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Chapter 11


"The immediate problem is Quevedo," Vitelleschi said.

That, thought Barberini, was the father-general of the Society of Jesus to the life. Straight to the point, not a word wasted. Still, there were drawbacks.

"How is he the problem?" Barberini asked. He'd heard of Quevedo, of course. The man's poetry was well worth the reading, if one took the trouble to learn Spanish. And he had a history that was equal parts pure romance and pure picaresque. The man's capacity for getting involved in the hairiest and most alarming scrapes Europe had had to offer for the last twenty years was, to say the least, prodigious.

"Ha." Vitelleschi came as close to laughing as the man ever did. One short, sharp, bark, accompanied by the flash of a smile breaking through the icy clerical reserve that was the man's defining demeanor. "My agents have nothing but contempt for the man. Flashy, spectacular, prone to overcomplication, and bent on intrigue for intrigue's sake."

"Well," Barberini said, deciding to offer at least some apologia for the man, "He is a poet and philosopher by trade."

"Philosopher?" His Holiness interjected, turning away from a shrub just beginning to put forth the first buds of spring flower. This audience was taking place, as Barberini's uncle, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII, was wont to have them lately, in the newly laid gardens of Castel Gandolfo. They were looking a lot less rough-and-ready than they had the year before, that was for certain.

"Oh, yes," Barberini said. "His latest work is on the proper conduct of Christian monarchs, and most interesting. If Your Holiness takes a fancy to Spanish poetry I can recommend his work in that line as well."

"Christian monarchs, you say?" Vitelleschi said, in a musing tone.

"Indeed." Barberini wondered what train of thought he had sparked.

"Perhaps, Father-General," His Holiness said, "you would venture to define exactly what the problem with Quevedo might actually be?"

Vitelleschi coughed, returning from whatever realm of pure reason he had set out to conquer. "My apologies, Your Holiness. I became momentarily absorbed in a line of reasoning I might develop further directly. Quevedo has been retained by Borja in furtherance of whatever scheme he is currently engaged in. Quevedo has a reputation, well deserved, for at once being effective in such schemes and also being prone to provoke absolute chaos. Until today, I considered the most probable aim in Borja's schemes to be to provoke such chaos in Rome in order to prevent any interference by Your Holiness in His Most Catholic Majesty's schemes for Europe. There is also the interesting datum that Quevedo joined Borja's service immediately after Borja bought off Osuna earlier this year. There is no discernible connection between the two events, but the possibility that whatever price Osuna received included the requirement that he assist in Borja's scheme is one that deserves consideration. There was some suggestion that after Quevedo fled Madrid in disgrace some months ago he took service with Osuna, much as he had with Osuna's father."

Barberini felt his eyebrows raising. Vitelleschi appeared to be actually growing loquacious. Clearly, he was utterly entranced by the problem presenting itself to him. Still, the man was staying somewhat in character; he had fallen silent again. His Holiness appeared content to wait for the next communication from the deeps that were the leader of the Jesuits, but Barberini could not resist the urge to prod. "And the Father-General has changed his mind because?"

"Your Eminence reminded me of Quevedo's philosophical treatise. And, necessarily, his other works. I am reminded that the man focuses in no small measure on Brutus as a means of examining the proper duties of ruler and subject."

His Holiness' eyebrows shot up. "Surely he cannot have been ordered to—"

"I would counsel Your Holiness to at least consider the possibility." Even by his usual standards, Vitelleschi had turned grave.

That earned a papal snort. "I doubt it. We are still receiving protests from Naples over Brancaccio, and over Naples from Madrid, but no sign of the military action they threatened, for all the movement of troops to Naples. And, further, if the man was recommended to Borja by Osuna, we need worry less, not more. It was to Osuna's advantage that we refused the requests of his Most Catholic Majesty last year."

"Brancaccio is still in Rome?" Barberini asked. Brancaccio had been a Neapolitan cardinal, and in one of the more delicious scandals of the last few years had had to flee across the border to the Papal States to escape the displeasure of the Viceroy of Naples. They had loudly and blusteringly demanded his extradition, but the See of Rome had flatly refused. So far, nothing had come of it.

"Indeed he is," said Urban, "and mildly embarrassing it is, too. However, handing over cardinals to secular princes for judgment is a precedent I do not wish to set. For now, at least, they do no more than bluster. Reasonably politely, as these things go. However, Father-General, you were suggesting that Borja might have turned Brutus?"

"I speculate only, Your Holiness. The most likely course of events remains that Borja seeks to disrupt the business of the See of Rome. Your Holiness will recall that Spain was most displeased that you stated that you were to take no further part in secular disputes in the Germanies. Since Olivares is sufficiently simpleminded to reason that he who is not with his king is against him, disruption of anything you might do in support of Protestant arms in those wars will be an obvious maneuver for him."

"But you still think there is a risk to Our person?"

"Inevitably. Your Holiness would not be the first pope to be arrested or even assassinated."

Barberini coughed politely. "If I might suggest that there is no need to plan against one eventuality exclusively? Your Holiness has guards, after all."

"Indeed," said Urban, beaming at Barberini as at a bright schoolboy who had mastered a basic point. "Not all assassination plots are as feeble-witted as Camillo's."

"Indeed not," Barberini agreed. Camillo had tried to kill the pope with sympathetic magic, sticking pins into a doll. He had been tried and found guilty and thoroughly laughed at.

"There is more, however," Vitelleschi said. "The Committee of Correspondence has become active in Rome. Quevedo is using them."

Barberini had heard about that, and could not suppress a chuckle. "So that was Quevedo?" Barberini was, technically, an Inquisition cardinal these days, and so received reports. "That young revolutionary whom Your Holiness ordered me to marry off to his inamorata was most incensed about the false broadsides that have begun to circulate in Rome. He had to be escorted out of San Mateo, I understand. He demanded an investigation and the perpetrators be punished. It, ah, was what brought those broadsides to the Holy Office's attention in the first place. There is some confusion as a result."

"Ha." Vitelleschi laughed for the second time in that meeting. Barberini began to wonder if the old Jesuit was not becoming addled in his old age: the man appeared to be in danger of developing a sense of humor. "Indeed it was Quevedo," he went on. "The printer he went to is one of our informants."

"And the substance of the printing?" Urban asked.

"A pastiche of revolutionary propaganda, anticlerical and rabble-rousing. Of a piece with the mobs he has been organizing, to whom his agents have claimed to represent the Committee," Vitelleschi answered.

"Even if it was the Committee," Urban said, "I doubt We have anything to fear from that direction. I have met most of them, and they seem quite ineffectual."

Barberini could see where it was going, however. "I would predict, Your Holiness, that within a few days Borja's tame preachers will be viewing all this with alarm from Rome's pulpits. It would not be the first time that more nefarious elements have used the Committees of Correspondence as a cat's-paw."

"My assessment also," said Vitelleschi. "However, almost certainly a pure distraction."

"How so?" Barberini asked. It had certainly seemed to him, and to his staff, that an accusation that the pontiff was not in control of Rome would be a serious stick with which to beat on His Holiness. Whatever could be turned to reducing the esteem in which the pope was held would be of use to Borja, if he truly wanted to cripple the papacy for a time, or even pending a new incumbent.

"While attention is elsewhere, more useful measures will be taken. It might also be of use in securing wavering cardinals in a vote in consistory."

"Yet His Holiness may override consistory votes—" Barberini began.

"Not without political costs, my dear nephew," Urban said. "It is already said that I am a nepotist and a bloodsucker. If it were added that I am a tyrant also, I should come to find it difficult to have my orders carried out. I have spent much of my political capital in this past year, I must needs husband what I have most carefully. Father-General," he said, turning to Vitelleschi, "there is a service which I would have the Societas Jesu perform for me."

"Your Holiness," Vitelleschi nodded.

"I need travel arrangements in hand, discreetly as may be, for every sympathetic cardinal within two weeks' travel of Rome, and men on hand to get them here at the highest speed possible. I think I should like to force a vote in consistory and demonstrate I still have a clear majority of opinion in my pocket."

"As you wish, Your Holiness."

"It only remains to determine the issue. And to ensure that we have a majority on the day of the vote. I think we can summon a majority, yes?" Urban sat down on a stone bench.

Vitelleschi pondered a moment. "Even with the Spanish cardinals all come to Rome, Your Holiness, it can be done. Unfortunately, several of your partisans are outside Italy at this time, so it will be a close vote."

"The Borghese," Barberini said.

"Indeed," said Vitelleschi.

"We will have trouble wooing them away from the Spanish party if they have already defected," Urban said. "There is no love lost between Borghese and Barberini. One wonders whether Borja has promised them anything?"

"I have no information on that matter, Your Holiness," said Vitelleschi.

"Any intelligence you can develop will be warmly received, Father-General."

"No effort will be spared."

There were occasions when Vitelleschi outright frightened Barberini. Somehow, a simple promise of diligence gave him the impression of cardinals hauled in to lightless rooms and the truth beaten out of them. Of course, the society was—usually—a little more refined than that. "I note," Barberini said when the shudder had passed, "that the esteemed ambassador from the United States of Europe was present for one of the incidents in the last week."

"At Monsignor Grazzi's lodgings? Yes, she was. Witnesses spoke warmly of her care for the wounded. Most warmly."

"Grazzi is one of yours, I recall," said Barberini.

"Indeed. Cardinal Borja is not well disposed toward me lately. Or any Jesuit." Vitelleschi's tone made Barberini wonder whether Borja was not biting off more than he could chew. More than one cardinal thought the Jesuits over-mighty, and the fear that motivated those thoughts—and the occasional calls for suppression of the order—was well founded. There were limits to Jesuit influence, but within those limits no pains were spared if the father-general gave orders. "I note that he has not ordered action taken against any USE interest in Rome, however."

"An attempt to divert suspicion?" Urban said from his seat.

"Indeed, albeit only in the minds of the common people. Those of us with access to proper intelligence have quite current knowledge of where Quevedo is and what he is doing," Vitelleschi said.

"But no clue as to his ultimate goal?" Barberini asked.

"No. Quevedo and Borja surely know that there are very few secrets in this city, and keep their own counsel about what their ends might be. It must be soon, however. Troop movements to Naples appear to be nearing completion. My most recent intelligence in that matter is two weeks old."

"Troops?" Urban asked.

"Troops, Your Holiness," Barberini said. "It, along with the movements of all of Spain's senior churchmen, was the first clue we had that the game was afoot. Our initial speculation was that it was simply a measure to crush unrest. Then, the numbers rose beyond any reasonable need for such, and we received reports that troops were being positioned for a movement against France, the movements to Naples being largely a sideshow. However, movements to Naples have gone beyond what might merely be overspill from winter quartering in Northern Italy. They mean, I most respectfully suggest, to threaten the Papal States."

Vitelleschi nodded. "Against that analysis is the fact that everything to our north is fully marshaled as well, and spending on condottieri has been liberal in that quarter. It may be that the movement in contemplation is simply too large to be mustered wholly in Milan and Genoa. It may also be that similar concentrations are occurring on France's southern borders."

"If my nephew is correct, why the efforts in Rome itself? No amount of political maneuvering will serve half so well as a tercio in St. Peter's square."

"With the greatest of respect to His Eminence," said Vitelleschi, and to Barberini's mild surprise he spoke the formula as though he actually meant it, "I incline to the view that the political maneuvering in Rome is evidence that an invasion is not intended, at least in the short to medium term. Against that, one might suppose that disorder in Rome could be taken as a pretext for invasion, but such would take considerably longer at the present rate of Quevedo's operations than that number of troops can be quartered in readiness."

"And if your various sources are missing something?" Urban asked.

"Then there is a risk of invasion. The best estimates of my brethren are that any such invasion would take place at the earliest next year, once the business in France is well in hand, using some reserve of troops retained from this larger movement."

Barberini realized that he and his own staff had been over these points before. "Could it be that we are simply not seeing what is here because we think the idea of Borja trying to depose His Holiness is unthinkable even for the likes of that man?"

"Possible." Vitelleschi barked the word out. "But unlikely."

"Even with Quevedo assisting Borja?" Barberini pressed. "The man is fond of high-stakes games. He was at Venice, remember."

"My dear nephew," said His Holiness, "remember that Rome is not Venice. This game is not for the rulership of one merchant state, however rich. We already hear that Our new insistence on neutrality in secular disputes has troubled the consciences of some of the Habsburgs' adherents. How much more troubled will their consciences be if Spain places an antipope on Our throne? Or worse, deposes Us by force?"

"Counterproductive," Vitelleschi added in a return to laconic form. "Olivares knows this."

"It would not be the first time that Borja went beyond his orders." Barberini remembered Borja's last appearance at consistory. The king of Spain had had to send a personal letter of apology.

"That apology was for form's sake," Vitelleschi said. "Borja did his master's bidding, depend on it."

"If only we could be sure who his master was in this matter."

His Holiness chuckled. "If only we could remind him who his master truly is." He slapped his thigh. "But we are distracted. The ambassador from the United States. My esteemed nephew raised her presence in all this a few moments ago. Pray continue, Antonio."

Barberini said "I did?" And then, recovering a train of thought abandoned moments before, "I did. Yes. I think the presence of that embassy, and the prospect of its reception by Your Holiness beyond the formality of her presenting her credentials, may do much to exacerbate matters. The Spanish have had many smarts to their pride inflicted by that new nation, I fear, and the novelty of their ways is a theme which recurs in much of what they are saying. More than one of my acquaintances has been invited to sup with one Spanish churchman or another and all have mentioned this."

"I have noted it also," Vitelleschi said. "Has your Holiness' secretary of state fixed a date for a meeting with the dottoressa?"

"As I am sure the Father-General is aware, there is no meeting currently planned." Urban smiled to show he did not disapprove of Vitelleschi's almost certain knowledge of the matter through unofficial channels. "Assorted clerks and functionaries have met, you understand, and I believe that the United States is most gracious in recognizing that it would be politically inconvenient for the time being for there to be discussions as between heads of state. The impression I gather is that they feel that what has been done to their advantage thus far is quite sufficient, and they are not such ingrates as to press for more."

Barberini nodded. "Does Your Holiness want me to make any kind of contact? My youth and inexperience and reputation for flightiness have proven valuable in such contexts before."

Both his uncle and the father-general frowned and looked at each other. Barberini could almost hear the churning of ideas, sense the crackle of intellects that routinely thought four, five and six moves ahead. One day, he thought, I shall have to play at this same table. It was a daunting thought.

After a while, His Holiness nodded. "Make no business contact," he said. "I am sure, however, that there are innovations in the arts in Thuringia these days. By all means, receive Her Excellency and see what luminaries you can patronize."

Barberini nodded. "There are occasions, Your Holiness, when a reputation for interior design is of great advantage."

"Interior design?" Vitelleschi asked, clearly able to understand the individual words but not knowing what the phrase signified.

"An expression for all the arts of beautification of indoor places," Barberini said. "Brought to our times by the Americans. You see, I have already been in correspondence with acquaintances of Cardinal Mazzare for the very purpose His Holiness suggested."

"Ah," Vitelleschi said, understanding immediately.

"Although," Barberini went on, "I am less than impressed with their Martha Stewart."


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