Palais Cardinalle, Paris.
7th July 1637
The far corner of the room was dark for the evening light filtering through the tall windows had little chance to illuminate before being absorbed by the heavy drapes that lined the walls. On a chaise-longue tucked into the same corner a small thin man was reclining. He was reading a page taken from a sheaf of papers that lay on the floor beside him. On his lap two small kittens scurried back and forth in an endless game of chase. Occasionally his hand would stretch out to stroke their mother as she nestled close to his side. The matriarch became instantly alert however as the door at the other end of the room opened allowing her kittens to dive in beneath her for protection. Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal and Duke de Richelieu - known as the Red Eminence - the 51 year-old chief minister of Louis XIII’s France stopped reading and watched as his visitor approached. The shafts of fading sunlight cast an orange glow on the rich carpet. He retrieved one of the kittens and soothed with gentle hands its spitting defence. “Thank you for coming Pere Joseph. We have much to discuss. Would you mind lighting the lamps please?”
The visitor, dressed in the brown-hooded habit of a Capuchin monk, picked up a tinder box from the side table and after igniting a taper moved in sequence to light the candle lamps that were placed on low tables around the chaise-longue. Pere Joseph was a heavily built man with small, piercing eyes surrounded by swollen lids and a sallow face. His ragged grey-red beard protruded through the hood. He wore little ornamentation apart from a small dagger and a set of rosary beads tucked into the double wrapped hemp waist cord. Once the gloom had lifted he sat on a chair that was placed beside a small table in front of the nearest window. Outside, in the gardens of the old Hotel Rambouillet, Pere Joseph could hear the faint laughter of what he imagined to be courtiers and courtesans catching the final embers of the day. They would soon fade as the Palais gates were locked for the night. He sat down and placed a ledger in front of him and turned to face the Cardinal. “It has been a busy day, Your Eminence. Where shall we start?”
Richelieu swung his legs out and sat up to look directly at his visitor. Although having worked since dawn with only small rest periods - imposed on him by his niece Mme d’Aiguillon for the little food he consented to partake of - his mind was completely alert. “Tell me first of the Parliament.”
Pere Joseph to all intents and purposes worked as the Cardinal’s Foreign Secretary but was used to dealing with matters closer to home that were particularly dear to Richelieu’s heart. “The Judges of the Parliament of Paris have finally obeyed and registered your Letters Patent of 1635 establishing the French Academy. One of the august judges, however, was overheard to remark that ‘he thought that the time wasted to date on the matter could only be compared with the deliberations of the Roman Senate on the proper sauce for a turbot’. Shall I have him censured?”
The Cardinal smiled. “Yes. Make him a member of the Forty. Now what of the King’s mistress?”
The monk blushed slightly. “Mademoiselle de la Fayette has finally entered the Convent of the Visitation.”
Richelieu made a note in a journal that he pulled from beneath the cushion he had been resting on. “A good riddance. I must be more careful in the companions that I choose for His Majesty in future.”
One of the kittens was brave enough to venture forth and was playing with the hem of Pere Joseph’s habit. He tried to gently push it away with his foot but desisted when he saw Richelieu’s disapproving frown. He returned to his report. “On the matter of de Cesy’s recent communiqué from Constantinople. I have had a discussion with the Austrian ambassador and we have both agreed that it would be prudent to dispatch the Patriarch Loukaris. They, the Austrians, have agreed to arrange the plot but I understand that a good deal of money might be required. I need your approval to dispatch these funds to de Cesy.”
Pere Joseph handed a sheet of paper to the Cardinal who after a quick appraisal nodded his assent and attached his seal. Richelieu then moved onto the next item. “Have you heard anything more of these supposed secret Scrolls?”
Pere Joseph continued to be distracted by the kitten. “Sorry Your Eminence . . . No. Although it is rumoured that the Duchesse de Cheuveuse has some knowledge concerning their whereabouts and has been in communication with both the English and the Venetians.”
Richelieu stood up and walking to the window leant down and retrieved the kitten from beneath the Capuchin’s habit. He brought it across the room to an ornate, gilded, hardwood side-table that stood against the opposite wall. Here a small silver bowel of milk had been left. His voice was harsh as he spoke and the kitten tried to scurry away, “That traitorous bitch. I should have killed her when I had the opportunity. Instruct de Cesy to proceed with all haste and try to find out more of these Scrolls.”
As usual, the two men’s evening discussion lasted for a couple of hours before the Capuchin monk was able to retire to say his office. For him sleep came quickly although he knew that the Cardinal would still be pacing the floor of his apartment - at the far end of the building - for many hours yet.
Castel Gondolfo, Colli Albani, Italy.
11th August 1637
The doors to the terrace were open and the fragrant aromas of the castle’s gardens wafted on the evening breeze into the reception room. After the long journey in the choking summer heat of the dusty plains below the visitor - dressed in the robes of a simple country priest - savoured the refreshing and cooling wind of the Colli Albani. The door opened and a thin man wearing the white Papal robes entered and crossed the room quickly. The visitor immediately knelt on one knee and brushed his lips on the proffered ring. “Holy Father. You do me great honour.”
Maffeo Barberini, the Florentine Pope Urban VIII, withdrew his hand and moved right past the kneeling man to walk onto the terrace. He called back to his visitor without turning, “Father Panzani please join me.”
Gregorio Panzani - lately the Pontiff’s secret agent in London - rose stiffly to his feet and came and stood beside Urban who was looking out over the gardens.
“Beautiful. Is it not?” Urban watched for Panzani’s reaction.
“Incomparable, Your Holiness. Your architect Bernini has created a splendid and deserved Villa for your recreation. If God were to need repose He would find it here.”
Urban smiled. “Did you know that it is built on the foundations of Domitian’s own villa?” He indicated a chair for Panzani to sit on. The priest shook his head. “That is of little importance.” Urban waited until a servant appeared from the shadows and held out another chair for him to sit on. The servant then poured them both wine and disappeared as silently as he had come. Urban swilled the liquid in his mouth before swallowing. “I have read your report. There were some aspects that you indicated that you did not wish to commit fully to paper. Please elaborate.”
Gregorio Panzani had expected today’s summons and although prepared, his mouth at this moment felt very dry. “The Jesuits are very aggrieved about our proposals and feel that I have marginalized them in my efforts to reconcile the secular and religious interests of the Catholic brethren in England. I am sure they will try to undo the gains we have worked hard to achieve.” Panzani stopped but Urban urged him onwards. “Through the good offices of your god-daughter Queen Henrietta Maria I was granted a secret meeting with King Charles.”
Urban’s face lit up. “How did you find him?”
Panzani decided that truth and accuracy would be the best policy. “Highly intelligent and perceptive . . . much smaller in stature than I expected and I found his Scottish accent hard to understand.”
Urban frowned as if angry at Panzani’s frankness. “What did he say to My proposal?”
“He welcomed your offer of support against Richelieu and France but will not accept it with conditions of conversion to the Catholic Creed. He did, however, promise to relax some of the restrictions.”
Urban shook his head slowly. “The fool! ” He then sat there saying nothing.
Feeling awkward Panzani decided to continue. “I fear he will have major problems within his own faith in trying to impose a new rite on the Scottish dissenters. King Charles faces increasing opposition in his own country and unless handled carefully the Crown is in true jeopardy.”
Urban became more pensive. “I see . . . I see . . . By the way. There was one other matter you alluded to in your report. Something about ancient Scrolls.”
Panzani was surprised. He had only mentioned the fact in a footnote, by way of complete accuracy. “Near the termination of our meeting King Charles asked me if I had any intelligence of some ancient manuscripts, that had recently surfaced in the hands of the Constantinian Order, purporting to be a report of the trial of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I said, truthfully, that I had not and it was only when Archbishop Laud also pressed me with a similar question some time later that I felt it important to include the matter. Hence the footnote in my report.”
Urban was looking at his agent intensely to detect any hesitancy. He saw none. “Thank you Father Panzani. You have been a most valuable servant to the Church. I have arranged for you to become a canon of San Lorenzo in Damaso and a Bishop’s mitre will quickly follow. Conn will replace you in England and I want you to brief him fully particularly with regard to the Jesuits. Make no mention of your conversation with King Charles or of the manuscripts. Do you understand?”
Panzani was embarrassed. “Yes your Holiness. Thank you , your Holiness.”
Urban stood up and again proffered his ring hand. Panzani knelt obediently. “It is little for your efforts. There are quarters made ready for you to stay here tonight. We will dine together later.” Urban clapped his hands and watched as one of the Papal guards came in and escorted Panzani off the terrace and through the door at the far end of the reception room.
Once the door had closed behind them another figure stepped from the shadows to join Urban. “Did you hear all that?” Urban turned to look at his new visitor.
“Yes Holy Father.”
“What do you make of it?”
Dom Fajardo Diego de Saavedra - Ambassador of Philip IV of Spain in Rome - touched the rim of the glass of wine that Urban had given him. He leant back against the low marble terrace wall. “It confirms the intelligence passed on to my Liege by Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse, detailing what was discussed in Chapter by the Garter Knights. King Philip although Administrator of both Sant’Iago and Calatrava is not privy to all their secrets. But because he recognised that if these manuscripts exist and if they were to fall into the wrong hands it might place us all in difficulty. He wished that I inform your Holiness.”
Urban thought for a moment. “Where is the de Rohan woman now? I should like to meet her.”
“In Spain. She fled there after Richelieu accused her and Queen Anne of maintaining treasonous contact with King Philip. I will see what can be arranged.”
Urban threw up his hands. “Cardinal Richelieu. That thorn in my side! The sooner he gets taken to his reward the better. I’m unsure though, Fajardo, as to whether Our Divine Lord will be waiting to greet him.”
De Saavedra smiled. “What will you do Holy Father?”
Urban was beginning to feel the evening chill and he shivered. “Keep a patient watch. If the manuscripts do exist I will wait for them to surface and then pounce. I have a trusted agent in the Constantinian Order.”
©R. Derham 2001,2009