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Prologue
January 1634
To me alone there came a thought of grief

 


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Munich, Bavaria

Duke Maximilian of Bavaria kneeled by the side of the bier upon which his late wife's body lay in state. "Nobody else remembers," he cried out. "The rest of you only recall how she was these last years—an ill old woman, tired, discouraged and heavy in spirit because she had not given Bavaria an heir."


He banged his forehead against the stone pedestal upon which the bier had been placed; then turned to the chamberlain who was standing behind him. "Only I remember what she was like when she came to Bavaria as a bride. I am the only one who remembers what it was like. She radiated merriment; she was so lovable. Under God, she was the greatest blessing of my life. So virtuous! So pious! I have lost the most wonderful wife that any man ever had. Her price was truly above rubies!"


He turned back to the bier. "O, My God, how have I offended You? In what way has my service to You and to the Church failed, that You have so bereft me? Elisabeth Renata, may God take you directly to paradise. You never did anything that would require you to remain in purgatory. Elisabeth Renata. My wife."


Turning again, he called for a pen and paper—and a knife. The chamberlain moved to the door; a silent servant brought the supplies rapidly. Slashing the ball of his thumb, the duke accumulated a little puddle of blood on the floor, with which he wrote—wrote shakily, with numerous blots, not just because of his agitation but because blood, coagulating so quickly, does not make the best of inks. "To Mary, Queen of Heaven, Patroness of Bavaria," he began. Finished, he turned. "Bring me the golden box on my writing desk—the one with the mirror on the top."


The servant slid away, returning swiftly with the box that the duke had requested. Maximilian opened it and placed the paper inside.


"This is my vow. Take it to the pilgrimage shrine at Altötting. My worldly life is over. Others may shoulder the burden. I shall abdicate and retire to a monastery. Until I am reunited with my duchess, my days will be devoted to fasting and prayer."


 


Duke Albrecht of Bavaria looked silently at the privy council. The councillors looked back, in equal silence.


"My brother is still at Duchess Elisabeth Renata's bier. There is certain urgent business that cannot wait until he can bring himself to turn his attention to it," Albrecht finally commented. "First, however, let us each say a silent rosary for the peaceful rest of the late duchess. I cannot regret the pneumonia that took her. For more than a year now, the physicians have told us, the crab, the cancer, has been attacking her from within. She was strong. She would have had a hard death, otherwise. As we pray, let us thank God for His infinite mercies."


 


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Framed