The Sons of Raghnall: Years of Wolf and Raven

The outburst attributed to Trond was actually mine; I was sufficiently annoyed to shout it out loud. My wife laughed at me.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Statistical Plotting

Statistically speaking, the probability that I will be plotting something at any given times approaches unity. Today, however, I’m only plotting statistics. In particular, I’d like to know how people prioritise their settlements: Castle, city, or temple? Since the county seat is always a castle, I ignore it for this purpose, and look instead at the baronies of each player:

Barony balance

Disappointingly, there are no major differences of strategy. Nobody likes castles, and there is a slight preponderance of temples over cities. If not for my two hours’ coding to move the flags apart from each other (the true position being indicated by the circles), the player flags would all be on top of each other.

Such is life! Alas, not every statistic is interesting. How about development? I ask two questions: How many total baronies (built or unbuilt) does each player have, and what percentage of them have been built on?


So it seems that most of Europe is now fairly well developed; also, we see that Norway, in spite of looking impressive on the map, is poverty-stricken because those large provinces have two or three baronies each, at most. And my fractious jarls have been spending their money on fighting each other and not developing their counties, at that. Also, death to Byzantium.

Finally, I ask how many buildings there are, and what their average level is, where the level of a building is considered equal to the number of prerequisite buildings it has. This is normalised so that the most-advanced nation is considered to have a level of 100%.


Once again, the only possible conclusion: Death to Byzantium!

Unfortunately these statistics weren’t as interesting as I’d hoped for when I started coding the histogram support. I hope to have some better plots next week.

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The Sons of Raghnall: The Norwegian Exile

The Norwegian Exile

We know little of the origins of the Norwegian Exile, the long period during which MacAeda kings sat the throne of Scotland while the MacRaghnalls, variously, married English kings, sat on their ancestral estates in Lothian and Albany, and – from which we derive the name – ruled Norway through a rather tenuous claim by marriage. Of its actual events, however, we are relatively well informed, largely because the name comes from the doings of one of the most active and well-known MacRaghnalls: Gilpatrick “King-over-Water”, also called “the Paunch” by his Norwegian subjects. Gilpatrick was the son and youngest child of Alpin, who was called the Hopeful Prince. Alpin, though the son of Ranald, King of Scots, and married to Ingrid the Maid of Norway, never himself ruled in either kingdom; he died before his father, fighting one of the innumerable rebellions against his wife. His son, nevertheless, inherited the kingdom he had secured for Ingrid, mainly through the inability of the other claimants to agree on a single candidate and unite in resistance to the Scottish dynasty.

As might be expected in these circumstances, Gilpatrick’s rule was somewhat tenuous, and indeed his adult life was mainly consumed in campaigning. His first campaign, which may be apocryphal – it does not appear in court records, but is preserved mainly in bawdy ballads – was against his own wife, Åsta, who was in her own right Jarl of the Orkneys. The marriage was, at least initially, one of convenience, and the ballad “Åsta’s Quarrel” asserts that it was a lover that Åsta wished to place on the throne. This “Domestic Dispute” was, however, put down, somewhat more gently than was Gilpatrick’s later habit. It is clear that Åsta was imprisoned for some time after her defeat; in spite of innumerable sniggering ballads asserting the contrary, it is not clear that Gilpatrick “tamed” her by tying her to his bed and using his belt on her nether regions. This is, nonetheless, the beginning of the MacRaghnall reputation for interesting bedroom practices. The amount of erotica written about Gilpatrick’s court is quite astonishing considering the limited time he actually spent at his estate in southern Norway.

In 1120 we find Gilpatrick disputing the kingship of Scotland with his sister Agnes – and incidentally with Morgan, the MacAeda king, who, however, was never in a position to defend his throne since all his richest vassals – MacRaghnalls to a man – rose in support of their kin. In a technical sense this war ends the Norwegian Exile, in that it ends with a MacRaghnall again on the throne of Scotland. However, since Agnes’s son Theobald was legally considered to be of the dynasty de Plage d’Or, most historians follow their medieval sources in rejecting this interpretation. In any case, the loss of prestige (and fighting men) attendant on his sister’s victory caused Gilpatrick’s vassals to rise in the Rogaland Rebellion, which he put down with ruthlessness, fervour, and the aid of his English brother-in-law, who apparently bore no grudge over the Scottish affair.

A few years later, with his jarls quiescent again, he decided to arbitrate – in his own inimitable style – between the King of Sweden and his rebellious jarl of Norrland; he ended their conflict by the simple expedient of invading Norrland and driving its ruling family into exile as sea-kings, and declaring himself the new jarl. In spite of the label “arbitration”, this was no doubt somewhat provoking to Hardeknut, the Swedish king at the time; but Gilpatrick cleverly announced his willingness to do fealty and homage for his new lands. That is, he would acknowledge Hardeknut as the overlord of Gilpatrick, Jarl of Norrland, while of course retaining the full sovereign independence of Gilpatrick, King of Norway, who chanced to inhabit the same body as the Jarl. It is probable that Hardeknut was not too pleased with this face-saving solution, but as he was embroiled in two other conflicts at the same time – with the wealthy republic of Gotland and with still another of his overmighty subjects in Dal – he perforce took it.

Gilpatrick then occupied himself with putting down yet another of the interminable rebellions that are a recurring feature of Norwegian history in this period. It is worth noting that, although the borders appear reasonably modern and coincide with ethnic boundaries in the fashion of a nation-sate, the Scandinavian kingdoms at this time were not really unified states. Rather they were conglomerates of minor statelets, held together by the personality and force of a king who was genuinely no more than first among equals – in particular, in the number of his fighting tail! Like Charlemagne, if on a smaller scale, Gilpatrick had every so often to remind his jarls of why they acknowledged him as king. To call these expeditions “campaigns” and “rebellions” is in one sense misleading; there seems to have been little real fighting. Rather, Gilpatrick would show up with his personal guard at the estate of a vassal who had been showing signs of too much independence – generally in the form of shorting the scot, the tribute or tax (the distinction is a bit vague in this period) owed to the king. He would then receive the feasting due to a guest, even a guest with a retinue of several hundred, thus making up the arrears in taxes – feeding his fighting men being, in any case, the main use Gilpatrick had for his income. It is even possible that he preferred to receive his taxes in kind at the vassal’s estate, saving on transport costs and allowing him to remind the vassal of why he was paying.

Sometimes, however, this comradely arrangement would break down and a vassal or a collection of them would not only short their scot, but have themselves elected kings by their local assembly. In such a case Gilpatrick could expect to have to fight. Although no single jarl could match Gilpatrick’s full war-levy for numbers, several of them could raise formidable hosts of thousands of men – enough, at any rate, to have a fighting chance against Gilpatrick’s readily-available forces. To call out the leidang against such a rising, of course, always introduced the risk that the fighting men called up would choose to side with the rebellion! Gilpatrick therefore preferred to rely on his hirdsmenn, on aid from his family, and in a pinch on mercenaries like the Victual Brothers. Even so, a rebellion was always a chancy thing; while Gilpatrick would have the advantage of numbers, he was expected, in this warlike age, to take the field himself, and fight in the front ranks at that. A stray arrow could end a kingship and make a rebellion stick. It was for this reason that war-luck was much prized in a king, and Gilpatrick seems to have had more than his share of it; if his chroniclers – admittedly, paid court officials and not neutral reporters – are to be believed, he fought in no less than twenty-three battles in the course of his career, escaping them all with nothing worse than scrapes and bruises. Few of his fighting men can have been so lucky.

To return to the tally of Gilpatrick’s wars, in 1232 he again took the field in Sweden, this time at the invitation of the local nobles, who had tired of Hardeknut’s interminable wars. In addition to Gotland, Hardeknut had managed to enter a dispute with Denmark, two of his nominal vassals were in open rebellion, and after two decades of war the forests were full of bandits and broken men. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that Hardeknut’s subjects wished for someone, anyone, else to bring peace and order to the land. The jarls elector were, however, unable to agree on one of their own number; instead they turned to someone who, at any rate, did not have personal feuds with any of the others. In his persona of Jarl of Norrland, Gilpatrick had a vote in the election of a new Swedish king, but it is unlikely that a foreigner could have won such an election. However, Scandinavian successions at the time were not much given to legal niceties; the casting vote was held by the larger army, which Gilpatrick indisputably had. The fig leaf of being a jarl elector, and of moving only at the invitation of the electoral college, was a mere bonus.

In two years Gilpatrick swept aside all resistance in Sweden, including the crushing of the two large-scale rebellions around Skåne, which had festered, on and off, almost throughout Hardeknut’s reign. He then rounded off his conquest with some campaigning in Finland, on the doubtful marches of his new kingdom, subduing a few independent tribes in the grandly-named “Karelian Crusade” and bringing Norway’s eastern border to the White Sea.

This brings us to 1237, after a decade and a half in which Gilpatrick rarely even wintered at his estate. There follows a relatively peaceful period of two years or so, which Gilpatrick used to set his affairs in order, for example by appointing his son Ragnvald as Jarl of Norrland. This maneuver seems to have been intended to guarantee the Swedish succession, which unlike the Norwegian was still elective. As King of Sweden Gilpatrick had a single vote in the election of his successor, which was insufficient even against the splintered opposition of the Swedish jarls, who could agree on very little except that they did not want Ragnvald. By making his son a jarl elector, he managed to create a voting bloc of two, which (with the King’s vote being decisive in the case of a tie) was a barely-sufficient plurality of the six total votes. However, the maneuver backfired when Ragnvald’s erstwhile vassals rose against him, forcing him to flee Norrland for his father’s court. A jarl with the dread name of Yngling briefly held the title, until a seriously annoyed Gilpatrick took time off from his Danish campaign to reinstate his son at the point of several thousand spears. “And be grateful it wasn’t two hundred,” he is reputed to have snarled to the female ringleader, Cecilia of Medelpad, referring to the ransom of a hundred ducats she had to pay for her head, and accidentally cementing his reputation among writers of smut, who to this day insist that he was talking about blows of – according to taste – the whip, the birch, the belt, or even the bare hand.

Finally, Gilpatrick’s Danish campaign is anomalous in that he seems to have waged it, quite genuinely, to assure the stability of another state. In particular, when Danish king Uffe’s overmighty subject, the Duke of Sjælland, raised his banner in revolt, Gilpatrick took the field to keep Uffe on the throne, and then meekly went home upon achieving this uncharacteristically modest war aim – this in spite of having subdued wealthy Copenhagen, then the largest city on the Baltic. The reasons for this apparent helpfulness are unclear; while it is true that Gilpatrick’s son Ragnvald was betrothed to a grand-daughter of Uffe, this is rather a tenuous alliance as feudal affairs go. To insist, as some writers do, that Gilpatrick was even then plotting to place his (as yet unborn!) grandson on the throne of Denmark, ahead of two living grandsons of Uffe and at least thirty years in the future, is surely too conspiratorial, not to mention that it gives Gilpatrick near-prophetic powers of foresight.

A prophet he was surely not; rather he was the very model of a Norse warlord-king, living toujours en vedette and more often in the field than on his throne, marching and sailing from Scotland to the White Sea. With his sister Agnes he shows what heights a lucky, ruthless, and skilled warlord could rise to, in this unsettled age of axe and sword, wolf and raven. His many victims – Morgan, Hardeknut, half a dozen unnamed Finnish chieftains, jarls from Bergen to Norrland, and (at least by reputation) his wife Åsta – show the pitfalls the less lucky could fall into. With great reward comes great risk; and Gilpatrick, and all his ilk, took risks that would make the most sociopathic hedge-fund trader blanch. Nor was there any way for him to socialise his losses; if he had flinched or fallen at any time in his twenty-three major battles and thirty years of war, he would have died face-down in the mud as did so many of his enemies. He was a Viking King, with all that entails; and though he would not, today, be welcome in the best circles – it is not as though he went to the right schools! – it may be that our politics would be the better for him. Or perhaps not. Perhaps our world of nuclear weaponry is too fragile for such a personality; perhaps it would unravel, glaringly, under the sheer weight of his character. If so, we are all the worse for the fact.

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The Sons of Raghnall: A Surfeit of Lions

I managed to become king of Norway as well as Scotland by a tricky chain of inheritances and assassinations. I then took a summer vacation, and when I got back some AI dynasty was on the throne of Scotland. I straightaway invaded with my claim on the king-of-Scots title; unfortunately, while I was away, Fivoin (playing England) had married my sister, and could enforce her claim to the North. There’s really only room for one player in the Isles… and the one who has England and Wales has a bit of an advantage against the one with Scotland and Norway.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Highlands Rising

As King of Scots, my first act was naturally to centralise; the Dukes didn’t like that more than half, and Moray rose in revolt, and half the Highlands with him. I have borrowed the ballad of Harlaw from our own history, and report its words accurately, including the weird “fetch the coat of mail” interlude. I have no idea what this is about in the OTL version, but it fits perfectly into my saga of the sons of Raghnall.

I’m writing this around 1200 in game time, and “historical” references to the fourteenth century are accurate only to our own history – in the game timeline, the Isles were united by 1300, although not by me. The linguistic comments, likewise, are from OTL; who knows what the languages would do in this alternate timeline.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Crisis of Conscience

Having won a kingdom, how do you ensure that it stays in the dynasty? A bad grandson, and you might find yourself with sea-kings to sea-kings in three generations. As a side note, this is based on events in the game, when my heir Maldoven for some begobbled AI reason did in fact switch back and forth between voting for himself, and for the Dunkeld candidate, roughly twice a year for five years.

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The Sons of Raghnall: Thrice Met, and Done

July 10th, 1108
Courtyard of Edinburgh Castle

Ragnvald and Malcolm in their age

Raghnall and Malcolm in old age

The drums, admittedly, were an affectation; but at his age, Ragnvald found it hard to enjoy the subtle music of harp and flute, and in any case those instruments’ fragile sound would have disappeared in the open air atop Castle Rock. The kettledrums that drove his wild Irish gallowglasses into their screaming charges were unsubtle, true; battle drummers made no clever interlocking rhythms, no syncopated patterns. But they filled the courtyard with noise and fury; the wild beat-beat-beat made hearts pound. And, for those on Malcolm’s side who had been brought here to witness Ragnvald’s triumph, the reminder of what it was like to face gallowglasses in battle would do no harm. Ragnvald had his fighting tail, his fee-knights, his levies and train-bands; but so did Malcolm. It was the savage Irish mercenaries that had broken the back of the resistance. In the end, most of the nobles fighting for Malcolm had deserted him simply to get the barbarians out of Scotland and away from their personal estates.

The gates of Dunkeld Hall opened, and the old King – for a little while longer, he was still King – emerged between two burly soldiers of Ragnvald’s personal guards. As Ragnvald had intended, Malcolm – white-haired and clad only in a thin cotton tunic and trews – looked fragile and small between the two armoured soldiers in the prime of their life; Ragnvald had chosen his largest men for the task, and instructed them to pad their mail with cloth. Still, he walked steadily, making his guards look like honour guards rather than prison warders; Ragnvald nodded mental respect for the feat. It could not be easy to walk into the ear-splitting noise of the drums to a meeting that had a very good chance of being the last conversation you would ever have with anyone, seeing all around you your defeated allies and the fierce bearded faces of your victorious enemies, and still hold your head high and not flinch.

When Malcolm came to a distance of fifteen feet from Ragnvald, he held up his hand; at the signal, the drums stopped – slightly raggedly, the battle-drummers were not really trained for ceremony, but it would do. Ragnvald spoke into the sudden silence, and men leaned forward – chain mail rattled in the still air – to hear.

“Thrice now we’ve met, Malcolm called Canmore; and third time, they say, pays for all.”

Malcolm worked his jaw as though to spit, but thought better of it. Instead he tossed his head haughtily; defiance, perhaps, was all he had left, and so he clung to it all the harder. “Kill me and have done, traitor. I’ll not bandy words with you.”

There was much to be said for that; but not in public, where his allies would see, and remember Ragnvald killing a helpless old man in a cotton tunic. A damp dungeon would be Ragnvald’s method of choice for killing an inconvenient prisoner. But if he could, he’d begin his reign with an act of mercy. It would be good for his vassals – formerly Malcolm’s vassals – to see that he wasn’t merely a scheming, ruthless traitor. Of course, it would also be good for them to see that he would crush anyone who defied him; so killing remained an option. The question was, how much defiance did Malcolm have in him? A show of mercy was no good if it led to renewed civil war in a year’s time.

“I did not come here to shed royal blood,” he said, watching Malcolm closely to gauge his reaction. Was that a spark of hope?

Malcolm’s bushy eyebrows drew down in confusion. “Then what do you want, Raghnall? Do you propose to go home and live peacefully on your estate, after this?”

“No. The royal residence will remain here at Edinburgh. But kings dislike shedding the blood even of former kings.”

That was enough of a hint for Malcolm; after all he hadn’t got to be King of Scots, and ruled for forty years, without being able to tell a hawk from a handsaw. “You would have me abdicate, and retire to my Gowrie lands?”

“After paying a suitable ransom, of course.” Raghnall smiled sardonically. “Let us say, thirty marks silver.”

Malcolm flinched; but symbolism aside, it was an absurdly low sum for a nobleman’s ransom, easily within his means even after two years of destructive war. And life, after all, was worth much, even to a man who had been King for forty years. Malcolm had clearly expected to be killed, had nerved himself to die well, spitting defiance to the last. Now Ragnvald held out the prospect that he might survive. The trick was to not give him too much hope; survival was one thing, revolt against the new king, quite another.

“And your son Duncan will remain here at Edinburgh, as my honoured guest,” Ragnvald added, and Malcolm pressed his lips together, holding back some hot protest. But he nodded in acceptance; Duncan would be a hostage for his good behaviour, of course. “Yes,” he croaked, “I understand.”

“And you’ll bend the knee here before me, and renounce the throne.”

This was the sticking point. Malcolm was a proud man; and the same fire of ambition burned in him as in Ragnvald. Ragnvald had seen it in him at their first meeting, forty years before; he knew, none better, the fire that burned in Malcolm’s belly. It was the same fire that had led him to betray his salt and take arms against a man whose bread he had eaten. Such men did not kneel easily, even with the threat of death in front of them; nor did they find it easy to live as dukes, when they had ruled as Kings. Who should know better than Ragnvald? Even a son as hostage gave no certainty with such a man; after all Malcolm had other sons, and grandsons too. Ragnvald had not had to sacrifice any sons on his way to the throne… but he knew that he would have done so, if necessary. His hostage ploy would not long deter Malcolm if the man retained the same will to power that he’d had in Birnam wood; or even the deep-seated rage he’d displayed at Arthur’s Seat. But Malcolm was, after all, an old man. Ragnvald watched his reaction carefully. If necessary, he could still choke on a fishbone in his soup.

“Kneel?” Malcolm said, as though the idea had never occurred to him.

“Yes, Malcolm. Kneel, here, now. Bend your stiff knees, and live.”

Malcolm clenched his teeth, and momentary defiance blazed in his eyes. For a long three seconds it seemed that he would tell Ragnvald where to stick his demands. Then, slowly, he crumbled. His gaze flicked aside from Ragnvald’s, and his shoulders slumped fractionally. A moment before, a king had stood before Ragnvald; defeated, perhaps, but still a king. Now a tired old man confronted one who had just achieved his life’s ambition. Ragnvald let out a covert sigh of relief. It had been a gamble, bringing Malcolm out in public like this; there had always been the chance of him making some dramatic last defiance, and guaranteeing a civil war in two or three years’ time, to avenge the old king. But the gamble had paid off; he could see it in Malcolm’s eyes, in his posture. He had broken Malcolm’s will to resist; and so Malcolm could be permitted to live – and Ragnvald would not have on his conscience the blood of a man whose bread he had eaten. A second man, he corrected himself; he had not literally eaten Macbeth’s bread, but that did not matter. He had owed Macbeth loyalty; and while he hadn’t himself wielded the sword that haggled Macbeth’s stubborn head off his powerful neck – that had been Malcolm’s right-hand man, MacDuff – he might as well have plunged a dagger into his kidney. In a way, he supposed it didn’t matter what he did to Malcolm; he was already damned, and adding another deadly betrayal could not condemn him further. But if it did not matter to the White Christ, still, it mattered to Ragnvald; and so he had contrived this public ordeal, to try to break Malcolm’s defiance and allow him, at least, to live.

“I made you Earl of Fife,” Malcolm said, almost pleading. It could have been a prelude to refusing; but Ragnvald could see the struggle within him, the will to live against the reluctance to admit defeat and to make a show of submission. Malcolm needed a little more time, that was all; and Ragnvald had it to give.

“And I gave you Macbeth,” he replied coolly. “Value for value, and nothing owed.”

“I made you Duke of Lothian!”

“A form of words to spite the English, when they took Teviotdale. Not an acre of land did you add to the title; it was worth its weight in silver, and its worth in silver you received in return.”

Malcolm clenched his teeth in despair; but his protests had not been serious attempts to make Ragnvald change his mind, only the useless anger of a man betrayed. Slowly, so slowly that you could almost hear the internal struggle as the desire for life overcame pride, Malcolm knelt, and bent his head. “I -” he had to clear his throat twice before he could get the words out. “I renounce the crown of Scotland,” he said, not loudly, but clearly enough to carry across the hushed courtyard.

“Very well,” Ragnvald said. There was no need to drag out the humiliation; the point was made, and Malcolm would survive. “Rise then, Duke of Albany.” Malcolm got to his feet, slowly, looking dazed and surprised to be alive.

Ragnvald had been too concerned with Malcolm’s life to think much about his victory; but now triumph rose in him like heady wine. He threw his shoulders back, looking over the courtyard – his courtyard – filled with his loyal soldiers and with the peerage of Scotland. “Malcolm has renounced the throne,” he said ringingly; “and I, Ragnvald son of Thorvald, am King of Scots!”

The drums began again, but they were drowned out by the cheering, as his people released the tension of the drawn-out confrontation with Malcolm. “Ragnvald! Ragnvald!” someone shouted, and everyone took it up; then swords began beating against shields, and thought became impossible in the driving, hammering noise. Ragnvald stood in its center and gloried. King of Scots! He, a common soldier of Harald’s levy, a man who’d had to borrow a mail coat because he couldn’t afford his own – King of Scots! He’d had triumphs before, when Malcolm named him Earl, when his son Edward was born, when he first lay with a woman; this beat them all.

“Hail, Ragnvald! King of Scots!

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