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Winning the Peace
An exhausted England rejoices at the Treaty of Toulouse and the end of the Hundred Years War. Church bells exult the great victory, and John Neville earns the sobriquet “Hammer of the French”. Finally, England’s Norman rights are confirmed.
Thousands of mercenaries are released from service, and both the army and navy are put on half-pay. With the sudden lack of military employment, however, arrives malcontent and michief. Out-of-work mercenaries start pillaging the Queen’s loyal subjects, causing a spike in crime. Many of these ecorcheurs are caught and punished, and as a crime-fighting measure, the Chancellor of the Exchequer reluctantly agrees to delay separation for those mercenaries still on the payroll.
The war effort has also been detrimental to England’s reputation in foreign palaces; some kings on the Continent worry that she harbours expansionist ambitions beyond Normandy and Gascony. Henry VI was never particularly gifted in quashing these rumours—??especially given his father’s martial skill—??but fourteen-year-old Mary is a born diplomat and shrewd judge who easily befriends lords and nobles at home and abroad. She uses this skill to good effect, marrying off cousins of Lancaster and York into the royal bloodlines of allied nations (Portugal, Munster, Leinster), useful neighbours (Scotland, Tyrone, Connaught, Brittany) and powerful potential allies (Burgundy). Best of all, Mary stuns Europe by convincing loyal Portugal to abandon their alliance with Castile and become England’s vassal, complete with regular fief income. Even relations with France become almost cordial.
At home, the returning English Army handily defeats rebellious lords in Meath, Wessex and Nothumberland. Mary chooses mercy over vengeance, offering to pardon those who submit. With great numbers of soldiers returning every day, few rabble-rousing nobles are inclined to risk their necks; the rebellions fizzle out by December of 1456.
Things are relatively quiet for the next couple of years, as the Exchequer concentrates on paying off war debts. Harsh spending cuts are imposed to curtail inflation. English merchants start to gain ground in foreign markets, and royal revenues expand slowly but steadily. The army, however, is still a bit of a drag on the budget. France maintains massive forces adjacent to Normandy and Caux, and those garrisons actually increase their peacetime strength. Likewise the English army in Northumberland; it must remain at full strength (albeit still on half-pay) to counter Scotland’s 5,000 knights and 7,000 infantry across the border.
In 1458, peasants and minor monks in Oxfordshire, Cumbria and several other provinces complain about the practice of simony—the sale or purchase of ecclesiastical office or position. Through sympathetic abbots and bishops, their grievances reach royal ears. Over the next two years, heated exchanges between London and Rome become so fierce that several bishops retire early, and relations with Pope Gregory XII are severely strained.
This also has the perverse effect of earning Mary the admiration of several Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, whose German princes incessantly struggle with the Pope on matters of secular and temporal authority. Despite the Concordat of Vienna in 1448, there are occasional flare-ups whenever Rome disagrees with the investitures made by these minor German princes.
Mary has some designs on the Holy Roman Empire as well, seeing it as a potential counterweight to expansionist France. Through England’s constant support of Brunswick, and a cousin’s marriage to the Habsburg dynasty, Mary hopes that the College of Electors will see fit to make her a Princess-Elector as well. To this end she launches a charm offensive on the Frederick III (of Austria), Holy Roman Emperor, and several monarchs of the Elector states. The German and Austrian nobility is lavished with gifts, and their emissaries in London treated to sumptuous state dinners, but it is all for naught. Frederick dies in the winter of 1461 without ever having considered England’s accession to the College. His son Matthias I succeeds him as Archduke of Austria.
Young and inexperienced Matthias, however, is extremely unpopular with his Germanic peers. Additionally, his father’s inability to save southern Hungary from Ottoman expansion has contributed to the perception of Austria as weak and ineffectual. The diplomatic exploits of Mary and her senior advisors, however, are well-known, as is her military victory over France. The College of Electors narrowly selects Mary as the next Empress of the Holy Roman Empire. But there’s one small complication.
The Emperors have traditionally been crowned by the Pope, and also ordained as subdeacons in the Catholic church. The ecclesiastical ordination is an impossibility for a woman—even a reigning queen—??and Gregory XII refuses to budge from this point. Mary is furious, but realises there is little she can do; even an enormously popular queen cannot war against the Successor of Saint Peter without incurring significant domestic and international opprobrium.
Since she cannot be ordained into the Catholic church, there is little reason to travel to Rome. On January 4th, 1461, Mary becomes the first Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, and the first imperial leader to not be crowned in Rome.
Peace and prosperity flourish throughout English territories, thanks largely to the reputation and skills of Mary’s senior court and military leaders, all retained from her father’s reign. The reality, however, is that the peace is a fragile one. England is a paper tiger, whose army appears large and ferocious, but is led by inexperienced lambs—aging Sir John Neville being the sole exception.
Diplomatically, however, England is still a powerhouse; in August of 1461, allied Leinster agrees to become an English vassal and surrender half her income in tribute. And there are still plenty of suitors for Mary’s troth—although marriage is not likely to be the first priority of a nineteen-year-old Queen-Empress with pan-European responsibilities.
Only a few months elapse before Europe erupts in war once again. Sicily finally tires of Rome’s autocratic high hand, and, along with allies Aragon and Venice, launches an invasion of the Papal States. Rome’s ally Crete springs to her defence, but the defenders are hard-pressed and badly outnumbered. Although Henry VI had formally guaranteed the indepedence of the Papal States, Mary—still smarting from the Pope’s refusal to ordain her—refuses to sign a declaration of war on the aggressors. She does, however, authorise the covert funding of a rebellion in Sicily’s capital province, Napoli.
Since the Papal States are geographically disparate—encompassing Roma and Romagna in Italy, and Avignon (which is entirely encircled by France)—most observers agree that all three territories cannot be occupied simultaneously. Especially since France is not likely to let large foreign armies transit her territory. The Bishop of Rome, therefore, will always have refuge in Avignon (or so the theory goes).
The Sicilian-Papal War drags on into 1462, with Rome succumbing to Sicilian siege and occupation. From Avignon, the Pope canonises the worthy 5th century Welsh abbot Paulinus of Wales, a not-so-subtle olive branch offered to England. Mary remains unmoved; the chastening of the Pontiff is not exactly unwelcome news. No Catholic nation ought dare to annex Rome itself, so his discomfort is thought temporary at best.
In January of 1463, nobles around London introduce agricultural reforms for the coming season, eventually causing an increase in the harvest (and associated tax revenues). Although the peasants tend to grumble and resist change, the complaints fall off after a record-breaking harvest. There is no arguing with success.
Mary is not the only monarch with significant diplomatic success; France scores a major coup with the peaceful, diplomatic annexation of vassal Auvergne.
But all is not peaceful elsewhere in Europe; in the spring, the sprawling Ottoman Empire declares war on the tiny (but spirited) Duchy of Athens, one of Europe’s last surviving crusader states. This is a war that Europe has dreaded, for when Ottoman janissaries march, they are invariably successful. Henry VI had guaranteed Athens’ independence as a hedge against further Ottoman expansion; what he hadn’t considered at length were the logistics of transporting and supplying English forces to such a remote location.
The temporary loss of Rome to fellow Catholics is tolerable; the permanent loss of the cradle of Western civilisation to Muslims is not. The Fall of Constantinople is within living memory for many; Mary herself was eleven years old at the time. The English court is swamped by emissaries of Catholic and Orthodox nations pleading for action. As Ottoman allies Crimea and Wallachia join the fight, weak Athens stands alone.
Prelude to War
Greece is a rather long way from England by sail; the Royal Navy requires ports for resupply, and the English Army requires safe passage through foreign lands. English emissaries seek and receive military access rights from Aragon, Morea and Athens.
John Neville, Hammer of the French, is recalled from Normandy and given command of the Home Army. In April of 1463, four-fifths of the Royal Navy and 10,000 knights and men are dispatched on the three-month journey from England to Greece.
As is her custom, querulous France complicates matters for the English. In May, Henri II peacefully annexes longtime vassal Bourbonnais; in June he invades Brittany, aided by all of his French vassals and Norway. The Irish county of Tyrone sides with Brittany, fueling rumours of a French invasion of Ireland.
The assault on Brittany shatters the Auld Alliance; Scotland and Connaught categorically refuse to sign on to the conquest. England is also caught off-guard, with the bulk of her fleet and troops thousands of miles away. One thing is certain, though; not one peck of Irish soil can be ceded to France. Brittany, however, is expendable.
Mary immediately guarantees the independence of Tyrone, and sends a stern warning to France: if any French ships enter St. George’s Channel, they will be fired upon; if any French soldiers disembark in Ireland, they will be opposed. England will arrest any French expansion into her home isles by as much violence as she can muster.
The English-Ottoman War
On July 28th, 1463, twelve Royal Navy carracks sail into the Aegean and take up station off Turk-occupied Athens; Admiral Anthony Clarence goes ashore under flag of truce and delivers England’s declaration of war to the local bey. No Ottoman war-galleys row out to engage him, and after a week of patrolling, Clarence dispatches word to Neville that the Ottoman Turks will not fight. It’s just as well, because the long journey and poor shipboard nutrition have invalided about 2,000 men from the English force, leaving a still-considerable 8,000.
Neville plans a reprise of his French victory. He will land half his force at the ancient stronghold of Pylos (Avarino) in Morea, giving himself a secure beachhead from which to tackle the Ottoman forces further north. The other half will be disembarked at Antalya to threaten Ottoman holdings in Asia Minor. With their attention divided between two fronts, the Ottoman Turks will be able to concentrate on neither, and lose initiative to the English. With the plan in hand, Admiral Clarence re-positions his carracks in the Ionian Sea to cover the first landing.
One week later, Clarence’s carracks escort Neville’s cogs into the quiet bay of Avarino. Initially silent, the townspeople raise a cheer at the unfurling of English colours. The reason why becomes clear momentarily, as lookouts quickly identify many janissaries sieging the town. The exact number of enemy is unclear, but Neville senses that his timing is profound. He commits the entire Home Army of 8,000 souls. English knights and infantry are hurriedly rowed ashore, under fire from hastily re-targeted Turkish siege artillery.
Neville then leads his troops in a furious assault on the siege army, but over the next few days it becomes apparent that the Ottoman force is much larger and better-equipped than he had imagined. It covers much of the Ionian coast of Morea, and is sieging several forts (Avarino, Modon, Corone) at once. In fact, the Turkish army numbers 6,000 sipahi, 4,000 janissaries and 200 cannon to his mere 3,000 knights and 5,000 men. And the Turk commander is no less a figure than Sultan Mustafa I, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, son of Mehmet II the Conqueror.
Neville has blundered into the one force in Eastern Europe effortlessly capable of destroying his own. Mustafa’s elite Sipahi cavalry inflict punishing losses on the expeditionary force, and cut off the English avenue of retreat to the sea. The sultan quite realistically anticipates the easy capture or slaughter of Neville’s entire army. English morale plummets; not only are they seriously outnumbered, but evacuation to their waiting ships is now too risky and time-consuming to be worthwhile. They must quickly retreat northeast—toward the Isthmus of Corinth, and further into Ottoman-occupied territory—for any hope of survival. Admiral Clarence can only watch as the defeated invasion army beats a hasty retreat into the Greek countryside.
As the English army flees headlong, Mustafa declines to pursue; though his Athenian garrison is much smaller than the campaign army in Morea, he is certain that the demoralised English will not be able to evict it. Beyond that, lifting the sieges of Avarino and Modon with Royal Navy warships and transports nearby would give the English free rein to resupply the starving Greek and Venetian defenders.
The sultan’s calculations prove largely correct. When Neville’s 5,300 survivors encounter the 4,000-strong Athens garrison, the English take another 500 casualties and are once again forced to retreat. This time, they flee west toward the Gulf of Lepanto. Fortunately, dutiful Clarence has his cogs scouring the Gulf in the hopes of recovering some survivors. Neville and his remaining troops are evacuated to Messina, on the island of Sicily. The invasion appears to be an utter failure.
The Battle of the Aegean
Meanwhile, Clarence’s carracks maintain patrols in the Ionian and Aegean seas, but are not challenged by the Ottoman navy until the evening of September 15th, 1463. A lone Turkish transport, the Ionas Osman, stumbles into the Aegean patrol and is quickly boarded and captured. “Thus go the vaunted Ottoman Turks,” writes Admiral Clarence in a letter to his wife. His frustration is roundly shared by the fleet, whose war has been characterised by an almost complete lack of action.
On a clear October dawn, English lookouts spot a cluster of lateen sails on the horizon; twelve Turkish war-galleys have made their way down the Bosporus and out into the Aegean Sea. Finally, the Royal Navy will come to grips with the enemy.
A fierce battle rages for several hours between the slow but well-armed carracks, and the lightly-armed, faster galleys. By six bells on the forenoon watch, another cluster of sails approaches the combatants. Clarence weighs his options. Although the carracks are gradually inflicting more damage, additional galleys could run rings around them and push the battle in favour of the Turks. The approaching ships are four transports— lightly-armed, but still a threat to a squadron battling for its life.
As the new arrivals draw alongside the flagship, they display their colours. Portugal and Munster have joined the war!
The combined allied fleet proceeds to disable and sink all twelve galleys, eviscerating Ottoman naval power in the Mediterranean. The English carracks then escort the allied transports into Athens, where they disgorge 2,500 Portuguese and 1,000 Munstermen.
The Battle of Athens
The Portuguese-Irish army, led by José Manuel da Gama, is small but highly disciplined. Despite a month of inclement weather, inferior numbers and heavy casualties, by December of 1463 da Gama has routed the 4,000-man Ottoman garrison. The price of victory is steep—1,400 Portuguese and Irish soldiers, equal to 40% of his initial force, have paid the ultimate price.
Then hubris—or madness—strikes.
Despite his terrific success, da Gama is not satisfied. Without sieging the city, or allowing his men time to rest and recuperate, he orders the 1,400 Portuguese to pursue the fleeing 3,200 Turks. The 745 Munstermen are given an even more Herculean task—tackle Mustafa’s enormous 10,000-man siege army, still in Morea. It is a suicide mission.
As de Gama’s men march away from the city, Leinster—another Irish ally—lands 1,000 infantry to begin the siege.
Back in Sicily, John Neville’s English army has managed to replace some losses by recruiting two thousand Sicilian and Aragonese volunteers. Six thousand of his men are landed at Athens to assist in the siege, which lasts until February of 1464. Athens is free once more.
Neville prepares the Home Army to face Mustafa’s enormous siege army once more, but those plans are cut short. Just four days after the liberation of Athens, the Despotate of Morea surrenders unconditionally and accepts Ottoman military annexation.
All is not well in western Europe, either. France is busy funding privateers in the English Channel, and the small picket force left in the home islands is having difficulty keeping them away from English shipping.
Ultimately a joint Anglo-Breton flotilla takes care of the privateers, but England can’t count on Brittany’s occasional assistance for much longer. Brittany is nearly spent by the war with France. Although a Breton army threatens the French province of Maine, armies from Provence and Orleans have occupied large swaths of Brittany. And France has not yet released her large northern armies from their border garrisons opposite Normandy and Caux. It is only a matter of time before François II, Duke of Brittany, runs out of men, money, or land.
Pope Gregory XII’s Sicilian-Papal War has gone badly, too. Rome has been occupied for three years, depriving the Papal States of the bulk of their revenue. Although the Pope himself is safe in Avignon, his revenues and lands stagnate. He is unwilling to capitulate to the demands of Sicily (and her alliance leader, Aragon), but he hasn’t had much success in finding allies, either.
At last Gregory’s cabinet and cardinals force him to concede. On November 11, 1464, the Papal States cede Romagna to Aragon, release Avignon as an independent state, and pay war reparations. The former Pope Gregory XII is reduced in ecclesiastical rank to Archbishop and receives the diocese of Avignon as his archbishopric. An English-backed cardinal in Rome succeeds him, becoming Pope Gregory XIII.
One spot of good news is that Ireland is no longer threatened. Realising that he cannot bring Tyrone to heel without incurring Mary’s wrath, Henri II makes a separate, status-quo peace with the Irish county. English and Irish nobles now rest a little easier at night, no longer worried about an imminent war with France. The easing of tensions permits Queen Mary to deploy the Caux garrison to Asia Minor, under the command of Adam Dundas.
Next Year in Constantinople
The arrival of another 8,000 English troops in Greece allows Neville to set the stage anew for his planned two-front war. Neville will move north into Salonica, while Clarence’s cogs transport Dundas to Antalya. The expectation is that Sultan Mustafa will move to re-take Salonica, leaving Dundas free to siege his way though Asia Minor—much as Neville had done in southern France more than a decade before.
And indeed, that is precisely what happens. Neville’s capture of Salonica in September 1464 prompts Mustafa to move his siege army out of Morea by way of Janina. Curiously, he completely avoids contact with the puny Athens garrison of 1,000 Leinstermen.
In the mean time, Dundas begins landing his forces at Antalya, but reverses himself after intriguing news from Admiral Clarence. Fleet scouts have seen cogs from Portugal and Leinster pushing through the Bosporus, and apparently the allies are landing small raiding parties of 1-2,000 men in Wallachia and Crimea.
Young Dundas knows this is a golden opportunity to take the Ottoman vassals out of the war. But in order to keep the allied raiders resupplied, someone has to keep the Bosporus open.
The twelve Royal Navy carracks fight their way through the Bosporus to the Sea of Marmara. Once there they find that the Ottoman Black Sea squadron is a mere three galleys, all of whom are quickly destroyed. At the same time, the unescorted transport squadron makes for the ancient city of Constantinople—capital of the Ottoman Empire. The young general can hardly believe his luck—there are no enemy armies present, just the city garrison. It’s still a formidable opponent; the capital’s garrison numbers 3,000 souls, and its massive walls have held off much larger armies. Fortunately Dundas has an ace up his sleeve; two hundred ducats for buying off key officials responsible for the defense of the city.
Neville, meanwhile, has successfully distracted Mustafa from the assault on the capital, but the old general has no better luck fighting the Turkish potentate the second time around. The simple truth is that Mustafa’s sipahi and janissaries outclass English knights and infantry. The best Neville can hope for is to delay the Turkish re-capture of Salonica by a few weeks.
The English casualties are, once again, extreme; 3,028 of the original 7,167 men are killed in Salonica. The Royal Navy evacuates the survivors to Crete for rest and resupply.
Fortunately, it’s enough. Neville’s delaying action has kept Mustafa in Salonica, long enough for Dundas’ spies to work their magic. On the night of November 26th, 1464, a powder magazine in the Theodosian Walls detonates, leaving a significant breach in city defenses. English knights and soldiers rush through the gap and overwhelm the defenders.
Two days later, Constantinople surrenders to Adam Dundas.