Hello everyone, here is chapter thirty-four!

Duchesse d'Anjou.

Act III.

The Balance of Power.

Chapter XXXIV.

The Great Embassy: Part I.

"With all due respect, my Queen, these policies are rather extreme. I do not think it is a good idea to even present this to his Holiness, let alone to try and go through with it." the Archbishop of Toledo displayed his displeasure at my clerical reforms proposal, which was unfortunate but I cannot say it was unexpected. I was having a meeting with Alfonso de Austria and the Archbishop of Toledo, in which I was presenting my plans for reforms of the church in Spain. First of all, I want to increase the number of bishops in Spain, trying to give every town in Spain its own bishop reporting to an archbishop at nearest major city. Second of all, and this is what I think Archbishop Guzman in particular is worried about, are my plans to reform the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Spain, creating a powerful Archbishop of Madrid equal in standing to the Archbishop of Toledo, and I also plan on strengthening the power of the Patriarch of the West Indies. The Patriarch has, for the most part, just been another cleric in Madrid with theoretical power over the churches of the New World, but little actual role. I intend to change that, making the Patriarch of the West Indies the highest church official in the Americas, based in the Ciudad de Mexico - the capital of Nueva Espana - who all the Archbishops in the colonies will report to. I want to create Archbishops in Havana, San Juan de Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Veracruz, Acapulco, Santa Fe de Nueva Mexico, Guatemala, Comayagua, Panama, Bogota, Caracas, Maracaibo, Quito, Lima, Sucre, La Paz, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo at a minimum, showing the sheer extent of my ambition for the colonies and the new administrative role I envision for the Patriarch. My final, and perhaps most controversial reform, is to eliminate vacant bishoprics in Spain, asking the Pope to making sure each bishopric in Spain has its own bishop primarily based in Spain.

For a long time, notable church officials have held multiple posts, usually in one country, but that is not always the case, and this results in many churches, even Cathedrals, being vacant, leaving daily operation to local priests. This is not a scenario conducive to government control, as it is much easier to control a select number of bishops who in turn report to an even smaller number of Archbishops than it is to control every local priest in every church, basilica, or Cathedral. Now, I am not trying to do anything radical like the Tudor-era Protestants of England, I am not questioning Papal authority, I am simply making sure that Spain has some level of power over the Church in Spain. France has a degree of power over its own Church, and that does not stop France from being a Catholic country, it merely extends Philippe's absolute control within his border. The average church going Spaniard will not see any adverse effects to their daily lives, if anything, they will gain more contact with their local ecclesiastical officials. I am doing nothing to threaten the church lands or the monasteries or anything of the sort. All I wish to do is to strengthen the connection between church and state within the Spanish Empire.

"With all due respect, your excellency, I do not see what is so radical about these reforms. I am simply bringing Spanish religious policy into line with secular policy. If I wanted to be radical, I would remove the Jesuits from power, insist on oaths of loyalty, or demand the rights to appoint priests myself, but I'm not doing that. All I'm asking is that the Pope considers a number of policies that I think could improve the church and its relationship to the crown going forward. You know me well enough by now that know that I am a good Catholic, Archbishop Guzman." I replied. It was a rather cheap tactic, trying to scare the Archbishop with the implicit threat that I could go more radical, more anti-clerical if I really wanted to, but it was also an effective one, distancing my reforms from the Protestantism of centuries past. I wanted to work within the the Catholic Church, just in a way that favored the Spanish government and mirrored its institutions. The people of Spain, particularly the peasantry, are a very conservative and religious lot, therefore, as I transform the Church in Spain to more closely resemble my government, it will, in turn, make the government more acceptable to the people, as the secular boundaries, taxes, and authorities in their lives will be based on the same religious boundaries, tithes, and clergy that they're accustomed to. It will strengthen both the Church and the state in Spain.

"What do you think, Don Alfonso, you must have a position on this." the Archbishop of Toledo turned his attention to Alfonso de Austria, seeing that we were at an impasse, and hoping to use the Prime Minister as a neutral party. Now, obviously Guzman wanted Don Alfonso to call on his side, but what did the Habsburg cadet actually think about all of this? I think that it is a closer issue than it may appear. First and foremost, I think Alfonso has some basic reservations, as typical considering that he's a Catholic and a rather conservative one at that, but I also think he can see how the reforms would benefit Spain, and also how they could strengthen the legitimacy of the secular reforms we have already taken. Ecclesiastical provinces matching up with the secular ones in particular is a good thing from my perspective, as it really puts the emphasis on the provincial capitals and then turns the other towns and villages in that province into points in orbit along the local metropol. The religious result in this would be that the central city would have a Cathedral, with subservient churches in the towns and the villages, and, in the event that the provincial capital is home to a bishop, then perhaps he could report to a regional archbishop. Once again, the religious hierarchy would mirror the secular one. This extends to the New World as well, with the Archbishops I was seeking to create based in the major cities of the Spanish colonial empire, including all the Viceregal capitals, with Ciudad de Mexico reigning supreme. Ciudad de Mexico is not only the capital of Nueva Espana, but it is the oldest city in the New World, built by the conquistadors on the ruins of the floating Aztec city of Tenochtitlan at the very moment of conquest.

"Your excellency, may I ask what is most offensive about these reforms?" Alfonso de Austria asked, not yet answering the question, but beginning a line of questioning that I think shows he is on my side. I tried to suppress a smile because it seemed like my Prime Minister was not only in support of these reforms, but he was willing to challenge the Archbishop on his own concerns. That being said, I didn't let myself get too excited, because there is always a chance that Alfonso de Austria simply wants to hear Archbishop Guzman's perspective and could be convinced by the clergyman, but, considering that I was worried about Alfonso himself being skeptical about this, this is already a major step forward. It is easier to deal with Alfonso having reservations on behalf of the Archbishop than it is to deal with the Juan Ramiro de Guzman having his set of issues with these reforms and Alfonso having a different one all on his own.

"You know as well as I do that the Queen is a woman trying to dictate how the Pope himself should run the most holy organization on the planet, trusted upon him by God himself in an ancient lineage traced all the way back to Saint Peter himself. The Queen wishes to change the bishoprics of Spain, the very hierarchy of the church in Spain itself, and she sees fit to dictate how his Holiness places his bishops. It is an affront to the very faith you and I share, and the faith that she shares with us for that matter. I cannot understand how a good Catholic can accept this." the Archbishop responded, careful in his wording, but clearly showing his outrage towards me. He was careful to call me the Queen before dismissing me as a woman, an acknowledgement of authority to dampen the blow of his insult. Likewise, he said I was a good Catholic, but then followed it up with saying that he doesn't understand how a good Catholic would want these reforms, not only insulting my own piety, but trying to get Alfonso to question the side he has taken. The Archbishop can be a slippery creature when he wants to be, but, on the other hand, I've already seen through his game, and this only makes me want to work with a new Archbishop of Madrid more. I will have no say over who the bishop will ultimately be - I'm not that radical - the most I could do is propose a number of candidates for the Pope's consideration.. The Pope can ordain whoever he wants though, and I'm not changing that, which really should be more than enough to show the Archbishop that I am not questioning the power of the Papacy.

"Let us think about this father, how is it an affront to God to ask that every diocese should have its own bishop? How is it an affront to the Pope to ask for the expansion of his church and his ecclesiastical domain in the New World?" Alfonso countered, leaving out one reform and focusing on the two big ones for now. For a moment, I feared that this may be Alfonso ultimately pushing for a compromise that would dampen the effects of my reforms, but, then I realized what he was doing, and I let him continue. I realize at this point that Don Alfonso holds more sway over Juan Ramiro de Guzman than I ever could, and this honestly makes me question if there ever was any hope with this Archbishop. I thought that he was a reformer at one point, I thought that he would play a role in helping me change the Spanish church to our benefit, but, instead, he has become the biggest source of opposition in my path to reasonably reforming the church. The fact that Alfonso de Austria has emerged as a defender of my church reforms really shows how reasonable I am being.

"I agree that the concept of vacant bishops is not ideal for the everyday running of the church, but priests still serve the common people in those Cathedrals, and it is not our place to say how the Pope shall run his church. As for the expansion of the Catholic Church into the New World, I believe that to be the most reasonable of the reforms. That, I believe, we should present to his Holiness because I believe it is a good policy and it shall not only expand the Church in the New World, but assist in our efforts to convert the Indians to the true path." the Archbishop had no answer for the question of vacant cathedrals, so he quickly brushed that off before voicing his support for the policy in the Americas, as if he hoped that would lead to a very, very moderate compromise. I wasn't finished though, but, as I was about to insert myself into this debate again, Alfonso de Austria continued, completing his routing of the Archbishop.

"So then, the largest problem is the elevation of the Archbishop of Madrid, the very thing which would threaten your position the most?" I once again tried to suppress a smirk as Alfonso finally boxed in Archbishop Guzman, catching him in the act of simply trying to defend his own power. The best response he had to my most radical reform was that it was not our place to question this particular injustice in the Catholic Church, he was actually in favor of my policies in regards to the New World, and that only left the issue of the hierarchy of the church in Spain. The Archbishop of Toledo has been the traditional leader of the church in Spain, after all, Toledo was the capital of Spain for a long time and retains some dignity even now, as the capital of Spain has shifted north to Madrid. Toledo has remained the ecclesiastical capital of Spain even though the secular capital has shifted, and Juan Ramiro de Guzman has likely worked for a long time to get into this position. Even then his work was not enough, so the Guzman dynasty, one of the strongest and richest noble houses in Spain, likely had to give a number of tithes and naked bribes to the Church and the crown to see his ascendancy. Now, the ecclesiastical jewel in the crown of the Casa de Guzman is under threat, and Juan Ramiro doesn't like it.

"That is an unfair accusation and you know it, Don Alfonso. I expected better from a devout man such as yourself. Present these reforms to the Pope if you want, but take my name and any semblance of my approval off of this document, I want no part in it. If you wish to call on my services again, I will be in Toledo, after all, we cannot let churches go vacant." the Archbishop replied, anger clear in his voice, and finishing off with a barb directed at me, yet it was a rather ineffective one. It just showed that Juan Ramiro de Guzman has always had more interest in affairs in the capital than he ever has in actually attending to his church. This is one of the first times since I've come to Madrid that the Archbishop of Toledo has actually been going to Toledo, so this just illustrates not only the need for a distinction between the ecclesiastical responsibilities of Spain's high clergy and the political needs of the church. Perhaps this could be the justification I need to introduce a secular Minister of Religious Affairs - an idea I've been toying with for some time - but perhaps that will be too radical, especially with Juan Ramiro de Guzman already unhappy with the direction my reforms are going. That being said, I know that today was practically the Archbishop of Toledo residing from his post, so I need to find a new Minister of Religious Affairs anyway. All that being said, I think today was actually not a very bad day, because, while Juan Ramiro is very unhappy, Alfonso de Austria has demonstrated his support. Between Alfonso's support and the Archbishop's lack of convincing arguments, I think most of the Catholic body of Spain will be receptive to these reforms.

"What do you think the Archbishop is going to do?" I asked Alfonso de Austria as we walked together through the palace later that day, heading to the war room for a meeting with Don Gaztelugatxe. Claudia Caracciolo would be there as well, both in her role as my secretary and because I wanted her there, I loved her and I wanted an excuse to see her, which is reason enough for me. Claudia had asked me for permission to not attend the meeting about religious reforms, saying that she wanted to spend more time with her brother while she was here, and I accepted, of course, because he's her family and she clearly treasures this bond, besides, I don't think Claudia's presence would have changed anything about the meeting. Did I want her there anyway? Of course I would prefer to have my lover with me, but I understand why she was gone, even if it seems that, during the length of her brother's visit, I really only see her at night and for a select few moments during the day. Perhaps that means the time we spend together at night is just that much more meaningful, but I have to admit, it is bothering me. Oh well, eventually her brother will return to Naples and things will go back to normal, and she knows that too, she is just taking advantage the time she has with her brother. Writing letters is not the same as actually seeing someone in person, I suppose. In any case, enough of that line of thinking, I'm distracted enough when it comes to thinking about potential futures for Spain, the last thing I need is to be distracted by these kinds of thoughts as well. Claudia and I will be back to normal soon enough, there is nothing to worry about, especially not with this Archbishop situation brewing.

"It's difficult to say, but, I think in the short term, he is going to go back to Toledo and brood in his Cathedral for a time. I do not think Juan Ramiro is the type of man to do anything rash though, the worst I could see him doing is maybe contacting some relatives and trying to rile up the Guzman dynasty. For now, my advice is to wait and see what he is going to do, perhaps he'll even calm down on his own." Alfonso advised, both his tone and the content of his speech making it clear that he didn't see Archbishop Guzman as very much of a threat at all, not in a military sense. The man is loyal to the Spanish crown and to the church, he won't betray that just because of a disagreement, however major. I'm trusting Alfonso on this, considering that he is an awful lot closer to the archbishop than I am, and I would even argue that they have a good relationship, after all, Guzman turned to Alfonso when he saw he was losing the argument. So, considering there is no military threat here, I think I will wait and see, not wishing to anger the Archbishop of Toledo into anything that would be comparatively rash. So, with that, I turned my attention away from the Toledo situation and onto the war, as Alfonso and I had entered the war room, to be greeted by Don Gaztelugatxe and Donna Caracciolo.

"Hello Don Gaztelugatxe, Donna Claudia, what is the state of the war?" I asked, walking over to the head of the table and starting the conversation, all as a way of asserting my control in this particular social sphere. Thus, I stood there, dressed in a pink and white dress beneath a short red, white, and gold ermine cloak, a royal outfit to help fill out my silhouette, making myself appear more impressive than I actually am. A small golden tiara in my hair completed the look, holding my red hair back, letting it fall down my back in neatly combed rows. I suppose if I really wanted to, I could walk around with an orb and scepter as well, appearing like the personification of Hispania, even in spite of my rather pale complexion, but that was unnecessary, all I wanted to do was to make sure that I appeared regal and in control of any situation I was in. We will wait and see the situation with the Archbishop of Toledo, the situation with Claudia will resolve itself soon enough, and we are about to discuss the war here, I messed up for awhile there with being distracted, but, hopefully, this will be the beginning of my escape from that.

"Very well then. Beginning with the state of the war in Italy. Field Marshal Fitz-James crushed the Austrians in Mantua and now he has done the same in the Duchy of Modena, continuing his success from the Battle of Guastalla by routing two separate Austrian divisions at the battles of Fiorano and Sassuolo, that is the good news from the Italian front. The bad news is that Fitz-James is skeptical about advancing into the Alps this late in the year, when he wrote to me - and I have copies prepared for all of you as well - he believes it may be smarter to wait until the spring of 1702. If you would like, I could advise him to do otherwise." Gaztelugatxe explained, giving the good news that the Field Marshal succeeded in removing the last of the Austrian garrisons in Emilia-Romagna - it also seems that the Este Dukes of Modena learned their lesson, as neither of these garrisons were actually in Modena itself - and the bad news as well. That being that, with us now properly into autumn, Fitz-James s skeptical about pushing into the Alps, giving that the results could indeed be disastrous if his army gets trapped in the Alpine snow. I find it unfortunate, as I was really hoping for a decisive movement in Italy to undo the damage from the Battle of Monchengladbach, though the Austrians do not evens seem to be the primary threat to us anymore, so perhaps it is not as disastrous as I would fear. So yes, I find it unfortunate, but I also cannot find anything wrong with the Jacobite General's strategy, perhaps this is the time to be cautious and careful.

"No, there is no reason to throw our armies at the Austrians with reckless abandon. I believe they are still suffering from the blows we inflicted in the last spring, therefore, I don't think there is a pressing need to push against the Austrians right now. Our focus should be on the English and the Prussians." I decided, perhaps one day I would come to regret this decision in the future, but fight now, I think it is the better of the two options ahead of us: I would rather wait out the winter and maybe sacrifice the offense next year than to end up with my army suffering from the kind of attrition only an Alpine winter could bring. Thus, with my decision, the conversation shifted to the north, where the English forces in Europe, the Dutch, and the Prussians alike were all converging near the Spanish Netherlands where Field Marshal Vilvoorde stood alone for our cause...or perhaps not entirely alone.

"I would agree, your majesty. Now, moving to the north, Field Marshal Vilvoorde reported considerable difficulty with maneuvering in the northern Rhineland, he saw no way of advancing through the old lands of the Duchies of Cleves Julich-Berg without engaging numerically superior forces, therefore, Vilvoorde pursued a change in strategy. The Ejercito de Flandes has marched north to assault Friesland from the east, seeking to penetrate the northernmost part of the Dutch Republic while bypassing the majority of their defenses. Fortunately for us, at the same time, Le Coigneux and the French forces have advanced to Cologne, where they are being reinforced by Wittelsbach troops, with the likely intention of engaging enemy armies. These fortunate coincidences mean that the English, Prussian, and Dutch armies are still tied down in the Rhineland while Vilvoorde lays siege to Frisian fortifications virtually unopposed." Gaztelugatxe continued the tale, explaining how the situation has changed in northern Europe, with the arrival of French troops and some interesting decision making by my uncle transforming the outlook on the war. I think that, with some luck, we will actually be in a superior position by the time winter comes in spite of what happened at Monchengladbach. Now, I was slightly concerned though, because, while Vilvoorde has once again successfully diverted the fighting away from the Spanish Netherlands, he has now gone rather far away from friendly territory, and this could, potentially, leave him vulnerable if the Dutch or the English get the chance to respond. Now, the arrival of Le Coigneux is a blessing, and that may end up not only saving Vilvoorde, but protecting the Spanish Netherlands, so I suppose I'll have to monitor the situation.

"That is good news, Don Gaztelugatxe, and it also gives me even more ammunition for when I talk to Marie-Victoire de Wurttemberg. I intend to make a very strong case for closer Franco-Spanish cooperation in this war and you have given me a very persuasive argument." I replied, already thinking about how I could use the French general's fortunate arrival to push the case for closer, more organized cooperation in this war going forward. I think I have to accept by now that this is going to be a much longer war than the first phase of it had suggested, therefore, any advantage we could get would be greatly appreciated. Managing to coordinate the movements of French and Spanish armies relative to each other could allow us to outmaneuver and out flank our enemies, but also making it easy to combine our forces when confronted with superior weapons. It can be an excellent advantage, though also inherently difficult due to the increasing complexity that comes with dictating the movements of increasingly large armies in increasingly complex ways. It is worth a shot though, because Le Coigneux's arrival certainly made things easier for Vilvoorde in Friesland. Now I suppose we'll just have to wait and see how that situation develops going forward.

Friesland may be quite a bit further north than the Italian Alps, but one is a flat piece of land below the North Sea and the other is a range of high mountains that can be topped with snow in even the summer months, so Vilvoorde may actually have more time than Fitz-James before winter sets in. More time is good, but I am still concerned with what exactly is going to happen when winter hits, because, even if Le Coigneux can tie down the enemy forces in the region, it is still going to be very difficult to supply him in Friesland. We cannot use the English Channel and the North Sea because those waters are dominated by the English and the Dutch, meaning that while it would be easy to send ships from Antwerp up to the Frisian coast, it would also come with extreme risk. That leaves supplying him from land, and the closest place we could theoretically do that from is the Archbishopric of Cologne, one of our two Wittelsbach Ecclesiastical allies, but even that would take some circuitous planning. The shortest route would be to use Cologne's detached Duchy of Westphalia, moving supplies north through the neutral Prince-Bishopric of Munster and into Friesland, but even then, we're going to be at risk from troops in Prussian Cleves, Palatinate Julich-Berg, and also Hanover, as the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneburg is just northeast of Cologne's Westphalia. The Hanoverians don't have the numbers or the strength to challenge our armies on their own, but they can certainly threaten our supply lines if they want to.

A few minutes later and the meeting was wrapped up, our armies in Toledo and Naples still had no reason to become active while our forces in Catalunya were still stamping down their authority in the Catalan capital. It was an unfortunate period of militaristic parades, palisades of army camps flanking the roads around the city, and bounties placed on the remaining dissenting nobles, but it would come to pass, and, one day, Dona Montserrat and I would build up the Catalans again, but building them up to be loyal. That is a task that is easier said than done, considering that this particular noble revolt is the third major Catalan revolt of the last sixty years, but I didn't come to power in Spain for the easy jobs, I came to power here because I saw a way to advance my political ambitions and prevent a once great empire from falling into obscurity. I will ensure Spain remains great and strong. Alfonso de Austria and Felipe Hermenegildo de San Juan de Gaztelugatxe y Floridia wll be part of that, but, as they filtered out of the room, my attention turned to the remaining Italian noblewoman.

"Hey," Claudia smiled at me as I walked up to her, grabbing my hands in hers. Claudia was dressed in a dark green dress with golden trim, the fabric shining with embellishments along the upper band of her chest and down her half-length sleeves...it was a pretty outfit. This wasn't the kind of thing that Claudia usually wore, yet, simultaneously, she still managed to look beautiful in it, I almost felt jealous for a moment, but, honestly, I was just happy to finally have a private moment with her during the day. Our nights are shared and I cherish them, but when we eat together, other people are there too, meaning I can't act the way I want to act around her, so these moments, when we were together in the day without anyone else to bother us, I loved them. This is what I hoped I would be getting more of once Ferdinando Caracciolo learned to Naples and his post as that Kingdom's Viceroy.

"Hey...I've missed you." I told her, knowing I sounded rather ridiculous considering I saw her first thing this morning, again at breakfast, and for the entire length of this meeting, but I think she understood exactly what I was trying to say here. Claudia is a smart woman, she knows that she has been spending a lot of time with her brother, and she has probably noticed that I've been somewhat depressed the last couple of days, I'm sure she can put all the pieces together. The only thing I am concerned about is that she might think that I'm mad about her spending time with her brother, I'm not, and I don't even really care about her inviting him to Madrid without my permission, I just want to spend more time with her. I also want to see her happy though, and I understand that spending time with her brother makes her happy, I just wish she would make more time for me during all this as well. On the other hand, I know that Don Ferdinando is going to leave sooner rather than later, whereas, on the other hand, Claudia and I are both staying here. Claudia is spending time with her brother while she can, I know that I'll have her back for as long as I would like soon enough. Perhaps that sounds more possessive than I intend it, but the last thing that I want is for my relationship with Claudia to, in any way, resemble what Philippe did to Anne while I was off in the New World. No, I wouldn't interfere in what she does with her brother, but I am also going to cherish these moments I can spend with her, these moments that I don't want to end.

I sat in a throne in the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, sat on a throne in an elevated platform with the a red mantle hung behind me, hanging over the top like drapes, but not going far enough down to hide me from view. That would defeat the purpose, the reigning monarch of Spain should be front and center in the throne room, hence I was elevated, and hence I was framed by this grand red mantle. The throne next to me, the one reserved for the consort, was empty, as per usual. I would not be taking a husband, not only because of my sexuality, but because my line of succession was secure and because the last thing I need is for someone to enter the royal household and threaten my grasp on royal power. I know better than most how marriage can be used to take the throne, so the last thing I would want is to put somebody in the position to do that to me. The platform extended out some distance beyond the two thrones, but the mantle did not, this created a place on either side of the throne for my favorites to stand, one on the left hand and one on the right hand, but both of those spots were vacant right now. Beyond the throne platform, two chandeliers hung from the ceiling, grand gold and bejeweled works of art holding a great number of candles, lighting up the throne room. On the floor, meanwhile, marble tiles combined with red ones in a design of the cross of Burgundy, one of the many symbols of the Spanish Empire. It was an impressive throne room, not only showing the Baroque design of modern Europe and emphasizing the royalty, but it also symbolized the Spanish Empire. This was a wonderful throne room for Aranjuez, but it was also a relatively small one, and I had to wonder how I could create something better for my eventual great palace.

"My Queen," I snapped to attention as I saw Alfonso de Austria coming down the hallway, entering the throne room in somewhat of a rush, dressed in a burgundy coat, a golden ascot, white trousers, and reddish leather boots that complimented his coat rather nicely, appearing very much the modern Prime Minister. Alfonso was an interesting specimen in many regards, he himself is a Habsburg, albeit with some complications, yet he sides with the Bourbons, he is a conservative, yet he sees the necessity of reform and therefore is part of the most reform minded government Spain has seen in generations, and, while certainly not old, the way he dresses and the vigor he puts into his work reminds me of a man a decade younger than he is. Alfonso is in his thirties, yet he works with the hunger of a young man on the rise, wishing to make the Kingdom of Spain something stronger, something better. Perhaps this is because he finally has the opportunity to transform the state into what he always wanted it to be while in service to King Fernando III. Alfonso wants Spain to be strong again, the leader of the Catholic world, and he wants the Spanish Empire fully intact, so perhaps he isn't a conservative in that he wants to preserve the reality of what Spain has been, rather he wants to return Spain to this ideal of what it once was. I am not religious in the way that Alfonso is, I'm sure the reality of my relationships would even horrify him, but we can agree on what we want Spain to be. We both want Spain to be listed among the great powers, we want Spain to be France's equal, not its subject, and we want the Spanish people to be prosperous. That is why we work well together as Queen and Prime Minister, but I also know that my Prime Minister would not rush in here like this without good reason, so, we got on with the matter at hand.

"What's going on?" I asked, knowing this had to be something rather urgent.

"An unexpected delegation has arrived, noblemen and diplomats from Russia. They speak French and they say that a few years ago, they conducted a great embassy touring Europe, well, in that time, they neglected to visit Spain. The men say that, despite the circumstances of war, both in Russia and in Spain, they see now that there is value in visiting Spain and would like to meet you. I have Dona Luxeuil and Dona Lusignan giving them a tour of the palace grounds for now, what shall we do about their request?" Alfonso informed me. I knew of the Great Embassy of the Russian Tsar, where Russian diplomats traveled across northern Europe, visiting the Baltic Germans, the Elector of Brandenburg-Prussia - now King in Prussia, the Dutch Republic, and finally the Kingdom of England. I also know that this Great Assembly snubbed two European great powers, mainly France and Spain. Evidently, I've been doing a good enough job on the throne that Tsar Peter has seen fit to send his diplomats all the way to Spain, far beyond where the first Assembly went, despite the fact that his country was at war with Sweden and mine was at war with England, the Dutch Republic, Prussia, and Austria. This was a great honor in a way, and it also represented an interesting opportunity to establish ties to a power that has traditionally been outside of Spain's realm of interests - after all, Russia and Spain are on different ends of Europe - giving me the chance to set up proper diplomatic relations for the first time. Now, I didn't see this turning into an alliance or a royal marriage or anything like that, distance and differences in religion make that complex, but who knows, perhaps this could bring unique economic opportunities to Spanish merchants or serve as a threat to Ottoman aggression. The Ottoman Empire stretches from the Crimea on Russia's doorstep on the Black Sea, to the ports of Algiers on the doorstep of Spain. Orthodox Russia has joined holy alliances against the Ottomans before, and maybe that could happen again should I choose to move against the Turks. The point is that this is an interesting opportunity without many drawbacks at all, so why not see where this leads?

"I am willing to meet with them if that is what they wish." I responded, inviting the opportunity to speak with this Russian delegation. Alfonso got to work quickly, and, not ten minutes later, a crowd arrived in the throne room. Alfonso de Austria took his place at my right hand, the rightful place for someone who is both my Prime Minister and literally my right hand man. Alix de Lusignan and Beatriz de Luxeuil, meanwhile, stood together on the right side of the throne room, whispering to each other as they quietly observed the goings on of court. I did have to say, it was not lost on me that this journey to power all started with Alix and I giving the Mysore delegation of tour of Versailles, now Alix was with Beatriz and they were giving a Russian delegation of tour of my palace...we've come a long way since that day in 1699. Our interests were no less international though, so I looked across the four men from Russia, all relatively young, all dressed in the European fashion, and all fluent in French - Russia was another country on the rise as well - these men were proof that the time of infighting and backwardness in the eastern fringe of Europe was over, now, Russia was reaching out to the west and seeking to become a force in European politics. Between the rise of Russia in the east, the rise of Prussia in the west, and the continued existence of Austria to their southwest, I can't imagine this bodes well for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. That is a story for a different day though, even if my time with Queen Anne gave me a certain affinity for her homeland.

"Hello Queen Yolanda, my name is Paul Lally, a representative of his majesty, the esteemed Tsar Peter I of Russia. These men with me are esteemed Russian noble guests, Aleksandr Borisovich Yusupov, Sergey Grigorevich Gagarin, and Konstantin Konstantinovich Naryshkin, together they represent some of the greatest minds Russia has to offer. However, as I'm sure you have no doubt noticed, no country can rely entirely on its own manpower. Peter I sent his delegation across northern Europe a few years ago to acquire knowledge and build relations across Europe. We overlooked Spain the first time, believing that England and the Dutch Republic would make better inspirations. We see now that we were mistaken in ignoring you, so Peter, even in the midst of war, has sent us here to correct this error. And, if I may add a personal note, I would much rather learn from the Spanish than the English." Paul Lally, an Irishman turned Russian noble and diplomat explained, introducing his group. I looked across them, Yusupov had slightly darker skin than the others but was no less westernized - I would later learn that his family was of Tatar descent, having been assimilated into the Russian nobility - whereas Gagarin and Naryshkin came from more traditional Muscovite noble backgrounds, but that made them no less interested in reforming and modernizing Russia.

Now, Russia and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were currently allies - well, perhaps countries on the same side of a war is a better way to describe it, because there is next to nothing friendly about this alliance, this is a purely temporary arrangement between two powers who agree that Sweden is the bigger threat at the moment. Russia and Poland will find themselves at war again soon enough. Now, Spain has no reason to get involved in any of this, a simple fact of geography makes that clear enough, but, both have features about them that could theoretically make them appealing for Spain. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth because it is a Catholic power - and therefore a potential marriage partner - with tense relations with Austria. This means that Poland could theoretically serve as a counter-balance against Austria, which is exactly what Philippe was trying to do by marrying Anne. Unfortunately for Philippe, Poland got distracted in its own war and was unable to elp French ambitions, but, maybe, just maybe, Poland could one day help Spanish ambitions. On the other hand, Russia is a country reforming and modernizing, in effect, it is a country in the same state that my Spain currently is. Furthermore, I could be completely wrong about this, but I suspect Russia is a more formidable nation than Poland at this time, one is on the road to collapse, the other is clearly rising, with the potential to reach greatness. Russia may also be able to act as an eastern threat to Austria as well sooner rather than later, so perhaps they can provide the same potential advantage as an alliance with Poland. The very idea of an alliance with such a distant country only makes sense if Spain is getting something out of it, and I would imagine Poland would become a burden if someone like Queen Anne does not get the chance to take control of the situation soon. Sobieski is a brilliant general but he is not a competent King. Russia, at this stage, would seem more capable of handling itself, but we shall have to see if they can stand up to the weight of Sweden's small but revered armies.

I will be keeping an eye on eastern Europe and, indeed, on this Baltic conflict in general, but I do not think now is the time to even think of anything as extreme as an alliance. The last thing Europe needs is for these wars to twist together, no, there will be one conflict in the east and one conflict in the west, both will do much to decide the fate of Europe going into the new century, but it is in my interests to prevent them from getting too intertwined. Obviously Europe is a small continent and what happens in the battlefields of the east effects the west and vice versa - we have already seen that with the English and the Dutch being able to divert their troops and their ships back to the west after Swedish successes at Copenhagen and in Estonia - but I do not want the fate of my succession to be decided by battles completely out of my control in the plains of northeastern Europe. Once these wars conclude and it is time to account for Europe's new balance of power, perhaps I will have to account for the Russians, or for the Poles. I am going to keep my options open, because, while the geography and the logistics of the situation right now make an alliance with either Poland or Russia unlikely at best, who knows how things may change in the future. I am determined to keep my options for future alliance partners open: perhaps I will remain with France, perhaps I will go with England after all, or maybe Austria will become an option, or Prussia, or Poland, or Russia. Europe is in an era of war and change, we will have to see who comes out of all of this on top.

"Hello Lord Lally, welcome to the Kingdom of Spain. I am honored that you and your allies have come all the way to Madrid, and I am honored that your gracious liege, Tsar Peter, has seen fit to send a delegation to my Kingdom years after the Great Embassy proper has concluded. I consider this a personal compliment that shows that me and my government are making real progress. To that end, I will make sure each of you are provided with adjacent apartments for the duration of the stay and, not only will I be offering you the freedom to explore what you wish, I will also be trying to arrange for special displays, meetings, and lectures. We are happy to share what we are trying to do here in Spain with Russia." I announced, formally welcoming them and announcing my intentions. I was giving them a grand welcome and considerable freedom with how they conduct their mission, but there was a reason for this: I wanted to create a prestigious and diverse court that was the envy of all of Europe. I wanted not only the best talent that Spain could offer, but I wanted talented and capable people from France, Germany, the Italian states, and elsewhere in Europe to journey to Madrid in the hopes of becoming part of my court. The Russian delegation will return to Tsar Peter in Moscow and report to him about great accommodations, vast wealth, and an innovative state.

"Your hospitality is appreciated, my Queen. If we may, and I understand this may be a difficult request given the state of the war, could we, at one point during this visit, journey to Sevilla? Peter I wishes to build a Russian Navy and I believe the Spanish example could be most enlightening." Paul Lally requested, Lord Yusupov nodding behind him as what was apparently one of the Russian Tsar's chief concerns was addressed. Now, this was an interesting note for a number of reasons, mainly that the only secure coastline Russia has at the moment is all the way on the White Sea, in the frigid northern end of Europe. That far north, for all I know, the ports are already iced over, a far cry from the Mediterranean waters of Madrid. That leaves the Russians with the Black Sea in the south, which is being disputed with he Ottomans on an on-again, off-again basis, and the Baltic Sea in the north, which is currently under Swedish control and the initial attempts by the Russians to gain control in that area have been naught. Nevertheless, the Russians seem to be pushing forward with this ambition, so that adds another dimension to the Russo-Swedish conflict, and yet another thing to watch in regards to the conflicts of the east.

"You are more than welcome to travel to Sevilla. Of course, I must warn you that we are at war with the English and that could potentially present a threat to the principal Spanish port, but, if you are willing to take that risk, I would be thrilled to have you in Sevilla. It is actually an interesting time to visit, as, thanks to the brilliant proposals of my Naval Minister, Count Tilly, and the new head of the Spanish Royal Navy Academy, Don Lancastre, the port at Sevilla is being completely rebuilt and expanded. You will be visiting the construction site of the most modern port in all of Europe." I replied, I was working diligently with my naval ministers to reform the Spanish Navy and Sevilla was at the center of that, where I was expanding not only the port itself, but the city's naval manufacturing and educational institutions as well. If I had my way, not only would Sevilla be a major trade center, but it would also produce the ships and the sailors that would feed that port and facilitate that trade. This would concern not just the military sphere, but the economic one, as retired sailors could apply their skills to the merchant fleet, a business which would only grow as I sought to expand the Spanish colonies and their role in the economy.

I did not want the colonies to simply be about extracting resources and building plantations for a small landholder class, I wanted them to be a place that Spain's excess population could thrive. I wanted colonial cities to become home to manufacturing centers, artisan guilds, and perhaps even universities one day. It would be fantastic if Lima or Mexico City could one day produce ministers and educated elites for the Spanish capital. I want for the colonies to eventually become overseas extensions of Spain, and, while I'm not sure if that's possible considering the vast distances, limited speed of ships, and the existence of vast native populations in some areas, I think it is an ideal worth building towards. That is not to say that I want to eliminate the native populations, far from it, I don't see how reducing the amount of people in the New World would help me grow the colonies. No, but I do want to assimilate the natives, turning the into good Spaniards and incorporating them into the Spanish Empire. That is far from a straightforward process, after all, we are talking about vastly different groups of people speaking vastly different languages across vastly different parts of the New World. The Quechua people in the former Inca Empire will require a different method of assimilation than the Navajo and the Apache of the northwestern deserts of Nueva Espana. It is not an easy problem, and I think it is a problem the Russians will suffer with as well, as they rule over a massive land, and ruling over a massive land means ruling over numerous different people groups.

"Thank you, Queen Yolanda, we appreciate this greatly. We are also rather tired though, we have gone on a long journey, traveling through Poland, the German lands, France, and Spain, people careful to avoid both the Swedes and your enemies. If you may be so kind, we would like to be shown to our rooms." one of the other Boyars, Naryshkin, requested. It was interesting to see the dynamics of this delegation, I had assumed that Lally was the leader of the group, the one most accustomed to western Europe and the one who introduced the others, but now, I wasn't quite as sure. First of all, there was Yusupov nodding in the background as the Irishman brought up naval affairs, almost as if he was in charge of the group, or perhaps he was simply specifically tasked with taking care of naval matters, I couldn't be entirely sure, but it wasn't quite as simple as Lally being the leader of the group and the rest simply being Russian nobles present to fill out the group. Naryshkin, meanwhile, got involved as well, asking for their rooms, as if he was stepping into a leadership position. Maybe this involves some internal dynamics, Paul Lally is likely an outsider in the Russian court, an Irishman who has become a trusted favorite of Peter I, meanwhile, Yusupov, Gagarin, and Naryshkin were all established members of the Russian aristocracy. They come from diverse settings and backgrounds, but they were all Boyars, part of the existing Russian system, and, even abroad, it seems that they do not want to let Lally have all of the control.

"Yes, of course, Dona Lusignan and Dona Luxeuil will show you to your rooms." I decided, keeping the couple together and sending the Russian delegation to their rooms. Alfonso made arrangements for four sets of apartments to be prepared in the gap between me allowing for the audience and the Russians actually arriving in front of my throne. Alix and Beatriz were going to go ahead and show them there, where I'm sure the palace staff would either have the rooms prepared or nearly there, as the Palacio Real de Aranjuez demands perfection from even its servants. I expected that as well, because I needed to make sure these foreign guests had nothing to complain about, I needed everything to be perfect in order to build the great, cosmopolitan court that I have in mind.

"Oh, Don Ferdinando, Don Xhaka, it is a pleasure to see you two." I greeted, somewhat awkwardly as I ran into Don Ferdinando Caracciolo and the newly ennobled Don Dhimiter Xhaka. We had encounters before, obviously, but this was one of the first times I was encountering these two men without Claudia being involved in one way or another, and I had to admit that made this interaction rather awkward. This shouldn't be awkward though, I was talking to one of my Viceroys and his most trusted courtier, this conversation should come naturally to me, but it was made difficult because this dynamic was tied to my relationship with Claudia. The problem is that I don't know how much Claudia's brother knows about my relationship with Claudia. I think that my girlfriend would have told me if she was going to diverge this to her brother, but what if she doesn't know that he knows? It could simply be that Ferdinando figured out our relationship on his own, having spent enough time around his sister and seen enough of me to confirm it. Maybe it was an irrational fear, but it gave me a paranoia.

"Ah, yes, Queen Yolanda, it is great to see you. I have to thank you, the Russian ambassador, Lord Gagarin, approached me to ask about establishing royal economic ties between the Kingdom of Naples and Russia by the Black Sea. I must thank you for facilitating this and I hope to use it to our mutual advantage!" Don Ferdinando thanked me for something I allegedly did, the problem is...I didn't do anything. Now, from what Ferdinando has told me, Sergey Grigorevich Gagarin approached the Neapolitan Viceroy to ask about establishing economic ties with the Mediterranean Kingdom through the Black Sea while they were at peace with the Ottoman Empire and had the opportunity. Now, I was going to pretend to go along with this because I didn't want to look weak or out of control in front of one of my Viceroys, but, the way I saw it, there were two possibilities here. The first possibility was that Gagarin, the least notable of the Russian delegates from what I can tell, decided entirely on his own to approach the Neapolitan Viceroy over economic opportunities, acting as if he had my permission to do so. I considered this rather unlikely, possible, I admit, but unlikely. The other possibility, meanwhile, was more corrupt and dangerous. Someone in my government told Gagarin he could do this, using heir voice as mine, and tried to create favorable circumstances. This, unfortunately, seemed the more plausible option considering recent events.

"You are welcome, Don Ferdinando. I hope this situation progresses well, but, unfortunately, I must get to a meeting." I responded, disentangling myself from the conversation as quickly as I could. I didn't have a meeting before, but I do now, because I had to figure out who was responsible for this, and I know who the first two most likely possibilities are: Alix de Lusignan and Beatriz de Luxeuil. I know that these women have spent time in private with the Russian delegation, that gives them both opportunity, but what about the question of motive? I didn't see much motive from Alix de Lusignan, considering she was my best friend, but Beatriz de Luxeuil had acted on her own before, in the lead up to her becoming Interior did have a connection to Don Ferdinando as well, considering she took on his sister as her protege for a time. It wasn't a perfect case, but it was a start.

"Why is Sergey Gagarin offering trade privileges to the Viceroy of Naples?" I immediately asked once I found Beatriz sitting at the desk in her office, the brunette startled as I walked in and immediately challenged her on this, but I didn't have to stop and explain myself, she knew exactly what I was talking about. I saw Beatriz take a deep breath, close her eyes for a moment, and then stood up to face me, escalating the situation.

"How should I know? I haven't spoken to the Russians since Alix and I showed them to their rooms. As for Don Ferdinando, I haven't spoken to him properly at all, why would I know anything about what's going on between them?" Beatriz countered, claiming she had nothing to do with the situation. Now, I couldn't confirm whether or not she was speaking to Don Ferdinando, but that didn't mean that I couldn't try to force her into an admission of guilt.

"Well, who else would it be? I know you spoke to the Russians, both before and after they had their audience with me, and I know you and Don Ferdinando have been in the same palace for a week now, you have plenty of opportunities to have seen him. Give me something." I challenged her to come up with something better, a case more compelling then her own.

"Think about it Yolanda, who would stand to benefit the most from Don Ferdinando having a great financial success? Who has already acted in your name before and received next to no punishment for it?" Beatriz's words cut through me like a knife, I knew exactly what she was getting at, who she was accusing of all this, but I didn't want to hear a word of it.


"No what? Yolanda, she's been benefiting her family since the beginning, she has been using your relationship to get titles and court positions, hell, she even tried to get a Golden Fleece out of you. Are you seriously blind to that just because she's been in your skirts? She's been profiting off of your relationship since the beginning nd here she's doing it again. Don't come at me with baseless accusations when you can't even get your own house in order." Beatriz bit back hard, not only accusing Claudia of this, but implying that my lover has always just been in it for herself and her own advancement. I couldn't believe it, I didn't want to believe it, but I also could n't argue against it, and Beatriz is right, I don't have any proof with which to accuse her. Meanwhile, I know Claudia has used her power as Secretary to act on my behalf before, and I know that it makes sense for her to be involved in a scheme that seeks to benefit the Kingdom of Naples. Even when I accused Beatriz, I assumed Claudia was being used in a pawn in the plan, but no, it's much worse than that. Claudia was never the pawn, she was the mastermind.


Ciao everyone!