LE GRAND DESSIN
This is perhaps best translated as “The Great Conspiracy”. It is what Henri IV (reg. 1593-1610) called what was indeed the greatest conspiracy of all time. It had its seeds in a meeting in Duns Tew, Oxfordshire, that presumably took place after the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. A mythology to accompany the bare bones of the conspiracy was provided by Edmund Spenser's “Faerie Queene”, written in distant Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, between 1579 and 1590.
And what was the plot? To understand it we need to look at the political situation in Europe at the time. Protestant Europe was under threat from the forces of the Counter-Reformation. Catholic Europe was dominated by the Hapsburg family. The Spanish Hapsburgs were still the dominant military force in Europe; with apparently unlimited wealth from their American empire they controlled Southern Italy, modern Belgium, and much of the former mediaeval Kingdom of Lotharingia that provided a “Spanish Highway” between the Mediterranean and the Low Countries. The Austrian Hapsburgs were Holy Roman Emperors. Their authority technically covered all modern Germany, the Czech lands, a lot of Northern Italy, and quite a lot besides.
The important political fact behind the conspiracy was the Constitution of the Empire as laid down by the Golden Bull of 1356. This provided that the Empire was, like a number of mediaeval states, an elective monarchy. There were only seven designated electors (Kurfürsten in German). These were: ex officio the Archbishops of Mainz, Trier and Cologne; the Elector Palatine with his capital in Heidelberg, the Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg, plus the King of Bohemia. The archbishops were obviously Catholic. A previous Elector of Saxony had made the Protestant revolution possible by giving Martin Luther all facilities. The Elector of Brandenburg was a Hohenzollern and therefore a Protestant. The Elector Palatine had ambitions to be the big cheese at the centre of a network of Protestant states. The King of Bohemia was normally the same person as the Emperor. However... The Kingdom of Bohemia was also an elective monarchy. Obviously, if the by now largely Protestant Bohemian nobility could be persuaded to vote in a Protestant King/Elector, the Protestants would have four votes to three in the next Imperial election, so that a Protestant could be made Holy Roman Emperor. So the Great Conspiracy was aiming at nothing less than a revolutionary reordering of European politics.
And there's more. Henri IV Bourbon had come to power in France through leading a Protestant army in the French wars of religion. He changed his religion to secure the allegiance of Catholic Paris (“Paris vaut une messe”), but he gave the Protestants special rights in certain towns and cities (The Edict of Nantes) so that they could defend themselves. He was certainly regarded as suspect in some Catholic quarters. His Treasurer was an English alchemist called Robert Fludde, who was intimately connected with the English end of the Conspiracy. Politically, once he became King of France his ambition, like any French king, was to break the Hapsburg encirclement of his country. In 1610 he was assassinated – by a Jesuit.
Furthermore, beneath the simple political conspiracy outlined above, there was a deeper, occult, alchemical layer. In the plot behind the plot, as it were, the Protestant alchemists believed that by unifying Europe under a Protestant Emperor they would be unifying Christendom under the expected Second Coming of Christ. To understand this, we need to observe that certain families claimed direct descent from Christ. One version of the story is that Jesus Christ escaped from Judaea with his family and brought them to Narbonne. Centuries later, his descendants established the Jewish Kingdom of Septimania as a (short-lived) buffer state between Muslim Spain and Christian France. From there the bloodline extended in various directions, including the Merovingian dynasty of France that terminated with the disappearance of Dagobert II. (This legend is used in The Lord of the Rings). One line of descent passed through the Sinclairs of Scotland into the Royal Stuarts. Another passed into Anne of Denmark. So James VI's marriage with Anne in 1589 caused intense excitement among the alchemically-minded. The union of the crowns of Scotland and England (1603) proved beyond any doubt that God's unification purpose was being worked out.
A drastic setback to millenarian hopes was the death of Prince Henry in 1612 (of Typhoid). Henry was regarded as the very epitome of a proper Christian prince: brave, intelligent, tall, handsome. Plus – he was descended from Christ through two separate lineages. (We should perhaps point out the King James himself does not appear to have believed any of this. Additionally, James's foreign policy was one of peace, not least because he did not have the resources to fight the foreign wars that some of his subjects were intent on pressing him into.)
I have not found out why the mantle of Heir to Christ did not pass to Prince Charles. Admittedly he was small and weedy, and to judge from his behaviour when he became King, deceitful and stupid. He did indeed believe in his own divinity, though. Perhaps it was simply that his horoscope was unfavourable. Anyway, hopes were immediately settled on Princess Elizabeth, who married Frederick, Elector Palatine, in 1613. This was the sensational “Chemical Wedding”, which means “alchemical”. To celebrate it Shakespeare wrote his alchemical play “The Tempest”. (This was Shakespeare's last play, because the Globe Theatre burned down soon afterwards and he retired to Stratford-on-Avon). Less well known is the romance “Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosenkreutz” (The Chemical Wedding of Cristian Rose-Cross) (1616), by Johann Valentin Andreae, who was at the time a professor in Heidelberg University. Andreae used some of the mythology supplied by Spenser. Importantly there were two “messengers” bringing the occult knowledge called Rosenkreutz and Guildenstern (Rose-Cross and Gold Star). It is my contention that the two messengers in Hamlet (1599-1602) (The Danish Play), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, were drawn from this occult mythology. “Rosenkrantz” (Rose-Garland) would be a misreading of “Rosenkreutz”. Using these names would have been Shakespeare's way of signalling to the alchemists that he was privy to the occult underside of the Plot.
How did it all turn out? The Bohemian nobles did what the plotters expected. They chucked the Imperial representatives out of a window (One of several Defenestrations of Prague) in 1618 and elected Frederick and Elizabeth King and Queen of Bohemia. This event is usually regarded as the start of the Thirty Years' War. The Catholic and Hapsburg forces were not taken by surprise, however. They defeated the Bohemian forces at the Battle of the White Mountain (1620) and chased the electoral couple right out of Bohemia and the Palatinate, and they had to take refuge in The Hague.
Here are some of the consequences:
#1. A lot of Germany was devastated. I have seen areas of Germany that even now are depopulated but which show signs of mediaeval habitation. The chief offender was Count Wallenstein, one of the Catholic Bohemian nobility who fought (most of the time) for the Catholic and Imperial forces. (His descendant, Count Waldstein, was the dedicatee of Beethoven's Opus 53 sonata.)
#2. Cardinal Richelieu brought France into the war on the Protestant side. Clearly weakening the Hapsburgs was more important than loyalty to the Catholic religion.
#3. The alchemical ideology behind the Great Conspiracy went underground, with Andreae their chief propagandist, to become the mythology of Rosicrucianism and its offshoot, Freemasonry.
#4. Religious wars came to be regarded as a Very Bad Thing. Instead of religion being regarded as the basis of morality, the cult of the Gentleman took its place. Any educated man who could afford to dress in a certain way, who spoke French after the style of the French court, who could write in literary French as prescribed by the Académie Française, and who could play a musical instrument, had access to the society of Gentlemen from Dublin to St Petersburg. The common ideals that they developed became known as the Enlightenment (Fr. Éclaircissement, Ger. Aufklärung). These ideals still form the basis of what remains of European civilization.
#5. The surviving offspring of the Chemical Wedding, namely Fat Sophie (actually she was a very intelligent and cultivated woman) married Ernst, Elector of Hanover, and their son became George I of Great Britain. Thus our Queen Elizabeth is descended (according to legend) from Jesus Christ, as well as (in fact) from the Prophet Mohammed and Brian Boru. (David Cameron would be descended also from Christ and Mohammed through King William IV). Prince Rupert of the Rhine remained unmarried. His military skills, gained during the Thirty Years' War, were applied to supporting his cousin Charles I during the English Civil War. Typically, Charles sacked him because he was the only royalist military leader who was any good. He went on to set up the royalist navy, and after the Restoration became an important scientific (as opposed to alchemical) investigator and became a leading light in the Royal Society.
#6. The defeated Bohemian Protestants took refuge in the Mount Tabor region of Moravia. (Smetana's tone poem from the cycle “Má Vlast” refers). These people, originally known as Taborites, became known as the Moravian Church. The Moravians were the first Christian sect to oppose slavery. John Wesley founded Methodism on the basis of what he had learnt from the Moravians in America. Later, the Moravians helped the newly liberated slaves in the West Indies when they were turned loose (1837) without compensation or livelihood.
#7. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought the Thirty Years' War to a formal end. The United Provinces were internationally recognised at last. (They were not formally a kingdom. King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland was hereditary Stadhouder, or Provincial Governor, of all eight provinces.) France absorbed most of the “Spanish Highway”, including Alsace-Lorraine. Sweden kept its territorial gains on the North German coast. Hanover and Bavaria were made Electorates, one Protestant and one Catholic, though the honour was purely titular from now on.
#8. Religious wars ended – but there was no end to wars.
#9. To this day there is a readiness among a large number of people to believe in Grand Designs, that is, world-wide plots devised by sinister groups of Jews, Freemasons, Illuminati, Lizards, etc to rule us all with the application of special occult knowledge. I believe that all of this can be traced back to a meeting in Duns Tew.