There was once an accidental Empress in a far away land. She was not supposed to be the Empress, women were not supposed to rule over men. But both her father and brother had been killed in tragic circumstances and there had been no other choice.
Her ministers and advisors were not pleased and devised a plan with their wives to keep the Empress from causing too much damage. The wives were only too happy to help. They did not like that this woman would be elevated so much above them. They as the wives of the ministers should be second to none. From the moment they heard she would be Empress their very fibres seethed with envy.
Before she was crowned, during the period of mourning, rooms were set aside in the palace for her dressing rooms. They prepared a few dresses for her in one room. Ready for her coronation and her first few days as Empress.
In another room, materials were provided. Again, only a few. Ready for her to pick and choose from and stand for hours at a time for fittings.
In yet another room, several bags were placed on display for her. And in yet another, there was a small selection of jewels to adorn her.
She was brought to the palace the night before the coronation and taken to her dressing rooms. She was told that it was imperative that the Empress never be seen wearing the same dress, or jewels twice. That she had a few items here to keep her until she had settled and was able to have a new dress made for every day. She would also be required to choose new necklaces, broaches and rings every day. To her the list seemed endless.
“But with so much time spent on my dress, how will I govern?” she asked.
“That’s is what we are here for ma’am. You have an army of ministers who can care for the day to day for you.”
Now the Empress was not a stupid woman. She had anticipated that her rise to power would not go unchallenged. That the idea of a woman on the throne was repellent to most and simply unthinkable to others. But the situation needed delicacy. She couldn’t barge through their carefully laid plans. She needed to play the game for a while. To seem to allow them to weigh her down with finery and jewels. She must be on the watch for her opportunity to assert her rightful power.
And so, she picked materials and shopped for jewels and seemed to be well pleased. In doing so, she slowly developed relationships with the dress makers and the jewellers of the city. Able from conversations with them to glean a true picture of the world outside the palace. In this way she learned of the poverty that most of her subjects were living in whilst her ministers and their wives were greedily hoarding riches from funds that were meant to be feeding the poor.
The Empress brought her own household staff with her. The ministers were scandalised to see that her Dresser was a man.
“This is not proper ma’am!”
But she would not be budged. She was picking her battles and this was one of them. Her Dresser had been with her for many years and was a trusted advisor and friend. His advice often worked like magic. They joked between themselves that he was her Fairy Godfather. He had an uncanny skill of identifying and cultivating connections with the right serving staff to help him bring her information she needed to make her plans a success. He was also able, through those same connections, to arrange circumstances, or “chance” meetings with ministers that she desired.
At these meeting she would softly make suggestions of policies that she may want in place. On occasion, a minister would listen, for, she was still the Empress, the vessel from which all power flowed. If taking up her cause wouldn’t be too detrimental to them, then they would wish to gain her approval.
This created some discontent between the various Ministers. For every time that the Empress succeeded in this manner her power increased. Some believed that they should insulate the Empress from power. They were fearful of the havoc that a mere woman would wreak if she were to be granted too much authority.
Her Dresser had been busy gathering information in his almost magical way from the moment they arrived in the palace. And he was so good at his task, that she never had to read the proclamations her ministers put in front of her to sign, for he had already told her the contents.
The Chief Minister was particularly unhappy with her, and he believed he would be a much better ruler. He did not want to be king and have all of the responsibilities of that office. He thought to set the Empress up officially as a figurehead and seize her authority for himself. His aims were not benevolent. His eyes were only on the piles of gold that he could have transferred to his vaults.
There came a day where the ministers were to put a proclamation in front of her which would achieve this goal and forever change the role of the Empress and all heirs that she might bear. One drafted by the Chief Minister so greedy for riches. The Empress’ Dresser had warned her of the proclamation in advance, but what to do? She had increased her authority to a point, but she didn’t know what would happen if she were to refuse to sign. She had to try.
And so, the Chief Minister brought her a pile of documents, the sinister proclamation hidden in among them.
“Minister, I feel that I have fallen into bad habits.” She said. “I must read that which I sign.”
“Why ma’am, there is no need, your ministers have reviewed it all thoroughly. You need only write your name.”
“Ah, but minister, would you sign a document that you did not know the contents of? I must try to show the wisdom that comes so naturally to my ministers. And this is how I shall start”
Her heart was pounding, waiting for his response. Would he insist? But, after all, she was the Empress and he couldn’t outright disobey her. Seething at being out manoeuvred, he said the only thing he could.
“As you say ma’am.”
They sat for hours going through only a handful of the document. She managed to delay reading the proclamation she was trying to avoid.
“Minister, shall we continue tomorrow. I’m tired now and want to look at these when we are fresh.”
He left her, unable to refuse the dismissal, and went home, where his wife was eagerly awaiting his return and news of their elevation. When he told her of what had occurred, she was furious.
“Someone has told her of your plan.”
“Yes, and she has now become dangerous. We cannot be ruled by the whims of a woman. The Empire will fall to pieces. Something must be done.”
Over the next few days the Chief Minister’s wife wondered at what could be done. She developed a plan to fool the Empress in a way that would echo until the end of her reign. To humiliate her so much that all of the authority she had gained would come to naught. She did not tell anyone of her plan, even her husband.
She invited two poor women to her home and explained her plan to them. The women were reluctant, for the Empress was well loved among the people. She had set up funds to help the poor and distribute food. She had arranged shelters for the homeless to sleep in and help them find work. But they were poor and the wife offered them a small fortune for their trouble.
They set up in the city and became Swindlers. They let it be known that they were able to weave a fabric of such luxurious elegance, that it was weightless. Of splendid colour and pattern. It was said that only people of wisdom, those who were suitable to hold their position were able to see the fabric.
When news of this travelled to the palace the Chief Minister’s wife went to the Empress.
“Ma’am, there are new fabric and dressmakers in the city. You must ask them to make you a dress.”
Now, the Empress’ Dresser had heard of these dressmakers and had heard the plan that they had. So, the she was well aware that they were swindlers and not dressmakers at all. But between them, they had thought of a way to turn this trick to their benefit.
“Bring them to me. I will have one of their splendid gowns.”
The swindlers were given rooms in the palace where they set up looms which they pretended to weave fabric on and cut patterns in the air with scissors.
The Empress’ Dresser went to visit them one evening and told them that they were aware that all they had said were lies. He gave the swindlers a choice. Either join their plan or they would be banished from the city. Relieved, the swindlers agreed to help them.
The legend of the fabric was encouraged. The Ministers believed in its power and eagerly awaited its unveiling.
The Empress sent people to inspect the fabric. None of whom could see it, but for fear of being considered unfit and unwise, they told stories far and wide of the beauty that they had seen in those rooms.
The Chief Minister went to see the fabric with the Empress’ Dresser.
“How stunning” said the Dresser.
The Minister was disheartened to realise he could see nothing. Had the Dresser not been there he may have doubted there was anything to see at all. He did not wish for the world to know that he was unworthy of his position, not when he had plans to seize more power for himself.
“Yes, beautiful, and so light.”
The swindlers directed their attention to the colours and the patterns, telling them that the gold thread was so fine as to simply make the fabric glow.
“That is ingenious. The Empress will be pleased” said the Dresser.
The Chief Minister did not tell his wife that he could not see the fabric. He instead told her of its beauty. How it shimmered and how it felt weightless. This worried her. She did not wish for her husband to know that she had inadvertently fooled him.
The day came when the swindlers told all that they had finished the dress. The Empress went with her Dresser and a selection of Ministers with their wives to see the results.
Of course, the Empress knew that there was no fabric there. That the dress, was not a dress, only thin air. But she was able to act her part and outwardly marvelled at the design and the patterns. At the lightness of the material.
“Why it shall be as though I am wearing nothing at all.”
“Shall we help you change ma’am?” asked swindlers.
“Yes, please. We shall go to my dressing room. Ministers, please help them carry it in so the skirts don’t trail on the floor.”
The ministers could not figure out how to pick up the dress without letting the others know that they couldn’t see it. The Empress’ Dresser saw their predicament and laughed to himself as he bent to pretend to pick up the dress and hand it over to the closest minister. The others now knew where it was meant to be and bent, pretending to pick up the skirts.
“Don’t forget that bit at the end. It is trailing a little. We don’t want it ruined” said the Empress and another minister moved to fill the gap.
Entering the dressing room, the Empress, her Dresser and the two swindlers were left alone. Of course, they did not have much to do as they all knew there was no dress. And so, they helped the Empress to disrobe and discussed their plans going forward.
“If this works, you may find you are both needed to remain in the palace.” Said the Empress.
“Let’s just see if it works first” said the Empress’ Dresser.
A great procession had been planned for the unveiling of her new finery. The Empress walked proudly from her room, careful to move as though enveloped in the finest of clothing. She glided up to her ministers and laughing, span slowly on the spot.
“Are we pleased with the results gentlemen?”
The ministers were speechless, for the Empress was a beautiful woman. Not flawless, but all the more beautiful because of her imperfections. In her new dress she glowed. Her presence was all encompassing, her confidence drawing all eyes to her.
“Shall we begin.”
The wives were to walk behind the her carrying her imagined train. The ministers to either side and slightly behind. They had difficulty in keeping their eyes off the splendour that was their Empress. The people of the city who loved her, cheered as she passed. She arranged for some of her household staff to distribute coin and food as they passed.
The people lined the streets and were stunned to see their very naked Empress walking in among a procession of officials. But they loved her and knew her to be wise. They had faith that she had her reasons.
A child in the crowd near the front, a girl, broke through the guard. The Empress stopped and stooped toward her waving off the guards who had moved in pursuit.
“You are beautiful” the child said.
“Thank you” the Empress smiled and gestured for one of her staff to hand the bedraggled thing some bread and a silver coin.
When the procession returned to the palace amid cheers, the Empress called her Ministers to her. They were reluctant to obey, as she had yet to change.
“My people are pleased with my new dress, and we have spent so much on it, that I cannot only wear it once. I will therefore adopt this attire for taking audiences with the people and with my ministers.”
They were all too tongue tied to think of a reasonable argument against this, and they could not outright refuse their Empress.
From then on, she sat, unclothed with her ministers and made decisions and suggestions. She had taken the power that was hers with thin air. All because her ministers were scared to say that they could not see the Empress’ new clothes. They couldn’t admit that they may be unwise and unworthy. They could not admit that all they could see was this glorious naked woman.
As for the Chief Minister’s wife, she couldn’t tell her husband that he had fallen for the trick meant for the Empress and risk his displeasure.