Great Game XXI: Second Polish War

The Poles are being controlled by the AI here due to the player’s absence; just as well for me, too. A long post, with lots happening! In this session I was quite lucky, in that the Polish and Burgundian attacks were not coordinated, since the Polish player wasn’t there. One by one I could just about handle them. Later on I wasn’t so lucky, so this is a local maximum of my power.

YNGLINGA SAGA

64. THE POLISH WAR (1304)

The Kings of Poland at this time ruled a wide realm, stretching far into Gardarike and even to the seas of grass; for as the Mongol host was driven back, the Piasts had established their rule over much of the land where their armies rode. Thus they could call on many strong chiefs to come to their aid against the Norse.

Polish War

Polish armies marching towards Mecklenburg at the beginning of the war.

But the sons of Yngling, too, were many and strong, and when the war-arrow travelled north to Finland and east to Sweden, hundreds of dragon-ships, thousands of byrnied men, answered the call. From the Finnish lakes men marched on Novgorod and south to the Dvina; hardy Finns who would serve a year for the promise of good iron knives; north-Ynglings made strong by the cold winters; broad-faced Rus marching behind their beaten-gold icons. On this the Piast had not reckoned, and his northern lands were but weakly held.

From Sweden and Denmark, too, warriors came to the call of the Yngling king, gladly marching to battle as a groom to his bride. From the deep forests came Swedes by the tens of thousands, fathers rich in years and battles, youths in the first full flush of their strength, hunters whose arrows could strike true at three hundred paces. From the broad fields and good ports of Denmark came farmers and merchants, men who had fought in a hundred far places on their wide-ranging travels, and brought back gold and treasure for their wives; strong byrnies, good steel swords, well-made axes. The walled cities of Germany yielded up their guildsmen, skilled in the use of pike and dirk, disciplined from long days of working together.

But the mainstay of the army came from the deep fjords of Norway; among those deep mountains, men become warriors early, or die. The black rocks and hard cliffs teach acceptance of death; the bright frail greenery and deep blue peace in the waters teach men to love life, and fight all the harder that they may return to their halls and fields. Now they came in their thousands from the lonely hamlets that no road reaches; from the bare reaches of the Jotunheim, where giants still walk the earth; from the hard northern farms, where a man must plant three crops to harvest one. Tall, blond, blue-eyed, they came to serve their king or die; and the spirits of the sea trembled at the sight of their dragon-prowed ships.

The armies met on the plains before Brandenburg; there King Håkon gave to the Danes and Swedes the honour of holding the right, and the Germans he placed on his left; he himself with his Norwegians took the center of the field. The Piast host, led by their king Marcin himself, took up positions on a hill opposite the Norwegians; and there they dared the Ynglings to attack them. But King Håkon had little desire to charge up a hill against his foes; instead he recalled how his distant kinsman William had fought at Senlac, and he called for his German knights to feign attack on the Polish right. Seeing the Germans driven off, as they thought, the Estonian levies there raised a great shout and pursued down into the valley; and there the Norwegian host fell upon them and routed them utterly. But the main part of the Piast army had held firm to his command; and when the victorious Norse swept up the hill, they were again thrown back by the stolid shield-wall of the Poles.

Twice more King Håkon called for his men to attack the hill, and twice the Poles stood firm, rooted to the ground so that no man could shake them. Therefore Håkon called for his archers, and so thick did the shafts fly that the sun was darkened; and many Poles fell. Their comrades closed ranks, and rolled the dead bodies down the hillside to impede the Norwegians. But when next Håkon’s men attacked, the Poles were tired and afraid, and many were wounded, so that they had not the strength in them to withstand the wild Finns whom Håkon had kept in reserve for this moment. And in this manner the Piasts were driven from the field, and there was much slaughter as they ran for Brandenburg’s walls.

But in the midst of this triumph the Norns wove Håkon’s life-thread to an end; for a stray arrow struck him in the eye; and this wound became infected, so he was blinded. And this was his bane. But the Poles were not allowed to know this; and so when they sent emissaries to sue for peace, Hemming Håkon’s-heir spoke to them demanding the city of Brandenburg in exchange for peace. To this they perforce agreed; but when they asked to speak with Håkon himself, so that they could trust the terms of peace, Hemming replied, “King Håkon does not gladly deal with those who aid rebels against his rule. But if you wish, you may bow towards his banner, that flies on that hill.” And with this the Poles had to be content; but afterwards, it was joked in Norway that only an Yngling king could humble a Pole even in death. For this reason, Håkon is often known as the Banner-King.

Here ends the saga of Håkon Sveinsson Yngling.

65. THE ENGLISH DELUGE (1305-1315)

Now at this time William de Normandie had the kingship of England. William was a large and powerful man, not as great in ruthlessness and war-craft as his namesake the Conqueror, but still a skilled and deadly warrior. When in his cups he had a deadly temper; and none dared gainsay him, for he would often consign his enemies to the Tower, and even if he later regretted his words and pardoned them, they were often killed by the damp fevers that beset that grim place.

WilliamNormandie

William de Normandie – a nasty sort! Lived to be 78, too, much to Dom’s disgust. 😀

It happened once that the English court was holding feast for Christ-mass, and there was much drinking; but a certain holy man, hight Anselm of Saxony, denounced this as a pagan celebration, and said that King William was no better than an infidel, to drink and carouse while he should be contemplating the Word in silence. At this William grew angry, and flung his drinking-cup at Anselm, so it struck him on the temple and he died. William merely laughed, and called for servants to clear away the offal. But when word of this reached Angus of Loarn, who in those days was Archbishop of Meath, he promptly excommunicated the King.

At this, all the nobles of England rose in revolt; for they had long been tired of William’s overbearing ways, and now they felt certain that he would bring God’s punishment upon the land if he were permitted to remain on the throne. And in this perhaps they were correct; for it is not without reason that this time is called the Deluge. But William had rich lands, and called for foreign mercenaries, and gave out gold with a lavish hand; and now this, now that part of the land was subdued. Thus the war dragged on for some years. But as soon as William had brought one lord to obedience, and marched his army against another, the first would once more rise against him; so that it often seemed he was fighting a hydra, and his men grew discouraged and weary.

England in fragments

England at the height of the rebellion, before the Norwegian intervention. At one point Dom was one county away from being 100% occupied.

At last William was forced to call on the other Kings of Christendie for aid; and Norway and Burgundy answered his call, each in their own way. King Hemming, fresh from the Polish War, sent thirty thousand men to aid William in regaining control of his country. But Geoffroy of Flanders, who had long coveted the Normandy lands, instead sent twenty thousand to subdue the rebellious lords there and bring them into his own kingdom, promising to return the land later. Of this promise, much was spoken, but little done, in later years; but at the time, King William had no choice but to accept such aid as was offered.

Now, in this wise the rebellious lords of England were quickly brought to submission to their rightful lord; and as a reward, King William freely gave Iceland and the Orkneys, that had of ancient times lain under the Kings of Norway, to Hemming. But of his Normandy lands he saw no return.

66. THE YNGLINGA-SONS (1320 – 1335)

Now as has been told, the Kings of Norway had for many years had as a policy, that only those of the Yngling blood should have the right to rule; and so whenever new land was conquered, the titles would be given to one of that name. And with this rule the Yngling blood had spread far and wide around Christendie, and indeed there were some who joked that the Yngling-spawn were well named; for in the Norse tongue the word ‘yngel’ means ‘spawn’, and the Ynglings were by this time numerous as frogspawn in a pond.

Now, in times when there were no conquests to be given out as new lands to the Yngling-sons, the young of the family would flock to the court of the King in Bergen, hoping to win positions and fame under the head of the clan. The kings welcomed this, for they were often in need of trustworthy men to lead their armies, and besides they were always mindful of the Great Rising, and sought to stay on good terms with the lesser Ynglings.

Even so, oft-times the number of Yngling men at court, eating and drinking and swiving the servant girls or, even worse, the noble-born girls, grew so large that the stewards (who often enough had been among the self-same host of guests in their youth) groaned, and complained that they did not know where the food for the next banquet should come from. When this happened, King Hemming would send emissaries all over Europe, scouring the lands for elderly Counts with no sons, but daughters of marriageable age. When he found one, he would propose a marriage with one of the Yngling scions, who were usually agreeable, for they knew that they could await rich gifts should one of their sons add lands to the Yngling domains; and besides, King Hemming was always careful to propose to the loveliest, rather than the eldest, daughter. In this wise many Ynglings became heirs to foreign lands, or rulers of foreign courts; and the fame and power of the Yngling name was spread widely around. But sometimes this led to trouble with other kings, who liked but little to have Norsemen and Ynglings ruling under them, or worse yet inheriting lands away from them.

67. DEATH OF HEMMING AND ACCESSION OF EYSTEIN (1330)

Now King Hemming had ruled for many years in the land, and had been at peace for all of that time; in his rule, also, there were no bad harvests, the fish were plentiful, and the winters were mild. For this reason he is called Hemming the Blessed by some; though others, mainly in Norway, recall that he always spoke the Norse tongue as though he had a fish stuck in his throat, in the manner that he had learned in his youth at his mother’s knee; and so they call him Dane-Hemming. For the Danish speech is notoriously hard for others to understand.

As he grew old, King Hemming thought much upon the future of Norway, and upon who should succeed him; for though he had two sons, whose names were Bjørn and Magnus, he did not think them well suited to rule; for they were quarrelsome and contentious. Therefore he announced a great banquet for all the Yngling males; and at this banquet he held a riddle-contest, a wrestling match, contests in spear-throwing and archery; and many other games beside. In this fashion he hoped to find the best Yngling to succeed him.

Bjørn Yngling

Magnus Yngling

Bjørn and Magnus Yngling. For the record, I agree entirely with comrade Hemming : These idiots are entirely unfit to rule. Yay for elective laws!

Eystein Yngling

Eystein Yngling. Now, here’s a fine and upstanding young Kongsemne!

Now at this time there were very many Yngling rulers, and still more of their sons and cousins; so that it was difficult to choose who was the best of them. And as no single man stood out well in all the contests, one man being best at wrestling, another at swordplay, a third at running, Hemming could not make up his mind who to choose.

But as the banquet drew to a close, it happened that still one more ship came into Bergen harbour; and on this ship was Eystein Yngling, who ruled distant Bulgar. King Hemming welcomed him, but said “You have travelled far to feast but little; for the games are almost over.” But Eystein replied, “It may still be that I can make a name for myself here. But in any case they know my name in Poland.” King Hemming asked him to explain what he meant; and Eystein told how, on his way to Bergen, his ship had been set upon by a band of Polish raiders. They had beaten them off, but the ship had been damaged, and Eystein had been forced to land and make repairs. While his men were cutting trees, he had scouted out the area, and found the bay where his foes had their ships; and when the repairs were done, he had gathered his men and fallen upon the raiders while they ate, and killed them all. For proof, he gave Hemming twenty good byrnies and swords, that he had taken as booty.

With this exploit Hemming was much impressed; but noticing that Eystein had been wounded in the leg, he said, “It seems the Poles did not let you go entirely free. It would be a pity if you could not run tomorrow; for that is the endurance contest.” To this Eystein replied, “Sire King, I’ll not limp as long as both legs are like in length.”

The next day all the Yngling men lined up to see who could run the furthest; and Eystein, too, joined this contest. But when the signal to begin was given, Eystein did not run; instead he set out at a steady loping pace. Thus the other Ynglings were soon far ahead of him. But as the hot day wore on, the runners became tired, while Eystein was still fresh, as he had only been walking; and when sunset came, it was found that Eystein had covered the most distance. All the Ynglings praised him for this cleverness; and Hemming gave him the Jarldom of Brandenburg, and the seat of honour at that night’s feast.

Later that year it happened that Hemming was eating dinner when a fishbone caught in his throat, and he died; and the Ting elected Eystein as the King of Norway, in accordance with Hemming’s wish, and also with the agreement of most of the Yngling males. For they knew a good king when they saw one.

Here ends the saga of Hemming Hemmingson Yngling.

68. WAR OF THE CELLEIAN SUCCESSION (1337)

Gui Yngling hight a man, who under King Hemming had risen to the lordship of Weimar. Gui was of middling height, but had very sharp eyes; it was said of him that he could count the feathers of a pigeon half a mile off, and hit it with an arrow to boot. For this reason he was much sought out among Hemming’s courtiers when they rode to hunt, and he made many friends.

Gui Yngling

Gui Yngling after the war. Unfortunate about the stress, but then, what can you expect for the man who personally started a Great War just by being born?

Now, Gui was the son of Arnkjell Yngling and Garcenda de Flandre; and his mother was the eldest daughter of Joan de Flandre, who was Count of Celle, which lies on the right bank of the Weser. Because Joan had no sons, upon his death, the lordship of Celle would come to Gui; and this pleased King Hemming well, for the kings of Norway had an ancient claim upon the lands between the Weser and the Elbe. Thus he gave Gui many rich gifts, and wide estates in Finland.

At this time, Geoffrey de Flandre held the kingly power in Burgundy. Geoffrey was a very stout man, so powerful that three men could wrestle him at once and not rock him off his feet. When he marched to war, no horse could be found that was strong enough to carry him; and for this reason he was called Geoffrey the Walker. Now when he received word that his vassal Joan de Flandre was old and sonless, he was much displeased; for, he said, “My ancestors fought for that land on the field of battle, and these Norwegians will take it away through the marriage bed?” Therefore he sent word to Joan that he was to put away his old wife Estefaneta, and instead take to himself the young Austonia de Hauteville, who was much renowned for her beauty. But Joan, who had loved his wife greatly, could not get Austonia with child; and so he died heirless, and the city of Celle fell to Gui Yngling after all.

Now when he received word of this, Geoffrey sent his confessor, a Frenchman named Alphonse, to King Eystein, who ruled in Norway after the death of Hemming, as has been told. And when he came before Eystein, Alphonse gave this speech : “These are the words of Geoffrey, King of Burgundy : The city of Celle belongs by ancient right to the de Flandres family; and therefore your vassal Gui, who now pretends to rule that place, is in it only by trickery and guile. If you do not remove him from Our city within the year, We shall Ourselves take steps to aid you. But because We are of a merciful and generous bent, We shall compensate your claim with 5000 gold marks.”

At this King Eystein grew angry, and replied “Are We a poor country cousin, to be bribed with scraps and trinkets and a place at the fire? Take this word back to your master : Gui of Weimar, Our most good and loyal vassal, shall by God’s bones have all that he has rightfully inherited, and Our protection in war, as is his right. And no man shall say that an Yngling King can be bought like a fish in the marketplace!

Now, because Burgundy was a rich and powerful kingdom, King Eystein knew that it would be difficult for Norway to stand alone against Geoffrey. Therefore he sent word to Frederic, King of the Franks; to Geoffrey King of England; and to Garcia King of Iberia, to ask them to stand with him. Because the French were always jealous of their northern cousins, and sought to regain their access to the English Channel, Frederic swiftly agreed to this; and Garcia, unwilling to see the house of Flanders gain still further in power, also stood with the Norwegians. But from England came only evasive words, although Norway had helped greatly in the time of the Deluge, and Burgundy still held the lands in Normandy that they had long since been promised to return. At this King Eystein was much surprised, though he said nothing. Still he did not forget.

At this time, the Piasts of Poland were occupied in a campaign against Hungary, and therefore the house of Flanders could look for no aid from that direction; but Vladimir of Italy, who thought that Norway extended too far south into Germany, sent some tens of thousands of soldiers to their aid, although he was already deeply embroiled in the campaigns of the Great King in Miklagard, putting down the rebellions in Anatolia. Had this king been able to send his entire army north, the war would have looked grim indeed for the Ynglings; for the rich lands of Italy could muster half a million fighting men. But as it was, and also because Vladimir chose not to struggle against the Iberians, with which Kingdom the Italians have an ancient friendship, Eystein was able to engage the southerners on his own terms, as shall be told.

Because it would take time for the Iberians to bring their armies north, Geoffrey decided that he would strike swiftly at the Norwegian lands, in the hope of breaking their resistance and then marching south to deal with his other foes. To this end, he brought a vast host north to besiege Mecklenburg and Lubeck. But the Norns spun war-craft into King Eystein’s lifethread, and he foresaw what the Flanders-king would do; therefore he ordered that the crops of the German lands should be brought in early, and what could not be harvested, burnt. So when the Burgundians came north, they found to sustain themselves and their horses not a single blade of grass; and after they had besieged the great walls of Mecklenburg for a month – walls inside which were gathered all the corn denied to the besiegers – their army was rife with desertion and fever. Thus when King Eystein fell upon them with all the banners of the north, his well-fed men faced only wraiths and shadows, and easily had the victory, driving the foe in disarray back across the Elbe.

(OOC : OK, this is propaganda. If the truth were told, I didn’t expect attrition to be this terrible any more than RP did. But he, being closer to the cities in dispute, concentrated his armies there earlier, and so suffered worse; also, his individual regiments were larger.)

However, at the Elbe, the Burgundians rallied, since they were once more in their own lands, which had not been burned; and King Eystein’s men had now been required to cross the burnt-out fields, and were hungry and tired; many had gone home, since it seemed to them that the enemy was defeated. Also there were some of the Finn-lords who did not look gladly on this war in a far southern land, and wished to be home to protect their estates against marauding Lapps and see to the harvest. There matters stood for a while, as neither side could force a crossing of the Elbe; both Kings sent fleets to harry the coasts of their enemies’ homeland, but as both had also held back a strong force to defend their home cities, little came of this.

Meanwhile, however, the south-Kings’ armies had at last reached the disputed lands, and his war-luck deserted Geoffrey de Flanders. For though Vladimir of Italy had sent forty thousand men to harry Lausitz and Thuringen, the French and the Iberians marched a hundred thousand strong on Geoffrey’s southern border, and he was obliged to send his armies away from the Elbe to deal with them; and on receiving news of this, King Eystein sent a strong force south under his kinsman Olaf, and himself crossed the Elbe and besieged Bremen.

Now God showed His true favour to the Yngling Kings; for in the south, Olaf had the victory against the Italian armies, and sent them reeling back in disarray across the Alps; while Eystein’s armies took many rich cities on the Flandern coast, and struck across the Weser deep into the heart of the Burgundian lands. Also from the south came the undefeated armies of Iberia and France; and when his northern and southern enemies met in the middle of his lands, Geoffrey was forced to sue for peace. And this King Eystein granted gladly, for the war had been expensive in men and gold; but Geoffrey was forced to promise that Gui of Weimar should have the lands of Celle in perpetuity, and as guarantee for this Eystein was given Bremen and Luneburg, so that Norwegian armies should always be able to reach Celle. But as a token of respect, it was agreed that Gui should pay Geoffrey five hundred marks for his lordship of Celle.

In this fashion the War of the Celleian Succession ended. But from that day the King of Flanders took a new motto for their house : Je me souviens. And in truth, they have forgotten nothing; nor have they learned anything; and their Kings still glare across the Weser and plot revenge against the Ynglings.

Map 1340

Europe after the war. Note that Norway now owns the lands between the Elbe and the Weser, in accordance with our foreign-policy goals for the past century or so.

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