Part LVIII: The Western Changes
To understand the coming war we must take a step back and examine the significant changes the new millennium saw in the West. In particular we will be looking at the end of Gothic Hispani, the expansion of the Normans into Saxeland, and finally both the internal and external problems Louis faces as he tries to consolidate the Frankish Empire now that Italy had been mostly conquered.
Since the events on Britannia are the most immediately relevant we will focus on them. You will recall that the Danes by this point had been decisively beaten by a Frankish force, and subsequently begun the process of converting to Christianity. Note however, this is not entirely causal in nature, as the Pedinoi had already been moving in that direction for a few centuries.
The upside however was that as of the year 990 both the Danes an the Normans were Christian, and both had formed decentralized kingdoms made up of a combination of invaders and local strongmen. For the Danes these were the Saxons, and for the Normans these were the Gaels. However, in 993 the High King of the Danes died with three different heirs. His oldest son was away in the king’s homeland on the mainland, and so a younger son attempted to seized control of Saxeland, backed by local Danish leaders.
Civil War ensued, worsened when the Saxons rose in revolt against Danish control in an attempt to throw the Saxons out. Edward, a descendant of the royal house of Wessaxe in particular proved troublesome as he took control of the south and defeated the army of the lord of Cantware who tried to expand his own territory during the civil war. A series of battles followed, but in the end Wessaxe was driven back, until Edward was forced to flee into marshes and attempt to continue the war from there.
His efforts were less than successful, and so he snuck south, took a ship, and set out for the Frankish Emperor, hoping to come back with an army and fleet to liberate southern Saxeland from the Danes, even if he had to bend the knee to Louis to get it. His efforts however were in vain. Louis at this point of course was away in the south, fighting in Italy and no help was forthcoming.
But as luck would have it Edward met here a representative to the Frankish Court from Alba. Hearing the Saxon plea the representative gave him a letter of introduction to the Norman High King, and Edward departed for Hiberni to once again seek aid.
The Norman High King, a man named Rufus, was quite interested in an expedition to Saxeland, and agreed to assist the Saxons against the Danes if they would swear fealty to him. He had little love for the Danes, and indeed had fought at least one major battle against them as a teenager in 982. Throwing his neighbors out of Britanni completely was a golden opportunity. Especially when you considered that, odd as it might sound, Saxeland was at this point actually more prosperous than either Hiberni or the Britanni lands.
Rufus gathered his vassal kings and knights and departed for Saxeland in 1002. Upon arriving in Northumbri Edward set about rallying the local Saxon lords to his cause, and after some trepidation many took the deal. Rufus marched on the capital at Eorwic, defeating the Danish king and scattering his army. The Normans fought in a rather unique fashion at this point. While they are historically famous for the use of heavy cavalry, many of their knights actually still fought on foot, only riding to the battle, acting as a heavy infantry backbone supporting archers and skirmishers to hold the enemy front line in place before their actual cavalry smashed the enemy in the flanks. The Danes in the north were badly outnumbered, and stood no chance.
Rufus marched south, and Edward went with him, rallying Saxon lords to the banners of the Normans. Not all Saxons joined up of course, and a miniature civil war was fought between Saxons who landed on each side, but with the Danes distracted by their own internal war there was little hope of stopping the Norman advance.
At Tamworth a Danish force of seven thousand was finally gathered under King Cnut of the Danes, and fought a major battle against a force of Norman soldiers led by Rufus himself numbering about five thousand. The Normans had secured a hill on the battlefield, and assembled their infantry and archers along it, with cavalry in reserve behind the lines.
In this position Rufus was content to wait for an additional force of five thousand being led by his son, William, to arrive. The Danes however knew this second force was coming and so opted to attack early. This was to prove a disastrous mistake. With their superior missile troops, the Normans devastated the advancing Danish shield wall, so that when the Danes finally reached the Norman infantry their formation was in disorder and many men were already tired from the advance uphill. The Norman infantry held firm and began pushing the Danes back. As they did so Rufus led his cavalry out from the hill, circling around the Danes, lowered their lances and charged.
The Danes broke and ran. Many were killed, and the rest scattered. Rufus occupied Tonton the same day and set up a new local king for whom he could be overlord. The Danish defeat at Tonton broke the dam of Danish rule, and Saxon revolts broke out across the remainder of Saxeland. Rufus swept through the remainder of the country in a few months, setting up new kingdoms as he saw fit. Eorwic was given to his son William who was married to a Saxon Princess, and this was merged into the Caledoni territories held by the Norman kingdom.
Myrce was divided into three sections, Myrce which consisted of much of the western half of the old Myrcian kingdom. In the northeast a new Danish kingdom was founded to be ruled by a local Danish lord who had switched sides. The southeast was centered around Londinium, and would be ruled by a local Saxon lord named Alfred. Edward was given Wessaxe, as well as all the lands to the sea save Canterbury and the immediate environs. This was given to the archbishop and dedicated to God and the Church. In exchange the archbishop crowned Rufus by the Grace of God King of the Normans, the Gaels, and the Saxons.
The two Danish princes who started the whole mess had died in Daneland with no one back in Saxeland the wiser. Their sole remaining sibling took the throne of the remaining Danish territory, and in 1013 he made a failed attempt to retake Danish Saxeland. This attempt was a dismal failure, as his fleet was caught in a storm during the crossing and the Danish king was drowned. The survivors limped back to Daneland and set about selecting a new king.
Rufus was now High King of all of Britanni apart from the native lands still held by the people of the same name. Under him however were a large group of lesser kings who each was deeply independently minded, and really bore little love for their Norman overlord. And in case you think this sounds horribly unstable, then congratulations on reading ahead. But for now this powerful Norman kingdom still has about a century of life to it, so we’ll let them enjoy their place in the European sun.
Next, we’ve covered in the past the unstable and weak Gothic kingdom that had developed in Hispani since the final expulsion of the Romans in the 600s. Had any external foe existed to take advantage of the Gothic weakness it is highly likely that the Goths would have been conquered quickly. But fortunately for the Goths the Romans were eternally distracted by the East, the Berbers were distracted by Roman North Africa, and the Franks were distracted by their internal disputes and the Germani borderlands.
The Goths had been left alone to either sort their problems out or…well take the path they eventually did take. As Gothic disunity grew so too did local loyalties. The weakness of the crown meant local lords focused more on their own lands, and ceased to vie for an increasingly pointless throne. Any lord who grew strong enough would make a bid for central power, and either succeed or fail to little change.
If he succeeded then equally strong lords in other parts of the kingdom would defy him as they had defied the previous king, and if he failed the king was still too weak to enforce significant consequence on the lord or his family.
The end result of these events came in the 990s. The Doux of Asturi in northwest Hispani had amassed a signficiant power base, and rather than trying to claim the crown for himself he simply crowned himself king of his own lands and dared anyone to try and take the crown from him. No one did. Instead the secession kicked off a series of other lords looking at his actions and thinking “well why not me.”
In short order douxes in Baetica and Lusitani both declared themselves king and officially threw off royal control. This left the Gothic king, a man named Alaric, in controlling basically just the interior of Carthagensis with a capital at Toledo, as well as loyal vassals in Tarracon. Alaric was loath to let his territory go without a fight however, and a final civil war broke out.
For six years the combatants battled across Hispani, until in 1004 a ten year truce was agreed and the matter submitted for arbitration to the Frankish Emperor. Louis lept at the chance to make a judgement, and in 1010 he backed the Gothic king, saying that only God or an Emperor could grant a man the position of king, and that to crown yourself was blasphemy. He ordered the rebels to do homage to Alaric and accept his leadership.
Things *might* have ended there, but before the rebels could do as they were ordered Alaric died, and he died without an heir. His holdings collapsed into chaos and the realm splintered once again. The truce did hold however, and continued to hold until 1017, when the Doux of Tarracon died, and his son decided to take the crown of Hispani for himself. Civil war once again broke out, and it became clear that the rebels were not containable. The Doux tried to appeal to Louis for assistance, but the Frankish Emperor was dealing with a major revolt among his Germanni lords and could not send aid. Over the next eight years the Tarracon army was driven further back into their own territory, until finally all crown land had been taken by the rebels. In a conference at Toledo the Carthagensis was divided amongst the secessionist states. Baetica received the coastline and much of the southeast. Lusitani obtained Toledo and the central lands, while Asturi obtained the remainder.
This was quite a problem for the king of Tarracon, who raised another army and marched into the Baetic territory. His army was decisively defeated in 1026, and the king himself was killed. This however left his young son in charge, and more importantly his mother, who happened to be Louis’s niece. She appealed to her uncle once again, and this time Louis agreed. He ordered another truce put in place, and called the various douxii of Hispani to Marseilles yet again for a conference. Once again he ordered the douxii to give up their crowns and prepare to select a new overall king. They agreed, went back home and did what they liked.
By 1029 Louis had had enough. He raised another army, and marched into Tarracon at the head of thirty thousand men, intent on either putting a new king on the throne of Hispani, or to simply force the nobles to accept him as overlord. It was their choice and Louis didn’t much care which one they picked. He picked up allies in Tarracon, and soon was moving south into Baetica. The Baeticans panicked as they realized just how outmatched they were and went looking for help. They found what they were looking for just across the water in Caeserea, the now recaptured capital of the Roman lands of Mauretania, and recent capitol of the Berber kingdom.
Emperor Manuel was massing a fleet and army to wage his war against the Franks, and the Baeticans begged him to intervene. Manuel naturally will oblige, beginning the Second Frankish War, called the Great Frankish War until Paulus’s long and bitter religious war in the 1500s. And unlike Paulus, Manuel will both survive and win his war with the Franks.
And speaking of, we finally arrive at the ten ton elephant in the room, the Frankish Empire. The Franks have been the biggest non-Roman power around since, well since the fall of the West really. The Goths were more powerful here and there in the early days, but those days are long since gone. It is difficult to even say that the Franks of this time period are the same people as the original superconfederation of course, but the name will stick around as convenient shorthand until the disintegration of the Empire about…oh seven years hence.
We have already met the current Emperor, Louis, who by now is an old man but one who is no less dynamic and powerful than he was in his youth. His oldest son Pepin was much like his father, and had already been given fairly significant holdings along the northern coast. Pepin will unfortunately for him be the last of the Pepinid dynasty to hold any power, and will die in chains before the crowds of Constantinople.
Under Louis the Frankish Empire, or the Western Roman Empire as he styled it, was a highly centralized state by Western standards. Vassals did homage to the king, and his ability to call on them was strong by this point. But, this centralization depended heavily on the king being so much more powerful than his vassals, and also on his ability to safeguard the realm. Defeating the Roman Emperor had done a lot to quiet his remaining political opponents, but they were still out there. But in turn the conquest of Italy was a bit of a double-edged sword for Louis. On the one hand Italy had basically doubled the annual Frankish budget from three hundred thousand nomismata to five hundred thousand. Yes, this is a tiny fraction of what the Romans had been collecting from the peninsula. We’ll discuss that later after the war between the Franks and Romans is completed however.
On the other the conquest had stirred up significant unrest among the powerful vassals that Louis maintained. This was because they had gone to war with him in the expectation of receiving rich Italian lands and cities with which to boost their personal holdings. This had held true in some cases, but most had spent a great deal of treasure equipping men for the war, and then led the soldiers into Italy only to find the Emperor was feeling magnanimous to the Italians, who largely had not resisted.
Local leaders who surrendered were left in place, and no cities were given a good sacking. To say that Louis had let his lords down would be an understatement. The Germani in particular were furious, because not only had they not been rewarded, they had come home to find their lands ravaged by pagans from across the border who had taken it upon themselves to raid into Frankish territory the minute the lords were gone. Louis launched a number of retaliatory raids, but with his attentions till on the holdout cities of Italy until the peace treaty these were far less vigorous than the lords believed they should be. The situation escalated as the Germani lords demanded recompense, but Louis would not pay. And so, in 1014 they revolted. It took five years to quell the uprising, but in the end Louis was victorious. It was not a decisive victory however, and the Emperor was forced to pardon his rebellious vassals in exchange for more promises of land. The Emperor followed through, giving away Imperial lands on the Albis River. Remember that, the Emperor has given away all the lands to the east of the Albis. It will be important later.
He also sanctioned additional wars against the pagans across the border, and had his puppet pope issue a bull starting that those who waged such holy wars would received remission for prior sin. The lords naturally took this as license to do whatever they liked, and soon had a nice border war going.
Louis himself turned his attention back toward the south to the situation developing in Hispani. He was keenly aware of what was happening, both here and beyond. Louis’s intervention was for two reasons. First of course was his familiar interest in the affairs of Hispani. He was quite close to his niece, rumor said unnaturally close, though this seems likely to be propaganda that Manuel made up in his writing to slander the Frankish Emperor and justify what will eventually happen.
Second, he was perfectly aware that the Romans had now gotten their eastern possessions sorted, and that the Roman Emperor now had a massive army in North Africa, and had sent large numbers of reinforcements to Ravenna and Rhegium. What’s more, the Venetians had been busy, building an additional hundred ships, that had then disappeared from the harbor headed south. Louis could smell the war coming. He didn’t want to have a major point of conflict on his southern border when he was forced once again to fight in Italy.
So he sent fifteen thousand men into Hispani led by a trusted doux, and began marshaling his other forces to defend Italy when Manuel inevitably invaded. So confident was he in these plans that he was actually in Milan when word reached him from Spain that the Roman Emperor had annihilated the Spanish army, crossed the Pyhryni, and was currently doing his level best to level Aquitaine.