Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Simurgh and the Nightingale (Part 12)

Chapter 21 
Windsor Castle, England. 5th November 1633

The Knights had all gathered, as directed, at the Hour of Tierce on this the eve of the prorogued Grand Feast of the Order of the Garter. Dressed in full regalia they greeted each other in the Prive-Chamber of Charles the Ist, King of England. In silence thereafter they waited for the king to complete his robing. They watched as he positioned the eponymous Garter with its motto of HONI SOIT QVI MAL Y PENSE - shame on him who thinks ill of it - composed of over four hundred diamonds, a little below his left knee. Charles appeared agitated as he then stood upright to allow a servant place a surcoat of crimson cloth - which was lined with white taffeta - around his shoulders. His attendants then brought forward and placed about his neck the blue silk ribband to which was attached the gold mounted medal known as the lesser George. It had been cut in onyx and sparkled with numerous diamonds. This was then followed by the great purple velvet mantle with its arms of Saint George set within an embroidered Order of the Garter ensigna on the left shoulder. The large terminal knots of the Venetian gold and silk robe-strings attached to the collar nearly reached the ground. Finally the large gold collar with the heavily jewelled depiction of Saint George killing the dragon dangling from its middle - this was known as the greater George - was brought out and placed about his shoulders.

One of the servants struggled as he brought forward a large mirror. Once satisfied Charles donned his plumed cap, straightened his ear-rings and turned to survey the assembled Knights. He noted that not all were present, the Stranger Knights abroad having being excused. “You are welcome, companion Knights. Because of pressure of time I plan to proceed to Chapter the private way rather than by Public Procession. There are a number of items to discuss before Vespers. Let us proceed.”
Charles did not move but watched as Sir William Segar gave a signal at the door of the chamber. Outside in the Presence-Chamber much activity was taking place. As the Sovereign and the Knight Companions prepared to file out two rows of Pensioners took guard with their pole-axes. The gentleman-usher holding the Sword of State brought it to the Earl of Danby, who had been delegated by Charles to carry it. The Yeoman Guard went ahead to clear the passage.
At this moment all of the Knight Companions turned back to look at Charles and simultaneously removed their plumed caps as a sign of reverence. He slowly removed his own to return their salute and then put it back on. The Garter Knights followed suit and this was the signal to start the procession. Ahead of them their attendants - all of whom had lined the stairs awaiting the signal - formed up behind the Yeomen and led off the procession. Behind these came the lesser officials such as the Alms-Knights, the Vergers, the Prebends and the Officers of Arms. The Knight Companions then filed out, some side by side and some in single file depending on whether their paired Knight Companion was in attendance. They were then followed by the officers of the Order and included the Black-Rod, the Register, the Garter, the Chancellor and the Prelate. Behind these came the Earl of Danby carrying the Sword of State and finally Charles himself with his train-bearers. Once they had cleared the Presence Chamber the Pensioners and their Captain fell in behind.
The procession wound down the stairs to the terrace and then along the walk on the north side of the castle to re-enter through a door in the Castle wall and into one of the canon’s lodgings adjoining Winchester Tower. On entering the cloister passage between the Tomb House and the chapel they turned to enter the chapel by its east door. All of the attendants then fanned out to line the north aisle as far as the west door. The Knight Companions, on entering, turned sharp right to enter the Chapter-house on the north east corner. Followed by the officers of the Order and Charles all others remained outside, including the Earl of Danby with the sword. The door was then closed by the Black Rod.

Charles was in good spirits. Since suspending Parliament for their treasonous mutterings one of his only ways of gauging public opinion was the advice he received from his fellow Garter Knights. He took his place at the north end of the table where his chair, cushions and cloth of state had been prepared. The Knight Companions whose designated position or stall in the Chapel were on the Sovereign’s side sat to his right and those who were designated stalls on the Prince’s side sat on his left. The Prelate - Nele, Bishop of Winchester - came and stood at Charles right side and the Chancellor Sir Frances Crane stood on his left. The Register Dr Matthew Wren, Dean of the Chapel of Windsor - and successor to de Dominis - and the Garter Sir William Segar stood at the end of the table. Wren recorded the names of those present and proffered the excuses of those missing.
The Chancellor Crane - in his peculiar high pitched town-criers voice - then recounted the achievements and life events of each of the Garter Knights since the last Chapter. Much time was taken up with the details of the coronation of Charles as King of Scotland. He then went on to recount what had been discussed in the last Chapter and gave a summary of the various outcomes of their deliberations. With the satisfied smile of a smug servant creasing his face he announced that despite the difficult travelling conditions abroad he had ensured the successful delegation of William Boswell Esq - the Sovereign’s Agent in Holland - and John Philpot Esq - the Somerset Herald - to deliver the ensigna of the Order - the Garter and greater George - to the Order’s newest member Charles, Prince Palatine of the Rhine. Finally finishing, to the relief of all present, Crane passed a bound sheaf of letters to the King who placed them on the table in front of him. 
Charles rested his hand on these for a moment before looking up at the Knights. “I have received a dispatch from Marie de Rohan, the Duchess of Chevreuse and wife of our fellow Garter Knight Claude de Lorraine. She, as you know, was a good friend of my beloved Buckingham and writes from Touraine having been recently expelled by Richelieu from France for stealing state secrets.”
One of the Knights on the King’s side leant forward. “It is said that they were extracted in the bed-chamber from the Marquis de Chateauneuf, keeper of the French seals.”
Charles frowned slightly at the interruption but then continued, “That may be the case Hamilton. Nevertheless de Rohan has always been a friend to England and the letter contains some interesting gossip.”
One of the Knights near the head of the table began laughing but stopped just as suddenly as Charles glared at him. “I am sorry for my outburst Sire. I was just wondering how long my poor Lord Hamilton would last in the company of the bold Duchess. I had the pleasure of meeting Marie de Rohan when Claude was invested with his Garter and methinks the struggle would be short-lived.” Robert Barty, the Earl of Lindsay, continued to smirk and even Charles had difficulty suppressing a smile.
“Indeed Lindsay. In any event she relates that one of the Spanish Orders has been actively pursuing the suspected but heretofore, secret legacy of our brother Order, the Angelicks. We, in Chapter, have been aware of the possibility of such a legacy but are not sure exactly what it comprises. The Duchess reports that the Grand Master of the Angelicks, Dom Giovanni Andrea, was foolish enough to let the legacy out of his control and that it is currently in the possession of the Patriarch Loukaris in Constantinople. I have instructed Our ambassador to try and determine what exactly the legacy is and to retrieve it, if possible, for our Order.”
Most of the senior Knights were stunned at the significance of this report and nodded their assent. Some of the younger ones looked bemused. 
Charles then continued. “I know that some of you are aware of this legacy and its possible significance. However as they have not been discussed in Chapter for some time . . .” Charles looked at Matthew Wren - the Register - who stood opposite him at the end of the table. 
He sprang to attention. “Sire. My searches show that the first mention of the supposed legacy is in the French Language in the Registrum Ordinis Chartaceum which is stored in Whitehall. The next mention is in the Black Book, page one hundred and sixty-one, and again in the Blue Book, page seven, both of which are available here in Windsor if any of the Great Knights wish to consult. There is not, I fear, much information and thus we are little the wiser.”
“Thank you for your due diligence Doctor Wren. Noble Knights you may consult at your leisure.” 
Charles then grew sullen as he detailed the other important news from the Duchess. This warned Charles of Richelieu’s plans to have France enter the war in the coming year. The information was met with a grave silence before a heated debate on the implications began. It was some time before Charles suddenly stood up bringing instant silence. “Enough argument, my brother Knights. Chancellor Crane will provide a detailed report with Our possible response. The Chapter is now closed. Let us proceed forthwith to the choir. The Earl of Dover will act as proxy for the Prince Palatine.”
The Knights watched as the door opened. The Earl of Dover entered and on receiving the missing Prince’s mantle at the door turned to walk - bareheaded - back into the chapel carrying the mantle on his right shoulder. The Knights and Charles followed.

Chapter 22 
Nordlingen, Germany. 7th September 1634

The thanksgiving mass held in the Church of Saint George was over and the officers of the combined Imperial and Spanish forces were filing out into the square. The ‘Daniel’ clock-tower rising high above the church roof chimed the hour. To the watchman perched in his turret at the top of the tower, it appeared, as he looked south over the covered parapets and battlements of the city walls, that the floor of the Reis valley - in which Nordlingen was centred - was smouldering like a volcano about to erupt. Some locals believed that the valley had been formed by a giant throwing a large boulder at a rival and that this rival lay crushed beneath the ground waiting to be released. He knew of course that on this day the putrid smoke drifting over the town, borne on a freshening south-westerly wind, came from the hundreds of makeshift pyres burning some of the battlefield dead. He could also see, scattered at intervals across the valley, work details of peasants and townspeople digging large communal graves in which to hurry the disposal of the mounting piles of lifeless corpses.
The watchman had been told by people coming back in to the town that it was estimated that somewhere between six and ten thousand men had died in the battle that had raged over the previous two days. In the distance the waters of the Eger river ran blood red as it meandered for its meeting with the mighty Danube. It had been a dry summer and the low level of the river meant the waters were likely to do so for many days to come. He could hear far below him the pitiful cries of injured and dying men as they were still being brought from the battlefield to the hospital in the city. As he looked down he watched the groups of Spanish soldiers descend the steps of the church and begin crossing the square. 
Most appeared to be in good spirits, talking animatedly with each other still excited at their victory over the Swedish army. Some even responded to the demands of the begging women and children who approached them on the steps. These were the camp followers whose dead husbands’ and fathers’ ashes now floated down to cover them in a fine layer of dust. The majority of the older and hardened officers knew that these creatures would now have to fend for themselves and they ignored their pleas.
In their anxiety to move away quickly from the begging crowd the exiting officers did not stop to notice a small group of uniformed Spanish soldiers remaining behind in a small side-chapel of the church. They waited patiently for the Bishop and his priests to disrobe and leave the sacristy. This they seemed anxious to do as if somehow concerned about being in a church that had up to very recently been a Protestant sanctuary. After an arrangement with the sacristan the Spaniards then barred the doors to ensure privacy. The smell of wax hung in the vaulted vessel and aisles.
Dom Diego de Cardenas, the Grand Commander of the Montaluan in Aragon detachment of the Sant’Iago Order, looked at his officer Knights. The Imperial army’s great victory at Nordlingen had been achieved at some cost to themselves. About 80 of their Order’s number had died in the battle, including two council members. Asking the assembled soldiers to kneel he offered a private prayer for the repose of their comrades departed souls. The chapel remained silent until all had finished and were sitting back in their pews.
Dermico O’Driscoll was the first to speak. “A good victory Dom Diego. Don Fernando will be pleased.”
The Grand Commander sat down wearily on the steps of the chapel altar. “Yes Dom Dermico. However I think we were very lucky. There appears to have been a disagreement on initial tactics between Horn and Saxe-Weimer and although they had the best of the early fighting Horn allowed his cavalry to become separated from the infantry when attacking the hill. It also appears that he lost communication with Saxe-Weimer’s troops at a vital time. This confusion precipitated a retreat right into the path of our troops and the subsequent carnage.” The older man hesitated, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “The absence of the veteran Protestant regiments -dispatched to the Polish front - also worked in our favour. The Cardinal Infante Fernando and his cousin Ferdinand of Hungary were right to make a stand and although I am not an ardent supporter of Matteo Gallas his handling of the tercios was masterful.” 
They all nodded in agreement. There was silence before Dom Dermico spoke again, “I understand that Horn and about three thousand of his men have been taken prisoner. Gallas will be well rewarded.”
“I hear he has already laid claim to some of Walleistein’s estates,” One of the other Sant’Iago Knights near the back rasped resisting the urge to spit.
Dom Diego looked up at the altar and then back at the others. “The Aulic’s will do everything in their power to prevent that but it is a lesson for us all.The balance of power, gentlemen, is passing from the nobility to men of courage and arrivistes who can marry economic might to military strategy. Almost like the dreaded corsair captains of the high seas, their landlocked warlord counterparts like Walleistein and now Gallas, will bring a far greater influence to bear on all our destinies in years to come.” He paused for a moment. “They will as a matter of course, aspire to the prestige and entitlements of established nobility but these privileges will be gained by force and not birthright. We in the Order must recognise this change and be prepared to adapt. We will only survive as a credible force by constantly harvesting the energies of the moment. History, as we know to our cost, has the ability to await the return of its gifts to any one generation or people.”
All of the Knights grew pensive at these words but just as quickly the senior officer broke the spell. “Dermico. Your musket men were magnificent! You are to be congratulated. Did you lose many?”
O’Driscoll smiled wearily at the compliment. “Unfortunately yes. About 300 all told, mainly the remainder of my Irish troops. I am afraid that the initial attack on the enemy hill ordered by Don Fernando was not in enough force nor well enough supported. We were very exposed and the tactic that we have developed of kneeling between enemy volleys is not very effective when climbing a hill.”
The older man pursed his lips as he nodded his head slowly. “I understand that Juan de Necolalde, our brother Knight and the charge d’affaires in London has arranged for the recruitment and transfer of six thousand Irishmen to Flanders. This was achieved with the help of Sir Thomas Wentworth. He also reports, however, that many of the English, particularly the Londoners, are beginning to object to the passage of armed Catholic soldiers through their territory. I would hope to replenish our tercio with some of these when we arrive there. In addition most of the soldiers taken prisoner today will be conscripted into the Imperial Army.”
Dermico O’Driscoll delighted at the news of possible replacements stood up to congratulate the Grand Commander but the older man held up his hand with a resigned shrug of his shoulders. “It is only a possibility Dom Dermico. The supply of Irish recruits is sure to dwindle as I have no doubt that France is preparing to enter the war soon. Indeed our spies report active recruitment on their part in both Ireland and Scotland.” He paused for a moment, composing his thoughts. “If France does enter the war, we will have Catholics fighting Catholics. The days of Imperial allegiances and wars based on religious divides is waning. You all heard our troops on the field today, in their moment of victory calling out ‘Viva Espana’. Increasingly there are going to be well demarcated national entities and wars will be fought to protect those interests and nothing else. Spain will have to go it alone. I believe . . .” He looked up, interrupted by a loud pounding on the Church door. One of the Knights went to investigate and soon returned accompanied by another. Dom Diego de Cardenas smiled at the latecomer. “Dom Salvador you are most welcome. Give us your report.”
The tall bearded man hesitated for a second as he looked at the gathered Knights before approaching the Grand Commander and to place a small object in his hand. “I was unable to communicate with you before you left on campaign and when I arrived here the battle had already commenced. I can now confirm that the traitor, council member Dom Diego de Haro, is dead. That in your hand is his Calatrava ensigna.”
There was a murmur of surprise from one of the younger Knights present. One, whose rank in the Order, had excluded him from the internal politics. Dom Diego was quick to explain. “Dom Luis. You were not privy to some of our secrets but from this point on, you and Dermico are to be Chevalier Fiscaux and council members of the Sant’Iago Order. I must have your oath of loyalty and silence.”
Both men hastily knelt and vowed their loyalty. The Grand Commander then placed the blood-stained ribbons and ensigna of the rank of Commander of the Sant’Iago Order - taken from the council members who had been killed in the battle - around their necks. 
Dom Diego de Cardenas continued to speak as he lifted Dermico and Dom Luis gently from their knees, “It was the report from Algiers documenting the redemption attempt and subsequent botched assassination on Dom Djivo Slavujovic by the Calatravans, that alerted us to the possibility of such a traitor being in our midst.” He held his Irish commander by the shoulders. “Dermico. Is Dom Djivo still alive? Is there any further news of the search for the Scrolls?”
Dermico tried to compose his thoughts and the others became uneasy at the undue delay. “I am sorry Sir. Dom Djivo has not been seen in Algiers since May when the Galleys put to sea. I do not know whether he is alive or dead nor do we have any further information on the Scrolls whereabouts.”
Dom Diego released his hold on Dermico and shrugged his own shoulders in a resigned fashion. “We will pick up their trail again once this war is over. That is our immediate priority. For my part, I am returning to Spain. The Order must be protected from its enemies within the corridors of power, particularly Calatrava. Remember my brave brother Knights, we must learn to bend with the winds of change. Dom Salvador you will take command of the tercio.”
The bearded tall knight bowed deeply. “It is a great honour you bestow on me. I will not fail you.”
The Grand Commander smiled benignly before continuing, “Dom Dermico I have a special mission for you. Please remain behind. To you others I offer my profound appreciation for your endeavours. Return to your troops. Reorganise and serve Dom Salvador as well as you served me. May God and Saint James protect you all.” De Cardenas embraced each man warmly before they kissed his ring and left the church. Dermico remained seated and silent, wondering what was in store for him. Once everybody had departed the older man closed the doors and came and sat down beside him. They both were looking at the altar. “Dermico, I did not want to say it in front of the others but there is a possibility that we may have another lead to the Scrolls. The Emperor mentioned the name of a man who might be of some help. I need you to go to Constantinople to follow through on this matter and have arranged for you to be attached to a papal delegation that is leaving from Genoa on a Ragusan vessel in three days. . .” De Cardenas was suddenly distracted by a pigeon landing on the altar.
Dermico waited. 'Who is this man?' he wondered.

©R.Derham 2001,2009

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