The Gathering Storm (The Jacobite Chronicles Book 3)(10)

By: Julia Brannan



Anne paled noticeably, and Charlotte gave a little scream of fright.

“Is it not just a feint to distract Britain while France strengthens its troops in Flanders?” asked the earl.

“That is possible. But the Pretender’s son is in France, and has been seen near Dunkirk. In view of that one must take seriously the possibility that Louis means to put the Stuarts back on the throne, and act accordingly, as we are. Admirals Norris and Matthews are now in place, and ready for anything,” said Thomas. “But we must address the wider issues as well. I still think that the Pretender would have less support if, instead of suppressing dissenters, we allowed them to practise their faith openly, and gave them less cause to support James and his son.”

“I disagree,” said Lord Winter. “One cannot guard too strongly against the perfidies of the Roman Church, which on the surface appears so attractive, and seduces the young and impressionable. And you malign our monarch. King George is far more tolerant of dissenters than the Pretender would be. At least they are not forced to recant, and tortured if they refuse.”

“The Pretender has an Anglican chapel at his palace in Rome,” Beth dropped casually into the conversation. “It is for the use of his Protestant servants.” She looked down the table. Everyone except her husband and the earl looked deeply shocked.

“How do you know that, Lady Elizabeth?” asked the latter.

“I met an Anglican minister in Rome,” lied Beth smoothly. “He told me he is employed at the Palazzo Muti. It would seem that James is more tolerant than is bruited about.” She smiled, and determinedly speared a carrot with her fork.

“I don’t believe it,” breathed Lady Winter.

“You must be mistaken, Elizabeth,” said Lord Edward patronisingly.

“Oh, it’s quite true, my dears,” put in Sir Anthony, as Beth’s colour rose. “I heard the man say so myself. And the Anglican chapel is very tastefully appointed, quite devoid of the icons and other paraphernalia of which Catholics are so fond.”

Attention now transferred to the baronet.

“Are you sure this is not just a rumour put about by the supporters of the Pretender?” asked Thomas, who had just managed with difficulty to swallow a particularly large piece of gristle.

“No, not at all. I saw it myself. Attended a service, in fact. It was most refreshing.”

“Why didn’t you tell us this before, Anthony?” asked Edwin.

“It quite slipped my mind. The conversation at your house recently has been somewhat dominated by your son and heir. And quite rightly so. A divine child!” he replied serenely, seemingly unaware that he and his wife had just demolished one of the main objections to the replacement of the House of Hanover by that of Stuart. If it was true.

“You and your husband will make Jacobites of us all, Lady Elizabeth,” said the earl in a low voice which was nevertheless heard by the whole table, which was still in a state of shock.

“God forbid!” declared Thomas. “If what you say is true, then I believe it to be no more than a publicity exercise by James.”

“Possibly. Although you would think, if that is the case, that James would make it more widely known that he employs Anglican servants and ministers,” the earl said thoughtfully.

“Clearly he has decided to do so, by inviting gullible tourists to visit the Palazzo Muti, hoping they will spread his insidious lies unwittingly,” Lord Edward said tactlessly, forgetting that he was supposed to be ingratiating himself with the baronet.

“The dispute over the Stuart restoration is about more than religious tolerance, though, isn’t it?” said Caroline. “It is about the divine right of kings to rule as they wish without interference, which is what James wants.”

“He might want it, but do you think he would get it, if he was restored?” Sir Anthony asked.

“I doubt it, but he would certainly fight for it, and so would his supporters. We have had enough of civil war in this country, I think.”

“Better the devil you know,” said the earl, smiling.

“Yes. Exactly. Caroline is right. At least we know George’s virtues and failings,” Thomas said. His daughter sighed. She had enough of political conversation at home, and had hoped this dinner would provide a respite. But everyone else seemed fascinated, except for Isabella and her sisters, who looked confused, and worried. “But these repressive measures enacted by the king play into the Pretender’s hands. George is not greatly liked, even by his supporters.”

“Come, sir!” said Lord Winter, shocked. “How can you say this, when only a few days ago the merchants of London led a huge procession to St. James’s and offered the king six million pounds? You speak treasonably!”

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