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1636: The Ottoman Onslaught: Chapter Three
Last updated: Friday, August 19, 2016 13:32 EDT
Magdeburg, capital of the United States of Europe
The large room in Rebecca’s town house in Magdeburg — she much preferred that term to “mansion” — was fuller than she’d ever seen it, even at the height of the recent crisis that was often described as a semi-civil war. The room had been designed as a salon, but over the past six months it had wound up being pressed into service as the unofficial meeting place of the top leadership of the Fourth of July Party — the members of Ed Piazza’s “shadow cabinet” along with whatever FoJP provincial leaders happened to be in the capital. At least one or two prominent Committee of Correspondence figures usually attended also, including Gunther Achterhof, the central figure in Magdeburg’s CoC.
Every seat at the large conference table in the center was occupied except the one reserved for her at the south end. There were also people standing against all the walls except the eastern one, which had a row of windows. The windows didn’t provide much of a view, since the town house was located toward the northern end of the Aldstadt, away from the river. But Rebecca still enjoyed the daylight the windows provided.
The edifice hadn’t been chosen for the view, in any event. It had been chosen for much more cold-blooded reasons. The big building would be easy to defend against possible attack. Given the disastrous outcome of Oxenstierna’s attempted coup d’etat, such an assault in the middle of the capital was now extremely unlikely. But, happily, the sunlight flooding the room remained.
“I apologize for my tardiness,” she said, after entering the room and closing the door behind her.
“Pressing matters of state, no doubt!” said Constantin Ableidinger, grinning. As always, his voice bore a fair resemblance to a fog horn.
“Insofar as the term is defined by a three-and-a-half-year-old girl incensed by her brother’s encroachment on what she considers her rightful territory, yes.” Rebecca took her seat and folded her hands together on the table. “I am pleased to report that I was able to forestall the outbreak of actual hostilities.”
That was good for a laugh around the table, echoed by the standing-room-only participants.
“Why was this meeting called on such short notice?” asked one of the men standing against the wall facing Rebecca. That was Anselm Keller, an MP from the Province of the Main. His tone wasn’t hostile, just brusque, as was the nature of the man.
Ed Piazza, seated about midway down the table and facing the windows, provided the answer. “Wilhelm Wettin has just called for elections to be held toward the end of July. They will begin on Friday the 18th and conclude on Sunday the 27th. Ten days in all.”
“It should be two weeks,” complained another man standing against a wall. This was the wall to Rebecca’s left, right next to the door she’d come in. The speaker was Werner von Dalberg, the central leader of the Fourth of July Party in the Oberpfalz — or Upper Palatinate, as it was also called. He held no position in government but that was, hopefully, about to change. Von Dalberg would be the FoJ Party’s candidate for governor of the province.
Like the State of Thuringia-Franconia and Magdeburg Province, the Oberpfalz now had a republican structure. Those three were, so far, the only provinces of the United States of Europe of which that was true. All the other provinces had one or another type of hereditary executive or were still under direct imperial administration.
The Oberpfalz had also been under direct imperial administration until very recently. As part of the informal negotiations between Gustav II Adolf and Michael Stearns after the end of what was now being called either the Dresden Crisis or — by the Committees of Correspondence — the Oxenstierna Plot, the emperor had agreed to relinquish imperial administration of the Oberpfalz and accept a republican structure for the province.
Stearns had no formal standing in those negotiations. Technically speaking, he was just one of the divisional commanders in the USE army and subordinate to General Lennart Torstensson, not someone who had any business negotiating much of anything with the USE’s head of state.
But formalities were one thing, realities another. After the emperor’s months-long incapacitation and Stearns’ defeat of the Swedish general Báner at the Battle of Ostra, which had effectively ended the Dresden Crisis, there was no way Gustav Adolf could have re-established his authority without making a wide-ranging series of agreements with Stearns — and doing so quite openly and visibly. If the emperor didn’t cut a deal with Stearns he knew he’d eventually wind up having to negotiate with the Committees of Correspondence, which he’d much rather avoid altogether.
The emperor’s decision to give the Upper Palatinate a republican structure would probably cause trouble for him in the future with sections of the nobility, who were not pleased by the decision, to put it mildly. The “Upper” part of the Upper Palatinate referred to the fact that it had been traditionally part of the Palatinate, just separated geographically. The Palatinate as a whole had been ruled by Frederick V, the Elector Palatine — the very same man who accepted the Bohemian offer to make him their king and thereby triggered off the Thirty Years War.
Having been driven out of Bohemia by the Austrians after the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, Frederick — now often known as “the Winter King” — soon lost the Palatinate as well when it was conquered by Spanish forces under the command of Tilly. He spent the last ten years of his life in exile in the Netherlands, trying without success to get his lands restored.
In the universe the Americans came from, Frederick V would die of disease — something diagnosed as “a pestilential fever” — on November 29, 1632. In one of the many ironies produced by the Ring of Fire, he would die in his new universe at almost exactly the same time, on December 5, 1632. Again, the cause was disease, but the diagnosis was less imprecise. He slipped on the ice one morning and broke his collarbone. In and of itself the injury was not at all life-threatening, but he made the mistake of taking the medical advice of his doctor. This Dutch worthy was aware of the new medical theories coming out of Grantville but was a stout fellow who’d have no truck with such nonsense. So he prescribed bed rest — nonstop, and weeks of it. Soon enough, the Winter King contracted pneumonia and died.
His passing left the inheritance of his lands something of a mess. His widow, Elizabeth Stuart, was the sister of King Charles of England. She could not rule in her own right but only as regent for their children. The oldest son, Frederick Henry, had died in a boating accident in 1629. In the Americans’ universe the second son, Karl Ludwig, would eventually be restored as the Elector Palatine by the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 that finally ended the Thirty Years War — but only the Lower Palatinate. The Oberpfalz, the Upper Palatinate, would remain in the hands of the Bavarians.
In the new universe, however, even that partial restoration seemed unlikely because Karl Ludwig had converted to Catholicism in the course of his exile at the court of King Fernando of the reunited Netherlands. The Palatinate was now a Calvinist region and that seemed to preclude any possibility that Karl Ludwig could ever regain the territory — barring, at least, some now-highly-unlikely conquest of the area by a Catholic power.
The next two oldest sons, Rupert and Moritz, were both teenagers and seemed more interested in the affairs of their mother’s homeland than those of the Palatinate. In the universe the Americans came from, the older of the two would gain much fame as “Prince Rupert of the Rhine,” the royalist partisan who figured so prominently in the English Civil War. In this universe the young man had come under the influence of the exiled Thomas Wentworth and was more inclined toward the parliamentary side in the coming conflict. In any event, he seemed to have no interest at all in regaining his ancestral lands in the Germanies.
The other teenager was a girl and therefore wasn’t in line of succession. The Palatinate wasn’t governed by the Salic law of France and some other principalities. There were any number of female rulers in the Germanies. The neighboring realm of Hesse-Kassel, for instance, was currently ruled by Amelie Elisabeth, the widow of Landgravine Wilhelm V, serving as regent for her oldest son. Each dynasty had its own rules when it came to the line of succession — what were called “house laws” — and those of the Palatinate excluded females.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Even if she had been eligible to rule, Elisabeth wouldn’t be interested. Her life had also been changed by the Ring of Fire — in her case, by the influence of the American nurse in Amsterdam, Anne Jefferson. Elisabeth had developed a passionate interest in medicine. Her ambition was to become a doctor following up-time principles, not to get involved in the wrangles of royalty and aristocracy, which she now viewed as hopelessly medieval.
That left the youngest sons who’d survived infancy: Edward, Philip Frederick, and Gustav. But the oldest of them, Edward, was only ten. It would be some years before he was in any position to advance his claim to the Palatinate, assuming he chose to do so at all.
And in the meantime, Emperor Gustav II Adolf had Committees of Correspondence aroused by his former chancellor Axel Oxenstierna’s attempted counter-revolution to deal with — not to mention the so-called “Prince of Germany,” Mike Stearns, who’d just won a decisive victory over a Swedish army outside of Dresden. The emperor had come to the conclusion that a peace settlement in the hand was worth two future crises in a bush, and granted the now-very-popular demand of the Upper Palatinate’s population to get rid of the be-damned electors altogether and replace them with a republic.
“Two weeks,” von Dalberg repeated. “The elections should be held over two weeks, not ten days. They should run till the end of the month.”
Piazza shrugged. “I don’t disagree, Werner. But is it really something worth fighting with Wettin over?”
“Not in the least,” chimed in Ableidinger, “I think a shorter election period actually works to our advantage. We’re a lot better organized than our opponents.”
A woman seated next to Piazza spoke up. “Speaking of which, does anyone know yet what our opposition is going to consist of? Are the Crown Loyalists still a single party or are they going to splinter?”
The questions came from Helene Gundelfinger. Officially, she was the vice-president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia, the most populous province in the USE. In practice, she’d been functioning for months as the actual president since Ed Piazza had moved to Magdeburg — although again, not officially. He still maintained his legal residence in Bamberg, the capital of the SoTF.
Piazza and Rebecca exchanged glances. Depending on the issue involved, one or the other of them usually had better intelligence on issues of this nature than any of the other leaders of the party.
“Judging from my recent correspondence with Amelie Elisabeth,” said Rebecca, “I think what she is aiming for is to break away — or force the reactionaries to break away, so she can keep the name ‘Crown Loyalist’ — and form a new party. In all likelihood, if she succeeds in this effort Wettin will join with her. So would Duke George of Brunswick Province.”
By the time she finished, Gunther Achterhof had a frown on his face. She had no trouble seeing the expression because he was seated directly across from her at the other end of the long conference table — which was actually six tables pushed together to form one very big one. And she had no trouble interpreting the expression because she knew from long experience that Achterhof was never happy to be reminded that political affairs sometimes required regular communication with — one of his favored phrases — “the exploiters and oppressors of the common classes.”
On this occasion, though, he didn’t make any open criticism. Gunther could be extraordinarily stubborn but he was not stupid. If nothing else, he’d lost enough quarrels with Rebecca over this issue to know that his was a hopeless cause. All the more hopeless now that Gretchen Richter had made it clear in her own correspondence to the CoC activists in Magdeburg that she herself engaged in regular discussions and negotiations with Ernst Wettin, who was simultaneously the imperial administrator of Saxony and a younger brother of the current prime minister.
“What should be our attitude on the subject?” asked another participant in the meeting, seated elsewhere at the table. That was Charlotte Kienitz, the FoJP’s central leader in the province of Mecklenburg. “Or should we have one at all?”
A naïve and unsuspecting person — almost anyone, actually — would be quite taken in by Kienitz’s innocent tone. The questions she asked seemed to derive from nothing more than simple curiosity.
In reality, the questions had been pre-arranged by Rebecca and Ed Piazza. Over time, Charlotte had become one of their closest confidants and political allies in the never-ending political disputes in the party. Compared to the Crown Loyalists, with their fierce — at times, violent — factional conflicts, the Fourth of July Party was a veritable model of unity. Still, albeit not to the extent of the Crown Loyalists, it was a coalition of differing and sometimes competing interests. The leadership provided by Rebecca Abrabanel and Ed Piazza was generally accepted by most activists in the party — sometimes grudgingly — but that was at least in part due to their light-handed way of running things. They both preferred persuasion to strong-arm tactics. And if Rebecca had the ultimate strong arm available to her if she really needed it — that would be her husband Mike Stearns, the man who more than any other had created the United States of Europe in the first place, had served as its first prime minister, was now one of its most celebrated military figures and carried the unofficial title of the Prince of Germany — she preferred not to use it at all.
Which was just fine with Stearns himself. He had more than enough to deal with as a general in time of war, and he had complete confidence in his wife’s political abilities and acumen.
Rebecca had asked Charlotte to pose those questions if the opportunity arose, because she’d just spent the past few weeks writing the chapters in her book on political affairs that addressed the issue. So, she responded immediately and easily.
“I think we should view ourselves as tacitly — not openly, since that would do more harm than good — allied with Amelie Elisabeth, when it comes to this question.”
She forestalled the gathering protest she could see on several faces — Gunther’s being one of them, but by no means the only one — by pressing on.
“Be realistic, everyone!” She said that in a sharper tone than she normally used. “If there is one absolute iron law in politics, which has applied, does apply, and will apply in any political system created by the human race, it is this.”
She paused, briefly, for effect. “There will always be a conservative faction — and it will always be powerful. In fact, except in times of revolution and great upheaval, it will usually tend to be dominant.”
The protests that followed were fierce but not particularly coherent, which was what Rebecca had expected. She was making a pronouncement that was bound to irritate revolutionaries — “rub them the wrong way,” in the up-time idiom — who hadn’t thought these matters through. She waited patiently until the voices of opposition died down a bit before speaking again.
And, again, used a harsher tone than she normally did — much harsher, in fact. “Grow up, as my sometimes-blunt husband would say.”
That reminder of her closest associate brought quiet to the room. “When I say ‘conservative,’ I am not referring to any particular political philosophy. I am using the term in lower case, so to speak. I am referring to the basic attitude of most people that unless conditions are intolerable it is usually better to err on the side of caution.”
She nodded toward Piazza. “The most conservative American in our world — someone like Tino Nobili, for instance –”
That brought a sarcastic bark from Ed and a little titter of laughter from a number of other people. Even among down-timers in Magdeburg, the cranky up-time pharmacist in Grantville was notorious. He’s to the right of Attila the Hun was a common up-time depiction of the man.
“Even someone like Nobili,” Rebecca continued, “is more progressive than most people — yes, even most commoners — in the Europe of our time. He does not, for instance, object to women being able to vote or hold office, whether electoral or hereditary. Nor — unlike almost all apothecary guilds in the here and now — does he have a problem with the idea of a woman someday running his own pharmacy.”
She let that sink in, for a moment. “In politics, things are always relative. I can remember a time — so can many of you in this room — when John Chandler Simpson seemed to be a bastion of reaction. Today not so much, does he? At least, I’ve never heard anyone in this room suggest that he should be removed from his position as the leading admiral of our navy. And my husband Michael thinks quite highly of the man. Now. Not a few years ago, however.”
She shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “The essence of conservatism is not a political philosophy of any kind. It is a general attitude.” Again, she nodded toward Ed Piazza. “His folk have a plethora of saws expressing that attitude. So does every folk. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s my personal favorite — and, by the way, a piece of wisdom I subscribe to myself. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. That’s another. A third — I’m quite fond of this one also — is be careful what you wish for because you might get it. And finally, of course, there is the famous Murphy’s Law, which perhaps encapsulates the heart of conservatism: if something can go wrong, it will.”
Piazza now chimed in. “I agree with Rebecca. The point she’s making is that we will always have a strong conservative faction to deal with. Folks, I can even remember myself voting Republican up-time once in a while.” Seeing the lack of comprehension on some faces, he waved his hand. “Republicans were our variety of Crown Loyalists — well, sort of — back in up-time America. The point is –”
He leaned forward to give emphasis to his next words. “Since we’re going to have a conservative political party to deal with here in the USE, it’s entirely in our interest to have it be one that’s reasonable and responsible — and, yes, Gunther, that’s quite possible. We had plenty of conservative politicians like that where I came from.”
Rebecca picked up the thread. “We can deal with Amelie Elisabeth, without any threat or risk of violence. The same is true with Wettin himself, now that he’s broken from the outright reactionaries. No, that’s not really putting it the right way, is it? He didn’t ‘break’ from them — they ousted him from office and placed him in prison because he objected to their treasonous behavior. And we all know from Gretchen’s letters that Ernst Wettin conducted himself most honorably during Báner’s siege of Dresden.”
Smooth as silk, Charlotte Kienitz inserted herself back into the discussion. “So what you’re saying is that we should do whatever we can to encourage a rupture between outright reactionaries and those conservatives who are following the principles which Alessandro Scaglia lays out in his recent book Political Methods and the Laws of Nations.”
Scaglia was a former Savoyard diplomat who’d become one of the chief advisers to King Fernando and his very shrewd wife Maria Anna, a former archduchess of Austria. In fact, the newly reunited Netherlands could be called the best current state practitioner of those principles. Rebecca had devoted two full chapters of her book to an analysis of Scaglia’s theses — an analysis which was sometimes in agreement and never harshly critical.
“Yes, exactly,” Rebecca said. She then bestowed a benign gaze upon the glowering face of Gunther Achterhof. “I realize that this course of action will not always be met with favor by the conservatives in our own movement. I speak of those folk who are generally set in their ways and dislike flexibility as a matter of course.”
A big round of laughter erupted in the room. After a moment, Gunther allowed a crooked smile to come to his face. The man had virtues as well as faults, one of them being a good if usually acerbic sense of humor.
After the meeting ended and the gathering dissolved into pleasant conversation and chitchat, Charlotte sidled up to Rebecca.
“I notice you didn’t bring up the issue of your retirement in Ed’s favor,” she said.
“No, Ed and I decided that we’d do better to keep it to one controversy at a time. We’ll be holding another full meeting in a few days. I’ll bring it up then.”
They’d already agreed that Rebecca would resign from her seat in the House of Commons, thereby creating a slot for Piazza so he could run in the special by-election that would be called to choose her successor. She represented a district of the city of Magdeburg that was so overwhelmingly pro-Fourth of July Party that the Crown Loyalists hadn’t even bothered to run a candidate. It was perhaps the safest seat in the entire parliament and there was no doubt that Piazza would win the election.
Ed needed to be a member of Parliament if he were to serve as the USE’s next prime minister. He could not do so as the president of the State of Thuringia-Franconia. That position placed him in the House of Lords and disqualified him from the nation’s top executive position.
As for Rebecca, she would concentrate on the election campaign itself. Although the term wasn’t being used, she would be what up-time Americans would have called Piazza’s campaign manager.
And after the election, assuming Piazza won — which most people thought he would — there were at least two possibilities. Rebecca was by nature inclined toward working in the background. She was an organizer by temperament and had a positive dread of public speaking. So her own preference would be to serve Piazza as his chief of staff. That was a position that had not existed in her husband’s administration, because Michael Stearns had a very hands-on approach to governing. But Piazza was a more traditional sort of executive, and he definitely preferred to work through a staff.
But there was another possibility, which she knew Piazza himself preferred. That was to appoint Rebecca as his secretary of state. She was quite adept at diplomacy — extraordinarily adept, in fact — as she’d proved in her past dealings with Cardinal Richelieu, Don Fernando both before and after he became the King in the Netherlands, and the Prince of Orange, Fredrik Hendrik.
Such a position would give her more public exposure than she really cared for, but at least she wouldn’t have to be giving a lot of public speeches. She could hope, anyway.
And there was this, too, which she had to admit. Among the many things she had learned from Michael Stearns was that the best way to negotiate was to make sure that the person you were dickering with saw a clear alternative to you — which was a lot worse than you were. Michael had been particularly adept at using Gretchen Richter and the Committees of Correspondence for that purpose.
As the USE’s secretary of state, Rebecca could go him one better. Would you rather negotiate with me or with my husband? That would be the one they call the Prince of Germany, who crushed the reactionaries in Saxony and —
Hopefully, hopefully. Michael would sometimes lead from the front and he might get killed in the doing, which would crush her heart.
Still, soon enough, she thought she’d be able to add: — and crushed the duke of Bavaria as well.
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