I would like to preface this chapter that I have spent a grand total of twenty-one hours writing and rewriting it. Quite frankly, I think it's terrible, but I'm just tired of trying to rewrite it, so here it is. I expect that there'll be a good deal of criticism, and I'll probably do a final rewrite sometime in the future. I'm just done with it rn.
Part XLI: The War of the Three Leagues in the Low Countries
The war opened in Germany and the Low Countries nearly a full year after fighting began in Italy. Word of the war in Italy had roused the Munsterians to arms, but while Edward, Bogislaw and Philip were all ready for war, the minor states were unwilling to potentially kick a hornet’s nest with the possibility of a swift French victory in the south still a serious prospect. Bowing to their allies’ trepidations, an offensive was postponed until the following year to give time for greater mobilization and to see how the chips fell in Lombardy. Edward took the liberty of raiding the Scottish borderlands and sacking Dumfries in 1517, however, hoping to keep the Scottish from threatening his rear while he campaigned on the Continent. James IV had recently died of an unknown disease, and so the Scots were willing to back down with their French allies otherwise engaged.
By the spring of 1518, it seemed as if the Marians would soon win a swift victory over Louis and his allies, and the Munsterians had completed their mobilizations, raising a motley host of knights, mercenaries and levied infantry. After a last series of checks and preparations, Philip declared himself independent of France, a feudatory of Bogislaw and a member of the Munsterian League on 16 April, bringing the third league into the War of the Three Leagues. They were in a fairly good position, effectively forming a wall against the French along the Rhine and the Low Countries, with the English extending this dragnet out into the North Sea. The only flaw in this was the Duchy of Brunswick, which lay in the heart of Germany and whose duke had decided upon the borderline suicidal path of standing by his ally. The total forces of the Munsterian League so far outnumbered those of France that it would take effort to lose, as Edward remarked in 1517. And so, they did.
The Munsterian offensives of 1518 were almost laughably weak. There were French garrisons scattered across the Rhinemouths, and several of these had managed to close themselves off in fortresses before they could share the fate of their forebears in the Bruges Matins. As such, Philip was forced to devote forces to besieging these hold-outs, which ate up lots of valuable time and resources, especially the use of their limited cannonade. Philip was an inexperienced commander and general, and so was unable to exploit the opportunity presented by French weakness in the region. That summer, Philip made a push south with some 15,000 men--not even half of what the could muster on paper--into Picardy, laying siege to Amiens and Cambrai. He was met by a French army under Louis de la Tremoille, who had been left behind with a small force to put down a peasant rising in Normandy. De la Tremoille proved to be a far more capable commander than anyone knew, and he was able to fight the Rhinemouthers to a draw at the Battle of Dury. However, Philip was able to withdraw in good order, and once de la Tremoille had to turn and move eastwards, he was able to lay siege to the city once again and take it after a few weeks, securing all of Picardy by the end of August and moving further south to lay siege to Beauvois that autumn, although he was unable to reduce it until the middle of winter, when it was far too late to make good use of this windfall.
De la Trémoille was forced to quit Amiens due to the advances that were being made in the east by other Munsterian forces. The minor states of the alliance had marshalled a surprisingly large force of nearly 15,000 between them, the chief players being the Duke of Lorraine, Jean, and the Duke of Wurttemberg, Ulrich. Naturally, Jean and Ulrich utterly despised each other, fighting frequently and bitterly over who was the superior commander and often refusing to have anything to do with each other, regardless of how badly this was crippling their war effort. Jean favored a direct attack against Paris, seeing it as a way to knock the French out of the war immediately and decisively, while Ulrich favored a slow advance into enemy territories, believing that marching directly against the capital would only get them surrounded and massacred. Neither of them was willing to compromise in the slightest, and so Jean stormed out of the joint camp in mid-July, marching directly against Paris with a Lorrainer, Strasburgian and Trierian army numbering some 6,000. Of course, this was noticed by the French, and de la Tremoille rushed to intercept them while the Munsterian army was weakened. The French fell upon the Lorrainers and their confederates at the village of Vezy, just south of Reims, and shattered them, killing several hundred and putting the rest to disorganized flight. The French then pulled back to Senlis, from which they could intercept an attack on Paris from either direction, and waited for reinforcements.
By 1519, the Brunswickers had finally been put down and the Pomeranian-Brandenburgers prepared to march to join the other Munsterians. However, they would be draw off by a massive peasant’s revolt in Franconia that year, and so would be unable to join the fray. A worse fate befell the English force that sailed for the continent that spring, being caught in a nasty storm just out of Portsmouth that sunk most of the fleet and sent the few survivors beating back towards the land. As such, Philip and Ulrich were left to continue their advances into the north of France. With Beavois taken after a grueling siege and more forces freed up by the reduction of most of the French garrisons, Philip launched a strike at Paris itself, moving with surprising speed towards the enemy capital. However, de la Tremoille managed to scramble and intercept the Rhinemouther army at Creil, just across the Aisne from Paris. Philip attempted to force a crossing, but was beaten back by the steadfast defenders. Having lost several hundred men to no avail, Philip established a siege camp around the fortress city, blasting away at it in hopes of pounding the bastions into submission. However, this was in fact a ruse, intended to keep de la Tremoille and his forces in place while he searched for another crossing. Rhinelander scouts ranged along the Aisne and the Seine for hundreds of miles, searching for a place to ford the river. At long last, one of Philip’s scouts reported that the city of Rouen, who stood astride the Seine, was almost entirely unguarded. A few nights later, most of the Rheinlander force abandoned the siege, leaving behind enough men to keep the cannons firing and the campfires burning, this deceiving the French into believing that they were still present. It took two days for de la Tremoille to notice that something was up, and by the time he realized where Philip had gone, it was too late to cut him off.
Sixteen days later, on 24 June, Philip and his army emerged from the fog of war at Rouen. The city’s garrison was caught flatfooted and surrendered after a Rhinemouther cannonade demolished one of the towers along the city walls. Philip made a rushed crossing, installing a fairly large garrison, and emerged onto the southern bank of the Seine after more than a year of failed attempts. He kept up his lightning-quick pace as he turned and marched towards Paris, hoping to reach the capital and finally put an end to things before they got worse. A great shining mass of men was seen force-marching along the banks of the Seine, flying straight as an arrow towards the beating heart of France. De la Tremoille, of course, got word of this and moved to intercept, fearing that he may be too late to stop the fall of the capital, given that he only had a few thousand men. He pulled soldiers from the garrisons of every castle in the region except Criel and Paris itself, managing to raise some 12,000 men within a few weeks. He moved to intercept the Rhinemouthers at the last possible moment, near the small village of Epone only a day’s march from Paris.
The two armies met on the banks of Seine. The Rhinemouthers held the high ground, standing atop a slight rise, but they were exhausted due to weeks of hasty maneuvering, while the French were fresh and filled with the morale of desperation. Philip’s force was still in marching formation, and de la Tremoille, knew that he had to keep the Rhinemouthers from deploying in battle formation, because then they would be able to outflank and eventually encircle his army. As such, he gave the order to attack as dawn rose on 2nd September, even as a light rain soaked the men in their armor and weapons as they assembled upon the field. It is almost impossible to keep an army silent, and so Tremoille didn’t even try, advancing every unit individually, as soon as it was able to move. The bulk of the French were thrown against the head of the Rhinemouther column, which they caught off guard and unprepared. The French began to make headway, pressing in against the defenders in ever greater numbers as the sun rose into their eyes. However, their focus on the head of the column left the rest of the formation in passable condition, and battalions rapidly began to swing out from the road, rushing forward to try and meet the French before they could pin them down. At a certain point, fighting along the bank turned into a madhouse as fog descended, Rhinemouther killing Rhinemouther and Frenchman Frenchman as the fog and the wind made the shouts and screams of their companions unintelligible, entire units descending into fratricidal struggles as they became separated and joined together under bad circumstances. This was purely an infantry battle, a slow grind of hand-to-hand as the two formations threw themselves at each other, with none of the gallant cavalry charges which later depictions gave to it. At some point, de la Tremoille himself was killed, likely by an arrow or a bullet, but no-one knows for sure. The fighting spilled out towards the west, battalions frantically racing to cut off their enemies before they could encircle them, forming a crude and entirely unplanned battle-line stretching for more than a mile through the misty trees and fields. Thousands of men died, their blood staining the ground red and littering the field with the bodies of the dead and dying. Along the river bank in particular were the most corpses, in some places piling up so the survivors fought on mounds of bodies several feet high, another man rushing to take the place of one cut down before falling in turn. After an hour, maybe two, the Rhinemouthers finally got their cannons into position and opened fire, sending grapeshot through a line of men equal parts their own and their enemy’s. The thunder of cannons drowned out all other sounds, firing at close range from only a few dozen yards behind the fighting, and ultimately the number and valor of the Rhinemouther gunners made itself apparent. After nearly four hours of fighting, the French began to be pushed back, the line of fighting driving past the great mess of corpses onto fresh land, as the western flank turned decisively in the Rhinemouthers’ favor. The French seemed to be on the verge of collapse, but then, from the west…
The Portuguese standard appeared.
Philip was forced to retreat across the Seine at Mantes, which he had captured only the day before. The Rhinemouthers beat a hasty retreat back to Picardy in shockingly good order, but the French did not pursue. Fernão Nunes Esteves da Veiga de Nápoles de Nandufe, the Portuguese commander, had been sent to help defend Paris and he would defend Paris to the last man. His orders stated that he was to prioritize the defense of Paris above all else, and so he refused to support de la Tremoille in any operations that took place more than a day’s march away from the capital. There was little the French commander could do but try and recover his losses as the Munsterians did the same with greater alacrity. By the end of the year, a greatly-reinforced Ulrich had managed to secure the left bank of the Moselle and would be in striking distance of the capital the following spring. De la Tremoille could muster only 11,000 men, not enough to meet him on the field. So, he knew that he had to hang back and defend Paris, so that the obstinate de Nandufe would actually do his job and help him.
War resumed the following spring, Bogislaw and his host of 30,000 men finally making an appearance after sufficiently damaging the revolt to move forward and join the bloody fray. In early June, he and his army linked up with Ulrich’s east of Verdun, and after some persuading on the Emperor’s part, the two agreed to launch an assault on Paris, which seemed to be void of defenders, de la Tremoille having gone north to drive back Philip’s attack on Clermont-en-Aisne. Bogislaw and the other Germans made good use of this opportunity and drove directly towards Paris, their column drawing out along the road as the different contingents drew apart from each other due to their differing speeds. The Germans ravaged the land as they advanced, gathering what supplies they could on their quick march, and the procuring of food and drink was important enough for entire units to be split off to forage. Among these were the light cavalry that would under normal circumstances be leading the advance as scouts. With no French force in the region to oppose them, after all, why bother with pickets?
In early May, the Germans marched through the village of Montmirail, surrounded on all sides by forests and lying between a pair of ridges. Bogislaw had retired to the back of the column to mediate a dispute between two of the Munsterian lords, and so the column advanced directly into this natural ambush point almost completely unaware. Once the middle of the column was in the ravine, the Lusitnians sprang from their ambuscade. De Nandufe was no fool, and while he intended to follow his orders to the letter, he recognized that the present circumstances required extraordinary methods to prevent the fall of Paris. And so, the Portuguese came thundering down the hill into the Munsterian flank, falling upon them like a thunderbolt. The center of the column shattered almost instantly, the front and the rear being cut off like the tails of a decapitated snake as the Lustinians butchered their comrades in the center of the battle lines. Ulrich and Bogislaw, who were in the front and the very rear, respectively, quickly realized what had happened and moved to regroup, Ulrich hoping to trap the Lustinians in their own trap and keep them from fleeing out of the valley. Before he could do this, de Nandufe had pulled back and vanished into the wilds around Montmirail, leaving the Munsterians to establish a defensive camp. They resumed their march towards Paris a few days later, under constant harassment from light cavalry and irregulars.
A few weeks later, the Munsterians arrived at Paris. Bogislaw found no army waiting to fight a final desperate battle, and his scouts--he had corrected his previous mistake--ranging around Paris told him that there was no host waiting to ambush him. Sightly unnerved, the Holy Roman Emperor laid siege to Paris on 17 May, beginning to bombard the eastern walls of the city. He knew better than to try and assault the walls--there were more militiamen in the city than there were soldiers in his army, and attacking them on ground in their favor would just get more of his own men killed. However, he felt it was necessary to keep up the bombardment in hopes of causing a fire or otherwise damaging the city’s food reserves. Starvation would be the only way to reduce the city given the bad odds against him.
Bogislaw was unknowingly pinning himself down around Paris, while the French and their allies desperately scrambled together a force. De la Tremoille had been successful in driving Philip back into Brabant, and his 10,000 men were now moving to link up with de Nandufe’s 10,000, as well as several thousand levies and militias who were organizing across loyal France. It seemed as if Louis had abandoned his homeland and his own seat of power for events in Lombardy, but de la Tremoille was still holding out for help, and in early June it arrived. Gaston de Foix, a young and well-distinguished commander who had won several upstart victories against the Marians in Italy, had been sent with 10,000 men to relieve Paris. Louis believed that he was on the verge of victory in Italy and would not allow the Munsterians to distract him and prevent him from achieving his expected breakthrough. However, he still acknowledged the severity of the situation and had sent de Foix with some of his best troops to help.
On 26 June, the Battle of Paris began. The French and Lusitanians had mustered some 45,000 men of varying quality against the Munsterian force of nearly 40,000, hoping to break the siege of Paris and deal a fatal blow to the League all at once. The French cannons, raised to their positions atop the ridges east of the Munsterian camp, opened fire before the sun had even split the sky, pounding Bogislaw’s camp with shot and shell from a significant range, distracting them while the French too the field in ordered blocks. A solid line of heavy infantry stretched out before the enemy camp, the Lustinians in their center, marching towards them in rigid formation. De Foix commanded the cavalry, which was somewhere off to the side in the royal forests. The Munsterians scrambled into battle order, taken by surprise by the early morning assault. Bogislaw, to his credit leapt into action as soon as he was woken by the sound of guns, sending the most organized units to hold the line against the French and the Lusitanians while the rest of the army was organized. The French made contact with the guns firing just above their heads, moving in tight blocks towards the enemy. Poor lighting and the fog made it impossible to tell friend and foe apart, and so they had to stay in formation or risk being killed by their own comrades. The wall of pikes and arquebuses moved into the German lines like an oncoming tide in some places and erratically as a schizophrenic dog in others, different formations of varying quality moving at differing speeds. The Munsterians were able to hold formation but were gradually pushed back, unable to meet the upcoming wall in their confused state. More units and brigades were being swiftly rallied, and gradually the advance was halted as more men took the field. After half an hour of fighting, the French had advanced so far up the ridge where the Germans were camped that their own guns were now firing upon them, unaware of their rapid charge. De la Tremoille was killed when his head was so unkindly borrowed by a cannonball, and the French center began to waver. Bogislaw rallied his men and they began to push back, and the French center began to collapse. It seemed as if the Munsterians would be able to turn the tide of the battle, but then Foix and his cavalry thundered out of the forests and into the German left. Bogislaw was forced to pull back some of the new regiments to blunt this charge, and the opportunity to turn the tide was lost. The Munsterians made a fighting retreat towards the east as militia started to pour out from behind the walls like a swarm of bees, and after a day-long running battle they were able to escape into the nights. 12,000 Munsterians, 7,000 Frenchmen and 2,000 Lusitanians had been killed.
Paris effectively turned the tide of the war in the north, as Foix and his forces took the offensive foot. Bogislaw was forced to retire eastwards behind the frontier which Ulrich had secured in previous campaign seasons, and Foix was determined to keep him there. Throughout the rest of 1520, the general led a series of daring cavalry raids against Munsterian forces in the region, crippling any attempt to muster more forces, ravaging the countryside in hopes of sparking peasant revolts, attacking merchants and their caravans to cripple trade and generally making the lives of the Munsterian subjects, and, by extension, their rulers, very unpleasant. Bogislaw was forced to devote forces to chasing after Foix to appease the men whose homes and farms were being burned, and by this method Foix was able to keep the Munsterians on the back foot for the rest of the year.
In 1521, three major events happened; That spring, Edward landed in Normandy with 15,000 men, and Iberia, formerly Lusitania, declared war on France. de Nandufe, ever the stickler for honor and the rules, refused to attack the French until he had these orders confirmed and so withdrew under mutual agreement with Foix. Once he was gone, Foix moved to intercept the English, handing them a crushing defeat at Evreux that will be covered in its own appendix. With the English sent running back to the coast, he turned north once again, where Philip was on the offensive. Foix calculated that there were too many Rhinemouthers for him to be reasonably certain of a victory in a set-piece battle, and so he moved to drive them back by other means, embarking on his Great Raid.
Foix and his highly mobile army punched through the small number of Rhinemouther forces guarding the lands around the Meuse, which Philip had left unmanned due to a perceived lack of threat. The French charged up the river at a break-neck pace, taking Namur by storm due to the ill-preparedness of its defenders, destroying anything of value within the city before abandoning it to keep moving. He next arrived in Liege, which was an unhappy subject of The Hague, which he stirred to revolt by proclaiming that the French would support the independence of the Prince-Bishop. With the Liegers now causing further chaos within the heartlands of the Rhinemouths by cutting the connection between Luxembourg and the rest of the Low Countries, he kept moving at his break-neck pace, taking and sacking Maastricht, and looking as if he were going to march on to Munster itself and attack the symbolic capital of the League. Instead, he turned about and raced down the Rhine, leaving the by-now great number of pursuing Rhinemouthers and Munsterians waiting for an attack that would never come in the Ruhr. Then he feinted again, threatening to run down the Moselle and attack Trier, which prompted Bogislaw to personally march to protect the Bishop-Elector and his land. He swung towards Mainz, forcing the city into a state of siege and devastating the lands around it, then forded the Rhine just north of Worms. He then ravaged the eastern bank of the great river, threatening Wurttemberg proper before withdrawing back over the river into Rhinemouther Sundgau. Here he fought the only battle of the raid at Belfort, where his tired troops managed to fight their way past a Lorrainer force and back into France proper, returning after an absence of more than five months. He succeeded in halting any further attacks in 1521, but had failed to inflict enough damage to prevent the war from resuming as before the coming year.
1522 was hard-fought, as the walls began to close in from all directions. English forces landed all along the coast and there was little Foix could do to stop them. He managed to fend off another Rhinemouther strike at Paris at the Battle of Clermont in May, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. His manpower reserves were running low, as chronic debts made it impossible to raise anything other than peasant levies that were too slow and too weak to be of any use. He fought a defensive war with what forces were left to him, managing to hand the Munsterians a series of blood noses and small defeats, but these weren’t enough to halt the gradual collapse of French forces. From mid-1522, he sent multiple messages to Louis down in Aquitaine, beginning the king to sue for peace before he was overrun. Bogislaw could smell blood, and knew a speedy victory was within his grasp. Munsterian forces raided en masse in the lands south of Paris, utterly devastating the country in revenge for the destruction caused by the Great Raid. Foix, doing his best, tried to drive them off, but in doing so he fell into a trap similar to one of his own. Just as he had used fast cavalry tactics to distract the invaders from Paris, the invaders now used it to distract him from Paris. While he struggled to lift the siege of Orleans, Paris itself fell under a second siege, this time from a joint force of Rhinelanders, Munsterians and Englishmen, that lasted into the winter. Foix made a final attempt to lift the siege, mustering every soldier he had, but the cold and famine had so weakened them that they were soundly defeated at the Battle of Antony, which saw the French army shattered with several thousand dead.
Finally, in January 1523, Louis was killed in battle with the Iberians. Peace came shortly after.