Wednesday, 27 March 2019
Galileo’s Revenge is based upon the life of the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) when he was a young man. Eventually Galileo became the most famous scientist of his day, thanks to his revolutionary astronomical discoveries with the newly-invented telescope. But his success didn’t come easily, or early, and there are big gaps in the historical record of his early life. So Galileo’s Revenge fills in some of those gaps.
Galileo’s gap years
When Galileo left the university of Pisa in 1585, aged 21, he had no proper job to go to. Returning to his family home in Florence, he struggled to make a living from a portfolio of activities: part-time teaching, casting horoscopes, playing on the lute . . . and gambling. At the same time he was trying to make a name for himself at the cultured but extravagant and debauched court of the Medici Dukes who ruled Tuscany.
Grand Duke Francesco
The current head of the family was Francesco de’ Medici (1541-87): aloof, capricious and self-indulgent. Some ten years earlier, for example, upon the death of his first wife, the aristocratic Joanna of Austria, Francesco had scandalized his family and Florence by marrying his charismatic mistress, Bianca Cappello (1548-87). She was considered an unsuitable match because her parents were relatively humble merchants from Venice[CL1] . Otherwise Francesco devoted himself mainly to lavish entertainments, to hunting and alchemy (of a largely practical kind, e.g. explosives, poisons), and to collecting – coins, curiosities, antiquities . . . and gems. And therein lay an opportunity for the young Galileo.
At Pisa Galileo had been supposed to study the dominant Aristotelian philosophy of the day, with a view to further training to become a doctor. But he also became fascinated by mathematics, especially the mechanics of the ‘divine’ Archimedes (c.287-212 BCE). Archimedes had famously detected the fraudulent adulteration of a gold crown with silver by measuring its density – gold being heavier than silver. Now Galileo’s first published work, La bilancetta (1586), described his own invention of a neat ‘hydrostatic’ balance for quickly and accurately measuring the density of small objects. Such as gemstones.
The Medici jewels
Much of the Medici collection of jewellery had been lent to Catherine de’ Medici (1519-89) to wear at her marriage to the King of France in 1533. Catherine was a fairly distant cousin of Duke Francesco, but actually it was she who came from the senior line of the family that had made the family fortunes in the 15th century. Francesco came from a relatively minor branch. Catherine had been slow to return the jewels. When she did, could Francesco be sure that they were genuine? At this time there were no hard-and-fast criteria for identifying a ruby, say, as ‘genuine’, and not a garnet or merely cleverly coloured glass. At the end of Galileo’s Bilancetta there is a list of densities measured with his balance: specimens of gold and silver, of course, but also a lengthy list of the densities of some rather substantial gemstones. Where could Galileo have accessed such treasures to study?
Galileo lab assistant
It is my conceit (only in the old-fashioned sense, of course) that Duke Francesco engaged Galileo as his assayer, to help him identify any fakes among the family jewels. And perhaps that Galileo – very knowledgeable, ingenious and dextrous, amusing and charming if he needed to be – insinuated himself as an accomplice to the Duke in his alchemical investigations. In other words, Galileo became His Highness’ laboratorio assistant. In the basement of the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano – basically a huge hunting lodge some the miles outside Florence – the Duke maintained a small but well-equipped laboratory. So, in October 1587, Galileo might well have been summoned to attend the Duke during a lavish hunting holiday arranged by Bianca for the Duke and his brother, the Cardinal Ferdinando, and their entourages. With fatal consequences. As described in Galileo’s Revenge.
Galileo’s Revenge has a subtitle A Cure for the Itch. I am very fond of Jacobethan drama, when the plays often had such subtitles – Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, for example. The origins of modern crime writing may be traced to the sub-genre of ‘revenge tragedy’ hugely popular at the time, from Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy (pre-1592) through Hamlet (c.1600) to Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (1633).
In the middle of that series lies Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women (c. 1621?). This play is based on precisely the same events as form the backdrop to Galileo’s Revenge; it is a complex and moving story, but there is scarcely a member of the cast left alive at the end. Middleton got the story from his friend, the English traveller Fynes Moryson (1566-1630), who visited Florence in the mid-1590s, and recorded the story thus:
Then seeming to make conscience to live a Concubine, at last, (his wife Joanna now being dead,) she [Bianca] had the power to make him [Francesco] to take her to wife; which done she bent all her wits to have her son legitimate, and admitted to succeed in the Dukedom. And whilst Cardinal Ferdinand, brother to Duke Francesco, opposed this her design, it happened that he came to Florence to pass some days merrily with the Duke. And they being to go out hunting early in a morning, the Duchess sent the Cardinal a marzipan for his breakfast, which he returned with due ceremony saying that he did eat nothing but that was dressed by his own cook. But the Duke by ill happ meeting the messenger, did eat a piece thereof, and when the Duchess saw it broken, she smiled and spoke some words of joy. But the messenger telling her the Cardinal’s answer, and that the Duke had eaten that piece, she with an unchanged countenance took another piece, and having eaten it, locked herself in a closet. And hereupon the Duke and she died in one hour, and the Cardinal Ferdinand succeeded in the Dukedom.
Too neat by half, I say. You will find the true origins and significance of this story in Galileo’s Revenge, of course.
Galileo and me
Although theoretical physics was my first love, I subsequently became fascinated by the history of science. I especially like the medieval and early modern periods: roughly, that is, everything from the Venerable Bede (c.673-735) to the Honourable Boyle (1627-91) and a bit beyond. But Galileo was always my particular favourite: initially his work on falling bodies, projectiles, and pendulums and such, and then more broadly his character, life and the wider world in which he lived and worked.
A few years ago, therefore, I started work on a new, up-to-date biography of Galileo. Unfortunately (for me) a couple of other excellent scholars had already had the same idea. J.L.Heilbron’s brilliant Galileo, for example, came out in 2010 and I shelved my own project. But all was not lost. I have always loved crime fiction and historical fiction and above all historical crime fiction. (Yes, yes, I admit it, I adore Cadfael, even if he is the veritable white line down the middle of the road.) So I had already started working on an early draft of Galileo’s Revenge. How hard can creative writing be, I wondered? You just make it up as you go along. And I won’t have to check my references. A much older and slightly wiser man, I finally stopped writing last year.
Christopher J T Lewis
 Meaning of ‘laboratory’ etc.
 I.e. drama from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, 1559-1627 or thereabouts.
 Unpublished chapters of Fynes Moryson’s ‘Itinerary’, ed. Charles Hughes (London, 1903), p.94-5
Friday, 8 March 2019
by Dominic Fielder
Charles François Dumouriez is hardly the first name on anyone’s lips when having discussion of important figures in the wars of the coalitions against France, between 1793-1815. I had hoped to make it beyond the second sentence before saying the word ‘Napoleonic’ but so powerful is Napoleon Bonaparte’s stamp on the pages of history, that the wars of the First Coalition, the ‘Revolutionary Wars’, are often overlooked, dismissed with the status of BN, ‘before Napoleon!’ But in the early months of 1793, Dumouriez was centre stage, perhaps with even the control of France tantalisingly within his grasp.
The early career of Dumouriez was somewhat chequered. Born to a noble family and proving himself a very brave soldier in the Seven Years War, Dumouriez undertook a series of military roles which eventually drew him into the Secret du Roi, one of the inner circles of Louis XV. A downturn in fortune followed when Dumouriez was ordered on a diplomatic mission to Poland. Far from the mission remaining purely political, Dumouriez organised his own militia formation, only for those forces to be routed in battle by the great Russian General Alexander Suvorov, at the battle of Lanckorona (1771). Dumouriez’ forces were apparently caught off guard in the dawn attack and this has led some historians to conjecture whether Dumouriez, who had expressed some anti-Polish sentiments, had been in some form of collusion with Suvorov.
|Prayer of the Bar Confederates before the battle of Lanckorona – by Artur Grottger|
Returning to France and taking a post under the Secretary of State for War, a position he was briefly later to hold as his own, Dumouriez found himself thrown into the Bastille for six months in 1773, under charges of diverting money intending for bribery and spying, to pay his own spiralling debts. With the death of Louis XV, previous sins were forgiven and, recalled to court, Dumouriez served Louis XVI in a post under the new Secretary of War, the Count of Saint-Germain. Somewhere in this time, Dumouriez had married but by 1789, the marriage ended in separation. Fortescue in his History of the British Army in Flanders informs us that Dumouriez was a handsome and popular figure at court, a phrase that resounds of Hilary Clinton’s description of her errant husband, ‘a hard dog to keep on the porch’.
At the outbreak of the revolution, Dumouriez joined the Jacobin club, and took up a post as the military commander in the Nantes region. The was a change of political allegiance to the Girondins, a movement which believed in spreading the principles of revolution into Flanders and the countries beyond. This was no meeting of ideals. The Girondins needed a general in the army to improve their military clout and Dumouriez wanted voices in the assembly to further his career. August the 10th 1792 provided that another step up to power. The Tuileries Palace was stormed. Louis XIV, who had been rather hapless in operating within the constraints of the new constitutional monarchy, had ignored the will of the constituent National Assembly. His final act of indifference was to those most loyal to him, allowing his Swiss Royal Guard to fight outnumbered after he had fled the Tuileries.
Elsewhere, the Marquis de LaFayette, a hero from the American War of Independence and ardent monarchist, had attempted to lead his army over to the allied forces of Austria and Prussia, who waited on the French border. Responding to the crisis, Dumouriez was appointed to command the ‘Army of the Centre’ (soon to be the Army of the North), directing his subordinate Kellerman to defeat of the Prussians at Valmy, in September 1792, and then his own forces defeated an Austrian army at Jemappes three months later. Under Dumouriez, the Army of the North and the Army of the Ardennes, nominally under his direction, pushed into Flanders and were welcomed as liberators.
The next five months were the most critical in the life of Dumouriez; a life-time of acquired political skills, soldiery and personal flaws were about to converge.
The National Assembly, unable perhaps even unwilling to properly supply the Army of the North, the remembrance of Lafayette’s treachery still weighing heavy, declared that the people of Flanders and Walloon were not to be protected as French citizens. Soldiers were at liberty to take whatever was needed to order to survive, as an army of occupation. At the stroke of a pen, friendly provinces became hostile to hungry and marauding soldiers as discipline evaporated. Lynn, in his excellent Bayonets of the Republic, estimates that the whole army shrank from around 450,000 to 290,000 as soldiers absented themselves, in the harsh winter.
|Soldiers of the old royal army stood shoulder to shoulder with the new recruits of the Levée en Masse.|
Between November and early February, Dumouriez returned to Paris, quarrelling with the National Assembly and sharing a private council with the deposed King, now sentenced to death. Dumouriez was, according to Fortescue, the last person to have such an audience with Louis XVI, a point that must have alarmed those Jacobin members of the National Assembly.
Whatever Dumouriez planned to do next is open for discussion, his memoirs of the final weeks of his command put a bias on his actions, for a man who needed royal employment in the world of the late eighteenth century, a monarchist imperative: one not shared by J.W Fortescue. In Fortescue’s eyes, the lightning offensive that Dumouriez attempted was designed to seize Amsterdam and her deposits of gold. Nominally this objective was given to him by Paris but within a fortnight the National Assembly began stripping troops away from Dumouriez to reinforce the Army of Ardennes, now under the command of General Miranda, a friend and confident.
Ultimately Dumouriez’ offensive was called off and the Army of the North moved to counter the threat of the Austrians under Prince Josias. Fortescue says that the actions of Dumouriez were done under ‘bad grace’, perhaps it’s this tone that alerts Paris to a potential problem, but that reason feels unconvincing.
Two major actions were fought, one at Neerwinden on the 18th of March, where the Austrians were victorious against the Armies of the North and Ardennes, and another four days later, where the French fought a rear-guard action. Again, it was another defeat but the speed of the Austrian pursuit slowed.
By the 25th Dumouriez had entered into discussions with Colonel Mack, Prince Josias’ trusted advisor and two days later, there was agreement on a formal alliance, with Dumouriez seemly convinced that the army would follow him over to fight in conjunction with Austria, to march on Paris and restore the House of the Bourbons to the throne.
On the 1st of April, four members of the Convention in Paris arrive to arrest Dumouriez. Instead, he arrests them, surrounded by his loyal 1st Hussars, many of German extraction. Four days later Dumouriez rode into the Austrian camp. Five thousand men, around an eighth of his army followed him.
In exile, he drifted from capital to capital, watching the revolution continue to survive and by the time that Napoleon had seized power, Dumouriez was an unofficial advisor in London; a nearly-man without a nation to call home.
There is something in that narrative that troubles me. It’s a combination of the timings and just a hunch about the character of Dumouriez. Had he reached Amsterdam, Dumouriez would have been in a very strong bargaining position. Even if he had been forced to retreat, the army had shown itself adept at stripping the Belgian provinces of plate and just about anything else. The offensive feels more like a bank heist than a sound military manoeuvre. In William Hague ‘Pitt the Younger’ there is reference to British gold being involved in both the Dumouriez affair and the bribery of French officials; diverting money was an old skill of Dumouriez but now the stakes were much bigger. And then there is the arrival of the four men from Paris. There must have been something that alerted them to Dumouriez’ intentions days before the 25th March. Six days for secret negotiations to be discovered, Paris informed, a decision made and representatives dispatched is unworkable in the late eighteenth century.
So, what I am suggesting? Collusion, probably with Austria and Britain: Dumouriez, the man who would be king. Well, not king but at least a more palatable form of government than offering the people the immediate restoration of the House of Bourbon. The National Assembly was able to act because someone within the Dumouriez inner circle was informing them. The master politician would have found a way to start negotiations before battle, perhaps selling the idea to Prince Josias that the Army of the North needed to fight, in order to not feel as though it were betraying France. Furthermore, a victory at Neerwinden would have significantly strengthen Dumouriez’ position with Austria and perhaps made the lie easier to sell to his men?
Of course, none of that can be proved. That’s the beauty of fiction. And there is always that hope that one day, a note might surface, written in the days before the 18th of March 1793 to justify my faith in Dumouriez’ nature.
In the aftermath of his defection, France and the revolution changed for the worst. Girondins were chased from office and in the Terror, that occurred a few months later, their opposition to the Jacobins was ended as thousands of Girondin supporters were sent to the guillotine. Commanders of the Army of the North also paid a heavy price for the treachery of Dumouriez. Two were executed: one, Houchard, after delivering victory over the Duke of York’s German allies at Hondschoote. Political infiltration happened throughout the army with Representatives en Mission, carrying the authority of the National Assembly and often with no military experience, could force commanders to undertake military actions which defied any logic. France teetered until eventually a man named Napoleon could do what Charles François Dumouriez could only dream of.
About Dominic Fielder
The King’s Germans is a project that has been many years in the making. Currently I manage to juggle writing and research around a crowded work and family life. The Black Lions of Flanders (set in 1793) is the first in the King’s Germans’ series, which will follow an array of characters through to the final book in Waterloo. The King of Dunkirk will soon be released and I hope that the response to that is as encouraging as the reviews of Black Lions have been.
While I’m self-published now, I have an excellent support team that help me to produce what I hope is a story with professional feel, and that readers would want to read more than once. My family back-ground is in paperback book sales, so I’m very keen to ensure that the paperback design is something that I would be proud to put on my bookshelf.
I live just outside of Tavistock, Devon, where I enjoy walking on the moors and the occasional horse-riding excursion as both inspiration and relaxation.
From The Black Lions of Flanders
Antwerp: 16th February 1793
Rain, driven by bitter north-easterly winds, ushered the ‘Army of the North’ away from Antwerp’s Grande Place and on towards the Dutch border. Buildings wore sagging and weary tricolours and under these a handful of inhabitants had gathered, as glad to see the French leave as they had been to welcome them, weeks before. In the previous November, the southern provinces of the Austrian Netherlands had waited keenly to receive the victorious French army, a sentiment long since passed.
Serge Genet had watched the exodus from a partially frosted window for a few minutes before returning to a fastidiously tidy desk in one of the rooms of the Grand Palace, which formed part of the main square.
A gently steaming coffee pot awaited an imminent arrival. Parallel tables contained an undisturbed breakfast array of pastries and cold meats on one side and a series of maps and plans on the other. Genet surveyed the scene with a degree of satisfaction, before removing delicate silver framed glasses and cleaning them on the silken tricolour sash tied about his waistcoat.
“I’m not sure that’s the prescribed use for a sash of office, Serge?” said an assured voice.
The double doors to the room had burst open amidst the task of spectacle cleaning. A slender, sodden figure unchained a blue cloak and hurled it in the vague direction of a cloak stand, followed by an equally saturated bicorne which cart-wheeled ribbons of spray over the varnished mahogany floor.
General Dumouriez strode across the room, made for the silver coffee pot and poured himself a cup while a servant, wearing the livery of the household of King Louis, tidied the abandoned garments before retiring from the scene. The General drew back a chair and settled back with his feet on Genet's desk, rivulets of water running down the leather and threatening the neatly arranged correspondence.
The servant returned with the intent of removing the heavy riding boots but Dumouriez shooed him away, wagging a playful finger.
“No, no, leave that. I’m leaving soon and you should be packing.”
The servant bowed and left the two men. Dumouriez ran his hand through thinning silver hair; he had long since lost the pretention and taste for formal wigs. Having just turned fifty-four he retained a lean physique. Piercing dark brown eyes shone from a face that retained the vestiges of youthful charm that had made him a favourite at the Royal Court for thirty years. Allied to this was an air of command which drew unconditional loyalty. Men followed Dumouriez, but both he and Genet knew a test of loyalty for every soldier setting out towards the Dutch border might come sooner than either man might wish.
The man in clerk’s clothes moved sharply to rescue documents from a puddle forming on the green leather covering of the desk. Even though he found this intrusion into his world of order deeply disturbing, he was too respectful of the General to voice a rebuke.
Refreshed by the hot coffee, Dumouriez contemplated the choice of overdue breakfast but instead seized a quill from the desk and motioned Genet to pass the documents to him. In truth only the last two were of interest but he took his time to read each before scrawling his signature.
“You will have our best people on these?” Dumouriez asked, already knowing the answer but betraying just a hint of the gravity that each message contained.
“Yes, sir,” replied Genet.
“You will use the Countess for this?” Dumouriez asked, almost rhetorically, a relaxed smile returning to his face.
“Yes, sir. And Beauvais will carry the message to Dunkirk and then on to Paris with the dispatches. It will give us the time we need, I think.”
Genet’s words trailed away and Dumouriez looked at him but knew that pursuing the matter was of little value. Instead, he spoke with a reassuringly warm tone, “Don’t worry my friend, all will be well.”
Craning his neck, the General called out, “Julien, get your sorry backside in here!”
The door was flung open with a force that rattled ancient hinges, the void almost filled with the frame with of a man whose muscular torso was squeezed into a tightly fitted short green dragoon’s jacket. As the figure advanced Genet could see the grey, dead right eye and vivid vermilion scar that ran from chin to temple. Captain Julien Beauvais stood to attention.
Genet never failed to find the sight of Beauvais both imposing and galling. The clerk had winced whenever Dumouriez recounted the tale that lead to an Austrian bayonet tearing the right-hand side of the dragoon’s face apart. There was little doubt that Beauvais had saved Dumouriez’ life and become a favoured pet in the process.
“Prepare yourself and two men. You leave for Dunkirk as soon as these communications are ready.”
Beauvais nodded at Dumouriez’ order.
“But before you go, help yourself to some of that food Julien, you are starting to look like a bloody scarecrow; then Dunkirk. No stopping to ravage half the women in Northern France. And try not to kill any more villagers. The mayor of whatever shit-hole you slept in last week had the temerity to write and say that some demonic creature cut down half of the townsfolk before riding off into the morning.”
“It was two men, sir and they did seem intent on killing me first,” the dragoon hissed.
“Funnily enough the mayor forgot to mention that. These people already consider me the devil incarnate for the actions of the army. You are my emissary. Try and keep it to a maiming or two next time and you will make Genet’s task of drafting a suitably pliant reply a little easier.”
Beauvais’ faced twitched into an awkward, broken smile and Genet marvelled at the General’s skill. With a few well-chosen plaudits and a thoughtful act, men like Beauvais would follow their General time and again, whatever the personal cost. While both soldiers breakfasted, Genet sealed several documents handing Beauvais all of the communications bar one.
“You might find this useful in dealing with the Mayor of Dunkirk,” Genet paused. “Should his co-operation be less then complete, find the town’s garrison commander and have everyone on this list arrested.”
Genet knew Grison, Dunkirk's new mayor, would not buckle. Only by a display of naked power could Grison be brought to heel. Without proper leverage Grison would protect the man he and Dumouriez needed.
“His family and friends that I know of. Choose some and have them…” Genet waved his hand, the words dried in his mouth. Spying was Genet’s business, killing was Beauvais’.
The dragoon pouched the note in a waistcoat pocket, nodded and turned away, returning for a final sortie at the breakfast table. The chief of intelligence had found a skill in setting challenges that one might previously think were beneath the compass of a cavalry officer. But in the month since his posting to Dumouriez’ staff, Julien Beauvais was clearly enjoying the freedom and opportunities that life at headquarters provided.
Dumouriez had moved to examine a series of maps, gently drumming his fingers before looking at Genet, “How are you getting on with those diamonds? Paying the bills?”
Since the arrival of the French, what little trade there had been in the port appeared to have ceased. Most of Antwerp’s diamond trade had relocated to Amsterdam. Genet had struck a deal with those who remained, a protection tax, but it did not yield anywhere near the money that the army needed to make good a deliberate shortfall from Paris.
“Diamonds have been difficult, sir; to trade with I mean. We end up selling them back to the traders we had collected them from, who tell us the market is depressed because we have driven the buyers away. Gold would be more useful in that regard,” Genet offered.
“Diamonds, difficult? You have clearly never had a wife and a mistress, Serge!” Dumouriez chuckled and then coughed almost apologetically at seeing the face of his Chief of Intelligence, a hapless bachelor.
“You are right of course but in three weeks’ time none of that will matter. Amsterdam: that is all that matters.” Dumouriez returned to study the maps for a few moments.
“We are going to capture Amsterdam, collect half the gold of Europe sat in its banks and win the war! That should bring a smile to even your worried face, my friend.”
The General turned and swooped on an unmolested croissant on the breakfast table, polished it off and flashed a self-satisfied smile to his spy-master.