Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: rulership

Trying to Win Wars by Half-Doing

February 6, 2023

Asked to give his verdict on the foreign policy of Queen Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh replied that: “Her Majesty did all by halves.” It was a fair criticism, but it was one which could be levelled against every European ruler at the time: against the kings of France and Spain, the German Protestant princes, even against the [Dutch] States General. None of them would or could put all their eggs in one basket. All of them tried to win their wars by “half-doing”. The casual character, the insouciance, of the Eighty Years’ War in particular stands out as one of its most important and most persistent traits.

Yet what alternative was there? Certainly the fate of the Netherlands was important to Spain, England, France and Germany, but was it more important than their commitments or ambitions elsewhere? Should England abandon her position in Ireland in order to support the Dutch; should Spain neglect the defence of the Mediterranean in order to suppress the revolt in the Low Countries? These were real choices, for no European state in the early modern period possessed sufficient resources to fight effectively in the Netherlands and also attain its political objectives elsewhere. The policies of the various major combatants in the Low Countries’ Wars must therefore be considered within the context of their overall foreign ambitions and overseas commitments; changes in one were normally linked with changes in the other; the course of the war was often affected by events far outside the Netherlands. From the very first, as we shall see, the Dutch Revolt was a problem which no government could tackle in isolation.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, p. 231

The Dream of Taliesin

January 30, 2023

“There is a land,” he said, “a land shining with goodness where each man protects his brother’s dignity as readily as his own, where war and want have ceased and all tribes live under the same law of love and honor. It is a land bright with truth, where a man’s word is his pledge and falsehood is banished, where children sleep safe in their mothers’ arms and never know fear or pain.”

“It is a land where kings extend their hands in justice rather than reach for the sword; where mercy, kindness, and compassion flow like deep water, and men revere virtue, revere truth, revere beauty above comfort, pleasure, or selfish gain. A land where peace reigns in the hearts of men, where faith blazes like a beacon from every hill and love like a fire from every hearth; where the True God is worshipped and his ways acclaimed by all.”

“This is the Dream of Taliesin, Chief Bard of Britain. If you would know this land, know this: it is the Kingdom of Summer, and its name is Avalon….”

Avalon: the Return of King Arthur, Chapter 22

A King Expects To Be Followed

January 29, 2023

…[Red William] did not look back to see if the rest of them followed. A king learned to expect it.

King’s Blood, Chapter 8

It Is Never Too Early to Teach a Future King

January 21, 2023

Some time in 1614 [C.E.] a complete set of toy soldiers, made of wood, was presented to the young prince of Spain, later King Philip IV. There were regiments and companies with their various banners, weapons and equipment, there were horses and cannon for the artillery, even the distinctive shops and tents of the armourers, sutlers and barbers who followed every army. Special materials were included for the construction of artificial lakes, forests and pontoon bridges, and there was a toy castle for the “army” to besiege. And this, the first child’s “war-game” known in Europe, was proudly described by its inventor in a special publication in Spanish and Latin. The toy was no less grandiose in intention than in execution: it was to give education as well as enjoyment. “This army will be no less useful than entertaining” the designer, one Alberto Struzzi, wrote to the prince. “From it one may observe the expenditure which is necessary if a King is to emerge victorious, and how if money (which is the sinews of war) fails, the prince’s intentions cannot be achieved.” Armies which are not paid invariably fall prey to disorders, desertion and defeat, warned the inventor.

The ultimate aim of this war-game was to make Prince Philip aware of the existence of the Spanish Netherlands and of the army which defended them. The prince’s splendid toy was in fact a perfect replica of the most famous army of the day, the Army of Flanders, maintained by Spain in the Low Countries since 1567. It was never too early to teach a future king of Spain that his power was underpinned largely by military strength and that his armies could function only for as long as they were paid.

The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659, pp. 3

Retinue Versus Followers

September 3, 2022

The retinue did not consist of only soldiers…but also of servants, artisans, professionals, estate officials, treasurers, stewards, lawyers and generally all that was needed by the normal operation of society. And, as the lord grew in status, so did the retinue; so that a sort of “bastard feudalism” developed, in which middle ranking figures under a king or major noble would compete for money, offices or influence…. The collective name for these retainers was “affinity,” which also happens to be a word that began in c. 1300 [C.E.] as “relation by marriage.” In a sense, the retinue were “kin,” or part of the “neighbourhood,” words that have developed other meanings over time. For this post, [we will] go on using the word retinue and retainer, but try to keep affinity in mind….

Obviously, this would mean that many persons outside the retinue would always be seeking to be a part of it, if they had no affinity of their own. This meant that outside the retinue were an amorphous group of general supporters and contacts, most of them completely unknown to the lord, but known to the various members of the retinue. Thus, even a minor lord could potentially affect hundreds, even thousands of persons, simply by their existence at the heart of his or her retinue. This made political maneuverings and the raising of an huge army a realistic possibility…. In [Dungeons & Dragons], we tend to think that to raise an army, we need to scatter out agents and interview people. In fact, the more likely truth is that there would be large numbers predisposed to our cause; we would need only to canvas our own connections, gain the support of other nobles and let them canvas their connections, and thus through specific persons already in our employ, we would dredge up the very people we needed from both our lands and from those wanting to be part of our lands. Thus, every war begins with a promise of land—which we will naturally take from the losers, when we win.

All this makes the retainer far, far more valuable than the follower—though, it must be said the retainer has less reason to be directly loyal. Ultimately, the retainer serves the office, not the individual. A lord is sure to be surrounded by trusted, reliable followers and henchmen, the “inner circle,” while sorting out the trusted members of the retinue from those not quite so trusted. In general, the retinue is expected to fall in line because the lord has the retinue’s general welfare at heart; if the lord fights to preserve the lord’s lands, he or she also fights to preserve the retinue’s lands. So all join together in the common cause.

Retinue vs. Followers – The Tao of D&D

Author’s emphases are in italics. Mine are in bold.

A Period In Which Politics Did Not Exist

August 4, 2022

When we retreat from the early modern age into the Middle Ages the distinction between government, army, and people becomes more tenuous still. The term “feudal” implies this was a period in which politics did not exist (the very concept had yet to be invented, and dates back only as far as the sixteenth century [C.E.]) So closely intertwined were a man’s political power and his personal status that his ability to conclude alliances could well depend on the number of marriageable daughters he had sired. Politics were entangled with military, social, religious, and, above everything else, legal considerations; feudalism before it was anything else comprised a network of mutual rights and obligations. The resulting witches’-brew was utterly different from the one we are familiar with today, so that to use the word politics probably does more harm than good. The medieval context hardly even makes it possible to speak of governments, let alone of states….

The Transformation of War, p. 52

Emphasis mine.

Patriarchal Olympian Dominance

April 2, 2022

Perseus’s subsequent trials and triumphs, like those of his great-grandson Herakles, are too epic in scope, covering most of the known world, Hell included, and too teeming with exploits to go into in any detail here. Most significant, however, was the way in which the deeds of both heroes were reflections of their father’s battles against Gaia—which is to say, of the Greeks’ ongoing struggle to subsume the Pelasgians’ old, earthbound, chthonic cults into the brave new world of patriarchal Olympian dominance. Thus, Perseus’s most renowned exploit would be his beheading of that superbly demonized version of the Great Mother, Medusa, the terrible, snake-haired Gorgon who dwelled with her equally hideous sisters in a seaside cave near the opening to the Underworld.

Zeus, p. 123

Violent Logic of Feudalism

April 1, 2022

So. You live in a world where large-scale political units have collapsed, or might collapse at any moment. Violence and disorder are rampant. Literacy rates are low. “The economy” is or has recently been on life support. No modern communications technology exists; transport infrastructure is in shambles, and whenever we fix it, it also helps diseases spread. Oh, and—by the way—you’re in charge. Please fix this mess and build us a new stable realm, or we’ll ignore/insult/stab you and give the job to somebody else. Cheers!

This is the kind of setting in which something like “feudalism” makes sense.

It’s how you govern and exploit a large territorial claim when you don’t have a sophisticated-enough bureaucracy to administer lands directly: you delegate the job to local managers. It’s also how you ensure that you get the violent men on your side, and harness their pool of violence when you need it. The local conditions varied considerably, but something like this response explains everything from the iqta system in Muslim polities to some power-relations in Byzantium to, of course, the lord-and-vassal bonds of western Europe. Whether what was delegated remained within a tax-proceeds system (as in the Islamic iqta arrangements) or dealt more with rights to agricultural lands (as in the west), the core logic is this: look, I’m pretending to be in charge of ALL THIS but I can’t actually administer it. If you promise to fight for me faithfully and send me goodies, I’ll let you take charge of a chunk of “my territory,” and enjoy its fruits in peaceful legitimacy. Once this deal is arranged, the vassal discovers that his own slice of the pie is still too big to administer directly, and beside he needs some way to feed and motivate his troops, so he makes a parallel deal, carving up “his territory” for his own vassals. On and on it goes, like a giant game of sub-leasing to biker gangs, until the whole territory is delegated to violent men or those able to feed and command violent men. The system allows those at the top to govern, indirectly, what they never could administer on their own. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything, of course, since the system only works if people keep their promises. If one vassal rebels, the others can be called upon to squash him. If they all rebel…the lord at the top is out of options. This problem ripped apart 10th-century France, and it continually destabilized the iqta systems in the Middle East…. “Feudalism” was a logical response to desperately inadequate governing infrastructures, but it contained within itself the seeds of further political crisis and decentralization.

If you have a setting suffering from these social tensions, then what one might call “feudalism” makes a very coherent in-setting response—though it might take a million different forms….

The Logic of Feudalism – Gundobad Games

Author’s emphases are in italic. Mine are in bold.

Retinue of Retinues

January 25, 2022

The phrase I drill into my student’s heads about the structure of medieval armies is that they are a retinue of retinues. What I mean by this is that the way a medieval king raises his armies is that he has a bunch of military aristocrats (read: nobles) who owe him military service (they are his ‘vassals’) – his retinue. When he goes to war, the king calls on all of his vassals to show up. But each of those vassals also have their own bunch of military aristocrats who are their vassals – their retinue. And this repeats down the line, even down to an individual knight, who likely has a handful of non-nobles as his retinue (perhaps a few of his peasants, or maybe he’s hired a mercenary or two on retainer).

…The average retinue…was five men although significant lords (like earls) might have hundreds of men in their retinues (which were in turn comprised of the retinues of their own retainers). So the noble’s retinue is the combined retinues of all of his retainers, and the king’s army is the combined total of everyone’s retainer’s retainers, if that make sense. Thus: a retinue of retinues.

How It Wasn’t: Game of Thrones and the Middle Ages, Part I – A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry

Author’s emphases both italics and bold.

Hard Bargaining Was the Essence of the Lord-Vassal Relationship

December 28, 2021

Shortly after [the battle of] Sagrajas [in 1086 C.E.,] Rodrigo [Diaz, called El Cid] and [King Alfonso VI of Castile] were reconciled…. We do not know who took the initiative. What is fairly clear is that Rodrigo could make his own terms. The king was desperate, and was prepared—or could be brought—to pay Rodrigo handsomely for returning to his service. The author of the Historia Roderici tells us that

the king gave him the castle of Duáñez with its dependents, and the castle of Gormaz, and Ibia and Campóo and Eguña and Briviesca, and Langa which is in the western parts, together with all their territories and inhabitants.

He may have been quoting from a royal charter. The word ‘gave’ (dedit) is probably to be taken as meaning ‘entrusted the defence and/or administration of’ to Rodrigo. The king was not alienating chunks of territory but giving his vassal responsible and lucrative employment. Duáñez, Gormaz and Langa were important strong-points in the network of defences which guarded the Duero valley. Ibia, Campóo and Eguña were districts in the extreme north of Castile. Briviesca, to the north-east of Burgos, was contiguous to the Riojan territories of Count Garcia Ordóñez. This was not all. His biographer goes on thus:

Furthermore, King Alfonso gave him this concession and privilege in his kingdom, written and confirmed under seal, by which all the land or castles which he himself might acquire from the Saracens in the land of the Saracens should be absolutely his in full ownership, not only his but also his sons’ and daughters’ and all his descendants.

This remarkable concession has caused much perplexity to commentators…. [The author does] not see why the passage should not be accepted at its face value, as a summary of—possibly a quotation from—a royal charter granting to the Cid a very unusual gift. We should remember that the circumstances were unusual. Alfonso needed skilled commanders, and in the hard bargaining which was the essence of the lord-vassal relationship he held a weak hand. It was a vassal’s market. Rodrigo could call the tune.

Richard Fletcher, The Quest for El Cid, chapter 10

Emphasis mine.

Fiefs Were Measured By How Much Food They Produced

November 27, 2021

All samurai had duties and were paid stipends, and from this they had to buy whatever of their equipment wasn’t issued and furnish their household (if they had one). The basis for the economy was rice, and a unit of rice that could feed a man for a year, called a koku, was the universal measure of wealth. Fiefs and estates were described in the terms of how many koku of rice they produced. One koku is 120 litres. The lowest samurai received a little less than a koku (assuming his meals were all on his lord’s estate’s books).

Middling lords, and castle commanders, might receive a stipend of several hundred koku, and with that he had to pay the samurai in his service, supply his garrison, feed his horses, pay his servants, etc. For convenience sake, hard cash was used to make payments, but ultimately it was a rice-based economy. Even the Takeda of Kai, who sat on the most valuable gold mines in the nation, needed rice to feed their soldiers.

Anthony J. Bryant, Samurai 1550-1600, p. 7

Transporteer

October 31, 2021

“…I’m your Transporteer. Do you know what that means?”

“…No. Will you tell me?”

Tirian nodded gravely. “Of course, zan Vrenn. My duty is to keep you safe while you are aboard any vehicle. If you travel by particle transporter, I will set the controls, that you may be properly reassembled. It may also become my duty to inform you of desirable or undesirable actions while in transit; as my master, you must decide how to act upon this information. Is this explanation sufficient?”

…It was more than sufficient. A Captain lent his life to the one he trusted as transporter operator, each time he used the machine: the one chosen must be of special quality. It was reasonable that an Admiral should have a special officer for the purpose—and a kuve one, who could have no ambition.

The Final Reflection, Chapter 2

Japanese Clans as Primary Social Unit

July 31, 2021

In structure, each [Japanese] clan consisted of a central, dominating house or family, which gave the clan its name, and various affiliated units known as tomo or be. Other categories of subjects also appear, confusedly, in the records, between those two classes of clansmen and the serfs or slaves known as jakko at the very bottom of the ladder (who bore no family name). All were subject to the power of a headman (uji-no-osa), who was the absolute and undisputed leader and master of the clan….

The clan, as a primary social unit, had achieved self-sufficiency through the cultivation of its own rice paddies and the production of its own artifacts, textiles, agricultural instruments, and, naturally, weapons. From the very beginning, the history of these clans was not one of peaceful coexistence. The archaic weapons found in the mounds and dolmens of the period from 250 [B.C.E.] to 560 [C.E.] indicate that, as was true during every other national age of formation, warfare was the predominant condition….

Secrets of the Samurai, pp. 39-40

Kings Glorify State Gods by Conquering

June 18, 2021

The Assyrian king, like other Mesopotamian kings, was expected to glorify the god of the Assyrians—Ashur—by conquering for him as much territory as he could and by bringing back to his temple (and his kingdom) as much loot as he could. In the 300 years of the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries [B.C.E.], the Assyrian kings could pride themselves on how much they had pleased Ashur—they were the supreme power of the Near East.

With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, p. 41

Kings Depended Upon Their Queens

June 18, 2021

The [ancient Egyptian] kings had to take their army out every year to punish those who had rebelled and to intimidate those who had not. They trained their heirs to shoot the bow and work the chariot, to become the foremost warrior of Egypt, to command the army, and the professional officer corps. During campaigning season the kings were absent from Egypt and they depended upon their queens (who had the authority to rule but who could not supplant the king) to supervise the vizier and break him if he appeared to be a threat to the king. This system worked as long as the king was strong enough to check the power of vizier, queen, and priest.

With Arrow, Sword, and Spear, p. 23

To Argue With Your King

June 14, 2021

…There was desperation in the man’s face. Terror. And something else Sargon had had no hope of, which drove a common man to put a shoulder between his king and a door and argue with him….

C. J. Cherryh, Legions of Hell, Chapter 11

Less a State Than an Estate

August 29, 2015

Agamemnon’s kingdom was typical of its times; it was less a state than an estate, that is, it was essentially a big household. The royal palace had grand staterooms but most of its space was devoted to workshops, storerooms, and armories. It was a manor that produced luxury goods for the wanax [an ancient word for king used by Homer] to trade or give as gifts. Raw materials for the workshops were siphoned off the king’s subjects as taxation.

More important, from the military point of view, the palace produced bronze breastplates and arrowheads, manufactured and maintained chariots, and stabled horses. The wanax controlled a corps of charioteers and bowmen and possibly one of infantrymen, too. In any case, as powerful as he was, the wanax probably had no monopoly on the kingdom’s military force.

The royal writ was strongest on the king’s landholdings, concentrated around the palace. The rest of the territory was run by local big men or basileis, each no doubt with his own armed followers. The wanax could muster an army and navy out of his own men, but for a really big campaign he would need the support of the basileis. In short, the wanax was only as strong as his ability to dominate the basileis, be it by persuasion or force.

Barry Strauss, The Trojan War, pp. 32-33

Hunting Served Several Social Functions

March 21, 2015

Hunting animals was the absolute passion of the medieval upper class, and the only activity recognized as a real recreation. It served several social functions. It confirmed power, wealth, status, and prestige as the king or aristocrat went out with his retainers, horses, dogs, and, sometimes, trained falcons. It brought men of similar social background together and was good training for medieval warfare, keeping men and horses fit. It developed strategic thinking as the men hunted elusive and often dangerous quarries, such as wild boar, bears, wolves, and red deer. Late summer and, especially, autumn were the usual times for hunting, which was often dangerous. Accidents were common, especially among immature, testosterone-driven, risk-taking young men. The Annals of Saint-Bertin reports that in 864 [C.E.] the sixteen-year-old Charles of Aquitaine, the son of King (later Emperor) Charles the Bald

whom his father had recently received from Aquitaine and taken with him to Compiegne, was returning one night from hunting in the forest of Guise [nowadays Cuise-la-Motte near Compiegne]. While he meant only to enjoy some horseplay with some other young men of his own age, by the devil’s action he was struck in the head with a sword by a youth called Albuin. The blow penetrated almost as far as the brain, reaching from his left temple to his right cheekbone and jaw…. He suffered from epileptic fits for a long time, and then on 29 September [866] he died.

Hunting accidents were also convenient ways of eliminating rivals and were sometimes used as plausible covers for assassinations.

Paul Collins, The Birth of the West, pp. 19-20

Medieval People Were Particularly Vulnerable to Weather

December 8, 2014

Medieval people were particularly vulnerable to weather. They depended on a subsistence economy, had limited storage facilities, and lacked the infrastructure to move food staples around quickly. Severe, destructive weather events could mean the difference between eating and starving, and severe winters, such as those of 873-874 or 939-940 [C.E.], caused high mortality among both humans and animals and resulted in widespread famine.

Paul Collins, The Birth of the West, p. 14

In Personal Terms Rather Than in Abstractions

November 8, 2012

The Bronze Age was an era that preferred to put things in personal terms rather than in abstractions. Instead of justice, security, or any of the other issues that would be part of a war debate today, the Bronze Age tended to speak of family and friendship, crime and punishment. Near Eastern kings proclaim in their inscriptions that they fought to take vengeance on their enemies and on rebels; they fought those who boasted or who transgressed their path or who violated the king’s boundaries or raised their bows against royal allies; they fought to widen their borders and bring gifts to their loyal friends. A Hittite king says that his enemies attacked him when he came to the throne because they judged him young and weak—their mistake! Allies are royal vassals, obliged to have the same friends and enemies as the king.

Barry Strauss, The Trojan War: A New History, pp. 17-18