The Great Game: High Germany

I return briefly to the saga style, suitable for yet another Polish War! I lose this one, not too badly. I’ll have my revenge in the nineteenth century, though.

Oh, Polly, love, oh Polly,
the rout has now begun,
and we must go a-marching,
to the beating of the drum.
Go dress yourself all in your best
and come along with me;
I’ll take you to the wars,
my love, in High Germany.

Oh, Willie, dear, oh Willie,
come list while I do say,
my feet, they are so tender,
I cannot march away.
And besides, my dearest Willie,
I am with child by thee;
not fitted for the wars,
my love, in High Germany.

I’ll buy for you a horse, my love,
and on it you shall ride;
and all my delight shall be in
riding by your side.
We’ll stop at every ale-house
and drink when we are dry;
we’ll be true to one another,
get married by and by.

Oh, cursed be these cruel wars
that ever they should rise.
For now has lordly Norway
pressed many a man likewise.
They pressed my true love from me,
likewise my brothers three,
and sent them to the wars,
my love, in High Germany.

My friends I do not value,
nor my foes I do not fear.
Now my love has left me,
I wander far and near.
And when my baby it is born
and smiling on my knee,
I’ll think of lovely Willie,
in High Germany.

——————————————————

91. THE KING CAMPAIGNS IN POLAND (1437-39)

Svein was king in Norway after the death of his father Ottar; he was a short man, but of very regular features, and well formed in all his limbs. He was very fond of stories of distant lands, and richly rewarded men who could tell such. He drank little, but when in his cups, he was somewhat given to anger.

Now as has been told several times already, the Piasts are a greedy and rapacious dynasty, always seeking to gain what is not lawfully theirs. So when King Svein received an embassy from Odon of Poland, he was not surprised to hear their business; namely, that Odon desired Svein to give over the rule of Samara, and offered gold in return. “For,” said the the envoy, “my master says that these lands in ancient times belonged to his fathers, and only guile allowed the Ynglings to spread their rule there. But as he is a just and generous man, he will offer some compensation.” Then Svein grew angry, and answered “Odon offers us gold, to requite what our fathers bought with blood. Does he think me less than my ancestors? He’ll find that the blood of kings flows yet in the Ynglings! Go tell your master that he may have Samara, if he pay for it in good Polish blood. And we shall see who spreads their rule in what lands.” At this speech all the King’s men shouted approval.

At this time the old customs of Norway had been somewhat weakened; for the King’s hird, which in former days had never numbered more than sixty men, now stood at ten thousand. And also King Svein had given to a few Ynglings the right to take war-scot from some districts even in times of peace, and in exchange, required that they should hold men in readiness at all times to march for war. Thus the host of Norway was much enlarged, and also the men were very well trained, because they had no farms to tend and could therefore practice sword-play all the day long. In addition to this, King Svein called up the leidangs of all the districts south of Stad; and thereby his host was swelled to forty thousand men. Such an army had not been seen in Norway before.

With this host King Svein went by ship south to Brandenburg; there he learned that the Polish host had crossed the Oder and was ravaging the lands about. “We’ll soon put a stop to that”, he said. He then sent strong parties of men south, and whenever these came upon a band of Poles, they would fall upon them and scatter them; in this way the Poles were forced to come together, and the harrying ceased. Then the King advanced with his main host to meet Odon; they came together near the ford of Torgau. Now King Svein had drawn up his host so that the hirdsmen were at the fore, and therefore the Norwegian army glinted very bright with mail and swords; the bønder he put at the rear, so that their gray wool did not show. In this wise he hoped to impress the Poles with the wealth of Norway. But in this he was not successful, for the Poles made no parley, but attacked grimly, sparing no breath for battle cries.

Now when these foes met, there was much sharp fighting, and many men fell; later, it was said, you could see where the Norwegian shield-wall had stood by the line of bodies that lay there. Neither Norwegian nor Pole would give an inch, by reason of the long strife between their countries. But at length the Polish left began to give, for it was there that Svein himself fought, and he had around him the largest and strongest Ynglings, armed with the best steel; against this few could stand, though the Poles fought very bravely. Now seeing that his flank would give way, Odon ordered that the Poles should retreat, intending that they should come back in good order; for it is often better that an army go back of its own accord and in its own time, than that they should be forced back by their foes. But in this design he was foiled; for though his men had stood very firmly against the Norwegian advance, and died bravely, the order to retreat unmanned them, and they fled in disorder. In this rout many Polish men of good name died, and even the King was barely saved across the Oder.

Now with this victory King Svein was able to cross the Oder, and there he gave the Poles back some of what they had given to his German subjects; for he was always a generous man, and did not think it necessary to keep such things only on one side of the border. But now word came that Odon had levied more men, and sought again to try swords with the Norse-king. In this battle the Poles sought to counter the strategy by which Svein had defeated them, by placing on their left wing the King’s standard and the strongest warriors in all of Poland. So when the armies met, as may be imagined, there was much slaughter here, where the best fighters in each nation stood. But now the Poles had the advantage, for they fought on their own land, and the Norwegians had many of them taken blows and scrapes in the earlier battle; and also the Poles were very numerous. So it happened with the Norwegians as it had with the Poles, that they were forced to give ground, and then fled in disorder; and very many were killed. And also there happened what was worse, namely that the Poles came between them and the Oder, so that they were forced to retreat northwards, further into the Polish realm.

Now this was a very hard retreat, for winter was near to hand, and the crops had been gathered and hidden so that there was very little to eat. King Svein shared every hardship, and worked harder than any; for he went back and forth in the column, talking to a man here, encouraging another there; so that it always seemed he was where he was most needed. In this way he rode three miles whenever his men rode one; for this he was much admired. Often and again small bands of Poles would raid the flanks of the army, and then Svein was ever to the fore in driving them off. In this march the King lost two fingers on his left hand to frostbite.

Now Odon was not willing that the Norwegians should escape into Finland, and therefore he sent messengers ahead, bidding his levies block their path north, while he himself pursued with his host from the south. But the Poles had no easier a march than the Norwegians, for as we have set out, the season drew very late for campaigning; and besides, the Norse host had stripped the land of all the food there was to be found, and also had ground the roads into deep mud with their passing. So, although King Svein was forced to march into Prussia, and turn there at bay to face his hunters, the final attack was much delayed. And therefore Svein’s brother Bjørn, who had been left behind to command the fleet at Mecklenburg, was able to gather the ships and sail north to meet with the King. And as the Norwegian fleet was very large, while no Pole dared set sail during winter, the entire host was able to gain the ships, and sail away south to winter in Mecklenburg. In this wise Odon was cheated of his prey.

When spring came again, the Poles once more crossed the Oder, and King Svein rode out to meet them. Now there is not room to tell of all the battles that were fought in this campaign, for although Odon’s war-luck deserted him, and on every field the Norwegians stood victorious, still the Poles called up un-ending streams of men from their vast lands. Meanwhile half the strength of the Norwegian realm was wasted by the Swede-Ynglings and Finn-Ynglings, who could make no headway against the walls of Novgorod, yet refused to send their men south where King Svein might have made use of them. So in the end it came clear to Svein that he must make peace with the Poles. And as Odon was also tired of the long war, in which he had gained little glory for his house, they agreed that Poland should have the rule of Samara. But no gold changed hands, for Odon said that “We have bought the land with blood, as you demanded we do; and we will not cheapen that price with mere yellow metal.” And King Svein did not disagree with these words, but remarked that was was bought with blood could be lost for blood; and he wished Odon much joy of his new lands. In this wise the Samarian War was ended.

92. THE KING’S DEALING WITH THE SWEDE-YNGLINGS (1440-41)

Now from the time when the Ynglings first united the Three Crowns, it had been the custom in the Norwegian Realm that the Ynglings who held Swedish land of the King should be free to do with their own as they wished, excepting only that they pay a yearly scot and answer the war-arrow speedily when it went through the land. But now King Svein was not satisfied with this; for he held that the Swede-Ynglings had done but little in the war over Samara, and thought that they should come in war-time under the command of the King’s appointed captains, and not go each his own way. “For,” he said, “it was well enough in the old days for each to fight the Pole where he found him; but now they have built so strong a realm that we shall all need to work together to pull him down. It is in war as on dugnad : The man who works alone, taking no heed of where others stand, is of little help to his kinsmen.” The Svea-Ynglings did not take well to this argument; but many of their best men had fallen in the campaigns in Finland. The ones who remained called a Ting to discuss Svein’s command; hearing of this, Svein made haste to attend, taking a fast ship and bringing only a few of his guardsmen. In this wise he arrived before the Swede-Ynglings had finished their talk, and demanded his right as an Yngling to be heard. And this the Svear could not deny. So Svein spoke at some length, laying out the argument as has been said; and some of the Svear were swayed by his words, for it is often better to hear an idea from the man who thought of it, than from a messenger. But others said “The rights of the Ynglings are hallowed by ancient usage; they were won in war by our fore-fathers, given as rightful reward for valour in battle. It is not right that they should be taken away, and landless men command those who have held Jarldoms for many years.” So there was no decision made for some days. But in the end a compromise was reached : The Svea-Ynglings should continue to hold their lands as before, and pay the scot; but in times of war, a man of the King’s choice should command as he directed. And in exchange for this privilege of war-command, the King agreed to pay out a thousand marks of silver, to be divided among the heads of the Yngling households; and also it was agreed that the captain of the Swedes should always be chosen from their number. With this all were satisfied, and Svein was given much praise for his wisdom.

Sweden annexed.

93. THE KING’S DEALING WITH THE DANE-YNGLINGS (1445)

Now the King was most satisfied with the Ting he had held with the Svear, and therefore he called a Ting in Denmark and proposed to the Danes that the same arrangement should hold for them. But the Danes were more stubborn, and demanded not only that Svein should cease his demands for command in wartime, but also that he should lessen the size of the hird, down to the sixty men that the Kings had had of old, and in war call upon the leidang as in former times. And they threatened that if the King would not give way in this, they would cease paying the tribute, and go their own way in peace as well as war.

But now Svein grew annoyed, and said “Well, if they wish me to call the leidang, then that is what I shall do”; and he ordered the men of Skåne and Slesvig to march upon the Dane-Ynglings. Then he held a Ting, and whenever he suggested a law, the army all shouted “Aye! Hail! Aye! Hail!” so loud that no dissenting voice could be heard. Thus the Danes gave Svein the same privileges as the Swedes had, but he paid them no money for it. And those men who had been the leaders in demanding the disbanding of the hird had their eldest sons fostered in Bergen, as hostages for their good behaviour.

(No less than three ‘nobles demand old rights’ events this session. I ignored them the first time. But enough is enough. And then when the Danes insisted on breaking their vassalisation, well, that was the last straw. I actually shouted “EXECUTE THE TRAITORS” out loud, to the considerable amusement of my girlfriend.)

94. THE CONDITION OF THE HIRD

Now as has been told, it was the King’s intention that the hird should always be training for war, since they were free of the need to work the land. But as time passed, the captains of the hird grew somewhat lax in enforcing this; and many took to dicing and drinking in their barracks all day, and became softer than the farmers Svein had meant them to replace. To deal with this King Svein appointed many of his kinsmen as Guests; and the task of these men was to go around the land visiting the barracks, and reporting on whose men were well trained and ready for war. This was the first time that Guests had been appointed in Norway for a hundred years; but King Svein had good use of them, and many lax captains were lashed to a mast for a flogging, before they were dismissed. For the three worst offenders, the King ordered blood eagles carved on their backs. This was an ancient custom, long fallen out of use; but as it had been in old times the punishment for treason, Svein thought it good to revive it for such laxness as threatened the safety of the Realm.

(The game engine must have been watching me – I got a drill instructor and an Army Reform in quick succession, just after my defeat at the hands of the Poles. Break the incompetent swine back to the ranks!)

——————————————————

So. Somewhat to my surprise, this session of EU2 actually did yield up some suitable material for a saga installment, hence I’m going back to that format at least for this week. However, some things don’t make it into the saga, so let me tell you about the session in plain prose. The main development is, to my complete and utter lack of surprise, renewed Polish aggression. To wit, he demanded I hand over Samara, the gold-producing province over in Russia; though he did offer to pay.

Well, I wasn’t having any of that; Sterk’s stated motive was access to Siberia, and any such access would be the death of me. Besides, I need the gold myself, thank you kindly. BurningEgo, playing Castille, very kindly subsidised me to the tune of about five hundred ducats; a rapid callup of thirty thousand cavalry, and I was ready to defend the Oder. Crossing a river into the forest province of Brandenburg, his armies were rather hampered, and I was briefly able to make a counterattack. Unfortunately he had a second wave waiting; my army by this time was all cavalry, and escaped north, burning as they went, until they were trapped in Prussia. At this point, sea power made its only appearance in the war; I was able to evacuate my twenty thousand cavalry by sea. Sterk was livid, he had expected to smash them and destroy any prospect of further resistance. Dunkirk in the Baltic!

So far, then, honours were even – we had each taken about the same casualties, no cities had fallen, no armies had been destroyed, and our leaders were about equally good; if anything, the advantage was slightly mine, since I had been able to burn a considerable swathe of Poland in my fighting retreat. Unfortunately, by this stage, I was running out of manpower. Had there been a military-control mechanism in EU2, I might have been able to make something of the Swedish and Finnish attacks around the Gulf of Bothnia; as it was, naturally, Sterk just waited for winter to do its work and then went in with a few thousand men and finished them off. Thus he was able to put sixty thousand men in the field in a renewed attack across the Oder, to face my forty thousand battered soldiers. Battered but unbroken – they stood him off twice more. But he was building new armies, while my manpower reserves stood at 7. Further resistance being plainly futile, I offered peace on the annexation of Samara; this Sterk accepted.

I next turned my attention to the internal affairs of the Realm. Plainly, I was going to need more manpower; thus I began bribing the Swedes. They accepted their rightful status as my direct subjects in January of 1442. The Danes proved more stubborn. Since they were rather important, occupying Jylland, which prevented me from having land access to my holdings in Germany, I eventually just kicked them out of my alliance and force-annexed. With this example in mind, the Brandenburgers soon accepted direct rule. That leaves only Finland, Novgorod, and two Russian minors for my vassals; they’ll be annexed as soon as I have the money for bribes.

Here is the Baltic as it stands now :

Norway, 1451

As you can see, Poland is huge and centralised, but with these annexations, the Norwegian Realm is beginning to look a bit better. Next stop, Helsinki. Meanwhile, the Western European situation is worrying me to the point of considering an alliance with Burgundy and Poland, the hereditary foes :

Western Europe, 1451

I don’t think an England this dominant in France is really in anyone’s interest, though I suppose it does mean Burgundy will have to watch its back. Still, I’d like to see some kind of viable, if not strong, France; clearly, it’s not going to happen of its own accord. Not that I like seeing Burgundy stretch to the Med, either, but one problem at a time.

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