On the death of Aquaen Empress Maria I

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 14, the final chapter (not including the epilogue) of Imperatrix. The setting is 20-25 December 1569 in Aquaenum, the Imperial Capital:

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Until she actually died, the Empress was still the head of state and Supreme Executive, and under constitutional law, whenever the emperor was incapacitated and did not have a consort, his/her Councilor General was named acting, interim leader, titled as “Councilor Regent.” From December 21 until February 15, the time between the Empress’ stroke and Cycreamaeum’s coronation, her dear friend and advisor Lady Maria Aemilia led the Empire in the crucial transition period from old, beloved Empress to young, new Emperor.

Lady Maria was responsible for the peaceful transition of power and the acceptance by the Aquaen citizenry of the Roan heir as their new Emperor; she established that Cycreamaeum would take the official surname Dorephus (“Loyal”), to distinguish his new imperial line from his father the ailing Roan Emperor Cycreamaeum, and that he be renamed Emperor Aquaeas Cycreamaeum Dorephus I of Aquaenum, or simply, Cycreamaeum I of Aquaenum. This was a politically imperative gesture of genius on her part, since as his son and heir-apparent, Cycreamaeum was still officially subordinate to his Roan father until he became the acting emperor of the independent Aquaen Empire with a different dynastic name and court than his father’s family. As simply Aquaeas Cycreamaeum, he was subordinate to his father (in the view of the Roan Empire) so long as that old Roan man with whom he shared a name lived.

In her first letter to the new Emperor following Maria Regina’s death on Christmas Day, the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, Regent Maria wrote the following to Cycreamaeum:

Given at the Imperial Palace at Aquaenum, at the third hour of the morning. 25 December 1569, the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Your Imperial Majesty:

It gives me an admittedly odd and altogether bittersweet feeling to address Your Imperial Majesty thusly. Yet I write to you now, no longer as formerly, as between two friends of near-equal station, but now as a loyal subject to her Sovereign Lord and Emperor. For you asked me to write you immediately upon your accession to the Imperial Throne of Aquaenum, at the repose of that thrice-blessed Lady of glorious memory, my late Sovereign Lady the Empress. So it has come to pass, by God’s inscrutable Providence, that my lady passed unto eternal life shortly after midnight today, the holiest of holy days, following her peaceful endurance of a complete coma these past five days after suffering a stroke on the 20th of December.

It astounds me to report to you the truly unprecedented displays of grief and mourning by the highest lords and senators and lowest citizens alike. The great bells of the city’s three cathedrals on Aurora Square have tolled ceaselessly since midnight, while the unending pealing continues in both the surrounding great churches on the Square and in the parish churches throughout Aquaenum. Already, the usual festive and joyous nature with which the capital is usually wont to greet this holy day has given way to the most somber outpourings of grief. I have just come, along with the rest of the late Empress’ Imperial Privy Council and all her attendant ladies and staff, from attending the inaugural Liturgy for the Great Feast of our Lord’s Nativity at the holy Cathedral of the Blessed Savior. En route to Aurora Square, we were met by throngs of wary, incredulous citizens, great and common alike, with all asking us the same astonished questions: “How does Her Imperial Majesty fare?” and “When will she recover?”.

For Your Imperial Majesty must keep in mind, the late Empress reigned over us for so long – almost 63 years – that most Aquaens have never known another ruler. As our heralds’ somber, tearful proclamation reached the crowds of people gathered along our route, dozens, struck dumb, wondered aloud “But the Empress surely cannot be dead?”, while thousands of men and women, children and the elderly alike gave way to open, unaffected storms of tears, cries, and wailing lamentation. Everywhere, from the greatest town mansions and noble palaces to the commonest apartment blocks, people put aside the bright green, gold, and red Nativity sashes and cloth and sweet spices, and replaced these with whatever black and white mourning cloths and materials they possessed. The city was transformed on what should have been the most joyous of holy days into a grief-filled dirge of black bunting, extinguished bonfires and tapers, cancelled processions and firework displays, and general, universal weeping.

Even the stately Patriarch himself could not hold back his tears as he greeted our delegation on Aurora Square and led us into the great mother Cathedral of Aquaenum. He ordered the draping of the iconostasis, temple chandelier, and arches with black taffeta and silk interspaced with the festive greens, golds, and crimson Nativity colors, so that, as he preached in his sermon, we all “might call to mind on this holy yet bittersweet day that which causes us such pain and grief, that mixes tears of lament with tears of joy, and causes the capital to mingle cries of “Christ is Born! Glorify Him!” with sad dirges and many tears.” For the late Empress was like the capital’s beloved mother. All of us, save those few men and women alive who lived more years than she did, were either born during her reign, or, if born before, can hardly recall the reign of her largely forgotten predecessor Julian.

I myself have lost someone so extraordinarily dear to me, for my lady was, to me, altogether more than a friend and mistress. She was my dearest confidante, friend, supporter, and counselor. Her absence from this world weighs upon my soul and tugs mightily at my heart. Yet so it has come to pass, by God’s will, and now I must put aside my grief to write you that which my lady had entrusted me.

It was my lady’s express wish that, before you enter Aquaenum and are crowned as her successor, you take on in all ways the mantle of Aquaen mind and outlook. I know this is a great burden which the Empress requires of you, but seeing as she had discussed this matter with Your Imperial Majesty countless times, it cannot come as a great shock to you that the Empress was most insistent upon your public and immediate conversion to the Aquaen faith, the communion of the Orthodox Catholic Church. To this end, I send as the bearer of this letter no less a churchman than the Empress’ own chaplain, the Bishop of Pharoneum, to have your answer in this matter. As you may imagine, the Empress was quite liberal on the subject of the infallibility of the private conscience to believe what it will, but on the matter of your public religion, it is simply absolutely necessary if you wish to reign as Emperor of the Aquaens and be crowned and acclaimed by the Aquaen Patriarch and all the nobles of the realm that you share in our faith and religion. The Senate, all nobles, common citizens, and, naturally, the Aquaen Church are all of one mind on this matter.

Regarding the formal proclamation of Your Imperial Majesty as Emperor, I shall read the text I had sent to you four days ago at nine in the morning later today from the great rostrum before the Column of Aquaeas I in the Forum Aquaenum, with the late Empress’ household, all the Privy Councilors, leading Senators, nobles, and other courtiers assembled along with a multitude of the citizenry. Since the late Empress reposed without leaving any heirs of her body, and the same was true of her predecessor, it has become the custom since the Empress’ own accession to nominally ‘elect’ the new monarch “by the grace of God and the Aquaen Senate and people.” This process is quite straightforward; as you have read in the copy of the Marian Constitution I sent you some months ago, the acclamation of the new emperor must take place with the new Sovereign present before the entire assembled estates—all Senators, judges of the Imperial Courts, titled peers, and chosen representatives of the Church, ordinary people, provincial governors, and all foreign ambassadors—following the funeral of the previous Sovereign and before the new emperor’s coronation and anointing along with his consort.

This acclamation must itself be done immediately after 2/3 of the Aquaen Senate and a simple majority of the Imperial Senate vote to ‘elect’ the new emperor as per the will of the previous Sovereign in default of any legitimate issue to succeed the late emperor. Rest assured, my lord, that the Privy Council, the Aquaen and Imperial Senate, and all court nobles and peers of the realm are well-aware of her late Imperial Majesty’s wish that you succeed her as Emperor of Aquaenum. So long as your senior councilors and advisors have no objections to your embracing the Orthodox Catholic Faith, Your Imperial Majesty will enjoy the love, respect, and loyalty of every Aquaen.

The last matter that the Privy Councilors and I must resolve with you is the issue of your father His Imperial Majesty Emperor Cycreamaeum of Roanum. By Aquaen laws and customs, your lord father has no right to the Aquaen throne before your own, as the late Empress’ sworn will was, by the Privy Council’s oath, for you to succeed her. Roan law, however, is rather murkier where the claims and precedence of a reigning Sovereign are over his son. To this end, the Privy Councilors have requested unanimously that your lord father the Emperor solemnly and publicly renounce for himself any claim to the Aquaen throne. I leave to Your Imperial Majesty’s determination how exactly you wish to effect this, but the Councilors and leading Senators have all asked that you send to Aquaenum three copies of your father’s declaration or statement to the aforementioned effect as soon as possible.

Your coronation and anointing as Emperor of Aquaenum, Defender of the Orthodox Faith, etc. must occur, by tradition, at least one week following the burial of your predecessor. If Your Imperial Majesty wishes to attend the late Empress’ funeral Liturgy, this would be an unprecedented, unexpected, yet highly propitious and popular, pious act of loyalty and love to her most-lauded memory. Naturally, as this is the first imperial funeral Aquaenum will have seen in 63 years, the Privy Council, Senate, and Patriarchal Synod will soon begin preparations for the appropriate state of lying-in, public eulogies, and then the funerary Liturgy and rite of burial, but all are, at present, too overcome by fresh grief to discuss this. Any envoys you should wish to send at this time with letters of condolence would be most appropriate and highly appreciated.

Lastly, my lord, the Council wish to know of your intentions regarding the political constitutions and present state of legal, political, religious, and longstanding traditional separation between our two realms. While no one would ever presume to insult the late Empress’ express will by disputing or opposing your universally-expected succession to the Imperial Throne, there remains among all estates, but most especially the Senators and the common people, a high degree of desire and apprehension that the existing state of political separation between our two realms should continue.

The absolute and complete unity of the sovereign monarchical power of Imperium over this realm must not in any ways be diminished or lessened during the transfer of sovereign imperial authority from the late Empress to Your Imperial Majesty. Some low persons of dubious loyalty and little integrity had naively and rashly presumed to speak of your inheriting the Imperial Throne “on the condition that Aquaenum and her numerous constituent dominions be perpetually and solemnly recognized as separate and distinct from those of Roanum”, but my lady the late Empress refused to consider supporting such an attack on the imperial authority and principle of unified and absolute monarchical inheritance of the Imperial Throne. That being said, it would greatly increase Your Imperial Majesty’s popularity with all estates of the realm, especially the Aquaen Senate and the common citizens of the Imperial City, were you to make any statement, either written and published or declared and publicly proclaimed, affirming and recognizing the ancient and continuing division of the Aquaen and the Roan realms as two separate, fully sovereign empires and independent polities. Such a declaration or publication from Your Imperial Majesty would greatly assist in your positive reception as Emperor, put paid to the nefarious schemes and rumors of both lackwit gossipers and darker court whisperers, and preserve undiminished the natural peacefulness and goodwill of the Aquaen people toward Your Imperial Majesty.

Kissing your right hand, in humble thanks for your considerate receipt of this letter, I remain Your Imperial Majesty’s humble servant and the advisor to her late Imperial Majesty the Empress of thrice-blessed memory. May the Lord our God have mercy on her soul, and make her glorious memory eternal.

Lady Maria

Chief Secretary of Her Imperial Majesty Empress Maria’s Privy Council, Regent and Protector of the Realm til your coronation, etc.

As her letter indicates, Councilor-Regent Maria insisted, as had the Empress for the past fifteen years while she was engaging in correspondence with Cycreamaeum over his possible succession as her heir, that in order for Aquaeas to become the new Aquaen Emperor, it was imperative that he become a member of the Orthodox Church of Aquaenum, the Empress’ Church. Cycreamaeum had first protested this, insisting that his personal religious beliefs as a Roan Christian would never find their way into his political policies and that he wished for a “full and general toleration of all religions” when he became Emperor of Aquaenum. When Lady Maria insisted, arguing that the Orthodox people of the Aquaen Empire would never accept a Roan Christian as their emperor, he agreed to convert, and so the Archbishop of Vinadeum chrismated him on January 15, 1570, the date that would have marked the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Empress’ coronation. Ironically, the new convert emperor, like his predecessor, would immerse himself deeply in Orthodox spiritual and ascetic practices in the final years of his life, even expressing the desire to abdicate and enter monastic life.[1]

Cycreamaeum’s conversion prevented both a possible civil war between rival Aquaen factions and an attempt by Cycreamaeum’s Roan friends to exercise new political influence over Aquaenum. These had been Empress Maria’s greatest fears, and why she had been unwilling to name him as her successor until the very end. The Regent Maria also insisted that Cycreamaeum move immediately to Aquaenum and there set up his permanent court in the Imperial Palace in order to identify himself as the Aquaen sovereign and not as a representative of Roan interests or a vassal of his father. Furthermore, she insisted most crucially that once his father died and he became joint heir to the Roan throne as the Aquaen sovereign, that the Aquaen Empire be maintained as a separate and fully sovereign political entity from the Roan Empire and its papacy, and that Cycreamaeum not confer any Aquaen positions or make any policies favorable to any Roans without the overwhelming approval of his Aquaen citizens or their Senate. As an additional stipulation to this, Regent Maria insisted that Cycreamaeum, once Emperor, not grant his Roan nobles or favorites any posts in the Aquaen Church or grants of land, especially any Roan priests, that his new court in Aquaenum observe the public rites of only the Aquaen Orthodox Church, and that no Roan senator or nobleman could apply to become an Aquaen officeholder…

[End of excerpt].

[1]A devout convert to Orthodoxy who became especially religious toward the end of his life, Cycreamaeum I of Aquaenum ultimately made good on his intention to abdicate as emperor, doing so on his 66th birthday in 1603. Succeeded to the throne by his son Dorephus and his son’s capable wife Maria II, the ex-Emperor spent the last year of his life in a monastery as a humble monk, refusing to be made an honorary abbot or archimandrite.

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