- Dec 23, 2013
Bishop Josef wasn't used to being kept waiting. After all he was a Cardinal in the Catholic Curia and no small amount of respect was owed to his status. But he knew four years ago when he accepted Duke Konrad von Württemberg's offer to move to Ulm - an offer that included a bigger church and better financial support than the city of Memmingen could provide - that he would have to serve at the Duke's pleasure.
He waited now in the council chambers with the rest of the Duke's council. They were obviously used to their lord's habits and in the meantime discussed details about the Duchy among themselves. Perhaps it was a blessing that he had been denied a role in the Duchy's administration even though he'd already proven himself as a valuable conduit between Swabia and Rome.
Josef heard the Duke's approach long before he even reached the council chambers. The rest of the council quietened as the smartly dressed 46-year old Duke finally entered, accompanied by the entourage of nobles that were attending him. Josef had heard of the increasing formalities surrounding the Duke's life with elaborate ceremonies leading to opulent lifestyles for those privileged nobility of Swabia who surrounded him. It seemed that even something as simple as a council meeting was subject to this.
And the funding for these practices were all coming out of the Duchy's coffers, much to the consternation of the other councillors Josef judged based on the tenor of their conversations that had just ended. Once the Duke was seated at the head of the council table, the attendant nobles were dismissed, much to the relief of the rest of the council. This left only a bodyguard and the Duke's second son, Adalhard. The awkward child, just fifteen years old, looked like he'd rather be anywhere else but at this council meeting. Josef sympathized with the poor boy, but like Adalhard, he also had a duty to perform.
Duke Konrad made only the barest gesture and the Master of the Mint, Raphael Susenbrot, launched into his explanation of the growing debt problem. A litany of numbers read from Raphael's notes seemed to bore Konrad.
"The only thing keeping the Duchy afloat," Raphael concluded, "is the sizable stipend from the Premyslids to ensure Margaret's lifestyle is kept to a suitable standard." Margaret was the young wife of the Duke's heir, Ulrich. It seemed the gifts were being used for purposes other than the poor Premyslid daughter. From Raphael's tone he seemed quite relieved that the Duke wasn't too proud to turn down these Bohemian gifts as the Swabian treasury sorely needed them.
Raphael had barely stopped talking when the councillor Meinhard Agather began to speak. He was a trader from Ulm and although of commoner stock and dressed more simply than Raphael, he looked like he could have been his older brother. It seemed Meinhard and Raphael were of one mind because Meinhard's speech simply echoed Raphael's concerns.
Konrad slammed his fist on the council table, interrupting Meinhard's speech mid-sentence. "I grow tired of the both of you. I chose you two for this council for your keen intellect, not your oratory skills. Instead of complaining about my Duchy's necessary expenditures, I want to hear ideas and solutions."
This got both Meinhard and Raphael talking at the same time for a few seconds before they settled into a routine of taking turns to present their proposals for reforming trade, revolutionizing industry and rebuilding the administration of the Duchy. Josef was convinced that the two had gone too far. He sensed anxiety from the Duke and he half-expected Konrad to throw the pair out of his council chambers. But perhaps the Duke's fear of running out of funds was even greater as he eventually gave the two approval to proceed with their plans.
Konrad seems almost relieved to turn to Josef. "I'm informed you have very important news from the Church to bring to the council."
"It is dire news and a grave warning I bring from His Holiness himself," Josef began. "In the Croatian lands, not so far from our own borders, Andrija Jamometić, a monk from the respected Jamomet noble family, has been turning locals against the Roman Church. In their latest act they have torched the Zagreb Cathedral. Pope Eustratios II has decreed the teachings of Andrija as heretical and all those who follow them shall henceforth be excommunicated.
"And my Lord, I have seen how such sentiment can spread like a plague. I urge you to watch out for such heresies and purge them from Swabia and Brandenburg."
Despite Josef's concern, Konrad just shrugged. "It is a trifling matter ... just something those Slavs do from time to time, no doubt due to the past influence of the Eastern Church."
Josef didn't think it was as simple as that and wanted to emphasize his cautions, but he didn't get the opportunity to voice anything further as Konrad was already animatedly discussing military matters with Captain Alarich Isentrude.
Bishop Josef was once again waiting in the Duke's council chambers, this time nursing a headache from overindulgence the night before. Yesterday he'd presided over the wedding of Adalhard, the Duke's second son who he'd seen at the council meeting 8 months prior, and Agnes Reginar, youngest sister of the Duke of Carinthia. The wedding feast was lavish as expected from Duke Konrad, and there had been eating and drinking late into the night.
But despite the previous night's celebrations, the Duke insisted on a council meeting early the next morning before Josef returned to Ulm. Josef had insisted that he present his news to the council and so perhaps this was just the Duke's way to try dissuade him from attending future council meetings.
Duke Konrad arrived in short order, looking bright and cheery, and ready to engage with his council. The usual nobles who accompanied him did not look like they wanted to be out of bed this early and were relieved when, after the usual ceremonies were concluded, Konrad dismissed them.
And so it wasn't long before Bishop Josef was telling the Duke and assembled councillors of the troubles to the North. "Anti-Church protests have been spreading in the Scandinavian lands. Norway has struggled mightily in their wars against Sweden, recently losing the rest of their northern territory to them. The plundered towns near Stavanger turned to the teachings of that heretical Croatian monk, Andrija Jamometić, in their difficult time. Such a fervour had spread among those towns that eventually the King of Norway, with no remaining soldiers to call on, was forced to accept these Protestant demands, turning away from the Roman Church."
The Duke didn't look overly concerned. He just turned to the diplomat, Landolf Sofie, and asked him, "What of the Norwegian alliances? I heard Skåne fought alongside Norway in their last war against Sweden."
Landolf nodded his head, paused for a moment before cautiously responding, "As far as we know, Skåne has not forsaken their alliance with Norway."
Even Josef was aware of how fickle Duke Konrad was with his alliances and Landolf had no doubt chosen his words carefully to not rankle the Duke. But it wasn't enough. Duke Konrad pushed himself up from his chair, balled up his fists as if to fight, and then loudly demanded, "How can they still associate with those heretics?"
Josef worried about the Duke's reaction. Why was he so focused on his nephew's Duchy when clearly the problem was this growing anti-Church sentiment? But even as Josef tried to understand him, Konrad had already turned his attention to the pair of Meinhard and Raphael. The two were eagerly presenting all the improvements that they'd brought to Swabia in the last few months, swelling the duchy's coffers and going a long way towards repaying the outstanding debts.
"The most significant change," Raphael was explaining, "is the integration of the Brandenburg lands into the Swabian administration. This has eliminated the duplication of effort, increased efficiency and cut out the needless Brandenburg bureaucrats.
"And the most important consequence," Meinhard interjected, "is that most of the Duchy's significant trading concerns have relocated to Berlin to link up with the profitable Baltic trade."
And no doubt Meinhard's own businesses were thriving from this, Josef thought, though he kept his mouth shut as Konrad seemed to appreciate what the pair had accomplished.
"And Skåne is only a stone's throw across the Baltic from Brandenburg's Stralsund," Konrad muttered under his breath. Josef thought he might have been the only one who'd heard it as the dynamic duo were continuing with their report. Josef wondered, What exactly is our Duke planning?