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1634: The Bavarian Crisis: Chapter Twenty Eight

       Last updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2005 09:45 EDT



Schola Cordis
Munich, Bavaria

    “If I do not make friends with Duchess Mechthilde, my position in the Bavarian court will be impossible.” Maria Anna looked at the Countess Polyxena, barely smothering her annoyance. “Trust me, this is true. I am not sufficiently foolish as to deliberately make an enemy of my sister-in-law.”

    “But,” Polyxena protested, “she is only a landgravine.” Polyxena was not the most brilliant of the ladies-in-waiting; she owed her position to her father’s influential position and her husband’s astonishing wealth rather than her own scintillating qualities. She was extraordinarily status-conscious.

    “I,” Maria Anna pointed out, “am only an archduchess of Austria. Which did not prevent my sister-in-law Mariana, who is an infanta of Spain itself, from taking the trouble to become my friend. So I shall model my conduct on Mariana’s and do my very best to live in harmony with her.” Maria Anna’s eyes twinkled. “Even though it may be more difficult.”

    Everyone knew what she meant. Mariana had come to Austria as the bride of the heir; Maria Anna had been brought to Bavaria to bear a child who would displace the current heir. Who was Mechthilde’s husband. And to displace her sons in the succession. It would be harder.

    Maria Anna looked at Polyxena, a little sadly. “The difficulty does not mean that I will not try. Don’t be a fool. She is older than I; she has had years of experience in this court.”



    “Naturally,” the Freiherrin Lukretia wrote to her husband, “the attitude of the archduchess is greatly to be commended for its charity and generosity of spirit. I consider it to be, however, somewhat impractical. There is no reason for her to anticipate anything but continued enmity from Duchess Mechthilde. Nor do I myself see any reason why Duchess Mechthilde should feel any other sentiment towards her.”



    Impractical it might be. Nonetheless, Maria Anna continued to grant Duchess Mechthilde the precedence due to Bavaria’s first lady-which she was, of course, and would be until Maria Anna’s wedding had been blessed and successfully consummated. Maria Anna sent her an invitation to come to her apartments in the Residenz for a private viewing of the Golden Rose.

    Mechthilde accepted. As she said frankly to Duke Albrecht, “I can’t very well not. Not without appearing hopelessly ungracious and boorish. Which, given the tense conditions at court right now, we cannot afford.”



    To her own surprise, Mechthilde found that while she could not bring herself to speak with the archduchess on any basis but that of strict courtesy as demanded by the protocol of the court, she did enjoy the acquaintance of Dona Mencia de Mendoza. They had several very pleasant conversations following that first visit.

    It was the third conversation before Dona Mencia subtly sounded Mechthilde out about her motives for bringing the witchcraft charges against Frau Simpson and Frau Dreeson. From Duchess Mechthilde’s response, which was oblique and unspecific, Dona Mencia picked up an underlying sense that she was primarily concerned about the position of her sons-that the charges were a ploy on her part to try to get rid of what she perceived as a threat to her, and through her to them-a threat that the bargemen had created by tying the abduction of the two women to Leuchtenberg. Mechthilde reiterated to Dona Mencia that she was convinced that her brother had nothing to do with the kidnapping, was pretty sure that neither of his sons did, and was damned well sure that she didn’t.

    Dona Mencia also picked up hints that the Duchess Mechthilde would not be at all sorry to see the two women mysteriously disappear from Bavaria, which would make an end to the immediate problem. These hints led naturally to Mechthilde’s mention that she had been, temporarily, serving as patroness of the English Ladies, where Mary and Veronica were staying, since Duchess Elisabeth Renata’s death. She asked whether is would be the archduchess’ pleasure that she continue to do this, or whether, since it was generally known that the empress took an interest in the Ladies’ schools for girls, Maria Anna would prefer to assume this role when she became duchess.

    Dona Mencia and Duchess Mechthilde conducted an extensive and mutually beneficial exchange of opinions, as diplomats tended to put it.

    Potentially, a mutually profitable one. Immediately, however, they concluded that it would be appropriate for Maria Anna to call upon the English Ladies and officially assure them that as duchess she would continue to extend the court’s protection to them, just as the late Duchess Elisabeth Renata had done.

    Incidentally, of course, while she was there, she would be able to converse with Frau Simpson and Frau Dreeson, who were, after all, still members of her household.



    Maria Anna had not planned on doing it. Spontaneously, during her formal visit to the house on Paradise Street, she invited Mary Ward and the English Ladies to come to the Residenz for a private viewing of the Golden Rose.

    Their charges, naturally enough, were not free to come. Dona Mencia volunteered to remain with Mary and Veronica during the visit.

    Duke Maximilian, upon hearing of this occurrence after the fact, requested the Hofmeister to inform Archduchess Maria Anna of his strong preference that the family apartments not be opened to outside visitors. The members of this order, while they came from Catholic families of good social standing in England, were not of a rank that justified their admission to the future duchess’ parlor, much less her bedchamber and oratory.



    Maria Anna was far from being in the confidence of Uncle Max. She had not had a private conversation with him since arriving in Bavaria. She had not really had a public dialogue with him since the hearing. Still, other people told her things. One of those things was the increasing influence of Dr. Richel in the privy council. Supposedly, which was probably the reason that someone brought the rumors to her attention, he had made statements in regard to Frau Simpson and Frau Dreeson who, although now residing with the English Ladies, were still formally under her protection. Richel continued to urge upon Duke Maximilian the principle that there was no obligation of conscience to keep the faith with heretics.

    Father Vervaux had again reminded him that Frau Dreeson was a Catholic. Richel retorted first that she was married to a Calvinist whose country was allied with the Lutheran Swede. Second, he added, since the conversion of the Upper Palatinate in the 1620s had been more or less compulsory, it was entirely possible that she was only a Catholic of convenience and not a Catholic at heart. This would be a situation no different, in essence, from that of the secret Jews and Muslims of Spain, with whom the Most Catholic Monarchs had kept no faith at all. There was, therefore, he concluded with some satisfaction, a precedent.

    In less than a week, she would be married to Uncle Max. In the hierarchy of being, he would as her husband be unto her as Christ was to the church; he would be her lord. She would be obliged to bow to his opinions in all things, including the handling of the two women.

    She arranged to meet Father Vervaux through Duchess Mechthilde. She told Mechthilde how unhappy she was at not having confessed since leaving Austria; Mechthilde had mentioned that her sons’ tutor had performed this office for the late Duchess Elisabeth Renata.

    Surely, Maria Anna thought, Uncle Max could not, then, take offense if she requested that Father Vervaux confess her. He was, clearly, qualified to perform this office for a duchess of Bavaria. There could be no anonymity in such a relationship, of course; all her life, she had known who her confessor was, and he had known her. This was standard, in all courts.

    It was after confession that she had asked him about the rumor. Uncle Max, she heard, in opening the daily session of his privy council, was omitting the rosary of thanks for the pope’s safe deliverance from the assassination attempt. She said that she thought that this report could not be correct. Father Vervaux confirmed that it was.

    He also told her that Father Contzen had come down with a serious gallstone attack, sufficiently debilitating that he was not, for the time being, able to participate in the privy council discussions or perform his duties as confessor for the duke, who had sent for a temporary replacement.

    “Is this confidential,” Maria Anna asked, “or will it be generally known who the replacement is?”

    “It is no secret,” Vervaux answered. It is Father Forer.”

    Maria Anna almost gasped, but checked herself. Father Lorenz Forer, S.J. He was a famous controversialist, a protege of Heinrich von Knoeringen, the Bishop of Augsburg, a bitter, unremitting, and unrelenting opponent of the Lutherans and all other heretics. This choice was not a good omen for peace. The faculty at the University of Dillingen, the institution of higher education in the Diocese of Augsburg, were generally well known for advocacy of refusal to compromise with the heretics and insistence that in no way should toleration for the Calvinists be included in any treaty provisions aimed at ending the war.

    After her second confession, Maria Anna asked Vervaux the same question that she had asked Father Lamormaini, about the temporal possessions of the church vs. losing one’s soul. Vervaux temporized. Obviously, rulers had a moral obligation to re-Catholicize a region when possible. He talked briefly about his experiences in the Duchy of Saarwerden in 1631. On the other hand, in instances where this was not possible.... Vervaux’s voice trailed off.

    Maria Anna waited.

    “Your Grace, you must realize that what I am going to say next is my opinion. There are many, even within my own order, who do not share it.”

    “Granted, Father Vervaux.”

    “If it is necessary, in order to bring peace to the empire, I do believe that the emperor and the church should agree to the unconditional transfer of former one-time Catholic dioceses and abbeys to the Protestant territories that already are in effective possession of them. I believe, that in the interests of peace, the Edict of Restitution should be revoked.”

    “And the Calvinists?”

    “There is no possibility for peace if they are not included within the provisions of the Peace of Augsburg.”



    The seamstress removed the heavy, formal, court costume. All sixty pounds of it, leaving the archduchess in her shift.

    “Frau Stecher,” Maria Anna said.

    “Yes, Your Highness.”

    “I am extraordinarily tired. Since you say that you are entirely finished with all the last-minute work for the dress I will be wearing to dinner, complete the fittings for my ladies-in-waiting somewhere other than my private apartments. Go. All of you. Find some other place. Dona Mencia will remain with me until it is time to dress. I must get some rest.”

    Dinner, at the Bavarian court, took place strictly and regularly at mid-day. At mid-day in July, Munich could be very hot. Today, it was.

    Frau Stecher looked profoundly offended, but was not in a position to defy a direct order. “Yes, Your Grace.” Then, “Susanna, if anyone is using the empty room in the next corridor, tell them that I have need of it.” She gathered up her notions and her apprentices, backing out of the room after the young noblewomen as Dona Mencia brought Maria Anna a loose, lightweight, robe.

    Maria Anna sighed with profound relief. This was the first time since entering Bavaria that she had been alone with Dona Mencia.



    Dona Mencia was thinking the same thing in reverse-it was the first time she had been alone with the archduchess. For the past weeks, private conversation had been almost impossible. Perhaps it was just the unavoidable crowding when traveling, perhaps the strict protocol of the Bavarian court. She suspected, however, that Ferdinand II had instructed any of several members of Maria Anna’s household to prevent them from being alone with one another. Especially that perpetual, incredibly annoying, chatterbox, Countess Polyxena. They couldn’t very well throw her out of the room. The Holy Roman Emperor, perpetually strapped for cash, owed her husband too much money.

    She had to start the conversation immediately; she had a lot to say and it was far from impossible that one of the other ladies-in-waiting would return as soon as her fitting was completed rather than staying to gossip and giggle with the rest. Start it some way.

    Dona Mencia drew a breath. “I have received a reply to your question, Your Grace.”

    “Which question?”

    “The one that you had me send to my brother, Cardinal Bedmar.”

    Maria Anna prepared to receive another evasion. “Please be so kind as to share it with me.”

    Dona Mencia pulled the letter from her pocket. “You are welcome to read it all.”

    “The answer to the question first, please.”

    “Many people would like to have their cake and eat it too. This is rarely possible in life. There is no question that if we must take a bargain, either the right to make our best effort to save souls or the right to keep ecclesiastical power and property as they have accrued in the centuries since the conversion of the Emperor Constantine, the only morally acceptable choice is that we opt for the salvation of souls. Otherwise we have no right to call ourselves the disciples of the savior who died for us.”

    Dona Mencia folded the letter and put it back in her pocket. “He has provided citations from the church fathers and canon lawyers for his conclusion.”

    Maria Anna reached out her hand for the letter. Dona Mencia gave it to her.

    “You realize, Your Grace, that you are not the only one who is asking this question. Nor are you the only one who is asking similar questions, as this war drags on. My brother is advising Don Fernando in the Netherlands. Some resolution must be reached there and it cannot be a legalistic reading of the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which gave only the Lutherans rights within the Holy Roman Empire along with the Catholics. Don Fernando must deal with Frederik Hendrik, who is indubitably a Calvinist. As are his subjects in the north.”

    “Papa will never agree to extend the terms of the Peace of Augsburg to cover more Protestants. He wishes to make it ever narrower.”

    “Your Highness.” Dona Mencia paused. “Your Highness, it is possible that the emperor’s intransigence may lead to the signing of separate peace treaties between various German princes and the Swede. Without his concurrence. Which in turn....”

    Maria Anna nodded. Her brother Ferdinand had reached that conclusion also. “Which in turn may ring the death knell of an empire that has, however imperfectly, endured for eight hundred years. And with its death, of course, the Peace of Augsburg would lose effect. It is possible that Papa may be the last Holy Roman Emperor. That Ferdinand may never be elected King of the Romans after Papa dies.” She lifted her chin. “Ferdinand is considering what to do if that happens. And much of the Hungarian leadership is also Calvinist.”

    She didn’t have the right to say any more than that.

    Dona Mencia was a little surprised that the emperor’s two oldest children had actually discussed the possibility openly, even with one another.

    Then Maria Anna said, “I do not believe that Uncle Max would be at all happy if the electoral vote for which he fought so long and hard turns out to have no meaning. He will be very angry if he never gets to exercise it after Papa has given it to him. If there are no more elections, then it will also be meaningless that his brother in Cologne holds an electoral vote. If there is no longer a Holy Roman Empire, the position of die Habsburgerin in the Wittelsbach court will not be an easy one.”



    Dona Mencia really had not intended to do it. She reached into her pocket again, and brought out the other item that had been in the bag the courier gave her just before she reached Passau. The rather obsolete note from Don Fernando in which he wrote in his own hand that a marriage with Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria would still be his first choice.

    Then, after Maria Anna had read them, she took back both of the letters. “I am sorry, Your Highness. But I do not believe that you have any secure place for these. The other morning while you were eating breakfast, Susanna Allegretti had reason to enter your oratory, to return the kneeler that you sent for repair. There was someone in the room, in the livery of one of the footmen, flipping through the pages of your Book of Hours, as if looking for hidden notes or letters. She didn’t recognize him; there was no way to know whether he was sent by the court of Vienna or by the duke or...”

    Maria Anna finished the sentence. “Or by the Bavarian ecclesiastical council. Or even by the Holy Office. I do not have the standing in the Bavarian court that Aunt Elisabeth Renata held. Or that Mama has at home. I have not earned the status, the prestige-I do not have the support from Uncle Max that will keep me out of the shadow of the inquisition, now that I have offered my patronage to the English Ladies. Not even Cardinal Carafa, not even the nuncio, would be able to prevent them from taking an interest in me. Not even if he tried.”



    Dona Mencia greeted the emissary from Dekan Golla. She apologized. She was sorry to inconvenience the friar, who was representing the man who had administrative authority over all of Munich’s churches, but the archduchess was at prayer. If she could be of assistance in any way . . .

    “I wish,” the emissary said, “to see the archduchess at prayer, to confirm that this is indeed the case. Just to see her; I do not need to interrupt her meditations. Not, of course, that I doubt your assurances. However, a question has arisen in the confines of the Holy Office in regard to the archduchess’ contacts with the foreign witches.”

    Dona Mencia was well aware that Duke Maximilian had determined that there was insufficient evidence to bring an indictment against Frau Simpson and Frau Dreeson for witchcraft. She did not, however, think it was prudent to bring that up at the moment. Beckoning the Countess Polyxena to accompany them-as stupid as the young woman was, Polyxena was one of those she suspected of having been placed in Maria Anna’s household at the behest of Father Lamormaini-, she led the Capuchin into the archduchess’ bedchamber, across it, and silently opened the door to the smaller cubicle that had been intended to serve as a dressing room.

    The archduchess had arranged it as an oratory, containing her prie-dieu and several of her favorite votive pictures. She was kneeling; there could be no question that it was she, since she turned her face toward the door when it opened. She was half way through a rosary; the golden rose lay on the reading pedestal where she would ordinarily place her Book of Hours; that lay closed on a small table beside her.

    Dona Mencia stood quietly while the Capuchin watched; he then nodded his head and withdrew.

    “Would you care to schedule an appointment with the archduchess? I am sure that she would be willing to receive you.”

    “Thank you,” gracious lady, “but I do not believe that it will be necessary.” He withdrew into the corridor.

    “What was that all about?” Countess Polyxena asked.

    “I don’t know,” Dona Mencia answered. “I can only suspect. As, probably, you can as well.” She did not define her suspicions.



    Maria Anna completed the interrupted rosary; then folded her hands and bowed her head. Thus far, her meditations had led to only one conclusion.

    She had to make an important decision. She was the only person who could make it.

    She realized that this was the first time she had ever been in this position. For the entire quarter century of her life, every important decision in regard to her existence had been made by someone else; by Papa and Mama; by her tutors; by the privy council.

    She had dreamed that some day she would become a formidable Habsburg regent. What justification did she have for that dream? A regent had to assume heavy responsibility; a regent issued orders that affected not only herself, not only her immediate household, but the people of the territory entrusted to her care. How could you make wise decisions for others, when you had never made a decision for yourself? What good did the preparation do, the training in the names and functions of monarchs, magnates, and important counselors? What good, if you had never in fact made an important decision and accepted the consequences. Had never, on many days, even decided what to wear. Had rarely decided what to eat. Had never decided who your attendants would be.

    She could request certain ladies, but did not control their appointments. Had never decided where she would live or what rooms would be assigned her. She kneeled, stripping herself one by one of every delusion she had ever had in regard to power and authority.

    The decision she must make would not just affect her. It would affect-she paused. Papa, certainly, and through Papa, Mama; her sister and brothers, her sister-in-law and nephew. Uncle Max; no, call him by what he was now, her betrothed husband. Don Fernando, her cousin, in the Netherlands; through him, his brother of Spain. Her own ladies and the other members of her household; the advisers and counselors of all the others; from there, in a dizzying spiral, other political powers, the Swede, Wallenstein. She pulled herself back from that abyss before its confusion could swallow her.

    She looked at the golden rose lying before her. It would affect the pope and the church itself.

    She looked at her folded hands. The easy decision was to stay. That was the decision that had already been made for her, of course. But if, this day, she made a conscious determination to follow the path that others had laid out for her, that would still be a decision. Because, now, there was another possibility. She had a chance to reach out, to grasp that prepared path, to make it her own.

    She thought of her conversation with the Spanish courtier Saavedra and court chancellor Abegg. A path along which accused witches would burn if she were not fertile.

    She bowed her head. She faced a life in which the husband who had been chosen for her turned his face away. In another world, according to the encyclopedia articles that Don Fernando sent, Aunt Elisabeth Renata had lived one more year. It had been a hard, bitter year during which she had been relentlessly attacked by the cancer; a hard, bitter year during which Uncle Max, although grieving, had made his farewells and, if he had not welcomed, at least had accepted that it was a mercy when God granted death to end her suffering. In this world, she had been taken so fast; Uncle Max would not easily forgive his advisers for having thrust a second wife upon him before he had a chance to mourn the first.

    Nor would he easily forgive his second wife, if at all, if ever, for being alive when Aunt Elisabeth Renata was dead. There. She admitted what she had known in her heart for these past weeks; what she had known since the ceremony at Passau.

    It would, according to the encyclopedias, be a long marriage. Uncle Max was sixty-one now; he would live for eighteen more years.

    Papa had not mentioned that. It was impossible to believe that Papa had not known. Father Lamormaini had not mentioned that. It was impossible to believe that he, too, had not known.

    She could not rely upon those she had trusted. If they believed that withholding the truth would make her more malleable to their wishes, they would withhold it. That was a thing that she knew. She could not know why they did it, whether for good motives or for ill. She could know that they did it. This was something that she knew.

    The other possible course of action . . . Father Drexel’s words came back to her. “If you are assigned the role of beggar, then play that person slyly and artfully.” What role had God assigned her in this world that was a stage?

    “The most beautiful and praiseworthy thing a man can do before he dies is to devote his life to the untiring performance of virtuous acts, constantly seeking to practice prudence, justice, moderation, endurance; faith, hope, and unselfish love.” Presumably, it was the best thing a woman could do also. How could she best serve the church?

    Maria Anna bowed her head in prayer; her eyes focused again on the golden rose that lay before her. She took out her rosary.

    It was expected that everyone in the Residenz be in bed by ten o’clock in the evening at the latest.

    Dona Mencia sent the ladies-in-waiting to bed; she, herself, continued watching. At midnight, she replaced the archduchess’ candle; she performed this small service twice more during the night.

    Just at dawn, Maria Anna rose stiffly from her prie-dieu, walked out of the oratory, and put her hand gently on Dona Mencia’s shoulder, shaking it.

    “Dress me for mass, please. And try to create some time, today, for us to speak privately again. We must make our plans.”

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