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ENGLAND AT A GLANCE
Queen Mary has done a matchless job navigating her realm to the height of international prestige. England is well-regarded in most European courts, due in no small part to Mary’s considerable influence with the Roman Curia and Imperial courts of the Holy Roman Empire. England is also blessed with a reasonably stable economy, and the victorious wars in France, Greece and Turkey have helped spread her fame around the known world. The English court is guided by knowledgeable peers, and the Queen’s subjects are protected by the Magna Carta Libertatum, in force since 1215 A.D. and reissued several times since.
EUROPE IN 1479
Political Geography: The summer of 1479 finds England a major power in western Europe. Queen Mary I rules the southern halves of Albion and Hibernia, as well as the ancient Plantagenet holdings of Normandy and Gascony. Normandy is disputed territory since France maintains a feeble and unenforced claim on it, but the truth is that the French have not challenged England militarily for 22 years. And Mary has always been careful to leave at least one French territory with a considerable garrison—even at the very height of the Ottoman wars.
Holy Roman Empire:
The Queen has also reigned as Empress-Elect of the Holy Roman Empire for 18 years. This additional role garners some manpower and research benefits from the Empire’s various member states. The Empire is a fractious beast whose Electors and many members frequently war with one another. Mary has threatened military and economic intervention several times to secure the liberty of small Imperial states (and Free Cities) subsumed by larger, more aggressive neighbours. England itself is neither a member nor Elector, although its ruler is the Empress.
Religion: Western Europe is entirely Catholic and all of its countries formally acknowledge the Pope as the head of the church. Although rulers usually accede to the Pontiff’s wishes in matters spiritual, many seldom do in matters temporal. Queen Mary in particular has focused her energies on reforming the Catholic church, trying to remedy some of its most damaging excesses. The humanist values of ancient Greece and Rome have filtered into many English territories, particularly on the Continent.
Silent enim leges inter arma
— Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Milone, 52 B.C.
It is the autumn of 1479. Two years ago, a five-year truce was signed between Queen-Empress Mary and new Ottoman Sultan Suleyman I. Although England has recalled all of her troops from the hostilities in Greece and Anatolia, virtually none of the returned armies have been reinforced and trained up to full strength.
One ally, however, is less concerned with England’s plight. Athens has hosted thousands of English, Irish and Portuguese troops, and knows that thousands more have always remained at home. On October 17th, 1479, Athens declares war on the Ottoman Turks. The English court is in a bind; break the two-year-old truce, or leave their ally Athens to the janissaries?
Mary is mindful of the fact that there are now veterans of two prior Ottoman wars at home. Any refusal of aid on England’s part may be seen as an insult to the sacrifices endured in those earlier conflicts. On the other hand, England cannot afford to expend her blood and treasure in Greece indefinitely. This will be England’s last war to secure Greek independence. Mary makes a fateful decision to put the Home Army and all of the French garrisons into the fight.
The Third English-Ottoman War
The Royal Navy’s Gascony Squadron is the first to arrive, and elects to take the fight directly to the enemy in the Bosporus and Black Sea. In January of 1480, twelve carracks and two cogs go into action against sixteen Ottoman galleys. Despite superior numbers, the Turk galleys are soundly defeated. Three carracks are lost, but nine galleys are sunk and one (Piri Reis) is captured.
The following month, the remaining galleys are hunted down and sunk by the Gascony Squadron.
Four months later, the Lawrence Howard’s Home Army is back in Athens, ejecting a weak Ottoman invasion force. The good news is that the many years of constant fighting have taken their toll on the Turkish armies as well. Throughout the remainder of the year, the Ottomans suffer a series of humiliating defeats. By April of 1481, English forces occupy Macedonia and Edirne, with Salonica and Constantinople under siege. The Royal Navy is blockading enemy ports, crippling Ottoman revenues.
Unfortunately, events in Scotland soon put the focus back on western Europe.
War of the Scottish Succession
The Lancasters of England and the Valois of France are heavily intermarried with the Stewarts of Scotland. The English to ensure better relations on the northern border, and the French to have an ally within easy striking distance of England. During a particularly vicious outbreak of the Black Death in Lothian, the Queen of Scots and her young heir die suddenly, throwing Scotland into political turmoil.
The Three Estates of Scotland rapidly assemble a regency council to determine the matter of succession. The French ambassador invokes a claim on behalf of his king, Henri III; it is only natural that such a good friend and ally in Paris should rule Caledonia. The regents, however, look longingly at England’s treasury and economy, as well as its light, decentralised yoke on Ireland and France. London may ask its peers to wage war in Greece, but it’s one of the few mediæval governments to take seriously the guarantee of certain rights and responsibilities to its subjects. Therefore the Scots regency council, with the endorsement of the Estates of Scotland, offers the crown to Queen-Empress Mary I of England.
King Henri, however, is incensed at the Scots’ rejection of his claim, and refuses to be pacified. On July 23rd, 1481, France declares war on England and Scotland, rupturing the Auld Alliance. Portugal joins the war on the English side, while France calls upon tiny Lübeck.
The succession war could not come at a worse time for England. All of her French garrisons (except Calais) are fighting in Greece. The remainder are weary and understrength after years of constant warfare in the Mediterranean. Neither the Army nor the Navy have ever been asked to fight two major wars at once, and every last one of the Royal Navy’s transports are at least three months away in Athens.
The Exchequer hurriedly authorises several loans to hire mercenaries in Normandy, but these forces are easily pushed aside by large formations of French cavalry and men-at-arms. For the first time since 1456, significant portions of English France lie under enemy occupation—with no relief due for many months.
Incredibly, despite the military setbacks, the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht seeks a military alliance with the Kingdom of England. This isn’t an attempt to aid Mary’s succession rights, rather a measure of security against Burgundy. The Calais garrison is still a potent force—but without right of passage through Burgundian Picardie, it cannot join the fight.
The one spot of good news is that the Third Ottoman War is going better than anyone could have expected. The Royal Navy still controls the Aegean and Marmaran seas, the Turks have been thoroughly routed from Greece and western Asia Minor, and revenue from Constantinople’s Grand Bazaar is once again flowing into English coffers. Mary’s Privy Council sees the smallest glimmer of hope in the darkness. Perhaps England can rush two or three armies back from Greece without surrendering all momentum to the Turks.
Twilight of the Golden Age
Deficit omne quod nascitur
— Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, De Institutione Oratoria, 95 A.D.
Two armies return from Greece in early 1482, allowing the hard-pressed mercenary regiments to retire and seek rest. English France is by no means secured, but now that troops (and transports) have returned, the odds are better. The return of the cogs also permits the Armies of Scotland and Ireland to be transported to Normandy. Despite the reinforcements, however, these English armies suffer a series of battlefield defeats and are forced out of Anglo-Norman France.
And England’s calamities continue to mount. On a brisk summer dawn in 1482, forty-year-old Queen Mary is thrown from her horse and gravely wounded during a routine morning ride. Rushed back to the palace, the Queen-Empress is surrounded at bedside by her anxious Privy Councillors; the Kingdom’s plan of succession is not yet known. The expiring Mary bravely struggles to speak.
“Christi crux est mea lux” (The cross of Christ is my light) she utters, then her spirit departs.
As the capital holds a lavish funeral for its departed monarch, Parliament selects an Accession Council to sort through the succession issues. Mary has no offspring, so the crown must go to the nearest living relative—the eleven-year-old Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor. Since Henry is in his minority, a regency council will rule England (and Scotland) in his stead.
Mary’s untimely death has other unpleasant consequences for the realm; it is not permissible for the powers of the Holy Roman Emperor to be vested in a regency council. The prince-electors, therefore, choose Margrave Albrecht IV of Brandenburg as the next King of the Romans and Emperor-elect. Effective immediately, England will no longer receive reinforcements, research or civil stability benefits from the member-states of the Empire.
In the space of a year, England’s circumstances have shifted from premium to precarious. The regency will have to be careful indeed, for the slightest misstep could result in disaster.
A Fatal Mistake
Fortunately for England, the King of France’s rude, imperious streak gets him into a heap of trouble with his Iberian neighbours. A particularly intolerable insult from Henri III results in a completely unnecessary war with Castile, Aragon and Avignon. Castilian and Aragonese men-at-arms cross the Pyrenees and swarm over southern France, while Avignon attacks from within.
England and her allies use this fortuitous distraction to good effect, allowing the fresh Castilian-Aragonese troops to push the enemy’s front lines away from English turf, and sieging French forts left behind. By November of 1482, English armies have captured several French provinces, and Scotland has captured Finistère. The enemy has been evicted from almost all the Anglo-Norman territories; a turnabout in English fortunes that is nothing short of miraculous.
Shrewdly, the English regency decides to force concessions from France before any of the other combatants can do so. On April 25th, 1483, the French king agrees to Anglo-Scottish terms and signs the Treaty of Périgueux. Henri relinquishes his claim to the throne of Scotland, and consents to the personal union of English and Scottish crowns, ruled (temporarily) by England’s regency council. Furthermore, France abandons her claim on Normandy and Caux, professing England the rightful owner.
Two days later, representatives from the regencies of England and Scotland sign a formal military alliance, binding the two nations together in collective defence. For the first time since 1453, the Anglo-Scots border is secure. The mercenary regiments in France are of no further use and quickly disbanded.
One of the late Queen’s initiatives had been the elimination of corruption within the Catholic church; Mary was always careful to ensure that her views were well-represented in the Roman Curia by influential cardinals. Some Privy Councillors (especially Nicolas de Chastellux, Archbishop of Canterbury) are anxious to continue the reform agenda as well.
In November of 1483, de Chastellux recommends a series of regulatory changes to the Papal Conclave—the method by which new Popes are elected. His robust support (combined with that of several London-backed cardinals) convinces Urban VII to accept the anti-corruption measures.
Great Officers of State and Senior Leaders
The key members of Henry VI’s Privy Council had, for the most part, remained intact throughout his daughter’s reign. With the passage of time, it was only natural that the council should experience some upheaval as well.
In January of 1484, Arthur Clarence, Lord High Constable of England, passes away peacefully. François de Lugny, Lord High Treasurer, becomes a pivotal figure in the Regency Privy Council; his adroit manipulation of budget and revenue bolsters the Exchequer’s coffers.
In the spring of 1484, Archibald Norfolk replaces Nicolas de Chastellux as Archbishop of Canterbury. Like his predecessor, Norfolk is a gifted clerical administrator and very supportive of church reform.
Robert Somerset continues as Lord Great Chamberlain, the only officer of state remaining from Henry VI’s council.
The Collapse of Anatolia
That potentially risky move has paid off, as Howard’s knights and men-at-arms have captured all but the furthest reaches of the Ottoman Empire.
Once again, the Turkish Sultan is stranded in his isolated Balkan territories, unable to secure right of passage from hostile Hungary or Bulgaria.
This is a terrific opportunity for England. Howard is instructed to secure the remainder of Anatolia, then marshal his forces in Rumelia and await reinforcements from France. England will deliver the coup de grâce in the outlying Balkan territories.
The Sack of Rome
In late 1484, the Papal States had managed to get themselves into a war with just about every minor state on the Italian peninsula—and the much larger, more dangerous Kingdom of Aragon. A year later, Rome is under Aragonese occupation with the Pope under house arrest. England’s regency council briefly considers intervention, but a look at army manpower and reserves quickly dispels that notion. London needs to concentrate its energies on a successful conclusion to the Third Ottoman War.
On December 26th, 1485, Aragon annexes the Papal States, to an enormous outcry from surrounding Catholic nations. Archibald Norfolk’s operatives in the Roman Curia petition the English court with requests for aid.
The Lords Spiritual and Temporal meet to consider a course of action. Another war is simply not possible given the current state of the English army. Every single regiment is understrength, and the best-equipped of a bad lot are already en route to Greece.
London lodges a formal protest with Saragossa, but is otherwise unmotivated. Not even the Aragonese can be fooled into believing that the English will fight another war with their exhausted and enfeebled army.
After two months, Aragon relents and restores the Pope to his temporal possessions.
Henri renews his quest for more Atlantic ports by invading the relatively defenceless Duchy of Brittany. Duke Gilles is allied with Tyrone and Navarra, but neither of them have large enough armies to pose any threat to the French juggernaut. As the Bretons move south to attack Saintonge, French armies invest Armor and Vendée. The Bretons are quickly defeated.
On March 30th, 1486, Brittany is dismembered in the peace agreement. France annexes the Breton territories of Armor and Morbihan, and Brittany abandons her claim to Finistère.
John Alcock, Bishop of Ely
John Alcock, the son of a Yorkshire burgess, is translated to the Bishopric of Ely in late April. At the same time, Alcock is also appointed the Lord Chancellor of England, the second highest ranking Great Officer of State. This rapid ascension from relatively humble beginnings triggers many “local boy makes good” celebrations throughout Yorkshire.
The bishop is a man of great learning and a talented architect as well. Alcock founds several charities and restores a number of churches and colleges. But his penultimate achievement is the founding of the College of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist and the glorious Virgin Saint Radegund—informally known as Jesus College—at Cambridge.
Coup de Grâce
A month later, two of the Anglo-French regiments have returned to the Balkans and crossed through Bulgaria. The Ottoman Sultan and his army are holed up in Oltenia, with the rest of the Empire under foreign occupation. Lawrence Howard gambles that he can destroy the last extant Turkish force and end the war by Christmas. English knights have, after all, killed two Ottoman sultans in prior wars. Howard marches the Home Army into enemy territory, hunting the Sultan.
But it’s not quite so easy this time. Suleyman enjoys numerical superiority, and the English are forced to retreat and regroup several times. Eventually, Howard is compelled to summon a recently returned French garrison up from Greece. Turk janissaries and sipahis may be short on supplies and food, but they have a laudable surplus of courage and skill. The Ottoman army succeeds in staving off the inevitable until October, when Sultan Suleyman I, like his predecessors, is flanked and cut down by a detachment of knights.
Turkish resolve falters, and by the spring of 1487, the entire Empire is occupied. Now it’s up to the English Regency to decide the fate of Rumelia and Anatolia.
The joint Anglo-Scots regency council has done a decent enough job of managing two countries and fighting two wars. Although it was originally their intention to unite the crowns in a personal union, those plans have since changed; the Scottish lairds are not yet prepared to accept a merger with England. The two nations will continue to have separate dynastic families, but remain in a close alliance.
Henry Tudor, the young English heir apparent, has attended Privy Council meetings from his 14th birthday, and has been an enthusiastic student of the arts of statecraft. Henry’s Scottish counterpart, Arthur Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, is a couple years younger and not as gifted a statesman. But because the two boys have studied, trained and sat on the joint council together for the past five years, they are good friends—akin to brothers. May 7th, 1487 is Henry’s 16th birthday, and the regency selects it as the day of the joint coronations—Henry’s in London and Arthur’s in Edinburgh.
England welcomes her new sovereign, Henry VII, with pealing church bells, thronging crowds, a cannon salute and great expectations. His first challenge will be the administration of occupied Turkey. Nobles and peasants alike are tired of the constant warfare in Greece; whatever concessions England demands must be sufficient to guarantee peace for at least a decade.
Because of the friendly relations between both monarchs, England and Scotland agree in principle to substantially reduce their border garrisons. There is no reason that such good friends should have enormous armies facing each other along the common border.
A series of negotiations follow, ironing out guarantees for English and Scottish security and trade. In August, the young King of Scots agrees to become Henry’s vassal; in exchange, England’s Royal Navy will provide maritime and coastal defence for both countries.
The Protectorate of Greece
Henry has studied the previous Anglo-Turkish wars, and is well aware of the Muslim and Orthodox states’ proclivity of going to war with one another on a depressingly regular basis. Henry’s aim, therefore, is to separate the Rumelian territories from Turkey and hand them over to a suitable Greek monarch—preferably an ally. The strengthened Greeks will, theoretically, be able to stand on their own two feet and no longer depend on England’s intervention—especially since England has had enough of interventions.
On June 18th, 1487, the Ottoman Empire cedes Janina, Salonica, Macedonia and Edirne to England; these territories become the Protectorate of Greece. The Protectorate is superintended by Governor-General Lawrence Howard and two small garrisons, the 1st and 2nd Crusader Armies. Henry’s instructions to Howard are to parley with the neighbouring Greek monarchs and negotiate himself out of a job, if at all possible. England will manage these colonies for the time being, but Henry does not intend to keep them. The Anglo-Turk wars have already cost England an incalculable amount of manpower and money.
Governor-General Howard gets to work right away, sending delegations to Athens, Morea and Crete. But none of these minor Greek states seem particularly anxious to expand their borders. Within the Protectorate there is war damage to repair, civil populations to feed and civic improvements to construct—most of which is beyond the financial resources of all the Greek minors put together.
Howard makes a last-gasp attempt to give Janina to the Duchy of Athens, but the Duke is having none of it. Athens does not have the capability to defend new territory—even a mediocre band of rebels could wrest the province from him, if it came to that.
Right now, the Protectorate is more useful as an English-subsidised firewall than it is as national provinces of any Greek state. The governor-general soon realises that he can’t even give the territories away in their present condition. With great reluctance, Howard sends his capital budget requirements to the Exchequer. London is not going to like paying for civic works in provisional territories, but then it likes civil unrest even less.
Earlier in the year, Filipe had married (by proxy) a French princess. Michelle de Valois is beautiful but cheerless, never missing an opportunity to unfavourably compare the court of Lisbon to that of Paris. After several months, it is clear that the King and Queen Consort of Portugal can’t stand each other, having spent all of their time apart ever since the first week of her arrival. Filipe plans to petition Pope Julius III for an annulment, and wants its success guaranteed via England’s influence with the cardinals.
For his part, Henry is happy to put in a good word on Filipe’s behalf. Portugal has been a valuable ally for a few decades, and it’s only right for a liege lord to seek the good of his vassals. If one of the perquisites is sticking a pin in France at the same time, so much the better.
Henry VII also intervenes subtly in another pan-European matter: exploration. Portugal and Castile have been funding far-reaching expeditions into Africa and the Atlantic Ocean. A Genoan explorer in Castile’s employ—known as Cristóbal Colón—has already located land on the far side of the Atlantic.
The papal bull Aeterni regis initially confirmed the division of newly-discovered territories into areas of Castilian and Portuguese influence, but England wants a piece of the pie, too. Henry ensures that the Pope is well aware of it.
In the winter of 1487, during an apostolic journey to Anglo-Hibernia, the Pope issues a new bull. The New World will henceforth no longer be the exclusive preserve of Castile and Portugal—it may be colonised by any nation with the resources and inclination to do so.
The addition of Greece to England’s territories has created a problem for the Exchequer and the Royal Navy. England’s military must be reduced in order to stave off a fiscal crisis, but the navy is already too small to maintain permanent patrols around the home islands and faraway Greece.
Henry’s solution is to grant Letters of Reprisal to certain loyal subjects, giving them license to attack enemy ships without fear of (English) punishment. The enemy, of course, would treat them as common criminals to be hanged.
The practice of granting the letters dates back to Henry III in 1243. The key clauses were that only enemy goods could be seized, and that the privateer must have his plunder appraised by naval officers at home port, prior to selling the bounty.
It’s a risky move that could easily backfire, summoning the wrath of seagoing powers like Castile, France and Burgundy. But it’s the only way England can provide some protection to the sea trade now flowing between England and Greece.
THE KINGDOM OF ENGLAND, circa JULY, 1489
Henry VII, By the Grace of God, King of England and France, Lord of Ireland, Protector of Greece.