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1634: The Wars for the Rhine: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Monday, November 21, 2016 21:47 EST



Magdeburg, House of Hessen
September 30, 1634

    Magdeburg News, 30 September 1634

    Newly Arrived in Our City is a Delegation from the Free City of Cologne. As the Honored Reader Might Know, Rumors of Military Movements and Civil Unrest along the Middle Rhine have Reached Us following the Death of Duke Wolfgang von Neuburg to Jülich-Berg and His Heir. The Leader of the Cologne Delegation is the Late Duke Wolfgang’s Cousin and Brother-in-Law, Count Palatine Friedrich von Zweibrücken, who has newly succeeded His Late Father Johann II, as Head of the Neuburg Family. Also in the Delegation is found Princess Maria Maximiliane of Bavaria, Councilor….

    Elisabeth von Schwarzenfels frowned at the newspaper she was reading, and put it aside. There was something important about this, and she wanted to discuss it with Abbess Dorothea of Quedlinburg, when she arrived. Elisabeth looked around the so-called little drawing room and smiled a little. Cousin Amalie — in no way slowed down by her tenth pregnancy — had barely moved into her brand new house, when Elisabeth and Maria arrived, but of course the rooms needed for entertainment and political gatherings had been finished even before the final flooring had been put down in the servant’s quarters. The house was situated between the Governmental Palace and the new House of Wettin build by her equally pregnant friend, Eleonore. Eleonore had moved to Magdeburg with her two youngest sisters, Johanna and Eva, when her husband, Wilhelm Wettin, had decided to abdicate as Duke of Saxe-Weimar and run for prime-minister in the first general democratic election in the USE. Wettin spent most of his time at the palace, but Eleonore enjoyed entertaining in her own house, and when Elisabeth and Maria arrived, the four young girls had quickly formed the core of the abbess’ political school and took turns hosting the afternoon gatherings in either of the two houses.

    Today the gathering was to be in the House of Hessen, and Maria had already moved to stand under the chandelier in the middle of the room, so she could greet the visitors with as much light shining on her blond hair as possible. Elisabeth smiled wryly at her sister; Maria was the youngest and prettiest of the five Schwarzenfels daughters, and no one — least of all her one year older sister — believed she had come to Magdeburg to learn about politics. Not that Maria was stupid; she was just spoiled rotten and not really interested in anything except her own desires. If there was something Maria wanted, she could in fact be extremely clever about getting it. And at seventeen what she wanted was a richer and more powerful husband than their oldest sister’s.

    At the sound of voices from the entrance hall Elisabeth rose from her seat by the window, and went to stand beside her sister.

    “For Heaven’s sake, Litsa, go wash your hands,” Maria hissed as they went forward to greet the abbess.

    Elisabeth looked at her dirty fingers, and smiled as the abbess. “If ink from books doesn’t smudge the reader, why does a newspaper?”

    “I truly don’t know my dear, but give me a kiss instead.” The abbess offered her cheek to Elisabeth, who kissed the soft skin and enjoyed the familiar fragrance of oranges and spices that always seemed to surround the abbess.

    “You always get dirty, Litsa, but at least that dull dress of yours doesn’t show the stains.” Maria cast a superior look at her sister and smoothed the sleeves of her own new pale blue velvet gown.

    “Nonsense, Maria, Litsa’s gown is according to the latest fashion in the Simplicissimus Magazine, while all that lace you are wearing makes you look rather old hat.” Johanna, who had entered the room at the abbess’ heels, came quickly to the defence of her friend, while Elisabeth just shrugged. She knew how easily she could get dirty or torn, even while sitting quietly on a chair, and had chosen the plain brown wool just so the wear and tear wouldn’t show easily.

    Johanna had been Elisabeth’s best friend, while they were both staying at the abbess’ school in Quedlinburg, and now that they were living next-door to each other, they had soon falling into their old habit of doing everything together. Not that they were all that much alike, Elisabeth thought as she went to get a damp towel from the tea-table. Sure, their circumstances were very much alike; same past as second youngest daughters of families of almost the same class, same present as a younger relative of one of Magdeburg’s most important political hostesses, and same rather limited future of either marriage or the church. But where Elisabeth liked to just sit quietly and think things over, the lively Johanna enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the Magdeburg social-political life to the fullest.

    Another difference was that where Elisabeth’s cousin Amalie had played an active role in furthering Hesse’s political goals from the day of their marriage, Johanna’s sister, Eleonore, preferred to support her husband only as a hostess, and by cultivating her very large number of friends and social connections. The two houses of Wettin and Hessen formed the hub around which the social-political life in Magdeburg turned, but where Amalie’s gatherings and conversations were first, last and always centered on politics, Eleonore liked to fill her house with guests likely to be amusing, original and knowledgeable about art and culture. This meant that Johanna met by far the most entertaining people, but Elisabeth had by far the best idea about what was actually going on behind the official political scene. And that was what made her worry about that newspaper!

    “Mother Dorothea, do you know who is actually writing the newspapers?” Elisabeth asked while passing the cups of Chinese tea around to the seated ladies.

    “Really, Litsa, sometimes you sound as if you have spent your entire life in rural seclusion in Schwarzenfels.” Johanna frowned at her friend sitting in the light from the beveled window. “You must have noticed those men with pens and papers in their hands, hanging around Hans Richter Square, asking questions of the people leaving the palace. They are writing down the news.”

    Elisabeth shook her head and smiled at her old friend. Johanna’s quickness rarely gave her the time to look for any deeper meaning, until somebody — usually Elisabeth — made her realise she was missing something. Also, Johanna’s habit of answering questions not directed to her had always irritated the abbess, who now gave a firm rebuke while setting down her cup. “Mind your manners, my dear Anchen. You are correct, but as always a little too hasty. Litsa asked the question to me, and presumably for a reason. Please, elaborate your question, dear Litsa.”

    “In Quedlinburg,” Elisabeth spoke carefully, wanting to put her thoughts very precisely into words, “you very strongly emphasized the importance of understanding politics. And aside from shoving family unity behind the new province of Hesse-Kassel, the reason our parents agreed to let Maria and me come here to stay with cousin Amalie this winter, was your argument: that the coming of the Americans had changed politics so much that we needed new lessons to understand what was now going on. But last night tante Anna Marie talked with cousin Amalie about how the Committee of Correspondence was using newspapers to spread propaganda pretending to be factual news. And this paper, I read just before you arrived, called Friedrich von Zweibrücken for ‘the head of the Neuburg family’ and Sister Maximiliane of the Wartenbergs ‘a Bavarian Princess’.”

    At her words various giggles and laughter erupted at the table, and even the abbess had to smile; the tante was the abbess’ harridan of a stepmother, Anna Marie von Neuburg. And since the Neuburg family had originally split off from the Zweibrückens, that statement was tantamount to calling the Neuburg family extinct. To make matters worse the death of Anna Marie’s brother, the late and otherwise unlamented Duke Wolfgang of Jülich-Berg, actually had brought their family to the brink of extinction, and the old lady was well known to be like a bear with a sore tooth on the subject. The abbess took a moment to gain control of her visible amusement before answering. “Well, everybody knows that dear Maxie does not hold her Bavarian ducal relatives in the highest of esteem at the moment, but young Zweibrücken might in fact end up with considerably more influence than he has at the moment. Though not — I expect — within the Neuburg family. But you were saying, Litsa?”

    “That that’s the point.” Elisabeth became eager. “Everybody does not know. If those men on the Square are the ones writing the news, and they do not know who people are, then the news will end up false even if they want to write them true. And people read the news. Not just those people who do know what is going on, but all people. Does that not mean that newspapers are now a part of politics?”

    “Litsa, who cares?” Maria looked up from buffing her nails on her gown and shrugged. “Those who need to know will know. I’m much more interested in this Friedrich von Zweibrücken. Is he in line for Berg? It would be so nice to marry somebody with land near our dear sister Katharina in Birstein.”



    “No, Ria, Litsa is right.” Johanna scowled at the younger girl. “The very point of this election is that everybody is voting, so correct information is important. And you need extra lessons in geography: Berg is not near Birstein.”

    “Well, it’s west from home!”

    “So are the Americas!”

    “Children!” At the word from the abbess the two girls subsided and sat down again. “Elisabeth and Johanna are right about the importance of correct public information. It used to be a minor matter, but with more and more power moving from the old families to the common people it is a problem — and becoming more so. Litsa, do come with me when I go visit Maxie tomorrow. She did arrive with young Zweibrücken yesterday, and she is staying with one of her cousins. I had a long letter from her less than a month ago and she mentioned that a friend of her was connected to the Simplicissimus Magazine; she can help you find more information about the Origin of News.”

    “Anchen, you too should meet Maxie. Maria…” The abbess stopped, sighed and continued in a very patient voice, “the last duke of Jülich-Berg-Kleve died insane and childless, and his lands were divided between his four sisters with the major portions going to the two oldest. The heir to the eldest sister — and thus the lands of Jülich and Berg — is the rumored new-born baby of the late Duke Wolfgang of Neuburg and his second wife, young Zweibrücken’s sister Katharine Charlotte. Charlotte and her baby are presently guests — or prisoners — of Maxie’s uncle, Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne. The Republic of Essen is laying claim on part of Berg by right of conquest after Duke Wolfgang’s attack on them in June, but Jülich and the rest of Berg legally belong to the baby. If the baby dies, the usual heirs would have been Wolfgang’s two brothers, but Johann von Hilpoltstein’s children keep dying within a year, and August von Sulzback’s widow, Countess Hedwig of Holstein-Gottorp, has made it quite clear that she wants nothing to do with this inheritance mess. Hedwig is a very sensible woman, and claiming those torn and disputed lands on behalf of a twelve-year-old sickly boy, would only lead to trouble.”

    Maria’s dimpled cheeks had gone very red during the abbess’ careful explanation; as well they should, in Elisabeth’s opinion. That entire problematic heritage had been the centre of any number of conflicts and intrigues for all their lives, and while not everyone needed the political acumen of the abbess — or cousin Amalie — neither could Ria afford to be that ignorant. Still, she was very young for her age, and — to draw the abbess’ attention from her sister — Elisabeth asked: “But how about tante Anna Marie? Could she not make a claim?”

    The abbess frowned at the thought of her stepmother, and answered in a softer voice. “Tante Anna Marie, could indeed make a claim on behalf of my half-brother, Johann Philipp von Saxe-Altenburg. But little Elisabeth Sophia is his only child — in fact after the Muensterberg-Oels family was recently killed in Bohemia she is Anna Marie’s only grandchild — so they might choose to stay out of it too.”

    “But not wanting land?” Johanna interrupted now frowning and obviously getting interested in the problem. “Countess Hedwig has been to talk with Eleonore and Wettin about this, and since her son is so young and still weak after the pox that killed his father and siblings, I can see the point in preferring to gain the emperor’s favor by leaving the matter in his hands. But Hilpoltstein might still get a living heir, and surely tante Anna Marie would want those lands even if she was the last Neuburg alive — and on her death-bed as well. The inheritance cannot be totally worthless.”

    “Yes, Anchen,” said the abbess seriously, “it’s not worthless. Northern Jülich is a fertile area, and Berg’s location by the Rhine makes it important, but both areas are largely Catholic, they are on far from secure USE borders, and they are so drained of everything by Wolfgang’s mismanagement these last few years that you would need to spend a fortune securing and holding them. Also, the changing political structure — with the constitution replacing so many of the old ways — makes the title to more land of much less importance than making what you already have productive and well administrated.” The abbess hesitated a moment. “This subject is extremely sensitive right now. While the emperor was just the king of Sweden, he needed not concern himself overly much about how his allies managed their land. But now those areas have become his direct power-base, and lands in the hands of supporters who cannot manage what they have, are going to be almost as dangerous as lands in the hands of opponents. And so — as Hedwig has already realised — admitting your limits, and leaving the fate of an area in the hands of the emperor is a very sure way to gain you favor with him.” The abbess smiled at Johanna and Eva. “Your brother-in-law, Wettin, is a prime example of the value of political favor over title to land. And while my step-mother might not have realized this, I’m quite certain my half-brother has.”

    “Do you think Zweibrücken is here on behalf of his sister and nephew, Mother Dorothea?” asked Elisabeth. “Or on his own behalf? I think I remember that he too is heir to Johann the Insane.”

    “He is, dear Litsa.” The abbess nodded approving at Elisabeth. “Young Zweibrücken is heir to the third sister, and the heirs to the second sister are the Brandenburg family.” The abbess turned grim. “And after the recent unpleasantness — I trust you have all heard of that — they are not in a position to lay claim on Berg or anything else.”

    “I do not know young Zweibrücken’s plans,” the abbess continued, “and there is said to be a rather odd recent codicil to Charlotte’s marriage contract, but if Charlotte’s baby dies, her brother could put forth a claim on behalf of the Zweibrücken family, not only to Neuburg’s areas of Jülich and Berg, but also to Brandenburg’s areas from the second sister. Hilpoltstein, Hedwig, tante Anna Marie, and my half-brother, could all challenge that claim, but with no young, strong male to build up the land and secure the border, their claims might annoy the emperor. Also, young Zweibrücken’s uncle is married to the emperor’s oldest sister Princess Katharina of Sweden and their son is second in line for the Imperial throne after Princess Kristina. In the American world he became the king of Sweden after she abdicated.”

    The abbess frowned and shook her head. “Never mind that. Young Zweibrücken is far from a nobody, but whether or not he can gain the emperor’s support for whatever he wants, will depend entirely upon what kind of man he proves himself to be. He is only eighteen, a year older than you, Maria, but a message last week from the Americans in Mainz, told us that he comes as head of a delegation from Cologne. That town has now broken completely with Archbishop Ferdinand and is seeking membership of the USE. They are probably only applying to stop Hesse from besieging the town, but still: if Zweibrücken brings Cologne into the USE,” the abbess spread her hands and smiled, “with his combination of legal claims, royal connection and political benefits, he could end up with Berg and perhaps other parts of those disputed areas.”

    “Especially since his own lands are on the French border.” Eva sat with her back to the window. Like Maria she was the youngest of her family, but rather than being vain and slightly spoiled, Eva was quiet and bookish, and never said very much. When asked, she joked that she never had the chance to speak because Johanna always said it first, but in Elisabeth’s opinion the main reason was that an attack of pox had left Eva’s face badly scarred. As a result, she was usually reticent, at least in public.

    “Ah, I did wonder if any of you would think that far ahead,” the abbess’ eyes twinkled with approval. Elisabeth knew that the abbess considered Eva one of her most intelligent students, and had tried to talk the brainy young hermit into a life as a nun. Eva, however, would not even consider it, claiming that she had no vocation. Still, what other possibilities were there for an intelligent noble woman with no marriage prospects? Elisabeth didn’t have a vocation either, but surely a life like the abbess’ would be better than that mess of a life their sister Katharina was living in Birstein. “Yes, France is a problem that must be watched most carefully,” the abbess continued, “and Zweibrücken as an ally — or even a part of USE — would be a major benefit. Just permission for a garrison to keep an eye on Trier would probably be worth making young Zweibrücken his nephew’s guardian. But enough about politics for now; would anybody care for a game of cards?”

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