frontal attack on that, and reducing it to rubble only if negotiations fail. Let your wagons roll in to block as much of the gate as possible, and barricade all the streets just out of range. Where else might they attack? I remember the north wall missing some towers.”
“If they can breach the north wall on the middle, they cannot be reached with cannons while entering town. But I’ve concentrated as many cannons there as I dared, so getting close would cost any attackers dearly. The west walls are good, and I’m sure we can beat anything they send at the river walls.”
“Good. Letters next, and I’ll need a place to sleep.”
“Let us walk to the Town Hall.” Wickradt looked sideways at Melchior as they crossed the gutter to walk on the big flat stones set along the middle of the road. “Is there any chance of getting your own regiments here?”
“Not in time.” Melchior looked at the older man walking beside him and decided to be a bit more forthcoming. “I had some both personal and political problems in Vienna last winter, and was given furlough this summer to visit my family and make an evaluation of the military situation in western Germany for the emperor. I went back to report when it became obvious that Archbishop Ferdinand was about to stir things up along this part of the Rhine, but Bavaria is in chaos and the Habsburgs are waiting for the old emperor to die, so no one was willing to interfere.”
“How about the emperor’s heir, Archduke Ferdinand? Couldn’t he do something?”
“Could, yes, but there’s a long way from Austria to Cologne, and at the moment Duke Maximilian of Bavaria is likely to believe that any military movement in this direction is an attack on him. He is already seeing an enemy conspiracy every time somebody sneezes.” Melchior smiled wryly. “At the moment I’m under oath to the old emperor as an imperial count, but only on retainer as a general, while some of my men are hired by me and other by the Holy Roman Empire. I tried to get permission to bring my personal regiments to the west, but in the end I had to accept waiting for the new emperor to take command. My plans must then depend on his plans. If Hesse is still around when the old emperor dies, Wolf, my second-in-command and cousin, should be able to bring my men here. They’ll probably have to move either through Bavaria or along its southern border. Once they get here, we can try to hold as much of this part of the Rhine as possible.” Melchior stopped and lifted his hat in greeting to a vaguely familiar old woman dropping into a curtsy as he passed.
“And if Hesse has conquered Cologne and Bonn? Could your men take them back?” Wickradt looked grim.
“Not on our own. At least not unless we can get the population to rise against Hesse.” Melchior answered. “On the other hand, if Hesse succeeds before Wolf can get here it would leave the Holy Roman Empire fenced in behind Bavaria and entirely dependent on Italy and France. So even if the new emperor would prefer to keep his troops in the East, he might still find it necessary to send them.”
“Even with Bavaria unstable?” Wickradt lifted an eyebrow.
“It would not be an easy choice.” Melchior frowned. “When I left Vienna I didn’t expect to do more here than placate whoever the archbishop had managed to upset, and keep things calm until reinforcements could arrive. Still, Archduke Ferdinand gave me quite a lot of power to counter whatever the archbishop was up to, including plenipotentiary powers to negotiate on the emperor’s behalf in matters concerning the interests of the HRE west of Bavaria. Hesse’s attack across the Rhine came as a complete surprise to me. It makes sense for him to expand his new province into Berg, but any attempt on Cologne I would have expected to come from the south, and Rheinland-Pfalz is simply too divided to do that right now.” Melchior smiled and bowed to another woman curtsying to him before continuing. “I suppose I could take the archbishop’s mercenary regiments and try to stop him by military means — certainly most of my colleagues would do so — but there isn’t much chance I’d be able to succeed. And from the emperor’s point of view a Cologne with a negotiated membership of the USE is very much preferable to a Cologne conquered by Hesse.”
“So you’ll try negotiations.” Wickradt nodded to himself. “Sensible thing to do. With Hesse or above his head?”
“Above, if I can manage it. Gustavus Adolphus must have permitted — or at least accepted — Hesse’s plans.” Melchior stopped and looked at Wickradt. “If you are right about the Jülich-Berg heir being here in Bonn that might enable me to stop Gustavus Adolphus from openly backing Hesse. The baby’s aunt is Gustavus Adolphus’s sister Katharina, and he is said to be most fond of her. And the second most powerful man in the USE is Mike Stearns, an American. My brother Heinrich has been dealing with the Americans in Mainz for the past two years, and my friend, Father Johannes, has lived among them for longer. They have told me that the Americans know the value of a willing ally — or at least semi-willing one — over a conquered area.”
Wickradt scowled. “So all we have to do is keep Hesse at bay, until we get the negotiations opened? Well, we’ll do our best. May I spread the news about you talking charge of the town? There have been a few reports of looters already, and I expect your name would squelch that again.”
“Sure, but do put up a gibbet and don’t expect me to walk on water too.” Melchior slapped his hat against his leather trousers and started composing letters while he walked.