Louis, Dauphin of France took a sip of wine and then said. “You know I don’t understand why we aren’t doing more to deal with the British in the New World. They are humiliating us there. Their man General Cobham defeated a force twice the size of his during the raids.”
His brother Louis, Duke of Anjou nodded. “I agree, I think we’re not focusing enough there, and instead are too busy trying to keep Uncle Philippe from making a mistake in Naples.”
“Uncle Philippe is a fool.” Louis said. He’d read the correspondence between his father and his uncle and that was the only impression he got. “We can’t keep propping him up with loans and the like, it will make us go bankrupt.”
“But then, what are we to do?” His brother asked. “We do not have the naval power to take on the British, not without diverting some of the funds from the army.”
Louis grimaced, removing funds from the army was never a good thing. It would lead to problems in the streets, and it would also make them unable to deal with the Austrians the next time a war flared up. “Indeed not, though there are some other schemes that the treasury has cooked up that we could deal with.”
“Such?” His brother asked.
“The measure to start taxing the nobility. We could actually use those funds for the navy and use the papers as a means of promoting it. The nobles will agree to it if they think it’s being used to beat the British.” Louis said. It was crude, but it was perhaps the most effective strategy they had.
“That could work, but how would you convince the King of making it so?” His brother asked.
Louise sighed. That would be an issue, as he had gotten older, his father had started to become even more irritable, and had started trusting fewer and fewer people. He saw everything as a move against him, and he distrusted the navy, especially after so many defeats. “I will think of a plan.” Was all Louis could say.
There was a brief silence then as they both took their drinks, but then, his brother said. “You know Voltaire will be returning to France for a period of time. The King finally agreed to lift the ban on him.”
Louis raised an eyebrow. “Really? Who convinced him to do that?” His father had long hated the philosopher, though Louis had never quite been able to understand why.
“I think the Queen did. She said that he could be quite a good ornament to the court.” Anjou responded.
Louis laughed. Of course, Mother would say that. She knew how to get Father to think beyond his prejudices. “When is he coming?” Louis asked.
“In a month’s time.” Anjou said. “Orleans is already trying to get him to stay at the Palais Royal.”
Louis snorted. “Of course he is, no doubt the man’s wife is doing everything she can to get him to host Voltaire.” The Duchess of Orleans was ambitious by half in somethings, and in others she seemed as though she could not care in the slightest. It was a tad confusing.
“So, what are you going to do?” Anjou asked. “I know you’ve got something planned.”
“I will extend an invitation to Voltaire the moment he lands in France. He will have to take my invitation more seriously than our cousin’s and as such, I will bring him to our point of thinking.” Louis said.
Leopold Joseph, King of the Romans, heir apparent to the Holy Roman Empire, and King of Hungary and Bohemia looked at his wife and said. “I think we are quite safe in terms of the economic reforms that the Emperor instituted.”
“You are sure?” His wife Antoinette asked.
“Yes. The reforms have seen economic growth more than triple over the past ten years, and they have brought more money to the pockets of the nobles. Had they not, you can guarantee that the Hungarians would have revolted.” Leopold said.
“And you are sure that the Chancellor will not recommend removing them, should the Emperor die?” Antoinette asked, referring to the fact that his father Joseph, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary and Bohemia, Archduke of Austria etc. was gravely ill.
“No, he will not get the chance to. I am going to dismiss him the moment I ascend to the throne.” Leopold said.
“And replace him with who? Graf?” Antoinette asked referring to Johann Graf von Auersperg, a man who had been Leopold’s friend for a long time.
“Heaven’s no.” Leopold replied snorting slightly. “Graf is going to become foreign minister and replace that old fool Koháry.”
“So, who becomes chancellor?” Antoinette asked.
“Leopold.” Leopold replied, referring to their second son.
His wife looked surprised by this. “You are sure that is a good idea? The boy is only twenty-four.”
“And he has shown a good talent for numbers and for grasping the need for a better centralised bank.” Leopold said. “He was the one who managed to get the finances of our household in order, after that whore stole from you.” He didn’t mention the Countess by name, but the way his wife blushed showed she had taken his point.
“So, instead of getting married he is going to be named Chancellor. How intriguing.” Antoinette said.
“Indeed, Joseph has already produced issue, should the need arise we can always marry Leopold off to someone or the other. For now, though it is more important that we consider a marriage for our daughter.” Leopold said.
“I think Karl of Poland is the sensible choice. We need to keep the Polish away from the Russians and away from any potential war with the Swedes.” Antoinette said.
“Perhaps, but I have heard things about Crown Prince Karl.” Leopold replied, he did not give voice to the rumours for they were not appropriate for female company, but needless to say he did not want his daughter married to such a man.
“If not him then who?” Antoinette asked.
“The Electoral Prince of the Palatine is roughly the same age as her, and we need to strengthen ties to that family to keep them away from French influence.” Leopold said.
His wife surprisingly agreed. “Very well, when will you send the letter broaching the topic?”
“Within the next few months.” Leopold said.
His wife nodded, then they both stiffened when the guard outside announced. “His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke Joseph Karl of Austria.”
Leopold looked at his wife, if his brother was coming to visit them, that could only mean one of two things had happened. Either their father was dead or he had recovered. He felt guilty for hoping it was the former. He turned to look at his brother who bowed. “Well?” Leopold asked.
His brother did not answer with words, but instead knelt before Leopold and then said. “The Emperor is dead, long live the Emperor.”
“General Cobham’s measures have been very effective, Sire.” William Wyndham, Secretary of State for the Southern Department said. “The French have backed off their aggressions and as such the borders within the colonies have returned to what they were before all of this began.”
George nodded his approval. “Good.” He had considered for quite some time that the attention they paid to the colonies was insufficient. If the French were more focused on Europe, then it made sense for them to focus on the colonies.
“Clarendon also writes to state that the colonial assemblies have become convinced of the wisdom of having a larger standing army garrisoned in the border colonies as well, after General Cobham’s efforts and as such have stated that they will contribute seventy percent of the funding for this.” Wyndham said.
George raised an eyebrow. “Seventy percent.” That was quite unlike the colonials, usually they protested anything that was more than twenty percent being levelled. “You are quite sure of this?”
“I have it here, in Clarendon’s own hand.” Wyndham said.
“Well, we shall not stand in their way.” George said, which elicited some chuckles from the council. “We will need to send some of the army in to assist with the training of the militias, we do not want anyone getting any ideas.” He looked at the Duke of Marlborough and asked. “Who would you recommend?”
“General Hawley has the brains to be useful in such a circumstance. As does the Earl of Loudon, Sire.” Marlborough said.
“How many men does each command?” George asked. He knew the figures but for some reason they were escaping him now.
“Roughly 15,000 each.” Marlborough responded.
“And we have the necessary monies to fund them?” George asked looking at His cousin James de Vere.
“We do, Sire.” De Vere responded.
“Then send them through. We shall leave it to you, Marlborough, to decide who goes through.” George said.
“Yes, Sire.” Marlborough responded.
“There is another matter that needs discussing, Sire.” His cousin James of York said. “The issue of the Highlands.”
George wanted to groan, he had been received letters from his uncle the Duke of York and Albany about this issue for some time, and though the man complained he didn’t have a solid solution, and George needed people to provide solutions not just complain. “Yes, the issues of cattle stealing and constant feuding.” He was tempted to say that it was just a matter of culture, but he could see why it was such a serious issue. He wanted Scotland to become an economic hub just like most of England was becoming, and the Highlanders keeping on as if this was the 1300s would not do.
“Exactly, Sire.” James of York said. “The main culprits are the Frasers of Lovat and the various MacDonald branches. Despite the repeated ordinances that His Royal Highness the Duke of Albany issues, they continue as if nothing has changed. It is becoming untenable.”
“The Highlanders need a military solution, Sire.” Marlborough said then. “They are a militaristic people and they will not respond well to words and flowery solutions. They need force.”
“Are you suggesting that we send in the army to deal with our own subjects?” George asked barely able to mask his disgust.
Marlborough seemed undeterred. “Yes, Your Majesty, I am. We must show the Highlanders that we will not tolerate any dissent from the regulations that have been introduced. They need to realise that the time of knights has died. Now they must act like civilised people.”
“Such a measure could stoke wider resentment, Sire.” Sir John Hynde Cotton, Secretary of State for the Northern Department warned. “If the army is sent in, the people will wonder if they are next.”
“What other measures can be implemented?” Marlborough shot back. “His Royal Highness the Duke of Albany has tried reasoning with them and that has failed. The military solution is the only one.”
“We could hit them where it hurts them the most. With their cattle trading. We have allies in the Highlands, be it the MacDonalds of Keppoch, or the Earl of Cromartie, or the countless other clan chiefs who would be more than willing to see their enemies hit where it hurts. We could give them exclusive cattle trading rights, in return for reforming the tacksman system and then go from there.” James of York suggested.
“Do you think such a solution would work?” George asked his cousin, wondering if that was the case why his uncle had not tried it before.
“I think so. Nobody wants a war, Sire. And if we follow His Grace’s suggestion, a war is what we would get.” James of York replied.
George considered this, and then said. “We shall send you, cousin, to Edinburgh and give you the powers to summon a meeting of the clansmen to discuss this option that you have presented here. Furthermore, we shall start sending a small force of men northwards to garrison Stirling and Edinburgh Castles.” It was perhaps not enough, but it was a beginning.
“Very well, Sire.” York said. Marlborough looked displeased but said nothing else, and for that George was grateful.
“Thank you both for coming.” Shah said in Persian, a language he was fluent in compared to the Sanskrit of his father’s court. “I know that the journey has been long and tiresome for you both. But the matters we are seeking to discuss required that you both be in Kabul.”
“Yes, I am sure we are all aware of that, Your Imperial and Royal Highness.” Nader Shah, chief of one of the many powerful tribes in the Safavid Empire said. “So, what exactly was it that you wished to discuss?”
“An alliance.” Shah replied, getting right to the heart of the matter. “Between the three of us.”
“Why?” Nader asked.
“Because the time has come for us to fully exploit the weaknesses of the Safavid Empire.” Shah said.
“I am listening.” Amhad Shah Durrani said.
“We know that the current Shah of the Safavid Empire is weak, that he relies too much on his wife’s brother to guide him through difficult decisions, we know that they are losing ground to both Ottoman and Russian advances, and we know that there is simmering tension there over abuse of taxes. The time is right for us to push them out for good.” Shah said.
“And who would you propose replace them?” Nader asked.
“Well, in the heart of Iran, we would recommend that you, Nader take the title of Shah. You are a military man; you have shown your prowess and there is nobody better suited to rule it than you.” Shah said. “As for the rest, well, western Afghanistan can be given to Ahmad, whilst Kabul and its surrounding areas are kept by my brother the Emperor in Delhi.”
“And why should either of us agree to this?” Ahmad Durrani asked. “You would have us divide the Empire of the Safavids but do not suggest how we do it?”
Shah wanted to roll his eyes but stopped himself from doing so and instead said. “We do so using force. I have received confirmation from my father that he would be willing to declare war on the Safavids in exchange for you doing this.”
“It is a lot you ask, Prince Shah.” Nader replied. “To stage an uprising when there is no war as of yet between your Empire and the Safavid Empire.”
“I know, but it will happen and it will be worth it.” Shah said.
“When?” Ahmad asked.
“How soon can you prepare your men?” Shah asked.
“Within two weeks or so.” Ahmad said. “How soon would the army of the Emperor be declaring war?”
Shah smiled. “It is already happening.”
“What?!” Nader exclaimed.
“Yes, now will you join us in this venture?” Shah asked.
Shah saw Nader and Ahmad exchange looks with one another before they eventually both nodded and said at the same time. “I will.”