Back | Next

Chapter 3


Cardinal Gaspar Borja y Velasco, at no time a man other than passionate, was in a mood even he considered unreasonable. Thus far, since arriving at the small villa outside Rome that he was perforce required to use in order not to attract even more papal displeasure, he had snapped at every single member of his clerical staff, insulted two of his aides and taken a swipe at a servant with his stick. His ill temper was not helped in the slightest by the sure knowledge that the day's aggravation would be sure to lead to a sleepless night with dyspepsia.

He took a deep breath. He had serious business to conduct in the remains of the day and it would hardly do to be less than polite to such as the Borghese. Like all Italians they were notoriously touchy. A fine thing in its place, of course, but there were limits. Which, alas, Borja had to respect.

And, of course, their support was now vital. He had done no more than skirt around the possibilities with the conde Olivares back in Madrid, discuss in generalities what might be done to bring a clearly difficult papacy to heel and remove a potential problem in the way of the strategy that Madrid was evolving to place Spain back in her rightful place as chiefest power in Christendom. Here in Rome, after one meeting with the pontiff, he was firmly settled on the proper way to proceed. There really was no alternative, none worth pursuing, and even failure would see Urban VIII sufficiently chastised that there would be no more trouble from Rome for the ten years that the one-time Maffeo Barberini had left on this earth, if the Grantville histories were to be believed.

Cardinal Borja was a firm believer that among the secondary causes through which God worked his divine will in the world the power of His Most Catholic Majesty to order the affairs of men was among the most powerful. To allow that power to be in any way limited and constrained was in a very real way to thwart the will of God, a course of action so fundamentally sinful that any lesser sin might be contemplated in order to avoid committing it.

In the meantime, of course—

"Is Quevedo y Villega here yet?" he snapped, and realized as he said it that his tone was not yet under control. Not even the sight of gardens in springtime had calmed him. He turned from the window and forced a smile at Ferrigno, who had closed his face to all expression while his master had been simmering. Borja recognized the signs. More than once he had caused the unassuming but efficient little Neapolitan to flinch when he had let loose his passions. Borja could see that his secretary was bracing himself for the storm.

He took a deep breath. "I have no reproof for you, Ferrigno," he said. "You may take it that I am displeased, but not with you." There, that should reassure the man.

Ferrigno nodded. "Your Eminence has heard much to displease him," he said, and the relief in his tone was palpable. "I understand that Señor Quevedo is on his way."

"Good. And Sinceri?"

"He attends Your Eminence's convenience, Your Eminence."

"Send him in, then, and leave us."

Sinceri bore almost no resemblance to what one imagined when the phrase "canon lawyer" was mentioned, still less the phrase "Inquisition Interrogator." Were it not for the clerical dress it would be easy to imagine him as someone's favorite uncle, although his pedantic manner and dryness of phrase also went a long way to dispelling the illusion as soon as he opened his mouth to speak. Someone's crashing bore of an uncle, perhaps.

Sinceri's bow and kiss to Borja's ring were fussy and precise. "Your Eminence," he said. "How may I serve you?"

Borja took a deep breath. Let it out, in a long sigh. "Father Sinceri," he said, "we are, are we not, faced with a problem?"

"Your Eminence?" Sinceri looked genuinely puzzled. "I understand Your Eminence to be concerned at the import of the dispensations concerning consanguineous marriage that the Holy Father recently granted, and I have taken the liberty of preparing a legal opinion—"

He reached into the leather folder he had been carrying for a document.

Borja waved it aside. "I thank you most sincerely for your efforts, and indeed for your consideration in attempting to anticipate my concerns, but it is in regard to another matter I wished to speak with you."

Sinceri's frown of puzzlement grew deeper. "I should be most grateful to be enlightened by Your Eminence."

Borja began to pace. The afternoon's business before the curia still had him simmering. Walking back and forward helped to calm him. "Father Sinceri, I feel it will be helpful if I rehearse a little of the mutual history we have with the current Holy Father."

"The Galileo affair?" Sinceri cocked his head to one side. His professional attention engaged, Borja fancied he looked more than a little like a portly, yet sleek old carrion crow. One with a smattering of gray feathers amid the black, but all the more distinguished looking for them.

Borja nodded. "You are most perceptive, Father Sinceri. The Galileo Affair is indeed that part of our mutual history to which I refer. You will recall, if you please, that the matter was decided wholly without regard to proper inquisitorial procedure, and indeed wholly without regard to the proper rule of canon law."

Sinceri gave a small sniff. "Most—"

His had been a career spent enforcing obedience to the church, and in particular obedience to its hierarchy, and Borja could see that the idea was giving him more than a little trouble. "Most irregular," Sinceri finished after a short, but nevertheless embarrassed pause.

"Irregular?" Borja let a little incredulity come in to his tone. In truth, the sarcasm and bilious humor was not in the least feigned. The conclusion to that sorry business still rankled. The near-picaresque farce of the denouement at Galileo's final hearing had been a mockery of the dignity of the cardinals and of the church that not even the most ribald of the romantic writers of the day would have stooped to.

If nothing else, they would have been jeered in the streets for the shameless slapstick implausibility of the whole business. And he, Cardinal Gaspar Borja y Velasco, had been forced, in what with hindsight could only have been a deliberate and calculated insult, to take part in the whole degrading machination. Borja felt himself flush a little redder in his just and proper indignation at the mere memory.

"It was more than irregular," he went on. "It was a deliberate abuse of the dignity of Holy Mother Church by one whose charge it is, a charge laid on him by the Holy Spirit no less, to preserve the Church in all her glory. It was a deliberate abuse by one whose holy duty it is to preserve the Church against her enemies, within and without, whose solemn oath of office it is—" Borja stopped himself.

"Your Eminence is clearly exercised by this matter."

"Exercised, yes," Borja said, trying to collect himself. That Barberini was plainly unfit to hold that most holy of offices was plain for all to see, yet how many dared to speak of it? Borja could see that behind the professional mask, Sinceri was profoundly embarrassed by how this conversation was going. Still, let him be embarrassed.

"It is my belief that His Holiness has overstepped the bounds of what is acceptable in the behavior of a pontiff." There. Approach the matter carefully.

Sinceri thought that one over. He cocked his head upward, regarding the ceiling with its plaster cherubs and giltwork carefully as he turned the idea over. At length he said: "With the greatest of respect to Your Eminence, and to the matters of policy on which Your Eminence has sought to persuade His Holiness, I am not at all certain that that is a matter on which I entirely follow Your Eminence, in particular having regard to precedent—"

"Horseflies, Father Sinceri, horseflies!" Borja had been dealing with lawyers of one sort or another since he had been old enough to have charge of affairs, and knew the signs. It was best to stop them before they started on the hedging and obfuscation that their training made as natural to them as breathing. And canon lawyers, those who specialized in the laws of the church's governance, were the worst. All the obfuscation of lawyers with the pomposity of theologians on top.

"Your Eminence?" Sinceri raised an eyebrow.

Borja permitted himself a small smile. "You will recall that nearly every single appointment His Holiness has made since assuming the mantle of Saint Peter has been of one of his placemen, and more often than not a member of his family?"

It was Sinceri's turn to smile. "Ah. Your Eminence reminds me of the vulgar jest about the bees on the Barberini arms? That they were once horseflies? It is true that His Holiness has carried nepotism to unusual lengths, but it is not without precedent, and indeed—"

Borja cut him off again. "The man's concern for his family is, in truth, not without precedent. What I say to you, Father Sinceri, is that it is entirely revealing as evidence of the man's character. Entirely revealing." Borja snarled those last two words. He could feel the anger boiling up within him as he contemplated the man whose every action of the last few years had been to set the authority of the Church against the power of Spain, a course of action as personally frustrating to Borja as it was wholly unnatural and obviously contrary to God's scheme for the secular world.

Borja took a calming breath and carried on before Sinceri could interrupt. "It is becoming clear to all who have eyes to see, Sinceri. The man's selfish interests are guiding his actions, now, and quite likely always have been. I truly fear to think what his motives might be for impeding the progress of Catholic arms in the Germanies—for permitting the outrage in the Low Countries—but no matter. The question which brought you to mind in relation to the matter I have in prospect was the Galileo affair, as I have said. I think we are agreed that there was much in His Holiness's disposition of that case which gives cause for concern, no?"

Borja watched Sinceri's face. There were other lawyers who might be of service in what Borja had in mind. There were certainly plenty of inquisitors who were at the very least slighted by the pope's treatment of the Holy Office the year before. Of the men who were in both groups, Sinceri was the one best known personally to Borja; they had worked together before on Inquisition business. And, when all was said and done, Sinceri was one of the most senior and respected lawyers in the Inquisition's prosecuting arm. His opinion, publicly expressed, would carry a lot of weight.

Certainly, Borja could manage without Sinceri in the scheme he was now firmly settled on. But there were definite advantages to having his support.

Sinceri's nod of agreement was almost instant, and Borja felt the first moment of genuine pleasure he had felt all day. "Indeed, Your Eminence," he said. "His Holiness' actions were quite—unprecedented."

A characterization, Borja reflected, that was quite spectacularly damning coming from a lawyer. He schooled his face to solemnity. From here, there was only the direct route to the destination. "The matter I have in mind," he said, "is nothing less than the impeachment of His Holiness."

Sinceri's response was immediate. "Impossible."

"Unprecedented, certainly," Borja replied.

"Not entirely," Sinceri said. "The antipopes, in particular, are the precedent to which I refer Your Eminence—"

Borja let the details wash over him without much attention. He had, of course, studied canon law himself and was familiar with the whole business. There had, more than once, been two claimants to the mantle of Saint Peter. Dozens of times, in fact. The polite fiction was that one was the true pope and the other an impostor, determined by which one had been legally elected. But the Church's firm statement on the subject was not necessarily the whole truth. Many of the thirty or so antipopes recorded in history had contrived to discharge real functions of the office and had only become antipopes after the event, so to speak.

In practice, the record was frequently patchy even as to some of the clearer-cut cases. It was sound theology that the Holy Spirit worked in the world through the wager of battle, and by extension through the outcome of political maneuvering, after all. Borja privately speculated that the record had almost certainly been altered or effaced after the event to insure that the eventual loser appeared as the antipope to the eyes of history.

Borja could see the way clear at every step. It was simple. The sheer celerity with which the plan had come to him was an indicator of its true source.

"—and so, your eminence," Sinceri was saying, as Borja returned from his private reverie, "while there has been at least one abdication of a pope from his office, not one has been dismissed whether by the college of cardinals or otherwise without his successor coming down to us in the historical record as an antipope. The precedent is clear: the pope cannot be impeached."

"There is no way?" Borja asked, knowing the answer from other canon lawyers, consulted before this day.

Sinceri gave a small, dry chuckle like the rustling of old parchment. "Your Eminence will recall the jest that there is precedent for nothing until it is done for the first time, perhaps?"

Borja laughed politely. "Indeed," he said. "We must simply hope that His Holiness sees the error of his ways and abdicates, no?"

Suddenly, and to Borja's mixed delight and alarm, Sinceri was every inch the inquisitor, the dryness antarctic rather than scholarly. "I am sure the Holy Spirit will guide him to the right conclusion, Your Eminence."

A statement, Borja realized, which could be parsed in oh so many interesting ways. Sinceri would never conspire, never scheme. But if a scheme looked like succeeding, Sinceri and men like him would be there with the right formalities, the right words and above all the right documents to turn a coup into an orderly change of government.

Borja clasped his hands and raised his eyes piously to heaven. "It shall be a conclusion to this matter that will never be far from my prayers," he said. "In the meantime, Father Sinceri, may I ask you to do me the estimable service of having ready a briefing on every precedent for papal abdication, and on the current legislations on the conclave of election? I should be most interested to study at length the scholarly conclusions you have kindly sketched for me today."

"It is the least I can do for Your Eminence," said Sinceri with a small bow of his head. With that, and a few small pleasantries, he left.

Borja passed a few moments staring out at the garden, musing on the fact that he had now taken an irrevocable step that would end in either glory or disgrace. But the possibility of disgrace was so small as not to be worth thinking about. There was a calmness in him now that he took for a sign of divine favor. Once the Holy Spirit moved, hesitation or squeamishness surely took on the character of sin.

Audacity and ruthlessness would see the matter through. The only secret that truly needed to be kept would be Borja's own willingness to shape his means to fit his end, and do so without betraying his holy purpose with so much as a hint of scruple.

Ferrigno entered silently. "Signor Quevedo y Villega has arrived, Your Eminence."

"Send him in." Borja turned away from the window. "Have wine brought. The man is an incorrigible sot, and seems unable to speak without a cup in his hand." In any event, Borja felt that a small drink of wine would not be out of order, in toast to the enterprise he was beginning.

"As Your Eminence wishes." Ferrigno bowed himself out to attend to it.

There, Borja thought, was the secret to effective statecraft. A staff who got on with the matter at hand without undue frolics of their own. Francisco de Quevedo had been pressed on him by Osuna as a useful tool in the present business. He was not a tool that would have come naturally to Borja's hand. If nothing else, the dash the man had cut at court in Madrid these past few years had offended Borja's austere sensibilities. A satirist and a humorist and a man the Spanish Inquisition had had to censure for writings once already.

Quevedo's history of wild scheming—scheming that as often as not ended in disaster—suggested that he was a tool with a mind of his own. Such were dangerous. Had he not been in Italy raising Cain because he'd had to leave Spain for a while after killing a man in a duel? And, of course, the man's most prominent failure had been the Venetian plot, which was an additional risk in using him. There was another of the Venetian plotters in Rome, a man who knew Quevedo and might recognize him.

Against that risk there was the excellent record the man had of creating complete and imaginative chaos wherever he went. It was only to be expected that that was where the man's talents would lie, since his other claims to fame were as a soldier and a poet. At once a brute and an artist, a thought that forced another bark of laughter from Borja. Exactly what Rome needed right now.

If Quevedo's plotting erupted into a spectacular debacle, that was all to the good. A descent into anarchy was what Borja wanted for Rome. If the anarchy ran out of control, so much the better. There would be a very present remedy for that ailment on hand at just the right time, provided Osuna kept his part of his bargain. There would be troops and to spare in Naples for anything Borja saw fit to use them for.

There came a knock. "Enter," Borja said. A servant opened the door to usher the spy in while another brought the wine Borja had ordered.

Quevedo was all that his reputation said he would be. An older man in his fifties, he nevertheless carried himself with the arrogance of a man much younger. Tall, imposing, doubtless of the kind who in his younger days would have been a favorite with the less reputable sort of lady, he carried the marks of both dueling and drink on his face. His clothes were outlandish to Borja's eye, but then he had spent too little time in Rome to have paid notice to the fashions prevailing. Still, for a man who had made part of his career as a secret agent, he cut a remarkably striking figure.

"Your Eminence," Quevedo said, bowing low and sweeping off his hat, a plain black wide-brimmed affair which lacked the feathers usually seen on such but which did sport a colorful hatband.

He straightened up and addressed Borja with a small half-smile causing his dark but graying mustachios to quiver slightly, "I, Francisco de Quevedo y Villega, am at Your Eminence's most humble and dedicated service."

"Señor Quevedo. You have been briefed on this afternoon's proceedings at curia?"

Quevedo tossed his hat aside, on to a couch. "I have, Your Eminence. An agent within the Vatican staff proved most informative. Am I to assume that your business in Rome is to be transacted to its most full extent?"

Borja nodded. "My plans in that regard are not fully resolved. I have great hopes that His Holiness will heed the urgings of the Holy Spirit and come to a reasonable accommodation. In the meantime, what progress can you report with the business on which you were sent to Rome?"

"Satisfactory, Your Eminence. Rome is a city with, I must regretfully say, far too much time on its hands. There is a new fashion among the lower gentry to ape the manners of the Americans. Some of these lefferti, as they are known, are remarkably easy to lead into bad ways. One might express a pious regret at the ease with which the devil's work is done." Again, that little self-satisfied smile.

Although Quevedo had been a fixture at court in Madrid for a few years, he and Borja had little to do with each other. Indeed, this was the first time they had spoken directly—and Borja was finding the man disagreeable already.

"The devil's work, Quevedo?" he said, arching an eyebrow.

Quevedo threw back his head and laughed aloud. "Your Eminence seeks that the devil shall make merry that God's work be done under cover of the confusion. There are plenty of idle hands with which his infernal majesty might play, be sure of it."

"I shall thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head here, Quevedo, even if your japeries are tolerated at Madrid," Borja snapped.

Quevedo bowed again. "Your Eminence justly reproves and chastises his most humble servant, I, Francisco de Quevedo y Villega make most prostrate apology if my jesting words gave offense, which I assure Your Eminence was entirely without intent on my part."

Borja nodded acknowledgment. Clearly the man had all the polish of court, even if tarnished by incorrigible levity. "Handsomely done, Señor Quevedo. For my own part, I beg you forgive my testiness of manner. A man of my standing within the Church can abide not even jesting references to deviltry. However, do go on. The lefferti, you say?"

"Yes, Your Eminence. The American Harry Lefferts passed some months in Rome during 1633, and many of those with whom he kept company have taken to aping his manner of dress and disreputable ways. Uniformly low sorts of a kind with which Your Eminence will doubtless be unfamiliar. It takes little to bring them to brawling and license, as easy as leading pigs to the trough."

Quevedo gave a small sneer at the very prospect, although Borja knew full well that Quevedo's reputation—indeed, his all-but bragging in some of his bawdier poems—included a great many dalliances and the patronage of houses of ill-repute.

"It sounds like a most promising beginning. Señor Quevedo, your specific orders are now to raise all the foment you find yourself able to in Rome. You are unleashed to this task, and may draw on funds through my man Ferrigno. Anything and everything which may be done to the discredit of the House of Barberini and their governance of the city and the Church will be of assistance in our designs. Spare neither pains nor funds in your agitations."

Borja took up a cup of wine, noticing that Quevedo had not, in fact, done so already. "A toast, Señor Quevedo, to success in your enterprise!" he said, and drank.

Quevedo picked up a goblet for himself. "To the successful execution of Your Eminence's orders," he said, and drank in turn.

Borja set down his cup: the wine had been passable, at least, but he noticed the turns of phrase Quevedo had been using. "Let us indeed hope you are successful, Señor Quevedo," he said. "I should be unhappy to have to condemn a luminary of the Spanish Court before the Inquisition for foul deeds committed in Rome. It would embarrass His Most Catholic Majesty unduly, in a time when any embarrassment must be avoided by all of his loyal subjects."

"Your Eminence makes himself most excellently clear," Quevedo said, again with that little smile. "I, Francisco de Quevedo, assure Your Eminence of my most diligent efforts."

"See that it is so," Borja said, and dismissed the man.

It was, Borja reflected, good to know that someone who was, in the event of failure, utterly expendable was also so utterly disagreeable. Hidalgo himself to the core, Borja nevertheless recognized that the touchy honor and ferocious independence of those gentlemen of Spain who had not devoted themselves to the Church and its hierarchy was more than frequently an obstacle to the efficient ordering of affairs. Although, in this case, a certain inelegance and readiness to resort to violence would do no harm and might actually help.

There remained only one final piece to play in this first move. Cardinal Pietro Maria Borghese was a Genoese nobleman; therefore, at least nominally a Spanish client. Nevertheless, he and his cousins in the curia would have to be brought in to the fold for the upcoming enterprise as cardinals in their own right by persuasion. Since they were not directly subjects of the king of Spain, they could not simply be ordered as the Spanish cardinals were.

The interview with Borghese nevertheless promised to be a simple and uncomplicated one. At Urban VIII's election the other cardinal who had been regarded as papabile had been a Borghese, and the somewhat odd chain of circumstances that had left a Barberini on a papal throne that the Borghese had regarded as theirs was still a source of mild resentment. They regarded themselves as eminently papabile in the event of another vacancy in the Vatican, so they would be inclined to assist in any scheme that might create one. And, of course, they could read one of those so-called future histories as well as anyone else, and see the surname of the pope who would have been.

For the moment, though, Borja would be meeting with the youngest of the Borghese cardinals. Pietro Maria was a man in his early thirties placed in the church more out of dynastic convenience than any real commitment to religion on his part. There was a distance to be maintained in the early stages of a plot such as this. Not that the man's youth would be any indicator of his easiness to deal with. Like all scions of the great houses of Italy, he had imbibed politics and chicanery with his mother's milk.

Borja took up another cup of wine and composed himself to await Borghese's arrival.


Back | Next