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1636: The Saxon Uprising: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Friday, November 12, 2010 07:31 EST



Dresden, capital of Saxony

   Gretchen Richter studied the man sitting behind the desk. He was slight of build, with a large-featured face framed by long, light brown hair and decorated with mustachios and a goatee. Two bright blue eyes peered at her above a bony nose. The gaze was composed of equal parts of apprehension, suspicion and curiosity.

   He seemed to be using the desk as a shield to protect himself against her — more like a barricade, perhaps. He held his old-fashioned quill pen as if it might serve him as a pike against charging cavalry.

   About what she’d expected. The very fact that Duke Ernst of Saxe-Weimar had chosen to meet her in his office with himself seated at his desk told her a great deal about the way the man approached the world. The leaders of the Spanish forces besieging Amsterdam with whom she’d negotiated had been politicians, first and foremost. Despite the vast formal gulf in rank between themselves and a printer’s daughter like Gretchen, both Don Fernando — then the Cardinal-Infante in command of Spain’s armies in the Low Countries; now the King in the Netherlands — and his great-aunt Isabella, the Austrian archduchess who was the Netherlands’ regent, had always met her sitting down at chairs in an informal setting.

   But the duke was not really a politician, no matter that his older brother Wilhelm Wettin was now the prime minister of the USE and his youngest brother Bernhard had carved out an independent principality for himself from the Franche-Comté and parts of Swabia. Instead, Ernst was an administrator — what the Americans called a bureaucrat. His natural and instinctive response when face with a challenge was to withdraw into his redoubt, his desk. There, armed with pen and ink and paper, he was best equipped to deal with whatever might arise.

   A very good administrator, by all accounts. Even a fair-minded one, and no more prone to favoring his own class than was more-or-less inevitable given his origins and upbringing.

   Gretchen had spent some time discussing Wettin with Dane Kitt, just a few weeks before coming to Dresden. The SoTF soldier had been in Grantville for the birth of his daughter at the same time Gretchen had been there attending to some personal matters for her husband. Kitt had served in the Oberpfalz during the Bavarian crisis and had given her a hilarious depiction of Wettin’s insistence on bombarding the Bavarian defenders of Ingoldtadt with Lutheran religious tracts hurled by a catapult. That story meshed with what her grandmother had told her about Mary Simpson’s assessment of Wettin: the slightest whiff of chalk dust acts on that man like perfume.

   She decided that was probably where the chink in his armor could be found.

   “Saxony’s schools are wretched,” she said abruptly. “Even here in Dresden. Correcting that problem has to be one of our first priorities.”

   Fiercely, she added: “And we won’t be satisfied with purely religious schools, either. I have nothing against them, as a rule, and they certainly have every right to operate according to the basic principles of the separation of church and state. But those same principles require the creation — or support and expansion, if they already exist — of secular schools established by the government of the province.”

   Duke Ernst stared at her. Clearly enough, this was not what he’d been expecting to hear from her. Certainly not as her opening remarks in their very first meeting.

   “Ah…” he said.

   “And we won’t accept pleas of poverty. Saxony is a rich province. This is not Mecklenburg — and even in Mecklenburg they’ve begun creating public schools, now that the boot heel of the aristocracy has been thrown off.”

   That last statement was certainly true, in and of itself, but she’d really added it to allay whatever suspicions the duke might be developing that she was trying to undermine his resolution to oppose her at every point. Which, of course, she was.

   One of the negotiating ploys she’d learned from watching Mike Stearns was the value of giving your opposite number a choice between alternatives, one of which was so unsavory that it made the other look tasty by comparison even if it wasn’t actually a taste the person would normally enjoy at all. A standard form of that maneuver was to present a choice between persons: either make a deal with me or — here a finger would be pointed to a nearby ogre — you’ll have to try coming to terms with that creature.

   As often as not, in fact, Gretchen herself had been the ogre to whom Stearns had pointed. The CoCs, at least, if not herself personally.

   But there was a variation on the tactic which she’d also learned from watching Stearns. It was a more subtle version in which the opposite party was given a choice between personalities rather than actual persons. In essence: Either make a deal with me when I’m in a good mood and we’re discussing something mutually amenable or we can wrangle over something that puts me in a really foul mood.

   The actual expression she’d heard Stearns use was “or we can talk when I’m on the rag.” When she’d asked for a clarification of the expression from Melissa Mailey, she’d been stiffly told that it was quite offensive to women and Melissa would say nothing further on the matter.

   That had been enough in itself, of course, to make its meaning clear. Gretchen had found the expression amusing rather than offensive. Who cared what men thought about such things? If men didn’t like the inevitable by-products of female anatomy, they could bear their own children and see if they liked being pregnant any better.

   So, she was giving Wettin a choice. Shall we spend the afternoon discussing the profoundly foul nature of the aristocracy — to which you belong yourself — or shall we spend it instead talking about the need for educational reform, a subject about which you yourself are enthusiastic?



    By mid-morning, Ernst had half-forgotten that the young woman he was having such a pleasant discussion with was not only the most notorious political radical in the Germanies but someone whom it could even be argued, given the recent change in the USE’s government, was an outright enemy of the state. By now, he had discovered that Gretchen Richter was perceptive and astute on the issue under discussion, in addition to being personally quite charming. Neither quality was one he had expected from her reputation.

    In retrospect, he could see the errors involved. So far as Richter’s understanding of the issue of education was concerned, this was no farm girl or tavern-keeper’s daughter. Her formal education might be somewhat limited, but her father had been a printer. Ernst was aware that up-timers viewed the printer’s trade as being what they called “blue-collar,” signifying work that might require considerable mechanical skills and knowledge but was not in the least bit intellectual. But they came from a world in which the different aspects of most professions had been carved into separate crafts. In the seventeenth century, on the other hand, the distinction between a printer and a publisher and an editor was usually meaningless. A man who owned and ran a print shop did all of those things — and, often enough, served himself as an author as well. Print shops were centers of intellectual discourse and quite often hotbeds of political radicalism. That was the milieu from which Richter came, not milking cows or serving ale.

    Then, there was her personality. Allowing for some harshness along the edges, here and there, she was quite pleasant company. Polite and very attentive, among other things.

    That should also have been obvious, he now understood. He knew, at least in broad outlines, of the central role she’d played in the siege of Amsterdam. Absurd to think that such a role could have been played by a person who was capable of nothing more than scowling and shouting belligerently!

    Eventually, though, albeit reluctantly, he forced himself to remember his duty.

    “This has been most pleasant, Frau Richter. Hopefully, productive as well. But now I must return to more immediately pressing matters.” He elided over the fact that they’d never actually begun that discussion, since Richter had driven over it right at the beginning. “I am disturbed — let us say ‘concerned,’ rather — at some of the activities of the Committee of Correspondence here in Dresden.”

    Richter nodded. “To be precise — if you will forgive me putting words in your mouth, Your Grace — your concerns center on the following.” She began counting off her fingers. “First, that the city’s militia has largely disintegrated. While a rump of the official force remains, for the most part control of the city in military and police terms has fallen into the hands of the CoC’s guard units. Second, those guard units are armed. Thirdly, they are well-armed, many of them with SRG muskets. A few even have breech-loading rifles. Fourth, much of the daily administration of the city has also fallen into the hands of the CoC or one of its affiliated organizations. In particular, the CoC has taken charge of sanitation and medical practices and is enforcing the needed rules vigorously.”

    Vigorously. Ernst stared at her. He knew of at least one tavern-keeper who’d been brutally beaten by a CoC “sanitation patrol.” True, the man had been fouling the streets around his establishment. Quite badly, even by the standards of tavern-keepers. Furthermore, Ernst didn’t doubt for a moment that the CoC’s “vigorously enforced” sanitation rules were lowering the risk of disease and epidemic — always a major concern, especially in times of war and social unrest.


    Richter pressed on.

    “Fifthly, you are concerned that we are repairing and strengthening the city’s fortifications, as if we are preparing for a siege.”

    He cleared his throat. You certainly couldn’t accuse the woman of evading delicate matters. She brought to mind the image of a very attractive, blonde glacier moving toward the sea.

    “You are especially concerned because you suspect we are in fact preparing for a siege. Specifically, we are preparing to defend the city against the approaching Swedish army under the command of Johan Banér.”

    She paused for an instant, to give him the first look you could really call “cold-eyed” since the meeting began.

    “In this suspicion, you are correct. The Swede general Banér is notorious for his brutality and has been specifically known to state that the proper use of a CoC agitator’s head is as an adornment for a pike.” She tapped the side of her skull. “This is one such head, and I have every intention of keeping it where it is. Under no circumstances will we allow Banér and his army into the city.”

    Ernst sighed and looked away. He could hardly argue this particular charge. He’d worked with the Swedish general in the Oberpfalz for months. Banér was a brute — a thoroughly unpleasant man — and Ernst himself had heard the general make that remark about CoC agitators and pikes.

    Before he could say anything, Richter added: “And please spare us both the pointlessness of arguing that we cannot possibly withstand the Swedes. That’s nonsense, meaning no offense, and you know it just as well as I do. You have considerable experience with sieges yourself, especially at Ingolstadt. Dresden was well fortified to begin with and we are strengthening the city’s defenses still further. The city has a large population, most of whom are highly-motivated to keep Báner and his thugs outside the walls.

    “That means that any siege will last for some time, which will require Báner to forage supplies from the Saxon countryside — a countryside which was already in rebellion against the Elector’s depredations and has a large and well-armed military force under the command of the Vogtlander, Goerg Kresse. And while the core of that army of irregulars remains Vogtlander, they have recruited a large number of people from the surrounding area since they came down from the mountains. They can’t defeat Báner in a pitched battle, of course, but they can bleed his army badly. Given the nature of Báner, that will inevitably produce Swedish atrocities against Saxon villagers, which in turn will ensure that your very worse fear comes to pass.

    She paused for just an instant. “That is, you are concerned because in addition to the city’s large number of well-trained militiamen — most of whom have now joined the CoC guard contingents — there are also several hundred veterans of the USE’s army in the city, recuperating from their wounds. Most of them are from General Stearns’ Third Division, and almost all of them are on very good terms with the CoC. You are worried that if a clash of arms develops between Dresden and Báner’s army, those USE soldiers will side with Dresden and give the city’s defenders a core military force which has already defeated the French, the Saxons and the Poles in open battle.”

    He looked back at her. A blonde glacier indeed — except glaciers didn’t move this fast.

    “In this worry, Duke Ernst, you are also correct. You may rest assured that I have, am and will do everything I can to ensure that those veterans do the right thing if and when the time comes. And I am quite certain they will do so.”

    Perhaps he should have stayed on the subject of education, after all.

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