It might be said truthfully that in those days the young limbs of two branches of that great tree that is the House of Hapsburg were joyfully entwined.

—from The Flowering of a New Kingdom: The early reign of Ferdinand and Marianne in the Netherlandsby Carolus van Loon, University of Antwerp Press, 1702.

Queen Marianna strode quickly and triumphantly through the hallways in her home at Brussels. As they approached her suite in the royal apartments, she waved off her escorts, and bestowed a particularly warm smile on the young guardsman who opened the door to her suite for her.

When the door closed behind her, she spied a lone maid curtseying before her, and said, “Oh get up, Annette, and congratulate me. It was a fabulous victory! And in straight sets, too! You should have seen me fly across the court. I was magnificent today!” She carefully placed her tennis racket on the bench near the door and began dancing around the room.

Annette rose and replied, “Indeed, your majesty. That is marvelous, but I wondered why you were gone so long.”

“Not so long as all that.”

“But, you and his majesty do have a state luncheon today with the burghers, guild masters, and university rectors. The cardinal and his sister will be there as well. I am sure you must remember.”

Looking around, the young queen saw the formal court dress lying on the bed, and asked, “And Susanna is . . . ?”

“Waiting for your command. I am to fetch her and the others at your return.”

“I don’t suppose I have time for a bath before I need to dress?”

“I think not, Your Majesty.”

“Oh well,” she sighed, “before you go, please help me out of my tennis costume and into a robe. I am quite warm and need to cool off before I get into all that.” She pointed toward the elaborate gown and its attendant layers of clothing.

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

****

As Annette knelt to begin untying her tennis shoes, Maria Anna removed her hat and let her mind wander. She thought again about missing the bath she’d been hoping for.

When Fernando saw the way the improved sanitation edicts inspired by the up-timers had saved lives inside the city during the siege of Amsterdam, he had issued decrees governing cleanliness and sanitation throughout the whole of his new kingdom. He had also thought to lead by example, and brought a team of up-timers from Grantville to install a very modern bathing chamber in the royal apartments while improving the plumbing in the palace.

She remembered the seemingly endless weeks of workmen moving walls, laying in pipes and drains, the nuisance of finding new quarters for some of the servants as the boiler and cisterns were inserted into the attics, and the construction of the very clever pump house. There was, however, the very rather peculiar suggestion of Herr Swiger’s that their “Dutch mansion” would look “cute” with a windmill to run the pumps while they waited for the steam engine to be delivered and installed. Even she knew that a good team of oxen would be more dependable than the wind.

Her times relaxing in the very regal bathtub that had been installed had only been made more pleasurable by the gift of some scented “bubble bath” solution from one of the ladies in the Essen trade delegation some weeks back. Court gossips insisted that they “knew” she bathed for hours each day. In truth, she only indulged herself once or twice a week, if her schedule permitted, and she nearly felt like confessing to a sin, but she couldn’t think of one that applied. Besides, she did get clean in body and relaxed in mind each time.

****

As she mused on the wonders of the finished bathing chamber, another thought occurred. Of course, the showering cabinet that Fernando somehow preferred to the bathtub.

“Annette, I would have time to take a shower, wouldn’t I?”

“I suspect so, Your Majesty, if you didn’t take too long.”

“Excellent! Fetch my showering cap and help me cover my hair.”

Quickly opening a wardrobe, Annette returned with a rather large, plain bonnet whose only benefit to the wearer was the fact that it was waterproof. Working together, the two soon covered the queen’s hair and tied the several tapes and ribbons to close the cap close to her head.

“This will be the perfect solution,” the queen said, catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror.

Seeing her court dress reflected in the glass, she asked, “Was my nosegay delivered while I was out?”

Annette looked around quickly, and in a worried tone, replied, “No, my lady. I hadn’t noticed that it was not here.”

“Well, I must have flowers to carry that match the flowers on the banqueting tables.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Shall I send . . . ?”

“No, you must go yourself. Go to the chief steward and ask where my flowers have gone to, then go get them from, well, wherever they are, and bring them here as quick as you can.”

Seeing her young maid’s hesitation, the queen gave the girl her warmest smile and said in a low voice, ” Please, Annette. I know that the steward can be a bit of a tyrant, but you are going at my command, and, besides, I trust you to find my flowers and make sure they are correct and arranged the way I like them. Now, do me this favor, and hurry, please, and bring them back for me.”

“But Your Majesty, I need to help you get ready for your bath.”

“No, I am quite able to finish undressing and putting on a robe by myself. Now go, fetch the flowers, please, and bring Susanna and the other maids and the ladies-in-waiting back with you.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Thank you, Your Majesty,” the girl burbled as she tried to bow, open the door, and back out of the room, all at the same time.

As the door closed, the queen chuckled to herself and continued removing the last of her tennis garb, donned light slippers and a robe, and walked through the suite to the bathing chamber door.

****

When she opened the door, she was surprised to hear both the sound of cascading water, and of a light baritone singing a rather improper song. Off-key. In Spanish!

Stepping in and closing the door, she drew herself up to her full height, cleared her throat, and in her best imperial tones declaimed, “Stop wasting all the hot water, you Spanish oaf!”

The sound of water (and singing) abruptly ceased, the shower cabinet door opened, and a rather handsome head topped by a showering cap not too unlike her own popped out, and its owner said, “Why, good morning, my dear. How was your tennis match?”

“Don’t ‘my dear’ me,” she replied with a stern look that was spoiled by a half-smile. Tapping her foot, she continued, “Time is short, and I simply must bathe before we greet our guests. Oh, and yes, I won.”

“Congratulations, love. I, too, had a most successful morning.”

“Nonsense. You were probably lounging about all morning.”

“Not so. I spent the morning honing my martial skills at the Academy, and the masters praised my growing abilities and devotion to training.”

“The only reason they asked you to join was so they could have a royal patron, and have someone to pay for the trophy swords and awards for the next tournament.”

“That may be true in part, but I do need something to do on those mornings you go off to play tennis and I don’t have pressing kingly duties to attend to. I do sometimes miss our morning walks and rides together. But more to the point, the Academy masters teach fencing in the Spanish style that I learned at my father’s court, and I enjoy fencing with opponents who see me as a fellow student or as an apt pupil and not as a king or commander, just as some of your opponents and partners see you as an equally talented player and student of the game.”

“Very well, I surrender. Your exercises are as important as mine, but please hurry, Ferdy, and do save me some of the hot water.”

With a mischievous smile Fernando eyed his wife’s robe-clad form, and suggested, “We could save some time and water if we showered together.”

Taken aback, Maria Anna thought for an instant, and then with a dreamy smile looked over her shoulder to make sure she had closed the door. Before she could turn back completely, a rather imperious voice ordered with a chuckle, “Come, wench. Your king commands your presence within.”

With a broad smile she quickly removed her slippers and robe, rushed into the shower cabinet, and shut the door. Shortly, the room was filled again with the sounds of cascading water, along with some giggles, a slap, and some other low, indistinguishable sounds.

Soon, her soft voice might be heard beneath the sound of the water, “You know, Ferdy, we will be terribly late,” followed by the equally soft reply, “Yes, my love, but think of the water we’ll be saving.”

****

Later that evening in his own quarters, the chief steward of the palace reflected on a most satisfying day over an excellent glass of hock. The state luncheon was the highlight of course, but under his steady direction and keen eye for detail, all went off smoothly, despite a flurry of interruptions. The only flaw was the delay in starting, but the king and queen could, of course, be a bit late, and needed to offer him no explanation.

Affairs of state, he concluded, affairs of state.

****